Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Imprisoning the Innocent

From Hilzoy, this concering:

...Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu al-Hakim, the two Uighurs who remain in prison in Guantanamo four and a half years after their capture by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, over a year after they were declared not to be enemy combatants by a military tribunal, and nearly four months after a district court held that their imprisonment was illegal, but that he had "no relief to offer." Today, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal on their behalf:

God bless America.

45 Comments:

Blogger Mike Russo said...

Technically, the CSRT found them to be "no longer enemy combatants." The District Court judge correctly labelled this Kafkaesque.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

"Shrapnel is what killed Phillip Balhasan, who stayed alive long enough to realize his children had survived, and to hug them tightly before he collapsed.

But even this is not enough for the terrorists. They also soak the shrapnel in rat poison, because it causes hemorrhaging — victims may bleed to death before they can get to the hospital."---via InstaP

I appreciate Hilzoy's concern, but next to stuff like this, those poor little non-terrorists (?) aren't even on my radar screen. Call me insensitive.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Um, lemme get this straight:

Because our enemies are really, really evil, it's o.k. for us to be just evil.

Tom, that just doesn't make any sense, man.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TVD-

I appreciate Hilzoy's concern, but next to stuff like this, those poor little non-terrorists (?) aren't even on my radar screen. Call me insensitive.

I wouldn't call you insensitive, but I will call you illogical if you're suggesting that we can't, or shouldn't, be all that upset about erosion of our country's human rights record in the face of nutjob terrorists.

There are evil people who commit abominations out there, yeah. Always have been, always will be. Worrying about how we're gonna stop those guys isn't an excuse to stop paying attention to the rest of our society's workings.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, fellas, it's just fatigue. I understand your point; I hope you understand mine.

To focus on the US' (read Bush's) wrongdoing, real or imagined, to the exclusion of all the true evil in the world is not only dishonest, but it's downright unhealthy, folks. Hilzoy is a helluva polemicist, but no one on earth can pass her (?) moral white glove test, because virtually nothing in this world is morally unambiguous.

Me, I can't even stay obsessed as much with the butchery of Islamic militantism (and it's infinitely more justified) as some are with our flaws and sins. It's just not good for a person. I suppose some think it's cathartic, but I see no catharsis, just a gathering snowball.

There should be some rough correlation between column inches and actual evil. Reality-based, etc. I was just hoping y'all might be able to spare some outrage for something truly inhuman. Perspective is healthy.

So, no, I don't deny that the situation of these two Uighurs might suck, but I'm not giving them every benefit of the doubt, either. I am not willing to assume or stipulate that we are evil.

WS, rat poison on shrapnel aimed at civilians is evil. The Uighurs' situation is not evil, it's complicated. You have to be able to tell the difference between sucking and being evil. Everyone sucks. (See above, Ms. Hilzoy. Falwell has nothing on you.)

I do appreciate the temperance of your flames, tho, guys. Mebbe there's hope for us all yet.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tvd,
our respect for basic human rights and our belief in the irreducible value of humanity is precisely what makes us better than the terrorists. we are better than they are only so long as we are faithful to these beliefs. that is, the only thing that makes us better than our enemies is the way we treat our enemies. in that we recognize them as responsible for their actions, we recognize them as free rational agents. and in that we recognize them as free rational agents, we are obligated to respect their humanity.

we are better than them because of our fundamental respect for their humanity, however malevolent and twisted it may be. they are evil because they view us as somehow sub-human, undeserving of the most basic compassion. we therefore abandon the moral high ground when we start to treat our enemies with the same disrespect they send our way.

in short, yes, tom, you are insensitive. if you can turn a blind eye to the suffering of someone, then you can turn a blind eye to the suffering of anyone. when we abandon those values which distinguish us from the terrorists, we become no better than the terrorists.

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, sorry tvd. in my frenzy i typed right through your amendment. i hereby tone down my accusatory rhetoric by 50%

9:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you for the half-credit, J, and I mean that. It means I'm getting myself halfway out.

If I were to trot out my moral rectitude, I'd invoke Buddhism's non-duality of evil/good, and the startling proposition that we are not "better" than "them."

Believe me, I could top Hilzoy. I could make you want to slit a wrist and close the show.

And all of it would be sincere. I am open to the concept of that non-duality. I really don't use the word "evil." I understand bin Laden. Look through al-Qaeda's fatwas and you'll find they only want to kill 4-5 million of us Westerners, just to even things up.

Any more, and that would be unjust.

I fully appreciate the uneven playing field that makes the Palestinians obliterate every rule of human decency and put rat poison on the shrapnel they blow themselves up with.

I understand too damn much. I turn a blind eye to nothing. But you've got to set your radar to some threshold, or else nothing has significance. It all looks the same, an unjust imprisonment or rat poison in shrapnel, and you start calling everything "evil."

12:47 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

"To focus on the US' (read Bush's) wrongdoing, real or imagined, to the exclusion of all the true evil in the world is not only dishonest, but it's downright unhealthy, folks. Hilzoy is a helluva polemicist, but no one on earth can pass her (?) moral white glove test, because virtually nothing in this world is morally unambiguous."

This is a pile of crap. Hilzoy's not a polemicist, she's an ethicist. Just because she makes your position look petty, fearful, and uninformed is not a good reason to call her names and make laughable assumptions about her. The wrongs other people do not excuse the wrongs we do - to insinuate otherwise is abhorrent. I had been inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're not evil, just sad, but I'm not sure I should continue to do so.

1:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There should be some rough correlation between column inches and actual evil. Reality-based, etc. I was just hoping y'all might be able to spare some outrage for something truly inhuman. Perspective is healthy.

I respect where you're coming from on this one, Tom, and I'm not trying to win on some technicality when I say that this isn't actually the case. The problems we have with Bush in general, and the Gitmo situation in particular, are primarily legal and political problems at this point... and legal and political problems get decided almost entirely by generating column inches. That's the triumph of politics in the first place, that we spend all our time trying to yammer each other to death, rather than bashing each other's brains in over disagreements.

Truly inhuman stuff, in contrast, doesn't generate all that much in the form of column inches - a few people point out what's happening, and if we're doing what's right, then we get off our asses and stop it with actions, not words. I'm all for stopping truly evil shit like what you describe above, but I'm firmly convinced that the approach the Bush admin is taking to do so is fundamentally flawed. And stopping the Bush admin from pursuing this course of action is a political problem, which means ever more column inches.

WS, rat poison on shrapnel aimed at civilians is evil. The Uighurs' situation is not evil, it's complicated. You have to be able to tell the difference between sucking and being evil. Everyone sucks.

I'll agree to this, but let me postulate something here - that if the problem sucks, and it wouldn't take a great deal of effort on the part of Bush to fix it, then it bloody well should be fixed ASAP. Not just because it's the right thing to do (and it is) but because fixing it means we've got one less thing to argue about, and a bit more attention to spend on the truly important stuff, like shrapnel with the ungreat taste of rat poison.

In fact, let me make this suggestion - rather than conservatives suggesting liberals shouldn't bitch about the administration's (relatively) minor screw-ups because that takes attention from the War on Terror, why don't conservatives join us in trying to get this stuff fixed, so liberals don't have so much crap to bitch about in the first place? Isn't a defanged left wing acutally better for the admin's agenda than the partisan headbutting we've got now?

1:32 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

In fact, let me make this suggestion - rather than conservatives suggesting liberals shouldn't bitch about the administration's (relatively) minor screw-ups because that takes attention from the War on Terror, why don't conservatives join us in trying to get this stuff fixed, so liberals don't have so much crap to bitch about in the first place? Isn't a defanged left wing acutally better for the admin's agenda than the partisan headbutting we've got now?

I'd go for that in a snap, Chris, but I honestly believe the pool of (even stipulated) grievance is limitless. Suckiness is never-ending. We will never purify ourselves.

And no, rilke, Hilzoy is not an ethicist. That would require an understanding of all sides of difficult questions. I have read her. She shows no mercy toward the Other, who is likely named Bush.

It takes no ethics at all to point fingers. Jerry Falwell is far more nuanced, far less a moral absolutist, and that's sure saying something.

But if you were actually to explore that proposition, your head would explode, and I wouldn't want that on my conscience.

So rock on, dude. I am evil. You are good. If Hilzoy does a piece about rat poison in shrapnel, let me know.

3:24 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, lots of stuff here, much of it pretty interesting... And let me add my voice to our self-congratulations for maintaining our civility.

The reason so many of us focus so much attention on the failings of our own country is that we think that these failings are failings that we can control/correct, and (as Chris notes above), the way folks like you and I and Hilzoy contribute to this is that we write. I think OBL is an evil sonofabitch and I say so from time to time...maybe I should do so more often...but I know it'll never have any effect. I think Bush is a bad man and an idiot--though a way, way, way, way, way less bad man than OBL...so why do I harp on him so much? For a coupla reasons. Because frankly I DO think we're better than them, and I hold us up to a higher standard. Because it might do some good. Because this is my country and I'm partially responsible for our actions, but not at all for OBL's. Because it's all so much closer to home.

EVERYBODY who's got two brain cells to rub together recognizes that OBL is an extremely bad man. I guess I don't think it has to be said that much. The disagreement's about Bush. So he naturally becomes the topic of conversation. If we disagreed about OBL, he'd be the topic.

