Sunday, October 23, 2011

Glenn Greenwald on Glee at Gaddafi's Death: A Reflection about American "Pro-Life" Values

As gruesome photos of the corpse of Mommar Gaddafi circulate online, Glenn Greenwald writes about the kind of people we Americans are becoming as our empire declines and our national identity becomes more and more about whom we can execute--and how loudly and long we can cheer the latest national execution:

It is difficult to articulate exactly why, but there is something very significant about a nation that so continuously finds purpose and joy in the corpses its government produces, while finding it in so little else. During the Bush years, I frequently wrote about how repetitive, endless fear-mongering over Terrorism and the authoritarian radicalism justified in its name was changing — infecting and degrading — not just America’s policies but its national character.  Among other things, this constant fixation on alleged threats produces the mindset that once the government decrees someone to be a Bad Guy, then anything and everything done to them (or ostensibly done to stop them) is not merely justified but is cause for celebration. That was the mentality that justified renditions, Guantanamo, vast illegal domestic surveillance, aggressive war against Iraq, and the worldwide torture regime: unless you support the Terrorists and Saddam, how could you oppose any of that? . . . .

What simultaneously explains this and makes it all the more significant (and all the more damaging) is that the citizenry has almost no other cause to engage in political celebration, nationalistic pride or collective moral purpose. There is a widespread perception for the first time ever that America is a nation in decline. Faith in the country’s leading institutions and political figures is shockingly (though appropriately) low. The country is plagued by mass sustained joblessness, oceans of debt, loss of entire industries, a disappearing middle class, exploding wealth inequality, declining class mobility, and a deeply corrupted political system that now resembles an oligarchy far more than a democracy. For many, the shame of the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib and the torture regime endure. Everyone desires something to celebrate, to feel good about, and the country’s political organs can now offer little more than Bad Guy corpses to enable those feelings.
Putting bullets into people’s skulls and exploding them into little bits and pieces by sky robots is one of the very few things at which America still seems to excel. So that’s what the political class feeds to the population to keep them convinced of the country’s exceptionalism and righteousness. But that’s a toxic diet, one that can produce some short-term satisfaction but unquestionably spawns long-term disease.

I think Greenwald is exactly right with this critique.  And this is one of the reasons that, increasingly, I run the other direction as fast as I can when I hear my fellow citizens and co-religionists talking about how "pro-life" they/we are.  There's not much at all, in a carefully considered way, that's thoroughgoingly or consistently pro-life about much of American culture.  Not in the least.

Even so, far more than any other people on earth, we Americans talk long and hard about how pro-life we are.  We use the term as a litmus test for political and religious affiliation.  It's a badge of pride.

And it's a badge we continue to wear with astonishing certitude of our unique American righteousness even as we spatter it with the blood of one person after another we've summarily executed, as if we have a national right (and divine mandate) to engage in these political killings.  We wear our pro-life badge with pride even as we celebrate these killings with national glee and national amusement.

Please don't misunderstand: I am not pro-dictators.  I think it is right and good that political leaders who mount atrocities against their own citizens and the citizens of other countries be stopped in their tracks.  I can even countenance the thought of assassinating bloody dictators as a morally admissible end.  I do not condemn Dietrich Bonhöffer for deciding to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

But as Greenwald notes, what is happening to us as a people in the United States right now goes far beyond any principled debate about when and how one may legitimately or morally contemplate the assassination of a dictator.  We are becoming a people who positively revel in the execution of our perceived enemies--of anyone we designate as our enemy.

And even as we bathe in the blood of those we think of as our enemies, we profess to be on the side of life in an exceptional way that surpasses the commitment any other people on earth to the values of life.  Something's not right with this picture.  Pro-life is the last thing many of us are or have been, for some years now.

And it's time for those using this slogan as a political and religious litmus test (and as a weapon) to start thinking far more critically and honestly about the disparity between what many American pro-lifers really stand for, and the values of life they profess to hold so dear.

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