Knowledge of Good and Evil

            A Question for Bible Scholars

            and

            An Answer for Everyone

 

Someone who knows the ancient Hebrew, the ancient Greek, someone help me. Is this a possible matter of interpretation or translation? I refer you to the very second Book, Genesis Two, and

“. . . the tree of knowledge of good and evil . . .” and “. . . the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

My train of thought has brought me to a mindset where a very small tweak to that bit of scripture might have tremendous explanatory power. What if – and yes, only a “just so” story without some support from ancient language experts – but what if the original idea was more like “. . . the technology of good and evil . . .” – like the knowledge of how to work with good and evil?

I’ve said it elsewhere recently, I know.

I also said this was the original sin, gaining this knowledge – or perhaps rather, developing this technology – and if it’s a technology, is it a sin to turn evil to good? It makes more sense to me that our first sin was the other technology, that we learned to turn good to evil, to turn sweet little babies into soldiers, creating warrior sorts of human groups like the ones who wrote those early Hebrew scriptures. Hmmm. Perfect segue, rare for me.

The technology in question is child abuse, and the data is in: rough treatment in childhood makes for rough adults. This is available knowledge today, out there, poised for the hundredth monkey to pick it up, and all before I made a penny off it of course, but here it is again, for free: childhood is rough in the warrior societies, that is an equation: rough childhood = warrior society. “Warrior society,” though, just what is that, really?

Google the term, you’ll see references to American aboriginal tribes, maybe the Samurai culture, maybe you’ll wind up in Klingon space.

What you won’t perhaps see is any reference to white people, to our own WEIRD selves. Apparently, the peaceful societies of England, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Genoa, Venice, etc., mowed down every “warrior culture” on the planet without being warriors themselves. Amazing, isn’t it? Those warriors didn’t know how to fight! It’s a good thing our Christian “religious society” came along to teach them, huh? I guess if I can scream it with sarcasm, I can also just say it.

“Warrior society” is a racist term.

It’s one of those things “they” (people outside of our group or in another group) have and “we” (people in our own social group) don’t. “They” are a warrior society, “we” just desire security. They are a warrior society – one dimensional, all they do if fight – while we “stand to defend” all that is right and proper, all that other stuff that is what we like to say we’re really all about.

If the world has “warrior societies,” then we all are, or those of us who are not are feeding the crops of those who are, game theory one-oh-one, right? They all are, they all must be. Otherwise what’s the narrative – “we used to have all these warrior societies, but we killed them all and now we’re all peaceful?” If you eat predators, you’re a super-predator; if you kill warriors, you are a super-warrior.

You got a border, you got an army? Then “you’re a gangster now, and there are no late starters” – Carlito’s Way. Particularly if you win the wars, you are a warrior society, again – this is real life, not some evolutionary amateur hour. I’m sorry – “you,” I said? I’m sorry, it’s “we, we, us – white people, Europeans.” We are a warrior society, in fact, human societies are warrior societies. And this is why we know in our bones that children must “be taught right from wrong” – because of that lowlife warrior society next door, that we have to keep kicking their asses forever, because the fools never learn. Damnit. I wish I could say “irony” without ruining it, but, well . . . there it is. (“Ian Malcolm,” Jurassic Park.)

It’s not about smarts so much either, aggression is not intelligence and violence is not intelligence. It’s not about smarts, because if you can slaughter an entire continent of warrior societies and still tell yourself you’re a peacemaker, or an “information society,” or some crap, then you’re a great bunch of warriors, but let’s face it.

You’re not too fucking bright.

 

Jeff

Aug. 1st., 2017

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Policing at a Crossroads

. . . same crossroads all things eventually reach when they start down the road toward humanism, or just plain exist, moving like the rest of us into the future. At some point in the train robbery, you have to commit to letting go of your horse and holding on to the train. The period where you still have both options is dangerous, so safety dictates it be short. I know, sorry.