And I don't agree that the situation of the Uighurs merely "sucks." Keeping innocent people in prison is wrong. Imagine yourself nabbed by bounty hunters and sitting in Gitmo for 3 years. Imagine yourself being told 'hey, we know you're innocent, but we're not gonna let you go.' Dropping your laptop sucks. That Gitmo thing, that's lots worse.

We can't allow ourselves to do what we did during the Cold War--lose our sense of perspective...allow the mind-boggling evil of our enemies to move the moral center of gravity so far out that we forget who we are.

And, yes, Hilzoy's an ethicist. A real one, with a degree and everything. Demanding that we live up to our own time-tested standards of decency does not make her some kind of moral zealot. To compare her to Falwell is just foolish and I don't think you really mean it.

We agree on the evilness of terrorists, on the jaw-dropping evilness of soaking shrapnel in anticoagulant, and on the danger posed by militant Islamic theocrats.

We also agree that force must sometimes be met with force.

What we seem to disagree about is whether we should allow our opponents' evil to infect us and draw us into their game.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS covered this in his last comment, but I wanted to link Yglesias here, in particular the last paragraph. It makes more sense to give much more attention to the misdeeds of the US government, because that's something we might affect. (And, I'd add, something we bear responsibility for.)

Suicide bombing in Israel and cannibalism in Oklahoma are in some sense more wrong than what we've done to the Uighurs, but blogging about them isn't going to do much to change that. (Of course the suicide bombing issue is of more public significance, since it affects public policy in a way that the cannibalism doesn't.)

9:31 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks, Matt...tho the anti-Eusotnism seems to be getting a tad hysterical for my taste...

10:43 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Everybody here knows that this is just a minor nodule on the tumor of our behavior, right? Two words: Maher Arar.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

It makes more sense to give much more attention to the misdeeds of the US government, because that's something we might affect.

This mindset has become the all-purpose cop-out and it has risen to the level of self-evident truth.

I reject the argument, which is now the ubiquitous boilerplate excuse for restricting moral outrage to things named Bush.

a) we can't change squat, and b) if we can, we can affect the nation's will as much in opposing jihad as Gitmo. Or Darfur or Hamas or Iran's nukes.

That Hilzoy is trained in ethics is not surprising; she's damn persuasive. That makes her technically an ethicist, but so is Peter Singer.

I have read her pieces and she wields her scalpel like a machete, eschewing understanding for polemics. ("Polemics" is not necessarily a pejorative, mind you.) By ignoring one side of the given moral dilemma, she misuses her talent and credentials. The Uighur story is more complicated than the sadistic US imprisoning innocents for the fun of it.

(That was a polemic, BTW. It's not my favorite means of discourse, but a clarification was necessary.)

And I'll not be lectured on morals by anyone for whom rat poison in the shrapnel is off their radar. That is indecent. If the West were more united in its opposition to Hamas, they might be more prepared to stop this sadistic slaughter. There is something you can do, and you know it.


And I reject unconditionally that we are "better" than them. Besides being paternalistic or racist or whatever, that justifies leaving them off our radar, and removes any restraints of context or perspective in addressing our own behavior and the focus of our concerns.

(And so, this whole thing is a polemic. It was unavoidable that it sounds personally directed at the good folks here, but it's not intended that way, for what it's worth.

This concept of helplessness about all the world's evils except Bush's has spread like a contagion, and this was the first time the opportunity arose to present my deep opposition to it.)

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom-

I'm gonna take a deep breath, take what you wrote above at face value, and ask two followup questions:

The Uighur story is more complicated than the sadistic US imprisoning innocents for the fun of it.

Ok, how so? The Uighur thing doesn't read like sadism to me (nor, for that matter, the massive screw-up that was Arar's deportation to Syria) - they both read to me like the actions of a government that's hugely concerned with terrorism, so much so that they're overlooking other stuff like basic decency and fairness, to a point where they come off as sloppy and careless with other people's lives. The admin's not being evil here, they're just not operating at the standards of competence that they should.

But that's just how it reads to me - if there are complicating factors here that I'm not aware of, I'd surely like to hear about them. So what are we missing about the complexities of this one, Tom?

There is something you can do, and you know it.

Ok, Tom, what is it that we can do?

More particularly, what can we do that'll have as great an impact as getting Bush's existing policies reversed, given that volunteer efforts like Chief Wiggles' Operation Give often become hijacked as cheerleading for our current Iraq policy, and, magnitude-wise, seem to give new meaning to the term "whistle in a windstorm."

Or maybe I'm just being cynical here... I really do want to know what your answers are to this, Tom.

