Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Right/wrong reality


By DICK DORWORTH

“The range of the human mind, the scale and depth of the metaphors the mind is capable of manufacturing as it grapples with the universe, stand in stunning contrast to the belief that there is only one reality, which is man’s, or worse, that only one culture among the many on earth possesses the truth. … Someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right.”

—Barry Lopez

 

This quote touches upon the reality of each man’s relationship to other men and the natural world. And one person’s reality is another’s dream or, sometimes, nightmare. The same holds true for cultures, religions, superstitions and political and social dogmas. It seems reasonable to say that “someone else does not have to be wrong in order that you may be right,” but concepts of wrong and right still apply to both the someone else and to you. A person who lives her/his own life according to what she/he believes is right is, of course, to be respected, even by those with a different concept of what is right.

Imposing what is right for you on someone else is another matter, and such impositions tend to quickly become more complex and complicated than one expects from what one perceives as right. For instance, most people in this country (including me) consider the Taliban of Pakistan and Afghanistan completely wrong to blow up schools, intimidate and even murder both teachers and students in order to prevent them (especially girls) from receiving any education beyond a very rigid, narrow religious dogma. The most recent egregious and highly publicized example of the Taliban’s ignorant brutality is the attempted assassination of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken advocate for the right of Pakistani girls to become educated. We are rightfully horrified (and perplexed) that fellow human beings live in a reality so threatened by an unarmed 15-year-old girl that they would try to murder her and feel right to do so. About two schools every week are blown up in the night by the Taliban in Pakistan, and thousands of students in those schools have already been orphaned and some of them have been killed by the same people who would keep them in ignorance.

At the same time, most people in this country (not including me) consider the gargantuan military budget of the United States (six times that of its nearest military rival, China, and larger than the next 10 countries combined) completely right, a necessary cost of doing business in the world, especially the oil business. While the U.S. has the most powerful and expensive military in the history of the world, the students in its schools are not among the first 20 countries in math or science knowledge, and not in the first 30 in reading. (Closer to home, Idaho is ranked 30th among the 50 states of a nation not among the world’s first 20 in education.) The taxpayer money that funds the most powerful military in the history of the world is taken from, among other social necessities, education. The American system of public education, once among the best in the world, has come undone over the past 30 years in direct correlation to the growth of its military. As metaphor, learning how to think and acquire useful skills in the classroom has lost out to learning how to be a bully in the schoolyard.

A significant chunk of that military budget goes to manufacturing and deploying drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, and they have been used extensively in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Drones can be used for a variety of civilian and scientific purposes but are primarily a military weapon. The U.S. is the largest manufacturer and user of UAVs, which cost between $4.5 million and $30 million each. Ten years ago, the U.S. had some 50 drones; today there are more than 7,000. You do the math. Imagine a reality where just the UAV slice of the obese military budget was used for public education instead of indiscriminate destruction in a country with which we are not at war.

Despite the slick if empty UAV rhetoric from Washington and the Pentagon exemplified by the president’s top counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, who has said that targets meet “very tight and strict standards”, and that only in “exceedingly rare” cases have civilians been “accidentally injured, or, worse, killed in these strikes,” the reality in Pakistan, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), is that in the past eight years drone strikes have killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The organization also reports that drones “double strike” targets, after the initial hit, thereby killing first responders. Drones are in the sky above northwestern Pakistan 24 hours a day, and they are understandably deeply unpopular. One knowledgeable investigator said: “[D]rone strikes go much further than simply killing innocent civilians. An entire region is being terrorized by the constant threat of death from the skies. … Their way of life is collapsing: Kids are too terrified to go to school, adults are afraid to attend weddings, funerals, business meetings or anything that involves gathering in groups. Yet there is no end in sight, and nowhere the ordinary men, women and children of North West Pakistan can go to feel safe.”

Kids are too terrified to go to school. The drones are helping the Taliban shut down education in Pakistan. Two wrongs do not make a right.




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