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    Friday, June 10, 2005

    Zimbabwe, Sudan, what-have-you

    The following was written in chunks over a period of a few days on another forum, partially in response to other posters’ inputs. This commentary no longer seems very welcome there, so I have decided to follow through with it back here in my own space, and those who still wish to engage my “bullying, intimidating” self may do so.

    Posting begins:

    So Mugabe has decided to raze the cities and force people 'back to the land' using various excuses, but mostly just to keep population centers from organizing against him to raise rebellion.

    It's sickening to see something like this happening, and I think the only solution may be more guns for Africa.

    The responses were not so positive. Gandhi was invoked. Images of pouring gasoline on a fire were invoked. Pious platitudes of peaceful protest were invoked, and finally, “I’d die before I would kill someone for any reason, no matter the circumstance” was written.

    Given that this was the environment in which I was making my statements, I will condense and edit my posts for coherency, but will otherwise leave my intent intact, while not bothering to go much further into the responses, other than some cogent points to rebut in my argument.. This is not to censor those who made those points, but because I basically believe they will all be addressed through what I have to say.

    I continue:
    Gandhi acknowledged that his tactics would not have worked against a less civilized culture. He refrained from agitating against the British while they were fighting the Nazis, for example. He never expected pacifist tactics to work against people who do not acknowledge individual rights at least in theory, and who really don't mind killing you.

    It has been mentioned that some entity like the UN, one 'more powerful' should come along and save Zimbabwe from itself. Wow, lots of respect for individual empowerment and self-determination there. I'm sorry but this strikes me as SUCH a leftist crypto-racist position. There are obviously plenty of people who want to resist, and would resist if they had any hope, and are largely restrained because they have been disarmed relative to their 'government'.

    (Click "Read More" for the full post...)

    Anyway, I don't think that [the Samizdata] article was promoting 'dump and run', but clearly the first step is to help unarmed people who are at this very moment having their homes and businesses razed to the ground, being forced into the countryside, and killed by armed thugs masquerading as police and soldiers.

    So I’ll grant that covertly aiding by gun-running is not the answer.

    As for the argument that “people who win their positions at gunpoint tend to hold them that way.”
    So do people who are forced into their positions at gunpoint. An unarmed populace will not win against armed thugs. Mugabe is not going to just magically change his mind. And he holds all the cards there at the moment.

    At least people who win their freedom at gunpoint are still alive. I'm not the first to draw the comparison- but look at what Pol Pot did with the Khmer Rouge. I don't think it could've gone so far if the earlier colonial powers of the region and the traditional oriental despots weren't so good at disarming the peasants.

    I mean think about it- not just in an abstract, 'oh, that's horrible' kind of knee-jerk thing.

    Think about your home being invaded by military uniforms with big fucking guns, telling you to get out NOW, in the day time, middle of the night, whenever, and then burning your home down with everything you could not sweep up in 2 minutes and carry on your back. Literally!

    They have no fear of doing this, because they have all the guns.

    Wouldn't you want to strike back? Wouldn't you want someone to give you the means to fight this rape?

    Keep in mind- there is no appeal. There are no cops to call (they're already there) and no courts to sue for justice. There is only the literal struggle for survival in a hostile, war-torn, famine-struck countryside that you are not equipped or trained to live off of.

    Better to die resisting, than to be made insignificant and slowly starve. At least someone else might benefit from it.
    “Like I said, I don't know what the answer is. But dumping gasoline on a fire doesn't help”

    Giving people tools to defend themselves is not ‘pouring gas on a fire”. It is giving people oxygen masks, axes and other fire-fighting gear. The fire is already raging, and the only way to stop it is with a firebreak.
    “so many people seem willing to sacrifice themselves in an effort to kill many are willing to sacrifice themselves to NOT kill?”

    This is completely irrelevant and ignores basic facts. I 'don't kill people' every day.

    Billions of humans across the globe 'don't kill people' every day.