And I'd also like to point out that this conversation really feels like we're getting at the root of something here - how two sides who, I firmly believe, are equally committed to stuff like freedom, human rights, etc., can have such radically different takes on how to respond to an obviously imperfect administration approach to protecting those rights.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, too wiped out to respond in detail now, but I just want to point out one thing I've meant to discuss for a long time.

It just doesn't seem at all weird to me that so many of us are so obssesed with Bush's obvious misdeeds. I mean, look, when my brother or one of my friends does something relatively minor--say, cheats on his GF, that makes me more angry and takes up way more of my attention than much graver misdeeds by people I don't know or care about or have any connection with or influence on. But my brother doesn't respond by saying things like "hey, why are you on my case? This guy in the next county just murdered somebody."

This "don't point out my misdeeds because other people are worse" defense is just about the lamest thing I've ever heard.

Again: everybody knows that OBL sucks. Everybody agrees. There's no controversy. There's nothing to talk about. If the right would simply admit that Bush is a lying incompetent piece of crap, we'd all be in agreement. We could impeach him, keep going down the line until we got someone semi-competent, and get on with things.

But the right keeps denying the obvious, calling black white and night day.

Hence we argue.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

True dat, WS. If everyone agreed with you, we wouldn't fight. :-)

Meanwhile, win the next election. Impeach him. Go for it. That's principled. And democratic.


Chris, I think you get my drift just fine. None of us can "do" anything, really. This is all about consciousness-raising, right?

I'm asking people to calibrate their outrage meters. To set rat poison in shrapnel directed at civilians at a 10. To take off the Bush-colored glasses and expand their reality base about this cold cruel world. Try to fit in an acknowledgement that the reason the Uighurs can't be sent home is that China will fucking kill them.

Jack Cafferty did a (vociferous, needless to say) screed on CNN today asking what right Bush had to lecture China on human rights what with Abu Ghraib, NSA spying, etc. etc.---the rote laundry list that by now is indelibly stenciled on every American's brain. But to so lack a sense of moral proportion is indecent, and without any ethical authority whatsoever. And Cafferty is far from alone.

And so, I "do" my little bit. The issues themselves become secondary: without a sense of proportion, we can discuss nothing, because the important political issues have no white, only black and blacker. They are questions of values, not facts.

Complain all you want about Bush. But to be a dreary moralist in this age of moral dilemmas means one is content to remain on the sidelines of the sideshows like the Uighurs, condemning everyone, "doing" nothing.

There will always be low-hanging fruit for those with white gloves and no sense of proportion. Rock on, if your moral purity forbids you from making the tough calls. But you will not be a part of discerning and deciding the great and difficult issues of our times.

10:40 PM  
Blogger hilzoy said...

Tom: I think I'd be consigning myself to the sidelines if I thought of myself as a sort of ethical problem meter, content to register the goodness or badness of whatever I heard of. If I were an ethical problem meter, and all I did was register the moral nature of things, then you'd be right to complain when I emphasize one good thing over another bad one.

I might have to live this way if I were not a citizen of a democracy. Luckily, however, I am, and so I get to take action. One of the forms of action I choose to take is highlighting things that my government has done, and that my fellow citizens might not otherwise read about. Thus, the Uighurs.

Osama bin Laden's badness, by contrast, is something I can do nothing whatsoever about. Moreover, this would be news to no one, and I honestly can't see what the point of writing a post called "Osama bin Laden: Still Worse Than His Enemies" would be.

George W. Bush, by contrast, is my President. As I said: because I live in a democracy, I can hope to affect his conduct. Moreover, as someone else said above, he represents me, whether I like it or not, while Osama bin Laden does not. And he is, in my opinion, doing enormous damage not just to the moral standing of the country I love, but to its security and its solvency.

I have no particular desire to get into the question of the pros and cons of me, about which other people are surely more objective judges than I am. I will say, though, that I do, in general, tolerate moral ambiguity. If you can show me any significant amount of it in the case of the Uighurs, I'd appreciate it.

Also, I trust you've seen that Insty has updated, to reflect doubts about the rat poison story. Thank God.

12:48 AM  
Blogger hilzoy said...

Eek; what was I thinking?

"one good thing over another bad one." should be: one bad thing over another that's worse.

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem, TVD, is that your theory of "pay no attention to this Really Bad Thing because over there there's an Even Worse Thing" never ends. There's always something worse.

Accordingly, I would like to take this opportunity to ignore absolutely everything anyone at all has to say about Osama bin Laden, shrapnel, rat poison, the war on terror, etc.

You see, I have set the genocide in Darfur at 10. Sure, 'rat poison in shrapnel' can be used as low-hanging fruit for those with white gloves and no sense of proportion . . . but those of us who really make the hard choices to ignore everything else in the world choose the big issues, like GENOCIDE.

