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On Sunday, a US Air Force member named Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire outside the Israel embassy to protest the war in Gaza. This being the modern age, he live steamed the act on Twitch. According to the BBC, he had e-mailed a message to the Antifa media operators with whom he was associated. “Today, I am planning to engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people,” the email read, warning it would be “highly disturbing”.
The video is disturbing for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which it shows a man burning to death, which is one of the most horrific ways to die. It also shows uniformed police doing nothing but pointing their guns at the man as he burned to death, because that is the only thing they know how to do now. Finally, someone rushed up with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, but the cops still stood there ready to shoot the poor man if they could find a reason to do it.
The point of this act was to get attention to the cause, which is the Israeli war on the Palestinian settlements in Gaza. Antifa, with whom Mr. Bushnell was associated, is anti-Israel, so they have taken up the cause of Gaza. Despite claiming to be antifascist, the anarchist subculture is surprisingly antisemitic, something that gets left out of the reporting by the media. It is a good example of how the Washington regime will align with anyone, no matter how bizarre, if it suits their needs.
The logic behind this protest is that it so shocks the sensibilities that no one can ignore it, thus attention is brought to the cause. There is no disputing this. Before Aaron Bushnell self-immolated, no one other than his family and friends had any reason to know his name, but now he is global news. To a lesser degree, his reasons for doing what he did are also global news. For the anti-Israel movement around the world, Aaron Bushnell is now a martyr and hero for the cause.
That is where things get complicated. For those already in the pro-Gaza camp, Mr. Bushnell’s actions are noble because they elicit pity. Michael Tracy tried unsuccessfully to make this point on Twitter. You are supposed to see the act, feel pity for the man suffering and then think about his reasoning. Presumably, once you understand his reasoning, you will not only embrace his reasoning, but embrace the moral claims that he is making with regards to Israel.
Of course, you could just as easily look at his act, feel pity for the man and then conclude he must be insane. After all, reason tells us that all living creators seek to preserve their lives by any means necessary. This we can observe in nature and within ourselves as living things. Therefore, a human seeking to die is probably suffering from mental defect and needs protection from himself. Perhaps his cause is just as crazy as the man killing himself in the name of the cause.
There is something else. Why should the moral claims of a loser, a failure, a maniac, have greater appeal than the moral claims of the people supporting the stronger party in the Gaza conflict? In other words, why do the losers have a claim on our sympathy rather than the winners? Why should our sympathy have any role in determining the morality of the two parties in the conflict? Why are both sides appealing to our pity and sympathy rather than some other emotion?
In no other area of life is this logic applied. In a war the winners are celebrated and the losers are punished, usually by their own people. When the Ukraine army falls apart, the political leaders of Ukraine will flee for their lives. The leaders of NATO countries will be mocked and scorned by their own people. We see the same in sports competition, where the winners are feted and the losers and excoriated. Why in this case should the morality be turned on its head?
The truth is, it is not turned on its head. The reason this sort of protest, and most protests, fail to sway the public is they appeal to a loser’s morality. The protestors are saying, in effect, that they cannot win the debate with the public and they cannot win the argument with the rulers. They are powerless, so no one addresses their concerns, which leaves them with nothing by an appeal to your sympathy. This always fails as people naturally support the winner and reject the loser.
This is why most of the commentary online about the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell was mocking and joking. Even in that Michael Tracey thread the replies are sarcastic, despite his obvious appeal to pity. It turns out that appeals to pity only work on those who see themselves as pitiful. To everyone else, they just reinforce the notion that the losers deserve to lose, which is why they act like losers. For most people, Bushnell’s act proves his cause is not worth considering.
It is an important point about politics. Democratic politics are theater and self-pity makes for bad box office. Successful political movements project strength and confidence, not weakness and self-pity. That means all public displays, including protests, should project strength and confidence. Aaron Bushnell would have served his cause better if he went about punching Israelis in the nose. At least then he would have been seen as a threat and people will respect a man who is a threat.
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