Sunday, October 27, 2013

On the Right to Privacy

The following text is a slightly modified version of a speech I delivered at the October 26th rally for Restore the Fourth Chicago, in solidarity with the StopWatching.Us rally in Washington on the same day.






This is a beautiful sight, Chicago.  We’ve just heard from libertarians, socialists, democrats, republicans, Tea Party members, communists, and everything in between.  People from every color of the political spectrum have come together today in support of our natural and non-negotiable right to privacy. Thank you to everyone for coming out today and standing together here in beautiful Chicago.

I’m here to talk about the fourth amendment itself: what it is, and why it’s so important.



The fourth amendment begins by stating that: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”.

But what constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure?  The second part of the fourth amendment provides some concrete protections for privacy rights:  “And no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This means that search warrants have to be specific.  By definition, this excludes things such as, say, general warrants that would authorize mass surveillance by collecting information about everyone’s email





These are not specific warrants, so there is no way such blanket surveillance could possibly conform to the fourth amendment.  Such actions by our government are unconstitutional and must be stopped.

A disappointing number of people in this country respond to all this by saying, “What—so the government can’t go after criminals?”  To which we say, of course they can!  The government can conduct searches and seizures, as long as they demonstrate probable cause.  All the government needs to do in order to be in compliance with the fourth amendment is to explain to a judge—not a panel of rubber stamps, but a real judge—why they suspect a particular individual of a crime, or why they need to seize a particular piece of information. Is this so unreasonable?  Is this too high a bar?

When the constitution was ratified, it did not yet include our bill of rights.  New York sent a recommended bill of rights to Congress consisting of 25 amendments.  Virginia originally advocated 20 amendments.  Eventually, the first congress distilled these lists down to 12 amendments, and ratified 10 of them.  These 10 amendments are our Bill of Rights, and they consist of what our founding fathers felt were the most important and vital rights to protect in the new nation of the United States of America.

Why did the Fourth Amendment make the cut?

Why did our founding fathers consider privacy to be so important—important enough to explicitly protect in our founding document?

The answer isn’t immediately obvious.  It’s why we hear, over and over, that old argument from people unconcerned with the current state of privacy in this country. “Why are you concerned with privacy?  You don’t have anything to worry about as long as you have NOTHING TO HIDE

This is a loaded question.  Security expert Bruce Schneier points out the logical fallacy inherent in this oft-repeated phrase: it assumes that only criminals and wrongdoers need privacy.  That the only reason anyone would want to keep something to themselves is if it was bad or wrong.

On the face of it, this is absurd.  Nearly every human being keeps certain things private that are not bad, wrong, or shameful.  As Bruce Schneier points out, we go to the bathroom in private.  We have sex in private.  We write journals in private.  We have our own private thoughts and feelings; our own private selves.  Part of being a human being, part of being an individual, is the concept of privacy: that separation between me, as an individual, and we, as a society.   

There are more subtle barriers of privacy than that most fundamental one too.  We share more with our partners than our friends.  We share more with our friends than our acquaintances.  And we share more with our acquaintances than with the NSA—or at least, that’s how it ought to be!

We say things to friends and family that we would never say in public: thoughts we are still working through, feelings we are not proud of, things that might be misconstrued.  Earlier this year, a 19 year old kid was arrested and thrown in jail as a terrorist for making a joke on the online game League of Legends.  

Pictured: Terrorism


Here’s what he said, according to CNN:

"Someone had said something to the effect of 'Oh you're insane. You're crazy. You're messed up in the head. To which he replied 'Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head. I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still-beating hearts.'  LOL J/K"

What?  Someone went to jail for that?

The sad fact is that, if not for an anonymous benefactor who posted his bail, Justin Carter would likely still be in prison.  How many of us have made jokes with friends that could be misconstrued?  Are we willing to live in a world where we must watch every word we say for fear of interrogation, prison, or worse?

During my two deployments as a Signals Intelligence analyst, I helped use some of the same technologies mentioned in Mr. Snowden’s reports against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  These technologies are weapons of war, designed for and intended for fighting our enemies abroad. The United States Government should not be at war with the people within its borders, the people it exists to protect.  We cannot tolerate these informational weapons of war to be pointed at and used on people in this country, at home, without suspicion or probable cause, as a matter of course!

Every day in this country, the United States government violates our codified and natural right to privacy, using ever more intrusive programs of mass surveillance and suspicion-less data collection.  We are here today because we will not accept this state of affairs.  Our right to privacy is non-negotiable, and this will never be OK! 

