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About the POW torture (a few thoughts)...

...I'm not really going to discuss that. To say "that's bad" and "the military is scary" and "America is scary" and quite simply "human beings are horrible creatures, period" would just be repeating ninety other posts I've read today. Suffice it to say that I find it unpleasant, but significantly less than surprising, especially given recent events and recently increased stupidity among the stupider portions of North American society regarding international relations. I do, however, feel like rambling to some degree on a tangent inspired by journal trawling on the subject.

There's the repeatedly expressed opinion by the anonymous poster in this thread that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib don't really, necessarily illustrate a big, serious disease in the system, because they have free will and were not led to those actions in any significant degree by having been conditioned to (may I paraphrase drastically) hate Iraqis and see them as less than human.

Setting aside, for the moment, the irony inherent in someone denying the culpability of the system, claiming free will and individual responsibility and the magnificence thereof and neglecting to identify him/herself (and my resultant scorn for anonymous bitchposts in general), this person seems to have missed the point, despite stumbling across it and falling right on his/her face.

What point, you ask? The more cynical among you probably already got it. Free will is a wonderful thing (and as I've said before, "wonderful" does not necessarily mean "good"). It offers us the power of choice. So, yes, because of free will, human beings, alone among animals, not only are responsible for proving their value to the Universe, but most definitely responsible for their own actions. Those soldiers had a choice - they made what (I hope) most of us consider the wrong one. Those soldiers, the ones who gave them their orders, and those who stood silently by without reporting the abuses, are alone responsible for the atrocities committed inside Abu Ghraib Prison. And reasonably, according to their own country's code of justice (that, within the "civilised" world, is essentially the same, from nation to nation, barring a few dozen insane abuses of democracy that have popped up in the States recently), they are the only ones who can be punished for what happened.

However (and please note that I stress this), that does not excuse the much greater problem. Despite the exercise (or lack thereof) of free will in this situation, the system is, to some degree at least, to blame. Or at least, responsible. At least, the system, or the environment, in which these people regularly exist did contribute to the end result. Yes, human beings possess the power of reason. Free will. But human beings also spend most of their lives, at least in Western society, not only having that free will subverted (a suitably insidious definition), but being conditioned to believe that free will is undesirable, dangerous, leading to unhappiness, instability, even evil, and more recently, at least from what I glean of the American news, "unpatriotic", and notably, historically, "subversive". Free will, we all know, if we've known mundanes at any point in our lives, and it can hardly be avoided, is not "cool".

Of course this does not excuse the behaviour of individuals who decide to discard their individuality and either decide not to exercise their free will or exercise it in support of something questionable, or reprehensible. I'm not saying these people shouldn't be penalized for making poor choices - nobody can learn from mistakes if the mistakes have no consequences. I'm saying that it shouldn't stop there.

It's virtually hopeless to say that the world needs to change - then again, there's something noble about a hopeless cause. The world does need to change. I bitch a lot about the evils of capitalism, and materialism, but what I think is really at the root of all the big problems in the world is plain and simple selfishness. Maybe it came from capitalism, sure - I'm pretty sure that it did. But as a species we've become selfish, lazy, conceited, complacent. The last one is probably the least directly destructive but the most obvious - if we weren't complacent about war, the American invasion of Iraq never would have happened, I'd be willing to bet on it. Being able to kill a hundred thousand people from a continent away does a lot to minimize the reality of the atrocity of war in general. And the decision to shrug and carry on and support your country for no other reason than because you're supposed to support your country is an exercise of free will, sure. It's a free decision not to think about the situation rationally, not to get all the information, not to trouble yourself because you'd rather be complacent and ignorant and content than angry and troubled and aware of what's going on around you. And that applies to every single idiotic law that's been passed in the U.S. in the past three years, and everywhere else, for that matter. A lot of people get pissy and indignant when you imply that they're sheep because they'd rather "be happy" than know what's happening in the world.

Well. I'm very sorry about the pain it might cause the hypothetical sheep to be called a sheep, but that makes them no less a sheep. A person who gives up their accountability also forfeits the privilege of courtesy, or quite frankly the privilege of my not assuming they're an idiot. Then again, I think quite a few people are idiots. I'm reasonably sure of my judgement in most cases. Says nothing good about the state of the world, at least my little slice of it.

