Monday, March 05, 2007

Never ask a know-nothing if he knows something.

In the comments section of an earlier post, Jen asked me about whether I had read the book "Manuel Noriega, America's Prisoner," and what I thought about U.S. involvement in Panama generally. She also asked about the book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."

I'm afraid that I have read neither book. I will make note of them and try to add them to my 2015 reading pile. I am sure I would learn something from them. The larger issue, though, of U.S. involvement in Panama, and in many countries around our globe, is easier to address.

There are essentially two ways to assess American (or any sovereign nation's) involvement abroad. One is purely philosophical: should they be involved at all, or should they never, under any circumstance meddle in the affairs of another sovereign nation. The other consideration is more practical: under which circumstances might it be justified for the U.S. or any other nation to involve itself in the machinations of countries which may or may not welcome outside involvement? Then, if the necessary circumstances exist, who makes the decision, the country where the perceived problem exists, or the United States or other nation which feels that its interests are challenged in some way?

Let's look at these issues from those perspectives. Should the United States or any other country meddle in the affairs of other sovereign nations? From a purely philosophical point of view, I would say no. The government of the United States has a responsibility to protect the legitimate interests of its citizens at home. If U.S. individuals or companies move elsewhere, they should be on their own. No nation can police every other nation. It isn't practical. It isn't even possible, at the best of times. Most importantly, in most cases, it isn't ethical.

Given my libertarian leanings, I think that any regular reader of this blog would have noticed that I think we should all simply mind our own business, both individually and as groups, large or small. Whether a group is a committee, a religious denomination, or an entire nation doesn't matter. We need to mind our own affairs and leave others alone to mind theirs.

Is that it, then? No country should ever meddle in the affairs of another, regardless of the circumstances or of real or perceived threats that might exist?

Human stupidity abounds. It will be with us long after all of us living today are gone. Many people prefer not to think or to make important decisions themselves. They like to delegate decisions. They trust their elected or appointed officials to do the right thing. The problem is, the elected officials are really no more qualified to make decisions than each of us is individually. Don't believe me? Look around. Are we living in a perfect world? Does everyone get along? Has hate been eradicated? Are wars a thing of the past? Are our schools safe? Are we safe on the streets of our own cities? Are we safe from the long and invasive arm of our own governments?

Ask yourself as many more similar questions as you like, and then supply as many no's as are necessary yourself. Was there a single yes as answer to a question in your list? Probably not.

We have trusted our elected officials to take care of all of these things for us, to guide us, to think for us, to spend our money for us. But... they have let us down. No matter where we live, if our elected officials make decisions, we are stuck with them. The effect can be as simple as a deterioration in the quality of our life, or as final as having our life eradicated completely. I don't know about you, but I prefer to live and die on my terms. I know best what I am willing to fight to the death for, like my own family and possessions, and under which conditions I never want to die, like in a police raid based on faulty information or in an un-winnable war protecting the life and property of people who really don't want my help anyway.

Is it ever proper for one sovereign nation to involve itself in the affairs of another? Let's set any philosophical arguments aside for the moment and consider the matter from a purely practical point of view. My personal background and family history always become part of the consideration when I ponder this issue. I was born in Germany just after World War II. Millions of innocent people died in that war. Would external intervention to take out Adolf Hitler before his influence and power reached their respective peaks have made sense? What if Hitler had been assassinated by a hit squad from outside Germany? Would his followers have carried on, without his mania and focus? I don't know, but it is something I have thought of often. I might have gotten to know two uncles who were lost in the war, and two brothers, Erwin and Albert, who died of starvation and disease just months before I was born.

Maybe the world would have been a better place, had Hitler been taken out. But, was it the place of America or some other country to intervene? Or should the Germans who saw where things were headed in Germany done it themselves?

To me, the entire issue serves to underline why governments are inherently evil and why we as citizens are at best naive, and at worst very, very stupid to put our trust in them. Wars are not caused by the individuals who go about their lives minding their own business. Wars are caused by governments which decide where and when to fight and for which causes. I can understand responding collectively to invading forces from outside one's home country. I have more trouble understanding collective invasions of one country by another for purely political, territorial, business or religious reasons.

Jen, in my usual fashion I have not provided any definitive answers but have instead posed more questions, offered more to think about. It is very easy to get on board any cause with which we can identify emotionally. Eradicate evil: would you support a war that would make that promise? What about if the promise were instead to wipe out everyone who didn't share your skin colour? Would you support that? You wouldn't, and I wouldn't, but many others would. And those many who would eradicate entire other races are not all white supremacists.

What about a war that promised to destroy everyone who worshipped differently than you, or not at all? You wouldn't support it, I wouldn't either, nor would any other enlightened people, but there are large numbers of those who would support such a thing and who are, in fact, engaged in those activities right now. Their efforts are, for the moment, mostly as individuals, but what will happen when entire nations set themselves against others based purely on what they think their god or their prophet wants them to do?

