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The Sadist State
October 2, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Cruel America: It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut.
posted by The Whelk (164 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jonathan Schell is the author of The Fate of the Earth - the 1982 book that galvanized the anti-nuclear movement.
posted by Trurl at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


This outlook has migrated north to Canada, where Ontario's Conservative provincial candidate for premier wants to bring back chain gangs, our federal Conservative government is going to vastly increase the prison population at a time when crime is at an all-time low and Toronto's mayor is slashing revenues and using the resulting fiscal shortfall to justify cutting government programs to the bone.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's well written, but I'm not sure it doesn't say anything that hasn't been discussed here ad nauseum. We already know all of this; what the hell can we do about it?
posted by Ickster at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Enthusiasm for killing is an unmistakable symptom of cruelty. It also appeared after the killing of Osama bin Laden, which touched off raucous celebrations around the country. It is one thing to believe in the unfortunate necessity of killing someone, another to revel in it. This is especially disturbing when it is not only government officials but ordinary people who engage in the effusions.

We used to be a country that ran programs like the Tevatron and Voyager, and put people on the moon. Now we celebrate throwing a multi-million dollar bomb at a citizen without due process. It's a pretty sharp devolution for a country that once valued the best in humanity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:51 AM on October 2, 2011 [58 favorites]


I don't like the things this author is talking about any more than he does, but this is hardly the first time in this nation's history people have reveled in killing.

I think it might be more fair to say that, as we've undergone what seems to be a global shift away from barbarism, our recent little exercises in it stand out a little more.
posted by feckless at 9:58 AM on October 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


Context is critical. The space program was not a feel-good project put together primarily to advance the cause of science: there was a cold war that desperately needed that technology; and a hot war in Vietnam that needed endless "USA! USA!" distractions in the media. There is no golden era in our past, we always view previous generations through the amber tinted glasses of history made by those who survived its policies.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:08 AM on October 2, 2011 [46 favorites]


Dark Side Of The Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:13 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Saying that some people will fall through the cracks does not mean the same as deliberately killing them.

Some people will freeze or starve or CO-poison themselves to death every winter, because they can't afford basic necessities. Unfortunate, but not cruel.

Some people will get shot by a 7YO fighting for the Taliban because the worthless old men in charge (on both sides) decided to play soldier-by-proxy in that particular sandbox. That I consider cruel (again, on both sides).

We've effectively "won" against the rest of nature. Now we just need to start working on our own natures.
posted by pla at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Saying that some people will fall through the cracks does not mean the same as deliberately killing them.

That's why it's such an effective way of killing people.
posted by swift at 10:24 AM on October 2, 2011 [17 favorites]


A deliberate decision to cut spending on necessities for the poor is not letting them fall through the cracks, it's deliberately ignoring our moral responsibility as a nation.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:31 AM on October 2, 2011 [40 favorites]


A deliberate decision to cut spending on necessities for the poor is not letting them fall through the cracks...
Correct.
It's taking a jackhammer to the cracks in order to create chasms.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:41 AM on October 2, 2011 [17 favorites]


Steven Pinker on the myth of violence (TED)
Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pinker specifically dismisses America's high crime rate as an anomaly due to a large "stateless" African-American population. Basically black neighborhoods aren't part of the developed world so their high crime rate doesn't count. Which sounds pretty post-hoc to me.
posted by miyabo at 10:58 AM on October 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


miyabo, where are you getting that from? African-American's are clearly part of a state (America) and their crime rate "counts" when counting crime rates. Are you sure that is what Pinker said? I just watched the video and he doesn't say that there.
posted by stbalbach at 11:08 AM on October 2, 2011


Basically black neighborhoods aren't part of the developed world so their high crime rate doesn't count. Which sounds pretty post-hoc to me.

"Aren't part of the developed world" is maybe being too grand. In a lot of places in America you see impoverished neighborhoods literally city blocks from affluent ones. The residents of those dilapidated houses appear aren't even a part of their own city, let alone "the developed world." And yes, you can live very safely in a large American city with a high statistical crime rate by simply avoiding those areas. Just ask any member of Congress.
posted by three blind mice at 11:18 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now we celebrate throwing a multi-million dollar bomb at a citizen without due process. It's a pretty sharp devolution for a country that once valued the best in humanity.

I know right?! America has a long history of valuing the contributions of Native Americans, blacks, asians, the irish and women in general. My God, how the country has changed!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:34 AM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's well written, but I'm not sure it doesn't say anything that hasn't been discussed here ad nauseum. We already know all of this; what the hell can we do about it?

Vote Republican. Do everything in your power to let people live with the consequences of their cruel minded thinking. It would seem that people only learn that fire is hot by touching the flame.
posted by dibblda at 11:40 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Impoverished African-American neighborhoods sure are part of the state-- the incarceration state.
posted by wuwei at 11:45 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


We used to be a country that ran programs like the Tevatron and Voyager, and put people on the moon. Now we celebrate throwing a multi-million dollar bomb at a citizen without due process. It's a pretty sharp devolution for a country that once valued the best in humanity.

Your reminiscence is remiss
Have you forgotten
Hart Mountain
Werner Von Braun
Dropping the Atom Bomb
Vietnam
Richard Nixon
Reagan, the Contras and Iran
Ain't a devolution, just revolution
Coming back around again.
posted by humanfont at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Native Americans, blacks, asians, the irish and women in general

Well... the Irish I can see.
posted by Trochanter at 11:53 AM on October 2, 2011


I think America's right basically gets it. By which I mean that, while they can't necessarily articulate it as such, they understand the fork in the road.

Down one side is the rather difficult subject of social justice. It is scary stuff to people who have been told that they have a god-given right to act as they do. Curtailment of usage of resources. Rebalancing the distribution of wealth. An end to the personal freedom to consume and the cult of consumerism as we know it. This is just within America. When we start to assess the same issues on a global scale - particularly things like rationing oil - the world becomes very scary indeed.

Down the other is giving no ground. Redefine selfishness and cruelty as a personal freedom. Admission that something needs to be done is thin end of the wedge. Incarcerating 2 million Americans is the politics of brushing issues under the carpet and making sure they don't pop out. Or worse still, pop out and vote.

It's partly why the American left is so weak: the Democratic Party is way to the right of many European right wing parties. Until the argument that consumption patterns need to change starts coming into mainstream politics, that actually the freedom to consume might need a pretty radical rethink, the politics of them and us will remain prevalent in America because the consequences of examining what happens if one adopts a doctrine of fairness lead to some uncomfortable outcomes.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:55 AM on October 2, 2011 [26 favorites]


Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence.

That may or may not be true from a per capita standpoint, but the comparison is inherently flawed. We have the benefit of thousands of years of history to draw from. Violence today is more abhorrent than in the past because we collectively have more examples of its consequences. It's like eugenics, which was considered a legitimate field of research in the early 20th century, but today it is rightly tainted by its role in (chiefly among many atrocities) the holocaust.

Or for a comparison that's less morally loaded, I would not judge someone from the middle ages harshly for thinking the Earth was the center of the universe. But someone who believes that today would deserve ridicule.

Even if humanity is less violent overall, we have so much less of an excuse for violence that each act represents much more evil than it used to... maybe that's why conservatives glamorize the past so much, they'd be off the hook for so much more if we could go back there.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:55 AM on October 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Vote Republican. Do everything in your power to let people live with the consequences of their cruel minded thinking. It would seem that people only learn that fire is hot by touching the flame.

Much like the economy can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, many parts of America can stay irrational longer than you can stay alive. And I people around the world would rather the less warlike parts of the nation with the largest army and nuclear stockpile not throw in the towel to "teach the other side a lesson".

This is also the bullshit triumphalism that even the marxists stopped believing in years ago. And personally, I really don't want 8 more fucking years of people on Metafilter saying "Surely this will cause the people to rise up." It got really really old the last time.
posted by zabuni at 11:56 AM on October 2, 2011 [18 favorites]


I think there's a direct connection between the loss of mass culture and this apparent increase in cruelty. (And this isn't just an American problem, as the The Card Cheat already pointed out. All nations have it to a greater or lesser degree.) When people see themselves as an "Us" and everyone else as "Them," it becomes harder to feel empathy for Them, and easier to be cruel.