    It's not an issue of restraining the average person's senseless bloodlust long enough to get along; it's a matter of restraining the pure selfishness and urge to power of a tiny, miniscule, but disproportionately significant fraction of a percentage of humanity.

    And the only way that has been effectively demonstrated to do that, is to arm the individual in defense of their own rights.

    The fact is that a selfish minority can consistently benefit from ignoring the rules of society as long as they have the force to do so. Even though the very wealth they are taking would not exist without those rules of society.

    It's a truism that society rests upon the threat of force. When the force available to a group of people is unbalanced, it allows injustices to be perpetrated and to go unpunished.

    When a just society fails to follow through on its obligation to protect the innocent (through threat or use of force), then they fail to be a just society. When a segment of society appropriates the means of force to itself, injustice is sure to follow due to that short term, personal gain on the part of selfish individuals that I mentioned before.

    Distribution of power is the most sure (though not guaranteed) means to achieve a just society. This is one reason we are a representative republic rather than a pure democracy. This is a reason why there are checks and balances on the federal US government through the enumerated powers and States' rights, the 3 branches of government and requirements for super majorities to pass amendments etc.- all to distribute power to the lowest practical level. It's the reason for a bill of rights that applies to the individual.

    And none of these great tools for justice applies to Zimbabwe. Right now, the 'big man' is taking what he wants, and making everyone else do it or die. Force can only be met with force (or at least the threat of force). There is no reason for an overwhelming power to negotiate any compromise. It's just not logical or practical to think there is.

    If I hold a gun to your head, and tell you to give me your wallet, there is no reason for me to listen to you when you try to negotiate to keep your watch. Why should I? I am already beyond the pale of polite society, and I will gain no clemency for such a small mercy. I already have decided that your rights mean nothing to me. You're lucky at this point that I don't just shoot you dead, and in fact, it's probably only the latent fear of punishment that keeps me from doing so.

    Mugabe would not hesitate to line people up for firing squads. He has already done it. How will a pacifist approach solve that problem? To scum like Mugabe, pacifism just means the sheep are cooperating in their own slaughter. No more pity than the slaughterhouse worker watching the sheep in the chute milling their way to the killing floor.

    “encouraging that [violent response to violent oppression] on mass scale is worse for the society in the long run. I'd rather focus on ways to disarm Mugabe and his thugs than on how to arm the opposition.”

    I just don't think that is practical, and even if you fix this problem, what happens when the next set of thugs come along?

    Mugabe will not lay down arms voluntarily. You have to take them from him. That means bloody strife. You keep (in a roundabout way) advocating a deus-ex-machina miracle solution of a force so overpowering or a voice so persuasive that everything gets resolved without a shot fired. In the meantime, you discount that ordinary people can do anything about their circumstances.

    I disagree. I disagree viscerally and with great passion that ordinary people cannot affect their own destiny.

    You're advocating a solution to a problem that doesn't exist- the problem being a misguided but basically benevolent dictator who just needs things explained to him so that he will stop oppressing people by making poor decisions.

    Mugabe knows well what he is doing. He isn't misguided into thinking that forcing people back onto the land will be good for them; he thinks it will be good for HIM to break up any organized means of resistance to his rule.

    You can't prevent things like this from happening again if you don't structure the solution to fit the known aspects of the problem: i.e. concentration of force in an elite group.
    And I don't view it as encouraging violence on a mass scale- I think of it as discouraging violence on an individual level.

    The thing about a gun is, it doesn't guarantee safety or success. It merely evens the odds. If you and I fight, chances are I can force you to do anything I want, because I am physically more powerful.

    If I have a gun, then my physical power is augmented by a great deal. Likewise, if you have a gun, yours is augmented. But the point is that we are both augmented far beyond our natural strength to the point where our enhancements achieve rough parity: neither you nor I are at an overwhelming advantage if we are both armed similarly.

    Giving these people guns absolutely would not, in ANY meaningful sense, increase the amount or level of violence in their country. It just makes it less one-sided. Violence in defense and violence in offense are not the same.

    There is nothing that is morally superior about passively suffering rape, torture, robbery, displacement, maiming and death. In fact, if by acquiescence you are allowing the perptrator to inflict more damage on third parties, you are somewhat culpable in the crime as well.

    I quote from:
    LTC (RET) Dave Grossman, author of "On Killing."
    “In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn't have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision. If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you.”
    “It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

    Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn't bring your gun, you didn't train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy.

    Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.”

    Reply comes back:
    “all i can say is that i would rather die without having to take life than to take life to prevent dying”

    There’s a little more but it’s essentially meaningless, this is the main point.
    Would your family agree that your life is worth less than that of an attacker?

    What if a policeman killed an attacker in the course of saving your life?
    What about to protect your wife? Or children? A friend or neighbor, or just an innocent-appearing stranger?
    “i long for the days when nonviolence actually was practiced effectively.”

    Nothing has changed. Non-violence is practiced effectively every day- just not in places where non-violence cannot possibly be effective.

    Even Gandhi admitted that there were circumstances in which violence wes right and necessary. MLK did not advocate going to the slaughter. What they did accentuate was not using violence to make a political point. You don't burn churches and shoot people because you disagree with their racist attitude or because you can't drink from the same fountain.

    In both cases, they accomplished what they did because they pointed out the hypocrisy of a society which claimed certain ideals and then afiled to live up to them. Neither of them ever had to deal with a government which was more than willing to fill mass graves with womeon and children.

    Non-violence works fine in orderly societies. I have never killed anyone in my life, and don't anticipate doing so.

    You'll probably never have to lift a hand in anger in your life. Being unable to do so may well make your life more difficult, but so be it. You live in a place where others have already done the work for you. You are living on the largesse of others whether you admit it or not.

    “what do you expect me to say larry? i'm damned if i do and damned if i don't here. if i say that i would kill to protect others, i'm a hypocrite, and if i say i'm not willing to do it, i'm either a coward or a fool. the best answer i can give is that if i were put into a situation where my action was the only way to preserve the lives of those i care about it, i would hope that the action would not result in killing a human being.”

    Well, I won’t belabour a point here. And he at least has the grace to add (in response to the “living in the largess of others” comments of mine):
    “why would i choose not to admit it? do you think i'm so selfish as to not realize the sacrifices others have made on my behalf? of course not! and do not think that i am not grateful. i support our troops in iraq even though i consider them to be there for the self serving purposes of a president that i consider to be an unethical criminal (another discussion that i really don't want to get into right now). they are sacrificing their lives for what they believe in. i admire that, and am grateful to know that there are people who can do that. i am not one of them. i never have been. i have no doubt that in the heat of the moment i could take human life, but i don't ever want to be in such a situation because it goes against my nature.”

    I'm trying to point out that it strains my credulity to believe that a person would not defend themselves or their loved ones (except out of paralyzing fear, possibly), and that being so, it is indeed hypocritical to engage in moral posturing about being completely unwilling to kill in any situation.

    And since the original topic is not your situation, but that of people to whom life and death scenarios are not at all, not in the slightest hypothetical, the sighing hope for peace is worse than useless, because it implies that another way exists when it does not, and it distracts people from finding a practical solution to a real-world problem.

    If you don't have a solution, then get out of the way.

    As the article I linked to above states: "Hope is not a strategy."
    At this point, I’m told by a moderator (someone I have respect and liking for) that I am being “rude beyond comprehension.” I am accused of being a bully, and by another member, told that this whole exchange appears to be a “pissing contest”.
    Needless to say, I am a bit offended. And the dude I was mostly replying to was right when he said that I seem exasperated by his attitudes. This is undoubtedly true. While I’m sure he’s a fine fellow at a cocktail party, I believe that his attitudes are at worst hypocritical, and at best, willfully naïve and ignorant.
    To be honest, the whole situation in Sudan and Zimbabwe leaves me literally shaking in barely suppressed rage whenever I think about it. It has me far too worked up, if one can be too worked up over genocide. I am indeed taking it more personally than even I can understand. It has touched a chord within me and awoken profound feelings.

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