The Beinart Effect
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In my characteristically belated, catching-up kind of way, I’ve finally decided what I think of that New York Times roundtable on liberalism featuring Peter Beinart, Michael Tomasky, and Katrina vanden Heuvel. Yes, I know– I’ll be weighing in on the significance of the French Revolution next (though personally, I think it’s too soon to tell on that one). Most of what I’ve read so far, among liberals-progressives-lefties, takes Beinart to task for repeating one of the ripest items in the RNC bag of chestnuts: “It’s remarkable to me how many people still mention the fact that [the anti-abortion Pennsylvania governor] Bob Casey was denied the right to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention.” Yeah, well, it’s really remarkable to me too, since, as everyone and her brother has pointed out, Casey was actually denied a speaking slot because he hadn’t endorsed the damn Clinton/Gore ticket. Listen. Anyone who repeats this canard again is a GOP android. You don’t have to go to all the trouble of giving them the Voigt-Kampff empathy test from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?– just ask them if the Democrats are so stridently pro-abortion that they wouldn’t even let poor Bob Casey speak at the 1992 convention. If they say yes, you may feel free to “retire” them.
And then there’s Beinart’s last-gasp defense of the thing that has been killing Democrats for the past three years, the item on which Kerry was so spectacularly, extravagantly incoherent. Iraq. Beinart is no longer pro-war, but:
Let me say a couple of things as someone who did support the war in Iraq. There is no question that the war is going very, very badly. But I think two things remain even if we do end up deciding that Iraq was a terrible disaster. The first is that there is an important connection between dictatorship and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Secular dictators like Saddam Hussein or secular autocrats like Hosni Mubarak create a political dynamic in which liberalism gets weakened and weakened. And the only alternative becomes Islamic fundamentalism.
I happen to think he’s right that there is such a connection, and that its roots go all the way back to the CIA’s Original Sin of overthrowing Mossadeq in Iran and installing the Shah in 1953. (Though I don’t mean this to suggest that I think we’re to blame for everything that’s happened in the region since; nor do I think that we “created” Islamism by means of our foreign policy. I think Islamists did that pretty much on their own.) I also think that liberals and leftists should be at one in opposing dictatorships regardless of whether they involve any Islamic fundamentalism. But this is not, not, not a justification for pre-emptive invasion and war. Saying– or even implying– that the connection between dictatorship and Islamic fundamentalism is a legitimate reason for war in Iraq is tantamount to signing on for the entire century-long PNAC package of wars in the Middle East, as one dictatorship after another is toppled in Syria, Iran, Jordan, and then we have to decide just how we’re going to tell our secular autocratic friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that we’re coming to clear them out.
But, folks, I know you know all this already. So I’m going to focus not on Beinart himself but on the Beinart Effect. His clarion call in last December’s essay, “A Fighting Faith”– as Mark Schmitt put it last month, “apparently soon to be a major motion picture perhaps starring John Cusack as the late Senator Henry M. Jackson”– for Democrats to repudiate Michael Moore and MoveOn.org contained a tiny but crucial grain of truth: Michael Moore does indeed go around saying that terrorism is a phantom menace. “For Moore,” Beinart wrote, “terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where’s My Country?, he says it plainly: ‘There is no terrorist threat.’ And he wonders, ‘Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?’” The closing minutes of Fahrenheit 9/11 strike a similar note, as well.
Now, it’s one thing to ridicule the color-coded terror alerts and Tom Ridge’s special sales on duct tape. That ridicule is entirely appropriate, especially when you take into account the very curious timing of those orange alerts. It’s quite another thing to say, as Ed Herman did in December 2001, “the idea that the Taliban is a fascist and expansionist threat, and that Islamic fundamentalism more broadly speaking is the same, doesn’t hold water.” Remarks like these suggest that one wing of the American left just doesn’t take Islamic fundamentalism or al-Qaeda very seriously, and they (that is, the remarks and the people who’ve made them) have now become the source of both Paul Berman’s and Peter Beinart’s analogies between what they see as the naive, trusting fools who were soft on Communism in 1947 and the naive, trusting fools who are soft on Islamism today. (My 2003 review of Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, which broaches this issue at greater length than I’ll impose on you in this post,
is now available online here.) [UPDATE: Nope, not anymore. They yanked it! Very well, here’s a .pdf version.]
The problem, then, is that this determined underestimation of political Islam and groups like al-Qaeda produces a compensatory overestimation of political Islam and groups like al-Qaeda. Josh Marshall– no shrinking violet he, and no lefter-than-thou guy either– called Berman on this phenomenon almost two years ago in his review of the book, suggesting that Terror and Liberalism had given in to what he called “The Orwell Temptation,” the tendency to “take momentous, morally serious questions and make them out to be slightly more momentous and world-historical than they really are.” The Beinart Effect is a closely related phenomenon; it is not, however, a question of how the “soft” left has affected Beinart so much as a question of how Beinart’s insistence on “a fighting faith” has affected other liberals.
And here, this leather-clad and easily-caricatured blog is looking at you, Michael Tomasky. Don’t get me wrong– I love you like a brother or maybe a cousin; I didn’t much care for your argument, ten years ago, that the academic left bore some responsibility for the Gingrich Revolution (you remember that line about how we “sit around debating the canon at a handful of elite universities and arguing over Fish’s and Jameson’s influence on the academy”), but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of your work since, and I cite you all the time, really I do. But you’ve got to stop saying things like this (from that Times roundtable):
First, terrorism is a threat. It threatened our shores more directly than the Soviet Union ever did. And it must be the focus of a foreign policy.
The “threatened our shores more directly than the Soviet Union” line is just asking to be kicked, and (as I’m sure you’re aware), the sharp-toed Tom Tomorrow delivered precisely that kick two weeks ago. Quite apart of whether it’s accurate (and it’s not), it plays right into Beinart’s thesis in “A Fighting Faith,” and promises to fight even harder to combat the most serious threat we have ever faced, ever.
Likewise, you really shouldn’t have announced your “principled realism” in The American Prospect by way of that banner headline, “Between Chomsky and Cheney.” Look, I know what this really means: it means Chomsky supports no international interventions led by the U.S. or its allies, military or otherwise, and Cheney supports international intervention 24/7, preferably unilateral, military and otherwise, whereas principled realists support some international interventions (Liberia and Darfur as well as Afghanistan, say), maybe led by the U.S., maybe not, and preferably (though not dogmatically) not military. And I realize that you can’t fit all that on a magazine cover. But if you really split the difference between Chomsky and Cheney, you wind up with Scoop Jackson or Joe Lieberman, and trust me, you don’t want that.
Besides, as Rick Perlstein pointed out to me a few days ago, there’s something very, very troubling about the whole Beinart analogy between anti-Islamism and anti-Communism, and “principled realists” ought to be much more wary of it than they are. Yes, the Americans for Democratic Action met at the Willard Hotel in 1947. Yes, they announced their opposition to Communism “because the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere” and America should support “democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over.” And yes, they had a better sense of totalitarianism than did their critics on the left at the time. But it doesn’t seem, in retrospect, that this managed to inoculate American liberals and progressives against McCarthyism over the course of the ensuing decade. A fat lot of good it did, actually. When the shock troops of the Right broke down your door fifty-odd years ago, searching for spies and softies and fellow travelers and people who’d voted for Norman Thomas in 1932 and people who knew someone who’d just denounced the Taft-Hartley Act, and when you insisted, as you were being led away, that you were in fact an anti-Communist, you remember what the reply was: they didn’t care what kind of Communist you were.
