25 February 2008

On Being

This blog is largely inspired by the same thoughts that spurred the previous entry. The past is an interesting thing. We think of it as a concrete thing, but what is tangible about the past? Sure, we have preserved monuments that haven't changed since the past, buy they are still very much in the present. Indeed, the meanings that we attribute to them are modern ones, for we can exist only in the space and time we live in and the meanings we conceive are products of now. More simply, we have the benefit of hindsight.

But hindsight is only relevant so far as our conception of the past is relevant. Our common idea of the past has become widespread and is assumed logical and "true." One event happens and leads to another and so on and so on bringing us to where we are in the modern day. I need only mention certain cultures with cyclical views of the past to complicate this hegemony. We can find multitudes of human understanding of the past. But nevertheless we, as your every day US citizen, conceive the past as linear and rationalize a lot on this assumption.

But I'd like to step outside the realm of humanity for second. I'll stretch post-modernity to its very limits. If indeed our past and the past of many other cultures are equally valid, then so to are the pasts of non-human creatures. Some might find this ridiculous. Can a dog be truly conscious of a past? I do not know. But if we can assume, for a moment, that human consciousness is one of many consciousnesses then we can take an example from the animal kingdom at large. We cannot get into their heads, true, but ideas of imprinting and adaptation seem to suggest a recognition of past conditions in relation to current ones. Even instinct may be some genetically owned conception or record of the past.

Some animals may have very short memories. What of the past for them? Radically different.

The point I want to make is that the past as we know it is an artifact. This has much to bear on my being. I have memories of my past, but they ways in which I formulate them and the ones I choose as pivotal are informed by who I am today. My memory is less representative of my past and more of my present.

Is there a true me then? Post modernists are often criticized for rejecting all truth, nihilism, oh my! This is not the case. There is a true me, it changes from day to day and reborn in every minute. I am at the whims of the present. I have been oft accused by a good friend and former girlfriend that I am not the way I used to be. That somehow I was veering from my true self. This also is not the case. At this point in my life I dedicated much time to figuring out who I am. I'm fairly confident in it and I can say that how I act is who I am. To create some idea of me may largely prove to be accurate, but when I act differently I am not less myself. I am always myself.

The past exists. But it should not be assumed as true or somehow verifiable. Any recollection of it is an artifact. The past is very real to me, but only as a creation of myself in the present. Tomorrow I will be different and so will my past.

As for the future: I'm still up in the air about that.

07 February 2008

"There is no true America."

Is anyone else terrified that potential presidents are competing as to who is the most and truest conservative? I didn't know you could get a prize for being openly willing to persecute those who don't read the same books as you. To be willing to hunt down and murder men. To be uncompromising in the fight to preserve "America" whatever the hell that means.

What is "America." I problematize that word because America is a continent, and a rather big, on which lies many countries, with many people, many traditions and many languages. I continue to problematize the word because it really isn't anything concrete to being with. America is little more than a collective (and an exclusive collective at that) idea that doesn't reflect a certain truth or history, but rather reflects our modern world. Nationalism, dear friends, is not something inherent; it is not a logical modern outcome of history. There is no true America.

I hear a lot of talk about the Founding Fathers. I almost laugh out loud due to the absurdity that the, arguably, misguided men who founded this nation had a long term vision and idea of what "America" was, should be and will be. It is absurd the belief that the Constitution somehow holds sacred knowledge and fact about what America was and is. Our very recollection and recognition of the past is purely a creation of ourselves and a rationalizing of who we are and where we are today. Any idea of the past is informed by numerous parties, schools of though, personal motives, etc.

Sure the United States exists and has existed in the past. This is obvious. I'll go further, there are trends in action and image that link together different points in time. But this is not because there is some true "America" that keeps us from descending into anarchy, communism and Islam. Trends are simply durations of similar problems which elicit similar responses by similar people. These are subject to change and have changed and always will change. Can something really be considered "UN-American?" Is there some true America to conserve? Won't conservatives simply incite more change by purposely setting and altering America's great march through history?

