Posted by: bkivey | 17 March 2010

Latte’ logic

In the 3 March edition of the local alternative paper, the Willamette Week, there was a story on the burgeoning drone industry in the Columbia Gorge. As might be expected in this part of the country, there are a number of people concerned about the ethics of using locally manufactured products to prosecute a locally unpopular conflict. The story itself is written to the usual standards of this publication; a standard, I might add, that is consistently higher in terms of journalistic integrity than is usual in the local mainstream paper. At the end of the article is a quote from self-identified anti-war activist Susan Garrett Crowley that deserves to be reproduced in full:

“Evil is banal. We’re all capable of it. And the truth about people who like designing beautiful tools is that they prefer not to think about how those tools are used,” she says. “We don’t want to blame our neighbors for making the tools. But we do want to question the use to which those tools are put.”

This is an excellent example of the sort of self-refuting statement that intelligent people make when they divorce themselves from the reality of  human nature.

The commonly accepted definition for the word ‘banal’ is ‘trite’ or ‘hackneyed’. To say that evil is ‘banal’ is unclear. Does she mean to say that the concept of evil is hackneyed? If this is so, then there can be no moral judgments, and without moral judgement there cannot exist concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. This makes her second sentence non-sensical. How can we all be “capable” of something that her first sentence implies does not exist? And how can you reasonably “… question the use to which those tools are put.” if you have already said that you are unwilling or incapable of making moral judgements?

The reality is that good and evil do exist. It is widely recognized in every human society that there are actions that are inimical to the health and safety of society. The moral standards may vary widely, but they do exist, and they exist as a result of long and bloody experience. My thinking is that every human being and society has an obligation to make moral judgements, if for no other reason than to ensure their own safety.

Latte’ logic: Part II

In a follow-up to the above story, the 10 March issue of Willamette Week contains a Letter to the Editor from Helen Hill that takes the paper to task for publishing what the writer calls ” . . . a piece of subtle brainwashing.” The letter is a good example of opinion unswayed by facts.

Ms. Hill first takes issue with the description of military drones “… that help kill America’s enemies.” She then asks “When did the sovereign nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan declare war on  us?” Um, well, they didn’t, and nowhere in the article does it say or imply that they have. Apparently the fact that we are not fighting the sovereign nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan has eluded Ms. Hill. We are fighting groups of religious extremists with a long history of brutal repression of the local populations and demonstrable ties to violent action against people in this country. And we are conducting this fight with the cooperation of the host nations. Perhaps Ms. Hill would care to live life as a woman under a Taliban government? If not, why does she think other women want to?

The latter part of Ms. Hill’s letter deals with her objection to the use of the word ‘pirate’ to describe Somali’s who forcibly seize ships on the high seas, which is the definition of. . . pirate. She describes these people as ‘activists’ “forced to commit desperate acts to protect their shores from the intentional deadly dumping of nuclear wastes by the Brits and the Mafia.” Hmmm, would she describe the activities of Mao Zedong that resulted in the deaths of between 50 and 70 million people as ‘activism’ that was carried out to reduce overpopulation?

Ms. Hill’s assertions, widely repeated on the left, that Somali pirates are merely reacting to the exploitation of industrialized nations, does merit closer examination.

It is a fact that European and Asian nations have for years illegally fished the territorial waters of Somalia and used them as dumping grounds for toxic waste. Given the erosion of the livelihood of fisherman and the fact that the country has no functioning central government it was perhaps inevitable that piracy would start to look attractive to some of the poorest people in the world. But Ms. Hill’s premise, along with others like her, is that the Somali pirates are actually ‘activists’.

An activist is someone who desires to achieve a specific goal through unconventional, usually direct, action. The methods of activism most commonly take the form of demonstrations, protest, petition-gathering for ballot initiatives, and organization. Of course, if there is no central government these actions are ineffective. Other methods of activism involve violent action like bombings and hostage-taking. The point is that all of these actions are performed with the goal of bringing about specific political changes.

If the Somali pirates really were activist, then their actions would be designed to bring about specific changes in the behaviour of the offending parties, to wit, the cessation of fishing and dumping off the coast of the country. One might imagine a course of action where only ships from the offending nations are seized and held for political demands, much like the airliner hijackings of the 1980’s.

But that’s not what’s happening. What is happening is that piracy in Somalia is big business, with its own stock exchange and everything. Would you call PETA members ‘activists’ if they went around taking hostages at gunpoint and selling shares in the ransoms? No. You’d call them what they are: terrorists. Whatever transgressions have been committed against the Somali’s, the pirate’s actions are not an ends to a political means, so they cannot be called ‘activists’ , no matter how much folks like Ms. Hill may be blinded by their ideology.


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