Friday, December 27, 2002

Plot Twists for LotR: Alternative endings. I, having subjected myself to various FRPGMBs and MLs ("Fantasy Role Playing Game Message Boards" and "Mailing Lists", for the acronym challenged) over the years, where there were invariably debates involving the heritage of the elves and their status, liked #9 the best.
Economic News: With industrial output plummeting in Japan, only a disaster can save Germany and Japan, claims John Plender. Why a disaster? He claims it's due to the fact that the electorates of Germany and Japan are rich and indolent:
Part of the problem is that these countries suffer from what might be termed the paralysis of the rich. In order to persuade electorates of the need for radical change it is necessary to generate a sense of crisis. .

These, then, are prosperous countries. And because their political processes are rooted in consensualism it can take large shocks to bring about change. Yet they also manage to be remarkably shock-resistant. In Germany, unemployment is high but the generous social security system reduces the incentive for the unemployed to look for work. A reduced participation rate in turn exacerbates the demographic problem. And demographic problems, of their nature, do not induce crises because they grow worse at a snail's pace.
Well, there is related news that may be good news for Germany and Japan. Liberals seek to recapture the White House in America. They specialize in both concern for needy others and in providing disasters.

In the meantime, before we have a Party in the White House that actually cares about our allies and concerns itself with their needs and interests, new home sales went up over 5% last month in America.
The Grand Strategy of Inspectors analyzed by Steven Den Beste:
The inspectors work for the UN, and I think they view their primary job to be preventing war. So I think they really do want to find and destroy all the rest of Iraq's WMDs, including those they produced since 1998, but not soon.

In the short run, the only way they can prevent war is to not provide the US with any excuse. Which means that the last thing they want to do right now is to find anything really important.
Which seems like an accurate appraisal of inspections that can still be called "dilatory" at best, and where, when they do find anything interesting (such as the nerve gas-tipped artillery rounds), they downplay it greatly and slip it down the memory hole as quickly as possible. After all, the goal is to get everyone sedated - er, calmed down - so that no one does anything to rock the boat.
The Golden Age of Islam: Take a gander at this Foreign Policy article on "Islam's Medieval Outposts", which are teaching, the article says, a curriculum that hasn't changed since the eleventh century (eleventh century Islam seems to raise it's head often on this blog).

Oh, well, *whew*, right? The eleventh century. Medieval Islam. We've been told over and over again that this era was a glorious era where toleration and enlightened rule were the twin pillars of Islam, a shining beacon of the best aspects of multiculturalism in an otherwise darkened world. So if the Madrasas are spreading the teachings of this glorious era, then there's no problem. So the Madrasas, spreading the teachings of the height of Islam's Golden Age, must be leading the way in seizing true Islam back from the radicals who've stolen it. They're simply spreading tolerance for others, right?

Well, not exactly. Check out the article. It's also good on the "why they hate us" front. Excerpt:
Television was about to be introduced in Pakistan, and Gul-Mohamed found that prospect quite disturbing. One hadith (or saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed) describes “song and dance by women lacking in virtue” coming to every home as one of the signs of apocalypse. Television, Gul-Mohamed believed, would fulfill that prophecy, as it would bring moving images of singing and dancing women into every home.
Then there's the usual suspects who claim to believe Osama bin Laden has done nothing while simoultaniously believing he's a great hero for challenging the might of the unbelievers (in Orwell, that is called Doublethink).

As an aside, adherents of that other pillar, the future's version of the Golden Age of Islam (minus religion), known as Star Trek: The Next Degeneration, will possibly be interested in this quote from the article as well:
“Today you have dressed like a farangi [European]. Tomorrow you will start thinking and behaving like one,” he said. “And that will be the beginning of your journey to hell.”
And would benefit themselves by checking out this article on the future Trek envisions.
The Moral Authority of the Church and the "Religious Left" I may be a Christian, but that doesn't mean I refuse to recognize clerical folly, especially since there are so many who are more politically than spiritually or even religiously motivated. My friend Last Toryboy (who is an atheist, btw) sends this Telegraph story that hits the preoccupations of so many of the modern clergy on the head:
Church leaders have made no secret of their opposition to military action against Saddam Hussein. Yet they have been less obviously vocal about the grenade assault on a church in Pakistan on Christmas Day, which resulted in the deaths of three little girls.

