Saturday, April 26, 2003

Gregg Easterbrook's running run-down on the military campaign in Iraq for TNR was always well worth reading; I've just now returned to read the last in the series. In addition to a good deal of crowing over how well things went, Easterbrook makes two arguments, one serious, the other I suspect less so, both notable. On the serious side, he suggests we compensate the families of Iraqi civilians wrongly killed -- and demonstrates that, in comparison with the money spent on bombing Iraq, even fairly generous reparations would be a pretty modest cost. Now, his estimation doesn't seem to include the cost of distributing the money -- which will take some doing (and how are we to tell deserving beneficiaries who lost family from frauds? And what about the family of Republican Guard troops? Or members of the Fedayeen? Do they deserve compensation? How are we to tell them apart from the families of innocent Iraqis?) I still like Easterbrook's idea -- but it seems more problematic to me than just spending the money on serious and effective reconstruction.
The other idea is to auction off the riches found in the Tikrit palace on e-bay -- proceeds to go to help paying for the reconstruction. Just read Easterbrook's argument for it -- at the end. Funny stuff.

Fun fact about the UK: Here, the childrens' book series 'Where's Waldo' is known as 'Where's Wally'
I love this country. Except when I find it dismal. But mostly, I love it.

Dan Drezner comments o Jacob Levy's complaint about the depiction of academic life on Friends (and thus earns the pair their second joint appearance on this blog of the day. Ah, those UChicago boys!)
Now, a couple of things. First, about Jacob's complaint regarding the depiction of Ross' academic career on Friends: guys, this is a TV SHOW. What's more, it's a TV show about SIX ATTRACTIVE YOUNG PEOPLE LIVING IN LARGE COMFY APARTMENTS IN NYC WHO SPEND ALL THEIR TIME HANGING OUT TOGETHER, YET NEVER SEEM TO DO ANY WORK. (OF course, I haven't watched the show for several years, so maybe it's gotten more realistic) Point is, one shouldn't expect cinema (or television) verite from the writers and producers of Friends.
Second, in response to Dan's post about profs sleeping with their students. Of course there are lots of fictional depictions of profs sleeping with their students. Sex generally comes into fiction; and illicit, taboo-breaking sex especially. And the prof-student pairing is a relatively safe taboo-breaker. After all, it isn't THAT illicit -- I mean, it remains within (and indeed, with the older/more powerful male, younger, dependent, eagerly receptive female relationship -- since most such fictional relationships involve male profs and female students, to my knowledge -- actually reinforces, to an absurdly and, to me, disturbingly reactionary degree) traditional notions about gender relationships. In short, so long as the prof isn't married, or related to the student, it's something of which Rick Santorum and his fanclub can heartily approve.
Plus, not only does it provide titilation of an obviously sexual sort: it provides moral titilation. It's something that characters can agonize over, or be harmed by; something we can sympathize with them for falling into, or condemn them for falling into. And think of all the literary archetypes that such a pairing evokes: the older man imparting knowledge to the eager initiate through sex -- truly a rite of passage; or, the predatory older man ensnaring and forcing his corrupting attentions on the innocent young damsel (see Dr. Zhivago); or, the young harlot leading the older, besotted, beleagured dope into folly that he should know better than to commit, but does anyway because he's enthralled (see the legend of Merlin and Niniane, or the Blue Angel). Of course it's resonant.
Besides, most people who've been students have been curious about their teachers' private lives -- and , being restive at professorial authority, many have a certain hankering to see prof with his pants down -- and rumours of affairs between profs and their students are always popular, in my experience, among undergraduates [I could make a reference here which David Adesnik would be greatly gratified by, but won't. You can thank me later, Josh]. And, if you're a prof who watches hundreds of eager (or not) young minds in nubile young bodies pass under your, um, supervision, while (hopefully) being prevented by regulations and (hopefully) conscience from ever acting on your desires, reading (or writing) about other profs doing so must be greatly satisfying -- transgression by proxy.
Finally, Dan fails to mention that many of the best, most interesting depictions of academia feature profs who DON'T sleep with their students -- Richard Russo's Straight Man, Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys (and the movie based on it). And, contra Dan's claim, I don't remember there being a prof/student liason in Moo, though I may be forgetting it.
Which, given how much sex there is everywhere nowadays, is pretty impressive.

Welcome aboard, Rob! Thanks for joining me!
Readers of this blog -- if any there be (aside from Josh Chafetz and my parents. I know they're out there. Hi mom. Hi dad. Hi Josh Chafetz.) -- may like to, and any way should, know a bit more about Rob (who hopefully won't mind me filling them in). As he says, Rob was my room-mate our senior year at Yale. While we were there, Rob studied biology (as well as being President of the Liberal Party of the Yale Political Union [to which David Adesnik of OxBlog also once belonged. Small world --ed.]); he's therefore our credentialed science correspondent. Rob also worked on the Wellstone, then Mondale, campaign in Minnesota, and now lives in DC; so he's tapped into American politics in a way I'm not, being in the UK (and never was, really, even when I was there -- I mean, he's actually TALKED to these MIDDLE AMERICAN VOTERS we all hear so much about.) So he's also more or less our American politics correspondent.
And, as he notes, he'll also be a voice of stronger Democratic partisanship. Though so far, I wholly agree with everything he says -- but then, I don't claim to be bi-partisan.
He's also one of my best friends, and a lovely, thoughtful, good-hearted person whom I'm glad to have with me on this blog.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Santorum: A lot has already been said on him, and he deserves the all criticism he has received. His remarks suggest disgust with homosexuality (his right but reprehensible none the less), a complete misunderstanding of rights, a lack of respect for individual freedom, and a vision where the state uses its coercive powers to restrict behavior on essentially a religious basis. Of course, everyone already knows this and it has been outlined on numerous blogs. Reading his entire interview, the truly astounding thing is the way his remarks managed to capture so many of the problems of Modern American Conservatism and the Republican Party. I will probably discuss several of these at length later, because I think they are important. Since most of these have been addressed well in other blogs, I will first focus on one or two things that seem to have escaped notice given the truly amazing zingers about man on dog, etc:
From the infamous interview,

“AP: how is conservatism giving more power to families?
Santorum: Putting more money in their pocketbook is one. The more money you take away from families is the less power that family has. And that’s a basic power.”

