Friday, June 28, 2002

Ok, I'll talk about it in the next one, because Sweet Zombie Jesus, I actually agree with Sullivan!

So what? The point is that as a simple mobster, he has only his henchmen to answer to. As a mobster with an actual democratic base, he'll have other pressures that can only lead to good. I'm an optimist on democracy. Even if the elected leader is a thug, he has legitimacy, he can be dealt with, we can negotiate. All this handwringing from the usual suspects is overblown. Democracy works. And may always surprise us. Remember what some thought would happen in Nicaragua under free elections? Besides, by demanding elections, Bush puts the US back on a clear pro-democracy path. That will help with Iran. And China.
Now, the nonsensical "democracy will always triumph" stuff aside, Sully makes a legitimate point, one that I've been pointing out for a while- that if Arafat is elected in a free and fair election as part of an similarly free and fair electoral system(which is possible), he becomes a very different animal than what we're dealing with right now. He becomes a leader with both the foreign (read: American) perception of legitimacy and responsibility, and both are double-edged swords that can as easily cut the beneficiary as the voters who convey it.
By the way, has anybody else noticed how completely and effectively the silly Pledge flap overwhelmed the far more important and troubling decision about School vouchers?

This is why I've always been annoyed, if not enraged, by the Michael Moore/Ralph Nader "Democrats are the same as Republicans" argument. Even if their policies were roughly the same, the nomination of judges is an absolutely critical tool for any president to influence politics long after he's out of office, and Republicans have been very clear about their desire to install an ideologically friendly judiciary. Whether Democrats are equally inclined towards friendly judges or not, they will by definition avoid this ideological imposition, and whether you're a liberal leftist or a radical one a friendly judiciary is a useful political tool. (As conservatives understands quite well).

This actually brings up a point about moral clarity. One of the similarities I've seen between the far left and the right is this notion that one should be pure in one's beliefs... that choosing "the lesser evil" in tantamount to betrayal of one's beliefs and positions, regardless of any good it might actually do. What these beliefs actually are might vary (which is why the right accuses the far left of moral equivalence and vice versa), but the attitude is very similar in a lot of respects. Whenever I hear this sort of argument, I think of, well, a comic book. Yes, a comic book.

Specifically, I think of one of the best comic book series ever written. It was called the Watchmen, and it was about superheroes. Not superheroes as we commonly understand them, however, but the sort of people that the real world would probably spawn if they were actually to exist, and the Watchmen was about both these people and the society that they both live in and help create. (Without spoiling the book, I'll tell you: it ain't pretty.) One of the characters was a sociopathic man who goes by the name of Rorschach. He took on the name because of the mask he wore, which was very much akin to the tests of the same name: blots of black on a white field. (One of the brilliant touches of the comic's artist was that it was always shifting... no two panels ever featured the same Rorschach "face"). He was a crime fighter, and an absolutely pitiless one, so dedicated to justice and order that he tolerated no moral uncertainties, no compromise, no cooperation, and no mercy. Ever. His war against crime, criminals, and evil was an absolute one, and he drew strength from what he saw as the creation of moral order in the filthy, immoral chaos around him.

Now, without giving away the ending of this series (and if you haven't read it yet, you must- if nothing else, it proves that deconstruction can be not only useful, but vital.. and if you wish to avoid this story because it is an indirect spoiler, than go ahead) the main characters discover that a great evil has taken place, but it is in the service of a greater good... a greater good so compelling that despite the incredible evil of the act, they realize that it was necessary, and justifiable, and yet so horrible that it almost defies comprehension. All of the characters agree that the secret of this act must be kept a secret, or its good will be undone... but in order to do that, they must sacrifice their personal honor and righteousness; they must become complicit in an act of appalling evil, in order to make it meaningful and to prevent something even worse. Far, far worse.

All of them, that is, except Rorschach.

Rorschach will have none of it. He is absolutely unwilling to give up his personal honor, righteousness, and sense of justice and order; to live with, keep secret, and therefore be a part of evil in order to accomplish this greater good. When confronted by one of the other characters, who asks him why he will not relent, he says this in his dead, flat voice- a line which has always and will always echo in my mind:

"No. Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon".

Every time I read this section, I get a shudder down my spine- and every time I read certain opinions and arguments, I get an echo of that shudder. You see, Rorschach provides a powerful example of an aspect of the human condition and especially of politics that most people shy away from, and something the groups I mentioned above seem to forget or avoid. Sometimes, you need to commit an evil to accomplish a greater good. Some people, (or perhaps most people), can't understand this or won't accept it; and some deny it to the point that they not only don't value the ends over the means, they value the means out of all proportion to the ends... they don't care what the result will be, because they refuse to compromise the means for the ends.

(Buffy the Vampire Slayer also dealt with this issue at the end of its fifth season, although it was muddied and they copped out at the end, which meant that most people didn't get that this was the central issue.)

This is the problem with the radical left, in my opinion. They believe that adherence to their particular moral beliefs can not and will not suffer any compromise, or else it is lost; and anybody that tries to argue otherwise is, frankly, evil. (Although there's no way the radical left would ever use that term). This is part of the problem with the left wing in the United States, and why the left as a whole has become so bitterly divided even before 9/11 happened. It is because the far left will not accept compromise... they will never, ever, place the ends before the means.

This is also the problem I have with the "moral clarity" types. A question is always raised in my mind whenever I hear this: at what point are you willing to live with a smaller evil in order to accomplish a greater good? Do you draw the line here? Or here? Or over here? Or do you not draw the line at all, ever, because that would mean that you would be forced to be complicit in an evil, and you could never live with yourself if that were the case?

Would you ally with Stalin to put down Hitler, if you knew what he was capable of? Would you support some dictator in a nasty little corner of the world, because the chaos that would be created by his passing would be much worse, even though by doing so you're indirectly responsible for every evil act he ever commits? Would you be willing to let a neo-nazi group do everything in their power to sway your child to their cause, because the first amendment is so important? How about Marxists? Would you do what Brutus did, and kill your own sons because you recognize that the rule of law is important enough to sacrifice your own flesh and blood? Would you still blow up Hiroshima and Nagasaki if the rationalizations about "more soldiers would have died anyway" and "the Japanese weren't about to surrender" were demonstrably invalid, because you knew that forestalling a war with the Soviet Union was more important, and therefore become directly responsible for all those lost lives? Would you be willing to kill innocent people to protect the freedom of those that did not die? Would you inflict suffering on some so that others could prosper? Would you inflict suffering and death on your own people so that other peoples could prosper, and would you inflict suffering and death on other peoples so that your own could prosper?

I'm pretty sure that some people would. I'm pretty sure that some people would do some things but not others, and others would act in the same proportion but for different goals. I don't know if I would, but I imagine so. Some people, however, will not accept compromise, will not accept the evil that must go with some good- will cry out for "moral clarity!" and become embittered and enraged that it really doesn't exist, never has, and never will. They will echo the words of Rorschach:

"Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon".

A slight edit: I'm not suggesting that either the radical left nor the right are monolithic and unswerving in this sort of attitude. As Max mentioned in his comments section, there are good reasons to adopt a far left or far right position. I don't disagree- I have radical friends whose position I understand and sympathize with. My comments mostly concern the rhetoric I've heard about the evils of "giving in to the other side"... giving up any amount of victory, however small, in order to avoid having "dealt with the devil" and to retain their ideological purity. Max is wrong on this: These small victories have a way of ending up resulting in larger ones, not because of the victories itself but due to related phenomena. I'll get to that in my next entry.

In another entry in the "what are you polls" file...

This was unexpected:

Draw your own conclusions, I guess. Here's the page it was from.

(In a related test on the same site, I somehow drew a -23% on the "likelihood of murdering people" scale. Mathematically impossible, but heartening at the same time.)

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Well, I've downloaded and installed Mozilla 1.0, and to my surprise I quite like it. (The "Pinball" theme is great). The only thing that really bothers me about it is that it really doesn't get along well with Blogger; I've grown far too used to simply being able to right-click on a link and opening up a blog entry window, and actually heading over to the page, while not a big deal, isn't remotely as convenient.

(Well, that and the keyboard commands for switching between tabs. Ctrl-Pgdn and Ctrl-Pgup? Steve Jobs should go over to Netscape and slap somebody. At the very least, it'd be nice for it to have redefinable keyboard commands.)
As it turns out, the The Rittenhouse Review has also covered media bias, although it takes a somewhat more strident tone on the foolishness of the claim than I did. TRR links to an essay by Rep. Bernie Sanders on the subject, and it's pretty damning. It does revive a few leftist canards I'm not quite comfortable with (the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country has more to do with gains in manufacturing efficiency than anything else), but the fact that these sorts of issues are rarely discussed is informative in-and-of itself. After all, the cries of "liberal bias" prove that ludicrous notions that are thoroughly debunked will still revive if the powers-that-be are interested in it, so why should thoroughly debunked notions of liberals remain either ignored or misrepresented?
I was going to respond to the comments on this earlier post, but instead I'll make the point here. I'm finding I'm spending too much time in my own comments threads, and while I'm glad that my columns provoke such spirited responses, it's distracting from my real blog entries.

