It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home

Okay, I’m done finding this funny:

While using Agrabah as the name of the fake country is amusing and certainly good for mad clickz, it’s actually bad survey design, because it conflates the issues of Islamophobia and support of arbitrary bombing in general. There should have been a second fake country with a non-Middle-Eastern-sounding name to measure the gap. Also, using a recognizable fake country skews the results, because people who get the reference will answer “no” even if they actually do support bombing arbitrary Middle Eastern countries, but again, mad clickz.

Here’s the thing. 57% of Republican respondents were “not sure,” which, in a sense, is a reasonable answer if you don’t recognize that the country is fake. You don’t actually have enough information to decide. It’s not a good answer though, because the only good answer to the question “do you want to kill a bunch of people” is “no” until you have some serious evidence that the “cure” is actually going to be better than the disease (and maybe not even then if you’re like a Kantian or whatever).

And that’s why the liberal response to this, which, as usual, is to point and laugh at conservatives for not understanding a cultural reference, is totally inadequate. Ignorance is not the problem, because ignorance leads you to the “not sure” answer, and that answer is still immoral.

Speaking of which:

So that’s, you know, better, but 19% of Democrats are in favor of killing people for no reason. Still pretty disturbing! Also, the plurality response in both cases was “not sure,” emphasizing how few people actually oppose arbitrary murder on principle.

The real issue here is that concept of “bombing” has become completely detached from the concept of war. Even if you have no idea whether “Agrabah” is a real country or not, you do know that we’re not at war with it, because we’re actually not “at war” with any specific country right now. So what this survey question is actually asking (aside from the very real issue of Islamophobia, which, again, they should have controlled for) is: “do you support attacking a country that we are not at war with?” Which ought to be an unimaginable question.

But, as you know, we live in an unimaginable society. As the very existence of this survey question reveals, bombing is a completely unnotable act within the American political system. There’s only a “debate” when the government wants to start an official war, or at least “send in ground troops.” Bombing just happens whenever the government feels like it. It’s pure banality of evil.

This is the point that Noam Chomsky was trying to get at in his ridiculous undebate with professional C student Sam Harris:

“They are not imbeciles, but rather adopt a stance that is arguably even more immoral than purposeful killing, which at least recognizes the human status of the victims, not just killing ants while walking down the street, who cares?”

That is, we can distinguish between at least a few types of political murder. In one case, a specific target is killed for direct practical reasons, such as the fact that they’re about to commit an attack of their own. This is what the U.S. claims to be doing with its assassination program. In another, many people are killed indiscriminately in order to achieve a political goal, which is what terrorists of all stripes are doing explicitly (by definition, actually). Finally, there is the truly arbitrary murder that is committed for no explicit goal at all, but merely because one is capable of it. This is what the U.S. is actually doing with the drone program, which has only a tiny percentage of “intentional” kills, as well as what we’re talking about any time we talk about “bombing.” This is what that survey question is finally getting at: it’s revealing the number of Americans who support this last type of murder.

But to reduce the debate to whether the U.S. is “more evil” than al-Qaeda or ISIS or whoever is to miss the point. These entities cannot be meaningfully compared because they occupy different structural positions. ISIS does not have the capacity to bomb arbitrary countries, and it’s nonsense to ask what they would do if they did, because if they did have that capacity, they wouldn’t be ISIS. They’d be America.

There are times when the Republican/Democrat distinction matters and times when it doesn’t, and this is one of the latter. Our current drone assassination program has nothing to do with whether or not Obama is a good person and everything to do with the fact that he is the President of the United States. Anyone with the capacity to occupy that office is structurally obliged to implement these sorts of policies. In the same way, any entity with the kind of world-dominating power that the U.S. has will necessarily commit the same atrocities. To believe in a global superpower that does not arbitrarily murder people is to believe in horsemanship and not in horses.


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