First, is there any problem the Republicans can’t solve by cutting taxes? All problems have one solution. You cut taxes and you: create jobs, improve the economy, produce family values, etc.

More importantly, I think it’s interesting that Santorum chose this response to the question given the context of sodomy laws. Later in the interview we see Santorum advocating that the government has the power to limit individual’s wants and passions because there are consequences for our society of letting people live out their wants and passions. Specifically, he makes it clear that the state has the right to limit behavior that is antithetical to strong healthy families. However, the policy change he puts forth in no way limits these wants and passions. His solution (other than maintaining sodomy laws) is to provide more money to the American taxpayer. In fact, there’s no mention of targeting families or parents or children with these tax cuts!
Santorum has no intention of criminalizing adultery or discouraging divorce (though his statements suggest that he would theoretically support it). He talks about the state’s right to do it (a perversion of the word right, but that’s another post), but it’s not something he’s pushing for. So, we see what this is actually about. It’s not about discouraging behavior that actually damages families directly (like divorce, adultery, etc). It’s about punishing behavior – consensual homosexual sex between adults - that only undermines families in an indirect way (I have no idea how it accomplishes this, but once again, that’s another post).
Which leads us to a larger question: Why do the Republicans want to regulate and denounce homosexuality? Why is this the Sexual Social Restriction the Republicans are fighting tooth and nail for?
Homosexuals are the perfect scapegoat. They make up a tiny percentage of the population and are socially stigmatized. So Republicans can rant about the collapse of American family values without ever actually demanding anything of their constituents. Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce and 30% of married men and women commit adultery. Trying to address these ills would actually require effort and guilt for a huge portion of Middle America. But Morality Politics is not about making people become moral. It is about giving people someone else to blame.
Perhaps this is why Republicans have such horrific notions about Homosexuals. They need a social fifth column, one that is almost subhuman. Listen to a Republican discuss a gay parade, and you will hear about bestiality and open sex everywhere. Attend a gay parade, and you’ll see a bunch of people dressed in ridiculous, sometimes revealing, outfits, but very little sexual activity (heck, not even much kissing). Nothing as scandalous as straight college students on Spring Break or Mardi Gras.
While I think much of the discussion on the web has done a good job of decimating Santorum’s position, I don’t think enough has gone towards identifying the root problem here. The scapegoating of a group is dehumanizing for everyone involved. By suggesting that Homosexual behavior is responsible for the collapse of family values, the Republicans not only transform homosexuals into some kind of rot or disease within society. They also deny that the heterosexual majority has control over their own destiny. For the Party of Personal Responsibility, they seem determined to destroy the very concept.

The return of the prodigal?
Hello everyone, it’s Rob, one of Josh’s senior year roommates. He suggested that I post on this board weeks ago, and here I am. I only draw your attention to this because my arguments and thoughts are quite different than Josh’s (and, probably, less developed and eloquent). Among other things, full disclosure, I am now a ridiculously partisan Democrat after certain experiences with Republicans this year. I will try my best to avoid devolving into a foaming radical, but I will not bring the same even-handedness that is Josh’s signature style. Please do not do him the disservice of mistaking me for him.
By the way, hi Josh! I hope all is well in London.

Newsflash: Joh Derbyshire has written something I actually agree very nearly wholly with. In fact, two things! This is bizarre.

And, yet more on Santorum (ok, at some point I'm going to just stop posting about these ... these ... oh, nevermind):
I'm generally wary of what Leo Strauss called the 'reductio ad Hitlerum'. But Matt Yglesias does it very, very well.
Addendum: a must-read post by Dan Drezner, by way of Jacob Levy. (Why are UChicago political scientists so cool? I wanna be a UChicago political scientist. Actually, I do, even regardless of Dan and Jacob's blogging accomplishments.)
Though I do bristle a bit at Dan's opening left-handed swipe at progressives. Now, I have my own problems with progressives, having experienced all too often the 'social liberal' (in Ralf Dahrendorf's terminology) irritation with progressives for either offering what I regard as bad arguments for what I regard as good positions, or conversly justifying what I think are stupid positions in the name of values I care about. But, on the other hand, I'm also used to feeling irritation at the tendency of snotty neo-liberals, (and neo-cons, and libertarians ...) dismissing any progressive warnings about or critiques of the status quo because, well, they're coming from a bunch of annoying, stodgy progressives.
Ok, enough bitchy curse-on-both-your-houses-ism. After all, the point is that, on this, Dan Drezner, the Progressive, and I are all in agreement -- so we must be right, right?
You know, come to think of it, his defenders are right -- Rick Santorum IS a force for inclusion! Look at how inclusive the ranks of his detractors are!

Yet more on Galloway: I've said that, even if Galloway wasn't being paid by Saddam, there's plenty to dislike about him. To whit, his use of the 'Mariam Appeal'. This, you'll remember, was Galloway's campaign to raise money in the name of a young Iraqi girl whom he flew to London to get treatment for leukemia; and to provide not just Mariam, but other Iraqi children suffering under UN sanctions, with medical aid.
Now, through Mr. Galloway's actions, so far as I can tell, Mariam's life was saved. That was a great deed, and no matter what else he's done, we should remember that, and honour him for it.
Ok. Now, here's why he's still a dubious character, and quite likely a bastard.
According to an article in the Times, 'The MP [Galloway] promised originally to spend all the money collected by the appeal on medical aid, but instead created a pro-Iraq pressure group, claiming frequent travel expenses." Let's just be clear about this: Galloway appears to have raised money to help sick Iraqi children, and then spent it traveling (apparently quite comfortably) around the world (including to Iraq, where he may or may not have gotten more candy from Saddam). He also used the money, it appears, to fund his political activities. Galloway could argue that some of these activities -- pressing for a lifting of sanctions -- were for the sake of, and, had they been succesful, would have benefitted, those Iraqi children. Ok, fair enough (though I don't see how calling Saddam gallant and brave fits into this project). But it still seems dubious. I mean, if you ask people for money to help sick children, seems to me you should then give all the money to the sick children. Spending money intended for sick children to fly to NYC and stay in a nice hotel -- there just seems to be something really, really offensive about that.
Of course, Galloway never did register the appeal as a charity -- because, the Times surmises, he didn't want to have to publish all of its financial records. This of course raises the question: why didn't he? It would seem that, when depicting Mariam's Appeal as a charity made Galloway look good and helped him raise money, he did so; when depicting it as a political campaign gave him more free-reign, and provided an excuse for his actions, he did, and does, so.
And then there's his response to the Times: “I regard you as a whore writing for a pimp.” Charming.
Yes, George Galloway. Saviour of Iraqi children. And also arrogant, self-righteous, intolerant, shifty, money-grubbing, genocidal-despot-supporting rat fink.

