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May 11, 2014

Boko Haram and the Illusion of Clean Hands

Grim has an interesting post up on the much ballyhoo'd photo of the First Lady's recent foray into hashtag diplomacy. In it, he responds to a piece by Mark Steyn pointing out the yawning gap between political rhetoric and policy:

Contempt may well be warranted, but not for the failure to deploy special operators into this.

...You can't drop a SEAL team if you don't know where to drop them, and we most likely don't have any idea. That's not contemptible. It's a fact of the art of war.

The right reason to feel contempt is at the posture, which makes our nation look weak and helpless. We probably can't rescue these girls in a Hollywood-style raid, but we could wipe this group off the face of the earth in a few hours if we were willing to kill a lot of innocent people too. We could wipe them out in weeks, with less danger to innocents, if we were willing to deploy the 1st Cavalry Division for that purpose with a very loose set of ROE.

If we don't do those things, it's because we are choosing not to do them. It won't do for the White House to beg, plead, or scold, or make sad faces in front of a camera.

Take responsibility for your choice.

Wise words, but in our present "DO SOMETHING!" culture it has become unacceptable to say openly what we all ought to understand without having to be told: America can't be the world's policepersun (eyeroll) if we have no patrols out walking the world's streets. We can't be the world's policepersun if we can't tolerate mistakes and errors of judgment that cost human lives. We can't be the world's police force if we can't accept loss of life and failure and ugliness; if we think being a policepersun is some sort of inalienable human right: an individual fairness issue rather than a hard condition inextricably intertwined with the survival of our children, our culture, our way of life.

Our freedom, and the historically unprecedented freedoms enjoyed by women in Western societies.

If we believe situations like this one are truly intolerable - believe that it is our duty to do something about them - then we need to be willing to bear the cost of keeping such options open. That is one thing this administration is openly unwilling to do, though.

This is a President who, during his inauguration, publicly upbraided his predecessor - from a position of utter and abject ignorance - for seeing any conflict at all between the peace and prosperity we take for granted and our highest ideals:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers -- our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.

The thing is, the America described in the history books we grew up with was NOT the friend of each nation. Not even close. The America of history took up arms against many nations, and not always in perfect accordance with the highest ideals of one Barack Obama: World Citizen. How does a highly educated man, with an administration full of highly educated people and over 5 years of experience under his belt, arrive at such a profoundly ahistorical and criminally naive view of global politics?

“Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us — we better change our behavior’?” Will said on Fox News Sunday.

“It’s an exercise in self-esteem,” he said of the practice. “I do not know how adults stand there, facing a camera, and say, ‘Bring back our girls.’”

How does this happen?

It happens the same way (and for the same reasons) that caused a woman to sue her local grocery store for reminding her that packaged meat comes from live animals who have been slaughtered. She was perfectly happy to eat dead animals, mind you. What she could not tolerate was being forced to confront how that meat got to its antiseptic plastic wrapper and - eventually - to her table:

Armed Liberal wrote about the problem of those who 'keep their hands clean,' never hunting, buying meat prepackaged and without an awareness of the moral cost. I disagree: there is no moral cost. We are monsters, who butcher though it creates mounds of gore: who sever heads, and find it moves us though we know not why.

But it isn't killing that makes us monsters. We are exactly that same kind of creature, whether we have ever killed or not.

The moral problem of 'the clean hands' is that it is an illusion. It makes people believe they are better than they are, and therefore that others can also be better than they can be. It creates a class of people who feel clean, because they have never felt blood on their hands.

Yet all these things arise from things buried deep in the genetic code. You cannot walk away from them. The failure to experience these things does not mean you would not react to them in just the same way as everyone else: it only means that you cannot understand how you would react, and how others do.

The man with clean hands is just the same as the hunter. It is only that he does not know it. He does not understand that part of his soul, as it lurks beyond his experience. He comes to believe that there is a kind of human that is and can be clean: perhaps that sweet, aged lady on the corner, who in her youth broke necks every night before dinner.

Failing to understand what Man really is, he opens himself more than is wise, and defends himself less. The man with the clean hands believes in diplomacy but not the force that makes diplomacy viable. He believes in staying clean, because he believes it makes him better than you. He does not understand that it only makes him blind.

This is not a call to amoralism, but precisely the opposite. It is a call for true morality, which can only begin with awareness of sin. It can only come from a recognition of how deep-set, how permanent, how personal sin is in each of us.

It is only in that way that we can begin to put real chains on sin: by recognizing the truth about it. We must learn to face the truth about ourselves, so that we can better ourselves: we must learn to face the truth about others, so we will recognize when murder is in their hearts.

These people want to believe that all nations are our friends. But more than that, they want to believe that we can enjoy peace and prosperity without getting down into the muck and fighting for them like the animals we are, but struggle to control when we can win a small space to be something more.

How we win that small space is something we'd just as soon not talk about.

And so we take to Twitter and create hashtags.

Posted by Cassandra at May 11, 2014 02:38 PM

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Such a good piece, Cass! And it brings together Grim's recent posts and one my all time favorite posts he's written.

The troubling aspect of the whole hashtag nonsense to me is that if it's done by a twenty-something person in Atlanta, then it's merely pointless. I don't expect such a person to actually be able to influence or change minds about the issue. But when the wife of the President of the United States does it, it appears to me to be one of two things. Moral preening (which I am positive is the underlying factor involved in this example) or a protest against her husband's inaction. After all, he above all others is eminently capable of turning "awareness" into "activity". And yet, he has barely done a thing about it. So is she telling the world "he doesn't care about this, but I do"? I don't believe so, but that is one possible explanation.

Posted by: MikeD at May 12, 2014 11:28 AM

Postmodernists believe that truth is myth, and myth, truth. This equation has its roots in pop psychology. The same people also believe that emotions are a form of reality. There used to be another name for this state of mind. It used to be called psychosis. - Brad Holland

Posted by: Elise at May 12, 2014 11:55 AM

Love the quote, Elise!

when the wife of the President of the United States does it, it appears to me to be one of two things. Moral preening (which I am positive is the underlying factor involved in this example) or a protest against her husband's inaction.

That's an interesting take. I remember reading No Ordinary Time years ago and being surprised at Eleanor Roosevelt's disgust with our (or her husband's) refusal to help Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.

I wanted to write something about the whole hashtag thing earlier, but didn't want to pile on unfairly. I liked Grim's recent post, and was even more happy to be able to find that long ago post. I agree - it's one of the best he's ever written.

Posted by: Cass at May 12, 2014 12:38 PM

Thank you both for the kind words.

Posted by: Grim at May 12, 2014 02:32 PM

Brilliant post! BZ to Grim for for original post.

Btw Elise, those 'postmodernists' cannot claim simple (organic) psychosis, they are simple r*tsh*t fools.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 12, 2014 06:05 PM

That really was a brilliant post, Grim. Thanks to Cassandra for sharing it with us.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 12, 2014 06:50 PM