Archive | 3:04 pm

GOP Candidates on Iraq

4 May

Watching the , every candidate, except for former Representative Ron Paul, are more prudent than the Democratic candidates, except for Senators Biden and Clinton. Former Governor Mitt Romney’s talk about taking on the global threat of Islamic jihadism creates a monster and a cashcow instead of adopting a foreign policy. Former Governor Tommy Thompson had some interesting ideas on Iraq, similar generally to Biden’s partitioning plans.

Also, on the Iran issue, Mayor Giuliani brought up the point that the intelligence needs to be trustworthy and that attacking iran would be dangerous. However, not allowing Iran the right to have nukes is not a bilateral issue. Former Governor Gilmore’s point about retaking the moral high ground is well-spoken.

Giuliani, Gilmore, and Thompson score.


Beyond the Planet of the Apes

4 May

in (and, I’ll compile the concluding paragraphs of each essay into one conclusory statement):

O.K., so your child isn’t special. This doesn’t have to mean she’s not worthy of your love. It could mean instead that other people’s kids are worthy of your love. But it has to mean one or the other. And — especially given that love can bring truth — isn’t it better to expand love’s scope than to narrow it?

I’m a realist. I don’t expect you to get all mushy about the kid next door. But if you carry into your everyday encounters an awareness that empathetic understanding makes sense, that’s progress.

Transcending the arbitrary narrowness of our empathy isn’t guaranteed by nature. (Why do you think they call it transcendence?) But nature has given us the tools — not just the empathy, but the brains to figure out how evolution works, and thus to see that the narrowness is arbitrary.

So evolution has led to something outside itself — to the brink of a larger, more widely illuminating love, maybe even to a glimpse of moral truth. What’s not to like?


We may more often have to resist the retributive impulse that worked fine in the environment where it evolved but now often misfires. We may have to appreciate how our moral condemnations — which can help start wars — are subtly biased by our primate brains in self-serving ways that, in some contexts, no longer serve our selves.

We may have to cultivate our moral imagination, putting ourselves in the shoes of people who hate us. The point wouldn’t be to validate the hate, but to understand it and so undermine it. Still, this understanding involves seeing how, from a certain point of view, hating us “makes senseâ€? — and our evolved brains tend to resist that particular epiphany.

If salvation indeed means transcending engrained irrationality, then the odds may well be against us. But look at the bright side: if you do run into any space aliens, they’re likely to be reasonable creatures.

I racked my brain to recall what philosopher had discussed empathy, and then I remembered this discussion of Rousseau in  :

Hunt describes readers howling with emotion as they read Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie, or the New Héloïse. The historical significance of this literary hysteria, she argues, was that it showed readers identifying with characters very different from themselves. In an era of increasingly widespread literacy, novels were a kind of lesson in emotional and moral expansiveness. The point that literature has been a cause of empathy is not a new one, but it is still a good one. In Julie, or in Samuel Richardson’s titanic Clarissa, the story unfolded through letters written by the characters, which allowed readers to discover the characters’ innermost thoughts without any interference from a narrator. (Writers in our time now make epistolary fiction out of e-mails.) Men identified directly with Rousseau’s and Richardson’s emphatically female heroines–although, a bit problematically for Hunt’s argument, it took well over a century before anyone named Julie or Clarissa experienced anything like political emancipation. Class differences were imaginatively transcended as effectively as gender differences. And this closing of the distance between people represented, in Hunt’s view, a huge leap of the moral imagination–the sort of leap without which the idea of human rights would not have been possible.

So, for a moment, I’ll equate Wright’s love with Hunt’s human rights. Since Wright connects interpersonal love to saving the planet, introducing political issues is germane.

There are some problems, though, as Gary J. Bass points out in his review. Firstly, there is a correlation between military invasion and human rights (think French revolution and Napoleon). Secondly, as Bass argues, Britain, when it did act so forthrightly to support human rights, damaged its own economic interests.

In 1817, Britain turned its attentions to the Spanish empire, demanding an end to the slave trade, and also rattled its sabers against the slave trade in Cuba, Zanzibar, Iran, and Texas. This was anything but cheap talk. All told, as the political scientists Chaim Kaufmann and Robert Pape have reckoned, Britain lost something like five thousand troops in anti-slavery missions, soured its relations with America and France, and badly damaged its economy by undermining its own sugar industry. And as David Brion Davis has observed, in words that have an oddly familiar sound to debates today about the cost of spreading human rights, “Britain’s fixation on the slave trade often worked against British interests, damaging or straining relations with Mus- lim leaders in an era of Islamic insurgency and nationalistic discontent.” Here Britain hurt its own empire for the sake of humanity.

Thirdly, according to Bass, human rights requires a a robustly free press to report about events and people in foreign places, so that we can read, like Rousseau’s fans, about it at our convenience. Yet, the profit motive is undermining that mission.

Yet there is one element of this era of human rights that is in retreat: print capitalism, and thus foreign press coverage. Print and capitalism are not getting along. Although American newspapers now field overseas reporters with a skill and a professionalism unknown to nineteenth-century hacks, Wall Street has decided that it hates newspaper stock. Under heavy pressure from investors, some of the country’s best newspapers have decided to go local. Foreign bureaus are being closed by many important papers in many important places. When the suits decide to shut those bureaus, they fritter away a hard-won achievement of centuries. They are reversing the moral gains of modern empathy. Do they know this? I doubt it. But I doubt also that they would care.

The world would have to become much more crowded for every parent to start loving an ever growing number of children. People just do not interact that much with strangers, and much more likely to confront a government agency or their computers and TVs. And, tightly-knit communities formed of every closer loving parents are also likely to be xenophobic. I’m afraid the only reason aliens have not visited Earth yet is because Earth is too young, and evolution has already trampled its inexorable wake through the universe.

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