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July 01, 2010

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Excellent post, Eric.

I really don't have anything coherent to add, other than wondering how much of this goes back to earlier days of humanity, when violence in the sense of hunting, and protection from large predators, as well as other tribes, was really important. Caveman brains are not well-wired to deal with the world we've built, in many ways.

The idea that only violence can succeed...

I didn't originate this, I don't know who did, but I like it:

If we mark the modern feminist movement as beginning in 1791 with Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne, then feminism is the longest-running and most successful revolution the world has ever seen.

And all done without armies, without swords, guns, terrorism, gunships, aeroplanes, bombs.

A feminist idea that appeared too radical to be accepted a hundred years ago, will be mainstream and ordinary today. The radical feminist ideas of today, will be mainstream and ordinary a century from now.

The things you can achieve when violent revolution is not an option...

Capitulation after only 50 years? Why do you hate America, Eric?

Such rhetoric resonates politically ...

That's the scariest thing in the whole analysis. If the electorate did not "identify 'strength' with violent means", politicians would act more sensibly. It's the voters, not the terrorists or the neo-cons, that politicians are really afraid of.

...people that ostensibly revere Jesus Christ, whose message about what true strength and power are seems to be in direct contradiction to the operative presumptions.

Leaving aside the question of what "message" Jesus Christ actually preached, I must say that modern-day Christians tend to support their political preachments by citing the Old Testament.

--TP

I think this misses the mark as diplomacy and the other "high road" responses fail to satisfy some of the basic needs of "real" americans:

1. Revenge
2. Bloodlust
3. Collective punishment through violence
4. Torture fetishes
5. Explosions
6. Dead muslims (of whatever type)
7. Affirmation of American exceptionalism
8. Suck on this

The low road provides all of these things, and thus it doesn't matter if it "works" or not to solve the a priori problem - merely doing it "works" and is its own justification to keep doinf it.

I think that what we actually do is a middle road between the high and the low.

The low road would be if you attack us, we will commit genocide: destroy everything and leave no chance that you could rise again and strike us. We could do it quickly, with little treasure or blood on our part. Certainly quicker and cheaper than the current course.

However misguided and unlikely our current efforts to leave behind functioning governments or of coopting the population to be pro-western, I don't think it is the low road.

There is a low road, and if anything I would say that the years since WWII and the introduction of cheap low road power have produced an attempt to wield force in a new way: we don't resort to the destruction of the enemy. We try (unsuccessfully) to incorporate them.

We don't know what we are doing, but it is not as low as it goes.

However, if we had withdrawn from either locale at some earlier date... is there any doubt that there would be a rush to blame our "retreat" as the cause for any subsequent attacks..?

Ive been thinking on this in a more broad sense lately: I am pretty sure that, of all of the discussions Ive engaged in over politics, economics, etc in my adult life, less that 1% have had any utility besides pure entertainment.
Ive been suffering under the illusion that, while some people were obviously trolls or suffering from some idea fixee where rational argument could have no toehold, many people appeared to be somewhat reasonable and amiable to rational discussion.

Now, Im pretty sure that that's not the case. Many people can discuss things rationally, but the vast majority appear totally unmoved regardless of any lack of evidence, logical fallacy, or other flaw in their position. Im not sure how these opinions are formed or occasionally reformed, but for most of our adult lives they're crystalized. They don't change. Or maybe they move like plate tectonics, so slowly that it's impossible to see, and our psychological sense of self-continuity causes us to believe that we have not moved at all.

I used to think that the correlation between believing that eg [free markets are great, abortion is a sin, homosexuality is icky, and climate science is bogus], that this came from over-reliance on partisan news sources and opinion-makers. But now it seems much more natural and organic: this suite of opinions fit together nicely (altho that may not be a prereq, see eg Xtianity and Randroidism) and, much more importantly, were likely to all be present at one time when the individual's opinions went through their crystalization phase.
It's like how people defend the sport they like to watch: "baseball is boring" or "soccer is graceful where American football is brutish"- but afaict most people acquired these tastes early in life and they rarely change much. And that's sports, much less core to most people's sense of identity than eg their position on abortion.