The point of freedom of religion is not to enshrine atheism (if anything, the position of most would be agnosticism, not atheism), but the problem of the imposition of a state religion, which lead to unbelievable amounts of pain and suffering all across Europe. The founders were wise to attempt to ensure that while they were a certain kind of believers, they would allow believers of other traditions to survive and prosper as well; they anticipated the growth of governmental agnosticism in the West by what were centuries.

Nobody is arguing that the United States should force atheism or even agnosticism on the people ... the point is that the United States should not force any beliefs at all on anybody; that the power of the state and the power of religion are incompatible and dangerous if mixed, as the historical record shows is incontrovertibly true. It's even more important to recognize that whether the majority of the citizenry holds a position or not is absolute immaterial (Jane Galt is not just wrong on this, but absolutely and dangerously wrong), because no other issue better illustrates the dangers of the "tyranny of the majority" as this one.

The problem is in the definition of what "forcing something on someone" is. Having it on the money is fairly innocuous, and I honestly doubt that it's really that objectionable. Forcing children to follow the Ten Commandments is, which is why I believe absolutely that any attempt to do so by a governmental institution is wrong. Writing it into the Constitution is a little less clear, because any constitution is supposed to be the basic rules and beliefs of the nation which it represents, although it does depend on where the language is and what it means. In the case of the pledge, though, it's really murky; partially because of the history involved (the addition of "under God" was a cold war propaganda tactic) and partially because it's really not that big an imposition (for the most part). Of course, politically there's no way that anybody can justify any move away from religiosity, but it should be painfully obvious that there is a difference between what is politically expedient and what is constitutionally valid. That's what the courts are there for- to ensure that politics does not trump those basic national rules.

I do support the ruling of the court... the history is suspect, it does raise the spectre of Numa, and it's disturbing that any pledge of allegiance would include what appears to be a pledge of allegiance to God (which doesn't just eliminate atheists but pretty much every polytheistic religion, animistic religion, and Islamic variant). There's no way that Congress could ever alleviate that, so I think that the decision was necessary. I won't heavily oppose the S.C. if it says "no big deal", though, because that is, after all, the job of the courts. And I don't feel any animus or distaste towards the congressional Democrats, because they need to keep their religious supporters and I don't begrudge them that; liberals who ignore political reality in a quest for Bennet-style "moral clarity" are foolish and extremely so. At the same time, however, I have to repeat: mixing state and religion is a bad, bad idea.
Following up on that article, I've gone over the arguments that Nunberg made in order to defend his original comments that charges of Liberal bias are wrong or, if not wrong, at least wildly exaggerated. No matter where you stand on that issue, though, in both of the articles he wrote in the American Prospect on the issue (the one I linked above was a response to critiques of an earlier article about the subject) reveals what would appear to be empirical proof of an intriguing and enlightening trend:

That's fair enough, but in this connection I was struck by the fact that none of the critics took on the single most extraordinary result in the data I looked at -- this one involving, not labeling, but the way the press talks about the bias story itself. In the newspapers I looked at, the word "media" appears within seven words of "liberal bias" 469 times and within seven words of "conservative bias" just 17 times -- a twenty-seven-fold discrepancy. (As it happens, the disproportion is about the same in the database that Boyd looked at -- 72 to 3).

Now there's a difference that truly deserves to be called staggering. But how should we explain it? Certainly critics on the left haven't been silent about what they take to be conservative bias in the media, whether in the pages of political reviews or in dozens of recent books. But the press has given their charges virtually no attention, while giving huge play to complaints from the right about liberal bias. That's hardly what you'd expect from a press that really did have a decided liberal bias, and in fact the discrepancy is far greater than anything you could explain by supposing that reporters were merely bending over backwards to be fair -- in that case, after all, you'd expect them to give at least a polite nod to the other side, as well.

The media may not have invented the "liberal bias" story, but people like Goldberg and Bozell couldn't have put it over without their active help.

Now, of course, this is a common and well-known trend in the media, but it still deserves a little exploration. Whether the media is liberally biased or not, it's inescapable that it seems prepared to bend over backward in order to accomodate conservative points of view. This isn't just in the case of media that purports to be balanced; even liberal publications and sites usually include a conservative or two. How else do you explain Horowitz remaining at Salon?

Again, this isn't necessarily a problem, except for a few other factors that create additional problems. There's no reason for any media outlet to pretend "balance" in Op-Ed material; that's not what they're there fore, and history is replete with crusading newspapers of various political persuasions unapologetically using their opinion spaces to advocate points of view. Conservatives understand this, and that's why although I'm ideologically opposed to sites such as Townhall and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, I don't fault them for having the opinions they do- I simply disagree with them. Perhaps because liberals advocate "fairness", though, they seem willing to accomodate views that they disagree with, even while those who hold those same views don't feel that such accomodation is necessary. Indeed, many would scorn it; the cries of "moral equivalancy" and "moral clarity" are based on the belief that other opinions are not simply wrong, but evil- they should not be accomodated or respected, but attacked at every opportunity. This means that there can be (and often is) a fundamental imbalance. One side feels the need to accomodate the other, and the other does not, preferring to unapologetically and unswervingly support its beliefs.

What's surprising, however, is that I believe the conservatives are right on this. Not in terms of their portrayal of other beliefs as "evil" and their pretensions to indisputable knowledge, of course, but their willingness to defend their beliefs and stick to them. I doubt that any columnist on is going to think twice about defending their belief systems to the best of their abilities as much as possible, as often as possible; whereas liberals (and to a greater extent leftists) seem hobbled by their desire to embrace all opinions. Why does Salon hang on to Horowitz, even as the man insults all that they hold dear and whose continuing presence is a mockery of their beliefs? If the New York Times opinion page is liberal, why retain Safire when it's pretty obvious that he's about as liberal as, well, Horowitz? If in debate, why not defend those beliefs to the fullest extent possible, just as conservatives do? No amount of accomodation will eliminate the charge of liberal bias, as has become incredibly obvious, and on a more "meta" level it is becoming increasingly unnecessary, thanks to the growth of the integrated and seperate conservative media that is both unapologetic about its beliefs and strident in their defense. If the media is liberal, then let it be liberal, and loudly so, because rest assured: no matter what they'll do, they'll get called it anyway.

Atrios pointed out an interesting debunking of the efforts by the Media Research Center to prove media bias through that nonsensical "conservatives get labelled more than liberals" meme that keeps on popping up here and there whenever a conservative writer of blogger needs something to back up their belief that the media is liberally biased.

Indeed, the findings of the MRC when blended with numberg's own study implies something quite different, as this paragraph shows:

In Boyd's survey, conservative politicians were mentioned overall more than two-and-a-half times as frequently as liberals, which was pretty much what I found in my study. And my study and others have showed that groups like the Heritage Foundation are mentioned four times as frequently as liberal groups like the ADA. By failing to correct for these differences, the MRC study stacked the deck -- it turns a discrepancy in the overall number of mentions of liberal and conservative politicians into a specious discrepancy in the frequency with which they are labeled. Once again, the press are being charged with a liberal bias because they mention liberals less than they do conservatives.

So, conservative politicians get mentioned more often. That would imply that they're quoted more often, listened to more often, their ideas are discussed more often... (which the flap over the 9th circuit ruling would seem to imply...)

funny, that doesn't really sound much like liberal bias to me. If it is, it's the kind of liberal bias that some who understands the old dictum that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" would kill for would kill for. A debunked or disputed idea is only as weak as the degree to which people believe its opponents, whereas an ignored idea is powerless.
Is Bill Safire getting dizzy from all the spinning he's doing on behalf of the Bush "peace plan"?

I may not exactly be the "advantage:blogosphere" type, but Den Beste (among others) figuring out what's really going on compared with Safire's incredibly silly boosterism makes me wonder whether the right people are in the right positions here.

Edit: ok, actually, I do have to agree with one thing that Safire does: he makes a distinction between the "small minority of terrorists" and the Palestinian people as a whole. While the latter group may currently support the former, they have extremely divergent interests, and I doubt the Palestinians are going to retain much patience for the Hamas veto if and when peace talks start happening again sometime soon. After all, it's exploiting those differences of interests that is at the heart of the "pound 'em until they submit" style of diplomatic negotiation; sooner or later there will be enough Palestinians in danger who aren't willing to blow themselves up that they will throw up their hands and cry "hold, enough".
I rather like this bit on Vaara's blog about this whole pledge flap:

Memorize the following and repeat daily for 12 years, whether you believe it or not:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Islamic Caliphate of America, and to the theocracy for which it stands, one umma under Allah, indivisible, with hijabs and sharia for all. And Muhammad (pbuh) is His prophet."

Now you know what it's like to be an atheist in America.

True 'nuff, but let's be honest here... the United States is one of the most religious first-world countries out there... can that atheist guy who started all this really think that he would get away with this without a great hue and cry over God being pulled from anything at all involved with the United States? This is the country that (up until very recently) had a campaign going on to install the ten commandments into public schools, despite that being an absolutely clear violation of the seperation of church and state. There is about a thousand-to-one ratio of fervent religious believers to militant atheists in the United States, and as long as that remains the case, "God" is going to sprout up everywhere in government and the United States will continue to have a de facto state religion, whether it's constitutional or not.

