Saturday, January 17, 2009

Foreboding Mourning

The most distasteful messages in Bush's farewell were those endorsing a black and white view of the world and and absolute view of change.

Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda and stoned women in the streets, to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school.

No country is ever completely any of those things. Al-Qaeda still has real estate in Afghanistan. Women are still treated unequally. Even if extremism is publicly criticized and discouraged there are subversive private lives and barely-secret movements that are still a part of every country. Even the United States.

Bush makes similar simple claims about Iraq then adds

There's legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than 7 years without another terrorist attack on our soil.

There can be great debate about the results. Are they even results? He scampers from black and white thinking over to a feeble post hoc ergo propter hoc argument.

Then away from arguments of evidence to arguments of principle:

I have always acted with the best interests of the country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what i thought was right.

This is not enough. My complaint has never been that he didn't follow his conscience. The problem is that his conscience is flawed. His sense of right is perverted. If he thought it was right to fabricate evidence and to allow torture then his assurance of good intentions is meaningless. His intentions are different from mine.

Here then is the capsule of his hamartia:

Good and evil are present in this world. And between the two there can be no compromise. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right.

Bush does not understand that good and evil do not always exist in opposition to each other. That the structures of good and evil comprise many decisions principles and intentions that are neither good nor evil. He is unable to grasp the ridiculous irony of using the following statement in his own defense.

Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time everywhere.

Intentions are meaningless when you don't have the interest to get a logical grasp of the structure of your own morality.


Casey said...

Hmmm... you make it tough to disagree -- not because of your overwhelmingly convincing argument, but because I'm hesitant to become guilty-by-understanding.

Concerning your first point: "No country is ever completely any of those things." Actually, lots of countries are completely not stoning their young women and are completely encouraging girls to go to school... America, for instance.

Of course, insofar as Bush is implying a kind of "domino-theory" as justification -- suggesting that we might be stoning our women in 100 years if we don't go to war with Iraq -- he's in la-la land.

But that isn't the central thrust of his argument -- you can say he would've been better advised to simply leave the gushy-stuff about women's lib out altogether, then, if it's not his central point... but only if you don't understand the way that political rhetoric works at all: soften them up, then make your point.

Bush's thesis is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented further terrorist incidents on American soil... I don't know how anyone can say that in late September of 2001 they would have been comfortable not waging any kind of war -- just crossing our fingers and hoping nothing happened again. Individual heros can occasionally do that kind of thing. No nation-state ever has. And despite the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc accusation, I think it borders on disingenuous to give no credit to Bush for keeping terrorism without our natinal border for seven years. In fact, I'd like to hear more about the "legitimate debate" about Bush's decisions... the platform is yours. It's October of 2001 and you're the President. Or it's 2004 and you're still not doing anything when Madrid is attacked. Literally everyone I knew in 2001 was saying things like, "Well, America's exemption from this kind of thing couldn't last forever... now we'll have to get used to it." The fact is, we haven't had to get used to it.

But specifics aside, I take issue most with your "political-metaphysics." The idea that a grayish-nuanced view of the world is inherently better than a black/white view of the world is itself a black/white notion.

As any good Taoist could tell you, the manichean or dialectical view of the world has built as many successful nation-states as the grayish-nuanced view has, and neither has yielded any more or less justice.

What the (consciously self-described & unselfconscious) "postmodernists" have not yet recognized is that there is a time for stark delineations and a time for muddying the waters when it comes to thinking about good & evil.

You may disagree with Bush's timing, but disagreeing with his black/white worldview philosophically... well it doesn't convince me. You would not criticize MLK's black/white view of Justice in favor of a more nuanced view of the world. Same goes for Ghandi, Lincoln, etc. If I'm right about that, then it's not the black/white worldview, but your conclusion that war was not the answer in this particular instance... in other words, you think Bush's view was black/white when it should've been white/black.

As Bush moves out of office and into history, criticizing him for going to war is too easy -- developing countertheses is required. Gitmo seems to be the place where this is beginning to happen... Obama is already backing away from his promise to close Gitmo by executive order upon taking office, and his staff is already doing damage control: a CNN article on the matter recently sounded this way: "A third group of inmates, Holder indicated, can't be tried 'for a variety of reasons' but also can't be released because they are too dangerous."

It's fascinating to watch the media "adjust" themselves... while Bush was president Gitmo was a human rights disaster, but with Obama president we're going to hear about how dangerous some of these guys are? Really?

Well, thanks for letting me vent -- you can delete this if it's too annoying... I suppose I'm just sick of hearing black&white essays and articles about how Bush's black&white worldview is responsible for all the injustice in the world.

To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn)...

fenhopper said...

Actually, lots of countries are completely…

you really believe that in education and its successions, women are treated just like men here? they're not. and especially when we see that in religious communities the disparity is often greater the u.s. starts showing a lot of the same behavior without the same actions. and there is stoning too when we consider other forms of violence and we turn away from defining a country only by the letter of its policies. yes, there is more equality here than in many other countries. but to argue that we have succeeded in achieving equal rights is a lie. it doesn't make us an evil country. but we are a country in which bigotry and sexism and intolerance are still fomenting inequality. we have the end of it embedded in our principles. and no, i don't expect bush to make that a part of his speech. tho i'd be impressed if he did.

i understand political rhetoric and i can see that it works. but that doesn't mean i have to admire it. or think that a speech that relies on it in its most simple form is 'pretty good'. some pretty good speeches are bullshit.

