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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Torture

There is a long debate going on over at Cabal on the issue of torture.
It has somewhat strayed from the original thread of conversation and instead has turned to the State of the Union and possibly an argument over the meaning of imminent.

I want to go back into the depths of that discussion and pick up a point that Averroes made:

And, as someone suggested, the utilitarian arguments are tangential to the moral arguments. That being said, it always intereting to find those making moral arguments latch on to utilitarian arguments that suit their moral stance. A moral stance, of course, is held despite any utilitarian argument.

In fact, using utilitarian artguments to help the moral cause is in itself, and example of low moral values.

I understand where Averroes is coming from here, it is partly a sentiment held by many: it's wrong, end of story (e.g. Mr Drum). I do think that the last sentence above is an opinion, pure and simple and I would argue that it is an unsubstantiated sweeping insult for those who would make the utilitarian argument. Of course I am about to include myself in that list.

Via Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias makes the case for the utilitarian argument. Go check it out, personally, once again I can see where he is coming from but I think the case is much simpler than that.

First of all I am not arguing that if torture worked it would be okay to use it. From my own moral standpoint it is never permissable in the cold light of rational thought or discourse. I can understand why someone might use torture in a state of heightened emotions; say they believed the life of their children depended on it. However, I would not excuse them or condone them even though I might understand them.

Now the disclaimer is out of the way I will get to the meat of my point. Simply put, if you are arguing with someone who thinks that torture is okay (with whatever qualifications) you are already arguing with someone who clearly follows a different moral code to yourself. Unless you can think up some fantastic words that I can't I find it difficult to believe that you can convince someone that something is wrong based on a discussion of your morals. In fact I seem to recall Averroes stating that it is wrong for government to impose a moral code on anyone - it is not its function; I could be wrong. In that case, you are immediately on the backfoot. Remember that this is state-sponsored torture that we are talking about here. The moral argument, in that frame of reference, should not be allowed.

So if you cannot convince someone that torture is wrong based on the moral argument should you give up and admit defeat, perhaps saying 'oh well, I tried and I did not compromise my values'? No you have to get inside your opponent's head and work out why they think torture is worth pursuing so that you can counter that view. One clear point is the argument that for the majority of cases torture just doesn't work. To not use this argument when it is clear that simply appealing to the moral argument is not going to work could be construed as an example of one's 'low moral values'. if one truly believes that torture is morally wrong, is not one obliged to use every trick possible (within the bounds of your moral code) to put an end to it?

21 comments:

Averroes said...

May i clarify?

What i really think is immoral is mounting utilitarian arguments to support a moral argument, often with little regard to the accuracy of the utilitarian argument. in the torture case, we get the argument that it "never works" from one side, and that it "may be useful" in some situations from the other side. The truth is that it probably works more than the oppoinents wold like to admit. But what is true is that no one has ever offered any figures to back up his utilitarian argument. they simply grab whatever utilitarian argument that fits their moral argument. that is dishonest, at least to me.

As for morals, I used the term here because i didn't know what other term to use. My desired prohibition on moral law really applies to making laws which proscribe or prohibit some behaviour in the governed people.

Remembver, i say that out government should be about making laws and rules which maximize those things that the constitutin was instituted to protect. It is hard to argue that torture is the practice of maximizing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our tradition says that we have these rights as people, not just as citizens.

Of course, our rights and responsibilities, and the responsibilities of government can come into conflict. thus, we incarcerate criminals because THEY violate our rights. One might argue that we can use torture in just those situations where some foreign person is part of an organization seeking to bring down our government and our constitution. And here, we CAN make a utilitarian argument.

Here we can say that, say, if torture works, and has the effects we want in ultimately enhancing our rights, we shouold use it. But to honestly make this argument, we have to say that moral arguments do not apply in the realm of our foreign policy. in other words, to make it an honest argument, we need to offer it cleanly, not as some backup to a moral argument.

I offer a slightly different way to look at this. I think that our foreign policy should be shaped by a broader look. We should not craft it on moral grounds, but absolutely on the grounds of the ultimate walvation of our constitutin and our ideals. but i think we should realize that, ultimately, and on utoilitarian grounds, we should be aware that our conduct itself has consequences, that it means things to people. And i think that our conduct should be according to the traditions we espouse. Frankly, we should act out our ideals; we should model our notions of democracy and how we treat humans with rights "endowed by our creator."

Ultimately, i think the present argument from moral indignation is an attempt to shame. On Cabal, i have offered an alternative way to deal with the ctual situation, which oarallels McCain's, and depends on the rather utilitarian practice of delineating what those who represent us can and cannot do, and avoids the morally and emotionally loaded word 'torture,' which is not really definable.

What i didn't say there is that i would be fine using the word if it could be applied reliably. Now, most people will agree that the rack is torture, but few bvut the IRC say that speaking harshly to an inmate is torture. The problem is how to draw the line in between. For the word to be useful in delineating behaviour, and, ultimate, useful inprotecting our detaines from practices that some of us might call torture, the word must have a definition that dcraws a bright line between what is and hat is not torture. I don't think that that can be done.

In other words, I don't think those who use this term, who insit oon uwsing this term, are doing so in the best interests of those who might become detainees of the US. i think they have another reason.

Averroes said...

I saw your little post on cabal. i think i should make clear that i am not arguig against utilitarian arguments. in fact, the one i goive above is an example. U was saying that one shouldn't use utilitarian arguments to support moral arguments. it usually leads to the use of bad or unsuppported arguments, picked only because they seem to support the moral argument. A person using a utilitarian argument in thjis case rarely if ever pulls all the utilitarian arguments out. Just the ones which are on his side. That's called cherrypicking.

In addition, as you seem to hint, resorting toi the utilitarian argument when you are trying to make a moral argument is often a sign that you don't have a good moiral argument, or, at least, that you are not winning.

This brings up Aristotle's distinction about what a morality should do. He argued that an ethics has two purposes: first, to make the ratinal argument for a system of ethics; and, secondly, to convince the reader to actually follow the ethics.

it is a distinction which is folloed by Averroes, and, inded, is the source of the word "Averroistic." You seem to follow Averroes in emphasizing the second of Aristotle's reasons for an ethic. Averroes argued that (I oversimplfy) most people will not be convinced to follow the rigtht ethics by rational argument. for those people, he argues as you do, that some other method must be used to convince them to do the ritght thing. he thought that stories of heaven and hell would probably work nicely, and they were justifieed even if one didn't know they were true or false if they had the desired effect. (In fact, some muslims who read Averroes exactly the way i have convinced the Caliph to have him imprisoned, have his books burned, as anti-Islamic.)

Hwere, in our example, those who are desparate to make the moral argument have taken up the "torture doesn't work" argument with no particular reason to do so other than it seems to accord with your moral argument. i do9ubt that if some torture technique were shown to reliably yield information that the same arguers would bring that up. and this, in itself, is immoral. what your argument says is simply that it doesn't matter what you do to get people to behave according to your morals. The end justifies the means.

I DO think you will take a little deke here and claim that anything that cauises moral behaviour can't be immoral. For instance, you might argue that if someone is shown to torture, that person shold be tortured in front of any future interroga5tors as part of their training. We can argue, i suppose, that this will take care of those cases where your moral argument isn't working.

Me, in this case, i don't see a place for the moral argument. partlyfor the reason you state: it won't work on everybody. I would rather go directly to utilitarian arguments, and have a sensible solutio put into a clear law.

That's what Sen. McCain is trying to do.

btw, another stupid utilitarian argument is "we don't want to torture them because we don't want our people to be tortured by them."

this one is specific to the enemy. It might be a good argument when we attack Canada. it's not when the enemy is a bunch of terrorists.

another btw, don't you admire pre-WWII japan, who refused to sign the Geneva conventions on the treatment of POWs, saying, "If we signed the convention, and w4ere honour-bound to treat POWs according to them, we would be treating POWs better than we treat our own soldiers?"

Kav said...

Averroes, fair enough. To cover a few of your points:

I understand where you are coming from with the use of the word 'torture'. In some ways it is like the word 'terrorist': we all know one when we see one but trying to reach a clear definition it is impossible to please everyone. that's because no two definitions really agree. Seems we do know one when we see one, but then each person's knowing is different...

I agree with you over McCain's proposals. It is the sensible way to approach the isssue and the one I would rather see more politicans follow. I hesitate ascribing ulterior motives to those who keep repeating 'torture' since it is an emotional subject and so I feel some slack is deserved, though I understand what you are getting at and I suspect that you are right. In many cases it is going to be wielded as a club for beating the President rather than trying to solve the problem. Of course, trying to step into the mind-set of some politicans for a moment, it is concievable that they truly believe that one of the biggest obstacles to stopping the use of torture is this administration (I don't argue to the rightness or wrongness of this view) and so clubbing them to political death is the best way to stop torture. Personally as I said, I prefer the McCain approach.

Kav said...

btw, another stupid utilitarian argument is "we don't want to torture them because we don't want our people to be tortured by them."

this one is specific to the enemy. It might be a good argument when we attack Canada. it's not when the enemy is a bunch of terrorists.


That's a good point I had not really thought about before. Of course, it is not just this enemy, as you hint in your comment, it is potentially future enemies and although we cannot forsee a time now when we might go to war with a nation that is not a bunch of suicidal, homicidal madmen, that time might come, and when it does it is important for us that our troops are safe if captured. Though as I said, its a good point.

