Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snowden and Liberty

I find it a little bit eerie that the Edward Snowden story broke as I was writing something completely unrelated, but having everything to do with each other. I ended with a statement imploring people to recognize that everything they do is important. We all have to make decisions, some more momentous than others. I read a managerial-type book called Crucial Conversations not that long ago. In it, the authors derive that there are a specific set of criteria that make a conversation "crucial". Essentially, it's the fact that the decision one has to make is forced, immediate and irreversible. I keep thinking about Mr. Snowden and what drove him to release that information. Did he have an "it's now or never" moment? Was his character such that he immediately reacted when he found out that our government was tracking private citizens' information; or did it gnaw at him over the months he was contracted with the NSA and finally he chose to answer his conscience? I guess what I'm getting at is when does a momentous decision become a crucial one? I think it has a lot to do with our perception. I think this really gets to the heart of the disparity to people's reactions to this.
Hero of freedom, or security threat with a savior-complex?
- If you believe that there is a certain altruism to the government, that the government is us, then I imagine that you are pretty pissed at Snowden. You're the one commenting on the news articles that he just made America a little less safe, or who is he to decide what we should know?
- If you think we should have a limited government, because by nature all systems that are powerful are inherently dangerous, then I'm assuming you are the personal ringing the church bells and hailing Snowden as a hero.
- Then there's the third person, who see this as a small glimpse into the shadowy world that exists apart from our daily lives and what we are allowed to see. The "security" side of government that has placed itself above the laws and Constitution of the United States. This is the person who wouldn't be commenting on a news piece because he's too busy fortifying their underground bunker.

All joking aside, I think we should have a little of all these people inside of us. In fact, I was reading an article where a gentleman said he was glad for Libertarians, even though he doesn't support their ideology of how a government can be run. He likes that there are liberty watchdogs, ready to raise the warning siren when someone tries to impinge on that freedom.

Last night, I was watching the deeply philosophical work Kung-Fu Panda. The school master and master emeritus (?) were having a discussion under a peach tree about control. How true control is an illusion, that there are rules to the universe and that we exist within this setting of which we have no control over. While that particular discussion was very "Eastern", the same problem is addressed in Western philosophy as the free will vs. determinism argument. This argument finds it's way back to Scholastic Philosophy, that if God is all knowing and all powerful how can we pretend that we have any choice in things, but at the same time, it is centrally held in Christianity, that God gave us free will. This argument is still alive and well today, even if academic philosophy has moved out of the realm of priests and theologians. We can look at an ordered and predetermined universe and ask the same question. Short story long, is what we have in this country freedom, or the illusion of it? My answer is yes we do, as long as it fits within a prescribed, agreed upon, notion of liberty. It's as if someone is telling you, "You can do whatever you want, as long as you choose it from this menu." I think that choice and the menu has always been there. I think that the angst that Americans are feeling is that the menu is getting smaller, and the prices are getting larger. Worse, there are others who still know how to order off-menu items and for the right price. I think if we stick with the restaurant analogy, most of us would be happy every day, going to the same sandwich shop, getting our ham and swiss on rye with a side of chips for what we consider a reasonable price for a sandwich. We only become indignant the day that someone walks in and gets a prime sirloin on a sourdough roll with a side of steak fries. "They have steak fries?" "Wait, they have a fryer?!!" "Why wasn't I told about the delicious sliced sirloin?" And the last question is what gets us every time: Why wasn't I told...

 Why was the Patriot Act necessary? Why was the Affordable Healthcare Act 9,000 pages long and congressman were essentially being told they had to vote for it to find out what was in it? Why do we need a prison in Guantanamo Bay? I find that it's usually when people have something to hide that they become secretive. I think most of our bullshit meters go off when the government's response to something that was secret is uncovered and their response is, "We weren't doing anything illegal or immoral, and we definitely weren't infringing on your rights. Trust us, it was in your best interest." I think our response will always instinctively be 1) If you weren't doing something shady, why were you hiding it from me? and 2) Why don't you let me be the judge of what's in my best interest.

Remember, Remember...

Thursday, June 6, 2013


There is a bill about to be passed by congress that subsidizes big growers to make huge swaths of the stuff we've heard others complaining about for the past decade or so: high fructose corn syrup, soy additives, and doing so using pesticides and genetically engineered crops. It's creatively called the Farm Bill. I assume that it was originally created with good purpose to keep farmers from going belly up in bad seasons and ensure an ample amount of sustenance for the American population. It gets renewed every 5 years or so and has, over the years, mutated into something that has been tailor made to benefit big agro and those that can afford lobbyists and friends in Washington. This kind of subsidy is, first, a huge waste of taxpayers' money and, more importantly, all but removes the ability of the small farmer to remain competitive and self-sustaining due to the government's artificial steering of the market. I hope you had two reactions to that, "Damn, that makes me mad!" and "I wish I could do something about that!"

        You can. Here's what I did. It's not overly political. I didn't write my congressman. He wouldn't care anyway, since this is such a minor issue that he knows that he'll never get elected or unelected on farm subsidies. He might if I lived in, say, Nebraska. But I live in a Philadelphia suburb, so I doubt it's a big ticket issue. Not when we have things like gay marriage and illegal immigration to distract us. Sorry... here's what I did.

       I'm telling you about it. I am sharing my concern in the hopes that you will read this and agree and tell somebody else. The next thing is that I joined a CSA. That's Community Supported Agriculture. Yup, right here in Lower Bucks County, mere minutes from Levittown, there is a farm that is supported by members who get to reap the benefits of locally grown, pesticide free food. The CSA is mostly vegetables, they have a small assortment of fruits that do well in our growing zone (apples, strawberries, blackberries), they also sell eggs and have a pig share too. The first pick up is today and I will have fresh vegetables available every week until November. If you want to check it out in more detail, click here: Snipes Farm

      It's a small thing I know, but it's a start. We have to start believing that what we do makes a difference. Even the really small things. Buying things locally made supports your community and reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in transporting it. We have local breweries here too!! Neshaminy Creek Brewing There are wineries, and other local farms where you can buy direct, and don't have to join a CSA. I haven't done my research as to how environmentally friendly they are, but again, buying local is already a benefit, even if not organic.

      To come back to a final thought. I hate government involvement in almost everything. Protect my life, liberty and property, and I'll take care of the rest. I believe that we can truly use the free market to build the world we want, but we have to put our money where it will make a difference. We have to be moral consumers. I'm not saying you have to buy everything made in America, but let's stop buying from countries that are human rights violators. I'm thinking gasoline might be one of those things, when you consider where a lot of it comes from. Obviously, anything made in China would fit the bill. I don't think that we can legislate morality. Laws will never make men good. Ultimately, humanity will get the world that it deserves, by the choices its individuals make. You can change reality, by changing the world in your immediate grasp, you'll never change it by forcing people you don't know to obey statutes. The first part of that statement is the most important though. Never stop believing that what you do is important, and that it will have a positive or negative impact.