Saturday, August 28, 2004

Reasonably impossible

Lenin links to the Guardian who, in the old fashioned way, link to this paragraph containing someone else's words:

But Professor Stephen Coleman of the Oxford Internet Institute said MPs' blogging efforts would always be treated cynically by the public. "The problem facing politicians who blog is that they are professionally implicated in the very culture that blogging seeks to transcend," he comments in the report. "The public will never relax in their company and will be ever suspicious that today's 'spontaneous' blog entry was yesterday's faxed 'message' from the party HQ."

For the record, Coleman is 'one of us' or, rather, was, once, a communist. Nice to see him using his work at Hansard to circumvent the nascent vanguardists of blogging in favour of the republic of blogs.

Check out, BTW, his book on Speaker's Corner, Stilled Tongues - the original blogspot.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Mr. Tony Blair says...

I'm feeling idle, so I'll just post a couple of pointers to Blair's specific ideology on war.

Firstly, it's interesting to see that some MP's are planning to impeach Mr. Tony Blair for 'high crimes and misdemenours' in taking Britain to war.

Further, of note, is that I first heard the speech these excerpts are taken from live on BBC News 24 - the subsequent analysis and the reports that followed barely scratched the surface of this speech - focusing almost exclusively and shallowly on whether it meant war in Iraq (it did) - and almost no mention of the money shot. Not even in the left-press. Here goes.

These are excerpts from Tony's Speech to the George Bush Library, Texas. I recommend reading it all for yourself. Money shot at the end. the two views of international affairs. One is utilitarian: each nation maximises its own self interest. The other is Utopian: we try to create a better world. Today I want to suggest that more than ever before those two views are merging...

...I advocate an enlightened self interest that puts fighting for our values right at the heart of the policies necessary to protect our nations. Engagement in the world on the basis of these values, not isolationism from it is the hard-headed pragmatism for the 21st Century...

...It's still costing us time, effort and money, but it's a lot less than if we had turned our back and let the Balkans plunge into civil war...

...So today, more than ever, "their" problem becomes "our" problem. Instability is contagious and, again today, more than ever, nations, at least most of them, crave stability. That's for a simple reason. Our people want it, because without it, they can't do business and prosper. What brings nations together - what brought them together post September 11 - is the international recognition that the world needs order. Disorder is the enemy of progress...

...So the promotion of these values becomes not just right in itself but part of our long-term security and prosperity. We can't intervene in every case. Not all the wrongs of the world can be put right, but where disorder threatens us all, we should act...

...The point I am making is simply this. There are no Cold War battles to play to. 'Spheres of influence' is an outdated concept. A series of interlocking alliances with a common agenda on issues of security, trade and stability should replace old rivalries...

... I am arguing that the values we believe in are worth fighting for; they are in the ascendant and we have a common interest in standing up for them. We shouldn't be shy of giving our actions not just the force of self-interest but moral force...

So far, so good. Blair's concern is that in a post cold-war world, there are no sphere's of influence, only a globalised security interest that coincides with human rigbhts values and the economic interests of the main powers. But, here comes the money shot:

...Fuel is our economic lifeblood. The price of oil can be the difference between recession and recovery. The western world is import dependent. We base our policy on diversity of supply. You in the US import from 50 different countries, no one of which supplies more than 15 per cent of total imports. The EU pursues roughly the same policy.

So: who develops oil and gas, what the new potential sources of supply are, is a vital strategic question. We have the best energy companies in the world. Yet I don't believe that collectively, we have a sufficient strategy for ensuring that the political and corporate world co-operate together in ensuring the diversity of supply continues or in our policy towards energy.

The Middle East, we focus on naturally. But the Caspian, Russia and Angola will be vital sources of supply in the future. Sorting out the problems - for example conflict resolution in Angola which accounts for some 7 per cent of non-OPEC US imports - is not time wasted. Neither is collaboration on research for the fuels of the future or for greater fuel efficiency. This generation may not thank us for it, but our children's generation will.

So, there we have it, in a speech ostensibly about justifying military interventionism, a brief discussion about securing oil supplies, and ensuring diversity of supply, and ensuring that certain people do not and cannot act to either threaten that supply.

