Martin Amis and the agonies of ‘wet’ liberalism

Martin Amis arrived back in Britain to find white, middle-class demonstrators marching with "We are all Hizbullah" placards. "Well, make the most of being Hizbollah while you can," Amis writes, "As its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, famously advised the West: ‘We don’t want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you.’"

In answer to a reader’s question about the most depressing thing about returning to Britain Amis says :

People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a creedal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist, and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.

Of course we’ve been here before. Stalin’s orifice was a favourite gathering place for Fabian socialists like George Bernard Shaw and the Webbs. George Orwell was one of the few well-known socialists who didn’t mistake lies and delusion for loyalty and solidarity. Naturally, many of today’s writers are eager to be tomorrow’s Orwell.

Martin Amis’ father, Kingsley, had been a member of the communist party in his youth. So a few years ago his son wrote a non-fiction book about Stalin. titled Koba the Dread. This prompted James Heartfield to take a swipe at Amis in Spiked, "Poor old Martin," he said, "still arguing with his dad."

So what about Amis’s take on the stupefied placard wavers — is relativism really to blame?

Liberalism is constantly under attack for being a hypocritical ideology. When people defend liberal institutions against attacks by religious fundamentalists they are accused of being ethnocentric and intolerant — in other words not liberal. After all, say the critics, if members of all faiths and traditions have and equal right to practice their beliefs why aren’t Catholic MPs allowed to speak out against abortion and gay marriage? Why aren’t they allowed to ban them? Liberalism, according to this argument, is a repressive ideology. Worse still, it’s a repressive ideology that’s in denial about being a repressive ideology — it’s like a sleepwalker with a loaded gun.

If liberals fall for this argument they’ll find themselves actively campaigning for illiberal government. After all, if circumcising girls or hating Jews is a part of your culture or belief system then it would be intolerant and ethnocentric for liberals to tell you to stop. So, rather than be guilty of intolerance and ethnocentrism, these liberals invite their new illiberal friends to write their beliefs into law — they call this ‘democracy.’ And in a democracy, MPs should feel free to legislate for morality. As long as democracy is doing the repressing then it’s not really repression at all.

Liberal philosopher Richard Rorty doesn’t have much patience for the idea that liberalism demands tolerance of intolerance. If we start thinking this way:

We then find ourselves wondering whether our own bourgeois liberalism is not just one more example of cultural bias.

This bemusement makes us susceptible to the suggestion that the culture of Western liberal democracy is somehow "on a par" with that of the Vandals and the Ik. So we begin to wonder whether our attempts to get other parts of the world to adopt our culture are different in kind from the efforts of fundamentalist missionaries. If we continue this line of thought too long we become what are sometimes called "wet" liberals. We being to lose any capacity for moral indignation, any capacity to feel contempt. Our sense of selfhood dissolves. We can non longer feel pride in being bourgeois liberals, in being part of a great tradition, a citizen of no mean culture. We have become so open-minded that our brains have fallen out (p 203).

Rorty has no doubt that liberalism is a creation of Western culture. And he doesn’t deny that liberal institutions are sometimes imposed on unwilling citizens. But at the same time he doesn’t feel at all conflicted about this. The reason he doesn’t feel conflicted or hypocritical is because he’s a relativist.

Relativism is not the belief that all beliefs are equally valid. It is not the idea that we are never allowed to reject any idea as false. That isn’t relativism, it’s incoherence. Relativism is the idea that the truth or falsity of a statement is created in a similar way to the way a location is created by the grid lines on a map. A mountain that sits at E3 on one map might sit at H7 on another. What E3 or H7 mean depends on the system of grid lines. Or to put it another way — my claim that the mountain is at E3 is relative to grid system of the map I’m using. (And, just as an aside, it’s possible to have perfectly good ‘maps’ that don’t adhere to the usual conventions about representing space and distance.)

Of course if that was all there was to relativism then there’d be no real problem. Once you understand how any two grid systems work you can translate coordinates from one system to another. The thing that turns relativism into a problem is something called incommensurability. This is the idea that not only are there different systems for understanding and describing the world, but that it’s not possible to create translation manuals for every pair of systems.

If you’re not a relativist you’ll simply reject the possibility of incommensurability. Because readings from all truthful maps can be translated from one to another, there’s a sense in which they all share the same system. And if it’s not possible to translate, then one of the maps is wrong.

There are some people who don’t care about whether maps ‘tell the truth’ or not. All they care about is whether a particular map gets them to where they want to go. For example, Harry Beck’s famous London Underground map grossly distorts spacial relationships. It tells lies about how far away one station is from another. It flattens out the curves in the train lines and misaligns their directions. But as any pragmatic tube user will tell you, the Central Line isn’t really red and the Piccadilly Line isn’t really blue either. Big deal.

Some philosophers have the same attitude to belief systems. As long as the system is easy to use and lets you predict and control your environment to get what you want then metaphysical truth doesn’t matter. So far so good you might say. But don’t belief systems also tell you what to want? Don’t they show you how to tell the difference between good and bad?

And this is where relativism gets really controversial. Imagine you’d convinced yourself that there were no good arguments for one moral belief system over another. Does this mean that the rational thing to do is follow self-interest? Not really. What arguments are their for that moral belief system? So how about believing in nothing — nihilism? Again, the same answer. The real question is not what you should believe in but what you do believe in. And the answer to that will probably come from your cultural background. Or at least that’s what moral relativists would say.

If you think about morality in this way you won’t find any reason at all to tolerate other people’s belief systems. The only reason you could possibly have for tolerating another person’s belief system was that your belief system happened to be liberalism.

So relativism isn’t stupefying after all. In fact it’s mostly irrelevant. For philosophers like Rorty, the cross-cultural agony of ‘wet’ liberalism is a psychological rather than a philosophical problem. If someone wants to destroy your way of life why would you want to encourage them? You’d have to be crazy.

__________________________

Martin Amis story via Tim Blair. Amis attributes his "We don’t want anything from you" quote to Hasan Nasrallah. He may have been thinking of a similar quote Mark Steyn attributed to Hussein Massawi.

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43 Responses to Martin Amis and the agonies of ‘wet’ liberalism

  1. D W Griffiths says:

    Serious question from a non-philosopher: If you want to improve your way of life – or that of your neighbour who is about to undergo female circumcision, or that of a group of religious believers being exterminated in the country next to yours – what does Rorty say about that?

  2. Don Arthur says:

    DWG – It seems to me that the kind of relativism Rorty advocates ISN’T the kind that says female circumcision is OK just as long as it takes place within a culture that says it’s OK.

    He’d probably say that you ought to step in and stop your neighbour being mutiliated. And in the second case he might well say that we should send the troops in and stop the killing. But I couldn’t be sure. If he answered those questions he wouldn’t be speaking as a philosopher.

    I think Rorty’s argument is that heavy-duty, fundamental-questions philosophy isn’t much use when it comes to issues like this. Philosophers have no special authority to tell people what is and isn’t wrong.

    That’s why relativism is a red herring.

  3. Jason Soon says:

    If liberals fall for this argument they’ll find themselves actively campaigning for illiberal government. After all, if circumcising girls or hating Jews is a part of your culture or belief system then it would be intolerant and ethnocentric for liberals to tell you to stop. So, rather than be guilty of intolerance and ethnocentrism, these liberals invite their new illiberal friends to write their beliefs into law —

  4. D W Griffiths says:

    This is where relativism gets really controversial … The real question is not what you should believe in but what you do believe in. And the answer to that will probably come from your cultural background.

    I may have this backwards, but the quote above seems to depict relativism as a sociological or psychological position rather than a philosophical position – a statement about how most people behave, as opposed to a statement about how we ought to live and learn. What am I missing – well, apart from a thorough general grounding in philosophy?

  5. Rafe says:

    Don, the post is rendered problematic by failing to distinguish between different kinds of liberalism. Rorty is a very different kind of liberal from Hayek and you need to make those distinctions at least in the context of the argument, even if there is no point in trying to decide what is REALLY liberalism.

    Actually, what is the argument? Can you clarify the problem that you are addressing and the points that you want to make, apart from offering your own definition of relativism as a non-problem? It could be about establishing the limits of tolerance in a basically tolerent society. A worthy topic indeed. But what are you really trying to say?

  6. Ingolf says:

    Seems to me the very concept of “tolerance for intolerance” is self-contradictory. The great beauty of liberalism — defined as Jason says in its classical sense — was always its fundamental emphasis on minimising the constraints on each individual’s right to live his life as he chose. Subject, of course, to not interfering with the similar rights of his fellow citizens.

