Sunday, August 10, 2014

political cartoons done poorly and well

Here's a laughable attempt at an argument:

The above cartoon evokes and parodies the supposed rationale behind George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin. The argument, such as it is, is that the shadow of injustice will always fall on blacks, even (or especially) if, as in the situation depicted by the cartoon, the black shooter uses the same "obviously lame" arguments used in defense of Zimmerman. But what the above cartoon fails to note is that Zimmerman was pinned to the ground and beaten bloody, and Trayvon Martin was no innocent kid just strolling along a neighborhood sidewalk, sipping a coffee like the white man in the cartoon. The point the artist is trying to drive home, with his drawing, is that the dead white man was completely innocent—this is what his coffee represents. The black shooter's rationale, in the cartoon, is a parodic restatement of Zimmerman's alleged feeling that Martin somehow didn't look as though he belonged in the neighborhood he was in. The message: a black shooter could never get away with using Zimmerman's rationale if he shot a perfectly innocent white man.

Note two disanalogies:

1. The cartoon evokes a black/white scenario in its exploration of injustice. George Zimmerman, despite the Aryan name, is most decidedly not white, but racial politicizers conveniently ignore this fact because it doesn't suit their overall narrative, which is one of injustice against blacks perpetrated by whites. You can't evoke awareness of race and then ignore the actual race of one of the people involved in a racially charged incident—not without risking hypocrisy. I challenge the artist to re-draw the murder victim with browner skin and facial features closer to Zimmerman's. Then we'll see how people interpret the cartoon.

2. Trayvon Martin, as stated previously, wasn't an innocent kid, and as he proved when accosted by Zimmerman, he had a towering, uncontrollable temper as well as a murderously violent streak. No one who sees the photos of George Zimmerman's bloody head injuries can deny that Martin fully intended to beat the crap (or the brains) out of Zimmerman. Zimmerman's shooting was justifiable self-defense. End of story. As many others have argued, this case should never have gone to trial.

In all, the above cartoon makes a poor, easily refutable argument (or maybe we should say "argument") that does little but stoke the fires of emotion while dimming any hopes for rational discussion. Situations like the Zimmerman/Martin case are legitimate fodder for a larger, more productive discussion about the state of race relations in America. There are undeniable problems, and blacks aren't wrong to perceive racism as a still-pervasive phenomenon in American culture. There's plenty of room for improvement, and I don't by any means side with the people who dismiss race-talk by claiming, "We've got a black president in the White House, now; how bad can things be?" So in a sense, I don't entirely disagree with the most basic thrust of the cartoon; if the cartoonist's essential point is that racism-fueled injustice still exists, then yes: that's correct. But the implied argument, based on the scenario the cartoonist sets forth in his cartoon, is fallacious to the point of being ludicrous.

Here, by contrast, is a cartoon that makes its point better, mainly because the humor is anchored in actual reality:

The actual reality, of course, is that the elimination of all Jewry is, in fact, an openly stated, codified aim of Hamas—a fact conveniently ignored by apologists for the Palestinians. Hence the humor: John Kerry asks Benyamin Netanyahu whether half a genocide would be an acceptable alternative to total genocide.

This evokes a larger discussion about the respective aims of the Israelis and the Palestinians. There's room here, too, for Palestinian grievances, which I acknowledge. But the Palestinians have done nothing to make their case a sympathetic one in my eyes: if women and children are dying, this is because the Hamas puppet masters are placing those poor people in harm's way, and the adult human shields, at least, seem to be acquiescing to this fate as if it were a legitimate duty.

As Sam Harris recently and forcefully pointed out, Israel does exercise enormous restraint, and the evidence is as plain as day: Israel currently has the ability to kill all seven million Palestinians... yet it withholds. If that's not evidence of restraint, then what is? Harris continues by noting that, if Hamas had Israel's military power, it would go all the way and wipe out every Jew within its reach. That, Harris argues, is the essential moral difference between the two sides.* What a people might choose to do when granted power is indeed a rigorous moral test. Would Hamas show any mercy? Doubtful. Thus immoral.

So—two cartoons, one of which makes its point poorly, the other of which bases its mordant humor on actual reality. There are good and bad ways to make a point; a good cartoonist will do his best to avoid fallacious argument and over-emotionalism... but that may be asking too much of most cartoonists.

*Some will accuse me of sloppily conflating the authorities' actions and attitudes, on both sides, with the citizens'. I disagree. How many Israelis seriously want to kill off all Palestinians? (Here, in fact, is a recent news article about Israelis who are protesting their own government's prosecution of military action against Hamas in Gaza.) I'd say a much larger proportion of the Palestinian citizenry wouldn't shed a tear if all Israeli Jews suddenly disappeared. This is a difference in attitude (and moral worth) that runs from the authoritarian top of each society to its lowest, most powerless echelon. So I think my generalization is justified.

Be sure to read my buddy Mike's take on the Israel/Palestine situation. He and I are more or less on the same page. Read Dr. John Pepple, a self-styled "self-critical leftist," on what the left could have done before Islamism became the huge problem it is today.



John said...

Well said.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks. I imagine the naysayers will appear shortly. Anything political is catnip to some folks.