Posts Tagged ‘ morality

The Cart and the Horse

Amanda Marcotte makes note of a study that indicates religious homophobia is the primary force driving the young out of the church, with 60% quitting religion when they leave home. The claim, she concludes, that morality comes from religion is precisely backwards:

The church needs people in the pews to survive, and while those people are constantly told their role is to submit and obey, if they just decide they don’t want to, the church is shown to be an emperor with no clothes. Thus, religion throughout history has had plenty of takebacks. The churches that used to preach segregation and white supremacy don’t do so anymore, at least as openly. A lot of churches, especially more mainstream ones, are giving up on the argument that women are just support staff, and many are even letting them be ministers and priests. Either they get with the times on gay marriage, or they find their ability to exert power diminish. Since churches are about power, most of them will adjust over time. That’s why they’re freaking out now; they know what’s coming.

While the “common wisdom” is that the church creates and maintains a moral code, the reality is that the chuch adapts the moral code of the majority in order to maintain the largest cohesive flock (for continual fleecing).

Religious doctrine is simply the encoding of popular morality, both the good, doing unto other an’at; and the stone evil, usually sanctifying existing hierarchies. As Amanda observes:

the historical purpose of religion is not to comfort but to control. Religion’s primary function is, if you look at the whole of history, about creating rationales for unjust power hierarchies. Kings have used “god” as their excuse for absolute power, and religion is the primary reason that men in a diverse array of cultures over cite as the reason they should be the lords of their wives and daughters. Even liberal Christians are tied to the long history of power-grabbing through religion, using the language of submission and calling believers a “kingdom”.

As humanity shakes off the various barbaric hierarchies of our past, religion has had to adopt. It gets dragged kicking and screaming into modernity. In the future, of course, religious adherents will highlight the work that some christians somewhere have probably done to advance gay rights and claim that christianity and its message of all encompassing love lead the way to a more perfect equality.

Most of us–the historically literate anyway–will call bullshit. We can cite the nearly infinite counter-examples where red faced douchebags stomped around waving the bible around and screaming about the evils of homosexuality.

Like the myths that the German catholic church opposed Hitler, or that American churches opposed slavery, only believers will, well, believe.

The timing of this article is interesting. Coming, as it does, the day after Barack Obama publicly supported gay marriage. Government is the other stone-aged human superstition that humanity has dragged along through the centuries. Very much like religion, it has always claimed to be a bringer of order in the midst of chaos.

Rest assured that, like future religious hagiographers, future historians will tell a convincing tale of how the government, with its commitment to civil liberties, boldly legislated marital freedom for everyone–in between pacifying the borders and protecting the world from terrorists. We’re hearing the first draft of the story right now. The one your grandkids learn, should they fall into the hands of government schools, will be far more epic.

Which really is the only difference between the chuch and the state in this regard. I’d wager it’s the only reason there are more atheists than anarchists: the state has 15,000 more hours to propagandize children than the church. The state’s stories aren’t remarkably more believable, and a few hours of research on a particular issue will reveal the nature of both church and state as reactionary anchors against human progress.

The Bikecast Episode #44: Armistice Veterans Day and Moral Honesty

On Veteran’s Day[1], as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.

On Veteran’s Day, as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.
At the same time, it strikes me as unjust to lay blame at the feet of the human being who has assumed the role of soldier. Most soldiers were 18-year-olds who were sold on the honor and virtue of service to one’s country; their friends, relatives, peers, church and community leaders spoke in solemn tones about the noble sacrifices that the armed forces of the united states have made throughout its history. They’ve heard during 12 years of state schooling about how the u.s. military has repeatedly and continuously protected the freedom of the citizenry while spreading liberty and democracy around the globe. How is it fair to hold someone to account for their actions when they’ve been told all their life that the evil they’re signing up to do is good?


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It is for this reason above all others that I believe it necessary to be unrelenting in the moral condemnation of soldiering. Mercenaries and hitmen[2] are paid commensurate with the social stigma attached to killing for money. Nobody honors assassins–there is no day to thank (expressly) paid killers. Nobody becomes a hitman with the expectation that one’s church community will be proud.

To a healthy person, the moral context attached to joining a military is identical to that of becoming muscle for a crime family. Everyone who is considering a career in the military should have the objective nature of the job presented honestly to them. Anything less is moral fraud of the most harmful kind.