It is a telling contrast. Of the two matters, the sectarian violence might be thought to lie more immediately within their province. There have also been numerous earlier attacks on congregations in Pakistan, as well as anti-Christian riots across the Muslim world, from Nigeria to Indonesia. Again, few Western church leaders have had much to say about them.
Which is pretty illustrative. Many church leaders now day are distinguishable from New Left academics only to the extent to which they sprinkle their commentary with reference to God now and then. But they don't really bother themselves with concern over the Christian community they are supposed shepherds of. The article is also spot on in pointing out the dichotomy of their silence on matters that should be of their concern (violence against Christians) and their outspokenness on matters that they are not authorities on. They expect to be listened to on the later even while their having nothing to say on the former would tend to undercut their moral authority, except for the fact that so few people are even aware of the trials faced by Christians throughout the world (in no small part because these church leaders refuse to raise the issue and make their congregations aware of it. They're too busy painting "no blood for oil" signs and placing them in front of their churches. Yes, they do that. I know, because there is a Church here in the town I work in that festooned their lawn with that sign and others like it over the Christmas season. None of the signs were in any way distinguishable from those carried by areligious protestors. I don't mind them taking a stand on the issue, but as with the author of the Telegraph article, their gestures are risible in no small part because they show their concerns are political, without having any concern for the fate of the Christian fellowship around the world - nor even any real, substantive alternative to offer for aleviating the suffering of the people of Iraq - or, for that matter, attempting peaceful, non-coercive conversion of moslems? No! That would, after all, be an affront to their deepest beliefs - an affront, that is, to Multicultural Leftism. Not to Christianity).

If I'm a bit passionate about this subject, it's because my mother left her Church a little over a year ago, after the minister turned it (again) into a pulpit for political sermonizing rather than spiritual. We've encountered that throughout my life, especially in '70s and '80s Madison, Wisconsin, from the Nuclear Freeze Movement to the Sandinistas to the FLMN, on down the line, the most memorable things to happen in Church have been politically, not spiritually, oriented. People also talk a lot about the "religious right" interfering in politics - well, there's a lot of religious Left out there, too, and the people who wring their hands about the "religious right" typically have nothing to say about the religious Left.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

I Don't Usually Link to Derbyshire articles, because they're sort of an aquired taste (and there's an award-of-opprobium named for Derb). But this one struck me. He first quotes from A. J. P. Taylor:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13. Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment. This tendency towards more state action was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.
And then writes, aptly but ironically:
As it happens, I grew up among English people, the oldest of whom were working and raising families at the time Taylor is writing about, the years just before World War I (or, as they always said, "The Great War"). They had a lot of social-conservative attitudes, and in that respect were at one with G. Gordon Liddy. In their young days, they would tell you, the beer was stronger, people looked out for each other, the country wasn't full of foreigners, kids knew better than to talk back to their elders, murderers were tried, convicted, and hanged, all within a month, and so on. And yet, these oldsters were all socialists. On matters of public policy, you couldn't give them enough government. Nationalization of the mines? State-provided old-age pensions? National disability insurance? Public housing? Free education? The National Health Service? Bring it on.
The rest is pretty good, and spot-on in describing the irresistable force of anecdotes and examples that bring people to clamour for state intervention, government ("social" or "society" always means "government", which often replaces social but non-governmental institutions that used to do the function) action. Derb writes:
Liberty is a wonderful thing, but like every other good, it has a price, and the price for many people was too high. They traded in their liberty for some security, creating the America and the Britain we have today. Nobody twisted their arms about it. They accepted the trade gladly, willingly — indeed, many of them fought bravely, and some even died, so that the trade could be accomplished.
This post is to some extent the obverse of this one. Some liberty has increased and indeed many have liberty who were denied it almost entirely within living memory. But other things have changed. This, by the by, is empically true:
The evils of the past were real enough, but the twentieth century's favorite remedy for them, enhanced governmental authority, passed the point of diminishing returns long before that century reached its close. In many cases, it proved no remedy at all, and sometimes it actually made things worse. Readers of Charles Murray's book on libertarianism will recall the "trend line test." What you do is, quantify some social phenomenon — poverty, educational attainment, traffic accidents, infant mortality — and draw a graph of its incidence across several decades. Then, by staring hard at the graph, you try to spot where government intervention kicked in. Usually you can't.
Thomas Sowell noticed the same thing, by the way, for people who dislike Murray for whatever reason.
Given That the Likes of Josh Marshall et al are now waging a campaign to tar all Republicans and/or Southerners (of the non-Molly Ivans/James Carville sort) with being racists, people may want to avail themselves of this gift. Consider it a Boxing Day Present, from Walter E. Williams.
And Now For Some strongly held views on a recent PBS Special on Islam and Mohammed.
When I married a Christian man in my home country twenty-five years ago, I could have been killed by Moslems for daring to do so. I was questioned about my husband's religion even by Moslem workers at the US embassy, who asked me point blank if he converted to Islam, implicitly threatening to report me to Moslem authorities! I personally know Moslem women who were circumcised against their will! . .

