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June 02, 2007

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herxanthikles

Love the Chomsky quote, Rob. It seems this is of course the dilemma of anyone who participates in political action of any kind, anywhere. I find Chomsky's characterizing tactical decisions as "the only considerations that have a moral quality to them" inspiring. One SHOULD get one's hands dirty, working out the pragmatic realities of making the world better, even when that requires uncomfortable compromise. Those who take absolute stands may be more clean, but not more "Good."

Alison Croggon

I find absolutist idealists terrifying. That's how you end up with Pol Pot.

Rob

Can we then definitely berate Democrats for not successfully waging deceitful propaganda wars against their Republican opponents as a means of obtaining political power? Are we expressing a view that not utilizing the highly effective politics of fear is an immoral decision?

In terms of violence, can we accept it as a legitimate tactical means to achieve moral goals in light of the political triumphs of Gandhi and other nonviolent political movements? Clearly Chomsky’s point was that generalizations shouldn’t be made, that situations should be examined on a case-by-case basis, but in what way can we strategize for minimization of human suffering while taking into consideration utilization of already-established destructive behavioral frameworks?

herxanthikles

Regarding first paragraph: difficult to say in the particulars, as it's not clear that people will be better off if Democrats seize power through politics of fear and propaganda particularly as it's not clear that such propaganda is the only way they could seize power. Let us say that if we could definitively conclude that the consequences of the Democrats losing power were worse than the consquences of the using the politics of fear to obtain power, then certainly it would be immoral not to use the politics of fear. The bitch of it is that it is impossible to definitively conclude such things and guesswork is needed.

As for second paragraph, we can indeed do so as non-violent measures are not universally effective. In fact, it's a bit deceptive to call Gandhi and MLK non-violent as they had every intention of sending their soldiers into battle to get slaughtered. Their genius was to see that their defeat would gain them the attention to achieve their victory. But the decision to send your defenseless troops into the arms of those who would do them harm embraces violence.

It's too late at night for me to come up with answer to the big last question, but I double dare you Rob to answer it instead. The best I can do at the moment is to suggest a reverence for life to avoid callous decisions and extremely good guessers to predict possible outcomes. I fear both are too vague to be helpful, but bleh haven't slept enough must do so no. over.

Rob

I genuinely don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but suppose that those working within power structures should act as pragmatists, with moralists working from the outside to affect the pragmatists’ decision-making processes. The end of American slavery, for example, required both unelectable abolitionists, and a centrist such as Lincoln, with both asserting political pressures on one another to eventually meet their goals. The issue of the means, though, remains complex and unresolved to me. In the example of slavery, the consolidation and assertion of possibly unconstitutional federal power and the waging of a long and brutal war in which thousands lost their lives (the means) and the end of mankind’s most horrid institution (the end) have a peculiar relationship to one another. From Lincoln’s perspective, the end of slavery actually served as a tactical means to attain a completely abstract objective – holding together the arbitrary entity called “the Union.” Overall, I find myself at a loss as to the level of legitimacy of utilization of systemic structures that perpetuate human suffering to attain a goal of eliminating a possibly higher degree of humans suffering. However, my suspicion is that systemic reform must be initiated from the outside, with subjects gradually pushing their leaders to eventual crisis and climax (i.e. irreversible change).

herxanthikles

The end of slavery is very relevant to this conversation. I'm not completely prepared to defend the concept of the Union, but I think for an American looking at the disunity and constant warfare of Europe, a Union was not abstract but a bulwark against perpetual warfare on American soil. North and South could have had a divorce, but there is no reason to think that would have avoided wars between the two. Also, slavery could not have died without the North having the power to kill it whether through political or military means.

I agree with you and Chomsky--you can't make blanket statements about such a complex moral issue. Well, I can make this one: The ends always justify the means. But while that is an accurate blanket statement, it is also a meaningless one as we almost never know the ultimate ends of our actions. If we had the omniscence to calculate every consequence, long and short term, of a given action we could act with moral authority. But we never really know. We have to guess.

That's a terrible moral position, but I like a lot that Chomsky points out it is the only moral place to be. You can shout from the sidelines about right and wrong, but whether a revolutionary or a bureaucrat if you want to act, you are going to make guesses and get your hands dirty. It's a dreadful burden but that's the way of it.

herxanthikles

The end of slavery is very relevant to this conversation. I'm not completely prepared to defend the concept of the Union, but I think for an American looking at the disunity and constant warfare of Europe, a Union was not abstract but a bulwark against perpetual warfare on American soil. North and South could have had a divorce, but there is no reason to think that would have avoided wars between the two. Also, slavery could not have died without the North having the power to kill it whether through political or military means.

I agree with you and Chomsky--you can't make blanket statements about such a complex moral issue. Well, I can make this one: The ends always justify the means. But while that is an accurate blanket statement, it is also a meaningless one as we almost never know the ultimate ends of our actions. If we had the omniscence to calculate every consequence, long and short term, of a given action we could act with moral authority. But we never really know. We have to guess.

That's a terrible moral position, but I like a lot that Chomsky points out it is the only moral place to be. You can shout from the sidelines about right and wrong, but whether a revolutionary or a bureaucrat if you want to act, you are going to make guesses and get your hands dirty. It's a dreadful burden but that's the way of it.

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