    Liberalism — thus defined — more than any other system allows all varieties of belief and life style to flourish, save the coercive. Here it has the right, indeed in my view the need, to be pretty uncompromising. As Jason suggests, the general belief today that it is “right wing” is a profound perversion of the truth. It is in fact the political system most dedicated to openness and freedom.

    Unfortunately, the hijacking of bits and pieces of classical liberalism and the unashamed rhetorical use of some of its language and concepts by what seem to be called RWDBs here on Troppo has done incalculable harm. As, to a lesser degree, has its takeover and misuse by the American strain of liberalism. Hard to say whether the rather lovely original creation can ever be extracted from the resulting linguistic and conceptual wreckage.

  7. Ken Parish says:

    “Isn’t it a bit of a non-sequitur? It applies only to left-liberals not classical liberals/libertarians hence the latter is the more consistent application of liberalism.”

    Jason, I asssume Don was in part responding to Gary Sauer-Thompson, with whom he had a discussion about this in a separtate thread a couple of days ago. I don’t read Don as suggesting that such a response would be consistent with classical liberalism at all.

  8. Ingolf says:

    One other quick comment on the starting point of your piece, Don.

    A good deal of the relativism that Martin Amis understandably rails against is the result of the failure of the “West” to live up to its own maxims. As but one example, classical liberalism would certainly not have had us playing the great game in the Middle East for the last hundred or so years and many of the dilemmas we now face are the result of that relentless interference.

    People who come to understand at least some of that truth will I suspect often then overcompensate and begin to doubt and criticise the whole basis of our society rather than just focussing on where it has gone wrong. This can make them easy prey for the sort of relativism which is anything but fruitful.

  9. D W Griffiths says:

    Ingolf: People who come to understand at least some of that truth will I suspect often then overcompensate and begin to doubt and criticise the whole basis of our society rather than just focussing on where it has gone wrong. This can make them easy prey for the sort of relativism which is anything but fruitful.

    This seems to me a powerful point.

    It also seems to me worth noting that despite the horrors of the middle 20th century we ARE in fact making progress towards the classical liberal ideal. See – and listen to – this Stephen Pinker comment on this morning’s Radio National Breakfast, on the decline of violence in modern society.

  10. Don Arthur says:

    It looks like I’ve arrived at the conversation a bit late. And yes, liberal is a slippery term. It’s especially slippery when it’s ‘wet.’

    Jason – “Libertarians want to limit what any democracy can do – regardless of whether it’s done by Muslims, Christians or Jedi Knights.”

    Yes. As a classical liberal Hayek makes a particularly strong case for this. Hayek does this without appealing to natural rights. That makes him different to someone like Nozick.

    It’s important to understand that things like arbitrary arrest and detention aren’t undemocratic — they’re illiberal. I don’t think there’s any risk thay you or Rafe are going to get confused about this.

    DWG – I tend to see relativism as tied it with a particular way of understanding what knowledge is. And once we understand what it is we then have to decide what to do — that gets us to the psychological bit. Most philosophers probably think that I’m hopelessly confused. Apart from that I’m not sure where to start…

    Rafe – What’s the argument? That relativism is a red herring. You can be a relativist and not get stupefied. Rorty, for example, is a non-stupefied relativist.

    Does Rorty’s relativism make sense? That’s another question.

    Ingolf – Obviously no comment from me needed. Well put.

    Ken – Yes, exactly.

  11. Rafe Champion says:

    Don there are different kinds of liberals and different kinds of relativism. If you don’t make it clear which kind you are talking about you run the risk of confusing people. I still want to know what point you were making, perhaps in relation to some specific problem or policy issue.

  12. Don Arthur says:

    Rafe – I thought I’d explained the point I was trying to make. The jumping off point for the post is Amis’ “stupefied by relativism” comment.

    I ask whether relativism is really to blame and answer “no.” I’m sorry if this isn’t clear.

    What is it you want to argue with me about?

  13. Don,
    I see that in terms of the Schmitt’s argument about the tension between liberalism and democracy in a liberal democratic regime you plump for liberalism whereas I plumped for democracy. I see that you do acknowledge that liberal institutions are sometimes imposed on unwilling citizens.

    One quibble is your phrase:

    And in a democracy, MPs should feel free to legislate for morality. As long as democracy is doing the repressing then it’s not really repression at all.

    That plays around the word democracy as opposed to pointing the finger at Weber’s iron cage, which includes the structures of liberal democratic regime, as in our current political system. This is not really designed to function in a directly democratic way, as the combination of representative democracy, the party system, cabinet government, prime ministerial power and the permanent ‘impartial or neutral’ public bureaucracy gives us a curious oligarchic-democratic hybrid, which is specifically intended not to open up ‘genuine substantial power’ to the sovereignty of the people.

    That ‘restrict democracy’ is the heritage of liberalism, whether it be the strands represented by JS Mill, TH Green, FA Hayek, or R Rorty.

    Introducing morality—individual conscience, autonomy, equality– into the liberal democratic equation does put into question Ingolf’s claim that liberalsim is based on negative liberty. Once individual freedom becomes an end in itself—as you presuppose in the previous post alluded to by Ken—then the principles of self-determination and self-realization become central, and are used to modify the self-interest foundation of classical liberalism based on the interests (and or rights) of property owners. Individuals as responsible agents and equals lies at the heart of the project of modernity that has developed(evolved?) within Western civilization.

    The inference re relativism is that liberalism is never relativistic about the liberal values (of moral egalitarism and individual freedom).

  14. kevin Schnaper says:

    Dear club members,

    I’ve enjoyed reading many of your posts on this topic. And I’d like to sketch a few related points if I may.

    I think there is a tendency among the smart set to get tangled up in the brambles of verbiage. This is problematic because words do not describe reality accurately. Democracy, Liberal, Fascism, Freedom… these are all approximations. Let us not argue over them too strenuously.

    To a certain extent , words are always rhetoric. Reality is always prime. Let us not be blinded by words to the detriment of our lives. We have wonderful articulations of our Liberal Values in our Nations’ founding documents. But as a Supreme Court Judge so eloquentlly put it, “Our Constitution is not a Suicide pact”.

    Nature is known by action only. The rest is birdsong. If we prefer the safety of words, we will lose the freedom to use them.

    Point: Intolerence that precipitates violence against the tolerant will be the death of tolerance (if unchecked) or at least its cowing (see Islam). Therefore the tolerant must relearn intolerance in order to survive. And since intolerance is the surest route to violence, the tolerant must also re-acquaint itself with the use of efficacious violence. Sad but true.

    Is there another way? Is there a middle position between “Can’t we all get along?” and “We want to destroy you.” I don’t see one. It’s like asking; Is there a number halfway between zero and infinity?

    Another problem with “intellectuals on war”: A lack of successful experience dealing with bullies in life. And a resultant failure of the imagination regarding the current Islamist bully we face. The bully mind must be understood: Words are but another mechanism to be used for physical success. Rationality is our problem. Morality and Ethics are our weakness. To a thug, everything is a fist, including the mind of his victim.

    Islamists recruited tens of thousands on the basis of American weakness. Now they recruits tens of thousands on the basis of American aggression. This is not a conundrum to be solved by the rational liberal mind. This is a declaration of war.

    As ever, the rationalizations for inaction are infinite. And rationalizing is quite a pleasant past-time, I admit. But the time for word games is up. Let us all now hammer out the parameters of efficacious violence and get on with our rescue.

    Let us swing the sword of our culture, not fall upon it.

    Amis has it right.

    Best to you all,
    Kevin Schnaper
    New York

  15. Ingolf says:

    Kevin, in your polite if rather bleak contribution you make a good deal of the distinction between reality and words. Whilst undeniably true in conceptual terms, I fear this distinction and its accompanying truism that “reality is always prime” doesn’t by itself take us all that far since it doesn’t address the question of how reality is to be defined. And by whom. Nor, and perhaps even more importantly, how it came to be. For to draw appropriate conclusions from “reality”, as best we can define it, surely we must take account of the causal chains through which it was created.

    You clearly have a very strongly felt perception of reality — at least as it pertains to the Islamist threat — which in turn leads you to draw the twin conclusions that the time for “rationalisations” is past and the time for “efficacious violence” has arrived. As a hopefully humorous aside, for one who seems a bit suspicious of rhetoric you make rather good use of it.

    I don’t think many would try to deny that there’s a sizeable group of Muslims who wish upon us in the west death and destruction. Nor do I think many would suggest that these individuals are any longer open to reasoned argument, if ever they were. The more interesting question is how this state of affairs has come to be. In a memo to his inner circle in October, 2003, Rumsfeld posed a most interesting question:

    : “Is our current situation such that “the harder we work, the behinder we get?'”

  16. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    Thank you for the interesting (and even more depressing) response.