How wrong can I be? Pretty damn wrong. The much-maligned (by me) affaire de Santorum has actually generated an interesting, and sometimes important, discussion across the blogosphere (Jacob Levy has a collection of links to all the posts at Volokh Conspiracy, as well as a rather less comprehensive listing of some of the posts elsewhere).
Many of the pro-Santorum (well, maybe not pro-Santorum -- let's say 'anti-anti-Santorum) posts have argued that Santorum was making a statement about constitutional law - namely that there is no right to privacy (and it's a good thing, too!). Now, I tend to doubt that was all he was doing - he was also talking about the decline of the family, as my old Seder-buddy Eric Muller points out. And, in claiming that homosexuality is 'anti-family,' he was definitely being anti-homosexuality. And, given the prevalence of violence against homosexuals, maybe picking on them from a position of power is a tad, I don't know -- repulsive?
But, let's take up this argument that there’s no right to privacy in the Constitution. Now, I do this with some trepidation, as I have several close friends (the estimable Mr. Chafetz among them) who know a heck of a lot more about Constitutional law, and are a heck of a lot more sophisticated in their thinking about it, than I, and who are therefore quite capable, to say nothing of willing, to jump on me whenever I say something dumb on that subject. Nevertheless, I'll proceed to probably say something dumb on the subject.
Now, in fact, there is no right to privacy guaranteed in the Constitution. I know; I actually did read it, at some point. Does this mean that, as Santorum said, no right to privacy EXISTS in the Constitution? Well, that depends on your legal philosophy. I myself think that an explicit right to privacy doesn't exist in the Constitution, since it isn't mentioned. On the other hand, I also believe that certain protections which are explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution - against unauthorized search and seizure - reflect a respect for privacy. This, combined with the beautifully vague 9th Amendment - “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” - leads me to believe that one can make a case that one can read a respect for the distinction between public and private, and thus for the importance of safeguarding private rights, into the Constitution. And I therefore support those laws and legal precedents which have established what amounts to a 'right of privacy' (though I don’t always agree with the reasoning in the Court decisions which have established those precedents) in our political and legal systems.
But, since a 'right to privacy' is nowhere actually articulated in the Constitution, I don’t believe one can claim that homosexuality must be legal based on an appeal to that Constitutional right. But I also don’t think it needs to be. I think that homosexual sex between consenting adults is protected under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; and I think that detecting and punishing consenting adults for homosexual acts violates the aforementioned 4th Amendment guarantee against 'unreasonable search and seizures.' I think that, whenever there is an invasion of privacy, the burden is on the government to prove that it is necessary, or at any rate strongly in the public interest; this is the principle behind the 4th Amendment, and is also what I read the 9th Amendment as saying (though with the 9th Amendment, who knows? But I take it to basically say, if the government has no good reason to infringe on what's reasonably regarded as none of its damn business, then, just because the Constitution doesn't explicitly say it can't, doesn't mean that it can, or should.)
This is why some forms of sexual conduct can, I think, be rightfully banned -- if a convincing case can be made that they are really harmful, and that there's therefore justification for government intervention. How can they be harmful? Well, obviously, if one of those involved regards him or herself as having been harmed -- so rape, for instance, isn’t protected. Or if harm obviously results (death, disablement). Or if one of the partners, while not thinking that he or she has been harmed, is reasonably regarded as having been harmed in the relationship, and not capable of recognizing it -- thus the molestation of minors isn’t protected.
The other possible justification for punishing people for (or preventing them from) doing certain things in private is if public harm results. Now, this is tricky, since public harm is difficult to demonstrate. But, if one could actually demonstrate that two consenting adults of the same sex having intercourse really did create a public harm which far outweighed the harm done to all those individuals who wanted to have homosexual sex, and were prevented from doing so, then I’d say, sure, ban homosexual sex.
But you know what? I think that argument is ludicrous.
Now, you might say, 'Hey, wait a minute, Josh; what about bestiality? Or polygamy? Or incest between consenting adults? Or adultery? Should those be legal?' Well, if they harm people, no – so incest between adults and minors, or involving coercion, shouldn’t be legal; ditto polygamy. Adultery should be grounds for divorce, but shouldn’t be a crime in itself -- and generally isn't. Sex between consenting adults who are related, sex involving multiple partners, sex between people and animals -- these should not, in themselves, be illegal. I find many of these last-named couplings repugnant. But then I also find verbally attacking a much-despised and persecuted group of people in the name of ‘family values’ repugnant, too – but I respect Sen. Santorum’s right to do it. I just don't respect HIM BECAUSE he does it.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

"Meaner than a three-legged coon hound": The Onion outdoes itself with this look at everyone's favourite ex-Trotskyite, anti-Islamo-fascist, Clinton-bashing, Mother-Teresa-hating gadfly, Christopher Hitchens.
Two points of order, though: first, I doubt that Hitchens called for Harpers editor Lewis Lapham -- their politics have diverged quite a lot since 11 September, and Hitch has gone over to Harpers' (at present far better) rival, the Atlantic. Also, a disclosure: that wasn't Hitchens singing '30s union songs and driving a stolen riding lawnmower through the streets of Boston; it was my friend, and former co-blogger, Jacob Remes, as anyone who knows him could tell you.

More on the Galloway scandal:Incidentally: the journalist who broke the story on Galloway's alleged links to Saddam's regime, David Blair (no relation to Tony, I assume) won an award for his earlier coverage of Zimbabwe for the Telegraph -- before being banned from the country by Mugabe, for his exposure of that despot's crimes. He also was one of the first Western journalists to report from inside the Jenin refugee camp in March of 2002. Blair's story of finding the files on Galloway sounds a bit, well, improbable; but he hardly sounds like, in Galloways' term, a 'sewer'. He SEEMS to be an honest journalist -- something one might doubt Galloway's ever been.

Oops, wrong again: I recently complained that condemning Rick Santorum was so easy and obvious a move as to be unnecessary, and somewhat self-indulgent. Turns out, thought, that it ISN'T so obvious to many in the blogosphere that what Santorum said was so wrong. Jacob Levy and David Adesnik add new, good postings making this case to those already mentioned below; there's also Eugene Volokh's ingenius, but I think uconvincing, defense, which many others have addressed.

I still have yet to find a chance to sit down and compose my thoughts - and a post - about Jacob Levy's discussion of political theory vs. political philosophy (or political theorists vs. political philosophers. Now that would make for an interesting softball game); and it seems unlikely that I'll be able to anytime soon, since I really should be concentrating on doing my own work on the history of political thought (which Jacob mentions as something that falls under political theory, to some extent; were that it were more so!) But, two quick reflections:
1. This reminds me of the roundtable discussion about the difference between historians and social scientists in an issue of Daedalus from, I believe, 1971, in which Stanley Hoffmann declared that historians are employed in history departments, and social scientists in social science departments.
2. The difference between political theorists and political philosophers (and historians of political thought) is best summed up in a conversation which ACTUALLY TOOK PLACE at the beginning of my first term here at Oxford, which I had with friends who were in the philosophy and politics departments here. We were discussing Rawls' Theory of Justice. The political theorist (Dutch, by the way) was complaining that it was a very boring book, which took too long to make its points and was less rich and convincing than Rawls' later work. The philosopher (Norwegian, for what it’s worth) replied that he thought it was a beautiful, meaty, well-argued book. I hadn't actually read the book, but still had an idea of what Rawls was basically driving at, and felt quite confident in situating it within the debates and events of Rawls' time (and I also was the one who wound up summarizing it to the English student who was also there, after which the philosopher and political theorist refined and argued over certain subtleties my account had left out.)
I need say no more, I think.

In the meantime, across the pond ... While in America (and in the global blog village) the chattering classes are chattering about Rick Santorum, here in the UK the big news is the allegation that George Galloway, MP (Labour, Glasgow Kelvin), a vocal opponent of both Gulf Wars, was in the pay of Saddam. Galloway, who called on British soldiers not to wage an 'illegal' war against Iraq, but who nevertheless welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein, denies the charges, and has suggested that the documents implicating him -- found in the looted wreckage of the Iraqi foreign ministry -- were planted there by hostile members of the western intelligence services.
Was Galloway a paid-up apologist for Saddam's regime? I've no idea -- and what's more, I don't even know what I'd like to believe, let alone what I should believe (Well, I probably SHOULD suspend judgment, like a good little student of Sextus Empiricus -- so I will. Though I'll also note that at least some of the documents allegedly found in the file on Galloway are genuine, and that he was in fact in Baghdad when he's reported to have met with a member of the Iraqi intelligence service). Either Galloway's not just a misguided and often hectoring idealist, but a venal lackey who took money from a vicious tyrant while prattling on self-righteously about human rights; or someone within the coalition is trying to frame a political dissident. Either way, ugly stuff.
But, then, come to think of it, there are plenty of other things about Galloway that are ugly (and I'm not talking about physical appearance -- although ...) Even leaving aside the allegations about being paid by Saddam, there are other recent allegations that he used money slotted to pay for the treatment of Iraqi children to pay for his own travel expenses . Which to my mind would be even worse -- I mean, the man seems to enjoy speaking up for the US's enemies anyway, even without pay, so what's the big deal? But stealing from sick Iraqi children -- now that really would be bad.
On the other hand, Galloway does seem to have done a lot to try to help sick Iraqi children, which should count in his favour -- as should the fact that he was, reportedly, speaking up about the abuse of human rights in Iraq way back when -- that is, the mid-1980s, when the US government was supporting Saddam. But Galloway's record with regard to Saddam is mixed and murky: this is the man who addressed Saddam in 1994, while in Iraq, thus: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability" (Galloway later claimed he was talking about the Iraqi people. Well, maybe. But, why would he address the Iraqi people as 'Sir'?) And then there’s this recent comment: “We have a saying in English, that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king [It’s actually from Erasmus – Ed.]. And Saddam Hussein has one eye.” Actually, Saddam Hussein has (or had) quite a passion for leaving others without any eyes at all; and in light of the butcher of Baghdad’s passion for gouging, Galloway’s encomium is decidedly poorly judged.

