Politicians and government officials frequently buttress their public statements by speaking of “our way of life” and use the defense thereof as justification for all sort of otherwise controversial policy, bombing, invasion, occupation, embargo, etc. The “Global War on Terror” (GWOT)© is being waged to this purported end. But what does this phrase mean? What exactly are we defending?

The phrase reminds me of a question I was asked during a security clearance interview for a coworker. The security analyst asked me if I had any reason to think that the individual in question had any motivation to “oppose the goals of the United States”. As the words started to coalesce on my tongue, that no, of course I didn’t think he opposed the goals of the United States, I felt a smirk crawl across my face and I was tempted to ask the interviewer exactly which goals we were talking about. Goal #245, a chicken in every pot and a car in every drive way? Goal #12, a free press? Goal #3932.a.ii, tax subsidies to industrial concerns with warehouse space in northeastern Texas?

That phrase, “the goals of the United States”, reminds me of Rousseau’s wicked progeny, “the general will”, insofar as it implies some an agenda which has a priori truth. I’ve always thought the general will was silly because it assumes some sort of a priori common good. Assuming it doesn’t, that the common good is decided collectively by the community, but that the general will is simply the single proper way of achieving that common good, it seems rather silly that if the community decides upon a common good such as amputating every right leg, then the general will would be one that is aligned with this rash and foolish common good. Foolish according to my prejudices, certainly. But without universal values and truth there can be no universal common good. Doesn’t this same logic apply to the goals of the United States? Are there goals that are apparent to all good Americans or communicated on a weekly basis, maybe on the 700 Club? Apparently I’m out of the loop. Are these goals then the common intersection of all of our conflicting individual beliefs? Is it heresy to have one or more beliefs that don’t fall in line with the official goals of the United States? Is it treason?

This is as confusing as our defense of our way of life. What exactly is meant by this? In this “GWOT” are we fighting to defend our country from violent, theocratic fascism? From radical religious beliefs that conflict with our liberal society? Or only radical Islamic religious beliefs? Perhaps by “our way of life”, it is meant that we are defending the collective way in which we currently live, that is the status quo of all ways of life taken together. But that’s not a way of life, its our ways of life. No, no, no, it must be the grandiose free society in which we live. Excepting certain freedoms of course. Maybe its the freedom to pursue happiness, so long as said happiness is rooted in consumerism and does not conflict with anyone else’s moral beliefs. I have it! We’re fighting for the right to live one’s life the way he or she sees fit, a way of life in which neither the state, the majority, nor the vocal minority can foist their values upon the individual. And it’s so goddamn right, that we’re going to make sure the rest of the world leads our way of life, whether they like it or not.