    On the defining of reality, and who has the right to do so: This is, of course, a classic debate. And a debate that is impossible to resolve under certain assumptions.

    I believe one of these assumptions is that since no culture is capable of making a truly informed judgement about any other, no culture should intervene in any other.

    Another is, all peoples should have a right to live as they wish.

    In a perfect world, these would be incontrovertible precepts.

    But the world is far from perfect. And no one would suggest that the culture of the Antebellum South should have been left alone. Or Hitler’s Germany for that matter. Or an organized crime family. Or a tribe of cannibals.

    All cultures are not equal.

    At the end of the day, universal principals of Human Rights must govern all mankind. (Quelle Horreur! Le Arrogance!) There can be no “opting out” immunity on the grounds of multi-culturalist dogma. Because only a Hitler or Hossein would need the option. And they’re the reason we need the declaration.

    Thus our ninth amendment — One’s rights end where another’s begins.

    The acceptance of which would make you understand why I included the more difficult “Tribe of Cannibals” in my list above.

    ——

    But let me put all that aside for the moment and get to the crux of your argument: Blame and Blowback.

    Firstly, your history lesson about the great game-playing in the Middle East– “The west —

  17. Kevin, With Ingolf trapped inside his ‘pablum’, did you feel the need to add some pabulum of your own?

  18. Ingolf says:

    Kevin, you have, unfortunately, argued with your perception of what I wrote rather than my actual words. Your assumptions about what I believe and may or may not know are, it would seem, founded on some deeply rooted division of the world into ideological camps. I guess some of my words and thoughts placed me into one of those boxes and I was dealt with accordingly. I see little to be gained in talking past each other in this fashion and so will confine myself to trying to clear up a couple of specific points of misunderstanding:

    – I wasn’t using “rhetorical” in the derogatory sense it so often carries today. It was intended as a gently humorous comment, one that could of course equally be applied to me.

    – My use the Rumsfeld quote wasn’t intended to be a QED; indeed, I specifically noted that he was posing a question. It was simply a nice rhetorical seque into what I wanted to say.

    – I carry no brief for the ex Soviet Union or the present Russia. The former could indeed reasonably be called an evil empire and I don’t think I harbour too many illusions about its many crimes and misdemeanours on the world stage. Including, of course, the Middle East. As for Russia, I don’t doubt it sees great potential in the current chaos and confusion to further what it perceives as its interests. As of course does China.

    – I don’t for a moment believe all cultures are equal. I’d have thought that would be apparent from my earlier posts in this thread. However, the question of when, if at all, to intervene by force in another society’s affairs is to my mind another and far more complex matter altogether. I’m inclined to what tended to be the founding fathers’ views, as expressed in this excerpt from a speech given by John Quincy Adams (as Secretary of State) in July 1821:

    Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all; she is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force … . She might become the dictatress of the world; she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

  19. kevin Schnaper says:

    Upon re-reading my post I realized I should have included the following:

    I do not wholly discount the possibility that our use of efficacious violence in the middle east is “creating” more terrorists. There is always that possibility.

    Equally probable, possibly moreso, is that our use of efficacious violence in the middle east is simply bringing more extant terrorists out into the open, as there have been terrorist training camps in the middle east for 40 years, so they must have graduated quite a few foot-soldiers by now. (By the way, the finest terrorist training camp in the world, was in Iraq, pre-invasion. Should we have let that exist?))

    Either way, (or both ways), I believe there is no radically better alternative to what we are are doing now.

    But the idea that we are the ones that are wholly or even mostly responsible for creating the terrorist threat we face is a laughable piece of propaganda. That’s a classic Kremlin tactic to confuse and demobilize us with guilt and self-examination and to lead us away from the real culprits. Read up on Kremlinology and Soviet Propaganda and you’ll see. They were, and are, enormously clever at manipulating western public opinion.

    Anyhow it’s always fun to watch these anti-west nuggests spread from Pravda to Chomsky and Znet and Le Monde and then it’ll trickle out to CNN, The NY Times, and the BBC, and then to all the rest of the addled bobos-on-deadline of the mainstream press out for a hot populist story. And then to our ears.

    Let’s face reality, the 20th century began and ended with Muslim genocides (Armenia, Sudan). And Islam’s history has been phenomenally bloody since day one. So far, the twenty-first century has been more of the same. And radical Islam’s collusions with the U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany have only poisoned the religion further. And also improved Islam’s ability to de-mobilize the west by the use of Soviet-style left-reverberant propaganda.

    Now what is to be done?

    Again,
    Kevin

  20. kevin Schnaper says:

    Oh, I was writing as you were posting.

    The Adams quote is one of my favorites by him, beautifully written. But it is a very dated quote. Weaponry has changed, and the world has shrunk in so many different ways.

    And my apologies for talking past you on a few points. It wasn’t all directed at you. And I’d be writing all day if I responded to every point I wished.

    Best,
    Kevin

  21. Ingolf says:

    Indeed, as would we all, Kevin.

    Appreciate the apologies, unneeded though they were. For my part, I’m happy to just agree to disagree.

    regards

    Ingolf

  22. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

  23. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf, what would your alternate to the current semi-efficaciously violent plan be?

  24. Ingolf says:

    Nice turn of phrase, Kevin.

    Well, finding a way forward out of this very convoluted impasse is obviously no easy task (I’m given to understatement!) and I certainly don’t pretend to any special knowledge. For what it’s worth, I put a few thoughts together on that conundrum a little while ago in a different thread here on Troppo. They’re copied immediately below:

    “There’s no doubt that as one of the coalition of the willing, Australia has a grave responsibility to Iraq and its people. The more difficult question is whether continued military involvement is doing more harm than good. Given that Iraq is sinking deeper and deeper into sectarian violence, both the US and its partners will almost inevitably be increasingly drawn into taking sides, however much they might wish to avoid doing so. The US, and to a lesser degree what remains of its partners, in effect become another tribal player in a widening civil war. It’s also an unfortunate side effect that any government, party or militia that is supported by the coalition automatically loses critical credibility. This is not a problem that lends itself to an easy solution, or indeed perhaps to any solution at all.

    As long as we’re there militarily, some Sunni insurgent groups will be more likely to cooperate with jihadis and the day when the domestic factions are forced to begin dealing with each other and suppressing the utterly destructive influence of those bent on chaos and terrorism will be indefinitely delayed. The very idea of a united Iraq is losing cogency with each day that passes.

    Unfortunately, Bush’s refusal to talk with Iran and Syria in turn denies any opportunity to constructively engage the various interested regional parties. As far as I can judge, there are very few outside the White House who still profess to believe there’s any possibility of a military solution to this catastrophe.

    That the last 3-4 years have been an immense boon to the extremists in the Muslim world is I think accepted by all but the most intellectually shuttered. The long term consequences of continuing to feed this growing, and in my view partially justified anger and frustration are just horrendous.

    Quite what should be done is clearly something about which people of goodwill can and will disagree. In principle, though, it seems to me that any solution ought to:

    1) Make it clear that the purpose is not a long term occupation. The vast amounts being spent on long term bases and the US embassy are a propoganda gift to all those who wish to sow discord and hatred. And a source of real concern and cynicism to those who wish Iraq well.

    2) Avoid deals like the proposed oil legislation which reinforce the impression that it really was at least in part about exploitation of Iraqi resources.

    (As an aside, given that these two aims may well have been part of what I suspect was from the start a confused, highly divided set of goals within different parts of the US power structure, explicitly and meaningfully disavowing these goals would probably take something close to an internal revolution within the US).

    3) Promise truly significant and ongoing sums to reconstruction and development efforts and make it clear that their use is to be as much as possible in the hands of the Iraqis themselves.

    4) Where it can be safely done —

  25. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,
    Thanks for your remarks. I’ll comment in the order in which you presented them.

    I agree that we are in a geostrategic mess of enormous proportions and import. But from my vantage point we were in that mess before 2001. We just didn’t see or acknowlege that we saw the rim of the oncoming Islamist glacier peeking over the horizon. All that has changed now, at least for those who are willing to stare reality in the eye.

    I dispute a few of your premises.

    You say Iraq is sinking deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. I believe it is about at peak levels and has been since the escalation up from the Golden Mosque bombing by Al Quaeda. And the violence is not state-wide, it is more or less confined to Baghdad, with a few exceptions. If we pull out and away, however, then you’ll see a REAL escalation. A bloodbath in all probability.

    I disagree that the coalition will increasingly be drawn into taking sides in the sectarian struggle. Most in Iraq simply want peace and quiet and stability and they don’t care who brings it to them. This according to many on the ground, including General Patraous in the Senate yesterday. He gave as a recent example a Kurdish force that successfully settled down a shia-sunni sectarian-embattled town, much to the pleasure of its mixed non-Kurdish populace.

