Enzo Powered

a dumping ground

Month: August, 2013

Syria and Western Intervention

Last Wednesday, footage was released from Syria showing what many believed to be a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus. Reports differ on how many were killed, from a few hundred to over a thousand. It is not even known whether it was definitively a chemical attack or who the perpetrator was. Regardless of what is and isn’t known, the United States, France and Britain seem to be ready to strike at the Syrian government and help the opposition overthrow Bashar al-Assad. United States naval ships have moved into the Mediterranean in anticipation of military conflict and both Britain and France have noted the necessity of military force in Syria if chemical weapons have indeed been used. The question posed to the world now is not whether Assad should go but whether Western intervention should be used to remove him.

The Western powers have described intervention in Syria as a moral duty. Gassing civilian populations cannot be condoned and the United States cannot allow it to continue. However, the United States can allow the Syrian opposition to commit war crimes and continue to help it overthrow Assad. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted earlier this year that the opposition is believed to use torture, extra-judicial killings and desecration of bodies as war tactics. All of these are war crimes. Yet, it is these groups that the West is attempting to help into power. Additionally, Carla del Ponte, a UN Human Rights investigator told Swiss TV that victim testimony pointed to the rebels being the perpetrators of the recent chemical attack. Although the panel has not yet made a definitive conclusion on who perpetrated the attacks, it would seem as if the minds of Obama, Cameron and Hollande are already made up. The Western powers do not care about whom commits human rights violations; they care only about who they want in power.

Looking at the United States’ track record, this is easy to support. The United States has overthrown countless democratically elected administrations and replaced them with dictators. Amid the reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, a little noted article from Foreign Policy reported that the United States supported Saddam Hussein while he was using chemical weapons on Iran. There is no guarantee that Western intervention in Syria would end the human rights violations of Bashar al-Assad; it would only guarantee that the new regime would be loyal to the United States.

The United States has been using the Arab Spring idea to promote regime change in North Africa and the Middle East. It has coopted actual struggles and rebellions in order to stabilize its hegemony in the region. Look at both Egypt and Libya as examples. Egypt has been a US ally since Anwar Sadat came to power. The US provides billions of dollars to the Egyptian military every year. When the Egyptian revolution erupted, it was the Egyptian military that stepped in a deposed Hosni Mubarak. Earlier this year when the Egyptian people took to the streets to protest Mohamed Morsi, it was the Egyptian military that again stepped in to depose him. One reason that the United States has an interest in quelling unrest in Egypt and putting in a loyal regime is the Suez Canal. Too much traffic goes through the canal to allow for disruptions. Additionally, the United States military uses the Suez Canal in order to move its ships into the area. If the Suez Canal was closed, it could mean a lack of US military presence in the region. Also, Egypt is a regional hegemon and allowing the country to ally itself closely with China and Russia might destabilize the United States’ hold over the region.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was a brutal leader, but the United States accepted him as the country’s leader while Gaddafi was an ally in the War on Terror. However, when Gaddafi wanted to nationalize the oil production in Libya, that’s when the United States turned on him and supported the Libyan rebels (also alleged to have committed war crimes) through funds, weapons and airstrikes.

The West does not intervene in conflicts without a purpose. There a plenty of war crimes happening all throughout the world, but they do not attract the attention of Western powers. What is it about Syria? Oil is one factor and security is another. Although Syria produces only 1% of the world’s oil, its continuing civil war has an effect on the oil market. Installing a stable government could return the market to normal. Syria has also been a haven for forces seeking to fight against Israel. Israel is a major ally to the United States because it is a hegemon in its own region. With a loyal government in Syria, a crackdown on those forces could be instituted, increasing Israel’s security, and in turn, increasing the security of the US.

Assad is not a peaceful leader by any stretch of the imagination and this is why the choice of ‘leave Assad be’ and ‘support Western intervention’ looks so easy. If we want to remove a bad person, we support the forces that will remove him. But the real situation is much more complicated. Removing Assad may not end the violence inflicted on Syria. The rebels are not innocent themselves. It may be hard for people to accept the suggestion that we allow the situation in Syria to continue, and it’s definitely hard to suggest it. But Western intervention does not have as its aim stopping violence. It only has an aim to replace the figure of power. To support Western intervention does nothing for the people of Syria. It just makes the violence committed condoned by the United States.