Galloway certainly has devoted some time to cosying up to Saddam in the past, and has a warm relationship with the PLO. But, then, no doubt his true concerns are for the suffering of the Palestinians and Iraqis. Certainly, he has an affinity for Arab nationalism -- his calls to Arab states to join Iraq in fighting against the 'Crusaders' (ie his own nation's soldiers and their comrades-in-arms) over Al-Jazeera were worthy of the most ardent Pan-Arabist terrorist. As are inspirational words such as these: "The Arabs have to have a mentality that says “I want to be like Hizbullah, I want to be like the Intifada, I want to be like the resisting Iraqis.” And if they can, nothing can stop them. Nothing .." And his praise of Muslims for resisting “slavery… materialism… the amorality of the western bourgeois society” (Um, yep, talk of fighting materialism – from a man with a Mercedes, a villa in Portugal, two houses in the UK …) And then there was his comment on Sept 12 2001 that throughout the world many "people will consider the US to have had to swallow some of their own medicine;” and his later declaration that “America is the biggest rogue state in the world.”
All in all, even granting him what may be his due – a genuine concern for the suffering of maltreated populations, such as the Palestinians and people of Iraq – a less than sterling record.
But what of Galloway’s professed noble intentions? Even if he didn’t accept – indeed, demand – money from Saddam, they don’t justify Galloway’s behaviour. Those like Mr. Galloway who claim to speak in the name, and work for the sake of, the oppressed, the ill-treated, the down-trodden, the starving and brutalized -- in short, the powerless -- would do well to shun the oppressors, the trodders-down, the powerful. And Galloway, between dining with Saddam, and mourning the Soviet Union (the passing of the good old USSR was, Galloway once said, 'the biggest catastrophe of my life'; and he retains a soft spot for Cuba) has shown the true Stalinist's infatuation with power hiding behind a canting -- and ideologically rigid -- progressivism. He's also reflected the manichaenism, the hostility to complexity, and to a humanity that transcends ideological boundaries, which has so often been a morally and politically crippling flaw of the militant Left – and which is the sin of fanatics of all camps and stripes. I sincerely believe that at the heart of all of Galloway’s follies lies a genuine passion for what he sees as justice, a genuine hatred for the very real evils of imperialism and oppression. But, as has often been the case – look at such pure-hearted idealists such as Robespierre, such fanatically inflexible visionaries as Lenin – Galloway’s real passion for justice, when combined with a love for self-aggrandizement, a taste for extremism, an affinity for terrorists and strongmen, an aversion to self-doubt and nuance, a lack of understanding of ‘the crooked timber of humanity,’ has led him to embrace violence, and those who use it; has led him, in the name of a good cause, to back bad men and bad actions.
Yes, 'Gorgeous George' seems to have problems knowing whom to coddle, and whom to condemn; for whom to fight, and against whom to fight. Eli Wiesel once famously admonished Ronald Reagan that 'Your place, Mr. President, is with the victims, not the victimizers' (or words to that effect). Galloway seems to enjoy the company of the victimizers all too well. As for the victims? Read about his treatment of a Kurdish survivor of Saddam's genocide and jails. Even being the victim of a frame-up by the Bushies doesn’t justify that sort of behaviour.
I'd like to believe that I'm wrong about this: but it seems, from what I've read about Galloway, that, even if he wasn't a paid shill for Saddam, he has chosen to embrace the victimizers over the victims. That, in itself, is plenty reason to despise him.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Seems like most bloggers are jumping -- with very good reason -- on Sen. Rick Santorum's deplorable comments on homosexuality in an AP interview. This is entirely right, of course; but it's also just so easy. I mean, the man's a bigot; bigotry is bad -- ok, we know that; and those who don't know that (who think that bashing and banning homosexuality is just fine and dandy, and their god-given right -- nay, duty, as good champions of family values etc.) aren't terribly likely to be convinced by our stating our own views in tones of righteous indignation, however well deserved.
This isn't to say that the condemnations of Satorum aren't often perfectly right, well-thought-out, well-argued, and often quite worthwhile -- see Jacob Levy and Andrew Sullivan particularly worth reading on this point (though the award for best -- by which I of course mean funniest -- post on Santorum goes to Patrick Belton -- who remembers his modus ponens, and knows how to use it! Nice job, Patrick; good luck on the workless academic career -- we'd all like that ...)
Still, while I don't think we should necessarily just be silent whenever a prominent politician says something that we think plainly wrong, it does seem to me that offering strongly-worded condemnations of such statements verges on being an exercise in moral self-indulgence. Of course, if such codemnations are accompanied by original, well-thought out, and convincing arguments, or expressed in such a way that they might actually convince people to be upset by such statements who would normally not be (as is the case, to some extent, with Andrew Sullivan's various pieces on Santorum), that's another matter.
But, if one doesn't have anything new or striking to say, one should be wary of falling into the sort of self-solacing but ultimately ineffective waving of the moral flag that, alas, so many American liberals seem to have fallen into over the past decades, while ceasing -- and, to a large extent, in order to comfot themselves for their failure -- to be an effective political force (one should, instead, find a way of making one's moral condemnation of Sen Santorum quite clear -- thus enjoying the satisfaction of expressing one's own moral purity/indignation -- in the process of criticizing OTHERS for indulging in the self-satisfying exhibition of THEIR moral purity/indignation. Not that I would ever do such a thing, of course ...)
One of the problems of just picking and piling on Santorum, much as he may deserve such treatment, is that it's ultimately politically ineffectual. Now, I DON'T think we should condemn the whole GOP for the comments of one member -- just as I don't think we should condemn the whole Democratic Party for the comments of, say, Al Sharpton (and get rather irritated when people do so ...) But we should criticize the GOP for its shift to the Right, its elevation of Santorum and other far-rightist homophobes and fundamentalists to positions of party leadership and national power, and its failure to disassociate itself from their toxic views -- and, indeed, its attempts to impose such views on others (Andrew's points about Santorum's anti-sex and anti-individual beliefs, and their relationship to George W Bush's policies on family planning, are relevant here, though they don't, I think, go far enough). (I hasten to add that we should also criticize the Dems -- especially if we're concerned with the fate, and hope for the resurgence, of the Democratic Party -- for allowing Sharpton and other race-baiting demagogues as much power as they do. At the same time, I can't help but pointing out that, unless by some horrible chain of freak events, he gets the presidential nomination, Sharpton doesn't hold national office, whereas Santorum does).
So, if you really object to what Santorum says, perhaps you might pursue some more decisive and potentially effectual -- some more POLITICAL -- course than just saying so. Such as, say, contributing money to, or even working for, his opponent when he comes up for re-election, or, if your Senator or Representative is a Republican, writing him or her or them to complain about their party's apparent embrace of homophobes. Or -- dare I say it -- think about voting against the GOP generally (unless the GOP candidates you'd be voting for are particularly honourable, or the alternative particularly bad -- which of course often happens), so long as men like Santorum continue to be so prominent in it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Good news for tea-drinkers. Yay!

Those readers who somehow haven't gotten enough of me talking about Isaiah Berlin (if such improbable creatures exist) are invited to check out my review of the recently published collection of Berlin's BBC radio lectures from 1952, Freedom and its Betrayal, in the Oxonian Review of Books. (The piec, I hasten to add, ought rightly to be ascribed not only to me, but to the editors of the Oxonian Review, who quite re-arranged and in some cases re-wrote what I originally said -- whether for better or worse, I can't tell, but I suspect for both, at different points.)

Mutual Admiration Society
Jeremy has responded to my post on his post with a lengthy, meaty, and very endearing addendum. I've apparently managed to provoke real and serious thought by a real and serious -- and very, very good -- thinker, which may well be the best thing this blog has done thus far.
I don't have all that much to what Jeremy has added -- especially in my current sleep-deprived state. I do want, first, to make clear that I considered my first post in response to Jeremy as a cotribution to the important topic that he was examining, and the fascinating and suggestive points that he made about it, and not as a criticism (I also hope my swipe at Jeremy's style didn't cause too much chagrin; in any event, I see the 'non-transparence' that occassioally characterizes Jeremy's writing as reflecting, not the 'tortured syntax of a poor speaker', but the excess into which one who is exhilerated by the drama and woder of ideas is apt to fall, as well as a complexity of vision which requires work to grasp -- and is well worth the work once one grasps it (as I no doubt still imperfectly do.)
I also want to retract my comments about Nabokov's aestheticism and anti-moralism, which Jeremy answers and disproves (I should know better than to say such things by now -- especially given my repeated irritation at seeing Berlin criticized for 'aestheticism'). Jeremy also expands on the meaning of 'poshlost', and the nature of the sophisticated aesthetic judgment that Nabokov urges in opposition to it. Much remains to be said, I think, about the connections and differences between Nabokov's views on judgment, and Arendt's; but for the time being, Jeremy' moved that conversation importantly forward.
Jeremy questions my contention that 'it is a craving for certainty or security that is the "core" content of the totalitarian.' This is fine by me, since I'm not sure that intended to argue that it in fact is -- at least in the way Jeremy seems to be defining '"core" content.' My point was a psychological one, about the desires that propel people to embrace the hateful, and often fatal to themselves (and certainly to others) idols of totalitarian movements and systems, rather than one about the content or nature of totalitarian ideology itself. And, clearly, as Jeremy points out, this craving for certainty or security isn't the sole factor that leads people to embrace totalitarianism -- as he perceptively points out, many people embrace various other things out of the same craving; a desire for certainty or security, while it may be essential to the adoption of totalitarianism, is not, in itself, totalitarianism's essence. It is at the core, but not the whole core -- one of a set of desires and beliefs and habits of mind that together characterize, and draw people to, totalitarianism. And it is also, as Jeremy' comments suggest, a matter of degree -- a matter not merely of 'the fundamental insecurity of restraint,' but of the added 'demand that such restraint or complexity be eliminated' (a point which is reminiscent of Berlin's contention, in 'Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century', that whereas earlier philosophical and ideological movements had sought to resolve the problems that torment men by discovering the true solutions to them, twentieth century totalitarianism -- and not just that, but other currents and movements in 20th century thought -- sought to resolve the problems by removing them -- by cutting the knot rather than untying it; by making it impossible for people to ask the questions, rather than helping them to find the answers. (The same essay may help Jeremy with his an attempt to relate failure to make judgments and inflexibility of judgment, in it argument, towards the end, that the very lack of conviction that characterizes much 20th century thought -- one could call it nihilism -- leads to an all the more ardent, and indeed hysterical, clinging to unfounded and unexamined beliefs, and demand for conformity and a silencing of argument).
As Jeremy says, we're basically in agreement, and he sums up this agreement very nicely:
'The totalitarian cannot withstand complexity, just as poshlost has at its conceptual base, the denial of gradation: for Nabokov, complexity was necessarily intertwined with the aesthetic and ethical, because complexity situated judgement.'
Subordination of art to the precepts of an ideology (any ideology) creates the opportunity for bad art (since ultimately the art won't be the final rubric of judgement); this is why Nabokov hated moralizing art (or politicized art)—witness Judy Chicago or Amiri Baraka—because it was generally bad. What makes bad art a feature of totalitarian regimes is their insistence that their citizens participate in the poshlost game—to eliminate distinction, to deny complexity, to accept the ideologies that govern their ungainly representations of reality.'
With this I agree completely (and I'm also glad to find that Jeremy seems to endorse my idee fixe about the connection between totaliatariaism and 'procrusteanism' -- the forcing of all aspects of life into one single pattern or model or function, the direction of all things to one goal that is, in fact, extraneous, if not contrary, to their nature -- in this case, the subordination of art to non-artistic ends; but also the transformation of the political and ethical into the aesthetic (or, if you prefer, the fake-aesthetic -- for as soon as the aestheticism is applied outside the proper realm of aesthetics, it seeks to be aesthetic -- which is why so many totalitarians have tin ears, and produce leaden art)
And now, time to leave this worthwhile and gratifying conversation, and return to work -- which, appropriately enough, right now means a re-encounter with Berlin's essay on his meetings with Russian writers -- a moving portrait of discernment and scrupulous regard for truth and beauty under the darkest of tyrannies, which manages to avoid the pitfalls of poshlost.

Um, why does the US keep flirting recklessly with PR disasters in Iraq? The latest brilliant idea: Jay Garner to move into one of Saddam's palaces. Nice symbolism, guys. What's next -- erecting giant statues of Donald Rumsfeld all over the country? (Per-haps I shouldn't have suggestsed that....)

Monday, April 21, 2003

Ok, that's it from me for some time, as I set off back across the Atlantic. Blogging to resume (hopefully at a slowed pace and at shorter length, as I really need to spend more time on my grad-school work) when I'm ensconced once again on the other side of the pond.

