Being Intellectually Divorced

I spent the day today talking about the war in Iraq and possible solutions, about protests and voices. But behind all of this has been the disappointment of hearing people chastise the peace movement — dismissive statements about self-indulgent moralizing.

Once, not long ago, before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote that it was important to respect those people who choose not to protest:

I think one thing we’ve learned since the last major global anti-war demonstration is that these demonstrations aren’t for everyone; neither is some or even all aspects of the anti-war movement. We must remember to respect each other’s beliefs and choices, if what we say in these demonstrations means anything at all.

We’re heading into tense, difficult times. Regardless of what each of us believes, we have to keep in mind our respect for each other. Our service people in the Middle East deserve our respect. So do the people of Iraq. It just breaks my heart to see two groups who deserve respect having to kill each other because a few men, deserving of no respect, have demanded it in their arrogance.

It’s difficult, then, to see people deny me, and others who have been part of the movement, that same respect.

Kottke came out with a posting on the war, the first and only time he’s made a statement about it. He wrote:

It’s all much more complicated than this. All the arguments out there for and against are necessarily shallow. We’re getting very small pieces of the whole story from TV reports, newspaper articles, weblog postings, and magazine pieces. No one has the time to read or write a complete analysis of the situation (which would be a social, political, religious, scientific and economic history of the world from 5000 B.C. up until 2 minutes ago…basically all human knowledge).

Summing up, Bush bad, war bad, this war not so bad even though bad Bush reasons also bad.

Rather than provide a solution, or an alternative, he basically calls all sides the joker and dusts his hands off from any further discussion. Back to blogging as usual, he’s made his stand and his statement. He’s done his part. And oh, the praise that came in when this posting was published.

Yet, what did Kottke say — that the pro-war and the anti-war sides are all idiots, but he’s neither so he’s intellectually superior to both?

Demands have been made of the peace movement: what are our solutions? What is our strategy? Good questions, and ones we should look at answering. I’ve tried to start this discussion, though I realize that the Kottkes of the world will consider it to be trite and ineffectual and it most likely would be laughed out of any number of erudite gatherings in New York and San Francisco.

What those who would disdain what I say miss, though, is that for all of its simplicity and idealism, it comes from the heart and I am at least doing something. It comes because I genuinely want to make a difference. Because I’m doing the best I can.

Kottke says:

Just as unconvincing as Bush’s flimsy arguments for war have been the arguments from the other side for peace. Talk about preaching to the choir. Your “blood for oil” and “give peace a chance” signs are as ridiculous and unconvincing as Bush’s “well, they’re evil” argument. War is bad. Duh. Any ideas as to alternatives? Praying, marching, and hoping for peace isn’t going to get it done alone. Bush and the peaceniks are both equally at fault for not working hard enough at having a meaningful dialogue on Iraq, each side settling for lobbing rhetoric over the wall. Bush looks like a chimp. Great…now tell me what the fuck that has to do with anything. Blech.

By demeaning both sides of the equation, Kottke is indulging in an intellectual divorce from the issue. But can a person do this? This conflict isn’t happening on someone else’s world.

You see, the war is happening. People are dying. Chaos is increasing, and there will be deeper and heavier prices to pay on this issue before this is over. To condemn both sides with a pithy chi-chi clever dismissal doesn’t absolve Kottke, or anyone else, of responsibility. Doesn’t make them superior to we who made our simple statements either for or against this war.

Dave Rogers would have us shut down the protests and fund organizations and people such as Blair and develop thinktanks and have conferences as a solution to Iraq. He wrote:

What would it take? There are already probably some organizations who have some thoughts on these things, maybe sponsor some kind of international conference of these various groups. Outline an agenda for what the immediate needs are likely to be for post-war Iraq. What will be the security arrangements? How will the oil be sold and what will be done with the revenues? What is the state of the health and education infrastructures within the nation? What are the real problems with ethnic animosities among the various groups? What kind of reconciliation efforts will there people? Does South Africa have a model that may help? What about the environmental issues? It seems to me we have an opportunity to really help the people of Iraq and the entire region if we can get our act together before Bush declares victory.

My only possible answer to Dave is that we had the organization. It’s called the UN. What he asks for is what the UN is supposed to do. But it does no good if the UN is diregarded by the US and other members of the coalition. Creating a new UN like infrastrature won’t be any more successful.

I can respect what Dave’s saying, but it seems to me — just my own opinion — that what might be happening is that he, and others, are being overwhelmed by the emotion on both sides and they just want it to stop. They want to war to reach its conclusion and the fighting to stop, and for those who protest the war to stop and to give everyone peace, which in this case is silence. Or perhaps not silence, but the absence of emotion.

Normalcy. A return to normalcy.

The peace movement, or whatever we call it, does need to focus, and I think this conversation now is a good one and I’m appreciative that it’s started. But I also think there’s a deep disappointment undelying some of the pushback against the movement. Ultimately, we failed people — we didn’t stop the war and we didn’t come up with a alternative that would stop this war in time. Now, the coalition of Bush and Blair and Howard have invaded Iraq and we’re in for some nasty, nasty times. We failed the world by not stopping this. So now, we’re being asked, what are we going to do about it?

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