It might be a good argument when we attack Canada.
You can see it coming too then? ;-)

Kav said...

i doubt that if some torture technique were shown to reliably yield information that the same arguers would bring that up. and this, in itself, is immoral. what your argument says is simply that it doesn't matter what you do to get people to behave according to your morals. The end justifies the means.

Moot point and unprovable at this point since I am unaware of anything that I would call torture that reliably works.

My argument does stipulate some moral boundaries and so it is not totally that the ends justifes the means. Basically though the argument I suggested in opposition to yours can be characterised somewhat as you have done so.

It is not, however, forcing my moral view on someone. It is using a rational argument in your opponent's frame of reference to try and persuade them to change their views. You may well still lose the argument and as such there is no 'forcing' involved.

I DO think you will take a little deke here and claim that anything that cauises moral behaviour can't be immoral.

Hmm, not sure I can fathom exactly what the 'deke' was supposed to be. Though I would suggest with respect that what you say here is absurd. Note where I said in the original post:

is not one obliged to use every trick possible (within the bounds of your moral code) to put an end to it?

I am not quite Averroistic in my views. I believe in using facts in my arguments, truth if you will. I don't believe in lying to people to persuade them of something. that should be clear from what i said above about the moral code (of course it depends on what your moral code really is). In truth, I offered the last few sentences of my post as an alternative view to your original, un-clarified assertion that I quoted in the post.

Now it is possible that one could argue that my claiming not to use lies could be challenged by suggesting that I would suppress evidence of torture working to bolster my argument: lying by omission. However, we are talking about the real world here and I have not seen evidence that torture reliably works, therefore it is not an issue and consequently a poor argument... at the moment - who knows what the future holds?

G-Do said...

Unfortunately, this is going to be a long one :P

KAV: It has somewhat strayed from the original thread of conversation...

Uh huh.

AVERROES: And, as someone suggested, the utilitarian arguments are tangential to the moral arguments. That being said, it always intereting to find those making moral arguments latch on to utilitarian arguments that suit their moral stance. A moral stance, of course, is held despite any utilitarian argument.

In fact, using utilitarian artguments to help the moral cause is in itself, and example of low moral values.


I am the "someone" Averroes mentions in the first paragraph. I would like to clarify what I said.

Imagine that I am having an argument with Bill. I believe that torture is a morally untenable activity. Bill believes that torture is acceptable in certain situations. In the course of this hypothetical argument, I come to realize that Bill isn't morally, viscerally repulsed by torture, like I am. What to do?

In my limited experience, continuing the argument with utilitarian propositions isn't going to work. Bill is pretty sharp - like me, he has already worked out that we disagree on a fundamental level, and that our disagreement is unlikely to be broken by force of reason. He may even view my harping on utilitarian arguments as selfish, pompous, presumptuous evangelizing. No one likes to be evangelized to, especially not a self-styled independent thinker like Bill.

And badda-bing, bang, boom - I've lost both an argument and a friend. True story - though the names and topic have been changed to protect the once young and foolish.

That's the essence of my original statement. I wasn't the one who questioned the moral worth of the anti-torture argument's structure - Averroes did that. For me, it was purely a tactical issue.

Are there moral qualifications which need to be considered when building an argument? That's a good question, and I'm not sure I can answer it immediately with any kind of confidence. I think that before we can address moral qualifications we need to determine the purpose of argument. Is the purpose of argument to win over an opponent so that some actual, non-rhetorical effect is achieved? Or is it an exploratory activity, designed to uncover root disagreements between associates?

How you answer that question will determine how you view the aforementioned moral dimension, I think.

Anonymous said...

Kav,

please post anything you don't specifically not want posted at cabal.

I'll get back to this a bit later, I could only skim the first part and it's interesting.

-pyrrho

Anonymous said...

well put kav.

relativisticly speaking one expects different forms of the conversation addressing different frames of reference... the careful thing to do is separate the seperate arguments... i.e. distinguish between the moral and practical arguments... not to choose one and stick with it.

indeed, there are several OTHER lines of argument which might also be expected to develop and each should be considered.

your point about the futility of arguing from morality with a person of a different morality is very insightful and broad... something everyone should keep in mind.

A corrollary is that when you do share a common moral system with someone, then you probably SHOULD use the moral argument, this is why you share the morals in the first place.

-pyrrho

Averroes said...

Kav: "Moot point and unprovable at this point since I am unaware of anything that I would call torture that reliably works. "

i have no evidence one way or the other about anything that might be called torture. i think that if it never worked to bring up useful information, it wouldhave been stopped long ago. i think that the argument is that what one gets from torture is not always reliable, especially if you do it badly.

Another consideration is that only pure sadists (unlike our poure american boys in the CIA) would go directly to torture. One can suppose that if anb interrogator can get reliable information from a detainee by simply questioning him, he will not go on to using torture. [D: "But why torture me? i told you everything i know, and even you said it was reliable and useful." T: "Yes, i did. But torture is just a part of our routine, no matter what. sorry about that."]

So, i would GUESS that there is a hierarchy of metods which, if you swill, go further towards the torture end of the sp[ectrum as earlier methods fail. So, i would guess, torturous methods would be rarely used IF those who do interrogation have methods developed over the years to be effective.

Again, though, I want to emphasize, no one has actually come up with any EVIDENCE for the statement that torture "never works," or "rarely works," or something like that. it just seems so convenient an argument that some just assume it must be correct.

"My argument does stipulate some moral boundaries and so it is not totally that the ends justifes the means."

So, I take your position as "the ends justify the means, in general, but there are some means which i wouldnot allow on moral grounds." I would never have said that you would allow torture to make someone conform to your moral position on torture, for instance.

My point, which you have allowed me to make clearer, is that using utilitarian arguments to make moral arguments is faulty and in bad faith IF you are simply tryng to convince someone of a moral position. (Aristotle's first task.) i also saythat it is a temptation to general intellectual sins like choosing bad arguments just because they seem to support youroral argmuments and cherrypicking the utilitariabn arguments.

if you are goin about Aristotle's second task things are different. I have argued before that using the government to force people to adhere to a moral code is not what my picture of government is. I think most, if not all, of the things we argue for on a moral basis would be better argued on a purely political basis.

"It is not, however, forcing my moral view on someone. It is using a rational argument in your opponent's frame of reference to try and persuade them to change their views. You may well still lose the argument and as such there is no 'forcing' involved."

You are right. Assuming a rational argument onmoral values only. remember, most of us lern morals with a clear statement of the right or wrong, and a clear sttement of some bad thing hapopening if we shoose the wronhg, like "I'll ring your neck." (My mom loved this one, and, although I never understood what it meant, i knew it couldn't be good. Parents seem to have concluded that getting your children to be moral adults is not best done by rational moral argument.)

" I don't believe in lying to people to persuade them of something."

I'm with you. i NEVER told my kid that Santa wold bring her presents if whe was good. In fact, i never told her that there was a Santa. i just don't believe in lying to kids. back in my day, kids were told suuch things. i remember one kid who had a drug problem despite coming from a good home. he told me that his dad had told him about the ill effects of drugs, but that he had thought, in his 13 year old wisdom, that his father was lying to him to keep him from having fun getting high. i asked him why he didn't trust his dad, and he told me, "He lied to me about the Santa thing. if he would lie to me about something like that, how can i believe him about anything." That's always stuck with me.

"I have not seen evidence that torture reliably works"

Nor that it doesn't.

Averroes said...

G-Do: "In fact, using utilitarian artguments to help the moral cause is in itself, and example of low moral values.

I am the "someone" Averroes mentions in the first paragraph."

Actually, G-Do, i more probably imported this one. whenever arguments like this come up, I default, it seems, to the worst case scenario of moral arguments, the ones surrounding abortion. there we have had endless arguments about whether getting an abortion is healthier than having a baby, permutated with age, medical history, and social status. it's part of the stupididties one has to wade through before actually getting to the important question: Since an unborn baby is protected by the constitution as a human being, what roighjts does it have? Since an unborn baby cannot be said to be able to equally share rights with his mother, what restrictions on his rights occur in the mother's interest? these are political questions that arise because of the simple facts of human reproduction.


We should deciude them just as we do the death penalty, politically.

"In the course of this hypothetical argument, I come to realize that Bill isn't morally, viscerally repulsed by torture, like I am. What to do?"

You explored this nicely, IMNSHO. here, what i've been told by my masters is that one would simply observe the wounderfulness of a creature in front of you that is different from you. Everyone will tellyou that i follow this all the time!

But you might go after the visceral. If your friend is bright, and has not visceral dislike of torture, it is perhaps because he doesn't know what torture causes. you might invite him in a nonjudgmental and non-p;reaching way to talk to some torture victims, just for informations sake, certainly without saying, at the end, "See, what kind of man are you if you don't have the same visceral reaction i do now?"

"Is the purpose of argument to win over an opponent so that some actual, non-rhetorical effect is achieved? Or is it an exploratory activity, designed to uncover root disagreements between associates?

How you answer that question will determine how you view the aforementioned moral dimension, I think."