Blogging: a whole new sort of Harvard-Yale Game.
Jeremy Reff's is one of the most remarkable and provocative voices currently echoing in the blogosphere (though it isn't always the most transparent in its meaning. Ah, those Continentally-inflected thinkers!) Particularly remarkable and provocative -- and complicated -- is his post on Saddam's taste for kitsch.
I'm not going to be able to either give an adequate summary, or even impression, of what Jeremy has to say, or to adress all the of the points he raises -- my understanding is too limited, as is my time, for that. What follows are, rather, some of the reflections that have passed through my mind in response to my reading of his post.
First, there's Jeremy's invocation of Nabokov's use of the term poshlost Jeremy quote Nabokov specifying what he means by this term; and here we encounter our first problem. Nabokov defines by both examples, and definitions -- and these multiply as he goes on. Poshlost covers everything from pretensious and nonsensical conceptual art, to propoganda, to corny sentimentality. The essence of poshlost seems to be that it is kitsch that doesn't realize that it is kitsch -- a failure, not only (as Jeremy emphasizes) of discrimination and judgment, but of self-awareness, self-knowledge (maybe Jeremy should engage more with Plato after all ...)
But Nabokov's catalogue seems to extend beyond this, encompassing all forms of humbug, posturing, pretension -- as well as much which arguably is only seen as humbug, posturing, and pretension to Nabokov's cool, aristocratic gaze (more on which later).
Jeremy says of poshlost that it "has a vital ethical component to its definition, which is that in its mimicry of heroism, nobility, beauty, &c., it serves to destabilize and delegitimate those ends." He also says that it "is the loss of the ability to discriminate between the ding in sich and its representation—and the dominance of the aesthetic criteria of poshlost is precisely Baudrillard's pomo world submerged in "simulacra," where icons are indistinguishable from their types." It seems to me that Nabokov, with his warnings against seeking moral meanings in his, or anyone else's, works, is an aesthete, and his conception is aesthetic; Jeremy, however, endows the idea of poshlost with a moral and metaphysical dimension.
This is made apparent in his invocation of Arendt. Now, Arendt and Nabokov make an interesting, and in many ways apt, tandemning: both were concerned, as Jeremy is, with the meaning, the nature, of judgment. At the same time, they represent very different approaches and tempers. Often, one senses that for Arendt, judgment is always first and foremost a matter of morality; for Nabokov, such moralizing is itself an object of suspicion (or so it seems to me from my limited knowledge of Nabokov; but Jeremy of course knows his work better.)
Jeremy sees the danger of the "complacent nihilism" of nonjudgement—a lack of discrimination that is potentially fatal in its inability to assign reference ... not in its aesthetic vacuousness (the preference of the obvious over the synthetically beautiful), but in its ethical blindness. The failure to recognize authentic virtue, and its substitution by the representation and mimicry of virtue (or the outright denial of virtue) are the root of the totalitarian impulse. This is why we see so many iconic representations of the heroic, so much architecture of mass in fascist or proto-fascist regimes: the representation of the state is as important as the state in a world where discrimination between the two has been actively broken down."
But Jeremy here conflates several failures of judgment: non-judgment, or nihilism; misjudgment (which can run from simple self-deception, to the sort of ecstatic dementia in which totalitarian movements traffic); and inflexibility and blindness in judgment, or fanaticism. The 'totalitarian impulse' involves all three; but it does not always rest on all three equally, or primarilly; nor is failure to judge the single fault or flaw at the core of totalitarianism. For this failure comes from a deeper desire, which leads people to love tyranny and shun truth and surrender their responsibility to think. The craving for certainty and security is closely entwined with paucity and falsity of judgment -- which is why, to understand the totalitarian impulse, it is important to read Arendt's reflections on judgment alongside the writings of her near-contemporaries, such as Eric Hoffer, Erich Fromm, Isaiah Berlin, and indeed the dystopian novelists -- Huxley, Orwell, Zamyatin -- on the moral psychology of fanaticism.
But, to return to Arendt's conception of judgment. Arendt writes (I'm thinking here of her essay on Brecht, and on 'Truth and Politics') that truthfulness consists of the "acceptance of things as they are" -- or, I think we would do better to say, the discovery or recognition of things as they are, rather than mere acceptance. Out of this truthfulness, this ability to recognize things as they are -- what Arendt's fierce (and unfair) critic Berlin, coming from a very different position, refered to as a sound 'sense of reality -- arises the capacity for judgment. Judgment -- of political, moral, aesthetic matters alike -- demands a capacity for impartiality, and for Kant's 'enlarged mentality' -- that is, the ability to transcend one's own narrow standpoint, to understand the standpoints of others and incorporate them and hold them present in one's own imagination. The failure of tyrannical lovers of kitsch is not merely the inability to judge, to distinguish the real from the fake, the true from the false, the beautiful from the gauzy. It is also a failure to accept complexity, to discipline their own judgments -- a self-indulgent megalomania and egomania.
By the way, a word on tyrants and aesthetic taste: Hitler and Stalin, who are often held out as exemplars of despotic kitsch, both had real, deeply felt aesthetic tastes, some of them kitschy, some of them not. Stalin, for example, didn't have much interest in visual art, which explains a lot about socialist realist painting; but he did genuinely love literature, and his taste was a mixture of the ideologically driven, and thus faulty -- more on this later -- and a true reader's love of true art. Thus, he protected certain artists -- Pasternak, Bulgakov -- even though, as true artists, they were dissidents. Hitler, too, for all the love of barbaric, primitive, death-besotted kitsch, had a genuine love of music. Well, at least a genuine love of Wagner. Now, Wagner's operas are an example of genuine artistic genius which often verges on, contains, and threatens to be overwhelmed by (and sometimes is) poshlost; and, again, part of Hitler's love of Wagner had to do, not with the music itself, but with the twisted mythology which it enobled, and which it inspired Hitler to develop. Yet there was also in Hitler a genuine taste for music -- a taste which allowed the viscious anti-semite, still early in his life before his mania completely overtook him, to recognize and be inspired by the artistic genius of Mahler's conducting.
But to return to that which I've been postponing mention of. Another feature of totalitarian kitsch is that it is art driven by non-artistic purposes, resting on judgment which is subordinated to some goal outside of, and dangerous to, true judgment. This is the essence of totalitarianism: all is subordinated to the will of the leader, and the goal that the leader embraces, and imposes on everything -- Stalin's vision of Socialism, Hitler's of racial purity and the Master Race, Franco's reactionary-Catholic romance of death, Saddam's -- well, whatever Saddam thought he was pursuing (apparently a mixture of Arab nationalism and love of brutality for brutality's sake). Totalitarians often embrace bad art because they impose upon art considerations that have nothing to do with art -- hence the manufacture of so much unspeakably dreary trash in the name of 'Socialist Realism'. And hence Pasternak's warning to artists (it's interesting to note, given Jeremy's invocation of and admiration for Nabokov, that Nabokov trashed Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago as, well, poshlost -- which goes to show that even the most discerning and discriminating among us can sometimes be blind; and this, too, is a realization that is essential to judgment, and which totalitarians neglect): "do not organise. Organisation is the death of art. Only personal independence matters."
Jeremy is quite right in identifying the tendency of bureaucracies to select bad art, and of totalitarian regimes to make their subjects worship bad art -- or to use bad art to make their subjects worship them (the two things are intertwined); and these stem, I think, largely from this passion to organize, to make art directed at something else. At the same time, totalitarian ideologies were deeply influenced by the Romantic aestheticization of politics -- the view of politics as involving the moulding of 'human material' (that is, people) by the leader, in the way that artists mould their materials to form works of art. This was true of Nazism and Fascism above all, Communism to a lesser, more submerged extent (Under Communism, too, politics were aestheticized, as well as aesthetics being politicized; but the devotion to materialism and 'realism' meant that aesthetics became married to functionalism and scientism -- thus artists became 'engineers of human souls', while Stalin became the master artist and thus also the master engineer [or was it vice versa?]); it's also the case with Ba'athism (shaped first by Nazism, and then by Stalinism; let's remember that, while Saddam's palaces were filled with chintz and shag carpets, his walls lined with paintings such as that reproduced on Jeremy's site, his bookcases were lined with the works of his favourite author -- Iosif Stalin), and indeed with Al Quaeda.
Totalitarianism, as Arendt recognized, aims at the creation of a new moral order, based on the mad self-loving fantasies of the leader. Such a goal, such a vision, is based on, and inspires, both a besotted faith in one's own judgment, one's own nature as an artist -- and, through the conflation of art with the rule and re-shaping of men and women, a perversion of the very ideas of art, beauty, truth. Dealing with the mad dreams, and horrendous realities, of totalitarianism requires coming to terms with the truth about them -- in other words, cultivating and employing our own capacity for judgment and understanding. Jeremy's made a terrific step in this endeavour -- one that will hopefully encourage others to think more about it, and move forward on their own journeys of understanding, and in so doing, guard themselves against the lures of totalitarianism, and other forms of bad judgment.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Previously missing portions of the Epic of Gilgamesh ... manuscripts of medieval lyric poems ... letters and other documents conveying the lives of ordinary people, and beautiful vases and sculptures depicting the lush landscape, of ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization ... all lost, and in most cases lost forever.
This is a tragedy for civilization, which is too great for words.

