Argo Check Yourself [Bonus]

My last post was not only late, but lame. I’ll admit it. Had a bit of a WordPress-deleting-half-my-draft at the last minute fiasco, half-heartedly rewrote what was lost to try to make my personal Friday 11:59PM deadline, etc, etc. So here’s a bonus.

Last week, Ben Affleck went on Bill Maher, ostensibly to promote some kind of new project he’s part of. Maher brought up one of his favorite topics, which is the inferiority of Islam to “liberal”-ness, and Affleck, putting it gently, made a complete fool of himself. His arguments against Maher were emotive bile and, as Sam Harris phrased  it, “intellectually ridiculous.”

Over the last few days, however, there’s been a small outpouring of public support for Affleck on the internets, and between Affleck and Maher/Harris I can understand why. Beyond his being a popular celebrity, though Affleck provided no rational arguments to back up his anger, his anger was not at all misplaced. Maher and Harris are bigots.

Their argument is essentially this: “liberal” principles, like tolerance, non-violence, and equality cannot conflate with Islam. They are mutually exclusive, because Islam exclusively promotes only intolerance, violence, and inequality, and even if only (“conservatively,” as Harris puts it) 20% of Muslims are “radical,” ultimately, the inherent anti-liberal-ness of Islam marginalizes the potential for any of the remaining moderates to exercise liberal values.

The reason this is bigoted is because it ascribes a religious identity to social and political forces that have evolved from less-than-religious roots, in order to persecute that religious identity. It also completely ignores the social, political, and religious history of the west. Oh, Christianity is bad, Maher and Haris admit, but liberals won’t talk about how bad Islam is, too. However, Christianity is distinctly Western, and by also conflating Liberalism with Westernism (as Maher does) in opposition to a more commonly Eastern religion in Islam which is portrayed as exclusively anti-liberal, the implication is truly, Christianity is bad, but it’s on the side of the west, the side of Liberalism, so Islam is worse.

If you want to find a religious culture where religious fundamentalism is on the rise, where abuse of women is sanctified, where minorities are persecuted… well if you’ve been checking the links, you know where I’m going with this. Look no further than Cold War America.

It was in 1954 that the words “under god” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, largely by the initiative of the Knights of Columbus (a conservative Catholic national fraternity and lobby) and a Presbyterian minister capitalizing on the president’s recent conversion and baptism. America’s identity became inextricable from a conservative, Christian worldview that presented itself as a necessary deterrent to the “Godless Communism” of the Soviet Union. America even had its own version of an Inquisition.

Bible verses have been quoted to justify just about every kind of hate you can imagine, in varying degrees, in support of conservative, or at least decidedly non-liberal, agendas. Christianity has been a rallying cry against everything from bikinis to free speech, and while those practices have hardly ended by today, they reached a particular fever pitch during this period.

Yet, the next ten years saw the birth of modern liberalism in the Civil Rights movement, spearheaded most famously by an ordained Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. King did not only crusade for social justice, but for peace, opposing both Jim Crow and the Vietnam War. He hardly denied his religious roots, fervently quoting bible passages like “turn the other cheek,” and “those who use the sword will die by it.” King’s message was imbued completely with religious references and imagery, and yet his liberal message did not suffer for it. He managed to take the same book used to justify hate and persecution to weave from it a message of peace, love, and equality.

The Bible has everything from “women are forbidden to speak in church” to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In the Torah, God orders the slaughter of women, children, and animals, and yet also forbids murder. These books are so old, so varied, translated in so many ways, that they can be used to justify pretty much anything. Which passages are chosen to justify social and political goals says everything about the person who chooses them, moreso than the religion they ascribe to.

So, now we get back to Maher and Harris. Two educated guys who proclaim to raise the banner of liberalism and casually judge others’ ignorance, have not taken the time to consider that their liberalisms, rooted in Judeo-Christian western history, could possibly have any parallel in the Islamic faiths, which are nothing but violent and intolerant.

“There is no compulsion in religion
“Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord: so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm
“And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors

The bigotry here comes from not only maintaining deliberate ignorance against a peoples’ beliefs, but then using that ignorance as a springboard for their own declaration of moral superiority.

Sure, the Quran says some frightening things. But so does the Bible. It also says some nice, friendly things… like the Bible does. But acting like these religious forces exist in a political and social vacuum where they dictate only one inescapable, dogmatic interpretation is simply facile. There have been liberal movements in the Islamic world, similarly spearheaded by religious figures citing inspiration from Islam, bolstered by a synchronicity of changing social and political events. These events are not mere background color to some unyielding pattern of religious zealotry, but demand vast swaths of the tapestry of history.

In their arrogant mode of secularism, atheists like Maher embrace liberalism while willfully ignoring its roots in religion. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Martin Luther, adherents have brought about liberal reforms via their personal interpretation of religious beliefs, and it is in the ensuing dialog over religious values that liberal ideas have taken hold. The very idea that there is an objective ideal of morality comes from religion, and for atheists to decry and judge others on any moral platform, especially by equating religiousness with immorality, is hypocritical and, yes, bigoted.

But whatever. They’re just exercising their free speech, which is their right. And really I’m just aiming at the easiest targets, because people like Maher are merely symptomatic of a larger problem, which is the idea that morality must be enforced by a global power, namely, America.

During the Cold War, was there a giant superpower of a country breathing down America’s back, landing missiles in its cities, inserting commando teams or outright invading it in order to end the zealous rise of religious fundamentalism?

(The USSR certainly tried to stick its fingers in US affairs, but the give and take on that issue was pretty evenly-matched, and very much a matter of literal survival. So, provided you don’t believe in conspiracy theories, no, no one tried doing that.)

Let’s imagine someone had. Let’s say, locked in this struggle with a rival nation, some other, larger, more powerful nation existed and simultaneously tried to exert its moral authority on the United States through social, political, economic, and military pressure. Do you think there’d be some resentment? Maybe a little animosity? Do you think maybe those conservative, fundamental forces might gain even more support against the threat of submission to foreign ideals, while they’re already gaining popular support under threat from their rivals? That it might completely negate or reverse the sort of liberal forces that managed to rise during the 60’s?

The more the allegedly “liberal” antagonize those who do not ascribe to those beliefs, the more they harden the hearts of their opposition with their declarations of moral superiority. If they truly wished to spread liberalism across the world, it would be by demonstrating it through their deeds, not parading it like a crown. The best lead by example, not merely by asserting their authority as “teachers.”

