Re: MD Understanding Quality And Power

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Tue Dec 14 2004 - 17:09:11 GMT

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    Hi Sam,

    On 14 Dec 2004 at 14:41, Sam Norton wrote:
    Why don't we run with the definition that Kofi Annan's 'great and
    good' came up with a week or two ago: "any action intended to kill or
    seriously harm civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of
    intimidating a population or compelling action by a government or
    international organisation"?

    And I then amplified it by saying:

    So if, for example, it could be shown that the USG was intending to
    frighten the Iraqi civilian population into accepting democracy, and
    were deliberately targeting civilians with their weaponry to that
    end, then they would be guilty of terrorism.

    msh then said:
    This IS an example of Platteral Shift... <snip>

    Sam now says:
    I wasn't intending to make a Platteral shift, and I'm not clear how I
    have. In particular, I don't see that I've "shifted us away from
    attacks during peace time to actions during war". Are you reading the
    word 'non-combatant' as making the definition exclude 'peace'
    situations? If so, I think that's a mistake.

    msh says:
    You're right. I missed "or non-combatants" in Annan's definition.
    I've written a lot about the various definitions of "terrorism" and
    had in mind others that make the peace-time/war-time distinction.
    Annan's definition is fine.

    sam said:
    Now, we've been touching on an important argument in several places,
    which I think needs to be brought out and made explicit.

    MSH said:
    My claim is that the USG-UKG values the lives of innocents less than
    the lives of it's combatants, at least when the innocents are
    strangers unfortunate enough to be living in a foreign country the
    USG-UKG wants to invade.

    Sam now says:
    We need to distinguish three issues here, which have got blurred - 1.
    the killing of civilians as a result of pursuing a legitimate
    military target; 2. the killing of civilians as a result of pursuing
    illegitimate military targets (to terrorise the population); and 3.
    the lower valuation of civilians as compared to the valuation of
    'home' soldiers.

    I think that 1. is inevitable (to be regretted and minimised wherever
    possible, but unavoidable); 2. is evil; and 3. is profoundly
    problematic. So when I said 'I'm not persuaded of that point', what I
    am not persuaded of is that US/UK actions in Iraq fall under 2.
    rather than 1. Which I'm sure we'll pursue further.

    msh says:
    Ok. But please recognize that 3 comes into play in actions that are
    1 or 2. That is, it doesn't matter whether or not the military goal
    is "legitimate." If the goal is achieved through actions that are
    taken only if the innocents killed are foreign strangers, rather than
    the attacker's family or loved ones, then the action is morally

    sam said:
    However, the point you make under 3. is a very good and strong one,
    that I need to think about further. As I said in an earlier post
    "there is something dishonourable about sitting in absolute safety
    and pressing buttons, whilst human beings are being blown apart as a
    result." I would want to make a further distinction though - a
    classic one from the just war tradition - between the 'jus ad bello'
    and the 'jus in bello'; in other words, the evaluation of the overall
    'cause' of military action, and the evaluation of the actions and
    deeds carried out to further that cause. (So a cause can be just but
    fought for unjustly, or vice versa. Or both each way of course).
    Point 3. relates to jus in bello and is logically distinct from the
    overall justice of the cause.

    msh says:
    See above. When (3) comes into play, the justice of the cause is
    irrelevant in deciding the morality of an action. The fact that the
    aggressor would take another, less murderous, course of action if the
    innocents who might be killed are loved ones, means that there are
    other less-murderous forms of action. Under these circumstances,
    opting for the murderous action because it is more expedient is
    morally indefensible.

    Now, another point:

    I don't think it possible (or perhaps even desirable) that this sort
    of preference [preferring one's own family to someone else's] be
    removed. I will always value my family more than anyone else's. I
    expect that's a hard-wired biological phenomenon, and I can't see the
    point in trying to change it.

    msh says:
    I'm a little surprised by this very weak reasoning. Men are
    hard-wired to father 1000 children a year; would you encourage that
    sort of behavior? Evolution in the MOQ means rising above our
    biological inclinations when they prove detrimental to society. And,
    within Christianity, aren't you encouraged to expand your notion of
    family to include the family of man?

    Sam now says:
    You rather creatively edited out part of my comment here. I had
    included the sentence "What we need to do is work with the grain of
    human nature so that the 'circle of concern' is expanded."

    msh says:
    Sorry. I didn't give that comment the attention it deserves. I
    agree, but I want to make sure that we are honestly working to expand
    the "circle of concern." In your work, you have an opportunity to
    tremendously influence this expansion, much more so than I in mine.
    It's nice when vocation and evocation coalesce, yes?

