Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Better rig up that Voight-Kampff test

I generally like Jon Chait, and I find him one of the more substantive and interesting liberal writers in the mainstream media, but this post sees him going the full neocon:
[Human Rights Watch] may not take sides, but it makes decisions about what's important and what to focus on. Its intense focus on Israel -- a democracy with numerous active and influential human rights organizations in a sea of dictatorships that have nothing of the sort -- is a political choice, not just some "nonpartisan" reflection of reality.
Look, nobody is going to argue that Israel is worse than, say, Iran. Or Hamas. Well, nobody who is being honest is going to argue that, in any event. Israel isn't even in the same ballpark as those groups, and that isn't the issue.

Despite this having right-wing fallacy #1 (the other side is worse, basically), this statement also evinces the ultimate right-wing weakness: a lack of empathy. Chait assumes that HRW criticizing Israel more than, say, Saudi Arabia is proof that HRW is biased against Israel. But does it? Could it be that Saudi Arabia will largely not give a shit where they're ranked in humanitarian terms, while Israel probably will? HRW might criticize Israel more because Israel is indeed a liberal democracy while Saudi Arabia is not and it will presumably have internalized the importance of human rights, and being stung by some bad human rights notices might prod them to try better in the future?

Chait's answer is reminiscent of the right's smug, prideful, self-satisfied nationalist encomia about how the left "blames America first" and that earnestly asks why does the left hate America. Of course, we don't, we just feel that assuming the national identity as the exponent of freedom requires an actual commitment to liberty. Hawks like Chait always want to hold other countries to a highest standard, but feel that America (or Israel, such as the case might be) shouldn't be held to a similarly lofty bar. It's simple hypocrisy, no different from when the same contingent talks about how torture isn't a big deal because al-Qaeda cuts off peoples' heads, so who cares about the odd hypothermia death after an inmate is put in stress positions naked in a freezing room for twelve hours? Rather than complain about bias (does it matter anyway if the complaints are correct?), they should wonder why they want us to grade our behavior on a curve, and then just be happy that we don't fail outright. They might think we hate America (or Israel), but why do they take them for granted?

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.