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in good we trust
We’re all hyperbolists
I have been completely unable to write since July 20. OK, really July 16 because July 20 was just me moping because Helen Thomas died. That’s more than a month.
I’ve taken a vacation since that time. Spent a week at the beach, watching birds. Sun, sand, salt water and seafood. Driving with the top down. Friends. Still, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I look inside, and I am completely empty. I see something outrageous and the best I can muster is a decidedly un-outrageous “Meh.”
Not that there’s been nothing going on that I could opine at length about. It’s like my heart has given up. Or maybe it’s just overloaded.
My day job (OK, I work mostly nights) is filled with Egypt these days. The army deposed a democratically elected president, shoots supporters dead on the streets. Those supporters kill police, burn churches. Non-supporters of the president try to protect the churches. It really all reminds me of when Hosni Mubarak was deposed and the army was cracking down on his opponents, only the Muslim Brotherhood has better videographers. And both “sides” demonize the other and sanctify themselves. Either/or. Except it isn’t. Middle East analyst Dalia Ezzat regularly tweets this out to her new Twitter followers:
Over here in the new CSA (Corporate States of America), my Twitterati friends were losing their collective marbles on Sunday over the UK government’s 9-hour detention of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow. Greenwald, you may recall, is the fellow who introduced us to Edward Snowden. His partner, Brazilian David Miranda, was on his way back home from Berlin, where Greenwald’s publication, The Guardian, had paid him to go meet with Laura Poitras, the filmmaker who introduced Snowden to Greenwald. A sizable portion of the Twitterati are going on about how Miranda was detained merely for being Greenwald’s husband. The UK’s “terrorism law” pretty much allows them to detain anyone, anytime and take all their stuff too (they confiscated all Miranda’s electronics), but I’ve got to wonder if this incident would have happened if Miranda had been on, say, a ski vacation to Switzerland, paid for with his own money, instead of a Guardian-funded junket to see a filmmaker who herself has been detained dozens of time at various borders.
That doesn’t mean I think Miranda’s detention is all hunky-dory. Coming to that conclusion would require me to believe that the laws passed in the wake of the 21st Century’s most notorious acts of terrorism were: a) justified; and b) helpful in any way. I happen to believe neither. Same goes for the NSA’s secret surveillance “revealed” by Snowden-Poitras-Greenwald-Guardian. Remember when George W Bush used to tell us all the time that “they” were attacking “us” because “they” hated “our” way of life and that we weren’t going to bow down to terrorists? Tell me again, what exactly is stripping us of so many civil liberties and going around trying to scare the bejesus out of us if not bowing down to terrorists?
But here’s where I differ from the SPGGs of the world. I don’t think this stuff puts the United States and the United Kingdom on equal footing with, say, Russia, the Philippines or (ahem) Brazil, where government actors sometimes have a bad habit of killing journalists who say things governments don’t like. I can dislike the steady march toward a true police state we appear to be on without waving my arms frantically and claiming we’re already there. Hyperbole, I think it’s called, and it’s also the source of those aforementioned laws.
I suppose it’d all make a little more sense if we weren’t caught in this dualistic hell where everything must be one or the other. In Egypt, you’re either for the Muslim Brotherhood or you are for the army. In the NSA story, the United States is Stalinist Russia incarnated or taking its job of protecting citizens seriously. Maybe I’ve told you this before, or maybe I haven’t, but it seems to me that when you’re forced to pick one from Column A or one from Column B, you don’t have a choice: You have a dilemma. And dilemmas are nothing more trying to decide between the lesser of two evils.
Look where that’s gotten us.
See, I think that both those who have foisted those nutty and unhelpful laws on us and those who are waving their arms to point out their evil truly believe they’re helping. Who among us doesn’t want to help, to see ourselves as part of the solution to What Ails Us? Despite what it sometimes looks like, that’s actually part of the human condition. We just have very different ideas about how to help. And should our egos get involved, our personal desires, or even some myopic drive for tribalism, those supposedly helpful ideas can venture far from the concept of the common good any such “helping” is supposed to be about.
That’s really what’s driven us so far apart in these difficult times.
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
— Martin Luther King Jr
When we see ourselves as separate in any way — that who we are is different, what we want is different, that some people don’t deserve our assistance — we lose the ability to truly aide anyone. If we can’t see the basic humanity in all of us, we are truly lost.
I guess that’s why I’ve had so much trouble writing. I stopped seeing a significant portion of the population as human and I was lost. To be perfectly honest, I may not have been seeing much of anybody as human these past few weeks.
But we are. Each and every one of us, gloriously and imperfectly human. Muslim Brotherhood, Copts, the Egyptian army. Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Barack Obama, David Cameron. Robert Mugabe, Nelson Mandela. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Martin Richard. Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman. You, me. All of us.
That is the common good.
- Thumbnail photo on front page by the author.