And we will continue to make our voices heard—by contacting our representatives, by voting only for those who respect our natural rights, and by joining together in mass protests like this one—until the day our fourth amendment protections are forever restored.

For more information on what you can do to protect your privacy rights, visit RT4chicago.com

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Deathless Gods

The ending is always the same.

I’d been under the impression that the Iliad is the story of the Trojan war, but that’s not quite true.  The story of a war would presumably begin with its beginning and end with its end: the Iliad does neither.  Instead, it begins with the wrath of Brave Achilles and ends with the burial of Hector and knowledge of Achilles’ impending death.  But it’s not about Achilles either.

Most of us know the basic plot points of the Iliad.  We know why the Trojans are fighting the Achaeans; Helen left her husband for some hotter, younger guy.  It’s a bit like going to war over your neighbor’s divorce. 

But, as Werner Jaeger points out in his Paideia, the reality of the situation is actually much worse.  Helen didn’t decide to leave her husband Menelaus because she was in love with Paris, but because of the Gods.  Aphrodite pretty much forces the entire thing from behind the scenes.  In fact, nearly everything that happens in the Iliad--from sudden bursts of courage to pivotal plot points to battles won and lost--come about because of the Gods: their whims and uncontrollable actions.


Sometimes things just happen.


Speaking of things just happening, it’s been two years today since the suicide of a person I was in love with.  I’ll call this person Walter, though many of you know his real name.  It’s a long story culminating in fighting, dysfunction, a breakup, an accusation, and a death.  The message he left was oblique and indirect, but we’d been close friends for six months, then together for a year: the note was written in our internal language.  Walter's last act before he murdered himself was to blame me for his death.

The first month or so after it happened consisted of me hemorrhaging grief: dysfunctional, disoriented, drunk.  Eventually, this morphed into anger—fury—and an obsession over a second loss: the death of who I was before.

Every event influences you, but some events shatter you irreparably. You can’t go back.  You’re changed, forever.  You can never be the person you used to be again, and you’ll never be the person you would have been either.  Paths that were open close off forever, the end.

The first therapist I saw about this encouraged me to come to terms with this change by embracing it.  How had this improved me?  How am I better for this suicide and this accusation?

This is the wrong way to look at it, though.  Even if the suicide had given me bona fide superpowers, I wish it hadn’t happened.  I’d rather be who I was before, with Walter alive. 

Fucking duh.

  
Before he killed himself, Walter knew what it was to be shattered in a worse and more irreparable way.  When he was 11 years old, he was sexually abused by an older stranger. There is no coming back from that, not entirely.  He was changed, forever, and could never be the person he might have been, would have been, if he hadn’t asked the wrong guy for a ride home

Sometimes, for better or for worse, the Gods descend upon you.  Mighty Aphrodite decides your time had come, Eros shoots an arrow into the heart of that man in the car.  Até showed Walter visions of helium tanks and plastic bags, spiteful Eris guided his hands over the computer keys to type his final message.  

I’m not saying that Walter lacked free will or that the man in the car was a slave to impulses beyond his control: I’m saying that from the perspective of the victims, the source of these actions might as well have been a deathless Greek God for all the control they had. 

Sometimes life bears down on you and, knowing only what you knew then, there was no escaping it.  It came from Outside, and it changed you forever, and regardless of what you call it, luck or fate or Gods, it all serves as a way of expressing the Outside-ness of it all: how little any of it had to do with you.


---


I tried to deny the existence of the Gods at first.  I catalogued the ways that this was my fault, ignoring my ignorance, pretending I’d had the facts.  Over and over again, wearing a circular path in my thoughts.  I could recite for you today a list of a thousand things I’d change if I could.  Jaeger points out that the epic poetry of the Middle Ages is largely this way: focusing on the experiences and decisions of the character without much nod to fate. 

Modern thought has continued in this vein.  As a child I was explicitly taught, as most of us are, that I am never a victim.  Since every situation involving me and another person involves me by default, my own actions obviously contribute to every situation.  Rather than focusing on the other person’s actions, I was encouraged to focus on my own: reflecting on ways that my own actions had contributed to the bad outcome and working on ways to change them.  This was supposed to foster a sense of responsibility, and it certainly worked.

