Postcard from I-5

I'm back in Portland for five days, then I'm off to Berkeley for ten days. I'm not really home yet.

I just spent a week with my family in Canada. They celebrate their Thanksgiving on the 11th of October, those crazy Canadians.

These are the nights I live for: flying down I-5 in the middle of the night, with my sleeping Mom in the passenger seat, watching the glare of city lights growing on the dark, fir-lined horizons, sipping sweet coffee and waiting for tommorrow to change lanes and let me get past.

I'm worried about money, and my future, and all that grown-up crap. And of course I'm worried about the elections. If Bush wins, I'm either immigrating north or I'm joining the military, if only to thereby earn the right to attempt to join the political discourse and not be entirely marginalized (although Kerry's example is not exactly heartening).

It strikes me as a very Roman way of looking at our civics. I'm quite opposed to American operations in Iraq at the moment, but the way this country is wired, opposition means that I can't stand in the same room with any of the hawks. Unless I get a combat patch, like my cousin already has, and thereby prove that my principles are valid. But like I said, the examples of Kerry and Saxby Chambliss and even McCain show that such service is not a guarantee against the depredations of the polemicists, and the obloquy of the government itself. And by the way, why should I risk my life to have my principles validated by crusty, ignorant white people?

I do believe in living by one's principles, however. If I have to risk my life in the service of my country, even when I emphatically disagree with its government, then I can and will do this to voice my dissent with greater authority and assurance thereafter. It's not to have my principles validated, it's because I believe in a political community, in which citizenship means responsibility as well as liberty--in other words, that we are responsible for each other, that we cannot just contemptuously dismiss whatever the other side says out of hand, that even when I contest the very legitimacy of the current government, I still recognize and affirm its various constitutional powers (at least until 5 Supreme Court Justices say otherwise). I can't afford to pretend like the Republicans that make up 50% of this country don't exist.

And beyond this, I trust my own moral compass to discriminate between a moral and an immoral order, which, in light of Abu Ghraib, and two-hundred-odd years of Indian Wars and My Lai and Cuba and the Phillipines, I would not put past the current officers and commanders of the US Armed Forces to issue.

But implicit in this consideration is the premise that the satisfaction of having lived by such principles outweighs the physical danger, and, worse, the dangerous possibility of complicity in this government's enormities at home and abroad. The latter point is especially cutting: it makes no sense to register my protest against the Occupation of Iraq by marching into Samarra.

Still, neither is it doing any good mulling over all of this with no practical effect, in the middle of the night somewhere on the freeway to Portland. Lord, I hope Kerry wins.

No comments: