A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, August 17, 2002
THEY SHOT ME FOR PARKING: Here's a quasi-libertarian riff by George Jonas on the connection between parking offenses and coercion/death that's lighthearted and creative, but, as with so many other things libertarian, so very obviously wrong. The key point of wrongness:

"We must remember that whenever we pass a law--any law--it carries the implicit threat of death. We can't help it, for laws are meaningless without compliance, and lethal force must be available to compel them as a last resort."

Libertarians miss the point of politics and democracy because from their perspective, laws only involve enforcement, compliance, and coercion. They forget about norms, discussion, and negotiation. Jonas forgets that most people pay parking tickets simply because, deep down, they believe that not paying would be wrong for a variety of reasons--because they would be cheating, or stealing from the fund needed to pay for roads, or acting against democratically legitimate law. Or because they would feel like obnoxious asses.

The system wouldn't work if everyone only obeyed laws because they felt as though they were forced to follow and not at because they believed in them, because no matter how big and scary the state might be, it doesn't have enough power and influence to shoot every person who double parks (regardless of how much those bastards might deserve it).
Friday, August 16, 2002
REALITY LANDS IN ALBERTA: After years of dragging out those irritating Albertan poli sci profs to pronounce on the imported neocon creature that is Reform/Canadian Alliance, The Globe and Mail finally finds one willing to tell them the vital truth about "uniting the right":

Rob Huebert, a University of Calgary political science professor, told that the idea of uniting the right is becoming increasingly unlikely because the two parties are ideologically different and too stubborn to give up their core beliefs in a merger.

"There are some very real difference between the two parties," Mr. Huebert said.

Astonishing. And it took 3 years, a few million words of text, and way too many pictures of Stockwell Day for the mainstream press to figure this out?
Thursday, August 15, 2002
WE'RE NO SAINTS, EH: Perhaps the biggest lie that's imprinted in the minds of many Canadians is the notion that we're cleaner and more environmentally friendly than Americans. As this recent UN report reveals, this belief is a load of self-righteous patriotic bull. According to the UN, both countries have allowed their ecological footprints to continually grow over the past 30 years--both in absolute and proportional terms. The U.S. is doubtlessly a big environmental offender, but Canada is just as bad, if not worse.

Some of our cities might be a little tidier, but the bottom line is that Canada is a big fat pig per capita when it comes to the environment and it has lagged behind even the big and dirty U.S. in several areas over the past decade, such as fighting acid rain and air pollution (due to the predations of the neocon Harris government, Ontario is now a net exporter of pollution to some northern U.S. states).

The main difference is that we Canadians have a relatively small population and lots of empty space and extra resources to trash, so our environmental misdemeanors are much less noticeable. If we were to ratify Kyoto and meet its targets, then we might begin to have some basis for sniffing at the Americans, but until we've cleaned up our own very considerable mess, Canadians will have very little to brag about when it comes to the environment.
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
IT'S NOT JUST THE EUROPEANS AND THE PALESTINIANS who think that the refusal of Bush and Sharon negotiate with Arafat is untenable and irresponsible. Amram Mitzna, the Haifa mayor who recently announced his candidacy to lead Israel's Labor Party, included as part of his platform a call for an immediate and unconditional return to negotiations with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Mitzna is currently heading the polls in Labor's leadership race, although those same polls also show that he (or any other Labor candidate) would likely be squashed by Sharon in nationwide elections.
LOOK WHO'S RELEVANT NOW: Ha'aretz reports that Israeli security officials recently compiled a report for PM Sharon and Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer that "calls on the two to act immediately to enforce the law on Jewish settlers in Hebron. The report's authors claim that the settlers are acting freely to 'establish facts on the ground' in Hebron, without Israeli authorities acting decisively to stop them."

The report concludes: "The State of Israel looks very bad when it comes to the rule of law in Hebron. Purposeful, clear law enforcement is needed. The current situation harms the state and serves the purposes of the other side [the Palestinians]."

The report isn't all that surprising, since it's well known that this kind of activity has been going on for years, but one thing is interesting: the report highlights that the current Israeli leadership has consistently proven that it is unable or unwilling to effectively restrain the unlawful, aggravating actions of a radical segment of its people, and yet no one in the U.S. government or media claims that these leaders are "irrelevant" or that they must be replaced before negotiations with them can occur. There's no standards like double standards, I guess.
IT IS NOTABLE that although we live in a time in which terms such as "terrorism," "loss of innocent civilian life," and "weapons of mass destruction" are widely lobbed about to describe the evils facing the West, last week's anniversary of the Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) atomic bombings merited only a few small, mostly buried snippets in the U.S. press, and barely a whimper in the Blogosphere. So much the worse for anyone with an optimistic attitude about our civilization's capacity for remembering and learning.

I have little doubt that it is only dogmatic nationalism that prevents Americans from recognizing that the bombings constitute one of the most significant unpunished war crimes of the 20th Century. Yes, with regard to the aims of the Allies, World War II was indeed a just war, but we must never forget that even when fighting for the most pristine of causes, there are always moral limits to how we fight and who we kill.

The last word on this goes to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower: "it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." Amen.
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
I WAS IMPRESSED by David Brooks' thoughtful Atlantic article on the potential contribution of theologian Reinhold Neibuhr's political thought to post-9/11 discourse. Brooks' writes more-or-less approvingly of Niebuhr's "realist liberalism," which contains at its core a dual critique of idealism—it combines the realization that the pursuit of justice in the world inevitably requires morally hazardous action with a chastened view of human capacities. Applied to the realm of foreign affairs, this translates into the view that those who want to use power in moral fashion must both be willing to wield it for the sake of justice as well as maintain a healthy awareness of their own fallibility.

I have to admit, though, that I was at first puzzled by Brooks' last paragraph on the absence of this view in American political discourse:

"It would be helpful to have more thinkers of his sort…who simultaneously believes in using power and is keenly aware that its use is inevitably corrupting…such a thinker might bring those who are wary of gung-ho Americanism into a grudging alliance with the interventionists. If there is going to be a hawkish left in America again, a left suspicious of power but willing to use it to defend freedom, it will have to be revived by a modern-day Reinhold Niebuhr."

I was puzzled because much of the moderate left, both within and without America, already seems to be relatively "hawkish." Most Western progressives outside of the hardcore--your standard United Nations boosters, RFK liberals, and friends of European mixed capitalism (as opposed to the kneejerk pacifists, Chomskyite anarchists, and old school Marxists)--support active Western intervention in support of human rights and democracy, so long as it's tempered by a careful self-awareness of the ways in which Western intervention can make things worse. It's roughly this sort of doctrine that motivated the Anglo-American intervention into Kosovo and that represented the sort of "nation-building" whose opposition was the earmark of Bush's conservatism during his candidacy.

But maybe there's something to Brooks' point. The problem with the "internationalist left" is that while it might carry the day among academics and newspaper columnists, it's less well represented among the most energized segments of the left, especially among the youth, whose critique of the failings of the West's liberal democratic and capitalist systems are generally more radical. Sadly, when it comes to stirring up passion, it's tough to top the totalizing ideologies of the self-righteous idealist "purists" like the noninterventionists that Niebuhr despised during his time.

Brooks is correct, then, in that this kind of politics, which I like to call "the politics of personal purity," dominates the most energized segments of the left. It's obviously so much easier to fit "Globalization and America = Evil!" on a placard than "We need a humane globalization and a humane America that will take everyone's needs into account." As a result, the simplistic radical slogans will win out until the internationalist left produces a standard-bearer inspiring enough to win the progressive soul and street from purist sirens like Chomsky and Naomi Klein.