MD Understanding Quality And Power

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Sun Dec 12 2004 - 01:24:01 GMT

  • Next message: Mark Steven Heyman: "MD Understanding Quality And Power"

    > msh said:
    > Sorry. Didn't mean to sound defensive. I was just sort of stunned
    > by how bad the argument is. Having heard it decried so often by
    > folks wanting to justify aggression, I expected it to be more
    > formidable.

    In my talk this morning, I elicited the response 'we're just as bad
    as Saddam was'. So even if 'intelligent progressives' don't make the
    argument, it is a 'mood' in certain quarters.

    msh says:
    You may be taking the thoughts of your congregation too lightly. You
    might want to ask some questions to see if they are really using the
    moral equivalence argument, as you defined it. It could be that
    their thinking goes something like this: Hussein killed or
    disappeared 300,000 of his people in 25 years. We've managed to kill
    over 100,000 Iraqi innocents in a year and a half. In this respect,
    it's hard to see where the US/UK coalition can claim the moral high
    ground. Unless you're saying the MOTIVES for our actions stem from
    some higher morality, which assumes the conclusion. That is, this is
    what we (you and I) and they are trying to figure out.

    In general, there's nothing wrong with saying that WE are no better
    than Hussein, in some important respects. This is not the same as
    saying we are absolutely morally equivalent, that life under Hussein
    would be no less pleasant that life under Blair or Bush.

    On the question of what constitutes a 'system-wide' threat:

    > msh says:
    > Yes, this is a valuable question. Since the destruction of the
    > American system by an external power would involve nothing less
    > a full invasion and occupation of the homeland, such as what is
    > occurring in Iraq, I'd say that there is no power on earth capable
    > of accomplishing it. So the question is moot, and is raised only
    > a scare tactic in trying to persuade the American population to go
    > along with the expansionist agenda of its leaders. Sadly, this
    > tactic seems to be working.

    Don't agree that the question is moot, although I do agree that the
    US system is extremely robust and something like 9/11 is a
    comparative pinprick as a threat. I think it would be quite useful to
    try and outline what sort of thing might qualify (eg, would a
    terrorist group like Al Qaeda, in possession of several nuclear
    weapons on US soil, exploding one, then threatening to blow up the
    others in unspecified cities unless certain demands are met, would
    that qualify?

    msh says:
    First, I think if we're going to use the phrase "terrorist group"
    we'll probably need to agree on a definition of terrorism My
    position is that terrorism is a tactic employed by entities trying to
    achieve political goals, and that such tactics are by no means
    limited to loosely defined groups like Al Qaeda. In fact, there
    appears to be a direct relationship between the level of terror and
    the level of military power available to the political entity.

    We can go down this road, if you like. Or we can agree that terror
    is a violent tactic used to one extent or another by EVERY political
    entity in trying to achieve its goals.

    Regarding your hypothetical situation above, as it would be a direct
    and sustained attack on the homeland, I think it might well qualify
    as the beginnings of a system-wide threat. I'm just not sure how
    much time we should spend discussing such unlikely scenarios,
    especially when there are groups who unequivically possess more than
    enough NW to pose a real-life threat of human extinction. Since the
    post powerful of these groups steadfastly refuse to relinquish their
    attempts to accumulate still more of such weapons, I think our
    energies might be better directed toward achieving world-wide nuclear

    > sam:
    > I think the argument is invalid (in other words, I don't believe
    > that this was the motivation for the USG to act as it did), but I'm
    > not sure the reasons you give are the best, for the 'consistency
    > over time' point that I mentioned before. In other words, it's not
    > logical fallacy for the USG (or one of their defenders) to turn
    > around and say 'we've changed' - this is the neo-con argument,
    > it?
    > msh says:
    > Yes. I left open the the possibility of the neo-con response to
    > what you might make of it. You seem to be aware of the argument's
    > obvious invalidity, so great. That saves us a lot of time.

    Hang on a second - that's a very condensed comment you've given
    there, and there is an ambiguity about what 'the argument's obvious
    invalidity' refers to. I think the brutal dictator argument is not
    the true justification for the action against Iraq (which we agree
    on). I haven't made up my mind about the neo-con argument yet (which
    we may well not agree on) - the latter being the argument that USG
    policy has changed since 2000 and is, indeed, going to be concerned
    with establishing truth, justice and the american way throughout the
    world. That's a caricature of the view, and I'm wanting to go deeper
    into it (eg by exploring Leo Strauss) but I don't want you to be
    misled here.

    msh says:
    You seemed to recognize that ungoing USG support for brutal dictators
    invalidates any attempt to argue that Iraq was attacked in order to
    remove Hussein because he was a brutal dictator. Am I wrong here?

    As for the neo-con argument, I don't see how anyone can take it
    seriously when obvious steps towrd a New Humanism (such as those
    mentioned by myself below and William Blum) are systematically

    > msh said:
    > I don't see how, if the argument is invalid, it can have even
    > supplementary value. But as long as we can agree that the "brutal
    > dictator" argument is worthless when advanced by an aggressor who
    > clearly supports brutal dictators, then I'm happy.

    Psychological rather than logical support forms the supplementary
    value. Although there's a quibble at the back of my mind that it can
    be logically valid, that is, an argument can lend weight without
    being conclusive or viable on its own.... I need to think about that
    a bit more.

    msh says:
    That's all I can ask. Thanks.... :-)

    (Break for length more to follow)

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)

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