I’ll go straight to it, but it’ll take a minute still – still sorry.

I caught a headline somewhere, most likely Twitter, some person got released from a wrongful conviction, and got paid some great amount for damages, which got me thinking. Of course, the first NPLP (something I’m trying to start – Namby Pamby Liberal Pussy. Folks like me.) thought is ‘Yes! Science has saved another wrongly convicted man from police machinations!’ and yes, there could be a racial aspect to the story, I mean of course, there always could be, but the picture was of a black fellow.

Then of course, I sort of globalized the concept, like I enjoy way too much, started to wonder, if there are say, a thousand such cases in a given place during a given period, then how many of the thousand were non-criminal innocents and how many might have deserved their sentences or worse for crimes they weren’t prosecuted for and/or convicted of? I mean, surely, if the police can be known to have railroaded an innocent black man into prison, then it is probably not beneath their morals to have set some heinous, dangerous criminals up for solid wrongful convictions either.

So, the first RWN (Right Wing Nutjob, something that’s a normal epithet on a site I play on, Thoughts.com) thought following that probably is, I hope somebody is reviewing which sorts of folks they’re setting free, like trying to make sure the newly free drug-related convicts really are only that or something. And, yeah, we always hope for some local knowledge, some attention to detail. Numbers games are always error-riddled.

But for me, again, trying to globalize, trying to see the social implications of all things punishment-related, this is it here.

That second practice must have felt pretty justifiable, if the cop knew, for sure, that his target’s incarceration would make the public a good deal safer, that if in short, the end really was justification for some evil means. However, technology, humanism and morality have moved on in this case, specifically, the old setup tactics are failing now because some humanists, someone who cares, have applied DNA testing etc. and caught the police cheating.

In the long term, each generation gets treated better than the last, and they each learn to expect to be. We expect moral circles to expand, and we are viewing moral issues in a more egalitarian, more logical way with each decade as well, and one result of that process is this. We want to hold our police to the law more than we perhaps have in the past. Police forces evolved because the wealthy found their prosperity to be more stable when the King tried and punished crimes, rather than living with the endless feuding produced by the previous vendetta sort of system where families looked after offenders to their interests privately. So police came into being long before modern democracies. Now, we are taxpayers and the police don’t work for the King anymore, they work for us. So the time honoured tactic of setting a man up to please the policeman’s employers, now, looks as criminal as it always did, except worse.

Worse, because the victim is supposed to be the boss. Worse, because it’s now our moral issue, because we’re the boss. Can’t blame it on the King anymore, it’s us. Now that it is, I think we think the police are supposed to do their jobs and somehow succeed while never straying across the line of the law themselves for the very good reason that when they stray, it’s sometimes against us. I don’t imagine anyone has escaped the image of an experienced cop’s disdain for the idea, and fair enough, I get it, I do. It’s violence for violence, the experience is real, the danger is real . . . but still. As true and undeniable as that is, it’s still, I’m sorry, not that meaningful, uh . . . scientifically, yes, even for social science. Anecdotal, to be sure, but not only that. The thing is, all that is life as viewed from the past, from horseback. Our societies, and our police forces are at the choice-point now, still feeling the ongoing trauma of our authoritarian ways of the past and still trying to keep a grip on it, but we also have one hand on the train of the future, where mass media and big data are starting to show us who we really are.

So when the King’s dragoons abuse their position, it’s a moral crime, sure, but he’s the King, he’s responsible and we’re not. When our tax-funded, public police do, it’s our moral crime, we’re responsible, and in democratic societies like ours we need to do something about it. That is our job, to vote intelligently and not support evil, law and order politicians.

For the police, that is the crossroads we’re at. Yes, we have in the past turned a blind eye to some over-stepping on the part of the police, but now here we are, taxed and paying for it. Any herd of herbivores tolerates the presence of the predators, perhaps, the wildebeests live with the lions as a fact of life – but I don’t think they would if they had to pay for it too. I think this crossroads perhaps adds up to a slight change in job description for the police, an acknowledgement of the democratic nature of our society and who’s working for who.

