In the absence of ideology

Brenden O’Neill’s Spiked article, Iraq: the world’s first Suicide State, is worth a read.

[. . .]

Iraq looks like a country committing suicide rather than aspiring to independence and liberty. It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians, including civilians who have signed up for Iraq’s ragbag police force, rather than against America and Britain’s occupying armies. Iraq takes today’s ‘cult of the suicide bomber’ a stage further: we could say that Iraq is the world’s first Suicide State, responding to war and occupation not by mobilising the masses in opposition or organising resistance armies, but rather by destroying itself, by committing suicide in front of the world’s cameras. As strange and unsettling as this may seem, it requires an explanation. It strikes me that the new Suicide State of Iraq is not quite as foreign or ‘evil’ as commentators and officials would have us believe. Rather, it seems to have been shaped by some very contemporary political trends, and by the denigration of international politics over the past decade.

[. . .]

The insurgency’s lack of political ideology is often also remarked upon. Steven Metz of the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute says ‘it is really significant’ that three years into the insurgency ‘there hasn’t been anything like any kind of ideology’. ‘If you look at twentieth-century insurgencies, they all tend to be fairly coherent in terms of their ideology. Most of the serious insurgencies, you could sit down and say, “Here’s what they want”’, says Metz (10). Not so with the Iraqis. They seem to be a new breed of post-ideological insurgents. At a time when political ideology is derided, and when fighting or agitating for a clear self-interest is looked upon with suspicion, we seem to have an insurgency fighting for nothing in particular: one that expresses itself almost emotionally rather than politically, in suicide bombings that can be seen as individuated expressions of frustration rather than part of a collective strategy to expel Coalition forces and take the reins of power in Iraq. The demise of the old ideologies of left and right, or West vs East, has given rise to seemingly aimless and unwieldy movements, especially in more volatile parts of the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In present-day Iraq, we can glimpse what violent struggle looks like in the absence of politics. Without the old structures, or any new ones to take their place, the Iraqi insurgents express no distinct political interest or ideology, show no interest in winning mass support or strength, and focus their efforts, like many others today, on making an impact through the media. The insurgents’ separation from the masses and from any clear political goals goes some way to explaining why they seem so much more unrestrained and brutal than earlier militant movements. Freed from responsibility to a distinct community, and with few ties to national territory or political principles, they have fewer constraints on their actions. It is because the insurgents are really free-floating agents rather than rooted political actors, reflecting the broader demise of politics in recent years, that they can execute what appear to be unthinkable acts. In the absence of conventional political structures that might define and direct a violent campaign, they have little compunction about killing or injuring scores of innocent people. As Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute of International Affairs has argued, because contemporary violent movements are often ‘not motivated by political ideology on the far left or right’, they are more likely to be ‘extremists…with an apocalyptic mindset’ (11).

Published in: on September 30, 2006 at 8:30 am  Comments (7)  

Go ahead, call me that, and see if I care

From Reuters: Zawahri calls Bush a failure.

DUBAI (Reuters) – Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called President Bush a “lying failure” for saying progress had been made in the war on terrorism, according to a video posted on the Internet on Friday.

“Bush you are a lying failure and a charlatan. It has been 3 and-a-half years (since the arrests)…What happened to us? We have gained more strength and we are more insistant on martyrdom,” the Egyptian militant leader said.

Let me guess how simple minds will play this out.

Zawahri thinks Bush is a failure.
Zawahri is an Islamofascist.
Some Americans think Bush is a failure.
Therefore, some Americans are Islamofascists.

Published in: on September 29, 2006 at 1:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Neo-Con Futurology

Stephen Holmes’s LRB review of Francis Fukuyama’s latest book is very good reading. Read Neo-Con Futurology. I will not excerpt the article since it is a tightly argued position against Neo-Con international relations ideology and Bush Administration foreign policy.

It is an argument those on the right must assail when justifying the Iraq war and occupation.

Published in: on September 29, 2006 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cheaters

MarketWatch reports that MBA students are the biggest cheaters in college.

Students seeking their masters of business administration degree admit cheating more than any other type of student, from law to liberal arts.