In day-to-day situations involving reciprocal interactions with other human beings, this method of living works wonderfully and I support it.  Like many rules of living, however, this one has limits.  Sometimes interactions are one-sided enough that there are victims who cannot and should not accept blame.  Taken to its logical extreme, rape victims are all asking for it.  A lot of people in our society believe that: have you seen the internet?  Here’s a slightly (but only slightly) less horrible example: google “cancer power of positive thinking”.  I’ll wait.

There’s a reason that this way of thinking is endemic in our culture, and it’s a simple one: believing that misfortunes are punishments connected in some way to our own behavior restores a sense of control that is utterly lacking in the Greek model of things.  For example, if Walter is dead because I killed him, I am wracked with grief but I am still in control, I did this to myself, I deserve this.  There is horrible, self-destructive comfort in this worldview [1].   I may be depraved, but at least I’m not helpless.

By the way, in case anyone is wondering where that path leads: emergency psychiatric appointments and 20mg Prozac 1x per day, .5mg clonazepam as needed for anxiety.  The Gods do not like to be ignored.


So what’s the alternative?  What would Achilles do?


Jaeger points out that the Iliad is fundamentally different not only from modern Western culpability but also from many traditional Asiatic beliefs.  For the Greeks, human beings were not simply pawns washed out to sea by divine forces beyond human comprehension. 

Homer does not urge passive acceptance and a rejection of the material world in the face of forces beyond our control.  Instead, he urges excellence despite them.

Reading the Iliad for the first time about six months ago, I became increasingly irate with Homer.  The poet glorifies both Achaeans and Trojans, yet glorifies their mutual slaughter as well.  These brave heroes die in droves, violently and horribly—for what?  The caprices of the gods?  Powers beyond their control?  How is this bravery?  How is this noble?

The answer is the brilliance of the Iliad, and why people care three thousand years later

The heroes of the Iliad are heroic because they embrace excellence in the face of everything the Gods decide to throw at them.  The Homeric Greek ideal of excellence mostly revolves around bravery in battle; the heroes of the Iliad display this virtue in the face of horror and slaughter and despair despite the hopelessness and pointlessness of a struggle with origins beyond their control or understanding.  No matter what new miseries the Gods inflict, the brave heroes fight on.

And who am I to question their plight or their decision?  This is the human condition, on or off the battlefield.  We are all going to die someday: it is pointless and hopeless no matter how many MGs of Prozac they give you, sorry.  The end of the story is the same whether you sit in your tent or charge out to battle to meet it. 

When the Gods descend upon you, there are really only two options.  You can surrender: withdrawing inside yourself and wanting nothing; you can weep at your inevitable demise or your shattered self or all the doors that are now closed to you, you can curse the Gods and yourself and wallow in your lies of complete control and comforting acidic guilt.

Or you can strap on your armor and charge into battle: once more into the breech.  You fight as you are, who you are—accepting what is and striving for what could be.  The story ends with your death either way, but one of those stories is a lot more interesting and noteworthy and excellent than the other.  

If you can accept the world as it is, and yourself as you are, and continue to fight anyway, if you can work to transform yourself every day into something glorious and noble even while knowing that you cannot change the end of the story, if you can love yourself enough to fight despite knowing you will not last forever, you can be noble and worthwhile today.  



--



[1] Concept blatantly stolen from Nietzsche’s second essay in On the Geneology of Morality, which for the record is awesome and worth reading.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Problem With "I Told You So"

This is for your own protection.

This post is for you if you’ve been trying to tell people about the problem of ubiquitous government surveillance for years and you have been roundly ignored or laughed at.  You’ve been telling people about the NSA and government and wiretapping and spying and the PATRIOT act and the NDAA for years.  You were called a conspiracy theorist by all your Republican friends throughout the Bush era and you’ve been called one by your Democratic friends since 2008.  You have posted news items relating to government surveillance and received zero feedback; no one seems to believe you or care to find out if you’re correct.  You’ve felt like the only sane person in a world full of apathetic crazy people for years and years, and you are goddamn tired of it.

And then suddenly, today, the Guardian reported on a leaked top secret government document authorizing the collection of “meta-data” from every single domestic Verizon Wireless customer.  Later on, more documents were dropped: turns out the government isn’t just monitoring Verizon users, but users of 9 major internet services, including Apple, Google and Facebook.


Source

And the internet exploded.

Suddenly, everyone you know is upset about the exact thing you’ve been trying to warn them about for years.  And you’re tearing your hair out, because now they care?  Now, 12 years after the PATRIOT act?  The Atlantic describes these reports as “Bombshells”, Politico describes it as “Insane”.  You’ve been describing it to everyone for years, and the only thing people have been describing as insane is you.