The vast majority of the victims of the current slate of wars are, of course, those killed, kidnapped, robbed and displaced by the u.s. military. The greatest moral condemnation, by far, belongs to the political class and their corporate counterparts. In between are the humans sent to do the killing and the dying. Their lives as full humans will likely end with their first kill or their first interrogation. Thereafter, they’re doomed to a shadow existence, unless they brave the road nearly untraveled and examine and atone for their actions.

It will be a great kindness to a large number of potential recruits to accurately and honestly describe moral import the choice that lies ahead. When somebody chooses not to join the military, everything good in the world wins and evil is slowed, however minutely, in its mindless destruction of humanity. The greatest good is likely to the soldier-not-to-be him/herself. We’ll be on the right path when we thank and honor those that choose not to join the military.

Recommended reading:
Punk Johnny Cash on being thanked.
Arthur Silber: On Veteran’s Day, Fuck that Shit
Kelly Patterson on the 2738 Soldiers that died on the final day of the war so that it would end at 11:11 on 11/11/1918

  1. [1] previously known as Armistice Day, until the “War to End All Wars” turned out to be the bloodiest century the world has ever seen
  2. [2] and hitwomen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUBAx8jbYNs&feature=related

Don’t Act so Surprised

Arthur Kaplan Ph.D. is shocked–shocked[1] to discover that psychopaths from the United States experimented on human beings in guatemala in the 1940s.

It should be shocking, it should be a goddamn once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (if that) in a civilized society. But it is far less than shocking, far less than surprising, far less, even, that somewhat odd that the government of the US would treat . . . well anyone this way.

Just a couple years before, the US government was testing out nuclear weapons on population centers in Asia and experimenting with incendiaries to create city-wide crematoriums in central europe. For over a decade, it had been performing similar medical experiments on its own citizens. These experiments would continue until the 1970s.

The full list of unethical human experimentation inside the United States–on people that, the theory goes, the government is protecting–should prepare us for the fact that they’ve probably been doing some really horrible shit to the people around the world that have the great misfortune to have U.S. puppet governments assigned to control their geographical area.

That goes doubly for guatemala, a country in which the U.S. trained, armed, and lead death squads against troublesome peasants attempting to claim ownership of the place where they had lived for generations.

The degree of surprise about past crimes against humanity in a day where the same government has remote controlled flying robot assassins assassinating tribesman at will and raining death wedding parties and funeral processions in multiple foreign countries should be low (the degree of surprise, that is, sorry about the run-on sentence).

I can already foresee in my twilight years, should I be so lucky as to see them, the shock and astonishment when it’s revealed what horrific evil shit the medical, psychological and public health [sic] establishment conducted on the peasants of the several occupied countries of the “war on terror.” For chrissakes, how silly is it to believe that the people who are already setting fire to thousands of people for no reason whatsoever would hesitate to use them for experiments? It reminds me (stretching here for an great link), of IOZ’s line about the concern over pain and suffering during lethal injections: “You’re going to enact the ultimate cruelty, the most singularly irrevocable act of violence, and you’re concerned that it’s going to sting?”

If you were an inhabitant of the middle east who had been the victim of US aggression, you’d better hope that you had had some disease injected in you and been sent on your way. The alternatives would be indefinite detention and torture, expropriation, limb removal, eradication of immediate famly, death, and/or who knows what else.

My point is that this shit goes on every day and has for a few thousand years. Thugs and sociopaths, calling themselves the “government of X,” have used the people under their control, foreign and domestic, as a resource for whatever the hell they felt like doing. The united states is no exception and you should[2] accept that similar (and worse) activities are going on today. It’s been OK’d by the president, congress and supreme court, and is considered standard procedure no matter how horrific or how inhumane the activity.

  1. [1] OK, he said astounding, but astounding doesn’t get me the movie reference. I’d also like to apologize to Dr. Kaplan, his was just the first article that came up. I think it’s honorable that he took the time to write about the subject.
  2. [2] if you wish to be considered a member of the reality-based community.

The Bikecast Episode #38: Sam Harris and The Moral Landscape

This episode of the bikecast is a reaction to a couple of interviews and and articles I’ve read about Dr. Sam Harris. Dr. Harris is a radical figure in a number of ways, he is a strong atheist in the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins vein[1]. Additionally, in what turns out to be an upcoming book, The Moral Landscape, he makes the claim that objective moral rules are “knowable” and can be derived using the tools of science–reason and evidence. For a public figure to hold this position is remarkable and I believe that Dr. Harris will be increasingly important and visible as society moves away from arbitrary and violent “moral” codes and toward civilization.