“We have found that graduate students in general are cheating at an alarming rate and business-school students are cheating even more than others,” concludes a study by the Academy of Management Learning and Education of 5,300 students in the U.S. and Canada.

Many of these students reportedly believe cheating is an accepted practice in business. More than half (56%) of M.B.A. candidates say they cheated in the past year. For the study, cheating was defined as plagiarizing, copying other students’ work and bringing prohibited materials into exams.

Published in: on September 28, 2006 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Skepticism is a Virtue

My all time favorite postcard is one I found in the rack at my local bar. It says:

Skepticism is a weapon.

It deflects spin, propaganda, P.R., B.S., press agents, publicity seekers, hearsay, unnamed sources, and anyone with a hidden agenda.

Skepticism is that little voice that tells you you’ll never be a millionaire with little or no money down.

Skepticism is that sneaking suspicion that all aspirin are alike.

Skepticism is a quality shared by truth seekers, freethinkers, and realists.

Skepticism demands that proof and facts be unsanitized, uncensored, and unembellished.

Skepticism makes the world accountable.

SKEPTICISM IS A VIRTUE.

The card is an advertisement for Brill’s Content magazine, a short-lived media magazine since acquired and closed.

The skeptic should suspect a definition of skepticism published as an advertisement for a media magazine. I still find it a fine manifesto even if the authors did not believe what they wrote. In addition, the manifesto fits on the front of an easy to reference postcard.

Sometimes, it is not ideas that interest me, but the stories behind the ideas. Who believes what and for what reasons? When do ideas become ideologies and narratives that try to explain more then what they are capable? What sorts of events do ideas and ideologies cause? Why do people cling to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary of their truth?

These questions are part of what fascinates me about the Iraq war and occupation. Many people have told just about every imaginable untrue story about it, and many have believed the stories. Healthy skepticism is on holiday.

To be a good and productive skeptic you must understand the stories behind the ideas. The good skeptic understands that the human species distinguishes itself by its collective imaginative power and its seemingly limitless creativity. People will always create a good tale in their attempt to convince.

The skeptic is suspicious of essentialism and foundationalism. Those most wedded to ideologies encourage us to choose sides. The skeptic realizes that ideologies are never as perfect as their devotees make them out to be. Absolutist ideologies never manage to fulfill completely the desire for happiness. Skepticism is not nihilism, but recognition of the limits to certainty.

The skeptic has every right to be wary.

Published in: on September 28, 2006 at 4:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Who is Saddam Hussein?

I recall this story from an episode of PBS Frontline several years ago. Joseph Stalin was a hero of Saddam Hussein during Hussein’s youth. He kept a poster of Stalin on his wall. Saddam was also an opponent of communism. When someone finally informed him that Stalin was a communist, he was very surprised.

Saddam was on tolerable relations with the US before he invaded Kuwait. We have all seen the famous picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with him in the eighties. Saddam badly needed cash after his long and expensive wars with Iran. Kuwaiti oil seemed a sure way to get it. He misread US reactions when he did it.

After Saddam’s defeat in the first gulf war, Islamic elements in his country tried to overthrow his regime. Generous truce terms allowed him to maintain control of the country. He kept helicopter gun ships that helped suppress rebellions in the country. Islamic leaders led these rebellions.

Saddam at the time of his downfall was not on good relations with his neighbors or Islamist extremists such as bin Laden. Saddam, if anything at all, was the prototypical case of the strongman dictator. No one believed any ideological pronouncements coming from him. Saddam’s ideology was what was in the interests of Saddam.

Linking the Saddam regime to Islamist organizations seems a big stretch given his biography. Under his control, Iraq was a rogue state, but it was certainly one of the old-fashioned kinds, one with a strong man dictator with no ideological axe to grind. One wonders why the US could not have dealt with him as it often does with other strongman dictators, which usually end on agreeable terms to both parties. It worked with Gaddafi.

Published in: on September 28, 2006 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Almost time for the champagne

With the Cubs in last place in the National League and the White Sox out of the playoffs, many people think Chicago baseball is over.

Not true. I have a nearly insurmountable lead in my fantasy baseball league with only four more days to go.

It is almost time to break out the champagne.