Right now, you have a burning and completely understandable desire to explode right back on the exploding internet with the most justified “I fucking TOLD YOU SO” of your entire life.

I hear you.  I don’t blame you.


I am here to ask you not to do that.


What the internet hears when you say “I told you so”, when you remind people that this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, is that this isn’t really news.  That it’s been going on for years, and that it’s normal.  The natural conclusion to draw from these kinds of assertions is that this isn’t that big of a deal.  It’s safe to stop being angry.  We always lived in this kind of world, this world is normal, and everything is OK.

But everything is not OK.

I have little hope of anything changing as a result of these public revelations.  But if they do change, it will be because people are surprised and furious and outraged as only a scandal can make them.  When you tell them that this is not a scandal but old news then you are diffusing that precious, righteous rage, and you are acting contrarily to your original aim in attempting to educate them on the dangers of government surveillance in the first place.

Instead of reacting to this sudden outpouring of rage with justified irritation, consider taking advantage of it.  Point people to additional sources of information.  My wise and incredibly tolerant fiancé has been referring people to James Bamford’s fantastic trilogy on the history of the NSA, which outlines the organization’s long history of pushing the envelope of the fourth amendment and steadily moving our concept of what constitutes unconstitutional surveillance farther and farther away from our constitutional starting point.  Urge your friends to take action and express their outrage in letters to their congressmen.  There are probably more ways to take advantage of this moment, and these ways will be the things that matter.

Those of us who are concerned about the extreme dangers poised by ubiquitous government surveillance need to feed the flame of popular outrage. 

If that means swallowing our pride, so be it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Umbrella

I'd stand under that.

I have been told that one should never go grocery shopping when one is hungry, but that advice has never worked for me.  If I go to the store when I’m full, I come back with a basket filled with about half the food I need for the week, most of which is food I’ll never actually want to eat.  If I’m full right now, part of my brain is convinced I’ll be full forever.

My refrigerator is the Saw II of the produce world.
It is a stupid brain, and I have to trick it into buying food by going to the store when I’m quite hungry.  Basically, I have trouble seeing the big picture and envisioning the future.  And I am not alone.


Wait, what?

Speaking of presidents, in eight years we will have another one.  This is always true at any given time in our country.  Right now, it’s three years: significantly shorter than eight.  Yet a large portion of the country appears to be so full of Barack Obama that they have forgotten that the office of the presidency is more than the man who currently occupies it.  This has always been true, and so long as America maintains even a semblance of constitutional republican government it will continue to be true.

The office of the presidency is bigger than any of the men who fill it individually.  As much as I despair for our future as determined by our stupid political system revolving completely around sound bites, lies, and gaffes, the president of the United States is the face of America to the world.  For better, for worse: whoever occupies the office of the presidency is the man who signs or vetoes law, the commander of our armed forces, and the diplomatic representative of our nation.  He is America's first representative; he is our nation personified.

Whether you hate Barack Obama is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the President of the United States is a position deserving of respect.  To protect the President is to protect the presidency; to shelter the President is to metaphorically shelter America.

You know whose job it is to protect and shelter America?  The Armed Forces.




Perhaps we have been mired down in stupid, pointless wars for so long that we’ve forgotten the actual purpose of the armed service: to protect America.  We aren’t doing that in Afghanistan, we certainly did not do that in Iraq, we probably won’t do it in whatever stupid war we decide to fight next.

This nation has ceased to employ soldiers in an actual defense of America for the time being, but at least we haven’t forgotten how to employ them in a symbolic defense.  A sheltering, not of a man, but of a symbol: the face of the nation, the office of the Presidency.

Not only am I not offended by the picture of President Obama giving a speech under the shelter an umbrella held by a marine, it is the first proper use of a Marine I’ve seen in years.

Happy Memorial day, everyone.  Enjoy your barbecues, throw back some beer, maybe take a moment to think about 50,000 men and women we’ve put through the meat grinder in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 12 years: the 5,000 who are dead now.

And for God’s sake, let’s all hope it doesn’t rain.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Higher Education

I got my first real taste of higher education in the in the Chicago Maroon Newspaper office.  It was the first meeting for prospective staff, and I'd been looking forward to it for months.  The beautiful, well-dressed third-year asked if anyone had any pitches—ideas for articles.