I now write articles critical of Islam and speak to many groups about the Middle East but have to use a pseudonym so I do not get killed by some of your Moslem friends in the US mosques you were interviewing! They have no shame to be complaining of discrimination after 9/11, thanks to Media outlets like you who gave them a voice. The US goes out of its way to protect them. What discrimination? Are you kidding?
Sort of the other side of the hand-wringing about how "we" are abusing "them", which is what the (publically funded) American media usually presents. How odd; the U.S. Government is supposedly "demonizing" Islam, but the publically financed media organs (PBS, NPR) invariably present a sanatized version of Islamic history, where the only historical crimes worthy of note are ones committed against moslems. I'm not saying those should be left out, but it's one of the themes of this blog, at least, that an honest, and thus full, perspective on Islam and especially the "golden age" of Islam is needed, and that means that Islam's dark side - the acts they inflicted on others, not just the acts others inflicted on them - shouldn't be slipped down the memory hole as PBS often does.
I Just Noticed that Merde in France has a disclaimer not dissimilar from my own "BANNED IN EUROPE!!"

I guess there is a difference, though, since they also have a lot of good content.
Norwegian Blogger is back, with an inscrutable post. I think it's about the decline of the Glotny and the impending doom of the ERM, but that's only because I'm feavered and hallucinating.
A Gift for Me! PsychicAmerica had a Christmas Gift For Me, but I deleted their mail. Now it's lost for ever (boo-hoo-whoo). Well, ok, it's in my trash.

I normally don't mention when I get spam (Alert the media!), but "Christmas Psychics" just. . .too bizzare.
Live Among Our Enlightened Betters: The superior, rich cultures of the world continue to show us the way. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mughabe's lovely wife, Grace, a name which highlights her qualities, "has finally chosen the farm she wants, and ordered the owners and workers off their land."

Truly, we are blessed that this beacon to the world did not get snuffed out like so many other possible alternatives, as the scholar Noam Chomsky has pointed out over the years. Zimbabwe is serving as an example, a beacon standing up to imperialism and neocolonialism in showing the world that it is still possible to resist opression and exploitation, if you have fine people with the character to guide you, such as Zimbabwe is blessed to have.
NATO Secretary General Robertson, "Lord" of some, says NATO has a moral obligation in Iraq:
insisted on Thursday that Nato countries had a "moral obligation" to back a war on Iraq led by the US if Saddam Hussein is shown to be in breach of UN resolutions aimed at ensuring Baghdad gives up any weapons of mass destruction.
This is the kind of attitude people in the U.S., people such as myself, should recognize and credit when we see it. If we're going to be critical of "Europeans" when we don't agree, we should have the decency to say "here here", and not just scoff. Robertson:
told the BBC if Iraq failed to comply with recent UN resolutions, the international community "is going to have to do something about it".

According to Lord Robertson: "There is certainly a military capability being put in place, and frankly the history of dealing with Saddam means that unless he knows that there are going to be severe consequences, he just simply ignores the will of the international community...There is a certain amount of rhetoric, but in reality President Bush has strongly placed his country in the fold of Nato and also within international, multilateral institutions."
Which seems to strike exactly the right note.

