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Cautious Handling of Realism
August 29, 2002
By Joseph Arrieta

When examining politics, I adhere to the school of Realism. It's a personal curriculum; my Dad and University taught it, but I basically ignored their parameters. Base a vital part my world view upon repressive patriarchal views and stale institutionalized conventions? As if.

I like the enforced skepticism inherent in the premise of the model. Forget what is said or what you wish for in politics, observe only what is real. Set up the players in your head according to their labels and observe empirical behavior for the issue in play, not the smooth talk or preconceived assumptions of the labels.

Lofty aspirations to the best in human character are all well and good in personal applications, but human tactics that achieve political objectives are respected more in the school of realism than noble ones. Machiavelli, a very good man who will be eternally misunderstood for it, knew that reality dictated political behavior, not a perfectly just solution or tactic magically ready in the human mind, instantly ready for any political need.

Fortunately I don't have to be a journalist. Realism of course demands rigorous observation and tested objectivity, but I get the luxury of swimming my soul through the mental pillars of observation, outcomes, principles, and ethics to then make various analyses and judgments. Some journalists are so dedicated to objectivity they even refuse to vote, fearful their own conscience will distort their mission of reporting without bias. I respect the dedication greatly, but voting is a duty I could never relinquish. Realism does not mean abandoning the positive influence a soul is supposed to contribute to the world.

Realists always consider the worst possible outcome in a given scenario. Let the sappy optimists paint those syrupy smiles on their faces with the foolish faith it will all work out-realists look at worst possible outcome with the grim knowledge that the worst is always possible, no matter how remote, and that the risks involved in any possible action or tactic should keep that worst possible outcome firmly in mind.

Failure in politics used to have war/conflict as its worst outcome (environmental degradation may soon take its place, if it hasn't already). If a political philosophy or tactic results in mass conflict, internally or externally, that's about as worse at it gets.

When I set up that parameter in my head a number of years ago I made a bad mistake. The words "war" or "conflict" didn't seem to do justice to the horror they represented, so I decided to pick more powerful words to better represent them. I chose "battlefield screams."

Gettysburg. Chosin. Tarawa. Tet. Normandy. Plenty to choose from. Dignified, principled men, once cherished infants all, screaming the crashing reality of battle searing horror into their souls with limbs torn off, viscera ripped out, literal creeks of blood staining an exploding landscape of flames and hot metal. Screaming men, pleading for any miniscule mercy so that they could escape the hell come upon them, their lives snatched away in ghoulish, horrifying bedlam.

There was no error in choosing the possible worst reality. The problem was that once I worked the model through a couple of times I felt so bad for those men each day was in serious danger of being completely overtaken in an overwhelming sorrow. I'd end sitting in my gardens, aching for those men and their families, bewildered that such a wondrous thing called life could actually produce such scenes.

In an attempt to alleviate the sadness and sense of obligation to those men I began personal and civic behavioral judgments: is what I do as a citizen worthy to those screaming men? Is what we do as a country worthy to their legacy of sacrifice?

Approximately 70,000 legal votes are eternally uncounted which would have revealed the true outcome of election 2000. What would the souls of Tarawa say? Critically important energy policy is crudely used as a crony payoff and the truth in the documents forever hidden. Good enough for the men of Tet? American citizens are locked up simply of the basis of words with no charge, no lawyer and no release date. Did the screaming men of Normandy die for that?

Needless to say running this model with the political events of the past 21 months is not exactly the way to get a cheery and sunny outlook on life. It's a damnably necessary thing, that cheerfulness.

My wife informed me recently that if I didn't cheer up, that exhilarating snip-click of bra snap, that scintillating sibilance of 100% ribbed cotton sliding off shoulders heard so wondrously in the dark after a long day, well, that would be totally ancient history, buddy. If she didn't soon see a smile on my face I could forget about seeing enchanting red patterns left on peachy flesh from elastic seams, evidence of freshly peeled clothing, for a long, long time.

Outraged at the bullying but admiring the gritty realism in the tactic, I went along, of course. She meant it.

Corporate life, too, demands cheeriness. People like working with happy people, and because I want to be a good worker and fulfill my duty to my family and boss I cheer up when I log in. It's not too hard, really. I think of all the good people I've known and what they would wish for me and I just feel better. So many good people in this world.

But when I wake up at 0330 or 0400 to read the latest news before work the utterly stark prism of realism often yields those screams lately, screams I cannot make go away. I read about Mitch Daniels lying about the latest White House budget numbers and think about those men. Or see some vicious flak like James Baker advocating war with Iraq - without ever once even mentioning Congress - and wonder how that could ever be good enough for the men of Chosin.

No, in those cold, grim dark hours I am not a cheerful person, not at all. For all those who would steal elections from the will of the people, for those who would rob from our security to pay off their cronies, to those who would lock up our citizens with no charge, know this: I am forever watching you. I will write, protest, proudly place bumper stickers and lawn signs, work in campaigns, and vote until you are gone.

Gone forever so at least whenever I hear the screams of those men, I'll know I did everything possible to stop the sorry excuses for humans who ever dared to disregard their legacy and sacrifice. I will not rest or waver until it is so.


Joseph Arrieta is a writer and web producer living in San Jose, California

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