I explained my pitch.  “I’d like to do an article on the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” I said.  “I know you said that we concentrate on news that involves the students at the University of Chicago, and the reason I think that this falls within those boundaries is that the soldiers who are dying in the war are our age.  I think we ought to be concerned about that.”

The editor looked at me with an expression that has long since ceased to surprise me.  It was the first time I’d seen it at the University, but I’ve seen it a lot since then:



After a moment of blank silence, the editor spoke.  “I…don’t really think that has much to do with the student body at the University,” she said.  She proceeded to tell me that I could maybe write something like that for their blog, if I wanted, but that they had no interest in printing an article like that.

It was the first time I witnessed this attitude at UChicago, but it definitely wasn't the last.

**

The second part of my lesson came a few weeks ago, when this woman got killed in Afghanistan


Anne Smedinghoff


None of what follows should be interpreted as a slight against Anne Smedinghoff, who ought to be alive and isn’t.  It is a tragedy when someone dies, and especially when someone dies in a senseless war, and I am sickened that someone else has died in this stupid, horrible conflict.

But let's back up for a minute.

Between that moment in the Chicago newspaper office and the moment this charming girl with perfect teeth was tragically killed, 84 soldiers also died.  Between the moment this college-educated diplomat was killed and present day, 13 more soldiers have died.  Did you read about them in the news?

Three soldiers also got killed in the same explosion that killed the photogenic young diplomat: 


Staff Sergeant Christopher M Ward is dead 
Specialist Wilbel A. Robles-Santa is dead


Specialist Delfin M. Santos Jr. is dead 


Do you recognize their faces?  Seen them on the news lately?  Is this an appropriate time to point out that two out of three are non-white?

They, and thousands of other soldiers, are dead and America has never seen their faces.  Only Ms. Smedinghoff's.


Hyde Park, Chicago

This is a picture of the advertisement on the side of the bus stop where I grab the shuttle to the University of Chicago every day.  I have been staring at it for months now.  Tomorrow, I’ll go and stand next to it again.

She is blonde, white, and pretty in a non-threatening way.  I went to the link on the advertisement and read all about her story.  After a sleeping taxi driver crashed into her outside of a nightclub, she thought she would lose her leg.  Luckily for her, a doctor with experience in Iraq had developed techniques that saved it:

On the second day, Dr. Paul Girard took over — the orthopaedic surgeon I now call my “Angel in Disguise.” Dr. Girard treated wounded troops in Iraq, so he was no stranger to “extremity trauma” as I learned my leg injury would be classified. It was Dr. Girard who first determined that my leg was not lost, and who devised the surgical approach to save it. Until then, no one was betting I’d come out of this with two legs.

Does that sound inspirational?  Then read it again.  Read it until you understand that, in this story, over 50,000 wounded soldiers--18,000 in Afghanistan and 31,000 in Iraq--have been mangled and maimed, but the story here is that those horrific injuries advanced medical science to the point that we could save this rich, white, photogenic woman from the same fate.  

Read this article on the Boston Marathon amputees and you will see the same thing.  I didn't see a whole lot of articles on medical advancement in the field of treating amputees until we had a bunch of rich, white amputees, as opposed to the last 12 years' steady stream of mutilated young men.  Did you?

**

Here is what higher education has taught me:

It turns out that the Maroon editor was correct.  The war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with America's upper class.   The students I sit in class with are the same age as the soldiers who died in my unit and units like mine, but they are not the same.  They are wealthy, and white/asian, and their teeth are perfect.  Just like the diplomat.  Just like the woman on the advertisement.  That special class of people whose death and dismemberment permeate the public conscience even while the other 83 dead and thousands of wounded never made the back pages of anything but the most local of papers.

We are shocked by the death of Anne Smedinghoff because she is one of us.  Two weeks after the explosion that killed her, major news outlets were still covering the funeral and mourning of this girl, because she is one of us.  The woman on the advertisement looks like someone we know.  We have friends who run the Boston Marathon.

SPC Santos?  SPC Wilbel?  SSG Ward?  They have nothing to do with us, and their deaths do not belong in print.  Maybe in a blog somewhere.


**

I hate thought experiments, but screw it, let’s do one:

Tom is a plumber.  He makes ten dollars an hour, so in a good year, that’s $20,800.

Drew is the owner of a tech company that makes innovative products.  He makes, let’s say, $200,000 a year when the going’s good.  My fiancé is rolling his eyes, telling me I’m lowballing it.  Go with me here, the numbers don’t matter.