I have to admit that as push has come to shove, criticism and opposition from European countries has become more muted. Or, if you will, France and Germany have lowered their own rhetoric (which it can be argued was engaged in for various political reasons, one could argue just as various Gulf States that have given fairly public "private" assurances that they'll be with us when we act have often said otherwise to domestic audiences) and there seems to be a consensus in favor of war. I would argue that consensus would not have formed - we would not have achieved the resolve that seems to be building - if the much-criticized American administration had not demonstrated its own resolve and seriousness in the face of opposition. It would have been, at best, 1998 all over again, where everyone talked a good game but in the end Saddam got what he wanted and there was no consensus for doing anything serious about it. In other words, we're where we are now, with a growing consensus, precisely because America (and Britain and some others) demonstrated we were willing to act even if some of our "allies" disagreed. As I was writing at the time, I knew that in the end countries like France would want to be in - they wouldn't want to be left "out", since that would likely cut them out of input into decisions regarding post-Saddam Iraq. (Merde in France noticed the same thing. Why link to my own post when I can link to someone else pointing it out?)

So while I acknowledge and am happy that there is growing international support, and Donald Sensing may be right that International support is "crucial", how it was achieved was not a model of everyone getting together, deliberating on the merits, and coming to an agreement. It's the acceptance of inevitability, very much to be contrasted with the feckless irresolution of '98, and is the result not of common agreement but of the fact that there was an American administration that would not be dissuaded by the objections of the "international community". More on that, and the crucially of international support, in a post this weekend perhaps.

It may be crucial, but how it is achieved does not resemble the processes taught in High School "model UN" exercises.

Three cheers for Robertson, however, who is precisely right in emphasizing the moral imperitive not of avoiding war, but of engaging in it when appropriate, and that this is one of those times where, if push comes to shove, it is "peace" that would be the immoral policy. The Financial Times, likewise, is right to contrast him with those that the article does, and right to give Robertson the headline and emphasize the morality-based arguments he made in his remarks.
First Time Jobless Claims way down.
Steven Den Beste writes of Socialism in this post on management styles. It's an excellent post and as usual I quibble with a very small part of it. I quibble, because I care, could be a motto of this site. I agree with Steven's most important points in that "Theory Y" post.
But least of the Marxist sort, it's not accurate for him to to say:
"Theory Y can't be applied because that requires unequal reward, which is anathema to Socialism."
A lot of the people attracted to Socialism because of an attraction to equality of outcome believe that, but it's never true in application (note I use application, rather than practice - people might say of "in practice" that "well, they weren't applying the theory properly" - but they were applying the theory). What is true in application is that there is a weak (non-existent) link between merit and reward (and thus anyone that works well, has good ideas, but is, say, eccentric, doesn't fit in to "office politics", and is critical of the system, when or if they may ask for a reward for hard work and achievement, can be told that they don't "need" more than their fellows so don't get any; the kind of person regularly portrayed as heroes who "buck the system" in American film, literature, TV shows, and the like).

But "to each according to his need" is and was used as the perfect justification by nomenclatura for their possession of dachas, Zil limousines, nubile gymnasts, you name it. Their position in society gave them deep need for the ability to relax and reflect, so they could rest their mind and body in order to be able to ponder how best to guide society (these were on the order of the rationalizations used).

Which is, in a weaker (far less Gulag-driven, and much more benign in general) form, what is found in Socialist Europe. Fans of the European system often say that they have "less social inequality" there, and in general this is true. But in other, significant ways it is not true (in monetary/economic terms it is more true, actually, than it is in real social terms, where deference to ones superiors and betters is still expected - and, as Steven also pointed out in a recent post, has virtually vanished in America, for mostly the good but with a few {mostly minor} drawbacks; this is another one of the things that has always distinguished America from Europe, but still, as recently as the early '60s, well, lets just say this is another of the categories where there have been two steps forward and people need to be a lot less deferential). Back to Socialism and inequality/unequal reward:

The "old families" in Europe's social democracies are still the "old families", and I still remember one of my high school friends, who was a great fan of Swedish Socialism, incongruously waxing poetic on the "fact" (I never verified if it was true or not, but he believed it was, and thus it was instructive to me and memorable, even at that age) that there was a guy in Sweden who was "richer, as a proportion of the Swedish economy, than Rockefeller was in early 20th century America". Of course, he said he loved the social equality Socialism bred. That's why I say incongruous.