There have always been divisions, like the ones between the rich, the poor and the middle class. But today's America is fractured in many additional ways: there's the people who are interested in politics and those who are not, the left wing and the right wing, religious people versus agnostics and aethists, the digital divide, and on and on. Everybody gets to live in their own little bubble universe now, and they choose what Us groups they want to belong to. The rest of the country (and the rest of the world) becomes irrelevant, and difficult to relate to.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:59 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Fraying of a Nation's Decency
posted by homunculus at 12:24 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


What the right gets is piles and piles of money. That what te right gets. There is no secret to their advantage. The left has to fight for every nickel.
posted by humanfont at 12:29 PM on October 2, 2011


The problem with accelerationism regarding the current state of US policies and Republican policies is Republicans are experts at turning a problem into "You see, we just didn't do what we did ENOUGH." All those tax cuts didn't create jobs? We just didn't cut taxes enough. All that deregulation didn't create jobs? We just didn't deregulate enough. We'll be standing among the burning remains of a great country and they'll be saying "Well, the problem is we just didn't burn enough."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:37 PM on October 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


America has a long history of valuing the contributions of Native Americans, blacks, asians, the irish and women in general. My God, how the country has changed!

I don't think that we booed soldiers or cheered the death of sick people, in general. Those seem like signifiers of a cultural sea change, to me. Maybe in your snarky world, it's just business as usual. Whatever, right?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Violence today is more abhorrent than in the past because we collectively have more examples of its consequences.

Well honestly, the consequences of violence are pretty damn obvious. "I'm sorry to report that he died. Who could have suspected that would be the result of me killing him?"
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2011


Enthusiasm for killing is an unmistakable symptom of cruelty.

Nothing new there. Politicians of the Roman empire used fights to death in the arena to keep the plebeians happy. Panem et circenses anybody?
posted by francesca too at 1:39 PM on October 2, 2011


Stanford U. researchers have determined that strict class-based systems are the most successful (partly because they concentrate the suffering on the lower classes when times are bad). So, you know, cruelty WORKS.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:43 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: I don't think that we booed soldiers or cheered the death of sick people, in general. Those seem like signifiers of a cultural sea change, to me.

I think the others are right in noting that this kind of thing has always been the background static of the United States. But for a while, roughly the 60s through 90s perhaps, it seemed like the nation was getting better. The press awakened to the importance of its role as guardian of democracy, the peace movement for the first time presented an enlightened response to the culture of war, and I don't think it's true that the only explanation for federal funding of the sciences was as a way to stick it to the Russkies. But more than that, we as a nation seemed to have vision then, a view that we could seize the future and make it better for all of us. Life was far from perfect, sure, but it seemed like it might be improving. Oh, if it had lasted.

Then we elected George W. Bush, and his administration used 9-11 as an excuse for saber-rattling, demonizing, foreign adventurism, curtailing of freedoms and general paranoia. I'm sure that future historians will point to that as just a culmination of forces that had always been with us, and were just waiting for the right time to resurface, but it remains that he was just such an opportunity. What will the next Republican president to suffer through a national disaster take it as an excuse to destroy?
posted by JHarris at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


- "What will the next Republican president to suffer through a national disaster take it as an excuse to destroy?"

Mexico. Rick Perry is already talking about invading the country to try and get back into the good graces of the barbarian wing of the GOP after that gaffe about it being "heartless" not to let hispanic kids have in-state tuition rates. Basically, the first time cartel violence crosses the border after somebody, we'll go in to Mexico to "stabilize" it for the protection of U.S. interests.
posted by Naberius at 1:56 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


JHarris, the rollback started in 1980 when we elected Reagan. That was part of an immediate backlash against the civil rights gains of the 60's and 70's, and the perception that Carter was "honest but weak." The Clinton years were a temporary brake on what has been a constant downhill slide since then.
posted by localroger at 1:56 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


gah. more moralistic handwringing from the geriatric left built on the reader's personal sense of moral superiority. reagan ate the brains of this political strategy 30 years ago.

that Pinker stuff is a really obnoxious exercise in sophistry. is he really going to argue that the horror of the colonial genocides, WWI and then the age of nuclear annihilation reflect the higher moral sensibilities of european civilization? Were Europeans shocked by the carnage of WWI because they had become enlightened beings or because it showed a level of brutality and barbarism unheard of in the course of human history? and these were the same Europeans who ran red through the plains of North America, the jungles of Africa and Central/South America, no strangers to brutality. So that "mutually assured destruction" emerges as the ethical flower of the age of reason as long as we do our body-count before the final conflagration? because that's what the argument reduces to: body-count as the metric of human moral progress...
posted by ennui.bz at 1:58 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Not sure if this is going to come out right, but...

I think Obama has the right idea. America must be united again before it can reclaim its former place in the world. (IE: the 1940s-1990s Marshal Plan drafting, space program building, civil rights movement embracing great power of yore.) It might even be true to say that America has to find itself again if it wants to avoid a slide into ever narrowing possibilities.

But his approach is wrong, because the problem is bigger than one President. In a country that's fractured by politics, wealth disparity, religion, technology and I don't know what else, you can't just have one guy saying "Let's compromise and build something together" because the other side won't even hear you. You need, I don't know, some way to fracture the boundaries between Us and Them. Attack the problem directly by bringing millions of people together. You've got to tell them a true story that's so compelling it penetrates their little worlds and works on them from the inside, until they can no longer see you as the enemy. Actions instead of compromise, I guess.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:16 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


humanfont : What the right gets is piles and piles of money. That what te right gets. There is no secret to their advantage. The left has to fight for every nickel.

Funny thing about that - I even used to believe it as well.

In his book “Who Really Cares?” A.C. Brooks showed that self-identified conservatives give 30 percent more of their income to charities than self-described liberals. (And by the way, the liberals actually earn more on average than the conservatives, and the liberals give more money to politicians than do the conservatives

Pretty much every standard notion of "charity" from liberal and conservative donors, even in the ironically-reversed category of political contributions, completely falls flat in the light of actual data.
posted by pla at 2:21 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Obama has the right idea.

I don't think executing American citizens without due process is the right idea.
posted by swift at 2:22 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


because that's what the argument reduces to: body-count as the metric of human moral progress...

Rreducing anything to a single metric can leave out important things, but if you had to pick one metric for human progress, body count is a pretty good one. I would think it would track to other forms of cruelty pretty well. And of course if you kill fewer people, more of the not-dead people will be able to work on the positive factors of human progress (art, science, delicious food).

And to the extend that we can see that even including the horrors of the 1st half of the 20th century, the 20th was an improvement on the 19th, and the 19th on the 18th, and so forth, that's a really really interesting argument.

To the extent that it's an excuse for preening Eurocentricism, of course, it's a load of bollocks. But I think you can set that aside and look at the numbers.
posted by feckless at 2:27 PM on October 2, 2011


I mean Obama's efforts to bring together the left and right, not everything he's done. You can't just ignore the other guys and hope they die off, because that never works. But you can't just try to meet them halfway either, because they're not doing the same thing. You've got to get beyond the divides by presenting a new vision of America that's so compelling they can't ignore it, not just through speeches, but also through action. For example, Republicans hated (and still hate) Medicare and Social Security, but your average conservative voters love those things now. They bought into a better story.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:30 PM on October 2, 2011


I don't think that we booed soldiers or cheered the death of sick people, in general. Those seem like signifiers of a cultural sea change, to me.

You either weren't around or weren't paying attention, then. An entire generation of servicemembers was booed and discriminated against, to the point that it was added to the lst of federally protected classes. Cheering the death of sick people is nothing compared to hanging people from trees and taking pictures to send to our friends. Compared to that, shipping sick people off to death-houses and forgetting about them was a kindness. There are still people alive today who are older than the idea that society -- in any fashion whatsoever -- owes people medical care.

As my father once told me when I was in a fit of teenage angst, "When I was your age, there was no Disneyland. When your grandfather was your age, there was no polio vaccine. When his grandfather was your age, he could still legally be owned by another human being."

