Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide Ethics [Corrected!]

Vessel I

1. Giving credit where credit is due, at least some of the mainstream media isn’t avoiding calling attention to the Biden Administration’s epic debacle in Afghanistan. This is only a half IIPTDXTTNMIAFB: if Trump had done something even close to this incompetent, the news media would have been in full-fledged meltdown. In fact, there are enough harsh assessments coming from places that are not conservative mouthpieces that maybe Biden will face actual accountability for a change. (Nah, what am I saying?) CNN’s Jake Tapper, who occasionally has flashbacks to his pre-CNN days when he was a fairand trustworthy journalist, grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding Biden’s comments from last month, when he declared that it was “highly unlikely” the Taliban would overrun Afghanistan. That’s some intelligence work there, Joe! After some awkward huminahumina-ing, Blinken, kept trying to change the subject, defaulting to how everything was Trump’s fault. Amazingly, Tapper wouldn’t let him get away with it.

“You keep changing the subject to whether or not we should be there forever. And I’m not talking about that,” Tapper told Blinken. “I’m talking about whether or not this exit was done properly, taking out all the service members before those Americans and those Afghan translators could get out. That’s what I’m talking about. And then you have to send people back in. That’s the definition of, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have taken those troops out, because now we have to send twice as many back in.'”

On Medium, political analyst John Ellis was on fire, writing in part,

“Handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban is President Biden’s idea, if that’s the right word, and his alone. It is terrible policy, on any number of levels. “Worse than a crime, a mistake” (Talleyrand’s phrase) describes it best. Axios reports that the Administration “derives comfort from the fact that the American public is behind them — an overwhelming majority support withdrawal from Afghanistan — and they bet they won’t be punished politically for executing a withdrawal.” Given events and the likely consequences, the fact that the Administration “derives comfort” from anything regarding its decision to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban is nauseous. That they’re “betting” they will escape political punishment is perhaps more so….”

But that’s the routine, now. The Democrats count on the news media to minimize or hide their worst botches, so the public won’t know what’s going on and will keep on voting like good littel lambs. Other notes from Ellis:

  • “Abandoning the Kurds under Trump was bad enough. But this makes that look like home leave. This is an epic betrayal and strategically foolish to boot….
  • “…If you’re President Xi, you see Afghanistan, clearly, for what it is: a humiliating defeat for the United States. He might call it “flexible humiliation.” And what he knows from history is that defeated nations have little appetite for war in the immediate aftermath of losing one. Taiwan is there for the taking….
  • “When President Biden first announced that the US would be “leaving” Afghanistan, he set September 11, 2021 as the date when every last one of our people would be out. The announcement was greeted with astonished disbelief around the world. Could it really be possible that the US would officially hand over Afghanistan to the people who made it possible for Al Qaeda to attack it 20 years ago………on the very day of that attack? The answer was “yes,” although the Administration subsequently tried to walk it back without bringing attention to the fact that they were trying to walk it back.”

Ellis concludes, “Remarkably, the American press gave the president a pass on this, which seems to be its default setting when it comes to the Biden administration. “Trump was so much worse,” is the always-applicable rationale. Not in this case. Not by a long shot.”

2. Suicide Ethics. The Vessel (ablove) is a honeycomb-like spiral of staircases in Hudson Yards (New York City), a unique architectural attraction that provides a spectacular view to visitors. Unfortunately, people keep killing themselves there. There have been four suicides at the tourist attraction in a year and a half, so naturally community members want developers to build much higher barriers on the walkways, which will ruin the design and the purpose of the structure but will ensure that people go somewhere else to kill themselves.

The Vessel was closed after the most recent death, a 14-year-old boy, and an investigation is underway. Currently it rises 150 feet above the ground with waist-high glass barriers bordering its walkways, which would normally be reasonable. This was the second closure, the first occurring in January, after two people jumped to their deaths within a month.

The “eliminate all risks” brigade point out that studies prove netting and barriers are effective at stopping or reducing suicide attempts. For example, suicides and attempted suicides both decreased at the George Washington Bridge after netting and an 11-foot-high fence were installed in 2017. But the bridge is there to serve a transportation function, and its aesthetic qualities are incidental. If The Vessel is no longer attractive as art, why have it at all? Already, the suicides have forced the developers to mandate that visitors have to travel in pairs or groups, and tickets went from free to $10. The structure’s management also posted messages discouraging suicides. Of course, such messages might also make unstable think about suicides if they hadn’t already.

Lowell D. Kern, the chairman of the Community Board, demands significant structural changes. Board members met with a suicide prevention expert who suggested installing netting or raising the height of the glass barriers. He doesn’t care about what the result will look like or if anyone wants to go there at all once it’s suicide proof. Raising the barriers by seven or eight feet would be enough, Mr. Kern said, and would still allow people to have a clear view of the city.

“Yes, technically it is a work of architecture, and I’m messing with the architect’s vision. But we are dealing with life-and-death issues,” Kern said. “Art and architecture have to take a back seat.”

Who says? This is a balancing issue, and I’m not certain that the “back seat” should not be taken by the suicide-minded. [Notice of Correction: That “not” was left out of the original version of the post. Thanks to commenter David C for alerting me.] I hate to be harsh, but suicide has been accurately called the most selfish human act of all, and it is deliberately hostile conduct toward society. Those killing themselves at The Vessel are inflicting their entirely volitional ends on the public, knowing that they will cause the maximum amount of trauma to the living. How much is society ethically obligated to sacrifice to indulge such people. Are there studies that prove that an aspiring suicide who wants to go out with flair at a public attraction will decide, as Dorothy Parker wrote in the conclusion of her famous poem, Resumé, “You might as well live”? Or is the goal to just make sure they give up and go home to swallow sleeping pills?

19 thoughts on “Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide Ethics [Corrected!]

  1. 1. The most pathetic statement ever by a Secretary of State (which rivals “peace in our time):

    Antony Blinken insisted Sunday the scene in Afghanistan is not comparable to the fall of Saigon as he diverted blame for the Taliban take over on Trump, Republicans and Afghan security forces.

    The Secretary of State said the images emerging from Afghanistan, including personnel being airlifted out of the embassy in Kabul, is ‘standard operating procedure’.

    ‘This is being done in a very deliberate way. It’s being done in an orderly way. And it’s being done with American forces there to make sure we can do it in a safe way,’ he said in an interview with ABC News’ This Week on Sunday morning.

    Host Johnathan Karl pushed back by saying: ‘Respectfully, not much about what we’re seeing seems too orderly or standard operating procedure.’

    ‘Just last month, President Biden said that under no circumstance, and those were his words, under no circumstance would the U.S. personnel, embassy personnel be airlifted out of Kabul in a replay of the scenes that we saw in Saigon in 1975,’ he said.

    ‘So, isn’t that exactly what we’re seeing now? I mean, even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.’

    ‘Let’s take a step back,’ Blinken said, assuring: ‘This is manifestly not Saigon.’

    The State Department head listed a series of wins for the U.S. in Afghanistan, including ‘dealing with the people who attacked on 9/11’ and bringing ‘Bin Laden to justice’ as proof the situation is different from Saigon.

    ‘That mission has been successful,’ he said. ‘Al-Qaeda, the group that attacked us, has been vastly diminished. Its capacity to attack us again from Afghanistan has been – right now, does not exist.’

    This is pretty much a self-written Babylon Bee article. Can we give this guy the Kevin Bacon Remain Calm Award and retire it? What a weasel. Will he be mocked mercilessly for saying “Mission Accomplished?” Who should the American public believe, Anthony? You or their lyin’ eyes? What incredible, incredible chutzpah.

    • Trump sounds perfectly coherent:

      Trump immediately fired back at Biden in his own email statement on Saturday claiming that due to the current administration’s actions, the Taliban don’t fear or respect America.

      ‘Joe Biden gets it wrong every time on foreign policy, and many other issues,’ he wrote. ‘Everyone knew he couldn’t handle the pressure.’

      ‘He ran out of Afghanistan instead of following the plan our Administration left for him—a plan that protected our people and our property, and ensured the Taliban would never dream of taking our Embassy or providing a base for new attacks against America,’ the former president continued.

      ‘The withdrawal would be guided by facts on the ground,’ Trump said of the deal he made in 2019 with leaders of the Taliban. ‘After I took out ISIS, I established a credible deterrent. That deterrent is now gone.’

      ‘The Taliban no longer has fear or respect for America, or America’s power,’ he said. ‘What a disgrace it will be when the Taliban raises their flag over America’s Embassy in Kabul.’

      ‘This is complete failure through weakness, incompetence, and total strategic incoherence.’

      Biden ignored the conditions the withdrawal agreement placed upon the Taliban. I’m sure Joe has no idea what’s going on.

  2. While I somewhat plan on giving a larger opinion on this most despicable conduct by our nation, I’ll leave with just some summary comments-

    1) China- which seemingly for all intents and purposes, owns the Biden family- stands the most to gain from this abject withdrawal from Afghanistan.


    2) the collapse occurring in the first year of Biden’s administration almost guarantees it will be part of America’s collective forgetfulness by the time anyone hits polls in 2022 let alone 2024.

  3. Re: No.1; Biden’s Bumbling Policy.

    Why is this a surprise? Biden has been wrong on every domestic and foreign policy issue for his entire political life. Now, Afghanistan is going to be an Islamic caliphate thanks to Biden and we will abandon 20 years of blood, treasure, and time as a result.

    But, hey, this is not Biden or his failed policy. The intelligence community got it wrong and Trump’s a poopyhead so it’s Trump’s fault. It was Trump’s withdrawal plan, anyway. It’s not like Biden can do about faces in policy decisions, right? It’s not like Biden changed policy on Iran or China.

    Oh, and the Rainbow Flag flew over Kabul, so that’s a good thing. Right?

    China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are taking notice. It’s going to be a frightening 12 months.


  4. The collateral damage to the USA and it’s allies will become more and more apparent in the following years regarding this disastrous pullout. I was watching a modern marvels segment on the Apache helicopter which takes two years for a skilled pilot to learn to operate and which were abandoned in vast numbers by the Afghanistan Army. The Taliban certainly don’t have the skills to operate them so where will they wind up? Answer: to China and Pakistan!!

