Friday, April 23, 2004

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies 

"Pessimists are right more often than not, and when they are wrong they are pleased to be so."
-George Will, on the pleasures of pessimism--in response to a quote from James Q. Wilson questioning whether human nature lends itself to freedom.

Shock and Awe in Iraq
By George F. Will

Aside from being an uncharacteristically optimistic assessment of pessimists, the problem with Will's maxim is that it perpetuates the myth of the impartial observer. The observer--in Will's case a pessimist columnist--is subject to an inescapable twist of logic familiar to quantum physicists and philosophers. That is, the very act of observing "reality" makes one an active participant. The fact that we can't separate ourselves from it makes it impossible for us to judge reality objectively. Our observations--especially those disseminated via mass media--undoubtedly contribute to shaping reality.

Will's pessimist is a voyeur in a vacuum that exists only as a self-serving abstraction. In the real world, pessimists actively promote competing visions. Will's competing vision, in Wilson's words, is that "...our effort to increase individual freedom is an evolutionary oddity, a weak and probably vain effort to equip people with an opportunity some do not want and many will readily sacrifice."

I'm an optimist in regard to questions about the nature and value of freedom, but I've learned to expect the worst from neoconservative philosophy. As a critic of the Bush administration's messianic "crusade" to forcefully "liberate" "brown skinned" people, I'm tempted to interpret Will's observations as criticisms of our current foreign policy. But I can't, because I know that his real intent is to frame freedom as an evolutionary oddity of questionable value.

After all, he isn't suggesting that the Bush administration made a mistake by invading Iraq. If anything, he's suggesting they drop the pretensions of liberation. Will envisions a leader for Iraq who--unlike Aleksandr Kerensky of pre-Leninist Russia--will be able to resist overthrow by dangerous extremists. The implicit suggestion is that instead of freedom, Iraq needs a strong, politically moderate dictatorship strategically aligned with the West. Is it any wonder then that the neocons are taking another look at the Baathists?

The Bush administration's failure to impose "freedom" on Iraq by force is reason enough for people like Will to begin questioning the viability of freedom itself. Rather than acknowledge the probability that its intent and execution doomed the folly in question, they prefer to issue radical challenges. Of course it's a ruse. Neocons know that freedom cannot be imposed at gunpoint, and they're well aware that it's an insult to disguise imperialist aggression as "liberation." Only the most deluded Republicans believe that we invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people. America's failure in Iraq is a failure of leadership--not of freedom.

George Will knows the truth, but something prevents him from expressing it. Perhaps it's his deeply rooted pessimism toward the nature of freedom, or, it could be his deep-rooted optimism toward the nature of neoconservative philosophy. Either way, he's not merely a casual observer, and one has to wonder if he truly would take pleasure from being proved wrong.

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