    Now if you force people to put their own families at risk in order to
    safeguard other families, I don't see that as sustainable. If,
    however, you convince them that 'we sink or swim together' then that
    is sustainable. As you put it "within Christianity, [we are]
    encouraged to expand [the] notion of family to include the family of

    msh says:
    This issue of "sustainability," though interesting, is a fat old red
    herring. I'm not talking about forcing people to put their families
    at risk. I'm saying that we shouldn't favor actions that put at risk
    the families of strangers. I'm saying that we, whether from the
    political platform or the pulpit or the dinner table, should object
    loudly and clearly to any actions taken by our governments if we
    would loudly and clearly object to the same actions taken against us.
     To do otherwise is simple hypocrisy.

    I think there is a very big issue here, which would benefit from some
    patient exploration, as I think it 'goes all the way down' and
    probaly accounts for a huge part of our different approaches. What do
    you think?

    msh says:
    See immediately above. I agree that this appears to be an important
    difference in our moral temperments. I'm just surprised that it
    does. But, yes, let's explore this difference in any way you like.

    Now, next point: I argued that present governments are more humane
    than predecessors:

    msh said: On the other hand, how can we say that the recent near
    unilateral invasion of Iraq is "significantly better" than anything
    that came before? In what sense is this action "humanitarian," when
    world opinion was 10 to 1 against it? How can you ignore the
    objections of 90% of humanity and call your action "humane?"

    sam said:
    On the latter point, "100,000 lemmings can't be wrong". If popular
    acceptance was the mark of humane action we'd still have the death
    penalty in England.

    msh then said:
    People aren't lemmings, and all people should have some say regarding
    events that will affect them. What's odd here is that you are denying
    the legitimacy of democratic institutions, assumming there are such
    things.<snip various comments about democracy>

    Sam now says:
    Now who's guilty of the Platteral shift? Your argument was "In what
    sense is this action "humanitarian," when world opinion was 10 to 1
    against it? How can you ignore the objections of 90% of humanity and
    call your action "humane?" and my point was that popular approval is
    not how we determine whether an action is humane or not. You have
    changed that into an argument about whether I agree with democracy!!
    I'd be happy to explore how we do determine whether an action is
    humane or not, if you're interested.

    msh says:
    You're right. Guilty as charged on the shift. And yes, let's
    explore how we determine whether or not an action is humane. But
    we'll have to agree not to appeal to any moral source external to
    human affairs. And this is why we'll need input from as much of
    humanity as possible. This is also why I would be unwilling to
    belittle the opinion of 90% of humanity.

    sam said:
    I'm not persuaded that 'imperialist' is automatically an insult,
    that's all.

    msh said:
    I know. But I'd hoped you would recognize that argument for what it
    is: A variation of "But at least Hitler made the trains run on-
    time." Or was it Mussolini? Point is, EVERY imperial power has
    claimed that they are bringing light to the savages. (The Dutch
    Empire was a possible exception; much to their credit, they never
    pretended that their imperialist adventures were really some sort of
    civilizing mission (sorry Wim)).

    Sam now says:
    What's wrong with recognising ambiguity? Hitler was mostly vegetarian
    - does that make vegetarianism wrong, or even tainted by association?
    I think this is a really key point. If you say that 'imperialist' is
    by definition something immoral, then the language uses much of its
    specific sense, and becomes a synonym for 'bad'.

    msh says:
    I think the confusion is due to the fact that I am talking about the
    noun "imperialism" and you are defending the adjective "imperialist."
    To me, imperialism, defined as a nation's policy of violent conquest
    of other regions or peoples for the purpose of extending political
    and economic control and of exploiting the resources of other regions
    or people, is wrong. To determine whether or not an imperialist act
    is immoral, we'd have to analyse the act and its consequences; but
    whether or not a particular imperialist act is immoral HAS NO BEARING
    on the overall immorality of imperialism. Sure, the Romans built
    some nifty aquaducts and roads (using slave labor provided by the
    conquered people, thank you very much), but this doesn't justify the
    conquest in the first instance.

    msh said before:
    BTW, in looking at your argument about US concern for International
    Law (IL) as a validiation of the attack, I think you are on pretty
    hopeless ground. It will be quite simple to show that the US cares
    not a wit about IL, unless it can be useful in achieving realpolitik
    goals. Are you sure you want me to spend time on it, the way it's
    formulated? Or do you want to come back with something that doesn't
    suggest that the USG-UKG is the guiding light of international

    Sam now says:
    I'll have another look, but on the whole, you may as well start with
    what I've put in (try turning IL into 'the current sytem' or 'the
    current capitalist system' - I'm not about to start saying that the
    USG has always been IL-abiding!).

    However, if it's wrong, I reserve the right to either amend the
    argument or amend my views ;o)

    msh says:
    LOL. Ok. More later.

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)

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