Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Unity

On Sunday 7/09/06 The Detroit Free Press's editorial page editor Ron Dzwonkowski ran his second editorial calling for unity in politics.

"I heard from a surprising number of people after writing recently about Unity08, the nascent political movement that is trying to depolarize this divided land.

I do not hold out great hope for the effort, but extrapolating the level of
local interest in it tells me that there are millions of Americans who are fed up and frustrated with the state of politics in this country and looking for an alternative to bickering, conniving Democrats and Republicans."

I think that bickering and conniving will always be part of politics. But bickering and conniving are not evil in and of themselves and have no value apart from that about which one is bickering and conniving. Mr. Dzwonkowski goes on to present a few anecdotes of people upset with the status quo then says:

"That's not what Unity08 wants. The Internet-based organization is trying to channel all this disaffection into support for a presidential ticket in '08 that would be pledged to really do something about important issues -- global terrorism, dependence on foreign oil, the spread of nuclear weapons, dealing with the emerging economic power of China and India and shrinking our national debt. Way down on the agenda would be such divisive issues as gun control, gay rights and abortion."

From this I get the impression that the problem really isn't divisiveness but lack of action, no one wants to "do something" about the issues. It's as if the politicians are paralyzed by a ritual of humming and hawing over trying to get the approval of a sufficient number of people, a consensus, before one lifts a finger to do anything. This fact is alluded to in the next sentence:

*"This government just doesn't know or is unwilling or unable to address what is really important," said Joe Alam, 68, a financial consultant from Grosse Pointe and formerly an active Republican.*

I would have to say Mr. Alam is right on all counts. The government is unable to do what is right because it is unwilling to justify its actions on the proper moral grounds and that is because it doesn't know what those grounds are. It is impossible to solve problems of rational self-interest while trying to justify them on grounds of self-sacrifice.

Let's take a look at the specific problems enunciated above by Mr. Dzwonkowski. It is in our rational self-interest to fight global terrorism and when Bush defended his plan to take out Afganistan and Iraq as matters of self defense, the nation was pretty much united behind him. But now he seems to have stopped half way and is leaving Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia intact while justifying military operations on the grounds that we must make sacrifices to bring freedom and prosperity to these two nations. Also, the policy of leaving those three above mentioned nations alone to send in an unlimited supply of jihadists to keep killing our soldiers and Iraqi ones too is a policy of self-sacrifice, of sacrificing coalition and Iraqi troops to the enemy and the civilian populations that support them.

It is in our rational self-interest to have a secure supply of oil at reasonable prices. To drill in Anwar and to open up the 85% of offshore land presently off limits to drilling is in our self-interest. But Americans are asked to make sacrifices to the Caribu and things swimming offshore. They are also asked to sacrifice their standard of living by giving up our desire to drive, stay cool in the summer and generally enjoy life with labor saving devices. Bush tried to achieve drilling in Anwar and offshore on the grounds that we need to lessen our dependency on foreign oil. But when congress cried that we must sacrifice for the Caribu and fishes, he didn't know how to answer them. He was paralyzed. He can't go against sacrifice because he believes in it himself.

It is in our self-interest to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons. It was not in our self-interest to negotiate with N. Korea in the 90's or with Iran now. But we are doing so on the grounds that their right to self-determination is just as valid as ours. In other words, by negotiating, our right to live is being sacrificed to their right to kill us. The proper rational self-interest thing to do with Iran and N.Korea is and would have been, to take them out. But such action cannot be justified on the grounds of self-sacrifice. Thus, no action is taken, just talks and more talks. This pattern holds true of the rest of 'important issues' as well.

I agree with Mr. Dzwonkowski that more unity would be a good thing, but only if that unity is around or about some good idea or ideal. Unity as such has no value apart from that which one seeks to unify. There is unity in a lynch mob. Is that a good thing? Of course not. In the 1930's, the German people were united behind the idea that Hitler and his Nazi party would be good for Germany. Look what that unity achieved.

There was a time when Americans were more united than today, but that unity was around a set of principles we call our Constitution. Over time we have abandoned or compromised those principles until today we are being pulled apart by those who want America to stand up for itself and do what is in its rational self-interest, and those who want America to sacrifice its interest to the interests of everyone and everything else. As Ayn Rand pointed out, the two competing moralities of self-interest and self-sacrifice cannot exist for long in the same man or the same nation. I would only add, nor the same policy.

(For those interested, the Unity08 website is here.

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