A War on Rhetorical Wars

People don't like to be dominated, and resistance to domination is a renewable resource.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 05, 2006

The United States of America (and Canada to a lesser extent) is irredeemably enamored with the paired romantic notions that a) all problems are soluble, and b) problems can be solved by bludgeoning them into submission. The clearest image I have in my mind of this absurdity is Arnold Schwarzenegger in the truly awful film "End of Days" beating the crap out of a demon.

Drug use, to take a single example, can be a problem, as evidenced by the number of lives and relationships damaged or ruined by drug abuse (alcohol abuse is probably the worst culprit, followed closely by smoking). Under the right circumstances, drug use can also be a harmless way to let off steam, explore an interesting headspace, and so on. (See the excellent article The Top 10 Things I Know About Drugs, by Tony Newman on Alternet, for an insightful take on drug use in America.)

In any case, there's probably no way to stop people from using drugs - and some people from abusing them. Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped the US from declaring "War" on the problem and attempting to swing its fists to a solution. The predictable result is poor schmoes sitting in prison for 20 years for possessing an ounce of pot and the world's highest incarceration rate.

The best we can do is provide an evidence-based regulatory environment that encourages responsible drug use and intercedes where drug abuse leads to harm - for example, when a person intoxicated by alcohol decides to drive a car. The so-called "War on Drugs" is much more harmful than the drugs themselves, and so we end up destroying the village to save the village.

Another big problem is America's long-term access to cheap, abundant energy. Due to a number of factors, Americans, who comprise about four percent of the world's population, consume about 25 percent of the world's energy. (American cars also produce half the world's total automobile-based greenhouse gas output.) As global energy supplies go into decline, that becomes an increasingly dicey ratio.

The US government's solution, exemplified in 1992 at the UN's Earth Summit in Rio by George H. W. Bush's infamous assertion, "the American way of life is not up for negotiation," is to declare war on any entity that dares to exert any control over energy supplies in a manner that threatens American interests.

In each case, the US government has undertaken a totalitarian effort to dominate enough humans to achieve unrealistic objectives. The problem is that people don't like to be dominated, and resistance to domination is a renewable resource.

Over time, the resistance movement gains traction, develops means to leverage weaknesses in the occupation, and gains sympathy among bystanders, while the dedication and morale of the occupier steadily erodes until it loses the will to carry on. This is why America lost the Vietnam War, why America is losing the "War on Drugs", and why America is losing the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, which are conflicts in the larger "War on Terror".

In the meantime, the collateral damage in these unwinnable conflicts continue to pile up as the government sinks deeper and more rabidly into self-preserving denial.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By David (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2006 at 01:03:09

Americans are only 4 percent of the worlds population, but consume 25% of the worlds supply of oil. That means only 16% of the world can consume like we do, and at that point the other 84% get absolutely nothing.... Now consider the population of China - many many many times the American population... They have the potential of requiring more energy than the world can produce all by themselves - and with their newfound industrialization, they are heading in that direction ! Those numbers seem scary - and anybody who says we have a lot of oil left isn't considering how fast the other 96% of the world is catching on to American fun stuff - like driving....

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