March 18, 2012

American exceptionalism, Democratic non-exceptionalism, Sgt. Bales

People are continuing to talk about Sgt. Robert Bales, the man accused of killing 16 Afghans earlier this month. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, may have had PTSD, and probably shouldn't have been sent back into combat. Through all that, a lot of people have referred to him as a nice guy.

Well, evolutionary anthropologist Scott Atran takes a whole look at this "nice guy" claim, and while not doubting it for a second, notes that it's being tied to American exceptionalism, and with a little intellectual judo, rightly calls bullshit on a lot of this.

It's easy, as Atran notes, to think that America is filled with almost nothing but "nice guys." That's especially true when it comes to Americans abroad, where surely, all we're doing is spreading white bread and the American way of life.

Well, we usually don't ask if other countries do that. Then, in certain parts of the larger Middle East in particular, when we spread the idea of democracy, we suddenly find that people in these countries democratically vote in favor of social values we reject.

Beyond that, we assume all American values are noble. A predatory hypercapitalism, whether in "secular" or "success gospel Christianity" forms, is at least one that certainly isn't. If Africa, the Middle East or certain parts of Asia wants Western values, it might want old Europe's instead of ours.

That said, this all assumes that Sgt. Bales, as in individual, was a "nice guy." After all, he volunteered, at or past the age of 30, for the military.

But, we may not know all of the story of Bales we thought we did. The New York Times weighs in with more.

He has, apparently, a (relatively minor) criminal record including some violence.

And, in light of this statement about his second tour in Iraq:
“Giving money to Hagji instead of bullets just don’t seem right,” he wrote, apparently misspelling Hajji, a term used by soldiers, often pejoratively, in referring to Arab people.  
I'm sure a lot of Afghans would reject the claim that he's a "nice guy."

Meanwhile, a story at NY Mag is making the rounds among at least my social media friends. It's the latest on how, if the GOP, especially as driven by the tea party types, can't oust Obama this year, it's doomed to possible demographic extinction.

I call bullshit on that one. Parties evolve all the time. The GOP was supposedly facing extinction after Goldwater. Remember Reagan Democrats, though? (Some of whom are now, in fact, tea partiers.)

And, if Democrats are dumb enough, and intellectually lazy enough, to believe this, they deserve a collective smack in the face when their neoliberal hands-sitting fantasies turn out wrong.

Beyond that, to tie to the thread above, since the days of McCarthy and the Second Red Scare, if not the post-Civil War GOP "waving the bloody shirt," warmongering has always been a way for a party to try to stay in power.

Of course, speaking of neolibs, it's neolib "eminence" Jon Chait churning this out. So, it's about par for his course.

An interesting NYT piece? A plea for the return of Freudian psychoanalysis. The last two grafs of the column are true indeed. We need to take time for pointlessness. We need to force more room for such time into our lives, and into the broader social fabric of America. But the idea that Freud is the only real way to do that in the modern western world is laughable.

And another. Kudos for somebody telling the truth about the reality of aging, especially in the face of pseudomedical quackery.

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