Pretending that things are worse now than they've ever been is willful pessimistic delusion at best.
posted by Etrigan at 2:37 PM on October 2, 2011 [14 favorites]


this kind of thing has always been the background static of the United States. But for a while, roughly the 60s through 90s perhaps, it seemed like the nation was getting better.

My father used to say "the United States isn't a civilized country; it's a rich country." I'm starting to think he had a point. Well, was a rich country.

Now the cracks in that very expensive facade are starting to show. It's easy to sell the concept of a social safety net when the economy was going like gangbusters and everyone expected the future to just be that much all-around better; it's quite another to sell it to people who feel like they're squatters in the smoldering ruins of a dying empire. Doubly so if they don't really feel anything in common with a whole lot of other people in the same country, and lack even the basic foundation of a shared language or values.

That said, the New Deal came out of a similarly dark time in US history, but I'm not sure there's anyone around capable of building the same sort of consensus and sense of solidarity that would permit something similar to pass today.

If the economy reheats, I fully expect that we'll paper over the cracks and go back to telling each other that we're God's chosen people / the pinnacle of human progress / etc., at least until we hit another speed bump and the ugly stuff buried in the American psyche, the stuff we don't like to talk about in polite company when the Dow is up, starts to seep through again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:39 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


A.C. Brooks is one of those people who took the non-fiction classic "How To Lie With Statistics" as a literal instruction book. His conclusions fall flat in the light of ACTUAL data.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:44 PM on October 2, 2011 [16 favorites]


There is more than one way to be owned by another human being. (See "Occupy Wall Street".)
posted by Trurl at 2:53 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


dibblda: "It's well written, but I'm not sure it doesn't say anything that hasn't been discussed here ad nauseum. We already know all of this; what the hell can we do about it?

Vote Republican. Do everything in your power to let people live with the consequences of their cruel minded thinking. It would seem that people only learn that fire is hot by touching the flame.
"

I would support this idea if the reality didn't mean a political regime beyond anyone's worst nightmares. For the rest of our lives.
posted by zardoz at 2:55 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


francesca too: "Enthusiasm for killing is an unmistakable symptom of cruelty.

Nothing new there. Politicians of the Roman empire used fights to death in the arena to keep the plebeians happy. Panem et circenses anybody?
"

I'm guessing that logical fallacy is an Appeal to History (?) Of course cruelty is nothing new. That's not the point. The point is, is a cruel nation what you want?
posted by zardoz at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2011


From time to time the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of men like Al Awlaki. You dont kennel a rabid dog. If you want to avail yourself of our courts and our laws don't hide in some outlaw land and try to raise an army against us.
posted by humanfont at 3:03 PM on October 2, 2011


If you want to avail yourself of our courts and our laws don't hide in some outlaw land and try to raise an army against us.

Cite?
posted by swift at 3:04 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did AC Brooks include tithing in his stats on charitable giving? Because giving 10% of your income to pay for your pastor's private jet probably shouldn't count.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think that we booed soldiers or cheered the death of sick people, in general. Those seem like signifiers of a cultural sea change, to me. Maybe in your snarky world, it's just business as usual. Whatever, right?

No, I don't agree with your point of view, plain and simple.

Some of America booed soldiers in the '60s, even some of those people booed astronauts and the moon landings (hell, the Apollo 11 astronauts good eggs and rocks thrown at them as they toured the America after returning from the history making first moon landing.

People had to fight and die for the right to just a 40 hour work week. Lynchings used to be cause for a party. No matter how good a country has done (and America has done plenty). there's always been cruelty to the chosen 'other' of the moment. That's not snark, it's just facts. Humans can be pretty cruel at times.

So is America crueler, has there been a cultural shit in that direction, as you assert? I don't know if I'd say crueler, as that implies a shift towards enjoying being sadistic. Things are more expensive, more Americans are out of work or overworked. They don't , or perhaps can't care, as much as they used to. That doesn't mean people enjoy, just means they've grown harder. Not a positive development, no, but a bit different from cruel.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the worst of the right today, the cruelty and crowd mentality comes out of recession era politics. During a recession, liberals want to help the amplified social problems because there's a larger number of people suffering than can justifiably be said to have brought it upon themselves. Hence there is the problem where most intelligent people vote Democrat, and all the people who normally would have very little sway because they can barely put two sentences together vote Republican (...because the Republican platform can easily be understood by the poor to represent their dreams: "one day you will be rich").

What is needed is a rational republicanism, where people decide to take the "everyone deserves the consiquences of their actions" paradigm, but pairs it with a bit more rationalism and actual knowledge and interest in science, history, and arts. This won't make things more equal, but it will make things more efficient and less morbid.
posted by niccolo at 3:12 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was born in 1964. My early experience was of being told that my nation might be imperfect, but it was in the process of righting itself. It had accomplished mighty things like the Moon landings, in my early adolescence Nixon ended the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement was consolidating its gains, and it was starting to look like the sexual revolution would follow suit and people who were somehow different (as I was starting to realize I was) might not have to slink around in back alleys to find partners.

I distinctly remember it being played as a joke that, hey, they've discovered a new sexually transmitted disease! And guess what, this shit doesn't give you sores, it fucking kills you! LOL indeed.

Then we elected Reagan, and it all started to slide backward. If I had had any idea in 1981 how far backward it was going to slide I would have started laying plans to leave the country then. Those of us who thought Reagan was a nightmare turned to flesh were astonished at our naivete when Bush Jr. showed up. And the current lineup of GOP candidates makes Shrub look like a fucking redwood.

I am just glad I didn't have kids. I thought I had good reasons back in the day, but the reasons I see now are much better.
posted by localroger at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


Now we celebrate throwing a multi-million dollar bomb at a citizen without due process.

The crime of treason is punishable by death. Maybe if Al-Awlaki would have come back to america or if we could have successfully arrested him, then he could have been put on trial, but realistically neither was probably possible.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2011


The crime of treason is punishable by death.

Only after a conviction in a court of law.

Maybe if Al-Awlaki would have come back to america or if we could have successfully arrested him, then he could have been put on trial,

Then we might have had one of those really cool ritualistic state executions we do every now and then. But without that, the right to kill him did not exist under our laws. And if you don't believe in the laws you find inconvenient, you don't believe in any of them.
posted by localroger at 3:28 PM on October 2, 2011 [15 favorites]


"...and these were the same Europeans who ran red through the plains of North America..."

Presumably they only properly became "Americans" after they stopped massacring the natives.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


No person shall be deprived of life without due process unless it's not realistically possible.
posted by Trurl at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


(hell, the Apollo 11 astronauts good eggs and rocks thrown at them

Well, at least they didn't get bad eggs thrown at them. That would have added insult to injury.
posted by homunculus at 3:31 PM on October 2, 2011


And if you don't believe in the laws you find inconvenient, you don't believe in any of them.

Yeah, Lincoln suspending Habeas Corpus meant he didn't believe in any of the laws.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:36 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


“are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” - Lincoln

"[a] strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means." - Jeffeson
posted by Chekhovian at 3:39 PM on October 2, 2011


Maybe if Al-Awlaki would have come back to america or if we could have successfully arrested him,

That would have been bad news for everyone, as Al-Awlaki was on a targeted kill list, and the U.S. wasn't about to not kill someone just because they could be arrested instead.
posted by swift at 3:41 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


So is America crueler, has there been a cultural shit in that direction, as you assert?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:09 PM on October 2 [1 favorite +] [!]


Mistake. Or is it.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2011


Checkhovian, Jefferson was writing in the context of his own participation in the Revolution, which required him and his goodbuds to commit treason against the King of England. What, then, to say about those who might do the same to them in turn? This is in fact the situation we find ourselves in now, to a certain degree, witness #occupywallstreet.
posted by localroger at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


So it was not possible to preserve the country unless Awlaki was executed without trial.

This is your argument?
posted by Trurl at 3:45 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


So it was not possible to preserve the country unless Awlaki was executed without trial.

