Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Decency - for katherine

A response to katherine.

Katherine asks: "How, exactly, am I supposed to 'resist them'?"

By not voting for them--not giving them the validation that they and the corporate media and the whole ruling establishment craves--you resist, if in a small way.

Don't focus on resisting them, though: focus on the shared humanity of our species, or on the sanctity of life. Show them that you are not willing to become a vehicle for mass death and destruction. Show them that you can be appealed to only if they promise to stop indiscriminate bombing, starvation sanctions, and the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus weapons against civilian populations. That would be a nice start.

Katherine says: "not voting for Obama means McCain is more likely to win."

Think about my Which Preschoolers Go analogy: you are in essence saying, "If I don't tell Obama to go ahead and kill three preschoolers, then McCain will kill five preschoolers."

But outside of the preschool hostage situation, you don't have to choose either of them!

Sure--the rest of the country is probably going to support killing either three or five preschoolers (just like in tax, add as many zeroes to the preschooler totals as you like until it seems like an important problem). But that doesn't mean that you have to.

You have a soul. You have empathy. You have a family of your own. You perceive on some level what it must be like for those people over there--those human beings with different religion and skin color and daily habits--to deal with seeing their closest loved ones murdered in the most terrible ways.

Refuse to be a part of it.

Imagine that you woke up tomorrow and found that you lived in a society where child-beating was acceptable. Would you start doing it yourself, just because if you didn't beat that child, someone else would?

What about murder? Or rape? If people (without uniforms) started doing those things lawfully in your neighborhood, would you participate?  

Right now, everyone thinks it is fine to support leaders who impose all those atrocities on foreigners. I know I am unpopular to suggest it is wrong, but here I am. Maybe, if enough people start thinking it is wrong, the killing fields can be cleansed again. Maybe we can start finding our souls.

This is the "if your cool friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?" argument. You don't have to do the stupid thing everyone else is doing--even if they're going to do it no matter what you do.

You can stand taller, so to speak. You can be a voice of reason; a paragon of virtue. Or just a decent, humane, caring human being, which we need many more of.

katherine says: "foreign policy is ... *gasp* ... complicated. What, exactly, has Obama proposed that you disagree with and *what do you suggest he advocate instead*?"  

"Foreign policy" can be complicated if it must be, but the proposition that murdering innocent people is wrong is not complicated.  It is very simple.  Too simple for our leading thinkers to waste time on, apparently.  

I will repeat: Obama intends to keep an invading American force in Iraq against the democratic will of the people there.  He wants to use mercenaries, bases, fighter jets, missiles, drones and naval ships against their country.  

Obama is claiming that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, even though the CIA and the IAE say this is not true.  He says he is keeping "all options" on the table.  That is a code word for "I will nuke if I have to."  So the nuclear apocalypse you fear from McCain is not exclusively McCain.  It was a democratic president who used the first nukes in the world dropped aggressively on a civilian population, and it was another democratic president who almost used the second during Bay of Pigs.  Now Obama is threatening to attack Iran over a nonexistent "WMD" program, against the advice of his own intelligence agencies.  Remind you of anyone you know?  

Obama is planning on "expanding" (read: killing more people) the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

These are not complicated plans.  These are simple plans.  "Obama not like terrorists.  Obama SMASH Pakistan, place where terrorists be!  Obama SMASH Afghanistan, place where terrorists be!"  Repeat ad nauseum, until the world burns.  

katherine says: "For instance, having American troops in Iraq will undoubtedly result in them killing some Iraqis. But, if they all left tomorrow, what remains of the country's infrastructure would crumble and more Iraqis would die. So unless you have a plan for how to solve all the problems of repressive, theocratic, hostile regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, Obama's plan sounds pretty reasonable to me." 

Firstly, I came up with a "plan" for Iraq, which is fanciful, but probably the closest thing to moral that we could manage to do to begin attempting to make up for the billionth part of trouble we have caused the Iraqis. If you'd like to read it, here it is: The Only Right Thing To Do In Iraq

As to your main point, I don't think it is our business to "solve all the problems" of the Middle East and elsewhere.  Our history has shown that whenever we undertake someone else's problems, our elites make a lot of money, a lot of our poor soldiers die, and we commit horrific brutalities against other nations and peoples.  We pull out our main force eventually, leave behind a few bases, bill the common taxpayers, make movies about it that highlight our troops' sacrifices, and go on with business as usual.  We have an awful track record of solving our own problems, and an awful track record of solving the rest of the worlds' problems.  

And if it was our business, or if we were somehow charged with doing it, we are doing it terribly.  Our military is a force of mind-numbing evil, and whenever it commits those evils, it does so claiming justice and truth and democracy and puppies and so forth.  If you want references, I can provide them by the metric ton of vileness.  

But for decency's sake, I really think you can make all the right decisions simply by acknowledging that killing innocent people is wrong.  Since you are not a Republican, you are probably not so deluded that you think no innocent people get killed by our military; you may even accept that a great deal of innocent people get killed, in hideous ways, by our military.  The next stage of breaking through the underlying American assumptions is to perceive that this murder of innocents is not, in fact, either right or necessary.  