Published in: on September 28, 2006 at 6:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Hook ‘Em Fire

The Chicago Fire beat the L. A. Galaxy tonight to win the U. S. Open Cup. Think of the Open Cup as a poor man’s FA Cup. However, it has been contested since 1914.

The Fire also have a firm grip on second in their MLS division, and appear headed to the playoffs. And once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Good luck with your bogus intelligence information

Many have discussed torture regarding its moral reprehensibility, as well they should. Torture is also a lousy way to obtain accurate and actionable intelligence. The tortured, either because they no longer want to endure the physical pain or are mentally undone, will say about anything to avoid more torture. Experienced interrogators know and tell us this.

That is why the rush by Congress to pass a torture bill before they recess for the fall elections seems so macabre. They know the positions taken by experienced intelligence experts against torture as a means of gathering meaningful intelligence. They know the position of military attorneys against what is contained in the bill. Yet they persist against expert and world opinion.

Their cynicism, just to gain a few votes, is downright creepy. There can be no doubt about the shallow group of folks Americans have elected to administer the nation’s business. If we cannot trust them to do the right thing on something this easy and basic, then with what can we trust them?

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Note on Trevor

Tom and I were talking about William Trevor’s short stories the other week. We both agreed he is a great writer, but also dark and depressing. If I read too many of his short stories at one time, I fall into a funk.

I suspect it is because Trevor always draws the limits and boundaries of our happiness. He never flinches when his stories arrive at conclusions that are never entirely satisfactory for his characters. He is a good tonic for fuzzy thinking about the human condition in that sense. Truth consists in recognizing the gap between expectations and reality.

I would illustrate the point from his writing, but you would be better served to read a couple of his short stories to see what I mean if you are not familiar with him.

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

Admit it

What would be the value of the Middle East countries in Western eyes if they did not possess the largest share of the world’s petroleum resources? They would be the equivalents of sub-Saharan countries. We know how much the West cares about those countries. Sure, religious extremists and fanatics would still fight over a few feet of so-called Holy Land. Fanatical religious Westerners would take sides, but not many would care if the religious extremists exterminated each other. (Stupid killers deserve to die stupid deaths.) Other than that, the area would not amount to much in Western eyes.

Admit it. You know it is true.

Published in: on September 26, 2006 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  

The end of ideology?

Deertown Times links to this revealing BBC news story: Iran’s gulf of misunderstanding with US.

In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, there were some tentative steps.

In Iran, vast crowds turned out on the streets and held candlelit vigils for the victims. Sixty-thousand spectators respected a minute’s silence at Tehran’s football stadium.

Some of Iran’s leaders also sensed an opportunity. America quickly fixed its sights on the Taleban in Afghanistan with whom the Iranians had nearly come to war just three years earlier.

With a common enemy in the Taleban, the two found grounds to co-operate.
After the Afghan war, US negotiators worked closely with Iranian counterparts to form a new Afghan government.

Some of the talks between US and Iranian officials moved beyond Afghanistan and there was hope that it could lead to tentative re-engagement and eventually a restoration of relations.

But back in their respective capitals, there were voices of dissent.

Debates in Washington and Tehran paralleled each other. Hardliners and moderates clashed about whether it was worth talking to the other side and whether it could ever be trusted.

The article succinctly tells how the Bush Administration missed opportunities to alleviate tensions with Iran by erecting a hard line stance of confrontation rather than at least attempting to negotiate US/Iran differences based on shared interests.

I suspect if the Bush Administration has an ideology it is a simplistic ideology of using escalating military action as the solution to all conflicts at the expense of all other solutions. This strategy gives the lie to their espousal of spreading freedom and democracy around the world. It makes the concepts of freedom and democracy meaningless. This strategy of large-scale military conflict is not an ideology in itself.

Despite the pronouncements of the Bush Administration that we are fighting a new kind of war, they persist in fighting this new war using old strategies and tactics that do not apply in what is a postmodern world political order. We have a group of people who cannot move beyond Cold War thinking: use large military interventions when they perceive an opponent is militarily weak, and use brinksmanship when they perceive an opponent is militarily strong.