Clearly he wasn't going to destroy the nation. But he clearly was determined to kill americans. How many fellow citizens would you demand that he kill before he could have been assassinated?

Or how many soldiers' lives would it have been worth to guarantee his arrest?

Some tough gray areas huh? I'm not sure about my feelings toward this targeted killing. It needed to happen, I'm glad Obama is the one deciding these things, but I'm terrified by the precedent when the next GW or Perry or Bachman runs the show. Should that fear cripple us in the Now? I don't think so.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:50 PM on October 2, 2011


Awlaki's assassination was legal. Congress gave the President the power, the President and his lawyers decided the power could be exercised in this manner, and a court decided that it had no authority under the Constitution to interfere with Congress's delegation or the President's decision. That's what legal means.
posted by MattD at 4:05 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clearly he wasn't going to destroy the nation. But he clearly was determined to kill americans. How many fellow citizens would you demand that he kill before he could have been assassinated?

More than zero would be a start. It has yet to be shown that he had any operational role in killing or planning to kill Americans, even if he did advocate it on moral grounds. If he was assassinated based on "secret evidence" then there might as well not be evidence at all.
posted by swift at 4:18 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clearly he wasn't going to destroy the nation. But he clearly was determined to kill americans. How many fellow citizens would you demand that he kill before he could have been assassinated?

What would your view have been if he were an American citizen? Would it have been acceptable to just go out and shoot him in the head? Or would he have been deserving of a trial then?

Awlaki's assassination was legal.

In the US, maybe.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:21 PM on October 2, 2011


So it was not possible to preserve the country unless Awlaki was executed without trial.

This is your argument?


The black and white thinking is really tiring. Which made the article in the post tiring. It was starting from a from a conclusion and then picking out random examples that fit it's conclusions, without really looking at those examples.

The article and this thread just feels like it's reworking material that's already been used several times on Metafilter. It's like standup comic who keeps using the same stale jokes. It's not about the audience, or in actually communicating. It's everyone getting on their soapbox and talking past each other.

I've love to see people saying "Ok maybe it is a bit crueler, but dammit, I'm not going down that path. Here's what I'm going to do in my neck of the woods, blah blah blah."

Or we could stick the latest dance craze, the Awlaki Tango.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:24 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or we could stick TO the latest dance craze....
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:25 PM on October 2, 2011


It's partly why the American left is so weak: the Democratic Party is way to the right of many European right wing parties. Until the argument that consumption patterns need to change starts coming into mainstream politics, that actually the freedom to consume might need a pretty radical rethink, the politics of them and us will remain prevalent in America because the consequences of examining what happens if one adopts a doctrine of fairness lead to some uncomfortable outcomes.

Two things.

First, the EU is about fifteen minutes from exploding. One can certainly make comparisons to Europe, but not only have they never been apples to apples, now they're not even favorable. I mean, there are municipalities in the US that are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the boondoggle that is public sector pensions, but everyone's pretty sure that a government of some sort is still going to exist in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey ten years from now. Can't say the same for Greece.*

Second, great, let's talk about changing our consumption patterns. You willing to put health care on the table? I.e. the single largest segment of the federal budget? The one that's really going to bankrupt us? Because if not, you can kiss goodbye any reasonable chance at creating a sustainable social safety net.

You can't both gripe about wanting Americans to cut back on our consumption and gripe that the government isn't spending enough money on us.

*Maybe not California either. We'll just have to see.
posted by valkyryn at 4:31 PM on October 2, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts: "What would your view have been if he were an American citizen?"

He was an american citizen.
posted by Static Vagabond at 4:37 PM on October 2, 2011


Al Awlaki was allegedly on a kill list. There is direct evidence of the list only heresay. If his treason requires evidence in an actual court then his assassination does as well. Perhaps he was just in in a combat zone. A convoy which was spotted by a drone and struck under the rules of engagement setup with the Yemeni government. Later we discovered his corpse or learned from communications intercepts.
posted by humanfont at 4:40 PM on October 2, 2011


The black and white thinking is really tiring.

Is it that hard to say that something is definitively, without-a-doubt, clear-as-day wrong? And what makes it a gray area, except the decisions of powerful people to keep it gray, to keep it in a state where you have no will or means or information to decide whether it is wrong? And if it is wrong, and you accept it as just a gray area because it's tiring to decide otherwise, doesn't that make you and your neck of the woods just a little bit crueler?
posted by swift at 4:41 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awlaki's assassination was legal. Congress gave the President the power, the President and his lawyers decided the power could be exercised in this manner, and a court decided that it had no authority under the Constitution to interfere with Congress's delegation or the President's decision. That's what legal means.

It's ironic that the people who say this stuff (as much as those who pulled the trigger) are a much worse and more immediate threat to the citizens of the United States than al-Awlaki could ever have been.

And if you don't believe in the laws you find inconvenient, you don't believe in any of them.

Well said.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:45 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


It has yet to be shown that he had any operational role in killing or planning to kill Americans, even if he did advocate it on moral grounds.

Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry? Do they? - Sideshow Bob
posted by Chekhovian at 5:10 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Checkhovian, Jefferson was writing in the context of his own participation in the Revolution, which required him and his goodbuds to commit treason against the King of England

localroger, you are factually incorrect here. Here Jefferson was talking about the Louisiana Purchase, not the revolution.

Awlaki's assassination was legal.
In the US, maybe.


So how does one extradite an alleged criminal from Somolia these days?
posted by Chekhovian at 5:14 PM on October 2, 2011


So how does one extradite an alleged criminal from Somolia these days?

Yemen.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:17 PM on October 2, 2011


It is ironic that you think that your fellow MeFites represent more of a threat to the republic for holding their own opinions on this manner, than Al Awlaki.
posted by humanfont at 5:17 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


So how does one extradite an alleged criminal from Somolia these days?
Yemen.


Thanks. Round 2:
So how does one extradite an alleged criminal from [X] these days?

X-> whatever shithole thirdworld lawless failed state you prefer.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:30 PM on October 2, 2011


Al Awlaki was allegedly on a kill list.


Administration officials have confirmed to the AP that al-Awlaki is on a capture or kill list, although the Obama administration declined to confirm or deny it in court proceedings.
posted by Trurl at 5:35 PM on October 2, 2011


Also, they killed him.
posted by swift at 5:53 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Reiterating:
How many fellow citizens would you demand that Al Awlaki kill before he could have been justly assassinated?

Or how many soldiers' lives would it have been worth to guarantee Awlaki's arrest?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:14 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or how many soldiers' lives would it have been worth to guarantee Awlaki's arrest?

If he was such a damned target of interest, whatever it takes to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. That's what the military is tasked to do, after all, as much as the Commander-in-Chief.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:30 PM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


There could be no arrest -- not because Al Awlaki was in a "shithole" country where it would be dangerous to capture him, but because there were no charges.
posted by swift at 6:45 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


BP: Thanks for having the courage to actually answer the question, rather than deflect it with trivial BS like others have.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:53 PM on October 2, 2011


I just came here to point out that "This article appeared in the October 17, 2011 edition of The Nation." Maybe they know something we don't?

The Card Cheat: "This outlook has migrated north to Canada..."

My question is Why? It doesn't even make ideological sense to turn Canada into a Randian paradise, because poor people are going to start freezing to death in the winter* and we'll eventually have to take a couple of steps leftward and help them out.

Not only that, but when you look at the results of this uncivilized behavior in the US, where is the benefit? Have we even got enough rich people to absorb all the cash that gutting the middle class would free up? (Yes, yes, I may also be dangerously naive.) Is the kind of economic situation in the US a goal we should be pursuing, FFS? Personally, I think Harper is a sociopath, but don't his Evangelical Christian friends and family ever ask him why we'd want a Canada that treats its citizens so poorly? This doesn't make any sense to me at all.


*Unless Harper's magic plan is to let climate change take care of the people sleeping in the streets, which, ok then.
posted by sneebler at 7:12 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


He was an american citizen.

