THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
It's wrong to be prudent, successful, able or talented in modern Britain
Where Freedom stands now

Tribal politics

The names by which we know Native American tribes are those given by their enemies. They are hostile and insulting. That's because in the languages of the Plains Indians the word for one's own tribe simply translates as "human". The "other" tribes in their notions when their languages were formed were simply not human. Something of the same concept is reflected in the Chinese word for foreigner sometimes being rendered into English as "foreign devil".

Are we in the West above this primitive thinking in which different tribes of Homo sapiens compete for the title of "human?" I am not so sure. Consider the powers of the President of the USA. Whereas in his dealing with his own people he is bound by law to respect their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he can kill or maim foreigners more or less at will. To a lesser or greater extent this is also true for the political commanders of the armed forces of other civilised Western powers. So to us, no less than to the Plains Indians of old, the "other" is, if not actually inhuman, quite considerably less.

Something of the same can be detected in our response to the refugee crisis. For someone who is "other" to be accepted, he must be so weak and unthreatening that our own tribe's prestige is enhanced by protecting him. On the other hand neighbours will often protest the deportation of an illegal immigrant if he or she has integrated into the community sufficiently to have — in effect — joined the tribe. Father or mother a native and the law will even confer that status on you officially.

I am singling out the West here not in the hypocritical manner of a social justice warrior. I am openly holding us to a higher standard because I believe unashamedly that we are — or at least should aspire to be — ethically superior. I am not surprised to note that undemocratic rulers of lesser lands can casually have foreigners killed without negative consequences for themselves. I am surprised that we are not surprised that our leaders can. In fact, we mostly don't even think about it.

If you follow the debate within the Labour Party about Tony Blair's status as "war criminal" or otherwise, it doesn't turn particularly on legal issues. In fairness how could it, when "international law" is such a nebulous concept? It seems largely to reflect another form of tribalism; Blair was not truly a member of the Labour tribe and does not therefore come under its protection. Or he was and did.

Wars happen of course. A libertarian state would never initiate one. Given the non-aggression principle, a state that began a war would cease to be libertarian. But it might have to fight one if attacked. And in the course of a war, people kill and are killed without legal consequence. [I am choosing my words carefully; one of the best things I can say about humanity is that there are almost always consequences to killing, even accidentally or otherwise lawfully]. But though Western leaders now love to declare war on abstractions (drugs, terrorism, obesity) they rarely now declare an actual war. They just order in their forces (aka our sons and daughters in arms) for not "war" but "military action" to kill foreigners with no justification that would suffice for one of their own. 

Oddly Western leaders are increasingly slow to cloak themselves with a status that would clearly protect them from criticism. Our warrior kings don't like to go to official war. Perhaps because their electorates would require them to justify such a dramatic step, whereas just killing people who are clearly "other" is not such a biggie? If that's true, what does it say about us?

If you are waiting for me to get to the point, I must disappoint you. I don't really have one. I am just asking a question that has always been important but is now made urgent by the Presidential campaigns underway in the US. Two of the worst people in America are competing for, amongst other prizes, the right to order in the Marines or even use that infamous "football" that's carried around with POTUS. In voting, Americans are — amongst other things — choosing the next likely targets for their military. Why are we not more concerned?