Friday, December 17, 2004

Teetering On the Razor’s Edge

The current national debate on the future of Social Security is a classic example of how the conservative mind works. I’m not a philosopher or debater, so I don’t know the formal term for this, but the approach conservatives take on almost every issue starts with a conclusion and then works to prove (or make) that conclusion correct. For instance, as a conservative, I believe cats are better than dogs, so I will now proceed to prove that cats are better than dogs. The approach taken by the rest of us, at least those of us living in the reality-based world, is to start with a question, “Are cats or dogs better?” We would then conduct research to see if there is indeed any significant advantage of one over the other. If the data clearly indicates there is a difference, we can then say with confidence, “Cats are better than dogs.”

With Social Security, the conclusion drawn by conservatives is that Social Security is a bad thing because it smacks of socialism and because it is a government-run program, which, as we all know, is abhorrent by its very nature. The problem here is that most economists do not believe Social Security is in ruins, as the Bush administration is claiming, and that there are ways to solve the program’s problems that are far less drastic and less costly than scrapping it. But because the conclusion has already been reached by conservatives, Bush can only do one of two things: change his position or try to shape reality to fit the conclusion he has come to. Of course Bush will choose the latter, which he has, by trying to make Social Security sound as though it is in much worse shape than it is.

The same line of reasoning was used in the run up to the Iraq invasion. The decision was made long before 9/11 that Saddam Hussain had to go and his oil fields secured. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon offered an opportunity to accomplish this, with one small problem. Iraq was not involved in 9/11 or other worldwide terrorist activity. But the decision had already been made, so, in classic conservative logic, the only thing to do was make the intelligence justify an invasion of Iraq. We have since learned that the claims made prior to our invasion were virtually all bogus.

We all have our prejudices and opinions about the world in which we live. Cats are, in fact, better than dogs. But if we have learned one thing as a species during our time on earth to this point, it should be that believing something is so doesn’t necessarily make it so. We once believed the world was flat. It is not. We once believed the earth was the center of the universe. It is not. Humans have made their greatest advancements when logic and emotion have been in relative balance or harmony, with neither completely dominating the other. When logic (or pseudo logic) does override emotion, we’ve ended up with sterile, soulless societies that tend to squash the individual in favor of the larger good. But when emotion has taken over, we’ve ended up with societies tyrannized by superstition, kept under control through fear and intimidation (think Afghanistan).

Like all countries, the United States has gone through mood swings between logic and emotion in its history. What has kept us from completely falling off the razor’s edge to one side or the other has been the documents created by this country’s founders—the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As long as we have accepted the authority of these documents, our country has so far escaped the extremist pitfalls of other governments around the globe. But the Constitution is under attack today, and with all three branches of government controlled by the attackers, it is a frightening moment in our history.

Starting from the arrogant proposition that they are doing God’s work on earth, Bush and his people strive daily to reshape this multifaceted, multicolored country to fit their monochromatic view of life through disinformation, intimidation, manipulation and lies. They are good at it, but no matter how dark the night, the sun will rise, and there will come a time when gut instincts and willful ignorance will give way to logical analysis and a respect for knowledge—balance will be regained. I just hope we’re all around to see it.

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