Thursday, April 21, 2005


Escaping From the Echo Chamber

This is my emancipation proclamation. I've grown weary of the philosophical walls surrounding me. And I suspect I'm not the only one...

As I was reading Joe Carter's advice about how bloggers can set themselves apart and enhance their value, I came across an interesting recommendation that he made:
Read Outside the Circle -- Conservative bloggers read The Corner, liberal bloggers read, Christian bloggers read Christianity Today, libertarian bloggers read Reason, and everyone reads the New York Times. So why point out the material they already know about?

Your blog's target audience is either reading the same magazines and newspaper's that you do or they will follow the links to the thousands of other blogs who found the story first. Find what other people aren't reading.

It's a great point. I thought about it in the slightly different context of how much more impact we can have if we step outside our own walls. Regardless of your ideology, the thought of stepping out of the comfort zone to listen and engage the other side is intriguing. How many of us intentionally and consistently seek out conversation or understanding from the other side of the debate? Preaching to the choir rarely broadens our own perspective or has significant impact on anyone else's.

With this "broadening" ideal in mind, I came across an ever-so-rare example of actual, civilized dialogue between a conservative and a liberal. They both discussed their Christian faiths at a blog called the Faithful Progressive. It is a good example of a self-described "progressive" trying to grasp - both for himself and his readers - the thinking of a conservative Christian that may not fit the typical charicatures. I'd suggest reading their exchange. Jollyblogger has also followed Joe's advice, in reading and assessing David Schimke's views on the differences between progressives and conservatives.

In this spirit, I've decided to make a concerted effort to begin reading blogs from the left side of the political spectrum, specifically Christian ones. I know that none of these folks asked for my opinion of their writing, but I'm going to give it anyway - from what I hope is a sincere and open-minded perspective.

One particular blog - Father Jake Stops the World - caught my attention. He seems fair-minded and makes some interesting points about God's not being a Republican or Democrat, and the need to look at the whole spectrum of issues at stake politically. But then, similar to Jim Wallis, he makes some sweeping (left-leaning) assertions with seemingly no thought as to the other side of the debate. Here's an example:
What will convince me to support a candidate are actions that give evidence of a consistent life ethic that includes not just discussion of abortion and euthanasia, but also of the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died due to the American invasion and those on death row who will be murdered in the name of the state.

Why does he point out "thousands of innocent Iraqis dying," but fails to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis tortured, raped, or killed by Saddam Hussein's vicious totalitarian regime. Does that not factor into the equation at all? Surely, he does not think that situation would have remedied itself on its own or that Hussein would have turned over a new leaf. Captain Ed has more about it here. There are many arguments against the war that make a lot of sense, but this one seems a bit disingenuous.

In another post of his, with which I completely agreed, Father Jake talked of the need to shut out all of the distractions surrounding us in order to grow spiritually:
Let's try to shut out some of the noise in our lives, and listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd, who will revive our souls, and guide us along right pathways.

Now, for sure, there are good reasons to be weary of reading blogs from the other side. For conservatives, here’s one of them. In it, 'DarkSyd' states:
And outside of dozens of (Bible) verses… which seem to condone, justify, or apologize, for infanticide and the destruction of fetuses… in certain rare circumstances by God's followers, at his behest, or by the Almighty Himself, there are only a couple which directly comment on the status of unborn children. Neither of which do the anti-choicers much good.

Uh, whatever. If we need to pinpoint scripture that will “directly comment on the status of unborn children,” we have entered a truly pathetic state of morality. It does not seem like much of a leap of logic to contend that the Creator of life would not authorize, much less encourage, us to destroy life after its conception at a time of our own choosing.

There is plenty of deception out there that can tie us into knots intellectually, thereby justifying all sorts of wrongdoing. So I want to make clear I’m not advocating a journey to the dark side of the moon(bats). What I am suggesting is finding reasonable voices on the other side of the political spectrum in which to engage a dialogue. So come on along. Mystify your friends. Mortify your opponents. Transcend the labels. Join the voyage.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Catez at All Things to All "gets it". She writes:
I know about demonising the opposition. I know about passionately believing in an agenda and pushing aside the conscience pangs on issues because it means losing ground or losing face. I know how liberating it is to not have to live like that anymore.
Liberation. That's what I'm talkin' about.