Anyway, yeah, I figure that with the genocide in Darfur and all, it doesn't really matter that I've kept two innocent men chained in my cellar for the past 4 years.

Christ, really, have some perspective.

---Myca

1:37 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The problem, TVD, is that your theory of "pay no attention to this Really Bad Thing because over there there's an Even Worse Thing" never ends.,

I did not say that, Myca. I did say that the vocabulary of one's moral outrage should expand to the totality of the human condition, so that one can set an appropriate level of outrage toward a given issue, and perhaps occasionally turn his or her attention to the graver things.

As for Darfur, I am interested in your thoughts. There are complex political reasons why it remains an abstraction to the Western world. It will remain a matter of total indifference to the rest of the world.


Good to hear from you, Ms. Hilzoy. My objections to your reiteration of the boilerplate that you can affect nothing but the conduct of the Bush administration are voiced in this thread, above. You underestimate yourself, I think.

As for the Uighurs, my comments re China remain relevant. I do find it easy to accept that the rat poison story may be untrue, which doesn't change my main thesis---set your 10 to whatever is analogously appropriate.

I do hope my admiration for your talent, learning, and clarity came through even as I demurred from your choice on how you use them. I would be very interested in your consideration of the Korean War, which our kind host the Philosoraptor and I began to kick around at the top of this blog. It's a baffling moral conundrum, and I admit my own thoughts aren't fully formed on it. But we seem to agree that it appears to be a promising line of inquiry, and WS and I seldom agree on anything. :-)

2:51 AM  
Blogger hilzoy said...

TVD: It's not that I can affect nothing but the Bush administration; it's that: first, I have a better shot at affecting it than, say, Osama bin Laden's murderousness; (b) I have a special obligation to try to affect it, as a citizen in a democracy whose leader Bush is, that I do not have with respect to others; (c) that it hits me hard because it's the country I love.

Honestly, I don't know enough about the history of the Korean War. (I took US History several times in school, but we always got behind, in one case because my teacher -- whom I loved for enthusiasms like this -- was really, really into the Sherman Antitrust Act; and we never seemed to get past WW2.)

9:38 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hullo, Dr. Hilzoy! You honor our humble blog with your presence.

I think Tom's got a good point about calibrating our outrage meters.

I must admit, I often think that liberals at least *seem* less outraged by OBL, jihadists, and Islamist (though not Christian) theocrats than I think they ought to be. So there' something else Tom and I agree about.

Coupla things:

1. Such calibrations are rough at best, as are our judgments about the calibrations of others--especially those with whom we already have gripes. So beware.

2. While on the subject of miscalibrations is up...seems to me that guys on Tom's side have a bigger calibration problem than guys on my side. Guys on my side at least admit that OBL et. al. are bad. Guys on Tom's side not only refuse to recognize how bad Bush is, but still try to argue that he's doing a perfectly fine job. As if letting OBL get away and lying us into a botched war were somehow trivial errors.

An easy test here is the 'what if the tables were turned?' test. If a Democrat had made the erros that Bush has made, what would the right end of the spectrum be saying? They would, of course, be calling not just for impeachment but for imprisonment. I'd guess they'd be calling for assassination.

So there are sub-optimal calibrations all around. That's no excuse for it, but you gotta keep it in mind.

(Note: I don't mean to suggest that the various miscalibrations are equally bad.)

12:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

If the tables were turned, WS, I'd be arguing against impeachment (for one thing, you'd get Cheney)and working to win the next election.

If I'd been blogging then, I'd have argued against Clinton's impeachment. In its frivolousness, it did great harm to the country. But those were frivolous times.

I'm sorry Hilzoy has left the building repeating her mantra of only being able to affect Bush.

I consider it a comforting fiction, but still am surprised to see it trip off so many lips, but there are so many now who could not function without it intact.

Actually (if you're still reading, Hilzoy), your greatest influence is with those who already tend to agree with you. It's my opinion that the net effect of your work is not to free Uighurs but to deepen resentments, and the great divide in this country. And your prosecutorial style forbids any engagement with people like me, whose minds you most need to influence.

I've found that it's useless to speak much on the issues of the day when on foreign soil (there is more to them than OBL, who is but the tip of his iceberg), but I thought an examination of the Korean War would be a great chance to examine our underlying principles, at arm's length. I'm disappointed that you decline to participate in that inquiry. It would have been valuable to us both, I think.

But you are heartily invited to comment on my groupblog anytime, should you ever want to try to expand your influence.

2:37 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

WS: "I must admit, I often think that liberals at least *seem* less outraged by OBL, jihadists, and Islamist (though not Christian) theocrats than I think they ought to be."

So when are the two-minute hates you organize? I'll show up and burn a picture of Osama and pledge to spill his blood and feed his macheted body to tvd whenever you like.


