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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Syria: The Milgram Experiment

Case in point?  Syria.

Forget Marxism - Randian objectivism is the major political philosophy at play today.  Couched in "heroic" terminology, the essence of Rand's philosophy is this - self-interest is the only noble pursuit and a fancy justification for "my mind is already made up, don't confuse me with the facts."  She misuses the term axiom (a premise so true that it is universally accepted without controversy) in a way that the laissez-faire crowd has latched on to with pride.

We're back to Syria.  Sitting in a coffee shop or 'round the kitchen table or boardroom table somewhere in North America, how do we really know what's happened in Syria?  It's in our best interest not to get involved in other people's business, even where innocents are being slaughtered - that's a bit too much like committing sociology.

Footage on TV could be faked - or, it could be misrepresented.  There's nothing axiomatic about what we're seeing, right?  I used a fancy word, so my position is validated!

Reports from Doctors Without Borders?  They're pointedly not assigning blame, so that doesn't help us any, does it?

Lots of people are saying Assad bombed his civilians with chemical weapons - Assad agrees chemical weapons were used, but says it was the other guys that did it.  How can we know for sure who's guilty on our side of the pond?

This is where the Milgram experiment comes in:

Here's what'll happen if Obama caves in to "the Russian proposal."  Having already said he hasn't used chemical weapons, Assad's stockpile will be overlooked, moved, made inaccessible and therefore, the existence of them will prove unaxiomatic - you can't believe in what you can't see, right?

Meanwhile, word will spread that the rebels have chemical weapons that they received from Saudi Arabia or whatever.  That's how self-interested players in power operate, after all - present rumour as fact and make your opponents work to prove it's false.  With the Syrian and Russian governments, probably with some nods from China, point to this as evidence that they've been right all along, Western citizens looking for excuses not to get involved will defer to the "authorities" and dismiss the faceless, unelected rebels as deceitful.  The burden of proof, after all, always lies with the weak.

Believing what they want to believe - that there's no reason for them to take any responsibility - more and more Western citizens will demand their governments stay out of the fray.  For his part, though, Assad will have two tools at hand; one, a discredited opposition that he can continue to call out as liars, regardless of the facts and two, ammunition that he needs to escalate his attacks - after all, you have to fight fire with fire, right?

It's a story we've seen before, that we continue to see played out across the world and in our very own backyard.  North Korea?  Not our problem.  Falun Gong?  They're a bit airy-fairy, so you can't take their arguments seriously.  Ethnic violence and systematic abuses faced by Roma-Sinti?  Honestly, can you trust a Gypsy?  Abused and missing First Nations' women?  Drunks, drug-addicts and if anything is being done to them, it's by their own kind, so not our problem.  

If any of this was of real concern, why, the authorities would be doing something about it.

Wake up, people - we are the authorities of our own actions and, in a democratic system, our governments'.  It's not "do unto others as your governments dictate" - it's "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you." 

What Rand described as consciousness - being aware of something - is really just awareness.  True consciousness is the realization you can do something about it.

There's only one way to get ahead of these avoidable tragedies that we all wear by our inaction as much as our action; that's to own up to our responsibility to society, both here and abroad.  

Syria is as good a place to start as any.

UPDATE: I've been asked about what I would like to see us do, so in broad brushstrokes, here you go.

We (the West or just Canada if no one else is ready to pony up) should get in on the ground in the hot zones.  The goal wouldn't be to threaten one side or the other, but to put ourselves in the line of fire - with the risks and responsibilities that entails.  If we place our troops around the civilians with a mandate to protect themselves and those behind them, it forces aggressors to decide how committed they are to killing their own people.  If Assad kills Canadians/Western troops in the process, they are essentially declaring war on all of us.  Either way, he's forced to own the consequences of his actions.

Canadians can help out with mediation on the diplomatic side, but if aggressive defence is called for, we are skilled at that, too.  Is it interventionist?  Absolutely.  If we believe in protecting the innocent, intervention is called for.

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