Specifically?

What if we did let’s say, refresh our commitment to the police staying on the right side of the law themselves? We the people might try to remember that the goal, eventually, must certainly be a lawful world where at least the police aren’t criminals too. Sorry, also not very specific. Let’s just brainstorm a bit, point form.

  • It might not be going too far to suggest that police need to lose a few more fights to regain public sympathy. Personally, I reserve my concern for the people who lose the vast majority of the fights. Today, the police don’t look vulnerable enough to justify their shoot first policies. I think non-lethal weaponry in the hands of the police would go a long way towards building some public trust for the police, and for that to happen, there has to be some sense that police casualties are indeed a negotiable thing, as long as there are so many more citizen casualties. As long as the life of a single cop is supposed to be worth more than any number of citizens, we’re going to be in conflict and in that sense, police are creating social problems rather than solving them.
  • I actually like the idea of this possibly fictional ‘Ferguson Effect.’ If the police are really engaged in a sort of work slow-down action to protest the growing public scrutiny of them or to avoid getting themselves into trouble, that might be a good thing. If they are not going through a door when their only possible security is to kill those folks on the other side, maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I can imagine that there are ways in which even gang activity and drug dealing are less offensive than state-sponsored murder of criminals. I mean, if this is the conversation?

“Hey, Police! Stop shooting unarmed alleged criminals!”

“Hey, it’s dangerous out here! Do you want policing or don’t you?”

“Yes, but murder is a crime, so it is for you too!”

“Hey, it’s my security! Do you want this crime stopped or not?”

“Yes – THIS crime, but your crime too!”

“Hey, if you haven’t got my back, I ain’t working! If it’s my life at risk, I ain’t going through any more doors. See how you like it when we’re not out there killing criminals for you.”

This adds up to an immediate threat, a pressure play, but what if maybe we call the police’s bluff, what if we stop and think about it for a minute? I say we give it a try, see how it plays out. Whatever happens, we learn something. So here’s my response:

“Good idea. Let’s see how it works out. If everything goes to Hell, we’ll make changes again, but for now, yeah. Let’s see how it pans out.”

  • We need to stop arresting people for minor crimes, period. An arrest is an action that is an escalation compared to many of the “crimes” we arrest and detain for, and as such, worse. We need to mail out invoices for fines, and we need to help the miscreants pay the fines – not arrest them and start potentially deadly fights to do it. If we are trying to lessen crime, then we need to stop justifying larger crimes – confinement, violence – by using them to stop smaller ones.

 

So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

Long and short? As a society, as many societies, we seem to have missed the change, we seem to not have noticed that democratic governments change everything, all the ancient social institutions, and that police forces today work, literally and officially, for the people, all the people. What was police brutality in the past and used to be a private act, the King’s goons working out on His citizens, is now insubordination. Eric Garner was a member of the consortium that employs the NYPD, a citizen, and he was murdered by his own public servants. Ironically, that should offend authoritarians everywhere as well as everyone else.

It stopped being us VS them when we established our democracies, Folks, it’s all us now. Let’s deal with crime generally, not just some people’s crimes. Ours too.

 

Jeff

Nov. 23, 2015

A conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

This was last year’s Remembrance Day post, here it is with only the tiniest of edits, but I thought it was worth repeating, maybe we’ll find something else that needs to be said too.

Jeff

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and when it drifts into some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict. Perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas do fight and very likely die, even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers suffer, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.

Colour Blindness and Optimism

There are a lot of comments going around the internet that sound like a sort of backlash against the Ferguson and I Can’t Breathe protests. It’s white folks taking umbrage, maybe feeling left out, like ‘who’s protesting the fact that my life sucks too?’