So yes, let’s have a fighting liberalism: let us oppose violent, fundamentalist, patriarchal, homophobic, and theocratic forces abroad, just as we do at home. But let’s not give in to the Orwell Temptation, or its corollary, the Beinart Effect. And let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that adopting a “fighting liberalism” will keep the wolves of the Right at bay.
This here sentence:
The problem, then, is that this determined underestimation of political Islam and groups like al-Qaeda produces a compensatory overestimation of political Islam and groups like al-Qaeda.
is the only thing I’d really quibble with. I’d call it a post hoc ergo propter hoc problem were it not for my sense that the overestimation predated the (arguable) underestimation.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/18 at 12:15 PM
I think that the deniers are closer to right than you claim. The fundamentalists have no industrial or technical base and no significant military. Islam is divided into many mutually-hostile nations and sects, and Muslims speak many different languages. They are far from most centers of civilization. All they have is oil rents, proximity to oil fields and Israel, and suicide bombers. Israel (smaller and closer than we are) has been taking their worst shots for more than three decades, and there’s been an enormous cost but Israel is still doing fine.
Contrast Hitler and Stalin (who incidentally were in power simultaneously, and at one time controlled or dominated all of continental Europe between the two of them).
Nuclear proliferation IS a serious issue, but it is so regardless of who it is who gets the bombs.
The whole planned twenty-year war is a proactive discretionary war—those are euphemisms. We’re doing it because we want to and because we can. The threat of fundamentalism has been ludicrously exaggerated in order to justify the big plan. (As well as the acconpanying witchhunt, as you said).
After the fall of the USSR, panicky strategic planners started asking who the next big enemy would be. China, the narcoterrorists and (I’m not kidding) the ecoterrorists were suggested, but the Islamofascists won. (China was not chosen because they may well be an actual threat, sooner or later—and besides, we owe them too much money.)Posted by John Emerson on 03/18 at 12:19 PM
PS: “underestimation” on the part of folks like Mr. Herman. The neocons, obviously, underestimated the “Islamofascist peril” just fine on their own long before the 28th annivrsary of the Pinochet coup.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/18 at 12:19 PM
I’d call it a post hoc ergo propter hoc problem were it not for my sense that the overestimation predated the (arguable) underestimation.
OK, fair enough, particularly if you’re talking about actual post-9/11 chronology by using that there “predated” word. But I didn’t mean “produced” in precisely that way-- I meant that the Beinart Effect involves citing the remarks of Moore or Herman (or just the face of Chomsky!) and using them to suggest that a whole mess of Democrats out there are not taking al-Qaeda and Islamism seriously enough, unlike us, who will fight, fight, fight like we did in ‘47, except that this time the threat is even more serious. Regardless of whether the underestimation preceded the overestimation or vice versa, that’s how I think the former “produces” the latter.Posted by on 03/18 at 12:25 PM
I tried to slog through Alan Dershowitz’s “Why Terrorism Works,” really I did. But it was impossible to take it seriously after reading just half of the very first sentence in the Introduction: “The greatest danger in the world today comes from religiously inspired terrorist groups--”. If that’s true, we’re in excellent shape, since each of us is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be a victim of a terrorist attack. Michael Moore is right. This from someone who watched the second tower drop from the street where he lives.Posted by on 03/18 at 12:44 PM
It seems like Chris is speaking of posturing on a defense/military level where you, Michael, are talking about the more immediate past of presentation in the public spectrum.
Also valid, in speaking of the way in which threats are perceived, construed, and discussed, is the issue of historical motive - which you touch on in your note regarding ‘53. It seemed a discussion that in the immediate aftermath of 11/Sep/01 was largely absent in the US, and that has now been eclipsed by the Iraq issue. Clearly the US didn’t become a target for no reason.
Finally, for me, it seems like the dichotomy between dictatorship (a la Iraq) and Islamofacist ascendancy is largely affected by the mode of change. Iraq pre-2003 was not exactly a hotbed of such activity; in 2005 that seems undoubtedly to have changed.Posted by on 03/18 at 12:46 PM
Thanks for the clarification, MB. Objection withdrawn.
And it is just the “face of Chomsky,” isn’t it? I’m still waiting for one of the right-trending Chomsky fiskers to give some evidence they’ve actually read the man’s writing.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/18 at 12:49 PM
We were at Columbia at roughly the same time. We have also both reviewed Denby’s book about great books at Columbia. (My review ran in the Starledger.)
There are at least two points to be added. Beinart and his fellows at The New Republic ("TNR")are often motivated by a viscious Anti-Arab racism. Hence, TNR’s embrace of Joan Peters “From Time Immemorial”.
Second, there is a phony toughness that frequently permeates much of the work that TNR writers and alums (such as Beinart, Sullivan and Peretz himself) produce. I suspect, but cannot prove that some of this is due to self-hatred; compensation for both a lack of actual toughness and some psychological baggage that Billmon has hinted at with a reference to “Madame Peretz.”
It is a toxic combination. (I am somewhat torn: I believe in gay rights, but want to refer to Beinart, Sullivan et al as “the fighting faggots”. However, I resent gay-baiting when used against those who opposed the Iraq War, so I am genuinely torn.)
When I think of Krauthammer, I always remember the Spanish philosopher Unamuno’s description of a Phalangist general as a cripple in love with death who wants to see others crippled.Posted by on 03/18 at 02:11 PM
Contrast Hitler and Stalin (who incidentally were in power simultaneously, and at one time controlled or dominated all of continental Europe between the two of them).
A pretty irrelevant quibble, but Switzerland was neither dominated nor controlled by either Hitler or Stalin.
Also...though I’m not sure I entirely agree with Bill’s analysis (#8), it certainly feels good to read the TNR crowd being accused of “self-hatred”!Posted by on 03/18 at 02:44 PM
This hermeneutically conservative blog does not like to accuse anyone of “self-hatred.” We believe that only Charles Krauthammer has the ability to analyze people at great distances. But yes, TNR has been exceptionally hard-line when it comes to the Arab world, and, as I noted in an essay three years ago, the magazine actually steered to the right of the National Review on the Middle East for the first few months after September 11. Let’s not forget their role in ginning up the anthrax scare, as well-- and attributing it quite unambiguously to Saddam.
It was to Beinart’s credit that he ran an issue on Iraq titled “Were We Wrong?” This suggests that he is, at bottom, reality-based. And I will reserve judgment about his vision for Democrats until his book appears. But until then, I admit that I have the feeling that his plan of action, if given the chance, would turn the Dems into something like the antebellum Whigs within the next election cycle or two.Posted by Michael on 03/18 at 03:13 PM
The role of the Communist Party has come up surprisingly often lately as folks like Beinart make inept comparisons with the late ‘40s and the Red menace. In this regard, I think the understandable left response has simply been to join in on the Commie trashing and say that no, we aren’t like them. Even Michael’s defense here, seems to imply that the Red Scare was bad because it thereatened many non-Communists as well as those Commies, who clearly deserved persecution. This, however, simplisticly writes off a more complex history of who was in the CP and why they joined.