What he's right about is the first part of that paragraph:
"Socialism as such suffers from this, and it has been the Achilles' heel of Socialist theory all along. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a fine principle, but what it means is that what I get has nothing to do with what I give."
Europe in general achieves social equality not by not giving differential (unequal) reward - unequal reward as such is not anathema to Socialism - but by eliminating (or minimizing) ability for people to move up the socio-economic latter on merit alone (no College drop outs in Europe would ever be allowed to create a dominant tech company, they simply wouldn't get contracts from people who know who their peers are and run established companies in Europe, so there's no such thing as a "European Microsoft" - many anti-Microsoft and Europhiles agree that's a good thing, but when one aggregates it out and there's no significant analogs, where in the U.S. there are countless "mini-Microsofts" (and also such things as FedEx, an idea given a failing grade by enlightened opinion when presented, but which was given an opportunity in the marketplace and obviously succeeded where established opinion believed it could never work. Established opinion, cartelization et al, governs in Europe to a much greater degree than in America), both in and out of the Tech sphere, that's a critical absence for them). One advances by being from the right sort of families, the ones those in "the establishment" know, going to the right schools and getting the right degrees. Unequal reward is available to the "elect" and select (few), and there is a definite social hierarchy, but because some of the means of advancement (based on liberty and a respect for the individual, not just the collective) are constricted, that's what produces the statistics that allow people to compare Europe with the U.S. and say that they are more socially "fair". A lot of people in Europe who would advance pretty far up the economic latter either don't do it (in Europe) or do so in America (come over here and prove that they would advance in the right circumstances, because they do. Europe's "dregs" become the people that build America. And we can now practically replace the word "Europe" in that with "the world's").

People also point to the fact that even for the people at the top in Europe, their monetary pay is not as "extreme" as for, say, American CEOs. That is true, but it ignores non-financial rewards (people "in charge" in Europe tend to have a lot more control over other people's lives, which some find rewarding, and a lot of "perks" - yes, I would subjectively say greater "perks" than for most American elites; indeed, there's a reason why European elites are pretty satisfied with their situation in Europe and mainly direct their grumbling outward - at America and how America's presence and power limits and constricts them. while America's elites are stereotypically alienated from America and envy their peers in Europe. Differential financial remuneration does not explain the gap, really. But the European elites are compensated in other ways, ways that their American peers have come to envy - right alongside the decline in a sense of "deference to one's betters" in American society in general, I might add). People who's opportunities are limited in their own countries to a far greater degree than they would be limited in America come over here every year and prove what they could do given half a chance, but by and large and for the most part that doesn't lead to the sort of introspection necessary in the "old country" to reform itself and eliminate barriers to true social equality - that is, barriers to advancement (and unequal reward) - even in Social Democracies that claim to prize the leveling of society and dislike the existence of a "class structure".

Update: Of course, as Steven implies, the move to "Theory Y" type management was part of the process of reducing the negative aspects of social deference and incrementally increasing liberty. Of course, social deference isn't by any means entirely eliminated in America - and I'm not sure it would be a good idea if it were (to the degree that there's a connection to respect for accomplishment in some aspects of social deference), just as one cannot truly say that it doesn't matter what college or school one goes to - especially to people in the fields of politics (think people who St. Albans prep school or Yale University) and the academy. But outside of those fields, the school one went to is only used to the degree they indicate an excellence in education, but you don't have to have gone to the primere business school in America in order to advance). As Steven pointed out in this post, it's a matter of degree - the barriers are significantly lower, the emphasis on hierarchy, going to the right school, et al significantly reduced, and true social equality much more prevalent in America than in most other countries, including most European countries. It doesn't mean we're entirely absent of the problems (and virtues) of those things, and they lack the qualities America excels at entirely, or that one cannot point to any counter examples. Again, to go back to the example of elites to illustrate this: one can point to a few examples of European elites that are alienated from their societies and think that Europe would be better served emulating some aspects of the American way of doing things, and one can find more examples of members of the American elite (and yes, there is such a thing - like I said, I don't mean to imply social hierarchy is absent in America; it's just somewhat less ridged than in Europe) that are not alienated in the least from their own society and indeed are its foremost (sometimes over the top, even) defenders and think the only lessons we could learn from Europe is what to avoid.

