Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh my god... We're the Assholes!

Except under the rarest of circumstances, nobody thinks of himself as an asshole. But in our world of constant karmic collisions, bad shit does occasionally happen, and sometimes it is somebody’s fault. The bad shit could've been an accident, or done on purpose by conscious choice. If a conscious choice, I’ll wager that nine times out of ten, the person making the asshole choice thinks he/she is making a good choice. So just on a purely statistical basis, some of us must be mistaken/deluded/misguided at least some of the time, and instead of being normal citizens, we are in fact, being asshole citizens. You know, sometimes.

But I don’t really care about that. After all, nobody’s perfect. Napoleon supposedly once said, “Never attribute to malice, what can be explained by incompetence.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself fucking up recently and had to apologize to somebody. But I gotta say, even if a person you’ve wronged is on an emotional hair-trigger and has some severe immediate knee-jerk reaction, once you sheepishly say, “Sorry, my bad” they’re usually pretty gracious and forgiving, and then everything is good again.

So, clearly, the real problems start when we are unwilling to admit we’ve done the asshole thing. I mean, it’s not like we’re children -- we should be able to admit when we’ve fucked up, right? Anything less would be really weak. And if you've unknowingly been engaging in annoying asshole-type behavior over some extended period of time, and have been way too self-absorbed to even take notice when the offended but kind people around you have desperately and repeatedly tried to gently alert you to your wrong-doing, if there is, finally, a moment when someone or something does get through to you, it can be the most incredibly wonderfully humbling and amazing moment of your life. OH MY GOD... I'M THE ASSHOLE!! [And the heavenly light of healing truth shines down upon you.] You might have to go vomit and cry for a while, but once your stomach is empty and you have a chance to calm down, you'll be living in a much MUCH better world. (Not that I would know about any of that from personal experience or anything.)

Of course, there are those times when we simply have no idea we’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes we do know and try to deny it/cover it up/make excuses. And sometimes, even after our fuckup is painfully obvious to all concerned, ourselves included, we still insist that not only did we do no wrong, but that we are, instead, in fact, in the right! This is when we cross the line from being merely incompetent assholes, to being genuinely crass and terrible. Because obviously, we can’t correct a mistake until we face up to having made it. More to the point, the person or people we've hurt will probably only feel greater and greater anger toward us for our continued refusal to even come clean. Of course, it would be great if we took active steps to rectify the situation, but even without fixing the problem, merely admitting we fucked up would go SO FAR toward defusing what might be an ever-growing powder-keg of our own creation. But no. We gotta be a dick. And the longer we deny that we ever caused a problem, the worse the problem gets.

To my mind, the worst and most blatant example of this dynamic at work in the world today... is... America's Global War on Terror [ding ding!] I know we're all tired of hearing about it, but keep reading, because I've got a slightly different take than the usual slop.

Okay, so... as we all know, the folks calling the shots 'round here claim that there are these radical Islamic fundamentalist nutjobs, who hate us for essentially no reason (for our "freedoms"), and despite the fact that we never did anything to them, they just come out of nowhere (out of their caves) and try to destroy us in cowardly and despicable ways (9/11). Okay. Now, if all you know about the world is what you've seen on American television, then that probably seems like the correct and complete assessment of our current trans-national shitstorm. But it ain't necessarily so.

Let me take you on a little journey...

First: Imagine back to when you were a little kid, riding in the back seat of the car with your younger brother as Dad drove the family a great distance to go see the wonders of Wholesome Family Vacation Spot™. Think of how restless you and your brother got after so many hours in the car. (This was back before portable DVD players, after all.) Eventually, your younger, much less mature little brother, just snapped and started bothering the fuck out of you. You tried to be good and not retaliate. You politely asked him to stop poking you. He wouldn't stop. You tried to keep your cool, continuing to circle the words in your word-search activity book, thinking if you just ignored the poking he'd get tired of doing it and stop. But no, he just poked at your pencil, causing you to fuck-up your word search. Your little brother had the pester-power™ of a housefly on amphetamines, the mindless tenacity of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. No force on earth could deter him from his incessant poking. And poking. And still with the poking. So eventually, you complained to Daddy. But Daddy was busy looking for the exit to Wholesome Family Vacation Spot, while trying to get a weather report on the crappy radio. He couldn't address your grievances right then. So the poking continued. Eventually, you simply couldn't take it anymore. You lost your shit, became enraged and poked your little brother back. Hard. So he poked you hard. So you hit him. So he grabbed a fistful of your hair and pulled with all his might. And you grabbed his arm with both hands to give him an 'indian burn' and back and forth and back and forth, escalating violence and screaming and tears. Mommy noticed the meat-grinder the two of you had become but her intervention was ineffective until she, in a panic, told Daddy to pull over. He quickly glanced back over his shoulder to see his out-of-control spawn trying to gouge out each other's eyes, immediately pulled over (infuriated that he had to deal with this shit on his only week of relaxing time-off for the entire fucking year) slammed the car to a stop, demanded to know just what the hell you thought you were doing, leveling an especially accusatory gaze at you, since you were the older, more responsible one, and threatened to end the vacation right then and there. And also ground the both of you for the rest of the summer.