Matthew 23 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
23 Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are experts in the Law of Moses. So obey everything they teach you, but don’t do as they do. After all, they say one thing and do something else.
They pile heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and won’t lift a finger to help. Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels[a] for everyone to see. They love the best seats at banquets and the front seats in the meeting places. And when they are in the market, they like to have people greet them as their teachers.
But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters. Don’t call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven. 10 None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader. 11 Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. 12 If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.
 

Ok, maybe a bit of a stretch. Couldn’t help myself.

That Good Men Do Nothing

I was going to write a post which would serve little but to belabor many of the same points I’ve already made, but structured in the manner of a frustrated cry of futility at the hubris of moving against ISIS.

Someone beat me to it. Days ago.

Seriously, read this. It’s everything I could have said and more, but better than I could have said it.

So now what? Well, I’m gonna wax a little philosophical.

 

Lately on this issue, there’s a lot of talk about moral imperative. ISIS is “evil” so it has to be stopped. And yeah, they’re bad dudes. They do outrageous and horrible things to innocent people. And even assuming they were not one of many violent radical groups who use beheading, torture, and rape as methods of population control, why shouldn’t it be a moral imperative to act against them?

There’s that famous quote. You know it. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

If we don’t act, doesn’t that mean evil triumphs?

There’s a fundamental assumption here, and it begs a serious question: How do we know that we’re good (wo)men?

In America, it seems to have become a presumption that goodness and action are inextricably intertwined. Or put alternatively, that doing something is always better than doing nothing. That quote might have something to do with it. But we often do not distinguish between “good” action and “rash” action.

“Good” is not a word that should be associated so quickly with any national agenda. Politics and morality don’t often mix, and when they do, it’s been pretty contentious. We need to stop identifying America, and ourselves, as “good” in every foreign policy decision we make. If we’re honest, we’ll realize our actions are at best benevolently self-serving. Why is it that ISIS and Bin Laden and Hussein have been fair game but Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey have been allowed to operate with near-impunity? Is there a scale of morality, a numbered list from “most” to “least” bad, and Al Queda is at the top, and ISIS is two names down? What about Hezbollah? North Korea? Where do they rank on the scale? China? Shouldn’t they be somewhere on the list since the Tienanmen Square Massacre and with all the other questionable stuff they do?

There is no rhyme or reason to who is defined as “evil” and who is not; at least, there isn’t in a true moral sense. There is merely an illusion of moral superiority produced where political opportunity and arrogance combine. America does not truly champion causes of good. It champions causes of economic, social, and political expedience. In other words, America does not always act because it should, but often does because it can.

Assuming that the Bush Administration truly believed in its own moral imperative, one cannot deny that its decision to invade Iraq was based significantly on the determination that an invasion was feasible. America has not, and probably will not, invade Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, but Iraq was a prime target. American leaders believed that an invasion would be quick, painless, and result in a net gain for the US and the region (again, benefit of the doubt). Upon embarking on its great crusade, America claimed responsibility for its consequences, as they were the basis for its justification for invading in the first place.

Over a decade later, what have the real consequences been? Iraqi infrastructure has been crippled, millions have been displaced, and thousands have been killed or seriously wounded. AQI and ISIS have spawned and gained prominent footholds, feeding into violent civil unrest unlikely ever to end. If the United States had not invaded Iraq, conditions for many might have been bad, but they certainly would not have been worse than they are now.

Armed with this knowledge, can we say the invasion of Iraq was moral? Probably not.

Would restraint have yielded a more positive outcome for more Iraqis and Americans alike? Probably so. “Doing nothing” against an “evil” dictator in Iraq would have resulted in a more positive outcome than acting against him.

“Restraint,” that is, “doing nothing,” is not a popular word among presidents mobilizing for war. While it provides an opportunity for a reasonable exploration of potential consequences and a rational, national debate, it is not well-suited to the polarizing jingoism involved where a battle line has been drawn against something so extreme as “evil.”

The question is not whether ISIS are bad guys. Surely, they are; they might even be “evil.” But the United States, the same entity that has assumed the authority to define evil, has essentially created them. They are a consequence of a rash decision, to invade Iraq and arm Syrian rebels. But if the United States, in acting against evil, only sows more evil, what does that make us?

A good nation, a moral nation, would not act rashly, where rash action would result in more evil. A good nation would show restraint.

For all the talk of good and evil, of destroying terrorists and ending, in even more hyperbolic language, “terror,” there should be no illusions that the United States fights for the side of “good.” How do we even define what is “good” in a world where deposing dictators leads to more terrorism?

 

Wut

So in my last post, I began with an extended quotation from Osama Bin Laden, and then neglected to point out why I had chosen to do so, on the 13th anniversary of 9/11. I’m going to address that, first.

That quote was taken from a transcript of a speech given to Al Jazeera in 2004. I would hazard to guess that many have already forgotten this, but there was a time when Osama Bin Laden was considered Pure Evil. Pure Evil to the extent where unironically fantasizing about his death on the presumption of inherent justice was pretty much a means of acceptable, national, self-gratification.

The man Bin Laden reveales himself to be in the statement was far more complex than a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He is cunning, even prescient, and though the strategy of his statement was certainly self-serving, there were also hard, essential truths to be found in his words. But America was not shown that man. We were not encouraged to understand who he was, or how he was made, or why he fought. We were simply told that Osama Bin Laden is evil, so he must be killed.

Aspersion of that caliber ideally necessitates a presentation of compelling proof. The 9/11 attacks were horrific, but even Bin Laden admits that they were. However, Bin Laden portrays the attacks as retaliatory for oppression perpetrated by the United States in the Middle East. Specifically, he accuses the United States of aiding Israel in the 1982 Lebanon war, in which 5,000-8,000 civilian non-Jews were killed both by Israeli forces, and the ensuing unrest unleashed by Israeli intervention.

This of course is at best a misunderstanding of the situation, and at worst a deliberate lie, as the U.S.’s role in the Lebanese war was relatively minor. However, its financial and military assistance to Israel is, of course, well-known. If the implication is that US support for Israel engenders the latter’s bold and reckless behavior in the Middle East, which has unarguably caused the death and displacement of many non-Israeli civilians, that implication is more or less correct.

In other words, Bin Laden’s argument is essentially this: Allied lives are threatened by a foreign power, and in retaliation, we will attack at the source of the nation that threatens us. There will be unavoidable civilian deaths and that is regrettable, but necessary, in order to hasten the results we desire, and when the adversary refuses to commit to any sort of military integrity.