Welcome to the dialogue. I hope you find that many of us on the progressive side favor a thoughtful exchange of ideas, yet still respect possible differences.

In reading this post, however, I cannot help but think that you are conflating two separate issues in your comments on Father Jake and Iraq. The purpose of the post was to point out that a if we are 'pro life' then we should be against the death brought about by war. Quite simply, a 'pro life' stance should be broader than a single issue like abortion.

Second, as for the Iraqis killed under Saddam, we must remember that the mass graves that were addressed by your link relate to the Shia uprising of 1991. You may recall that following the first war in Iraq, the US thought that Saddam would quickly fall, and encouraged an uprising by Shia Muslims and Kurds. Saddam then used helicopters to brutally suppress the uprising. The US and others then enacted sanctions that took the lives of an additional 500,000 Iraqi children. The loss of life is appalling. Implicitly, by pointing to the Shia massacre, you are asserting we were justified in killing Iraqis in the most recent campaign.

We did not start this war because of the mass killings, nor did we take action to stop Saddam at the time of the uprising. Our own actions caused the death of many other innocent people. We should not use Saddam's killing of innocent people to justify our own killing of innocent people.
I agree with your sentiment that "pro-life" should be broader than a single issue. It's in the details that we may find some dissention.

I also agree that our encouragement and subsequent dissertion of Iraqi Shia in 1991 was a travesty. However, your sanctions commentary is largely unsubstantiated and misleading. To suggest that our sanctions led to the deaths of half a million children seems absurd.

I would note that the Oil-for-Food investigation has revealed that Hussein was more than willing to starve his own people in order to enrich his regime. There is no reason to believe that he would have judiciously distributed any other cash to those who really needed it.

The larger point, though, is that I've noticed many progressives that are quick to blame America but very reluctant to point out the atrocities of dictators like Saddam Hussein around the world. Everyone is better off without someone like that in power. And it seems intellectually dishonest to not acknowledge that.
I too agree that more honest discussions between progressive and conservative Christians is needed. I am glad to see that happening here.

I agree with Chad on this one. I too, have noticed that those who are against the current administration's foreign policies are quick to emphasize US culpability but downplay US good.
I think giving equal weight and consideration to both would serve us all well in our discussions.

After all, if all we both want is that which is right and good, then we need to take great pains to find out the facts and work from there. If each group is willing to admit they are wrong about some things sometimes and take steps to rectify any damage done by being wrong, that would be helpful as well. Honesty, humility and sincerity is the key to productive, sucessful discussions!
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Chad, 'everyone is better off without someone like that in power'? At the risk of ending this conversation all too quickly, I personally know some grieving families that would beg to differ (not to mention a fair amount of orphans and widows in Iraq who would strongly disagree.) I have relatives in Iraq now who disagree. Studies on quality of life in Iraq conducted by humanitarian organizations show that comment to be untrue. It is, however, a common 'slogan' to put a positive spin on conditions. However, if you are going to use 'better off' as a justification for our intervention into Iraq, then you should be prepared to address why we fostered and assisted Saddam and his regime for so long, why we sold him the weapons. You should also be prepared to address why members of the US government should be immune from prosecution under the laws of war, which do not recognize 'better off' as a justification for invading another country. All the talk of the imminent threat was designed to make our actions appear legitimate.

And if you are interested, I would be happy to trace for you the writings, comments, and public statements of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and others (including UN inspectors) on the success of our efforts to eradicate a threat from Saddam, and why he did not pose a threat in 2003. And no, I'm not jumping on a bandwagon, but I spent considerable time back in 2001 and 2002 addressing the arguments. The success of the inspections program was unquestioned, except by a few neo-conservatives, until 2001. In 2001, those neo-conservatives were working in the Bush administration, but their comments can be traced back to the early 1990's on how and why we would invade Iraq. I can send you some of the links, or you can look them up on my blog. De Sententia Simple hindsight tells us that inspection efforts paid off and cannot be questioned today.

