Biased animals as we are, it is a rare thing for us to see an argument we vehemently disagree with* that we recognize nonetheless sums up the stakes of said argument quite well. Over on Zombie Contentions, CK MacLeod brings up just such a rarity. Focusing on the philosophical aspects of war, in this case spinning off of the U.S. government’s use of torture, he describes a possible mindset being taken advantage of by the ones giving the orders:
As individuals and individualists, we react viscerally, if vicariously, to the very essence of torture and to the principle of its effectiveness: which last need not be considered strictly in regard to its supposed sole justifying purpose, the acquisition of so-called actionable intelligence, but may, in the very uncertainty of its utility, even at the outset of the “enhanced interrogation” program, rely primarily on demonstration of the torturer’s own unequivocal faith, love of country, love of fellow citizens or members of a community, willingness to fight for and defend them by any means necessary and available, up to and including one’s own destruction. This intelligence about ourselves, on the dependency and relative insignificance of the individual, converted by war into one sheddable cell among others in an arisen national body, the Casablanca determination2, stands as the first and most important, most fervently sought secret proven by torture.
Ah yes, the “civic duty” chestnut. I remember it well, though in this case it goes beyond seeking something bigger than yourself and somehow ending up at a military recruiters office. FAR beyond. This is that hapless recruit years later, now standing in a room, in a secret building, in Gawd Knows Where, with CIA agents & a captive, holding a bucket & awaiting orders.
Downright terrible as I find the practice, considering the optics direction of harm seems obvious: the person being tortured. That is there, but CK suggests that deep down the real object of torture is breaking the torturer. Rather than the “ticking time bomb” 24 horseshit we were fed at the time we found out about adoption of a Khmer Rouge tactic (as if that would’ve justified it somehow), the prisoner is a prop in the submission of self to The Cause, adding yet another layer of sickness to what was already a disgusting demonstration of what government authority does to people. Reminds me of how 1984 ended — the book, not the year.
As Jeremy Weiland mentioned at the time of my initial observation against civic-duty-as-state-theater, we’re already part of a greater whole, one that doesn’t ask us to destroy each other. That isn’t the only place where the formulation in the mind of this hypothetical soldier rings false though, far from it:
No war is ever, ever has been, or ever will be fought purely for family, community, & country. No warrior is ever, ever has been, or ever will be given orders by family, community, or country.
Those orders come from certain people, people aligned with a certain class, with particular interests of their own. They are not the country, they are not your neighbors, they are not your family. And you are not an empty vessel waiting to be filled by the rulers.
You are you. Without what makes each of us I, We are meaningless. Disobey.
(* – Far as my reading of him goes, question of For or Against isn’t CK’s bag, so it’s more of an “it’s complicated” thing. What I take issue with is that it strikes me as highly useful for people who would argue the For side. Complexity as reason to submit to elite authority rears its head a lot.)