    I disagree that the U.S. has simply become another tribal player in the Shia-Sunni-Ba’athist Obstructionist-Al Quaeda-Iranian melee. We are more like the referee and I believe we are scrupulously avoiding as much direct sectarian contact as we can. This is one of the reasons for the difficulty in settling down Baghdad, but its also the reason American casualties are only at the 3000 mark (as opposed to the 80,000 lost in Viet Nam) which is an important propaganda point in keeping the U.S. from getting demoralized. Although, the media is such a hysterical drama-mongering bunch of obsequious populists, that you’d think Armeggedon had already struck.

    Which makes for a microscopic fine line that has to be walked in war these days. The Media is extremely 60s-centric, anti-war, anti-christian right, hate-bush, hate-big oil and Haliburton, etc. and any opportunity to elbow these folks in the ribs, even if they have to exaggerate and endanger the free world to do it, they’ll do it.

    For my mind, when one speaks the line-the-Media-is-spinning, I feel it to be an act of collateral propaganda. The media doesn’t know a damn thing, they’re not experts. Mostly they are just average folks, with average intellects, who have a few second-tier phone numbers in their palm pilots and maybe a little left-leaning spirit. They are just as emotional as any average person, and therefore just as susceptible to panic, hysteria and weepy propaganda.

    The obvious point is, politics is the manipulation of emotions for partisan benefit. At least in America it is. Its like a Kabuki show. The problem is, the less intelligent actually believe the blustering from the left politicos. Then, when the left get in to power, they wonder why congress won’t cut off the funding for the war. They’re puzzled because they thought they were being promised heads under a guillotine, evil rich people’s money, and a full pull-out of troops from all over the world and the resulting peace on earth.

    I do agree that as long as we’re there militarily some Sunni insurgents will find their affinities lying with Jihadists. But this is not our fault. This is because the Sunni/Ba’athists were told over and over again by Saddam that they were the majority culture in Iraq and that they had the power. Now they are faced with the reality that the opposite is true and they’re either denying it or fighting it. Either way, the demographic truth will determine the reality of the country eventually, (provided, some Ba’athist, Sunni or Salafist isn’t allowed to come into strongarm power).

    The idea of a united Iraq is not losing cogency. The only people who want Iraq to seperate or collapse are Al Quaeda. For almost all the countries in the Middle East, a collapsed Iraq, or a seperated Iraq means horrendous war. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia will all dive in if a vacuum forms and it will be a dreadful bloodbath.

    As for Iran, Iran is another demographic victory-in-the-making. Iran is a very young country with enormous sympathies for the west (outside its ruling clerical class, of course). There is student riots there all the time against the regime. Eventually they will join the community of nations, but they are a huge problem in the short term because of Ahmidenijad’s millinialism and persian-centric veiw of the middle east. They are the true terror masters and they are being supported in this shady endeavor by Russia. (It IS all about oil to them, you see. Authoritarian governments don’t give a damn if the world is safe because they’re already in lockdown ).

    On Bush’s refusal to talk with Iran and Syria. This is a classic Canard that is constantly being bandied about by the Media. It goes to the idea of the “stubborn bush white house”. Well, that’s all Democrat talking points.

    Iran is the real problem and they want to be the dominant power in the region.

    Several ways for Iran to accomplish that: Control most of the oil, dominate other countries like Lebanon and Syria, buy superpower-level weaponry from Russia, China and through underground networks like that of A.Q. Kahn, get nukes in order to prevent other super-powers from interfering in their plans, establish a Shi’ite Caliphate that runs from the Galilee to the edge of Saudia Arabia and Turkey, and, oh, while they’re at it, they’ll have been the kind hearted folks to once and for all destroy Israel, thus restoring damaged arab pride, and becoming heroes throughout Islam (thus accruing even more power).

    Obviously, nobody in their right mind would want any of these circumstances to come about.

    So how does one negotiate against these ambitions? Do you really think Iran wants to help us out in Iraq? Not a chance. They want to see us burn there and get out so they can own the land and the oil.

    Russia wants us to have “Our Afghanistan” there. Which would result in a collapse of America’s prestige as a force for peace and stability throughout the world. And once that credibility is destroyed, boy won’t that be fun!

    On your numbered points:

    1) We cannot be cowed by the threat of propaganda at our actions. We must instead, as well as combating our foes militarily, combat those wishing us harm who use propaganda as their tool. Unfortunately nearly every news forum in the world is either anti-war and left-leaning (read: doesn’t understand geostrategy at all) or is under the control of authoritarian regimes that pump out anti-west propaganda with a left-twinge, while controlling the facts about their countries that make it out of the borders.

    A captured note from Zarqawi in Iraq stated “More than half this war is being fought in the media”. This is a fact that only so-called “right wing” media and “alternative” media are willing to even entertain as significant. The lack of understanding in the western media about their collusion with the enemy, for the most part, unintentionally, is stunning to anybody who has some understanding of how propaganda wins and loses wars.

    2.) On the oil deals: What people don’t seem to understand is that either the oil goes to the western countries or it goes to thugs. I don’t think this is an exaggeration.

    If it goes to the western countries, the wealth generated will lead to greater prosperity in the west, thus more money in western economies, thus everything good that the western economies do will be increased. More medical research, more new technology, more aid to africa, more AIDS research, more aid around the world. More stability, both economically and militarily. More ability to bail out faltering economies around the world and prevent recessions and depressions that result in mass starvation and deprivation.

    But nobody ever talks about that because everybody hates a winner. The papers are all populist garbage and pander to the worst instincts in people. You never read that America gives 30 billion dollars to the world, free of charge every year. You never hear that Britain and Japan are in second and third place with around 12 billion apiece. And of course the amount of money the America expends in keeping the world in a state of military stability is in the trillions every year. If not for military stability every damn market in the world collapses (The left-leaning media has a child’s understanding of the markets) and we get a global recession, starvation, etc. This is not propaganda. This is the truth. But it would be great propaganda against radical islamist recruiting drives if only the world would get its head out of its arse and takes its own side in this essential fight to preserve the incredible civilization that our ancestors have wrought out of a savage earth to all our benefit. (where’s my podium!)

    Now what if the oil goes to Russia? Or some other thug like China? I think you can imagine. Russia and China simply do not care what happens in the world. In fact they seem to prefer instability because it messes up the west and drains our resources. Russia has reconstituted the KGB as the ruling class and are restoring rule-by-thuggery to the country.

    3.) Charity: Already done, but it can’t take effect until the situation is stable. Tons of money has already been requisitioned but has not been used by the Maliki government because of the instability.

    4.) It is part of the new U.S. plan to hire out the half-hearted among the insurgency against itself. Whether this will work or not is hard to tell. This wasn’t done originally because of the worry about Ba’athists retaining control after the fall of Saddam. Thus de-Ba’athification. This was a very debatable strategy, but I can perfectly understand why it was done. Yes, this led to a lot of disgruntled Ba’athists who went on to join or form the insurgency. But if they were left as the only strong force in the country, why would they have ceded control for the purposes of an election, which naturally would be won by a Shi’ite? Very tough questions.

    You say its hard to point to another positive result of our actions against Saddam’s regime and toward a democratic Iraq? Well what about the immediate surrender by Qaddafi of his weapons program upon the capture of Saddam? You never hear about that from the media because its pro-america and pro-bush. What about the begininings of a turn around in Saudia Arabia towards more rights for women and elections. What about the freeing of the Kurds? What about the rolling up of the A.Q. Khan black market for weaponry, which included nuclear secrets? What about the fact that we are finally pushing back against the growing islamist menace. Not to mention checking the corruption of certain U.N. member states.

    Disengaging Militarily is not something we should be talking about. If you want to give the insurgency the exact amount of time they should hang back, in order to return in full force at a later date then talk about a timetable for drawing down?

    This is not to say that we should not disengage militarily at some point. But we should not talk about disengaging. The enemy should be very afraid. They should look into their futures and only see a long hard slog that never ends. They should get depressed at that vision. They should sense no victory on the horizon. I wish people understood this. A bully only behaves when the teacher is around.

    It has been Al Quaeda’s stated aim to form their Salafist Caliphate in Iraq. If we pull out and leave Iraq to the fates, we inch that much closer to Al Quaeda’s dream.

    The current political situation in the U.S. as far as I can tell, is one of complete befuddlement because the media simply does not understand what is going on and therefore cannot communicate the situation to the american people. Nor will the media acknowledge the stakes involved. The people are being trained by the media in what to think, as usual, which is a collection of bumper sticker ideas left over from the 60s, plus the ever-popular “its the big oil companies using your dumb babies to kill brown people for oil”, which is always a big hit among a certain class of near-intellectual emotionalists.