Anyhow, the vast majority of the points in this post merely re-enforce points made at USS Clueless. But it serves to point out that, for the people who use the formula "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", do not anathemize differential reward. The only thing they do is disconnect reward from merit (which is ascribed to accidental characteristics), and insure that reward will be determined politically (who gets to define "need" and who has "needs" and how to insure they are given what they "need" becomes the most important thing. The well connected are able to get their "needs" addressed much more ably than someone who may be brilliant but is politically inept, stirs things up, rocks the boat. As they say in Japan, the raised nail gets pounded down. While people who fit in have obvious "needs" and get them served). But unequal reward as such really isn't anathema in Marxist-informed Socialist theory. One just has to convince those in charge of determining these things that one's needs are great, and one hand always washes the other. The members of the vanguard always agrees among themselves that they have great needs that need to be recognized and rewarded. . .and this is also why the refined sense of social equality among European elites go hand in glove with a sense of entitlement, hierarchy, superiority, and need for social deference that is incongrous with their claims of respect for social equality. These people are all very well educated in Socialist theory and Marx in particular, and they don't see any incompatability in unequal renumeration at all with the "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" axiom. They just set about priviledging their "needs" and insuring they are "properly" rewarded.

Monday, December 23, 2002

On the Basis of His First Couple Posts, Bill Whittle's blog promises to be very good. From his essay on Freedom:
Our failures and disgraces cruelly remind us that we, like every other government, are composed of fallible men and women with no divine ability to read the future or foresee all outcomes. But these failures are failures of action, action borne of confidence and a belief in our way of life, and come all the more painful for their contrast to the everyday standards to which we hold ourselves as a people and a nation. For it is an undeniable fact that no great nation in history has held a shadow of our measure of power, and yet exercised it with such restraint, nor does any time in the bloody history of warfare reflect a people so magnanimous in victory against enemies sworn to our murder and destruction. From our first hour, we have been, and remain, the beacon of hope and freedom for a world desperate and longing for such an example, and we can measure our success in building such a place by the numbers of those who are literally dying in an attempt to come and be part of it.

So take your pick: Freedom or security? Greatness or goodness? Passion or decency?

Our respective ancestors made their choice and here we are. I respect anyone’s right to chose differently. I only speak up to defend the choice we Americans made as a deeply spiritual one, borne of reflection and danger and a spectacular triumph against all odds. I cannot stand idly by to hear people denounce our freedoms as the dimwitted macho posturing of a mob of illiterate uncultured idiots who are so vulgar and uncouth as to still believe in Hollywood myths manufactured for our simple, complacent, unsophisticated nature.
The rest is very good as well.
An Army Travels on its Stomach and CDs and Playstations. "Supermarket in Baghram". We're pretty cool, if I do say so myself. The serious news is this, though:
Over the holiday season, US forces in Afghanistan will undertake their most significant redeployment and strategic shift since the war against the Taliban and al-Qa'eda ended a year ago.

About 70 soldiers, civil affairs officers, engineers, medics and State Department officials assembled into a joint regional team will be moving to Gardez - one of the hottest al-Qa'eda regions in eastern Afghanistan - to set up a base that will help President Hamid Karzai expand the authority of his government and begin reconstruction projects outside the capital.
No one ever said it was all over in Afghanistan, and the war there may be entering another stage of combat.
German President to Germans: Stop Moaning: it seems they're spending a lot of time bitching and moaning in Germany. Here and we were told the German elections were intended as a rebuke and punishment of America, but all the people suffering as a result seem to be German.
War Casualty List: American servicemen killed in the line of duty during Enduring Freedom.

