ichael . benson on Sat, 19 Jun 1999 18:56:51 +0000

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Re: Syndicate: moral responsibility

Of course there's such a thing as collective responsibility, and of
course it's not the same as collective guilt (i.e., something that you
could be tried for). When Reagan Amerika floated a huge fleet off each
coast of tiny, dirt-poor Nicaragua, and what's more blasted a daily
supersonic boom over Managua, scaring the shit out of everybody,
scattering chickens and breaking windows, just because that country
had opted for a socialist system, I felt disgusted and angry. And I
wrote about it and talked about it, you know, in disgust and with
anger, and even showed up at some rallies downtown (although I felt
quite impotent to really do much). So why did I do that? Well, apart
from visceral revulsion over these kinds of intimidation tactics --
the same feeling I would have if any country was engaged in them,
without a pretty damn good reason -- I also felt like this was *my*
country behaving in a reprehensible way. And what's more, using ships
and planes that I, and everyone I knew who paid taxes, had actually
paid for, out of our labor. Which is not a small thing. 

Further, the people who were using those Stuka tactics were literally
from my community, they had been educated in the same educational
system I grew up in, they were from my extended neighborhood, I 
suppose you could say, and therefore I felt a right and a duty to 
speak up about what I perceived as (yet another) misuse of the 
immense power of the United States. Just as, during the Vietnam war, 
millions protested, because they felt like their country was behaving 
in an unacceptable way. Same with the civil rights movement, when it 
was made very clear that not thousands, but millions, of citizens of 
the US believed that black Americans should have equal rights. 

That is what taking collective responsibility means. 

Like McKenzie Wark says, "Accepting responsibility is not about 
guilt, and hence is not about punishment." Slobodan, you're not 
*guilty* for the crimes that were committed by Yugoslav/Serbian 
forces in Kosovo. And I can understand why you wouldn't want to be
linked to them in any way. But you are, on the other hand, responsible
for your own opinions and actions, within the system in which you
live. And for your own tacit or overt acceptance or rejection of the
actions of that system. Not to mention your own responsibility to try
to get as much objective information as possible, from sources outside
the state-controlled media apparatus. 

Sally Jane Norman asked, "How many responsible individuals form a
collective responsibility?" It's a good question. I'm fully aware that
it's very scary and dangerous to actually go out and protest against
state power in Serbia. Especially now. (And b.t.w., there has been
some interesting reporting the last few days about the efficient
methods being used to keep the Serbs pouring Kosovo from pouring
*into* Belgrade or other urban areas -- exactly so they don't flood
the streets and, you know, demand Slobo's head. They literally have 
nothing left to lose.) And I can get a glimpse at how frustrated and 
dispirited the Serbian opposition must have been, several years ago, 
when its leadership fragmented and then in same cases directly 
collaborated with the same system it had been protesting against -- 
and very soon after those marches. This is something that can only 
fuel an already pervasive cynicism. But one of the most striking 
features of those protests years ago was that they didn't really seem 
to concern themselves very much with the war crimes that had been 
committed in the name of Serbia, both in Croatia and Bosnia. In fact 
they weren't protests against that at all. They were apparently more 
directed against Milosevic going a bit too far -- too far even for 
Serbia --when it came to stealing an election. And (if I can believe 
what I've read, from various sources, about it -- though I'm curious 
to hear any comments on the truth of this), they had real overtones 
of anger that the greater Serbia project had suffered some defeats. 
In other words, these were also protests about those tactics not 
working -- not protests at the horrifying tactics themselves! And it 
was widely reported that, when the cops showed up to break heads, 
some people were chanting that they should go to Kosovo, and break 
Albanian heads instead...  

Well, guess what? They did, they did... They followed the will of a
percentage of the collective. And very, very efficiently.

