September 2, 2010
Dallas, Texas, USA
The late, great comedian George Carlin once said, “I have certain rules I live by. My first rule: I don’t believe anything the government tells me.”
Carlin wasn’t a fringe lunatic or conspiracy theorist by any stretch; he was simply an intelligent man who had the courage and curiosity to ask uncomfortable, and usually hilarious questions about public policy.
I was thinking about Carlin a lot last night at a dinner party I attended; a friend of mine was celebrating her birthday, and somehow the conversation gravitated towards politics… trust me, it wasn’t my choice.
One of the guests, a single professional woman in her mid-50s, was a self-avowed tea-party activist. My impression is that she was still rather fresh in her philosophical journey towards limited government, but she was very sure that she did not like the direction of the country and sensed trouble in the greater trend.
At some point in the conversation, she asked me what I thought about the removal of combat troops from Iraq. She must have have been a bit loud, because suddenly the room became very quiet, and I could feel all eyes turning towards me in anticipation of my response.
“Well…,” I began rather uncomfortably, “I think we need to be honest about what’s happening. It’s easy for bureaucrats and politicians who sit in air-conditioned offices to declare an end to America’s combat role in Iraq. But there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq, and a lot of heavily armed locals who don’t like them very much…”
I paused briefly to scan the room for red faces and continued. “Sure, they’ve changed the name to ‘advisory and assistance’ brigades, but a combat troop by any other name is still a combat troop. They did the same thing in the early days of the Vietnam War, sending in ‘advisors’ who fought alongside South Vietnamese forces.”
The temperature seemed to be rising a bit. “Not to mention, don’t even get me started on the private contractors and their ongoing role there. It’s still US defense spending, ergo YOUR tax dollars, going to fund a war now being carried on by unaccountable mercenaries instead of military.”
You could hear a pin drop at this point. “Look, I don’t want to make for an uncomfortable evening… all I’m saying is that this is simple misdirection, a way for the politicians to say that they kept their promises in a difficult election year. But if you think there won’t be any more body bags coming home, you’re fooling yourself.”
And then, almost as if on cue, the party started again and people went back to their conversations as if the whole exchange never happened… it was like a scene from a really bad sit-com.
Many of the guests came up to me later to voice their serious disagreement. A few even complained to my friend (the birthday girl) that she should stop hanging out with people like me who ‘hate the troops’.
The whole episode was rather disappointing; what ever happened to intellectual curiosity? Since when does questioning the motives of the ruling establishment signal such depravity? It’s the most inane illogic I’ve experienced in a long time.
It seemed to me that people would rather stick their heads in the sand and accept everything that they’re told by their leaders– about the war, about the economy, about the currency, etc.
To be clear, this is not simply an American phenomenon, it happens all over the world; the vast majority of people everywhere, whether Chinese, German, Argentine, British, simply don’t ask probing questions to seek the truth… it’s easier to trust in the authorities and label the dissenters as blasphemous.
Perhaps this is simply human nature; it’s been happening for centuries. Even the Greeks, arguably the most intellectually enlightened of early civilizations, sentenced Socrates to death for asking too many meddlesome questions.
Unexpectedly, the experience reinforced something quite valuable to me. Human beings have long identified themselves through groups… families became tribes, tribes became kingdoms, kingdoms became empires, and empires became nation states.
Traditionally, groups defined themselves through common characteristics like geography, language, and DNA. Certainly in the past, people who shared common geography or ethnicity likely shared the same core philosophies and values… but this is no longer the case.
For example, there I was last night, standing in a room full of people who look like me, talk like me, and hail from the same place. Yet, I felt intellectually isolated from everyone. We all had the same passport, yet there was no philosophical commonality.
I have much more in common with my friend Virgis, a philosophizing yoga guru in Lithuania, or my friend Kumar, a hilarious real estate developer in Panama, or my friend Tatianna, a Russian debutant who lives in Thailand.
In 2010, crude divisions like the color of one’s skin, or the color of one’s passport, should no longer bind individuals together. Technology frees us to explore the world, either digitally or in-person, and seek out the people to whom we are the most philosophically aligned.
In an effort to facilitate the gathering of like minds, I plan on implementing an interactive online community as part of the Sovereign Man premium service which we’ll be rolling out towards the middle of this month. It’s something that I’m really excited about, and I’ll have more details to share with you soon.