I think comments like that can be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, the extreme bad end being racist, but it’s probably usually best viewed this way: a lot of white folks aren’t aware of their racism. It’s all part and parcel of the beliefs around social things – Original Sin, Nature over Nurture stuff, a pedestrian disdain for psychology and social science generally. It seems to me to be rooted in some sort of idea that despite the bad things happening in the world, still, somehow we need to see everything as being all right.

Everything is OK, we’re not screwed up or racist, we’re just dealing with the screwed up people in the poorest communities the best way and the only way possible. It’s the world that’s bad, not us.

This “colour blindness” is at it’s core, optimistic. Of course, optimism isn’t always a good thing.

Trading Up: Moral Equivalence – Bigger Crimes for Smaller Ones

First of all, I admit, I was a late adopter of the expression, “moral equivalence.” I find it counterintuitive, it really means ‘false moral equivalence,’ right, ‘contrived moral equivalence,’ something like that? Or does it refer to people who really do think these disparate situations are actually equivalent? Whatever, let’s live with those questions, like they used to say in the “est” seminars. I’m a great believer that we need to juggle all these thoughts, all these balls need to be in the air at once, that we shouldn’t commit to any conclusions that could be wrong and then base our arguments from them. Everything should always be available for review in our minds, pending new information.

I think we all place the concept in the category of fallacious argument. Moral equivalencies are offered as justifications for behaviours that we all naturally intuit to be wrong, such as violence that is out of proportion to the behaviour that prompts it. Examples of moral equivalence may include:

  • A nation like Israel literally killing something like a thousand Palestinians for every murdered Israeli because the Palestinian Arabs WANT to kill all the Israelis.
  • A police officer literally killing a citizen in a fight that begins with an attempted arrest for a minor crime – of course, like jaywalking or operating a very small commercial enterprise without a license or without filing the taxes.
  • A law introduced that curtails the rights of large numbers of people based on statistically insignificant levels of a crime – like the voter ID laws.

Now, I know everyone is making the race arguments about these things, and of course there is racism, and classism, the poor always get the short end, and through long term, cultural racism, ‘the poor’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘blacks,’ at least in America. Fair enough. I just want to point out what seems to be slipping under the radar: the simple moral fallacy underlying all policing, and authority in general, and that is the magnitude of the crimes in these situations.

I think we can all see the cost and benefits of imprisoning murderers. Sure, forcible confinement is bad, an infringement of the prisoner’s human rights, but his infringement on the human rights of his victims is worse, so we feel justice is served. Perhaps not optimally, at least I don’t really think so, but close enough for this conversation. And so, if this killer resists arrest and dies in the ensuing fight, that’s still close enough to proper – of course, provided he really is a murderer, provided he’s guilty.

Morally, that is not so bad. Pretty good in a horrible situation. But that example should not be used to cover all arrests. That is some bad science, in fact it is probably one of these arguments of ‘moral equivalence’ to say that anyone who resists arrest for anything can be righteously killed. Race and racism aside, that is reprehensible, and defending that behaviour very correctly puts the defender on the wrong side of morality. This is a net increase in crime: murder for jaywalking, murder for black market cigarette sales.

That is the opposite of what we are paying police for.

Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ Here’s what you can’t do, and here’s what we can do – this is the very essence of inequality, inequity and anathema to ‘all men being created equal.’

So here’s what I think should happen: I don’t think that we should enforce these laws if it means creating a bigger crime than the one we’re trying to stop. So no corporal punishment for non-violent crimes, for jaywalking for illegal small businesses – verbal admonishments only. Counselling and reason, let them know that they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in our attempts to have a fair society. Perhaps for the subsistence criminal, we can find them some legal money to live on. This may involve reorganizing our social structure in such a way that doesn’t leave so many people out of the right side of life and the law, such as decriminalizing drugs and stopping the erosion of the government’s revenues for education and healthcare.