The Bush Administration claims Saddam Hussein could have eventually produced weapons of mass destruction. Now, very conveniently, this claim supports the US invasion of Iraq. This is supposed to be the rope that ties bin Laden and Hussein together. Well, anybody with enough smarts and cash can produce weapons of mass destruction. Instead of concentrating resources on those who have announced they are actively seeking WMD, the US has focused on bogeymen, Saddam Hussein being the most notable example.

The Bush Administration pursues a strategy against terrorism that clothes itself as an ideology, yet the strategy they pursue negates any claim to ideology. When “kill all the suspects” is the ideology, we are at end to ideology, or at the door of totalitarianism. That is a harsh thing to say. The Bush Administration is, in many ways, the unwitting victims of their own strategies. However, continuing revelations as to what transpired within the Bush Administration between 9/11 and today has made many former allies skeptical of Bush Administration claims and competency. The Bush Administration brought this state of affairs on their own heads. The days of sympathizing with their mistaken policies are at an end for most of the people living on the planet.

The Bush Administration does not know how to protect the US from terrorists nor does it know how to nurture nascent freedom and democracy movements. To do either requires an ideology and they have no ideology of which to speak except a strategy of outdated militarism.

Published in: on September 26, 2006 at 2:58 pm  Comments (2)  

A punch in the nose

I enjoyed this clip of President Clinton’s interview with Wallace on Fox News.

In grand Fox News style, Wallace led with a long preamble and question about bin Laden and terrorism designed to embarrass Clinton. Clinton then got totally in his face and set the record straight. My favorite line from Clinton was, “yes, I failed to get bin Laden, but at least I tried.”

I always enjoy it when a wannabe tough guy Fox News broadcaster gets punched in the nose and slinks away. Maybe, they can hire a real tough guy in 2009—President Bush. He would be perfect for it. He can continue reading the script off the teleprompter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling Fox News broadcasters a bunch of sissies. By the way, how is President Bush doing in the hunt for bin Laden? Fox News never reports on it.

I have always been mystified at the radical right’s attitude toward liberals. They do not hesitate to call them appeasers and cowards, yet when a so-called liberal such as Clinton gets in their face they call him belligerent and angry, which is the image I thought all the radical right tried to cultivate. The inconsistency seems blatant.

The irony is that calling Clinton a leftist creates the ultimate straw man.

Published in: on September 25, 2006 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Rope-a-dope

I have been wondering for some time whether a government can use hypocrisy and incompetence as tactic to advance its political ends. Hypocrisy and incompetence can camouflage a government’s true interests. Issues merely become matters of who can best execute policies rather than what those policies ought to be.

In fact, hypocrisy and incompetence are common human traits. We readily forgive other’s incompetence. We may not notice when incompetence becomes the norm rather than the exception. We set our standards flexibly whether low or high.

Those seeking to understand the interests of those in power must continually confront what might have been if the authorities had executed better. This is a war of attrition. Many people exhaust themselves trying to do it.

The Iraq War and Occupation gives a good example. The authorities have managed and executed it very badly. The consequences are the exact opposite of what one hoped, which is to locate, isolate, and neutralize a small group of terrorists. Instead, the war created terrorists in droves. Was that the consequence intended all along?

If the real end of the Iraq conflict is to spark a final conflict for hegemony, then incompetence and hypocrisy seem to serve as a useful tactic. The authorities create the enemy they oppose. Public opinion bounces around support for a continued stay in Iraq as people focus on which party might be more competent in accomplishing that objective. Distasteful ends and interests remain hidden and unrecognized.

Incompetence could be like the old rope-a-dope tactic used by Mohammad Ali in his fight against George Foreman. I will leave it to your imagination as to who between the authorities and the public is Ali and who is Foreman.

Published in: on September 24, 2006 at 9:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Creating your own demise

A NYT headline says Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

We have created the condition the Iraq War and Occupation was supposed to prevent–something more than a few intelligence experts have said in the past. In the era of the spy, the spys have no credibility with the government.

I cannot wait to see the Bush Administration and Congress put lipstick on this pig.

Published in: on September 24, 2006 at 1:43 am  Comments (3)  

Off to Iowa

I had fun in Chicago this week. I saw Golden Smog at the Vic. Tonight, I saw a dynamite production of Come Back, Little Sheba at the Shattered Globe Theater.

