02 November 2007

How Many Foreigners Would You Kill to Save an American?

I'm proud to be American, kind of. I'm proud to be a Davison, kind of. I'm proud to be a Californian, kind of. But my being an American or a Davison doesn't make me feel like my own life is automatically worth more than an Armenian or a Gonzalez or Lee. I don't think that we ought to casually kill Pennsylvanians in order to ensure the life and property of Californians. I've no illusions about Americans or Californians or Davisons being superior to non-Americans, non-Californians, or non-Davisons.

All that to say that I'm convinced that one of the thing that separates the neocons like Cheney and Norman Poderhertz from us normal people is their willingness to use a "foreigner discount rate" equal to nearly 1. Cheney has talked about a 1% doctrine. Simply stated, if there is even a 1% chance that a country poses a threat to the US, we have the right to use preemptive force to stop them. This kind of patriotism seems to me more of a pathological condition than a noble sentiment. It seems more like a sign of mental illness than a sound basis for foreign policy. The foreigner discount rate of nearly 1 suggests that a foreigner's life is worth some fraction of an American's.

You might say that I'm biased. I am, afterall, married to a Canadian. But I've met a variety of people from other countries and have yet to be able to make generalities about them any more than I can about Americans. Some are fat, some are thin, some are generous, some are selfish, some are violent, some are passive ... people are people no matter where the international sperm lottery has placed them.

There is a chance that Iran will gain a nuclear weapon within the next three to five years. There is an even smaller chance that once they have this, they will use it against another country. And there is an even smaller chance yet that this country will be us. How many Iranians does that justify killing today? Cheney and Poderhertz would likely say, all of them. I just don't buy it.

I don't like the idea of killing, but I'd be glad to pull the trigger to stop one foreigner from killing 100 innocent Americans. I wouldn't even be very squeamish about sanctioning the murder of one foreigner to save the life of one American. But once you get to the point of killing 10 foreigners for one American, or 1,000 foreigners for one American - at that point the mathematics of morality seems to make patriotism seem like an excuse for discounting the lives of others rather than a healthy affinity for one's own.

This is one of the questions I would love to hear asked at these seemingly weekly candidate debates. How many foreigners would you sanction killing in order to save the lives of 100 Americans? At this point, we'd learn whether these politicians are more in touch with their patriotism or their humanity. It seems to me like a fairly important question.


cce said...

I agree...a great question and the answer is surely an indication of sanity or insanity, whichever the case may be.
It's reasonable to say that the hawkish mentality of taking lives in order to save the lives or further the ideas of those deemed more valuable is something akin to terrorism.

Ron Davison said...

it's certainly more the philosophy of a bully than a wise man - more what we can get away with than what we should do.