Monday, February 2, 2015

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Most of you reading this can probably remember back to September 11, 2001. You remember the shock and horror that we -- and I use that term globally, because the whole world was shocked and horrified -- all felt. Shocked because no one could understand why anyone would do such a thing. Horrified because we couldn't understand how it had happened. Why it had happened...

Why did it happen? Why did our government let such a thing as terrorists attacking the country happen? Or, an even better question, how did our government allow the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor. Surely (as conspiracy theorists have been saying for decades), the government knew. And, to bring it up to date, how did the French government allow the Charlie Hebdo massacre? I mean, they had had one of those guys in jail not all that long before. They had to have known!

Someone, somewhere, failed to act and allowed these things to happen because, you know, they could have stopped them. Should have. They should have proactively stopped the bad guys before they had done anything wrong. You know, like in Minority Report. Surely, the government has future-reading psychics hidden away somewhere and know about all the bad things before they happen and are just picking and choosing which atrocities to stop (hmm... and that kind of sounds like what the British did during World War II once they had cracked the Enigma machine).

Look, it would be great if we could see the future and know, for sure, who was going to do what bad thing and when, but that's just not how the world works. Some people will do bad things and some people will only talk about doing bad things, and it's difficult to tell which is which. It leaves us with two options:
1. Catch the bad guys after they do the bad things.
2. Toss people in jail (or worse) just because we think they might do a bad thing.

There's this conversation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier about this topic -- actually, the whole movie is about this topic, but there's one particular exchange that really captures it -- between Nick Fury and Captain America:

Nick -- "We're going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen."
Cap -- "I thought the punishment usually came after the crime."

I think this is the central conflict not just in the United States but in all of Western culture, right now. How do you balance the need to feel secure against the need for something that is actual just (as in justice) treatment for all people? I mean, it's one thing to shoot a man down who has pulled a gun on you, but it's another thing entirely to shoot a lot of people down for no other reason than you think they might have a gun on them. Or might be thinking about getting a gun.

In general, I think we, as a people, really do believe in the idea of justice, the idea that no one should be persecuted or punished before s/he's done anything wrong. Punishment comes after the crime. However, when something like the Charlie Hebdo massacre happens, we immediately start up with, "Why didn't you stop them?" And that supposes that we should, somehow, not only know that the person(s) was going to do something but that we should also catch and punish that person before the crime has been committed.

Sometimes, it's the same person crying foul over assassinations and drone strikes one day then demanding to know why some terrorist wasn't put away before killing some people. It's not a thing you can have both ways.

And the truth... well, the truth is that some people are going to do bad things, and there's nothing we can do to stop all of them... that is unless we stop everyone that we even slightly suspect. That means, well, that means you, because virtually everyone I have ever known has gotten mad at some point and threatened someone else. So we either have a society with no freedom but total security, or we have a society with freedom and risks where we do the best we can and allow people the opportunity to do the right thing. Yeah, it's a hard choice, especially after an extreme act of violence, but you can't have it both ways.

It's time we make a choice and stick to that choice and uphold that choice. Me? I choose freedom.
Every time.


  1. Good point. You can't have both. You want to be super secure? Prepare for it to infringe on your freedoms and rights.

  2. If we can't have liberty in our most challenging times, we have no liberty.

    1. Andrew, I've nominated you for an award over at my blog.

    2. TAS: Very true. I think Franklin said something similar.

      (I'll drop by and check it out!)

  3. It's true. It's a nice thought that we could stop these things before they happen, but sometimes we just can't. The warning signs aren't always there. And the extreme it's gotten to already is ridiculous. Like suspending a kid for biting his pop tart into a gun-like shape. Newsflash: you did not just prevent a major school shooting by doing this. All you did was make your school look like a joke to the rest of the world.

    1. ABftS: And I just saw that some other kid got in trouble for bringing a "One Ring" to school. The word "terrorist" has been used. I'm not even going to read the article because it's just so overboard.

  4. The question you're really asking is: is someone evil, or are their actions evil? A person might plan all day long to bomb a public building or assassinate a public official, but if all he or she ever does is think about it, that person is not worthy of punishment. Even if they fully intend to actually do that, some day, we as a society don't (and shouldn't) punish them until they take irrevocable steps towards committing that crime.

    My first year in law school I spent a lot of time thinking about the act of attempting a crime; there's a whole art to what constitutes an attempt to commit a crime. For example, if you say "I ought to shoot [official]" and you go buy a gun the next day, that's probably not enough. Each step you take: buying tickets to a public appearance, loading the gun, etc., is a further step along to where the law will charge you with the crime of attempted assassination, but even then, who is to say that you would have pulled the trigger, if you were there in the room with the person and had your gun? Should nobody try to stop you until you pull the gun out? If someone does stop you, by say talking you out of it, are you still guilty?

