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.