Faith and Hope

From a fairly short post comes sixteen comments, all of which are well worth reading. I think my latest response needs to be the start of a new blog entry, however.

Jim writes:

“We all share this world. You are going to get differences of opinion on how to pursue matters; that’s politics… except there are few means to discuss politics in the international community if one side isn’t interested in communicating. From where I’m sitting, the Bush Administration wasn’t interested in making nice with the democracies surrounding it. And is it really any wonder why tensions have increased? And is it really the world’s responsibility that this has happened?”

Yes, it is the world’s responsibility. Because, from where I sit, communicating, and diplomacy, seem to be, for “the world” (really, for the elites and opinion makers in Europe and the American Left; and UN bureaucrats) ends in themselves, rather than means to solve problems.

And also because I simply don’t believe, with regard specifically to Iraq (but this applies elsewhere), that the world leaders who pushed negotiation and diplomacy over forcible removal of Saddam did so out of humanitarian concern, nor do I believe that negotiation with someone like Saddam served, or ever could have served, any useful purpose.

Put another way: you, I think it’s fair to say, have a faith in humanity, and in international institutions, that I simply do not share.

If I am reading your comment correctly, Jim, you’re saying that our difference of opinion comes down to the level of trust I’m willing to show to France and to Europe and to international institutions like the U.N. The fact that I might be more trusting in human nature might put up blinders to the corruption and the hidden agendas of the world.

It is true that I have a strong faith in humanity that some might call naive. But you have it too. You have faith in humanity, and faith in institutions — as long as that humanity and those institutions reside in America. And as long as that humanity doesn’t watch reality television. After all, you and I both love Star Trek, you think we can get to Mars in our lifetime, and you are proud to be an American. That’s all characteristics of a fine human being. However, if my criticism of the Bush Administration comes primarily down to my having equal faith in humans living inside and outside America, unless you can prove beyond doubt that the people of the world are, as a group, demonstratably less moral or intelligent or correct in all things than Americans, then your criticism of my point of view comes down to your faith in the humanity your countrymen.

I would share your faith in America totally, were it not for the fact that I’m not an American. Americans are not my countrymen (although they be my in-laws) and American institutions are not my insitutions. I reside in a different country, which occasionally follows a path which brings it in conflict with American interests. I love my country as much as you love yours and a French person loves France, and I will defend my country’s viewpoint when our interests come into conflict. But in the scheme of things, who is right and who is wrong? It is likely that, if I view the conflict through a nationalist’s eyes first and objective eyes second, I may not see it when my country is wrong.

I can be an ardent nationalist and claim that my country is always right, even when it is wrong, but in doing so I would be letting my own country and my own countrymen off the hook whenever they screwed up. And I would be dismissing out of hand the concerns and criticisms that people in other countries had, simply because they weren’t Canadian. That would not be right. It would not be an accurate perception of reality. And it would not be fair to the people who disagree with me.

I believe in the absolutes of good and evil, but I have doubts that we will ever find absolute good or absolute evil anywhere on this world. We are grey. And sometimes that means that there is no right answer to be had, and plenty of wrong ones. The statement “from where I sit, communicating, and diplomacy, seem to be, for ‘the world’, ends in themselves, rather than means to solve problems” suggests a black and white view of the world, and that action is always better than thought. We know this is not true. The Bush Administration’s propensity to act first and think later bears some responsibility for the post-war aftermath that you yourself agree was botched. There are plenty of examples throughout the history of Europe and Canada where the black and white viewpoint and acting before thinking caused more problems than it solved.

And it’s not that we see communication as an end in itself rather than a means to solve a problem. After all, we were behind the Bush Administration when it sought to solve the problem of Afghanistan. We contributed, and we still contribute troops to the War on Terror. Canada serves in Afghanistan, and it patrols the Arabian sea. Unfortunately, the job in Afghanistan has been left unfinished, and a large reason for that is because the Bush Administration decided that its focus should shift to Iraq.

And let me point out one false assumption in your comment: “nor do I believe that negotiation with someone like Saddam served, or ever could have served, any useful purpose”. What makes you think we were interested in negotiating with Saddam? When I speak of negotiation, I was talking about the negotiations between the coalition partners in the War on Terror — the ones, like France, who continue to fight terrorists in the Ivory Coast or, like Canada, who continue to serve in Afghanistan — who believed that there were other ways to bring Saddam to heel. U.N. pressure, backed with the American threat of force, did get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, and gave us hints that the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush Administration was certain were in place, weren’t actually in existence.

Mismanagement and incompetence did lock a brutal dictator atop a beknighted country. Perhaps we should have taken the opportunity to topple Saddam back in 1991. Perhaps war with Saddam was inevitable, but all options had not been exhausted. The allies in Europe, even Canada, even Mexico had doubts and concerns, and yet the Bush Administration ignored them and derided them in a startling display of diplomatic ineptitude.

Which raises the question: are we allies? Are we partners? Or are we client states? Do we have the right to hold an opinion the Bush Administration may not agree with? Or are we always wrong unless we are in full agreement with this presidency?

We are often wrong. All people are, and democratic countries are an agglomeration of people making human decisions. But I have faith that people around the world are, in general, equally good, and that democratic nations such as Canada, the United States and France are also equally good, and equally bad. Accepting this saves me from the erroneous assumption that my country is better than the United States. I am proud to be a Canadian, but ultimately I am human. I am not going to get it right all the time, and neither is Canada.

And because I like who I am as a human, I have faith in humanity. Not much separates myself from you, from Greg, or even (I’m sorry to say) Osama Bin Laden. Humanity has disappointed me hundreds of times, and I have disappointed myself. But I choose to go forward in life believing that I am capable, and that good things are possible in all people. There is very little I can do to prove this to anybody who disagrees, but ultimately this assumption is necessary to maintain my sanity. If I lose faith in humanity, I lose faith in myself, and then what reason do I have to live or to strive?

Humanity has surprised me just enough to think that we might make it.

And if I’m wrong, I won’t be alive long enough to regret it.

On this point:

Put still another way: read this story from last week’s Washington Post:

My reaction to it is that the woman in question was absolutely right to do what she did, and she should not feel sorry for once second for doing it, and she should never have been prosecuted or spent a day in jail for it. And I believe, and hope, that were I ever in the same situation as her, I would act exactly as she did, and I don’t believe I would have any remorse whatsoever.

I’m not sure what you are asking me, unless it’s to question how I can possibly have faith in institutions such as the judicial system when it makes mistakes such as this.

Well, I’ll tell you that ultimately, the system worked as it should. The extenuating circumstances came to the fore in the court of law and the judge issued a ruling that served justice. Should she have been charged in the first place? That’s really not for me to say.

But I will say that killing, in all of its forms, even in self defence, or the defence of another, has to come as the last resort in response to an immediate threat. To resort to violence whenever we feel threatened or violated perpetuates the darkness. It may not be illegal to want people dead, no matter how much they deserve it, but it is wrong (Jesus said so in the Sermon on the Mount) and it is soul-destroying. I speak from experience. We do need to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and sometimes that need extends to the need to kill, but we can’t give everybody a free pass to kill without careful consideration.

We created the justice system, with its checks and balances, to prevent vigilantism, because we knew that the emotional response to crime did not foster a just response. If that sounds cold, that’s because the justice system is inhuman. It is designed to treat everyone equally, without regard to one’s emotional response, protecting us from the inequities that flow from that response. I have faith in humanity, but I know that humans are not without flaws. My faith in human institutions is part of a check and balance system; neither humanity nor human institutions are perfect, but both together are stronger than the sum of their parts.

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