Monday, June 13, 2005

The Destruction of Our Way of Life

Everyone's worried about it. The pro-torture party and its apologists insist that it's either torture, the PATRIOT act, etc., or it's the terrorists destroying our way of life and raping our daughters and forcibly converting us all to Islam. Lots of sane people then respond by asking what the point is of preserving our society if we destroy it in the process. Supposedly our great debate is all about the balance between liberty and safety.

This is bullshit. "Our way of life" is not a thing, and it cannot be preserved. "Our way of life" is constantly annihilating itself to become some other way of life. Safety? We are all unsafe, at every moment, despite our illusions. And each of us will die, and what will be left of our so-called "way of life" then?

We have allowed fear to shape a debate about our policies. Our fear is natural. But when we admit the need to balance 'security' and 'liberty', we are agreeing to the idea that there is some kind of simple balance: we can be absolutely secure, or we can be absolutely free, and our job is to find the something in between that we can all live with. But there is no absolute security in this world. The distance between certainty and uncertainty is infinite, and it cannot be bridged.

I do not argue that there are no reasonable ways to increase the feeling of security. I put my kid in a car seat just like everyone else. This makes him less likely to die in a car accident, but it does not bridge the infinite gap between my desire for his absolute safety and its impossibility. All our safety measures are as nothing compared to the inevitability of death.

My point is not that we should not try to keep terrorists from blowing up our national landmarks. Of course we should.

But why should we even have to debate if we are willing to lose our souls for the not-at-all-certain possibility of adding another drop of illusory security into the infinite bucket of impermanence and death? All we have is this moment, our way of life right now. Right now, we are torturers. We have traded our liberty and our honor, in this moment, for the wish that someday, some distant time in the future, we will be safe. It's one thing to sell your soul for some immediate benefit -- we've sold our souls for a hypothetical and utopian future, for the day the War On Terror ends, and Democracy and Freedom are everywhere.

Now, there are some things I am willing to sell for a hypothetical and utopian future: my station wagon, for example. Some, although not all, of my time. But my soul? I'd like to keep it, thanks. I don't know what the future may bring, but I'm pretty sure I'll need my soul to deal with it. Let us find our way of life, the new one we must create in each new moment, with the help of our souls, and let us stop believing that we can preserve the way of life we've got by giving them up.


At 2:22 PM, Blogger R J Keefe said...

Eloquently put!


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