back in 2002 i signed a petition saying that the war in iraq was wrong. i didn't think there was cause and i didn't see any benefit. now we know there was no cause and we are told to see the 7 years without an attack as the benefit. but are we sure the silence didn't come from somewhere else? streamlining and focusing intelligence? heeding reports that had previously looked irrelevant. and following indications that were promising. and just for the sake of argument let's say that all of the policies that respected the constitution were already sufficient if faithfully executed.

the increased security measures at airports after 2001 were young and sloppy and 8 years later they're still pretty wasteful. i'm guessing you're also sick of the atlantic, but jeffrey goldberg has said some important things about the "security theater" that looks good but really isn't.

i remember flying in october of 2001 through philadelphia and at several points seeing that i had access to lines and terminals without going through checks. i really could have taken anything on the plane with me. with just a little planning -- anything. that very day a man called up the fbi or faa or something to tell them that he had boarded a plane in philly with contraband just to prove that he could.

my point: the measures didn't hurt. but they started off with more bluster than muscle and they've gotten better but they're still mostly show -- and the war in iraq is the biggest show with the least benefit. followed closely by the suspension of civil rights. the 7 years of safety have not been the result of attacking a fabricated mask of the enemy. they have probably been the result of many of the measures that were already in place being more carefully administered.

i don't disagree with a black and white worldview. because there is black and there is white. what i disagree with is a black and white argument that intends to excuse mistakes that are clear when nuance is considered. because there is always nuance. not only nuance. always nuance.

by using the black and white argument bush defends a war that was based on no evidence -- because evil doesn't wait for a full investigation. he defends the expansion of presidential powers -- because all it takes for evil to prevail is for a good president to do nothing. he defends the suspension of the constitution -- because the constitution is supposed to protect good not evil. he defends radical american exceptionalism -- because america by definition doesn't do anything evil.

i don't attack all of mlk's or ghandi's or lincoln's arguments of good/evil, because they viewed good as an action not a goal. it's not that they said anything for justice and i think yes -- anything. rather they said that justice is equality and i agree. and they taught a persistent and uncomfortable but nonviolent insistence. i can support that. but not if they tell me that this view of non-violence means that i can't kick someone's ass if they attack my wife. i'm not willing to be black and white about that ideal.

look -- i'm not attacking bush for thinking in black and white. i'm criticizing him for using the b/w argument to say that he was morally obligated to make choices that i believe were abuses of his office.

but he has also argued at times (tho not as well as cheney has) that we have to see more nuance in the choices and we have to excuse him because our views of right and wrong are too simple. i attack that argument too. so yes i'm attacking an argument based on its conclusions. by their fruits you shall know them.

fenhopper said...

now... considering that i do actually say that black/white is his fatal flaw and not just a lame argument...

okay. perhaps i attributed a lot of his failing to his worldview. more important i think is his lack of intelligence. maybe he was surrounded by people who understand these things and who made the arguments he would support in pursuit of their agenda that is founded in a quest for power.

he's sort of like the mary warren of the gov't. easily convinced, then dedicated to ignorant conviction. so he killed john proctor.

Casey said...

Ah! -- any time a Mary Warren reference arises, I'm convinced. Well done.

No really, that made a lot of sense to me... I can't tell if I was just disagreeable earlier today or if I was "justified" in reacting so strongly to what I perceived to be your hypocritical black/white attack-rhetoric. Here's to the comments section!

Finally, on the unrelated point of women & education in this country... frankly, no, I don't believe women are being treated equally: I think they're being encouraged disproportionately in education. And this isn't a new development -- women have been the majority in colleges in this country since the early 1980s. And the NY Times article that came up first when I googled "women in college" says that men--whatever their socioeconomic or racial group--are less likely to earn a bachelor's degree. Men also get worse grades than women. Women have pulled even with men in law school enrollments... same in medical school.

And in my personal experience all of this is too-obvious: my brother tells me his male students are far worse than his girls (6th grade), and judge for yourself concerning college students...

I guess I don't know enough about the business world to comment -- maybe there are still closed-door meetings in the VIP rooms at stripclubs across America where women are not permitted. Insofar as that's true, we should change it... maybe not "completely," but America certainly seems headed in a better direction than, say, Afghanistan did in 2000.

Anyway -- I guess I was just venting or something... I have a really difficult time getting so excited about political leaders. Maybe it's in my constitution. If I had to defend it in an academic setting, I would quote Cornel West who never wholly gives over to any political leader, not even Obama. "Divine dissatisfaction," ey? It's not our job to cheer and participate so much as it is to keep our eye on the "more perfect union" of our imaginations. Where have all the Platonic Idealists gone...

fenhopper said...

in the u.s., academia has always been a safe place for women to succeed. in fact much of academia is reserved for women even to many of the highest positions in a school or district. is it a coincidence that much of educational 'ministry' is seen as a maternal calling?

but then doesn't it seems strange that if women are so much more successful academically they are so under-represented after graduation? especially in sciences and technology. yeah things are getting better. and even if there aren't important meetings at deja vu, there are votes and office deals and promotions that account for so many dicks in the boardroom. we're still a society full of male chauvinism. in fact i think the campaign against homophobia is largely a product of this interest in protecting the role and perch of men.

but yes. this is off topic.

The Ridger, FCD said...

The problem with Bush's Manichean world-view is that he uses it to define himself as Good, regardless of what he does. He doesn't think the ends justify the means, he truly thinks that Good people can't do Evil and Evil people can't do Good. It's why he refuses to talk to "terrorists" or Iran, why he believes that nothing any American did was torture, and so on.

fenhopper said...

well said. it's what i was trying to express.