Agape's abattoir



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"Terror mean[s] killing and robbery and coercion by people who do not have state authority and go beyond national borders."

— William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the United States

To what extent is human behavior guided by principle? To what extent is principle trumped by circumstance? Can a person adopt a situational ethic and maintain a moral center? A timeworn joke, variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Groucho Marx, and notorious war criminal Winston Churchill, tells us that expediency has the upper hand.

The joke may be a little tired, but its truth remains lively: An executive walks into a bar and lays eyes on a beautiful young woman. He sidles up next to her and buys her a drink. He engages her in conversation. Things move along swimmingly. Finally, the hour grows late, and he has a proposition for her. If she agrees to indulge him in a night of carnal bliss, he will pay her $20,000. Flattered in spite of herself, the young woman says yes.

He sets his drink on the bar and furrows his brow for a moment. Then he asks, "Will you do it for $200?"

The young woman slaps him and exclaims, "What kind of girl do you think I am?!"

"I think we've established that already," he tells her. "Now we're just haggling over price."

What do we call a woman who exchanges sexual favors for money? The word "prostitute" sounds about right, doesn't it? Whether she plies her trade for $20,000 or $200 doesn't change the nature of the act. She is no less a whore — and the executive no less a whoremonger — no matter the terms of the transaction.

Terrorism in the service of improper uplift

"Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich."

— Sir Peter Ustinov

What do we call people who kill innocent people to advance a Greater Good? Let's say Muslim extremists hijack airliners filled with innocent American passengers and fly them into skyscrapers filled with innocent American office workers. Let's say 3,000 American airline passengers and office workers lose their lives as a result of that maniacally horrific act. What do we call those Muslims? We don't call them freedom fighters, do we?

We don't care whether the Muslims harbor grievances with the American government. We don't care whether the Muslims object to the deployment of American troops on Islamic holy soil. We don't care whether the Muslims resent American military and financial support for armed colonists seizing Muslim land in the Middle East. We don't care whether the Muslims bitterly oppose American bombing and blockading of Muslim nations. And we certainly don't care whether — as moronically asserted by more than the occasional neocon — the Muslims are trying to cow America into submission as a nascent caliphate. We don't care, because the ends don't justify the means. No Greater Good can transform their maniacally horrific act into a morally defensible act.

The hijackers' aims may be defensible. They may cite extraordinary circumstances compelling them to act. They may claim they have no choice but to kill 3,000 Americans today to save a greater number of Muslims from dying at the hands of the American war machine tomorrow. They may regret having to break so many eggs to make their omelet. It doesn't matter. To kill innocent civilians, even in the service of a commendable goal, is to commit an act of terrorism.

Human life is inviolable. Two wrongs don't make a right. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. One does not do evil that good may come of it. The ends don't justify the means.

The rules of basic human decency are elementary. We learn them when we're 4 years old and playing in a sandbox. Even at that tender age we have an inkling of their moral universality: "Don't hit Billy upside the head with your bucket! How would you like it if Billy hit you upside the head with his bucket?" In fact, we understand that it is precisely their universality that serves as the hallmark of their validity.

So it takes a fairly thorough program of indoctrination for us to abandon our sandbox morality for the State's: Human life is violable. Two wrongs sometimes make a right. The ends may justify even the most horrific means. Sad to say, the State's "public" education generally delivers on the thoroughness. And double standards come to rule.

Terrorism in the service of proper uplift

"How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read."

— Karl Kraus

The court historians and kept intellectuals of academia and the mass media likewise stand ready, willing, and at the fore in defense of our reigning "humanitarians with a guillotine," as Isabel Paterson described the type.

So it is with the New York Daily News's Ira Stoll and his attack last year on former President Carter's characterization of the Civil War as unchristian and avoidable. "Carter," Stoll writes, "seems to go to irrational extremes to avoid forthright confrontation or conflict with evil of any kind — even when ending human slavery is at stake." In referring to "irrational extremes," Stoll apparently is attacking what he takes to be the former president's belief that State actors cannot justly employ scorched-earth tactics to advance a worthy goal. Contra Stoll, that belief is neither irrational nor extreme. After all, even in his own utilitarian terms, how can Stoll know that the evil of slavery outweighs the evil of mass murder? What rules does he apply to his balancing act? How do the thousands of innocent Southern civilians killed, maimed, and left homeless by Lincoln's "confrontation with evil" enter his moral calculus?

