Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inconsistency & Nonviolence

Being a pacifist is a sure way to get people to criticize you. One criticism that I frequently get is the criticism of inconsistency. People accuse me of being a pacifist only when convenient, or only in certain circumstances. People also accuse me of inconsistent loyalties - that is they think I'm more opposed to violence done by my own country than violence done by other countries.

The first response to this accusation is - of course, I'm inconsistent. Who on earth is perfectly consistent? I'm a human being. If I was jumped in an alleyway I might fight back out of fear or instinct. I'm not claiming to be a saint.

But the kind of inconsistency I'm guilty of is not the kind of inconsistency these people usually mean. They mean that by voicing opinion against certain types or incidents of violence I'm somehow tacitly supporting other types of violence. They mean, for example, that by criticizing the war in Iraq, I'm somehow supporting the terrorists. This is ludicrous, but so common I feel compelled to address it.

Public discourse is dominated these days by a superficial idea of balance. The mainstream media have established a dogma of impartiality that revolves around word count and obsessive hedging of language. The dogma is this: There are two sides, and only two sides, to every story. Objectivity means reporting on both sides equally without value judgments. Truth, facts, and evidence are irrelevant in a dispute - all that matters is the controversy.

Thus we get into absurd situations where creationist "experts" are presented as credible opponents of evolutionary science. Or the NY Times refuses to use the word torture to describe what America has done when the identical techniques done in Iran or Vietnam are called torture by Times reporters all the time. The reason? The debate over what constitutes torture in this country is ongoing...

With this dogma in mind I've been accused of being unfair in my criticism of American violence because I haven't spent an equal amount of time and energy criticizing the violence of "the other side". The ultimate trump in this argument in 9/11. If I mention casualties in Iraq - but 9/11!! Detainees being tortured to death - 9/11!!!

Well, you arbiters of fairness and extollers of all that is good and noble about American's killing whoever they want to, there are very good reasons for me to be so apparently inconsistent.

#1 - Proximity. I am an American. I am responsible for my government's actions. I have a stake in it. I should care more about what Americans do than what other people do. Not only because I'm responsible, but also because I actually have the power to. I can't do a thing if someone in a cave around the world decides to bomb me. I can vote for politicians in this country who promise not to bomb people though. Get the plank out of my own eye and all that...

#2 - Power. The supposed "sides" in this conflict are not equal. America is the world's most powerful military. You know the Spider Man proverb? The more power and money you have the more scrutiny your behavior deserves. When America commits violence we are the fat senior high retard pummeling the elementary school children for lunch money. When those elementary school kids punch us back it just doesn't have the same moral (or physical) force. Do I hold America to high standards? Damn right I do! And you should too.

#3 - Proportion. 9/11 = 2,974 casualties. Iraq War (so far) = 92,898 documented civilian deaths. The ethical import of violence does not come down to basic arithmetic. As a pacifist, I am opposed to any violence. How much more then should I be opposed to the killing of 100,000 people than the killing of 3,000? Everyone these days is in a panic about terrorism. We treat a single suicide bomber as if he were the equivalent evil of a million armed soldiers. The truth is that the most grave violence has always been perpetrated by governments and militaries. 11 million in the Holocaust. 20 million Stalin "disappeared". World Wars 1 & 2. The Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Cultural Revolution in China. The scale of violence that a military is capable of far far outweighs anything any terrorist has ever imagined. Proportion matters. For this reason I oppose war and military action more strenuously than other types of violence.

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