Katherine said...

Alright, so resistance = not voting. You never actually answered the preschool hostage situation, though. My answer (and I would argue, the most morally correct one) is to prefer the lives of five arbitrary children over the lives of three. Now, unquestionable it's a terrible choice to have to make. But given that either the three or the five will die, you should choose the three.

Now, you maintain I don't have to choose in the case of the election. Barring some mechanism for preventing Obama or McCain from getting elected, which you have not yet proposed, I *do* have to choose. Or, at least, it is a certainty that one of them will win, and given that there is a moral distinction between the two, it is morally wrong for me to act to make it more likely that McCain will win.

The 'just cause everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right' argument is non-responsive. I'm not claiming that either person is justified (at least not for purposes of this argument). I'm saying that the actions of others in the country, which I do not control, make it a certainty that one or the other of them will win. Therefore, my outcome of my actions will be either to make it more likely that Obama will win, or more likely that McCain will win. That's it. I don't get to opt out of the system because the results of the election are constrained by everyone else's actions.
So the justification for voting for Obama is not 'everyone else is doing it'. It is 'because of the actions of others, I am limited to two choices; of those, the less morally repugnant is voting for Obama'.

re: soul. Why does it seem like everyone that I argue with about politics tells me that? No, I don't have a soul. Neither do you. It is an outdated figment of the christian church's imagination. But I digress.

"'Foreign policy' can be complicated if it must be, but the proposition that murdering innocent people is wrong is not complicated. It is very simple."

Yes, that is simple. Sadly, there are *other agents who kill people besides the US*. The actions we take overseas have consequences for how those actors behave. Would it be wrong, for instance, to kill German soldiers who were forcefully drafted into the Nazi army in order to end the Holocaust? That would be a foreign policy question on which your 'simple' principle has no bearing, because it would decree no action is possible.

Obama has said he will keep all options on the table for dealing with Iran, meaning if diplomacy failed to halt a nuclear weapons program there, then he would consider the use of force. Out of curiosity, can you provide me with a citation for where Obama claimed Iran had nukes from *after* the CIA released a report saying they didn't?

"Obama is planning on "expanding" (read: killing more people) the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan"
a) We are not currently engaged in a war in Pakistan. Clarify this, please.
b) *Your* solution to Iraq and Afghanistan is to 'expand' out military there. Why do you assume Obama is going to 'expand' the war in the wrong way?

Re: foreign policy alternatives
a) I was perhaps unclear about what I meant about 'solving all the problems in the middle east'. I meant 'solving the problems in the middle east that have a high likelihood of impacting our economy or safety', such as theocratic regimes gaining nuclear weapons or invading large numbers of other states or even, say, attempting to perform 'ethnic cleansing' on large sections of their population. These are problems that our foreign policy should be involved with.

b) Your plan is fanciful, and that is the problem. It wouldn't work. Why? Here's a short list
1) Economics. This plan assumes we can continue to tax, at a higher rate than most of Europe, the businesses and people that drive our economy. Or economy is largely service-oriented, and believe it or not, does respond, long-term, to economic forces - high-quality service jobs fall mainly in the highly taxed bracket you list. Over the course of even 5 years, this plan would most likely cause most major corporations to relocate to somewhere in Europe or Canada, cause a 'brain-drain' in the US as the high taxes made jobs in countries with more stable currencies and lower tax rates much more appealing. Inflationary pressure would have more people joining the army, particularly if your plan started to stabilize Iraq, which would increase the drain on the economy. This creates a spiral where we have to increasingly raise taxes or inflate the currency to maintain expenses, and at the end of 20 years we are bankrupt with little talent or basis for our economy left. Woot.

2) Short term consequences. To get the troop levels you describe all over Iraq and Afghanistan would require conscripting large portions of the population. To get a 10x increase in troops would require drafting about 5% of all males aged 20-34. All. That doesn't exclude any who have disabilities, or religious exemptions. That is massive. Given a 1 in 20 chance of being drafted into the army and shipped overseas combined with earnings about half of what they would be in another country, bow many top scientists, engineers, engineers, lawyers, and doctors (many of whom, particularly for engineers, fall into that age range) will stick around? Not to mention that 10x more troops, safely housed, would require a massive support staff. Because we're talking well over a million people.

So, again, unless you can provide an alternative that would *work*, not one that would be nice-if-it-did-work, it's going to be hard to take you seriously.

Manitor said...

(responded to you in a new post)

roy said...

I'm saying that the actions of others in the country, which I do not control, make it a certainty that one or the other of them will win. Therefore, my outcome of my actions will be either to make it more likely that Obama will win, or more likely that McCain will win.

there is a subtle, implied contradiction in this passage: you claim that you do not control the actions of others in this country...yet you acknowledge that they control your actions, that is, you are compelled to vote for obama based on the actions of others. so, clearly, other people's decision to vote have affected your actions...would it not, then, stand to reason that if you and other people chose not to vote for war-mongering candidates, then others might be affected by those actions?