Friday, May 22, 2009

Rotten apple

This stuck out to me when reading Obama's horrible speech:
For the first time since 2002, we are providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is precisely the lie that was used to justify invading Iraq. But the people the US is murdering in Pakistan were not involved in 9/11, nor were the Taliban. Yes, OBL was in Afghanistan, and you can argue that the Taliban were protecting him (more accurately, "a" Taliban given that the people who now represent the Taliban are not coterminous with the people who were then, by any means), but they were not in any way involved. The Taliban have never attacked the US, have never had the intention of it and, even were it within their means, they would not conceive that intention. (How can I say that? Because the Taliban are, above all else, a Pashtun movement. As with many Islamists, they do not have the broad vision of an OBL; they are focused on an internal objective: Afghanistan (or in some cases, Pashtunistan), not a Caliphate.)

So most Americans probably don't care about killing a few guys in turbans, their wives and children and some bystanders, but they should care about this:
there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

The principle that the executive cannot arbitrarily imprison others is fundamental to the rule of law. It is the beginning of liberty, the sine qua non of any republic of laws, or any republic that even wants to pretend to be based on the rule of law.

If you cannot present evidence of someone's wrongdoing, under the rule of law he must be presumed not to have done wrong. This is justice as we understand it. Although it is my belief that the law as a body is perverse and does not serve the people, I also believe that it is not possible for humans to live freely in states without the rule of law. I also believe it is better for the weak to be oppressed by the powerful using the means of the law than for the powerful simply to exercise their power without even the restraints they impose upon themselves. I am not a utopian, by any stretch, and I think that at least putting those restraints out into the open is the better course.

That there is even a debate in America over whether torturers should face repercussions from the law, or whether it is right or wrong to detain people who have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, wrongdoing, and in some cases clearly would have no case at all to answer, unless you truly believe that being Muslim should be criminalised, is not just worrying. It is disgusting. America always was putrid. Now it has stripped away the pretence that it is anything else. It's laid bare as the rotten apple it is.

Friday, May 15, 2009

My life rendered in bad dialogue

This is annoying.

(mid April)
Me: Hi J1, do you has any work for me?
J1: Oh yah, I has project for you early next month.

(early May)
Me: Hi J1, can I has project you has for me?
J1: ...

(a week later)

Me: Hi J1, hope you don't mind me bothering you, but can I has project you has for me?
J1: Yah, I gave that to J2 to give to you.

Me: Hi J2, can I has project you has for me?
J2: Yah, busy busy, next week, k?

(next week)

Me: Hi J2, can I has project you has for me?
J2: Yah, wait up, me check.


Me: Hi J2, can I has project you has for me?
J2: Big mistake. I never has project for you. Gave it some other kitteh.
Me: WTF.

Me: WTF.
J1: You're first on the list for new project.


This is annoying.

Me: J3, I took a job with you because you promised me regular work, 25 hours a week, and you haven't given me 25 hours a week for three months. You are fucking me, right?
J3: You can do editing, me likey.
J3: You can do some course writing, me likey.
J3: Other writing, me no likey.
J3: And you're not in the office for me to blather about why me no likey. I'm not capable of talking about projects on the phone and the problem with emails is that I have to read what you have to say, so I can't say, stfu, and ignore your point of view, like I do in person.
J3: So I hired other women that come into the office.
J3: So yeah. I'm fucking you.
Me: Is there any good reason you can come up with that I shouldn't consider you a complete cunt?
J3: Me get back to you on that, k?


This is less annoying.

Mrs Zen: I've had enough. Divorce immediately.
Me: That's going to suck for me and the kids.
Mrs Zen: I don't care. I will find new love and an era of fairy magic will ensue.
Me: That's nice, but that's going to suck for me and the kids.

Me: Zenella, Daddy's going away.
Zenella: Mummy, get a brain.

(Mrs Zen gets a brain)

Mrs Zen: I want thousands of dollars to repair this house. Get a jerb.
Me: No u. I hate this house and what do I want to fix it for? Get sister with three houses to pay for it.
Mrs Zen: No u. Divorce immediately.
Me: Fuck my life. Hey, why don't you get a jerb?
Mrs Zen: wat
Me: Women's lib?
Mrs Zen: Ha ha ha ha ha ha. You want family, you pay for repairs. I'm off to my hair stylist, kthxbai.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bring it

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A tolerant reactionary

It's hard to love Julian Baggini, but I usually find what he has to say at least acceptable. Or did. I've been reading a book of his, in which he does commentary on thought experiments, a form of book I usually enjoy, but I'm really disliking it, and him.