That is why I think that we are long past the point where we should trust our governments to do our thinking for us. They have done an abysmal job. We need to think for ourselves, to accept responsibility for our individual actions, and to the extent to which we delegate responsibility to others, we need to hold their actions and them personally responsible as well.

And for those who prefer to think that (insert any foolishness you have seen in any nation other than your own) can never happen 'here,' wherever that might be, I assure you, you are mistaken. Under the right circumstances, when there is high unemployment, when enough people are hungry, when people feel caged and impotent, anything can happen. Scapegoats will be found. Purges will take place. Reason will disappear. It has happened in many places, many times, in our human history. It can happen here, and chances are, it will. You and I are powerless to control the massive governments we have created and we have become enslaved. We may not like it, but we will do the bidding of our masters.

That is the inevitable result of each of us not accepting responsibility and delegating it to others. You see, things are exactly backwards these days. Does anyone still seriously believe that government works for us and that politicians and bureaucrats think that they are our servants? Really?

We, you and I and every other individual in our respective countries are the masters. Politicians and bureaucrats are our servants. We need to make them remember that reality. And we need to make them act as you and I would act individually. Unless our neighbour throws junk in our back yard, or threatens our children, or interferes in our lives in some meaningful way, we leave him alone. We mind our own business. That is what our governments need to do as well. And if another Hitler comes along, let's consider what can be done to remove him before there is World War III and there are millions more lost in senseless hatred.

How and what could we do?

That would make for a very interesting discussion, wouldn't it?


  1. Atavist, I am digging you right now. Thank you.

    I guess it goes back to this for me: we have (still, for the time being anyways) a great deal of power. We can choose how to use it. Assisting to save lives? We should then be in Darfur. Or stopped the Killing Fields.

    But to invade a country solely on the basis of economic gain? The hottest parts of hell, Atavist.

    We weren't about to see Japan own that canal. Or to profit from it. Let alone Panama itself. Torrijos was a big threat - we resolved that - but still needed that canal.

    Argh. I swing so far to the other end of the spectrum - thank you for pulling me back towards the middle.

  2. I think we are much more alike, you and I, than either of us might have originally suspected. I think 'we' should be in Darfur, but not necessarily in an organized or military way. Service and religious organizations typically do much more good than 'official' aid because their efforts are directed to the people who need help most.

    Where do the funds come from in those areas where there is mass killing? Foreign aid, or trade with those willing to look the other way in return for either markets or raw materials. Foreign aid seldom helps the people it purports to help. Instead, it enriches the coffers of corrupt politicians and their buddies. If foreign aid were stopped to many of these places, malcontents there would eventually revert to fighting each other with sticks and knives as the funds needed to purchase ammunition for their weapons dried up.

    I know I didn't specifically address your question about Panama, because I didn't have the time to properly research the details of all the history there. I can tell you though, that the infrastructure in Panama is much better than one might expect. The people are mostly friendly and helpful. Much of this is due to the American influence and presence in past years. Does any of this justify wrongs that were done there? No.

    It is never the place of any country to drag another, kicking and screaming towards 'enlightenment,' or 'progress' or 'into the 21st century.' They will advance on their own when they are ready. And they will be less likely to hate us forever after if we don't meddle in their affairs in the first place.

  3. I do not agree with this country (or any other) invading other countries for its own economic gain or geopolitical advantage.

    When it comes to a Hitler or a Pol Pot (someone who is a legitimate threat.. not someone like Maurice Bishop who just had political views and public policy that doesn't please those in power in the US), send in a covert international team and get rid of them.

    Atavist, I have to disagree with this statement:

    The people are mostly friendly and helpful. Much of this is due to the American influence and presence in past years.

    Why do you say American influence is what made the people friendly and helpful?

    Seriously. I wouldn't have expected such propaganda from you.


    Just disagreeing in a friendly way. Hope you know that.



  4. I stand by my comment, Chani. There are always the disgruntled few, of course, in Panama and elsewhere, who hate anything and everything foreign, especially if it is American. Still, the Panamanians have the Americans to thank for having a head start over similar countries in the area. I am not saying this justifies anything the U.S. has done in Panama or anywhere else. It is simply a fact.

    Many Panamanians have seen what is possible, materially, and they, like most of us in the world, simply want to be able to reach for the brass ring themselves. Will it bring unbridled consumerism, or simply an effort to live a life with more possibilities available to the children than were available to the parents? I don't know. It is up to them.

    Not everyone, everywhere, hates Americans. Not all Americans are loud, pushy, know-it-alls, the way they are portrayed in much of the world. I have American friends who are the salt of the earth and who I would trust implicitly. Most readers of this blog, by far, are American. Many Americans who become ex-pats consider themselves political or economic refugees. They are trying to get away from what they see as intrusive (and increasingly abusive, as well) governments at home. They are not alone. Canadians are doing the same. And Europeans too. All are voting with their feet.

    And, Chani, I never write or say anything that I am not prepared to be challenged on. I am not always right. I listen to opposing points of view, and consider whether I might be in error.

    And just in case there is any doubt, I never support any nation's meddling in the affairs of another. In fact, I suggest much the same solution to getting rid of tyrants as you do.

    As with Jen, I suspect that you and I also really see things in much the same fashion. We all want a better world.

  5. me again. i can see Chani's point - what about the slums in panama, the places outside the US border (it is sectioned, right?) how do those fare?

    Chani and I both have the same chapter in COEHM in our favor.

    and yes, Atavist - i know we are more alilke than different. but I knew that awhile ago :)

  6. i am back to thinking we should have a virtual book club.

    Manuel Noriega, America's Prisoner. 2015 is too long to wait...:)

  7. Thanks for the reply, Atavist. I understand you stand by your statement.

    Mine, in a nutshell, is that there is a certain American arrogance at play. It goes into other countries and then starts spinning the propaganda machine, essentially saying that the denizens of that land were savages, incapable of taking care of their own affairs until the Great White Hope came along to save them from themselves.

    I call that "meddling".

    They did the very same thing in Southeast Asia, including Thailand. According to the US spin machine, they were all third-world, uneducated morons who needed to be "helped".

    I certainly don't believe everyone hates Americans. I don't hate Americans. The person I trust most on this planet is an American.

    However, I do believe one should be wary and careful of its motives.

    Book club! That is a great idea, Jen.

    Thanks for allowing this dialogue here, Atavist. Yes, I do suspect we are much alike. Different lense. Same landscape.




  8. There are indeed slums in Panama. But the populace has the possibility to elevate itself. In a few short years, those slums will be gone. There are many thousands of homes, all across the country, being built for low-income Panamanians. They range in price from about $16,000 to $25,000 or so, with monthly payments of $50 to $100 or so. There are universities in Panama, schools for everyone, and anyone who wishes to work can work. Some of the work is menial, back-breaking, low-paid, much like what my father started doing when we arrived in Canada in 1949, at $2.00 per day. He worked hard, saved carefully, and raised a family with children who, due to his efforts and my mother's, have had a considerable easier life. The next generation of Panamanians will do as well, or maybe better, if people are left alone to work and invest as they see fit.

    I'm not sure what, if anything is 'sectioned' in Panama. Is that something that predates the current situation and harkens back to when the Americans had a more visible presence there? As far as I have been able to tell on my trips there, anyone can live and work wherever they want, as long as they have the work qualifications or the money to pay rent or buy their homes.

    I have seen examples of the arrogance of which you speak, Chani. An American stood beside me at the airport in Panama City while I was waiting for my partner to deplane. We started talking and before long he was ranting about what a dump Panama was, how bad the locals were, etc., etc. I asked him how long he had been in Panama. Eight years, he said. I was tempted to ask him why he was still in Panama if he hated it that much. There was obviously something keeping him there. I turned my back on him and walked away.

    To me, he was simply an asshole. That he was American was incidental. He could just as easily been Canadian or British or French.

    The sort of arrogance that I think you really mean to address takes us back to the 'official' political and bureaucratic posturing that I detest as much as you do. No amount of pontificating by officious windbags makes anything right. I am with you 100% on that. Again, I suggest that we reign in our politicians and keep them on the straight and narrow.

    You and I and Jen and our other friends here are already 'there.' We get it. People are people. I don't care about the colour, nationality, religion or background of my neighbour. As long as he doesn't piss on my azaleas, I believe in live and let live.

  9. Yes, you do understand the arrogance I mean.

    I don't talk much about the conversations I had while in Thailand but I did meet up with a few American ex-pats who made it very clear that they were somehow "better than" and "superior to" native Thais. In a rather patronizing way, they'd talk about how they deserved to be "helped". The missionaries were the worst, the ones who wanted to tame the heathens and bring them about to "right thinking".

    I also talked with native Thais who, once they realized that I wasn't either an arrogant American or a CIA officer, were quite vocal about their thoughts on foreign "help". I was lucky to fall in with a bunch of conservative, traditional Thai folks.

    My position is that the best way to help native Thais is to leave them alone and let them run their country as they see fit. Our brand of government and culture isn't right for everyone in the world.

    To the best of my knowledge, they haven't pissed on anyone's azaleas. They don't even like azaleas.. and no one has the right to force them to plant them.

    Yeah. We get it. Very true :)



  10. I remember how shocked everyone was in 1989 by the mass-murder of its own citizens by the Chinese government.
    Now, we're in bed with the communists economically in the name of "the global economy" (read that globalism and nobody cares, as long as the cheap junk and money for nothing keeps flowing from the Federal borrowing machine.
    Who's to say the same thing as Tienamen Square hasn't happened/won't happen in Washington DC, as we continue to prostrate and prostitute ourselves to the globalist "common good?
    One thing's for certain: You'll never hear about it on The Today Show with Matt Lauer!

  11. If evrything does fall apart economically, we may be surprised how uncivilized things become suddenly.