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  1. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Burden of Power - no easy answers!

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by BayView, Feb 28, 2015.

    I'm not sure if this is "Debate Room" worthy or not - but it seems like it might be!

    Anyway, I'm currently listening to the audio version of Imperial Life in the Emerald City (http://www.audible.com/pd/History/Imperial-Life-in-the-Emerald-City-Audiobook/B002V8HBBA). It follows the early days of the rebuilding effort in Bagdad after Saddam was ousted, and has some pretty good insider perspectives, albeit from a clearly biased perspective. (The bias matches my own, so I'm okay with it!)

    I was a bit bored at the start - oh, Bush-era appointments to important posts valued political affiliations over competence? No kidding, book, I think we all knew that. Oh, neo-conservatives have blinkers on and can't see the real world through all the barriers of their ideology? You're preaching to the choir, book.

    But then it started getting really interesting. It was easy to be dismissive of the incompetent ideologues at first - they thought they could just impose capitalism and everything would be magically fixed? Stupid conservatives. Oh, they ignore local concerns and instituted a system based on American values? Terrible idea. They insisted that the new constitution include a guarantee of rights for women? Idiotic... wait a second.

    I agree with that one.

    I...

    Huh.

    There have been a few other examples, too. The American occupiers wanted to ensure a separation of church and state. It's a value I totally agree with and have internalized almost to the point that it feels like an essential human right. But for the people of Iraq, it was apparently completely ridiculous. Even the fairly secular Iraqis felt that there needed to be representation from the religious world in their constitution.

    So the incompetent Americans, working to impose an US system on a country that doesn't WANT a US system, seemed like a caricature, at first. Of course they were wrong. But then the struggle shifted to areas where my treasured ideals were under discussion, and everything got a lot murkier.

    There were practical issues - does it do any good to have lofty ideals in the constitution if the people won't agree to follow them?

    There were ideological issues - is the right to self-determination on a national level more or less important than the right to self-determination on an individual level? How much does the answer to this question depend on the culture in which you were raised? etc.

    I'm not done the book, yet (no spoilers!) but it's been really interesting so far. I think the lesson I'm taking from it is that there really are no easy answers to most of the world's issues, and there are very rarely truly 'evil' people involved in any situation. Most people do their best, based on what they believe is right. And still, things manage to go horribly wrong.

    I don't know if there's much to debate, here. If anyone else has read the book, I'd love to talk about it, so maybe this should just get moved to book discussions.

    Or maybe, to make things more inclusive: Have you guys ever read a single book or had a single experience that caused you to seriously question your way of seeing the world?

    Or, less personally: Are partisan politics as destructive a force as they seem to be, and is there any solution to the problem?

    Anything?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I will offer this only as an observation, but one that may illuminate a variable that isn't being taken into account. When you say "incompetent Americans", I have to ask, because it is not clear from syntax, whether that is your assessment or the assessment you feel the book was delivering to that point. Be it the latter, my point will be mitigated, but be it the former, I am left to ask you if there isn't a dynamic in play of eschewing "Americaness", in a reactionary manner, as a matter of course and habit, only to find that the babe has gone out with the bathwater? The underlined portion is where I lose your train of thought. Is they the "incompetent Americans" or the writers?

    Absolutely! Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood forever altered the way I think of human behavior. There is no going back. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Man is a pack animal (like canines, not like pack mules) and huge swaths of our behavior is fractal amplifications of that basic programming. It explains so much in us, and arguments to the contrary now seem so very rooted in a prior need that has been coddled for so long, the need to see ourselves as different in kind, not just by degree.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, no, the incompetent vibe was from the author, definitely. He introduces each new 'character' by outlining their professional qualifications (usually completely unrelated to the job they were doing in Iraq) and then their political affiliations (always tightly connected to the Bush admin/Republican machinery). So the antecedent for "they" is referring back to the Americans. So the rest of your post... I'm not sure. I think the author of the book is American, but definitely liberal, and he is clearly trying to show how absurd it was to try to transplant the American system to a different country without any flexibility. And the baby and the bathwater issue is kind of what I was examining - when the "Americaness" he was talking about was free-market capitalism, I was happy to throw out the bathwater. But when the "Americaness" was separation of church and state I felt more... "wait, there's my baby!"

    Haven't read it - will add to my TBR list!
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yes. Nineteen Eighty-Four was the big one for me. It showed me the importance of literature, and how precious freedoms can be. Beyond Good and Evil also made me up front about my atheism.

    Partisan politics can be a wonderful thing. They can even show us the way. What is bad - maybe even 'evil' is when they become entirely ideological.
     
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you expand on the ways you see partisan politics being a positive force?
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The problem with two-party politics is that things eventually become stale, boring, and about increasingly minor issues as both parties try to appear more center than they should in order to appeal to the most amount of people on the political spectrum. That's why countries that hilariously call themselves a 'Democracy' are always crying out for a third party.

    Partisan politics can help keep things at least interesting. If we didn't have Partisan politics there could easily be nothing in politics beside corruption, and laziness and boringness (I'm trying to make that a real word). And if it's an honest-to-god dark horse, then it means that finally the vox populi is reaching the people who run things.

    Vox populi, vox dei.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know that many countries with two-party systems, but I feel like the US system is actually working in the opposite direction of your first paragraph, with the Republicans moving further and further right... I guess possibly the Democrats are moving further right than they should, too, in order to try to steal some of the centrist Republicans... Do you have other examples of countries where the centrist movement is more pronounced?

