Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Paving Hell with Good Intentions

"A Drunk Trot" contemplates the intellectual aftermath of the Gaza operation. The author is tortured by how to think right about the conflagration. Whose side should he or shouldn't he support. It appears to be a thoughtful piece, as is evidenced in the commenters' responses to it.

As usual, however, I was looking at it from my unique vantage point and found fault with the thinking. Two points:


A consequentialist would say that all that matters is the consequence of the action, not its intent. I do not agree. Intent matters, it matters a great deal. For instance, in the British legal system we distinguish between murder, manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving, etc. on the basis of intent. It is also true that our reaction to the early death of someone we loved and the process of mourning and recovery is affected by the nature of the death. An accident is a tragedy, but a murder is traumatic.

In this passage, the author speaks of intent. It's a good enough short overview of the whole of issue of "intent" in the way the law considers it in cases of crimes where life has been lost or endangered. however, this kind of "intent" is used to classify the severity of a crime. No one will dispute the fact that "murder, manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving, etc." are all crimes. The attempt to decipher intent aims at establishing pre-meditation, passion, carelessness, criminal neglect, etc, by way of determining what kind of indictment is called for, what level of punishment is needed to mend the tear that was caused by this particular crime to the society at large, and to serve justice to the victims.

I guess you see where I'm going with this point. The author has accepted, a-priory, without actually saying so, that the death toll inflicted upon the Palestinian population by Israel's armed forces was a crime. What's missing, or unclear, is a determination of the level of criminality attached to this operation.

This a-priori assumption is further re-inforced by the example furnished:

A drunk driver uses a car because of the expectation that they will not be caught and will not cause an accident. It is a risk, but the odds are on their side. If a child is killed, we vilify and punish the driver, though not for murder. Now imagine that if a drunk driver got in a car knowing that it was certain that they would kill a child and that the child’s death was the inevitable consequence of driving home from the pub. They wouldn’t drive; the intent not to kill would overwhelm the desire to get home without paying for a taxi.

The actions of the IDF in Gaza are thus compared to that of a drunk driver knowing that if he gets into the car, he will, with 100% certainly, kill a child, but does so anyway.

If I heard about a drunk driver knowing his driving would kill a child but goes on to do as he pleases anyway, I would consider him a deliberate murderer. Drinking alcohol is not a right enshrined in any ethical system, nor is it a necessary condition to preserve one's life or protect another's. Quite the contrary. Drunkenness often leads to stupid behaviour, obscure thinking, over-confidence, and more importantly, to easily irresponsible decisions, like driving a car.

In what way can Israel's decision to launch a military operation against Hamas to put a stop to the attacks upon Israeli population be comparable to drinking alcohol before driving?


The author concludes his post by suggesting that "we" which he defines as:

... a left blog, written from different perspectives though sharing some common values; social justice, anti-racism, equality, respect for human life, a hatred of oppression. That’s the side to be on.

not choose any sides but be on their side (Left blog, etc). In other words, since "we" cannot decide, nor should we, who is right and who is wrong in this conflict, considering the Hamas provocations and the IDF's drunken stupor, we will remain on the sidelines and continue to bloviate, which is what we do best.

He doesn't tell us how such a course of action will help Israelis and Palestinians inch their way into a more congenial co-existence. Maybe he tells us that he simply doesn't know anymore, in which case wouldn't it be more prudent just to keep quiet? If one doesn't know which side to choose, then comparing one side' actions as analogous to drunk driving with a fore-thought to kill, seems to suggest his mind is already made up.

Readers of my blog know exactly what I think about the side liners and prevaricators.

Readers also know what I think about the invocation of extreme pity. The author introduces this element at the very end of his piece, by linking to the horror story of a father losing his three daughters in what seems to be an Israeli tank shell. To end on this note is to try to numb the reader to the sequence of causes and affects, and proper intentionality.

I don't know what experience the author has of what a battlefield looks like. Most Israelis have a pretty good notion, having actually lived the reality the shocks him so. Which is why Israel are seeking to make peace, while Palestinians keep electing leaders that only want to make this kind of reality their normal existence.


Update: Terry Glavin posted a link to the same article, and a predictably contentious disagreement ensued (and that's putting it politely).


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