Wednesday, August 16, 2006
'Beware that you are ready before you pass this seal'? Oh, Jesus, we've got a live one
It’s not like this is a new thing. From Victor Davis Hansen’s gentleman farmer posturing to the mealy resolve of John Podhoretz, bemoaning Judeo-Christendom’s supposed lack of ruthlessness is a staid tradition in Wingnutopia.
Indeed, it is difficult to recount the number of times a Tacitus or a Pamela Atlas or an Adam Yoshida has reworked the lyrics to that infectious, mid-1990s novelty hit by Skee-Lo, i.e.:
I wish we were a little bit crueler
I wish I was our ruler
I wish we had the will to nuke Mecca
I would ‘do’ her
I wish I had a Muslim in a room like in ‘Doom’
And my graphic card was newer
… So it is hardly surprising that yet another call for all good Christians to ‘Level thy Enemy’ is making the rounds in the Right Blogosphere. And true to form, it is being welcomed to much acclaim and grave harrumphing, meeting as it does the stern, faux gloomy approval of the many dedicated fabulists who are invariably “pained” and “saddened” to concur that, indeed, our love for innocent life is so great that we must now steel ourselves to rending far more of it limb-from-limb.
That this is just another in a long line of clumsy, desperate attempts to discover the mythical lever that engages the built-in obsolescence of evolved human morality means little. That it is entitled “On the Virtues of Killing Children” merits some attention. But leaving aside, for the moment, the oh-so-shocking title, it is fitting that the essay’s author calls himself “Grim”. For it is in this guise that the most pretentious wingnuts so love to cloak themselves – as “grim realists” who bravely struggle with their inner Col. Jessups to remain patient with those of us who cannot yet “handle the truth”.
Despite the outpouring of tough-minded, strictly heterosexual praise for “On the Virtues of Killing Children”, Grim’s little foray into amorality is hardly novel or earth-shattering. As an argument for a particular course of action it is, in fact, derivative, utopian, linguistically stilted, structurally incoherent, riddled with strawmen, devoid of answers to common rebuttals of similar arguments, dependent upon improbable sea changes in common attitudes towards conduct in war, lacking in evidence to support its conclusions, blind to the very predictable negative externalities that would result from its being put into practice, and, in a word: dumb as fuck.
As such, the best possible response to “On the Virtues of Killing Children” is simple mockery. To wit: The essay is piffle, the author is ignorant and/or insane, the audience which lapped it up is not to be trusted with sharp objects. Which, of course, was indeed the most common reaction in the comment thread to the post and elsewhere.
The reaction to that reaction was equally predictable: “Why will no liberal present a serious counterargument to this post?” Those who ask that question seem to believe that the absence of such a response means no response is possible, thus validating the author’s presentation of his argument via the construction of a resistant (and only coincidentally female, really) interlocutor who is deflowered by his own superior logic and manly resolve.
Never mind the existence of thousands of years of philosophical debate over these very ideas … not to mention that such rightwing claptrap is dealt with daily in the Left Blogosphere. And, in fact, several people have made perfectly fine rebuttals to the specifics of “On the Virtues of Killing Children” in the very comments accompanying the essay.
At any rate, seeing as how I haven’t posted in, like, a week or something, and in the spirit of reaching out that Mrs. Robinson over at Orcinus has so ably encouraged recently, here’s this liberal’s rebuttal to the argument that we need to give even less of a shit than we already do about bleeding, concussed children dying in fear and pain:
That’s fucking insane. And barbaric. And the opposite of what we’re supposed to be fighting.
Now to be fair (I’m not sure why I should be, but still), Grim and his supporters want everybody to know that “On the Virtues of Killing Children” is just an ordinary utilitarian argument, and how could anyone serious possibly read anything more into it than that, just because of the title?!?
(Which is sort of like calling your line of clown apparel the “John Wayne Gacy Collection” and then wondering why everybody thinks you’re a creep … but never mind.)
At any rate, the utilitarian argument. Grim posits that “not caring if children die” when we attack will cause our enemies who use innocents as shields to stop doing so, because it would cease to be effective protection for them, thus ultimately saving more children.
There is a host of problems with this idea, not least of which are the various counters to utilitarianism itself. It should also be noted that conservative philosophy is very much at odds with utilitarianism, so whatever those who applaud Grim’s thesis consider themselves to be philosophically, they are deluded if they think they are “conservative”.