By the way, you seem less outraged by poverty and domestic violence and global warming and Darfur than I think you ought to be. But what the hell does that have to do with anything?

3:06 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Jesus, Rilkefan, calm down.

Are you so thin-skinned that it matters to you that much what I think about the fine-tuning of the moral outrage meters of folks on your side of the fence?

Tom brought up the subject and I pointed out that I agreed with him about that. What's the big deal? And how is this any less relevant to anything than any of the other BS we all spew around here?

I mean, as for your assessments of my degree of outrage re: the subjects you mention: actually I find your reactions informative, and take them under advisement. Note also that I wasn't talking about you personally.

Anyway, although this discussion about degrees of moral outrage seems stupid, I actually think it gets at something deep. My guess is that the dynamic goes something like this:

Left and right start out with differential outrage readings. Left is outraged re: 9/11, right is more outraged. Why the difference? Right says b/c left hates America or whatever. left says because right has an antecdent hatred of non-Americans. Bush does various (so far as I can tell) wrong and ineffectual allegedly in response to 9/11. Left gets mad at Bush. Right gets mad at Left for being mad at Bush instead of focusing anger on OBL et. al. (Right will disagree with the details of the above of course). But in the end, part of what really pisses off right is that left dislikes Bush too much and OBL et. al. too little. Part of what pisses left off is that right dislikes OBL too much and Bush too little. (Left will probably disagree about the former.)

I think that much of what we're disagreeing about is each others reactions. Part of what makes me mad about Tom is that I suspect that the distribution of his anger resources reveals that he's cheating in favor of Bush. Part of what makes him mad about me is that he things I'm cheating against Bush.

We can disagree about the details, but so long as we have these differential background propensities to distribute our ire, we'll never be completely happy with each other.

Even in our relatively civil discussion, we always seem to be saying, subtextually, things like "well, I agree with the details of what you say, but you still piss me off b/c I don't think you've got the right sentiments about all this."

Well, that's a bunch of complicated and speculative stuff dealt with in a fairly brief way, after two weeks of very little sleep...but I think there's at least *some* truth buried in there.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I myself speak for myself. My attempts at building "moral capital" are largely in vain, but I continually reference Clinton gently to illustrate that I'm just not that angry a person, nor do I think anger is helpful to our polity, and to show my acknowledgement that the presidency is the toughest job in the world.

I think Clinton's impeachment stank, and did far more harm to our nation than most anything I can think of, and far more than anyone could have contemplated.

If the centrist Evan Bayh ends up opposing the conservative George Allen, I'll cross party lines and go for the centrist, because the anger in our polity is unbearable.

There are ends and there are means. The means right now are what's killing us as a nation, and I've chosen to make them the focus of my forays here onto enemy territory.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I myself speak for myself. My attempts at building "moral capital" are largely in vain, but I continually reference Clinton gently to illustrate that I'm just not that angry a person, nor do I think anger is helpful to our polity, and to show my acknowledgement that the presidency is the toughest job in the world.

I think Clinton's impeachment stank, and did far more harm to our nation than most anything I can think of, and far more than anyone could have contemplated.

If the centrist Evan Bayh ends up opposing the conservative George Allen, I'll cross party lines and go for the centrist, because the anger in our polity is unbearable.

There are ends and there are means. The means right now are what's killing us as a nation, and I've chosen to make them the focus of my forays here onto enemy territory.

3:43 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

WS, I don't much care about "what [you] think about the fine-tuning of the moral outrage meters of folks on [my] side of the fence" - just thought what you said was dumb and tried to mock it. It's a well-understood principle that just because you fail to blog about X every day doesn't mean you don't care about X. You ought I think to apply that principle to the left, e.g. on OBL, esp. given that you presumably fail on this count in some people's eyes. I am actually interested in knowing how to express the right amount of hate for al Qaeda, though - it would be useful politically, as this thread shows.

I don't agree with "Part of what makes me mad about Tom is that I suspect that the distribution of his anger resources reveals that he's cheating in favor of Bush." I doubt he gives a damn what the left thinks about anything - just read the above where he demonstrates he has no familiarity with hilzoy but is happy to invent a history of her thought. I think he's making up his claims about the left's view OBL as a way to make legitimate criticism of his side sound like traitorous support for murderers. It's way beyond "cheating". He can't refute what hilzoy says so he claims it's divisive, when his side is the main source of division today (as it has been since '94 and more like 1964). He claims she doesn't bring over moderate conservatives, which he has no way of knowing and which has been refuted by testimony of conservatives at ObWi. His conversation contains too high a quotient of smears, near-racist stuff (see the recent immigration/Dems/blacks thread), Republican disinformation, and the sort of nonsense above to be accidental. I personally think what he does helps OBL and Zarqawi, but I don't go saying so because it's not within the bounds of civil debate [making an exception here, obviously, to illustrate what I think is an important point about correctly-calibrated outrage.] Happily it's a strong country, and able to stand amazing amounts of hateful speech; and it will be stronger when the current clowns are out of office and we don't have to shut up about our govt acting illegally for fear of not being sufficiently outraged about the supposed use of rat poison by our enemies.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Complain all you want about Bush. But to be a dreary moralist in this age of moral dilemmas means one is content to remain on the sidelines of the sideshows like the Uighurs, condemning everyone, "doing" nothing.