Well put. however, i do have a visceral reaction to the first goal. We all know that the world is full of people who come to believe that the first goal allows almost anything. i knew many of them in the anti-war movement, and got that way myself a bit. these were not evil people, they jus saw the goal of some moral behaviour as good and pure, then decided that they had to educate others into seeing it as good and pure, were suprised twhen people agreed with their teaching on the roots, but failed to adopt their conclusions, thoughtof them as brainwashed byt the evfil ones (LBJ and the like), gave them more info about the evil government, and finally conclusded that they were somehow evil themselves for refusing their great moral vision, and, therefore, could be attcked as well as the truly evil ones. of course, not everyone went all th way, but almost everyone went some steps down this line.

And it all comes from the hubris of thinking that you have an obvious and superior moral vision that everyone wold adopt if only they were as aware of things (were as hip) as you.

To me, the answer is to view another's moral beliefs with the same attchment that you view that tree's foilage. this is an ideal, of course. We s=certainly cqan view anothers';s moral beliefs as a danger, just qs we can view a tree's foilage as a hrbinger of clogged drainage gates in the fall.

Averroes said...

pyrrho: "relativisticly speaking"

not an assumption that i accept, of course.

"the careful thing to do is separate the seperate arguments... i.e. distinguish between the moral and practical arguments... not to choose one and stick with it."

That depends on goal.

"your point about the futility of arguing from morality with a person of a different morality is very insightful and broad... something everyone should keep in mind.

A corrollary is that when you do share a common moral system with someone, then you probably SHOULD use the moral argument, this is why you share the morals in the first place."

sounds too muchlike church to me. Why argue with womeone who agrees with you?

G-Do said...

AVERROES: ...i more probably imported this one...

Ah, my mistake.

...it is perhaps because he doesn't know what torture causes...

This is true. It is useful and humbling to remember that every person has a different set of experiences, and that the next big thing which happens to us may completely change the way we think. As you say, it also works in reverse: sometimes, all you need to do to get someone to agree with you is to show them what you have seen yourself.

We all know that the world is full of people who come to believe that the first goal allows almost anything. i knew many of them in the anti-war movement, and got that way myself a bit.

I've been there, too, and on both sides of the aisle, although I am very young. Compelling stories, be they religious, political, or otherwise, can chip away at our humanity until we no longer think and feel like human beings. As you say, it is difficult (and in some cases impossible, I guess) to transcend this kind of personal corruption.

these were not evil people, they jus saw the goal of some moral behaviour as good and pure, then decided that they had to educate others...And it all comes from the hubris of thinking that you have an obvious and superior moral vision that everyone wold adopt if only they were as aware of things (were as hip) as you.

I will need to think more about this. It's worth mentioning that in general, people who seem fatuous and arrogant when it comes to politics are often not when it comes to other things. The arrogance you are describing isn't personal arrogance - it stems from something else. Do you agree?

It's also worth mentioning that sometimes, those fatuous, arrogant political junkies are actually right!

To me, the answer is to view another's moral beliefs with the same attchment that you view that tree's foilage. this is an ideal, of course. We s=certainly cqan view anothers';s moral beliefs as a danger, just qs we can view a tree's foilage as a hrbinger of clogged drainage gates in the fall.

I like this metaphor - is it yours? It's good!

Kav said...

Apologies, Averroes, I am cherry picking from comments above:

i think that the argument is that what one gets from torture is not always reliable, especially if you do it badly.

I agree, though I would suggest that doing it badly has little to do with it. Define 'badly', for example (rhetorical question).


In addition, as you seem to hint, resorting toi the utilitarian argument when you are trying to make a moral argument is often a sign that you don't have a good moiral argument, or, at least, that you are not winning.

But what defines a good moral argument? What i was trying to get at is that if you are arguing with someone who's moral code differs from yours then it is impossible to argue from a moral standpoint - there is no common ground. You have to find an argument on which you can have common ground with your opponant.

sounds too muchlike church to me. Why argue with womeone who agrees with you?

But how many Christians talk the talk yet don't walk the walk, for example? If someone says that they have a certain moral code, whether based on religion or otherwise, and this matches with our own then we can argue with them from the same standpoint. Theoretically they should be more amenable to our moral arguments since they are the same comvictions that they purport to hold.

Kav said...

I'm with you. i NEVER told my kid that Santa wold bring her presents if whe was good. In fact, i never told her that there was a Santa. i just don't believe in lying to kids. back in my day, kids were told suuch things. i remember one kid who had a drug problem despite coming from a good home. he told me that his dad had told him about the ill effects of drugs, but that he had thought, in his 13 year old wisdom, that his father was lying to him to keep him from having fun getting high. i asked him why he didn't trust his dad, and he told me, "He lied to me about the Santa thing. if he would lie to me about something like that, how can i believe him about anything." That's always stuck with me.

