Monday, February 05, 2007

Passing thoughts -

H/T ALD again (what a MAAAvellous source of info it is) -

First up an op-ed from LA Times...
IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism.

RTWT, as they say.
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Second, William Pfaff, writing in the "New York Review of Books, what is more of a book than a review - in truth an op-ed.

The Bush administration defends its pursuit of this unlikely goal ... by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities.


This is where the problem lies. Other American leaders before George Bush have made the same claim in matters of less moment. It is something like a national heresy to suggest that the United States does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations, and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not.

...

Francis Fukuyama, a recovering neoconservative, acknowledges in a recent book that American economic and political policies today rest on an unearned claim to privilege, the American "belief in American exceptionalism that most non-Americans simply find not credible." Nor, he adds, is the claim tenable, since "it presupposes an extremely high level of competence" which the country does not demonstrate


He continues -
The most coherent and plausible official articulation of such reasoning was offered in the summer of 2003 by Condoleezza Rice, then President Bush's national security adviser, speaking in London at the annual meeting of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She said that the time had come to discard the system of balance of power among sovereign states established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Westphalian settlement ended the wars of religion by establishing the principles of religious tolerance and absolute state sovereignty. The UN is a faulty embodiment of international authority because it is an indiscriminate assembly of all the governments of the world, and should, she argued, be replaced as the ultimate world authority by an alliance or coalition of the democracies. This is a theme frequently promoted in conservative circles in Washington.

What's this? So the little item I picked up on the COD was in fact a three year old idea?
Not having the time (at the moment) to critique all of Pfaff's article (which is a very interesting read) I suggest again that RTWT is a good idea even if it is not a very potted history of the US rewritten to fit with the general tenor of his op-ed.

He concludes...

History does not offer nations permanent security, and when it seems to offer hegemonic domination this usually is only to take it away again, often in unpleasant ways. The United States was fortunate to enjoy relative isolation for as long as it did. The conviction of Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the country was exempt from the common fate has been succeeded in the twenty-first century by an American determination to fight (to "victory," as the President insists) against the conditions of existence history now actually does offer. It sets against them the consoling illusion that power will always prevail, despite the evidence that this is not true.

If the idea of "consoling illusion" is truly the mind-set of the US then our whole western civilisation is at risk. Not, I hasten to add, directly from the threat from outside no matter how real the bogey's bump in the night might sound.

No, I turn to TFStern's "Symptoms of Decay" written 31 January. There is the true enemy - in our heads, our children's heads. Everything we do, it might seem, is based upon that illusion that "I Got The Power".
Our society has been on a constant rate of decay, sometimes taking huge leaps toward unbridled depravity under the delusion that any and all is fair game and covered under the constitutional right “freedom of expression”. We have been lowering the bar of what is acceptable in news, entertainment, representative government and social order in general. How’s that for rocking the boat in one sentence?
Now before TF takes me to task for quoting him out of context, let me add...

It is not just the news, TF. It is not just the "reality" pap that we get fed as "entertainment" (and I hang my head in shame every time I write that as the original idea for all of these programmes was dreamed up by an NZer). It is not just the social problems of drugs, or pornography. It is not just our kids, how we raised them, how we taught them the "right" way... It is not just religion, or in my case lack of it...

It is all of these things. There is the true illusion. We have deluded ourselves that we can in fact "handle" freedom, that we are sufficiently mature as both individuals and a society to respect freedom and to nurture it as our greatest good, and we - society - are in the process of destroying it.

How has that happened?

Even more to the point, how can we stop it?

11 comments:

Dave Justus said...

Well, it is nice to see that your view that Arabs cannot handle freedom has broadened to say that no one can handle freedom. At least it is clear that their is no racism inherent in that belief.

In my opinion, we can handle freedom just fine, society doesn't suck and in fact things are getting better, not worse. If reality programming isn't your cup of tea, there are hundreds of other channels you have the freedom to choose.

The probligo said...

Dave, I think that there would be quite a number, no make that a very large number to take issue with your "In my opinion, we can handle freedom just fine, society doesn't suck and in fact things are getting better, not worse."

To me that sounds like the direct expression of the "consoling illusion" to which I referred.

If, as you say, things are getting better rather than worse why are so many US citizens and almost as many NZ citizens (pro rated) in prison? Because we are locking them up? Should we not be saying our society will be better and more free when we have less crime and fewer in prison for the committing of crimes?

If as you say we can handle freedom just fine, why is it that our neighbours' children (it is never our own - the "consoling illusion" again) are doing drugs, getting drunk, having sex; and it is the twelve, thirteen y-o's I am talking about. Should we not be saying that we can handle freedom just fine when our children can play in a park without fear, when play includes activities other than simulated killing and maiming, when our attitude toward others is acceptance rather than rejection of difference?

Dave Justus said...

