My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Exit Stage Neither: Intellectualism and Indecisiveness

I have noticed that the more I learn about a a political subject the more muddled it usually becomes.  When I first read about it, it is easy to come to a quick conclusion about the right solution.  However, as I continue to dive deeper into the subject, the more muddled the issue becomes for me.  All of a sudden the righteous indignation I may have felt at first transforms into apathetic surrender.  I surrender to the overwhelmingness of all the different arguments and facts coming at me from all different directions.  In such cases it has been easy to become aloof about the whole thing.  Instead of partaking in the debate, its easier to simply exit stage neither (left or right).

I have noticed this among other overeducated people as well.  Its easy to become apathetic because one sees everything as a game of tradeoffs, with no real right or wrong answers.  However a part of me misses the days when I had the simple conviction of right and wrong.  I miss the days when I was part of a side, and when I could be in camaraderie with those that agreed with me, and when I believed it was my duty to help convert the wayward to my way of thinking.

See, the less educated almost always have far more confidence in their convictions.  And often this confidence converts into more ready action.  While action is not always desirable, surely it must be better than the resigned apathy I often feel.

I just read an article about a play that has been out about Lyndon Johnson, the American President during the 60's.  He was not a well educated man, however he had conviction and knew how to get what he wanted.  It compared him to President Obama, who is very well educated but often seems encumbered by his education.  He wins a lot on style points and making well articulated speeches, but often he seems to lack the aggressive assertiveness and conviction to get his agenda passed.  It especially came through in Syria.  While he believed that an airs strike was the right thing, he was hesitant to act.  He clearly thinks things through, and is a very analytical person.  However it often seems this same tendency that often comes with education can become a a crutch.

Acting quickly is not always best, I mean the way Lyndon B. Johnson impulsively handled the Vietnam War certainly was a disaster.  He didn't think through enough what really needed to be done to win the Vietnam War, and whether he was really prepared to do what had to be done.  Instead he improvised piecemeal as was his style.  He lacked the downrange vision to plan ahead.  I imagine President Obama would have been far more hesitant, and based on my pure conjecture, I doubt he would have escalated tensions and probably would have let Vietnam fall to the communists earlier on rather than let thousands die in what proved to be a pointless war.

The contrast between the two Presidents shows that education is very useful because exposure to different views forces us to grow up in our own beliefs.  If utilized properly education can help us prevent knuckle headed mistakes such as getting involved in wars without a clear goal in sight or the proper means to achieve whatever those goals might be.  Vietnam was a classic case of war without a definite goal.  Essentially we wanted to just keep killing the North Vietnamese until they stopped coming.  However they had been fighting for 2 decades before we came.  Anyone that studied the history should have known that their resolve would not have been diminished by the numbers of their dead.  Meanwhile the government did not anticipate how quickly Americans would grow fed up with war that had no end in sight.  We certainly need to learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them.

However while everyone can agree we need to learn from our mistakes, it becomes sticky once we try to decide WHAT exactly we should learn from those mistakes.  Their is no single moral lesson to draw from the Vietnam War.  Hawkish Conservatives learned that if one finds a cause just, one better dedicate the necessary resources in order to win it.  In essence, what was needed in Vietnam was an all out war rather than the restricted one we had.  We restricted war to South Vietnam, while conservatives argued we should have invaded North Vietnam.  Likewise in present conflicts we need to, "Go Big or Go Home."  Meanwhile, dovish Liberals learned that we shouldn't get involved in foreign affairs because they are too costly in lives and are unlikely to achieve much.  In fact they may even do more harm than good.  When the Iraq war was going on both sides kept arguing whether to increase commitment or to withdraw, both drawing from the Vietnam War for their beliefs.  

The fact of the matter is that one can make a perfectly valid argument for either, and that ultimately what it comes down to is the values you had before you approached the conflict.  Conservatives were committed because they saw the Communists as evil and a threat to freedom.  The liberals opposed the war because they did not see the communists as the enemy, but capitalists.  Then the argument takes on a whole new layer of complexity.  Now its not just if the war was winnable, but if it was justified.  Essentially the argument for or against a war can be made from not just one but several different angles.  The complexity quickly becomes apparent the deeper one looks into an issue.

You might have noticed yourself doing this even as you have been reading this, as you have digested the arguments for or against the Vietnam War you may realize that its not so simple.  This realization may even lead you to wonder how correct your beliefs are about everything else.  Before you know it you find yourself questioning everything.  You keep looking for the argument that will blow you away but you cannot find it.  Eventually you decide just to believe what you want to believe, but your faith in what you believe will never be the same.  You are now the jaded skeptic.

I write all this simply to state that I do not wish to exit stage neither anymore.  I am going to try to throughly read the different sides on each issue then I will come to my own conclusion.  More than anything I am determined to come to a solid conclusion.  I know my faith in my beliefs my not be the same as it used to be.  I may no longer have that "child like" faith that Jesus praises in the Gospels (books in the Bible if you are unfamiliar), however I am determined not to passively float by in my beliefs as I have.  I have let too many questions float around in my head, and it is time to resolve them.  

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