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Situational values in action

The world is a complicated place, but it doesn't have to be. All you have to do is agree to a core set of human values and go from there.

The world is a complicated place, but it doesn't have to be. All you have to do is agree to a core set of human values and go from there.

Those core values - such as the right of people to live freely, free from fear and want, and to be able choose their own collective destiny - are precisely the reasons why NATO governments are assisting Libya's revolutionaries, pulling the west into yet another war within a predominantly Muslim nation.

I really do hope Gadhafi falls and falls soon. The time of tyrants is drawing to a close, with a few stubborn and brutal holdouts here and there (and throughout most of the continent of Africa sadly) and anything we can do to spread those core values is a good thing.

But while I do support some sort of intervention in Libya, I wonder where we were when it came to supporting the people of Iran over a year ago in an equally just cause? Why weren't we there for the people of Egypt? Yemen? Bahrain? Saudi Arabia? Syria?

For that matter, why have we stood on the sidelines in Sudan and in other African nations suffering under dictatorships and military regimes? Why don't we side with pro-democracy forces in China and call for the liberation of Tibet and independence of Taiwan? Why haven't we taken a harder line against Israel as it continues to spread settlements into occupied territory?

We haven't done any of those things because it's complicated. Needlessly, tragically complicated.

The honest truth is that we couldn't help everybody even if we wanted to (which we clearly don't). We don't have the money or the military power, the political will, the allies or, to be blunt, the moral fortitude. Oh sure, we support the idea of spreading freedom and wave the flag whenever it's safe to do so, but most of the time we remain as silent observers. We care, just not enough to do anything about it.

And so we pick and choose our battles, fully aware of the hypocrisy of bombing one dictator's tanks while selling weapons to another. The German word for it is "realpolitik," which translates as "practical politics." Bluntly put, it means that our values are pretty much interchangeable whenever our economic or political self-interest is involved (or if a country is a little too big and strong to pick a fight with).

The world needs cheap, stable oil, so we back the House of Saud. Corporations and consumers rely on China to produce goods cheaply, so we overlook that country's transgressions - and blindly hope that globalism will soften China before China owns the globe. We routinely place our trade relationships and the sale of resources ahead of our core values.

It works the other way, too. We'll gladly undermine a legitimate, democratically elected government anytime it conflicts with our broader interests. One example is Venezuela, where the west likens the crazy but still democratically-elected Hugo Chavez to the oligarchs and military leaders that used to rule in South America - all because he had the audacity to nationalize the oil industry and redistribute wealth.

There are countless historical examples of democracies usurping other democracies, from Iran to Chile to Guatemala. We all claim to love democracy, but only as long as it's friendly to capitalism and the right people get elected.

In other words, we've made our core values completely situational, something to trot out while justifying our involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Libya, or to slap a nation across the face with in a strongly worded UN declaration. But if a country is a military power, or sells oil, or buys our resources, or is friendly with another nation we're friendly with, we bluster and hedge and harrumph, and toss up our hands and remind people that the world is a complicated place. (Again, it really isn't but pretending we're helpless makes it easier to sleep at night.)

And we wonder why teens don't respect authority or why young people don't vote in elections. Although I've always voted, it was somewhat disillusioning to grow up and realize that the world is run by hypocrites, and that even the so-called "good guys" weren't all that good.

We've even gotten to the point where we expect politicians to stretch the truth, and we're not even slightly outraged.

Coming to the aid of the Libyan revolution was the right thing to do, even if that example inspires others who we have no intention of helping to rise up against their dictators. We're with you in spirit, if that counts for anything.

So good luck Libya, and to all the people yearning for freedom, equality and a little bit of justice. We'd like help you, but... well, you know.