    Anybody who realizes the threat we face, must resist all temptation to bleat the ostrich songs being taught to the sheep.

    And lastly, the origins of “Muslim Rage” are multifarious and only attached to the west through propaganda. Specifically and especially by the Soviets, but also by Nazi Germany and others. By that I don’t mean that Aramco wasn’t trying to do tough business in Iran in the 1940s. But that business is business. And when the Soviets come in and suggest “the west are Imperialists, if you love your sons and daughters you will nationalize your oil industry and come join our idyllic community of mankind” what they really are saying is “we want the oil and we want to destroy the west and we’ll say or do anything to make that happen.” This from a virtual slave state with horrendous human rights violations and a decrepit economy that only lasted because of oil. Never forget that. That’s the real great game.

    Best,
    Kevin
    New York

  26. Rafe Champion says:

    #12 Don, I put up a reply quite quickly but it apparently did not register. I think that there is a genuine problem of relativism in the social sciences, which is promulgated in public deabate by the members of the adversary culture. I think that is a legitimate concern that Amis articulated. You can of course define relativism to mean something other than the common usage that Amis empoyed, that is the view that moral standards are arbitrary. This doctrine is very much a feature of modern Anthropology as described by Roger Sandall in “The Culture Club”. For a review check out the bottom of this page:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/ACL845LEHNC7/104-6771916-4538329?ie=UTF8&display=public&sort%5Fby=MostRecentReview&page=6

    Still, if you want to use relativism to mean something different, that is ok as long as you are clear about the different usages and we know which one you have adopted. Then we can focus on the issues and find out if there is any substantial difference between us, or between you and Amis.

  27. Don Arthur says:

    Rafe – If relativism is “the view that moral standards are arbitrary” then I’d stick with what I said in the post:

    Imagine you’d convinced yourself that there were no good arguments for one moral belief system over another. Does this mean that the rational thing to do is follow self-interest? Not really. What arguments are their for that moral belief system? So how about believing in nothing —

  28. Rafe Champion says:

    Certainly in view of the fact that people who think that norms are arbitrary are usually just as dogmatic as everyone else in holding their own views, the philosophical issue of relativism can perhaps be ignored as a red herring.

    So how do we address the problem of people who hold views which challenge and attack the traditions, norms and institutions which we think make it possible to enjoy relative peace, freedom and prosperity?

    Do we ignore them and hope they will go away or never have enough influence to succced in their apparent objectives and bring on a new barbarism? Do we legislate to limit certain kinds of speech that (we think) incite hatred? Do we attempt to engage them in debate? I don’t have settled views on these matters, it is another round of working out how to handle the limits of tolerance.

  29. Ingolf says:

    You put your case very well, Kevin. Still, in the same way as I’m sure you find my perceptions and conclusions familiar, there’s also little in yours that was new to me.

    I was a little surprised at your relentlessly negative characterisation of the mainstream media. While I agree that there’s rarely much wisdom to be found there — and a great deal of nonsense — from 9/11 until not all that long ago they struck me as a great deal more sympathetic to your view of the world than to mine. It was a real source of sadness and occasional frustration to me that in the 12-18 months after 9/11, they almost entirely abandoned their job as sceptical watchdogs and acted more like cheerleaders. Then again, given that they were mirroring the society in which they’re embedded, I guess I ought not to have been surprised.

    Without in any way wishing to disrespect the time you put into your reply, I don’t think there is much to be gained by any attempt by me to reply in kind. Given your obvious interest in this subject, you will no doubt have read any arguments I might make many times before. Once again, therefore, just a few specific points:

    – You may be right that America won’t be drawn further into sectarian violence — I certainly hope you are — and I absolutely agree that most Iraqis simply want to be able to get on with their lives. Here too, I pray that the time will come soon when they may. It is difficult, though, I think, to play the role of referee when the rules are fluid and the players generally respond to whistles with bullets and bombs.

    – I also agree that Iran is a fascinating mixture and that much of, indeed perhaps most of the population, while they may be anti this administration, are anything but anti-American. By the way, I wrote a brief post in that earlier thread in response to a sarcastic reply to my contention that negotiation with Iran and Syria could be a good thing. If you’re interested, it’s post number 23 and can be found here:

    http://www.clubtroppo.com.au/2007/01/11/iraq-when-will-responsibility-bite/

    Anyway, enough for now I think, Kevin. We clearly hold radically different views on the way the world works, views that have probably in both cases been arrived at after a good deal of study and reflection. I don’t think there’s anything for it but to agree to disagree.

    all the best

    Ingolf

  30. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    You are an articulate advocate for “your side”, but we are on the same side, actually. Tactics is the rub. I will put geopolitics to rest.

    A quick explanatory point on the media. The media has an innate bias towards the broadcastable, the pleasant, the palatable. What I will call “the speakable.”

    But the world is filled with the unspeakable. So how is one to be informed about the true-but-unspeakable aspects of the world through a speakable-only medium. It is impossible.

    I believe the Media’s bias toward the speakable is a sort of leveling mechanism that causes a misapprehension of the profound inequivalencies between cultures. In the same way that a high jump competition that only uses heights that range from 1 to 5 feet will not give a true indication of the disparaties in the feild.

    This tendency by the media to compress the moral range of the world for the sake of broadcastability may be at the root cause of relativistic thinking, to get back to the point of the thread a bit.

    Relatavism comes out of a liberal tradition which is very much media-centric (from Book, magazine, and newspaper-learning to Broadcast Journalism and Scholastic Didacts). And since the various media have a bias towards the publication of the speakable, the “informed classes” will tend, I believe, to be deficient in their understanding of the unspeakable. All the world will be seen more pleasant than it is. Therefore it will be easier to look upon various cultures with relatavistic goggles.

    I think the true apprehension of the horror that occurs in the world will shake most adamant relatavists out of their stupefaction. Or drive them to a sort of madness by denial.

    Best,
    Kevin.

  31. Ingolf says:

    Thanks, Kevin.

    I think there’s a lot of truth in your notion of the media generally confining itself to the “speakable”. However, as I see it, what is “speakable” is in turn largely determined by the culture in which that media lives and dies. That makes it a moveable feast both in terms of time and place.

    I don’t therefore think this dynamic necessarily hides the “disparities in the field”, but it certainly can shift the range of the “speakable” towards one or the other extreme. Put another way, the media are as likely to become possessed by the prevailing enthusiasms or fears in “their” society as the society itself. It’s a reflexive process and I’m not sure it’s ever likely to really change. Only isolated pockets of resistance, if you like, will at any given time stand against the received wisdom. Be that wisdom right or wrong.

    As an aside, relativism has become, in my view, an overused word. As I’m sure you know from my earlier comments, I certainly don’t hew to the notion that all values are equal. However, what I do see as vital is that when we’re confronted with a serious potential conflict, a genuine attempt be made to understand the viewpoint of the other. Not only for moral and ethical reasons, but also for pragmatic ones, for if the conflict is truly insoluble by sweet reason, the better our foe is understood the more likely we are to emerge victorious.

    Must be getting towards day’s end over there so I’ll say goodnight.

    Ingolf

  32. kevin Schnaper says:

    Dear Polite fellow,

    Indeed, I believe the media lops off both ends of the moral bell curve. Thus the simple, calm and beautiful is absent as well as the violent, depraved and frightening.

    But leaving out the beautiful and leaving in the bland is no danger. It is leaving out the harshness that leaves us unprepared and unmotivated.

    For instance how are we to judge “muslim rage” without understanding the culture of violent sexual repression and mysogyny in the arabian world — Honor killings, rape as punishment, the killing of unscarved women, and the like?

    Or how and why that repression and mysogyny has been unleashed on Europe through it’s Muslim immigrant population, as one can see with the current Europe-wide rash of rapes by young Muslim men of western women walking the streets without proper headscarves.

    The educated westerner may know something about female genital mutilation in arab countries, but will they know what it looks like, for example? The dysfunctions it causes? Or, more importantly to the “roots of muslim rage” question, why it is done?

    What of the torture in prisons throughout that part of the world? For example, we know that Saddam’s regime was guilty of the following: Putting live humans into meat grinders, raping children in front of their parents, putting live humans into vats of acid, hacking off limbs of live humans, mutilating genitals, electro-shocking the genitals, ripping the limbs off live humans using winch and pulley systems, etc.

    More importantly, let us talk about the incidence of the rape of young boys in Muslim societies. It is very difficult to get accurate numbers, but apparantly the practice is quite widespread.

    How does this affect the psychology of the men of that area? How is a society to deal with tens of millions of sexually abused young Men? I’m sure you’re aware of the studies on sexually abused boys, their antisocial behavior, the violent tendencies, the increased likelihood of mental illness… If you truly want to find the roots of muslim rage, why not start there?

    Most media-consuming folk would turn away in horror at the above, or reject the premises out of hand. And then back to the comfort of the narrow-band media.

    What have we done to deserve this?

    How easy that is.

    Let me be blunt. If you aren’t scared, you aren’t paying attention.

    On the point you seem to be circling: The dangers of American Jingoism. I am assuming, and correct me if I am wrong, that you believe the American-led invasion of Iraq was hurried, inadequately staffed, poorly researched, unnecessary, more destructive than helpful, illegal with respect to international law, possibly set up as a neo-colonial oil grab, based on rigged intelligence from cowed intelligence agencies, aided and abetted by a fear-mongering press corps, aided and abetted by a Haliburton-staffed White House and a dumb Texas-swaggerin’ Moron-in-chief eager to get into Iraq to knock some heads together and get that dang oil.

    That about right?

    Good night,
    Kevin
    New York

  33. Ingolf says:

    Unfortunately, this conversation has for me lost what charm it had, Kevin. As I said earlier, I see no value in talking past each other, much less in being harangued, so I shall bow out.

    Ingolf

  34. kevin Schnaper says:

    Dear sir,

    I deliberately stripped the charm out as an antidote to your cool condescension. Normally I adore condescension, but not when it is the delivery mechanism for innaccuracies.

    For example, your understanding of Soviet influence in the Middle East seems dangerously deficient, (especially since you are publishing it globally). Your tendency instead to fixate on western culpability for the Islamist threats we face not only exonerates the Soviet efforts to inflame the region and sow extremism, thereby shifting blame to our side, but it also tends to filter out the more fundamental causes of Muslim Rage, which probably have more to do with aberrant psychology (from Koranic teachings of superiority and jihad to sexual repression and abuse) and self-destructive decrees that have diminished the ability of Muslim societies to modernize (For instance, the doctrinal subjugation of women, or the Ottoman Caliphate’s decree that the Koran would be the sole fount of literacy, which led directly to the subsequent precipitous decline in the civilization) than the Western Powers’ often-times foolishly catalytic dealings in the region.

    The “intellectual” roots of Islamism stretch all the way back to the beginning of the Religion. Koranic exegesis has consistently called for violence, coercion and subjugation. That is, Jihad, Sharia and Dhimmitude.

    In the last century Islamist thinking has found fruit in the teachings of Wahhabiism, Sayyid Qtub, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Banna and others… The direct progenitors of today’s islamists. And they all fight for world domination against modernity. Against our modernity and against their own. Against Attaturk and Nasser and every other subsequent progressive force in Islam. Against the symphony, the novel and the movie.

    I do not believe I was talking past you. I was trying to shock you into a little perspective. I thought your affinity for argumentative minutiea and subtle opposition agit-prop needed checking.

    In conflict every action is ripe for the propaganda mills. And every inaction is too. All is fair game. This fight is in the streets, it is in the media, it is in the banks, at the pumps, in the schools, it is on the web. Sometimes it is against an ally.

    Best wishes,
    Kevin

  35. Ingolf says:

    Kevin, I have been writing in what could be called a “cool”

  36. kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    In a time of war, it would seem understandable that very few discussions about the war are neutral with respect to propaganda value. I will try to explain why. (This might take a bit of time.)

    I would argue, placing a history lesson, even a quick cursory one, emphasizing western culpability online is only a neutral event if it states the truth.

    I felt that your unintentional exaggeration of western culpability in Islamic aggression and dysfunction was indistinguishable from mild anti-west propaganda. As it mapped fairly well with the KGB line from the mid-sixties onward which was specifically design to defeat the west. (and which has been so resonant with Noam Chomsky and his anti-western followers.)

    We know now from the many dissidents and high-ranking defectors that have come forward, widespread and well-armed Islamic fundamentalist dynamics has been the brainchild of the Soviets, as a way to gain power in the Middle East for quite some time. This strategy continues today.

    That is why it is so important I correct you on this point. You cannot address the war on terror without understanding that Russia is still behind much of it. And many of the actions being taken right now can only be understood in this context (i.e. U.S. efforts to lower the global price of oil (Which is Russia’s lifeblood), Bush talking about alternative fuel in his address (for the same reason), a carrier moving into persian gulf, russia countering by selling anti-aircraft missles to iran, etc.)

    Russia’s Machiavellian involvement in the region began, apparantly under the Czar. But the Soviet involvment seems to have begun only in the 1920s, but it is hard to confirm that because the records are rather sketchy before the 1940s or so.

    It definitely picked up speed during WWII as the Soviets were saved by the shipping of armaments by the allies through Iran. It was at that point that Stalin becamse obsessed with Persia as a stretegic region. And once the cold war heated up Soviet involvement became even more pronounced. And then the extremist strategy found full blossom in the 1960s with the creation of the PLO and the widespread training and arming of militias and dictatorial governments throughout the region.

    The long term destabilisation of the Middle East by the Soviets has been countermanded by the real-politik stabilising strategies of a long succession of U.S. administrations. This has not always worked or worked out great, obviously.

    The Soviets countered by laying out the propaganda line that we were “propping up dictators who keep their people under the boot for oil”. Which in a sense was half-true, but is only a third of the story. Again, this goes to the damned if you do, damned if you don’t line.

    But let us accept that we ARE going to be damned if we do, damned if we don’t. There is no way out of that, because the groundwork for anti-colonial anti-west propaganda has been laid exquisitely over generations. And Muslim rage and hatred and aggression will never be satiated by anything but our destruction.

    We ARE damned no matter what.

    To continue on propaganda: History Lessons Matter. Stalin once said, “he who controls the past, controls the present.” By that I believe he meant that by controlling the story, one could control who is thought of as the victim, or the aggressor, historically in a any conflict. By this determination one could control the sympathies of listeners, thus their hearts and minds, thereby accruing power and winning battles by sheer politics or numbers/demographics alone.

    This is what we are combatting. Mind-sets. The mind is the battlefield.

    The west is wretched at this battlefield becuase we are all so self-obsessed. Or more accurately, narcissistic. We are coddled and pandered to and it makes us think only our own thoughts matter. And thus, so what if we say something that hurts western credibility, its my expression and I’m entitled to it.

    But with expression comes responsibility. To which the modern westerner says, I’m a free person, I don’t have to take responsibility for what I say. What are you, some kind of thought gestapo?

    This mindset has made us weak at unifying under a common flag. And that is why we haven’t won a war since the 1940s when that mindplace was still extant in the U.S. The hallmark of the west since then has been disunity. And disunity and propaganda are antithetical.

    The only non-fascist way for the west to return to a disciplined approach to propaganda is for westerners to elect to discipline what they say, for the benefit of the society as a whole.

    Meanwhile, the Islamist Mindset has been at war for a millenia. And they have perfected the propaganda techniques by which perfect Islamic soldiers may be reared. That is, a person, for whom killing and dying in the name of the culture is an honor. Shame is unnaceptable. Better to die. Never accept defeat. And all that jazz.

    Thus Islamists are still fighting 400 year old battles. They still want the caliphate restored. They want the year to be sometime in the middle ages. They want all other cultures and religions to be subjugated to theirs. The Islamist armies are perfectly brainwashed soldiers, they’re in lockstep with their mullahs.

    Just as an object example in the quality of the Islamist mind control: If one billion people are kept in poverty and misery by a group of repressive and corrupt potentates for a thousand years believing in martyrdom and virgin rewards and Islamic superiority, how could anybody believe that a ten mile strip of land named Israel is the current culprit in their enslavement?

    That is masterful politics.

    This is the point: War’s are won and lost by perception. If you think you’ve lost you’ve lost. If you refuse to lose, you still have a fighting chance that the other side will think it has lost, and it will lose.

    Much of this fight is for control of the perceptions of the opponent. This is where our media is letting us down horrendously. They simply, by virtue of their business, can not believe they aren’t soldiers for truth and justice.

    Meanwhile the point of all information put forth in public by Islamists is to assist in their total victory over the west.

    This is what I’m trying to say: Your mind is a part of the battlefield.

    If you think we should pull back, because we’re creating more terrorists by our actions, then it is my belief that their propaganda has worked on you. I say this because the idea that we are creating more terrorists is wholly unprovable. It can’t be based on numbers because there aren’t any numbers. It can’t be based on news reports because the only people who truly know the reality on the ground in the Islamist Middle East are only interested in desseminating victory-assisting propaganda to the media. (Witness the amount of incorrect information/propaganda being offered by stringers to the ever-gullible AP and Reuters, half of which they print one day then retract the next.) So your belief that this islamist proliferation is the case, is based on what? It must be emotion, or some kind of “sense” or a fear or dread. And those kinds of feelings are always filled out via the particulars of the applicable propaganda handy.

