We Are Not The Hero In This Story…

“There are people in this world who deal only in extremes. It’s naive to think that anything less than extreme measures will stop them.” – Amanda Waller, Arrow

Call it a fitting coincidence, call it good timing, but the Arrow episode, “The Brave and the Bold,” provided an unintentional precursor to the debate the U.S. is currently having about torture after the CIA report summary from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released to the public on Tuesday.

Arrow does an excellent job with Amanda Waller’s character. She is not a hero in the traditional sense and often blurs the line between anti-hero and villain in the comics. However, in the New 52 version of Waller and in the show, she is a well-intentioned extremist who acts on her perception of the greater good.

Personally, this is my favorite version of Amanda Waller. There is more complexity to this character. Ultimately, she acts on what she believes is the greater good. She makes difficult choices that are, at times, morally shady; her character is even amoral. She cannot concern herself with what is and isn’t moral. For Waller, it is about the big picture — the greater good.

“The Brave and the Bold” explores the contrast between the type of hero Barry Allen/The Flash is and the type of hero (or anti-hero) Oliver Queen/The Arrow is. The question both men have to look inside themselves to answer is, what makes a true hero? And, what kind of hero does the world really need?

Allen is the archetypical hero. He believes there is a moral line that cannot, under any circumstances, be crossed or sacrificed even for the greater good. Arrow, as well as ARGUS agents and Waller, believe that to deal with the extreme, extreme measures are necessary — including torture to get information.

Arrow believes that by going to these extremes, he has sacrificed his humanity, but that is a necessary sacrifice to achieve the greatest good.

Is the United States not reflecting on a similar question right now? Instead of asking what hero we are going to be, we are asking what role we should be playing in the world and how much of who we are we are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of our enemies.

The U.S. was founded on the principles of due process and equal protection under the law. Due process applies to everyone — not just citizens. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, either in the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment, does it say that only citizens are entitled to due process.

The Fifth Amendment says, “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment says, “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Not just citizens… any person.

After reading some of the tactics used by the CIA to interrogate suspects, there are incidents of cruel and unusual punishment, which of course is in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

After September 11, 2001, we entered uncertain times. We were willing to go to war to fight terrorism. We were willing to go to extremes, and we adopted the very mentality that Amanda Waller has about fighting extremism. We were chasing people who only deal in extremes and we concluded that it was foolish to think anything, but extreme measures would produce results.

But in doing so, we forsook the very principles this nation was founded on. We violated our own laws and we turned our backs on any concept of right and wrong. Torture is wrong. There is no debate here. The only debate we can have is what role we want to have in the world — what image do we want to have?

Are we willing to sacrifice who we are — what makes us different from our enemies? Or, are we going to be the moral standard-bearer, the example that no matter how extreme the enemy is, we will not sacrifice who we are in our response to them?

If You Lose Your Head, You Lose The Debate

The moment a person allows someone to push them into an emotional response is the moment they lose the argument. It doesn’t matter if he or she is ultimately on the right side of the argument because if they get emotional they are no longer the levelheaded one.

In public debates, there are so many people who are not really interested in winning on facts, but pushing the other person to make an emotional outburst and invoking the emotions of those around them. By manipulating people’s emotions, they can win the debate without having to deal with the burdensome task of actually presenting facts.

There are people whose knee jerk reaction may be to disagree with this: facts are facts. Yes, that is true, but people are not as strongly moved by facts as they are by the emotions of others or their own emotions. If facts and evidence were so important to swaying public opinion, then we wouldn’t be having a debate on climate change and people would not be panicking over Ebola.

This is one of the major problems with public debates in American politics. The goal is to spur an emotional response, not to have a productive and informative discussion.

This is why we cannot have a real discussion on the topics of terrorism, defining war, anything involving the U.S.’s foreign policy in the Middle East, illegal immigration, climate change, creating jobs, wages, spurring economic growth, any social issue and really any topic that is at the forefront of public discourse.

Take, for instance, the debate between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on The Real Time with Bill Maher during the episode that aired on Friday, October 3. Unfortunately, the video of this specific segment is not available on YouTube — at least not yet, but there are other videos from that show, including the overtime, which talks about some interesting topics.

Now, Harris and Maher are in agreement that the religion of Islam instills hostility toward people who are not Muslims and anyone who tries to leave the Islamic faith. Before Harris could finish talking, however, he was interrupted by Affleck who fell into the trap of relying solely on an emotional response based on what he has seen with his own eyes from people in the Middle East and surrounding regions.

In the U.S., regardless of where one stands on the topic of Islam, they typically approach it from some preconceived notion because most people don’t have first-hand experience in North Africa or the Middle East.

Now, Affleck had an opportunity to present what he has seen from Muslims in this region as evidence that a majority of the over one billion people who practice the Islamic faith worldwide are not violent, they’re not terrorists, they’re peaceful people who just want to live and to be educated and to be happy.

If people read books like Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, they would be given a fresh, first-hand perspective on how many Muslims live in the Middle East, and most of them are not too concerned with Americans or Christians or anyone who is not of Islamic faith, because they just want to live.

They don’t want to be burdened by the troubles of the world, just like most people, but when radical militant groups form, they often manipulate people in this region by threatening then with violence. We often don’t think about many people in this region as being victims of these groups, but they are.

Affleck, along with Nicholas Kristof, had an opportunity to present this very valid point about life in the Middle East, but Affleck kept interrupting Harris. He was getting flustered and responding emotionally to what Harris was saying. While it is an emotional topic, from the viewer’s perspective, Affleck came off as unhinged and uninformed.

Affleck lost the debate. It doesn’t matter if he was on the right side of the debate. He lost it because he lost his cool. He was no longer the levelheaded one in the debate

Now, the reality is that when people discuss the most radical factions of Islam and compare it to the most radical factions of, say, Christianity, the radical factions of Islam are more extreme, they are more violent, and they are mostly terrorist organizations.

Typically, when we think of the most radical groups within Christianity, we think of churches like the Westboro Baptist Church, which at worst is just a public and social nuisance. Society views their behavior as unacceptable, but they never get violent. They hope to get a hostile reaction from opponents so they can sue them to keep their operations going, but that is about it.

When we see the Middle East portrayed on the news, all we see are the radical militant groups like ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and others like them. We don’t see the average Muslim, the man or woman who is just trying to provide for their family, the child who just wants to be educated, and the people who just want to live their lives in peace without bothering anyone or being bothered.

There is no better example of how Americans view the Middle East and the surrounding region than the U.S.’s drone policy. When we send a drone to take out a target, we don’t look at it as violating sovereign airspace, we don’t see the dozens of innocent people who may be killed in the strike, we only see the person or persons we are targeting. Innocent casualties far outnumber the terrorists we have taken out from these strikes.

The United States has killed someone in a drone strike just because they were a tall, Muslim male and therefore looked like Bin Laden, without even caring if the person was actually a terrorist or about the other people who were killed in the strike. While collateral damage has always been an unfortunate side effect of war, it has become an acceptable part of the nation’s foreign policy.

We don’t see what it does to communities in this region or how it has an adverse effect in preventing terrorist organizations from growing.

Many people only see what television news wants to report on and what television news usually wants to report on is whatever can spur the most emotion from their audience, because that is good for ratings. If it bleeds, it leads, and if it spurs outrage or fear, it is all the media wants to talk about, because people will tune in.

We ignore facts; we ignore reason. We are mostly swayed by emotion — one way or another. Because of this, we will never have a productive discussion on the subject of Islam and terrorism.

Capitalizing on Fear: Media, Politicians Gain Much from Keeping You Scared

Rand Paul said that the Obama administration is downplaying the Ebola threat for the sake of political correctness. True, Ebola is not to be taken lightly. It is a serious, life-threatening virus. However, what about the people who are trying to capitalize on other people’s fears, whether it be by money, ratings, or political points?

“Instead of inciting panic among the public, it is important to inform people of what we do know. What is Ebola? How does one catch the virus? What are the odds an individual will catch the virus? Are the identified cases isolated and properly quarantined? How are we better equipped to handle Ebola than countries in West Africa (because we are immensely so)? If people considered this rationally, the answers to these questions should calm some fears.

Most importantly, people who are not an expert on Ebola should (a) not pretend to be an expert on Ebola and (b) not dismiss experts because fear mongering is good for ratings or good for scoring political points.

Ebola is a serious, life-threatening virus. Rand Paul is right that we should not downplay the realities of diseases and viruses like Ebola for the sake of political correctness and we should have a rational, scientific discussion. However, we should not sacrifice a rational response for the sake of capitalizing on other people’s fears.”

Read the full article here.

Like It or Not, The Market of Ideas is a Part of the Commercial Market

While some people have used words like “fascism” and “gay gestapo” to describe what happened with former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and say that intolerance forced Eich to resign, these people are mostly mistaken. However, a form of intolerance did pressure Eich to leave his position. It was the intolerance the free market has to any ideas that will threaten commerce.

Some of the same people who say they support the free market fail to see that the resignation of Eich was the free market at work.

The issues of gay rights, the morality of homosexuality, and the definition of marriage offer the biggest examples of why the free market is dependent on the market of ideas:

During the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said the now infamous SB 1062 in Arizona, which would have protected businesses from legal challenges for denying goods and services based on strong religious convictions, failed because the gay community “have so bullied the American people.”

There was certainly vocal opposition to the bill from gay rights activists, because while the LGBT community was not explicitly mentioned in the legislation, as Bachmann pointed out, it was certainly not created to protect a Muslim or Jewish deli owner who refuses to sell pork products. The timing of the bill didn’t help disguise the true motives of some lawmakers, either.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) likely wasn’t concerned about the vocal opposition of gay rights activists as much as she was concerned about pressure coming from local, national, and international businesses. Companies threatened to move their operation(s) out of the state or threatened to not bring their business into Arizona. The state’s tourism industry was in jeopardy. The NFL could have very well moved the 2015 Super Bowl if SB 1062 was signed into law.

The gay community didn’t “bully” Brewer — the free market did.

It is a mistake to say that the free market of ideas and the free market of commerce are separate and cannot be conflated. Of course they can, because both often influence each other. The market responds to mainstream ideas and as societal attitudes shift, so will the priorities of the commercial market. It will embrace new ideas to meet consumer demand while rejecting old ideas that have also been rejected by the public. It is just good business.

In an article I published on IVN on April 17, I used a few examples of how the commercial market has responded to mainstream public opinion and shifted its business practices accordingly.

The first example was the mid-90s sitcom, Ellen. The show, which premiered in 1994, got consistently high ratings until one episode changed everything in 1997. In an episode called the “Puppy Episode,” Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out as gay in the middle of an airport. DeGeneres also came out in real life concurrent with the episode on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The controversy that erupted from it pressured ABC to put a parental advisory before a show that had never needed it before.

As the show focused more on gay rights issues, the ratings declined and ABC was forced to pull the plug in May 1998.

This was the 90s, though. An overwhelming majority of Americans not only believed same-sex marriage should not be legal, but that homosexuality was immoral.

Mainstream public opinion pressured the market to act a certain way. If a show gets too low of ratings it is just good business to cancel it, but could you imagine ABC putting a parental advisory before each episode of Modern Family? No, they wouldn’t. But times have changed; society has changed.

As the market of ideas has evolved, so has the commercial market.

Today, we see major corporations representing a broad spectrum of industries — from Oreo to Amazon — creating pro-gay rights marketing campaigns because unlike the mid- to late 90s, a majority of Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal and an even larger majority believe there is nothing immoral about homosexuality.

In 2012, not only did voter-approved ballot initiatives to legalize gay marriage pass for the first time in U.S. history, but marriage equality went 4-for-4 with voters. This represents a dramatic shift in public opinion as gay marriage didn’t have a single victory at the ballot box in the previous decade.

Someone cue Bob Dylan’s “Times They are a-Changin.”

Evolution teaches us that it is not the strongest who survive, nor the smartest, but the most adaptable. The commercial market is no different. In order to survive, the market has to evolve to meet consumer demand, and naturally it will seek out and eliminate ideas it perceives as backward and a threat to commerce. If a business does not adapt, it risks extinction by market forces or just naturally through time.

The biggest pressure to veto SB 1062 in Arizona was not from the gay community or from gay rights activists. Likely, Governor Jan Brewer could have cared less what the majority of the general public thought. She was done with campaigning and elections. The biggest pressure was coming from businesses and large corporations telling her to veto the bill because there were many businesses that did not want to operate in Arizona if they felt a law would tarnish their own reputation or threaten their business in any way.

The bill was a threat to the market and so the market responded.

Now, back to Brendan Eich.

While there were likely some gay rights activists who would have liked him to step down from his position as CEO of Mozilla, there was not as much pressure coming from the LGBT community or gay rights groups as there was from within the Mozilla community. There were employees who were uncomfortable working for him and businesses that threatened to cut ties with Mozilla after it was revealed that Eich donated to an anti-gay marriage campaign in 2008.

Despite what some people mistakenly say, Eich was not fired. He was pressured by forces within the market — within the industry — to resign. Eich was a CEO in an industry that is all about the mainstream and being ahead of the curve. It is an industry that focuses on looking forward and any notion of backward thinking is considered a threat in Silicon Valley. There are several industries where this would not have played out the same way, but the tech industry is a progressive market.

This is the free market at work.

Some of the same people who say a “gay gestapo” is forcing people out of their jobs just because they have different opinions also support lawmakers who vote against bills to ban discrimination against workers based on race, gender, sexual orientation, cultural background, etc. at the workplace, because the free market must be able to work without big government interfering. Yet, when the market acts on its own to do what it perceives as best for business, these people cry foul.

In this way of thinking, Eich is the victim, and that is ultimately what it comes down to. Modern American politics has become as much about who can claim victim status as it is about pointing fingers.

Not all ‘Gun Free Zones’ are Equal

On IVN this week, there was a very well-written article from Wendy Innes, a regular contributor to the network, about the irony that military bases are “gun free zones.” The article was written in response to the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, located in Killeen, TX.

While the investigation is ongoing, many are wondering just why it is that America’s military bases are so-called “gun free zones.” It seems incredibly counter-intuitive to say that we, as a nation, trust these men and women to handle weapons in order to defend the country and carry out the mission they are given, but they can’t be trusted to carry a weapon in accordance with their constitutional rights at home.

“The decision to make military bases ‘gun free’ was one of Bill Clinton’s first acts as president in March of 1993, in order to reduce violent crime on board military installations,” said military disability attorney John B. Gately. How effective the policy has been at reducing violent crime is drawn into question given the on-going sexual assault crisis in the military as well as the recent rash of shootings on military bases and one Navy ship.

After nearly 13 years of continuous combat, stories of soldiers coming home with broken bodies and broken minds are all too common and make mental illness the easy scapegoat when tragedies occur, followed quickly by the “blame the gun” ideology. But these high profile shootings seem to have increased just over the last 5 years.

Read the full article here.

Shootings at Fort Hood, the Navy Yard in Virginia, and other military installations have sparked a debate over whether or not military bases and installations should be “gun free zones.” However, the mistake that is often made in this debate is to treat all “gun free zones” like they are equal.

The article above does an excellent job at focusing specifically on military installations, but IVN is all about going beyond the headlines and standard, recycled talking points that people only see from most media outlets. This honest discussion on topics like guns and gun policy in America, however, is not seen on other networks.

There are several gun rights activists who want to do away with “gun free zones” completely, treating them like they are all the same. The exact same talking points were used after Aurora, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, the Navy Yard, and pretty much every mass shooting that has happened across the nation over the last few years. However, schools are not the same as military bases. Movie theaters are not the same as military bases.

If we are to examine eliminating the “gun free” status of military installations then we can’t make the mistake of treating the debate like it is the same as talking about the “gun free” status of elementary schools or any civilian location.

There is a good reason for schools to remain “gun free zones,” just like there is good reason to keep public locations where people are packed together like cattle for multiple hours, like a movie theater or sports arena/stadium, “gun free zones.” Most civilians do not have proper response training for crisis situations, including most people with concealed handgun licenses (CHLs).

CHLs do not mean an individual is prepared to act in the very, very remote chance they are present when a lone gunman or group of gunmen open fire in a public place. People have this image of the civilian hero who pulls out his gun to save the day, but chances are they would put more people at risk in a close-quarter situation than they would save. That is the simple truth most law enforcement professionals try to explain to people.

Military bases, however, are different. We are talking about trained soldiers who are taught how to respond in a situation where they suddenly come under fire. This type of response training would not only benefit them in a combat zone, but in a situation like the two shootings at Fort Hood. There is an argument to make to allow soldiers who have been licensed by the state to carry concealed handguns to be allowed to do so in military installations.

There is also a matter of security. How is it that a troubled individual was able to get a gun on what is already supposed to be a secure location after said location was the scene of a mass shooting incident a few years before? It seems that looking further into the security issue and making improvements would also be something to consider. After all, no one can open fire on an installation if they can’t get a gun into it.

New Captain America Movie Takes On Government Spying, Targeted Killings

The creators of the film intentionally raise a moral issue with modern U.S. foreign policy: We must take out our enemies before they take us out.

“The question is where do you stop?” Director Joe Russo asked. “If there are 100 people we can kill to make us safer, do we do it? What if we find out there’s 1,000? What if we find out there’s 10,000? What if it’s a million? At what point do you stop?”

The lingering question, which the movie addresses head-on, is how much freedom are we willing to give up to feel safe? And, at what point have we sacrificed everything America is supposed to stand for?

Read the full article here.

If the goal was to create a political thriller, which Marvel wanted, then there is arguably no issue that should cause more anxiety among the populous than infringements on civil liberties by the U.S. government. Captain America: The Winter Soldier highlights the modern U.S. foreign policy of taking its enemies out before its enemies take us out, which raises some obvious moral questions.

What if government officials decided that by taking out a million people, America could be safer? It doesn’t matter if the people in question are proven threats to national and global security or that they are American citizens who are guaranteed certain legal rights by the U.S. Constitution — rights that are supposed to promote a system where people are innocent until proven guilty. What if an enhanced computer system was in place that used a certain algorithm to not only determine potential threats, but then used unmanned aerial vehicles to take these targets without due process and with zero accountability?

The questions posed by Russo are also raised in the movie Swordfish, in which John Travolta’s character gives a similar hypothetical scenario to Hugh Jackman. John Travolta plays a counter-terrorist in a top secret government operation to thwart future threats to the United States through preemptive measures designed to spread fear so no one would even think of attacking the U.S.

Stanley (Jackman): How can you justify all this?

Gabriel (Travolta): You’re not looking at the big picture Stan. Here’s a scenario. You have the power to cure all the world’s diseases, but the price for this is that you must kill a single innocent child, could you kill that child Stanley?

Stanley: No.

Gabriel: You disappoint me; it’s the greatest good.

Stanley: Well how about 10 innocents?

Gabriel: Now you’re gettin’ it. How about a hundred? How about a THOUSAND? Not to save the world, but to preserve our way of life.

Stanley: No man has the right to make that decision; you’re no different from any other terrorist.

Gabriel: No, you’re wrong Stanley. Thousands die every day for no reason at all. Where’s your bleeding heart for them? You give your 20 dollars to Greenpeace every year thinking you’re changing the world? What countries will harbor terrorists when they realize the consequences of what I’ll do?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not the first movie to highlight the moral concerns with using extreme preemptive tactics to maintain security, but it may bring the issue to the attention of a much larger audience.

Films are a form of entertainment, but they are also a form of art and communication. They are a different medium of expression and speech. When the media doesn’t talk about these issues, no one cares. So why can’t movies pick up the slack?

The problem is the common response will be: it is just a movie. The storyline was founded on the biggest civil liberties and foreign policy issues to arise in the last few years: government spying, data collection, targeted drone strikes, and kill lists, but most people will not look any deeper into the movie than they want to. People go to movies to be entertained — to escape reality.

Still, the parallels are there and the question people should take away from the film is, how much freedom are they willing to give up to feel safe? In a post 9/11 world we have seen numerous examples of the government sacrificing individual rights and liberties in the name of national security. Yet, the only question the mainstream media wants to ask is if people like Edward Snowden are heroes or traitors.

There is absolutely no way of knowing how far the government is willing to go if the American people are kept uninformed of its actions.