Friday, January 22, 2010

Ahead of his time (machine)?

Couldn't let the afternoon slide into obsolescence without making note of the "quote of the day," in the sidebar, from H.G. Wells:

A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own.
This is a matter I've long struggled with, and though Wells has more of a political agenda (than a philosophical one) in mind, it's nice to know that someone of his stature preceded me in this line of inquiry. For pragmatic reasons it may be necessary to create distinctions between murder and war, between serial killing and capital punishment, but in a purer, more philosophical sense those distinctions do not exist. Once again, any such dichotomies fall into the realm of the bargains we make with our consciences in order to negotiate (and sustain) life. When it comes to matters of perceived self-defense, I defy you to prove there's an inherent difference between a nation invading a neighbor nation and an individual killing his neighbor up the block. There are just more people involved.


Jenny said...

This might be just preaching to the choir, but I like Abbie Hoffman's take: "I believe in compulsory cannibalism. If people were forced to eat what they killed, there would be no more wars."

Daniel Beringer said...

You mentioned "perceived self-defense". Does this mean that the invaded nation, and by extension the man up the block, has no objective right of self defense? That all reasoning for self-defense is subjective? Or that there are objective reasons for self defense, like being attacked, but that there is a subjective argument within as to the level of defense you're willing to use?

Steve Salerno said...

Daniel: Thank you for joining us. I don't think you've commented yet.

I've addressed this topic at length on the blog before, however, I'm fairly sure it was in the course of a comment, which means it would be virtually impossible for me to dredge up again here without a lot of effort. The short version leans more towards a "yes" in answer to your first question (i.e. that "all reasoning for self-defense is subjective"). Clearly, as the U.S. has demonstrated in recent years, it is quite possible to argue (and presumably believe) that you are acting in self-defense when you invade a country preemptively. That doesn't mean we were right to do so, of course; it just means that many Americans bought the rationale. My overarching question is this: When does "self-defense" begin? Where does this stuff start? I'm quite sure that at some level, the infamous Long Island train shooter, Colin Ferguson, believed that he was acting in self-defense. Certainly the woman who set her husband afire (the basis for the movie "The Burning Bed") believed that she was doing so--and the jury agreed with her. When I was working in Harlem in the chaotic early 1970s, a group of black militants calling itself the Black Liberation Army went around ambushing and killing cops. They felt they were acting in legitimate reprisal for atrocities committed against blacks through the centuries. Were they "right"? Were they "wrong"? I used to bring a gun (a high-powered rifle) to work with me in order to defend myself, should I come under attack. But that doesn't necessarily mean I thought they were wrong to want to kill me. From their POV.

Between you and me, Daniel, I'd love to discuss these matters at length on the blog, but such discussions never seem to get too far off the dime, as most people have fairly rigid notions of when killing justified and when it isn't. Me? I'm not so sure either way. But I think we run into serious problems when we start to parse the meaning of "justified."

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rarchimedes said...

Why should humans be exempt from the tooth and claw of nature. Most of us kill, directly or indirectly to eat, and most of us would kill someone who was preventing us from eating, them or whatever else that was available to eat. There is certainly no shortage of humans on this planet. We have filled and overfilled our niche, so to speak. Unless we find a way to feed, clothe, and shelter all the billions, we are faced with more or less palatable means of reducing the population to levels that match the available resources. And yes, I am aware of all the meaningless statistics that say that there is enough food to feed all. As the downEasters would say, you can't get there from here. We've gone into a lot of nooks and crannies where population and resource were in balance, and increased the survival rate by several 100% in one or two generations, completely overwhelming both resources and social systems evolved for lower population densities. We can't really fix those situations, because we have also allowed the older generations to be wiped out, leaving behind a completely rootless and very young population. If our more modern societies have trouble absorbing the current level of change, take a small moment to imagine what that is like in the 3rd world. Most will and have regressed to tribalism and just plain basic human reflexes, and I see no way to change that at this point in time other than to destroy them. There is not money nor time nor attention enough available to rescue those situations. One only has to look at the regressing average age in such populations to see the problem.

Our answer to all of this is palliative. We send food and drugs and such that just aggravate the problem. We use our armies to try to rebuild nations where none have existed and none will ever exist. Instead, we need to back off and let nature take it's course, rescuing those that we can and that can live in a modern world. Those that continue to thrash outside the boundaries of where they live should be destroyed down to the last man, woman, and child.

We have a recent example...Haiti. There is nothing left of Haiti. It cannot in any way support the millions still there. Port-au-Prince cannot be rebuilt short of many, many billions of dollars, which are really not going to be forthcoming, and even if those funds come, there is the rest of the country. Of course, what will happen is that there will some kind of make-do effort that will gloss over the situation, and things will continue in Haiti as before, as a less than 3rd world country. All civilized peoples will bemoan this fate, and all together, they will not respond with enough resources to make it "right", whatever that might mean. Some version of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" might actually be a solution.


rarchimedes said...


Then, there is the coming disaster of some form of WMD that will eventually come when the capabilities get into the wrong hands. If this were unleashed in the 3rd world, the world might little notice, but it will be aimed at the 1st world for maximum impact. The interesting question is whether our modern societies can survive such an attack, if it is large enough. While we are busy worrying about individual humans and killing, we will allow to come to pass something that will kill millions if not billions of people. Somehow, that is easier. The world has really forgotten Hiroshima and Nagasaki and certainly has forgotten the various plagues of long ago. We need to pick a couple of windless days in N. Korea and turn it into atomic glass, then turn on Iran and tell them they are next, and then Pakistan. I'm not worried about India. Once the fangs of the worst have been pulled, and the world has been reminded of why it was necessary, I rather doubt that proliferation will again be an issue for a very, very long time. Will we be pilloried? Yes. Will it accomplish the needed end? Yes. Will most of the nations verbally attacking us be secretly relieved? Yes. Can we then pull out of our role as last super power. Maybe, but it will be a lot cheaper. Then we can spend our dollars on a facility for detecting pandemic diseases and producing almost instant vaccines in quantity. I'm really not worried about chemical warfare at the levels of atomic and biological.

Then, we can go back to worrying about small wars, murder/killing at the personal level, and the death penalty.

Steve Salerno said...

Rarch: Obviously, with people coming and going at all times, I cannot insist that new contributors have global SHAMblog literacy before making their first comments. However, I do think that it might be a good idea--before weighing in with opinions that are posited as The Answer to Life as We Know It--for newcomers to at least ascertain whether that subject has been covered at some length and depth on the blog itself.

Here are a handful of posts that might provide a certain "core knowledge" of SHAMblog in matters pertaining to your comments. And if you follow the links embedded in these posts, you'll find a wealth of additional, related material.

That said, I appreciate your coming on-board.

rarchimedes said...

I will do my best to read some of the previous material, but I thought that my comment directly addressed your blog entry, needing no particular history. At least you have now dredged or is that drudged up those references that you had no time for, and I appreciate that. I am no amateur on the subject, having addressed it in other fora. In general, I have little patience for people who worry about the small stuff while totally ignoring the monstrous inanities that are out there. It is so PC to personalize the issues so that those who have no real empathy will feel that issues actually affect them. Haiti is a perfect example. While the pictures of the broken bodies and distressed children are on the screen, guilt will bring on demand for action, and about 5 seconds after those images disappear, the demand will go with them, totally ignoring the fact that the very slightly slower motion death machine has been going on in Haiti for over 200 years, and will probably continue until the whole thing slides into the sea, unless we get really serious about doing something over a period of decades. The real point is that there are not sufficient resources and there is not the will to pursue such real solutions. That means that we need to back up and consider where we do put the resources that we have.