Some people blame terrorism on pure evil. Conservatives may feel this way because conservatives accept evil as a part of human nature and try to enforce rules of behavior that will keep evil under control. To conservatives, human nature is predictably egoistic and self-serving. Society's role is to harness that egoism so that it can be utilized as a motor while keeping it from tearing society apart. Selfishness, as argued by the conservative Ayn Rand, is valued as a virtue that, when one brilliant person follows his or her own self-interest, will uplift us all.
Liberals tend to believe more in the perfectibility of human nature. It is more of a New Testament philosophy perhaps, while the conservative view is more Old Testament. Liberals tend to think there are environmental, deterministic reasons for bad behavior and, if the environment were improved, the behavior would also improve. Conservatives believe more in free will and individual responsibility for choosing to do good or bad and prefer punishment rather than rehabilitation for bad choices. The truth lies between these two viewpoints.
I, being liberal, believe less in evil as a constant, eternal presence, and more in evil-hatred as a human reaction against injury and injustice. That has been my experience in life. When someone is angry or hateful, it usually stems from some injury, real or perceived, that happened to them at some point in their lives. More often, the injury was real. That is why I look for reasons for hatred and don't just blame it on plain old evil. The Arab world gives us some reasons for their anger, but we seem to steadfastly ignore those reasons as if the Arabs are just liars or lunatics who cannot be trusted. By blaming evil for wrong-doing, we insulate ourselves from any guilt or responsibility and stifle discussion that might find lasting solutions to grievances. That's why marriage counselors don't blame evil and don't pass out guns.
We, in America, live in a conservative age. President Bush sees our current conflict as a battle between Good (us) and Evil (them). Many of the commentators in the mainline media express similar sentiments. America has been attacked, they say, not because we have done anything bad to anyone but because we are good and evil people naturally hate the good. The President, and those who agree with his analysis, do not want to dig very deep into possible reasons for the anger that many people harbor against us.
Across the world, there are countries that have experienced covert CIA interventions in their domestic affairs. Actions that have destroyed popular movements, halted agrarian land reform among peasants, crushed labor unions, overthrown elected governments and replaced them with dictatorships, secret police, torture and terrorists trained and armed by the U.S. The reason the U.S. intervened was to ensure that "we" (i.e. American corporations) could do business with these countries on "our" own terms. These countries did not receive American help in building democratic institutions and strong economies. Rather, our own ideals were swept under the rug so we could erect, or bolster, corrupt, oppressive regimes that would be subservient to U.S. business interests. Look at Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, and you'll find many cases of U.S. intervention when we weren't on the side of the good guys. When these dictators are overthrown, they often get immediate admission to the U.S. to live off their loot in places like Miami, Los Angeles, New York or Honolulu. Most of these countries, except for Saudi Arabia, were poor, remain poor, and none of them has a healthy representative democracy and the protection of constitutional law.
American ideals are run up the flagpole whenever our commercial empire needs patriotic recruits to enforce foreign policy. But the application of our foreign policy is often not the extension of American ideals, it is the enforcement of a commercial empire, often brutal, and not a policy that should make Americans proud or well-liked, be we conservative or liberal.
Lisle Hebert is a business owner and a social worker in Juneau.
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