This is irredemably third way, the illusion that you can marry principles/values and capitalist self interest - an illusion France and Russia have already sought to dispell through their actions.

he is right, the world is increasingly integrated, but a common interest is not shared yet.

I believe that this speech is a key to understanding the Iraq war, and Tony Blair's foriegn policy. I think it's a vital historical document and the source for plenty of good debate around it's terms. I think it stinks that the craven media didn't treat the serious intellectual content of this text, and so political debate, vital issues are unexamined, except within the hallowed halls of the elite or those with time on their hands in the afternoon to watch News 24.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Just Jus

Walzer puts it, shall we say, nicely (in the very Austinian sense):
All of us who argue about the rights and wrongs of war agree that justice in the strong sense, the sense that it has in domestic society and everyday life, is lost as soon as the fighting begins. War is a zone of radical coercion, in which justice is always under a cloud. Still, sometimes we are right to enter the zone.
I shall leave aside the just causes of war to another time.

Right now, I want to focus on the ways in which war is fought, the idea of the just waging of war. Walzer concedes a litte dating on the just war theory
Jus ad bellum (which deals with the decision to go to war) and jus in bello (which deals with the conduct of the battles) are its standard elements, first worked out by Catholic philosophers and jurists in the Middle Ages.
That is, he is basing his criticism on a theory developped to suite the mental and social development of the middle ages.

If just war theory is built around
Ideas like self-defense and aggression, war as a combat between combatants, the immunity of noncombatants, the doctrine of proportionality, the rules of surrender and the rights of prisoners- these are our common heritage, the product of many centuries of arguing about war.
then it is a heritage largely based on medieval modes of warfare. Mano-e-mano, a sword in hand, where the fighting was done on the field between participants who ciould choose to run away.

What chance of surrender are there, though, for a conscript in a bunker about to be hit by a cruise missile? What of children in trenches being bulldozed to their deaths? Waves of conscripts under chemical attack clouds? Lines of men being gunned down by machine-gun fire? Where is the justice in the slaughtering of someone who may never in their life be involved in taking another's life, because they happen to be wearing a certain uniform in a certain warzone?

After all, jus in bello generally recognises this odd distinction between soldiers (supposedly voluntary patricipants to a war - after all, they could always surrender, or desert, they have that option) and civilians. Yet, in modern total war, this distinction is inevitably hard to make. It is known for a certain fact that in war civilians will die. The demonstrable attempt to prevent collatoral damage does not negate the priori consciousness that deaths will occur. In civil life, that is, at the very least, manslaughter, if not murder. More and more, modern war is total war, armies versus whole cities - how can you spot a soldier if the bugger won't wear a shiny bright uniform and stand up and be shot, like in the old days?

The fact is, that the technology of war, and of organising war, has advanced, with several effects. Old notions of personal honour, and a fair chance in a fight are wiped out by industrial death technology, killing with the flick of a switch. Whole populations are mobilised because communications are there to do it. If they are not mobilised, they die anyway, because the force of war is such that either they get caught in the immediate effects, or like the 70% unemployed of Iraq, they suffer the disruption to the integrated system of production that is modern capitalism.

Of course, we could just decry these new technologies as unjust. Though that would mean declaring any war fought with them as unjust. Further, though they increase the ease of killing, they also improve the chance of protecting. After all, military commanders have a conflicting duty alongside that of waging war justly - they must protect their own troops. They have a duty of care.

It's irrelevent that the commander of the Belgrano, 20yrs on, admitted that that ship was going to be a threat. The fact was, that even apparently sailing away outside the British exclusion zone, it posed enough of a threat to British soldiers to necessitate killing the boys in its hold without a second chance. That the British soldiers had been placed in harms way is neither here nor there. The Belgrano was just war at work.

Commanders must adopt the advanced technologies, else they will see their troops slaughtered. They must risk collatoral damage, or else see their troops get picked off in bloody house to house fighting. Once you drop a daisy cutter, you don't have the option of assessing whether or not its victims deserved to die on a case by case basis.

