The situation in Myanmar got me thinking about freedom and free will over the weekend. Having children and watching them develop has altered my definition of the concept. When I was younger I believed that freedom meant doing whatever you wanted. These days I would define a free society as one that chooses not to program its citizenry and prevents outside influences from doing the same. We humans, for all of our sophistication, can be whacked around and tinkered with until we turn out little better than two-legged attack dogs and the history books are filled with example civilizations, most of them successful in their hey-day by all accounts.
This kind of percussive people-programming takes many forms from the brutishly simple to the subtle yet deep. In parts of Africa they make child soldiers by taking them away from their families, making them snort large quantities of cocaine and gunpowder, and then subjecting them to violent war films in between raids. When Kim Il-sung died in 1994 they showed little girls and grown men alike sobbing in the streets. They were just howling like Sean Penn at the beginning of Mystic River; a kind of crazy, over-the-top expression of grief that made me feel uncomfortable and suspicious all at once. In that Jesus Camp documentary you have tears rolling down the faces of children during an exuberant Sunday prayer. We don’t hammer our children on what political party they’re going to belong to but those inconsequential issues like the nature of the universe and life after death seem to get a free pass and front row seating.
In Myanmar freedom seems to be at an all-time low but it also shows that if you don’t program your people properly they might take to the streets despite a mobilized military. China’s hands-off approach to one of their vassal states making the world news is telling in my opinion. It looks like they’re going to let that one go on long enough in order for their own population to get the right message; that revolt is pointless, nothing comes of it, and you might get severely hurt for your trouble.
You can point to the various manipulations present in our western society; national identity, class, marketing and religion to name just a few but I don’t think we possess the insight to determine how deeply they affect us. Great writers like Mark Twain have expressed their disgust at concepts like glory, patriotism, honour, and sacrifice because of how the state can manipulate these ideas in times of war, how they have the power to send men to be butchered with a smile on their faces. Is there such a thing as a truly free-willed human or has greed and opportunism ensured that we all receive at least a modicum of training or indoctrination. As I write this I’m thinking that I'd rather be playing Halo. What’s funny is that while playing Halo yesterday I found my mind wandering about the new Half Life installment coming out in a couple weeks, followed by Ratchet & Clank a couple weeks after that (ooh but it looks good) and then Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune just a little later. Dance monkey, dance! Give no thought to the education funds of your children and remain focused on the newest gamer hotness! Don’t forget to pick up beer on your way home. The mortgage payment is due so you better use your credit card…
Here’s a Myanmar update complete with political hand-wringing. They managed to lock up most of the monks in their own monasteries, which is no small feat given that there are 100,000 of them. What kind of monk doesn’t learn some kind of junta-kicking kung fu or even a bit of air bending while living in a monastery? These aren’t the kind of monks that make beer, right? So what hell have they been doing all their lives?
There was a crazy raid in Darfur, an African Union base got taken over and robbed of their supplies. Other nations might think twice about sending their soldiers over there to get mugged by these ass-kicking rebels.
This is an interesting piece that personalizes some of the American soldiers in Iraq. There is a husband and wife with two kids who are both serving. That’s got to be tough.
Seymour Hersh is a great writer and investigator. He’ll convince you that this Iran air strike thing is totally going to happen. If you want a bit of the acrimonious history between the States and Iran then look no further than Operation Ajax. This was the American and British plot to overthrow Mossadegh because he nationalized the oil. It’s amazing that some version of this clown show has been running for fifty years.