I find that argument abhorrent, and most probably would, knowing its source in this particular instance. However, it is a similar argument echoed by US presidents and Israel itself.

It is also the same argument that underpins the bombings of Germany (300,000-600,000 civilians killed) and Japan (330,000-500,000 civilians killed), as well as much of Vietnam (50,000-180,000 civilians killed), Cambodia, and Laos, not to mention Iraq (100,000 plus civilian deaths, though not all from bombing). There is a fundamental hypocrisy at play here, where provoking attrition warfare against the United States is “evil,” but engaging in a war of attrition in the Middle East and elsewhere can be “noble” and “necessary.”

Of course, Bin Laden himself benefited from the sort of US military aid that Israel has enjoyed for decades, so he is, himself, also a hypocrite. Yet even the narrative of Bin Laden alongside the Mujahideen fighting Soviets in Afghanistan, supported enthusiastically by the Carter and Reagan administrations, is absent from the national narrative on the factors leading to 9/11.

To many now, that lazy explanation of the 9/11 attacks as a mere “act of evil” is as good as historical accuracy. Thirteen years after 9/11, America does not understand who the enemy behind 9/11 was.

Between the government and most media outlets, there has been little to no effort to faithfully characterize and analyze America’s enemies and why they fight. Undoubtedly there is more to their motivations than “being evil,” and to reduce any organization to those two words is a disservice not only to the people being mobilized to fight, but to the victims created by the engines of war once they are running at full steam. “Fundamentalist” and “extremist” are not sober rallying cries for war. Sure, extremism embodies zealousness to the point of what most would call “evil,” yet zealousness itself is not an engine upon which any serious threat can move when modern militaries scour space with satellites while straddling the globe… right?

Looking upon the build up (again) to what increasingly looks like Desert Storm III, I have a hard time dredging up the energy to feel as incensed and angry as seems appropriate. The painful lesson of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is still stained into the national fabric of America, and the degree to which the road to war against ISIS parallels that of previous historical blunders is positively stupefying. How can the entire country not recoil from this immediately? Haven’t we been through this before? Doesn’t anyone remember how we got here? How can so many people accept such insanity with straight faces?

ISIS, like Bin Laden and Al Queda, is not well understood, and certainly no effort has been made to comprehensively explain the group, its roots, or its motivations to the American people.

Let’s take a look at ISIS, again. The strategy of letting ISIS burn itself out and bolstering Iran in order to combat it have been echoed by others since my first post on the matter, but it’s clear the Obama administration has other, more traditional designs. The sorts of designs that have been tried before, with no evidence of success.

I originally intended to describe ISIS’s origins as a rebellion against the oppressive regime in Syria, grown out of Al Queda in Syria like an unwanted, mutant limb and armed by the United States against what was perceived as a common enemy in Bashar al-Assad. Oh yeah, remember Assad? The evil dictator alleged to use chemical weapons on his own people, the one Obama (surprisingly) asked permission from congress to attack last year?

Oh, how the tables have turned.

I don’t know what the point is in even bothering to wrap my head around this anymore. It’s so ridiculous I almost don’t want to make sense of it all, at the risk of becoming crazy through the attempt alone.

Yet, I must. I’m going to try to get this straight.

The United States intervenes in the Middle East, arming militants against a rival regime in Afghanistan. Those militants go on to radicalize as they fragment into an extremist group that would later be known as Al Queda. Al Queda begins trying to attack the US and its allies in retaliation for US intervention in the Middle East. The US eventually responds by intervening in the Middle East, while it simultaneously arms militants fighting a rival regime who would later exploit the conditions of US intervention whilst radicalizing into an extremist group that would later be known as ISIS. ISIS begins trying to attack the US and its allies. And now, the president of the United States is proposing to re-intervene while arming more “friendly” militants in the hopes that this will be the act of intervention that somehow reverses everything that came before it.

Nope. Still seems as insane as before. The only appropriate question that remains in light of the inanity on display is, “Wut?”

In the Throes of Defeat

…it’s no secret to you that the thinkers and perceptive ones from among the Americans warned Bush before the war and told him: ‘All that you want for securing America and removing the weapons of mass destruction – assuming they exist – is available to you, and the nations of the world are with you in the inspections, and it is in the interest of America that it not be thrust into an unjustified war with an unknown outcome.’
But the darkness of the black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.
So the war went ahead, the death toll rose, the American economy bled, and Bush became embroiled in the swamps of Iraq that threaten his future. He fits the saying “like the naughty she-goat who used her hoof to dig up a knife from under the earth”.
So I say to you, over 15,000 of our people have been killed and tens of thousands injured, while more than a thousand of you have been killed and more than 10,000 injured. And Bush’s hands are stained with the blood of all those killed from both sides, all for the sake of oil and keeping their private companies in business.
Be aware that it is the nation who punishes the weak man when he causes the killing of one of its citizens for money, while letting the powerful one get off, when he causes the killing of more than 1000 of its sons, also for money.
And the same goes for your allies in Palestine. They terrorise[sic] the women and children, and kill and capture the men as they lie sleeping with their families on the mattresses, that you may recall that for every action, there is a reaction.
Finally, it behoves[sic] you to reflect on the last wills and testaments of the thousands who left you on [9/11] as they gestured in despair. They are important testaments, which should be studied and researched.
Among the most important of what I read in them was some prose in their gestures before the collapse, where they say: ‘How mistaken we were to have allowed the White House to implement its aggressive foreign policies against the weak without supervision.’
It is as if they were telling you, the people of America: ‘Hold to account those who have caused us to be killed, and happy is he who learns from others’ mistakes.’
And among that which I read in their gestures is a verse of poetry. ‘Injustice chases its people, and how unhealthy the bed of tyranny.’
As has been said: ‘An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.’
And know that: ‘It is better to return to the truth than persist in error.’ And that the wise man doesn’t squander his security, wealth and children for the sake of the liar in the White House.
In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida. No.
Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.
-Osama bin Laden, in a message directed to the American people (2004)

9/11 was an act of terrorism, and it was a tragedy. It was a tragedy because three thousand innocent people lost their lives in an event that was not only horrific, but preventable. As an act of terror, this devastating event was caused by a desperate group of people in typical guerrilla fashion for political reasons.

One of the greatest crimes US presidents have overseen in the wake of 9/11, aside from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the dismantling of Iraqi infrastructure and security, the use of torture, NSA surveillance, and extrajudicial executions of Americans and non-Americans alike, and the thousands of allied soldiers and innocent civilians killed in the pursuit of “freedom” and “democracy,” is the perpetuation of ignorance.

