Friday, November 19, 2010

Dan Choi's Response to Mattilda Bernstein's Criticism

In this interview regarding the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Mattilda Bernstein claims it is ridiculous to improve access (of LGBT people) to a monstrous, out of control threat to world stability which murders on an industrial scale.  Bernstein rightly added that this killing and destruction is overwhelmingly for the benefit of corporate profiteers, the politicians they purchase, and maintaining the systems supporting their power.
West Point graduate Dan Choi argued that LGBT equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against militarism, since currently the system discriminates, undermining any greater question of militarism's morality, and making such questions moot by critics like Bernstein. 

I tend to think that the defect in Choi's response might be more apparent if we apply this argument to a well understood historical example with which most Americans are familiar.

If we were living in the antebellum South, and someone were to claim: Racial equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against slavery, since currently the system discriminates and does not allow the ownership of indigenous people or other groups, therefore any greater question of slavery's morality is inappropriate.  The lack of equality makes the larger questions moot, but after we have equality, objections to slavery will have much greater moral authority.

It seems clear we would not accept this response in the context of slavery, but why?

If we try to think of circumstances under which a person in those times might reject calls to end slavery, it seems easier to imagine an analog of Choi's response coming from someone attached to the institution of slavery.  This analogy seems plausibly useful based on what it predicts as the likely background for the supporter of the problem institution.

Here, we have a committed military man who believes in duty, honor, and country within a military context.  In the interview, he appears to recognize the actual history of U.S. interventions and military operations are largely at odds with the official pronouncements, which are largely based on mythologies like those of the Lusitania sinking as a casus belli for WWI, the propaganda of WWII that justified using the ultimate WMD's, U.N. resolutions starting the Korean War, and so on.  Nevertheless, his attachment to the military as a means a) generally to do good and b) personally to serve others, is clear.

Modern myths that the U.S. is under attack and needs to defend itself from WMD's, immigrants, non-traditional marriages, rich welfare queens (i.e.: black), incompetent teachers, sleeper celled terrorists, evil corporate executives, and many more are put forward by elites to deflect criticism, prevent reform, and maintain illegitimate control of others.  Like any lie, these myths are accurate in many ways, perhaps most.  Like any aggressive doctrines, from Nazism to Corporate State Capitalism, it is the costs and risks what they overlook which lie at the root of the problem for the greater society.

So, how should we decide whether responses like Choi's represent a valid objection to calls for ending undesirable activities?  It may be that there are times when making monstrous practices more humane can be justified: and that is when it really is the best we can do.  If the costs are too high for trying to eliminate a practice I don't think criticisms can stand well, so long as maintaining the status quo meets one criteria.

That criteria is "understanding".  If we are familiar with the best information available relevant to our situation and understand the consequences of our decisions, we are entitled to make conscious decisions based on our own values.  We may even decide to violate rules of reason and rationality without objection if we understand and acknowledge our decision is unreasonable and irrational.  Many people are in religions requiring them to profess beliefs they really know are silly and cannot possibly be true, but they cannot live without the social support they receive, and they make a rational choice to go along with group rituals and ignore the problems.  Most of the time, this does not involve obvious harm, other than making a virtue out of refusing to use one's brain to it's best advantage.  These believers are not normally asked to categorize this kind collective deception but when pressed, will go to even dishonest lengths to advocate such decisions as reasonable.

Dan Choi's training and indoctrination appears to be at war with his intellectual acuity and moral sense of justice, which I think we see in the interview as he acknowledges the validity of Bernstein's points.

I'd like to hear what readers think.

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Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

Distinguished theory and performance teacher provides expert knowledge during " Music with a View "at the Aspen Art Museum