Tuesday, March 27, 2012

War in the Eyes of the 99%

Sometimes the average American man or woman in the street seems so abysmally ignorant about the world that politicians can trick them into buying the junkiest lemon of a used political-mobile ever seen rusting on the lot. And yet, on other days, the average American appears vastly more intelligent than the average high-paid member of the ruling elite. 

Yes, almost all Americans bought the neo-con line about the "war on terror" after the horror of 9/11, but today the 99% appear, judging from various polls, to have learned something. We are told, for example, that nearly 70% now want the war in Afghanistan ended. Interestingly, in stark contrast to the war-mongering by the Netanyahu clique, 62% of Israelis also oppose a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran! In both cases, it seems reasonable to assume that many if not most of the individuals have little knowledge of the real historical facts (which are carefully hidden by Israeli and American politicians) and little appreciation for how the world looks from the perspective of the two countries being targeted. Yet, very large American and Israeli majorities evidently oppose, in the case of Afghanistan, an incompetent and brutal war, and, in the case of Iran, an unprovoked war of aggression. Just imagine how large the anti-war majorities would be if Washington and Tel Aviv made an effort to present accurate portrayals of global affairs to their otherwise-occupied populations.

Polls in the U.S. are notoriously biased by the questions avoided and the framing of questions asked, but at least polls are legal. In Iran, polling can get you jailed. Nevertheless, there are indications that in Iran as well, the population tends to be far less extremist than the elite. This suggests that a U.S. effort to develop a policy sensitive to the interests of the Iranian public rather than threatening to starve or bomb the Iranian public would be of long-term advantage to the U.S.

Unfortunately, no generalization about America makes much sense unless one differentiates the 99% (who fight) from the 1% (who don't fight). More accurately, the distinction should probably be between the 99.9% and the 0.1%, though that remains a research area--and one worth serious investigation. In any case, it is too bad that the opinions of millionaire members of the ruling elite (top politicians as well as CEO's of financial firms, oil companies, and war profiteer corporations) are not polled separately. After all, while ultimately we all die, in the meantime, the interests of these individuals and the interests of the other 99% really do not overlap very much, and--more to the point--the 1% have demonstrated in the last decade or two that they do not think their interests overlap with ours.

These comments certainly should not be misconstrued as an argument for democracy. As noted above, the general population can quite easily be manipulated and can panic. But the evidence certainly does not support government by the rich either. While I personally may be biased in favor of government by political scientists, I would be willing to settle, as a first step in the right direction, for government by those who earn  their living and pay at least as high a tax rate as the average. Would that make government officials more responsible? A first step toward figuring out the answer would be to conduct polls so as to differentiate between the opinions of the two groups.

Therefore, I propose that henceforth the following distinction be made when polling or generalizing in any way about what Americans (or perhaps Israelis, though I am not familiar with Israel's tax code) think:

If more than 50% of your income is earned and derived from income taxed in the normal way just like everyone else, you are in the category "normal;"
If most of your income is unearned, i.e., derived from privileged sources that are taxed at low rates (e.g., the U.S. rich man's welfare program known as "capital gains"), then you will be classified in the category "privileged."

Then, we will all have a much easier time figuring out why so many of the rich, who never fight, want war.

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