Well, I am not particularly against doing drugs, getting drunk or having sex. Except for the first, they are behaviors I enjoy engaging in myself from time to time. I am not convinced that they are inherently worse for young people then they are for adults. Certainly one possible negative result of such behavior, teen pregnancy, has been declining in the U.S. at least for several decades. I call that getting better, not worse.

In any event it is not something I am going to get the vapors about.

Certainly I agree that many people are convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Is there any reason though to believe that that, rather then the more optimistic view that is actually supported by data, is the illusion?

Certainly the rates of incarceration, particularly for non-violent drug offenses is something that bothers me, but I think that is mostly a result of the belief that everything is going to hell and we have to fight against it. It is a result of the belief that people can't handle freedom, rather then any sort of proof of that notion.

I don't know that having less crime and fewer people in prison equates to having more freedom either. Freedom doesn't mean not having to take responsibility for ones choices, and I think a society, for example, that said murder wasn't a crime and let murders run free would not in fact be a very free society. Freedom and lawlessness are not equivilents. The difference that I draw is based on harm, if your behavior doesn't directly hurt anyone but yourself, then you should be free do engage in it, if it does, then giving you 'freedom' to engage in that behavior will not make a free society.

The probligo said...

"...I think a society, for example, that said murder wasn't a crime and let murders run free would not in fact be a very free society. Freedom and lawlessness are not equivilents. The difference that I draw is based on harm, if your behavior doesn't directly hurt anyone but yourself, then you should be free do engage in it, if it does, then giving you 'freedom' to engage in that behavior will not make a free society."

Always interesting the way that you try and put words in my mouth. I see nothing in my posts that even hints at a change such as "making murder legal".

"...Except for the first, they are behaviors I enjoy engaging in myself from time to time. I am not convinced that they are inherently worse for young people then they are for adults. Certainly one possible negative result of such behavior, teen pregnancy, has been declining in the U.S. at least for several decades. "

Go back a step and note that I was speaking of 12 and 13 y-o's. Now if you think that "sex and drugs and rock'n'roll" are OK for people I would consider to be children then it is little wonder at the "free society" is going the way it is.

Here y' go... at this rate the next President of the US will appoint a horse as his VP. Little wonder when his name is a dimunition of "Julius".

Dave Justus said...

I never said, or meant to imply, that you claimed murder should be legal. I was merely commenting on your contention that less people in prison means a more free society. I was pointing out that this is not necessarily the case, and if taken to the extreme that no one was put in prison, society wouldn't be free at all. If it was a simple relation as you suppose, it would be easy to solve. The difficulty is finding the right balance.

Yes, I was well aware you were talking about 12 and 13 yos. If a 13 yo has sex (with another 13 yo of course) or has a beer or smokes a bit of weed it honestly doesn't bother me, any more then it bothers me when adults engage in the same behaviors. Certainly I think overindulging in alcohol or drugs is bad for anyone of any age, and of course unsafe sex practices are, unsafe, but the age of the participant doesn't particularly worry me. I am not sure why it should.

Even if I disapproved of those behaviors as a moral matter though, they don't hurt me any. A 13 yo having a beer won't damage me in any way, so exactly how is such a thing evidence that the 'free society' is going somewhere unfortunate.

Beyond that, I don't think you can credibly make the arguement that this sort of thing is getting worse. Certainly when I was 12 and 13, which is unfortunately some time ago now, those behaviors happened, to some extent with myself and certainly with some of my peers. For the most part those people are doing just fine now, and society hasn't crumbled away that I can see.

The probligo said...

"...your contention that less people in prison means a more free society..."

Wrong. My contention was that less crime would lead to a freer society as well as fewer in prison. Idealistic nonsense I know. But it is the fact that WE (people) commit the crimes that makes it risky (dangerous?) for children to play in a public place unsupervised, even walking to school has its risks.

Your point about 12 and 13 y-os is verging on the repellent. It is enough for me (at least) that the law does recognise there to be some maturity required for reasonable consent. There was a push here a couple years back to make "consensual sex" between those under the age of 16 legal if the ages of the participants were less than two years different. Fortunately our society is sufficiently conservative (in the true sense of the word) to make it very clear to the politicians that it was a BAD idea.


I note your argument about "no harm". It is a line of reasoning that does absolutely nothing for me. I very often hear it as an attempted moral justification for ignoring speed limits. On that point I contend that the difference between "no harm speeding" and the death of another (innocent) person is about 4/1000 secs.

Your final sentence really does ring of the "consoling illusion". You are comfortable in your life. Your daily dose of violence and sex broadcast as entertainment has desensitised you to the impact of similar events in real life. Just as long as you are allowed to do what you want, within your personal definition of "no harm" you will be happy. You would be quite happy if your 13 y-o son gets himself totalled on beer and vodka and then urinates in the middle of the local shopping mall. Or perhaps your 16 y-o daughter goes out on the town for the night and gets herself locked up for soliciting.

What rights would I have of protection from "unintended harm", if your "no harm" rules were to apply?

There is, in my opinion, far greater merit in the contention that (to take my earlier example) speed limits exist so that I have some protection from being killed by the self-opinionated high velocity guider of an over-powered vehicle.

