Mile High Straw Men


Drones (Photo credit: Ars Electronica)


The notion that our technology is outpacing our sense of morality is not a new one. Both Albert Einstein and Omar Bradley bemoaned this on a micro and macro scale. We gobble up new technology before thinking of its effect on us or our neighbors, whether they are right next door, or on the other side of the world. At this moment the most obvious manifestation of this debate is drone technology.

In our (mostly alternative) news we read about “suspected terrorists” being blown away from miles away, while the pilot is hundreds, even thousands of miles from his craft. We worry about the moral implications of the ability to do so, and what it says about us that we can callously end life without blood on our hands or even the effort of exposing ourselves to the g-forces that combat flight puts on the body. We worry about our state, from the federal to the local level, being able to spy on us with drones, from massive helicopter-like devices, to tiny robots that resemble insects.

These are all frightening prospects but through it all we get caught up in the technology and forget that those moral questions exist, with or without those fearsome gadgets. We still need to question the bombing of targets from the air, or even from short-range ground to ground ordinance because innocents are caught in the crossfire, and may even be the target to begin with. We need to protect our privacy from all invasion, not just invasion from robots. I know most of you understand this, but those of you who would fight for a just society have been allowing the technology to frame the debate.

This has been most obvious in the recent debate about the President’s power to order extrajudicial killing of Americans on American soil. Through it all so much of the fear and dialogue was centered on the use of drones to do so. Some writers wrote about the deeper issue, but by and large the real left (not the pretend left among Democratic cheerleaders) framed the discussion around the technology, and were mercilessly mocked by those who would defend their Hero from Hawaii. They were right to mock. The issue is not the drones, the issue is whether or not the President can order the extrajudicial killing of Americans, by any means.

Some folks were content with AG Holder’s eventual response that it would only be legal in extreme cases. “Extreme cases,” however, is a frighteningly vague term. Are members of Occupy or Idle No More, simply by challenging the status quo, exposing the corruption with the system, and changing the narrative in our country, a “legitimate security threat” and therefore an “extreme case?” I would like to think that the man in the Oval Office would make the right choice in this case, but we should not have to worry about that. Lethal force should be reserved for immediate and present dangers to the people on the ground, not because someone might do something, which so far has been the rationale for most extrajudicial murder. No one should have the power to say that the possibility of someone being a threat in the future makes them a target for execution without trial.

I know that ultimately, most folks get this. That they understand that the technology itself is not the enemy, but the philosophies driving it. We have done a poor job articulating that, however, and we need to stop. We’ve been handing the other side a straw man to hang on us. One they can do so legitimately with, and demand that we prove they are not wrong about our arguments. We need to start paying less attention those boogie men in the sky, and start paying more to the ones in DC.




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