But even if we accept a utilitarian framework as basically good, it doesn’t necessarily follow that more good results than bad would come from following Grim’s recommendation. Here is part of his exchange with the pliable strawlady of his fevered imagination:
Her eyes grow wide. "You are mad," she says.Damn! The strawlady gave up way too soon, and just when I was starting to like her. Shut up, strawlady, just shut up! You had me at “You are mad”!
"Not so," I answer. "Consider: when the enemy seeks to kill our child to motivate us to surrender to his will, is it not because he believes that the danger to the children will move our hearts?"
"It is," she must agree.
"And when he hides among children," I add, "why? Children do little to deflect artillery. Must it not be because he knows that we -- we ourselves -- fear for the children, even his children?"
She nods, silently.
"Then it is proven," I say. "It is our love of these innocents that endangers them. If we did not care if children died, they would be in little danger."
Anyway, the strawlady’s gormlessness aside, how do we know that “the enemy” – terrorists, insurgents, Hezbollah, et. al. – “hides himself among children” for the sole purpose of guilt-tripping us into not firing on them? Grim doesn't offer any evidence that this is so.
Isn’t it likely that the more mundane requirement for survival as a guerrilla fighter – hiding from one’s more powerful enemy – is at least as much a reason for this practice? Does Grim really believe that eliminating, through some collective decision to be merciless, our avoidance of civilian casualties … would somehow cause Iraqi insurgents to suddenly don uniforms and form into neat little lines, the better to sportingly square off against our Blackhawk helicopters, tanks and howitzers with their rifles and IEDs?
Puh-fucking-leeze. And with that, out the window goes the argument. Because if it is possible to raise serious doubts about the effectiveness of his prescription on its most basic level - militarily - then all the other counterarguments to do with predictable negative externalities, social mores, etc. are merely icing on the cake.
Which isn't to say that icing ain't good eatin'. There are a zillion more reasons to scoff at Grim’s fairy tale. Here are a few troubling questions for him, just off the top of my head:
- When we openly declare ourselves to be callous child-killers, how exactly is this going to play as propaganda in the Muslim world and elsewhere? Is the assuredly negative reaction something we should factor into this decision? Or does it seem more likely that our allies and would-be allies in this struggle will be swayed, strawlady-like, by the impeccable logic of “On the Virtues of Killing Children” … if only we could get them all to read it?
- Seeing as how the Iraqis that we’re fighting, and the Iranians we propose to fight, haven’t actually killed any of our children … isn’t it kinda sorta putting the cart before the horse to be complaining that we haven’t killed enough of theirs yet? I mean, obviously motives trump everything – and ours are always pure and noble, while theirs are always debased and savage – but don’t results count a tiny bit, too? To put it in baseball terms, isn’t deciding which enemies to fight sort of like drafting players for a team? And isn’t Iran sort of like a high school pitcher? You know, love the “tools”, the upside’s out of this world … but we just can’t risk an invasion on such an unproven quantity? Maybe better, you think, to go with an enemy out of college, like an al Qaeda, that’s got at least four solid years of “actually attacking us” under its belt?
- Admit it … isn’t it just a little bit embarrassing to be so scared of a group of people that your country’s military has completely fucking outgunned and surrounded, that you stay up nights worrying about whether we’re killing enough of them? With sufficiently hardened hearts?
- Did the whole “With great power comes great responsibility” bit in Spider-Man just go completely over your head?
- Is our concern about innocent life even something we can turn off and on? And if we can turn it off, how easy is it to turn back on?
- Is “bigger hammer” really the only tool we have available in the foreign policy shed? Did our needy neighbor borrow all the economic levels and diplomatic lubricants we used to have, and not return them or something? Because, what a dick!
P.S. To everybody who wondered about my positively Gallic holiday from blogging in the comment thread below:
First of all, thanks for checking in regularly to see if I had come out of hibernation. I apologize for not letting you know if or when I would be posting again. You all deserved some sort explanation for my absence long before now. So here it is:
I stopped posting for a couple of reasons. The DSL thing really happened. But when I got my service back I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed not having to monitor insane wingnuts every day to collect material for this blog. (There’s a frequent comment that appears on blogs like this one, it goes something like: “Thank you for reading the crazy people so I don’t have to.” Sometimes it’s just good to take a break from teh crazy.)
There were also some personal issues, which I won’t describe in too much detail. Nothing to do with health; nothing to do with fear of getting “outed” by the likes of Pasty & Pattycakes, Attorneys at BWAHAHA*; somewhat to do with finances; a lot to do with marriage. I’ll only say that most of the turmoil is winding down, there is light at the end of the tunnel and leave it at that.
Finally, I hope I will be posting regularly again. Don’t want to make any promises, but that’s the plan.
*Good guess, though, Bas.