Let’s remember that, while yes, many Communists were naive, uninformed or in denial about Stalin and his atrocities, most people did not join the CP because they supported the Great Patriotic Leader’s Third Five Year Plan for Ukraninan Agricultural Reform. They joined because (1) for years, the CP was the only party which actively recruited African-Americans and supported anti-discrimination laws, anti-lynching laws and racial integration; (2) their members included some of the most aggressive and successful labor organizers and leaders, who were unwilling to make deals with managemetn; and (3) in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, they were wary of jumping form the world’s largest and most brutal war into an atomic conflict with a nation which had been our ally a few years prior.
For all of the CP’s flaws, and they were many, they deserve some credit as well. For instance, the Democratic Party never would have passed its landmark civil rights plank at its 1948 convention were it not for the threat of CP supported Henry Wallace. Prior to that, the Dems were the party of Jim Crowe and lynching.
The CP, as an international matter, supported totalitarianism, but so did the Dems and the GOP. Part of the Beinart effect is denying this history, and painting a picture of the left that is fundamentally anti-American, ignorant and naive.Posted by on 03/18 at 03:37 PM
Berube: “My position may still imply a kind of soft, liberal imperialism...” Isn’t this a little bit like getting raped by a man who brought you flowers and candy?Posted by on 03/18 at 03:49 PM
sku, exactly. Which reminds me of how little credit the National Socialists are routinely given for their progressive autobahn policy. Nobody was thinking that far ahead for modern transportation options, certainly not the so-called Christian democratic or pathetic social democratic forces in interbellum Germany.Posted by on 03/18 at 03:58 PM
Wow, the Horowitzian “leftists=Nazis” trope spotted in the wild!
Someone catch it; I’ll get out the kill jar!Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/18 at 04:02 PM
We’re agreed about the actual composition of the membership of the CP way back in the day, sku. I’m quite familiar with the history of African-American involvement in the CP, which is why I think Andrew Sullivan should have been tarred and feathered for red-baiting Kerry last year on the utterly hallucinatory grounds that Kerry’s campaign was alluding to Langston Hughes, who was . . . a Communist. What was that, a fatwa against anyone who dares to quote a long-dead African-American intellectual on the left? What’s next, a ban on using the term “double consciousness” or citing Du Bois’s essay on the death of his son?
But as you’re probably aware, the history of the relations between African-American leaders (and everyone else) and the CP is a tangled and thorny one (insert obligatory citation to Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual here), and if we want to give credit where credit is due with regard to struggles organized around labor and race, we have to credit the history of African-Americans’ disillusionment with the CP as well.
And Louis, thanks for the candy! you know I wrote those words just for you (OK, for you and a couple of other people). Here’s the full sentence, for everyone else: “My position may still imply a kind of soft, liberal imperialism-- a determination, in Berman’s spirited closing words, to be ‘for the freedom of others’ (210) regardless of whether those others are currently claiming they want nothing to do with freedom. But it has one important advantage, namely, that it does not put lovers of liberal democracy in the position of resting their hopes on leaders who despise liberals.” Bush’s invocations of “freedom” are contentless; Berman’s, which I criticize in the essay, are thin and inadequate. Here are mine: all humans should be considered to have equal claim to basic human rights such as food, shelter, education, health care, and political representation; and we should endow each other with these rights, knowing full well that they are alienable and that we must work to interpret and to sustain them. There’s your soft imperialism, m’fren’.Posted by Michael on 03/18 at 04:30 PM
So you were being ironic when you used the word imperialism. How pomo of you. I am just glad that you didn’t call for liberal fascism, or something else just as obscurantist.Posted by on 03/18 at 05:13 PM
Actually, being “‘for the freedom of others’ regardless of whether those others are currently claiming they want nothing to do with freedom” is a form of soft imperialism. It doesn’t involve invasions and occupations-- but it does involve advancing liberalism over against theocracy and secular tyranny. It’s not an easy question to finesse when you’re dealing with people who support theocracies and tyrannies, which is why the postmodern insistence on “incommensurability” remains, despite all the ancillary nonsense associated with postmodernism over the past twenty years, a useful thing.Posted by Michael on 03/18 at 05:27 PM
Gosh, and here was silly me having the notion that imperialism described US behavior in the Philippines. How backward and cloddish of me not to understand that it really meant being for the freedom of others. What a peasant I is.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master—that’s all . . . When I make a word do a lot of work . . . I always pay it extra.”Posted by on 03/18 at 05:36 PM
Chris Clarke, not at all a leftists=Nazis comparison.
Merely a liberal who cautions that ANY movement can be said to have had some positive effect through alliances or otherwise. But those trivial or momentous beneficial effects should never cloud our eventual judgment of the entirety.
Liberalism is stained by association with the Party, and we should no more excuse it than the Republicans should excuse the afficianados of the Confederacy amongst their ranks. The Confeds did resist the forces of modernizing capital, after all.
Pomo nuance is wonderful, but when it leads to denial of evil, it abets illiberal outcomes.Posted by on 03/18 at 05:37 PM
"So yes, let’s have a fighting liberalism: let us oppose violent, fundamentalist, patriarchal, homophobic, and theocratic forces abroad, just as we do at home.”
outside the context of the all the little PNCers and Talibans and Saudi Royal Families and (what was that French racist politician the other year--Le Pen?) and the creepy US Dominionists and so on, as separate forces with specific geographies and sets of cirumstances & histories, what we really have is something much much larger, and completely transnational.
having the good fortune to spend a certain amount of time socially with a nicely international group of people here--to me it seems quite obvious that i have far more in common in terms of my essential beliefs about life & humanity & the planet with my counter-parts from Turkey and Palestine, the African nations--you name the place, than i do with the far-right forces (particularly the fundamentalist religious forces) in MY OWN nation, and the same is true for my colleagues, in reverse.
as the Turkish husband (a US citizen just recently,) of one of my friends said to me during the build up to the invasion of Iraq: “If Bush wanted to go liberate Saudi Arabia from the Royal Family and Wahabism, I’d enlist in his army today.”
and this man, like myself, has family “back home” out in the more rural areas of his country, who, like my own family out in the PA hinterlands, are very “traditionally religious,” very nationalistic, and all of whom would *possibly* stand aside while our respective states JAILED people like Ariziz or myself for our political activities or beliefs (well, of course, that was actually happening for a while in Turkey already anyway.)
i think we are trying to work something out for ourselves, as a species, all across the globe. being no political philosopher or world historian, i am not qualified to state definitively what question exactly we are all trying to answer, but it seems to be a fairly universal one having to do with how we are going to get along and live on this planet, despite our many differences--do the powerful have to digest or remove those who disagree, or can different peoples co-exist and tolerate one another, even cooperate, for the good of all?
sorry to rant on for so long (and so amateurishly,) but i am confounded sometimes as to why this has to be so damn difficult! what is WRONG with some people, that they won’t even try? i don’t care what god/dess, ethical/political/economic system, color, gender, orientation, WHATEVER someone is--if they like it & they aren’t hurting anyone else against that person’s/group’s will, bully for them and i have no desire to convince them otherwise. we don’t all have to be friends, but can’t we at least learn to leave each other the hell alone?
war makes Librarian angry.
and this chicken-egg thing about the underestimation and overestimation of the issues reminds me of some kind of Star Trek premise: we’re all getting stuck in a mutually parasitic, escalating spiral where we feed off each other until we blow up the space-time continuum. we’re like kids on a playground who keep pushing each other with more force each time until some adult steps in to stop it...except, where are the adults?