My apologies. I'm going to stay out of this until I've some research.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:15 PM on October 2, 2011


let climate change take care of the people sleeping in the streets

sneebler, interesting, I wonder if one could establish some sort of causation between cold climates and scandinavian socialist paradise culture...ie seeing people dying in the streets everyday on the way to work might tend to make you more progressive...but then there's the Russian example as a counterweight.

He was an american citizen.
My apologies. I'm going to stay out of this until I've some research.


I wonder if he ever publicly denounced his american citizenship in between great satan type speeches? Wouldn't it be amusing if his last thought before his fiery death was: "But I was owed due process as a citizen!!!!"
posted by Chekhovian at 7:23 PM on October 2, 2011


The point is, is a cruel nation what you want?

Personally, I just hate the idea of a cruel nation. I do think it is inevitable when people are not ashamed to applaud the statements of Paul and Perry.
posted by francesca too at 7:31 PM on October 2, 2011


Some people will freeze or starve or CO-poison themselves to death every winter, because they can't afford basic necessities. Unfortunate, but not cruel.

W.T.F?

If a society has the resources to prevent this from happening, I'd say it was not only cruel, but outright murder.



A deliberate decision to cut spending on necessities for the poor is not letting them fall through the cracks, it's deliberately ignoring our moral responsibility as a nation.

Thank you for your excellent wording, furiousxgeorge.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:44 PM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


miyabo, where are you getting that from?
I haven't read the book, just the New Yorker review ("Low-income blacks in the US are 'effectively stateless,' living in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia beyond the reach of law enforcement.")

I think it's pretty irresponsible to make an argument that encompasses the entire Western world, then casually dismiss the single largest country that makes up more than 1/3rd of it. Civilization certainly can bring good things like peaceful behavior, but it also can bring bad things like guns and much-more-potent drugs. Saying that low-income blacks aren't part of "civilization" makes no sense; it's not like they're hunting and gathering and living in huts. They're just experiencing many of the negative impacts of civilization with less of the positive.
posted by miyabo at 7:55 PM on October 2, 2011


If a society has the resources to prevent this from happening, I'd say it was not only cruel, but outright murder.

That's a nice sentiment, but where exactly do you draw the line? That's the rub.

You might be able to prevent CO poisoning by mailing a detector, gratis, to every home in the northern half of the country every winter. It would cost a tremendous amount of money, but it would probably save some lives. Probably not all of them, though, because people are lazy or preoccupied or don't know what a CO detector is or any number of other things. So if you wanted to do better than that, you could, I suppose, send someone around once a year to install a CO detector in every home....

You see where I'm getting at, here? It becomes asymptotically more expensive to go after that last CO poisoning, or drowning, or marauding cow, or whatever. At some point, every society has to decide that it's not quite worth it and reallocates its resources elsewhere, or just decides not to spend them. And although we always find ways of sugar-coating it, what we're really doing is putting a price on a human life or lives when we do that. It happens all. the. time. It's unavoidable, in the sense that there are always going to be accidents and there are always going to be resources that we could have hypothetically used to prevent those accidents but didn't, not necessarily out of malice but because there are a lot of other things competing for those resources.

So what to do? It's a matter of unpleasant arguments over where to allocate resources, and in a democracy, particularly during a recession, it's a matter of convincing fellow citizens of the relative need for one thing versus something else. I don't have any quick fixes and I'm not even sure that most people are going to be receptive, but I suspect that anything that suggests that they're accessories to murder isn't going to be effective.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:38 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


miyabo, where are you getting that from?
I haven't read the book, just the New Yorker review ("Low-income blacks in the US are 'effectively stateless,' living in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia beyond the reach of law enforcement.")

I think it's pretty irresponsible to make an argument that encompasses the entire Western world, then casually dismiss the single largest country that makes up more than 1/3rd of it. Civilization certainly can bring good things like peaceful behavior, but it also can bring bad things like guns and much-more-potent drugs. Saying that low-income blacks aren't part of "civilization" makes no sense; it's not like they're hunting and gathering and living in huts. They're just experiencing many of the negative impacts of civilization with less of the positive.


OK, the New Yorker says that, but is Pinker actually not counting African Americans? It's one thing to say that low income blacks are "effectively stateless," whatever that means. It's another to say Pinker is not counting African American crime, as you seem to suggest.

FWIW, Violent crime rates in the US have been falling for a while now more or less across racial lines. Hell, homicide rate in my own city of L.A. is lower now than it was when I was born in 1967.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:11 PM on October 2, 2011


I mean Obama's efforts to bring together the left and right, not everything he's done.
Because previously the left and right were killing eachother?
Clearly he wasn't going to destroy the nation. But he clearly was determined to kill americans. How many fellow citizens would you demand that he kill before he could have been assassinated?
People die all the time, that doesn't mean we just throw away the constitution. All he supposedly did was 'inspire' people to become terrorists, they didn't release any evidence (that I know of) that he was actually involved in the planning of terrorist attacks. By that logic you could assassinate Ann Coulter for saying "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Since that might "inspire" someone to do it.
Some tough gray areas huh?
Not really.
The black and white thinking is really tiring.
It's tiring that people thinking the government executing American citizens is a bad thing is now an example of "black and white thinking". What the fucking fuck? When did people become so depraved that viewing the government assassinating it's own citizens is somehow a complex nuanced issue that having a absolute opinion on is somehow naïve. I mean what the hell? Seriously?

This is like in those other other threads and around the internet where people say anyone complaining about not being able to find a job and has a huge debt after college is an example of someone who has a "Sense of entitlement" (thinking they deserve a chance work) or "made bad choices" (taking out loans for school, or not doing so). It's an example of complete moral and intellectual bankruptcy, as far as I can tell.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's tiring that people thinking the government executing American citizens is a bad thing is now an example of "black and white thinking".

Well, I think it's tiring people are pretty hung up on the "citizen" part. I mean, the guy was a hostile actor in a foreign land. I don't find his actual citizenship all that compelling, and had he been born in Mexico or Ghana I find it difficult to think anyone would really be all that concerned over his demise. A hostile actor in a foreign land is still a hostile actor regardless the piece of dirt he was born on. On some level, I find it a very serious matter that the state has to kill anyone, regardless of citizenship. But I find the circumstances in this case make less sense when interpreted in a strict black and white reading.

I think his killing raises some interesting questions about the nature of the WOT, citizenry, and executive power. But I find the issue hardly cut and dry.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:37 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


All he supposedly did was 'inspire' people to become terrorists, they didn't release any evidence (that I know of) that he was actually involved in the planning of terrorist attacks.

Why all the al-Awlaki hagiography? Wasn't this asshole in the running for replacing bin laden at one point? I don't think he was ever a top tier choice, but if you're considered a possible choice, that does mean something doesn't it?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:06 PM on October 2, 2011


At one point in late March 2003, Saddam had an active WMD program that was an imminent threat to the United States. Or so the government convinced the media.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:40 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why all the al-Awlaki hagiography? Wasn't this asshole in the running for replacing bin laden at one point? I don't think he was ever a top tier choice, but if you're considered a possible choice, that does mean something doesn't it?
Were you CC'd on Al-Quaed's internal memos or something? How could you possibly know this?

If you have any evidence that he was directly involved in planning attacks, feel free to link to it. I'm sure he was an asshole, but what the hell is wrong with wanting evidence of crimes, much less an actual trial before the government kills it's own citizens? If you have some evidence that he was actively involved in planning attacks, feel free to link to it.
Well, I think it's tiring people are pretty hung up on the "citizen" part. I mean, the guy was a hostile actor in a foreign land.
They claimed he was hostile.

And by the way, it's only very recently that the U.S. has even been in the assassination business at all. There is a big difference between killing someone in combat, and targeting someone -- far away from any battlefield -- and killing them. We're not at war with Yemen.

Should the government be allowed to Kill Julian Assange? Why not? Lots of people in government were calling him a "high tech terrorist" and sundry bullshit. If the government has the legal right to declare someone a terrorist and assassinate them, then why not?
posted by delmoi at 11:18 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Low-income blacks in the US are 'effectively stateless,' living in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia beyond the reach of law enforcement."

miyabo, as 2N2222 says above, it doesn't mean he wasn't counting blacks, that's attributing something negative to Pinker that is not accurate.