    I think I disagree with the second paragraph, too. For me, it feels like partisan politics are what makes things boring. Instead of really getting into the nitty-gritty ideas and exploring them and trying to find solutions, it seems like too often we have people just spouting the party line and criticizing their opponents for every thing. I think it would be a lot more interesting if the parties sometimes said, "Hey, I'm in Party A, but I really like this idea Party B came up with. I wonder if we could work with that and try to find a solution that would actually be good for people instead of just good for my party."
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The United Kingdom. It's often theorized that's one of the reasons why UKIP and the SNP are really getting ahead recently, because the common people seem to be getting tired of the corruption and bullshit of the two main parties now the Lib Dems have decided they wanted to be unelectable. So people are turning to anyone who might be a danger to the establishment, be that nationalists, or idiots or Russel Brand.

    'Hey I'm A and you are B, let's find a compromise' is fine - wonderful in fact, but when it gets stilted it becomes 'I'm A, and I say everything B says but B leaves the fridge door open - and his farts smell bad' is when some shake up is needed.
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Did Americans and their allies actually believe in the separation of the state and religion in Iraq?

    As for the other question, Toni Morrison opened my eyes about racial identities. I'm often terribly eurocentric, so works like hers have opened my eyes to others' experiences and how they navigate in a whitewashed culture.
    This happened in Finland. We have a multi-party system but there are/were two major ones. People got sick with their inefficiency and spinelessness, so the True Finns emerged. They are a trainwreck but a few years ago really appealed to a lot of regular joes and janes. They arent's as bad as your SNP but kind of in the same ballpark.
     
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  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I think they thought they believed in it... I think there's a bit of a tendency in the US to ignore the more Christian-centric aspects of their culture, so they probably thought they were arguing for the separation of church and state when really they were arguing for the separation of Islam and state...

    Oooh, good one! I took an African American Literature course in university, with fiction and non-fiction, and it was an eye-opener for me, too!
     
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  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've understood this is in effect in Turkey, but not without problems. Turkey is also more westernized in comparison. If they struggle, I'm not surprised Iraq doesn't receive such fundamental changes with open arms.
    Reading her led me to read Yvonne Vera as well as a lot of diaspora lit (Annie John, Lonely Londoners, Clear Light of Day...), so it was definitely amazing to discover her. Nalo Hopkinson is another writer I found through Morrison. I loved the Salt Roads.
     
  12. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes. Any history text book. Two reasons.

    1. Past views, that probably at the time seemed as important as the ones that now seem important to us, can be dissected and studied with a more objective eye.
    2. Beliefs are constantly changing. What you think now, no one might think in a hundred years from now.

    Never put all your eggs in one basket :S
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I read it, and I'm familiar with the events. @Wreybies, it is indeed what the book's position is, as well as it's been admitted to by many of the people involved what horrible mistakes were made that first year after we went to Iraq.

    De-Ba'athification is spoken of as a huge mistake that led to the mess we have today by most politicians now on both sides of the isle.

    Bush staffed the agency responsible for the reestablishment of the Iraq government with inexperienced Christians, just like he replaced more than a hundred career attorneys in the Dept. of Justice with new graduates of the unaccredited Regent's Law School who held his Evangelical beliefs. He also installed religious 'minders' to watch over NASA scientists. It was a pattern: ideology over experience and credentials.

    Then there was Paul Bremer leading the pack to create a Libertarian utopia. Unions outlawed, regulations unnecessary for the most part. Instead of hiring local companies and putting Iraqis back to work, Bush cronies got all the contracts and all the money including billions in cash that is still unaccounted for to this day.

    And then to top off the Bush/Cheney made disaster, Bremer and the contractors pulled out, leaving a still crumbling infrastructure, repaired, rebuilt yet no more functional than the bombed out infrastructure they were paid to fix.

    If we end up in WWIII, it will have started with Bush, Iraq, and indescribable corruption and incompetence.
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Here's an in depth interview with the author:
    http://www.democracynow.org/2006/9/29/imperial_life_in_the_emerald_city
    Do click on "show full transcript". This interview was a decade ago, 2006. Things described in the book as
    have been born out as disastrous by history.
     
  15. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A partial solution is to limit the ability of any single person to financially contribute to politics. When a politician has a smaller circle of people they have to please, they are less worried about how their actions may negatively affect the people whose vote they don't need.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sigh, what would the US be like if we did away with gerrymandering and money in politics?
     
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  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be really challenging to get rid of the money altogether, really, because so much of the money is mixed in with power. Like, you don't have to give a candidate money directly, necessarily, not if you can both just be part of the old boys' network and know that if he does you favours while he's in power, you'll do him favours after he's out. Or you'll do favours for his family, who will make sure he's taken care of later... etc.
     
  18. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    You ever seen The Simpsons where the lawyer imagines a world without lawyers, and the sun has a smiling face while watching people of all races, creeds and religions holding hands - singing and dancing in peace? I imagine it would be something like that. :D
     
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  19. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Can you imagine a world without lawyers AND corrupt politics?"

    [​IMG]

    *Shudders*
     
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  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If there were no lawyers, I wouldn't be here. :(
     
  21. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That is actually what I thought the adult world was like when I was a young child. Explains why I'm now so depressed and bitter.
     
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  22. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I was a child I assumed....

    Healthcare was 100 % free
    Police officers existed to help people
    The president of the united states was trying to do a good job for democracy and the people
    There was a democracy
    Being a good person was the most important thing
    Money didn't matter
    Adults were smart
     
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