Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Stupid is as the nation state does

Israel's assault on Gaza seems like one of the least complicated conflicts in recent memory. A government is bombarding people in a confined space because they exhibit the kinds of anti-social tendencies which come from being condemned to a confined space.

In the narrative of the strong, the burden falls, predictably, on the weak. The strong claim they have no choice but to massacre the weak, because just look at how the weak behave! Rather than make good use of their confinement, they commit crime! They preach hatred, they hide weapons, they lash out at whatever is in their reach! Would you tolerate someone putting your children in harm's way? Of course, you would not. The behavior cannot be tolerated!

It must be a law of history, however, that what the powerful can tolerate is inversely proportional to what the powerful want to tolerate. This is illustrated splendidly by the manner of idiocy which says a small amount of death must be confronted with a massive escalation of death. In fact, small amounts of death -- even large amounts of death -- are tolerated by governments all the time in situations where there is a cost assigned to addressing them. That is to say, a political or economic cost. But human costs are not prohibitive alone: if the Israeli government was in the business of protecting Israeli lives, would it confront the deaths of 15 Israelis in 8 years time (the cost of tolerating Hamas rockets) by starting a war that would likely produce just as many casualties if not more in the space of several weeks? No: it would it negotiate terms that would reduce rocket fire -- just as it has under other circumstances in the past. But that would incur a cost for the Israeli political class -- and costs are meant to be borne by ordinary citizens, not their leaders. Lest we forget the meaning of patriotism.

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