(Personally, I'm just hoping that it doesn't start persecuting other religions. Considering the widening rhetoric against certain forms of Islam, however, I wouldn't bet money on that should another attack happen on American soil.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

And while you're there, read this. His analysis of the French election and where European politics are going is deeply disturbing:

Europe witnessed something similar a while back. A directionless politics of discontent -- reaction to the vertigo of "modern times", craving for security, trumped-up nativism/nationalism/nostalgia, impatient populist disparagment of governing parties -- dominated the run-up to World War II.

The word is "fascism", folks. All it needs is a foreign enemy to blame its troubles on... and we've got a doozy (or several). Forget "Islamofascism"... why settle for less when you can have the real thing?

Edit: forget that. Well, don't forget it, it's a good read, but I'd honestly suggest dropping everything and going here, and scrolling down to the "three wars" posts. (Although, as seems usual for Cogent Provocateur, it's all good stuff). I wasn't blogging then... did this cause a huge stir that I simply missed, or did one of the best series of war analyses I've yet read simply go unread by the general population?
Oddly enough, a link from Instapundit led me to Cogent Provocateur and a very interesting entry from April.

Here's a quotation of the relevant section:

In quite another venue, C-SPAN aired Graham Fuller's talk at this week's USNA Foreign Affairs Conference. Fuller is a CIA/RAND greybeard, expert on Middle East, Central Asia, and the Muslim world. You don't want to hear what Fuller has to say.

He'll tell you the world you live in is more complicated than the one you prefer ... "obvious" direct solutions blow up in your face ... not everyone who digs you is your friend, not everyone who dumps on you is your enemy ... you can't do just one thing. The kind of things you always knew were true ... just things you never want to hear. Resist, and he'll bury you in supporting detail.

One especially provocative thesis: By default, Islamic fundamentalists are the vanguard of democracy in their respective settings. Kingdoms, military regimes, one-party democracies can stamp out political movements ... but they can't go in and crush the mosques. All the natural "juice" that flows into asking "why aren't things different from the way things are?" ends up pooling and souring in fundamentalist cellars.

Why hasn't real democracy evolved? For one thing, we never backed it when it stood to pick the wrong guy (cf. Venezuela) -- we had plenty of chances -- and given the lay of the land, it'll almost always pick the wrong guy first.

Meanwhile we sit over here in blogworld, sophomorically asking "why aren't things different from the way things are?".

This is why I'm skeptical of the "imposed democracy" element of what's becoming the New Bush Doctrine... not only do imposed governments have a nasty way of blowing up in your face (Iraq and Afghanistan are oft-quoted but still cogent examples), but the concept that fundamentalism might be necessary for the growth of democracy... ack. That raises all sorts of nasty questions, even if the simple question "if the people are allowed to vote for whomever they like, and they vote for Shari'a, what is the United States going to do?" seems to be ignored, or at least glossed over.

Perhaps the United States is correct in overturning the international system and grabbing the levers of power themselves. Perhaps there is no other choice, and a "Pax Americana" will be a good and wise thing whose time had come. Considering how badly everybody else who tried it over the last few centuries screwed up, though, I'm really not as confident that this will go as smoothly as some think it will.
One other point on that:

What the Europeans think doesn't matter. This speech was a reaffirmation of American unilateralism. Though European leaders (especially in the EU itself) would like it to be otherwise, Europe doesn't have any influence in the region and isn't capable of being a peacemaker on its own....It will now be settled by force of arms, and the only important players now will be nations who have armies that can be deployed in the region (which is another reason why Europe is now irrelevant).

If Europe realizes that force of arms is the only way to be heard, rest assured, Europe will make itself relevant. The message of "the United States reserves the right to remove governments it feels threatens it" is going to be remembered long after Bush's particular speech is forgotten. Europe is at peace with the United States now, but they (and I) will wonder whether that will always be the case. I personally think that Europe is going to start pulling together more than they have, and that while Beste may be right in Europe being irrelevant in the current mideast conflict, they're going to soon realize that they can't rely on American military support as much as they did. They'll get relevant, and not in a good way.

God help us if the Chinese figure it out.
I actually pretty much agree with USS Clueless on the proper interpretation of the Bush speech: it was "we aren't going to interfere in the slightest with whatever Sharon wishes to do, and if you don't like it, tough beans."

He's right in saying "it wasn't about Israel and the Palestinians... it was about World War III, the war which began last September"... except for one thing: WWIII didn't start last September. A War on terrorists (specifically on Al Qaeda) started last September. World War III will start when the U.S. invades a sovereign nation because it doesn't like it (that's Iraq for those keeping score at home), because it will be the signal to the rest of the world that the United States has unilaterially decided that it has the right to decide which leaders a sovereign nation is allowed to have, and the cries of "neo-colonialism" will be proven correct. (The first hint of that was in yesterday's speech; arguing that the Palestinians will only get peace when they elect the "correct" leadership, whether they stop the bombings or not, is a very clear signal that sovereignty is dead.) There is a valid argument to be made (and that is being made) that the United States is justified in its actions, but nevertheless the implications will be very clear to everybody- if it is the United States' interests, it will set aside self-determination and national sovereignty without thinking twice. The international system will be dead.

Where I differ from Den Beste is in his (at least seemingly) cavalier attitude about the whole situation. This looks like exactly the kind of war that can and will spiral out of control. It can spiral out of control in the Indian subcontinent (where Muslims and Hindus are in conflict and where the Indians can easily use U.S. rhetoric to justify pacification of Kashmir), it can spiral out of control in the Middle East (a government that has no way out is a dangerous animal indeed), it could very well lead to Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (if Islam as a whole decides that it is in danger of being wiped out... it may have a point if the war goes badly), and it can spiral out of control everywhere else (as every anti-governmental group gets labelled "terrorist" and government repression far worse than anything the United States would consider appropriate is justified by the needs of "national security").

If you are too wedded to negotiation as the end-all and be-all of international relations, your opponents can use that to create perpetual stalemate through negotiations that accomplish nothing. This kind of offer is the way to end that.

The problem, of course, is that I don't believe that what is therefore starting is nearly as cut-and-dried as some people think it is. At one point, WWI was predicted to last a few weeks.

I've seen this little test going around a lot recently, and a lot of people treating it as an accurate designation of political belief. While I do agree with the idea of a dual-axial political test, the terms that seem to be used here based on a very quick look at it are incredibly suspect. I mean, "libertarian vs. authoritarian?" This doesn't "lead the witness" in the slightest, really it doesn't. Frankly, "the world's shortest political quiz", pretty much ensures that anybody who holds even mildly reasonable political beliefs ends up a libertarian. Handy for proselytizing, not so useful for anything else. Considering that it was conjured up by Jerry Pournelle, this really isn't that surprising. (At least I think Jerry was behind it, but I could be wrong.)

Come to think of it, considering that this site is called "Advocates for Self-Government", this is even less surprising.

The chart I've seen used by real political scientists is a little more accurate than this, but is also based on two axes. One is egalitarianism vs. elitism/meritocracy; the idea that everybody is equal measured against the idea that some are superior to others (whether due to ability, birthright, class, or whatever). The other is based on how one views society: whether one believes that it is a collection of atomistic individuals, or whether it is a more organic body, with each human serving as a part of the greater whole. It does not involve any value judgements (unlike the extremely biased-sounding "authoritarian" label)

Placement of different political movements on this chart leads to some interesting findings: among other things, it shows that there is a corellation between old-style toryism and socialism, because both are based on an organic conception of society; the only difference is that toryism is more elitist, whereas socialism is more egalitarianism. Liberalism also ranges back and forth- classical liberals (or current libertarians) lean towards the individual-elitist corner of the map, whereas modern liberals lean towards the individual-egalitarian corner of the map. (Anarchists would place at the extreme of individual-egalitarianism). It is also useful in clearly defining the difference between a liberal and a socialist; it's not in whether they believe in egalitarianism or not, but how they see society.

(Liberal readers should remember that the next time some idiot bleats about egalitarianism being "inherently socialist".)

This actually has been used to explain why socialism never really took off in the United States... because there was never really much of a tory presence in the U.S., few Americans had this organic conception of society, and therefore were less receptive to the idea of individuals being inseperable from society that is critical to the entire concept of socialism, whether of the radical marxist kind or the social democratic kind. (This is Harold Innis' "fragment" theory, actually). There are other explanations I've heard, of course, everything from the innate religiosity of American society to the simple fact that the racial divide has been so dominant in American society that people don't identify as a class, but as a race... but it's certainly an interesting concept.

So the next time somebody emails or links that quiz, I'd suggest treating it critically at the very least, and treating it to your recycle bin at worst.

Edit: I've just read the quiz. It's ludicrous. I haven't seen a survey this bad since high school. No, actually, I'm wrong... I've never seen a survey this bad. Any pollster who used questions like these would be fired, and possibly shot gangland-style thereafter in order to prevent him or her from breeding. The definition of "Authoritarian" is so laughably biased it's stunning.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Just wanted to add my agreement to Martin Wisse and his condemnation of the recent decision by the Library of Congress saying that Internet radio stations should pay ruinous dues to the RIAA. (Is there anybody left who doesn't think that organization is about the lowest, scummiest group of sleazy bastards in America?) The only suggestion I can make is that they should get the hell out of dodge... after all, the Internet is an international medium, and it should be easy enough to relocate your server to another country that doesn't want to squash independent music.