Finally, it's worth noting, as I did some years ago here that much of the modern theory of war comes from past-times professional soldiers, who had an interest in regulating the rules of war. Irrespective of the cause of the war, they were professionals who fought because that was what they did. The Olympic spirit - its not how well you do, its how well you dfight, the taking part that counts. I think it's no coincidence that such values were inculcated at the time of Empire and military rule by Britain. This is, though, an admirable position for professional soldiers, except, of course, it brings them into potential conflict with political masters who have to think of the cause of the war.

Walzer is right, the 'rules of war' do need updating. But, the need for updating them comes, partly, from the very technology that makes war so unrelentingly horrible. Nowadays, we have the information to know what happens in wars - they are not events far away, unreported in a tiny hamlet in germany as they would have been in 1712, or whenever. They are under our gaze, the unconscious of war has become conscious, and that may make it intolerable. Certainly, it will show the hypocrisy necessary to fight a just war for what it is.

Coming next, the cause of wars.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

War Ensemble

Well, it looks like its Blog warrrr time again.

Socialism in an Age of Waiting consider my previous post to be "startlingly bloody silly". Curmudgeonly old buggers.

Meanwhile, Lenin seems to have the wrong end of the stick:
Basically, Bill's point is a variation on the theme of "if you had to kill one child in order to prevent an axe-murderer from killing a hundred, would you do it?"
Well, not quite. I wasn't posing a moral dilema, but painting a reductio ad absurdum picture to illustrate my point that the twin pillars of contemporary just war theory are somewhat wonkie, and tend to undermine one another. Since just war theorists set the conditions that a war must have a legitimate cause, and be fought within acceptable terms, they are setting out two conditions which must be fulfilled to say a war is just.

Demonstrate the impossibility - or at least implausibility - of meeting those two conditions, and the case for just war collapses (that's even before yhou start picking apart the terms of those two conditions, which I shall commence in a rant on jus in bello, perhaps even later today). All that is left then, by their own terms, is either pacifism, or realism.

Realism is, of course, utterly conservative, replacing the Tory mantra of we rule because we rule because we rule, with we fight and fight and fight and fight and fight, because we fight. For the left, generally, there has to be some sort of justification beyond ruling and fighting, hence the importance of just war theory. Without it, being a leftist pro-warrior becomes strained if not utterly untennable.

Of course, Lenin himself actually continues to uphold the just war tjheory, by his defence of anti-imperialist wars. Within that theory, imperialist states are inevitably the aggressors, and are thus to be justly resisted. He also defends the irredemably reactionary idea that peoples have a right to self determination. My friends, there are no peoples, only people.

That is the reason why I still resist the idea he raises. That is, fighting war to end wars. As I said here I think the social and political consequences of war are an ill, in terms of the necessity of leaders and lead, and who prospers and who wilts in war. War of necessity, as Tsun-Tzu points out, thrives on constriction of information. Socialism is about the fullest opening of information flows and democracy. That is why we cannot resist militarism with militarism of the workers.

Our resistance must be the political association of the workers across all frontiers; a political determination to end the situation where arms bring benefits and advancement over the corpses of the slain. Anything else, is starlingly bloody silly.

Update: Just for the record. I have never had sexual phantasies over that Lenin. Mr. Tomb.

I get my satisfaction, anyway, from fining the buggery out of snotty nosed philosophy students who have the misfortune to wander into my Library. Remember, lenin, you can't graduate while you're in debt to the Library....

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Just War Encore

I know I keep harping about Norm, but he's worth it. He wants, literally, to justify war. Fine. I look forward to his edition of the rules of rape (not as great a non-sequiter as it sounds, some societies have in the past sanctioned rape as rape, and doubtless had rules about how it was to be crried out).

Here Norm discusses and except from Walzer's latest book here.

Walzer defends his, to my mind, unjustifiable justification of jus ad bello and jus in bello. Perhaps I need to read the whole book. But, I want to raise an example.

Imagine if I and Norm were states. We both have a substantial minority of Lenins in our territories. Turns out, I'm an evil dictator, committing genocide and ethnic cleansing of Lenins. Norm declares war on me (assuming he feels he has sufficient force to prevent me perpetrating my crimes, else he wouldn't declare war, a single failing in the theory really).