Maybe we could document these minor crimes, and use the information in court if the person does anything that really does require police and courts, so we could show a pattern of anti-social behaviour, make a case that some sort of intervention is overdue for the stubbornly anti-social and criminal people that abuse the system.

Pie in the sky, right? Madness?

So, the status quo seems reasonable, then? That minor crimes should be punished corporally, with a forced trip to jail and possibly prison, something that would motivate the offender to fight for his life and turn our attempt to correct small crimes into deadly street battles instead? Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t blame everyone. It’s been complicated and confusing for so long, but that’s . . . crazy. All infractions of the law do not need to be enforced.

In fact, of course, all cases of breaking the law are not enforced now. How many crimes of the rich, the bankers, and the leaders are not punished? Of course, the crimes that are detected, solved, prosecuted and punished are far fewer than the actual instances of crime and always have been. In this way, criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That perhaps bears repeating.

Criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That being the obvious truth to any thinking person, and being that improving the consistency in catching and prosecuting is unlikely and possibly not even desirable – most of us think we’re close enough to the dystopic police state of our nightmares now – maybe we need to think about going the other direction. Simply not arresting and prosecuting the poorest people for minor crimes (again, drug laws come to mind) – not going after the lowest hanging fruit with the intent of violence and forcible confinement – could well be our best way to increase the consistency of our law enforcement, and therefore the general fairness of our society.

This could be one way that the police could gain some real respect and trust in the poorest communities – I mean, this wouldn’t be huge, much crime is violent crime, and I’m not advising we ignore those who would victimize others with violence – but this is exactly the point. Victimizing others with violence is exactly what the police are doing when they come to arrest and imprison people for minor crimes. If this is what cannot be changed, then talk of community trust and respect is empty blather. And deeply cynical too.

To say to people –

“We want to work with you, to establish a partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, based in understanding. We acknowledge that we are here to serve the community, to work for a greater peace and a better life for all – “

– while still maintaining that we intend nonetheless to come to your house, overpower you and throw you in prison for not paying your parking and court fines? That is deeply schizoid for some of us and downright cruel and cynical for some others. Either way, it’s . . . crazy. Again, violence, kidnapping and forcible confinement for minor crimes – that is a net increase in the level of crime, and it’s the very opposite of what the general population is paying the police to do.

Morally, arrests and the associated force and violence are worse than jaywalking, street level black market dealing, avoidance of legal and traffic fines, and drug possession. That is what I’m saying. This isn’t moral equivalence. It’s a total inversion.

It All Starts when We Punish our Kids, #6

It all starts when we punish our kids.

What “all starts?” Well . . .

6. Racism.

Childhood punishments are where we first hear talk about “the other,” about “those kinds of people,” about Good People and Bad People.

  • You don’t want to grow up to be one of those people, do you?
  • You’re bad. I told you to be good!
  • “Jimmy played with matches. Don’t be like Jimmy.”
  • Stay away from those kids, they’re bad.

Those aren’t very direct, it’s no simple thing to draw a direct line from there to something like Ferguson, but a few things can be said, and if you’re looking for proof of anything in the foggy sphere of social science then you’re just looking for a way out of things you don’t want to hear. If social change relied on hard, math-style proofs, our progress would be at full stop instead of just being really, really slow.

Even when phrased in the second best way, descriptions of when we behave and when we misbehave are still about what we are, and not about things we only did or didn’t do. Santa Claus wants to know if you’ve been a good boy or a good girl, he needs to know you haven’t been naughty. When it’s our own language, and especially if we only know one language, it’s easy to forget what that verb is; we rarely conjugate words we learned as young children, but those statements don’t speak to what you do, they speak to what you are.

When we do something wrong, it’s because we are bad. Of course when we think a bunch of people do something wrong, then they are bad.

