Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Playing "Government" When People Are Dying

So today is apparently "Hey, everyone write about human rights today!" day in the "Blogosphere" (yea, I said it). I'm all in favor of such an occasion, because...well...I'm all in favor of human rights. But I'm not completely sure what to write about. I feel like it would sort of be missing the point to discuss another of the abstract theoretical issues with which this blog is generally concerned. But I also don't want to just pump out some garbage "reporting on" some current event that I don't understand any better than anyone else. The happy medium, I think, would be to compromise and talk about some current event from a very vaguely abstract perspective. I choose Myanmar.

In case you live in a hole, or in case you're reading this a while after I wrote it, Myanmar was hit by a severe storm and tens of thousands of people are in desperate need of help. According to CNN, 38,491 have been confirmed dead, and the UN predicts that the final death toll could be 100,000 or more, especially if aid does not arrive quickly. From the sound of it, there are a dearth of people who would be very happy to help these people. But to this point, the "government" of Myanmar, a military junta which took power in a 1962 coup and has violently suppressed political dissent ever since, has been obstructing much of this aid from getting to the people who need it. Apparently they've gotten their act together a little bit in the last few days, but things are still moving slowly.

Now it seems clear to me that the junta's role in this is illegitimate. There is a group of people who want to help another group of people who would undoubtedly consent to being helped in this way. I'd even go so far as to say that the people whose land they'd have to cross in order to get to these people would almost certainly consent to this happening (especially if we moved everything by plane). So bringing the aid to the people who desperately need it would likely violate no rights, and would therefore seem to be protected against interference from third parties. And yet, here are a group of people who are interfering anyway.

So the real question is, what should be done about this sort of thing? I mean, if we're not willing to violently overthrow the military junta (I'm just taking that off the table up front, if only because it wouldn't likely result in the storm victims being helped any better), the obvious option is to just shrug our shoulders and plead with the junta not to be so callous. And this seems like what people are doing. But at what cost? How many thousands of lives will be lost on account of this strategy?

I think it's reasonable to say that morality would permit us to bring the aid to the people who need it and to defend our efforts against Myanmar's government if they tried to stop us. We need to seriously consider the alternative of bringing aid to these people, junta be damned, and greeting anyone who tries to stop us with the muzzle of a gun. I'm not saying it's what we have to do, but I'm concerned about the fact that no one has even brought it up, given how ready people are to bomb entire cities of civilians into the Bronze Age in order to combat terrorists who could possibly live among them.

We need to remember that an important part of the idea that the use of force is only justified in protecting rights is the idea that force is justified when protecting rights. People are dying by the thousands, and we can save many of them. I'm appalled that the same group of people that seem to consider themselves the world's police force when they're dealing with Muslims are not even toying with the idea of approaching Myanmar's leaders with a simple position: "Listen, we're going to help these people. And if you try to stop us, I hope God has mercy on your soul, because we sure won't."

1 comment:

Kevin K. Biomech said...

I very much agree with your conclusions here, including that doing what you propose would not be a philosophical violation of the non aggression principle. I base this off the fact that the aggression has already taken place, in the form of the junta standing in the way of voluntary cooperation and transaction.

One more argument, albeit too late, in favor of universal armament. Those people would have already informed "their" government which end of the gun spits lead if they were able.

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