Monday, February 28, 2011


Why do concepts, which seem 'self evident' to me, take so long to get across to others? I asked myself that question a few weeks ago and it has taken me this long to come up with an answer. The fact that it took me a few weeks is itself a hint of what the answer is. Layers.

Knowledge and insight comes in layers. Let's say there is a concept that is several layers deep, we'll use 'Non-interventionist Foreign Policy (NIFP)' for an example. In my case, the foreign wars were justified because of the reasons given for their necessity such as
  • we would rather fight them over there
  • they are trying to kill us because we are free
  • they are trying to kill us because of our lack of morals
  • to fight them is patriotic

These layers are pretty shallow and easy to get behind, so when an alternate view comes to light, it may be rejected out-of-hand. After all, I have already come to a logical, reasoned conclusion. But then I hear from this person whom I respect for other policy positions, so I listen to these conflicting theories:

  • we can't afford to police the world
  • we're less safe because our resources are spread out all over the world
  • we have no business involving ourselves in the internal conflicts of other countries
  • they are angry because we are over there
  • our relations would be better with other countries if we would simply trade with them, visit with them, go to their picnics, and keep our nose out of their business
Of course I reject these notions. It's not our fault that they want to kill us. But I do get the one about not being able to afford to police the world, so perhaps I have absorbed one of the layers.

As the border debate heats up, I realize the importance of border security. If millions of Mexicans can cross, then it is not a stretch to think that thousands of terrorists can cross. Securing the border is a duty of the federal government and, politics aside, having our troops deployed overseas means they can't be deployed at the borders. If Al-Qaeda draws our troops over there, large security holes are created over here. Divide and conquer. Now I'm starting to pick up on another layer of the NIFP.

As time goes by, I see freedoms and liberties being yanked out from under me and my government forcing upon me that which it thinks is best. It's a huge snowball, and I saw it coming years before, but it did not look threatening at the time so I went on about my business. Now I don't know how to stop it! Why can't they just perform their enumerated duties and leave this other stuff to the states? If this federal control of my life is upsetting to me, maybe there is something to the idea that people in other countries get upset when we try to interfere in their affairs. Now I'm starting to understand another layer of the NIFP.

So how can these people be angry at us for being over there? We're just there to help! I suppose that an Afghani mother could have misguided anger toward the US if a drone strike inadvertently hits her house and kills her family. She might be angry along with her friends and extended family. The fact that her family was not the target will have no effect on her anger. On a broader scale, we have troops in foreign countries to keep the peace, or perhaps it is a benign presence except for the implicit 'I dare you'. Then we send money to support governments such as Israel, but we also send money to their enemies. We're playing both sides! Perhaps the people of foreign countries think that they are smart enough to determine their own destiny without the help of the US; just like some of us in the US think that we can determine our own destiny without the help of the federal government. I'm starting to understand the motivation of rebels in other countries.

I look at our prior foreign manipulations and conflicts with the benefit of hindsight. We have worked to overthrow Iranian governments (careful what you wish for). We have also armed the Iranians because they were fighting Iraq, and at other times supported Iraq because they were fighting Iran. The enemy of our enemy is our friend. We have been allies with Saddam, then we tried to kill him, allies with Bin-Laden, now we're trying to kill him, for 30 years we have propped up Mubarik, now it appears that our efforts were not appreciated by the Egyptian people. So why not mind our own affairs and leave others to mind theirs? Recent events prove that they are willing and able. I'm starting to grasp another layer of the NIFP.

My turning point was when I watched a video and the question was asked, "What would your reaction be if Chinese tanks were roaming through your city telling you when you could and could not come out, and Chinese troops were busting in to your house at will? Do you think you would retaliate"? That was the light-bulb moment for me.

The theory of layers explains why it can take months and years of repetition before a person's opinions change. Concepts with few or shallow layers can be picked up more quickly which is why sound bites are so effective, they are one layer deep. I've reflected on my own political progression and I have watched the slow, incremental absorption of layers by people around me. I have watched people mature (politically) in areas such as foreign policy, gun rights, and economics and that reflection has led me to this article.

If my Theory of Layers is correct, it proves that my theory is at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate. Oh my, a recursive theory. I'm so confused!

-- Jim

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