Tuesday, April 18, 2006

From small to big forebodings

This morning I heard that President Bush should not fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because when one member of the cabinet goes there is a "blood in the water" effect in Washington that will demand that more heads role. This is not a reason for keeping Rumsfeld in his position. You cannot base your evaluations of performance of one individual on the possibility that other people may want others fired should you decide to fire the original person. This would be like the factory manager who refused to fire an incompetent boob because then his competitors might want him to fire other employees regardless of their quality.

Should the President fire Rumsfeld? So long as President Bush's war strategy is fundamentally flawed, which the prolonged Iraq battle is merely a symptom (as is the Iranian march into the nuclear age), I don't see how shifting the players beneath the President is going to make any difference.

According to CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2003/iraq/forces/casualties/), American casualities currently amount to 2,377 killed, 17, 549 wounded. These numbers have amassed over a period from March, 2003 to the present day. American war casualties are never something to be looked upon with joy or even optimistically (at least for Americans) but in comparison to the bloodbaths of the last century and a half of warfare the numbers for the Iraq War are comparatively very low (we lost over 100,000 men dead in our very brief involvement at the end of World War I), particularly when one looks at the amount of time involved in the conflict. The problem with war casualties arises when the benefit to us does not make such a loss justifiable. In the case of Iraq, there has yet to be any benefit.

Conspiracy theorists ridiculously claimed the war war for oil, yet there has been no oil boon for anyone as a result of the war, due mainly to sabotage by terrorists inside the country. But there would have been no boon to American companies anyway as the nationalization of the oil industry effected by the Ba'ath Party so many decades ago was reaffirmed by the United States when it became an occupying authority. No privatization of the oil industry has been provided for in any of the drafts of Iraqi constitutions which have so far appeared and is unlikely unless an incipient capitalist movement is bubbling under the surface of Baghdad, or Washington for that matter.

The reasons for the war originally, the potential of Iraq to arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction always fit other regional enemies much better (Iran and Syria) or that Saddam Hussein ran a terror regime which supported terrorists (which was true, but Iran makes Saddam look like a little bully in a candy shop), have been either unsubstantiated or made to look foolish by the fact that Iran is now doing whatever it wants after decades of unpunished terrorist action. The reasoning offered concurrently, but emphasized after it was clear the WMDs might not have existed, was to bring liberty to the Iraqis. I love liberty, I wish the whole world lived in liberty, but I do not think it the responsibility of the United States of America to correct the mistakes or tragedies of others. If we choose to do so, I expect to benefit from it and for the likelihood of success to be very good. Iraq did not meet these requirements, as we are so painfully seeing. With a rich history of republicanism to draw upon, not to mention plenty of examples of successful revolutions (and many more failed ones), there is no reason why the free countries of the world should go about freeing people, the benefits to us do not outweigh the costs. I maintain that the United States or any other free country has a right to do such a thing. Dictatorships and tyrannies abandon their right to rule when they abridge the individual rights of men. However, this is a separate question from whether we, or anyone else, should put our own citizens on the line for the enslaved peoples of the world.

As one who was ready, willing, and able to drop out of my freshman year of college on September 12, 2001 and go to war (the reason I did not do this has to do with a conversation with my father), and who supported whole-heartedly war in Afghanistan and even Iraq (though with the proviso that we not nation-build and that Iraq was not the primary or even main enemy of the United States), I am supremely disappointed in the current course of events. Ultimately, President Bush is responsible for this state of affairs, he has been dealt one of the most difficult hands any POTUS was ever dealt and he has unfortunately lost more hands than he has won. Difficulty does not excuse failure. America was not attacked by terrorism, which is a tactic of combatants, it was attacked by men with ideas, beliefs, financing, allegiances, and a cause. We must articulate what their cause is, identify its adherents, state-sponsors, and more importantly, articulate our own cause. Are we fighting, as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, to spread Islamic theocracy and command economies around the middle east where such systems already exist in abundance? If so then we should pack it in and wait for the end, such a strategy has no hope of winning, just as trying to become Fortress America, preventing innocent immigrants from coming here, erecting trade barriers, etc. has no hope of making us safer or more prosperous. As both parties are so close on nearly all major issues, or when they may be right they end up being wrong (Democrats: right on abortion, then go on to try to subsidize it for poor people in this country and around the world, Republicans: right on trade, then go on to raise steel tariffs instead of repealing them outright), our hopes for actual security (while still holding onto those pesky civil liberties) are looking depressingly slim.

Add to all this the troubling rise of mysticism, in this country embodied in evagelical religious types as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, to Pat Robertson and George W. Bush, and around the world embodied as Islamic fanatics trying to bring down the Western world, and you have a sad picture. As if this could not get any worse, the warriors assembled against these people, to avenge the secular Western world, consist of crazy loons (Ward Churchill) or people with virtually no ideas, concepts, or ability to think long term (or at all). Those who don't have their heads up their asses are so few and far between that transformation at this late stage is nearly the equivalent of the hail mary pass. But just like the nearly lost football game, you have to throw the ball, on the chance, however slim that you will come down with it in the endzone. The difference here is that if your receiver misses the ball or it is badly thrown, the worst that can result is a lost football game, in the world of today, a failed hail mary means doom, and not pie-in-the-sky religious doom, but actual collapse.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Family

One's family can be one of the greatest sources of joy and love in life, but it can also prove to be an unshakeable albatross if one does not check one's premises. Like all relationships with other adults (children are a different case) only justice can be the foundation of comity and friendship, and even love. When one is born the character and worthliness of love of one's parents, siblings, and extended family is not up to the new entrant. The unfortunate fact of reality is that one has no choice as to whom constitutes the earliest familial relations, those choices were made long before the birth of a new child. This, while possibly inconvenient, is the way it is, but it does not change the ultimate basis of all relationships: justice.

When a child becomes an adult, i.e. has full control of his reasoning faculties and can deal with the world accordingly (whether he decides to use them, or uses them for good or ill is another set of matters), then he can properly evaluate whether or not his familial relations are validated by the existence of justice or not. For clarity, I have added below the definition of justice which I believe is validated by the facts of reality and the strictures of logic. This definition is the basis upon which I have based these thoughts upon the nature of familial relations.

"Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientuously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification--that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero--that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues and vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous and honor as you bring to financial transactions--that to withhold you contempt for men's vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement--that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit--and that the bottom of the pit at the end of that road, the act of moral bankruptcy, is to punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices, that that is the collapse to full depravity, the Black Mass of the worship of death, the dedication of your consciousness to the destruction of existence." - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Plume Books, 1957), 1019-20.

Certain problems arise out of family relationships, due to the fact that children grow up and spend their formative years under the care (hopefully) and tutelage of parents, which can complicate the picture of judging them on their individual merits later on. But because such judgement may be difficult and emotionally complicated does not mean that such judgement and evaluation should be abandoned, one cannot allow oneself to be inextricably tied to undesirable persons based on nothing more than blood connection (which is entirely out of one's hands), that is the morality of the savage tribe, not the thinking individual.

Now I will present two scenarios in which a person could find themself in adulthood when they should (and I would argue, must) judge the characters of their parents and extended family as regards the fundamental principle of justice, just as they would judge strangers before becoming friends.


Scenario A
A person grows up in an environment of warmth and affection, their wants are fulfilled, and they are highly valued by their parents. When this person is 14 there is a knock on the door and they go to answer it. When the door opens a policeman steps in and asks to speak with the Mr. and Mrs. which this young person runs off and fetches. The parents exchange knowing glances upon hearing the news and tell the child to go to their room, which the child does. As the child ascends the stairs the words, "I am Detective Peterson of the police department, have either of you heard of the Mutual Savings & Loan of .....," could be heard before the child closed the door of their room. Several minutes later the man now known as Detective Peterson enters the room of the child and informs this child of the unfortunate news that mommy and daddy will be going to the police station and that Ms. Jackson of the Department of Child Protection will be taking the child to her department headquarters. The news is received poorly, the child does not understand what is happening or why. The child protests; crying and screaming and refusing to leave the room, but is eventually subdued by officers and escorted to the DCP van waiting outside.

The explanation is this; while they are loving, these parents "provided" for themselves and child by robbing banks, which they would do twice a year. The child does not know how to process this information, he has been taught that stealing is wrong and immoral, yet the knowledge that his parents have engaged in this activity for years and have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars has radically damaged his conception of them. The child still loves his parents, but he understands that what they have done is wrong. The child is too young to make an objective evaluation of his parents, but he senses that his happy childhood is over and was in some sense a fraud. How should the child proceed when he is able to judge the situation?

The proper evaluation of such parents is rather simple, but complicated by their superficial love for the child, which will be difficult for the child to set aside. The parents are theives and as such immoral and unethical, they have lived by the code that the property of others was legitimately theirs. Such people are fundamentally dishonest and cannot be trusted. Trust is the basis of any rational relationship with anyone, parents included. That the parents argued at the trial that their motivation for the robberies was to provide a comfortable life for their child is irrelevant. Noble ends do not justify ignoble means, their is no justice in attempting to provide for one's child by stealing the property of other people. If you are unable to support a family except through theft then you should not attempt to have a family. While these parents profess to love their child, this is a farce. How could they really love the child if they were willing to risk their long-term imprisonment and leave the child without their parents? Also, there are innumerable examples of loving parents, whom the child can easily observe, who provide for their children honestly. The child must come, if the child wishes to stay in touch with reality, to the conclusion that his parents were common criminals, living by an unethical and immoral code. The child, now an adult, would never associate with such persons voluntarily and considers it an affornt to himself that those pretending to be loving parents should force such an association upon him as an unknowing child. He would and should sever his relations with his parents unless they served out the time justice demanded of them and then attempted to legitimately and honestly apologize to their child for their actions and the effects those actions had on his childhood. But the onus for reconciliation is entirely upon them, he owes them nothing and if he so chooses to have nothing to do with his parents, it is entirely the fault of the parents.


Scenario B
Two parents and eight children. One parent (Parent A) is abusive of the children and the other parent, mentally, physically and even sexually. The other parent (Parent B) responds to the abuse by doing nothing, neither protecting the children from Parent A or going to the authorities. When one of the children is able to break free of this predicament and shine the light of the law upon the situation, Parent B and the other children, some near adulthood and others still children, remain silent. The word of one person will not be enough for justice to be done and the case fails. The child who broke away is crushed by the cowardice of the other abused relatives. Eventually, while not dealing with Parent A, the brave child keeps relationships with the cowardly fellow victims, including Parent B who bears chief blame for the cowardly silence which allowed Parent A to remain free. Parent B eventually shows the character traits that would have made the match with Parent A possible to begin with; treachery, theivery, and dishonesty. The victims of Parent B include the brave child as well as some of the other children. The brave child treacheroulsy robbed by Parent B. No apology or reparations are ever made or ever attempted. The brave child is outraged and refuses to deal with Parent B again. This justified outrage is attacked by the other children, their cowardice now firmly entrenched and reinforced by irrational religious dogmas which demand unjust forgiveness. Their cowardice also prevents and stymies any ability they may have had to judge others, they were compromised by their cowardice in the trial against Parent A, they are culpable for the abuse which followed and on some level they are aware of this. Eventually, Parent B becomes gravely ill. The cowardly and immoral children rally round Parent B, their guilty partner in their treachery. They begin making demands on the most ill-used of their siblings, the brave child, for money and support for Parent B. What should be done?

The answer to this scenario is quite simple, though as always, complicated by the nature of familial relations. None of the people in this scenario, except for the brave child, is of any worth at all. Parent A is a monster deserving only of the justice denied by the cowardice of Parent B and the other children. Parent B is no more a parent than Parent A, for the simple reason that Parent B did nothing to stop Parent A from abusing Parent B or the children. While some leeway can be given for the victim status of Parent B, this is not endless leeway, something should have been done, particularly when the abuse became sexual. At that point all leeway ends. Options included going to the authorities or if that was impossible for some reason, i.e. fear for one's life, then crippling violence or even deadly violence was justified. No action was ever taken until the brave child stepped forward and did what Parent B should have done years earlier, that is if Parent B wanted to be any kind of parent at all. The subsequent moral failure of Parent B and the other children in condemning Parent A and ending the abuse, instead making the brave child look like a liar and feeling abandoned, was perhaps as great a wrong as Parent A's actions.

When Parent B, despite the undeserved comity offered by the brave child, spits upon the offered friendship instead robbing the brave child, Parent B effectively surrenders whatever worthiness for friendliness Parent B had left, if any. The fact that, when the brave child reacts with perfect justice and outrage at the theft perpetrated by Parent B, the other children condemn not Parent B but the brave child is unsurprising. Forever compromised by their cowardice and moral failing in the trial against Parent A, the other children will look for any chance to appear superior to the brave child, which they can justify in this case by appealing to Christian notions of forgiveness. Christian notions of forgiveness are completely irrational (forgiving those who abuse you) and have nothing to do with justice. Any country founded upon such a precept as turning the other cheek would be invaded immediately, knowing that the invaded country would (instead of defending itself) offer up more territory. Their attempt at righteousness is chimerical at best, they know they are compromised moral cowards, and are grasping at whatever straws offer themselves.

The brave child should disassociate themself from Parents A & B unconditionally, they have committed heinous wrongs and are unforgivable by any just standard. The fact that the brave child does not (and ought not) have to give any money to help Parent B is predicated on the severing of the ties of comity which Parent B committed, twice. One would not give money to save a gravely ill stranger and Parent B is morally much worse than a stanger in regards to the brave child.

As for the siblings of the brave child. They would first have to unconditionally admit fault for their actions against the brave child in the trial against Parent A and their false and hollow righteousness concerning the robbery of the brave child by Parent B, then and only then could they beg forgiveness of the brave child and hope that they will be so favored and absolved. The fact remains that they are not worthy of such moral toleration and they are aware of it.


The point here is that the only arbiter in all human relationships, of love, friendship, or the lack of those postive emotional responses (indifference, hatred, etc.), must be justice if they are to be rational and, if positive in nature, fulfilling. One is under no obligations to deal with anyone they do not wish to deal with. The fact that people are related to you does not give them carte blanche to do whatever they want to you or to others and still retain your respect, affections, and moral toleration.

No one can pick their relations when they are born. You are handicapped in this respect if the ones you are born with turn out of be morally bankrupt. If that proves to be the case then the only recourse becomes exactly the same as in all other relations with non-related individuals. A rational person avoids relationships with liars, criminals, child abusers, moral cowards, etc. in the course of their lives when they encounter such undesirable characters. The only difference with family relatives is that one is forced, until adulthood, to deal with such persons (if you are unlucky enough to be related to them). Though it will most often prove much more painful to sever connection with unworthy relatives than vaguely known strangers, such severence must still occur and for the same reasons.