Now you have me here. I have no kids (yet) and so don't know how I will approach the Santa thing. I imagine that it is tempting to take the path of least resistance. Actually I don't recall my parents ever telling me that Santa existed, but I don't recall them saying he didn't.

Actually we lie to kids all the time, in the spirit of education (e.g. 'electrons circle atoms like planets...except they don't, they orbit in strange 'shells'...except the orbits aren't really orbits but regions of probability...except...' ad infinitum?). A couple of notable science writers (Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart) call it 'lies-to-children'. It is supposed to help make learning science easier and I guess it works, though I disliek it intensely. I worry that rather than breaking it in gently, we foster a false impression of the world at a time when the childish mind is more open to understanding complex ideas. In the end it has the effect of putitng kids off science as they see it getting progressively 'harder', and what's the use in learning this crap if someones going to tell you its rubbish just a few years down the road? I could be wrong of course, but it worries me none the less.

Averroes said...

G-Do: "It's worth mentioning that in general, people who seem fatuous and arrogant when it comes to politics are often not when it comes to other things. The arrogance you are describing isn't personal arrogance - it stems from something else. Do you agree?"

I'm not sure. I have elsewhere bemoaned the change in our politics from a system where all parts of the political specrum were represented in each major party. In or new system, it seems to me, politics isincreasingly being replaced by moral outrage. And truly, moral oyutrage is immoral and, as you put it, fatuaous and arrogant.

Moral outrage, like rage in general, is addictive, almost a self-reinforcing behaviour. Probably we all know or have known a rageholic. And I might agree with you that some moral rageholics are not rageholics in other parts of their life.

In this discusiion, the person with moral outrage argues that torture is immoral, and implies that those who they claim argue for it are somehow immoral for doing so. Certainly this is a defensible position. but in earlier times, it was less possible to identify a moral position with a political party. Politics had to bbe done through politics. A Democrat, say, opposing a policy could not muster votes against it by simply expressing moral outrage. He had to muster votes by political means. For instance, LBJ fdidn't get the 1957 Civil Rights Act through the house by making statements of moral outrage aimed at rtacism, nor by characterizing those who opposed the act as immoral. In fact, there were more opposed to the act in his party than in the "Party of Lincoln." He got it passed by political means, by twisting arms, by making deals.

LBJ once likened what he did in the House as being like a bull who observes the cows rears "glistening in the twilight." You know the cows are ready, but you also know that each cow is different, and your approach must be different. Some you muzzle, some you win by stringth, some with a bellow, some with attention, and, since these re political cows, many by making promises and calling in favors.

It's easy to be cynical about this approach. But i have come to apprecieate it. It insulates the moral, the religious, even, from the business of our legisdlature by adding a political layer. All politiciaqns in such a system had to make compromises to their ideals. Litmus test votes were nearly impossible.

In our present political environmnet, we spend too much time talking about what should be the case, and not enough talking about what is possible. We act as if it is the job of government to make the world fair. For instance, after katrina, we should have examined the response, measured what we did, and looked at what we cold do better. We wupould have rdventually come to the conclusion that putting FEMA in Homelandf Security as an orphan was a mistake, and the "Brownie" needed to be replaced. Instead, we noticed that the response was not perfect, became morally outraged, and started blaming whomever for the lack ofr a perfect response. We spent way too much time with blame and coiunterblame. As the South Park episode put it, "Now's not the time for helping people; now';s the time to assess blame." Our blame assessments had more to do wiuth party politics in this new age than anything else. The truth was that there was plenty of blame to go around. Jon Stewert scored one when he showed the Lousiana gpovernor in a scathng attavck on the federal government pone day, then, answering a question about some of her problems, saying, "Now's not the time to blame."

Of course, much of THAT round of moral outrage is predicated on the notion tht government should do somethng it cannot. In the old days, we knew that governments were filled with political appointments. When the government screwed up, no one was surprised. Those people would be shocked that we today expect the government to do somethng about natural disasters other than assist those we should be depending on.

"It's also worth mentioning that sometimes, those fatuous, arrogant political junkies are actually right!"

A stopped clock is also right twice a day.

But it is about more. One does his moral position no favors by giving it up ihn his own conduct, even if he is doing so to somehow enforce his own morlal vision. it is this contradiciton which is at the heart of much or the world's politics. Lenin, Mao, Castro, and many others chang4ed from idealists to cynical dictators, and not merely because power corrupts. For every moral vision there are counterrevolutionaries. And we tend to see them as evil.

