A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Friday, November 01, 2002
UNINFORMATIVE SUBHEADER AWARD: The Globe and Mail states the blindingly obvious:
Expert bombers planned Bali blasts, investigators say
Aim of attackers to maximize casualties
Imagine that. The terrorists who bombed the nightclub in Bali wanted to kill and injure as many people as possible. Whatever would I do without access to this kind of astonishingly revelatory analysis?

The worst part is that it's an AP story, so the editors didn't really have much else to do besides slap on a headline and a deck quote--three cheers for the journalistic equivalent of ruining instant oatmeal...
Thursday, October 31, 2002
YOU CAN FEEL THAT MUCH SMARTER and as though you're up to date on contemporary philosophy, just by reading Richard Rorty's response/review to Bernard Williams' Truth and Truthfulness.

Rorty's review is characteristically clear and accessible, but this accessibility may come at a pretty significant cost in terms of accuracy. His conclusion, for example, seems pretty sloppy to me:
[Williams] wants to show us how to combine Nietzschean intellectual honesty and maturity with political liberalism--to keep on striving for liberty, equality and fraternity in a totally disenchanted, completely de-Platonised intellectual world.

The prospect of such a world would have appalled Kant, whose defence of the French Revolution was closely linked to his 'rationalistic theory of rationality'. Kant is the philosopher to whom such contemporary liberals as Rawls and Habermas ask us to remain faithful.
The glaring omission here is that Rawls and Habermas can surely claim that their philosophical projects also have the same aim as Williams' project. Rawls and Habermas are both as aware as Williams and Rorty are of the baggage that accompanies Kant's transcendental metaphysics, and hardly want to be saddled with it either. The difference is that Rawls and Habermas leave themselves open to far more direct criticism because they don't hedge their bets and actually produce full-scale systems, unlike skeptics such as Williams and Berlin, who would prefer that their theoretical legacies be filled with massive ellipses rather than errors of any size (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Also, Rorty's throwaway line about Kant's "defence" of the French Revolution strikes me as a pretty bad read. One could only claim that Kant defended the French Revolution by implausibly ignoring his absolute prohibition on rebellion. A halfway charitable reading of Kant reveals that he didn't praise the French Revolution itself, but rather lauded--from the point of view of history--the humanistic and cosmopolitan sympathy that the revolution generated.
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
AT LAST, REAL OPPOSITION TO THE BULLDOZER: Labour displays some nerve (or Ben-Eliezer some guile) and finally quits Sharon's coalition government.

Monday, October 28, 2002
MUSING ON DEATH AND PARTISANSHIP: Besides the occasional ranter who I won't link to, the pundit reaction to Sen. Wellstone's death has been almost universally magnanimous across the political spectrum. For example, longtime Clinton-basher Peggy Noonan scribed this elegant and gracious eulogy.

I'm not sure whether I should be surprised by this or not, considering Wellstone's stance at the edge of the U.S. mainstream political specturm. Perhaps Wellstone is a special case, in that his thoroughly consistent and idealistic politics actually helped, since he may have been viewed as such a quixotic warrior that he wasn't seen as a serious threat. Wellstone himself may have also viewed his own fight with both determination and irony simultaneously, which would have allowed him to wear the "happy warrior" cloak comfortably.

But it's hard for me to shake the thought that some of those pundits were at some point--either when they praised Wellstone after his death, or previously, in the heat of partisan battle. Even if none of those conservatives now praising the deceased senator did not once attack his character personally (something that I very much doubt), they almost certainly included him at least implicitly in their broad-brush character attacks on liberals and Democrats. And if they're being sincere in their praise now, one has to think that they were being insincere then.

This isn't a call for more brutal honesty in eulogizing; it's rather a considered request for a more civil tenor in our everyday political rhetoric. Perhaps if all of us knew that we'd be forced to repeat what we said about our political opponents when they were alive on the day of their untimely deaths, we'd try to reconcile the two modes of speaking by being a little more restrained with our day-to-day political discourse.

This prompted this last personal thought: I don't mean to be morbid, but I have a tough time coming up with a list of hard righties whom I could eulogize with similar warmth and sincerity if they died untimely deaths. Perhaps because I don't know them personally--as many of the bigger political writers do--I have a harder attitude toward ideologically opposed politicians, and so I'd be hard pressed to come up with any kind words for most of them.

Colin Powell, Joe Clark, and Christie Todd Whitman don't count since they're moderates. I suppose I could say nice things about Ernie Eves (current Premier of Ontario), as he has a good deal of class and was really nice to me and my cohort when we were pages in the legislature. I'd definitely have to do the respectful silence thing for Mike Harris, though (the guy Eves replaced).

Then again, maybe more civility in politics isn’t what's really needed. Maybe what we need is a more honest and human politics, so that people who really felt remorse about a wonderful warrior like Sen. Wellstone would be able to grieve fully and publicly, while those who thought his views were pernicious and unpatriotic would be allowed to keep their silence without reproof.
Sunday, October 27, 2002
THE RUSSIAN WAY: Final tally for the Moscow hostage crisis: 50 dead Chechen hostage-takers, 118 dead hostages (out of roughly 800); hundreds more gravely injured and ill. All but two of the hostages killed during the rescue were slain by the mystery "sleeping" gas that Russian special forces used to subdue the Chechens. Hostages also report that many of the Chechens were shot in the head after being knocked out by the gas.

If you were wondering why Russia gets a 5 (with 7 being the worst) on the Freedom House civil liberties index...

P.S.: I'm guessing that the Iraq invasion enthusiasts will be much more hesitant to include "he's awful because he used chemical weapons on his own people" in their justification portfolio...