There will always be low-hanging fruit for those with white gloves and no sense of proportion. Rock on, if your moral purity forbids you from making the tough calls. But you will not be a part of discerning and deciding the great and difficult issues of our times.


Tom, you've got a unspoken assertion here that reads completely false to me - that Bush's various sins are unavoidable side-effects of "getting his hands dirty", and that Hilzoy, by criticizing his mistakes, is trying to stop the hard decisions from being made at all.

The thing is, the majority of the stuff Bush gets slammed on isn't of the "damned if he does, damned if he doesn't" type. (Or if it is, you've completely failed to prove that.) In the particular case of the Uigurs, if their safety, post-release, really is in question, then examine other options - see if there's a neutral country to take them in, ask them what their personal preferences are, etc. But your claim that somehow the admin is making the best of a hard decision is outright false - detainees in indefinite limbo is a situation of Bush's own making, not the fault of a cold cruel world.

Likewise, suppressing information that undercut his arguments for war wasn't a "tough choice that had to be made", nor was Bush's repeated lying that he hadn't irrevocably made up his mind for war in 2002.

Now, there are tough choices that have to be made, and decisions really are between bad and worse. Dealing with North Korea is one of them (invade, and kill millions, or don't invade while millions suffer and the Norks build nukes) and while I don't particularly agree with the way Bush has handled the situation, you'd be well within your rights to point out that it's a complex issue, and he's made the call, which is his right and responsibility as President, end of story.

Don't, however, pretend that all of Bush's faults - or even most of them - fall into that category.

As for your remarks to Hilzoy:

And your prosecutorial style forbids any engagement with people like me, whose minds you most need to influence.

I'll ask another question: how, then, should people like you be approached? You don't want to read a litany of Bush's screw-ups, followed by shrillness, snideness, whatever, fine. Is there some way y'all can be convinced that Bush's actions can and should be changed, and that doing so doesn't inevitably mean abandoning the war on terror?

5:12 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I think Chris has hit two nails on their very heads.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, chris, I explicitly wrote that Clinton's impeachment harmed the country more than anything I can think of.

Follow that road if you want. Doesn't look like anything I can say will dissuade you.

Any good ideas about where we should go from here on any issue at all is something I'm very interested in reading.

5:26 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Little reading required.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I agree that Clinton's impeachment hurt the country...but it was an absurd, politically motivated crime against a good president.

On the other hand, the *failure* to impeach Ronald Reagan hurt the country in many ways, not the least of which was that it made it seem as if the president can do whatever he wants.

Similarly, since Bush has committed impeachable offenses, there's no analogy with Clinton. NOT impeaching him would be the crime.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Then we learned nothing from the Clinton impeachment. Setting half this country against the other is unwise. It was bad enough when the stakes were so low.

When you stare into an abyss, the abyss stares also into you. You wanna end up like Nietzsche?

Focusing solely on the suffering is a worldview, a way of seeing things. But you cleanse yourself of all the good things. That was my whole point. The sickness of the world becomes part of you.

There's some catharsis in the occasional Jeremiad, but when that's all there is, it gets unhealthy. There's a time for everything, turn turn turn, and I'm about out of cliches.

I thought of you when I ran across this:

Creating Passionate Users: Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain. So far I've resisted crawling down into the slime with rilkefan, although the urge is near-irresistible. By trolling for Abu Ghraib pictures and not of the nine Israelis turned to human pulp the other day by the suicide bomber, he illustrates my point rather than refutes it.

I just can't go any further on this, WS. If you help the Jacobins drag out the guillotine, soon they're putting you on it. You've already seen them turn on you on this very blog.

I just wrote the same thing to a friend of mine on the right. Do what you must, man, but this is unhealthy, and no way to go through life. Include me out.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far I've resisted crawling down into the slime with rilkefan, although the urge is near-irresistible. By trolling for Abu Ghraib pictures and not of the nine Israelis turned to human pulp the other day by the suicide bomber, he illustrates my point rather than refutes it.

I just can't go any further on this, WS. If you help the Jacobins drag out the guillotine, soon they're putting you on it. You've already seen them turn on you on this very blog.


Tom, I guess I'm just not getting where you're coming from. There are angry people out there, sure, and even the best of us gets angry on occasion. But I think a substantial minority of the left almost always operates on the "man, this sucks because of X, Y, and Z, we should be doing A, B, and C instead" outlook, rather than the "Impeach Bush now and put him in a cell alongside Delay!" mindset. Count the number of lefties who are only occasionally in the "impeach Bush now" mindset, and you've got a solid majority of the group.

Acting like those who oppose the President are irrevocably filled with hate, and can't be reasoned with, ever, seems to me to be an artificial excuse not to admit mistakes on both sides and find common ground. You're chiding those of us who find fault with Bush as being to pure to operate in the real world - but I think the contrary has been argued at least as well, that excusing Bush for any mistakes he makes on the ground that he's not as bad as OBL isn't any way for America to make real progress in the world.

That said, thanks for sticking with the argument this long, at least.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

So, if Smith commits impeachable crimes and Jones points this out, Jones is dividing the country in a reprehensible way?

I don't think I'm going to be able to go with you there.

2:55 PM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

JFTR, I'm a sometimes angry advocate of Israel.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Forgive my exhaustion on this, fellows. Doing the best I can. All I can do is write, hopefully once, my view of the "facts." I spent a year going round and round on Joe Wilson, not repeating GOP talking points but offering my own thoughts. Although The Washington Post at least now agrees with me, The Daily Kos still does not.

Thre's a point where it just gets so useless. I have better things to do than to get on these treadmills, and every one of us here gathered should, too.


It comes down to what is a fact and what is a value. Such discussions might derive principles, and so are more worthwhile. Fact is, Clinton did deserve impeachment, using the white glove test. The value is, I think it was unwise. It was chickenshit, and did more harm than good.

I can debate the legal facts of Reagan's evasion of the lame Boland Amendment per Iran-Contra, but it's a complicated constitutional question, with valid arguments on both sides. Even if the Supreme Court had been forced to rule, that would not establish truth, only opinion, and their opinions in the past have been wrong (Plessy v. Ferguson) or right but immoral (Dred Scott).

If you think impeaching Bush is good for our nation, then go for it: win the upcoming election. Just run on the truth that you intend to drag out the political guillotine for him. Let's vote on your true intentions. In my opinion, you will do more harm than good.


As for OBL, I think the fact is that he's now a rhetorical straw man. The West's (self-declared) enemy is jihad, which is decentralized, and always was. (Islam itself is decentralized.)

And as for poor rilkefan, and as previously noted, there's a certain cannibalism among Jacobins. They treat him as shoddily as he treats me. Perhaps he knows not what he does. (Anti-Israelism seems pervasive on the West's left, but that's another discussion.)

I'm still mastering the internet and the self-destructive mental whirlpool of mirror neurons and emotional contagion (please do glance at the link I provided above).

I'm haunted by Annie Lennox' "Sweet Dreams":

Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused...


TVD just can't get that kinky. Doesn't want to.

Thanks for the discussion. Drinks on me.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I sympathize with your exhaustion, Tom, but that doesn't make your position right. Just pointing out that Clinton's impeachment was wrong doesn't make a Bush impeachment similar. Clinton's impeachment, though technically warranted, was absurd and politically-motivated. The end of a years-long witch hunt in which he finally handed his enemies the only real ammunition they ever had.

Bush deserves impeachment more even than Reagan, more even than Nixon. If Bush doesn't deserve it, no one ever did. So pointing to Clinton does nothing here. If lying us into war and using the power of the state against those who would point out the lies is not presidential abuse of power, not high crime or at least misdemeanor, then nothing is.

I'm glad you're not in the craziest wing of your party, Tom, the wing that still thinks that the insane and unjust impeachment of Clinton was a good thing. But there's still a slightly less kooky wing you want to avoid, and that's the wing clinging to the belief that Bush is a minimally good and decent president.

This is important stuff here. We're talking about the nature and future of our republic...and given who we are, that means the nature and future of the world.

8:33 AM  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Shouldn't Sebastian Holsclaw spend more time being outraged about the evil drugpushers and not trolling for tapes of police officers torturing a suspect?

12:27 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

We're still back at Joe Wildon. I said my piece. It's not necessary to beat me into submission, nor is it possible. Or desirable.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So TVD doesn't want us to beat him into submission. Well, there's a start!

America is a political idea (a liberal political idea). Our success is not a triumph of ethnicity or of religion. America is liberty and justice for all.

TVD is so fearful that the only value he can hold is to be on the winning team. Yes, that's important, but most of us are tough enough not to run home to authoritarianism the minute the going gets rough. Good thing the founders weren't so lily-livered as TVD.

11:56 PM  

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