Of course, a good definition of bigotry is thinking that “the other” does what they do for impossibly stupid reasons, and that can as easily be descriptive of how a parent reacts to a young child’s misbehavior as it can to one race or culture’s inability to comprehend the actions of another’s. What we do, and therefore what we are, has its reasons and makes sense. The destruction wrought by a toddler or the rioting of an underclass race is just senseless. They need to be made to understand that they’re being bad.

Of course, little sponges that humans are, everything we do anywhere near a young child, and especially what we do to them, the stuff that affects them directly, is stuff that we are modeling, stuff they are learning. If we explain everything we see not in terms of processes, not in terms of interactive activity but rather simply because of what the people doing it are, of what the person doing it simply is, then that is how they learn to understand the world.

And, yes, that is a problem, and one cause for the problems we have understanding one another across cultures and across races; it opens the door for bigotry, it skews us toward not trying to understand the experience of “the other” because we already have our explanation, it’s just what they are.

Here’s the rest of the series:

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/09/11/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-5/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/08/25/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-4/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/20/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-3/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/19/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-2/

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/07/19/it-all-starts-when-we-punish-our-kids-1/

A Conflicted Society – When it’s your Job to Die

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veteran’s Day in the States, it brings a lot of talk, mostly all patriotic, and some controversial, nationalism VS pacifism stuff if it becomes a debate. It’s all well and good. Personally, I like some of both: remembrance, sadness, sympathy for the many bereaved and afflicted, tempered with some concept that war is bad, and that peace is the final goal. Again, all well and good.

But we are a very conflicted bunch. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say we are confused on these subjects, the appreciation and treatment of our veterans and their families, as well as anything around violence and its consequences, such as police brutality (to use an old-fashioned expression about it). Maybe I’m not reading the right things, but from my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem to be something that we ever break down, it doesn’t seem that either we try to understand it, or that we simply fail in the attempt.

All the talk about our veterans is, uh, a little too positive to help us get to the truth of it, it’s all about the positive aspects of sacrifice, about heroism, and it doesn’t explain how our soldiers can get the shoddy treatment that many of them get after their service. To explain that requires a visit to the dark side, I’m afraid. In this case, the operative thing, the driving function behind it lies in the soldier’s job description. That isn’t a secret, we all know it. But, that it matters in this conversation is somehow a secret, nonetheless. So here it is.

It is a soldier’s job to die for his country.

This is our conflict, but perhaps it’s only a matter of perception. If we phrase it in this way, describing the sacrifice in the more negative way, we can see that the conflict disappears, like this:

We ship a person overseas do fight and very likely die, or even more likely these days to suffer loss of limb and traumatic brain injury. Here’s the thing: this is not good treatment. Therefore, refusal of adequate medical and psychiatric care and the refusal of financial support that so many ex-soldiers receive when they come home, wait for it . . . is not a conflict. It is not any change in how we have treated these people from the day we decided to send them into war. To say it another way, our abuse of these folks starts long before they come home.

Let’s imagine it from another angle. Let’s imagine that we can hear the people in power discussing what we all perceive as our failure to look after our warriors, that we can hear the generals, the State Department, the politicians. Let’s try to see it from the POV of some powerful, cynical leaders when they are dividing up our dwindling tax revenues and deciding where to spend our money. Imagine how much priority is given to the care of a person that we already sent off to die. These folks aren’t likely to forget that it is a soldier’s job to die.

Call me a cynic to say it, but I am indeed cynical enough to imagine that it gets said, hopefully half in jest by these folks, that our wounded veterans failed at their job. Old cynic that I am, I find it impossible to imagine that no-one in these positions ever said “You had ONE job!” To carry on in this dark vein, sending a person off in a modern war to die on the far side of the globe – that isn’t cheap either. For the budgeteers of our world, soldiers cost money going out and coming back. Do I need to say it? Going out is the essential part of a soldier’s journey in many of our minds, and it certainly is in the minds of the men signing the cheques.