Pinker's 'effectively stateless' idea is accurate in a Hobbesian context. Normally, disputes are resolved by the rule of law. However in some poor black communities (or poor hispanic, or poor whites) disputes are handled through the rule of honor culture, where defending ones honor is paramount above the law - if someone insults or wrongs you, you don't call the cops, you take revenge (or loose face). Honor cultures exist anywhere there is not effective state control, for whatever reason. It may be failed state like in Afghanistan, or remote geography like the backwoods of Appalachia (Deliverance) or the Sierra Madre's in Mexico ("don't need no stinkin badges"), or it may be inner cities where police don't have the trust or respect of the citizens (Menace II Society) . This is well known and understood by sociologists, although I guess for the uninitiated it may seem kind of odd to say someone in the US is beyond the reach of the law, obviously not in a literal sense, but in terms of how the people act, they behave as if the state is not the paramount rule in their lives, something greater exists, ones personal honor and reputation are above the law, and so act accordingly.
posted by stbalbach at 11:37 PM on October 2, 2011


Pinker's 'effectively stateless' idea is accurate in a Hobbesian context. Normally, disputes are resolved by the rule of law. However in some poor black communities
So what? It doesn't justify the argument that we are living in the "most peaceful era ever" if you just excise all the areas that have violence. It's also completely ridiculous conceit. If the state fails to extend the social contract to certain groups, then that's a failure of the state itself -- for not including those people.

I've never read any of Pinker's stuff but it doesn't sound like I'm missing much.
posted by delmoi at 12:21 AM on October 3, 2011


And by the way, it's only very recently that the U.S. has even been in the assassination business at all. There is a big difference between killing someone in combat, and targeting someone -- far away from any battlefield -- and killing them. We're not at war with Yemen.

Only recently except for Yamamoto 60 years ago. And all those attempts on Castro. Also those guys we assassinated in Vietnam. Ford put an end to it which is why we were not really trying to assassinate Ghaddafi when we bombed all his houses in the 1980s.

We are allied with Yemen and AQAP is at war with Yemen. He was traveling in an armed convoy with armed individuals. He was also convicted in Yemen earlier this year for multiple crimes including conspiring to murder foreigners.
posted by humanfont at 3:20 AM on October 3, 2011


Is it that hard to say that something is definitively, without-a-doubt, clear-as-day wrong

Sure, but not in this case, IMO.

It's tiring that people thinking the government executing American citizens is a bad thing is now an example of "black and white thinking". What the fucking fuck?

Awlaki seems to have been a bit different from you or I. Rather than arguing about stuff on the internet, Awlaki was calling for Jihand against America and helping or inciting people to attack the country. That's a whole 'nother ballgame. In a perfect world, yes, it would have great to have him put on trial. That wasn't going to happen and rather than sit around, waiting for him to carry on with his antics, the US government killed him. Seems reasonable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:30 AM on October 3, 2011


Meanwhile in Georgia they assassinated an actual innocent man. A man who declared his innocence and had due process. What is the value of your due process when the result is injustice. Al Awlaki never once stood up and declared himself innocent of the allegations. He never challenged any of the assertions against him. If he didn't question his guilt why should I? Meanwhile innocent men, are murdered under the watchful eyes of due process and "fair" trials.

How can you say this creates a slipper slope for the republic. How can you even at it is unprecedented?
posted by humanfont at 4:50 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in Georgia they assassinated an actual innocent man.

If you're talking about Troy Davis, it's debatable whether he was innocent.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:00 AM on October 3, 2011


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in the Developed World Excluding Certain Outliers Like St. Louis and Detroit
posted by miyabo at 5:08 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That wasn't going to happen and rather than sit around, waiting for him to carry on with his antics, the US government killed him. Seems reasonable.

Small complication: The constitution.
posted by odinsdream at 5:58 AM on October 3, 2011


it's debatable whether he was innocent.

I hear that used to be called reasonable doubt.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:13 AM on October 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


If he didn't question his guilt why should I?

If there's no trial, how can he be guilty from allegations alone?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:26 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Small complication: The constitution.

I think the legal reasoning is that Congress gave the President the power (to act offensively against threats to the Union), hence it's ok (legally speaking). Feel free to correct if I'm wrong on how it was justified.

I hear that used to be called reasonable doubt.

I would agree that Troy Davis should not have excited. I'm not sure if he was innocent though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2011


I see the usual suspects are active in the thread.

valkyryn: First, the EU is about fifteen minutes from exploding. One can certainly make comparisons to Europe, but not only have they never been apples to apples, now they're not even favorable.

It sounds like you've been in arguments involving comparing the U.S. to Europe before. It also sounds like you're bringing your own value judgements concerning a preconceived notion of what "Europe" stands for to bear. Know yourself before anything else. In any event, if we can't compare ourselves to Europe who can we realistically compare ourselves to? There is rhetorical value in comparisons even if every value in every column doesn't have an analogue -- but perhaps I should just rest with nothing that you are actually applying rather nuanced thinking to the argument.

I mean, there are municipalities in the US that are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the boondoggle that is public sector pensions, but everyone's pretty sure that a government of some sort is still going to exist in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey ten years from now. Can't say the same for Greece.*

Oh valkryn, you cherry-pick your examples. It's like you don't even remember the government shutdown crisis we had a couple of short months ago.
posted by JHarris at 6:33 AM on October 3, 2011


Hah miyabo I had to favorite that because I live in St. Louis (America's Most Dangerous City™) and in fact grew up in some of the crumbling war-zone-esque parts while attending school on scholarship in the pastoral gated community part.

John Edwards may have been a pathological narcissist and a general asshole, but at least he (or more likely his speechwriters) got the Two Americas rhetoric right.
posted by BlueJae at 6:49 AM on October 3, 2011


I think the legal reasoning is that Congress gave the President the power (to act offensively against threats to the Union), hence it's ok (legally speaking). Feel free to correct if I'm wrong on how it was justified.

I understand that constitutional interpretation can be an endless task, so please note I'm not presenting this as if I'm some legal scholar. The 5th amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Clearly the "due process of law" is where the wiggle-room exists, but I'm being really generous with that interpretation, since there wasn't even an attempt to bring Awlaki to trial, or charge him with anything at all.

I find it transparently unconstitutional for that reason alone. It would be like taking the last sentence, about property being taken for public use, and making a law that says "A dollar equals just compensation for any private property taken for public use."

That law would be a transparent attempt to game the wording of the constitution, much like "if the president says so" is.
posted by odinsdream at 7:02 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Checkovian -- mea culpa on the Jefferson quote, I was quite unaware that he said that and it somewhat diminishes my respect for Jefferson that he did. On the other hand, it was Jefferson's own strict understanding of the Constitution he thought he was violating, and it's clear in context that he understood most people probably wouldn't even see the conflict as he did.

Still, it was a bad first step and when buying some land progresses to murdering your own citizens without due process, I think that's a classic example of a slippery slope.
posted by localroger at 7:41 AM on October 3, 2011


It doesn't justify the argument that we are living in the "most peaceful era ever" if you just excise all the areas that have violence.

Huh? Who is excusing anything? Violence is less now than ever *including ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE EVERYWHERE*. You can shoot the messenger (Pinker) but it doesn't change the fact. That it's an "excuse" is purely in your head. Because I posted that fact, in this thread, you and others extrapolated that to mean Pinker is excusing violence, ignoring blacks etc.. very curious reaction, as if your unable to hold two conflicting ideas at once: violence is decreasing, we are living in violent times.

Oh also: more Americans have died in car accidents in the past 30 years than have died in all wars in the past 300 years (Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam etc).
posted by stbalbach at 8:03 AM on October 3, 2011


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in the Developed World Excluding Certain Outliers Like St. Louis and Detroit

Pinker's not an idiot like that. Try watching the above TED video and if you have questions lets look at what he's really saying instead of making stuff up.
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 AM on October 3, 2011


Were you CC'd on Al-Quaed's internal memos or something? How could you possibly know this?
The mainstream media kept bringing it up after bin laden was shot in the face. Hard to miss if you were paying attention.

