Saturday, August 2, 2014

Edging Toward Moral Equivalence Part 2

In the previous essay, in speaking of grievances old and new, I introduced a concept quite a lot of persons apparently find difficult to swallow: that of moving on:

[The] Palestinians' "grievance" [is] sixty-six years old as of today. How long must we wait for that "grievance" to expire? Are American Indians still entitled to claim a grievance against the European colonists of North America? Incidentally, the newborn state of Israel offered the "dispossessed" compensation for the lands and homes it had claimed. Though some of the Muslims thus dispossessed stepped forward to collect said compensation, many declined to do so, believing that they could recapture by force of arms what they had lost. As anyone familiar with the history of the region will know, Israel's uniformly hostile neighbors made several attempts to do so, all of which came to an abrupt end with Israel's acquisition of a nuclear deterrent.

They're not long words, so it must be the requirement they express that troubles the objectors. Inasmuch as two of the objectors have based their opposition on individual-rights axioms in the terminology customarily used by libertarians, I have tentatively concluded that the lunacy that caused me to leave the Libertarian Party with never a backward glance is still operating among such persons.

The great fallacy among libertarians is that their favorite moral-political axioms need respect no limiting principle. In other words, their domain of applicability is deemed unbounded. But this is plainly incorrect. Indeed, it accounts for by far the greater part of popular revulsion toward "Capital-L" Libertarianism.

As I wrote some time ago:

[T]he libertarian political philosophy, where applicable, is a very good one. It's more accurate in its assessment of human nature and its controlling influences, and leads to better societies and better economic results, than any other political concept ever advanced. But the "where applicable" part is very important; in fact, it's the most important part of this paragraph, as it explains in near-totality the "conservative-libertarian schism."

Where would the libertarian postulates of individual rights and individual responsibilities fail to apply? Three generic places:

  1. Where the atoms that interact are not individuals, but collectivities;
  2. Where the "individual" under discussion is incapable, either from innate incapacity or from injury, of understanding rights and responsibilities;
  3. Where rights clash in an absolute and irreconcilable way.

Important specific topics that fall within these categories are:

  1. National defense and foreign dealings;
  2. The protection and restraint of the immature and the mentally diseased;
  3. Abortion.

Quite a lot of animus arises from libertarian insistence that no such limitations nor exclusions can possibly exist.

One of the great moral problems throughout post-Enlightenment history has been that of the innocent shield: the individual compelled to stand between an aggressor and a defender -- alternately, between a armed criminal and those who would bring him to justice. The late Robert Nozick, himself no intellectual lightweight, pondered the problem in his masterwork Anarchy, State, and Utopia, without coming to a conclusion. Yet the problem only remains intractable if we insist that the premise of inviolable individual rights remains in force even under circumstances in which it cannot be honored: i.e., in a "lifeboat" situation.

"Lifeboat problems" are those in which no solution acceptable under conventional moral strictures is possible. For example, imagine a lifeboat adrift in the middle of the ocean, occupied by two persons, but with food or water adequate to sustain only one of them. There's no arrangement that will save both lives. Must they both die? Or is it licit that one should be sacrificed to save the other? If the latter, how should they "decide" who will live?

Head hurting yet? It's not uncommon to find such problems frustrating, because the situation they present us is highly uncommon. Indeed, it's one we've arranged our entire civilization to minimize.

Problems that force men into collectives have a similar character. Border control is one:

Borders matter because people matter. Borders are important because there must be a limit on every man's responsibilities for others, and on every nation's, too. Every political system binds its citizens in a web of mutual responsibility. Not for everything, but for the really big things commonly delegated to government: the defense of the realm, the maintenance of order in the streets, a common, generally comprehended legal system, and above all the protection of individuals' rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. Israel granted the Palestinians autonomy within their zones, or, as Eric Frank Russell once put it, "the right to go to Hell in their own fashion." Now that they've chosen their course, they should be allowed to follow it to its conclusion, out of respect not only for their right to do so, but the right of Israelis not to be involved in it. Likewise, America did not agree to shelter or employ the whole world. If our borders were better secured, not only would our streets be safer, but Mexicans' interest in reforming their own polity would be greatly increased.

Some libertarians reject this by asserting that government is inherently immoral and illegitimate, a position that can only be sustained in practice by forcing it upon an unwilling and enormously larger dissenting opinion.

Needless to say, warfare is a comparable case.

In war, soldiers die. So, unfortunately, do noncombatants. While the accidental deaths of noncombatants are unfortunate and to be minimized to the extent possible, the deliberate targeting of noncombatants has been anathema, under the Geneva Convention and to general human sentiment, for many years. When a combatant nation is discovered to have transgressed, it earns the opprobrium (and sometimes the reprisals) it deserves...unless that combatant happens to be the Palestinian irredentists of Gaza and the West Bank zone.

HAMAS has verifiably used noncombatants -- men, women, and children -- as innocent shields for its offensive weaponry. It has sited missiles and other armaments in thickly populated residential areas, mosques, hospitals, schools, and United Nations emplacements of various kinds. It has then fired those missiles at targets in Israel, knowing that should Israel choose to respond with counter-battery fire, the credulous and the anti-Semites of the world would lay the resulting "civilian casualties" at Israel's moral doorstep. The Israelis, acutely conscious of this, have taken the unusual step of pre-announcing their targets to the people of Gaza, thus providing them with ample time to flee the target zone. Those that remain in the impact zone to become "civilian casualties" must occupy one of the following categories:

  • Those who have chosen to ignore the warning;
  • Those willing to die in service to HAMAS's war aims;
  • Those who have been compelled to remain in the target zone.

