A nation worth having

August 21, 2004

Lee Harris defines the enemy as follows:

The Enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the Enemy always hates us for a reason — it is his reason, and not ours.

He implies that people who try to understand the enemy are confused about reason and agency. In particular, he implies that those who try to understand the enemies reason have forgotten their own. But, what is interesting about Transnational progressives, pacficists, appeasers, et al., people who keep trying to understand why the enemy hates us is that in many cases they simply dispute that we have reason for anything. They are people who seek to abandon individual self and individual responsibility for some immersive, more just, global whole. Nicholas Humphrey’s points out how dangerous this notion really is and how seductive it is to intellectuals.
Nicholas Humphreys argues that a sense of self is the thing that motivates us to get up in the morning, to survive, and to prosper.

Why should human beings need novel incentives to, as I put it, “get up in the morning and get on with life”?
In reality, new challenges — and new temptations to abandon the struggle — must have arisen with each advance in biological complexity. The fact that we and other living species are here today is testament to the fact that we have each evolved to find, on our own terms, reasons to carry on. And I think it’s obvious that our terms, human terms, are quite unlike any other.
Suffice it to say that I believe that about 50,000 years ago, the human species faced a crisis: human beings were in danger of becoming victims of their own mental evolution. Under pressure from ideas they were beginning to lose heart.

Human minds had been extending progressively — and safely — into areas never yet visited by our ape ancestors. But everything changed once intelligence and culture crossed a certain threshold. The critical event was the development of a mind that, on the one hand, demanded meaning and, on the other, was capable of the dreadful realisation that human existence ultimately has none — that life ends as nothing. From that point on, no one was safe from the destructive self-questioning: why bother? what’s the point?

The point is that species that evolve to be capable of asking these questions, but fail to find an answer die out. The survivors are the ones that get pursue continuation of their own identity, even if their net utility/pleasure/desirabilty of their life experiences are negative. If you read the whole article you will see that he is claiming that as we get smarter we need a self of self to distinguish our mind and its survival needs from that of others or to prefer reasons to live over reasons to die:

What saved us? I can do no more than tease you with my answer here. To balance the reasons for embracing death, human beings had to discover a good new reason to value life. And they found it, I believe, right in front of their nose: through reflection on the nature of selfhood.. In short, we were saved by phenomenal consciousness — or, at any rate, by a new-found relation to it.

Kevin Kelly clarifies:

The self is a survival mechanism for high intelligence. A rapidly expanding intelligence growing in power and dimension would be awfully confusing to a growing mind, particularly if it offered multiple views, and well… out of the body experiences. An emerging sense of self would be calming, focusing and attractive, a place to rest from wild ideas (like death and pain), allowing a more stable and effective human to survive.

An increasing intelligence would also reach a point where it became aware of its own intelligence — and that’s a highly dangerous spot because an intelligence that was naked and transparent would be susceptible to intellectual manipulation. The first thing that a mind smart enough to see itself would do is start to hack itself.

What was true of individual humans is also probably true of larger human aggregates. European civilization probably reached the critical point in the late 18th century with the advent of the French Revolution and the creation of nation states. The French Revolution reflected French society attempting to hack itself (hack off its heads?). The nation-state was the response. It gave geographic areas and cultures “a self worth having.”

The problem with the transnational progressives at the societal level and the transhumanists at the individual level is that they fail to pay attention to the requirements on intelligent organizations that they believe in themselves. Giving national power to EU or UN bureaucrats perhpas increases our ability to hack society or humans the power to hack themselves may sounds attractive, but absent the countervailing requirements of self-love, it is a recipe for disaster.

How to hate/choose a President

August 20, 2004

My friend Stephan, a very anti-Bush Democrat makes the following insightful point in an email:

Alex said:
> If Kerry takes over now, then each party will be able to blame the other one and no one will trulybe accountable.

Exactly my point 🙂

In any case, in my opinion, facts & policies have become nearly irrelevant -I actually don’t think this election has much to do with Kerry.

It’s all about Bush. People who don’t like Bush, hate him. It’s no longer a policies thing, it’s an identity thing. People who don’t like Bush view him (as I do) as a ruthless, born again religious nut, deeply anti-intellectual,surrounded by ideologically-driven cronies, and deeply sympathetic to business interests at the expense of the working man’s interests, women’s issues and the environment.

At this point, it almost doesn’t matter what he says or does, or what Kerry says or does, because it’s extremely unlikely that I will change my mind about Bush.

I think it’s a little bit similar to the religious people’s reaction to Clinton – deeply visceral hatred, blaming him for representing a morally relativistic, 60’s world-view. And having him “steal” a number of items from the moderate right agenda enraged them even further, and it became an identity thing.

