The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Your Humanity or Your Life

A couple of days ago in our local paper, there was an op-ed piece by a man who was saddened by all of the acrimonious liberals he met in his daily life. As large, wet tears rolled down his face, he explained why when he met people who loudly exclaimed "I hate Bush", it broke his heart for the future of civil discourse in this country. I couldn't believe it. NOW this guy is worried about civil discourse? After eight years of what they did to Clinton, plus making up a basketful of lies about Al Gore? Pathetic. Polite political discourse is lying in a pool of its own blood thanks to the conservatives and their puppy dog press, and now they are going to try to re-animate the corpse to protect the Smirking Torturer? Good luck with that.

But the editorial did make me think about our "uniter, not divider" president, and the fact that things have become so polarized in this country, and why that might be.

Each person in this world values a number of things which are threatened by outside forces. Two of the most important of those things are their life, and their humanity. When outside threats arise, we are anxious to protect our physical bodies so that we can keep on living, and we are also worried about protecting our integral selves, our humanity, our compassion for other people, our ability to function in a society, the way we can rise above animal instincts.

People are concerned about these two things in much different degrees, of course. Some people, when a threat arises, abandon all of their humanity immediately and acknowledge that what they want to protect is their life, and they don't care how it is done. Torture, the killing of innocent people including children, death and destruction, abandoning our civil liberties . . . all that matters is that they stay alive. In the extreme, some people would even sacrifice friends, family, and loved ones as long as they continued to survive.

At the other extreme are people who, if faced with the incredibly stupid "ticking time bomb" argument that always gets dragged out in these cases, say if saving their life depended on torturing someone to get information to stop the bomb, they would rather be blown up. After all, they reason, they are just going to die someday anyway, and at least they can hang on to their humanity and not have become an animal.

Most of us would like to preserve both, of course, hanging on to our humanity while continuing to live. But physical danger can force us to choose. That is why war is such a horrible thing, both for the dead and the living. Many of the people who continue to live through it have to abandon their humanity in some way or another, and that can have lasting effects.

So along comes the Bush family and their business partners, the Bin Laden family. The Bush family and its retainers completely fall asleep at the wheel when they are in charge, and allows a Bin Laden family subsidiary to attack and kill nearly 3,000 innocent people on American soil. Maybe they didn't know it would be so bad. Maybe if someone had told them what to do, as Condi Rice suggested, they would have done it. Maybe.

Now, the physical threat is made real. Bush can wave the boogieman of the end of your life in front of you and force you to make that choice, that awful choice: your humanity or your life. These bad people - boo! - are coming to get you, Bush says. So choose.

That's not to discount the very real threat that some people do pose to us. The world is a dangerous place, and people will always try to kill others, for revenge for old grievances, to make a statement, because we are occupying their holy land, etc. Basically, their are a lot of people who want Americans dead and/or terrorized because of our foreign policy. And the job of our officials, I would think, is both to protect us from that kind of harm and also to formulate foreign policy that doesn't antagonize a billion of our fellow humans. But then I'm a liberal dreamer.

So that's our choice. Bush says someone is coming to get you; what do you want to do about it? Many of my fellow Americans have chosen their life. They have abandoned holding on to ideals like our freedoms, our privacy, our legal system, our tradition of not torturing people, our desire not to kill innocent people by means of explosive, burning death raining from the sky. Oh well, they say to themselves, at least I'm still alive.

Other Americans have placed these ideals above their own lives. They would choose not to destroy our entire way of life, including political freedoms, because we were attacked.

Each group feels very betrayed by the other. If I'm an American who has chosen to live and not worry about all the niceties of civilization in my quest for survival, then when I hear other people going on about "innocent until proven guilty" or fair trials for terrorists, it burns me up. The best way for my chosen survival strategy to work is if everyone becomes murderous, unthinking killing machines, like myself, and we just wipe all the brown people out and be done with it.

On the other hand, if I am an American who values my humanity as the best course for survival, then I am betrayed by all my fellows who throw the rule of law overboard at the first sign of trouble. The best way for my strategy to work is if Americans provide a united front in stating that our ideals are not worth abandoning, even to the point of losing our lives.

So there is a lot of acrimony between people right now. We feel betrayed by some portion of our countrymen, no matter which side of the argument we come down on. Some feel others are endangering our lives, some feel others are endangering our humanity.

Here is the really sad part: there is no threat. We've all made our decisions based on the bogus boogieman that Bush has been shaking at us. Weapons of mass destruction. Yellowcake. 45 minutes to attack. Drones with chemical weapons. Mushroom clouds. The Bush administration repeatedly claimed we would all be dead soon if we didn't make our choice. And there was nothing there, as many rational voices were saying before the invasion. True, there really are people who want to cause us harm. But their means will no doubt be more pedestrian: pipe bombs, box cutters. Things we have laying around the house. And they didn't used to live in Iraq. Plus, statistically, the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack are virtually zero. It is like being struck by lightening, or dying in a plane crash. It can certainly happen, but it isn't something you should spend all your time worrying about. The Bush administration, while possessing the actual means, both financial and diplomatic, to protect us from attack (though they are not using those means - see the stories about unfunded and underfunded security measures all around the country), has chosen instead to try to govern by fear.

So Bush has forced us to choose between our humanity and our lives, and once that choice is made it is hard to go back, especially when you choose your life. If once you say, "Oh please, Bush, save me! Spare my life from the evil insidious brown people, and I don't care how many eggs you break making that omelet!" that is an emotional investment that it is hard to come back from. Thus we see Iraq war hawks who have come up with a million justifications for this clearly unjust and unjustified war when it became clear that their leaders were just lying to them. Lying, lying, lying through their teeth about the "threat" from Iraq. Once you've abandoned your humanity to achieve victory over your enemies, you can't just go back and say, "Well, the right to a fair and speedy trial is important too." Much easier is to say "kill them all and let God sort them out."

But here is the real shame of this situation: it is a false dichotomy. The best way to preserve our lives is not to become beasts, slavering for the blood of our enemies. Down that path lies eternal war, with neither side achieving safety. The best way to preserve our lives IS to preserve our humanity. Keeping our society just, bolstering the rule of law, making humane decisions in our foreign policy. Playing nice. Following Robert Fulgham's advice about Kindergarten and learning something. Working for justice, even throughout the world. Those kinds of investments really do pay off in terms of peace and freedom from worry. Look at the Marshall plan and Europe. When there is justice, there is a much greater chance for peace. When there is injustice, peace is strangled in its crib.

And the Bush administration is spreading injustice around the world and around this country, like a thick, sooty marmalade that smears everyone and everything it touches. They have said, "Abandon your humanity, or you will die" and then they have proceeded to begin the process of siphoning off our freedoms, our rule of law. Already, they are declaring themselves above the law. Bush's lawyers "found" that he could wave off the Geneva convention, if he really really wanted to. Ashcroft won't disclose that legal memo to Congress, not because of executive privilege, but just because he doesn't want to. They are above the law. We are becoming, rapidly, a nation not of laws but of men.

The people who abandon their humanity, their freedom, to save their lives will find it is a false bargain, as Ben Franklin pointed out. They will have neither freedom nor safety. But history is full of the decisions of people who have just been preserving their "safety". The invasion of Poland comes to mind (I know, I know, Godwin's law).

Your humanity or your life: the ultimate con.

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