9/11 was a tragedy, but it was also an opportunity to reflect. It raised serious questions, like, “What would so violently motivate a handful of people from halfway across the world to blow themselves up in order to take 3,000 American lives?” “What have we been doing in the Middle East?” “Why have we been doing it?” “Have our actions been justified?” “Are the consequences worth the ire of a whole region of people whose daily lives are already fraught with uncertainty and violence?”

9/11 was the keystone for a transformation of America from a large, blundering young animal of a superpower into a wizened and self-aware global democracy. In seeking out the roots of 9/11, America would find a mirror and see its true face, and confronted with that, might seek to change, to become the force for good that it has for so long purported to be.

On 9/11 America was truly a great nation. It had promise and potential. It established national unity and a sense of moral vigor overnight, of a kind that dwarfs that of any other time in its entire history. America was set ablaze in a sort of heroic beacon of willpower and benevolence characterized by the monumental lamp beside its golden door. America could do anything. It had the motivation to excise its cancerous growths, purge itself of the parasites clinging to the back of democracy, and move forward into the 21st century a truly enlightened nation.

But on yet another anniversary of 9/11, that has not come to pass. America has hastened its own decline by ignoring the implications of its own history and clinging to the same reductionist and reactionary view towards the rest of the world that it held through most of the last century. This is a tragedy of another kind, for it is not an act of terror that has caused the death of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, American and Arab alike, but America’s own hubris.

9/11 was a booby trap; it was a cunning trap, and a murderous one, but it was only that. The enemy that administrations have characterized as bloodthirsty and savage, monstrous villains who “hate democracy” and “hate freedom,” were not stupid. 9/11 was not intended to be a crippling blow, but a trip line, a loop of thread upon which an unwise and unaware nation might stumble. And stumble we did.

From the same transcript of Bin Laden’s speech:

All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.
This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.
All Praise is due to Allah.

And so, thirteen years since 9/11, three years since Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, what do we have to show for ourselves?

Is America more prosperous? Is it safer? Have we defeated Al Queda? Have we brought peace to the Middle East?

Is America more democratic, more tolerant, more free?

I believe the answer to each of these questions is “no.”

The inevitable question, then, is, “So who has won the War on Terror?”

Al Queda may be diminished, but it has already spawned a new, worse threat, one that is even more violent, more extreme. The Middle East is as unstable as ever, as is the American economy, and the certainty of our national future.

For all the money spent, the freedoms revoked, the suffering engendered, the lives lost, has it been worth it?

“The reward of suffering is experience.”

Yet, experience means nothing if it is not remembered.

To Raise the Minimum Wage, or to Not Raise the Minimum Wage: A False Choice

Fast food workers around the country went on strike thursday, protesting less-than-living salaries and employment conditions while demanding a $15 minimum wage as the national dialogue shifts once again to the prospect of what to do about the topic. It is hard to argue that current minimum wage laws serve the purpose of guaranteeing employees a first-world standard of living while working basic hours, as many today scrounge for the funds to feed themselves and their families while holding down multiple jobs, sometimes between two parents. As the insular monied elite continue to condense in proportion while the middle class stagnates and the poverty line rises, it’s clear that out of all persistent efforts to keep the country’s citizens prosperous, the minimum wage is, at the very least, severely failing in its job.

Many will argue that the minimum wage needs to be renewed and updated responsibly in order for it to have a positive effect. The problem is, even when that is the case, raising the minimum wage can have a negative impact on overall employment. Specifically, it results in a net loss of jobs. How many jobs? No one knows for sure how much a $15 minimum wage would affect employment, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates about 500,000 (at most 1 million) jobs lost. That may not seem like very many when wage increases affect millions of workers, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

In addition to slightly lowering employment, a higher minimum wage results in altered employer behavior, especially in smaller businesses. Intent on maintaining profit levels, companies respond to higher employee overhead by cutting costs and raising prices elsewhere. Employees are made to work harder while their hours are cut. The price of food goes up; the price of shipping goes up, increasing the price of goods. All of this translates to… a higher cost of living.

The degree of increase in cost of living is hard to determine, but it’s certainly a reality. What is produced as a result of a minimum wage raise is this self-defeating loop: wages increase, cost of living increases as inflation increases, the higher wages buy less, soon they can no longer afford the cost of living, which raises when and if wages are raised again. Keep in mind that minimum wage is hardly enough to really meet the standard of living, so the system results in a constant game of catch-up, where millions of people will barely be making ends meet until the day they die: it’s not hyperbole to use the term “wage slavery.” The act of increasing the minimum wage cannot be enacted in isolation, and affects the entire structure of every business which complies. It’s naive to assume that giving a blanket raise to 20-30% of the country (including not only minimum-wage earners, but those within range of minimum wage also likely subject to wage increases) will not cause an economic reaction.

Now, let’s get back to those jobs. 500,000, even a million, may seem miniscule. Let’s spread a million lost jobs out over the course of a year, so just over 80,000 a month. At its best, the country has managed to create just under 500,000 jobs a month, and at its worst just over 200,000. Accounting for that loss, the average range decreases from 120,000 to 390,000. That might not seem significant, but consider that since the financial crisis, the country lost around 11 million jobs, and is still struggling to recover from that loss. The country’s ability to return to pre-2008 levels of job creation depends upon keeping the creation rate high. With a high rate, we could return to those levels as soon as next year. With a low rate, we may not until nearly 2020.

Think now of the millions of people who have lost their jobs, are struggling to find work, and depend upon that job creation rate in order to attain a civil standard of living; it’s the same struggle made by those working at minimum wage today.

A democracy should not sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, let alone the some for the sake of the others. Hopefully I don’t need to expand on my last article to explain why slavery is bad for exploiting minorities (and incidentally, guess which ethnic groups are most likely to get the proportionally shortest end of the stick in all of this).

And yet, you know what? Barring any other solutions, we need a higher minimum wage immediately. Even $10 an hour is not a proper living wage, and the fact that America calls itself a first world country by forcing so many people to make do on so little while working so hard is nauseating.

The minimum wage is a band-aid measure, at best first-aid, but even if it is meager and inadequate, that doesn’t mean you should simply let an open wound fester. The less financial security more people have, the more that risk falling into poverty, a rut that is very hard to get out of, and one which benefits very few people indeed.

So once minimum wage is given first-aid, then what? I and others would suggest something radical: abolish it.

I’m talking about basic income.