I wonder if there's any space left on those Barbados gambling servers?

Monday, June 24, 2002

Max Sawicky, fresh from hammering Instapundit, has declared this moral clarity week, where he cites examples of man's inhumanity to man in the I/P conflict heading in the "other" direction in an attempt to point out the hypocrisy of the "jingoistic warbloggers".

Me, I'm staying out of it, at least for now, but follow the link if you wish.

Edit: Ok, I'm staying out except for this comment. One of the things I've been noticing about this conflict is that there seems to be a real dearth of honest and intelligent material online discussing the middle east conflict from a pro-palestinian perspective. I'm sure it exists, because I've seen Palestinian commentators on television and in print that have been reasonable and intelligent, yet any number of google searches for information on the region usually turns either a pro-Israeli organization or a site that links to them for supporting documentation. Leaving aside the "everybody who criticizes Israel and supports those murderous thugs is a bloody moron and evil to boot" argument that I'm sure is popping up in the minds of at least a few readers, I've still gotta ask... where is the "other side" for this?
I may have been critical of Winds of Change in the past, but I've gotta give props...anybody who records quotes like these for posterity deserves noisy applause.

"Come for the Haggis, stay for the anal probes."

Comedy Gorf.
Oddly enough, for some reason my comments about right-wing dominance have prompted a fair bit more discussion in the comments section than they usually do... I suppose because of the link from Den Beste, or possibly because "Dean" seems to spend as much time in comments sections as Instapundit does linking. Dean wonders why I should care about whether there's an "echo chamber" or not... after all, Glenn (and others) do link to left-wing sites, don't they? Sure, it's critical, but who doesn't? It doesn't affect my pocketbook, does it?

Well, for starters, my original post on the subject was actually my first post, which can be found here. I imagine most of my readers won't have read it yet, but it does a fairly good job of explaining the themes I cover, although I've naturally drifted a bit since I first started writing this. The term "Echo Chamber" for example, isn't my own, and it either wasn't around or I didn't know about it when I wrote this first post on the subject. Still, it's a useful guide to my POV on this subject, and I'd recommend it for anybody who wants to know my position and why I started the blog in the first place.


There is, of course, another purpose to bloggers and blogging (just as there is to any political debate) besides promulgating your opinion, possibly making a bit of pocket change (although, lacking a Paypal button, I don't yet benefit from that) and easing boredom... and that is to sway the opinions of those who read your site. That is the fundamental goal of any political writing, whether scholarly, newspaper "Op-Ed", talk show hosting, or blogging. This doesn't necessarily carry over to "diary" style blogs (although many online journals don't follow the weblog format.. Diaryland being one of the better examples), but definitely applies to the political arm of the "blogosphere" as I understand it.

The problem, as I mentioned earlier, is that the "crowding out" of other views can and does take place simply due to numbers and sources. That's why I don't argue that it's simply a case of the blogosphere ignoring left-wing views (which is not true in-and-of-itself), but that there tends to be a reinforcement effect, with links and articles being chosen depending on whether they support the argument being made. Glenn, for example, does link to left-wing sites, but usually only picks and chooses those that reinforce the points he's making (and often the stereotypes he's seeking to attribute to his political opponents), and if an audience member reads Glenns site, what reason does he have to disagree or dispute what Glenn's saying, especially considering that many other sites are saying the same thing, making the same arguments, and using the same links?

One of the earliest examples I noticed, and one I keep returning to, is Paul Krugman. There seems to be a subculture in Blogdom that is dedicated to word-for-word attacks on each and every article that Krugman writes, and there is a constant hue and cry from those who believe that he's "sold out", or is "incorrigably partisan" or even (amazingly) that he has a conflict of interest with Enron, or any other bit of nonsense that is demonstrably untrue (or at least debatable) . So why do people buy it? Because it's repeated over, and over, and over again, uncritically, by people using sources and making arguments that can be countered, but largely aren't... because who's going to link to a page that dispels one's own argument, even if the linker knows that such a page exists?

More than that, though, there's also a question of not just what answers are being argued, but what questions are being asked. Anybody who has spent any time on the Internet has noticed that it's neither conservatism or liberalism that drives debate here, but libertarianism (whether big or little "L"). Even if one isn't a liberatarian, it's libertarian ideas and libertarian interpretations that tend to form the basis for the topics of discussion, and nobody can get away with espousing any political opinion online without being able to either deal with or explain away the inevitable libertarian responses to any political discussion. It's said that in American politics "it's the conservatives with all the ideas", but I don't think that's because liberalism is empty of ideas- it's just that conservatism has managed to do an excellent job of pushing its ideas, far better than liberalism has- but online, it is libertarianism and the libertarians that play the 400lb gorillas. Instead of discussions about how to best govern, the discussions are about whether government is necessary or moral at all. Instead of discussions of different economic systems, at best there's usually a debate over whether the free market is always right or just right the vast majority of the time. Instead of discussions of how identity affects personality and politics, there's questions about whether identity even exists at all, or whether it's merely a bugaboo of the left. Even what would normally be fairly extremist ideologies (such as Objectivism) in "the real world" are so ultra-common that extremely right-wing economic commentators like Jane Galt gets away with being considered a fairly unquestionable sources of economic wisdom, despite (as far as I can see) ascribing to about the most extremely right-wing conception of economics you'll find outside of the Austrian school. (No, Jane, that isn't intended as an attack, just an example. Put the charts down.) Instead of discussions about whether academe is too left-wing, the assumption is that it is indeed far too leftist and the discussion is instead whether it's even salvagable, or simply incorrigably evil. (Which is ironic, because attitudes online are practically the mirror reverse of academia from what I've seen.) The basic assumptions in debate on the Internet are so wildly different from those in any other discussion forum that I imagine it seems to many to be practically incomprehensible; certainly it would practically impossible for a true leftist to be able to engage the political community as it exists online without being crushed under the weight of begged questions, antagonistic assumptions, and either benign contempt or outright hostility.

This is, of course, why those who disagree with this consensus tend to stick to their own communities, why people have been saying for years that debate is "too hostile" online (which isn't true, unless you're coming at it from the wrong direction), why the left is so woefully underrepresented in debate, why Usenet has been steadily dying despite having a better interface than any webboard, and why the mainstream media believes that everybody with a political opinion online is a cyber-libertarian. And, yes, why Cass Sunstein was right, even if those who are already living in a segregated community by default haven't the faintest clue that others exist or, if they do, usually dismiss them as "a bunch of loonies".

This didn't start with the Blogosphere. The Blogosphere is just the most recent manifestation of it. The only reason why it's different in any way is because blogs are by pieces starting to supplement and compliment mainstream media, and the conventional wisdom that Internet debate is inherently meaningless is beginning to break down in the face of reality. Look at the bloggers who are either coming from or going to the mainstream media... blogs have been a big thing for, what, a year and a half? Two years? And this is happening already? The right side of the Blogosphere is smoothly integrating into the already integrated political landscape that exists on the right side of the political spectrum in the United States (the integration between the right-wing scholarship, magazines, radio, newspapers and other media in the United States that the left only wishes it could harness), and it is gaining all the friendly scholarly and media resources that the "vast right-wing conspiracy" takes for granted. This integration means not only that the right will continue to drive the policy debate in the United States, but that online libertarianism will likely break out into the "real world", if it hasn't already. (Were it not for the overt religiosity of American culture, it would have happened long ago, but those two branches of the right are far friendlier than the different parts of the left have ever been).

Being a liberal, of course, I find this alarming, and would prefer that the left makes its voice heard. Not to drown out the right (who make valid points and have valid ideas), but to ensure that we don't end up like a penguin trying to swim with only a right wing: spinning in circles, never really getting anywhere.

By popular demand, I've boosted the size of pretty much every font on the page by two point sizes. This should make it a little more readable, and a quick lookover doesn't reveal any obvious breakages due to the larger text.


Edit: Judging by a quick look up, it's apparent that my ad banner has been bought out. Armed Liberal mentioned he might do this in an email I received a few weeks ago, so I'll assume it was him and thank him for it. If it was somebody else, of course, feel free to email me about it, and I'll gladly give credit where credit is due.

(Not that I have anything against advertising, but it's nice to see someone shell out their own hard-earned money on your behalf.)
Jay Reding has commented on my theme and concepts of the right-wing echo chamber. I responded on his site, but I'll repeat what I said here. (with a little editing)

Needless to say, I don't believe that blogs in-and-of themselves create the "echo chamber" effect, although they're certainly a contributing factor. Far more important is the conservative input in other media, including talk radio, the Internet as a whole (although that's mostly libertarianism rather than conservatism), television commentators, and various other media.