-L.Posted by Librarian on 03/18 at 06:00 PM
Liberalism is stained by association with the Party, and we should no more excuse it than the Republicans should excuse the afficianados of the Confederacy amongst their ranks.
Assuming that you do not, as so many people do these days, conflate the CPUSA with the whole of the radical left, nor the rank and file members with the CPUSA leadership, I find I cannot entirely disagree. Except for the fact that lliberalism has had virtuallly no association with the Party for the best part of a half century, that is. Even 25 years ago in Buffalo, once a CPUSA stronghold, I knew of exactly two CPUSA members who were in any way politically active other than paying steel mill union dues and reading the Daily Worker.
Pomo nuance is wonderful, but when it leads to denial of evil, it abets illiberal outcomes.
Here’s some of what sku said:
Let’s remember that, while yes, many Communists were naive, uninformed or in denial about Stalin and his atrocities,...
For all of the CP’s flaws, and they were many,...
The CP, as an international matter, supported totalitarianism,
Hardly seems like unqualified support to me.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/18 at 06:00 PM
wow. Godwin’s Law is met, after only 13 posts--is this a record?
-L.Posted by Librarian on 03/18 at 06:10 PM
Wow, I’ve never been called pomo or nuanced before. I gotta’ get meself a black leather jacket!Posted by on 03/18 at 06:21 PM
From reading the comments above and from MB’s post, i keep coming back to the comment:
let us oppose violent, fundamentalist, patriarchal, homophobic, and theocratic forces abroad, just as we do at home.
There is a substantive difference between acts of terror and the various forces that choose or do not choose to use that particular form of overt violence to make their claim for their cause. This is particularly true “at home.” Categorizing threats to our well being: to the health and welfare of our children and grandchildren, to the economic sustanance of our communities, to the free access to our needs, could lead us to rightly acknowledge that behaviors by the US government, precipitated by a multitude of corporate interests, are hideous and horrible attacks upon us. Knowingly toxifying environments, for example, in the pursuit of increasing profitability is evil incarnate. This type of act isn’t being perpetrated by necessarily fundamentalist, patriarchal, homophobic, or theocratic forces (well maybe) per se, and does not represent an overt act of terror, but such an act requires the victims to choose sets of responses that probably need to be of a radical fear-inspiring nature in order to make their point. These responses would be considered acts of terror by the powers that be, and would be used to inspire more repressive and oppressive interdictions against the whole of the population.
Thus the tangled web of interrelated escalation of violence, all in the guise of securing a healthy and safe future.Posted by on 03/18 at 06:59 PM
"Switzerland was neither dominated nor controlled by either Hitler or Stalin.”
Yes, and after thinking things over carefully, they freely decided not to support the Allied war effort.
Nor did Sweden. (Jan Myrdal is probably an unreliable witness, but he claims that Sweden was apro-Axis neutral).Posted by John Emerson on 03/18 at 07:08 PM
Are you trying to be mean by linking to this? I’d really like to read your review if it’s still available.Posted by on 03/18 at 08:26 PM
though personally, I think it’s too soon to tell on that one:
citation: Chou En LaiPosted by on 03/18 at 08:30 PM
I read the review just 6 hours ago but can’t get it now. I guess FindArticles unlisted it.Posted by eb on 03/18 at 08:55 PM
I’m still waiting for one of the right-trending Chomsky fiskers to give some evidence they’ve actually read the man’s writing.
Oh, but they have. Haven’t you heard? Chomsky supported Pol Pot. Where’s that old Nation article, I know I’ve got it here somewhere.
My leftist union organizer grandfather was old enough to be a CPUSA member but he didn’t join and he warned me off, not with concern about Stalin’s atrocities but rather the CP’s stalinist efforts to turn every organization they “infiltrated” into a spear point for their own ends. That advice given before I turned 17. At 18, I joined SDS and have since had to explain myself to every liberal - paleo, pomo, hawk or dove - for the damage done by Progressive Labor and Weatherman.
Great piece, Michael. And since you’ve answered Chris’s mild objection to his satisfaction, I’m with him - no remaining quibbles.Posted by on 03/18 at 09:10 PM
Abby, eb-- yep, FindArticles unlisted it. What, did everyone here run right over and read it, so that FindArticles suddenly got all pissy about free information? Very well, I’ve posted an update-- and a copy of the .pdf version that’s available on the “essays” section of this site.
Meteor Blades, welcome-- thanks for stopping by and passing along a kind word. It’s much appreciated. By me, that is.
And sku, it takes more than a leather jacket to be pomo and nuanced. You also need the Penn State fleece underneath.Posted by on 03/18 at 09:27 PM
Funny, my union organizer grandfather had a very different take on Communists. He didn’t mind them being around because they worked hard, would volunteer to stuff envelopes and other organizing activities, and were easy to get rid of when they became a problem.
I don’t think he ever used the term “useful dupes”, but that’s sure how he thought of them.Posted by on 03/19 at 01:24 AM
Now if only someone would call me clumpy...I could quit my job and go on the academic job market.Posted by on 03/19 at 01:49 PM
First, did you not credit Chou En Lai with the quip about the French Revolution, because it’s so old that it’s now common property? Or are you holding back from admitting you found a Commie funny and worth quoting because of the inevitable wingnut swoons and vapors?
Second, Michael Moore is making a much bigger point than that there’s no terrorist threat--that’s a reductionism that DOES make him sound irresponsible and out of touch. Watch Bowling for Columbine--same point there also. He’s saying that our twisted public servants have created a huge culture of fear, the better to control us. If terrorism was really the overriding threat that Bush pretends (9/11 changed everything--absolutely everything), then they would have done more to protect us. Moore’s not saying terrorism is not a threat the way you tell a child that the bogeyman is not a threat. He’s saying it’s not a threat the way you’d tell a phobic person that flying isn’t dangerous, or sharks aren’t a threat if you swim in the ocean.Posted by on 03/19 at 05:12 PM
Sorry, I’ve always thought of Peter Beinart as Andrew Sullivan without the disco.Posted by on 03/19 at 10:42 PM
There’s a huge gap between the actual threat of non-state terrorism and the response of the Bush administration to it. Yes, containment (wonder what made me think of that). Yes, the ability to respond quickly and effectively. Yes, covert action (hmm, same source). But the addition of a huge, overarching, so-far-completely-useless government department? One does get the sense that the administration has something else in mind altogether!
Then there’s the argument that if you choose the Right, you will reduce your risk of being in a terrorist attack while, if you choose the Left, you will be exposed to daily risk. Nothing I can think of supports that, can you? Aside from the Democratic Party’s embrace of the military, enough to make it look positively rightwing now and then, it does have the sense to realize that we’re losing more people in this country from poor healthcare than from kamekazis.
And back to Kennan for a moment: we are only adding to our woes when we allow the gov-church-corporation triumvirate to run our lives. The Right has a history of inflating enemies (communism included) in order to line their pockets and diminish our freedom and welfare.