While only small case studies have been done, BI has incredible potential. If everyone who would otherwise be subjected to poverty is given a stipend which annually adjusts to the cost of living, poverty might just disappear overnight. Remember how higher wages result in a higher cost of living? If companies set their own wages (although competitively, in a market where work must truly be incentivized) they would cut their overhead enormously, generating much higher profits while permitting lower prices on their goods.

Because employers benefit so much from what is essentially a government subsidy to offset their overhead, it’s only fair that they pay progressive taxes towards what is essentially a security fund for workers who, without that stipend, would otherwise amount to serfs. They would also benefit indirectly from the annual net increase of American GDP due to the reduction or elimination of poverty to the tune of as much as $500 billion a year.

I’m not the first one to come up with, let alone argue for, this idea. In limited practice, the cons have proven to be few and the pros to be many. Instead of using the opportunity of a national dialogue to regurgitate a tired and painfully incompetent means of ensuring prosperity for all Americans, perhaps we should try shifting it to something else.

Something that might, just possibly… not suck.

America Seriously Needs to Reconcile with Its Past

No, this isn’t another hackneyed “don’t forget history” thing. In fact, historical events are currently being invoked as the country has an opportunity to analyze Ferguson, Missouri while it, apparently, calms down. However, the major event which underpins the crux of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting and the ensuing backlash is one which America has yet to properly address, and it is slavery.

There are other factors, of course. A gamut of economic, social, and political influences spanning from the 21st century to before America’s founding have come into play in various degrees. But… that goes without saying for just about any protest, and usually, most shootings.

Many of these various other influences should be addressed, and for at least some, attempts have been made to do so. Yet slavery, especially, is long overdue. It occupies a strange place in history where it was too traumatic and too far reaching to be resolved merely with time, and yet is such an encroachment on the feel-goody presumption of America’s moral superiority that it nonetheless fades, for all intents and purposes, from the public arena of conversation, like an unsightly wart.

Americans may insist that it is not white-washing, and that the nation has dealt with the whole issue. Generally they point to a smattering of glorified “milestones” and well-intentioned but highly contentious Band-Aids which, really, a society that had truly come to grips with its history would have already established.

I’m actually going to do something a bit unusual here. Remember the film, 12 Years a Slave? While it’s all but forgotten post-awards season, a week from now will be the anniversary of its first release, and it’s a perfect example of the refusal of American society to address its history in a sincere way. And while I believe the film was well-intentioned, it nonetheless exists as an outgrowth and representation of this problem, and as a single piece of art which many have seen, it is a more universal common point of reference than most other things I could use. If you want, you can simply call me lazy for it. It won’t hurt my feelings.

Obviously, I’m going to assume you’ve seen it, and if you haven’t, you should. Although I personally believe its Best Picture win was undeserved (Her was an infinitely more coherent and sincere), it is nonetheless a film which begs to be viewed at least once for its few affecting scenes and the overall intense, if brief, degree of significance it was accorded in pop culture upon its release. Short story is, although discussing a movie that came out a year ago based on a book almost two hundred years old: SPOILERS.

There is no endemic racism in the world of The North as presented in 12 Years a Slave. Northrup drifts easily between social circles, his blackness causing no issues for him since, as far as the movie portrays, he’s relatively successful, he’s educated, he’s skilled, and he’s not poor or a criminal, so he garners not only the immediate empathy of (mostly white) audiences but of his white peers.

God forbid he should be large or muscled-looking, or that he should be presented doing Northrup‘s other profession, farming, which involves a lot of physical labor and very little of the finery in dress or mannerisms found playing the violin at a dinner party. Northrup is not portrayed as a large black man aggressively reshaping the land, but in the least threatening way possible, as a refined musician. If the pleasant-to-neutral attentions of his white peers in the beginning of the film are due to a social understanding that as a performer with an instrument considered delicate, or even feminine, he is considered nonthreatening, that point is not made by the film itself.

No, according to the film, The North is simply just so enlightened that Northrup blends in and is accepted as effortlessly as if he were white. Even a slave owner treats him politely. It’s no surprise he was so trusting of the men offering to hire him; what would he be afraid of? He’s never shown experiencing fear or insecurity as a result of being faced with opposition to his blackness, even in an era where black people are being bought and traded as commodities not very far away.

Of course a distinction should be made here that the film alleges to strive for historical accuracy, and my concern is not to attack the veracity of that claim. I’m concerned with the way the film caters to modern stereotypes and indulgences, and how that has skewed the true message of its subject. The historical accuracy is secondary.

And yet this isn’t even accurate. Racism was rampant in The North. Even the white abolitionist had, in some ways, racist tendencies. So if The Enlightened North as presented is not historical, what is it?

Well… it’s an illusion. The Northern world of 12 Years a Slave is the same one we project onto American society today. A combination of selective memory and white guilt have propagated a narrative interpretation of unbridled and ceaseless progress on the front of racial equality, and for many white Americans, 12 Years’ illusion is indistinguishable from their perspective of the real world. There’s no real effort to confront the ugly reality of race relations which are still easily inflamed (as seen in Ferguson).

In this way the film caters to these white sensibilities. 12 Years provides us with a refuge in a racially tolerant fantasy land, to which our rationalization can withdraw. And here’s where the movie’s other most significant thematic failing lies: when Northrup finally returns to his home, the movie ends. He’s once more dressed in finery, he’s aged but otherwise indistinguishable from his former self, innocent of the realities of slavery, and as he joyfully reunites with his family, the message is not implicitly, “Here’s where we start,” the message is, “It’s finally over.”

12 years of slavery are presented as agonizing, painful, and full of suffering, but moving on is as easy as returning home. It’s as if slavery was not, in fact, an event which lead to the extended disenfranchisement of blacks from Jim Crowe to Stop and Frisk. It was horrible, but it was isolated, and all we need to do is hug our families and forget it ever happened.

The narrative espoused by 12 Years a Slave in this manner precisely reflects what most white Americans would like to believe, a narrative that they, in many cases, cling to.

But that narrative is not reality. I don’t have token milestones to point to, unfortunately, all I have are more statistics. Blacks are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated. They are disproportionately shot and killed by police. They are disproportionately exposed to poverty and drugs. They are paid less. They enjoy less political representation and fewer educational opportunities. These are all things that society at large has the power to change, and yet it is reluctant even to address them.

I’m going to assume we all agree not to correlate blackness with inherent inferiority as a result of these statistics, and instead recognize them for what they really are: a mortifying reminder of the long-reaching effects of slavery.