  5. I have avidly followed your blog for well over 2 years now and occasionally I feel let down by some of your remarks on mental health but perhaps my expectations are unreasonable as it is not your wheelhouse. The pandemic has shown us many things but chief among them is that every person’s mental health can be vulnerable in the right circumstances. I know this is avry complicated issue but I feel equipped to make some points.

    First off, when you said, “and I’m not certain that the back seat should be taken by the suicide-minded.”, do you not mean ” front seat”? That would make more sense in the context of your opinions.

    Yes it is a myth that talking about suicide will plant and germinate the idea in a person’s head. Hotlines are as easily accessible as ever with smartphones. Whether people avail themselves of them is one question, and whether they help is another, but it is always better to be aware of the existence of the resources that are out there. And yes as far as I know there is research that suggests that if people are fixated for whatever reason on a certain way and are denied access then they will not turn to another method.

    To tar the act wholesale as selfish in my eyes tends to be a facile dismissal of what is a profoundly complex matter. And if that is accusation is launched one could certainly charge those who demand the person in pain remain alive as equally “selfish” at least. After all isn’t it easy to ask other people to endure pain that you don’t experience? Not to mention when it comes to such an issue of such great sensitivity I don’t find such language to be helpful and conducive to anything positive. We need to be talk openly. And finally in many cases it is just dead inaccurate. And as someond with a mountain of experience in crisis intervention I can tell you why. In many cases these people are convinced, literally convinced that their families, friends, society, the WORLD is better off without their presence. Selfish…what a word to describe them. And whether you think their thinking is misguided or distorted or whatever doesn’t matter (even if it may be) because what matters is what they believe at the time of their action. I have no doubt you can appreciate that.

    I would agree that carrying out suicide in such a public way, making them party to something like that, is not….shall we say good. It’s unfair to the witnesses. You say though: “knowing that they will cause the maximum amount of trauma to the living”? Did they? A lot of time it is done on a sudden impulse and we cannot rule that out. No time for consideration. And maybe they are so focused on ending their own agony that other considerations fall by the wayside. I know it can take for many people a lot of imagination to even begin to conceive of the desperation that someone who does something like this might have been feeling. I know I am inclined to be more understanding than many though at the same time I do try to have empathy for those for whom understanding does not come naturally because I recognize that our ability , and this is a univeral , to empathize is a function of our lived experiences. I am just trying to view this after in all its complexity as well as I can and be wary of being o quick to ascribe motives or thoughts to people. I mean, one of the victims was a barely a teenager, a child! I am sure the young age (and all the victims were young) informs the controversy.

    As far as trauma on the living goes in general, I can tell you that the pain some suicidal people feel/felt is much worse and it is often compounded by the knowledge that they’ll be facing it for the rest of their lives. I know the general public has a tendency to underestimate the severity of what some people experience or fail to appreciate that not everything is able to be ameliorated or mitigated by treatment, which follows from the things I mentioned above. In a word : it sucks. Hard. For everyone. The people afflicted or suffering, the people in their lives, and the world at large. I’m sure you know that reality doesn’t always square itself away neatly and I also know you know it is not wise or truly helpful to overly reduce complex things. And few topics match these in their complexity.

    I guess I didn’t answer your question about the best course of action. I don’t know. The people who might consider using it aren’t demanding protection from it. I don’t have any coherent proposal regarding this sculpture but I just wanted to share some other thoughts on the topic. I don’t expect you to fully agree but I wanted to write nonetheless.

    • Great comment, and I’ll post it as a Comment of the Day. I’ll save my detailed comment for when that’s up, hopefully tomorrow: I’m fighting some deadlines. Two quick notes:

      1) Yes, I wrote the opposite of what I meant to write by leaving out a “not.” Thanks for flagging that. A former fiancee called that “The JM Syndrome,” a tendency to say the exact opposite of what I meant. It’s a problem.

      2) I and my family have had more than the typical experience with suicide. One of my college room mates committed suicide, three of my first cousins (out of 11) and my grandmother’s brother. I’ve seen up close what they do to families and loved ones. I’ll elaborate in the comments to your COTD.

    • I was wondering where she’s been. I wonder if she cackled while reading that prepared little blurb. So, now she owns the border, so called, and now the Afghanistan debacle. Man, where’d she hire her crack advisory staff?

      • That story was from April 2021 where she stated that Biden had courage to do what was “right.”
        I bet she now wants a retraction.

  6. Re: Democrats on Afghanistan fiasco… like the border it is “Trump’s poor policies” they blame for the current problems. Although Trump, with the ego he has, and his pride in making deals, I simply do not believe this was part of his deal, and besides that, Biden was happy to break other agreements Trump made. (ahem: Keystone pipeline)
    I am not any expert on international affairs but even I can tell it was a botched withdrawal and that isn’t Trump’s fault and I believe it would have been different under another leader. Biden said this withdrawal would be “responsible, deliberate and safe.” Oops. Missed that one.

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