[Update below]

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After hearing about The Moral Landscape in this inteview and then hunting down a number of other media appearances (it was awhile ago, but Sam Harris’ website has a nice listing of them–the TED talk is great), I looked the book up in the University’s library. It wasn’t there, so I sent out a request for an inter-library loan.

Turns out the book doesn’t come out until October. Thanks for not making fun of me, inter-library loan librarian. I think I’ll read and maybe review it upon its publication.

I have some issues with a couple of my first impressions of Dr. Harris’ approach. I’ll leave them for the podcast to elucidate for now, but if you read the interview liked above, you might be able to guess. In the podcast, I also make reference to other examples of secular ethics. Coincidentally, I bumped into this quote earlier today:

In the controversy over man’s nature, and over the broader and more controversial concept of “natural law,” both sides have repeatedly proclaimed that natural law and theology are inextricably intertwined. As a result, many champions of natural law, in scientific or philosophic circles, have gravely weakened their case by implying that rational, philosophical methods alone cannot establish such law: that theological faith is necessary to maintain the concept. On the other hand, the opponents of natural law have gleefully agreed; since faith in the supernatural is deemed necessary to belief in natural law, the latter concept must be tossed out of scientific, secular discourse, and be consigned to the arcane sphere of the divine studies. In consequence, the idea of a natural law founded on reason and rational inquiry has been virtually lost.
The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door.

This is from The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard, which is a secular approach to ethics. The other major work that I am aware of which approaches the question of ethics directly is Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics by Stephan Molyneux.

As I may get around to covering later, philosophy in general and ethics in particular has historically been a tool to distract humanity from obvious biological inclinations to trust in the orderliness of reality and in the value of cooperation. Most people function, day to day, based on a belief in sensed reality and in the value of not aggressing against strangers. It’s heartening to see that some philosophers and scientists are taking the time to repair the broken framework of ethics, to ground ethical principles in fundamentally sound reason and observation, and return the philosophical endeavor of ethical reasoning to the service of truth and the lovely side-effect of human flourishing.

Update: A friend and longtime fan of Sam Harris pointed out to me that he (Sam Harris) is one of the “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism. I’m all for assertive atheism, but my primary interest in Sam Harris is his promotion of a rationally grounded morality.

  1. [1] Apparently, there’s a good reason Sam Harris reminds me of Hitch and Dawkins–see the update.

The Bikecast Episode #22: The Abuse of Concepts, Self-defense

This entire post is mostly an excuse to post this Bill Hicks clip. The podcast was originally the last in a bunch of recordings related to the misuse of concepts, but I think it makes sense even by itself.


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The background premise is that while concepts are an indispensable tool that allow the human mind to process reality, they can also be misused to cloud moral clarity in otherwise clear contexts.

As an example, most people believe they have a “right” to defend themselves from an attacker. This prerogative is connected to our “self-ownership.” To put it in a less mind-bending way, we can defend ourselves because we are not the property of another person–ideally, anyway.

The belief that “we” have the right to defend ourselves gets messy when the pronoun “we” gets crossed with concepts such as a nation state.

A helicopter full of armed thugs descending into a village to kill and kidnap the complete strangers living there is terrifying to imagine and the absolute evil of such an act is crystal clear. The same clarity surrounds an armed attack on a convoy of ships bringing food and medicine to sick and hungry people. When these acts are recast as the United States or the state of Israel “defending itself,” we’re magically transported to the realm in which the moral horror is replaced with an examination of the subtle details in an effort to explain the necessity of the events and to exonerate the murderers.

Imagine that the Jack Palance character in Bill Hick’s hypothetical western* had a better PR scheme. He could recast the shepherd as a would-be serial killer whose murder spree was cut short just in time by the brave defender of the people. He might further claim that anyone who questioned the necessity of such defense is him/herself a danger to the town. If the Palance character had done so, he might have been a hero to the townspeople instead of an unhinged villain.

To somebody watching our imaginary movie, Palance’s actions would still be clearly evil. Being an outside observer of events provides moral clarity in such matters. Like a movie audience, observers in much of the rest of the the world understand that the actions of the United States and Israel are unambiguously evil.