    Which is exactly what the Islamists and anti-americanists are attempting to cultivate in you.

    So I posit that their meme has infected you and demobilized you in some way. And I worry that if you spread that self-same meme, you will demobilize others. This hinders the war effort.

    This idea may annoy you. Or bemuse you. I understand. But I hope you will at least consider it.

    To your point, I perfectly understand the need for the rational, sober, studious approach to understanding the mind-set of our Islamist enemies so that we may not make things worse by our attempts to make them better.

    No doubt some of the Islamist’s stated greivances have merit from their vantage points.

    Then again, if one has studied the matter over time, one encounters endess plausable rationales for aberrant behavior by the Islamists. At some point, the realities have to be addressed and the rationales ignored. At some point a decision about action simply has to be made.

    If everything and anything is an excuse for Muslim Rage and recruitment, then the only options left are 1.) to die by their hand or 2.) have our culture die through the demographic bomb (See Malcolm X’s autobiography for the evidence that demographics have been the weapon of choice of the Muslim Brotherhood since the 60s), or 3.) fight a total war against Islamists.

    Now of course, once we go for total war against the Islamists, they will scream to the media that all of islam is being attacked. This will be a great media story. This will resonate with some emotionalists. This cry and our actions will indeed raise some new recruits to defend their faith. People in the west will panic that more recruits are appearing and assign the blame to our action.

    But don’t let your mind be fooled by that. Its all part of the war.

    Disengage at will.

    Best,
    Kevin.

  37. Ingolf says:

    Kevin, you argue your case intelligently and with great determination and passion. So much so that I could almost wish to agree with you, if only so that we could conclude this conversation in a more mutually satisfactory manner. Unfortunately, I still can’t.

    I have no doubt the Soviet Union made every attempt to infiltrate, propagandise and encourage anti-Western attitudes and actions in the Middle East, as it did in so many places. These efforts probably met with more success in parts of the Middle East than elsewhere because that part of the world was ripe for exploitation in this way. Deep seated resentments were already present, in part the result of our continuing interference as I’ve touched on in earlier posts, and in part because of ongoing internal contradictions and conflicts within both Islam and the countries where it holds sway.

    I don’t think anyone could reasonably accuse George Kennan of being dismissive of the Soviet threat, or unaware of their methods. He had, for example, this to say in 1985 (Morality and Foreign Policy: Foreign Affairs):

    “Earlier in this century the great secular despotisms headed by Hitler and Stalin introduced into the pattern of their interaction with other governments clandestine methods of operation that can only be described as ones of unbridled cynicism, audacity and brutality. These were expressed not only by a total lack of scruple on their own part but also by a boundless contempt for the countries against which these efforts were directed (and, one feels, a certain contempt for themselves as well). This was in essence not new, of course; the relations among the nation-states of earlier centuries abounded in examples of clandestine iniquities of every conceivable variety. But these were usually moderated in practice by a greater underlying sense of humanity and a greater respect for at least the outward decencies of national power. Seldom was their intent so cynically destructive, and never was their scale remotely so great, as some of the efforts we have witnessed in this century”

    Nevertheless, as regards the then current threat from Soviet foreign policy in the third world, he said in an article in Foreign Affairs in Spring 1987:

    “One may say, yes, but look at Soviet positions in such places as Ethiopia and Angola. Fair enough. Let us look at them, but not exaggerate them. Aside from the fact that these places are mostly remote from our own defensive interests, what are the Russians doing there? With the exception of Afghanistan, where their involvement goes much further, they are selling arms and sending military advisers — procedures not too different from many of our own. Can they translate those operations into ideological enthusiasm or political loyalty on the part of the recipient Third World regimes? No more, in my opinion, than we can. These governments will take what they can get from Moscow — take it cynically and without gratitude, as they do from us. And they will do lip service to a political affinity with Moscow precisely as long as it suits their interest to do it and not a moment longer.”

  38. kevinSchnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    The Kennan quotes you mentioned, I notice, are from 1985 and 1987 respectively. I have a rule about Soviet studies. And it is the following: Until Mitrokhin and Perestroika, nobody knew anything.

    Prior, it seems from the evidence, (except for an ignored and ridiculed handful), western academics were mostly “useful idiots”, to use Stalin’s famous phrase. So were a huge number of journalists and politicians. And not just those who were being paid for their services by the Politburo.

    A few examples: There was a very famous symposium of many of the most celebrated western Sovietologists organized in ’85. Soviet economic success was the topic du jour. Later information demonstrated that each and every one of these “experts” was either lying or a propaganda dupe. And very famous names were on the dais.

    From personal experience: Speaking with some good friends last year on the AIDS crisis, the rumor that AIDS had been created in an American laboratory was bandied.

    Now, after the wall fell, Gorbachev himself admitted that this tale was a KGB concoction. The wonder is, how did the damaging rumor stick in my friend’s mind for 25 years, but the truth never make it to his ears?

    To end this conversation, I should like to add that I am much more a liberal than you know. And in much greater sympathy with many of your beliefs than I am letting on. I was putting forth a more headstrong argument than is probably polite with the hope that you would drive back with something ultimately swaying. Or at least paradigm-shifting.

    I hope you will find the time to read the two volumes currently available from the notes of Vasily Mitrokhin (edited by Christopher Andrew.)

    Best wishes,
    Kevin

  39. kevin says:

    Ingolf,

    I find this exchange far too interesting to leave without one more sally. You are free not to respond of course.

    The Kennan quotes you mentioned, I notice, are from 1985 and 1987 respectively. This will have some bearing on my opinions of them.

    The first one rings true, but the second I am not so sure about. In fact the second quote seems shot through with misunderstandings. For instance, how can we look at “Soviet positions” in any country around the globe without even knowing where all of them were, or what they were doing? Yes let us not exaggerate, he says, to which I say fine. But let us also not assume that where the lights are off, everyone is tucked safely in bed. Let us not exaggerate the extent of knowledge about Soviet dealings around the world either.

    And this goes to one of my personally-held rules about Soviet studies. And it is the following: Until Mitrokhin and Perestroika, nobody knew much of anything. And, as much as Kennan had an even hand and a keen mind, he was still a product of his time and the information available.

    And this is the benefit the Soviet information control machinery accrued. That even reasonable men, wrong assuming some degree of complete knowledge, could make egregious errors in judgment on the Soviet threat.

    Thus Kennan could assume, also, that Russia merely sought to establish “ideological enthusiasm and political loyalty” in third worlds countries. This misunderstands the role that sowing pure mischief was part of Soviet foreign policy.

    Because it is mostly open societies who believe in human rights and worry about terrorism, it is they who must contend with the strife in the world beyond their borders. Authoritarian regimes are far more protected from radicals and care not a whit about human rights. In fact, instability in strategic regions can be a bulwark to an Authoritarian country, as in the case of the Soviet Union.

    Prior to Mitrokhin especially, it seems from the evidence, (except for an ignored and ridiculed handful, Robert Conquest comes immediately to mind), western academics were mostly “useful idiots”, to use Stalin’s famous phrase. So were a huge number of journalists and politicians. And not just those who were being paid for their services by the Politburo. The effects of this mass stupefaction of the western medias are in blatant evidence today.

    A few examples: There was a highly touted symposium of many of the most celebrated western Sovietologists organized in ’85. Soviet economic success was the topic du jour. Later information demonstrated that each and every one of these “experts” was either prevaricating or a propaganda dupe. And very famous names were on the dais, I believe Galbraithe and Hobsbawm among them.

    From personal experience: Speaking with some good friends last year on the AIDS crisis, the rumor that AIDS had been created in an American laboratory was bandied. Now, after the wall fell, Gorbachev himself admitted that this rumor was a KGB concoction. That my friend still carried the rumor, but was untouched by the admission, reflects quite clearly the quality and anonymous permeability of Soviet propaganda.

    You also say, “If a cause, or set of beliefs, is not inherently strong enough to withstand the criticism it may recieve in a free society, then in my view there’s every likelihood it deserves to fall.” To that I reply that I would agree in the case of a perfect marketplace of information. But since that perfect market doesn’t exist, your statement does not hold water. The media is inherently biased towards, again, broadcastability, and populist dramatics, which tend to veer wildly between anti-authoritarian and jingoistic stances, often at the incorrect times. Not to mention political theatre, which is almost wholly founded on exploiting the emotionalism and miseducation of the masses by the media and divisiveness for petty partisan gain. And not to mention pure digestible simplicity.

