Friday, October 21, 2011

understand what they're celebrating

When you've got something like Steven Pinker's latest book making the rounds, it's helpful and clarifying to look to the pathetic spectacle of yet more whooping and hollering and celebrating of death at this high tide of rational civilization. The absurd rationalizations for our appetite for bloodletting tells you all you need to know about the state of Western civilization: we love murder, bloodshed, and death, but we cover it by pretending to feel bad about it. (I'm sure you really struggled with the decision to show Qaddafi's corpse, MSNBC. Keep the fires burning.)

Nothing can match the farce of the showy, desperately affected celebration that attended the slaughter of Osama bin Laden and unnamed members of his family. ("No, really, we really do believe we're number one again! We so, so believe it! Look at the excited and happy expression I'm putting on my face!") But the usual suspects are doing as they do. The prominent members of the establishment's messaging machine provide the pseudo-intellectual justification; the tabloid press operates most honestly and stimulates the public lizard brain by giving them what they really want;  liberal members of the media provide the moral justification, and buttressed by their Lord of the Rings worldview, smack down any criticism or questioning with far more zeal than they employ against their supposed ideological enemies. There is a machine to justify our country's killing, even the killing of innocent children, it operates with great efficiency, and the ostensibly antagonistic liberal house intellectuals are in fact paid up parts of that machine.

Here is what I know more than anything else: no one who cares for Libyans themselves could see this turn of events as an ending, a conclusion, or a victory. The future is Libya could not be more unsettled, more dangerous, more precarious. What happens next is what is important, in the next month, the next six, the next year, the next five. Will a new flowering of democracy and freedom take hold? Will a new reigning military junta take hold, as appears to have happened in Egypt? Will a newly repressive Islamist state develop? Nobody knows. Nobody will know, for a long time. Those declaring victory today are doing it because they have achieved what they wanted, which is a justification for limitless American military aggression, and support for Barack Obama, one of the most unapologetic militarists in American political history.

So we know, for example, that John Heilemann doesn't actually care about Libyans at all. For him the story has concluded.

Look to the work of Andrew Sullivan in the near future. It will tell you everything about him and his agenda. Are the Libyan people his concern, or are they the means that support his actual concerns? Does he care more about Barack Obama's electoral chances than about the blood of the people that he has so ostentatiously draped around his blog for months? I'm afraid that the situation in Libya won't comport to the 2012 election cycle. Of course, for some, the important thing is merely the appearance of victory. For the "liberal interventionists," for whom the Libyan people have never actually been fully human, the material results of this situation are immaterial. They have only ever existed to support an aggressive military posture justified with a fig leaf of "humanitarian intervention." They are means to an end. The Libyan people have been instrumentalized.

Is that the truth about Andrew's regard for them? Initial reports are not encouraging. But I have hope for Andrew. I hope he will get out of the celebration business.

If your concern is for the Libyan people, you are quiet, afraid, hopeful, and unsettled. If you are interested in vindicating a strategy, if you are interested in crass partisan political concerns, if you treat living human beings as a means to an end, then you are happy and unconcerned. And with each passing day Libya will fall farther and farther away from your mind.

Update: This was too harsh on John Heilemann, who is only a symptom of a broader disease. I reiterate that it is wrong and ugly to discuss the political fallout and other US-centric issues as if there is something resembling a conclusion here, and I do believe that this tendency reveals a deeply disturbing set of priorities when it comes to the Libyan conflict.

Also, I was far too glib and mean spirited towards Adam Serwer. He's too much of a critical thinker to be dismissed in that way. The zeal with which he prosecutes his arguments against anyone on his left who questions his stances on these issues disturbs me, and I believe his certitude regarding the moral importance of killed-before-capture/captured then killed distinctions is misplaced. I have profound differences with him, obviously. I apologize for my characterization and my tone but not for my particular convictions.


dictateursanguinaire said...

again, you knocked it outta the park. i think this and related columns will only (and sadly) look more prescient and incisive as time passes and the new imperialists/faitheists are revealed to be waterboys. keep doing what you're doing, even writing about this stuff on the net takes courage.

JM said...

It's especially frustrating since Sullivan's been critical of Israel recently. Alas, he still seems stuck in conservative gung ho ideology.

jcapan said...

"no one who cares for Libyans themselves"

Dude, where foreign policy and the waging of perpetual war are concerned no one gives a shit about anyone--Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, not to mention a good number of Americans whose blood is spilled protecting the interests of an inherently evil cabal. Are the propagandists at Foggy Bottom genuinely concerned about the women of Afghanistan? Does anyone at the Pentagon feel any particular warmth for the Japanese people or are they just extras in a decades long imperial stage play called the USS Battleship Japanonica.