May the Lord keep their souls, and comfort their families and friends.
That Bad Bush Economy: Income and spending up.
Do they "Swoop" Anywhere? Into the darkness rides the UNSCOM inspectors, with truth, justice, and the UN Charter. They still the local's cries, blanch at Saddam's lies, and keep the peace so we can sleep at night. Into the darkness rides the UNSCOM inspectors. . .

How would Hans Blix look in a cape and brightly-colored tights?
Military Excercises on Iraq/Kuwait border and Germany says no cash to help pay costs of war this time. That's no surprise - but I hadn't heard we asked for any this time in the first place.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Philosophy vs. Theism?: In a post on Consiquentialism, Steven Den Bestes writes:
I think I can see why it is that a lot of people take comfort in an ethics derived from a deity. If it does nothing else, at least it removes doubt.
For a guy who's thought a lot about these things, I'm afraid Steven shows a deep lack of awareness of what goes through the minds of Theists (always good to start a critical post with a condescendingly snarky remark, no? I know: no). Almost all of the problems he identifies with "Rule Utilitarianism" exist within the context of belief in a divinity. We might know what rules God has laid down (it helps to translate terms like "murder" properly, though, and not mistranslate them "kill", when believers end up practicing in a variety of different languages, so that's one of the pitfalls even in knowing "God's Rules") - but which one applies in which situation? How is this situation dis-similar from that one in which "God approved of X" vs this other one that seems superficially identical but "God disapproved of X" in that case.

Theology doesn't consist, whatever Steven might have been told, of a set of settled questions that allow doubt regarding what action should be undertaken in any given case to be eliminated, and the only struggle is against temptation to do wrong. ("Act Utilitarianism" is what minimizes doubt, one could easily argue, precisely because the category of temptation really ceases to exist. Lets take that example Steven used, of the two guys in Antartica, with two children. One can go to college, if that child does then the other does not. But lets modify the thought-experiment in what I think is a fair way. Both kids are reasonably bright, each might profit from a college education, it's hard to say which one, if he gained the college education, would end up contributing more to the Commonweal. No one knows about the promise you made. You don't want to disappoint your own kid - contributing to unhappiness - and the other kid is already unhappy because his dad is dead and wouldn't really be made "happy" as such just by telling him he's going to college - not anymore happy than your own kid would be, at any rate. Why upset the apple cart by telling everyone that plans are changed, your kid is entering the wonderful world of the service industry while you put the other one through college?; even "Rule Utilitarianism" doesn't really avoid this, as he seems to indicate. After all, there are a variety of rules, as he points out, and nothing would stand in the way of someone rationalizing that "hey, yes I told a dying man what he wanted to hear - well, he wasn't dying, but one of us had to die and he needed to be consoled in making the necessary decision. But he's dead now, and what really matters is the very real, long-term commitment - promise, really - I made to my own son that he would go to college. We talked about him getting good grades so he would get into a good college, etc, over the years, and that's the real rule I should obey. Not a promise made to make someone feel better about a decision that he was really forced by circumstances to make, blah blah blah").

Theologians studied the various philosophers - Plato, Aristotle, etc - and many, many theologians were involved in formulating philosophical precepts (including, for example, Adam Smith), precisely because belief in God does not remove all doubt about what is the Good way to behave in every particular circumstance. Centuries of study into scriptural doctrines and the teachings of the "Church Fathers" has occurred alongside and intertwined with philosophical inquiry precisely because there was a lot of debate over what God wanted us to do. Where, indeed, did Heresies often come from? Disagreement - even doubt - about whether we were acting Rightly, or whether God's Will commanded something different from us (Luther's revolt against the Catholic Church started with his doubts, leading to a study of the scriptures, leading to different conclusions, which he at first wanted just to be debated - and resulted in a huge and often violent debate within Christendom itself, which could be said to have culminated in, produced, Enlightenment efforts to find answers to those questions outside of Theistic doctrines, a project that itself has not eliminated doubt about how to live a Good Life. But the entire Enlightenment project was precipitated as a result of doubt). Indeed, many, many of the people we think of as the "Scientists" of the renaissance era opposed by "Religion" were themselves theologians, clerics, who's inquiry into the world was driven by knowledge that sure, God may be omniscient, but we aren't, and we can't know His ways, what He wants of us, without study, thought, knowledge about Creation, etc.

