5 April 2003
We get letters
Margaret Atwood's "A Letter to America", which started out as an op-ed in Toronto's The Globe and Mail, tries very hard not to sound accusative or bitter, and for the most part it succeeds, but some of its points deserve a response.
What's being done to Iraq, she says, pales in comparison to what we're doing to ourselves. For instance:
You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.
The latter question is easily answered: 11 September 2001. However, it's no particular secret that some of our law-enforcement types have always had a wish list of things they would love to do if only that damn Constitution didn't keep getting in the way; the war merely provides an excuse.
You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.
We're definitely back in an advanced stage of Deficit Inattention Disorder, though the fact that the number of balanced budgets we've had in half a century can be counted on one's fingers without having to take off more than one mitten makes me worry just a bit less about the sheer volume of red ink. I doubt, however, that "most", or even much, of the national water supply has been rendered unusuable, and I can't bring myself to blame drought, which your standard insurance weasels consider an Act of God, on the Bush administration.
You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.
King Midas, as I recall, was just as capable of damaging his position as of enhancing it; there's a self-correction cycle built into the process. And for a "torched" economy, we seem to be doing pretty well: the war has business expansion largely on hold, but that's obviously a temporary anomaly, and some businesses are truly in trouble, but much of that trouble is due to failure to respond to public demand (the airlines) or attempting to keep a dead business model on life support (the record industry) or believing despite an utter lack of evidence that economies of scale can be derived from operations that really have nothing in common (AOL Time Warner).
If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.
The world is a glass house let's watch it with those flying pellets.
There's no doubt that we could be doing a better job of upholding our own traditions. And one of those traditions is to blow off criticism from the postmodernist and premedieval sectors, neither of whom have anything to contribute to anything resembling a world dialogue. If we claim to have the moral high ground, it's not because we claim to have video of [insert name of deity here] saying so; it's because we have the track record to back it up.
Dear Ms. Atwood: Your concerns are noted, but don't worry about us. We'll muddle through this somehow. And thanks for writing.