Me? I pay attention to Orwell. I’ve never paid any attention to Beinart. Any reason one should?Posted by PW on 03/20 at 04:32 PM
Since your trackback function doesn’t seem to work, I’ll just comment that I’ve answered to this post at the blog at the address below, and you’re completely wrong on this issue:
Terorism is a law enforcement issue, something that at its worst killed less people than drowned accidentally the same year; it’s a phantom threat used by our governments to scare us into supporting them, something that became very blatant during the recent terrorism debate in the UK, when good old Bliar tried the scare tactic of 200 Al Queda terrorists on the loose in the country, to drum up support for his draconian laws..Posted by Martin Wisse on 03/20 at 07:59 PM
Actually, Martin, but (as I’ve noted on your site, in response to your response) the point of my post is that the Beinart Effect leads otherwise intelligent liberals and progressives to take the threat of terrorism too seriously. I was, after all, criticizing Mike Tomasky for saying that terrorism must be the focus of our foreign policy.
Raenelle-- in response to your question, (a), so old and well-worn as to be common property, like unto a literary allusion. And I understand your citation of Bowling for Columbine, the most useful point of which had to do precisely with that culture of fear (as opposed to the stuff about the NRA, which was low-hanging fruit, and the contentlessness of his observation that we dropped bombs on Kosovo the same day Columbine happened), but those last few minutes of F9/11 gave me a couple of cringes nonetheless. Just me, you know. But kudos to Kerry for saying-- in the New York Times Magazine the month before the election, no less-- that terrorism is primarily a law enforcement issue. The left should have given him more props for that, and everyone on the right who pilloried him for that remark should be ashamed of themselves.
And sku, I hate to raise the bar again, but it’s not enough to be called clumpy. Your humor has to be called clumpy, and that’s a lot harder to pull off than it looks.Posted by Michael on 03/20 at 08:45 PM
Well, Michael, as long as you’ve still got that faux-Jagger jacket on…
My humor’s been called clumpy
By a foe of Hubert Humphrey
(That’s not really true)
Oh my humor I acquits
in fine form, Mr. Horowitz
How ‘bout you?
I’ve been networked, I’ve been panned around
By every goat-boy in this town
Have you, Dave?
Well, I am just a clumpy man
And Dave, you need a grumpy talking-to
I was born in the Cold War
I was Cartered and I was Gored
But I pulled on through
Yes, omelets need broken eggs
So you say, you rightist dregs
Well, I know we talk of ale and lambic
Writing stanzas dithyrambic
Making fun of you
Well I am just a clumpy man
And Dave, you need a grumpy talking-toPosted by Chris Clarke on 03/20 at 11:57 PM
Michael - your fighting liberalism is a contrarian position. Thus, it’s content is filled by and responds to its adversaries.
A defensive position, but hardly one apt to attain dominance.
Here’s the problem: buying into the whole Nicomachean line of thinking, we choose our polar vices (Chomsky/Cheney, or is it Moore/Cheney, or is it Chamberlain/Churchill, or...), and then bicker over who reflects the mean (is it Kerry? Lieberman? Clinton?).
At the end of the day, whatever markers we select are meaningless because the methodology locks us into a universe of thought. We become, like Beinart, android respondents against the other side - devoid of an alternative methodology or reasoning pattern of our own selection.
This is the problem of ‘principled realism.’ Like compassionate conservativism, it bears an incoherence or a cynical sugarcoating - like ‘fighting liberalism,’ it gives us words for the sake of comfort, but no direction save ‘anywhere but where Bush wants us to go.’Posted by donzelion on 03/21 at 03:54 AM
I think that everyone thinks of themselves as a principled realist. That’s the problem.
However it does seem to be a wonderful rhetorical device, then.
“We’re the Principled Realists.”
“Really? I’ve always though of myself as a principled realist.”Posted by on 03/21 at 10:47 AM
Judging from all the complimentary comments, I feel I must be missing something--but then, I haven’t been paying attention to politics very long, so I’m probably not quite as sophisticated as some here. But it seems as though what MB is objecting to here is a simple issue of rhetoric, as though all he wants is for PB et al. to scootch over to the left a few paces and everything’ll be fine. If it’s true this piece advocates simply toning down the language, it seems a minor point about which to quibble. If MB is asserting a substantive difference between his position and PB’s, I don’t see it.Posted by on 03/21 at 12:59 PM
Well, DGF, you could start with the war in Iraq, which I opposed. And then there’s the al-Qaeda/ USSR analogy, which I reject. And the Bob Casey line about how the Democrats need to be more tolerant of pro-lifers, which makes me think that PB is a GOP android.Posted by Michael on 03/21 at 01:06 PM
Opposing the war in Iraq is well and good, but the real question is *liberal imperialism*, which MB has managed to shroud in a postmodernist fog.
MB believes that it is okay for the USA to go to war with another country if the government is not run by “good guys”. In other words, it is naughty to arm the contras in Nicaragua but nice to arm the KLA in Kosovo.
This ascribes moral powers to one of the most bloody and criminal governments in world history. Basically “liberal imperialism” can only be defended on the basis of a kind of denial. You have to see the CIA, the US Marines and everything else as a kind of police force that can sometimes do good things like rescue a hostage from murderous thugs or shoot Amadou Diallo when it is feeling cross.
After 200 years of violent and illegal imperialist warmaking, it staggers the imagination that people such as MB can believe that good things can come out of the barrel of an American gun.
Kosovo in flames as Albanians renew war on Serbs
By Harry de Quetteville, Balkans Correspondent
The Telegraph, March 18, 2004
Ethnic Albanians rose against the Serb minority across Kosovo yesterday in co-ordinated attacks on them in the worst bloodletting in the province since the 1999 war.
A French peacekeeper was one of at least 11 people killed in grenade attacks and gun battles. About 250 were injured as the five-year peace in Kosovo was shattered.
The trouble started in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, where thousands of Albanians armed with heavy automatic weapons and hand grenades clashed with Serbs.
The explosion of ethnic violence apparently was provoked by reports that two ethnic Albanian children had drowned in the Ibar River after being pursued to their deaths by a Serb gang. The river is the dividing line between the town’s Serb and Albanian populations.
It is thought that hardline Albanian political parties had been stoking existing tensions before the violence broke out. Fighting later spread south of Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and to towns in the west of the province.
“It’s very dangerous. This is a very large, comprehensive uprising,” said Derek Chappell, a spokesman for the United Nations police force.
He added that the force’s 10,000 officers in the province had been mobilised.
“We are getting reports in all the time, from all over Kosovo. Wherever there is a Serbian population there is Albanian action against them,” he said.Posted by on 03/21 at 02:07 PM
Beinart (along with scores of other liberal hawks) flipped on Iraq, as you noted. He has also unequivocally rejected the Bush Doctrine and neoconservative ideology from the start, I believe. As for the USSR/Al Qaeda comparison, well, you both agree that the latter are a credible threat, so it seems the difference between you is one of degree. Then again, the perceived magnitude of the threat does dictate the response one advocates, so you may have a point there. And I’m 100% with you in objecting to his invocation of the Casey canard, but that’s rather tangential to the larger matter at hand.
