Tuesday, September 26, 2006

300 Billion and Counting

Torturing the Obvious
Why this too shall pass

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

According to the New York Times, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from April 2006 concludes the Iraq War has actually increased Islamic radicalism.

You don't say! Americans are shocked, shocked that our bombing, devastating and occupying a country that did us no harm would inflame its inhabitants and swell the ranks of those arrayed against America.

"Common Sense", wrote Einstein, "is prejudice acquired before the age of 18". In science, the obvious is often contrary to the truth, which is why scientists are sticklers for 'proof'. As Isaac Asimov said, anyone could 'see' that the sun revolved around the earth. Mistrusting the obvious is thus the first attribute of a scientist.

In human affairs, on the other hand, the obvious may be the most important thing. Not for nothing does the Declaration of Independence say, "We hold these truths to be self-evident". If instead, Thomas Jefferson were to have set out to prove why Life, Liberty and Happiness are essential commodities for human existence, the English might still be here. As it is, the document calls out to us across the centuries. The great leaps in politics are made by appeals to the heart, not the head.
The great truths (eternal verities, my dad called them) have no proof, nor are they pious. They are merely based on emprical, societal, experience. In the old saying "Honesty is the best Policy", the use of the word, "Policy" is worth noting. It appeals not to ideology or ethics, but to simple everyday practicality. It says that any temporary gains of dishonesty are bound to evaporate over the long run.

Devotion to such obvious truths was America's salvation. Its common sense was a uniter. It was obvious that rules were to be obeyed, that the law was majestic. Even more, it was obvious that the law acquired teeth not by adding provisions, but by first enforcing the few that existed. Scrapping or changing laws was difficult by design, but the laws on the books were respected. Even the 'American Street' seemed to have a working understanding of the Constitution and ordinary people were aware of things like the first or fourth amendments, no mean achievement for a large society.

What is one to say when, in a few short decades, the same people whose native pragmatism and instinctive linkage of societal and personal self-interest made their country unique, suddenly seem to have reached a stage where the obvious requires a dissertation? We have arrived in a milieu where coffee shops need to put up signs warning patrons that spilling hot coffee on your crotch can be painful.

How do we suddenly find ourslves here? Not so suddenly, in fact, for the signs have been there all along. As Michael Neumann wrote, the onset of Dementia Americana has its origins all the way back in the election of Ronald Reagan. Whether or not Neumann is correct, take a look at the list below; blunders that would have been immediately obvious to a previous generation, but which barely trouble the current one:
  • The proposition that budget deficits and lowered taxes would together usher in the millenium, an obvious crock, gives the Gipper a 49 state reelection win,

  • The notion that shutting down American factories and getting things manufactured abroad, touted and accepted as the way to enduring prosperity,

  • NAFTA, whose obvious consequence was described best by Ross Perot's "Giant Sucking Sound" (a prediction realized in greater measure than even Perot might have imagined)

  • The Environment, an American ideal dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, steadily under attack begining with James Watt, with state after state voting for the notion that land conservation was inimical to individual prosperity,

  • The obvious advantage of having a common language for the country, undermined by a tawdry appeal to multiculturalism and multilingualism (signs in every language, so long as we can sell in one of 'em!),

  • The country actually entertains a serious debate on whether illegal immigration is wrong,

  • President ignores warnings of 'bin Laden determined to strike inside the US', vacations, reads My Pet Goat, and refuses to order an inquiry into 9-11 until over a year later, when forced,

  • Responding to 15 hijackers coming from a country which financed madraasas and recognized Osama's hosts, by going to war against a country which had no connection to 9-11,

  • Responding to the attack by training our guns on the American Constitution, a la the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, detentions without trial...,

  • Reelecting a President who had not only flubbed 9-11, but was so obviously clueless three years later that he had to declare in the first presidential debate, "Of course I know Osama Bin Laden Attacked Us. I know that!".
Comedy happens when the fool pays inordinate attention to some trifling problem while disaster looms in the background, unnoticed by him but obvious to the audience. Tragedy too. While America gets riled up over gay rights (for or against) and engrossed in who won Survivor last night, state and country totter under a quarter century of determined movement (see James Kurth's excellent essay, The Rich Got Richer) toward a split society.

Now, three hundred billion dollars (and countless dead and maimed) have bought, we are told, the spread of Islamic radicalism.

The obvious solution? Go after those who leaked the story, of course. And thank God for that brand new torture agreement. Now at least the President is bound (unless he decides otherwise) to permit the Times and the leakers to see the evidence.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

njn writes better and movingly than most of the best of the rest that I wonder if the songs and verse of an era that gave us a Steinbeck or a Bob Dylan, or Peter, Paul and Mary or Arthur Miller occur again? They had the power to get the reader's attention and to shock him awake.

Or have we turned our backs on the poor and the outs and comforted ourselves with the latest show on the boob tube?

I wonder