I’m off to Iowa tomorrow. I’m not doing anything except listen to the crickets, frogs, whipoorwills, and night owls while I’m out there. Should be fun all the same.

Published in: on September 22, 2006 at 11:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Throw the dog a bone

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan claims US officials, Dick Armitage for one, threatened to bomb Pakistan unless he cooperated with the US in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The relations between Musharraf and the Bush Administration are murky and complex. Both parties walk a tight rope. Musharraf has lots of folks to appease within his country. The Bush Administration must assist him in managing the appeasement. I wonder if both parties are not complicit in making this announcement on this Sunday’s 60 Minutes. The Bush Administration can deny it with impunity while Musharraf throws a bone to his critics at home.

If that upsets you, then just repeat after me: we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, we are …

Published in: on September 22, 2006 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ratings

I grew up watching American Bandstand. In fact, my great grandmother turned me onto it. I would come home after school, the fourth grade, and she would be watching American Bandstand. Rock ‘n Roll had not captured my imagination yet, but it was not long before I caught the fever from watching American Bandstand with my great grandmother. My great grandmother was a wiry tough woman who liked her pro wrestling too.

Now, we remember American Bandstand: squeaky clean well-groomed kids hoppin’ and a boppin’ to the latest hits. The squeaky cleanest of the group was Dick Clark. Who but he could have turned the image of Rock ‘n Roll as the devil’s music into the image of having good clean fun?

One of the best parts of the show was the rate-a-record segment. Three kids would listen and rate two new records. The rules were that you had to rate the records on a scale of 33 to 98. The theory being that no record or artist was so bad he/she deserved a zero, and no record could ever attain absolute perfection. (I still insist Jerry Lee Lewis’s Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On deserves a 100, but let’s not quibble.) The kids would have to justify their ratings. Invariably, you would hear I liked the beat and it was easy to dance to as the justification for a record someone liked.

The rating system still seems sound to me. The world would be a better place if we rated each other on that scale and with that underlying motivation.

This may be my day to turn saccharine, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Published in: on September 22, 2006 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gushing on the road to reality

One of my small projects is working my way through Penrose’s The Road to Reality. Penrose attempts to explain all of modern physics, including its mathematics, to the untutored. In fact, the first third of the book presents the required mathematics.

At first, I thought of skipping the chapters containing the mathematics I know. I am glad I did not. The introduction contains a discussion of ideas in the philosophy of mathematics such as whether we create mathematics or discover it. He hooked me once I read the introduction. I was curious to see how he could explain physics from the ground up and decided not to skip any of the chapters.

He often introduces concepts in an unexpected way, ways you will not find in a standard textbook. He also makes liberal uses of pictures and geometry to motivate the concepts. That allows him to gallop at a brisk pace. For instance, his introduction to complex numbers explains why complex numbers are more useful than real numbers in explaining the convergence and divergence of infinite power series. He does not waste a lot of time explaining all the nuances of infinite series before that, but includes the necessary ideas in his presentation including the geometry of the situation.

Even though I have not traveled far into the book, I am beginning to believe it is a masterpiece of exposition. I would never have believed that someone could conceive of such a book, let alone, write it.

As you can tell this is a rather gushing review of a book of which I have barely scratched the surface. However, I do not believe that gushing is always a bad thing.

I do not doubt that his book is more exciting to me, somebody who likes his mathematics, rather than someone who suffers from math phobia. However, if anyone can cure math phobia, it is Penrose.

I really like the beat and it is very easy to dance to. I give it unqualified ninety-eight.

Published in: on September 22, 2006 at 11:42 am  Comments (4)  

The real issue

I would not dream of choosing sides between a conservative Pope and a radical Imam. I am a religious skeptic; it would not make sense.

The recent reaction in the Islamic world to Pope Benedict’s rather dry and academic appeal for religious toleration has made the news. Toleration, at times, has not been one of religion’s strong suits. No sooner is the call made for toleration, than the finger pointing and accusations fly as to who is not tolerant.

The issue in the West over this dispute has once again evolved into one about the value of free speech and the response to challenges to that value.

However, at the same time, the dispute has once again degenerated into name-calling and angry shouts from both sides to audiences who are not listening.

