I Could Use A Little More Of Joe's Honesty: On Dead People And Costs

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Joe the Plumber, that conservative footnote to the 2008 election, had this to say about the latest shooting spree:

I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But:
As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.

And I read that and went, “Fuck yeah, Joe, thanks for being honest.”
Because Joe, at least, is looking those dead kids in the eye and saying, “I’ve done the math, and I find this level of killing and pain to be acceptable for the greater good.”  And he’s getting pilloried on the Internet, but really, Joe is the only pro-gun guy having an honest conversation with the media about guns right now.
You don’t like what Joe has to say?  Well, how do you like Obama?
Because the drones Obama is so fond of using, as it turns out, target on potentially-erroneous metadata.  The terrorists have figured out that the NSA tracks cell phones, so they swap SIMs all the time, hand their phones off to different people – and we occasionally just blow up a phone in the hopes that we hit the right guy.
And here’s what Obama is saying, but not out loud:

I’m sorry I blew up your family.  I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now: everyone you love being destroyed accidentally because someone handed your kid the wrong cell phone.
But as harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump our right to safety.

And if you don’t think Obama isn’t saying, “Incinerating a few innocents is worth keeping terrorists down,” well, you’re not looking at it honestly.  He’s done the calculations.  He knows there are no clean wars with no collateral damage or accidents.
He’s just not saying it, because if we presented the choice in that way, we wouldn’t actually make that choice.
Here’s another fun thing Obama doesn’t say:

I’m sorry that one out of every twenty black men are in jail right now, as we speak.  I’m sorry that roughly one out of every three black guys will go to jail in their lifetime.  I myself have a son and daughter, and I’d be distraught if they got a twenty-year sentence for holding a dime bag.  It’s not fun keeping one out of every hundred people in America locked in prison – in fact, it’s expensive, cruel, and costly in more ways than just funding.
But as harsh as this sounds – this is better than legalizing drugs.

These are three things I believe should be dismissed, of course – I dislike drone strikes, I dislike drug sentences, I dislike the gun laws we have.  But the thing that’s absent in all of these discussions is that we all just sort of sidewalk past the costs, not wanting to look at the trail of wrecked and burned bodies to ask, “Is this worth it?”
And we should ask that question.  The ugly truth is that America is sufficiently large a country that almost any decision we make is going to crush someone innocent underfoot.  If we react to the MRA shooter by saying, “We need better mental health laws, and more proactive targeting to put these people away before they can harm people!” then we’ll probably lock away some potential shooters – but we’ll also have a nonzero number of troublesome-but-not-harmful weirdos locked away for the crime of “his neighbors found him creepy.”
What’s the real cost?  Can we stop pretending that nobody would ever dies or get hurt if only we just got our way, and be honest about the sadly imperfect solutions we have at our fingertips?  Can we say, “Look, bureaucratic screwups and funding shortages are going to kill a lot of people, no matter what kind of health care system we have.  Maybe we should stop pretending that ‘death panels’ are a failure state of a callous system and are, rather, an unavoidable part of having non-infinite resources to help people… and instead of acting as though we can prevent every death, start investigating which methodologies are least unfair in terms of picking the people we decide to let die.”
Obama doesn’t say how many innocents he thinks are worth killing thanks to bad cell phone data, but that’s because America is very fucked up about how we think things should be.  We don’t want to think that any innocents are worth killing – which is laudable in theory, but lacking perfect data, the only way to do that is to not ever shoot any terrorist at all.  And maybe not shooting those terrorists, and letting them kill innocents, would lead to even more deaths.
The point I’m making is that we’re gonna have blood on our hands.  And yet if we ask, “Well, how do we minimize the number of accidental victims?” then we fucking flip out because this is America, and we don’t do that.
Except it may be unavoidable.
And keep in mind, I’m not saying that I know how many bad drone strikes are worth it.  I’m against drone strikes in principle.  But then again, we’ve never really had an open debate in this country about what we perceive are the dangers of inaction vs. the dangers of action-with-inevitable-error-margins, so I can’t actually say.  My gut says, “Don’t kill anyone ever if there’s any chance,” but I fully acknowledge that’s my natural denial of I Don’t Want Anything Bad To Happen Ever kicking in, along with an unhealthy side order of It’s Those Guys Far Away So I Don’t Have To Look At What Happens.  I can say “no drone strikes,” but then again I’m not an Afghan girl risking having acid thrown at her just for the crime of going to school.
So rather than yelling at Joe for being an asshole, I’d rather applaud him.  What he said is harsh, but it’s also accurate.  And while I don’t think he’s correct, at least he’s not shying away from the very real calculations that we should be doing about “How many dead kids are worth a cause?”
We don’t do enough of that in America.  We really don’t.

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