“The Medium is the Message”

Started by Matt Lumpkin on December 31, 2012 in Church in Contemporary Culture, Visual Faith

This painting addresses the deep unrest I feel about our government's increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's or drones) to assassinate people we assert are a threat to us and our interests. We assert that we have intelligence linking to the Taliban or Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our government takes these actions in secret and don't acknowledge publicly that they are taking them.

There appears to be no check on our government's executive power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world we deem a threat.

Social Assassination

I completed this piece in response to the Brehm Lectures. The day after I completed it this week Israel launched their offensive near Gaza. Not only have they made heavy use of UAV missile strikes for targeted assassinations openly, but they have been using twitter to post links to video from the drone strikes and Photoshopped images of people they have killed listing the alleged crimes for which they have been judged and executed - their faces rendered in red.

Shane Hipps, Barry Taylor and Ryan Bolger discussed Marshall Mcluhan's assertion that all technology is an extension of one or more human senses. We are now witnessing an extension of not just our senses but our agency to kill with the technology of UAV's and the strikes they enable and justify. The fact of our being able to do them is being mistaken for a value or moral imperative to do them. The minimized "collateral damage," to nearby women, children and other unintended targets is taken as a supporting argument.

My Objections

I object to people killing people. I especially object to governments killing people. I object even more when they do it without any check on that power and without transparent oversight. Secret courts don't count as a check precisely because they are secret.

We have extended our selves to our great moral, ethical, economic and human peril.

Matthew Lumpkin is a polymath. That's all he wanted his bio to say. If you want to know more, visit his website where you can learn about the music he makes, the talks he gives, the images he sketches, and the conversations he is starting.

Comments (8)

john guernsey
12/31/2012 3:42pm
What actions would you prefer Israel to take when attacked by Hamas's furious rocket attacks, which are meant to kill Israelis indiscriminately? Israel takes measures such as identification of attack victims to prove to the world, as best as possible, their care to avoid collateral damage, and to show the precision, target identities, and reasons for their defensive responses. Does any other country go to this extent for humanities sake?
Should the U.S. just let terrorists plan, operate, and attack us and our soldiers, or might bumping off a few key Taliban monsters via drones, in the conflict areas, cause less suffering for all sides in the long run?
Suggest you write to the president, who has run the defense department for the last 4 years, and give him your opinion.
Matthew H. Lumpkin
12/31/2012 4:56pm
Hi John. I'm not sure you're inviting conversation but I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt and try to respect you and your response to my piece.

As I said, I object to people killing people. When they do it often causes retaliation and the retaliator to feel justified in taking the same sort of action. In short, violence causes us to become the "monsters" who hurt us. No matter how far we distance ourselves through drones, rockets or bullets, the use of violence transforms and deforms both the giver and the receiver.

I singled out Israel in the post but my painting is critiquing all those who would turn their human brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons into "collateral damage," "monsters" or any other mask that makes them easier to kill. To say that Israel has had to adopt the tactics of terrorists (assassination etc.) to fight terrorists or that America has had to do the same is to admit that we are becoming what we most fear and deride.

Sen. John McCain, himself a victim of terror, torture and detention without due process, said it best, I think when he said that it comes down to what sort of nation we are going to be after 9/11; that is, how are we going to let it change our character or not. I'm afraid it has hastened our path toward becoming something we would once have despised.