What I’m trying to say, getting back to it, is that the mistreatment of our heroes is not some detail, not some unintended consequence of war. It is intrinsic, it is logical even, it is part and parcel of the war machine generally, and it is not likely to change. It is fully in line with war and its objects. Mistreatment of veterans is not a problem we can fix while we’re at war, while we love war. It’s not going anywhere. The masters of war are just patiently waiting for us to get it off our chests and then shut up again.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then your problem is with war. Which, if you have a problem with war, that’s a good thing.

But just so you know.

The Islamic State Just Doesn’t Get It.

Well, it seems those damned Muslims in Iraq and Syria are misbehaving again.

And they’re getting worse!

WTF is the matter with those people? We’ve already bombed the crap out of them at least twice, and still they insist on their revelatory religion, and they’re only getting more committed to it, getting stricter and more fundamentalist. We’re having to go bomb them again, like we told them we would, like everybody knew we would if they acted up again. We’ve tried everything, haven’t we? We occupied them, some really present, hands on supervision, plus we’ve tried invisible death from the sky. If that doesn’t let them know that we will always know when they’re misbehaving and that we can always catch them and correct them, I don’t know what would!

We’ve shot them, bombed them, blown up whole families, even whole villages, yet for some reason, despite that we will kill and maim them, they continue to kill and maim each other. Where do they get this idea that it’s OK to do that? Who do they think they are?

It’s their Quran, isn’t it? It’s a manual for violence, and it teaches that life is cheap. That must be it. They are raised on the belief that violence can solve any problem that presents itself, and that belief is so pervasive and so entrenched that all of our righteous violence can’t seem to get through to them. It almost seems hopeless. It almost seems like we should just give it up. After all, we’ve tried everything.

But how can we? What they’re doing is so bad!

I guess we’ll just have to step it up.

I’ve Never Met Sam Harris, but . . .

I think I’m already over him. Plus, as collateral damage, I think my bromance with Bill Maher may be at an end too. I mean, regarding Bill, I haven’t yet committed to never watching his show again – but I deleted the scheduled recording of it from my PVR yesterday. He’s moved from my “I want to watch” list to my “I’ll only watch it if it’s on while I’m in front of the TV and it’s somehow the least stupid option, like if there’s no mixed martial arts on or something.” I’ve got a feeling that he’s lost more fans than just me over this latest Islamming (trademark!) that he’s doing. A parting bit of advice, Bill? You may want to distance yourself from Harris a little.

Now to Harris.

Mr. Harris has been taking a lot of guff since Bill’s show some eleven days ago, and from some pretty popular voices, not just internet nobodies like myself. Here’s a response he made to some of it on his blog:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-mechanics-of-defamation#.VDsSLTPpryM.twitter

Now, before I delve into details, and before we get caught up in those particulars, I want to point out that this blog post of his is an answer to people calling him a “genocidal fascist maniac” (which even I would suggest is a little hyperbolic), but this the thing. Nothing in this post would change my mind. I’ve been having some back and forth on Twitter with a person or two, someone is telling me that the point of the passage in question, and the chapter in his book it comes from, is a philosophical one about how belief drives action, and I think they’re trying to say the statement about the war is only an example.

Which, if the passage from the book had been the end of it, while I still don’t believe that theory (that the justification of the USA killing Islamist terrorists was put forth only as a theoretical example), I might have been able to let it pass, I might have said, ‘OK, close enough,’ but he said it again, in this blog post that was ostensibly intended to portray him in a less maniacal light. It wasn’t a hypothetical reference; it was updated for today’s war and was very specific. I’m speaking of the last three paragraphs in the post. Here’s the new statement, same as the one that got him in trouble with actual liberals in the first place:

“It would be ethical to kill these men (he means ISIS)—once again, only if we couldn’t capture them—because of all the death and suffering they intend to cause in the future. Why do they intend this? Because of what they believe about infidels, apostates, women, paradise, prophecy, America, and so forth.”

And here’s the rest of his defense:

“ . . . nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes.”