    To end this conversation, I should like to add that I am much more a liberal than you know. And in much greater sympathy with many of your beliefs than I am letting on. I was putting forth a more headstrong argument than I would normally with the hope that you would drive back with something ultimately swaying. Or at least paradigm-shifting. I consider your statement “I accept without qualification that the views you express are deeply held and entirely genuine” to be another condescension. I am sure we can both agree that a deeply held belief is not worth a damn if it does not have currency on the ground. I am perfectly willing to be swayed by new information, as I am sure you are.

    Speaking of which, I hope you will find the time to read the two volumes currently available from the notes of Vasily Mitrokhin (edited by Christopher Andrew.)

    Best wishes,
    Kevin

  40. Kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    I find this exchange far too interesting to leave without one more sally. You are free not to respond of course.

    The Kennan quotes you mentioned, I notice, are from 1985 and 1987 respectively. This will have some bearing on my opinions of them.

    The first one rings true, but the second I am not so sure about. In fact the second quote seems shot through with misunderstandings. For instance, how can we look at “Soviet positions” in any country around the globe without even knowing where all of them were, or what they were doing? Yes let us not exaggerate, he says, to which I say fine. But let us also not assume that where the lights are off, everyone is tucked safely in bed. Let us not exaggerate the extent of knowledge about Soviet dealings around the world either.

    And this goes to one of my personally-held rules about Soviet studies. And it is the following: Until Mitrokhin and Perestroika, nobody knew much of anything. And, as much as Kennan had an even hand and a keen mind, he was still a product of his time and the information available.

    And this is the benefit the Soviet information control machinery accrued. That even reasonable men, wrong assuming some degree of complete knowledge, could make egregious errors in judgment on the Soviet threat.

    Thus Kennan could assume, also, that Russia merely sought to establish “ideological enthusiasm and political loyalty” in third worlds countries. This misunderstands the role that sowing pure mischief was part of Soviet foreign policy.

    Because it is mostly open societies who believe in human rights and worry about terrorism, it is they who must contend with the strife in the world beyond their borders. Authoritarian regimes are far more protected from radicals and care not a whit about human rights. In fact, instability in strategic regions can be a bulwark to an Authoritarian country, as in the case of the Soviet Union.

    Prior to Mitrokhin especially, it seems from the evidence, (except for an ignored and ridiculed handful, Robert Conquest comes immediately to mind), western academics were mostly “useful idiots”, to use Stalin’s famous phrase. So were a huge number of journalists and politicians. And not just those who were being paid for their services by the Politburo. The effects of this mass stupefaction of the western medias are in blatant evidence today.

    A few examples: There was a highly touted symposium of many of the most celebrated western Sovietologists organized in ’85. Soviet economic success was the topic du jour. Later information demonstrated that each and every one of these “experts” was either prevaricating or a propaganda dupe. And very famous names were on the dais, I believe Galbraithe and Hobsbawm among them.

    From personal experience: Speaking with some good friends last year on the AIDS crisis, the rumor that AIDS had been created in an American laboratory was bandied. Now, after the wall fell, Gorbachev himself admitted that this rumor was a KGB concoction. That my friend still carried the rumor, but was untouched by the admission, reflects quite clearly the quality and anonymous permeability of Soviet propaganda.

    You also say, “If a cause, or set of beliefs, is not inherently strong enough to withstand the criticism it may recieve in a free society, then in my view there’s every likelihood it deserves to fall.” To that I reply that I would agree in the case of a perfect marketplace of information. But since that perfect market doesn’t exist, your statement does not hold water. The media is inherently biased towards, again, broadcastability, and populist dramatics, which tend to veer wildly between anti-authoritarian and jingoistic stances, often at the incorrect times. Not to mention political theatre, which is almost wholly founded on exploiting the emotionalism and miseducation of the masses by the media and divisiveness for petty partisan gain. And not to mention pure digestible simplicity.

    To end this conversation, I should like to add that I am much more a liberal than you know. And in much greater sympathy with many of your beliefs than I am letting on. I was putting forth a more headstrong argument than I would normally with the hope that you would drive back with something ultimately swaying. Or at least paradigm-shifting. I consider your statement “I accept without qualification that the views you express are deeply held and entirely genuine” to be another condescension. I am sure we can both agree that a deeply held belief is not worth a damn if it does not have currency on the ground. I am perfectly willing to be swayed by new information, as I am sure you are.

    Speaking of which, I hope you will find the time to read the two volumes currently available from the notes of Vasily Mitrokhin (edited by Christopher Andrew.)

    Best wishes,
    Kevin

  41. Ingolf says:

    Kevin, I

  42. Kevin Schnaper says:

    Ingolf,

    I am afraid I have come to believe “openness” is not all it is cracked up to be. Truth is oftentimes so tangled and complex most people can not process it. Except through either “funnel vision”, “filter vision” or both.

    Filter vision is when only those facts that prove one’s pre-conceived worldview are processable.

    Funnel vision is when every fact is seen as proving one’s pre-conceived worldview.

    And of course most worldviews are highly reductionist and most facts are unavailble.

    So what are we left with in so-called open information systems?

    But even if there was such a thing… Let us say a perfect libertarianism results in a perfect democracy of information. Everyone’s thoughts about their experience and what they have heard and believe are all available and considered, from the experts down to the clueless. Will this result in greater clarity? Or more confusion? Much less generate a consensus about group action in times of “tribal peril”? Has rationality ever won against emotionalism?

    It has been my experience that “town hall meetings” generally degenerate into an “airing of greivances”. Can you imagine a global town hall meeting? It will never end. It will fill the culture up with negativity and strife. Everbody demanding restitution, justice, retribution, reparations… There will be no time for anything else. And what will result?

    Can you imagine what would happen if all the nations of the earth opened their archives for public scrutiny? The world would be awash in scandal, double dealing, cynicism and prevarication. Not to mention nuclear codes and bomb diagrams.

    Yes, I would like to believe that a good idea will find its day, pace Friedman. But even Friedman’s ideas could have easily been blown off course. What would have happened if Friedman had died in 1962, for instance? Who would have championed his ideas as well as he?

    As it is, even after the quality of his ideas have been proven in practice, for most in the American media at least, Friedman’s name is spoken with the same dull clank as that of Whittaker Chambers. Both apostates from Democratic dogma.

    And even as much as I respond intellectually to libertarianism, I think it has the unfortunate side effect of promoting or enabling narcissism. And a nation of narcissists will never have the will to sacrifice in the name of common good until the danger is literally at all their doorsteps for them to see with their own eyes. By then, of course, it will be too late.

    Therefore the quality governance “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is an impossibility. It’s just rhetoric. The people must be organized by those who know better. Otherwise we have mob rule.

    Principles are no match for reality. If a high principle results in doom, what good was it? We are seeing now the cherished principles of multi-culturalism mortally challenged. Will we cherish that principle all the way to the grave?

    You seem to indicate you have an aversion to “conceptual incoherence”? Well, that’s the U.S. in a nutshell. We’re a complete mish-mosh. But at the foundation we have “the freedom to choose what we mean by freedom”. How that can result in anything but a conceptual smorgasbord, I don’t know. But it seems to work better than any other system.

    Sometimes we need laissez-faire markets, sometimes we need a “unitary” executive. The pendulum is constantly on the swing. And that is as it should be.

    I believe now is a time for strong, resolute collective action against a massive, irrational, devious existential threat. Unfortunately the nature of that threat is not making it to the people because the people’s minds are being sheilded by their own ostrich-like proclivities and the ideologues who would exploit them; multi-culti mullahs, and the ayatollas of isolation.

    You worry that our action will make matters worse. Can things be any worse than in England right now? So much terrorism is arising from Britain’s multiculturalist laxity, there are now debates about England being considered a state-sponsor of terror.

    Bernard Lewis just wrote a piece about the almost inevitable Islamization of Europe. Steyn has written America Alone about the same subject. The evidence is overwhelming if one cares to look.

    But how can one look, for instance in Canada with Steyn’s book, when the main nationwide chain bookstore will not even stock the book out of “political correctness”. To any impartial observer, that is clearly information control on an Orwellian scale.

    The ticker on the demographic bomb is at five to midnight.

    I am tempted to say — in fact I will say — I would rather rather run roughshod over the entire islamic world until the cancer of Islamism is stamped out, and have the world hate us for a thousand years, than leave the world to be destroyed for its own fine principles.

    That is my principle. We can always apologize afterwards.

    Maybe from your vantage point, you feel secure enough to be a disinterested observer. I don’t think most of the rest of the west has the luxury of sharing your view.

    You have given me much food for thought. Thank you for the fine conversation.

    Best,
    Kevin

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