Thanks for taking a look and reading what I had to say.
john guernsey
01/09/2013 4:55pm
Of course, no one I know is fond of 'people killing people'. And indeed there's some important moral and political debate that can be had on the use of drones and other tactics of recent warfare, where enemies hide and strike amongst populations.
However , no matter how well intended, your positions are morally confused, and imply a reluctance to make distinctions between good and evil; and they show a lack of understanding of the seriousness and difficultly of dealing with evil. They are simplistic liberal positions based on emotions and lofty intentions, untempered by history, logic, and reason.
Perhaps you feel the restatement of your position serves as an answer to my earlier questions. It doesn't. It's avoidance, and doesn't suffice as a respectful academic response. Thus has to be the end of our conversation. Perhaps you will engage more seriously to questions others present to you in the future.
Sean Love
01/18/2013 7:26pm
John, it amazes me that you have effectively done what you accuse Matt of doing: you decided to shut down the conversation by refusing to converse with him. Your second post did not engage him with any issues of debate or discussion. Rather, you resorted to name calling and labeling (liberal, confused, incapable of understanding) and ended the conversation. Matt, on the other hand, was willing to state what he thought about the issues (even if I don't agree with everything he says), did not label you or call you names, and invited further conversation. It would be nice if you could do the same.
Sean Love
01/18/2013 7:50pm
Hi Matt. Thank you for sharing your art and your thoughts. I appreciate your willingness to start a conversation. Here are my thoughts on the subject of UAV's and the war on terror. I agree that drone strikes make killing less personal, essentially dealing death at a distance. Killing is a very heavy issue. Using drones, or even manned aircraft to make strikes on targets definitely has a strong link to ourtright assassination, and "collateral" damage always occurs at some level. I also believe that as Christians, we need to pay attention to the ethics that Jesus taught, and that means "love your neighbor" is very significant for us.

However, I also believe it is unrealistic to expect any government to accept Jesus' ethic and act accordingly. After all, we do have a secular government in the United States, and many people strongly believe in the separation of church and state. I don't think we can have it both ways: both a separation of church and state, AND the expectation that the state will accept the church's ethics on the use of violence (then there would be no separation of church and state). So either we demand that our government practice non-violence as much as possible and accept that the separation of church and state isn't the best idea, or we stick with the church/state separation and acknowledge that this means less religious influence on the state's actions and ethics.

Also, I don't believe that all use of violence is strictly condemned in scripture or Jesus' teaching. It is certainly the least desirable path. If we examine all of Jesus' teachings, we see that he emphasized peace making, but also acknowledged the reality of violence and defense (admonishing disciples to take a sword, becoming irate and using violence to overturn the money changers' tables, etc).

Certainly, as a Christian, I believe that non-violence is the best course. But I also acknowledge that sometimes violence is a reality. All forms of human government have had a basic mandate to protect it's citizens through the use of military, if necessary. Many governments have gone far beyond that and caused much harm in using too much violence. Using UAV's might be leaning closer to the latter. However, one of the primary reasons that government exists is to protect citizens and make war when necessary. I think it was pretty clear that our government's response to the terror attacks on 9/11 required military intervention to protect citizens from further attacks. I also think Israel has a responsibility to protect it's citizens from suicide bombers, rockets, and other terror attacks through the use of military intervention. However, as your article points out, there is a fine line between protecting lives and becoming monsters, and both the United States and Israel have sometimes crossed that line.

Therefore, I believe that a reasonable Christian understanding of this issues is realistic in acknowledging the reality of violence and secular governments, while also looking toward Jesus as a model and acknowledging that peace making is always superior to war making.
01/18/2013 11:00pm
Matt, thank you for sharing these powerful pieces of work. I love the messages conveyed by both. Particularly in the post above, I am reminded of "Thou shall not kill", and I struggle to find any notation in scripture or elsewhere of an acceptable exception to that rule. It is really disheartening to me to hear all of the "educated" and "justified" arguments to the contrary. Throughout human history, some of the greatest atrocities known to mankind were done under the guise of justified behavior from SOMEONE`s point of view. As long as mankind is imperfect, it is possible that we will continue to "justify" despicable behavior imparted upon each other, as we have for centuries. I think that the lesson taught by Jesus, is that at some point, if you have learned ANYTHING from Him, then no matter what you BELIEVE has been done wrongly to you, you will finally put an end to it and forgive.
Christopher Manus
02/16/2013 2:55pm
I think the nature of this "conversation" can also serve to draw our attention to what McLuhan meant by the phrase "the medium is the message." Doesn't such pointed and personal conversation deserve a truly interpersonal interaction? Why not use this technology of conversation starting to actually setup and schedule a true "conversation" instead of allowing it to unfairly shape and alter your intended messages. Just a thought.
05/18/2013 11:01pm
Using UAV's might be leaning closer to the latter. However, one of the primary reasons that government exists is to protect citizens and make war when necessary. I think it was pretty clear that our government's response to the terror attacks on 9/11 required military intervention to protect citizens from further attacks. I also think Israel has a responsibility to protect it's citizens from suicide bombers, rockets, and other terror attacks through the use of military intervention.
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