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Reopening the Wound

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One human characteristic is probably the single largest hindrance to independent thought, the life-simplifying willingness to follow others. Everyone does this. It may be that a person immediately gives a higher interest to the recipes of Julia Child than to those produced by others, may only listen to one person for investing advice, or only listens to one party's political leaders. There is so much information in life that no one can know it all, so we-each of us-identify leaders for specific areas of life and we follow them.

And, as our horizons have broadened and our world has become more complex, we use a hierarchy of leaders to deal with the increased information and complexity. For example, a political partisan may accept the utterances of party leaders who they know nothing about without any real thought because these people are trusted by people who are known and trusted. It is efficient. There isn't enough time to analyze every issue in order to come to a well-ordered position on its importance in the scheme of things, so we defer to others--probably most of the time.

However, this life-simplifying innovation stands in the way of dealing with complex situations, particularly where the leadership is fixated on one view of an event for a relatively long period early on. Research suggests that once people make a decision they are very reluctant to change their minds, even in the face of new undeniable evidence contrary to their position on the matter. This is undoubtedly one of the evolutionary innovations that made humans relatively efficient thinkers, we (generally) don't keep repeating an analysis over and over, particularly when our own experience of an event is reinforced by everyone around us. Where leaders universally take a position on an issue early on and keep it for some substantial time, all the new evidence in the world is going to largely fall on deaf ears. That is, unless there is something extraordinary to bring this matter to the top of society's attention again--in effect, to force the leaders to deal with it again.

The events of September 11th, 2001, are an example of just such a one-sided situation. On a single day the individuals of an entire society believed themselves to be under attack from outsiders, in that situation there is little--if any--room for detached independent analysis. In particular, there are too many unknowns, so everyone--from the leaders down--accepts without question the events as they have seen them or heard them described. In short order (days probably) our understanding of the event has been largely cast in stone.

However, the events of September 11th, 2001, have many incredibly difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous effects on our society. For example:

1. We attacked another nation (Iraq)--apparently unprovoked--and killed (at least) tens of thousands of people and destroyed their social, economic, and cultural infrastructure

2. We have adopted a strategy of war against an idea (the war on terror) and used it to justify indiscriminate killing of anyone we think may even be inclined to make us fearful

3. We have given up the liberties that have made us a unique culture in the world--like our ability to speak, act, and work without the government indiscriminately looking over our shoulders

4. We have committed much of our treasury and our armies to an occupation half a world away in spite of the evidence from our experience in Vietnam suggesting the this war doesn't make us safer and the chance of its successful conclusion are probably zero.

5. With the repeal of posse comitatus, we have given the army the legal ability to operate within the borders of the country--a prerequisite for simplifying armed insurrection by dissatisfied generals.

All of these things have either been justified by, or done under, the cover of the fear engendered by the events of September 11th, 2001. They have set the stage for a much, much more dangerous world, substantially reduced the democratic nature of our society, and limited our ability to deal realistically with many of the socioeconomic problems that we as individuals face daily. Following are some of the physically threatening realities of our current society:

1. A single illness in a family can easily result in personal bankruptcy even when we have insurance.

2. Our jobs are moving to other countries and the only apparent solution to this is for us to consume our way out of the problem.

3. The principle financial asset of most families (their homes) has declined precipitously in value in the last 24 months.

4. The pensions that we have contributed to and have been partially funded by the corporations we work for can be substantially underfunded by the company and nothing can be done about it.

5. The bank where all our current liquidity is stored may be insolvent and there is no way for us to know.

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Technical writer, process designer, and democrat.

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