Also, thanks for responding.Posted by on 03/21 at 03:31 PM
Actually, Louis, there really is a conundrum involved in championing universal human rights among people who (a) don’t believe in them, (b) believe in them and resist them anyway, or (c) believe in them but only so long as the basis for that belief rests in something other than mere human agreement (as opposed to God or “natural law"). That’s not a postmodernist fog; that’s a real dilemma, and begging your pardon, I don’t think real dilemmas are your strong suit. For instance, lines like this-- “MB believes that it is okay for the USA to go to war with another country if the government is not run by ‘good guys’"-- suggest that you have considerable trouble devising fair and adequate paraphrases of things I’ve actually said. In another of your essays, you manage to construe my agreement with critics of US bombings (and the School of the Americas) as mockery of those critics. I don’t think this kind of misreading will do me any damage, whereas, say, KC Johnson’s claim about me on the Campus Watch website has some potential for mischief; all that happens when you and Ed Herman and Alex Cockburn and company attack me is that my “left” credentials are challenged in places where my “left” credentials couldn’t even buy me a cup of fair-trade coffee in the first place. But it’s not quite right, either.
Now, it’s one thing to oppose the US/NATO war in Kosovo. Many conscientious leftists did so, and still do so. It’s quite another to take your antipathy to what you call “one of the most bloody and criminal governments in world history” and use it as a basis-- as you’ve done-- for arguing in favor of neutrality in World War Two. I think this position is about as morally sound as was my student’s defense of the AJA internment camps, and evinces a considerable insouciance about all forms of genocide that cannot be attributed to the United States-- just as your prize for “bloody government” evinces a lively indifference to the death tolls under Stalin and Mao.Posted by Michael on 03/21 at 04:06 PM
I think this position is about as morally sound as was my student’s defense of the AJA internment camps
Hi, my name’s John, and I’m a blurter.
I was thinking this morning about this very subject (albeit minus the sniping).
What it boils down to is this question: can the US, after the role it has played in global politics, ever again lay claim to the mantle of “Moral Actor” on the world stage?
I think there are good arguments to be made against a “No” answer, but I think there are equally cogent points to be made in favor. (Upcoming essay on this subject to be titled “Between Chomsky and Zinn.")
While I think the WWII question does function well as a sort of disguised hypothetical about “The Next Hitler,” I do find it slightly off-point:
First off, the US of 1939 was significantly different from the US of 2005. 1939’s US was an imperial power, to be sure, with hands far from clean, but we did our real damage to all that is right and good in the world post-war… as Horowitz reminds us in his wonderful bookThe Free World Colossus. (I like to promote that book wherever possible, out of sheer spite.)
Secondly, there were in fact left activists who at the time opposed World War Two on moral principle - Dave Dellinger and Thomas Banyacya come to mind - and even granting the wisdom of hindsight, I would classify neither Dellinger’s anarchist pacifism nor Banyacya’s Hopi non-involvement as of a kind with “John’s” Internment Denial.
I’m not talking about Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories here, mind you, but rather more the tendency of latter-day observers to equate World War Two with Ending The Holocaust. The Holocaust was pure evil, but the fight between the Axis and Allies wasn’t “demons v. angels,” as Dresden and Nagasaki amply demonstrate.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/21 at 04:26 PM
MB: Actually, Louis, there really is a conundrum involved in championing universal human rights among people who (a) don’t believe in them, (b) believe in them and resist them anyway, or (c) believe in them but only so long as the basis for that belief rests in something other than mere human agreement (as opposed to God or “natural law"). That’s not a postmodernist fog; that’s a real dilemma, and begging your pardon, I don’t think real dilemmas are your strong suit.
LP: This is a skillful but ultimately flawed evasion. I am not questioning the validity of championing human rights. I am absolutely opposed to the US air force, marines and CIA as agents of accomplishing these goals. If you limited yourself to writing jeremiads against alleged wrongs done to the Bosnians, it would be one thing. It is another to advocate the use of Cruise Missiles to right such wrongs. You really should study the history of British imperialism of the 19th century. In most instances the enemy were not that different from al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The Mahdist revolt is the most interesting example. After they beheaded Colonel “China” Gordon and levelled Khartoum, the same outcry went out in London as after 9/11.
Finally, I just had an exchange with Carl Davidson on WWII that conveys my true attitude, which can hardly be described as “neutrality”.
I invite others to read it at:Posted by on 03/21 at 04:32 PM
The “liberal imperialism” query is intriguing, and Chris, I think your post follows on that thread. But I see a different “real point” in the above essays: phrase regimes and social imaginaries, to yoke Lyotard and Charles Taylor rather violently together. The more that leftists and liberals allow the overestimations of, to use Beinart’s words, “America’s new totalitarian foe” to flourish unexamined, the more those theories become normative and shape outlooks such that, but of course, this is way things obviously are in the homeland of the free. Thinking about the right’s successful rush to redefine—-or at least issue reasonable-sounding, common sense explanations of damn near everything, from what a liberal is (thank you not at all David Horowitz) to what compassionate individuals look and act like (Paul Wolfowitz, according to the current president)-—I can’t help but wonder why more liberals and leftists alike are NOT keying in on how the right so readily is dragging the US back to something very like a premodern society. You know, the kind of society that grooves on ranking *oratores, bellatores, and laboratores* and that destroys the public sphere by contorting reason to support power.Posted by on 03/21 at 04:55 PM
I was reading this mornings news when i found this story and lead paragraph:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sternly warned European allies Sunday that they “should do nothing” that alters the military balance of power in Asia through sales of sophisticated weapons to China, suggesting that those arms ultimately could be directed at Americans. “It is the United States–not Europe–that has defended the Pacific.”
There are of course many ways to evaluate this pronouncement from a person whose own public statements have been proven to be false and misleading. That is not the question i have today though. In keeping with the thread of the Beinart Effect, can we radicals/progressives denounce this sort of statement as detrimental to the well being of the planet, and not run afoul of centrist and right conservatives who would propose that we are being uncaring, unattentive, unsupportive about the prosperity and health of the US??? In other words, are we failing to see the action of the EU as a threat to the US when they choose to sell tactical and strategic weapons to China? And if we are failing to see the action of the EU as a threat, are we then “supporting” the actions of other international powers and interests in their attempts to subvert the manifestation of US economic and political power around the globe, thus increasing the risks to our economy and national health???Posted by on 03/21 at 05:51 PM
Long time reader, first time commenter. There’s something else idiotic about Beinart’s claim to being between Chomsky and Cheney --- Dick Cheney runs the country, and Noam Chomsky runs… what?
To draw some comparison whereby Albert / Chomsky / Churchill are compared with Cheney / Perle / Wolfowitz, etc. isn’t even apples vs. oranges --- it’s apples vs. </em>bombs</em>.Posted by eliot on 03/21 at 06:30 PM
Thanks to everyone who’s taking this discussion to the Next Level (yep, you too, Louis-- I can take a few hits here and there). I’m going to be preoccupied over the next few days with my still-overdue reply to Horowitz and then preparations for a conference at which I’m keynoting, so for now, let me address only the most trivial matter above: eliot, the really sorry thing about the “Between Chomsky and Cheney” cover is that it wasn’t the work of Beinart and TNR, it was Tomasky and The American Prospect, a journal I have read since the early 1990s (!) and almost always admire. The day progressives have to take their distance from Chomsky and Cheney in equal measure is the day that the center has been moved about 30 yards downfield and to the right.Posted by Michael on 03/21 at 07:15 PM
just one little word about your comment about pro-lifers being GOP androids. I am a leftist. And I am also pro-life. My mentor in this category is the great Nat Hentoff, leftist author and famed New Yorker, who once told me that he is pro-life, not because of God, or anything like that, but for human-rights reasons. Like him, I too believe that abortion is a human-rights issue, and would believe so even if I were athiest (which Nat is by the way). Believing that life begins at conception, I would argue that if those among us who are the strongest don’t speak up for those of us who are the weakest, we fail as leftists. But the point is, that I’m sure there are more left leaning people out there who feel the same way. I don’t like to be clumped into a check-off list of “things to believe in if you are on the left”.Posted by on 03/21 at 07:20 PM
Believing that life begins at conception,
Well, I’m still waiting, and I’m 45.Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/21 at 08:52 PM
Hey, cb, I didn’t say that pro-life Democrats were androids. I’d never say such a thing. I said that anyone who repeats the canard about how the Democrats discriminate against pro-lifers, and adduces as evidence for this claim the fact that Bob Casey did not speak at the 1992 convention, is an android. And I have the empathy-test results to prove it.