But “we” americans are befuddled and ambivalent about the morality of the situation. Throughout our lives, a constant confounding message has been been endlessly repeated: it’s our country, it’s our government, it’s our army, it’s our foreign policy.

Eventually, the defense mechanisms that a person has developed to protect their ego from attack** the prevarications and dissembling and shifting of blame, are extended to protect “our troops” and “our leaders” from what would otherwise be bald-faced crimes against humanity.

Thus the danger of the abuse of concepts.

An interesting final note that I hit in the podcast: in our current system of social organization, the intuitive, nearly self-evident nature of the individual right to self-defense is trumped by the abstract right of an arbitrary collective to self defense. If a person protects themselves from a badge wielding person in uniform, that person is “bad” and the uniformed individual is “good.” This extends quite some way.

To be punished, a uniformed badge wielder pretty much has to kill somebody while intoxicated, off-duty, in a stolen car full of drugs, and in the course on carrying on an affair with a pre-pubescent child. Even then, the killer will be suspended with pay for the duration of the official inquiry and most likely cleared of charges in the end. But I digress.

* I was unable to find a western in which this sequence occurs.

** Defense mechanisms developed and honed by abusive parenting and the “Lord of the Flies” social structure of public schooling.

The Bikecast Episode #19: What is Government?

I’ve started to think that, in many cases, the “show notes” are actually superior to the recorded material. The bikecast seems to be functioning as notes that turn into a more coherent and complete written form. When dealing with more structured topics, like this one, that tendency goes double–the notes will provide a much more complete picture than the bikecast. Hopefully they are supplementing each other well. Let me know what you think.

Download this episode of the bikecast.

I’m sensitive to the statelessness meme. With the emergence of the tea party and the reemergence of political libertarians and their sympathizers, Rand Paul among them, the topic of “the role of government” has reared its ugly head. In my perhaps fanciful personal narrative, the left-libertarian/anarcho-socialist/anti-state-pro-human, message is being repeated loudly and often enough now to register among the politically conscious. The idea of no state is being responded to, and it’s clear that the participants in the public discussion don’t have an agreed upon definition for the state–though they are uniformly terrified or dismissive of the prospect of its absence.

I myself sort of skipped a clear definition of the state in the bikecast, and operated on an unstated definition. It occurred to me that it might be worthwhile to go back and fill it in–especially given the amount of blog noise about the subject lately.
Here’s a good starting point.

A government is a compulsory territorial monopolist of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction) and, implied in this, a compulsory territorial monopolist of taxation. That is, a government is the ultimate arbiter, for the inhabitants of a given territory, regarding what is just and what is not, and it can determine unilaterally, i.e., without requiring the consent of those seeking justice or arbitration, the price that justice-seekers must pay to the government for providing this service.

Put simply, a government claims a monopoly on the use of force. Its other powers, ultimate arbitration and taxation, stem from the monopoly of violence. I’m happy to entertain other definitions, but this one battled its way through a bunch of alternatives for me and has maintained its truth value for a couple years now. So much so that it is in the category of things that I sometimes forget “we” don’t all agree on.

Most other definitions are a cursory dressing up of this truth. The use of “authority,” “political unit,” “control,” or “administration” is a conceptual ruse to draw the mind away from the fact that the state exists and imposes the will of the rulers through violence. They don’t, however, disagree or challenge the above statement significantly.

More disingenuous are attempts to indicate the inhabitants of a geographical region as the source of government through some kind of social contract or expression of collective will. But at least this type magical thinking implies that the originator had some notion of the important questions around the nature of government.

The stuff I’ve seen over the last few weeks shows a shocking lack of even the most basic logic applied to the analysis of the state. Take Tristero @ hullabaloo

Living in society – like breathing! – is unavoidable; we can’t escape it for very long. Every society, no matter how small, has rules, ie, a government. . . . that government exists, must exist, and will always exist as long as there are humans . . . Social structures – government – are as vital to an individual as breathing. We cannot exist without governments.

See IOZ for a more thorough and hillarious refutation of the whole nonsensical post.

The idea that government == society == rules is just bizarre. If this narrative is believed then it must indeed be terrifying to imagine oneself outside the life bestowing protective shield of government. Tristero’s post seems to indicate that either 1) violence is required for rules to be followed–in which case, I’m never inviting him/her to board game night–or 2) the government doesn’t require violence to enforce it’s statutes–in which case, he/she is dangerously naive about the nature of the state in an all-to-common way.