When these statistics become proportionate, when the reality of a racially integrated society mirrors that of the illusion presented of Northern States in 12 Years a Slave, then we can say this chapter is closed. But that is not the reality, and it never will be for as long as we refuse to reconcile with these issues.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

That’s the third reference now, for those keeping track.

In an ideal world, the murder of Michael Brown by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, would be a tragic but isolated incident. However, in reality it is simply yet another case where a police or security officer, empowered by a sense of authority, took the life of a black man (or child) into his own hands and expected to get away with it.

If one has the stomach for it, one can find videos of not only killings by police, but innumerable beatings and harassment. Often times these videos are taken by hidden cameras, without police knowledge, as it is fairly a common (illegal) policy for police to insist that cameras may not be used to record them. Often in sensitive situations they use every tool available to them, including violence, to prevent themselves from being recorded.

But even with video evidence of police brutality, cases are often dismissed while basic reports of excessive force go completely uninvestigated. Ostensibly the job of a police officer is to protect and serve the population, yet when a police officer violates that very mandate, why is there little to no accountability?

When police departments should, more than anyone else, desire to crack down on bad eggs, more often abuse and misconduct is covered up; perpetrators are protected, their names withheld, they’re put on leave (often paid leave), even for horrible abuses of authority.

I would personally argue that these problems exist due to a culture where deference to authority figures empowers internal attitudes among law enforcement officers of near-omnipotence. From that pedestal, they define their brothers and sisters in the Law, fellow officers and their families, as those to which they owe their allegiance and sympathy, and cast the people of their jurisdiction as “others,” especially those they presume likely to commit crime, with or without evidence.

Not that my personal understanding matters. What is important is minimizing, and if possible, eliminating, unnecessary police violence. A possible answer here, perhaps unintuitively, is surveillance.

http://www.parsac.org/parsac-www/pdf/Bulletins/14-005_Report_BODY_WORN_CAMERAS.pdf

Our constitutionally monarchial friends across the pond have recently begun pushing for a measure which would mandate the use of “Body-Worn Cameras,” or “Body Cameras,” for certain police officers. They’ve not only been trialled there, but here as well, with some dramatic results (as seen in the report above). Although the sample size is small, body-worn cameras on police seem to have a predictable effect: they reduce accusations, and by extension, cases, of police brutality.

The benefits are actually broader than that, including better evidence for prosecutions and money saved from a reduced need for investigation and court fees (assuming the department in question catered to such considerations faithfully before). The above report enumerates the various pros sufficiently, as well as some of the cons. The ACLU has weighed in with their justified concerns as well, but overall it appears body-worn cameras could be an effective and permanent answer to the intolerable problem of police brutality.

However, it comes back to the matter of surveillance. Is it too much?

I say, cautiously, no. Some day, body-worn cameras may be used by all police, and until that point their use should be overtly advertised to ensure everyone affected is fully informed. However, the mere presence of police officers tends to affect people’s behavior anyway, and when an officer enters the scene they make clear that direct government representation has been extended to the location. As an individual with the authority to invoke probable cause and conduct an arrest, and someone likely to report their encounters to a government database, a police officer, body-cam or no, is already a form of human government surveillance. What the camera alters, or truly, improves, is the accuracy and authenticity of the surveillance police officers already provide.

As fellow humans, police officers have faces and names. This puts them in a separate league from the faceless, nebulous agencies which spy on our emails and phone calls, generally without our awareness. They can not record anywhere, any time, at any range: they can only record more faithfully what they already see. Who holds them accountable? Essentially, the truth that they themselves personally record.

Obviously there are questions when it comes to the agency of officers to operate the cameras, and how to deal with unofficial police interactions (bathroom visits, personal phone calls, and the like), as well as encounters of a sensitive nature, like embarrassing but non-criminal encounters, domestic violence, and investigation of home interiors. However, these can be solved with reasonable and responsible policies and regulations, which the ACLU has also recommended.

Michael Brown’s death should not have happened, but it cannot be reversed. However, the justified response of anger to that death (and many others at the hands of police), if carefully honed to a precise and deliberate point, can help spearhead a campaign to search for meaningful solutions to this tragic problem and affect positive change.

Are worn body cameras one such solution? I say it’s certainly worth an earnest effort to find out.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today, I’d like to weigh in on a matter that isn’t much discussed lately: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(“Oh, really? How original!” All three of you might be saying.)

It took me an entire month to figure out how to approach this subject. It would be utterly redundant to belabor the complexity of the issues involved, especially when the emotions invested in this particular conflict are so intense. I acknowledge these feelings, and the degree to which they are often felt ensures that I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind on this issue.

So, then, Hamas vs. the IDF. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong? I see this most frequently posed question as fundamentally flawed.

I look at Hamas and I see a terrorist organization that literally wants to wipe out the Jews. I look at the IDF and I see one of (if not the most) advanced militaries in the world which relentlessly pounds a tiny speck of land full of civilians, willing to justify the killing of hundreds of children in one month over strategic goals that are themselves self-defeating.

The analogy of David and Goliath invoked not infrequently (with the central irony of a Palestinian David and Israeli Goliath) has some basis in reality. However, it would be much more accurate to have Li’l Hitler playing the part of David, hopping from beside one Palestinian bassinet to another throwing rocks at an Israeli Jaeger which then tries to smack Li’l Hitler with its fist, as if playing a perverse game of whack-a-mole. The more innocents get smacked, the more willing grieving Palestinian parents are to provide Li’l hitler with rocks, even if they don’t particularly like him.

It is said that in war no one wins, and everyone loses. Often that’s true; at the very least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an exception. One can argue that the IDF can win militarily by destroying secret tunnels or killing what they deem to be a “sufficient” number of rocket launch sites. However, the conduct of their operations in Gaza are inseparable from the killing of innocent civilians. One can then argue Hamas needs only to survive in order to win, for Israeli operations, while destructive, only increase support for Hamas and other militant groups. This is, most likely, one of the major reasons Hamas has for firing rockets from civilian centers, drawing fire from the IDF to rally more anti-Israeli sentiment. Ultimately Israel will declare an end to the conflict on some sort of arbitrary basis, as they always do, and withdraw. Yet, the rockets will keep coming, if not now, then later; Hamas will certainly fight on.

However, every rocket fired into Israel risks prompting a response from the IDF. This leads to blockades and sanctions (necessitating secret tunnels in order to sustain survivability for those in the affected area), and what seems to be an almost seasonal offensive from Israel. Hamas’s stated intent to, among other things, gain Palestinian independence is seriously undermined by the measures taken by its far more powerful neighbors. A successful fighting force needs a powerful logistical supply chain and an infrastructure effective enough to supply healthy recruits and auxiliary aid. With each war in the Gaza strip, provoked or not, Gaza’s capability to provide for those basic necessities collapses even further.

