Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Pile of Discarded Rhetoric

I have a long memory for rhetoric and political slogans, as well as things random people say; if I ever was paying attention in the first place, chances are that at some point I'll be thinking about it later, looking for perspectives and consistency that are often not there. Unfortunately, this is part of a general style of life that also easily leads me to keep grudges for very long periods of time, or remembering a moment that someone bothered me as emblematic of their entire character.

In NYC, I met up with someone with whom I had a negative discussion, many years ago, at Shabbat 1000, and was a bit weirded out that my recollection of interactions was no longer accurate. This kind of thing happens surprisingly often; sometimes I'm surprised that more people don't think like this.

Recently I was thinking about the use of drones to fight wars, which is kind of troubling for me in the same way that nuclear weapons are troubling; asymmetric warfare makes it easy to lose sight of the human cost of conflict, and an aggressor nation (whether rightly or wrongly) that doesn't have to deal with corpses being sent home bears little internal political cost for its adventures (and it's disappointingly rare that people care about the lives of "enemies" or at least regret the conflict). This hooked into a bit of controversy Bill Maher (disclaimer: neither an awesome or an awful person; just mentioning him as a data point) got his show cancelled because he criticised some political rhetoric that was floating around right after the 9-11 attacks. The rhetoric was that it was cowardly to invisibly strike at another nation; those engaged in conflict should be decent enough to do so visibly. Maher pointed out that suicide bombers are many things but cowardly is not among them; they are taking action in a way that they are certain will get them killed. The power of the rhetoric being what it was (and that Americans were not in a mood to listen to even entirely valid criticism at the time), Maher lost. It's strange to think that by that reasoning, by using predator drones we're legitimately villanous/horrible as a nation/whatever other things the mainstream media was saying of "cowardly" attacks by that reasoning. I mean, sure, we might try to re-base it to be about striking civilians rather than military targets, but nobody was doing that at the time and our national voice was mostly batshit crazy. I guess it still is, in many ways.

I often think America is like John McCain; principled and intelligent in calmer moments, still excessively conservative at best, and willing to toss aside principles and make questionable associations whenever there's enough need. That's a problem. (The reason I'm reminded of McCain is that recently he's made some news by again pushing strongly for campaign finance reform in a way that undercuts much of the Republican establishment, and I deeply respect that even when he was running for president and at his worst, abandoning most of the things that make him likable to a technocratic liberal-socialist like me, he still kept a strong stance against torture, which republicans and lieberman were generally enthusiastic for).

Our principles in life are often a burden; we weave them into ourselves to make that burden lighter ; automatic in our daily lives. Taking them seriously when under stress is a tougher thing to do, but still worthwhile. It is ok to actually have them be flexible in tight corners, but one should ideally *know* that they're flexble beforehand and think about those limits beforehand rather than letting some kind of immediate emotional state redefine who we are. It may not be good politics to talk about theoreticals, and intellectual children might not handle nuances or principles that require compromise well, but it's necessary to do this kind of thing to help avoiding rash decisions (or worse, being rash on behalf of someone else because it's good PR)


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