Category ►►► Philosophical Phatheads
May 31, 2011
Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah, famously made the following grisly remark in 2004:
The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.
He merely paraphrased a near contemporary of Mohammed, an unnamed seventh-century warlord who bragged about his "army of men that love death as you love life." Indeed, we tend to contrast Western liberal democracy with radical Islamism by saying we have a culture of life, while they have a culture of death. I have even characterized the latter as a culture of human sacrifice and Moloch worship.
So I understand why some naive and morally confused priests, pastors, ministers, imams, and rabbis condemn celebrating the assassination of Osama bin Laden, calling it "morally equivalent" to Palestinians celebrating the murder of thousands of people at the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. But understanding need not yield agreement; these condemners are dead wrong; they are indeed "naive and morally confused."
Here is Prager's core argument:
As a rule, little changes in basic human responses. For example, it is probably fair to say that throughout human history, just about all decent people have celebrated the death of those human beings understood to be truly evil.
It takes a lot to change such basic human reactions. But over the last generation, a major attempt to do so has been made. And it has somewhat succeeded.
Osama bin Laden, a man whose purpose in life was to inflict death and suffering on as many innocent people as possible -- the more innocent his victims, the greater his achievement -- was finally killed, and much of the Western world’s religious and secular elite has expressed moral annoyance with those who celebrated this death.
The argument is that no person’s death should be celebrated. Therefore celebrations of bin Laden’s death are morally questionable.
Prager continues, noting that this confusion results from not distinguishing between the killing of innocents and the killing of the guilty; but I believe the root grows much deeper, tapping into the polluted water-table of a general lack of discrimination and of intellectual laziness, perhaps even narcissism. If all answers are correct, then no answer is correct, and there is no need to think, judge, or conform to any particular standard; simply find the cultural standard that agrees with you and wallow in it, happy as a pig in a rug.
Worse, the "argument" appears to be just another example of leftist mysticism, the conscious rejection of logic. And as always on the left, mysticism, metaphysics, and ethics begin and end with sloganeering. (Epistemology never enters into the equation; per Thomas Sowell's the Vision of the Anointed, the Left simply receives the Vision from on high -- that is, from anybody to their left -- and parrots it uncritically.)
Examples of Progressivist reasoning:
- All you need is love.
- War is not the answer.
- Hope and change.
- Food for all.
- Land for use.
- You can't hug your children with nuclear arms.
- The survivors will envy the dead.
- From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
- No enemies to the left.
- Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ. has got to go.
- Solidarity forever.
- One planet, one people.
- Soak the rich.
And the slogan most relevant to this post,
- Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?
In my youth, this seemingly rhetorical question adorned literally hundreds of thousands of posters, usually printed in ink that glowed under black (UV) light. Cool, man. For impact, the fallacy relies upon a faux irony that only exists when stripped bare of all context. Restore the missing adjectives, and watch that slogan transform from rhetorical question -- how can we possibly teach the evil of killing by killing? -- to virtual tautology, and incidentally into a more succinct version of Dennis Prager's argument:
Why do we kill evil people who kill innocent people to show that killing innocent people is wrong?
The question answers itself.
Prager tries to find a logical calculus of morality:
It seems to me that if one does not celebrate the death of a truly evil person, one is not celebrating the triumph of good over evil. I do not see how one can honestly say, “I am thrilled that bin Laden can no longer murder men, women and children, but I do not celebrate his death.”
Yes, I know one can argue that bin Laden’s arrest and life imprisonment would have also prevented his murdering anyone else. Indeed, anyone opposed to capital punishment would have to prefer that bin Laden had been captured and tried. But no one could argue that a dead bin Laden is less likely to provoke further terror than a living bin Laden.
Celebrating the death of bin Laden is a moral imperative.
But it goes nowhere, just as Ayn Rand's attempt to deduce all ethics from "A is A" is mathematically doomed to failure: You can't make the jump from verbs of identity to imperatives without further grammatical input. (It's no coincidence that Prager and Rand, along with Michael Medved and many other representatives of the punditocracy, are basically innumerate: Innumeracy is one of many symptoms of paralogia.)
The problem with leftism is not strictly with the rules of inference -- though that is often one of the root problems with Progressivists; it equally arises from faulty premises and subversive goals. Those who say ordering the death of bin Laden is "morally equivalent" to bin Laden ordering the deaths of (relative) innocents on September 11th, 2001 are not simply confused whether bin Laden is a good person or a bad person; they passionately believe there is no real distinction between the concepts of good and evil, that we should strive to be, as proclaims the title of one of Friedrich Nietzsche's books, "beyond good and evil".
The Left sees those two terms, good and evil, laden with the plunder of social propaganda... hence their fascination with cultural relativism, the idea that you're only allowed to judge a culture based upon its own standards. (Under this deranged philosophy, Hitler's only crime was that he didn't kill enough Jews; he was supposed to get them all!)
In other words, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, you can't argue a man out of something he wasn't argued into in the first place. This is higher-wisdom stuff, the "Vision," whose beholders thereby become the "anointed" and are granted absolute moral dispensation: E.g., Roman Polanski isn't a rapist; he's an artist. Barack Obama isn't a serial liar running a gangster government; he's off to save the world.
And in the minds of Western, liberal, non-Moslems who nevertheless protested against the assassination of bin Laden, the target wasn't a terrorist, a homophobe, a violent misogynist, or a mass murderer; he was a "warrior against imperialism" and American hubris! Like Che Guevara, bin Laden lasted long enough to metamorphose, not into a Kafka-esque cockroach, but into a charismatic but remote revolutionary figure, just the type to tickle the Left's fancy.
And just the type for them to martyrize, all in the name of moral preening and militant, censorious post-judgmentalism.
Me, I celebrated; Sachi and I drank a toast. And if anybody had tried to shame me for it, I would have hurled the booze in his face, glass and all. To commit yet another paraphrase, this time of S.I. Hayakawa, I have a very low threshold of idiocy.
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