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Disagreement about Zbig: Acknowledging the Problem of Power

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The piece I posted here last week with the title "Glued to the Tube for Zbig: A Fantasy of a Hearing the Democrats Should Conduct" ran two days ago on Smirkingchimp.com. Knowing that audience, I attempted to forestall the attacks that could readily be anticipated on the protagonist of my fantasy hearing, Zbigniew Brzezinski: attacks declaring him an evil man for having played the role he played in the formulation of America's cold war policy, and the like. My attempts to pre-empt such attacks were unavailing, however, as you can see from looking at the various comments on that thread on Smirkingchimp at www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/3913. These evoked from me a lengthy response, which --because it deals with some issues I believe are important-- I am posting here below. ************** WHAT KIND OF A GUY IS ZBIG First, some commentators above grossly mischaracterize Brzezsinki. A statement like "Zbig himself was/is an advocate for complete control of the entire world by the United States" suggests that fantasies like mine, which I so label, are not the only kind. I believe that I know enough --and that includes a few personal conversations about international affairs spaced across a period from 1981 through the end of the 1990s-- to say that Brzezinski is a man of decency and principle whose image of how the world ought to be ordered is far more moral and just than that characterization. Brzezinski's role in shaping U.S. policy falls well within the range of what a responsible human being might do, given the global realities and dangers within which a nation state must operate. One might disagree with his conclusions, but to perceive those differences --as some here seem to do-- as a simple division between good (themselves and their views) and evil (the views of a man like Brzezinski) is to raise a serious issue: sometimes I wonder how much some people on the left understand about what kind of place the intersocietal system has been over the centuries and the millennia. CONFRONTING REALITY: THE PROBLEM OF POWER IN SOCIAL EVOLUTION I wonder what would happen if some of those people on the left were in a position not just to condemn the people who actually take on the task of trying to survive in a system that has been a Hobbsean state of war since the first kingdoms arose in Mesopotamia more than 5000 years ago. I figure that either they'd learn a few things that would make a man like Brzezinski seem less like a monster and more like a hero (unlike, in my view, Kissenger, whom I do not see as being guided by a strong moral core of deep principle), or they would lead their nation (and with it the world) into a disaster of some type. I spent a decade of the most intense years of my life writing a book whose subtitle is THE PROBLEM OF POWER IN SOCIAL EVOLUTION. (It's title is THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES.) The core idea contains as one of its elements that humankind stumbled --inadvertently, starting about 10,000 years ago-- into a situation in which the struggle for power among independent societies became and has remained inevitable, a struggle with most damaging consequences for the evolution of civilization. The anarchy in the intersocietal system has also systematically compelled human beings to make choices that do not contain the option that they might most wish to have. The option of simply living in peace is one that has not reliably been enjoyed by people in civilized societies. It's a tragic vision of the human condition. It does contain a piece of hope for how what was inevitable from the outset can now -in the coming generations--be overcome if humankind takes the right kinds of steps to create the right kind of new order in the intersocietal realm. I've not known Brzezinski to be particularly visionary in seeing how to build a wholly new kind of order, which is what THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES ultimately hopes for. But we are not right now very close to making such a great transformation, and for the foreseeable future we will have to cope with the regrettable order we still have. In that endeavor, I have known Brzezinski to be a man both brilliant and fundamentally moral in his approach. I should say, "I have SEEN Brzezinski thus," because my knowledge of him is not so complete as to give me certainty. I could be wrong. I'd give my probability of reading him correctly at 90%. And I'm more inclined to believe that the reason for the disagreement about Zbig is because some people here have simplified their world to make it very easy to condemn everything about the established order in their society, including pretty much everything about what America has done as a great power since it first stole the land from the Indians. So I might be mistaken, but I really don't think that's where our problem here lies. Think of it this way: Zbig is a guy Jimmy Carter chose, and stuck with throughout his term. Surely you recognize that Carter is a righteous man, don't you? I mean, here's a guy who's used his post-president life to help establish Habitat For Humanity and to monitor international elections and to go around where there's trouble and try (sometimes I think misguidedly, but always with the best of intentions) to help move things toward peace. Do you think Jimmy Carter would want a guy like that described by some of those commenters above to be his main advisor on national security? Oh, and by the way, there really ARE dangers out there. Including Al Qaeda and including those Iranians who are right now holding a conference to talk about how nothing like what we know of the Holocaust of the Jews really happened. Just because our criminal and lying president has made himself a bigger threat to America than any of those "evil-doers" the specter of which he has ridden in his quest for despotic power, that does not mean that there aren't really some dangerous and evil forces out there to threaten us. Why should now be different from --less dangerous than-- the rest of the history of civilization? KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE And then the other point, besides the mischaracterization of a fine man, is that I evidently failed in my attempt to draw a line between what, in my view, is germane to our conversation about how to save America from the Bushites and what is not. I'm referring to the point, apparently either not persuasive or ignored:
"And to anticipate objections that might be expected from some of my Chimpster friends to whom the idea that Brzezinski could play a valuable role is anathema because they have no use or regard or respect for any of America's old cold warriors, I would pose a few questions: "Who do you think would be more effective at persuading the American people that G.W. Bush has degraded America and its position in the world with his Iraq venture than someone who has credibility with the hawks? Do you believe that someone whose viewpoint is more in accord with yours -a Howard Zinn, perhaps, or a Noam Chomsky-would do as well at moving public opinion against Bush and his unilaterialist imperialist war of choice? And if moving public opinion against the Bushites is not what you'd wish to achieve with such a hearing, just what would your goal be?"
TO CATER OR TO CHALLENGE It might be argued that it is somehow inappropriate for me to talk in this challenging and not ingratiating way with my audience, or with at least part of my audience (I get emails that tell me that I speak for some Chimpsters). And I, liking to be liked by my audience, have some trepidations about saying things I don't think they will want to hear. But isn't saying things that some people really, really don't want to hear --like "Bush is not God's annointed in this difficult time, not an honest man; but he is the instrument of evil forces, and everything about him is a lie"-- been the whole central activity of our movement? And I believe there's plenty of good reason to believe that in our polarized society, none of the various parties to our political and moral struggles is all that good an embodiment of wisdom. That, I have argued throughout the 1990s, is part of the very nature of polarization; and that --I have as my central theme on my website-- is why there is a need to see the rise of such evil forces to such a place of power in America as part of a wider pathology --a moral crisis-- that afflicts American culture generally, and for which both sides of the divide have significant responsibility. So I do not believe that "our side" is reliably aligned with the good and the true either. So if I am willing to say challenging and unwelcome things to the right-wingers --and I have in some very bruising radio shows I've done monthly by phone to a very conservative part of a very conservative state-- I can't see why I should shrink from doing the same when it seems appropriate with those on "my side" of the divide. I would think it appropriate to change some of the focus in this way. For we have moved from a time when what we most needed was for enough people to recognize the truth about the Bushites --or to repudiate them, which regrettably is not the same thing-- to a time when what is most needed is for our side to work well together (all the factions in the movement, and the Democrats who actually have the power to do something) with an effective strategy for defeating the Bushites. The election has made the first challenge --see that Bush is evil-- less urgent, and has made the second challenge --what's the best strategy for winning from where we are post-election-- more urgent. So I feel it is my responsibility to address what seem to me impediments to clear understanding and right action. I pledge to do my best to pose such challenges as constructively as I can; and, understanding that not everyone will like what I'm saying, I only ask that those people respond in the same spirit.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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