Friday, February 24, 2006

Rufus Wainwright -- Vibrate

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security. -- Benjamin Franklin

The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe. -- HL Mencken

I have named the destroyers of nations: comfort, plenty, and security - out of which grow a bored and slothful cynicism, in which rebellion against the world as it is, and myself as I am, are submerged in listless self-satisfaction. -- John Steinbeck

At the Israelisms website Tomer said

Bush steppin over people's rights... How? The wiretaps? I'm pretty happy with what he does for the most part, not as an Israeli, but as a Pro-US and pro-Neocons.

That kind of talk is common, of course, amongst Americans. We've lost touch with the founding principles of our country. We value security over liberty. And no matter how safe we are, no matter how long the average American lives, even living a life of relative sloth and laziness and terrible habits, we want to be safer. Safe from what? Safe from disease. Safe from drunk drivers. Safe from the consequences of our own actions. And all of these things end up being cheap little plastic masks, one slapped over the other, layers of distraction to cover the one thing we really fear -- Death.

We aren't afraid of Osama or terrorism as much as being stuck in a skyscraper with a still-hot Starbucks in our hand, thinking we were going to have a normal day of routine stress, and instead finding ourselves weighing the relative merits of death by burning versus death by falling one hundred stories and slamming into the ground.

The Jews among us know the different ways we may meet death -- Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah we have this prayer:

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed: how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.

After which, of course, we say "But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree." And by this we don't mean that we can prevent ourselves from being blown to bits by a terrorist if we repent, pray and do tzedakah. It means that the "evil" of the ways in which we may die is removed by our good acts. It is in our living lives of true torah values that we free ourselves from the evil of dying in these terrible ways. For, as we know, true holy people, whether renowned rabbis or simple peasants, die from all of these causes, have every negative experience possible, every minute of every day. Leading good lives connects us to G-d and eternal life and thereby conquers the temporary evil of death. It also conquers the fear of death.

However, the easier course is to look at the list as preventable occurences that can be reduced, both in frequency and severity. Safer cars. Safer medicine. Safer food. Safer streets. Safer cities. Safer sex. And until we conquer death, we keep at the list. Isn't it obvious that we cannot be living lives of good deeds when we are obsessed with preventing evil deaths? One thing I assure you is that our culture's obsession with staying safe is leading us inexorably to a very unstable and unsafe future. Because, to keep ourselves safe, we purposely make others less safe.

Look at the way we deal with democracy -- it's a wonderful idea, certainly. We promote it all over the world. Until an election goes contrary to our wishes. Then we, either secretly or overtly, work to topple the newly-elected government. We've been doing it since well before we toppled Allende and ushered in the dictatorship of Pinochet, and we'll be doing it long after we try to destabilize the newly elected Hamas government. We turn other countries into places where the people live in fear and despair of peace and self-determination, because we are so determined that things go the way we think will lead to us being safest. We are, literally, hell-bent on making the world into a place that will be safe for us. And in the process, we make the world a more dangerous place for all, and we pave the way to hell and to evil deaths.

So by all means, Tomer, let's be pro-US. Let's embrace the ideals of the United States that lead us to spend billions of dollars a year to help others, that lead us to fight for human rights and voting rights and democracy. Let's promote the US doing good. But let's get off this stupid idea that one can be happy with Bush stepping on our rights. The United States without its redeeming values, like civil liberties, turns into just another Sodom and Gomorrah. And for endangering our lasting freedom for temprorary security, Bush is a traitor that needs to be impeached.


Carol said...

Interesting. I like your comments on the prayer we say. It's a good interpretation.

Jim from Iowa said...

Well put, Lee. Are you a professional writer? If you were an orator I'd say you use your mouth prettier than a $20 whore. Is there an equivalent expression for a writer's hand?

My non-fiction readings the last six months: Arab and Jew (a detailed history of the Arab-Israeli conflict); Al Franken's "Lying Liars; "Bush World" by the lovely Maureen Dowd; and "Disney World" which exposed egomaniacal Michael Eisner for what he is- a contemptible little scarab beatle of a man.