Sunday, November 6, 2011

Numb to violence

I was watching an old episode of Law and Order the other day--"Survivor" guest-starring Karen Allen--involving some coin collectors, stolen coins from 1939 in Germany, and Holocaust survivors. You can probably fill in some of the pieces fairly easily. Anyway, the character played by Ms. Allen kills a coin dealer over some coins he supposedly had that were owned by her father in pre-war Germany. Her father--a Holocaust survivor--had placed the coins in a Swiss bank, but could not retrieve them after the war because he had no documentation to prove he was who he claimed to be. Not a far-fetched tale at all, since this is exactly what happened to many Jews and/or their surviving families.

Allen--as the child of a Holocaust survivor--has some deep-seated psychological problems, the biggest one being a profound lack of faith in humanity. In a brilliant scene, she breaks down while being interviewed by the state's psychologist, noting how horrible things happen to people everyday, at the hands of other people. And nothing ever seems to change, in this regard.

I thought of her spiel this morning, as I read this story.

In just this year, the Boku Haram sect of Islam is responsible for killing over three hundred people in Nigeria. There's a great deal to discuss, within the framework of Boko Haram's fundamentalist ideology and its opposition to science, democracy, and all things Western. But rather than go down that road, I'd like to look at the attacks as evidence of just how uncaring we can be, as a species. And--per Ms. Allen--how little effect these episodes have on our collective conscious, when it comes to doing anything about them beyond expressing a little sympathy, outrage, and indignation.

Who wants to live in a world where people are subjected to such large-scale attacks? Yet, that world is the only world for the peoples of many nations outside Western democracies. Imagine seeing your friends and family gunned down in the streets, blown to bits by a bomb, or burned to death in the aftermath of such. We take for granted the security of our lives, even after the horrific event in September, 2001. And we steel ourselves against such tragedies beyond our borders with the knowledge that they are distant and involve nameless, faceless victims.

Consider this all in the context of my previous post on the key point of divergence for different forms of libertarianism. It is posited that via education and the introduction of democracy and free markets, the terrible behavior of groups like Boko Haram can be curbed. And that may very well be true. But it takes time. Meanwhile, innocents die brutal, horrible deaths. For those of us convinced that the promulgation of liberty will improve the lot of all, can we still just watch, just allow such violence to continue unabated? Or are we obligated to respond--with force, if necessary--to protect those that lack the power to protect themselves?

A familiar refrain from many libertarians--when it comes to the issue of government force--are the oft-misquoted words of Benjamin Franklin:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. 
I prefer the words of John Stuart Mill, written in 1862 with regard to the American Civil War:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
Cheers, all.

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