Having a dialogue means being open to opposing views. It is a fair comment to question my citation of the number of Iraqi children killed as a result of sanctions, just as it is fair for me to question your reference to "hundreds of thousands" being tortured, raped and killed at the hands of Saddam. You wrote my figure off rather quickly, finding it hard to believe. Granted, there was no census taken, so the numbers will not be exact. My numbers come from a detailed study conducted by UNICEF, comparing the death rates of children in Iraq from the 1980's through 2000. It can be found here. The specific reference to 500,000, however, came from Leslie Stahl's interview of the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright. In 1996, on 60 Minutes, the following exchange occured:

CBS Reporter Lesley Stahl (speaking of post-war sanctions against Iraq):
"We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And - and you know, is the price worth it?"

Madeleine Albright:
"I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."

We may quibble about numbers, but there is no denying that the United States knew that the sanctions were not working, that Saddam was not affected by them, yet we insisted that they remain in place. Oil for food is a separate issue, but an issue in which the US knew of impropriety, and even condoned it, but turned the other way to pacify allies who wanted to end the sanctions. And if you want the cites, I would be happy to provide those to you as well.

Lastly, I did not mean to suggest that the US should have marched into Baghdad in 1991. I was simply noting that the loss of life was appalling, and the US bears some responsibility for this.

Wendy (and Chad)
It is not easy to criticize or oppose our government and its policies. In my case, I am also criticizing some very close relatives. Dr. Martin Luther King is an inspiration for me, and he reminds us that there are times when silence is betrayal. For me, now is that time. And while I am not opposed to pointing out positive events in Iraq, when appropriate, I am reminded of two famous quotes: "Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence." (Mahatma Gandhi); and "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."– George Orwell

What is wrong is wrong, and the 'good' that we do in one area does not excuse the 'bad' that we do in others. If you focus on what you believe is good, will you still see the bad for what it is, or will you minimize it? I, personally, cannot minimize it.
Thanks for your detailed explanation. Clearly, you have a deep breadth of knowledge on the subject. I respect that regardless of the fact that we reach very different conclusions based on the information available.

Also, you referenced Martin Luther King's assertion that there are times when silence is betrayal. I absolutely think it's your patriotic duty to speak out against a war you feel is morally wrong. The most unpatriotic thing you can do is be apathetic in the midst of war. I have much more respect for anyone with an informed opinion (regardless of whether I agree) than for someone who does not care enough to become informed.

Your comments are challenging me in how to respond. Initially, I definitely wanted to provide a counterpoint to everything you brought up, but I see that as an exercise in futility. I think we've reached an impasse here, not due to insuffient information, but rather to differences in our underlying assumptions on which our opinions are predicated.

So instead, I'd rather give you a big picture view of how I see the situation in Iraq so you will know where I'm coming from. First of all, I don't think anyone will know if the war was "worth it" for at least another 5 or 10 years. However, there are some encouraging signs.

When I see stories of people who have been oppressed and lived under extreme intimidation their entire lives, I am gratified - elated actually - to learn of their newly found freedom and the great joy that comes with it.

I would suggest checking out for an optimistic perspective from an Iraqi blogger and links to dozens of other Iraqis telling their stories of liberation from inside the country.

If the Middle East is transformed from a region of tyranny to a beacon of new hope and freedom, then that will outweigh all of the problems in our execution of war and its aftermath. It will even outweigh the changing rationale for going into Iraq. (Afterall, we did not enter WWII to end the Nazi's oppressive regime. Yet that is what is remembered as a result and what also rendered the war a noble and just cause.)

I readily admit that I could be wrong and the situation could worsen. But the reality as I see it is thus. The U.S., due to its position of power and unwavering support for Israel, has served a Middle Eastern psychological need to account for its own self-created impotence and misery. The day that the tyranny ends in that region and the scapegoats are no longer needed is a day we should all hope for.

In the meantime, we should all heed (myself as much as anyone) Wendy's suggestion about the need for humility.
It seems that an erroneous assumption has been made by both "sides" of this argument: apparently they seem to feel there ARE sides where there are actually none. Neither republicans nor democrats are, in fact, separate parties but are wings of the same party, actors acting out a dog and pony show to give the masses an illusion of partisan differences. In this way a facade of debate is maintained, one that hides their essential similarity. Those who adhere to one wing over the other, therefore, are being duped into donating their obvious moral passions to a play of shadows. And, while the leaders are cooperating and colluding, the minor players are assuming identical personas! The air of ineffable moral superiority on the left is equally matched by the sanctimony of the right. There is agreement, top to bottom, one based on realpolitik and the other based on delusion.
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