Shouldn't we look for a leader who has the best ideas of how to help the dismal downward spiraling situation that we call America? I've asked a lot of questions so far. For an answer I'll say this: Adhering to (and believing it to be certain truth) a notion that we must conserve and protect an idea of America (that is as much at the whims of political climate as a leaf is to the wind) is not the way.

02 February 2008

Waging War

Back to cynicism. I just this evening watched a documentary entitled, "No Way Out" about the Iraq War, and those responsible for the interminable chaos that has been wrought there. War and killing is one of a very few issues that I cannot really see a good side of. More accurately, I cannot easily defend it, there is no good side often. In any event, the pacifist within in was almost brought to tears at one point in the documentary. Partly good film making, partly deep disturbance.

The documentary had been showing the point where the UN sent in its best team to try and make some sort of difference. The team had set up outside of the US Green Zone and was making recommendations to the US team with input from Iraqis and experience in the war zone. At one point we are brought to a scene of a press conference inside the UN headquarters. One is led to believe and indeed I was that we would hear the UN speak out against the US and their means of waging war. Instead there is a blast and the screen goes dark. This bang caught me so off guard that I jumped up. My heart racing the next scene is one of chaos as a camera light turns on to people moving about rubble, those living staggering and bloodied move towards light. A bomb exploded just outside the UN headquarters and killed some 20-40 (no memory for details) people including the top official heading the operation. The UN played one of the few "good" roles in the film which mostly depicted evil being replaced by more evil and being resisted by still more evil. It was a heartbreaking moment.

The war was freshly on my mind because it had been a topic of discussion in the editorial board meeting of the student newspaper I work for. We were discussing our collective opinion on the latest effort to support the war, some 70 billion more dollars to fund the war through the rest of Bush's administration. I would even argue that such a sum of money should not be kept in one sum, but rather distributed almost imediately, but the thought of using so much money on killing is terrifying. Indeed, this sum would bring total war funding to nearly 800 billion dollars if not more. (The documentary uses a Harvard study that included economic costs that brings the total loss due to the war to several trillion dollars.)

We were split on saying whether this funding was good or bad. The bad obviously being that it supports killing and the good saying that we need to keep the troops safe until their job can be done. The best conclusion we could arrive at collectively was that the public should know exactly how the money is being used. I can't disagree with that, but it's really neither here nor there at this point.

Talk has now shifted to getting out of the situation in Iraq. Indeed, it is a very complicated situation complete withdrawal would be nearly as devastating and continued military force. I argue though, that the situation so far is such that we aren't pressured enough to consider true withdrawal. The administration is still getting all the money it needs and congress just signs the bills and goes back to bickering. I argue that cutting off financial support is the best way to end the war and not just because we couldn't support a presence there without funds.

What better way to force discussion about and ideas towards withdrawal methods than to be forced with an ultimatum. If this nation truly does not wish to wage war, to kill, to be killed then allowing funding for the war is ridiculous, even to "protect" the troops. The way the money is spent likely won't do anything to protect the troops, but merely give the administration further cushion to ride the inactivity of congress. By cutting off funding we would make the war finite and force the administration to really work. Suddenly there would be real deadlines. This is the best way to bring about the best exit strategy. If there is indeed a middle ground we will not find it until we refuse to wage war. Until all that we hold dear as "American" is on the line. As far as I'm concerned any funding for the war is akin to supporting the Bush administration in every decision it has made to date about the war. We may clarify the spending with excuses like protecting Iraqis, US troops and Middle East stability, but nonetheless we are still writing checks to support violent armed struggle.

This is the best answer any candidate could give me, not dates of removing troops not plans for exiting, but a refusal to fund war and to force this nation to come to terms, see reality and figure things out. There is no black and white in this situation, but we will never see the grays if we ride the wave of apathy and simply wait for the best action to present itself.