I have this tendency to be quiet from January to about April, and am pretty much uncertain as to why this is. Anticipating this year will be much the same, I thought I should post a “swan song”. Anno Domini 2005 has been just a little too exciting to let go in silence. If it were a house guest, it would be the guy who makes sandwiches in your kitchen without putting anything away, and leaves dirty socks on your coffee table. Your impulse is to drive him to the airport and carry his luggage, while leaving far more considerate friends and relatives to slink out unnoticed in the dead of night in a taxi. You reserve these most energetic of your kindnesses for those who treat you poorly, although you know you perhaps shouldn’t. You do this because his departure marks a pivotal difference in your day-to-day existence, or at least you hope it will.
So I shall drive 2005 to the airport. I will bid it a proper good-bye.
Two thousand five. Three big stories that tower above all the rest. Has anybody else noticed? They are all the same story.
Global warming is real, and humans are causing some of it. This is subject to far less dispute on December 31, than it was on January 1.
The National Security Agency has been intercepting and analyzing communications from within the United States, to hostile countries. Some of these exchanges involve full-fledged U.S. citizens, which possibly violates the spirit, or the letter, of the Fourth Amendment.
Wikipedia is struggling with a scandal, the result of too much information being too freely offered after being too easily contributed by parties not properly authenticated, and whose motives were not adequately established.
I submit that these three stories make all the others, over the last 365 days, relatively trivial. We abdicate concern for our own existence, and therefore our claim upon that existence, if we pass on a solution to global warming. We futhermore abdicate concern for our Constitution, and therefore the whole point to our existence as a democratic republic, if nothing is done about the NSA scandal. And if the Wikipedia flap is marginalized, then logically we have to marginalize any and all equivalent concerns about information-sharing, thereby diminishing the importance of that information in our daily lives. In all three scenarios, our rights and privileges to be alive and free, are compromised.
So here are my answers to the three.
Global warming is, when all’s said and done, a fart. We contribute to it naturally, simply by going about our lives as an industrialized people, although it’s a pleasant idea to think that we could perhaps avoid it. We could stop living, or if a less drastic solution is required, we could stop being industrialized. By the same token, a diner could stop farting if he stopped eating. It works well in theory, anyway. In practice, agricultural people produce “greenhouse gases” and have destructive effects on the ecosystem, whether they intend to or not, just as people keep farting when they starve, or become vegetarians. “Total” remedies would fail to present solutions to the problem, therefore, it is fraud to present “compromise” remedies as potentially beneficial.
Our collective right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” has been under assault since, at the very least, World War II. President Bush’s defenders are correct in presenting the argument that this apparent abuse, is nothing new. But they are wrong to justify this with what our modern Kerry-esque liberals have come to call “fearmongering,” and when they do so, they legitimize the fearmongering charge — precedent or not. If this issue unearths a situation where the Constitution renders our continued survival unworkable, then we do not deserve to survive as a free country. After all, what would be the point of going the other way? Try this on for size: “We are a good country, because we have a Constitution that guarantees us our basic God-given rights, which our government can never take away, except when that government figures it has to do it in order to guarantee our continued survival, then we lose them for a little while.” Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? The rights are more important than the “gummint” — rights are made by God, gummint is made by man. That is the point of the whole exercise. So this is not an issue to be waved off with the “give your constitutional rights away, live to whine another day” argument. It ought to be embraced as a national debate we should have had in 1942. And regardless of how that turns out, talk of impeachment is just plain silly. That such talk is motivated by politics, rather than concern for our continued survival as a free nation, should be obvious. President Bush has manifested a problem, he may in fact be the problem — it doesn’t logically follow that his removal would solve it.
Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. That obviously presents some theoretical problems, and in the last few weeks the problems ceased to be theoretical. Now Wikipedia is fighting to hang on to whatever credibility it has left, and we are left arguing about…what, exactly? That it’s possible to corrupt the pool of knowledge that is Wikipedia? Of course it is. Just as it’s possible to make an oopsie when you’re editing an article in an encyclopedia that is not free. Or even online. What we’ve learned here is that when an item of information possessing questionable veracity tumbles through a community, responsibility is shared by all who touch it — assuming they’ve spent energy to keep it going. The man who promulgates such a tidbit, has ownership of that tidbit, because ownership can be assigned nowhere else. It’s intellectually dishonest to put blood-sweat-and-tears into making sure something is yelled from the hilltops and then, when questions are asked, take the “Bob said so, so that’s bad on Bob” defense.
We have polluted the earth, and given the earth some clean-up work to do. Which, being a living thing, it has managed to do quite well, just as a man with a runny nose manages to eventually recover.
We have allowed our government to weaken our constitutional rights, and given ourselves some catch-up work to do on repairing those rights, just like a cattle farmer who has put off repairing a rotting fence for too long.
Wikipedia’s information has become polluted by irresponsible contributors, which gives work to those people who read this information, and verify it is accurate, since the guarantee has now been compromised.
There never was any guarantee. Not in any of the three cases.
You want a guarantee? You want to stop lying awake at night wondering about things? You want to make absolutely, positively certain that the climate will never change, that the state of our constitutional rights will never change, that no article of information, once contributed to you, will never have to be hastily retracted?
I mean it. Drop dead. Death will solve the problem.
Life is change. Life is uncertain. Life is messy. Life entails responsibilities. Death does none of these things.
Too often, when one asks for certainty, when one asks for guarantees, what one is really asking for is death. To keep wondering about our greenhouse gas emissions is a raging pain in the ass, just as it’s a pain in the ass to keep debating whether our government is properly guaranteeing our constitutional protections, or to keep wondering whether what we read on the “innernets” is accurate. It’s all a pain in the ass, because a pain in the ass is what we are. Get rid of the ass-pain, and you get rid of us.
Roll us back into the stone age so we don’t generate any more greenhouse gases. Impeach George Bush so we can go back to arguing about American Idol, confident that the new “Camelot” government is doing everything right. Put that new government in charge of Wikipedia, so that we can be spoon-fed “good” information that inconveniences nobody and enlightens nobody, but at least we can believe everything we read.
All three of those would “solve” the problem…except, none of the three really would. Uncertainty would continue to haunt us, like the stench of a skunk haunting a man who just took a quick shower with ordinary bath soap. Uncertainty is LIFE. And life is that skunk-stench. Sometimes…a lot of the time…there’s just no getting away from it.
Some of us call it “responsibility.”
In 2005, we learned repeatedly that those two are inextricably intertwined. In 2006, we will make the right decisions in order to solve these problems. The decisions that accept these responsibilities, and in so doing, make it possible to continue life. Farts and all.
Or…maybe we won’t. Maybe we will choose certainty. Without responsibility. Maybe we’ll choose death.
We shall see.
Have a wonderful New Year. Get drunk now. If, when sleeping it off tomorrow, you do even a tiny bit of serious thinking about this stuff, then you’re part of the solution and not the problem.