On the same post, there’s a comment by mtraven:

There’s a libertarian syllogism that goes something like this:

1) violence (“coercion”) is bad
2) government has a monopoly on violence
3) therefore, if we get rid of government, we get rid of violence!

The first two premises are roughly true, but the conclusion rather obviously doesn’t follow. But it’s amazing how much libertardian reasoning reduces to this form.

Boy, aren’t libertardians dumm! It’s possible that there’s some young, sheltered libertarian who thinks that all human interaction is peaceful and voluntary except those involving the state. I imagine such a person would be one hell-of-a-fantastic human being, albeit naive.

Most of the rest of non-political libertarians certainly understand that people use violence to solve problems outside of government. Guess what? That’s bad too! What’s really fucking stupid is jumping back and forth between booing and cheering when the story of a murder unfolds: “a guy shot an unarmed man in the back” (boooo!), “but he was a police officer and the man was a drug dealer” (yayy!); “a village full of shepherds and their families was vaporized” (boooo!), “by a US airstrike to protect America!” (yaayyy!).

Either killing or threatening to kill people as part of social interaction is wrong or it isn’t. If it’s wrong, then the state cannot function morally. If it isn’t wrong, then we should expect that people will use it in social interactions. The state claims that violence is a legitimate way of achieving goals. As long as enough people agree the state will continue to use violence. Spousal abusers, child abusers, violent racists, and the like claim that violence is a legitimate way of achieving goals. As long as enough people agree, they will continue to be violent. It’s tempting to imagine that violence can be compartmentalized (state violence is good, private violence is bad), but the government is just a concept. In reality one person is actually hitting, kidnapping, stealing from, or killing another person. The morality of the situation doesn’t change because the aggressor self-applies a concept (police, soldier, parent, spouse).

BTW, kudos to the commenter for a least sort of admitting points 1 and 2!

I linked to this salon article a couple of bikecasts ago, but it displays a narrative similar to the one above, albeit more sophisticated.

. . .we got capitalism in the first place through a long process of flirtation between governments on the one hand, and bankers and merchants on the other, culminating in the Industrial Revolution . . . Get it? The government didn’t just help make the “free market” in the first place — although it did do that.

To be fair, I’ve introduced, with this quote, a couple additional words typically ill-defined in peoples’ minds. When the author talks about capitalism and free markets, he’s referring to state corporatism–and yes, it does require a state to do that. But to trade? To produce and exchange? To organize complex social structures to tend to peoples’ needs? These things were clearly done, in many contexts, before the police and legislators pointed their weapons and demanded a cut. They still are done in defiance of statutes in a whole host of cases (see “illegal” labor, drug trade, agorism, mutual aid). The ideas that 1) we should be thankful that the state has done such a great job of protecting bloated, vile corporations that should have ceased to exist decades ago, and 2) beneficial and thriving economic activity is predicated on the existence of government, are both examples of deeply flawed, ahistorical, statist propaganda. They are also widely believed.

Alot of what I consider achievable freedom is the freedom from illusion. I don’t think that society will be free anytime soon of the small groups of violent sociopaths who direct the robbing, imprisonment and war waging on the rest of humanity. But I can be free of the illusion that they’re somehow my creation necessary for my existence and that I owe them some kind of allegiance and gratitude. Once this myth is sufficiently widely dispelled, and enough minds are freed from the narrative that people are incapable of peaceful interaction, the sociopaths will have to find other ways of making a living. They cannot exist without a critical mass of legitimizing worshipers.

Other notes:
In the bikecast, I also reference Andrew Tobias’ post. He’s arguing that the government is the agency which takes from the rich to give to the poor and that this is a necessary function. He doesn’t really ask the obvious question: “Does the state take from the rich and give to the poor?” the answer to which would challenge his claim that this is a necessary function of government.

The Bikecast Episode #4: Oklahoma City and Moral Equivalence

Sound quality in this episode is the best yet. I spliced together both directions of my commute–it’s fairly seamless, though a word or two got dropped by my silence truncation filter (one of the words is ‘it,’ let me know if you notice). This podcast, touches on Episode #3. Here’s the NPR story that got me thinking about it.