Is not the real issue how to negotiate value differences so that people reach reasonable agreement, or, at least, do not kill each other over their value differences? Is that not the more difficult and perplexing issue? Is that why we tend to avoid it?

Published in: on September 21, 2006 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sam Harris takes sides

Sam Harris is no friend of religion. I enjoyed reading his End of Faith if for no other reason than it validated some of my opinions about religion. One of the faults I found with his book is that he does not realize that religion comes naturally to us; religion will be with us for a long time. Religion is not the kind of thing that is amenable to persuasive logic. Skeptics tend to forget this.

Harris weighs in on Islamic extremism and the Liberal response with this LA Times opinion piece: Head-in-the-sand Liberals.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that “liberals are soft on terrorism.” It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a “war on terror.” We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I am sympathetic to that statement. However, he goes on to say:

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration’s use of the phrase “Islamic fascism” are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

This is where my sympathy ends. This taking of sides between Israel and its enemies is exactly the sort of thing the religious skeptic should not do or recommend if the skeptic wants to maintain consistency. The US ought to be the leader in bringing both sides to task, negotiation, and settlement of disputes. Israel contains its fair share of religious extremists too, and they influence a policy of brinksmanship and war as the ultimate solution. All kinds of people think that the only thing you need to do to get to heaven is be right in your own mind when you die: another one of those things that is pretty to think so.

The religious skeptic who recommends reason as the curative for overcoming religious zealotry and destructiveness ought to apply the tonic to all afflicted parties equally.

Published in: on September 20, 2006 at 12:18 pm  Comments (7)  

From big to small

Let us start big, then work our way down to what is small and fragmentary. Let us not waste too many words arguing or explaining.

The concept of god is dead. The concept of god no longer organizes worldviews and lives as it once did. St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante were the last to unify metaphysics and morals within the concept of god.

Renaissance, the nation state, scientific revolution, enlightenment, capitalism/communism, and technology have fractured and fragmented all unifying and totalizing worldviews even as they have sought to unify and totalize reality.

I search for truth and goodness rather than Truth and Goodness. The boundaries surrounding my certainty have shrunk.

My propositions are fragmentary attempts at explanation.

I think in fragments. The Canon serves as background, not foreground.

The sheer number of things about which I am curious forces me to think in fragments. I have no time for dallying across whole oeuvres.

The words I write are fragments.

I am a fragment doing the fragmentary.

Published in: on September 19, 2006 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Building the bomb

Some nuclear arms experts say that there is a high probability that someone will detonate a nuclear device in a major city within the next few years. The privilege of a few now belongs to the enterprising and intelligent with the cash to build a bomb. These same experts tell us that the nuclear powers have been lax in securing the material needed to build a weapon. You would think with the current emphasis on preventing terrorism this would not be the case.

Global capitalism might be part of the problem. It knows no boundaries when it comes to this sort of thing. If you have the cash, you can have anything.

I wonder if governments have given up on securing nuclear material as part of their strategy. Finding terrorists could be easier than stopping respectable business people who sell the material.

We also have the notion that once universal liberal democracy has taken hold, nations will not squabble and threaten each other with complete destruction.

Isn’t it pretty to think so.

Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises

Building universal liberal democracy seems the long way of going about preventing unwanted nuclear detonations. Securing nuclear material and destroying current arsenals seems the quicker route to safety. Besides, we live in the era of precision sanitized bombing, which is much more aesthetically and morally pleasing when viewed on the television screen. Why not go with that?

Published in: on September 18, 2006 at 7:56 pm  Comments (1)  

The three c’s

I always carry around a confusing set of philosophical beliefs. This is the current list: Epicureanism, Humean skepticism, Marxism, pragmatism, postmodernism, and a romantic attachment to Enlightenment ideals.

My beliefs always collide, conflict, and beg for consistency. I would not mind but it makes writing about anything very difficult.

Published in: on September 18, 2006 at 12:36 pm  Comments (2)  

Fragmentary

I really liked this post by Sinthome at Larval Subjects: Worlds in Fragments. I will not spoil any of it by quoting from it out of context.

Published in: on September 18, 2006 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment