Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Right Wing and Values

Well, I'm linking to Steve Gilliard (who links to Kos, the original source) on this because that's where I posted a comment.

The posts are all on the Clooney-O'Reilly feud which is going on these days and then on the character of the two men. Steve and his cementers present a number of stories showing that Clooney is a real stand-up guy and a great person. It points up to me a conclusion that I've been coming to for a while now. The right wing talks a lot about values and honor and character as being important, but to a lot of us it has seemed to be pretty superficial concern. As if they don't really care about character, just to talk about it, as if that were sufficient (think Bill Bennett and gambling, or Tom Delay and ... anything).

But the Clooney-O'Reilly spat, along with many other stories over the past several years, are leading me to conclude that the right wing isn't just superficial when it comes to character issues. It's not just that they talk about it as important and then are indifferent to whether character is actually displayed. I think that the leading voices of the right talk about it as important, but then despise anyone who actually displays any of the characteristics of virtue (honor, integrity, honesty, fairness, etc.). To actually have these characteristics is seen as weak and/or stupid.

This is how you get someone like O'Reilly (who sees his staff as sex toys) trying to imply impropriety on the part of Clooney, a man on whom no word of wrong doing has ever be placed. Clooney is an honest man and O'Reilly despises that.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Iraqi Death Squads

The latest outrage coming from the Bush Administration is the plan to start up 'Death Squads' a la El Salvador or Honduras to deal with the insurgency (link, link, link). Plenty has already said about how horribly immoral an idea this is, but another concern strikes me. Even if there were some moral justification for this, how would this work.

In Honduras and El Salvador there was a substantial portion of the population who supported the folks who operated and ran the Death Squads there during the '80s. Who is going to run and organize them in Iraq? They can hardly be US forces, we are already launching raids, seizing civilians and so forth. Calling our men Death Squads will hardly make a positive difference. Are we going to try and recruit some Sunni forces to man these Death Squads? Sunnis, the segment of the population most opposed to our presence, are going to start working with us on a project like this? Will the men manning the Squads be treated any differently than the Sunnis who work with the occupation now (i.e. get assassinated). Or will it be Shia? Or Kurds? Or mixed? It seems that none of these options is very good, and will mostly promote ethnic tensions within Iraq and encourage the other groups to greater efforts at insurgency. Not to mention the potential problems of having the coming election produce a Shia government that is already well equipped with teams of Death Squads.

The plan seems to be not only immoral, but poorly thought out and generally unworkable.

Labels: ,

What Liberal Media

Just a link to the latest Atrios summary of the illiberal media.


Monday, January 10, 2005

War of 1812

As the Iraqi war continues to deteriorate, many folks on the left simply expect that this will come to hurt the Republicans. This might not be true, and might well not occur simply by virtue of the problems in Iraq. There is precedence for launching a war without proper preparation, and then having the war go very badly for this country and the result being the complete victory of the war party and the demise of their opponents. That would be the war of 1812. The Republicans (Jeffersonian) shrank the army and navy to a minimal size and then we (yes we) declared war on Great Britain. The national finances were almost ruined and our only success were that we did not loose two of our most important cities. (We did, however, get our capital burned down.) This outcome can hardly be thought of as a success. Yet, the Federalists who had been in opposition, and almost completely right about the issues involved in the war were destroyed by it, and the Jeffersonians went on to 12 more years of running the government. The reasons for this odd outcome were several. The fact that the fledgling US stood up against the Queen of the Seas and survived was quite impressive to many. The Federalists had other problems that had been marginalizing them for years prior to the war, much more so than anything the Democrats are experiencing. Nonetheless, part of the problem the Federalists had was their opposition to the war.

I will address how we need to handle this issue at a later date.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 07, 2005

Religious language

Just some thoughts on the role of religious language in politics. (Taken from a comment I posted on DailyKOS.)

I am very strongly in favor of separating church and state. When it comes to the 'supernatural', I'm not sure how to describe what I believe. However, I have always found the language of Christianity, or at least the parts of Christianity I was brought up with, to be an excellent means of describing what I believe with regard to morals, my responsibilities and how a person should act. We Democrats have been too unwilling to even tolerate religious language in political discussions and that is a mistake. For many people, religious language is just the natural language of moral and ethical discourse. It is primarily used as metaphor for understanding ethical issues. The religious language is not used to require that you believe exactly as they do to discuss the issue or even to accept their conclusions. To put it another way, for many people the use of religious language is not unlike the way you might use Tolkein's LOTR to illustrate some issue of morals or ethics. In that example you do not expect the other person to 'believe' in Middle Earth. It is true that in the case of people using religious language the person doing so most likely 'believes' in the religion in a way you don't with regard to Middle Earth. Nonetheless, it is often the case that person using the religious language is primarily trying to get across some moral or ethical concept, wether or not you believe in the underlying religion and it is sufficient for you to respect the metaphor and respond to the metaphor.

Another very important point comes in regard to religion and how it relates to the 'reality based' and 'fantasy based' communities. In my opinion the major debate going on today is between these two concepts. For those of us based in reality, evidence comes first then conclusions, for the fantasy based folks it's the other way around. The reality based version has brought us science and prosperity and longevity and the fantasy based method has been uniformly disastrous throughout history. There is also a division between the religious and the non-religious. It is however a huge mistake to think that the two divisions overlap exactly. There are plenty of religious people who are reality based and also a goodly number of secularists who are fantasy based. For a long time many secular folks have made the enormous mistake of talking as if all religious folks must be irrational and fantasy based. This is wrong and has been a major help in getting far too many of the religious folks support people like Bush. We need to stop making this mistake.

One last thing, as this is already quite long, about the use of religious language. There is another reason to make greater use of it that has nothing directly to do with religion. People often expect to here things using certain terms or metaphors and give greater regard to any statement made in the 'correct' form over one made in another way. I came across an example of this in a forum that had nothing to do with religion when I once met Walter Alvarez (he of 'asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs' fame). The importance of using some particular phrasing came up in his efforts to convince physicists in the validity of his theory. Now you need to understand that, for whatever reason, we physicists do not say that one thing is ten times greater than another, we say that it is "an order of magnitude" greater. I'm not sure why we do this, but we do. Walter stated that "physic sits did not start taking my theory seriously, until I stopped saying factors of ten, and started saying orders of magnitude." Now, I think it's clear that this is not a religious thing, but simply an idea sounds more serious to a physicist if you use the phrase "orders of magnitude". Likewise, to many people claims about the nature of ethics or morals sound more serious if you use the correct religious terminology and metaphors.

Labels: , ,