Warning: contains political content, and flowers
by Rob Tiller
There was a triathelon in Raleigh this morning, and the route included a road I was planning to take up to Raulston Arboretum to see the blossoms. So no go. I tried again in the late afternoon, and got to see the flowers in some wonderful golden sunlight. I’ve been learning to use the DSLR in manual mode without autofocus, and am just starting to feel comfortable taking full responsibility for the exposure. Most of these photos were taken with my Nikon 60 mm 1:2.8 macro lens. There was no postproduction Photoshopping of any sort. Pretty nice, huh?
Being the President has got to be a pretty hard job. In addition to being hated with a white-hot hatred by many no matter what you do, your inner critic is also always there. You want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? And when you’re reasonably sure you know the right thing, what if you can’t do it by yourself? Which of course is always the case.
I really have many warm feelings for President Obama, and one of things that makes me proud of this country is that we elected him. But I’m so frustrated and disappointed with him. We’re still in Afghanistan, killing and being killed without any reasonably achievable objective, still brutalizing prisoners in Guantanamo, still imprisoning people and destroying families for victimless drug crimes, still running headlong toward climate apocalypse. We’ve instituted a surveillance state with the potential to rival Orwell’s darkest visions.
There are, no doubt, many forces quite separate from the President’s own desires that are driving these horrors and disasters. He probably regrets them. But like it or not, he’s the President, and that’s where the buck stops.
The President’s speech at West Point this week proposed to reframe our global mission for the foreseeable future as stamping out terrorism. Is this less absurd than fighting to obliterate communism, or more? Is there any chance that we will ever kill every crazy fanatic that would like to do us harm? Does it really make sense to make this our mission?
So, you ask, have I got a better idea to address the real menace of the homicidal religious fanatics? I thought a bit, and had an idea: we change their minds. We get them to see things from our point of view. That would about do it, wouldn’t it? We help them to see that the idea of blowing up people as a suicide bomber and then being a martyr and having the 72 virgins in paradise is just nutty, and so they stop murdering people.
You see the problem, of course: how do we change their minds? True, we do not currently have the technology to do this. We have amazingly little knowledge of why people think the way they do about the need for Sharia law, jihad, or most anything else. We assume it has to do with their culture and upbringing, with economic disadvantage and resentments, but we can’t frame those out with precision. More important, we have no precise knowledge of how to address and prevent really bad ideas, like racism or religious intolerance, or really bad acts, like suicide bombing.
Or anything else, for that matter. But what if we created a major program with some billions of dollars to figuring this out? And we’re already spending millions and millions to understand the brain and human behavior. If we treated it like the Apollo program, eventually we might get there. Instead of killing terrorists, and thereby creating new terrorists, we’d change their minds.
This sounded like a good idea, but after a little more thinking, I realized it would probably be disastrous. If we replaced our vast ignorance of the causes of human behavior with perfect knowledge, we’d be even worse off.
Think about it. What if we figured out how to make everyone agree with us? What if our government, or any government, had the necessary tools to prevent opposing thoughts and eliminate all anger? Would that government happily tolerate reasonable people who advocate, say, a major change in abortion policy, or drug policy, or climate policy? Has there ever been a government that happily tolerated opposition? Once we got the terrorists minds under control, who would be next? Overly vocal dissidents?