Back on topic. My point? Treat the disease, not just the symptoms. If we have a system that first (perhaps unconsciously) creates monsters and then condemns them, then let's move right on and prosecute the system itself. Not just those directly resonsible for mistakes, but those who allowed the mistakes to be made, either by silence or by willing ignorance. Don't just vaguely approve of individual accountability as something that existed way back when in the golden age when the world was innocent. Force it. Penalize those who refuse to display it. Send angry letters. Teach your children the social contract. Set an example. Vote intelligently. Riot in the streets. Fix every single part of the system that needs fixing. If necessary, take it apart and put it back together again - we're overdue for a revolution, anyway. Just... something.

Going out of my field - but my point stands. This isn't about America. This is about everywhere. Something to think about: human beings serve no significant natural function, contribute little to an ecosystem. Personally, I think that means we have to prove that we deserve to be here. And so far? We're not doing so well.

But returning at last to the original thread, let's carry a little further the metaphor of the prison abuses as symptoms of a disease, which I find unpleasantly suitable. Our anonymous poster replied: Also, not for nothing, lancing the buba was superficial indeed, but also the only way people with bubonic plague had a chance to survive the disease.

One also might argue (and I'm not necessarily saying that *I* would), if cynical enough, that something that deformed was no longer worth saving. At least not so long as the patient refused to acknowledge the disease.

Still; there's something romantic about a hopeless cause. *shrug*

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
nute
May. 4th, 2004 06:18 am (UTC)
You can't really preach against the "us versus them" mentality when you throw around pejorative terms like "mundanes", you know. And while I get what you're trying to say, you're still wrong. You have to treat the disease AND the symptoms.

For Americans, that means not voting in leaders who follow a jingoistic mentality that accepts armed conflict as a substitute for diplomacy. For other folks, that means not instilling leaders who'll get swept up in the hoopla of "We're going to war, you come along!".

And really - that's ALL you can do. Writing letters does nothing but waste the postal service's time. Staging protests does nothing but irritate legitimate members of the workforce trying to get where they're going. Speak in the proper places to get your opinion heard (town hall meetings, open forum discussions, etc) to sway people to your way of thinking, and then get them all to go to the polls and with the vote, sway the course of the nation.

No one ever changed a damn thing with a picket sign, but everything hinges on a ballot. That's how it works for everyone, weirdo and "mundane".
chandri
May. 4th, 2004 08:21 am (UTC)
while I get what you're trying to say, you're still wrong. You have to treat the disease AND the symptoms.

Uh. I said that. See? *points*

I'm not saying these people shouldn't be penalized for making poor choices - nobody can learn from mistakes if the mistakes have no consequences. I'm saying that it shouldn't stop there.

On the subject of mundanes I make no apology. I realise that in the context of this post it comes off as hypocritical, but I reserve the right to dismiss people who refuse to defend themselves ideologically, and I never actively apply the term without personal evaluation.

But also within the context of this post, I think that inconvenience is one prime and helpful result of revolution, however small. I was talking about fixing a hypothetical system too damaged to repair in its current state - and sometimes you can't fix the system by working within it. Sometimes a good old-fashioned threat of anarchy is just what's needed to terrify the powerful (or the people) into sensible behaviour. I dearly wish, for example, that our labour reps had not rolled over and played dead night-before last, and that today the entire province had ground to a halt in the throes of a general strike.
I do still believe in the fundamental capacity of human beings for reason. (Democracy is a great system - or would be, if it had ever actually existed.) I just don't find that, within my lifetime, at least, it, or rationality, has been recently encouraged. It's difficult to make an intelligent vote even when reasonably well-informed about political matters - it's another matter entirely when developing that state of awareness has never been explained to you in straight terms, past the age of seven, in anything but vague and abstract terms, as a priority. Singing the national anthem in public school (in my case, something that wasn't even compulsory after about grade seven) does not qualify as teaching the social contract. Social studies, at least the ones to which I was exposed in high school, right up to voting age, certainly did not qualify me to vote in my first provincial election - the one in which idiots panicked and voted in the man who's anally raping our province in broad daylight, along with his team of groupies who were so in awe of his awesome power that they don't even *read* bills before passing them. Frankly I think that most people of voting age *I* know are too ill-informed to vote - and I think that a spoiled ballot is better than one cast by closing your eyes and pointing. Hell, *I'm* certainly not well-informed enough to vote in any election above provincial level, and that only in the last couple of years (I hope). Yet I've been legally qualified for at least one year and two elections longer. I believe in a democratic system only where the voters are not only educated enough but expected to make informed decisions, and that information is not only readily available, but part of a common curriculum. I think there should be a test, and that passing it should make the vote compulsory. Because of course, people are free to make stupid choices - but allowing those stupid choices to negatively impact other people is a whole lot worse than merely irresponsible. But moving on from my long and involved plots thoughts on voting systems that make sense...

