Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Secretary of Peace?

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

--- George Washington
I was at IPFW (Indiana University - Purdue University, Fort Wayne) last evening. Before this year, I taught physics there; one of my former students, of whom I think very highly, is involved in Phi Theta Kappa, a service and honors organization. They conduct a series of "satellite seminars" during the fall semester, and last night's was the final one for this year. At these events, there's an hour's worth of satellite TV linkage with the main speaker, a host, and a studio audience; then there's a second hour at each local site with a local discussion panel. (I was a local panelist one evening last year, having been recruited by my student.)

So, as I say, I attended last night mostly so I could renew acquaintance with my star former student, which was agreeable. The speaker, as you may have seen from the link above, was Arun Ghandi (Mohandas K.'s grandson), who had some interesting things to say -- some of which I agreed with, and others about which I was dubious, to varying degrees. All in all, well worth an hour of my life. The local panel was something else. With all due respect to my friends of a liberal persuasion, I'll just say that a formidable load of good, classic, all-assuming, self-satisfied lefty claptrap was duly delivered. By now I'm sure it's all been shoveled out of Walb G21, and much of the, uhhh, aroma will have dissipated, so no harm, I suppose. Add to that the fact that the local panel featured Kevin Knuth, and I have to admit that my review might not be particularly objective. Well, so it goes; one man's meat is another man's etc., etc. Your mileage may vary.

One lady sitting in the local audience said something, at the end of the "local" hour, that provoked a thought in me. She was describing her own thoughts during the days following the Holy Nine-Eleven, during which she was wondering what sort of counsel Dubya was getting -- considering that the Pentagon constitutes a huge voice that was presumably urging war-war-war. Where, she wondered, was that part of the government that would be institutionally inclined to counsel peace, as the Joint Chiefs and so forth would be to counsel war? Leaving aside the extremely low probability that it made any difference what sort of advice The Great Chucklehead -- who, by all accounts, had long since decided that invading Iraq would be super-keen and was looking for any excuse to do so -- might receive, that was a good question. Where, indeed, is the Peace Department?

The answer, it seems to me, is not a cheerful one. As our first and best president warned us, the fundamental nature of government is force and compulsion. Violence, and the threat of violence, is the very grammar of government. Take away the euphemisms, and the essence of government is a gun, held to your head and mine, because we can't otherwise be trusted to be good boys and girls. Why does neither the political left nor the right understand this? "Conservatives:" you know that government that you like so well when it builds stealth airplanes and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and uses them to stage splendidly-patriotic little wars? That's the same government that regards the wealth that you earn as its natural property, and makes careful calculations about what fraction that it might choose to allow you to keep. "Liberals:" you know that government that you like so well when it sets mandatory fuel-economy standards and minimum wages, and determines what classes of private property that smoking may be permitted in? That's the same government that enacted "PATRIOT" Acts 1 & 2, and whose "war on drugs" has made the Fourth Amendment into a balled-up scrap of paper in the trash can. Averaged over time, government is scrupulously neutral concerning the left-right argument; what it does consistently is to increase its own power. More guns, larger caliber.

To expect an entity organized around coercion and violence to adopt a meaningful institutional mechanism promoting nonviolence is like expecting an organized-crime "family" to start sincerely promoting modest living and hard, honest work. It's like expecting to get milk from a steer. It's just not happening.

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