Look in the mirror. Want to see what a Jew looks like. Look in the mirror. Want to see what the Buddha looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a racist looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what an abolitionist looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a Fundamentalist Christian looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what an atheist looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a Communist looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a murderer looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a saint looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a Patriot looks like? Look in the mirror. Want to see what a Red Coat looks like. Look in the mirror.
Strip away color and sex, and the list is infinite, both bad and good.
Why do I bring this up? Reading this article on Daily Kos. It says:
Extremists do not represent the religions, organizations, and non-believers they claim. They represent hate – hate in it’s purest form. They are the worst of the worst in human spirit. If there is a Hell, it’s from whence they came, and to where they will return.
I do not think they represent hate, nor love, nor a religion, nor a race, nor a political party, nor a group, nor a club, nor a team, nor anything in particular.
What they do represent is people. What they represent is you and me.
It is a mistake to try to bundle the “bad people” under some label, some characteristic, some defining factor. That is of course is human in itself, but it is part of the problem. We want to bundle people like this so we can make sure we can exclude ourselves.
They are the bad ones. Not us, not me.
That’s wrong. We are all capable of great evil. We are all capable of being Nazis, Confederates, rapists, murderers, torturers, terrorists, bullies, whatever. We are not by some magic different than those people. Our race, our color, our religion (or lack thereof), our politics – none of that protects us from doing evil. From being assholes.
I pride myself in thinking that I am not a racist, that I wouldn’t do the horrible things that our CIA did to so-called terrorists (and perhaps real terrorists). I entertain the fantasy that if I saw someone being brutalized, I would intervene. That if I saw a bully, I would not join in the fun.
And I probably wouldn’t.
However I have no illusion that had I grown up in a different time, a different place, with parents with different attitudes, or made different friends, or maybe even read the wrong books, or saw the wrong movies – maybe I would be the people I hate.
I have no doubt, had I been born in Germany with perhaps a father who admired Adolf Hitler and a culture that railed against Jews at every opportunity that I too might have become a Nazi. I would certainly hope not, but I’d be a fool to think I couldn’t.
The point is, we all have the capacity for evil, as we also do for good.
And there is the crux of the problem – we think we are doing good, when it is evil. After all the Nazis, as evil as we know they were, did not think they were being evil. They did not pray to the “great god Satan”, nor did they giggle to themselves on how horrible they were being, nor did they cackle with “bru-ha-ha-ha” when no one was listening.
They thought themselves doing good. Just as the Communists who sent their brethren to the camps. Just as the Southerners who fought to preserve slavery.
No one who is doing evil believes they are doing evil. We all believe, or find a way to convince ourselves, that we are the “good guys” and they are the “bad guys”. The Muslim Fundamentalists slaughtering children, they don’t think they are doing evil. They think they are doing God’s will. As do the drone pilots who’s missiles kill innocents everyday (and the politicians who order it, and the public that supports it).
So stop propping yourself by comparison. Stop patting yourself on the back for your luck.
You really don’t want to be evil? Don’t forget that like the rest of us, you are evil.
To quote Walt Kelly:
Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of a cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self-conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.
There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.
Or Simon Wiesenthal:
The were the same people who lovingly kissed their children goodbye in the morning and then a few hours later were gassing or shooting Jews.
because only the person who has grasped it knows that evil lies dormant in most people and can break out at almost any time. Let no man say that such a ghastly dictatorship is no longer possible today. That is the true lesson from the horror of National Socialism: we must fight against it constantly, against evil, so that it does not emerge again.
(more on that topic here).
Teeing off my prior post, we need to forget progressive taxation as simply a moral issue (those who can afford the most, pay the most). Progressive taxes, taxes that even get seemingly punitive on the high end, should be viewed as critical to democracy itself.
In the same way that we have “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” encoded into our Constitution to protect against the subversion of the state by one branch, we need taxes to protect against subversion of the state by monied interests. What the combination of the post war years and the relaxation of taxation starting in the 80’s have proved, is that money and power go hand in hand. If too much money is collected in some hands, the balance of power leans, creating a slope in one direction – to those already with money.
Subsequently, it is critical to enforce, artificially if necessary through taxes, a more level playing field. It is true this may stymie innovation, but lets face it – what makes people happier in the end: a roof over their head or an iPhone?
Having grown up in the turmoil of the 70’s, as bad as it was, it wasn’t nearly as bad as today (that is, Americans for the most part were happier). We may have more toys and infinite “entertainment”, but in reality most of us both lack any assets or in many cases our dignity. The dog-eat-dog, winner take all, materialism of modern society has bankrupted not only our bank accounts, but in many cases, our souls.
When Reagan came to power the argument behind his “supply side” (tinkle down) economy was that it would benefit the middle-class the most. Whether this was cynical from the start (ie: those proposing it knew it was a load of crap), I don’t know. However it was at least a fair argument.
However, as the policies (particularly tax) consistently have favored those with power/money, so has power/money shifted their way, definitively answering the question of whether these policies benefit the middle class the most – they do not.
However in light of these obvious failures, the original argument has been forgotten. It is no longer what benefits the middle class the most, but instead now what is “most moral”, where “most moral” is now said to be “who deserves it the most”. Of course curiously the “most deserving” are those who have the most (in fact, by definition those who have the most, deserve it the most, otherwise they wouldn’t have it!)(conversely if you don’t have it, you must not be deserving – Catch 22!).
