The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Moneypenny is dead, and a Modest Proposal

Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny in 16 of the James Bond movies, has died at the age of 80. I agree with Roger Moore: it would have been great for her to have been promoted to “M.” Sigh…
As the drumbeat to war in Iran grows louder, I look at two basic possibilities:

1) there are good reasons that the average American would agree with for going to war.
2) There are not.

another two possibilities:
1) we can trust the Average American to understand what is in his or her best interests.
2) We can not.

I will put my opinion out front and center, publicly:

I would be willing to trust my fellow citizens, had they the information. I feel that the only honest thing to do is to lay out my own criteria for deciding that the situation is sufficiently dire enough to launch an attack.
1) The best predictor of the future is the past. Therefore, we must assume that it will cost a minimum of half a trillion dollars and kill a million Iranian citizens. If it isn’t worth this, it isn’t worth it.
2) The possibility that the intelligence is WRONG simply cannot be overlooked. Like Dubya said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…can’t be fooled again.” One of the vicious debates post-Iraq is whether or not the White House cherry-picked the information that went on to Congress. Whether those offering contrary opinions were shouted down, or threatened. Whether the weapons inspectors were in fact correct in their assessments of Iraqi WMD. Was Richard Clark right that Dubya wanted war from the minute he came into the office? This debate has been pretty raw. I would assume that there are many Americans who wish that Clark had come out BEFORE the invasion and said these things. I am one of them. All right then…let’s have a public debate, a public presentation of the reasoning for and against, presented by loyal Americans TO loyal Americans. Let ANYONE who has anything to say about slanted data, shaky sources, shady deals, or ANYTHING else that they would write a book or hit the talk show circuit with in the coming years come out NOW. Let Bush make a public pronouncement: that the ultimate act of patriotism is to stand up and speak. Let him vow publicly to bring the full weight of punitive action against anyone who attempts in any way to retaliate against these patriots who seek nothing more than informed, intelligent public discourse.
2-A) The only reason I can think not to do the above is that you genuinely do not believe in the intelligence and courage of the American citizen. Fine. I invite you to say this straight out, and publicly: these decisions cannot be left to the voter, or the Average American isn’t smart/good enough to sort this out. There is nothing dishonorable about thinking this. It IS dishonorable to lie about the fact that this is what you think.

This is an impossibility, and I understand that. This is, therefore, not a completely serious suggestion. I have to say it, however. In a perfect world, the only ones allowed to present or evaluate information would be those willing to swear that they do NOT believe the average Muslim is in any way morally or intellectually inferior to the average Christian or Jew.

Ideally, the best people to make and evaluate such presentations wouldn’t be Christians, Muslims, or Jews at all. They could be atheists, Buddhists, or Hindus, perhaps. The reason ties into my entire theory of perceptual lenses.

Having Christians and Jews make decisions about what should be done with Muslims is like having Muslims decide what to do with Israel. The only disagreement I can see is on the basis that Muslims are intellectually or morally inferior—or deluded—in comparison to Christians and Jews.

And can’t you see how easy it is for Christians and Jews to come to such a conclusion? They are, after all, dealing with somewhat competing metaphysical views. The average Christian ABSOLUTELY thinks that Muslims are, well, theologically inferior (and vice versa). How can I be so certain? Because I challenge you to find a single “Christian” who believes that Muslim theology is superior. Good luck. That means that the best you can get is a belief in equality of purpose and truth between the two religions. That’s the BEST you can do. That means that one single Christian who believes Christianity is superior skews the entire group. Anyone want to speculate what percentage of Christians think Christ is a greater spiritual figure than Mohammad? Any other attitude is simply contrary to human nature.

Having members of group X comment about the rights, capacities or status of group Y almost ALWAYS gets answers supportive of group X’s interests. Southern Whites in the 60’s would say blacks were perfectly happy—and not quite capable of governing themselves. White South Africans about blacks. Men about women: “why, we’re not repressing them, we’re protecting them!” Women about men: “if mothers ran the world, there would be no wars!” Straights about gays: “they’re sick, and we’re just trying to help them.” Rich people about poor people: “we produce the wealth that benefits everyone. Let us hold onto more of our money, and a rising tide lifts all boats!” Poor people about rich people: “Workers of the world unite!” And on, and on and on.

If everyone making policy, evaluating information and implementing action is of group X, you can be pretty damned certain that, no matter what they say, no matter their intent, no matter their morality, intelligence, or education, they will view the world through perceptual filters that exclude data contrary to their own self-interests, and automatically end every engagement with more territory, wealth, power, or influence than they started the game with. It is automatic, it is natural, it is about as human as breathing.

But that’s wishful thinking. There will never be a situation where we accept the judgment of those who aren’t “us,” no matter how clearly it can be demonstrated that the perceptual dice are loaded. That too is human nature.

So virtually NO ONE is gonna take the position that Muslims are on the average superior, or that Islam is superior, or that the Middle East is superior to the West, a big chunk of Americans will extend the belief in equality. And then another big chunk (anyone want to speculate on the percentages?) believe us to be superior. Which means that the average American believes us superior. Anyone want to speculate how this percentage rises among the power elite? The military? Conservative Christians? You’ve got to be kidding.

That means that you can expect the same result as if you only canvassed Muslims about America or Christianity. Wouldn’t you love to find someone stupid enough to bet with you on the odds of a bunch of conservative Muslims finding America superior to Saudi Arabia?

But I get that even though it is inevitable that if group X has the power to control group Y they will end up controlling Y’s territory, resources, and reproductive rights, there’s nothing much to be done about it. Further, the radicals within group X knows that some percentage of their population DOES consider Y to be “equal” (and boy, do they snicker about that!) and therefore will offer humanitarian and security reasons for doing what everyone wants to do: control or eliminate Y.

This is so incredibly dangerous, and it pops up whenever there is a clearly defined X and Y. And boy oh boy, do we have such a clear definition now.

So…if we can’t step outside the human perceptual system, could we at least have a public debate, with loyal members of our own government appointed to present the case for and against? Let anyone who has information come forward now instead of later?

And how about looking at everyone who was RIGHT about Iraq, and give them a special forum to present their opinions about Iran? We might not automatically agree with them, or consider their opinions golden, but wouldn’t it be the worst kind of folly to ASSUME they are wrong? And if they turned out to be right—again—for God’s sake, wouldn’t you feel foolish and used?

So…if we aren’t interested in the opinions of the rest of the world, could we at least have a conversation among Americans, and have the civil servants we hire to evaluate and gather data charged with making the case for and against publicly? Please?


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