We fight a bloody war, which, against the odds, I begin winning, with the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides. But, and a big but, I am an insane evil dictator, and I send Norm a letter saying that were he to murder, publically, one, just one utterly innocent Lenin, picked, even, at random, I'll end the war, and stop persecuting the Lenins. I'll even hand myself over for trial, and let Normish troops guard the Lenin's. Utter victory, all he has to do is commit one atrocity. No volunteers allowed.

Yes, I know its an outlandish scenario, but it has a broad point. I return to it again, that jus in bello is fundamentally at ods with jus ad bello. A utilitaian may be able to cope with that, but any principled ethicist could not withstad the contradiction, surely.

The bottom line is that the pacifists and the realists actually agree on the nature of war, they disagree with regard to their assessment of it. Realists accept it is going to happen, pacifists try to avoid the unpleasantness. They reject it. Socialist Pacifists, to my mind, try to abolish the conditions of war, that is, to end the reality. That is, like the war justifiers, they do not accept war as found, but do not want to reform it, but abolish it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

More on democracy

No, not moron democracy, but just more, on democracy.

As I said yesterday, anarchy - strictly meaning: "without leaders", but more generally meant to mean without formalised political procedures/officers - just leads to a brand of oligarchy. This is due to an essential premise of democracy: that we have a common interest.

To back-track a little, Otto Neurath in the collection 'Empiricism and sociology' makes the distinction between democracy between enemies, and democracy between friends.

Imagine a hold-up by bandits - the badits brandish their guns. The guys on the stage coach brandish theirs. Both sides tally up their firing strength, and the side with the least backs down before their inevitable defeat. That is democracy among enemies, sizing up relative strength before surrendering the point they cannot win. Both sides acting on the common basis of wanting to survive the enounter.

Democracy among friends is like a goup of mates walking hom, faced with a choice of routes, some favour A, and some favour B, and after discussion they all take the same path, because, at the end of the day, they want to stay together.

That is, democracy implies some common connexion, an outcome which will effect all parties to the matter at hand. If you have no formal discussion and decision, then a minority will impose its will over the whole majority. This fact, of the interelatedness of interests invalidates many anti-democratic theories, specifically those based on Arrow's theorum. There are public goods, and any lack of democracy means a violation of the no dictaorship rule.

Until we come to live in personal pocket unierses this remains true.

That is, given a community of interest, there is only the choice between majority decision and minority decision. Even consensus is in reality a majority system, since in many instances, people who object to a proposal will change their 'vote' (on the reason for the scare quotes hangs anotehr post for another time) once they kno wat the majority thinks, rather than be seen to veto. Of course, is they do veto, that is a minority dictatoing to the majority.

That is, consensual systems promote misrepresentation of views. That is, they inhibit the flow of information. As shoudl be obvious from my previous post on democracy, any restricon on the flow of information is in effect an inhibition of democracy (as we shall see further in a later post).

Hence why I do not like to call my self an anarchist. I may oppose leadership as a social principle/practise, but only as a democrat. It is possible to be an anarchist and not a democrat, and so I prefer to retain the narrower term.

Peace through superior fire power

Democracy again this afternoon, but for now, a quick return to war.

I suggested some of the pro-war lot support peace through superior fire power - certainly, that is the import of their pleas for internationalist intervention on human rights. They are suggesting that only a military might organised to protect all humans on earth can achieve peace and security. The Janjaweed of Sudan must be brought to book, and if the Sudanese Government will not use force, then the world community must apply that force.

This is, of course, a profoundly pessimistic Hobbsian view of the world, of a war of each against all that must be quashed by the permanent war of the Leviathantine state against all. Hobbes was writing around a time of immense civil war and distress, not disimilar to the perpetual state of the modern world, so the similarity in times may lie behind the similarity in ideas.

Unpacking this idea a little, we can understand the pro-war position further. Waltzer argues against Clausewitz that war is not necessarilly unlimited, and indeed, is usually limited, thus there is moral choice involved in the waging of war. I would argue that Waltzer is incorrect, it is not moral choice that limits war, it is, rather, and axis of the stakes on one side and the relative available means on another.

