I was reading Oliver Willis' blog
today (seriously, O -- what the fuck is up with your comments board being dominated by retrograde neo-cons? Good Guys need to represent
.), and I noticed that the majority of the comments about the revelation that Americans are imprisoning children at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay were in favor of it.
They made any number of excuses (these "children" are terrorists; they're being treated better at Gitmo than they would be in Afghanistan; they're not American citizens and aren't subject to the same rights as an American child; etc.), but the general thrust of the argument from these righties was that it was okay, if not necessarily good, that we were imprisoning children. And at any rate, it was CERTAINLY not comparable to Saddam Hussein having imprisoned children, and anyone making that comparison is just WRONG.
It occured to me at this point, as it has often in the past when politics is at issue, that there's really two approaches to politics and ethics: the kind that judges intent, and the kind that judges behavior. Before I go on, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not a conservative/liberal dichotomy: while I will be using a conservative example for the first type, it is certainly not restricted to the right, and liberals are absolutely as guilty as conservatives of using the approach.
The first type of person -- the person using an intent-driven approach -- thinks that practice isn't as important as theory. They condemn the existence of child prisoners in Iraq not so much because they object to children being in jail, but because Saddam Hussein is a bad person, and when a bad person does things, they are, ipso facto, bad things. A good person with good intentions could do those same things, and they would be good, rather than bad, because the act is neutral and it's the attitude that generates this act that we should judge. Since Saddam Hussein is a murderous tyrant and George W. Bush is not, any observations about the similarity of some of their actions are simply hysterical rhetoric, because one of them is coming from an indefensible moral position, and the other is coming from a positive ethical place. This model says that racist behavior doesn't necessarily mean you're a racist, that oppressive measures do not necessarily indicate an oppressive government, that doing the same things as a dictator does not make someone a dictator.
The latter group say that it's not intentions that matter, but actions. They tend to believe that morals and ethics, or the relative good and evil of any given human being, are difficult to quantify and even more difficult to accurately judge, and therefore, we should judge people by the things they do, not the reasons they say they are doing them. As a result, if we, as a society, decided that jailing children is an uncivilized behavior and a bad thing to do, then we shouldn't support the jailing of children just because it's our country doing it and it's people we are morally/ethically/politically aligned with who are ordering it done. It's the same argument that claims that the U.S. is an imperial state even though it does not have the standard goals of empire: if you are a global power with military bases all over the world and absolute economic and political power backed by that military strength, goes the reasoning, you are an empire, even if you're not planting your flag and adding your name to the names of your territories. This model says that you are a dictator if you behave dictatorially, you are a racist if you do racist things, you are an oppressive government if you oppress people.
What motherfuckin' side you on? Discuss.