So, to recap: provoked by rocket fire against Israel, the IDF attacks Palestine, causing civilian casualties that incite more people to join militant groups, which fire rockets at Israel.

Insanity.

There’s something missing from this recursive loop of an equation, however, and it is the side I ultimately choose to sympathize with. The Palestinian civilians in Gaza suffer disproportionately by a far more powerful aggressor for the actions of a few, with whom they have little to no affiliation or allegiance. I think it’s entirely fair to call the Palestinians victims in all of this.

But that’s only half of the remainder. The IDF, drawn from citizen soldiers, requires public support in order to commit to risky campaigns. Somehow, a war which has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, and for the mere sake of vague objectives, has a 95% approval rating among Israeli Jews. To put that in perspective, American support for the Iraq war, a similarly muddy Faustian bargain, peaked at 72% in its first months and soon dropped very sharply. Polls show that a significant percentage of Israeli non-Arabs hold racial contempt against Arabs, even those who are citizens of Israel. Although government and media propaganda play a heavy hand in this, the daily threat of Palestinian rockets hitting Israelis, though substantially mitigated by Iron Dome, is very real. There’s also the matter of antisemitism, which is on the rise.

Modern Israel’s history is deeply rooted in the Holocaust. It is a fact that there was a point in history where one zealous group of people with national power determined unilaterally that Jews should all be destroyed. Modern Israel was founded by many survivors of that genocide. It is understandable that, in the interest of preventing another Holocaust, Jews in Israel would react quickly, and violently, to any antisemitism from its neighbors. By all means, a second Holocaust should be averted, if it is a threat.

However, if it is a threat today, it is remote. As stated earlier, Israel, though tiny, is an incredibly powerful country. It also continues to enjoy what has amounted to billions of dollars in aid from its allies. Sorry, ally. Israel is not a Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, it is a modern democracy, and very much representative of the Western world’s monopoly on what is currently defined as “first world” civilization. This forms a significant portion of Israel’s self-identified moral superiority over its neighbors. Most Israelis have access to books, to libraries, to the internet. They are every bit as capable of assimilating the concepts of basic human rights and opposing government policy as any other citizen of the West, and many do.

The fact that Israel, a country that drinks so liberally from the cup of Western ideals, clings to such an archaic form of militant nationalism, speaks to a deeper problem. Hamas commits Palestinians to a war with Israel without their consent; it victimizes its own people. So too does Israel’s government turn its own citizens into pawns, provoking attacks by Hamas to fuel anti-Palestinian sentiment that then charges national politics and ensures continued military aid. I would not go so far as to invoke the idea of a devious, long-term conspiracy on the part of Israeli politicians, but they certainly seem to know how to push the right buttons.

And so, finally, my conclusion: the populations of both Israel and Palestine are being held hostage by their own governments. One is subject to military reprisals due to provocations made by its own leaders precisely to cause civilian casualties, while the other is subject to radicalizing nationalistic pressure from a government that refuses to deviate from policies that provoke threatening attacks and prolong political and military tensions.

What can be done?

I don’t know. Smarter and more talented people than myself have tried and failed to come up with a solution to this tragic and constant problem.

However, the US sends aid to both sides of this conflict. We cannot justifiably tell other nations how to conduct their affairs, especially as a nation with such a dirty track record of its own. The provision of foreign aid, especially military aid, is undeniably a tacit attempt to influence, if not destabilize, another nation’s political climate with volatile capital.

Is it really the place of the United states to decide that either government in this case, when both are ultimately responsible for human rights abuses, deserve approval in the form of our money?

Two Days Ago, a Murderer Died in Georgia

It should be clarified, first, that I am not literally calling Theodore Van Kirk a murderer in the sense that he alone was responsible for the deaths of 140,000 people, most of them civilians. He was merely one in a crew of people, acting under the orders of a commander commissioned by the United States.

I also do not wish to imply that Theodore Van Kirk’s moral character is comparable to that of Joseph Wood.

Nonetheless, had Theodore Van Kirk decided, at the last minute, to disobey the orders given to him, the lives of 140,000 people would have been spared, if only temporarily.

My accusation does not lay at the feet of a dead veteran. It lays at the steps of the country which created him.

Why is killing two people in cold blood a capital crime, and killing thousands heroism?

Who is anyone to decide when one killing is justified and another is not?

Why is James Wood “bad” enough that we can judge him as so evil he must be destroyed, but the United States is “good” enough that it can murder civilians in the hundreds of thousands with impunity?

Individuals can be held accountable. Even some countries can be held accountable; at least, attempts are made to hold them accountable.

Yet, it is undeniable that some countries are more accountable than others. If you are large enough, prosperous enough, powerful enough, you are immune. Even if other countries, “enemy” and “ally” alike, publicly condemn such a country, they do nothing. There is no accountability; there is only tacit acceptance.

Why is that?

Murder is the ultimate affront to freedom. A blind, deaf, and mute paraplegic still has a chance at pursuing a full life. Victims of torture, false imprisonment, slavery, and abuse have turned their struggles into triumphs. Although inspiring success stories in that vein are hardly the norm, the fact remains they are a possibility at all because the people affected are still alive. A person who is dead has lost their freedom. They cannot think, they cannot hope, they cannot strive to accomplish anything. They existed once, they exhibited their potential, and until the moment of their death that potential remained theirs to seize.

Once dead, that possibility no longer exists. That is why murder is so horrifying.

Americans obsess over freedom. Anymore, it’s a sound-byte, a mere keyword, trite and cliche, something so pervasive in the language and culture of everything from political rhetoric to entertainment that the word itself is now taken for granted. And yet while we cherish freedom at home, where one death is worth an article in the local paper, how have we come to a point where a hundred people in another country can die and Americans can frown for a moment, then go back to their daily lives, feeling nothing?

I believe it’s the same reason we enshrine and immortalize war heroes, fetishize violence, and crank out video games every year where the primary objective is to kill.

Despite the conscious insistence on equality, before the law, before humanity, before any god, human beings do not fundamentally believe in equality. There is one axis along which all are judged: sympathetic, and “other.”

The English are “sympathetic” to us. When an English soldier dies in our war on Afghanistan we may see it on the news, we may stir and groan in sympathy and commend them for their sacrifice. The compassion is felt on a deep, primal level, even if it is fleeting.

