25 March 2008

It Is Time to Sue George Bush for Policy Malpractice

But I don't understand why these sharks just thrash about on the floor and then die. They were so powerful in the ocean.

Tim Hackler asks, Is democracy a natural state of mankind?, in a provocative editorial. He offers this:

Here is a thought experiment to put things in perspective. Imagine a map of the world in 1800. color in all the countries that took part in or were directly influenced by the Enlightenment (let us say, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, the US, Canadian, and the Scandinavian countries).

Now jump forward two centuries and color in all the countries with working democracies (as defined by the Economist Intelligence Unit). It is virtually the same map. Every one of those 22 nations (or their derivatives) today has a working democracy. And how many countries have a fully functional democracy but were not among, or did not spring from, those 22 countries? Just one – Japan.

I completely agree that Enlightenment thinking is predecessor to democracy - or at the very least, it needs to be coincident with it. A particular way of thinking about the world based on reason and data is necessary as a foundation for one particular version of that - the use of reason and votes in the formulation of policy.

But as with the shark, context is often the least visible thing in the equation - yet it is crucial.

The whole notion of evolution, though, depends on context. The environment determines what works and what does not – natural selection is a slow but appropriate response to the environment. Without an environment, natural selection has no traction, no relevance. The finches immortalized by Darwin’s study were different from one another because the food they ate – their environment – was different.

It is likely no coincidence that the man who though he could kerplunk democracy down into Iraq without a context like Enlightenment thinking is a man who is disdainful of evolution. “Let there be democracy,” George declared, but to no avail. He was speaking into a void.

It is not bigotry to point out that different societies are at different stages of development. It says nothing about a 6 year old’s intelligence to suggest that she is not ready for college. It says nothing about Iraqi’s potential to say that the country is not ready for Western-style democracy.

At least 150,000 Iraqis have been killed since our invasion. About 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by the violence (a comparable percentage of the US population would equate to nearly 2 million dead Americans and 50 million American refugees.) Now, we've reached the milestone of 4,000 dead American soldiers.

Some brave souls continue to work on reviving the shark. It’s not obvious, though, what they can do without water. If you bring a shark into the forest, you can pretty much guarantee casualties. This, more than anything else, will be George Bush’s legacy. When future generations talk about his lack of environmental awareness, they could just as easily be talking about his foreign policy as his energy policy.


jennifer h said...

You've eloquently stated something that my husband and I discuss often.

It was impossible, from the first day, for democracy to succeed in Iraq, at that (or this) point in time. We did not free the Iraqi people, as Bush so often likes to assert. Yes, Saddam Hussein did some awful things. But so far, we've mostly just taken the people of Iraq out of one bad circumstance and put them into another--this one less stable.

Lifehiker said...

We, the American people, are responsible for George Bush's presidency. That's what democracy can do - make mistakes as well as do glorious things.

We, by and large, are not educated or very much involved in government. We are easily swayed by fearmongers of all stripes.

George Bush did not have to be president, or even be nominated by his own party. We chose him. So, whether we actually voted for him or not, we signed up to the process that made him president and chief bonehead.

Will the American people fall for John(Al Queda in Iran) McCain like they did for George Bush? We are certainly dumb enough to make the same mistake again.

ThomasLB said...

Hmmm. When Jesus was roaming the Middle East a few thousand years ago talking about The Way Things Ought To Be, he didn't mention having to live through the Renaissance first. He seemed to think a better world was possible then and there.

Why don't you try this argument out on your wife the next time you have a disagreement?

"Honey, although we are basically equal, I am several rungs higher than you on the 'Ladder of Progress.' I am sure that once you have achieved the level I am at you will see things as I see them and do things as I do them. You just need to grow up a little. I will try to be patient with you, and let you progress at your own rate."

Let us know how that works out. ;o)

cce said...

No, Thomas, I'm with Ron on this one. Obviously democracy is flawed. Lifehiker makes that point here. I think yours is a tenuous argument at best - that democracy is not necessarily better or more progressive than a theocracy or monarchy or whatever. A people having a say in the structure and function of their nation's government can't be seen as a bad thing unless they are stripped of all clothing and food, blind folded and set loose in the forest full of sharks in order to attain it.

Ron Davison said...

jennifer h,
thanks. Those poor Iraqis - gone from the tyranny of Saddam to the tyranny of chaos.

did we bring this on ourselves? yes. Is George more responsible than the guy who voted for him? yes.

I guess that I simply don't believe that the reason people are so much more poor in Kenya than in France is because people in Kenya are much different, or have different potential. Some countries generate more ideas, more goods, and wealth and that has everything to do with the social systems they've developed and nothing to do with the potential of individuals. If it did, people would not be eager to migrate.

none of this has yet been a panacea, but if I had my choice, I'd rather worry about my kids eating too much than starving. Some problems are easier to live with than others.

Gypsy at Heart said...

It is the hubris of nations that which George Bush has taken on in the name of the United States of America. No such thing as bringing any enlightenment anywhere. Wasn't true at the time the poor native Indians of the Americas were being smitten left and right by the diseases and firepower brought on by the enlightened Europeans, it wasn't true when the British tried to colonize India and it is certainly not true now that George Bush is mobilizing the manpower, emptying the coffers and wasting away the credibility of the United States to democratize Iraq. No need to wonder what the Iraquis think of this American style of enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

Democracy is when political power resides in its OWN people. It doesn't work at all when used as a weapon on other groups of people or countries. You can't force or even give democracy to another group of people because it has to come from the people themselves by its very definition. The only way that any country can usefully strengthen democracy as a whole, is to improve their own system. And... ours could use some attention, yes?

Anonymous said...

I'd rather live in a struggling democratic state where I have a fighting chance of someday being able to express my opinions and enjoy free press than living in a repressed dictatorship where torture is the answer to most problems.

David Lee said...

I completely agree that the current state of our democracy is not performing to its full potential. This is due to the unmanageability of non Constitutional programs in government. The US Constitution was carefully written to protect a) the people from the government and b) the government from itself. The phenomenon of the slippery slope is quite evident if you look at historical policy trends leading away from strict Constitutionalism. Policies like the Patriot Act and our interventionist foreign policy.

Anonymous #1,
Yes, one way to strengthen our country is to improve our system. Unfortunately today's system is not the same as the Constitutional system. What we need to do is go back to the system that worked (again, the Constitution) instead of trying to repair the mutant eagle's broken wing.