#57 Lighting Dark Days (2001)

All Rights Reserved © 2001 Thomas W. Day

I suspect that most of my readers would like to think that I'd have the good sense and taste to stay away from writing a Rat Rant about the awful September 11 catastrophe in New York and what it has done to democracy and common sense. I wish it were true. Good sense and taste may be qualities that I was born without.

The nation suffered a senseless loss of innocent life and that's being disrespected by a loud outpouring of nationalism disguised as, and mistaken for, patriotism. Politicians and citizens are proving themselves to be completely unaware of the positive things this nation stands for, in their desire to return to the days of believing that we're immune to the dangers of this world. All the while, fools and cowards are pretending to be patriotic in wishing for that pathetic fantasy.

"The world has changed," they rant. "The rules are different." And so on.

Citizens are offering up their basic rights, the things that make the United States the unusual place that it is, in exchange for an illusion of cocoon-like safety. Politicians are offering an unlimited collection of new laws that will take away precious freedom, replacing individual rights and responsibility with a more powerful, less responsible government. There appears to be a wholesale rush to outlaw the very things the terrorists dislike the most about the United States. In Minnesota, we have a state senator who is pushing an amendment requiring the Cold War's pledge to the flag in schools. She claims that the practice of idolatry and fearful submission to ritual will teach children how to be an American.

I, obviously, have my doubts. I grew up in the age when chanting the pledge was common and required in K-12 public schools and some universities. I remember, in the heart of the Cold War, how few of us paid attention to the words we were forced to speak. I remember the joy that some teachers demonstrated when they found some reason to punish those of us who improperly idolized the flag. I, mostly, remember that this practice had nothing to do with the things we should have been learning about our nation's history and the foundations of our freedoms. I remember that the most "patriotic" educators didn't seem to know much about American history, the concepts contained in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or the "founding fathers" they so often referred to but could not name. In my formal education, those important factors were so abandoned that I had to learn them on my own, outside of school and through fortunate accidents.

The words and concepts that we all need to repeat and understand are considerably more complex and valuable than the obedience chant contained in The Pledge. In my heart I believe that our somewhat flawed Constitution of the United States and our nearly perfect Bill of Rights are the words we all need to learn and understand. Through more than two hundred years of being right and, sometimes, very wrong, this country has been guided by the moral concepts expressed in those few words. Without the Bill of Rights, we would have degenerated into a stagnant monarchy or a degenerate theocratic dictatorship at any one of the mildly difficult times during the last 200 years. Without the Constitution, our government would have been indistinguishable from those of the rest of the world. We may yet give up that identity.

At the heart of all this fear is the fact that we Americans (Canada included--Mexico probably not) are practically universally hated by the rest of the world. Even by our "friends." There are good and stupid reasons for that hatred. An acquaintance, a slightly-redneck, ex-Desert Storm trooper, voiced his defense for riding a noisy, gas-guzzling, 180 mph crotch-rocketing motorcycle on the public streets. He wrote that the war in Iraq was about defending our American "right to be excessive" and that he was damned well going to freely exercise that "right."

The Right to be Excessive is a big part of our national character. Our dinky 5% of the world's population is chewing up something like 85% of the world's natural resources. Our main gripe about the Koto global warming accord was that we're arrogant enough to argue that we ought to be able to exchange our right to continue polluting the world's air in exchange for paying a few third world countries to remain non-industrialized. In that way, we could "trade" our current level of pollution for their current level of clean air; and keep doing what we've been doing without restriction.

We attempted to "manage" Mid-Eastern radicalism and Muslim isolationism by pitting Iraq against Iran and supplying weapons to both sides to fuel that diversion. When Saddam and Iraq got bored with Iran's primitive capabilities and decided to do a little freelancing against Kuwait, we squashed that ambition without a thought for how our presence would be perceived in an area that has never been particularly pro-American. September 11 is a reflection of that Mid-Eastern perception.

In our better moments, we believe that spreading the word about our form of socialized-capitalism will improve the world. We want to encourage the backward folk of the world to liberalize their economic and social systems to provide rights and opportunity for all men and women (women's rights are a particular sticking point with Mid-Easterners and most fundamentalists). In our more common moments, we want to maintain free markets for our products and access to everyone's natural resources for our comfort and entertainment. Neither of these motivations makes us a lot of friends in foreign government and religion.

The drive for and necessity of American access to foreign oil is at the heart of our presence in North Africa and southern Asia. We're not promoting democracy and human rights nearly as much as we're keeping our pipes in their oil fields. Kuwait was a totalitarian theocratic monarchy and we "defended" their right to remain as oppressive as they liked, as long as we got their oil output.

Our recent economic lesson has appeared to escaped much notice. The airlines stopped using burning petroleum to ferry the rich, frivolous, and timid across the country, after September 11, and the price of fuel for the rest of us dropped from $1.80 a gallon to $1.15; and continued falling until all the war activity drove it back up to $1.50 at the time of this Rant. Why this doesn't bother the average American, I can't imagine. So let me say it another way and maybe you'll get it: The small number of citizens who can afford to fly on gas guzzling airlines are subsidized by the rest of us, to the tune of increasing fuel costs by more than 50%. The media, the government, and executives are whining about how their fear of flying is stagnating the nation's economy, because they've enjoyed this luxury at the expense of the rest of us and it really bothers them that toy has been ruined. But what we ought to notice is how much the use of that toy has cost all of us. And we ought to do something about it.

That something is to take advantage of a war-time economy and put some resources into changing the way we effect the rest of the world. The technology to change from oil-based engine systems to hydrogen-based systems is practically in our hands. A variety of manufacturers and airlines have experimented with hydrogen-powered jet engines and they work. They, also, don't make effective flying bombs, since hydrogen does not have the explosive and incendiary capability of jet fuel. Hydrogen engines don't contribute to global warming, air pollution, or excessive use of non-renewable resources. With the kind of effort we put into fooling around in Cold War space, we could eliminate our need for foreign oil in a decade.

If we want to truly honor the loss and sacrifice of September 11, 2001, we will end our dependence on foreign oil, especially Mideastern oil, and we will change the way humans generate energy and use resources. The Islamic radicals think this is a holy war. We could make it one by playing this game on a different board. We could do something truly holy and act to preserve this world, our country, and to create a new energy economy that doesn't rely on propping up corrupt and vicious oil dictatorships, monarchies, theocracies, and international corporations.

Subversion, via the Rat hole.

We could do it. We could put ourselves in a position where we don't need the oil producing cartel. They sure as hell need us, because their system hasn't created anything more complex than castles in the sand in the last thousand years. If we really want to create a democratic and representative world, the first step will be to only do business with those who are democratic and representative.

That's a good rule in business, too: only do business with folks you like and who like you. What we middle class, United States citizens need to do is to direct our government to put us in a position where we don't have to do business with people who hate us. Even more, we should be picking the folks with whom we're taking to bed.

There are more than two ways to react to a threat. We can march mindlessly off to war, or we can shut the enemy out of the world economic game. Without us providing their food and materials, most of the oil producing countries are incapable of making their own light bulbs (I would include most of Texas and all of Alaska in that group.). One of those options would be a death blow to the enemy's economic base. The spillover from a traditional war will just make more enemies and put us further in oil debt.

Quote for the week: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." Abraham Lincoln

October, 2001

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