I don't want to do a post mortem metafilter trial, so for the sake of argument I'm going to throw a couple things out there:
(1) if he was the innocent saint you make him out to be, then the drone killing was bad, I agree
(2) if he was the guilty asshole I make him out to be, will you admit the killing was for the overall good?
(3) a trial would have been the best way to decide this, but how many soldiers' lives would it have been worth for you to capture? Blazecock says as many as it takes. I'm less sanguine about the prospects of his easy capture.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:27 AM on October 3, 2011


if he was the guilty asshole I make him out to be, will you admit the killing was for the overall good?

The conditional "if guilty" requires a trial. Our society has become very fond lately of forgetting this, to the detriment of the "overall good".

Guilty is different from "did bad things."
posted by odinsdream at 8:42 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian, the issue with the state killing people as they wish without the impediment of legal trials is not generally held to be the question of if the specific person concerned was a bad person. It is that the state is not inherently to be trusted, and must prove that it is not abusing state powers to punish the innocent.

Out of interest, would you also support the right of Russia to kill Russian nationals in the west?
posted by jaduncan at 8:49 AM on October 3, 2011


Out of interest, would you also support the right of Russia to kill Russian nationals in the west?
No, I'm not thrilled about that prospect, now riddle me this: Yemen had tried him in absentia and condemned him to death, so we clearly they wanted to get him, the country he was living in clearly wanted to get him, does being a citizen of country X but living in country Y somehow amount to immunity from all legal prosecution?

And to hedge a little, I'm sure Yemen would have tried him in person if they could have captured him.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:01 AM on October 3, 2011


The conditional "if guilty" requires a trial.
So you're in the as many soldiers' deaths as required to capture him camp? What if he was wearing a suicide vest when captured and then blew up himself and as many of our troops as he could?
posted by Chekhovian at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2011


What if he was carrying the secret formula for Coke in his attaché case? What if he could tap dance while whistling Dixie? What if he listens to smooth jazz?

He was still due the same rights and protections as the rest of us.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:06 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was this interesting point made by the MSM about this issue. You know that there were many American citizens in german cities that were trapped there by the commencement of hostiliies in WW2. That did not change the bombing patterns of SAC, and probably many of them died as a result. Should they have conducted the war differently?

You can argue differences in scope, but the two issues are not different in kind.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2011


You can argue differences in scope, but the two issues are not different in kind.

In the Awlaki case, the U.S. government specifically targeted a U.S. citizen. You're really claiming that they did this, ever, in World War II Germany?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2011


the U.S. government specifically targeted a U.S. citizen
What's the difference between dropping a 2000 lb bomb somewhere that will very likely kill a US citizen and a 50 lb missile somewhere that will very likely kill a US citizen? Is intent all that matters? not outcome?
posted by Chekhovian at 9:51 AM on October 3, 2011


So you're in the as many soldiers' deaths as required to capture him camp? What if he was wearing a suicide vest when captured and then blew up himself and as many of our troops as he could?

Here's my oh-so-nuanced position: The killing of U.S. citizens without due process of law is unconstitutional.

If you want to argue that unconstitutional actions are necessary for the common good, be my guest.
posted by odinsdream at 10:13 AM on October 3, 2011


If you want to argue that unconstitutional actions are necessary for the common good, be my guest.


I prefer to let a certain A. Lincoln and a certain T. Jefferson do that for me.

“are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” - Lincoln

"[a] strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means." - Jeffeson
posted by Chekhovian at 10:15 AM on October 3, 2011


Is intent all that matters? not outcome?

Did the concept of intent disappear from American jurisprudence while I wasn't looking?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:22 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wasn't claiming that intent didn't matter at all, but that both intent and outcome matter. My understanding is that even if a murder is unintentional it is still a crime.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:25 AM on October 3, 2011


Obviously you think the continued consciousness of Awlaki posed a heinous danger to our country, that our government would "go to pieces" or we would "lose our country" had he not been murdered.

I'm sure it will come as little surprise that I disagree with your assessment of risk in this circumstance.
posted by odinsdream at 10:26 AM on October 3, 2011


I disagree with your assessment of risk
And the rhetorical trap closes! So were he enough of a risk then you would agree to measures not strictly in keeping with the constitution?

This debate sort of parallels the abortion debate. You're arguing that it should never ever never happen under any circumstances. I'm arguing that it should be allowed, but should happen very rarely. BOOM!
posted by Chekhovian at 10:30 AM on October 3, 2011


“are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” - Lincoln

Again, the validity of this analogy depends on the government ceasing to exist - not jusr Americans being killed - if Awlaki is not executed without trial.

I invite you to offer a hypothetical scenario explaining how this could take place.
posted by Trurl at 10:31 AM on October 3, 2011


And the rhetorical trap closes! So were he enough of a risk then you would agree to measures not strictly in keeping with the constitution?

/removes monocle

BY JOVE OLD CHAP YOU DO HAVE ME BY THE CHINHAIRS!
posted by odinsdream at 10:33 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


not [just] Americans being killed
I invite you to offer a hypothetical scenario explaining how this could take place.
I bet I could pick a number that would force you to agree with me:

10,000?
100,000?
10,000,000?

None of these numbers would mean the end of the government, but at some point you'd have to agree to whatever proposed measure would fix things?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:34 AM on October 3, 2011


In seriousness, if we lived in a world where those kinds of events were even remotely normal, such an argument wouldn't be reducto ad absurdum, and would have some bearing on our real-world policy perspectives.

In our actual world, it's far more likely that the country and our system of government will suffer much more from very mundane, systemic problems. And by suffer I do mean the literal deaths of thousands upon thousands.

Also, none of your scenarios precludes a trial. We've already done the ticking-time-bomb argument here. I won't rehash it.
posted by odinsdream at 10:44 AM on October 3, 2011


it's far more likely
So now we're in a gray area huh? That I will agree with. I'm not sure what we're doing is the best thing to do, but you can't summarily remove it from the table with absolutist rhetoric.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:51 AM on October 3, 2011


I bet I could pick a number that would force you to agree with me: 10,000? 100,000? 10,000,000?

Your high-end figure represents 3.2% of the US population. The Soviet Union lost 14% of its 1939 population in World War II with the government remaining very firmly in power indeed.

But as I said upthread, I'm not interested in fantasized supervillainy. Before you try justifying the execution of one of your countrymen without a trial on the basis of his conceivably killing 10 million Americans, offer me the tiniest scrap of evidence that he was materially involved in actually killing just one.
posted by Trurl at 10:58 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Vote Republican. Do everything in your power to let people live with the consequences of their cruel minded thinking. It would seem that people only learn that fire is hot by touching the flame.

Considering that the only horror we didn't witness during the 6 years of both a Republican president and a Republican Congressional majority was mass cannibalism, I would say your plan has been tried and didn't work.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:08 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


...absolutist rhetoric.

Look, the requirement in the constitution is honestly a very low bar to pass. I'm not arguing that the constitution is the unerring word of God here.
posted by odinsdream at 11:17 AM on October 3, 2011


Some people are just eager to be the first on the ground licking the boots of those in charge.
posted by Shit Parade at 11:46 AM on October 3, 2011


Didn't think I'd see so much bloodlust on the blue.
posted by Sphinx at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vote Republican. Do everything in your power to let people live with the consequences of their cruel minded thinking. It would seem that people only learn that fire is hot by touching the flame.

Yes! If you think your house isn't up to spec for currently building and fire codes, the best way to fix it is BURN THE MOTHERFUCKER DOWN WHILE YOUR FAMILY SLEEPS IN IT! *That'll* ensure the next house is much better built and everyone is happier.

GOOD SOLUTION, I WANT TO HEAR MORE
posted by FatherDagon at 12:27 PM on October 3, 2011


Before you try justifying the execution of one of your countrymen without a trial on the basis of his conceivably killing 10 million Americans, offer me the tiniest scrap of evidence that he was materially involved in actually killing just one.

