James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Get Them to Think

My old friend from college, Lutheran pastor Eric Lemonholm, writes

People are just too busy, it seems, with work and television to get involved. One result of this is that we abdicate our critical reasoning skills to 'professionals' who do our thinking and decision making for us. How can democracy last in such a context?

I spent some time this summer with an old friend who is politically active on the local/state level, and he convinced me of the need to get involved in politics, as the life of the polis, our community. To be an agnostic, politically speaking, is to abdicate our moral responsibility to act for the good of our community. If my neighborhood, my town, my state, or my nation is going to pot and I’m not doing anything about it, then I have no right to complain that someone else isn’t fixing the problems.
While I do not lack conviction and strong belief, I am conscious of my limits. For example, even as I strongly opposed going to war in Iraq (and still think it was a mistake), I keep hoping to be proved wrong, hoping that good can still come out of the evil situation. Even though going to war there was a costly mistake, in terms of lives, money, and geopolitical capital, I do not follow the libertarian position (as I understand it) that we should immediately pull out and let the civil war begin. We caused the mess there, and we should do something to help stabilize the situation and then leave ASAP. (And, yes, I support our troops there, who are risking their lives obeying orders and generally trying to do the right thing in an almost impossible situation.)

Here’s a quote for today from Bertrand Russell: “When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.” I take this as a true description of how we operate noetically. At my age, my faith, my convictions, my beliefs will not be reversed in a day by reading or experiencing something new. I will probably never become a libertarian, because the beliefs which I find in myself are different. That is not to say that my horizons are not constantly expanding by what I read or experience, but my basic convictions, my faith, my foundational beliefs, are not likely to change completely. It is unlikely that I will ever read Ayn Rand’s books – life is too short!

Eric Lemonholm nails it. For most intelligent, well-meaning people are aware of two things: 1) there are problems to solve, and things that need fixing; 2)my mind is not likely to change on core values.

For instance, part of our problem in Iraq is the hope of many people like Eric Lemonholm, that "some good will come out of it." But maybe whatever "good" they seek to impose through American military and political involvement, will only encourage our government to do the same thing to other countries. I am convinced that this can not work, and hope that the American government and people never look upon Iraq as a "success." We made the mess, but no one, least of all us, are capable of cleaning it up. This is, to me, a political reality just as sure as my conviction that communism can't work in the long run. We can not win; the "good" as we'd want it to be, can not emerge. Therefore, to me, the only "good" that would come from this mistake would be the awareness and prudence to never make the same mistake again. Most people do not want to believe this; they place too much faith in politics, they place too much faith in using violence and coercion to promote "good," to be persuaded that all of it is folly.

Still, the good news of liberty and the bad news of violence and coercion must be proclaimed throughout the land, and that's why I believe all libertarians should have blogs. It's one of the best means available for recruitment, and it spreads the message far and wide. But in addition to that, we must fight to protect the liberties we have, and advance them when possible through the means available to us. Thus, we don't need to "convert" more libertarians for drug reform, prison reform, ballot reform, or withdrawal from Iraq. We can address these, issue by issue, on their own merits, and provide unique perspectives on them. This will force people to think, to re-evaluate some of their premises on some issues, without feeling that their basic character or core beliefs are under attack. Coalitions are not built by alienating people who disagree with us on many issues, but rather by building alliances around the issues with which we agree.


  1. Anonymous6:08 AM PDT

    I agree that we can't "win" in Iraq. But now that we've gotten ourselves into the mess, I don't have a clear concept of what we should do now.

  2. I think you speak for the large majority of Americans there, Hamel. There seems to be no shortage of things that people want to do... but, that's the the same as having a clear concept of what we should do.

    The crux of the issue seems to me to be weighing the lessor of two evils. We're there and nobody can go back in time and undo that. So the question seems to be one of whether withdrawing now carries greater risks than staying. Both seem to have their own risks.

    I want us to withdraw. But, I don't know that that's necessarily the best course of action. It's just what I want.

  3. Anonymous8:53 PM PDT

    Kevin, like you I want to withdraw. But not being there firsthand, I don't know what's best for the Iraqi people. One news source says we're hated as an occupying force. The next newscast has Iraqi people thanking soldiers. I know there will always be two sides to an issue, but I'd love to know what the majority of Iraqi civilians want. I know what I want, but whether that's best for the people of that country, I don't know. It's frustrating, to say the least.