More fundamentally, does it make sense to inflict one grave evil in hopes of ending another? Stoll should know that from the historical Christian perspective it does not: "[O]ne may not do evil," St. Paul admonished, "so that good may come of it" (Romans 3:8). Jimmy Carter is certainly on solid ground in calling the War of Northern Aggression unchristian.

Benevolent butchery

"We must rid ourselves once and for all of the Quaker-Papist babble about the sanctity of human life."

— Leon Trotsky

The notion that Lincoln was engaged in some sort of moral balancing assumes that he was motivated by a desire to free the slaves when, according to his own words, he was not. But we can leave that to one side. Let us stipulate that Lincoln's "cruel, wicked, and unnecessary war," as the antiwar congressman Clement Vallandigham called it, had everything to do with bringing the South's peculiar institution to an end. How does that change matters? Yes, it may make the war appear less unnecessary in our eyes, in the same way that U.S. meddling in the Middle East made the atrocities of 9/11 appear less unnecessary in Muslim eyes. But does it make the war any less cruel or wicked? Talk about terrorism! Lincoln resorts to jihadist rhetoric to justify his war — "God wills this contest, and wills that it not end yet" — but that doesn't faze the Muslim-bashing Stoll in the least. Instead, he finds it "stunning" that a professed Christian such as President Carter should turn a blind eye to Lincoln's high-minded abstractions and focus instead on what the "contest" entailed for the flesh-and-blood human beings on its receiving end. For a brief but sickening account of that fallout, we can turn to Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln:
In the 1860s the bombardment of a city under siege was considered beyond the bounds of international law and morality, but that did not deter Sherman in his bombardment of Atlanta. By September 1864, when Sherman's army occupied Atlanta, he had been waging war on civilians in Southern towns and cities for more than two years, and his troops were well practiced. The city was bombed day and night until barely a house or building remained untouched. When Sherman's chief engineer, O. M. Poe, voiced his dismay at seeing so many corpses of women and young children in the streets of Atlanta, Sherman coldly told him that such scenes were "a beautiful sight" because they would bring the war to a quicker end. Poe believed, moreover, that the bombardment of the city of Atlanta had no military purpose and did not advance the Federal army's move into the city by a single second. There are no accurate casualty accounts, but many eyewitness accounts tell of large numbers of civilians, including slaves, being killed and maimed. [Emphases added.]
Can any version of the Greater Good justify such mindless mayhem and mass murder? "Surely, yes," Stoll, an apostle of agape's abattoir, might answer. "We're not talking mindless mayhem and mass murder here. We're talking about a war to end the moral blight of slavery!"

To which his interlocutor, well-versed in history and natural law, might parry, "Mindful mayhem and mass murder are still mayhem and mass murder. You can't justify them by appealing to an overriding moral value. 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' is the overriding moral value! Besides, ending slavery was the furthest thing from Lincoln's mind. Lincoln waged his war to enforce his tariff, preserve his mystical Union, and perpetuate his subjugation of the South. For all intents and purposes, we are talking mindless mayhem and mass murder — if not something worse."

The World-Improver bristles yet: "Whatever Lincoln intended, the war resulted in emancipation. That's what happened after the war. The war was good because its consequences were good. It's not as if Lincoln set out to lower his golf score and just laid waste to the South in the process! Give me a break! You think I'd justify wholesale civilian slaughter for no good reason? What kind of guy do you think I am?"

I think we've established that already. Now we're just haggling over price. Ω

April 7, 2010

Published in 2010 by WTM Enterprises.

A complementary article  by Dr. Joseph Audie:
"Standard American doublethink: Maxims and anti-maxims."

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