What I mean is, that an army will not take actions it does not feel are (generally) necessary. In limited war, for limited gains, the army will take the minimum loses and use of resources in order to win. A hopelessly outmatched army will capitulate if the stakes are low enough. A supremely overwhelming army will try to win with the minimum commitment of resources. Two evenly matched sides with strong commitment to the war will engage in utter utter carnage.

The restraints of war are an effect of the lack of need for certain types of force, and the recognition that atrocity raises the stakes for the opposition. Powerful armies with solid motivation will fight cleanly, small armies with much to gain will tend to fight dirty. Thus, in a world of full spectrum dominance, the future will be the apparently moral Leviathon - America, for now - versus the barbarous interlopers.

To my mind, this project is counter productive, because it neglects the fact that the more military predominant America will become, the more its rivals, facing supreme existential threat, will be driven to fight back by atrocity. Where war produces thousands of small atrocities, mostly unplanned and distributed around a theatre, terrorists will are driven to use the most destructive force in conscious and applied actions. The world where might equals right will find plenty of aspirants with the will to seize the power of might.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


This week, I want to focus on democratic arguments, in favour, and counter argumets against (in order to demolish).

Firstly, I think we need to define democracy. It comes from the Greek meaning rule by the people, as distinct from aristocracy and oligarchy and the relatively meaningless anarchy - which, given the communal organisation of society can only ever turn out to be a form of oligarchy.

Thus, a group is democratic to the extent that its membership control what it does. Simple. Obviously, this ned not be a binary thing, there are tendential characteristics of democracy.

The thing you need to assess, is who may:

1: Initiate actions/policy proposals.
2: Ammend/refine policies and proposals.
3: Accept/Reject a policy or proposal.

Further, given any exteded organisation, and the need for division of labour, duties may need to be delegated, and people be appointed to post. In which case you need to know who may:

1: Propose/Nominate appointments.
2: Confirm/Accept appointments.

And of course, the corrolary:

who may remove a postholder.

The more people within a group have cobntrol over each of these functions/stages, the more democratic it is.

If we look around us, we see that in our daily lives we have precious little democratic control. In our workplaces, our owners or managers control policy, with at most consultation being allowed; they control appointments as well. Our input is limited to being able to nominate ourselves for our jobs.

Much the same aplies in politics proper. Initiation of policy is generally restricted to the Government's Minister's; MP's then amend and decide on the policy/legislation. Our input into ths process is that we may nominate and appoint MP's, who then in turn appoint a Prime Minister, who appoints the Ministers who make the policy. We are thus three stages removed from the initiation of policy. While we are consulted, our only effective control is to ensure that the MP's of our choice are elected. We may propose and select MP's, but may not remove them, save by choosing someone else at the next election.

This formed the basis of much of the SPGB's critique of the soviet system. In that, the electors elected a soviet, who elected delegates, who elected delegates who elected a supreme soviet, who elected Sovnarkom who elected Lenin...who made all the policy.

Likewise, Leninist parties can be very undemocratic, despite democratic centralism. Branches send delegates to conference/congress, which appoints a central committee (usually by accepting or rejecting a committee as a whole, which was nominated by the outgoing committee), the central committee then appoints an executive committee, which usually appoints a political committee. They then initiate all policy, consulting donwards through the structure, before deciding final outcomes. Although branches nominally have policy initiate, generally that remains in the hands of the central and executive committees.

Kind references

Gucamoleville seems to have noticed I've added their addy to my blogroll, select as it is. I need to declare an interest.

An interest in Hartlepool, for all I've said about the bloody monkey hangers across the Tees over the years, my Grandma, Lille Louvaine Wallace, was born there (1915, the year Hartlepool became the first town in Britain (the world?) to be subjected to Aerial bombardmet by a German Zeppelin). She was named after two battles in World War One, because her parents had had so many kids they had run out of names.

But the real reason I added it to my blogroll, is that, as the most frequent visitor to my own blog, I find it a useful way of recalling and finding my favouruite links whe I' hotdesking at work.

Proper post later, on Democracy...I promise.

Monday, August 09, 2004

A drive by mocking...

I see Lyndsey German's campaign trail blog has finally started making sense. Nice to see commitment to the blogging idea...

Via Lenin's blogroll...

Stop Birfurcating...

I had planned to start writing about more interesting things than war, but I remembered I had another pet beef - the Birfurcation Fallacy.

