From the Archives: Background (January 27, 2009)


Perhaps I should post this on the “about” page, but it seems to me that the first substantive post should say something about the project and the person starting it.

I grew up in the South in the Sixties and Seventies. I have heard people say the word “nigger” like it was the most normal thing in the world.  The disconnect between my father’s outspoken racism and my own experience helped me see that much of what people hold as true depends on what and how they learn.

Mom taught her kids to love books, and we read a lot. I entertained myself searching history and the world in encyclopedias. I devoured newspapers as I grew older, and in Army boot camp at Fort Knox I read the Louisville newspaper in my bunk every evening after “lights out” – by the light of the sun.  This amused my drill sergeant, who mostly let me be once I mastered the concept of the “push up.”

Twenty years late and back in the same place I retired from my career as a combat soldier.  Army life made me look at my surroundings in new ways, and I had learned a lot. I decided that I wanted to get the education I needed to teach, and set out to do so.

I would call myself a liberal, though I would certainly say that I left the Army with fewer idealistic notions about human nature and the real world. I saw some crazy shit in the Army, and it changed the way I look at things—watching leaders abuse their power makes a man cynical. I learned that many human beings are slaves to their beliefs, however acquired.

I also learned the power of collective action.

My mind is not closed to the possibility of a larger organizing principle than randomness and coincidence. But the system of Gods humans worship today seems to me no less petty, vengeful, and contradictory than the Greek or Roman pantheons. I can’t think of any reason to prefer one God over another besides the religious training my parents arranged during my youth. At least three global religious traditions claim understanding of the nature of the universe, but all three forego persuasion in favor of state coercion—none seem to mind killing each other. I think I’ll just stay out of the fight.

I am interested in and want to write about military affairs, especially the nature of and implications of privatizing conflict management. I also think a lot about politics, especially relations between states and how they create global policy. Since the study of politics necessarily includes economic questions, I have developed an interest in this subject as well.

Finally, I enjoy football.

I plan to write about all these things, whether anyone reads my work or not. The goal is to sort my thoughts, not entertain or inform others, but if my musings accidentally add to some important discussions, all the better.

In the Army, we had to have the “bottom line up front” because when bullets fly long explanations can get soldiers killed. The problem is that too many “facts” depend on socially constructed beliefs, and a moral fog often obscures the points of reference we humans seem to need. I named this blog Foggy Bottom Line to remind myself that people—not gods or natural law—define the world, and understanding it means piercing that fog.