So what I get from these discussions:
-it's fun to poke fun at other people's silly thought processes
-debunking some things forces me to do some research into interesting subjects
-once in a blue moon, I'll reconsider an opinion, but usually on some subject where I wasn't all that emotionally entrenched, like copyright law or the F-35
-I learned all of the pro/con scripts, like a chess openings book: the scripts for supporting a right to abortion, or the wisdom of using capital punishment, or the scripts against those positions. Becoming a trained seal- call that a negative.
-mostly, stoking my overstoked sense of outrage at the world. Which makes me feel zealous and righteous without bothering to leave my living room, so call that a negative
-by debunking other people's silly ways of thinking, I get to believe that my logical processes are working great without having to examine them very carefully. Call that another negative

Well, I did get one other thing, just now: the realization that, despite the illusion, my "rational positions" are probably as fixed in place by pre-rational underpinnings as everyone else's. I still don't *feel* that way, but it'd be pre-Copernican to assert otherwise in the face of no evidence to the contrary other than my gut, and trusting my gut is a symptom of the very problem at hand.

So Im thinking that maybe all this discussion is all not useful: at best idle, at worst counterproductive towards any real progress in understanding oneself, one's mind, or how things ought to work. At least for me- maybe everyone else is getting boatloads of good from this stuff. But, on consideration, Im not sure Ive ever seen anyone's mind or worldview signifacantly changed here (caveat: No True Scotsman saves that from ever being falsified, but I don't know how else to say it).

I dunno CW, I've changed a lot in the past half decade+ of blogging.

I've learned so much, and changed many opinions and been influenced by people and arguments on fundamental issues of war, diplomacy, economics, etc.

The low road would be if you attack us, we will commit genocide

There is a vast spectrum of right and wrong between Gandhi and genocide. You describe what we do as a "middle road" between the two extremes, but in truth our approach as a country leans overwhelmingly towards the low end. Not the lowest by far, certainly, but low enough that it's still not really something to be proud of.

There is a vast spectrum of right and wrong between Gandhi and genocide.

Of course. I think my comment is that while potentially misguided, the USA public support for the wars is based on a belief that we will make life better for those we are occupying.

I think this is different from a view that the US is seeking vengeance, etc. I think it is a true belief that "we" can fix what "we" see is a problem.

Again, likely misguided, but not low.

Low is where we seek to harm. We may harm, but we seek to help.


CW,

I am as set in my ways as most people that are 55 tend to be. I find these discussions valuable in the sense that I do take away new perspectives and consider them over a longer period of time.

Equal marriage, for example, is a place where I have long thought that we should solve the bigger problem that would address equal marriage. In fairly heated discussions here I defended that position vigorously, but found later I was increasingly inclined to lean toward solving the short term problem.

In discussions with my closest friends it is interesting how often they can't hear my point, or mine theirs, in the heat of a crisp debate, but days or weeks after we have a more thoughtful discussion where we listen and discuss rather than debate.

There are many issues that don't ever get that level of thoughtful treatment, some you listed. But the reason I almost exclusively participate here is that I find thoughtful input to consider for myself, even if I never change anyone elses mind I get the opportunity to hear lots of sides on many issues that are valuable to me.

To suffer through some illogical arguments, mine or others, and try to understand what we are all TRYING to say is worth it to me.

Just my two cents, I do this to stimulate my brain and hopefully occasional give back a little to others.

The Kaiser's troops should by now be at the outskirts of (what is left of) Paris. Just don't give in to the defeatist lefties. In just 4 years we will match the Anglo-French 100 Years War, that alone should be motivation enough.
---
Well, HE came http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/But_to_bring_a_sword> to bring the sword, all the other wishy-washy stuff was later added by those hellbound liberals (just ask the people of the conservative bible project).
---
Hitler would have killed Gandhi indeed. But Gandhi himself was aware that his tactics could only work against an opponent that still kept at least a remnant of humanity.
---
There is no way so low that no one would advocate going even lower. Use of nukes is seen as the way the US should do foreign policy by far too many people including some with big megaphones

Marty, agreed.

"We try (unsuccessfully) to incorporate them."

We are Borg! Assimilation is inevitable....

I agree with Carleton Wu, at least to a point. I don't see the negatives of blog participation relative to not arguing or discussing things at all. I think I'd be more ignorant and entrenched without teh blogs. (Then again, I might be better off going back to school, though these things aren't mutually exclusive.)

But, yeah, it's mostly entertainment. While it may help me win a few political arguments with friends over beers, that's mostly a matter of having more practice with the established chess moves Carleton mentioned. Even if it's more than that, those arguments are simply more entertainment - the verbal equivalents of blog threads, perhaps. So blog participation is good at making you better at blog participation and a few other things that are much like blog participation.

One good spill-over, though it does nothing to improve our national political discourse, is that I think commenting on blogs and receiving criticism of what you've written can hone your general presentation skills, particularly as they relate to writing, of course. I think it helps me write really good e-mails at work, and, to some degree, make better arguments during meetings. (Just don't increase my taxes, or I'll dial back to my crappier e-mailing and argument-making.)

That aside, Carleton's comment fills me with ennui. It all feels so pointless now. I'm done here.

Believe it or not, I don't *like* bringing a feminist analysis into everything. But I think we need to, here.

Henley said (emphasis mine):

It takes time to get an animal to do what you want with positive reinforcement. It takes time to get an animal to do what you want with negative reinforcement. But taking the former time is simpering weakness while taking the latter is manly resolve.

*Manly*. As women are allowed to do more jobs formerly reserved for men, most of the traditional distinctions between what is masculine and what is feminine wither away. Because of subtractive masculinity, the sex differences that remain become more and more important: and the most obvious and reliable difference is physical size and strength.

In other words, because men are physically stronger than women, *only* strategies relying on brute physical strength are masculine. In non-military contexts, women *have* to use the high road, because we generally lose if we take the low road against men. Feminism won via the high road because it was our only choice.

But since our culture defines manly as "doesn't do what women do", the lack of female traffic on the low road makes it look very manly, full of manly men being masculine, yes SIR. The high road has both men and women on it, so how can a man there know he's a MAN?

There's a point where I have to say, it's up to you male-type people to recognize these things, think and talk about them, and figure out how to get each other to take Atticus Finch as a role model again.

of all of the discussions Ive engaged in over politics, economics, etc in my adult life, less that 1% have had any utility besides pure entertainment.

This is consistent with my experiece also, but IMO less than 1% -- say a half of one percent -- is a worthwhile outcome.

If it takes 200 blog posts to make some kind of constructive change, in whatever direction, in someone's point of view (including possibly my own), I would call that a total win.

It can be annoying and/or frustrating, but lots of useful things are annoying and/or frustrating.

the USA public support for the wars is based on a belief that we will make life better for those we are occupying.

I think this is true in a lot of cases -- the Balkans, maybe Somalia, maybe even our foreign policy toward Cuba.

In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, I think our current nominal policy is based on the idea that we want to make those two countries better places, but I also think that motivation has kind of emerged over time, and is perhaps an after-the-fact rationalization.

In 2001 and 2003, we were pissed as hell about 9/11, and we wanted to make somebody pay. Mission accomplished.

the USA public support for the wars is based on a belief that we will make life better for those we are occupying.

If that were true, then there would be widespread public interest in how quality of life has "improved" for Iraqis and Afghans. But there is no such interest. We've got very good scientific studies suggesting that hundreds of thousands if not one million Iraqis have died because of the war we started. But Americans neither know nor care about that. They don't know because they haven't made the effort to learn (because they don't care) and the media won't share that info with them because it is not profitable to do so, since no one cares.

Another reason to suspect that this assertion is just wrong is that in the US, support for indefinite occupation correlates highly with the belief that government is incapable of doing anything right. If you don't think the government is competent to run the DMV, then it seems really really absurd to think that the government can perform radical social engineering on societies very different from our own in places where people don't even speak english. If you don't think the government is capable of such massive social engineering projects, then you probably don't support the occupations because you want to improve the lives of the occupied.

If you don't think the government is competent to run the DMV, then it seems really really absurd to think that the government can perform radical social engineering on societies very different from our own in places where people don't even speak english.

That assumes the use of logic.

I changed my view of capital punishment as a result of these types of discussions (from it is morally right and doable to it is morally defensible but there is no way in hell any human institution can pull it off in a just fashion).

And I've actually become somewhat of a free speech absolutist, which I definitely was not before.

And I'm much more open to the idea that government can do certain things well, though I still hate having those discussions with either side because on the right I get "government can't do anything right" but from the left my criticisms tend to elict "oh the technicians/experts in the government will work that out, don't worry".

And one of my defining characteristics is that I worry. ;)

I change my mind on stuff reasonably regularly. But our culture doesn't regard changing your mind as a positive trait, you FLIP-FLOPPING WIMP, and of course publicly recognizing that you've changed your mind requires you to become fully cognizant that you had an opinion you now think of as WRONG and perhaps STUPID, which isn't very much fun.

It's also hard to change your mind in the middle of a discussion before you've had a chance to think things over and while you're still personally invested in winning the argument.

But for instance, the big global warming science discussion we had recently definitely shifted my views (which admittedly had shifted several times in the past). And in general I find that discussion and explanation helps me understand things in a way that just reading cannot.

This post has inspired a commentary on http://chamblee54.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/torture-cuba-and-the-wall-street-journal/ " target="_blank"> my blog. I may have to write another one about the comments.
Does overeating apply to food for thought?

BTW, one thing that helps me in discussions, is feedback when you change your mind. That way it doesn't always seem like pissing in the wind.

one thing that helps me in discussions, is feedback when you change your mind

I don't think you're going to do much better than "thank you for no longer being a jackass", Sebastian. If that, even.

I think my comment is that while potentially misguided, the USA public support for the wars is based on a belief that we will make life better for those we are occupying.

monica wing addresses this in a comment on Jim Henley's site:

"The low road options you mention are methods that do not require the co-operation of, or any sort of positive engagement with, the person or group they are imposed on, while the high-road options do. It’s about who is to be in control, it’s about saying “I’m going to MAKE you do this” – even in situations where we, in fact, cannot."


Whatever we may claim our intentions are, when we tell Iraqis or Afghans (and Vietnamese or Haitians or Chileans or so on) that we know better than they do how they should order their affairs, that is what we're up to: using massive and lethal force to impose our preferences on other people. That we think we're doing it for their own good doesn't change that basic dynamic.

If you don't think the government is competent to run the DMV, then it seems really really absurd to think that the government can perform radical social engineering on societies very different from our own in places where people don't even speak english.

Oh, but that's easy. In the worldview you're describing, the military is not part of "government" and is therefore immune from the usual criticisms directed at it.

Many of the people you're describing would probably heartily support the notion of turning the running of the DMV and the Postal Service to the Marine Corps, because they know how Get Things Done (and always in the most manly fashion possible, to circle back to the points made by Doctor Science and others upthread). Unlike "the government," which only knows how to waste my hard-earned taxes.

What Uncle Kvetch said, among others.

Also relating to that worldview, if you're thinking about here (inside the US), the government is them, i.e. the bad guys. If you're thinking about there (everywhere outside the US), the government is us, and we're always the good guys.

It's simple!

Jrudkis: Of course. I think my comment is that while potentially misguided, the USA public support for the wars is based on a belief that we will make life better for those we are occupying.

A new commenter using the name "Carter" is expounding just that point of view with regard to Belgium in the Heart of the Congo thread.

Perhaps you could go back him up: many of the regulars are giving him quite a hard time for his views.

A lot of Americans are happiest when America is at war.

Americans who oppose the war forgot about it long ago.

So, win for the warmongers.

I agree with Carleton Wu, at least to a point. I don't see the negatives of blog participation relative to not arguing or discussing things at all. I think I'd be more ignorant and entrenched without teh blogs

I should add- my comment is more about the comment threads, and more specifically the typical back-and-forth patterns that Ive been getting into & seeing among some (but not all) other regulars.
The posts themselves are often very good- informative, thought-provoking, etc. It's good to read thoughtful observations by bright people who work to inform themselves, be they blogs, books, etc.

Lately Ive found myself writing a lot of comments and then just deleting them before posting, deciding that they just weren't going to lead anywhere fruitful. And I think that a lot of that is me- the conversations that I choose to get into, the particular points that I choose to discuss, etc. And that quite a bit of my motivation seems to be to validate feelings or opinions on big questions eg if I can just convince Marty that GCC is a real concern, then I can assuage some of my feelings of powerlessness in the face of the world. And justify my egoistic belief that, if everyone would just listen, they'd be won over to my side of various policy/scientific/moral/social/legal arguments.

Carleton - express yourself bro. Whatever comes of it is what will come of it.

yes, we are just killing the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, wherever, because we got started killing people and after Vietnam, getting out is "defeat". America does not lose wars after Vietnam anymore.

we are just doing what we have always done. save that country and bring American democracy there. as they say, "Be nice to America, or they'll bring democracy to you."

war is such a good way to steal all the money from American Society too.

America is at war to help the war industry. that's the part of Government thats Real Americans support. Killing in the name of America. For Profit

Go Forth and Conquer the World. sounds almost Biblical.

Doctor Science,
This is not to defend the use of the word manly, it's a problematic notion, but my view of Atticus Finch was altered by Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article. I realize that the post you shared didn't actually mention Finch, it was your comment did. Now, if Finch isn't the best representative, that doesn't invalidate the point made (I tend to agree with the sentiment more and more), but I'd be interested to see what you think of the article.

A new commenter using the name "Carter" is expounding just that point of view with regard to Belgium in the Heart of the Congo thread.

Perhaps you could go back him up: many of the regulars are giving him quite a hard time for his views.

Why would jrudkis back up Carter when jrudkis has not himself embraced that view, but rather suggested that many Americans hold that view and are misguided in doing so? I think he's right to some extent, especially for many of the liberal hawk set, btw.

This was a cheap shot jes.

my view of Atticus Finch was altered by Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article

Mine too, LJ, and I thank you for pointing me to that article, because I hadn't been aware of it. It's good stuff, and also more than a little frustrating, because by the time Gladwell writes:

Dickens thought that large contradictions could be tamed through small moments of justice. He believed in the power of changing hearts, and that’s what you believe in, Orwell says, if you “do not wish to endanger the status quo.”

the parallels with contemporary American "liberalism" weren't just obvious, they were screaming in my ear. This is Obama in a nutshell, it's Bill Clinton, it's the Democratic Party as a whole (with a few thoroughly marginalized exceptions), and it's a very salutary reminder of just how effective the US political system is at shutting out anything that threatens the fundamental structures of power.

war is such a good way to steal all the money from American Society too.

It is, along with building prisons.

Eric: This was a cheap shot jes.

I didn't have time to expensively gift-wrap it.

True though. It's easy enough to see that Carter's a racist loon, since Belgium is another country and the ugly things Belgium did to the Congo in the name of "improvement" are in the past.

Less easy to see that people who give any credence whatsoever to the idea that the US attacked Iraq "for its own good" are giving credence to the same brand of racist lunacy that Carter subscribes to.

"I don't think you're going to do much better than "thank you for no longer being a jackass", Sebastian. If that, even."

No, I don't expect to be praised for changing my views. I'm not THAT needy. ;)

I mean that if a long discussion changes your views, tell the person who changed them that you changed instead of just appreciating it personally. It will let them know that their discussion wasn't fruitless.

Lately Ive found myself writing a lot of comments and then just deleting them before posting, deciding that they just weren't going to lead anywhere fruitful.

Personally, I would just go ahead and post things like that. For me comments and blog entries are just records of what I thought was interesting or noteworthy at a certain point in time, and if nobody else is convinced by them - or even reads them - that's fine.

It's journalism in the original sense of the word.

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