World Economic Forum
New York City, February 1-4, 2002

By patriotism, I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world, but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand,, is inseparable from the desire for power." --George Orwell (1945)

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"Crazy madness is all I see out my window,
it doesn't matter who's the president, yo."

"What is wrong with America?" Scott asks.

He will hold me to a high standard. That's good, but I'm not ready to commit to an answer.

There are times (more recently) when I sincerely question whether I belong here. Trouble is, everywhere else is worse. What I long to be free of (political selfishness) is epidemic in humans. Besides, this is my home. It's my mess. And it is a mess.

There are many things and reasons to protest. The one assessment of ourselves we all agree on 100% is that things aren't perfect. So, what of the various causes that braved a cold February Saturday in the concrete canyons of Manhattan?

Scott continues: "Our religion has led us astray. I mean capitalism, of course."

Anti-capitalist? As I walked the paved-over land that was bought for $24 (transparent markets are better for the little guy, eh?), I was struck by the overwhelming hypocrisy of the anti-capitalist movement. It's not just that radical socialists and communists are too idealistic. It's that they fail to learn the lessons of history. Competition plays a central role in our psyche. It's symptomatic of the way we ill-tolerate complexity in social thinking to say that competition excludes cooperation. The truth of their interdependence is manifest all around us.

Competition is fundamental in nature. So is cooperation. Why revile one and praise the other? The parameters of capitalism are as open to our interpretation as the Constitution. This power we shrink from. Exhalting community over profits throws the baby out with the bath water, while the reverse is contrary to our best interests.

But it's most important to abandon the simplistic all-or-nothing approach to seeming contradictions. Life is infinitely richer than that.

We have a failure of process. We are terrible at it. See what our religions have taught us? Faith in Authority: denigration of critical thinking skills. Among the myths is "original intent". We are obviously unable to decide for ourselves. Try this: see the founding fathers as they really were: godless revolutionaries (no wonder we feared communism so much: the American Revolution was the only successful revolution in history). Their wisdom should be our guide, not our master. It's the idea of America that is important.

That said, even the marchers were awash in corporate logos.

All societies alienate some of their members. They either organize or die slow deaths. If organized, they will succeed to some degree. At worst it will merely salve the open wound of their suffering. Principled dissent and patriotic resistance are indispensible for a nation's (and our own) health.

"Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purpose is beneficent... The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

--Louis Brandeis

Anti-war? Only the most idealistic person could believe war is merely a dysfunction. It's our third most potent drive, and not always a bad thing. There are people of ill will out there. Sometimes it does come down to us or them. A philosophy that violence is always wrong fails. Much is made of the Great Soul's success in India, but he did not act in a vacuum. There was much threat from parallel factions. And the numbers weren't promising for the colonials.

Anti-Israel? Please. Peace has always been solely in the hands of her neighbors. Some have wanted it, others perhaps never will. I don't wish any ill on the Palestinian people, and I think their grief is genuine. But .. I don't see a solution that satisfies their requirements and Israel's security. In that conflict, I take Israel's side. I believe they want peace. No one has yet called their bluff, if that's what it is.

In the largest sense, if we take the view that it's all about money, then it's easily resolved. Once we finally undo the last 3 centuries of lower class rape and redistribute a bunch of the ill-gotten wealth, we can finally get down to warring over the really important things that naturally divide us: religion and sports.

"So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs. "

--Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Free Burma? Of course. Governments not chosen by their people are abominations.

And we must aspire to the same standards here at home. GWB may be my president, but he wasn't duly elected. The harm caused there will take a generation to heal. That's not to mention the wholesale reversal of environmental regulation designed to merely stave off our demise by a few score years. We will all pay, regardless of who voted for whom.

I'm always in the middle. In Law School, I was a charter member of our chapter of Amnesty International. At one meeting they held a long discussion (in my presence) about whether I could be a member without publicly declaring myself anti-death-penalty. I will always be in the middle, even if the center doesn't hold.

Pro-environment? Nature is not a loving mother. It couldn't care less about us. It has thrown up whole worlds that have been gone longer than we've been crawling around up here. It won't miss us when we're gone. We are our only hope for survival. And that's the worst news of all.

"Life is a long lesson in humility."

-- J. M. Barrie

As Kent Brockman (an unlikely symbol of enduring belief) put it, "Once again, I've been had." I'm disappointed not only in my fellow citizens, but myself for believing in "better" as a possible destination.

The Buddha teaches many wonderful things, but the truth most important to me is that life is suffering, but we should participate in it joyfully.

Next weekend I'm snowboarding.

"The more we live by our intellect,
the less we understand the meaning of life."

-- Leo Tolstoi

Tom Paine

Another World is Possible