As for whether life begins at conception, I do think that it is a serious mistake to fail to distinguish between “life” and “potential life.” People who don’t make that distinction wind up endowing five-day-old embryos (as well as three-second-old zygotes) with all the rights of actual living persons, and I oppose this position on human rights grounds. I also oppose Hentoff’s belief that when a rape results in a pregnancy, the interests of what he calls the “innocent” results of rape take precedence over the interests of women who have been impregnated by their rapists. Also on human rights grounds.Posted by Michael on 03/21 at 10:44 PM
"And the Bob Casey line about how the Democrats need to be more tolerant of pro-lifers, which makes me think that PB is a GOP android."(see post #42)
Anyway...my idea of “potential life” would be at the point right before the sperm penetrates the egg, after cell division starts, there’s nothing “potential” about that, it’s a done deal. Kind of like saying the horses running the Kentucky Derby after the starting gun are “potential race runners”. The potential for running the race lies behind the starting gates, everything else is, well, the race. But this issue will go down in the books as one which will never be fully resolved, with good folks on both sides making salient arguments.
As for Hentoff’s position about rape...I agree with you. There are certain circumstances that are obvious. But you can’t besmirch Hentoff for his human rights stances...we need more like him.Posted by on 03/21 at 11:12 PM
Actually it is more akin to calling the horses “potential horse race finishers,” instead of “potential race runners.” The arbitrarily chosen moment of gamete joining (and yes it is arbitrarily chosen) as the beginning of what you define as “life” ignores other equally compelling choices: gametes being produced in the ovaries and testes, fetus having the umbilical cord severed outside of the womb, “quickening,” trimesters, the first fetal cell division, etc. As someone who has run a marathon, I think there is a big difference betweeen starting a race and finishing one (another arbitrarily chosen set of cultural conventions)--which brings us to the point of android-ness. Insisting that one definition ("life," “potential,” “race") is right and then throwing the force of law behind one interpretation or view of an infinitely-debatable set of cultural issues takes us further away from considering the human entirety of the situation. cb, you disagree with Hentoff’s take on elevating the rights of a debatable-status entity over the rights of a rape victim, but then go so far as to compliment him on what he calls “human rights.” In this case, a human (the woman) gets stripped of her humanity (the android move--the move that made Michael ‘think’ PB was just such an android) in the name of giving the fetus/blastocyst/person/more-important-person rights. I wouldn’t besmirch anyone for the human rights impulse, but everyone can be rightfully critiqued in how they apply said impulse.Posted by DocMara on 03/22 at 08:53 AM
And again, DocMara, everyone has their right to their opinion...and I also have run a marathon, and there is a difference between running and finishing, but the running counts towards the whole experience...you have to have legs to run. Aterall, it is the running of the race that makes the whole race, not the finish line.
You say that I insist that my definition of life is “right”, yet you just as adroitly defend your stance, and no doubt, think it “just as right” as I think mine is.
Finally, I think you misread my take on Hentoff, because I agree with you and Michael that he misses the target on this one, yet having said that...he still is one of the premier forces behind civil/human rights in this country and I admire his work and individuality.
As far as the “android” move on Michael’s part...defend away if you must. I know what I read. My whole point of the post was to point out that lumping all liberals into one pile is not fair. Many of us do not like the “laundry list” mentality of either party, and are more independent minded. Abortion just being the topic being mentioned.Posted by on 03/22 at 10:16 AM
Just for point of clarification, I think that Michael objected to the explanation that Casey was refused a speaking spot because of his beliefs on abortion, when in fact he was refused a speaking spot because Casey had not endorsed the Clinton/Gore ticket. I don’t think Michael is using that to argue that all Democrats should be in favor of abortion rights, or that Democrats demand that members of their party support abortion rights; I think he’s more fed up that a different explanation has been attributed to Casey’s lack of a speaking role and subsequently held up as evidence that Democrats demand that all true believers should be in favor of abortion rights. Basically, a cause has been retroactively assigned to an effect and used as ammunition in GOP rhetoric.
Here’s a hypothetical analogy: Let’s say that Rick Santorum’s B.S. bill to raise the minumum wage (and dismantle workers’ rights) a few weeks back was the only proposed legislation to raise the minumum wage. Then, let’s say that Democrats voted against it because it ultimately hurt workers. The bill gets defeated, but the GOP subsequently lambast Democrats at every opportunity for not helping workers. In fact, they argue, Democrats want to keep a substandard minumum wage, and by the time the election cycle roles around lazy pundits reinforce this myth by mentioning the time that Democrats voted down an increase to the minumum wage.
Not the cleanest analogy, I know, but I think it illustrates my point that Michael is arguing that the citation of Casey’s not speaking at the 92 convention is a rhetorical deception that serves the GOP’s P.R. instincts.
In calling Beinart an “android,” Michael isn’t categorically disparaging pro-life positions so much as he is attacking Beinart (and many others out there) for confusing a calculated and deliberate lie for reality.Posted by on 03/22 at 12:32 PM
cb, at no point did I insist upon a “right” definition of life. Putting our opinions on equal footing doesn’t apply here because I never stated what my opinion of the matter at hand actually is. I’m only pointing out that the supposed “laundry list” seems to be coming from you. The analogy you use to “correct” Michael--a race--is one that can and should be interrogated. Gun goes off, horses run, horses cross line. We call it a race. Of course, our calling it a “race” depends only upon agreement during the last step. Same with life. Lots of stuff happens, but the place we agree upon as the finish/start line makes all the difference. Otherwise it could be seen as a horse just going through a lot of running (sometimes with horses at a racetrack with lots of people and betting and roses and such), eating and sleeping. As soon as we start throwing some horses into the glue factory for not “winning,” and owners start making money off of winners it starts to be so much more--yoking material consequences to meaning-making. Right now, courts say that woman can make the decision in consultation with her doctor. Calling it “human rights” to change that equation doesn’t change the fact that there is no agreement on where “life” begins. Just because certain groups have sacralized the joining of sperm and egg doesn’t mean that all groups sacralize it; on the other hand, there is more universal (though not universal on a lot of levels) agreement that the woman involved in the situation is a “human.” Not expressing an opinion, or comparing running times (mine are terrible), but merely pointing out that lines are drawn differently.Posted by DocMara on 03/22 at 01:20 PM
Hey folks, I’ve got papers to grade!