I'm also not quite certain [Jay's claims of] "depth and honesty" on the part of blog writers, either. because while blogs can serve as "bullshit detectors" (as much as any medium can for any other medium), that is valid only to the extent that they can detect each other's bullshit, care to call each other on it, and even seperate facts from opinions in the first place. Remove any of these, and blogs can as easily serve as sources of disinformation as information or, more importantly, serve as sources of opinion masquerading as facts, or one-sided assertions of partisan opinion as fact. I've seen and linked to several examples of this, including the Jane Galt affair, that dubious "DDT is harmless" article which Glenn Reynolds accepted uncritically, my observation of MWOwatch, Max Sawicky's InstaDebunking (and my own small contribution to that), and the presence of certain "litmus tests" that are imposed by the right to seperate the "good liberals" from the "bad liberals". As I said on my own site: "A bunch of bloggers passing around the same Krugman article and making the same weak arguments against it is not a debate".

Adding to this, of course, is the tendency of bloggers to agree with each other out of a sense of community. A blog is different than a web forum or a traditional web page- it combines both the relative immediacy and transience of something like Usenet with the relative permanence and high profile of a professional website. Getting caught in a battle between two blogs can be harsh both for the participants and for the readers in a way that is unlikely on Usenet and pretty much unthinkable on a traditional webpage, but I run across examples of these back-and-forth battles all the time. Sometimes they're beneficial (like that Middle Eastern debate that I mentioned earlier) and sometimes they're, well, not. (Isntapundit probably still winces when he thinks about our exchange).

Is this a claim that left-wing blogs don't exist? Nope... look to the left, I've linked to a few. (I should and will link to more.. I've just been putting it off because there will be a ton of them). There is, however, no comparison to the tight interconnected community that the right takes for granted (as well as the readily-available partisan sources of information online), at least as of yet. (And when I say right, I don't simply mean conservatism, but libertarianism as well). More to the point, as I've said time and again, is that the ideas of the right drive the debate both because of numbers, demographics, and the simple fact that the left is far, far more divided and troubled than the right right now. This isn't merely an "internet thing", but it exists, and it's closer to Sunstein's vision than many are prepared to admit.

(Heck, look at Instapundit. Sunstein was talking about how people would only read sites and look at sources that they agreed with, and who does Glenn readily link and cite? Either right-wing bloggers, partisan "think-tanks" like TechCentralStation or the Cato Institute, right-wing writers such as the staff at NRO, and right-wing mainstream media sources like the Wall Street Journal opinion page. And this is the most popular link source in Blogdom. Sunstein was righter than he knew.)

Edit: upon reading some of Jay's page, I've got to wonder whether there's a little bit of "cheering for the home team" here as well. Jay's blog is well written, but he certainly wears his ideology on his sleeve, and I've noticed that what outside observers refer to as the "Echo Chamber" insiders think of simply as community... after all, it's their own opinions being reflected and reinforced! He also seems to subscribe to the notion of a "liberal media" that I have a lot of problems with and only avoid dismissing out of hand because of my respect for the other, intelligent opinions of those who believe that it actually exists. This doesn't affect the quality of his postings, but it's something to keep in mind. (And yes, I'm aware that I may be overemphasizing the hegemony that may exist. No analyst should accept his own analysis uncritically. That's part of the reason I've been looking for examples of both the phenomenon that I'm talking about and counter-examples... because even if we don't have parity yet, I do think we're slowly moving in that direction.)

Sunday, June 23, 2002

The entire "blogosphere" seems consumed with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I'd like to mention a few blogs on the left side of the debate. (The right side is left as an exercise for your Instapundit link)

First is Lean Left, by Kevin Raybould, who is interesting partially because he seems to inhabit my comments section whenever he isn't posting on his own site (and doing a fine job of it), but also because he's embroiled in the same conflict with Micheal "Privateer" Levey as I am (sometimes in those same comments sections). He has made much the same point I have: that the Palestinian people as a whole don't have the same interests as Hamas 'n co, and that one of the possible ways of ending this conflict is to exploit the divisions that exist between those interests.

Second is Joseph Duemer, who has had a running debate going on between himself and Mike Sanders about the conflict, which seems to run over many of the themes that I've been bringing up, although he's somewhat more solid in his position than I am. He's also a leftist academic, but I'm sure that none of my readers are so doctrinaire and closedminded as to arbitrarily dismiss him on those grounds, whatever they believe in. I haven't combed over the whole argument yet, but again, he attacks the Borgestinianism that got me involved in this whole mess.

As per usual, I'm always open to email from those who believe they have something to contribute to this debate... and since Shadow of the Hegemon is partially about the emerging "left response" to hegemonic opinions online, I'm especially interested in hearing from those who (intelligently and respectfully) disagree with Blog Consensus on this issue.

(After all, if I want the right-wing opinion, I just need to open a few comments windows. Heh.)
Ok, I'm going to do a little bit more meta on this. I should acknowledge that Privateer does not actually believe that I'm being an apologist for the Palestinians, and has actually referred to me in fairly complimentary terms in this comments section of the "doomsday scenario" post that he has written. Well, as complimentary as "Demosthenes thinks I'm a racist, and I think he's an idiot" can get. (For the record, I don't think he's a racist. I think he's profoundly anti-Islamic and used unbelievably brutal and thoughtless rhetoric in the post that started all this, but the former point he doesn't disagree with and the latter seems to stem from anger and frustration at his, and our, relative powerlessness to end this conflict).

I think part of this problem, however, comes from, oddly enough, a conversational habit on the part of westerners. There is a difference between the ideas of "I understand" and "I agree". They are similar in some respects, and agreement can often stem from understanding, but they are fundamentally different. Some cultures understand this intrinsically: Japanese business negotiators, for example, are notorious for saying "yes, yes, yes" when they're merely indicating they understand, to the enternal exasperation of American businessmen who think they agree. North American culture, however, seems to emphasize the connection between the two. It subconsciously embraces the idea that "if only you understand me, you'd agree with me", rebelling against the thought that someone could completely understand you and yet (sometimes violently) disagree with you. Understanding and agreement are, of course, not the same thing, but we tend to forget that.

So, where does this enter the current debate? Well, there is a tendency on the part of those on the right side of the Islamic debates to believe that those who argue for "greater understanding" are trying to find ways to justify whichever acts they have the grievance against... that the left is trying to find "moral equivalency". It is true that some people who are try to understand the "other side" end up sympathizing with them, as they discover elements in the other party's lives, beliefs, and experiences that resonate with their own, identify too strongly with them, and forget that there are other people involved as well who might have as much or more in common with them. That does not mean that such things should be generalized to the entire left, however, or especially to anybody who seeks to understand those they are opposed to. Understanding why someone is doing something does not logically translate into agreeing with the moral justification for their actions: even if one can discover how the party itself justifies its actions, that doesn't necessarily mean that those attempting understanding agree with the choice of reasons that they've decided to use, the reasoning that they employ, or the conclusions that they've made. One can empathize with one's enemy; indeed, if Sun Tsu was correct, that is necessary for victory.

(That was, appropriately enough, Ender Wiggin's key skill in Ender's Game. Ender could understand his enemies better than they understands themselves. Only then, after he had come to know (and even love) them... only then did he destroy them, crushing them so badly that they could never hurt him again).

Most of the posts I've read on the left side of the Blogosphere (at least on this issue) do not call for people to morally agree with those they despise or with acts that are both morally repugnant and strategically counterproductive, but want a more detailed understanding of why different Palestinians would strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up (or why Al Qaeda would fly a plane into a building, for that matter) than "they're evil". Even if they are evil, "the devil made 'em do it" (or the Koran for that matter) is an incredibly simplistic form of explanation, one that would be laughable if applied to domestic criminals by criminologists. More to the point, it leads to simplistic conclusions; the sort of "if we hit them hard enough, maybe they won't hit back" thing that seems to dominate the discussion nowadays. Maybe that's true... maybe we do need to hit them, and hit them, and hit them until like a bad puppy they realize what's wrong. We won't know, however, until we know them as well as we know each other, and know whether they can be changed, where we can get away with diplomatic or economic solutions, where we can simply encourage (and benefit from) an inevitable regime change (such as in Iran), and where and how we need to apply force.

Joe Katzman was talking about "fourth-generation warfare"... the new type of warfare, the warfare between a state and a dangerous sub-state actor. If this is a new war, if this is indeed a kind of war that we've never had to deal with before, then the old geopolitical strategies and attitudes may not necessarily apply, and applying them could do far, far more harm than good. If we must have war, then far better to effectively wield a scalpel than toss around a broadsword. We do not want to be "generals constantly fighting the last war".
Moving aside from the middle-eastern debate...

As a veteran of Usenet, I find myself amused that the sort of "quote and response" style that was ubiquitous there somehow corresponds to a complete annihilation of posts and articles when applied to Weblogs. "Fisking", while an interesting term, doesn't translate as much to rhetorical and argumentative superiority as some people think it does. As any cursory examination of any webboard or Usenet archive will show, it usually just leads to "back-and-forth" quotation, or what I suppose would be "mutual fisking".

More than that, it's actually a somewhat problematic form of argument. Why? Well, in many respects any essay-format argument depends on its structure and themes in order to be understandable, and breaking that structure up into smaller chunks and attacking each chunk leads to a "missing the forest for the trees" style of argument that attacks supporting arguments but misses the main point.

