Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Libya / Centrism

I was thinking about a discussion I was having with someone over the Libyan war. I think he was considering whether or not to buy into the 'humanitarian intervention', 'responsibility to protect' rationale for it, or they had heard those types of ideas on the news and was curious what I thought about it. I said I was on the fence, but what about the civilians killed? No matter if it's neocons or r2p liberal hawks at the helm- if we kill someone's parents, the kid will be traumatized, and there's just as much danger of that person hating the U.S. later on, and a tiny subset of those angry, traumatized Libyans might act on their feelings in a couple of decades.

Yes, it is a terrible mismatch or irony, "a problem from hell", that you are doing it, supposedly, to save a large number of lives, while the supposedly good deed involves killing innocent human beings, but this doesn't erase either (a) the horrible nature of some rich Americans deciding that those humans are an acceptable loss for the outcomes they want, or (b) the more pragmatic argument that the Libyan War, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, the Pakistan War, the Yemen War, are all incubators for the terrorists of 2030, so your action may eventually bite someone on the ass, and it may be you.

There's a related point that I'm trying to get a handle on. It has to do with the ways in which reciprocity and the Golden Rule can be disregarded. Obama and NATO are willing to kill innocent Libyans and have the aftermath be manageable, but they wouldn't take a reciprocal approach to a Libyan plane gunning down an innocent American, and the aftermath. Why not? I'm not pretending that the power mismatch doesn't exist in 2011, but what I'm looking for is how it's represented by the average person. Reciprocity would be ludicrous, and we know that, but why, not from Brzezinski but as expressed by the person on the street who benefits every day from the mismatch?

Another situation where this comes into it is in police brutality against the other guy. I'm not that worried about it, because it won't happen to me. I wrote a post about Oscar Grant a while ago. So if it won't happen to you, why not? The answer I came up with was racism and money. So I stipulate those reasons. It isn't absolutely parallel to the Libya story because we consent to giving the police a bunch of power and I guess reciprocity in this case would be if a bunch of people from poor neighborhoods shot a police officer. The second half of the analogy comes from looking at the rich and safe person (and I am one of them) and saying, there's a situation involving the use of force and even the death of another human being, which you're aware of and are willing to take a fairly dispassionate view of. Like a good moderate. It doesn't really affect me - it's nothing to get hot under the collar about. Or let's say they go further and are hawks on war / hawks on police power. In both cases, the idea of *setting a bad precedent* doesn't come into it for them. "Killing innocent civilians in Libya sets a bad precedent because Libya could do the same to us" is a ludicrous proposition, but why? "If you shrug your shoulders at BART police killing Oscar Grant, it sets a bad precedent because it could be you next week" will be good advice to some Americans and a ludicrous proposition to others- why?

There is something to be said for the benefits of safety. If you happen to find yourself in a group that walks around more safe, with a much lower likelihood of getting killed out of the blue ... embrace it. Maybe this is what it means to be a centrist - acknowledge the "false negative" quadrant of things. I shouldn't have gotten shot out of the blue, and I didn't, and that's good. The proposition worries me. It's something you have to do, and probably do do regardless. But there should be a graceful way to be happy about safety while acknowledging that the foundations may be rotten, in a way that makes the center/right not roll its eyes.

Sorry the writing style is convoluted. Thanks for looking. :)

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