Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Here There Be Monsters

In each human heart terror survives
The raven it has gorged: the loftiest fear
All that they would disdain to think were true:
Hypocrisy and custom make their minds
The fanes of many a worship, now outworn.
They dare not devise good for man's estate,
And yet they know not that they do not dare.

Prometheus Unbound Percy Shelley

Glenn Greenwald asks:
What rational person can maintain that incidents like the one in the Iraq video are extraordinary and rare when the top General in Afghanistan is stating publicly that -- even in Afghanistan, where avoidance of civilian casualties is a claimed top priority -- we're shooting an "amazing number" of completely innocent people, including "families"?

No rational person can; those who support atrocities just because we do them are utterly irrational. Which brings us, as it so often does, to Megan McArdle.
I'm still not quite sure what to say about the now infamous video of pilots in Iraq shooting down a group of people, two Reuters cameramen among them.

McArdle is unable to make a moral judgement because she is unable to overcome denial. She thinks making judgements and decisions is too hard because every time she comes face to face with unpleasant facts, she hits a mental wall. Three years ago, The New Republic published a report that American soldiers were committing terrible war crimes in Iraq. McArdle dismissed the claims repeatedly, saying that Americans just wouldn't run over a dog with a tank. It doesn't matter if the report is true or not, McArdle uses the same approach to deny it happened, for the same reasons.
For starters, as some of my more critical commenters will be happy to affirm, Americans are really, really attached to dogs. As Radley Balko was telling me yesterday, libertarian media types apparently found it much easier to gin up outrage about Waco and Ruby Ridge by pointing out that the government agents had shot dogs, than by pointing to the dead human bodies, even children's bodies. I find it thoroughly conceivable that one or two psychos might go after dogs this way. I find it numerically extremely unlikely that everyone in a Bradley would have gone along with this; the military is disproportionately drawn from the dog-loving rural classes. Not to mention the fact that swerving back and forth in an IED-laden war zone seems exceedingly likely to get your unit killed.

McArdle simply denies that any such thing could have happened. She invents reasons that are not fact-based, and aren't even logical. She uses multiple stereotypes to support her opinion since she has no facts to back herself up. She states as fact things she does not know and could not prove. Because McArdle can't support her opinions she uses weasel words like "I find it likely" and "I find it numerically extremely unlikely" and "it seems exceedingly likely." She even says that the report probably isn't true because while activities like rape and murder will happen in war, it just defies logic to believe that soldiers would run over an animal in a tank. Because they wouldn't.

And now more atrocities are being reported, and our elite assessor of failure has not changed her opinion or method of reasoning one iota. This is what Megan McArdle has learned from failure: If you deny that you have failed, you get to keep your job shilling for the Man, your pride and vanity, and the thick protective shield of denial you use to make it through another day.
Mostly what I think at this point is that the video is considerably more ambiguous than the editorializing from Wikileaks suggests. That's not to say that the pilots were right; only that the video is clearly stripped of context, like why the pilots thought there might be insurgents in the area. Of course, it's not beyond imagination that some psychos with guns decided to shoot for the sheer joy of it; that's one of the tragic side effects of putting guns into the hands of large numbers of people. But they do at points seem to be discussing the rules of engagement, which you assume they wouldn't be if they were just shooting for the hell of it . . . indeed, if they were just shooting for the hell of it, one assumes that their camera would have some sort of "malfunction".

When the news about torture at Abu Ghraib prison came out, McArdle came out with more excuses. After all, who can know anything, ever?

This is denial in action; this is how it works. Many people grow up hating themselves. Their parents filled their heads with negative thoughts, put them down, insulted them, or maybe just insinuated over and over that they were not good enough. Some people are able to shrug such treatment off. Others take it to heart but carefully examine themselves and learn to separate truth from parental abuse. But most are incapable of rejecting their parents' world view, and instead they accept it and swallow it whole, and then are left to fend for themselves for the rest of their lives, full of self-hatred and self-doubt. McArdle chooses to fight self-doubt by believing she and everyone like her is special. We all want to think well of ourselves; we can't live our lives hating who we are and what we do. And so some of us are driven to insane lengths that leave facts, logic, and morality far, far behind, in the name preserving their state of denial.
My sentiment is probably closest to Roger McShane's, at the Economist: [snipped quote that basically says shit happens in war, and nobody knows anything for sure, and people make mistakes]

I'm not sure this video is so much evidence of a war crime, as evidence that war is horrifying. It involves finding the most efficient ways of killing other human beings. So naturally when you hear soldiers casually enjoying being good at their jobs, you think "this is wrong". It may be. But there is no legal requirement that soldiers be repelled by what they do. They probably wouldn't be very good at their job if they displayed the horrified soul-searching that most of us here would like to see on that tape.