Who is worth more?

The question is not about whose labor is worth more.  The market has determined that Tom’s labor is worth ten dollars an hour and that Drew’s labor is worth a lot more than that, and that’s certainly a debate we can have but we’re not having it today.  Forget about the value of the products of their labor.  Which person—which human being—is worth more?

“They’re worth the same”, says the UChicago student, says the media, says the government: shut the fuck up.  You don’t believe that.  You told me that my whole life, and I believed it, but you never did.

Drew is one of us, and therefore we think he’s worth more.  But that sounds horrible, so we can’t say it out loud.  We may make a lot of noise when directly asked about whether Tom is worth just as much as Drew, but listen to our conversation and you’ll see what we really think of plumbers, or construction workers, or waiters. 

Higher education has taught me to see what’s been in front of my face my entire life: there are the things we say and the things we think, and they’re not the same thing.  We say that everyone is equal, but we don’t mean it.  Anne Smedinghoff is more equal than Delfin Santos Jr, and I don't care what you've volunteered for or how many change.org petitions you've signed.

**

I had been told, all throughout my childhood and certainly after 9/11, that the wars we were fighting were important and vital, that the soldiers going over there were fighting for our freedom, that they were heroes, that we supported them.  I believed them. Yet when I told people that’s what I was going to do after high school—me, a pretty, young, academically overachieving white* girl from a good family—there were several people who refused to believe me.  Now I know why.

In the Army, I met people from all over the country, people from income brackets ranging from almost middle-class to working-class to dirt fucking poor.  I met people who hadn’t grown up with dentists and who know what it was to get the electricity shut off on them, to have no money to pay that bill.  I also met significant numbers of non-white people for the first time in my life, thereby discovering my subtle and heretofore undiagnosed racism.  I still struggle with that racism today.

Of all the people I met, maybe three people in my entire Army experience were rich white kids like me.  I brought a lifetime of unconscious arrogance with me that made me unbearable to my fellow soldiers for years, but eventually I learned how to act, more or less.  I learned how to talk to people without talking down to them.  I learned that no one cares whether I am a good person, or a talented person, or a delicate snowflake.  I learned that in my new world, people expect results.  I learned that there are people with half my GPA who can do twice as much work as I can, and that the world needs a lot of different kinds of talent to function, including a mind-boggling array of talent that I do not possess and can only admire.

I learned a thousand other lessons I still have trouble putting into words, but the upshot is this: as a young, white, photogenic, rich girl who went to a great high school and has a real aptitude for academics, I'd been taught that I was better than other people.  I believed it implicitly.  My first four painful years in the Army taught me that I'm not.

The kids in my classes remind me of who I might have been if I’d gone to UChicago the first time around.  They’ve never learned that lesson, and the university is actively teaching them the opposite one.  We are told daily that we are the elite, the best of the best, going to one of the top schools in the world.  We are told this by professors who have never left the walls of academia, professors who tell us in the next breath that if we work very hard, we may be able to work at Goldman Sachs someday.  Perhaps get a job in Washington.  Really make a difference.

I am surrounded by the movers and shakers of tomorrow and they don’t think that the war in Afghanistan has shit to do with them and they are right

What I am saying is, there is a class of people in this country who gets to make all the political decisions, but doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of those political decisions.  The people who write papers supporting the newest equivalent of neoconservative support for wars to spread democracy, or wars to secure our oil interests in the middle east, or even wars of national defense, will never have to fight in those wars. 

Before the age of democracy, aristocrats ruled over the serfs with an iron fist, but even they marched into battle with their troops.  Maybe they led from behind, and maybe they encased themselves in armor, and certainly they were better-trained, but at least they went.  These future Washington policy goons, these future economic policy experts, do not have to worry about going to war, ever.  All they have to do is move the chess pieces: facsimiles of human beings that we’ve all agreed to pretend are worth as much as we are in public.

If you’re counting on the goodwill of these future leaders to save you, I’d like to remind you that many of them have never experienced anything like actual adversity.  Many of them will smoothly transition from the sheltered world of college to the world of Washington or Wall Street.  Many of them have never actually had a conversation with a person outside of their income bracket.  I used to be them, remember?  You thought the sad rich people demographic that appeared in the Wall St. Journal a few months ago was an accident?  They’ve never seen anything different.

I don’t have a solution, not yet.  Higher education has only taught me the problem, and reminded me of my position in this world.

All I know is that if this is the way the system works, I want no part of it.