CONVICTED PAEDOPHILE PLUNGES TO DEATH IN FAULTY GUARDRAIL SCANDAL
Quite a few people have mailed me over the last couple of days, asking for my feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden. Read the headline above and you’ll have a rough idea. On the one hand, yeah, it’s a disgrace that the municipal authority has allowed a vital safety feature to get into such a lethally dangerous state. On the other hand – well, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
But someone sure as shit needs to fix that guardrail.
Instead of which, from the prevailing media current in the US it seems that opinion runs more along the lines of “Hey, that’s cool, a broken guardrail – just what we need! With a bit of luck, a whole bunch of other violent offenders are going to fall through that gap and smash on the rocks below!” The thought that any decent god-fearing folk like you and me might get hurt seems not to have registered. The idea that broken guardrails are a bad idea in general seems not to have penetrated the public consciousness very much.
Then again, is anybody very surprised? The problem is that political debate – particularly in the US, but increasingly in the UK as well – has reached such levels of dumbed-down emotive populism that we no longer seem able to disentangle two very VERY basic philosophical concepts from each other – the concept of Who and the concept of What. And if I were asked to name a single characteristic that differentiates the Civilised from the Barbaric, then it’s exactly that – the basic ability to think in terms of objective facts rather than subjective emotional ties. To ask the question what happened? rather than who was involved?
Barbarism is punishing a crime if it’s committed by someone you don’t like, but cheerfully approving of it if the perpetrator is your pal. Barbarism is law enforcement for other people, and laissez faire for ourselves. Barbarism is human rights for us over here, rendition, torture and summary execution for you guys over there.
Civilisation, by contrast, is accepting that the law needs to apply without prejudice to everyone. And it’s a tough gig. Because it goes against all our ingrained tribalistic sensibilities, our self-serving, self-deceiving self righteousness and our bloodthirsty appetite for scapegoats and vengeance. And nor, by the way, is this in any way a simple dichotomy of left and right wing. We’re all susceptible to this failing, you just have to re-tune slightly to get each person’s particular tribalism focused. Recall, if you will, the various leftist pundits gleefully declaring after 9/11 that, well, dreadful business, to be sure, but hey, those Americans really had it coming, didn’t they. Go back further still and recall the insane twistings of logic so beloved of all those hardline socialists justifying tanks on the streets of Budapest and Prague while simultaneously decrying imperialist intervention in South America and Vietnam. Moronic tribal myopia is by no means the exclusive preserve of the Republican right.
So do I care that Osama bin Laden was shot dead, despite being unarmed and offering precious little in the way of resistance? No. He was an evil old fuck, he had it coming. I have better things to do with my compassion than waste it on guys like that. (Things, for example, like be impressed by and thankful for the SEAL training that enabled a mission in which random women and children – for once – didn’t bear the brunt of the massive collateral damage that usually accompanies western military intervention. Is this a better model than drones and aerial bombardment? You bet it is.)
However – do I care that the US (and probably the UK, in its slavish puppy-like Me-tooism) seems to feel it has the sovereign right to send out death squads and murder with impunity wherever its geo-political interests are threatened. Hell, yes, I care. That is no way to run a civilisation. Because next time, it might not be guys as accomplished as SEAL team 6. Or next time, the intelligence might be of the standard we more normally associate with the C.I.A. (i.e for shit, or a loosely bundled pack of hegemony-serving lies). Next time, we might be back to drones because it’s just so much easier to pull off.
Next time, someone who doesn’t deserve to die might get hurt. Because generally that’s the way it goes. Iraq, anybody?
So by all means let’s celebrate the immaculately-effected death of an evil old fuck who really had it coming. You’ll get no argument from me on that.
But meantime, let’s also for fuck’s sake get that guardrail looked at. Before something happens that wipes the smile off everybody’s face; something that leaves us casting about in our barbarian hypocrisy for some grubby Fox News tribal justification or other to cover up whatever new atrocity it is we’ve just permitted in our name.
In other words, let’s try to do civilisation like we mean it.