Friday, October 12, 2012
so what are you going to do about it?
Dr. Farley is, of course, correct in the limited sense: violence is the grammar of the state, its deep structure, and the continued existence of the state necessitates continued brutish violence. (I'm not a fan of nations, either, but I find it more plausible that we'll dismantle the state before we convince people to stop conceiving of themselves as part of a nation.) But you'll recognize my dilemma: if I said that the obvious consequence of this is that all progressive people should take it as their duty to work towards the end of the state, in a direct and real way rather than as some metaphorical or vastly distant goal, I will be dismissed as unserious and not worthy of consideration. (Right? Right.)
Many, many people have given Obama an exemption from judgment on drone strikes based on this logic that the state is always going to be violent. Well: even if it's true that the state is always going to be violent, Obama himself has near total control over this particular program and could end it if he wanted to; even if he was constrained in the way people suggest, he would still be morally culpable for the consequences of the program; and if indeed this is an excuse, it is an excuse for literally any violent action the state takes whatsoever. Hey, that state is violent. Might as well nuke Tehran, right? But no one is interested in exploring the logical conclusions of that manner of thinking.
There's also been a tendency for people to suggest that some sort of moral grappling with these issues is appropriate, just not from any of the people who are actually grappling. So theoretically, there is a principled questioning of the moral virtues of the drone program, but it certainly isn't being undertaken by me, or Glenn Greenwald, or Daniel Larison, or Noam Chomsky.... There is some mythical Very Serious progressive character out there who can discuss these issues, but that person does not exist on Planet Earth. My commenters keep insisting that, yes, they have taken the drone program seriously, and yes, that there are deeply disturbing questions afoot, but that no one who has ever actually considered them is worthy of anything but contemptuous dismissal. All for all, liberal Democrats online have created an intricate rhetorical lockbox that at once permits the notion that drones could be a morally dubious issue and at the same time dismisses all possible alternatives as unserious and all people looking for them as fraudulent and unimportant.
So much of this stems from the consensus idiom of contemporary progressivism: the stance of "always already." This stance is so widespread that it is nearly universal. You see it in blogs and on Twitter and Facebook and all over. The posture is of people who are not merely correct in their positions and certain of that correctness, but have always already arrived at the appropriate conclusion. It's not just the typical liberal condescension about the superiority of their ideas. It's a special haughtiness that comes from the notion that all moral questions were settled before the current argument began. The drive now is not merely to demonstrate that you are correct, but that the issue was dispositively settled long ago. This, certainly, is the language of my liberal critics in the comments here: yes, there may be some moral confusion at hand in this issue, but it was hashed out before we ever began arguing. And of course this is all bound up in the Cult of the Savvy thing that has completely captured mainstream American liberalism, the idea that there is an incredibly narrow range of permissible opinions which all must be articulated with the passionless attitude of an actuary discussing an insurance policy.
People have asked why I have focused a lot of my disagreement on Lawyers Guns and Money, and it's for this reason: because that entire blog is an exercise is the the stance of always already. I think the bloggers there are smart people who have written some great things, but I don't know that they are capable of talking about left-wing and antiwar ideas with any tone other than professorial condescension. Even when they are acknowledging the merits of the other side, they write as though there is no way anyone could or should struggle to arrive at satisfactory answers. Hard to think of argumentative attitudes that could be less conducive to changing the status quo.