Spreading the Word — Because my link network consists mostly of strong ties, and is thus highly redundant, my readers will have already been informed. But, just in case, don't miss Blogarama at Kalorama III, Thursday, February 6 at the Rendevous Lounge in Adams Morgan. I'll be a bit late. I've got class, the nicely titled Architecture of the Mind, with Carruthers. So don't leave early, especially if you're gorgeous and single (and female)!
State of the State of the Union — Well, I thought the SOTU was pretty good, overall. About style . . . Although I wince at his missteps, I find Bush a compelling speaker. He's direct, it sounds like he means what he says, and he engages ordinary (not obnoxiously intellectual) people. His moral sensibility comes through clearly, and doesn't seem especially calculated.
Weirdest but most powerful part of the speech: The litany of torture methods employed by Hussein's regime, followed up with “If that's not evil, then 'evil' has no meaning.” I liked this. It's a powerful defense of the “Axis of Evil” line against the bullshit he got for it. And it's certainly true. Both moralists and nihilists can sign on to the conditional.
Biggest surprise: AIDS relief in Africa. If we're drawing up a multi-billion dollar bill of goods anyway, this strikes me as a very good thing to do. As far as transfers of wealth goes, this is one that strikes me as having a chance to actually help. It would be even better if some day soon living in Africa is A WHOLE LOT better than dying there.
Second biggest surprise: Hydrogen cars. Well, umm, OK. (I've sometimes wondered if government-funded R & D is always a bad idea, but that's another post.)
War: I found Bush's rhetoric moving, because I'm susceptible to that sort of thing. I'll look forward to Powell's speech to the UN and see if he has something less vague to offer by way of justification. I cannot help but be stirred by the rhetoric of freedom and liberation, and Bush used it to good effect. He's right. The US is not the people of Iraq's enemy; their leader is. And deposing Hussein would be liberating for the Iraqis. But I think we're neither required or permitted to do the liberating. If there's a genuinely good reason to invade, such as a non-fabricated connection to Al Qaeda, or the demonstration of some credible threat, then I would certainly welcome liberation as a side-effect of proper defense.
Bill of Goods: I hate this pandering shit. But, as Julian notes, Bush's 20 proposals is better than Clinton's 104! in 2000.
Bush: I can't imagine what breeds so much hatred in so many people. He strikes me as a good-hearted, earnest guy with not especially threatening political commitments. If we picked presidents American Idol style, and I was Simon, I'd say something demeaning about his verbal abilities and kick him out in seconds. But he does alright. I just don't see what there is to loathe.
Vacillation Update — You'll notice that I don't say a hell of a lot about the war. That's mainly because I don't know what to think about it. Well, I know what to think about it; that's the function of having an ideology: to tell you what to think without having to do much thinking. My ideology tells me to oppose the war. War is the health of the state, and so forth. And it's true! It is. I do not want John Poindexter to know which brand of condom I prefer. However, my heart's not really in it. I can't convince myself that invading Iraq will be a disaster. But neither can I convince myself that it won't be. Actually, I'm disoriented by the strident confidence on all sides of this. There seems very little to warrant confidence.
I am confident that there are a great many people who hate the US, and wish to do us harm, or to see us harmed. A history of bad foreign policy decisions on the part of the US is partly to blame for that. But it's really just a small part, I think. There is a spreading mythology about US power, and the malign influence of our culture, our markets, our military might. As preparations for the war have ramped up, and as the anti-war movement has ramped up, I have become increasingly amazed at the breadth and ferocity of hatred for the US, and what I take the US to stand for. And although I am nominally anti-war, I find it impossible to identify with those who cannot manage to see that Islam, as it is practiced throughout most of the Middle East, is straightforward misanthrophic tyranny, not one among many acceptable ways of life. My breath leaves me when I contemplate the moral atrophy of those who seriously propose that American values, or, say, George W. Bush, is a greater threat to humankind than a malignant ideology of mystical authority, institutionalized violence, and the systematic dehumanization of women and non-believers.
Those of us who hold our Enlightment heritage dear can feel nothing but horror at the resurgence of pre-modern irrationalism and disgust at the willingness of those who enjoy the blessings of reason and freedom to declare solidarity with this undiluted hatred for the human. I don't consider opposing the war as important as opposing a doctrine and a culture that effectively enslaves millions, stunts the expression of creativity and intellect, and treats women like dogs. The case against the war is mildy convincing. The case against radical Islam is damning and airtight.
It has repeatedly struck me that, after the relative successes of the civil rights and women's movements, the left has been casting about wildly for something at which to aim their righteous, moralizing fury. Well, how about the folks who take the heads off their daughters for getting raped? How about the folks who murder Americans en masse, and promise to do it again? How about the ideas that animate them? But no. Instead we are given to believe that the problem is our failure to understand and appreciate the complex and fascinating beliefs, mores, and folkways of the fundamentalist Islamic peoples. And that George W. Bush is Hitler incarnate. Something has gone wrong.
If I thought the invasion of Iraq was a sure first step toward eradicating the politics of radical Islam, then I think I'd be for it. It may be that in my heart of hearts I hope for Paul Wolfowitz's wildest dream. But I remain unconvinced that we won't make it worse, as we are so very capable of doing. Still, I have little wisdom, and don't know the way forward. My libertarian soul wishes we could just shut up and keep to ourselves, but I'm afraid we can't.
I envy almost everyone. You all make it look so easy.
Base Ten Gets Me Down — I turned thirty today. Life goes on.
Crash — Apparently my web hosting service's servers crashed some time last night. Apologies to anyone who tried to visit and came up 404.
WWMLKD? — Am I the only one who finds it distastefully presumptuous to invoke Martin Luther King's memory for the anti-war cause? I have no idea what the man would have thought of our present situation, and I doubt others are in a much better position. I guess when you do such an awful job making a moral case against the war, you'll take whatever associations of moral authority you can muster. (And this from someone who is by no means in favor of the war.)
[UPDATE: One of Glenn's readers sent him this link to a piece by MLK on Zionism and anti-Zionism. King argues that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-semitic, which is, as Glenn notes, a position not likely to be well-received by some anti-war protestors. However, I don't believe any of us can divine what King would have thought of the present claims the Palestinians, had he been more fullly aware of their plight and their tactics of retaliation. Nor can we venture to guess whether King would see a war against Iraq as a mission of liberation, or an act of dangerous and uwarranted aggression. It has been a long time since he died. And King was nothing if not an independent mind. It does no honor to his memory to make him a posthumous ideologue.]
[MORE: OK, I turns out the MLK letter I linked to is bogus. Glenn's got the skinny. Chuck says in a comment below that he thinks MLK's position would have turned out about the same as Jesse Jackson's. Maybe, but I think MLK was a far more intelligent man than Jackson is, had a more independent mind, and a far more developed and discerning moral sensibility. Which is not to deny he would have been against the war; there's a good chance he may have been. But the Iraq affair has several layers of moral ambiguity, and the arguments on both sides have great merits that I believe MLK would have understood. In any case, this kind of question is about as useful and unanswerable as “Would Jefferson (Thomas, not George) have been a Republican?” The only reason to answer it either way is to try to create a halo effect for your own opinions that cannot be achieved by genuine argument.]
Don't Mess With the Turtle! — There are few feelings more exquisite than trashing Duke.
Globalization is Grand! — Check out the Institute for Humane Studies' loverly new website on globalization, A World Connected. Too often, the debate about globalization proceeds in terms of tired, potted arguments. A World Connected gets past that by focusing on stories of real people around the world whose lives have been improved by increasing global interconnectivity. Check it out. And if you've got a blog, help IHS spread the word, and give A World Connected a plug.
Right or Happy? — In a comment on the “Keeping it Real” post below, Julian glibly defines an intellectual as one who would rather be right than happy. Well, I don't think that can be right. I'd rather be happy than right, no doubt about it. Experience machine, here I come! My problem is that I have a neurotic urge to be right. I just can't help trying to be right. (I should say, not about everything – there're lots of fights in which I've no dog.) It would be wonderful if there was some kind of pre-established harmony here, where the lack of ignorance is bliss. But, no.
Now, I do think that we're all stuck with a disposition to regard the feeling of having truth as integral to happiness. We can't just say out loud, with full awareness, “Sure! The religious stories around which I build my life are nothing but elaborate fictions, and there is a largely unconscious conspiracy to create an environment in which the social and psychological costs of rejecting this tangled skein of falsehood is higher than just going along,” and then believe all the same. The point of this kind of tacit conspiracy is to insulate believers from psychological dissonance–to maintain a milieu in which it is possible, even easy, to believe that the stories are literally true, so that one can derive whatever value there is in them, including the satisfying feeling of having posession of the truth, without having to seriously confront the divergence of tale from fact.
It is precisely the need to reduce uncertainty, to feel sure, that makes it hard for certain intellectual types to be satisfied. I can't escape or dismiss the high likelihood of my own self-deception, delusion, and habits of confabulation. So my defining commitments are cast under a shadow of doubt, and my sense of my self becomes indistinct, which is unpleasant. I try to be Zen about it, and convince myself that the self is an illusion anyway, but it doesn't help.
It strikes me the Marie Gryphon is a bit optimistic in her smart post on the happy/right issue. She argues that by deferring to “opinion leaders” who appear to have happy followers, one is pursuing a generally rational policy for getting at the truth. All I see in such opinion leaders is the leader of a succesful conspiracy of belief. The relationship to truth eludes me. Furthermore, I think Marie's undersestimating the role of epistemic deference in the intellectual lives of even very independent minds. Almost everything I believe, somebody else told me. In this, I'm just like everybody else. We all make extensive use of the cognitive division of labor. What makes me different from many other people is that I have different policies for when to believe what people tell me. However, I adopted these policies rather than others in no small part due to my deference to certain people I regarded as experts in good policies. But it never ocurred to me that I should prefer to adopt policies for deciding when to believe what I'm told from experts with happy customers. And, for the sake of truth, it's probably a good thing too.
Marie writes that, “Most everyone is pursuing a rational strategy for finding truth,” and I wish she was right, but I can't quite believe it. No doubt, most are pursuing rational strategies for generating the feeling of having the truth, but that's not the issue. Now, there is a trivial way in which Marie's claim is true. Keeping your eyes open is a good strategy, and most everyone does it. And if you want to know which way to take the Red Line to get to Woodley Park, then asking's about as good as revelation, and we're all in the habit. But when it comes to the big questions — what it means to be a human being, or what a just society is, or what happens to us when we die — rational strategies seem thin on the ground. If the world were teeming with rational strategies for getting at the truth, wouldn't we see rather less delusion?