"BUT HE STARTED IT!!" you complained, craving even the tiniest bit of justice.
"I don't CARE who started it... I'm FINISHING it" said your dad.

And thus, the matter was resolved. You both had to calm down, or else spend an entire summer vacation under house-arrest. But this new "calm" was a tense and uneasy one, as you couldn't help seething with hatred for your younger brother who had, after all, started it. And I mean, come ON -- everybody knows that the one who STARTS it is the bad one, and it just ISN'T RIGHT for you to be punished just as much as the other person if you DIDN'T start it. You even tried to be GOOD! For SO LONG you tried to reason with your younger brother and plead with him and ignore him and shouldn't that count for something? How could anybody expect anything more of you!? Aaargghh!! NO FAIR NO FAIR!!

Now: from that purely hypothetical story, let's move to something real, from the actual history of our actual world...

In the beginning of the 1950's, Great Britain still had some power and influence around the world, fueled (literally) by an enormous supply of practically free oil they had tucked away under the ground in a country called Iran. Like many oil-rich countries, Iran was ruled by a corrupt despot. His name was Mohammed Reza Shah. The Shah of Iran. He had sold out his people and the valuable resources of his land to the British in exchange for a small share of the total oil wealth -- small enough not to matter to Britain, but which would be more than enough to make him, a single individual, ludicrously wealthy. Meanwhile, British geologists took care of the technical workings of the oil business and the people of Iran struggled in crushing poverty.

Then, in 1952, an amazing thing happened. Despite his wealth and power, the people of Iran rose up and ousted the Shah. They then held the first democratic election process in Iran's history, basing it on the system of the most admired nation in the world, the United States of America, and elected a president named Mohammed Mossadegh, largely due to his promise to nationalize Iran's oil industry -- to give Iran's oil wealth to the people of Iran.

Now in office, Mossadegh knew the Iranian people lacked the expertise to run the oil industry, and he knew the British would hate to lose all of the free oil they'd been sucking up out of Iranian soil, so he offered the British a deal: he would let them keep 50% of the oil and in exchange, all they had to do was let their geological engineers keep doing their jobs.

The British didn't like the idea of their free oil supply being cut basically in half, and contemplated the use of force. But since they had many citizens living and working in Iran, they decided it would be too dangerous. Instead, they sent diplomats to America, to meet with then president Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was like, "Yo, what up?"

The British were like, "Listen ol' chap, do us a solid and remove that rat bastard Mossadegh from office, would you please? We'd do it ourselves, except it's rather a sticky wicket for us, what with so many of our countrymen potentially caught in the crossfire and all. So, what do you say? We'd be ever so terribly grateful, you know."

Eisenhower was like, "No way. America ain't in the business of ousting democratically elected leaders, no matter where they are! We're the good guys, yo!"

The British were like, "Hmmm..." and left. Then they came up with a plan and a little while later, they came back to Eisenhower and were all: "Yeah... but, like, Mossadegh is a... um... a commie! Yeah!"

So Eisenhower was all like: "Aw HELLS no. We can't be havin' no spread of communism! Especially not in that region of the world. That would mean that those Soviet Union pricks could end up with access to a fuckload of free Iranian oil, since all them commies stick together! We GOTTA do something."

So Eisenhower earmarked a shit-ton of American taxpayer money for what became known as Operation Ajax: America's first-ever plan to overthrow a foreign head of state through covert spy-shit. The spy in this case, was former president Teddy Roosevelt's grandson, a guy by the name of Kermit Roosevelt who was like a real-life James Bond, even though his name was Kermit. (And even wussier than that was his nickname: "Kim". Seriously.)

Kermit Roosevelt took the ass-load of American taxpayer money, went to Iran and started fucking shit up. He paid gangs of thugs to go around shouting pro-Mossadegh slogans while destroying store windows and property. Then hired other gangs of thugs to go after the first gang of thugs shouting pro-Shah slogans. He did all sorts of things to make it seem like all shreds of civil society were coming completely unraveled under the new guy, who must be totally incompetent. By the end of it in 1953, Mossadegh was overthrown, had to flee the country and the Shah was re-instated.