In other words, most criminal law exists to protect the law abiding from the actions of those who believe the end justifies the means irrespective of the means, or who simply do not care about nor take responsibility for their actions and the harm caused to others.

"No harm" is of little consolation when it turns to "harm".

A f'rinstance for ya.

DoC in NZ uses 1080 poison to control the feral deer and possum populations. "No harm" is done to anything or anyone other than the possums. Until, that is, a person's dog finds a dead possum and eats it, consuming enough 1080 in the process to lead to a very painful death. The dog owner claims "harm" because his pet was killed.

Or how about laws controlling the quantity of shellfish or fish catches. "No harm" is done by exceeding the catch limits... of course not, until you reach the same level of decimation as the Newfoundland cod fisheries... The argument being presented here is that it is "bad law", "because everyone breaks it..."

Yeah, right!

The probligo said...

Sorry! The middle part of that last post got confused by a last second c&p which dropped in a para or two out...

C'est la vie!

Dave Justus said...

If your entire point about crime was that less crime would be good, then I can't disagree with that. It is certainly true. I presumed that you understood that a good portion of the rise in incarceration, at least in the U.S. and I would be surprised if NZ was different was due to non-violent drug offenses. Making more and more behavior criminal will increase 'crime' and incarceration rates.

It is interesting to me that you try to refute my 'no harm' idea with examples that do in fact cause harm. Speeding, as you point out is inherently risky behavior that can lead to harm to another. Overfishing also causes harm, as all items of that nature (environmental damage) etc. I certainly support those things being harm.

While of course one can make a rather strained case for indirect harm from sexual activity or consumption of alcohol I think it very difficult to make the case that there is a difference for the ages involved.

I am quite surprised that it is actually illegal in NZ for two 13 yo kids to get busy with each other. I suspect though that such things are rarely if ever prosecuted and of course they happen all the time.

I of course would not be happy with my 13 yo son in the situation you describe. I also wouldn't be happy with an 18 yo son, a 28 yo son, or a 88 year old father who behaved in that way. The age doesn't seem that relevant to me, it is the behavior that is the problem.

Of course it is difficult to analyze the prostitution one. I certainly wouldn't want my daughter thrown in jail for prostitution. I also wouldn't want her thrown in jail for having sex with her boyfriend. I wouldn't want that to happen at 13 or 35 for both cases. I don't think criminalization of prostitution is a good idea, but that doesn't necessarily mean I approve of it, or would want a female that I cared about to choose that profession.

I don't know how you can claim I am deluded and disentsistised when you haven't provided any evidence at all that things are getting worse. Indeed, the widespread 'illusion' that you talk about indicates that many, perhaps even most, people disagree with you. What evidence do you have that things are getting worse? You haven't even established that yet.

Then, even if things are getting worse, you would have to provide some proof, correlation if not causation that 'too much freedom' is the reason for this. If things are getting worse because kids are now too free to have sex, you would have to show that has more kids have sex (which I am far from sure has happened anyway) things have gotten worse.

Lifespans are increasing, violent death is less, not more, likely then in times past. Health is better then ever before. We (as a species and members of the free countries in particular) have more wealth then ever before and it is growing. Things are, as best as I can determine, getting better, not worse, and a great many of these things are directly related to increases in freedom.

The probligo said...

Yeah, OK Dave. I guess...

If you take an entirely parochial, "I am alright Jack and b****r everyone else" attitude then it does follow; the primary application of the consoling illusion.

Perhaps it is because I take off the rose coloured glasses from time to time that we do not agree.

Dave said...

I didn't claim that just because I am fine I think things are getting better, not worse, I pointed to things that based upon statistics.

Are you disputing that average (note that average lifespans means not just me) lifespans are increasing? Are you claiming that this is not a good thing?

While do you claim that I am a victim of an illusion and always wearing rose colored glasses while denying that you could be the victim of the opposite illusion (that everything is going to hell in a handbasket) and perhaps you are wearing charcoal covered glasses? Are you claiming that only you can know the truth of things and that anyone who disagrees with your claims must be under the effects of an 'illusion'?

I asked for data that would back up your assertion. I gave you some examples of data that has informed my thinking that things are getting better.

You don't provide any data, don't deal with my examples in any fashion, but simply claim again that I am the one suffering from an illusion.

The probligo said...

Dave, is the US fighting a war in Iraq or is that a figment of my imagination?

Why is the US fighting that war?

Do you think that because the war is in Iraq the threat to the US no longer exists?

Do you think that expanding the war into Iran will make the US any safer than it is at present?

How much more do you want me to expand the point?

Yes, I know I started with crime as a central point. Rather than taking a "point to point" statistical approach - which you are quite correct about and which suits your viewpoint completely - I was taking a somewhat "holistic" view, including the realities of other "indirect" inputs. I know too that I was not at all specific about that approach. I apologise.

Do you think that the US is more free today than it was 8/11?

Really?