Sunday, September 16, 2012

Drones: Am I Responsible?

(See previous reflection: The Apostle's Creed as a Focus for Thinking About Drones.)

by Joe Scarry

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That' s smaller than the universe." ...

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

I think that the most important question in any conversation about drones is, "What is my responsibility to think and care about this?" Until we address the question of responsibility, we haven't begun to establish a frame for the conversation. Are we talking about drones out of passing curiosity? Or because it's in the newspaper, so we're "supposed to" talk about it? Or out of some of true sense of obligation and responsibility?

In the past, I have found it appropriate to feel responsibility for U.S. warmaking on the grounds that the killing and injury are being done "in my name." In other words, I am required to act as a matter of "citizen responsibility."

As I have reflected on the words of the Apostle's Creed, it has become clear to me that the real response-ability that we should be talking about is that which comes in response to God's affirming relationship toward us. If, indeed, I believe that "my Lord ... has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death ...." then the parameters of what I am responsive to -- and responsible for -- must transcend a legalistic notion of what accrues to me as a U.S. citizen.

If one doesn't believe God's entry into the world is literal and in-the-flesh -- but rather some kind of abstract relationship -- much less if one has no conception of any kind to tie one to the the rest of humanity -- it becomes very hard to get beyond a concept of responsibility that is narrow and legalistic: "Well, how much, REALLY, did anything I did contribute to this situation? Isn't my responsibility, if any, infinitesimal?"

On the other hand, however, to say that we are responsible for EVERYTHING is not terribly helpful, either -- in effect, it conveys no information.

I would suggest, therefore that effective criteria of what I am to be responsive to and responsible for might include:

* Does something need to be done?

* CAN I do something?

* Am I uniquely situated to do something?
With respect to the last of these, Rabbi Alissa Wise points to an important concept in helping us think about when it is that we are well-situated to make a difference. "Tochecha [sacred rebuke] is about our obligation to tell someone when they have done or are currently straying and behaving wrongly – whether to us, or to another. What’s more, tochecha requires us also to engage with those we are rebuking and assist them and support them in the repair of the wrong you are calling out." (See Israel Palestine Mission Network, God Is In This Place.)

In a pre-modern world, the answers to these questions could be expected to be quite close at hand. (It had to do with physical proximity and a relatively limited set of possible social relationships.)

Today, the field of action is much larger: it is global. Let's face it: "today" can be thought of as having started once we began having empires, i.e. from Rome onward. The question, in effect, becomes "Where are they crucifying people?" and then, "Mustn't I be there?"

It was in the imperial context that, as Pastor Erik Christensen has pointed out, we can see "the early Church’s emerging understanding of who Jesus was in relation to God." Thus, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, "Jesus Christ ... though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). We see this crystallized in places such as Mark's gospel: "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

(I found echoes of this in Rabbi Wise's statement of faith in "God Is In This Place": "God is the impulse in me to serve the Other out of a sense of responsibility that stems from the Source of redemption.")

Does theology (e.g. the Creed) help make choices about responsibility? Does it move us effectively from the "something oughta be done" stage ... through the "I can do something" stage ... up to and including the "I am doing something" stage?

A possible way to test whether this particular theological way of thinking is helpful is to consider some other situations of killing and injury, not just the killing and injury being done with drones. For instance, what if one were to consider suicide attacks, such as those reported September 2 in the New York Times?

For both drone attacks and suicide attacks, one might ask:
* Does something need to be done?

* CAN I do something?

* Am I uniquely situated to do something?
As we think about and discuss issues such as distancing ... authority, collateral damage, and pre-emptive violence ... surveillance ... and technology in the days and weeks ahead, perhaps we can compare and contrast these two distinct types of killing and injury to help us clarify our thinking.

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

Next installment: Drones vs. Up-Close-and-Personal Reality

* * * * *

Top image: Corpus of Christ, Spanish, Catalonia (Banyoles), 13th century Art Institute of Chicago.

* * * * *

Related posts

"Because of the intensified division of labor," the narrator explains, "many technicians and scientists can no longer recognize the contribution the have made to weapons of destruction." "Our department extracts lareic, oleic, and naptha acids . . . . "  "I'm a chemist. What should I do? If I develop a substance, it can be good for humanity . . . ."  "Besides napalm, Dow Chemical produces 800 other products . . . ." Does this familiar to you?

(See American Fire: Still Spreading, Still Inextinguishable)

GAZA: Israel has a story about how all these people are there enemies, and the people of Palestine have a story about how all these people are innocent bystanders. Could both stories be true? . . . 9/11: "How could one set of people think that the towers and the people in them were legitimate targets, when others saw them as innocent victims?"

(See Gaza and 9/11: Innocent Bystanders? Legitimate Targets? Acceptable Collateral Damage?)

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful questions and see the threads you are weaving together. There is a persistent question for me however which centers around God's blood sacrifice and God's incarnation. Are we saved because God became human and thus shares our human struggle or are we saved because Jesus life was ransomed for us? Which one moves you past a legalistic motivation to a place of I can do something? Some might argue that the drone attacks themselves are a kind of redemptive action in that for a few lives lost many more are saved. I look forward to your next installment and your ideas on these challenging theological issues.