Why isn't easy to explain, but I think it's for two reasons. The simpler reason is that he doesn't seem to be for anything much. His writing and thought are all about what he doesn't agree with, where others are flawed. This makes a person's writing gristle rather than meat. It doesn't help that he seems often to be flatly wrong (and I'll come to one instance in a minute). The other reason is that I'm pretty sure Baggini would consider himself a liberal but his thought is on the whole reactionary, although in the English "why can't we all get along?" way. He's a reasonable, tolerant reactionary, which is probably the worst sort, because he is a fellow traveller of other reactionaries, and (probably inadvertently) gives them cover.

What has stuck in my craw is that he is far too willing to state that positions are flawed without actually giving reason for suggesting they are. For instance, he believes that human beings are not predictable because they could exercise free will at any point, whereas I would suggest that they do not have free will at all. In one of his essays, he is criticising Laplace, who believed the universe was entirely deterministic, but not because quantum theory suggests that the universe is fundamentally random (he notes that and dismisses quantum theory because he incorrectly believes it only has effects at the subatomic level -- this is simply wrong; it would be right to suggest that the single effect of a particle's quantum state is tiny, but without getting all reductionist about it, how can he not allow for everything in the world consisting of particles that are each susceptible to quantum effects -- does he just not understand that small effects are not ignorable, but build together to make greater effects? I mean, what does he think electricity is, for instance? Does he believe he can run a thousand volts through his body because after all, electrons are really tiny?)

I won't at this point discuss his positions on ontology and metaphysics, which are meh at best, but want to talk about a particular ethical standpoint he takes. My annoyance is born out of how he states it, as much as what it is, but what it is struck me as very wrong too. It's fundamental too, because our think our difference here would inform our politics and worldview in the round. I think for him his position stems out of a desire to steer clear of consequentialism in particular, and strict utilitarianism in general, but equally it can be read as a defence of individualism, which I clearly don't consider meritworthy. Here it is in paraphrase.

It's war and you are part of a group of soldiers that has caught a young woman. Your commander tells you to rape and kill her. If you don't, you know one of the other guys will do it, and they are all horrible men, who will torture her at length, giving her a drawn-out, painful death. They will also execute you. You can make it quick and painless.

Baggini says you should of course refuse. His view is that if you kill her, even for the right reasons, you will be morally responsible for her murder, and you can't have that.

Two things strike me straight away as wrong with his position. First, most importantly, he sees responsibility as something that only involves you. It's an entirely individualist concept of what responsibility is. But responsibility is surely responsibility to others. If you are morally responsible for the girl's death, you are responsible to her. Second, you are clearly responsible for the style of her dying. If you don't give her the easy death, how can you not be responsible for the hard one that she will have? And, furthermore, how can you not be responsible for your own death?

Of course, this is difficult ground. Am I saying that if someone else orders someone dead, you have no responsibility for following that order? No, I am not. But I am suggesting that responsibility is more complex than simply forbidding some things morally. Whether a thing you do is moral surely depends on what your options were. Take the position of a German in World War Two who is aware that if he signs up to the army he will be asked to kill Jews in cold blood. If your choice is to join the army and kill people or desert, surely the moral choice is to desert. But if you are honourably fighting the Russians because you believe Communism is a moral evil, and you find yourself with pistol in hand, ordered to shoot a prisoner, your moral choice is not so clear. Yes, if you shoot him, you are a murderer. But he is being murdered anyway. If you refuse, you too will be killed. Is it moral to refuse to perform an act that you cannot stop by refusing to do, when you will die yourself for the refusal? I do not know the answer to this question, but I do know that you cannot answer it with an "of course" as Baggini does.

I'm minded to consider this question undecidable. I cannot see how you can do anything good by refusing to shoot the Russian, except to keep yourself from moral responsibility. But the consequence of your action is not a living Russian. It is two corpses, one of them yours, and no net gain for anyone. Except you died morally clean. Which is nice.

Baggini wants to make "thou shalt not murder" an absolute. This is a feature of the conservative, that they want to set out standards that seem self-evident to them, that are the fixed points of a confusing universe. The liberal accept that there are no fixed points, or at least that they are not nailed in place, but are negotiable, interpretable. Of course, the desire for those fixed points is part of being human, and I think we all have it to some degree.

I'll have more to say about Baggini's thought experiments, particularly about the dualism he insinuates, but this is already long.