She's such a Good German. People think American Exceptionalism means we are more moral than others and wouldn't commit atrocities. Instead, it guarantees them. If we are moral no matter what we do, what we do doesn't matter.

We can rape, as long as we call it one bad apple. We can torture, as long as we call it a fraternity prank. We can kill, as long as we call it spreading freedom. We can debase ourselves in the eyes of the world, as long as we call ourselves exceptional. It's all good because we're all good.
So I'm not sure what we're witnessing is against the laws of war, rather than the instincts of a cosmopolitan public that has enjoyed an unusually long period without confronting slaughter directly. Don't get me wrong--I like peaceful cosmopolitanism, and think the world would be a better place if we had more of it. But I suspect this tape raises more questions about war itself, than about the conduct of the pilots.

And since war is hell, we can either eradicate it (but won't) or put up with a constant stream of atrocities such as rendition, torture, rape, murder, invasion, starvation, mutilation, and poisoning. It's all part of the price other countries have to pay for our gift of freedom from tyranny, rape and murder.
That said, I'm certainly no expert on the law of war, and I'm sure actual experts will rush to correct me.

Actually, the experts will ignore her and the right will quote her, and it will be left to amateurs to point out the moral vacuum in the heads of our media. McArdle knows this. She's perfectly aware that others find her immoral and selfish, yet is utterly incapable of understanding why, reacting with confusion and self-pity instead of going through the painful process of assessing one's failures, the only way to learn from experience.


Ken Houghton said...

Fortunately, while experts ignore her, they do examine the rules of engagement in war.

Kathy said...

Megan: "That said, I'm certainly no expert on the law of war, and I'm sure actual experts will rush to correct me."

Why doesn't she just Google the subject? She really doesn't want to know, does she? "Don't confuse me with facts!" She'll just fart out her clumsily improvised "opinions", based on nothing. And get paid for it. Ish.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I'm still not quite sure what to say...

...after which she proceeds to babble a ton of nonsense. For somebody who's not sure what to say, she sure had a lot to say.

I'm not sure this video is so much evidence...

So I'm not sure what we're witnessing...

We get it. She's not sure. About anything. Venturing a hard opinion could lead to someone proving you wrong and we just know how much Megan hates that.

atat said...

When I read this I picture McArdle in that chopper, smirking and giggling, just like those soldiers. I get the feeling that she pretends she's "not sure" simply because she can't figure out a way to openly excuse these atrocities without revealing herself to be a total monster. That said, I also get the sense that she's not even aware that she's a total monster, so maybe all of that happens on a subconscious level. After all, she claims she's not sure what to think about it all, and then she proceeds to come up with every excuse she can think of. When she watched the video she probably just closed her eyes, stuck her fingers in her ears and shouted, "La,la,la,la,la..."

Mr. Wonderful said...

Susan, I think your analysis of her is a complete bull's eye.

And then there's this:

Of course, it's not beyond imagination that some psychos with guns decided to shoot for the sheer joy of it; that's one of the tragic side effects of putting guns into the hands of large numbers of people.

Can we take this--written with her customary combination of faux authority and ersatz empathy--to mean La Megs is in favor of gun control?

I know what my guess would be. Because, while tragic side effects are tragic, the accidental or deliberate or psychotic killing of strangers is, in the end, less important than that her "freedom" be maximized.

Downpuppy said...

Her "Clever" title had me throwing up in my mouth before even trying to read the rubbish below it.

zeppo said...

The problem, tho, is that many people DO think that MM is an expert. Just as Glenn Beck "makes people think." There's no overcoming an alternative universe.

This entire country is so screwed right now...

jp said...

Well what do you expect from McBlargle? No one says anything mean about bankers in that video, and that's what she reserves her moral outrage for.

Susan of Texas said...

I wonder if there's an Arab equivalent to McArdle somewhere, saying that we don't know what was in the minds of the people who ran into the Twin Towers, and that unfortunate and unavoidable things happen in war, and the people in the Towers shouldn't have been in a war zone anyway.

Malaclypse said...

But I suspect this tape raises more questions about war itself, than about the conduct of the pilots.

This is true. However, I doubt Megan will learn to actually question war.

You heard the words 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. - Mark Twain, The War Prayer

Remember when The Atlantic employed real writers?