I have been known to say that I would find the figure of the “activist academic” more plausible if academics hadn’t failed so abyssmally in the case of their own institutions. As I reflect on the idiocy of a potential “humanitarian intervention” in Syria, I find myself thinking similar thoughts. I have no doubt that the Syrian regime is brutal and that terrible crimes have been committed and are still being committed.
At the same time, the international arbiter of morality is a state that, for example, is running a torture camp on foreign soil specifically to be “technically” outside the realm of U.S. law. This is a state that imprisons more people — not in per capita terms, but in absolute numbers — than any other country on earth. (Oppressive Communist China has four times our population but only 1/6 our per capita imprisonment rate.)
Imprisonment disproportionately affects the group that the nation held in slavery for the first hundred years of its existence and then subjected to legal segregation and extra-legal campaigns of terror for the next hundred years.
In those prisons, solitary confinement is used routinely despite the devestating effects it has on mental health, and rape is so common as to count as a de facto part of the punishment in any prison sentence. Our culture is so debased, meanwhile, that rape, whether in prison or elsewhere, is a common topic for jokes.
Our nation just celebrated a massive protest march, but contemporary protestors are brutalized and abused by an increasingly militarized police force that is literally equipped with chemical weapons. Ordinary Americans are daily subjected to constant surveillance and humiliating “security” rituals with no apparent purpose but to instill fear in them.
Social spending and education are routinely cut for arbitrary reasons stemming from the political rivalries of self-interested elites, while the government itself entraps the younger generation in ruinous and inescapable student debt.
I could go on. If the U.S. government lacks either the will or the ability to take care of those very serious problems in a country where it enjoys largely unquestioned legitimacy, stable institutions, and a docile population, exactly why the fuck is it remotely plausible that it can solve problems in a foreign country embroiled in a civil war?