The first category is of the tribe conventionally known as "idiots." Stupidity has always been a capital crime; few and far between are the commutations of sentence. This is especially the case when the lead is flying.

The second category are not true noncombatants, as they have willingly placed their lives at risk in the service of a combatant. They have no moral claim on anyone should they lose those lives, nor can they (or any third party) rationally blame anyone else for their deaths.

The third category are true "innocent shields." They have been conscripted as war materiel by HAMAS, which hopes to reap political capital, at least, from their deaths under counter-battery fire. Who is it that has placed them in the line of fire? Not the Israelis, who have done all that any combatant could do to warn them away from the danger zone.

There is no fourth category.

The Israeli / HAMAS conflict is not a scenario from William James:

Or if the hypothesis were offered us of a world in which Messrs. Fourier's and Bellamy's and Morris's utopias should all be outdone, and millions kept permanently happy on the one simple condition that a certain lost soul on the far-off edge of things should lead a life of lonely torture, what except a specifical and independent sort of emotion can it be which would make us immediately feel, even though an impulse arose within us to clutch at the happiness so offered, how hideous a thing would be its enjoyment when deliberately accepted as the fruit of such a bargain?

(Cf. this classic short story.)

It's far more serious than that, a test of the Israelis' moral fiber and will to survive against the hostility of a band of bloodthirsty religious fanatics whose creed demands their destruction. To this point, Israel and her people have met that test with a nearly perfect score. The carpers who insist that Israel refrain from acting to eliminate the threat HAMAS poses to its people have no basis for doing so except utter self-deception -- another crime for which Nature often imposes the harshest of penalties.

But there's yet one more point to be made. I've made it once before:

Imagine the following public statement from the president of the United States:
Inasmuch as the riots in Benghazi, Libya, which have taken the lives of four American diplomats posted there, indicate that that city has become lawless, I have decided to destroy it. I intend that it be completely leveled, the ground it occupies made uninhabitable for at least a generation. Therefore, exactly one week from today, one of our Trident submarines will launch a cruise missile armed with a mid-yield nuclear warhead, targeted on the Benghazi city center. The United States will undertake no subsequent cleanup or remediation of the site. It will be left as it is, as a warning to others inclined to attack American diplomatic personnel.

The one-week delay of our reprisal is calculated to permit the residents of Benghazi to escape before the destruction of the city. We don't seek to shed anyone's blood. However, the strike will take place on schedule, regardless of whether any occupants remain in that city. We will not be deterred by "human shields." Anyone who believes otherwise is welcome to remain in Benghazi, though it will cost him his life.

Moreover, this will henceforward be the standing policy of the United States. Should law and order in a city with an American embassy or consulate degrade so badly that American lives are lost or American soil is invaded, that city will be destroyed one week afterward. The world is on notice: Americans have had enough. From now on, if you dare to spill our blood, you will reap the most terrible consequences imaginable. Test us if you dare.

Needless to say, the denunciations would be worldwide. They would shake the very ground. But assuming the president were firm in his resolve, there would be no further attacks on American diplomatic institutions in other lands. You don't mess with a nation willing to respond to attack in such a fashion.

Our problem is that we've placed more weight on the opinions of our enemies -- in which category I include everyone anywhere who goes by some variation of "progressive" or "transnationalist" -- than on our rights and well-being and our duty to uphold them. Note that the Russians have never committed that error, and so have had a tiny fraction of our problems with Islamic savagery. It's time we learned from their example.

This is the only rational response to a degree of violence and chaos that demonstrates the abandonment of civilized norms. Such a place is a plague zone -- and for this plague, the only imaginable "cure" is the Hoof-and-Mouth Disease Cure: When there isn't any, there won't be any.

A polity beyond restraint by its subjects is an enemy of all Mankind.
Whatever would put an end to it is fully justified.

America applied that principle to Japan to end World War II. It applies to HAMAS and Gaza today.

Either HAMAS, the supposed political authority in the Gaza Palestinian zone, is beyond all restraint by its subjects, or its subjects are unwilling to make the effort to restrain it. In either case, Israel would be fully justified in eliminating HAMAS politically by extermination, even were that to require the death or expulsion of many supposedly uninvolved persons and the transformation of Gaza into an uninhabitable wasteland.

Israel has not yet endured the degree of terror or suffering that would trigger so wholesale a response. Let a few more teenagers be kidnapped and slaughtered -- let "world opinion" develop just a bit more in either direction -- and we might see it yet.

For my part, I would shed no tears.


Anonymous said...

I wonder, though, if the United States these days would be judged by most of the world as "a polity beyond restraint by its subjects", and thus "an enemy of all Mankind."

Of course, if the true "subjects" of the United States polity were regarded as only the members of the Elite class, then the polity is doing precisely what its subjects wish, I suppose.

What classification that puts the rest of the United States citizens in, I truly do not wish to contemplate.

pdxr13 said...

Thanks for advancing my opinion that "cease-fires" only extend the length, area, and casualties of a conflict. Both sides get a chance to move supplies, re-arm, and generally re-prepare for the next battle. A definitive victory would be the best thing, and never soon enough, but suing for a negotiated real peace with normalization of trade allows for an end to hostilities without "fighting to the last old man".

I've never been in a lead-flying zone, but have seen the places and human economic results plenty. It's worth avoiding, or stopping once started.