Sunday, January 07, 2007

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers

Thanks to many for the greatness which was the second annual Nearly New Year's Masquerade Party. Kudos to Maggie for costume subject to the most number of interpretations, and to Ted and Paul for sound system techiness. Thirtyfive people in masks. Has to be fun.

Dawn and I went as Abelard and Heloise, the medieval philosophical couple. Since they suffered hugely for their love life together, we decided to go as A & H, The Early Years, before the...you know...icky parts. And I think we did Early rather well.

The ability of some people to make every single judgment call wrong is truly amazing to me. One thing some of our current leaders suffer from leaderomania. I am sensitive to this because it afflicts the emerging church movement mightily, and I myself am tempted, even when in no position to give in. There's a lot to observe about the obsession with leaders and heroes, but here's one tidbit that gets me.

It is that leadership matters enormously, in the sense of the overall tone and direction. People get that, whereas they get lost in details and operational stuff. But it doesn't matter in the sense of indispensability in order for a system to function. So, e.g., the world will continue to turn just fine regardless of who the US president is. Moreover, the general functioning of the US system not only does not depend on any one person, no one person stands more than the tiniest sliver of a chance of having any significant impact on the system. I don't mean did the stock market or mortgage rates go up or down. I mean, are we capitalist? Can the economy produce or acquire what its people require? Big systemic things like that, which contextualize all the more detailed stuff. Even the individual people who do have some impact--Bill Gates, for instance--depended on timing and luck enormously to get where they are.

On the other hand, leadership matters hugely in iconic terms. The current US president gets this, although his choice of icons and his sense of what is needed is unerringly, uncannily wrong. In today's paper, the reports of CIA use of security services such as Syria's, for Pete's sake, never mind prisons in Bulgaria or whatever, is just the sort of we-are-above-the-law-because-we-are-the-good-guys-because-we-are-us milieu that Cheney and Rumsfeld's team created and which Bush has reveled in. As I've said before, Bush's reasons for liking this modus operandi seem to me to be personal and psychological: I have yet to hear a single genuinely strategic or structural comment from him, let alone statesmanship. So I think his motives are personal. But Cheney and Rumsfeld's motives are, so far as I can see, derived from Vietnam and Watergate, and the point of this whole 8 year exercise in antidemocratic rule is to reverse the legacies of modesty and accountability learned in those two difficult experiences. Hence the massive expansion of presidential power, the elimination of safeguards for civil liberties, and all the rest mentioned by the oh-so-conservative Dallas Morning News as problems needing to be dealt with.

The upshot is, if you have a leader who sees a bigger vision that turns enemies into friends and envisions win-win scenarios and who thinks transparency is fine because his ideas are the right ones and so they will win any fair fight in the marketplace of ideas, then you get people who obey the laws, look for solutions, talk to others, etc. If you have a leader whose most immediate reactions are who's on our side and who's the bad guy, who's to blame, who's the enemy, and who thinks rules are for little people, and who thinks the mass of people can't be trusted, then you get CIA prisons, the suspension of habeas corpus, snuck-in alterations to legal language always in the direction of saying that only the president can decide whether or not the president and the executive branch have gone too far, and so on. I have probably said this before, but I think the final outcome of the Reagan-Bush II years will be that we will have to spend much of the next ten years re-creating all the open government, anticorruption, antimonopoly, antiexploitation legislation of the 1890-1970 period.

You can't say everything every time, so it's tempting to say a general summary every time, or to not say anything without killing it with qualifications, so as to not have to debunk outraged criticisms and bewildered misunderstandings of whatever small percent of what you think overall that you decide to say at this or that time. But as along as everyone realizes that I realize that a single post like this is not all there is to say, then I think I'll go ahead.

As an evangelical Christian, I conclude by noting that according to Scripture, the Lord sits on the margins of the heavens and scoffs at the pretentions of the nations, and holds their rulers and their vanity in derision. I'm not God; I don't get to take that attitude simpliciter; but for those who claim some facet of a God-perspective on human affairs, I think a jaundiced view of politicians who claim to enact "our" agenda for "our" good is a necessary component of any publicly aware Christian's outlook.

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