One of the best aspects of modern culture is that we are exposed to so many other people’s weird beliefs. Plenty of people in our daily lives hold different opinions and even core values from ours, but rarely are these ideas arranged into whole systems. To encounter an entirely alien worldview, you used to have to travel. But now you only need the internet, which will happily ship stories and images of Earth’s totalizing theories directly to your house. Today is Friday, and the world is a patchwork of non-overlapping magisteria. Won’t you deride the unfamiliar with me?
An enormous image of a child whose family was killed in a drone attack has been placed in a field in northwest Pakistan by a shadowy artist collective that has no name. Either that or Yahoo! has not seamlessly assumed the duties of a news-gathering organization. The point is that somebody put a big picture of an orphan in a field to shame drone operators. That somebody also created #NotABugSplat, which encourages people to think about the civilian casualties of drone attacks as something other than the operator slang from which #NotABugSplat is derived.
Despite our misgivings about using them to kill US citizens overseas, the American people love drones. It’s like the way we can hate Darius Rucker but still like acoustic guitars. An ABC-Washington Post poll from February of last year found that 83% of respondents approved the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists overseas. Two thirds of them said they approved such strikes even when the alleged terrorists were American citizens. And why not? An unmanned drone comprises all of man’s deepest yearnings: to fly, to play video games, to kill people on the other side of the world without having to look them in the eye.
I don’t normally do this, but the opening paragraphs from this article in the Billings Gazette are too perfect not to quote in full:
Two weeks after telling the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to ground surveillance drones allegedly spying on American farmers and ranchers, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., acknowledged the drones don’t exist. In a statement issued by his office Tuesday, Rehberg acknowledged there aren’t any drones spying on farms and ranches to enforce the Clean Water Act. Rehberg’s staff blamed President Barack Obama for the mix-up.
Sometime in early June, Rehberg read a report that the EPA was using unmanned drones to monitor farms for possible violations of the Clean Water Act. That story is not true. It initially appeared on Infowars.com, after which it spread to the newsletter of the John Birch Society, various conservative media outlets, and finally Fox News. Shortly thereafter, Rehberg demanded that the EPA stop the practice in a strongly-worded letter that he also included in this press release. Then the five-term lawmaker admitted that he did not know what he was talking about.
Back before we divided off into people who think it was founded on the Bible and people who think it was a tax evasion scheme, I was taught that the United States of America was founded on rational debate. Citizens in a democracy disagree about stuff, and the only way to figure out who’s right is to put our ideas in a metaphorical marketplace and start convincing one another. Of course, the democratic process doesn’t actually determine who’s right; it just identifies the most appealing argument. This wrinkle could potentially give an unfair advantage to those unscrupulous arguers willing to employ sophistry and fallacies, but fortunately our populace is too well-educated for that to work. I’m fucking with you—our populace is home watching Man Versus Food and coming up with race-based theories of identity. The dirtiest argumentative tactics you can imagine are on proud display in contemporary discourse, so that any particular argument is now subsumed in the larger argument between Deductive Reasoning and Whatever. It’s us against them, deductive reasoners, and they’re winning. This week’s link roundup is about winning the argument, even at the expense of obvious considerations of true and false. That’s the beauty of a democracy: if you can put some destructive idea into other people’s heads—optimally one that puts the very people who believe it at a disadvantage—you become more powerful yourself. It’s like the way Renfield keeps eating spiders in Dracula. Won’t you choke down a couple of tarantulas with me?