The other day I did something radical. I took a long walk under autumn leaves, with someone I love. I saw the beauty and felt the pleasure. My imagination was working overtime.
Suddenly, I saw myself surrounded by a crowd of radicals. These were all the folks who sent me critical emails last spring, when I wrote that Bush and his warmakers are "not evil, just misguided." "How stupid can you be," one asked. "Of course they are evil. Absolutely evil," another insisted.
I asked them to join me on my walk. Soon their imaginations were working overtime, too.
The next thing we knew, we were all in the Oval Office. There was George W., slouched in his presidential chair, cowboy-booted feet up on the desk. "George!" my critics shouted. "You drop bombs on babies in Iraq and leave the soil full of depleted uranium, so that your friends at Halliburton and Bechtel can make billions on no-bid contracts. If that's not pure evil, what is?"
"Now hold on, friends," George slowly replied. "You've got it all wrong. It's about growing prosperity around the world. Let me explain to you how the world system works.
Remember the Great Depression in the 1930s? The world economy fell apart because each big country had its own private trading block. Each block used high tariffs to keep out products from the other blocks. Goods and services could no longer flow around the world, and everyone got poor.
World War II ended the Depression, but everyone thought the Depression might come roaring back after the war. So U.S. leaders set out to make the world more like us: private enterprise, mass production, a huge free market, and states trading freely without tariffs or barriers.
In the U.S., that combination created the biggest middle class the world had ever seen. Middle class people are comfortable and happy; they have the kind of contentment that poor people all over the world long for. If we could make the whole world a single American-style economic system, we'd be doing ourselves and everyone else a big favor. That's why we have to turn the world into one huge market, with mass production everywhere, endlessly growing international trade, and every nation open to foreign investment.
But it's a risky venture. There are so many ways it might fail. Nationalists in many nations resent our demand that they produce only a few
big cash crops and sell them to multinational corporations. They want to
control their own economic, labor, and environmental rules. They are trying to defy our master plan, simply to maintain their own independence. And we can't allow that.
Suppose we could no longer trade and invest freely around the world. Suppose our multinational corporations were barred from one country after another. What would happen then? No one knows for sure. But we can't take a chance on finding out.
If any nation is free to pursue its own separate policies, the future becomes terribly unpredictable, terribly unstable. Investors stay away and the grand vision of a growing global middle class may well be doomed. Then our marvelous middle class life at home would wither as well.
You see, the global system is like a big balloon. It has to be intact everywhere. If there's even one little spot that's not part of the system, it's like a pinprick in the balloon. Either everything is under our control, or the whole thing collapses. The key to global prosperity is perfect predictability and perfect control. Anything less could doom us all.
That's why we have to let everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that they
have to cooperate with us, whether they like it or not. If they won't --
well, the Iraqis got the message. We just do what we have to do, to protect ourselves from disaster. Do you get it now?"
"Wow," one of the radicals whispered, "what a frightening vision. This guy is genuinely scared." "He's kind of whacko, too," said another, softly. "But who would try to reason with such a frightened man?"
Now we were back under the autumn leaves, back in the realm of beauty, pleasure, and love, the kind of world radicals are trying to create. They talked. I just listened.
"Those aren't just Bush's ideas, you know. All of the political, business, and media elite really believe that stuff."
"Then they must all see the world as a very scary place, the same way he does."
"OK, so they are all frightened little men. Does that make them any less evil?
"It does make me feel a bit sorry for them."
"Oh, wait a minute while I dry my tears. Sorry for them? Gimme a break."
"It is kind of hard to stay angry at people who are so scared."
"Especially out here, on such a beautiful day, feeling like everything could be perfect, if only . . ."
"If only we could get beyond our own anger?"
"Well, that's part of it."
"And why are we so angry? Isn't it because we are afraid of them and their power?"
"Oh, right. Next you'll be telling me they aren't evil, just misguided."
"How about if we say they do evil things and get so misguided because they are so frightened?"
"Or maybe they do evil things and get so frightened because they are so misguided."
"Sounds like there's a formula here : Fear plus ignorance equals evil action."
"I'd make it fear plus ignorance plus greed."
"As opposed to our formula: Beauty plus pleasure plus imagination equals loving action."
"And compassionate understanding, even for people who drop bombs on babies? That's pushing it too far."
"Well, you know, it's hard to enjoy the beauty and pleasure out here when I feel angry and afraid. Love and compassion sort of fits the mood better than fear. Makes me feel better too."
"Yes, out here under the gorgeous autumn leaves, it feels like there is
nothing to be afraid of. It makes me feel more confident that we can
create the kind of world we want to live in, no matter how many George W's are out there trying to stop us."
"No fear. No evil-doers. If that's the kind of world we want for everyone, don't we have to start living in it now? At least right here, right now, it seems like the best way to live."
"No, man. I'm telling you. They are evil. Just evil. As long as they are in power, we should be very afraid."
So the conversation continued, until we all stopped to watch the golden sunset.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder email@example.com