Turning on the Television

LAKE MACBRIDE— It took a bit to remember how to operate the remote controls for our old-school tube television last night. I was loathe to hear President Obama’s plan “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” Information about the speech had been leaked during the day, and there was plenty of commentary in social media about what Obama would say. It is always best to hear bad news directly from the president.

There is little to say, except view or read the speech for yourself. Although the following comment is more significant than its introductory nature indicates:

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Because of the work of government officials, there is an unprecedented level of security in the U.S. People feel secure from external terrorists, if not from the occasional gun-toting sociopath who opens fire in public places. There is a price for this security, and it is not only monetary.

The U.S. is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world despite our substantial footprint in almost every country in the form of diplomatic workers, non-governmental organizations, businesses and tourists. It is as if by creating the homeland defense security bubble we have built the equivalent of the Great Wall of China. It serves to protect, but also to isolate us. The latter is an unintended consequence.

American tolerance for an intrusive government is high. While the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation keep an eye on us, that doesn’t seem to bother most people. It is accepted as a price of freedom and we are free to do what we will in society, more than in most other countries.

There is another price. The isolation created by a strong homeland security gives us a false sense of comfort— that we can avoid political discussions and participate in a consumer culture without regard for externalized costs like CO2 emissions and exploited workers. In an increasingly connected world, where we can receive reports about what is going on all across the globe without leaving home, this is ironic.

Maybe people just don’t want to think about the rest of the world. There are plenty of personal struggles that can eclipse external affairs, but consider this: if we don’t engage in a global society it will leave important matters to politicians, our government and the military. We all know the regard in which we hold those institutions presently.

I’m glad to have a television, and a connection to some channels. I’m also glad most of my time is spent in the real world, talking to and working with people, trying to make a difference in something bigger than myself. It’s also why I don’t turn on the television very often.

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