If one really wants to get into morality (and I think a certain man/deity who died on a cross would agree), the obvious answer to the argument of what is “most moral” is what benefits the most people. That is, what policies will ensure the most people will be fed, have a roof over their head, have reasonable health care, and be able to retire/die with dignity. Maybe those policies are to be found in Reaganomics or Libertarianism or Objectivism, but from what I can see not only in practice, but even in theory, that is not the aim of these policies (ideologies?).
So, if we want to have the argument again about what is best for the middle class, I’d be happy. It would be a huge step forward. In the meantime we seem to be having separate arguments but viewing them as the same. The liberals are looking for policies that benefit the most numbers, the conservatives, the most deserving. Those are two very different ends and are not ultimately interchangeable.
I have spent considerable effort in conversations and otherwise to remind people that insurgents, “terrorists”, and other militants are in fact humans like we are. That while their tactics are often unjustifiable, their grievances are based more in reality than just, “They hate out freedoms”. An example, to very selectively quote members of the Pakistani Taliban in the NYT:
“because the government is targeting our families and females”
While I disagree strongly with their, and most other religious ideologies, I do still hold at some level many of the horrors we see done in the world are at some level backlash if not blowback from our policies and actions (whether direct or indirectly through our proxies). That does not of course justify the methods, but when when faced by the most powerful armies in the world in regimes offering no political recourse, we should not be surprised that tactics become unconventional.
However, it is very, very, very hard to paint anyone who does this as human, this time giving the full quote:
“We selected that army’s school for attack because the government is targeting our families and females”
Or more specifically:
“With the slaughter of at least 145 schoolchildren and teachers at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan … Many of the children reportedly were killed by a gunshot to the head. A teacher was burned alive in front of the students.”
While I agree that we, or our proxies in the Pakistani government, are grievously wrong for targeting “families and females” (or anyone innocent), there is no justification for intentionally killing children period. Anyone who is capable of doing such, or encouraging others to do such, does lack at some level the very basis of what makes us human – compassion. It is in fact hard, nigh impossible, to label anyone who could look a child in the eye and kill them with the moniker, “human”. This is true of both “terrorist” or state sponsored organized militia, no matter what evil it is intended to avenge.
One might I suppose be so jaded (sick) as to see this as having political value, but even that seems remarkably iffy. How this can possibly help anyone’s cause I cannot imagine, and is likely to provide ample justification for ratcheting down further on Muslims throughout the world. Maybe the hope is such ratcheting will create a powder keg where Muslims finally explode, massacring their so-called Western oppressors, but more likely it will just make the lives of millions, if not billions, of Muslims that much harder.
No, this is not a win for anyone, particularly (a massive understatement) the 145 or more school children, who were entirely innocent of the sins of their fathers. Those who did this need to get this right – they did not punish the parents or society (though yes, there will be grieving), they vilely punished 145 innocent school children who died in what was most certainly horrific circumstances.
Moreover, they have made it near impossible for any from the West to sustain their position that Fundamentalist Islam is made up of humans who should be treated as such. And, as Westerners already find it difficult to disambiguate a “good Muslim” from a “bad Muslim”, they have made it worse for an entire culture. This will not lead to any outcome that the twisted sponsors may hope, it will only lead to more and more death. It is lose, lose.
I am not a religious man, but I do truly hope these children went to a better place, one that can heal them of the terrors of the last moments of their lives. I also pray for the families, for no one should lose a child intentionally, even if they might judged complicit in the killing of other children.
Conversely, while it is tempting to hope that those responsible end up in a very bad place, I do not wish this. At worst I wish oblivion on them, however more ideally a place where they can learn the horrific error of their ways. Where, in fact, they can learn that every child’s life is equally precious. Where they can learn to become human again.
“If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me. I’d been working at daily papers for seventeen years at that point, doing no-holds barred investigative reporting for the bulk of that time. As far as I could tell, the beneficial powers the press theoretically exercised in our society weren’t theoretical in the least.
So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as far as I could tell. It encouraged enterprise. It rewarded muckraking.
And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.”
– Gary Web, The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On
And I think a good response to those Rand-y Galts:
“Regardless of how fast GDP grows, an economic system that fails to deliver gains for most of its citizens, and in which a rising share of the population faces increasing insecurity, is, in a fundamental sense, a failed economic system.”
From this Project Syndicate post.
It’s a good phrase
“Play the ball not the man“
or, perhaps more correctly:
“Playing the man, not the ball“
Sadly describes the vast majority of blog responses, or frankly argument, these days.
A “football”, or as some say, “soccer” quote.
Via my best friend we find that rats are being harassed:
“Experiments on different groups of rats of different ages showed that the most effective means of instilling depression (measured by overall listlessness) was to constantly harass young rats, and then intermittently harass them again when they got older, and that doing this is likely a better overall model for depression than other methods. So that’s good news for drug testing, and bad news for lab rats.”
Which, forgetting the ethics (or lack thereof) of harassing rats brings me to the question:
Is it better to spend the money on experiments to harass rats to in turn make drugs to help harassed depressed people *or* to identify the people doing the harassing depressing and nail them to trees?
I’ve got a lot of nails in my garage that are voting on the later, not to mention it would be more fun to watch.
Oh, if only it were so simple. Still, I’ve got to say, it definitely shows that we are treating the symptom, not the cause. The only way to truly make the world a better place is if we humans are just, well, better.
And why we should not be encouraging further unnecessary discord: