A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
WHY WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE WAR ON TERRORISM--Or, How a Contradiction in Worldviews Threatens Us-The Contradiction (& Part Four):
The contradiction in the Administration's position is simply this: It wants to carry out a Hobbesian foreign policy together with a Lockean oriented domestic policy. And these two world-views do not mesh, apart from their agreement that the state of nature is a place we want to escape from.
Thus, the Administration will trumpet it's "get tough on terrorist" approach with "Dead and Alive" rhetoric, and secret prisons to hide and "interrogate" suspected terrorists. In a nutshell; "Screw 'em, they're terrorists! They don't deserve the rights they deny their victims. Fuck 'em!" There is a lot of sympathy for this position in the country. Hobbes would be all for this--after all, have not the terrorists put themselves back into the state of nature? Since they have chosen to do that, we are not obligated to treat them with justice, which only exists in the state of civil society. "Blow 'em up with a drone--why not!"
On the other hand, the Administration will also speak to its conservative base and the country with comments and speeches meant to show its committment to rights to private property in this country (as in: "Tax cuts return more of your
money back to you!"). This also goes with protections of law like habeas corpus and other fundamental legal rights we have (though habeas corpus can be suspended in a time of national emergency for a finite amount of time
). This is a Lockean position. I have inalienable rights more fundamental than the state of civil society. I have them in the state of nature, through God.
These two positions can coexist in more or less unhappy partnership (outside the US is the state of nature with non-Americans, and inside is the state of civil society with Americans) until we get a case that brings these two positions into sharp and obvious conflict. Arresting an American as a suspected terrorist does this. Spying on Americans conversations without probable cause will do this. And then, we have trouble. Which worldview dominates? Hobbes' worldview has no problem with the Administration's position. Any rights to personal liberty are given by the state. So, it can take them away as needed, especially if the reason is to protect the American populace
. Failure to do so would be cause to leave the state of civil society. Locke would cringe at what is happening. A fundamental right is not made less fundamental or inalienable by the fact of a national emergency. Take it up with God.
Though there are hat tips to Hobbes in the Constitution (e.g., suspending habeas corpus
), the way that most Americans (including lawyers and constitutional scholars) think of their Constitution is the way that Jefferson framed the issues in the Declaration of Independence
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — "
Ultimately, what this gives us is a huge case of cognitive dissonance. In a wartime situation, with a clearly defined enemy in a clearly defined place that can be actively met and assaulted, this contradiction is not overly destructive to the Republic. The Civil War is finished, and the rights of the populace restored. But, in a wartime situation with an almost infinite event horizon fighting against a shadowy enemy that roams across the globe striking in an apparently quantum mechanical manner, can we sustain this contradiction? Now, time is our enemy. Time entrenches precedent, and without a VT (Victory over Terrorism) Day, how can it ever change? When faced with cognitive dissonance, people will eventually
change their minds to get rid of a contradiction. Since the WOT isn't going away, there is only one way that contradiction can be resolved. Are we prepared to accept that outcome?
To paraphrase someone else: A constitution divided against itself cannot stand.
WHY WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE WAR ON TERRORISM--Or, How a Contradiction in Worldviews Threatens Us-The Lockean World (& Part Three):
Locke is a very different kettle of fish than Hobbes. Hobbes believes we have no rights (apart from a general right to struggle to survive) in the state of nature. Hence why, when we enter the state of civil society, we owe Leviathan almost everything. He gives us survival, and we give him obedience.
Locke's destination is different. And so is his starting place. Locke starts in his Second Treatise on Government
[sections referred to] with the belief that "every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property." [s27, 28] And, it is the very act of a person's labour that makes the object his or hers. They have a right to that property because their actions led it to having value. Before them, that acorn was a tree seed. After they picked it up, its food [s28]. My food.
In fact, we have a right to these things based on the power of our maker, who in fact has a right to us by the same logic: "all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure."  In other words, God made us, we are his property, and no one is allowed to violate his property (without his permission--check out the Book of Job). We have rights, because we are God's property. Our property, in turn has a right to be owned by us and treated well by others, to not be stolen or unfairly used by others, without our permission, for exactly the same reason.
Locke also believes in a state of nature before a state of civil society. "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions."  Life seems pretty good, except that folks have a tendency to hurt each other and rip each other off for pretty much the same reasons that Hobbes offered [7-8]. So, folks have to police themselves and each other to ensure that the law of nature is followed [7-12].
Locke makes a distinction between the state of nature and the state of war [18,19] based on the fact that a state of war exists whenevr someone tries to rip me off of some of my property. This is a major pain, so folks band together and get the State (of civil society) to do the policing for them [21-22]. The aim of civil society is to maintain one's personal freedoms [22-24, 88-90], and personal property [123-125]. And when an arbitrary government  tries to promulgate laws that interfere with an individual's rights, that authority may be resisted [220-225] and replaced.
The reason for this is simple. I have inalienable rights in the state of nature--to property, to liberty, and to life. I joined the State voluntarily to help me preserve these. If the State tries to interfere with any of these rights, I am entitled, nay obligated, along with my fellow sufferers to take up arms, if needs be, to protect these rights.
Where is all this going?
WHY WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE WAR ON TERRORISM--Or, How a Contradiction in Worldviews Threatens Us-The Hobbesian World (& Part Two):
We start with a brief overview of Hobbes' argument for the emergence and our obedience to the State, in a lovely little book called Leviathan
. [Book, Chapter]
A good place to start is with Hobbes notions of desire, because desire is the root of all the problems we face. We Love what we desire, and Hate what we wish to avoid. Desire is the “stuff” of life, and life is motion. When we stop moving, we die. Without desire we would be dead. This restless motion to fulfill our desires and run from those things we dislike is the basis of our Happiness or Felicity [Lev., 1,6] This desire is the basis of any action we undertake. Voluntary action proceeds from our Will [Lev., 1,6] which was the last desire that we had.
In order to get what I desire, I must act. To help fulfill my strivings (for desire is never satisfied, only displaced towards a continuing stream of wants [Lev., 1,11], I need to develop and use my capacities, which are the present means I have to attain some good. I desire power [Lev., 1,8]. Power is understood in instrumental terms, as capacities, as serving to acquire more power. Power can take the form of riches, friends, connections, knowledge, armaments, etc. [Lev., 1,11] The more power I have, the more I can do (and be done to), the more I can satisfy my desires [Lev., 1,11]. This is the basis for a “general inclination of all mankind, (for) a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death.” [Lev., 1,11]
When Hobbes combines this idea of the desire for power with his assumption that scarcity is a natural part of our lives, he is lead to his conception of the State of Nature. This is humanity’s situation that entails the “war of all against all.” [Lev., 1,13] All are at risk, and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” [Lev., 1,13] This state is a result of the prevalence of our passions and desire for power and what it brings, which reason cannot alleviate. “Passions of me are commonly more potent than their reason.” [Lev., 2,19]
The way out for Hobbes to peace, security, and a better life is for each individual to recognize “that man is a wolf to man,” and give up their rights to all things in this state of nature, as others are also willing to do. In so doing, the individual becomes content to have as much Liberty against others, as others have against him or her [Lev., 1,14; 2,21] I give up my liberty and freedom which is to do as I please against whomever I please, as my strength allows unhindered by any others [Lev., 2,21] I willingly barter this state of nature for a sovereign state in a “social contract” or Covenant [Lev., 2,17]. My claim to peace [Lev., 1,14], like all other individuals’ claims, is protected by the force of the Sovereign, or ruler of the state, not by words, but by guns [Lev., 1,10; 1,14; 2,21; 2,27] I am made better off in this State of Civil Society, than in what I previously had. Hobbes considers these functions of society in the metaphor of society and the sovereign who protects it as an “artificial man.” [Lev., Cover of Book, Introduction, 1,17; 1,18; 2,22; 2,23; 2,28] I subject myself to the sovereign, who has (or must have) absolute power [Lev., 2,18; 2,21; 2,29], and who represents my interests, and the interests of all of society (since we all agreed to have him or her rule us so as to protect us from ourselves) [Lev., 2,17].
So, what am I entitled to in a state of civil society? What about the Rights of the Subjects to liberty in the face of this tremendous power? Liberty is defined as “the absence of externall impediments,”
[Lev., 1, 14,] or the absence of opposition.”
[Lev., 2, 21] Liberty, he goes on, is actually freedom from the obligation to perform the requirements of some covenant [Lev., 2, 21]. And this is the key. The Covenant that we all signed, was signed for the express purpose of our own self-preservation [Lev., 1, 17]. We give obedience to Leviathan, on the understanding that it will live up to its side of the bargain: that is, to protect us from harm. Thus, this obligation of ours lasts “no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” [Lev., 2, 21] As long as the State fulfills its side of the bargain, we have no right to leave the state of civil society. After all, the contract was voluntarily entered into. If the State fails to hold up its end, we can leave, not before. And if we do leave, we re-enter the state of nature, and we can be subject to any sanction from any person or representative of the State (of civil society) in that situation. After all, there is no justice in the state of nature. Nothing I do to anyone is wrong in the state of nature.
WHY WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE WAR ON TERRORISM--Or, How a Contradiction in Worldviews Threatens Us-Introduction (& Part One):
I have been following issues at TAIR
, and the disdain that folks there feel over the speech that AL Gore gave this past week condemning what he saw as the illegal actions of the Bush Administration
. Gore argues:
"Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?"
And this drove folks at TAIR
to distraction. What if it were a democrat, like current Senator Clinton, who were in charge whilst this was going on? Arguments supporting the actions of the administration run like this:
1. President Hilary: not a serious question.
2. Show me one case of material harm to loyal American citizens!
3. Broke what law? congress’ resolution allows it!
4. The Clintonistas were bad, as bad, or worse.
5. They are terrorists and we can do whatever we have to to win.
6. Questioning the good intentions of the president and exposing the program’s existence–whether it is legal or not–is treasonous/giving aid to the enemy
7. If the program is illegal, than its a necessary evil to protect us from harm from the terrorists.
8. FISA allows the president to do this.
9. Only those with something to hide have anything to worry about.
Plenty of folks have made strong arguments on these issues, so I am not interested in refuting these claims. I think Al Gore made some pretty strong arguments as it stands.
What I am interested in is exploring what I understand to be a contradiction at the heart of the Bush Administration's current policy regarding the War on Terror. I am sure that others have already made this claim, but I came to it whilst teaching my 9th Graders about Hobbes and Locke. To do this, I will have to outline what I understand some basic ideas about these two gentlemen's thinking on the State of Nature, the Social Contract, and the State of Civil Society.
So, my posting on this will be in four parts...
DO THE POOR HAVE AN UNCONDITIONAL RIGHT TO LIVE?:
I ask this question because that seems to me to be at the heart of the argument that I perused at The Washington Monthly
concerning the case of "Tirhas Habtegiris, a 27-year-old terminal cancer patient at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, was removed from her ventilator last month because she couldn't pay her medical bills." These are the opening words of Steve Landsburg's latest column
on everyday economics. The title of his piece is actually "Do the Poor Deserve Life Support?" rather than what i wrote above as the title of this entry.
I could have easily written, "Do we have an unconditional right to live?" Steve's answer, in line with his views that there is always a trade-off is: "No." And wearing my "economist hat", I can certainly understand that reasoning. After all, the decision to save this woman a few more days, weeks, or months, of life has to be weighed against the alternative allocation of resources that would allow someone (or someones) else a chance to live. Steve doesn't really pursue this utilitarian route, but rather focuses on the idea of the availability of ventilator insurance and the rational choice of this cancer patient to forego it, when 21 in order to buy other things more valuable to them at the time. Basically, by refusing the insurance, Tirhas basically said, "Sorry, I value my steak dinner today more than the right to a ventilator tomorrow." On this logic, again, Steve is right from an economist's perspective.
Yet I have two observations. First, why does Steve make the test one of the 21 year old and the steak dinner? What if I age the person a little, so that they have become more aware of their mortality, something we tend to become aware of once we hit the 40s? In other words, it is possible that Steve's patient is horribly unaware of the real odds for her ending up this way. If this is so, this could be an example of a breakdown in individual rationality and an example of market failure. The point I am making here is that young folks tend to have thresholds for knowledge (self-awareness). We do not face the real odds of our circumstances until we hit a certain threshold of information and age (i.e., we move from zero percent awareness to finite awareness, which allows us to then make bets of the kind that Steve says that we should).
The second point is that if Steve had couched his bet this way: Pay $75 now, at 21, so that you will have catastrophic health insurance for medical emergencies later in life, my guess is that most people take that bet. The reason that most people don't take that bet is because it isn't offered. My guess is that that bet is very expensive. Why? Because in real life, catastrophic events are a very real possibility at the end of one's life--and very expensive. And covering the bet that Steve wants a rational person to make might only be possible--especially if one is poor--by being willing to trade-off something else, like housing or a subsitence level of food intake, or something else of a like nature. There are problems attached to that trade-off.
I think it is OK to make the thought experiment that Steve does. However, I think it is also important to remember the context in which this experiment is carried out. It is one thing to say, "[t]his is not to deny that the health-care system needs a massive overhaul; it does. But that's not the issue on the table here. " But it is the issue. Steve assumes that people can take his bet, either because they have full knowledge or because they have the income. He has not convinced me that his assumptions are reasonable. Why? In our society, there are plenty of people who politely refuse the opportunity of medical insurance because they cannot afford it, if they want to put enough food on the table to keep body and soul together.
Finally, I found Steve's definition of compassion spot on: "compassion is the "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."" I find it interesting that he shows no sign of this kind of thinking feeling in talking about Tirhas' situation qua human being and actual corporeal person. Tirhas is an abstract atomistic agent calculating odds and making choices for Steve. And this makes sense as this is the level of humanity that Steve is interested in in making his economic analysis. And yet, I wonder what Steve would say about the conditional nature of a human's right to life, if it had been his own close family member in Tirhas' situation. I wonder how much this alters the calculus for Steve. In any case, Steve is an economist and probably able to afford the insurance that he would offer to Tirhas, who might not have been able to pay for it, even if offered. And if he had not been able to afford it, would his arguments advanced in his article have given him comfort as he sat by a bedside, waiting for someone to turn off a switch?
DEMOCIDE, OR WHY A NEW NAME FOR SOMETHING OLD DOESN'T SMELL THAT SWEET, PART DEUX
: However, what really gets up my nose is Solomon's reply in comments.
Solomon applies Dr. Rummel's viewpoint would allow the following:
"Then if I'm surrounded by five armed thugs who want to murder me, a peaceful productive citizen, for my money and my wife I should just let them do so, because their five lives are worth more than one? "
I was scratching my head on this one, till, i checked out his blog. He wasn't advocating this, at all, it was rather a smokescreen, for the (I guess, big five) thuggishness of Syria, Iran, Lebanon (why Lebanon?), and a couple of others unmentioned I will leave to your delicate sensibilities.
"A practical present-day dilemma is almost upon us: I imagine that Israel will soon have to decide whether or not to attack Iranian and Arab nuclear installations
with Israel's own nuclear weapons. If not, Israel's eventual destruction is assured. If so, then at a minimum tens of thousands of civilians will be killed, as production facilities
and weapons depots are deliberately located in heavily populated areas."
So, what we are really after is the right of the Israeli government to use a Just Democide Doctrine to justify the deaths of lots of civilians in the pursuit of an otherwise worthy goal of Israeli national security. I don't like this for the obvious reason that supporting this gives nuclear weapon packing countries the right to blow other countries they don't like off the map, like North Korea, and Pakistan, and India, and, who else?
I also don't like this line of argument, since it also snugly fits into a type of absolutist thinking that subtly underlies Dr. Rummel's post, concerning a lack of options in dealing with a situation, and an intolerance for ambiguous outcomes that do not apparently gain one's objectives completely. We have already seen an example
of this "either-or" thinking with the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan reduced to drop it on a military/civilian target or not that I explored in the last post. Another example is this from Solomon
"Unless, of course, deep-down you feel that "the Israelis deserve it". For Iran's principal European supporter is Germany, and I suspect that for many Germans, and for other Europeans of anti-Jewish bent, either the destruction of Israel OR the mass civilian casualties Israel's defense will entail can be represented, deep in their secret hearts, as a kind of "justification" for their nation's past conduct: "See, we did the right thing, the Jews are bad for the world, everybody hates them, it would be best that they are no more, our grandfathers were doing the right thing, and we can be proud to be Germans/Lithuanians/Poles/(etc.) again.""
This is intellectually repulsive. Apart from tarring alot of people with an awfully large brush, there is some pretty amazingly rigid thinking on display here. "Either you agree with me, or you are with the terrorists, or the state actors bent on Israel's destruction. Either you are with us, or you are anti-semites." There is no middle here. No other option. Perhaps Solomon assumes that there are no innocents in these countries--the governments of which he vilifies? And if he does assume there are innocents, then perhaps he just doesn't care--weighing the utilitarian calculus of Israeli innocents versus those of an arab background. And thus war will come, and Solomon will shake his head, and bemoan the deaths of thousands of arab civilians whilst intoning with solemn words how awful war is and how much these folks did not deserve their governments sacrificing them in this way, by placing them in harm's way. And the fact that Israel pushed the button that killed these people will be washed away, to cries of "Ecce Homo," as a necessary evil to preserve the state. And he will sleep soundly, the sleep of the happy and righteous...
DEMOCIDE, OR WHY A NEW NAME FOR SOMETHING OLD DOESN'T SMELL THAT SWEET
: Just finished reading a reasonably repulsive post from Solomon
, via Jesus' General
, applying a bit of ethical ju-jitsu, from Democratic Peace
, on a concept of democide, to whit: a policy of genocide carried out by a governmental authority
. Dr. Rummel, the inventor of this concept, ends his post at Democratic Peace as follows:
"As to the ethics of this, I've been a deontologist, and much influenced by Immanuel Kant. Now, with this idea of a Just Democide, I've collapsed into situational ethics. So be it. That's the world we live in."
What interests me is the way he gets here. He argues for the possibility of a Just Democide Doctrine: "If the lives to be assuredly saved by a democide far exceed in number the lives to be murdered, than the murdering is justified, although evil." Dr. Rummel comes to this conclusion after analyzing the marginal cost-benefit trade-off of dropping the bombs on Japan in 1945.
This is strictly a utiliarian ethical approach. Can I take a deontological position in all of this? There is a serious assumption that Dr. Rummel has in play to get to this conclusion. He assumes that the there were only ever two choices or strategies--dropping the bomb on Japanese military/civilian targets, or not dropping the bomb. However, just as there are discrete strategies in a game theoretic space, so there are mixed strategies in the same game theoretic space, made up of combinations of probabilities of dropping and not dropping the bomb. What can this possibly mean? One alternative to the dropping of the bomb on a city by surprise, is to drop a bomb on a pre-designated target area, away from population centres, in Japan, that can be viewed by the Japanese. There are objections to this, I know, but I do not think they are insurmountable. If the bomb is dropped, follow up propaganda makes clear that you will drop a second, in another area, to show you mean business. Drop the second bomb, in another area (also unpopulated or evacuated), and advise them that non-surrender will result in dropping further bombs on military targets. After that, if the Japanese don't surrender, an argument could be made that one is no longer dealing with rational beings, and thus the deontological issue becomes moot. My guess is that the Japanese take the hint, and surrender.
Now, even if a reader doesn't like this option, we haven't really actually explored the other one--blockade and slow strangulation that entails for the Japanese war machine. Nothing has happened to cause the Japanese to collapse or kill one's own POWs. The problem with this is that it will take time, is of uncertain outcome, and probably allows that the Russians would probably have the north islands, unless the allies took them first instead of the more heavily defended main islands. As for the possibility that the Russians would have invaded the main islands, the question has to be raised as to the Russian capability to carry out sea-borne invasions and their lack of experience in so doing.
And what if the Russians had taken the north islands of Japan? Would such an outcome justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians to spare the world that outcome? I don't think it does. The fate of communism was to fall, and I doubt that having the northern islands would have affected that outcome at all. I grant that allied planners could not be sure of an outcome that was fifty years down the road. But even still, this does not excuse them for doing the unethical thing (though it may mitigate it, perhaps).
What we end up with is a concept, democide, and a willingness to support it in situations where there may be other options than the ones discussed by the author. None of the outcomes look great, but is geopolitical dominance an acceptable reason to kill civilians? I don't think Kant would agree...
Now, back to Solomon.
WE NEED HIGHER STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS!!! OR, HOW TO MANUFACTURE A CRISIS
Ross Weiner in today's Washington Post
"There is no question that educators are trying harder to reach students, especially those students who have struggled, but there is a crippling lack of intellectual capital in many of our lowest-performing schools. Instead of confronting this problem, we reward teachers with higher status and higher pay the farther away they get from the students who need the most help. This is true across districts, within districts and even within individual schools, where the most experienced and effective teachers are assigned to the "best" kids."
This is a sensible idea, akin to hazard pay for firefighters and other folks who work in dangerous or difficult occupations. It is a nice Trojan Horse of a way to broach the topic of higher pay all together. As for status, surveys generally show that teachers are admired for the work that they do. It also doesn't stop teachers from proclaiming
their love for a profession that treats them not too well. Still, the laws of supply and demand do operate. After all, what is one to make of the desire of politicians to make it harder to actually be a school teacher. Raise qualifications (which are expensive to get) and then raise the amount of work that they are expected to do. This is a recipe for lower teacher numbers and a greater crisis than we already have.