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Show Notes:
Another wandercast about state and “anti-state” violence. The quotes result from a thought I was having towards the middle of the trip that there is no anti-state violence. Successful anti-state violence is termed a “revolution” and results in a new gang of thugs, bankers, and aristocrats declaring themselves to be the state. In this sense, no violence is anti-state. Rather it’s a would-be ruling class competing for the monopoly of violence with the existing regime. IOZ expresses a similar sentiment: “terrorist” as trustbuster.

All that is around 3 minutes in. Our verbal journey begins with the Oklahoma City bombing–yesterday, 4/19, was the 15th anniversary. Today, 4/20 is the 5000+ year anniversary of people getting high on 4/20, but that’s neither here nor there. The OK city attack was carried out by a U.S. trained, gulf war veteran who claimed to be retaliating for the murder of the branch davidians in Waco the year before.

Blowback isn’t just for Muslim jihadists, it’s a general human condition. On the margins of mental health are people who will, when fucked with, feel justified turning around and fucking up somebody else’s shit–often by blowing them up. Of course, violence doesn’t solve any social problems, but that’s equally true for the thugs that gassed, assaulted and torched the people in Waco.

How can sane people applaud one and abhor the other? What about burning a persons flesh with hot tar? What about napalming hundreds of villages in of south-east asia?

With four events–the siege at Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, the American Revolution, and the genocide in Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia–it would be fairly easy to find defenders of violence in all four, any three, any two, or any one of them. People have extraordinarily convoluted logic to defend their positions in such matters, all backed by rank bigotry and in a disturbing number of cases, religion.

I have high hopes for the future. I believe it’s inevitable that a critical mass of people will reach a level of consciousness that makes state sponsored murder impossible. Preceding this will be an exponential decay in the size and power of religious institutions and an increasing skepticism to claims that flagrant violations of human decency carried out by the ruling class is somehow essential for the cohesion of society. Granted this shit is taking a long damn time.

Updates: James Bovard weighs in mightily: http://www.counterpunch.org/bovard04202010.html
Reviewed by Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque and incorporated into (another) must-read Arthur Silber article.

The Bikecast Episode #2: Wikileaks and Sane vs. Insane Responses to Murder

The sound quality is much better here than in episode 1. There are still some wind gusts audible. I’ve build a windshield for the microphone. Hopefully sound quality will continue to improve. Thanks for bearing with me.

This bikecast might also be labelled a rantcast. The show notes are less supporting documentation and more a collection of supplemental thoughts I had while editing the bikecast.

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Show Notes:
I recorded this episode immediately after the wikileak’d gun camera footage of 12 people being murdered. I don’t talk much about the details, which are, frankly, unimportant.

I surround myself with people and media* who/which have no illusions about murder and who have healthy empathetic responses to people being butchered. Sometimes I’m caught off-guard by attempts to “reframe” murder as something that is entirely just–so long as it takes place under the appropriate circumstances.

An acquaintance of mine posted the wikileak’d footage on Facebook, which I admired, with a comment along the lines of, “It isn’t unamerican to be ashamed of this . . .”

The comment section was a reminder of the mainstream opinions that surround state sanctioned murder. Thankfully, it was largely left-of-center commentary, so I was spared tirades about how the editors of wikileaks should be shot as traitors. On the other hand, it was depressing to witness the headspace of the nominal left.

We will know when we’ve reached a state that can be called “civilized,” when:
1. An event like this could never take place–it probably cost a few million dollars to execute those villagers and journalists–only a state with a central bank and a currency monopoly could ever hope to spend that much money to slaughter civilians.
2. If such an event *did* occur, the response would be immediate revulsion and expulsion of the murderers (and their leaders, and their financiers) from civilized society.

What could be a better definition of ‘evil’ than indiscriminate murder of strangers.

Is it possible to adjust someone’s framework, even temporarily, so that their mind isn’t compelled immediately to defend murder? The clarity of the racism involved becomes clear when one recalls the lack of defense of the 9/11 attackers (or the japanese at pearl harbor, or the vietnamese at the gulf of tonkin, etc.)

The inability to understand the suffering of other “unfamiliar” people to the that degree demonstrated by responses to this, and similar, events demonstrates a psychotic lack of empathy.

Thank you to those of you who provide me with my non-sociopathic bubble.