Many commentaries on the challenge of building democracy in Iraq have emphasized the importance of fostering an ethos or culture of democratic values in a country that has been used to a culture of terror and forced submission. One of the most important means of doing this will, naturally, be through education. And, in thinking about what the education system in Iraq might be able to do, and what it will need to be able to achieve, and overcome, in order to begin to free Iraqis from decades of thought-control and lies, we need to take stock of what education in Iraq under Saddam has been like -- what Iraqis have been taught to believe, and how they've been taught to think.
The NY Times has a taste of Ba'athist education. It's hardly surprising -- indeed, it's exactly what one would expect -- but still disheartening. There's a lot of work to be done; and in trying to do it, those who seek to foster democracy in Iraq will be up against a formidable challenge -- a people who, though most of them may genuinely desire peace and democracy, and even if they had the best intentions and dispositions in the world, have been taught to obey, indeed worship, authority, and fear and hate foreigners, some of them from their earliest days.
I'd like to believe that, just as they have been freed from the physical rule of Saddam, the Iraqi people, with encouragement and guidance, will be able to free themselves from his mental grip. But decades of not only social, but mental engineering will be difficult to erase or reverse in a short time. The battle against Baathism will have to move from the streets, into the school; and this new battle is one which I believe we're less prepared for, less able to engage in and win on our own, than that which came before.
Yet, at the same time, there is hope: while the habits formed by tyranny are difficult to break, the thirst for freedom is strong. With wise leadership, and widespread dedication and participation on the part of those Iraqis who must take a lead in rebuilding their society -- lawyers, police, local officials, above all teachers -- the Iraqi education system, formerly a tool of enslavement, directed to securing the despotic power of a state system and the near-deification of one man, may become a school of liberation, dedicated to fostering independence of mind and a devotion to the values, and value, of freedom.

One of the most remarkable pieces of journalism I've yet seen that has come out of the recent war in Iraq is John Burns' long chronicle of life in Baghdad during the regime's last days, in today's NY Times. It provides us with one of the most vivid and immediate pictures of the suffering of the Iraqi people, both during the battle for Baghdad, and under Saddam Hussein's regime (it also exposes regime's policies of intimidation and extortion towards journalists and the way in which this effectively prevented foreign journalists from revealing what they knew of Saddam's brutality, turning them into dependents of, and thus to some degree collaborators with, the regime; and also recounts Burns' own hair-raising brush with the Iraqi security services in the last weeks of the war).
Among the most affecting passages in the piece, at least for me, comes immediately after Burns relates how he evaded the agents of the security services who were trying to shake him down (or worse):

"To many Iraqis who heard of the experience, it was unexceptional, save for the fact that I suffered no physical harm. For years, Mr. Hussein's security agents had been breaking into Iraqis' homes, arresting people at will, and taking them away to the gulag of torture centers and prisons. Some emerged weeks, months, or years later, many of them disfigured, with eyes gouged out, hands and fingers mangled. But tens of thousands never returned, dying under torture, or being summarily executed.

The anguish of their families, lining up to wave photographs and shout names at American troops guarding the now abandoned interrogation centers and prisons, has been among the most distressing scenes since the fall of Mr. Hussein ..."

The image of those families lining up outside the prisons ... It reminded me of another tableau, from another tyranny, captured by Anna Akhmatova in her great poem, Requiem. Below are the prologue and epilogue to the poem (taken from this webpage):

In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison
queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified' me. Beside me, in the
queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of
me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and
whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): "Can you describe
this?" And I said: "Yes, I can." And then something like the shadow of a
smile crossed what had once been her face.

1 April, 1957, Leningrad



Again the hands of the clock are nearing
The unforgettable hour. I see, hear, touch

All of you: the cripple they had to support
Painfully to the end of the line; the moribund;

And the girl who would shake her beautiful head and
Say: "I come here as if it were home."

I should like to call you all by name,
But they have lost the lists....

I have woven for them a great shroud
Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.

I remember them always and everywhere,
And if they shut my tormented mouth,

Through which a hundred million of my people cry,
Let them remember me also....

And if in this country they should want
To build me a monument

I consent to that honour,
But only on condition that they

Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born:
My last links there were broken long ago,

Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens,
Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,

But here, where I stood for three hundred hours
And where they never, never opened the doors for me

Lest in blessed death I should forget
The grinding scream of the Black Marias,

The hideous clanging gate, the old
Woman wailing like a wounded beast.

And may the melting snow drop like tears
From my motionless bronze eyelids,

And the prison pigeons coo above me
And the ships sail slowly down the Neva

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