Sunday, January 28, 2007

From PETA to abortion, the death penalty, and Darfur

Occasionally, comments on posts become more interesting than the posts themselves, and when they do that and diverge sufficiently from the original topic that they risk being lost to all but the most ardent comment-surfers, they deserve a spot of their own. So it is with a thread spawned by Nate's comment on the PETA controversy. You can find the original post and its full comment thread here. Following is an edited summary of the relevant comments that led up to this post, and then my own response (which had to be a new post, I learned, because HaloScan commenting has limits on links).

Nate said:
An interesting query...for those who support PETA, what is their view on abortion? And the death penalty? And the starving, persecuted children of Darfur? My guess -- 1) Cool with it, 2) Not a supporter and 3) What?Isn't that ironic? Maybe I'm just a sarcastic cynic, only I'm not. Nate Flint Email 01.27.07 - 7:47 pm

To which Barry responded:
Nate, not a PETA supporter here, but couldn't resist your quick political quiz:Abortion - Against it for reasons of personal belief; as a matter of policy would prefer for it to remain legal, as the outcome of making it illegal is already known-bad. Don't want my tax dollars paying for it. Don't feel I have a right to impose my personal moral judgments on this particular issue on others, beyond that very narrow extent.Capital Punishment - Support the idea of it in theory, don't like its current implementation, since statistical analysis seems to suggest that the main deciding factor as to whether you get the hot shot or not is the race of the person you kill. The way to fix this problem, incidentally, is not to abolish the death penalty, but to raise the legal system's perception of the value of the lives of minority victims and encourage them to execute more people who murder minorities. In other words, I'd be for it unreservedly if death-penalty states offed more people and the distribution looked better.Darfur: It's an awful situation there; too bad it's "just" human suffering and there are no natural resources there that anyone elsewhere in the world might want, in which case the human suffering would then make a nice fig leaf for intervention. As it is, nothing's going to happen there in the near future except more genocide. Barry Campbell Email Homepage 01.28.07 - 4:17 am

To all of which, I have the following to say:

Is it really the race of the victim that's determinative here, or is it the race of the perp (which has always been my understanding)? Not that I've seen so many freshman essays on the issue that I finally (in contradiction of my general rule against universals) outlawed it as a topic, more for their protection than my sanity--far too complex and emotionally charged an issue for most of them to do a mature or rational job on. The question is far more complex than race (regardless of which end of the barrel or blade one is on). There is also money and its effect on the quality of the defense. I think OJ alone will serve well enough to illustrate that point and cast some doubt on your original position.

Darfur: see, in the Reading Now window in my sidebar, Shake Hands with the Devil, by the Canadian commander of UNAMIR during the Rwanda genocide. I'm reviewing it for War, Literature & the Arts. At this point, the opening sentence of my review is likely to read something like:

As a scholar of Cormac McCarthy, and as an English professor who has taught his masterwork, Blood Meridian, in class, I've been involved in more than one discussion about the meaning of his enigmatic ending to that book. Not the Epilogue itself, for I think I've pretty well elucidated at least the source of those 207 words if not their meaning (see my article in The Cormac McCarthy Journal). What I mean here are the closing words of the novel itself. His stating of its unforgettable judge that, "He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die." From this point forward, I'm going to abjure explanation. Instead, I'm simply going to give the confused--be they colleague or student, soldier or civilian--a copy of Dallaire's book. It is as close as one can come to a non-fiction elaboration of the judge's immortality, and a far better answer than I will ever be able to give.

So, as for Darfur, we've been here before. And I'll offer to Dallaire, perhaps as balm for his tortured soul and whatever unjustified guilt he feels, a slightly altered version of the words I've so frequently used myself--not as an excuse for inaction, but as a balm for ineffectiveness against the action or inaction of others: "There is only so much inhumanity one man can prevent." Again, we should never not try our utmost. But neither should we beat ourselves up when the judge prevails.

As Barry points out, in a roundabout way, had broccoli been the principal export of Kuwait, the Kuwaitis would be nearing the end of their second decade as part of Iraq. Not that I was against that intervention at all. Wholeheartedly in favor of it. I just prefer to be honest about motives, most of the time.