First of all, wow, just wow. If we’re not dangerous people AND we don’t ever have nasty thoughts, Harris is not advocating for our destruction. What a shining beacon of Liberalism.

Now, the ways in which this philosophy contrasts with my own views:

The clear implication here is that Harris does think we should kill harmful people for thought crimes.

Personally, I think that anyone trying to lessen both the expected duration of the Islamists’ hatred for and wish to kill Americans and also the level of violence and war in the world generally would not even advocate for killing these harmful people for actual crimes, let alone thought crimes.

I marvel at this philosopher’s self-unawareness. In advocating that we should kill harmful people for thought crimes, Mr. Harris is a faithful mirror to the very attitude he ascribes in these passages to Islamists alone, that it is justifiable and somehow helpful to kill those whose beliefs are antithetical to ours, or to our lives. By this reasoning, it must also be “ethical” for Islamists to kill Americans.

The only place this reasoning is ethical is in a very small world, a tribal situation. This is only morality to someone for whom the only moral concerns are the domination interests of his own tribe, someone for whom the death of his enemies is not a moral issue. It’s not exactly peacemaking, which, I think, by definition means the search for a larger morality, one in which a solution is sought for all parties. Of course, in geopolitics, in the new, smaller world we live in, for the more than fifty years during which nuclear war has been a real concern, the difference between war and peace affects us all. It is really in all of our interest that the morality of peacemaking be the morality we attain to.

And if America is, God forbid, listening to Sam Harris for moral guidance, then it seems sort of obvious what the problem is, at least from our side.

Christianity: the Revolution that Never Happened.

This is the revolution, intended, I think, as a revolution in Judaism, that didn’t happen. You’ve heard it before, this below, from Matthew:
Matthew 5 (King James Version)
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

 

Here, Jesus refers to the Old Testament scripture, the traditional model for Hebrew law and punishment, and then issues the new Way, the revolution. He is making a case here, as in many other places, for a more forgiving and less vengeful God. More to the point for me, I think he made a case for a less vengeful and more forgiving Man.
(Jesus was surrounded by zealots, freedom fighters, or at least the leaders who talked them up, the hawks of his day, plus he was contested and marginalized by the orthodoxy, and the Herod clan. These conservatives had a good case against him, he was politically hamstrung by the occurence of his birth while his mother was still in “virgin” status, so Jesus was dealt the position of moderate, and moderator. The conservative, orthodox church leaders, if not the king, Herod, were to some degree aligned with the zealots against the Roman occupation, and so Jesus, pitted against them by his unauthorized birth, was also set up against the zealots, and so, found himself in the role of peacemaker.)
http://www.peshertechnique.infinitesoulutions.com/index1.html
And so, this new, more civilized code of punishment.

 

I think Jesus announced a model of peacemaking with these great words, and set a new model for society in general.
It seems that the Christian concept of a more forgiving God caught on; God is now seen as gentler, and far more loving that the punishing, jealous God of the Old Testament.
But the more forgiving Mankind?
Punishment is still the rule of the land, all lands. In the Western world, we no longer take eyes, or teeth, true, that has improved – but we certainly haven’t made it all the way to ‘turning the other cheek also.’
Not even with our children!
Jesus’ time was a high water mark for civilization, one of the few times his message of peace and rejection of punishment could have had a chance in the long, rough history of the world, but old habits die hard. It’s still Old School, Old Testament, when push comes to shove.
It may have taken two thousand years to hear Jesus’ message, but we are arguably at another high point of civilization, and it’s one of those changes, like quitting any bad habit, it’s always going to be a good change to make. The message is, get hurt, model peace. Prioritize peace over ‘security.’ Security annihilates peace. Take some lumps. Show the bad guys what it looks like to NOT fight, show them what it’s like when someone DOESN’T hurt someone.
At least show your CHILDREN these things.
Turn the other cheek.
Viva la Revolution!