    This is why we have inchoate crimes like "conspiracy" and "making threats" and the like. Unable to draw the line between evil thoughts and evil deeds, we criminalize the thoughts themselves.

    The question becomes even harder with terrorism and other political crimes. What we characterize as terrorism often is conceived as some sort of quasi-militaristic blow on behalf of a nongovernmental organization Violence, of course, is never the answer to a political crisis, or so we say -- a country that began in violence and cemented itself as a united country through violence, and then became a superpower through violence, as well.

    Not that I'm condoning terrorism -- one has to say that, or concern for antiterrorism efforts and freedom becomes twisted into 'he loves ISIS!" -- but I'm more on your side: siding with freedom, and not allowing our president to shoot wedding parties with unmanned drones because we think those countries might be the kind of countries where terrorist cells can breed.

    I often say: Imagine if other countries treated us the way we treat them. What if the OPEC nations got together and began sending drones over the midwest, shooting missiles into compounds in Idaho where Posse Comitatus-types form anti-government right-wing militias? We might not be so cavalier after a couple of those.

    And people fear terrorist attacks, and violent deaths, in general, far more than they should. That goes without saying, too. But it's far more dramatic to think that I might go out by being letter-bombed by ISIS than that I'm going to drop dead of that extra slice of pizza I just had. And I can't blame Obama for the pizza!

    1. Briane: Well, I agree with you.
      Especially, I agree with you about how our country started. If that was happening today, the colonists would be considered terrorists.

      Where I think it gets even more messed up (and I probably have a future post about this) is where we allow governments to torture and massacre their citizens, commit genocide, and we just allow that stuff, but we will assassinate suspected terrorists (suspected because there has been no trial or anything).

      At any rate, part of freedom is allowing the possibility of someone making a "wrong" choice. Without that option being there, there is no freedom.

  5. I totally agree. People do make horrible choices and do, do horrible things. Individuals and religions and governments all have, from time to time, committed atrocities. It's a terrible thing and I don't know for sure if there is even a way to stop it...these recent attacks are so random...or they seem to be....and all the video taped beheadings?! WTF is wrong with people? The people doing that don't even seem to be human...I mean, I think most people would have a natural revulsion to cutting off another person's head...unless of course that revulsion was over ridden by religious doctrine.
    We had a shooting here at Parliment that was totally connected to militant Islamic ideas.
    I feel totally safe where I live, I mean, nothing happens here as far as that goes. I guess something could happen, but I'm not gonna worry about it too can't go through your life being afraid that the boogey man will jump out and shoot you. as for America being a violent country, I know that's the way we see it up here. Most of us are appalled at the gun violence that seems to go on as a matter of course down there...I think that if the boogey man does have me in his sights at some point, he's more likely to be some garden variety deranged psychotic than an ISIS militant....which would suck for me either way I guess...I find this topic so frustrating. I really wish that people were decent to each other all the time.
    I'm looking forward to the next post.

    1. Eva: Honestly, what I really think is that we need the UN (or some "parent" organization) to step up and enforce real timeouts on people and countries. "You go to your room, now, and think about what you have done! Don't come out until you're ready to apologize!"

  6. I agree, with the caveat that if there is evidence of the plot, and I mean hard evidence (emails, video, sworn statements, etc), then a pre-emptive bust (not strike) is warranted. It would be irresponsible not to do so (though the charges for the crime are obviously less severe if the crime didn't happen.)

    People in the United States are arrested, at times, for attempting, or conspiring, to commit a crime.

    But yes, to go full force on an 'enemy' out of fear is to strip justice, and liberty, right out of the equation.

    1. Alex H: Well, sure, I agree. But, see, that's okay, because so much of the stuff required for an active terrorist plot is illegal. Explosives and assault weapons? Yeah, go in and take that stuff away and arrest people. They've already broken the law.

  7. It's a difficult issue where many people have interesting answers that can work sometimes and other people have potentially chilling solutions that might even work in certain cases, but it's question whether we would want to go there. Wonder what the crime/terrorism rate is like in North Korea?

    No solution is going to be the absolute answer or acceptable to everyone. Though one area in which I think the western world is deficient is the general cognizance of morality. There is an ambiguity concerning right and wrong with many people and often no one's teaching the lessons about this except for the entertainment mediums. This may not be the best idea under the current ideological thinking of the entertainment industry.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Lee: You know, I think we need to simplify morality teaching down to "treat others like yourself."

      As far as terrorism in North Korea, I think it's probably difficult to be a terrorist when you're living in the 19th century.