This was a favourite of that noxoious get Orwell - who, after going around claiming he was prepared to go underground to oppose the Second World War, started working for the propaganda services, and calling opponents of war fascifists. To him, all opponents of war were objectively pro-fascist.

The same sort of line is trotted out by the pro-war left, that the opponents of the Iraq war 'wanted to keep Saddam in power', or some varition thereto.

Obviously, that is not necessarily the case: the opponents of *that* war could well hae wanted to remove Saddam, even via *some* war, but merely disagreed with the means that were being employed on this occasion.

If I needed surgery, I might concur with that requirement, but might object to the proposed doctor. I would only have to accept that doctor if they were the only doctor who was available/could perform the operation.

But opposing war is not objectively pro the enemy. In the first instance, passive rejection, all the opponent is doing is failing to help one side or another. Obviously, when one side feels they need more resources, they may begin claiming that those who are not directly contributing to the capacity to wage war are acively holding it back. But, unless that capacity is being handed over to the other side it is not actively helping them.

'With us or against us' is merely a bully-stick to try and con people into joining one side against another. The reality, as any logician could tell you, is that if you are not with us, you are not with us. Whilst one may try and demonstrate instances of what failure to wage war may entail, as Kamm does here, that is a valid basis for argument. Obviously, Kamm believes in peace through superior firepower (perhaps I'll expand this thesis in another post).

This applies in other conflict situations, say, a strike. Scabs are not actively helping the boss, they are failing to suport the strike, they only start actively helping the boss when they start to organise scab buses, or persuade fellow workers to scab. Not helping, though, gives the appearance of actively assisting the enemy.

Even, though, someone who actively opposed the strike, is not necessarily working for the boss. A union member calling for a re-ballot, or a ballot to call off the strike, could be said to be pro-union, but agaqinst the strike for other reasons.

The lesson is, really, that it is not the headline position that counts, but the theoretical basis, and realistic consquences of a persons postion that matter, and that mudslinging can only confuse rather than refine debate.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Just War

Norm discusses some people talking about the Law of war, here. They write in the Just War' tradition, epitomised my Michael Walzer in his Just and Unjust Wars
, which explores the aspects of war into just causes of wars, and just means of wages wars.

To my mind, this are incompatale objecives: if a war is worth fighting, if it has been deemed worth the indiscriminate loss of life essential and inherent to war, then any artifical limitation on the means of waging the war becomes unjust. If there are actions which may contribute to ultimate victory sooner rather than later, to fail to take the is a insult not only to lives already given in the war, but also to the justice of the actual cause of the war. That much seems clear, to me.

After all, the reality is that war is immorality, dress it up how you will It is the decision to behave towards a community or an organisation in a way which would be considered unacceptable within a community/oranisation. War means that the innocent, utterly innocent, will die - and that includes uniformed soldiers who may have had no hand nor involvment in the original causus belli. Strictly speaking, a just war would only be fought with precise lists of targets, with public sanction for the reasons why it was permissible to kill the. A really just war would see senior government figures going after each other with knives.

That was the medieval way - after all, that is the period where most 'just war' theory is stuck - a time where the personal really was political, and the moods of the king were seismic in import.

Daid Rodin's book War and Self-Defense explores this distinction, and more. It questions the idea of a just cause for war - at least, the self-defence justification. It notes that self-defence which, while it applies to individuals, cannot really applyto countries. Are minor border infractions really a matter worth killing over? Is it worth killing over who gets to set the parking regulations? Or where constituecies are drawn up?

Of course, self defence stretches to defending agressiveinterests, overseas investments in other countries, or claims and titles to certain properies.

The reality is that just war theoryis a post-hoc rationalisation for the actuality of war and its rational place in the competetive military complex that is the modern world.

At the Board (2)

I was discussing, once, with a pacifist comrade of mine, the 'you have a gun and can only stop them by..' scenarios. His reply was simple: "I wouldn't have a gun."

Simple as that. It sounds, at first hearing, like a major league cop out. The scenario is as it is, you can't just change the terms of the question because you don't like them. Surely?

As I demonstrate below, though, the terms restricting such scenarios are actually means of denying a moral choice. "I wouldn't hae a gun" is a means of re-asserting that moral choice.