Now, we are in the midst of bringing our ideals to another land, another people. There is no doubt in my mind that those who backed this endeavor are idealistic about it. And they, too, have run into the problem of counterrevolutionaries, and they, too, have fallen into the language of good and evil, away from the more philosophic language of enlightened and unenlightened. it is hard to maintain that you are enlightening people with guns. With counterrevoolutionaires, it is easier to establish gulags.

One remembers that even the "Prince of Peace" is said to have lost it when coming upon the moneychangers at the temple. Righteous anger is a very serious temptation. It can become an addiction which causes us to stalk the land looking for ways to feed it. it causes us to adopt facile dividions of "then" and "us."

The Prince of Peace also said, "by their fruits shall you know them." Gandhi-ji had the right approach. The powerful Romans did not know how to handle the early Christians, willing to carry out the disgusting practice of turning the other cheek, willing to hold what they believed and die passively. the Romans never had a chance.

"To me, the answer is to view another's moral beliefs with the same attchment that you view that tree's foilage. this is an ideal, of course. We s=certainly cqan view anothers';s moral beliefs as a danger, just qs we can view a tree's foilage as a hrbinger of clogged drainage gates in the fall.

I like this metaphor - is it yours? It's good!"

Yes, mine, written in my own private language, as you can see!

While most of us see the silliness in the man who swears at the tree his car hit for being there, we find it hard to see the same silliness in venting our anger at those who don't behave according to our moral code. We should react the same in each case.

Averroes said...

Kav: " Define 'badly', for example" [with regard to doing torture]

Simple. Doing torture badly is doing it so that the goals of doing it are not met.

"But what defines a good moral argument? What i was trying to get at is that if you are arguing with someone who's moral code differs from yours then it is impossible to argue from a moral standpoint - there is no common ground. You have to find an argument on which you can have common ground with your opponant."

Sometimes we have to start with, "Can we agree that we should do good, and avoid evil?"

And then we work to avoid what's known as "Plato's paradox."

"But how many Christians talk the talk yet don't walk the walk, for example?"

Why pick on Christians? A famous haiku chjides the members of the "Pure Land Sect" of Buddhism, who ascribed to normal mahayana Buddhism, but with the added belief that the Bhodisattva Amida would guarantee their passage to the pure land in the west when they died if they simply chanted his name. the haiku:

With every swatted fly,
"Namu Amida Bhutsu"
Is the cry!

The tension arises because of those zealous enough in their faith to maintain the chant in all their daily tasks, even while killing sentent beings.

I think, to be rfair, that we all recognize that their is both an ideal morality, and a practical morality. this is painfully clear to anyone whose religion is not the same as that of the majority.

And American Imam, for instance, sites Milaki scholars to allow the practice of altering the course of the five daily prayers for some Muslims in America. he notes that some work schdules may rule out not only the exact time of prayers, but the full number. he recommends that in these cases,it may be permissable to collapse two prayers into one of double length. Of course, being a wise man, he warns tht under no circuumstances is this to be taken to mean that a Muslim even in america can collpase all the prayers into one, so that all the prayers may be done at one time, to get them out of the way.

Averroes said...

Kav: "Actually we lie to kids all the time, in the spirit of education (e.g. 'electrons circle atoms like planets...except they don't, they orbit in strange 'shells'...except the orbits aren't really orbits but regions of probability...except...' ad infinitum?). A couple of notable science writers (Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart) call it 'lies-to-children'."

Nice rhetoric, i suppose. but too harsh.

What we are doing, in both cases above, is giving an approximation. We call one better, closer to what we think is reality, han the other, but part of the reason it is better is that it takes advantage of techniques not available to children.

And, as you suggest, the lesser approximation provides a basis for the later and greater.

Science is a vast system for indoctrinating learners into current scientific dogma (See Kuhn for this.) We are not concerned with choildren to intorduce our best and hardest explanation partly because we know that it is of no practical cocern for most children, and for those to whom it might be, we know that there will be many more years to guiide them through better and more difficult approximations.

One with your authors view of truth may answer a child asking, "Daddy, do you love me?" with something like this:

"Well, my child, i do.
but not as i ove your mother, nor even as i love my mpother. You see, love comes in many forms, all related, we think, but different. I also love my job, but that is yet different from the other kind of love. my love for you is very special, but i cannot say if it is more or less special than my love for your brother, or for you mother. it is different. But, i can assure you, it is there."

The correct answer is, "Yes, I love you very much."

You might coinsider this poem by Robinson jeffers, written sortly after WWII. Old enough that the theory that the moon was ripped from earth is assumed. And please note how the assumption of this now disproven theory actually makes the poem MORE TRUE!