More than that, it can actually be incredibly intellectually dishonest, because "back-and-forth fisking" usually means that points that aren't as vulnerable are discarded instead of answers, and unless the person who wrote the original post is very careful, they might be stuck defending bad points because the good ones were conveniently ignored... or it may be that only one small sub-point was attacked, and viewers may get the impression that that small point taken out of context was intrinsic to the article and/or the views held by the person, instead of an unimportant mistake.

Anyway, you don't need to take my word for it. Go over to Google some time and read some of the nastier arguments in your typical politics group (or video gaming group... political warriors have nothing on the viciousness of adherents to different console platforms). Am I guilty of this sort of thing? Yes, everybody is, and I don't necessarily believe that "fisking" is intrinsicially invalid. Like any technique, however, people who use it and people who encounter it need to approach it critically.

Privateer's latest article proves that, yet again, he seems curiously unable to distinguish between the interests of different groups of people. Taliban vs. PLO aside (the idea that they're equivalent is nonsense), the idea that underpins his latest "race war" post is in-and-of itself suspect on those grounds... even if Muslims in Palestine and some parts of the Middle East "raise little children to hate jews", what reason do his have to believe that the rest of global Islam is undertaking anything even remotely akin to this? I had thought that there was a distinction to be made between "Islamo-Fascists" and Muslims... but now he's saying that that is the case, and that every Muslim on the planet is at war with Israel.

I mean, that's ludicrous on its face, and citation of a few foaming Islamic sites doesn't come close to proving it. (Unless he believes that right-wing race war sites prove that all whites hate blacks, and vice versa).

I find it telling, by the way, that he seem to be advocating the thermonuclear version of suicide bombing. I had thought he believed that repression would do the trick.. that the terrorists would give up if enough pressure was brought to bear. If repression would work in Palestine, then so be it- as I said earlier, I'm interested in solutions, not idiotic finger pointing, and if that's the only workable solution then I'll entertain it as much as any other. I'm not a pacifist, nor an unthinking Palestinian partisan... I just did not and do not believe that it's anything close to a long term solution, although it may be useful and sensible at the present time.

But I'm sorry, Privateer, destroying a fair chunk of the planet and irradiating half of the rest is no solution. "Thought Experiment" or no. The Jews wouldn't be gone, and you would have doomed your compatriots. A halved and living population is not a nonexistent one... but you seem to want to doom your people to an "honorable death", killing millions, possibly billions of innocents. In that scenario, it's not as if "the terrorists won"... nobody wins. Hell, nobody survives. Perhaps my "death before dishonor" point was also more prescient than I had thought at first, and I'll stand by what I said earlier... a thousand dishonours is preferable to one death.

(And really, that's the lesson that the Palestinians have forgotten, isn't it? Moral equivalence, no. Rhetorical equivalence... more than I had expected.)

Anyway, this is partially why I avoided this topic up until now. Not because it isn't important, but because it seems to have a polarizing effect, so much so that different people are arbitrarily shunted into different "teams" whether they actually believe the tenets of that group or not. I'm not arbitrarily against either Israel, Israel's attempts to ensure its security, or condemnation of both suicide bombers and those who support them, despite what people like Privateer continue to assert. My problem is with the belief that these things exist in a vacuum- that even justifiable repression doesn't carry with it its own drawbacks. Privateer (and others) seem to instinctively realize this even as they condemn those that point it out... even as he condemns those who would make the argument, Privateer's "thought experiment" recognizes that violence does indeed spiral, whether "justified" or no. That, and the ludicrously illogical satisficing and generalizing that has been ratcheting up lately.

Well, at least this experience has been instructive in one respect. I had thought that the blurring between "Islamist", "Islamofascist" and "Muslim" had been only on the part of those who were, like most right-wing columnists, were merely supporting "their team" and were using the most shocking language available in order to rally the troops, ignorant of the real meaning of what they're arguing. I had thought that the blogging community was less extreme, and could see that sooner or later you need to ignore Macbeth and cry "hold, enough!" On this, at least, Privateer and his call for an apocalyptic race war and/or "suicide bombing"(as well as his supporters in this) has proven me wrong.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

As I said earlier... nine months, and this is what we've been reduced to... ignorant diatribes about Islam that betray not only a shocking ignorance of the history of Christianity, but world religion in general. Obviously Privateer doesn't know much about the period in which his namesakes were popular, because it was a period where criticizing Christ could not only get you killed, but you could be tortured horribly if even the suspicion of heresy (or being on the wrong side of the Catholic/Protestant divide or even being part of the wrong sect within those divides) visited itself upon your head.

I shudder to think about what people would say were Privateer to act so ignorantly about Judaism. Actually, I know exactly what they'd say, and it's pretty obvious that the dividing line between this:

But Islam at its core—fundamentalist Islam—is evil, evil, evil. Adding a bunch of saints and other fluff, as Sufism does, largely dilutes this, and brings in positive elements.. but its core is rotten in a way that Christianity and Judaism and Buddhism and Hinduism are not.

...and anti-Semitism is only the religion that is being degraded. After all, Judaism is the religion of the Old Testament, which ignores the light and grace and sacrifice of Our Lord Christ... so perverted in its ignorance that it actually convicted its own Savior because he believed that all could be Saved, right?

My original post was in some respects mocking, but I didn't believe that Privateer actually believed any of this... I had thought that it was just rage against the bombings like File13's, and perfectly justifiable and understandable. It would appear that I was more right than I knew, and that despite his pathetic bleatings about being "politically incorrect", Privateer is, at least right now, as worthy of my contempt and scorn as any foaming "columnist".

Right now, I'm not even angry. I'm just somewhat disappointed.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Good bit from Kristof today:

The West is full of irresponsible vituperations about Islam being no more than a religion of violence and hatred. The vitriol amounts to an unrecognizable caricature to anyone who has lived in the Islamic world, enjoyed its hospitality and admired the dignity it confers on its humblest believers. Yet the bottom line is that nobody so distorts, denigrates and defames Islam as radical Muslims themselves, particularly the mullahs who try to have people executed for saying "peace be with you."

The latter part is no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention, but I somewhat disagree with the analysis of the relative danger of both of these misconceptions. The problems with the latter eventually lead (as Kristof's article about Pakistan and Friedman's article about Iran) to popular disgust with the hardline mullahs that will likely end in the same secularization and tolerance that Christianity went through throughout most of the world centuries ago. Unfortunately, the parts that don't fit in that "most" seem bound-and-determined to bring Huntington's Clash of Civilizations to live, and while Islamic repression is disturbing, a religious war (or even a war between Islam and those who think of it as nothing but the savage caricature that the right in the United States is determined to push) is infinitely more so.
No, I'm not about to use this as an example or engage in cheap rhetoric about repression. I can actually understand the fear and frustration on the part of the IDF as well... after all, they're trying to contain and control what seems to be an unstoppable wave of horrific attacks, and I think I'd probably have a hair trigger in that situation as well. This is the reason why the conflict is a tragedy and shouldn't be characterized in simple black-and-white terms... because the fear and desperation on one side is feeding the fear and desperation on the other.

So, does this mean that I'm engaging in "moral relativism"? No, because morals don't enter into this; the question, again, is not to figure out who gets to be on top of the pyramid of honor and respect, but finding the way out of this conflict. One of the "sons of Brutus" that one should be prepared to set aside is personal honor, at least in my opinion. If, in the end, a thousand people have to set aside their precious honor and sense of righteousness so that one mother doesn't have to bury her child, so be it. Pride is a useless conceit.
Instapundit described Palestinian culture as a "psychotic death cult".

Other than the Borgestinian aspects of this, the question remains... why?

Well, perhaps this might shed some light. It's a story about the slideshow that prompted Blair's wife to talk about the "desperation" of the Palestinians... the quote that so enraged the Echo Chamber.

Some choice quotes:

-Additionally, sixty percent of the Palestinian population live on less than two $US a day - sixty percent of men are now unemployed.

-In Nablus, a slide showed the local dentist - behind him was his "surgery" - bombed by F-16's, demolition completed by Caterpillar bulldozers.

-Mrs Sabri, a seventy year old widow with cancer, gazed bleakly out from another frame. Her family had four times been turned back at check points trying to take her to hospital. Finally, they put her on a donkey, transporting her through a circuitous, secret route, rendering her utterly exhausted. Another patient needing dialysis three times a week has to walk twelve miles through the mountains to evade the checkpoints, said Sir Andrew.

-Maysoon, aged twenty one, went into labor during the night, her husband set off to drive her to the hospital. At a checkpoint, he was shot dead, Maysoon was shot twice in the back, stripped naked and left in the road for two hours, until an ambulance finally arrived, her screams having been heard by locals. Her baby was born in the hospital elevator. Her survivor guilt and trauma are so severe that her family fear she will commit suicide or become a suicide bomber. (fear? I thought they were a psychotic death cult. Demos)

-Ahmed is twelve: "calm, together and determined to kill Israelis." His best friend was shot dead in front of him by an Israeli soldier. Fifty three percent of Palestinian children suffer from trauma symptoms.

Then again, they're Arab animals. They deserve whatever they get. And anybody who thinks otherwise is a filthy terrorist-lover. And an Anti-Semite to boot.