As for the media, they're courtier-scribes shilling for their king--they're down with whatever the empire demands of them, with rare partisan & therefore fleeting exception. As well as being moral fucking narcissists with the blood of thousands on their hands. Their job, at all times, is to veil our real motives--procuring resources and providing a buttress against our competitors.

Any who have advocated wars, i.e. Sully, doesn't deserve your hope.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

What are your thoughts on the celebrations of the Libyans themselves? Or is that just outside the scope of the piece?

I mean, I agree that what happened yesterday is pretty unimportant compared to what happens in the next 3 -30 months. But I can't help but notice that a piece entirely about caring for the Libyans themselves, you have nothing to say about said Libyans.

Michael said...

The main thing that is a "showy, desperately affected celebration" around here is Freddie's pose of superiority.

Michael said...

Disgusting and inappropriate would be perfectly fair. These people don't look desperate or to be putting on an affect to me. I suppose it's a matter of perception (or imagination?).

Freddie said...

Im trying to avoid pronouncing on Libyan's opinioms of Libya, because I am uninformed and because that isn't my business. My own country is my business.

Skye said...

"...and buttressed by their Lord of the Rings worldview, smack down any criticism or questioning with far more zeal than they employ against their supposed ideological enemies."

Where did you get the idea that Lord of the Rings glorifies revenge, or intellectual narrowness? I'm honestly interested to know, because you're not the first person to assume that Tolkien's work was a black-and-white crusader's morality play.

Freddie said...

I mean more the temptation among movement liberals to oppose many military entanglements but to yearn for that necessary "good war." A lot of that came out when OBL was killed-- people cheering and whooping because it was finally their turn.

Murali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
That Fuzzy Bastard said...

"no one who cares for Libyans themselves could see this turn of events as an ending, a conclusion, or a victory."

It seems that concern for the Libyan people themselves is rather the basis of this whole piece (rather than the dippy assumption that celebrating killing is inherently anathema to civilization, a claim falsified by any knowledge of every extant civilization). So your self-professed ignorance of whether some Libyans consider this a victory is a glaring omission---a big void right beneath your moral high ground.

Again, you're not wrong that treating Gadafi's death as the end of the story, rather than the middle, is disgracefully wrong. But you keep bleating in indignation that anyone could dare to be happy that Gadafi has been killed, insisting that your bleating is not Sunday-school morals but deep concern for the people who will be subject to what comes after Gadafi. But then you turn around and say you have neither knowledge nor interest in those very people. The responsible thing to do would thus be to say you have no particular knowledge or opinion regarding Gadafi's death, since it was done by those who you know and care nothing about, for those you know or care nothing about. But instead, you use reactions to it as a club for whacking around those you feel exhibit too much bloodlust---the very instrumentalizing you (claim to) loathe.

From the beginning, you regarded as irrelevant the calls from the Libyan rebels for NATO intervention (in contrast to Iraq, or Iran). Sometimes this was because you were simply categorically against military action (at least by the NATO powers), other times because the rebels weren't moral enough for you. Which is a perfectly defensible position. But that requires defending it, rather than weeping that you're just speaking for the poor, forgotten people of Libya, whose stated desires have never been of the least interest to you. Christ, at least Cheney bothered to get a single (exiled, disgraced, criminal) Iraqi to speak in favor of his plan!

You have a point of view, and a position. That's enough for a blog. Don't co-opt other people as your mute supporters.

Freddie said...

Where would I be without the patient explanations of the patient explainers? Truly, I am blessed to receive the benevolent wisdom of those for whom the status quo represents the enormity of everything.

Anonymous said...

"one of the most unapologetic militarists in American political history."

I enjoy your posts, Freddie, but this statement would seem baffling to any historian.

I can think of innumerable presidents who were more militaristic than Obama: Madison, Jackson, Harrison, Polk, McKinley, TR, Taft, Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, both Bushes, not to mention the saber-rattling of Reagan, which could have resulted in a nuclear war. These men engaged in occupations and wars that cost millions of lives.

Pat said...

Obama may not be the most militaristic president in history, but he is certainly presiding over the most militaristic nation in the history of the world, which is arguably at it's militaristic high tide at the present time.

Pat said...

The US military has bases in over 50 countries, and are conducting military operations in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

"arguably at it's militaristic high tide"

Over 1M Vietnamese died in the 1960s and 1970s. Similar numbers died in Korea and the Philippines. During the 19th c., the U.S. conquered tribal peoples and and Mexicans, killing thousands and taking the entire plains, southwest, and California.

Having bases in many countries is not the same as starting wars that kill lots of people. When you define militarism in this fashion, you merely de-legitimize yourself.

somefeller said...

Perhaps if you listened to the patient explanations of the patient explainers, you wouldn't come off like a caricature of a pompous, ill-informed and mediocre grad student. So there's that.