I have to ask, if such evidence was produced, would it actually change your mind?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2011


I said this a little more angrily in another thread, but in the particular case of the US hunting down "outlaws" outside our borders, there are lots and lots and lots of examples to cite where we've gone on manhunts and tried to kill people we term "enemies of the state". Pancho Villa and many of the Indian leaders during the expansion west come to mind. So we can debate the rightness or wrongness of this, but it's certainly not the first time we've done it.

It's the first time I can think of where we've done it to one of our own citizens, though.
posted by saysthis at 12:48 PM on October 3, 2011


I have to ask, if such evidence was produced, would it actually change your mind?

I have to ask in return, is the pro-execution contingent's dogged insistence on hypotheticals a tacit acknowledgement thaf they have no facts to support their position?
posted by Trurl at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


We have the first, fourth, fifth amendments, and others in the "bill of rights" along with the greater part of the constitution which features "checks and balances" because the people who drafted the document understood that power left unchecked can corrupt and Democracies can become tyrannies. This isn't a new idea, Plato discusses this very thing.

People aren't upset because they believe Anwar is a hero or believe him to be without fault or without blame or otherwise without any culpability, it has nothing to do with his state of innocence or guilt; instead people upset because they do not automatically trust their government and for good reason -- it doesn't have a stellar track record -- and it has been wrong, often, and it isn't above lying for it's own benefit.

By allowing our president to unilaterally kill an American citizen without any court review, without sharing any evidence, without anything beyond their word we cede them power to be above the law as it is written.

So yeah, government apologists on this issue are no more than an abused dog with a broken spirit. You have my pity and sadness.
posted by Shit Parade at 1:02 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. It'd be great if folks could tone it down a little in general, thank you.]
posted by cortex at 1:24 PM on October 3, 2011


The president can't unilaterally kill an american, and didn't in this instance. There was plenty of public deliberation and opportunities for the individual to step off the battlefield and find compromise. This individual was an unrepentant, self-declared terrorists who made repeated threats against american citizens.
posted by humanfont at 1:28 PM on October 3, 2011


There was plenty of... opportunities for the individual to step off the battlefield and find compromise.

True, he could have surrendered himself at Guantanamo - trusting that he wouldn't be shot on sight - to be detained indefinitely while the government decided to charge him with something.

And really, why shouldn't he if he had nothing to hide?
posted by Trurl at 1:40 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's the first time I can think of where we've done it to one of our own citizens, though.

Were the Indians legally not citizens at the time they were being hunted down? That's an honest question; I've never really been clear on that point. I assumed that annexing their territory made them citizens, albeit disenfranchised ones, by fiat.

Anyway there are definitely historical examples where the people getting killed were citizens. The so-called "Mormon Wars" come to mind. In 1838, 22 people were killed, mostly by vigilantes, but some by government troops (state militia) tasked with enforcing an "extermination order."*

Even if you ignore that because it was a state, rather than a Federal, militia, there's also the Utah War, which was a particularly brutal bit of guerrilla warfare (including the totally unwarranted massacre, by the Mormons, of 100+ settlers who happened to be passing through; terrorism isn't wholly a 20th-century phenomenon) and involved casualties on both the Federal and Mormon side.

* To wit: "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description." It was rescinded in 1975.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2011


True, he could have surrendered himself at Guantanamo - trusting that he wouldn't be shot on sight - to be detained indefinitely while the government decided to charge him with something.

Or decided not to charge him, and just leave him there forever anyway. And don't forget possibly tortured depending on who the President is. I think this guy was guilty, but there does not appear to have been any actual pathway for someone in his position to prove their innocence, which is apparently something they have to prove to prevent execution.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:44 PM on October 3, 2011


there does not appear to have been any actual pathway for someone in his position to prove their innocence

One could imagine an actually useful World Court type thing, with charges being filed and warrants issued and such. Maybe either surrender yourself to this body and face fair trial or rock an roll with what we have now. That seems like the only reasonable solution to these sorts of things.

Remember the government of Yemen had sentenced him to death, even though he wasn't a citizen of Yemen. Had they killed him, I'm sure there'd be the same sort of outcry that America had allowed a foreign country to kill a citizen without fair trial.

As I asked earlier:
I wonder if he ever publicly denounced his american citizenship in between great satan type speeches? Wouldn't it be amusing if his last thought before his fiery death was: "But I was owed due process as a citizen!!!!"
posted by Chekhovian at 4:01 PM on October 3, 2011


No, that wouldn't be amusing.
posted by odinsdream at 4:16 PM on October 3, 2011


Remember the government of Yemen had sentenced him to death, even though he wasn't a citizen of Yemen. Had they killed him...

He had dual citizenship.

So since it's imagination time again, imagine what else you might be wrong about.
posted by Trurl at 4:27 PM on October 3, 2011


imagination time
That's my favorite time! Alright, my turn...what if Bin Laden had been born in America, but everything else about his life had been the same? Would you be excoriating the US over shooting Bin Laden in the face in lieu of a fair trial?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:44 PM on October 3, 2011


Chekhovian : what if Bin Laden had been born in America, but everything else about his life had been the same? Would you be excoriating the US over shooting Bin Laden in the face in lieu of a fair trial?

Yes.
posted by pla at 4:49 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Before you try justifying the execution of one of your countrymen without a trial on the basis of his conceivably killing 10 million Americans, offer me the tiniest scrap of evidence that he was materially involved in actually killing just one.

I don't suppose any of this counts?

I have to ask in return, is the pro-execution contingent's dogged insistence on hypotheticals a tacit acknowledgement thaf they have no facts to support their position?

I don't see hypotheticals, I see an American citizen who's encouraging the killing of Americans, inciting others to kill Americans and then, quite naturally, avoiding appearing in court. It doesn't make sense to let him run encouraging the murder of US citizens and destruction of the country. It would be foolish to do so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:53 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


is the pro-execution contingent's dogged insistence on hypotheticals

If you're talking about me here, its just my laziness with regard to looking this stuff up. Thanks Brandon for doing the hard work.

I suspect that you'll just ignore any facts brought up anyway. That's the way it always is, complain that general arguments lack specifics, then ignore specifics when they're brought up.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:01 PM on October 3, 2011


I don't suppose any of this counts?

None of the "inspiring" does - since it is Constitutionally protected free speech. (You haven't forgotten that, I hope.)

If there is evidence that he materially supported terrorism, let it be brought foward. And anonymous administration leaks most certainly do not count.
posted by Trurl at 5:21 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


CNN: Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised the Obama administration Sunday for using a drone strike to kill American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but said President Barack Obama should now reverse past criticism of former President George W. Bush's actions against suspected terrorists.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:48 PM on October 3, 2011


If there is evidence that he materially supported terrorism, let it be brought foward. And anonymous administration leaks most certainly do not count.

I don't suppose 44 ways of supporting Jihad counts either?

Or the fatwa against cartoonist Molly Norris?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:13 PM on October 3, 2011


I don't suppose 44 ways of supporting Jihad counts either? Or the fatwa against cartoonist Molly Norris?

What part of "Constitutionally protected free speech" are you having difficulty with?

Or are you also of the "just a goddamned piece of paper" school of thought?
posted by Trurl at 6:28 PM on October 3, 2011


None of the "inspiring" does - since it is Constitutionally protected free speech. (You haven't forgotten that, I hope.)

The courts have held that production of enemy propaganda is not constitutionally protected speech. Apparently you don't know that. Congress has authorized military force against Al Qaeda and declared them an enemy of the United States.
posted by humanfont at 6:47 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


What part of "Constitutionally protected free speech" are you having difficulty with?

I thought threats against a specific individual as opposed to general calls were violence were different, my bad.


Or are you also of the "just a goddamned piece of paper" school of thought?

We were talking to so nicely and then you had to lump me with a made up story. That's not very socialable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 PM on October 3, 2011


Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised the Obama administration Sunday for using a drone strike to kill American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but said President Barack Obama should now reverse past criticism of former President George W. Bush's actions against suspected terrorists.

The No-Dick Rule: Why former Vice President Cheney should no longer be allowed on network TV.
posted by homunculus at 6:00 PM on October 5, 2011


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