Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Environmental Atrocities of Bush...

I'm a big believer in karma, and one reason for that is that I see it coming back to me. I used to be one of those annoying people (maybe I still am!) who would make a controversial statement in a way that implied that it was a position with which everyone already agreed. I did this on purpose, almost to bully the listener into agreeing with me. Today, visiting Andrea's sister, I happened to be the one who had to answer the door to a person who was going door to door trying to get people to write letters about the "Bush administration's latest environmental atrocities."

To me, an atrocity involves bodies stacked up in a gymnasium, machine guns, and mass graves hidden deep in the countryside. I don't mean that Bush has been good for the environment. I just mean that this hyperbole isn't helping anyone. There's similar hyperbole on both sides about the Social Security privatization bill.

I think that there is huge frustration with the political discourse in this country, and I think I know why. It's that so much is made of so little. Every controversy has to have a hero and a villain. It's not enough to just disagree with Bush's environmental position. We have to paint him as evil, and worse, we have to find some special interest group that's responsible for his position and make sure everyone knows they are evil too.

I just want to say that Bill O'Reilly is one of my heros these days. Not because I agree with anything he says, or even because I like him. The reason he's my hero is that he has a bullshit detector a mile wide, and he uses it to out people who don't have the courage of their convictions. Instead of seeing him as a villian, we should see him as a teacher. When I was in Minneapolis for IETF, I watched a couple of his shows. It was very interesting.

it turns out that there's a movement now to inform high school students of what it's like to go to war - to prepare them so that when they hear the sales job that the military recruiters give them, they won't fall for it. So Bill got two folks who are involved in that movement up on the show. One of them is a high school teacher. Bill asked him (paraphrasing, because I have a lousy memory), "so are you saying that kids shouldn't serve in the military?" "No, I don't mean *that*!" "Okay, so we need volunteers in our volunteer army, right?" "That's not the point." "Okay, so don't you think that you're harming the country by discouraging kids from doing their duty, by telling them what military service is like?"

At this point I'm thinking the words I want to hear from this high school teacher: "Bill, are you really saying that we should lie to our children to get them to go to war for us?" Bill handed it to him like a straight line. But he was trying to avoid taking a positive stance against military recruiting, so he just let Bill keep beating him up until they ran out of time.

What's the common element here? A lack of willingness to state the truth when it's uncomfortable. We all do it. We're afraid that people will think badly of us. But what winds up happening is that they do in fact think badly of us, because we didn't speak the truth as we saw it, and they can see us doing that. This is why the "flipflop" epithet sticks so successfully. Instead of trying to just be honest, we try to manage the message. This is how we wind up with environmental atrocities, I think.

The fact is that I have no idea what the details are of most of the things we hear about in the news. I don't know how many people have been killed in Iraq. I don't know whether Iraqis are better off now than they were before we shocked and awed them. I don't know whether privatising social security is a tremendously bad idea, or just a somewhat scary idea that could turn out badly. I have no idea what George Bush's intentions are. Why? Because we do not have a political discourse that is based on trying to get at the truth. There is no debate. There is simply the position that Bush is Good, and the position that Bush is Evil, and a lot of long, loud, strident diatribes from both sides espousing one of these two positions. We can't possibly hope to get anything good out of this battle of the diatribes. And I can't really do anything about this problem by adding my ignorant voice to the other ignorant and learned voices screaming "atrocity" at one another.

So what I need to do is to do my best to tell the truth, even when it is uncomfortable for me, and to try to help people to understand each other when I see them having problems understanding each other.


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