The last thing Theism is, to those who really practice it (rather than simply going through life in a way that even an atheist could do, one doesn't need God to be thoughtless), is remove doubt about what the best thing to do in any given instance is. At least as much has been written by the theistically inclined as by the atheistically inclined on those Great Questions.

Update: To engage in a bit of crude amateur psychoanalysis, while I'm sure Steven has encountered Believers who have no doubt about what God demands - indeed, we're fighting some of that sort - just as I have encountered atheists who believe they have all the answers, I think there's a reason why Steven often asserts that belief in God would remove doubt. He would like to believe in God, if it would remove doubt for him. He doesn't believe in God in no small part because of philosophical doubts - dissatisfaction in finding a lack of comprehensive answers, Engineer-like precepts that govern behavior. Which is also why he has found most philosophies unsatisfactory. If I were to describe myself, I suppose it would be "Theistic (Christian) Hayekian Aristotelianism", while understanding that none of those things remove doubt about the best thing to do in every given instance. Indeed, the Hayekian in me understands that as things unfold we encounter situations that aren't governed precisely by reference to examples from previous cases, we just do the best we can with reference to what went before us and building on, hopefully, what we have learned so that we can do better.

But don't think that because I have "Theistic" as part of my belief-set (which is influenced by other things that I didn't mention, beyond just Theistic Christian Hayekian Aristotelianism), that allows me to have no doubts. However I may present my opinions. I think Steven would like to be in a situation where doubt could be eliminated - that is, indeed, one of the things that drives philosophical (and theological) inquiry. And his attitude towards believers represents a sort of envy along with disparagement, to the extent to which some seem to have (falsely) eliminated doubt in their decisions as a result of their belief in God. Most of us actually pray we made the right one, far from lacking doubt we pray and hope that we've come to the right conclusion.

Additional: No, Steven, I didn't forget that. You also have to remember I hale from Madison, Wisconsin, where there is plenty of opportunity to encounter the militant sort of Atheist, and I can say with some surety that I've never met anyone with less doubt regarding the rightness of the philosophical system embraced in the stead of a theistic-based philosophy than some of the more fanatic atheists out there, a group I'm certainly not putting Steven in, but I think likewise that he misses the point that one can believe in a God and yet not know for sure whether one's beliefs are possibly giving the wrong answer - in no small part because not all theists believe in the literal truth of scripture, or its completeness - it may have been scrambled, given that it has passed through human hands, etc. There is, indeed, a reason why even Theologians of the middle ages - supposedly the era of blindest obedience to Church dogma - were among the most enthusiastic studiers of philosophical texts as they came into their hands, either through Arabic translations or by way of encounter with Byzantine scholars, and the like. If they believed the bible held all answers and the only thing required was to understand how to properly interpret what was in the bible, then Aristotle and Plato would indeed have been considered superfluous.

The fact is, even in philosophy departments, it's sometimes rare to find people who ask the deeper question. It's certainly not something that's absent from theists - again, otherwise we wouldn't have had the development of what is called Enlightenment Philosophy at all - and present only in atheists or agnostics. After all, I'm a theist, and cogito ergo sum - I encounter the deeper question myself. After all, if nothing else, I may have faith, but do not know that it is the right one. But it also goes beyond that basic question, where I believe on faith alone but not without absence of doubt and questions, questions that have led to my own study, but questions internal to the faith itself - it is not as if theologians are united in a common understanding of the ethical system of Christianity, even within a single branch or denomination of Christianity there are often a variety of opinions over it all. Put simply, God is never wrong but Christianity may be, at least in part - may give a "wrong answer" at times. Again, how do you think that various heresies got started in the first place? Questions over whether what was being taught was giving a "wrong answer" or not. One can nail Theses to a Church door disputing the authority of Church dogma and whether the ethical system promoted by Catholicism is giving people the right answer or not without necessarily disputing the existence of God.

Just because Christianity felt a certain way to Steven doesn't mean it's that way for everyone, just as not every Atheist has the same attitude as Steven either.