Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What can I do about it?

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend that, in my mind at least, centered around the idea of personal responsibility for everyday choices.

In my view, we live in a society that has progressively disavowed itself from responsibility for its actions. This subject is a tired one for some, but it is also a subject that I believe underlies most of the problems that face the United States right now.

In particular, my weekend conversation focused on the otherwise innocuous idea of buying groceries. With each passing day, I become more skeptical of the industrial system that dominates our modern food chain from farm to factory to supermarket. There are thousands of problems endemic to this system, from the nutrition of processed foods to the safety of those same foods.

My contention is that it is time for all of us to take responsibility for our food consumption actions, an idea that elicited the inevitable “well, what am I supposed to do about it” response from some participants in my conversation. This response struck me as both odd and short sighted.

This response strikes me as odd because it implies, at the least, that where, how, and when one buys food is out of one’s control. It is that attitude that is part of the problem. As a society, we have fallen for the story told to us with such force through advertising and sheer presence that the megamart is the only place we can feed ourselves. We do not tend to think beyond the advertising for reasons that are sometimes inscrutable to me.

This response also strikes me as short sighted because it ignores the alternatives hidden just out of sight of the megamart ad. The proliferation of farmers markets, buying clubs, and reborn specialty grocery stores tells a story that the megamart does not want us to hear, but it is one we can find if we just look.

So what remains is that so many of us simply do not take responsibility for our grocery buying decisions. We make a choice to follow the lead of the megamart advertisement, but when we get fat or sick because of that choice, suddenly it is not our fault, even though there were alternatives available all along.

This idea is not just limited to groceries either, but the food buying example serves the whole problem well. Whether we are talking about groceries or gas prices or politics, the same “what am I supposed to do about it” ducking of personal choices and their consequences seems to reign, yet many people continue to be surprised when the consequences continue even as they continue to make the same choices.

This process implies that these problems--be they groceries or gas prices or politics--are unsolvable when they are entirely solvable if we choose differently. What is missing is the resolve to do the different thing, even when the benefits of such a choice are obvious.

While it is a painfully slow process, I am working to wean myself off the industrial farm system and replace it with food bought locally, from the producers, and in season. I am going so far, if everything works out as I hope it will, to take over a farm in the attempt to transform it into a sustainable one. These are active, conscious choices that I believe fly in the face of the “what am I supposed to do about it” mentality with regard to the grocery question.

We can apply this same process to most of our other everyday choices. If we do not like the price of gas, we can drive less. If we do not like the job our politicians are doing, we can involve ourselves in the political process. What we have to do, however, is choose to do something different from what we have always done.

This change in choice involves more than just shopping at a different grocery; it necessarily involves consciously choosing to accept the consequences that result. Sure, locally produced, in season food is more expensive. Driving less alters my lifestyle. Being politically active requires action and commitment on my part. These are consequences, yet to me at least, these are consequences I accept because of their benefits to my quality of life and wellbeing.

What can I do about it? I can choose responsibly being fully conscious of the consequences I accept as part of the choices I have made. I can change my grocery shopping habits because I believe it is the right thing to do for reasons that transcend convenience, slick advertizing, and habit. I can apply this same model to whatever I do, no longer doing them by rote but because I am trying to make something happen.

In making such choices, I become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. At that moment “what am I supposed to do about it” becomes an invitation rather than an excuse.


Cross-posted on Dennis L Hitzeman’s Worldview Weblog

Monday, July 7, 2008

Do you want to know why?

In the years since the invasion of Iraq, both sides of the resulting debate have had much to say about why President Bush pushed forward. Opponents claim Bush lied; proponents say that the invasion was inevitable. Opponents claim it was not the US’s responsibility; proponents say freeing Iraq is at the heart of our responsibility.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric and punditry has long since drowned out the complexity that is Iraq. As a result, neither side works with the facts anymore but instead with assumptions contrived to fit political positions. The resulting positions of both sides inform not just the debate on Iraq but also the debate over the US role in the world.

On May 2, a category 4 typhoon hit the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar (Burma) killing tens of thousands and leaving untold numbers destitute. The military junta that rules Myanmar refused to let most international relief personnel and aid into the country, meaning that the toll on the people of the Irrawaddy Delta will be unimaginably higher over the next months and years.

Perhaps the greater tragedy is that the United States Navy sat off the coast of Myanmar for more than a month with massive amounts of support and aid capability but powerless as people died and continue to die because the junta refused to let them help. There was even short-lived talk in the media about delivering the aid anyway, but that idea never received more than a hat tip from the talking heads.

Meanwhile, Michael Yon helps document the consequences of the typhoon and the free world’s paralysis. What he shows are a people in desperate need of the support of the free world condemned to suffer because the free world cannot bring itself to do what it really needs to do.

Therein lies both the reasons for the invasion of Iraq and the consequences of the nature of the current national debate. Five years after the invasion and seventeen years after Saddam Hussein invaded and raped Kuwait, too many involved in the debate have forgotten the lesson now recently brought to light again by the travesty in Myanmar.

This lesson is simple. If the free people of free nations believe that all people are equal and equally deserving of liberty, then it is incumbent upon those free people to liberate those who cannot liberate themselves. Tyranny, whatever form it may take, is the natural enemy of liberty, and for that reason alone, free people must act against tyrants even when such tyranny does not directly threaten.

Of course, this is an ideal far more easily spoken than acted on, but it is this ideal that formed the foundation for the invasion of Iraq and should have formed the same justification for the forced delivery of aid to the people of Myanmar. Free people cannot sit idly by while others suffer and die because of the actions of tyrants. Free people are obligated to intervene by the nature of their own liberty.

Once upon a time, someone said, “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” A corollary to that claim is that that the only tool for the nail is the hammer. It is the inevitable obligation of free people to spread liberty, whether in Iraq or Myanmar. Wherever tyranny prevails, there is a nail that needs to be whacked. It is because of that proposition that the invasion of Iraq was right and why the invasion of Myanmar would have been.


Cross-posted on Dennis L Hitzeman’s Worldview Weblog

Friday, July 4, 2008

Why we are free

Petty Officer Second Class Michael Monsoor is a true American hero. His mettle is a testament to what it means to be a citizen of the land of the free and the home of the brave. I can think of no better way to celebrate independence than to remember this man.

A video tribute.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, America and my fellow citizens.

Something we can all agree on. Listen here (requires Realplayer).

America's Birthday...

Can't get more American than the Muppets... go wave some sparklers and celebrate with me the fact that we're allowed to have these discussions! Then we can get back to arguing.