Nine months, and we've been reduced to this.

Edit: no, actually, I think I'm going to comment further on this, if only because the article that Instapundit linked to needs a little analysis, and InstaPinion didn't provide it.

The basic point of the article is that it's becoming increasingly simple in Palestine to convince young, intelligent people to commit suicide attacks... that death is seen as a method of empowerment, especially by those who think that there's nothing left for them but martyrdom. One of the aspects of the article that wasn't touched on was that it was from the perspective of a young girl who was actually going to become a suicide bomber, but backed out when she decided it was stupid. Predictably, she did it because she was traumatized over the loss of her fiance (who was, yes, a terrorist, but she insisted that he solely targeted military personnel, something that the Israelis dispute). She didn't quite buy the hype:

I look at the sky," Ms. Ahmed recalled this week, speaking English as she described a kind of awakening. "I look at the people." She said she remembered a childhood belief, "that nobody has the right to stop anybody's life."

Ms. Ahmed, a rare exception among suicide bombers, turned back. Her companion, Issa Badir, confided second thoughts to her, she said...[b]ut he ultimately went ahead, killing himself and two Israelis. Issa, the son of a lawyer educated in Wisconsin, was just 16, one of the youngest suicide bombers

In some respects this is encouraging.. it shows that there is still doubt of the morality of their actions on the part of both repentent suicide bombers (such as Ms. Ahmed) and those who actually attack (such as Mr. Badir).. which may imply that the impulse is less powerful than some fear. The important aspect, though, is that it's becoming increasingly secular, and therefore becomes more and more disconnected with Islamic militancy. Disrupting the chain of beliefs and actions that lead to secular bombing should be simpler than disrupting the religiously-motivated one, because the prospect of martyrdom and the fear of some sort of afterlife reprisal for "chickening out" won't necessarily steel their resolve. Still, it is profoundly disturbing.

Still, it's important to remember that there are a number of elements that lead to these attacks, and religiosity is only one of them. Part of it is, of course, desperation... if life becomes unbearable, one becomes more open to the suggestion that death could be the answer, especially if convinced that that death will lead to a glorious afterlife and help "your people". (this isn't new, of course, just the current strategy for harnessing that belief). Another part is explored here:

Such pressures within Palestinian society are intense. The "infrastructure of terror," as the Israelis call it, has fragmented into small cells throughout the West Bank, each fighting its own parallel war. Separate, mid-level leaders emerge briefly, to be cut down by Israel and swiftly replaced. Such men are more than willing to seize on emotional turmoil, weakness of character or zealotry, to give someone a lethal backpack and to send him on his way, Israeli intelligence agents said.

Palestinian intelligence officials say the speed with which bombers are now primed makes intercepting them almost impossible. It used to be that during the long preparation, word of a planned attack might get around.

Israel rejects such accounts, saying Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority is either cooperating or doing nothing to stop the suicidal killing.

This, of course, is why the Israeli calls for Arafat to "reign in the terrorists" are utterly ludicrous... if cell-based, horizontal terrorist organizations were so easily crushed the Israelis would have already done it. The Israeli government knows that Arafat has no authority over these people; there is no hierarchy to exploit, as it has been largely disrupted. If the Palestinian terrorists were trying to engage in the large-scale and complex attacks like Al-Qaeda, then that would be different, but suicide bombing doesn't require much except access to the explosives, to the target, and to a willing bomber; all three easily available without the resources of, say, Hamas.

So, how to stop (or at least reduce) the bombings? Well, you need to disrupt one of these three elements: either disrupt access to the explosives, the target, or the bomber. The former is practically impossible; anybody who's watched Fight Club knows that explosives are pathetically easy to make with the right knowledge, and trying to keep that knowledge under wraps is impossible. Trying to disrupt access to the target is, of course, why Israel is building their wall, has all their checkpoints, and are currently invading and occupying sections of the territories... an arrested or dead terrorist loses access to all three, but principally the target. (After all, he could simply become the bomber). The measures that attempt to prevent access to the target, though, are creating more and more possible bombers, and with that are increasing the accessibility of the third element: a bomber.

This is, of course, the element that those that are calling for either a Palestinian State or at least less repression are trying to disrupt. If you remove that sense of desperation and hopelessness, then fewer bombers become available. If you create the impression that there are other ways of changing your environment and your situation, you remove yet more bombers. If you reinforce the idea that terrorist bombing is wrong and that vengeance will only create more vengeance, then you remove yet more potential bombers from the pool. Yes, you'll still have the hardcore extremists, but those are far simpler to track and predict than a random teenager who has lost their fiance... and they may be dissuaded as well by others that don't want to deal either with the repercussions or the loss of that person. (Secular interests can outweigh religious ones). Besides, there would be more people who, like Ms. Ahmed, morally object to the bombings, not having had their own personal grievances outweigh their moral qualms.

If we are to stop the terrorist bombings, we must stop characterizing those that engage in them as either animals or drones. They are (extremely damaged and dangerous) people, and while I can and do condemn their actions and those that push them into it, I remain alarmed by their dehumanization. The Hutus, the Germans, the Iraqis, the Italians, heck, even the Mongols were human beings as well, and any strategy used to defeat them needs to recognize that simple fact. After all, the point is not to try to build up one's sense of moral righteousness or to demonstrate your solidarity with the victims, but to end the attacks and ensure peace in the region. In the end, nothing else matters.

Edit: Needless to say, I wasn't expecting this kind of response... this was mostly prompted by the harshness of Privateer's rhetoric, rather than a desire to delve deeply into this issue. I'd encourage those who come to this post to read the posts that follow it as well, if only because nobody's opinion is encapsulated in a single post, especially in this case and with this post. One point I'd like to make clear, however, is that I don't either absolve the Palestinians for their actions nor believe that desperation is the sole reason for suicide bombings, but that the perception of desperation and hopelessness (whether it truly exists or not) is a contributory factor. Even if the Palestinians no longer thought their situation desperate and hopeless, it wouldn't stop suicide bombings, because the bombers motivated by extreme religious fundamentalism would still remain... but as I said and still believe, they would be much easier to predict and track than some random teenager, and if other Palestinians understood that suicide bombings are not "resistance" but profoundly against their secular interests, they may encourage their friends, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews to turn away from Intifada and back towards rapproachment.

The question is how, or even if, the Palestinians will come to believe that. Occupation may accomplish that... I don't discount that option out of hand, and I actually think that "the wall" isn't necessarily a bad idea (considering Palestinians are currently forbidden from entering Israel as it is, and if Palestine did become a state it would have a fully militarized border). What I object to is, as I've said, the dehumanizing and simplistic rhetoric that I've been seeing, including the idea that the Palestinians have become a "psychotic death cult". While comforting, such simplistic descriptions are inherently useless.

I've come in a little late on this... it's a "thought experiment" by file13 about what it would be like if it were your classmates on the other end of a terrorist bombing.

Oddly enough, I know exactly how he feels. Literally. You might be surprised, but I've had my own brush with suicide terrorism.

A friend of mine is actually in Israel right now, and was very nearly one of the victims of a terrorist bomb. She's Jewish, of course: one of those students who has gone over to Israel to see the situation for themselves, instead of just reading about it in the newspaper or seeing it on television. She came very close to becoming one of the people in those newspaper articles and television stories. In fact, the only reason she's alive and well right now is because she zigged instead of zagged- went to visit a friend, instead of shopping, as she usually did on that day of the week. I still remember getting the email from her... remember how terrified she was that it could have been her. I was frightened too, more than I had been in years. So, yes, I know exactly what he's talking about, probably better than he does.


One of Niccolo Machiavelli's dictums for any democratic leader was that he had to "kill the sons of Brutus". This refers to Brutus, a Roman legislator who proved his loyalty to both the rule of law and to the roman republic by convicting and killing his own sons for treason, despite their cries for clemency and the citizenry's amazed shock that he could do such a thing. The reason why Machiavelli considers this so important is that statecraft, on some level, transcends the questions of friendship, family, and kinship... that leaders must be willing to put such things aside in order to do what is best for the people that he leads. This holds true as much for those who seek to advise the prince as the prince himself... and since pretty much everyone who comments on politics in the "blogosphere" is in the role of courtier to the prince in some respect or another, it is a valid point to make. When I first read this it had a profound effect on me... more so than Hobbes' exploration of the tragedy of equality, Locke's calls for religious toleration, or even Mill's proof that freedom of speech needs to exist not just because it could be right, but because it could be wrong and, in being disproven, reaffirm what is true... a concept that I consider more important to the concept of political discourse than anything written before or since. It had such an effect on me because it was the final proof that a government or a leader is more than just a person or group of people, and they need to think differently, behave differently, and engage in behaviour that for private individuals would be monstrous in the name of a greater good. Jefferson was wrong. Liberty isn't renewed by the blood of patriots- it's renewed by the blood of your own sons. Statecraft isn't a pretty game.

