Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dialoguing With Our Dealers…

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. --Carl Gustav Jung
If you've ever known or worked with addicts and dealers that dynamic is interesting. Initially, the addict feels they are in control; they are, after all, the 'customer' and the transaction and dialogue can be both illicit and glamorous. The problem is that as addiction takes its long-term toll and inevitable course the dialogue becomes far more one sided and far less congenial.

The latter conversations are usually empty threats, with pitiable entreaties that underscore the Expand...addicts' denial and fallen state and the dealer's ultimate control of the situation. Lately, watching most US policy, from visits with the Chinese President to conversations with Iran's leadership to the uproar over gas prices, all sound a lot like the late term conversations with our dealer.

You see, it's not really our fault; truly. We just aren't strong enough to resist the allure of SUVs and cheap gas and in the beginning we were in control. It was a once in a while thing and we could afford it and had it all under control. But like the meth addict who lives for the next hit, we're increasingly worried about the supply and a recent hit to that supply just doubled the price on the street and, well… we're hurting. Badly. So, we ask for a little break. Don't replenish (or release) the strategic reserve… threaten our dealers with the authorities and unwelcome investigatory attention, but one way or another, we need what we want, and you need to understand that. So give us our fix—just this once, bend the rules and we'll have everything under control shortly, and it won't happen again—we're serious this time. It's a refrain common to any addict, and one that every dealer is immune to. So, gas prices remain high and the supply remains scarce and our threats to Iran don't mean much because they can affect the supply from our dealers. We continue to support regimes that reject our stated values and cause the very conditions we go to war to ostensibly end because, well, hey—they're our dealers and sometimes you have to look the other way.

We're not strong enough to resist cheap capital from Asia or deficit spending because, you see, we have so much we have to do right now and we need to focus on those expenditures rather than the deficit—we'll worry about that later. So we'll charge our drugs on cash advances on our credit cards… because we really need all this stuff. That makes it really hard to advise our dealer on how to behave from, human rights to theft and piracy to competing with us in our pursuit of shared vices. It's hard to talk tough to your dealer when he's got you in a bind. A little too offensive on human rights or piracy or working conditions in China or how they treat their people and they could turn off the capital spigot and then where would we be? Up the creek without a fix!

In fact, we're not even strong enough to resist cheap goods—because we need that new stuff, so we will continue to finance the dealers who make us more dependent on their crap, and we'll just keep smoking it up, with ever greater tolerance, because like all junkies, we need more and more. And if that makes the guys who are thorns in our sides all the stronger, we'll soon forget that—just as soon as the next fix is in hand.

The truth is, what we really can't resist and what we're really addicted to are simple solutions that give us pat answers and require no sacrifice. That's comforting to us because it means we don't need to change anything—we can remain comfortable in denial and comfort ourselves with our false rationalizations why those around us who used to look up to us whisper around us with concern and wonder what the hell is going on and what happened to us all the while, suspecting they know the answer well, and just aren't sure how to approach the intervention.

Here's the truth—we can't fix gas prices while lacking a credible threat against and carrot for Iran; thanks to Rumsfeld the probability of America or the rest of the world following another such led campaign is slim—a prime reason for him to go, negotiating requires credible threats and incentives and we're able to offer neither with Rumsfeld in place and our allies alienated. We can't change China's policies while being utterly dependent upon them to finance our debt and fill Wal-Mart shelves-and we sure as hell can't enlist their aid while their competing for the same fix we are with the same dealers. We can't really address the 'war on terror' until we address the oppressive regimes we not only tolerate, but support in an effort to quell our cravings and avoid confronting the naggings suspicion we've had all along that something isn't quite right about the way we're acting and the way those around us are looking at us.

We can't address any of that until we are ready to start the hard work—to sacrifice. And that means a moment of clarity for this nation, it means rejecting our rationalizations, it means no more amorphous positions on the legality of what we do or on torture that belie our statements about who we are and what we stand for, or justifying supporting tyrants or pretending we can still control everything without any real sacrifices like drafts or a war time footing or continuing to fight on the cheap with nothing more than 'shopping' being required of us.

Getting sober takes real sacrifice and real humility and real changes—and the nation has been drunk on vengeance and willing to overlook the binge for far too long. That needs to stop, because those desperate conversations with your dealer, the ones where you beg and threaten and cajole and promise it's the last time tell him you've got it under control—those never work. They result in violence and the dealer walking away and bottoming out or death—or both.

That's because it was always the dealer who was in control—not the addict. It still is.

I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." --Thomas Jefferson
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