For my final response here I will say:
Brian: no clarification is necessary...one would have to be in a coma to not have “gotten” Michael’s analogy. I scored 1340 on my SAT, I can read. MY POINT was that too many times the phrases GOP and PRO LIFE are mentioned in the same breath. There are some of us out here who are different. End of point.
and DocMara: Is Michael some sort of demi-god who is beyond correction? I love the guy but like all pals, one can differ on opinion and bring it to the other’s attention. He’s tough, if he can take a hip-check, he can take this little disagreement in point.
Yes, courts currently say that a woman can chose...and ALL of my friends virtually are in agreement with this. That’s fine. But the “courts” (congress) also said war with Iraq was fine. So much for authority figures. I call it “human rights” as opposed to say...horse rights, because we are talking about humans here.
Finally, you one can pretty much deduce what your opinion on when life begins is. And that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled. But the word “sacralize” you use to give meaning to conception, is exactly what I mean by certain people giving religious meaning to conception when it actually has nothing to do with God. (Suggesting links between the nauseating religious right and pro-life). You can be an athiest and believe life begins at conception.
So debate away folks, we sure as hell won’t solve this. And my grades are due.Posted by on 03/22 at 02:50 PM
cb, never said that Michael is some sort of demi-god. Is questioning your premise akin to placing Berube up on Olympus? I know he can take a hip-check, as I earlier harassed him about his computer breakdown (apparently, my conspiracy theory re:his team tweaked his computer to free themselves of “Albatross Berube” was wrong...). I trust that you can take a disagreement in point as well. Perhaps you should get a blog to attract the acolytes if you think that MB is overly worshipped.
You call it “human rights” (although you were the person who brought up the horse analogy), but as we have established, there is nowhere near consensus on calling it that--my initial point.
You have no idea when I think life begins. You may ask, but you do not have any insight if you claim to be able to deduce what I think from my discussion of how defining conception as the beginning of the life begs the question. I may believe the same, but that doesn’t mean that I can say with the degree of metaphysical certainty that prompts me to join in the truth regieme of the pro-life movement.
As for your characterization of “sacralization” as only having to do with religion, I agree with the wikipedia when it says “Analogously, the word “sacred” is also sometimes used in regard to items highly esteemed by secular institutions or individuals. For instance, one might say that the US government considers the Stars and Stripes to be sacred.” (I know, I don’t allow my students to cite the wikipedia before the OED or Random House Third Unabridged, etc. but it’s all I have access to in this coffeeshop). I was only talking about the concepts/movements of power/knowledge that have ossified in any number of discourse communities. Substitute “place this concept above most reproach” for “sacralize” if you must. I “sacralize” human rights, and as a consequence may have a different threshold for classifying something as “human” than others might. I *know* that the woman is a human--I *believe* that a fetus is a human. I’m not willing to take away rights from the *known* human for the *ostensible* human.
NOW you know what I believe. Good luck with your grading. I’ve got to plan for my teaching as well…Posted by DocMara on 03/22 at 04:06 PM
"Well, I’m still waiting, and I’m 45.”
Chris--i think i’m in your camp on that one, but maybe we are just *potential* life after all?
cb--i think that i am going to sacralize ALL human reproductive componants, because i see no difference between a sperm that is one micron away from the egg, and one that is just touching the surface of the egg, and one that has begun to penetrate the egg, and one that HAS penetrated the egg, but has not begun to swap genetic material, and one that has penetrated a “dead” egg, and so on.
and since that “race”, after all, begins in the testes of the male, i am now coming out in suport of the “human rights” of all ejaculate. i will expect all males who release ejaculate materials in any way--during procreative sex or alone with a magazine--to collect and account for that material, and possibly to stand trial for involuntary spermicide if the circumstances call for it…
honest question, all snarking aside, do the “life begins at the second of sperm-meets-egg” and the “moment of cell-division” people realize how many of those “humans” NEVER implant in the wall of the uterus and are routinely flushed out with the menstrual cycle?
even after implantation, as often as not, severe genetic defects (or extreme ill health of the female, or accident, or stress) cause that “life” to die & detach and spontaneously abort…
so, do we name these “humans”? do we have funerals for them? should we have trials to see if the female in question may have caused this “death” by failing to eat well enough or avoid stress or because she fell down the stairs?
no? well is this not murder, then? or, at least involuntary homicide. and of course you would also then HAVE to be against birth control pills--or ANY OTHER MEDICINES--that prevent that sperm & egg from implanting or remaining implanted--do they have any idea how many medicines can have that effect? A LOT OF THEM. so should married heterosexual couples be legally forced to abstain from intercourse if the wife is taking certain blood pressure meds? or should they only be forced to use a condom & spermicide & diaphragm all together which still may allow a “life” to occur and then what?
but just like you, cb, i believe you have the right INDIVIDUALLY to your own beliefs in the matter. but you may want to be careful about how you plan to legislate that--and this “moment of conception” leads to the most impossible scenarios once you actually THINK about the logistics…
just for the record, i believe that life begins somewhere between the clearly developing fetus, and NEVER, for most of us potential humans. the jury is still out in my own case, for example.
-L.Posted by on 03/22 at 06:00 PM
Girlfriend DocMara, I said that in an earlier post. I wouldn’t threaten the life of the mother, which in my opinion outranks the fetus. So we are in agreement on that. I happen to support abortion rights in more circumstances than you probably would guess...when the mother’s welfare comes into question. Since “conception” (egg and sperm forming a zygote thereby beginning cell division) is so obviously the beginning of something, (sperm and egg alone don’t cut it), it is the easiest point in my mind for demarcation. If indeed life begins at “implantation”, then I would back that up...but none of us *really* knows when life begins. I *believe* it begins at conception. Other people believe at implantation. Still others at birth. Everyone has a valid point.
Dear Librarian...you would give a French philosopher a headache. Maybe you and Chris Clarke are feeling a wee bit of the midlife crisis? Me thinks a Jaguar XK would be the tonic. Life does, after all REALLY begin after 40.Posted by on 03/22 at 08:06 PM
I accept. Please send it to:
Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway #28
SF CA 94133
and thanks!Posted by Chris Clarke on 03/22 at 08:18 PM
Minor point and maybe someone has made it above (I’m too lazy to read the thread). Chomsky is largely against US or US ally military intervention, but he seems to have made an exception in the case of the British intervention in Sierra Leone. I qualify that because he says he hasn’t looked deeply into it. But yeah, in general he takes the position that military intervention by the US needs a very strong justification and I don’t know that he’d support any of them after WWII. (In almost all cases I’d agree.)
I think on non-military intervention, he and most far lefties would be entirely in favor of, say, increasing foreign aid along the lines that Jeffrey Sachs is advocating these days. More mosquito nets for the poor, keeping drug prices low, that kind of thing. All of which would save far more lives than any proposed military intervention.
Okay, obligatory Chomsky defense done. Looks like the thread was dying anyway.Posted by on 03/23 at 06:21 PM
Berube, quit stretching the truth. Do you even read Chomsky? I mean, READ HIM! Chomsky never said he was against all interventions, he just said that most interventions done by the us cannot be morally or legally justified, and guess what--he supplies evidence to back it up, unlike your biased shorthand.
Power has to be justified--mostly it cannot justify itself. Chomsky is not a pacifist, he did support the Second World War, even saying we should have stopped Naziism sooner. Do you ever mention that? His point is that most interventions by the U.S are power grabs or have unseemly reasons.
I also notice that you duck continued chances to debate our side, showing your intellectual cowardess.Posted by on 10/02 at 03:28 PM