Rage, fear, and horror are only natural reactions to suicide bombing, and I can understand and empathize with those that just want it to STOP. Right now. No nonsense, just end it. The problem is that all the rage in the world won't do a damned thing to end this conflict, to bring peace to the Israeli people, or to end the violence of the Palestinian people. Those who want to figure this out, who want to find a solution to the problem, need to "kill the sons of Brutus"... realize that they need to put aside their fears, rage, and horror, and do what needs to be done. All the blogs I've read demonizing the Palestinian people and calling for their eviction or wholesale slaughter are understandable, but SOLVE NOTHING. They don't calm the violence or end the hatred.. they simply stir up more, and more, and more.. until sooner or later the unthinkable becomes inevitable. This is why I have continuously advocated a Palestinian state or, at the very least, a reasonable response to the problems and violence at hand, instead of the animal rage that I understand... that I felt, and had to put aside. If a Palestinian state is to be created, it isn't because the Palestinians deserve it, or because it's right, or because it's "rewarding the terrorists"... all those things are utterly meaningless. We need to do what is necessary- what will, in the long run, cause the least violence, the least evil, and the least injustice. If, in the end, that solution is violent expulsion, then so be it. I doubt that's the case, however, and I think that those who advocate it do it not because it will create the least evil but because their rage is clouding their thinking.

I'm sorry, File13, but your "thought experiment", while gripping, is in the end useless. All those who say "I don't know what we should do, but we should do something"... should stop, pause for a moment, and think about whether your rage, whether justified or not, contributes anything but yet more hatred and fear to a mental environment already polluted with more rage than one can easily contemplate. At this point, we need thought, not rage. The Israeli people understand this, which is why many of them still believe that a Palestinian state is inevitable not because it is moral, but because it is necessary. Would that their American brothers, like File13, could understand this as well.
Judah Ariel's Stage Left has a good bit on the "Hamas veto", where Hamas gets to drive the "peace process" by timing its attacks to disrupt any attempts at peace.

This is an important point, all the more so because of the "Borgastinian" massmind caricature that we've been seeing bouncing around the Echo Chamber and in the press. By neglecting to draw a distinction between extremist groups and the Palestinians (who, yes, might support them, but who could just as easily desert them if a better opportunity presented itself) the idea that the Palestinians themselves are trying to disrupt peace initiatives becomes accepted conventional wisdom, and obscures the reality that a small group of them don't want peace (just as a small group of Israelis don't want peace, but considering the questions about Hamas' support, maybe they're one and the same).

Terrorism, after all, is an attempt to use civilian fear to gain your political ends. Right now Hamas (and any other terrorist group that times its bombs to scuttle peace) is successfully using terrorism to achieve the exact goals they were hoping to, and every single commentator who mixes up the goals and desires of the Palestinian people and the extremist terrorist groups is, in their own way, aiding and abetting these acts of savage monstrosity. Just like the commentators who are by inches calling for a holy war between the West and Islam, they're playing right into the hands of their supposed enemies.

(If Osama Bin Laden really is an evil genius, then his political genius has been proven by the reaction of the American right. They're doing exactly what he wants them to, in every possible respect.)
Den Beste, on the other hand, writes a much better (if chilling) analysis of what Israel's actions would entail. I'm not convinced that the other arab states would let Israel dump the Palestininans in Lebanon (they'd have total war, practically instantly, probably ending with half the muslims on the planet willing to take up arms and anti-semiticism higher than it's been since the early 20th century), but it's certainly more compelling and better written that Privateer's "I'm not bigoted at all against the arab filth" screed that I linked to below.

Again, though, it's important to keep in mind that the entire Palestinian people could want peace and hope that peace talks would succeed, but as long as this "Palestinians are not individuals but a herd of animals" thought process continues unabated, then all it takes to ruin the aspirations of both peoples is a group of terrorists that don't care about their fellow humans, but just want their glorious conflict. What's tragic, however, is that I honestly doubt that even expelling the Palestinians would end the terrorism. It'd just become less common, but far more brutal when it happens.
Privateer is foaming at the mouth.

I do know that Israel will have to cleanse itself of the Islamic cancer, forcing the Muslim Arabs and other undesirables into other countries...Muslim Arabs are a cancer on Israel, they must be excised. Not exterminated, not eradicated, and not uncompensated for their being forced out (okay, the Europeans can compensate them, Israel shouldn't give them a dime). But they've got to go.

And what happens when no other country will take them, as is most assuredly the case?

Yeah, you know exactly what would happen, sooner or later. It's happened before, more times than most people care to think about. And that's precisely what Privateer is advocating, using the same sort of language that has been used before.

Listen to this language:

"Arab animals"
"Palestinian filth"
"a bunch of cowardly, Jew-hating opportunists" (the context is the government of Egypt, but the language hardly distinguishes"
"Nobody wants Palestinians in their country, and there's a damn good reason."
"Israeli leftists will never stop giving them chances to kill Jews." (attacking the left as traitorous... this sounds familiar)
"whack-job left-wingers...filthy terrorist-lovers...they love terror"
"I am not a racist, and I am not a religious bigot"


Once again, the fundamental distinction between "Palestinian" and "Palestinian terrorist" is being ignored, which means that Privateer is holding innocent Palestinians culpable for the acts of a few savage extremists. Which, come to think of it, is fairly predictable too. Don't get me wrong: I think that suicide bombing of civilians is morally unjustifiable and both tactically and strategically ludicrous. These sorts of arguments, however, only lead in one direction. We know what that is. The Jews know what that is. And, I think, Privateer knows what that is. For his sake, though, I hope he's just ignorant.

(Oh, and by the way... I could just as easily be talking about the Hutus and Tutsis as about Germans and Jews. So no cries of "Godwin" now, you don't need to be teutonic to be genocidal.)
Oh, and while we're on NRO, here's another goofy article about MAD and the ABM treaty by John Miller. Not that there's anything new here, but I still marvel at conservatives' ability to reasonably make incredibly ludicrous arguments. Case in point:

This dubious piece of Cold War diplomacy was based on a dangerous theory. It placed strict limits on the testing and deployment of antimissile weapons, in the hope that if the United States and the Soviet Union lay naked before each other, unable to fend off ICBM attacks, neither would risk a first strike.

Actually, judging by the historical record, it wasn't that dangerous at all... at least not as dangerous as the alternative. Predictably, Miller never mentions the problems with ABM systems, the utter failure of Star Wars, and the fact that the systems that are currently being proposed and (pseudo-)tested would never have worked against the USSR, an acknowledgement that NRO made when it was backing Dubya's argument that scrapping the ABM treaty was no threat to Russia and yet now conveniently (and predictably) ignores.

The pointless spin goes on, until the readers reach this howler:

The ABM Treaty's devotees predicted chilly international relations and the advent of a new arms race if their sacred document were ever abandoned. In reality, the United States and Russia have warmer relations now than they've had at any point since the Second World War and both countries' nuclear stockpiles are set to decrease dramatically

Uh huh. Now, lessee... is there, possibly, maybe, another explanation for that that might override the Russian's natural distrust of the ABM system?

Just one?

I'm pretty sure the readers can think of it. It's not surprising that NRO would make this sort of ludicrously illogical argument, but it is surprising that anybody actually reads it or, even worse, actually pays attention to it. Of course, there's no way that the Echo Chamber is going to "fact check their asses", any time soon (it would take decades), but I think this example, and the previous one, show just how deficient NRO is as a source of intelligent commentary and useful information. It's just spin, and bad spin at that.
It's stunning how much the neo-cons out there really, really, really want Ronald Reagan to be considered one of the "great" presidents. Witness the latest attempt to venerate his dubious achievements on NRO online, where they propose to remove FDR from the dime and replace him with Reagan. Aside from the continuing spectacle of wingers desperately trying to contain the continuing popularity of Roosevelt (the president that so crushed their predecessors that only the Reaper could get him out of office), I've gotta ask... Reagan?

I've never quite understood the right's attempts to place Reagan up there with the truly great presidents of the United States. Yes, the cold war ended on his watch, but it's debatable whether the USSR could have survived anyway- one of the neat examples of right-wing doublethink is their contention that the USSR was doomed (which is probably accurate) and their belief that it was entirely to Reagan's credit that it failed, despite the fact that these two things are, of course, contradictory. Even if Reagan were responsible, though, so what? He isn't credited for any kind of grand strategem or brilliant leadership... he just (theoretically) spent money on military toys until the Russians collapsed trying to keep up. Whee. It could have just as easily ended in Armageddon, if the United States hadn't been lucky enough to be up against a reformer like Gorbechev instead of the hardliners that would have died rather than given up the dream.

And the rest of his record really isn't that much better. The economics of his administration were lousy: he single-handedly proved that supply side economics was nonsense just as efficiently as Thatcher proved that strict monetarism is disasterous. The people didn't really respect him: throughout most of his second term (and arguably his first) he was considered by much of the public as an Alzheimer's ridden fossil. His moral record was dubious too, as Iran-Contra aptly demonstrates (whether he was personally responsible or no, the buck stops in the oval office). About the only thing that he really did well was put across the ideas of the right in a fashion that the population could accept and agree with.

Then again, that's the point, isn't it? He was a modern, neo-conservative, right-wing president. Whether he really deserves the honours he's getting or not, he's their chosen one, and therefore should be heaped with accolades and honor. He was on their side. That's enough.

(Thanks to vaara for the link)