* Here are some samples of relevant blog posts belonging to sane humans:

Chris Floyd’s Empire Burlesque is an absolute must-read in general. Here he predicts, with equal parts accuracy and sarcasm, the complete indifference of the citizenry to the news that people are being slaughtered by “their” troops half a world away.

Also predicting no pause in the killing, Mike Gogulski:

The whole goddamned thing will be swept under the rug and forgotten, much like the carpet-bombing and napalming of Vietnamese and Burmese families two generations ago. Much like the firebombing of Dresden. Much like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Much like the massacres in the Philippines. Oh, I could go on…

der Blaustrumpf points out that this event is unusual only in that it involved journalists, a category of people that you can’t butcher with *complete* indifference.

Blaustrumpf’s article points to Glenn Greenwald. Also indispensible and the highest profile sane person I’m aware of.

Sheldon Richman:

The people on the ground were no threat to the American people whatever. Even if they were a threat to the U.S. military, that is only because it is occupying Iraq. There’s a simple way to end any such threat — withdraw.

This last response is especially interesting, it’s from Josh Stieber who was, at one time, in the same company with the ground forces that were present in the wikileak’d footage.

Political Power, the Barrel of the Gun and all That

I believe that the only human future, that is, a future with humans in it, is one in which violence as an acceptable mode of human interaction is renounced. This renunciation will make the state, as we know it, impossible. Every power of the state rests, ultimately, on its power to “legitimately” kill its citizens. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but there seemed to be some disagreement over my claim and I thought it worth while to clarify my position and attempt to come to some understanding before I go on and make yet more outrageous claims.

I am not claiming that the only action that state agents can take against a citizen is to kill him or her. I have been fined and put in jail. I hear they have over two million people in prison, so yes, I understand that alternatives to execution exist for the government. However, I can’t imagine very many of those 2 million would have gone willingly to prison or would be easy to keep there if the death of an inmate at the hands of a policemen or guard were considered murder (which, by any objective standard, it is).

People submit to state agents specifically because those agents are authorized to kill people who resist. Nobody surrenders to mall security*.

Without the ability to drag people to jail, authorized to kill resisters and escapees, how does the state level fines? Unless they can take houses, killing those who defend themselves as they would against any other home invader, how can they levy property taxes? Without threatening employers, how do they collect income taxes?

This stands separately from the claim that they shouldn’t do these things. It’s not a novel position that they should, but it cannot be claimed that these powers ultimately rest on anything other than the power to kill people.

Everyone likes to call out state violence–well almost everyone–that they don’t agree with while justifying or redefining the state violence that they support. This argument is as old as time and has gotten humanity nowhere**.

While we may disagree about the necessity for violence to maintain social order, provide for the sick and the old, or educate the young–it is disingenuous to deny that, ultimately, agents of the state require the monopoly on violence and the “authority” to kill citizens to enforce the preferences of the ruling class.

*Actually, I take that back: there are people, broken people, who will submit to any authority figure. I submit, without evidence, that those people were likely broken by violence at some point in the past. Broken by aggressors who, explicitly or implicitly, threatened death for continued resistance. That’s a topic for the future.

**In reference to the undeniable increase in the standard of living and the no-longer-being-as-frequently-killed-to-death of huge swaths of humanity under state control: These victories resulted from a multitude of individuals sacrificing their lives and wealth to drag the state kicking and screaming out of some aspect of barbarity. In reference to the idea that, for example, not arresting homosexuals who marry (or those that marry them) is a good use of state violence: it is a good renunciation of state violence–yet another subject to revisit.

Arbitrary Moral Codes

In a conversation I had recently with a friend who is a Christian, he shared with me that he’s raising his children to respect their parents because that is the commandment of their God.

“What if they grow up and stop believing in that God?”  I asked.

This demonstrates a terrible flaw in externalizing morality.  If the fictional nature of the entity enforcing a moral code is understood, the former believer is left in a moral vacuum–some form of nihilism typically follows.

A personal morality, generated by reason from first principles, doesn’t share this flaw.  Why is it, then, that parents don’t teach children to use reason and evidence to build their own moral code?  Part of the reason is that “respect your parents” isn’t included in such a code.

If you want to guarantee a lifetime of respect from your children, you need to act in such a way that their natural, inborn tendency will be to respect you.  A good way to risk that respect is by making it a part of an arbitrary moral code.  A great way to lose that respect is to verbally or physically punish a child in the name of said arbitrary moral code.