For all the commentary about Battlestar Galactica lo these last couple months, I must say that I thought last Friday’s episode was in many respects the most depressing. I found it enjoyable on a lot of levels. But at the moral-political level it was a nightmare. To recap: it’s revealed that Admiral Adama once led a “black-op” to investigate whether or not the Cylons were preparing for war. He sent a stealth pilot past the agreed-upon armistice line. The ship was fired upon and a couple years later the Cylons returned, murdering billions of humans in an attempt to completely wipe out the entire human race.
From this set of facts, Adama concludes it’s all his fault because he led the mission that proved the human race really were “war mongers” in the eyes of the Cylons.
I don’t want to use a lot of philosophical or literary lingo here, but this is really stooooooopid. Let’s say I’ve been feuding with my neighbor a lot. We’ve called a draw and built a tall fence to avoid each other. But I don’t trust him and I think he may be up to something. So, I peek over the fence. Maybe I even climb over it and look around his back yard for a minute. When my neighbor sees this his immediate response is to get a hatchet and slaughters my entire family, including my relatives in other homes far away. Clearly: It’s all my fault!
What is so depressing about this is that Ronald Moore and the other creators of BSG seem to think that “instigating” a conflict in any way assigns the moral responsibility to the instigator. If I step on a psychopath’s toe, it’s my fault when he buries a ballpoint pen in my forehead. Or, to be fair, they think this is a reasonable, morally serious view. And since they believe it’s their job to illuminate the issues in the war on terror, it cannot be denied that they think this is a serious position in the debate over that conflict.
Again: This is really stooooooopid. The idea that the human race had it coming from the Cylons is moral flapdoodle (and flatly unbelievable; the creators seem to think decent humans would be deeply conflicted about declaring total war on a bunch of artificial lifeforms who slaughtered 99% of humanity). Similarly, the suggestion that the we are solely to blame morally for the war on terror because a bunch of psychopaths take offense at what we do is idiotic. Sure, we can debate whether this or that policy is defensible, wise, just etc. But this “Why do they hate us?” piffle is so morally unserious it’s horrifying how widely held it is. It’s also incredibly vain. It assumes that everything is about us — that terrorists aren’t fully human moral actors and therefor responsibility for their actions lies with us.
But, you see, these people choose to cut off heads. They should be judged by that choice, we shouldn’t.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the rest of the world spent time making allowances for us this way? Maybe it’d be a lot better if people in Karachi and Cairo sat around terrified that they might provoke those crazy Americans again? And, if we attacked them, they’d immediately beat themselves up with questions about “what did we do wrong?” and “why do they hate us?” Of course, I don’t want the world to live in terror of the US, but it’s better than the alternative.