Taking on a common reply

In the beginning of 2003, the French smears were at their top, I saw all this on television. It's a great boost for ratings when you show Americans being anti-French there. And it was a great boost for my personal rage. Oh yes, I was really extremely pissed off. It's probable that I was already a little familiar with American politics, through websites on the internet. But I think I'll always date my real entry into politics at that point.

And the first thing I did then, was to go chat on Yahoo! Rooms. By then, those were not yet filled with porn bots, but rather with many passionnate American people. Unfortunately, most were too passionnate, and some were so passionnate that all they cared about was to paste stuff they read somewhere. Most conversations were frustrating, because I usually did not hesitate to get outright pissy, and there were always conservatives to shut me up.

But from time to time, there were some interesting conversations. And I remember, now that I read some of Arthur's essays, how one particular reply was common, whenever I suggested that maybe America had the 9/11 coming. I'm sure you've read that a million times already. Why I want to treat this one in particular is explained in this essay by Arthur:
At a certain point, I became aware that there was a certain approach, a particular kind of issue, that seemed to be under the surface wherever I looked. It came up with regard to almost every political issue I considered, it arose with regard to personal relationships and in connection with the view we each hold of ourselves, and it came up repeatedly with regard to literature and the other arts. It was the same issue, but it took me quite a while to realize what it was: very simply, it centered around the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others.

Somehow I can't take this last part out of my head: the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others.

One such story, as I was about to explain, came to me in the form of an analogy designed to shut me up, whenever I tried to point the finger at America. Here it is, you know what it is already:
"If a woman wears a short skirt, would you say she deserves to be raped ?"

And what to respond to that ? Yes ?

No, but this "story", this version of the 9/11 attacks is very telling about how one considers the country's doing over the last decades.

But first of all, I wanna start by saying that of course, no one deserves to be raped, and no one deserves to die. Or rather, some deserve to be raped/die but that doesn't mean we can do it. This is the usual confusion conservatives and democrats hope to foster among us, between explaining something and justifying it. Sheldon Richman, the libertarian guy with an awesome beard [i mean it, it's lovely], said what follows in a foreword to this gigantic work, detailing the history of US intervention since World War 2. It's called "Ancient History":
When Iranian revolutionaries entered the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and seized 52 Americans, President Jimmy Carter dismissed reminders of America's long intervention in Iran as "ancient history." Carter's point was not merely that previous U.S. policy could not excuse the hostage taking. His adjective also implied that there was nothing of value to be learned from that history. In his view, dredging up old matters was more than unhelpful; it was also dangerous, presumably because it could only serve the interests of America's adversaries. Thus, to raise historical issues was at least unpatriotic and maybe worse.[1]

As the United States finds itself in the aftermath of another crisis in the Middle East, it is worth the risk of opprobrium to ask why there should be hostility toward America in that region. Some insight can be gained by surveying official U.S. conduct in the Middle East since the end of World War II. Acknowledged herein is a fundamental, yet deplorably overlooked, distinction between understanding and excusing. The purpose of this survey is not to pardon acts of violence against innocent people but to understand the reasons that drive people to violent political acts.[2] The stubborn and often self-serving notion that the historical record is irrelevant because political violence is inexcusable ensures that Americans will be caught in crises in the Middle East and elsewhere for many years to come.

So now that this is put to rest, let's deal with the simple problem in the analogy: a woman wearing a short skirt. This is what they say. They think America's conduct in the last fifty years is akin to something as innocent and natural as a woman wearing a skirt ! After all the millions of dead people, the political assassinations, the invasions, the bombings, this is how they see their country. Of course that much I had been able to point out at the time.

But another problem with this analogy is how it traps you: when you try to point out the obvious, which is what I said just above, you basically say "But America is not as innocent as that, not even close, and even, very very far from that". That's when your opponent will say "A-HA ! I knew it !" He will very easily categorize you as an America hater. And thus, you are stuck between approving him and looking like a jerk.

So how to tackle this ? I really don't know. I think you'd need to be able to inject history lessons through short sentences. My approach would be, I think, to ask questions about civilian casualties from US interventions in the last century, and when I'd get no answer, I'd simply say : and so how do you know this is like walking with a provocative short skirt.

Oh yea, another form of this braindead and self-serving kind of analogy, this time from our very own Barack Obama:
We cannot afford to be a country of isolationists right now. 9/11 showed us that try as we might to ignore the rest of the world, our enemies will no longer ignore us. And so we need to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless in pursuing our enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around the world.

Yes of course ! 9/11 happened because the US tried to ignore the world. It was minding its own business. And for that reason, came the attacks.

Power of narrative indeed.


I forgot to mention

The other part of how the analogy works : to dehumanize dissenters and those who attack America. They are perverts and rapists. They do not have any decency. They aren't human.

One could also talk about racism. Doesn't it ring a bell when someone refers to 9/11 as White America being raped by Brown Terrorists ?

littlehorn -- your one mistake

The only mistake you made in that essay is your assumption that you're dealing with reasonable people. Reasonable people don't ask loaded questions, viz.: When did you stop beating your wife? If you saw a woman in a short skirt, would you say she's asking to be raped?

The game is similar to the one that the school-yard bully runs. He comes up to you and says "My friend over there told me that you said I was an asshole." You say: "I did not!" The bully then asks: "Are you calling my friend a liar?"

You see where it goes from there, I'm sure.

There are only two rational responses to such a question: One is to cut and run if you don't think you can whip your antagonist and don't want to take a beating. The other is a kick in the balls. There's no point in discussion because it always comes around to the same thing.

No offense intended.


"It may be thought that I am prejudiced. Perhaps I am. I would be ashamed of myself if I were not." Mark Twain

None taken, but

I still think it's always good to debunk these replies while we're among ourselves.

Of course I would never dream to actually convince any of these people of anything. But while most of them are a lost case, I know that many liberals will also listen to their crap and won't think anything of it, or nothing close to what we think anyway. We got a demonstration of that, everyday, with Obama supporters and what they say on Afghanistan.

So yeah I agree with you, but I think there's still an audience for what I said.

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