This is not, repeat NOT, to say that *everyone* felt that way. 
Obviously not, and thank god for that! But, as I've written before in
this forum, I personally feel despair over Serbia when I consider the
percentage of the Serbian electorate that voted, in democratic 
elections, for either Milosevic or Seselj. (And yes, I'm aware of the 
power of state-controlled mass media in brainwashing an entire 
population. But still...)

So, I agree with McKenzie Wark when he writes:

> accepting responsibility
> is part of growing up. Its a mark of the struggle for the
> maturity of the culture, to accept responsibility. To stop saying,
> like Bart Simpson, "I didn't do it." Without the voluntary
> acceptance of responsibility, how can a culture learn? How can
> identity have an honest premise? How can we expect others to respect
> us?

A year ago, I received a real harangue from Andrej Tisma, to the
effect that, since the US is a country built on the bones of dead
Native Americans, i.e., founded on genocide, I had no right to have an
opinion about Serbia's treatment of the Kosovar Albanians. But he
didn't stop to ask me about my opinion about that genocide. And in
fact about my acceptance of some responsibility for that genocide,
given that I am one of many who has a relatively good deal in life
due, in one way or another, to the success of that project known as
the United States. (In other words, I wasn't born into a Calcutta
slum, or Cambodian hell.) While I wouldn't go too far with this, I
would say that this assumption of some level of responsibility
enables having an opinion about, and being able to recognize, a 
similar kind of injustice when it's staring you in the face. Apart 
from the fact that I believe that we, as human beings, are allowed to 
have a say about how the human race is behaving.

The fact that there are no doubt people in Serbia, and on this list,
who would probably be pretty annoyed at being asked to consider the
moral views of some American who didn't have to endure three months of
bombing, and who in fact is from the country that did that bombing,
and furthermore who feels free to comment about the Serbian situation
-- I mean, the presumption of it! -- already shows that there is an
acceptance of the idea of collective responsibility. I'm an
individual, and I have some kind of obscure, hard-to-define, and
sometimes infuriating, ties with that immense collective that calls
itself the US. 

But I'll say it anyway (and you can hit "Ctrl-F4" right now): 
my personal opinion is that the mayhem being uncovered in Kosovo is
unforgivable. Just as shelling the life out of Sarajevo for year after
year was unforgivable. And Srebrenica was unforgivable. It seems to me
that the only thing that would, or could, save the Serbian collective
-- a collective comprised of millions of individuals, each capable of
making autonomous decisions -- would be in fact to take responsibility
for those actions, and to exhibit a collective wave of revulsion and a
collective demand to know who is responsible for this kind of reign of
terror. If you want to look at it in a self-interested and yes,
*collective* way, those responsible for almost completely destroying
the good name of Serbia should be held accountable. There is *nothing*
that justifies this kind of behavior; nothing at all (though as I
guess I've made pretty clear in previous posts, in my opinion there
*was* ample justification for a military response to this carnage.
Events show that it was the only way to stop it, since the only other
people who could have stopped it -- the Serbian people -- *didn't do
so*. Sad but true). 

But, but: I find it heartening that tiny, elderly, white-bearded 
Patriarch Pavle has called on Milosevic and his entire government to 
resign, and has even acknowledged and condemned the torture of the 
Kosovar Albanians. After all, when Christ said "love thy neighbor", 
he didn't mean just that neighbor who you already find most 
acceptable, or ethnically OK; and he didn't specify that this 
neighbor had to be of your own religious views, either. He didn't 
say, "love that neighbor which you already find easiest to love." I 
guess -- it's just a theory -- that he meant entirely the 
opposite thing.  (No, I'm not a Christian.)

It would be nice, for example, if the Moslems in Sandjak could be 
left in peace. Rather than dreading that they might be next. And if 
the Hungarians in Vojvodina wouldn't have to worry about being kicked 
out of their apartments now. And if Montenegro could be left to 
continue deciding on its government for itself. And important stuff 
like that.

So that's my long-winded take. No offense, please, no offense. 
Let's hope that everything manages to get better now. It would be 
about fucking time. 

Michael Benson  <michael.benson@pristop.si>
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