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Social Space and Animals

Vegans and omnivores have argued ceaselessly since veganism became an actual movement. Many of the seemingly convincing arguments around veganism come from the idea of ‘speciesism’ or the idea that putting humans at a higher level than animals is wrong. It is seemingly convincing because it puts the interlocutor at a disadvantage to say why animals can be killed for food but not babies or those in persistent vegetative states without falling back on the truism “well, we’re human.” Though I believe that steps should be taken to ensure animal welfare, I don’t think we need to accept the idea of speciesism to do so.

Some arguments for meat production fall under the idea that animals are not as smart as humans therefore they can be used as food. The vegan counterargument to this is that we do not eat children or those in persistent vegetative states. Some argue that pigs and cows are as smart as two year olds and therefore deserve rights on a similar level as humans, at least in the right to life. Even arguing that at least babies can grow into adults that are much smarter than animals doesn’t hold against the vegan argument.

“We cannot claim that biological commonality entitles us to superior status over those who are not members of our species. In the case of applying this to people with severe and profound cognitive disabilities, there is also a problem about saying who the ‘‘we’’ are. What is really important about saying ‘‘us?’’ Is it that we are all capable of understanding language, and perhaps even rational argument? In that case, I am not addressing those who are profoundly mentally retarded. Or is it that I am addressing all those who are members of my species?”

Peter Singer – Speciesism and Moral Status

Rhys Southan of Let Them Eat Meat, a blog about ex-vegans, tries to attack this problem by noting that just because something has sentience, or the ability to move and think, doesn’t mean that it can’t be killed. Which is a strange argument to make.

“Where vegans lose me is in the leap from “animals are capable of suffering” to “animals have a right to life.” Why do vegans equate an ability to suffer with having an inviolable reason to live? It’s intuitive to not want to cause pain to something capable of pain, but I’m not sure what this has to do with right to life if the life can be ended painlessly. How do vegans get from “these creatures move around and it hurts when we punch them in the snout” to “we can’t stun them and then kill them”?

But this doesn’t alleviate Southan from the speciesism argument. We can stun and kill animals, but what exactly differentiates an animal from a person? Why is it that we can stun and kill animals for food but not humans? And this is a question that Southan fails to answer because he doesn’t question his idea of what a human is.

A human is a constructed idea. That doesn’t mean that humans and monkeys and spiders are all the same thing. It means that the way we distinguish humans from monkeys is constructed through a discourse. Costas Douzinas notes:

“[B]ecause ‘human­ity’ has no fixed mean­ing, it can­not act as a source of norms. Its mean­ing and scope keeps chan­ging accord­ing to polit­ical and ideo­lo­gical pri­or­it­ies. The con­tinu­ously chan­ging con­cep­tions of human­ity are the best mani­fest­a­tions of the meta­phys­ics of an age. Per­haps the time has come for anthro­pos to replace the human. Per­haps the rights to come will be anthropic (to coin a term) rather than human, express­ing and pro­mot­ing sin­gu­lar­it­ies and dif­fer­ences instead of the same­ness and equi­val­ences of hitherto dom­in­ant identities.”

Although Douzinas was starting a conversation on the inability to regulate norms through the current discourse of human rights, rather than weighing in on the rights of animals, he points out an important problem in trying to define human-ness.

Do we base human-ness off of genetics? How much genetic difference constitutes human-ness? What combination of genes or set of combinations distinguishes people from apes? What about those with genetic abnormalities? Does the capacity for language, or spoken language, distinguish us? What about those incapable of speech? The lack of a definition of human makes Southan’s argument incomplete. What allows Southan to move from ‘we shouldn’t punch pigs in the snout because it hurts them’ to “we should be able to stun and kill pigs for food”?

Looking at how social space creates networks and relationships between humans and animals can solve this problem. Animals cannot enter into the social space in a similar way to humans. Humans, even children and those in vegetative states, occupy a different role in social space than animals. Animals are not sent to school for a number of years or given therapists to help them adjust to the living as an agent in human social space. Although there are pet psychologists, animals cannot interact or be interacted with in the same ways humans can. So the speciesism argument fails because it does not take into account how animals are constructed within social space. Animals are not on the same level as humans in the space we construct. But so too does Southan’s argument that animals can be killed because they aren’t human. Construction does not imply rigid destiny. We can change the way we interact and construct animals into our social space, but not completely. We can stop raising them and killing them for food. We cannot however, through natural (i.e. not technological) interactions teach animals to occupy the same role as children in our social space.