THE GREAT WOUND

At the near approach of a star-huge tides
Agitated the molten surface of the earth.
The tides grew higher as it passed. It tore from the earth
I he top of one great wave: the moon was torn
Out of the Pacific'basin: the cold white stone that lights
us at night
Left that great wound in the earth, the Pacific Ocean
With all its islands and navies. I can stand on the cliff here
And hear the half-molten basalt and granite tearing apai
and see that huge bird
Leaping up to her star. But the star passed,
The moon remained, circling her ancient home,
Dragging the sea-tides after her, haggard with loneliness.

The mathematicians and physics men
Have their mythology; they work alongside the truth,
Never touching it; their equations are false
But the things work. Or, when gross error appears,
They invent new ones; they drop the theory of waves
In universal ether and imagine curved space.
Nevertheless their equations bombed Hiroshima.
The terrible things worked.
The poet also
Has his mythology. He tells you the moon arose
Out of the Pacific basin. He tells you that Troy was burnt for
vagrant
Beautiful woman, whose face launched a thousand ships.
It is unlikely: it might be true: but church and state
Depend on more peculiarly impossible myths:
That all men are born free and equal: consider that!
And that a wandering Hebrew poet named Jesus
Is the God of the universe. Consider that!

Kav said...

Sometimes we have to start with, "Can we agree that we should do good, and avoid evil?"

That is a good start.


Why pick on Christians?
Simple, because they are all evil and all the other religions are misunderstood.

Actually, its simply because I am a Christian, or at least I was raised as such and my tendencies still lie in that direction. I speak to what I know and I regretfully count myself in the number who don't 'walk the walk'.

Kav said...

very nice poem.

The 'lies-to-children' thing. I should have said that Stewart and Jackson did not necessarily present it as a bad thing. Rather (if I recall correctly) they suggested arguments akin to yours, and their is much merit in your argument. Lets face it without approximation we get nowhere. What we are trying to do is to provide a grounding, a basic understanding for our kids.

We are not concerned with choildren to intorduce our best and hardest explanation partly because we know that it is of no practical cocern for most children, and for those to whom it might be, we know that there will be many more years to guiide them through better and more difficult approximations.

I just worry that this approach is flawed. I look at the state of science-learning in the UK at the moment and wonder if our approach is one factor for it. I don't pretend to know for certain, but it worries me.

Anonymous said...

Kav: "Actually, its simply because I am a Christian, or at least I was raised as such and my tendencies still lie in that direction. I speak to what I know and I regretfully count myself in the number who don't 'walk the walk'."

Geesh. The way i see Christianity, if you can't foind some denomination or sect that fits your walk, you aren't trying. Of course, America has always multiplied them.

In the sixties, we even had those Jesus freaks who sent women out as prostitutes to "fish for jesus." that's my kind of Christianity.

now, we have a raft of redneck Christians, who, and this is an actual quote from one of my former co-workers, say, "Damn right i'm, a Chritsitna, and if anybody comes on my property unannounced, i'll bloe 'em away." these are the gun-totin' christians. i hear they outlawed them in the UK.

The poem didn't format exactly right, i must say. But it is startling. it sort of shakes us out of our own dear dogmas.

As for science education, i think we spend too much time worri=ying abouyt it. here in America, we have been low on the list of science and math achievement in lower grades for decades, only to have a high rate of science graduates and graduate degree holders. in other words, we let the kids decide.

So, i think what is more important is for the society to value scientists and for children to know that scientists are valued.

Sadly, here in America, we are losing this. part of it has to do with our present "children-centered" culture which avoids putting children in competitive siturations to spare their feelings and self esteem. Semms no one realized that self esteem comes from accomplishment.

So more and more of our kids are too lazzy for science, expecting things without effort. just like when we didn't keep score at the football match, and everyone got a certificate or trophy, no matter what.

the only way to get competence, discipline, and scientific achievemernt is to value it and reward it. even if that makes some other kids feel bad.

Now, i will deny saying this because ths will get me branded a heretic here and now, and i will probably be burnhed at the stake.

Kav said...

Geesh. The way i see Christianity, if you can't foind some denomination or sect that fits your walk, you aren't trying.

lol. True enough, I guess. I like your next example. People just don't put any real thought or effort into religious offshoots these days :-)

i hear they outlawed them in the UK.

we outlaw gun-toting everythings over here; not that it stops the gun-toting. Funnilliy I used to be vehemently anti-gun, now not so much - two years living in Colorado softened me a bit.

I agree with virtually everything you say in that comment. It happens over here too. I still worry about the state of science education though. Perhaps it is because I see the dumbing down at university level to accomodate the level of students coming from schools. Of course the inherent danger is a knee-jerk reaction which results in something worse, in my opinion, a very common political problem where education is involved.

Now, i will deny saying this because ths will get me branded a heretic here and now, and i will probably be burnhed at the stake.

lol