I think it was Chomsky who said rulers rely on a consenting governed who don’t realize they are holding the keys. Chomsky has explored this topic in considerable depth, and I was inspired to re-explore it by “Josh”, who commented in response to my “There Are Too Many Cops” post. You can see his entire comment there, but I’ll excerpt a little:
“What disturbs me about your post is the last point, and the underlying theme, is that [somehow 9-11] and future terrorist events are our fault. Do you seriously believe that somehow ‘our behavior in the world’ caused an attack by Islamic Extremists? The US and its people hold zero responsibility for the events [of 9-11]… the last thing we should do is placate this behavior by blaming ourselves…”
I think this kind of delusion gets us into these geopolitical messes in the first place. Sure signs of a population either unaware of its power or unwilling to accept the responsibility that comes with it. How far can we extend this logic? First of all, I was not talking about 9-11 in particular, but about future acts of terrorism that might be inspired by our violent, imperialistic behavior. How much responsibility does a population bear for the actions of elected leaders who serve at their pleasure? I believe we bear quite a lot. Certainly it is impossible, with any intellectual honesty, to argue that we bear zero. We are so fond of saying we live in a democracy, yet seemingly unwilling to live up to our end of the governance bargain. Suggestions that we should accept any responsibility whatsoever are met by breathless indignance and outrage, as if any suggestion that Americans are not innocent victims is blasphemous.
Is it really?
If you, American taxpayer and citizen, purchase the planes and bombs, and actively or passively support your President and Congress as they wage elective wars against nations that are no threat to us, and those actions further inflame tensions and the feelings against us, and as a result, vicious terrorist attacks are unleashed against us in revenge, I am sorry, but you do not hold “zero responsibility.”
Likewise, if (as we are seeing presently) American bombs kill hundreds of innocent civilians in Lebanon, and seeing this, some citizens decide to avenge the deaths of their friends and family, how dare we claim “zero responsibility?”
In fairness, I think some citizens bear more responsibility than others. One who actively fights against such injustices should bear less and vice versa. Sociological roles also need to be considered. A relatively uninformed single parent working 60 hours a week at Wal-Mart to support his family in East Detroit bears less culpability than someone on a first name basis with her Congressman who doesn’t bother to pick up the phone.
The more informed and connected you are, the more responsibility you bear and share, and thus, the more duty you have to engage. We should fight our own imperialistic urges as hard as we fight the fatalistic jihadist mindset that threatens the free world. And we do ourselves no favors by claiming to bear “zero responsibility.”