The British were overjoyed! They came to Washington DC and were all like, "Jolly good show, Americans! Well done indeed. We'll go back to drilling our oil now, thank you very much."

But we were all like: "Not so fast limeys -- ain't your oil no more. We did the heavy lifting on this, we re-installed that Shah dude, so now he deals with us, and ONLY with us. Why don't you fuck off back to wherever it is you came from."

And the Brits were like, "Um... that would be, Great Britain... maybe you've heard of it?"

And we were like, "WhatEVER!"

And thus the British Empire lost the biggest single source of energy it had, and as a result, lost virtually all the power it had. Wah wah. (They could've had 50%, but instead ended up with zero! Lesson: don't be a greedy piece of shit.)

Meanwhile, back on his throne, the Shah didn't forget the fact that many of his own people had worked to oust him, and his regime became even more dickish and oppressive than before.

And when the vast majority of people in a region live in poverty under an oppressive dictatorship for years and years, that region becomes highly susceptible to the onerous influence of -- you guessed it! -- extreme religious fundamentalism. The re-instated Shah, now in bed with America (a country the Iranians once admired and wanted to emulate) was able to enjoy his wealth and his oppression of his own people for about 25 more years until the people had finally had enough and an extremist Muslim Cleric called the Ayatollah Khomeini led a massive uprising, now known as the Islamic Revolution. The Shah was again overthrown, permanently this time, and fled to the United States for a bit (I remember when he was here in NYC).

Khomeini was now the unchallenged head of a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy in Iran (a country which had almost become the only progressive democracy in the entire region until we killed it) and with his massive newfound power, influence and support, Khomeini declared the United States (an obvious friend of the hated Shah) to be an enemy of all Islam.

And here we are, 30 years later, in Iraq, a neighboring oil-rich nation, fighting Islamic fundamentalist "insurgents" who are trained in, and backed by... Iran.

Whose fault is that?

They hate us for our freedoms? Nooooo. They hate us because 55 years ago we stole theirs.

Just because we don't teach our children about this extremely pivotal part of our history, doesn't mean that the Iranians would choose to be ignorant of what is, to them, a completely earthshaking moment in their history. Iran would be a completely different country today, had we not sent Kermit Roosevelt over there -- one with freedom, democracy a high standard of living, a well educated populace, and probably close, friendly ties to the West.

And some people wonder why it's so hard for folks around the world to take America seriously when we claim to be in Iraq on a mission to spread democracy to the middle east. We're the ones who toppled middle-eastern democracy when it was taking its first all-important baby steps. We went against our own most cherished ideals, and the Iranian people went from loving us to hating us.

So... Iraq. We know that the WMD thing was a lie. But it turns out that it was never about spreading freedom and democracy either. It is, and has only ever been, about oil, and about rich people fucking over poor people.

Don't believe me? Read about it in a book called "All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer. You could also read the book that Kermit Roosevelt himself wrote about what he did in Iran, if you could find an out-of-print copy.

So right, I know. It's a real sinking feeling. Almost makes you wanna puke. But unlike our government, I'm not going to treat you like a baby, because I love you, I respect you, and I have faith in you. I think you both deserve to know, and can handle the truth!

But yeah, it's definitely a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that at least some of the "terrorists" might not actually be insane, and that we may have brought this entirely down upon ourselves. We don't actually have the moral high-ground, nor have we ever had it. Because when it comes to this whole mess between us and the Islamic world... WE STARTED IT.


And while finally knowing the truth doesn't magically make the mess go away, it is definitely the necessary first step toward FIXING THE PROBLEM.

The obvious next step is to admit that we've been killing the Muslims in order to get their oil, and then stop killing the Muslims to get their oil. But for that to happen, we would really need to break our addiction to the use of oil, which is why I ride a bike everywhere.

Holy shit. Has this whole thing actually been just another pro-bike rant? How'd he do that?

Please help me spread the word.

Thank you and good night.


justinelinn said...

Awesome, awesome history lesson. I am going to pick up All the Shah's Men tonight for my weekend reading. Which brings me to my next lists. You should post a list of recommendations for your favorite books. I would venture to guess that you have some good ones.

Dominic said...

So good to see (er- read) you again. All this facebook stuff is awesome!I need to comment here. I read all the Shah's men. Yes I know Kermit Roosevelt was evil, but he was a democrat. But all that is water under the bridge. I know it was a bad thing back in the 50's. But if I remember it correctly, he nationalized all the oil fields I don't recall the 50%. Not that it matters cause the British were complete assholes. I think they even had separate water fountains.
In any event, each generation should really get a fresh start, Though it happens all the time, you do not revenge yourself upon another nation 50 years later(or 27 if you count the Iranian hostages). Nations should not go to other nations and ask for a spanking for past misdeeds. Especially when that spanking involves nukes and roadside bombs etc.
Is there really an ethics between nations? People try to assign human rights to entire nations states. I'm not sure if that is really a valid proposition.
As a leader of a governemnt your chief resposibility is your own citizens. If a nation is a direct threat to you, specifically if a government of that nation is a direct threat to your nation, you might be OK if you try to knock down that gov. You have no right to go and indiscriminately attack the innocent individuals of that state for the sake of revenge.
In these situations it is often better to avoid a fair fight at all costs , since fair fights kill many more people than unfair fights.
The Afghanistan war happened in order to knock down a dangerous group that was running the country that directly supported an attacke on us. There's little argument against that war.
The Iraq war happened because, well it was legal because, Iraq was our little bitch after the first gulf war. A truce is not a peace treaty. A truce can be broken any time. They just chose that time to do it, thinking that it would stabilize the region and make it all safe for everyone. It did not work out that way.
To be honest, i was shocked when it started I was betting it would fizzle away like the Clinton impeachment. And when shock and awe happened, I knew they'd fuck it up. You know, Pride always comes before the fall etc.
I don't know. . . talk amongst yourselves !!!

your crypto-fascist friend,

ps my favorite writer is this guy at asia times called Spengler. i don't agree with everything he says , but he helped me out of my dispair when the iraq war started.

pps you have to see my blog post in which I meet that fearsome gladiator at the Met. It was last year sometime in august.

Dr. Brainwave said...

Hey hey Dominic!

Great to hear from you! It's been, what? Like 10 forevers!

You raise some interesting points. I'll try to address them one at time...

I actually don't think Kermit Roosevelt was evil, just misled. He was convinced he was making the world safer by stopping the spread of totalitarianism. Turns out not to have been correct, but Kermit was merely a pawn. It's just so unfortunate that his actions started a ripple effect that is biting the entire world on the ass so painfully now. The only people who could possibly be happy with the situation are the war-profiteers/defense contractors. Unfortunately, they've been running what's left of our government for the last 8 years. (And before that too.)

As nice as it would be, I can't think of an example of a generation that has ever gotten a fresh start, anywhere in the world at any time. Life simply doesn't work that way. Actions beget reactions. The reaction time can be quick or really slow, possibly taking several generations to manifest. Apparently, you can't muck up an entire culture and expect it to neatly resolve in a few years. Or perhaps even in a few hundred! We're all still feeling the fallout of European Colonialism, for god's sake. At this point, the violence in every conflict zone I'm aware of has roots that go back several generations, if not all the way back to ancient times (e.g.: Israel). Of course, more often than not, the powers that be are merely exploiting the ancient tribal hatreds to keep the people fighting, as the only actual conflict is over the competition for resources. (In Israel, it's water.) If people figured out how to share, there'd be no need to fight. (Sorry if that last sentence made you vomit. Hah!)

Whether there is, should or ever can be ethics between nations, is becoming a moot point I think (or is one already), as the Nation State is no longer a relevant player on the world stage. The multinational corporation has far more influence (though much of it clandestine), and it doesn't really play by anybody's rules. If you haven't seen the documentary "The Corporation" I highly recommend renting it. Publicly traded Corporations have the legal status of individuals, but if we viewed them as real individuals their actions would make them all highly dangerous psychotics that would be removed from society as fast as possible. Yet, we all work for them. We'll see how long such a paradigm can last.

I guess I'm a lot more cynical than you are when it comes to the Bush administration. I don't think they ever intended for the Iraq campaign to stabilize the region. I think the exact opposite is true. Cheney has only ever been greedily acting in the best interests of Halliburton (ie: Cheney). And what's good for Halliburton turns out to suck for you, me, our children, every dead Iraqi, everyone who will be killed by the children currently being trained to hate America across the entire Islamic world, etc. etc. But Cheney don't care. He's so rich he can afford his own lavishly appointed impenetrable underground lair. Asshole.

I suppose the only real point I was making with this whole long post is that our actions have consequences, sometimes far-ranging and for many more years than anybody could possibly anticipate, and even though it may not be popular or easy, it would be in our best interests to own up to, and take some responsibility for, what we've done (and continue to do). I mean, I consider myself a pure pragmatist. Whatever works man. I don't think what we've been doing has been working so well. To me, better not to make enemies in the first place. (Call me crazy.) But if you find you've got an enemy, at the very least it is better to know the real reasons why.

I checked out your blog (cute kids!) and I definitely think you made the right choice for the color scheme of the house. Very nice!

Couldn't find the post about the gladiator at the Met (?) but it definitely sounds interesting! I'll keep looking.

By the way, what is Bioinformatics?