I goes further than that, though. "I wouldn't have a gun" is the outcome of an attitude of process, or seeing the events in movement as the basis for acting to avoid death and destruction, of acting in such a way as to minimise or prevents the occurance of deaths in the first place. Obviously, this attitude goes beyond the personal to the political, and to pacifism as a specific policy approach.

When pro-warriors, such as the mob at Harry's Place, start discussing war, as they are now over Sudan, they are echoing the 'you have a gun' scenario. The syllogism is:
1)Events in [Country X] are terrible.
2)They must be stopped.
3)We have the military capacity to stop them.
4)Therefore, we must stop them.

All very simple, and utterly unarguable, except for the pressupositions packed tightly into Point 3.

Where does the capacity to act come from? What is the basis for this capacity to act? Is the capacity to act related to the cause of events in Country X?

That capacity to act comes from a position, I would argue, in a world military/economic system whereby force is recognised as the utlimate arbiter, and especially, as a rational arbiter. That is, it is more effective in reward terms for coporate entities such as nation states to deploy military force to pursue their interests than not to. Consequetly, riches and military might are closely aligned.

That is, capacity to act comes from the same system that prompts/motivates most of the humanitarian infractions that the humanitarian militarists urge action against.

I would suggest, that rather than acting within that system and thus perpetuating it, the greater good lies in trying to to take arms against the sea of armaments, and by opposing end them. Each humanitarian interention just invites another, and another ad nauseum, like playing Bop-a-Mole at the fairground. Another militaresque interloper will always come along.

Much like the current New Statesman, I think it more constructive to build a world system where co-operation between humans is their most rational choice, and is the easiest choice. I'll try and expand some further time, but I'll close this post with the point, that to support military intervetions means supporrting military budets and the existence of an armed force geared for freign adventures much more than it is for defence of the 'homeland'.
To go to war, even to save lives, ultimately means perpetuating the war system, and is thus inconsistant with taking such actions as will tend towards minimising or preventing loss of life.

This series will probably continue with some cogitation on just and unjust wars...

Monday, August 02, 2004

At the Board (1)

Part two tomorrow. But...

The common argument against pacifism is posed as a moral dilema:

"You see an enemy soldier about to murder a woman, and you only can stop him by shooting him, would you?" The implication being, obviously, if you're not prepared to kill you are a genuine pacifist living up to the aweful and monstrous consequences of your convictions, and if you are you're not a pacifist and must join the army. Even Trotsky has, er, trotted out this argument from time to time.

Occaisionally, other attrocities are deployed. Famously, when confronted with the question, but involving rape, Lytton Strchey announced he would interpose his own body.

That aside, the usual for is that you must commit a transgression to prevent an equivilantly horrific transgression by some enemy For a different traditional answer, see part two tomorrow. Today, I want to focus on the fact that this emphatically not an actual moral dilema.

Either way, the moral agent is responsible for a death, eitehr by action or inaction. Unless you are a moral egoist, he failure to prevent a death when you are in a position to do so represents a clear culpability. That is, you are not actually given any option but to chose between immoral actions.

Look at it this way. Imagine a gallows with two trap doors, and a person on each, left & right. If you pull the lever, the person on the left will die. If you don't, the right trap opens automatically. Exactly the same dilema. the reality is, that we are not being asked to make a moral choice, but to exercise a preference between the two victims, which person do we prefer? left/right? woman/solider?

The reality is that the narrow terms of the dilema create the illusion of a moral choice, and abstract the decision from any form of process or negotiation, you have two choices, which on closer inspection turn out to be the same choice, from a qualitative moral perspective. Yes, a patriot may want, automatically to prefer a woman of his own nation over a foreign soldier, but from a perspective of culpability, they have not chosen whether to be responsible for a death or not.

This abstraction is precisely what Norm and Lenin were arguing over, and a point I shall be returning to in my second posting on this subject.

In the meantime, I'll express my opinion, with expectations of further substatiation, that the correct answer to this sort of situation is to state that one's actions should be consistant with the attempt to pevent the loss of any life, or minimise the lives lost. That is, we should try and prevent this sort of situation arising in the first place.