...I disagree with you on picket signs as the result of having a shop steward for a parent and also from experience or perhaps naive lack thereof - but then I have great faith in my ability to grow more cynical over time, if in very little else.

And... wow. That was much longer than I'd intended. *blinks* On the off-chance that I've argued myself into public stupidity, I apologize. It's early here and I've been up all night reading Heinlein instead of sleeping - something that I should know better by now than to do on a school night. Also my body is demanding food - so I'll go oblige it.
nute
May. 4th, 2004 08:30 am (UTC)
On the subject of mundanes I make no apology. I realise that in the context of this post it comes off as hypocritical

That'd be because it is hypocritical. Treating yourself as something more 'special' than the rest of the populace just because of a quirky talent or hobby is no different than thinking one group of folks is superior because of skin color or religion. Reading fantasy novels does not in any way make you more or less qualified to vote or have insight into sociopolitical spheres than the hockey hooligans down at the pub.

That being said - I fully agree with the need for social awareness. Thing is - you CAN'T teach it or even promote it. By its very nature, it's something people need to come to by themselves. You can promote the NEED for it, but you can't go up to someone and say "These are the issues!" and expect them to make an informed decision. What you can do is make them aware that there ARE issues, and once they start looking around, they're bound to find something that they're concerned about. For some, they might make the environment their top priority. Others would rather see the job market flourish and reduce unemployment. Still others might try to push educational programs in the hopes of long-term increases in the quality of living. Others might try and advance a eugenics program - it's all in what people will become passionate about.

You just have to do it in a way that people will pay attention to. Things like picketing and protesting only reduce your cause to an annoyance in the minds of the masses - something to be avoided if at all possible.
chandri
May. 4th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC)
Treating yourself as something more 'special' than the rest of the populace just because of a quirky talent or hobby is no different than thinking one group of folks is superior because of skin color or religion. Reading fantasy novels does not in any way make you more or less qualified to vote or have insight into sociopolitical spheres than the hockey hooligans down at the pub.

Personally, I think creativity does make a person "special". I consider it the only thing that qualifies human beings as a worthwhile species. Part my own conceit, fair enough, but since "creativity" can be applied to any talent from painting to architecture to medicine to gardening, "special" could potentially be applied to every existing human being. "Special" might simply define a person who's identified the thing that makes them truly happy. I think that's Jubal Harshaw, somewhere. I look forward to a *stable*, not growing, economy, and a stabilized population in which human beings are no longer decieved by the wily fable of the necessary "average", whatever the hell that is.

But since I've decided to ignore this ridiculous notion and improve myself by my own standards, I'm certainly not going to apologize when I succeed in some small way. Like becoming outraged and terrified enough by the Liberal victory in 2001 to start paying better attention to the news and politics, for example, and getting myself a little better oriented in the world-at-large. Not by "reading fantasy novels". And cheap shot.

That said, I think elitism *can* occasionally be useful in making people realize they want to better themselves. I enjoy cleverness. I'd enjoy it more if there were more of it, readily available. (Notably in my own head, which is one of many reasons I'll be in school a long time.)

On social conscience? I still disagree, especially given that civilization is an artificial construct, affected and controlled by human beings, not a natural force subject to the whims of circumstance - sometimes positive change simply *cannot* be brought about gradually. I know, for instance, that I'm not the only person saying these things, and as several of the other few hundred or thousand or random imaginary number of people are probably lobbyists and other sedate, patient people who work faithfully within the system and have probably been doing so longer than I've been alive... well, I don't see any drastic lasting changes taking place, at least not ones I like. Looks to me, impatient as I am, like the system's defunct - or at least that The People have had bloody plenty of time and as much gentle nudging as they're going to get to be inspired to make their move. Taking only the environment for an example, the most effective lobbyists in the world, however persuasive, will probably not bring about gradual change before we're all choking on CO. An extreme example, but still. *shrug*
nute
May. 4th, 2004 10:11 am (UTC)
Of course there's a mechanism for rapid sweeping change. It's called revolution, and it's always violent, always bloody, and always very, very costly.

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