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Monday, September 01, 2003

I was listening to NPR today, and they had an interview with a correspondant in Iraq who was nearly a victim of a random spat of violence, one of the routine "ambushes" which seem to be taking place every hour, on the hour, since we 'liberated' the locals. He said many of the things you'd expect about how it changes your view, and so on and so forth. I felt a pang of regret that it wasn't filmed, becuase it was truly an Oscar winning performance, if not a Pulitzer one. Anyway, towards the end he said something rather interesting - that, by and large, a lot of the previously oppressed Shi'ite muslims who compose a majority of the population of the country blame the US for the current instability and consequent strife they're experiencing. He expressed a measure of skepticism towards this, inasmuch as, paraphrasing, " recently they could not even assemble without fear of arrest and, in some cases, death." In other words: But, we freed them! How could they POSSIBLY be angry?

I found that sort of interesting. I mean, the fact that we've basically told everyone that we have no intention in the short to mid term of allowing any self-determination whatsoever for the Iraqi people notwithstanding, why is it that there's this huge assumption that this particular brand of freedom is what every individual on the planet should desire?

I think the answer is, to a large degree, to be found in the fact that history is written, and as a result, influenced, far too strongly by the intellectual and educated class of a culture. If you ask a rural steel worker, whose daily routine is essentially: work, eat, watch TV, sleep if he cares about his freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances or espouse a Copernican as opposed to Aristotelian cosmological system, he's liable to either punch you in the gut, or give very little of a damn either way. If, however, you go to the Princeton philosophy department, any given person you meet, from the receptionist on up, is almost certain to give you all sorts of reasons why it's categorically problematic to have such governmentally imposed restraints. My very sparse education and knowledge can produce no fewer than six off the very tip-top of my head. This dichotomy is not a mere curiosity - it ends up shaping the values many people hold, and the percieved values many held in the past.

The fact is that, for a majority of the world, whether there is a dictator or the most liberal person alive ruling changes very little. Most people don't care if they can publish controversial views on the nature of human existance without upsetting the Church, whether they can criticize the government or whether they are allowed to bear their head in public. Even then, most of the people who do profess to care so deeply about various positions or policies that it drives them in to the street are not even doing so out of a love of freedom or whatnot. I can guarantee that the protestors who are out screaming about how the Ten Commandments(tm) belong in a courthouse would be just as up in arms about the desecration of a mosque, if they lived in another part of the world. I need not even note the maturity level of most of the IMF/anti-globalization crowd.

What does matter is routine and familiarity. People want to have a life where they know what to expect, and where they can succeed in the manner society has deemed they ought to want to. Many of the housewives of the 50's didn't care about women's liberation, no matter how much we want to believe they really yearned to join the work force. Many people still legitimately just want to have kids, raise them, and retire at 65 to a home in the country or a condo in Florida which the grandkids visit once a year. In almost every case where a local populice has decided to overthrow their government, or "gain freedom" it has been to gain equal footing within a society, not to find freedom in absolute terms. It's a natural extention of needing to succeed within the social context in which one is raised - not some deep seated want for lack of constraints.

cranked out at 12:45 AM | |

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