Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chris Hedges and Contrarian Pricks

I have not dared to wade into the discussion forums attached to Chris Hedges' recent appearance on the Point of Inquiry podcast (George Junior and Ophelia Benson did so dare and have reported back on the maelstrom), but in the spirit of, oh, I don't know, changing shit up, I have decided to cite a case where I agree with Chris Hedges on a matter of substance:

Abu Ghraib is the natural consequence of war and has happened in every single war that has ever been fought. What you are doing in war is turning human beings into objects either to provide gratification or to be destroyed, or both. And almost no one is immune from that — the contagion of the crowd sees to that.
While I think it's a little too glib to say that "every single war" has produced something equally as vicious as Abu Ghraib, I agree with the larger insight that dehumanization is an extremely significant moral evil, and a ready concomitant of war (and terrorism). We cannot wish war away, in either my judgment or Hedges', but whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else, we must find ways to see the humanity even in the worst of enemies. This is not, I stress, any form of excuse-making for violent and hateful deeds. This is not an easy line; the difficulty of navigating precisely this line is the top reason we need non-stupid, nuance-aware political leadership.

While it is not an easy line, I do think Hedges goes much too far in connecting the dehumanization of Abu Ghraib with the critiques made in the recent spate of atheist books. Having read the apposite works by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett, I see nothing morally comparable with the Yoo torture memos, in which the dehumanization is overt and brazen.

My overall take on Hedges remains that he is profoundly wrong about atheism, as expressed here, here, here, here, and here. I also find him a complete weasel in the way he represents his argument, well-illustrated in the way he bounces between issuing and condemning generalizations during the PoI interview with D.J. Grothe. That interview had me gritting my teeth in a way that four out of five dentists would surely reject and denounce. That fifth dentist is such a contrarian prick.


George Junior said...

The way Hedges bounces around in the PoI interview seriously got my goat. He seems to regard any generalization made by someone else as ignorant, ill-informed, and/or racist, while demanding that his own statements, generalized from personal experience, be treated as pearls of wisdom. What a shrub!

On Abu Ghraib, I have to agree and disagree. Yes, war is hell but what happened in Abu Ghraib wasn't war. I believe the events that took place there can only partly be blamed on war and the attitude of American soldiers towards the enemy.

Quite aside from the specific issues in Abu Ghraib regarding the failure of command and the psych profiles of those involved, the dehumanization of inmates is part and parcel of any system of incarceration. I don't seek to excuse the horrors of Abu Ghraib but I would like to see the same kind of scrutiny that was focused on that place brought to bear on conditions in the US prison system. I imagine we might be equally horrified by what goes on behind the walls.

Dale said...

George Junior, for whatever it's worth, I am keenly concerned with what happens behind closed doors in American prisons and jails, and for that matter, between cops and suspects during interrogations.

Justice Scalia's recent remarks regarding the 8th amendment and torture are disturbing, to say the least.

Given all the attention rightly paid to Saddam Hussein's use of torture, we needed to do better in Iraq.

This war on terror has to be smart and good. We have to be better than our enemies, not just militarily stronger.

At home, we have to live up to our best ideals. No exceptions.

Laura said...

My favorite things you said and that I can practice even in my own little corner of the world:

"...we must find ways to see the humanity even in the worst of enemies," "We have to be better than our enemies,"we have to live up to our best ideals," and of course, "we need non-stupid, nuance-aware political leadership." That was a lay-up, but always worth saying.

Thanks, Dale, for another inspiring post.

Dale said...

Thanks Laura!