Monday, May 01, 2006

Questions We All Know the Answers To

This is another repost of an old dkos diary, this one from February 2005. Apart from A Shortish Story and On Self-Censorship (which I think many of the Eegians may have read already) it's probably the last repost I'll do. The others tend to be either too topical or too recent. And I'm being lazy and should stop and write new things instead.

Questions we all know the answers to.

Sat Feb 05, 2005 at 03:33:23 PM PDT

Here are some of the examination questions police cadets in the Iraqi Security Forces have been asked by the Occupation, according to the Guardian

"Human rights can be taken away from a person
a) never, human rights are inalienable
b) if the government says so
c) if the accused has committed a serious crime
d) in time of war

In a democratic free society the role of police is to protect
a) the citizens
b) the leader
c) the state
d) the military

The police basic standard of conduct requires
a) all citizens to be treated with respect and dignity
b) information to be shared with the local community
c) special treatment for privileged persons and organisations
d) bribes to be collected for services

Now, I could proceed to a fairly obvious rant about the nature of hypocrisy, or to bitter laughter at the comic spectacle of the United States presenting itself as a defender of human rights. "Surely the intent must be self-parody?" I could ask in innocent tones, but in truth, I lived long enough in the U.S to know that the Kool Aid flows freely.

So take the hypocrisy and my bitter laughter as read. I find most of my laughter is bitter these days.

Instead, let me ask another set of questions. Do any of you seriously imagine that any cadets flunked these questions? Do you think that any of the responses flagged a potential torturer? Or that any cadet was so naive as to announce that the "police basic standard of conduct" requires "bribes to be collected for services"? That anybody responded that, "Human rights can be taken away from a person" "if the government says so?"

Didn't think so.

Then what was their purpose? What was the point of this laborious exercise?

Well, I have some ideas on this one.

Let me tell you a story.

When I first flew into the United States as an adult, I had to fill out a card. Now, I'd been very worried about this card from a practical and philosophical standpoint. I'd heard that you had to declare whether or not you'd ever been a member of a communist party. And I had been. I had no idea what I should put on the form -- if I said 'Yes' would I be admitted? If I said 'No' would they know I was lying? And if I said 'No,' what would that betrayal cost? By the time I left New Zealand, I had a fine and extensive collection of regrets, personal and political. I did not want lying about my past political involvement to be among them.

But the strange parody of communism that was the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union had collapsed. Gorbachev's socialism had been replaced by Yeltsin's capitalism. The Harvard B-School boys were in Moscow promoting the wonders of the unregulated free market, even as life expectancy plummeted like a stone. China was a valued U.S. trading partner. Tiananmen Square was quiet and orderly, though not peaceful, for what peace can there be without justice? More happily, Hungary had opened its borders. The Wall that David Bowie sang about ('And the guards, shot above our heads') had been pulled down and sold for souvenirs. As a result, the U.S. no longer cared whether you had communist sympathies or not, and I never had to decide how to answer that question. (And if you think from the foregoing paragraph that my relationship to communism is complicated, you'd be right)

Instead I checked the box stating that neither I, nor any family members had engaged in acts of genocide.

I stated that I hadn't used illegal drugs, or worked as a prostitute. From memory, I think I also declared that I was not seeking to enter the U.S. in order to overthrow the government by force.

And I wondered, does anyone ever check the `yes' box on these forms for any of the things that haven't already been externally verified?

Didn't think so. So what is its purpose?

Here's my take. Entering a country is a kind of ritual. You get off the plane, you show your passport at immigration control, you haul your luggage off the conveyor and take it through customs. There are clearly-defined steps, and also points of danger along the way. A rite of passage. And all-too-often that ritual is also about reinforcing hierarchies: the superiority of citizens over non-citizens; the power of the state and the powerlessness of the individual. The form I filled was part of that - a systematised kind of humiliation. Asking those questions was a way for the U.S. government to say, "You foreigners are dodgy, suspect and unwelcome. And just to make that absolutely crystal clear, we're going to ask you these stupid, insulting questions even though we know exactly what you will say."

For my money, the multiple choice exam questions asked of the cadets in the Iraqi Security Forces are the same kind of deal. A form of ritualised humiliation - albeit one far more subtle than the barbarities of Abu Ghraib - to which the colonised are subjected by their colonisers. It is a way for the occupiers to proclaim their superiority - moral and intellectual - over the occupied. After all, you don't ask questions like these of people you consider your equals.

Because these are questions that we all know the answers to.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

They should consider removing those genocide questions, out of respect for the policies of US "and its allies"

5/01/2006 10:01 pm  
Blogger dove said...

I think that the gap between what is espoused by our Imperial Masters and what is actually enacted by them is part of what makes these these rituals of humiliation. It's not just the patronising (multiple choice!!) nature of the questions themselves. It's the fact that those doing the asking do so not from any kind of moral authority, but only by that authority conferred by force of arms.

5/01/2006 10:36 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I think you hit it: in American values, morality IS force of arms.

5/02/2006 3:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, its not just American values, DTF--might is right--is every strongman's slogan. And yes, you are right, the US is the strongest man of all these days.

Totally OT but I am encouraged by what is happening in Nepal these days.

5/02/2006 4:35 am  
Blogger dove said...

poco? Was that you? We agree on the strongman thing anyway -- the U.S. may be particular at present but despite the rhetoric, it is not exceptional.

DTF -- completely OT, your absence has been remarked upon elsewhere, she says refraining from the obvious questions and barbed remarks (the barbs of which would not be directed at you, grandpapa!)

5/02/2006 8:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry, I should have signed the above. yes it was me, poco

5/02/2006 6:09 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

LOL dove, well my latest blogrant addresses that issue somewhat. I have abandoned barbs and upgraded to rocket launcher. Speaking of metagoo, have you considered doing away with that annoying "type this word" security precaution? It is not low-vision friendly, and my sound card has decided to eliminate function from its lifestyle.

poco, you are correct. "Might makes right" has been the operative principle since cave days.

In recent years, however, some polities have made efforts to modernize a bit, and now that "might" involves the destruction of the planet and all its inhabitants, I am in favor of this modernization, and hope that what replaces the US warlords will embrace the concept.

5/02/2006 8:39 pm  
Blogger dove said...

DTF -- I've just taken the word recognition thing off, so hopefully that will make things a bit easier.

Well, your latest is unfortunately true (though perhaps more like a watercannon than a flamethrower) and is going to take some thinking about. I'm going to try and write a response (or tangentially a response anyway), which (if I'm feeling sufficiently like a sucker for punishment) I'll probably want to crosspost to BT -- if I do, it'll most likely include a link, so I'd want to check that that's ok with you for obvious reasons.

OT, I still can't manage to get comments to work on Enemy of the State -- I can't even read them.

5/02/2006 11:50 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Well, I think your response, if the very erudite post you just made is that, while it may be a bit more over my literary head, the works you cite are not of a genre with which I have more than a glancing familiarity, and though I have read at least most of them (I think) it was long, long ago when a descendant became a devotee, and I would be lying if I said I remembered jack squat about them. :)

Your underlying message, however, I would think will be accessible to most folks.

stark sent me a link today to a rant she did on another one of the "right light" blogs, which also relates to the subject in its way, I think it may be something that is on the minds of many.

And you are more than welcome to link anything on my blog to anything you post wherever you post it, though I cannot be responsible for people calling you a doo doo head as a result. :)

Oh and thanks for taking the doodleding off!

5/03/2006 4:31 am  
Blogger dove said...

No -- that was not the response, just something I'd had draft bits of lying around for about a month or so. I'd initially been thinking of it for the Blogart conspiracy.

The response is still coming -- it may take a couple of days and is unlikely to be as user-friendly.

Do you have the link for stark's post -- is it at MLW?

5/03/2006 7:49 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

LOL Well such is the world of the heavily sedated, where any and all literary allusions, not to mention most literature, is a commentary on something one just said, and links are unspoken things, not necessary to spell out in such vulgar techniclism, surely not in the context of civil and civilized discourse, as if they were little sandwiches of shaved asparagul graced with just a whisper of fine Bengal chutney...

nerdified link to stark's post

5/03/2006 9:16 am  
Blogger dove said...

Stark is impressive. When I get myself a real email account that works (my yahoo one mysteriously doesn't any more, I'm going to have another go at registering for MLW, because I do think fairly well of MSOC.

5/03/2006 8:42 pm  

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