Yet when a Syrian rebel dies it’s a non-event. In many ways a Syrian rebel (presuming they are not affiliated with an Islamist extremist group and indeed combat Bashar Al-Assad’s abusive regime) has more in common with an American than any native British soldier, who still to some extent serves a monarch. America’s existence and identity is founded on its resistance to oppression by a despot; a Syrian rebel fights for similar reasons. And yet, they are cast as an “other.” They can die in droves, and if the news week is slow they might get a segment on CNN, but it would be unusual if any individual is eulogized.

The easy answer is that Syrians aren’t “white,” and “we” are, but that’s not strictly true. “Otherness” is cast along far more obscure lines. It’s why perfectly blonde-haired, blue-eyed specimens of the “Aryan Race” can be mowed down in the thousands in the latest WWII first-person shooter, simply because they happen to have a Swastika on their arm.

Someone cast as an “other” is not merely someone who looks different. An “other” is someone we choose not to understand.

This choice is not strictly personal. It’s a calculated result, produced by a political mechanism that tells us who is sympathetic and who is not. The “Yella Colored Fellas marched our Marines to death at Bataan and attacked our boys Pearl Harbor,” they’re “monsters,” they’re “evil.” “Japs,” they were also called, “Nips,” “Nippers.”

To call them Japanese would be to acknowledge the sovereignty of their government and regard them, at least in part, as a parallel nation of people. And “people,” “human beings:” calling them those, that’s out of the question.

You do not rally a country to war by reassuring them they will be killing the elderly, or mothers and children. You rally a country to war by defining a group as “other.”

“Others” are not perceived as human. They often take on nicknames, like “Gook,” or “Hadji,” to reduce them to being less-than-human. If they happen to look different all the better, but they could just as well be a “Commie,” or a “Red.”

Or a “Jew.”

You will find monuments to the way that America has chosen to define otherness all over the world. They are in the death tolls in Japan, in Korea, in Vietnam. There are “others” from Europe to Africa to South America. They are even found at home.

Even the same group of people can go from being “sympathetic” to “others” within a matter of years. The definition is arbitrary.

These “others” have nothing in common, except that a nation has defined them as killable, as people against whom violence is justified and even encouraged. This is not new. It’s been part of every government’s political arsenal since the beginning of civilization.

What’s new is that we believe ourselves to be immune from it. We predicate our choices and our actions, justify our killings, on the idea that our morality is superior; we acknowledge equality, freedom, and democracy, and that is precisely what gives us the authority to say who deserves to be spared, and who is an acceptable loss.

Again, I have to ask, from where does that authority derive? Should any individual, or group of individuals, or government, have that power?

I say no. To murder 140,000 people for any reason is wrong, just as wrong as it is to murder 2 unsuspecting people. If you compromise on that point, if you accept any justification for such deaths, you are committing your allegiance to an authority completely distinct from the value of human life.

If your values do not include human life, it seriously begs the question of what your values are, and who determines them.

Yesterday, a Murderer Died in Arizona

I’m not religious; at best I could be described “agnostic.” Just putting that out there so it can’t be construed I thump the bible out of any personal deference. However, even as a “non-believer,” one has to recognize that there are many quotes from the bible which are profound and even relevant. Since it is a book that many ascribe to, and features prominently in the American judicial system, I think it’s entirely appropriate to provide this quote before I ask my question.

Matthew 7:1-3 (KJV)

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

These words are ascribed to Jesus. The message is clear: do not delude yourself into believing you possess the authority to judge another. Humans aren’t perfect, and you are as human as the person next to you. The implication is that only one authority has that power, and that is god.

“If you’re an agnostic, why bring this up?” you might ask.

I’m glad you asked that question, Billy. If you take god out of the quote’s context, the message is simply, “do not delude yourself into believing you possess the authority to judge another.” If you and I don’t have the authority, and there is no god to hold such an authority (or maybe there is, I have no idea, but it’s certainly not something which can be proven), then who does that authority belong to?

According to the law, that authority lies with the state.

The state is tasked, by the people, with maintaining the public welfare. We all likely understand (and if you do not, I will not be explaining here) why, in the public interest, people who have committed acts of harm to innocent people should be isolated from innocent people, to the extent that doing so will ensure safety for everyone.

Prison does this pretty effectively. Without getting into any issue of abuse or treatment in prison, putting someone in prison effectively isolates that person from innocent people outside the prison for the duration of their stay. To ensure the safety of the public from individuals who, as the state can best determine, threaten the public, the state need only put them in prison. Any other punitive measures taken against the individual who has caused harm would be superfluous.

Ready for another quote?

Mark 12:17,27 (KJV)

17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living…

And now I pose my question, which is simply this: Who put us here?

Maybe you believe a god of some kind is responsible. Maybe you give full credit to your parents. Or maybe in evolution, reincarnation, or Xenu. Maybe you believe in The Matrix.

It’s likely you believe at least one of those. Now do you also believe that the state or federal government created you? That it designed your genetic code or played a part in its determination in any deliberate way?

Do you belong to the state? Because the state, on a local or federal level, in certain cases, has the power to end your life.

Education, roads, firefighters, libraries, a postal service… these are things provided by the state. When you drive on a public road, go to a public library, or call on the fire department, you are freely submitting yourself to the authority of an organization. If they decide to stop paving the roads, to stop responding to emergency calls, to close the post office on sundays… well, it’s a bit dickish, but the state provides those things; it can take them away. You choose to enter that bargain, and in so choosing accept the responsibility, and the consequences, for accepting the services you then enjoy.

Included among those things we enjoy is state-enforced safety.

For the most part, the consequence is taxes. That’s a matter for another day. Another consequence is that we must follow the law. If you choose to break the law, you mark yourself as an individual who threatens public safety. It is then in the state’s purview to isolate you for as long as necessary in the interest of protecting others’ safety. That’s also part of the bargain.

However, in no way can you enter into a bargain with the state to provide you with life. At the very least it would require time travel, a power which not very many possess. It would also require a level of technology we don’t yet possess. That may or may not include time travel.

Last quote, I promise.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

All (wo)men are created equal; that is, no man is inherently born with any inherent superiority, moral or otherwise, to any other.

All (wo)men are endowed by their creator, whatever you believe that to be, with the unalienable rights, that is, rights which cannot be denied, which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

According to the men who would go on later to create and ratify the laws we now observe (for the most part), your life, your freedom, and your pursuit of happiness belong not to the state, but to you, and only to you.

If you agree with that, then you disagree with the Death Penalty.