French Intrasigence

August 16, 2004

I think Nicholas is among my readers who believes that better diplomacy would have corralled the French into supporting the war in Iraq. To me this seems really dubious. French policy has been to balance the Anglo-sphere for at least a generation. Via a comment at “The American Thinker, Here is the origin document.

The current issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review has the first English translation of a remarkable document (“Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy”) written in 1945 by French philosopher Alexander Kojeve, and given to Charles de Gaulle. This appears to have become a guiding light to French diplomats and politicians over the last 60 years.

The thesis begins with an understanding that the post WW II world will be split into a US-dominated bloc and a Russian-dominated bloc. Kojeve called on France to develop a third bloc — which he called the Latin bloc. This bloc would be composed of groups of nations bordering the Mediterranean and which share a certain cultural sensibility. He advocated for an economic alliance which presciently resembles the European Union. Tellingly, he also called for an accommodation and partnership with Islamic nations, and stated that this unity can be based on a mutual opposition to other trends (the enemy of my enemy is my friend).

In the glorious future he foretold, France would reign over this transnational alliance of nations as primus inter pares. Only this transformation would ensure continued French power in opposition to the Anglo alliance lead by America.

A worthwhile read-even if studded with occasional flights of philosophical fancy.

Is an organization a place?

August 16, 2004

In the comments of a prior post, liberal safety-net man, claims that we have done no damage to Al Queada through our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq because “Al Queada in NOT a place”. In a dinner conversation I had a while back, another interlocutor claimed that blogs were great because they could not be censored by the government. At the same time, government does a sem-effective job as stopping money laundering and substantially restricts consumption of illegal drugs (but obviously very incompletely).

So, the question on the table is, in an imperfect world, how useful/effective is going after the physical manifestations of threatening organizations. In the case of blogs, the government can always shut down DNS or DDoS the server. In the case of money laundering the government has effecitvely gone after the Islamic “charities” that were a big part of Al Queada fundraising. In the case of terrorism, captured Al Queada leaders have specifically claimed that US operations in Afghanistan have disrupted plans. The invasion of Iraq prevented Saddam from executing the terrorists attacks on the US that Russia’s intelligence service said he had planned (and which may or may not have involved chem/bio pathogens). It also cowed Libya into abanding its nuclear program and revealed the Khan nuclear proliferation network organized out of Afghanistan. Speaking of Afghanistan, the steady progress of closing in on Al Queada in southern Afghanistan/northern Pakistan has forced the leadership into the cities of Pakistan resulting in the capture of Noor Khan (Al Queada’s CTO) and the disruption of terrorist plans in progress to attack downtown New York City. Much of the remaining Al Queada leadership is hiding out in Tehran and in military bases on the Caspian Sea. We may or may not actually do something to Iran, but there is no question that if we did, Al Queada woudl be even more disrupted.

And, by the way, the Isrealis don’t think attacking the physical leadership of an organization is ineffective. Their targetted killing of the leadership of Hamas has dramatically reduced terrorism in their country. Perhaps an organization is not a place, but it does have headquarters and locations and they matter!

What Price The Moral High Ground

August 14, 2004

Via WinterSpeak and apropos my last post I just found David Warsh’s review of Robert Frank’s What Price the Moral High Ground? Ethical Dilemmas in Competitive Environments He notes:

The title essay argues that moral satisfaction often can explain salary differentials better than the differences in education and training traditionally employed by economists. Many people settle for lower-paying government or non-profit sector jobs, Frank argues, because they see them as being socially responsible and are compensated by increased self-esteem: school teachers, police officers, nurses, community organizers and the like. Women in particular often earn less for jobs they consider morally responsible.

He argues that moral behavior is infectious so there is more value created here than meets the eye. However in this fantastic essay, he reviews work on the changing shape of the work force as a result of computers and notes:

There are jobs for janitors, cafeteria workers, security guards and the like, that pay poorly and offer little chance of advancement. There are more of these jobs than there used to be, but the greater growth has been among higher-paying jobs — managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and technicians.
About the lowest-paying jobs, Murnane and Levy have relatively little to say. It has long been noted that technological change creates losers as well as winners, and mechanisms whereby winners can make life easier for losers without seriously diminishing their own gains. Often these take the form of tax-financed retirement and health insurance systems. Combined with a little day-to-day respect, such measures can go a long way in conferring dignity on menial work.

Why should anyone worry about basic fairness? Because “Our market economy exists in a framework of institutions that requires the consent of the governed,” they write. “People doing well today have a strong interest in preserving this consent. If enough people come to see the US job market as stacked against them, the nation’s institutions will be at great risk.”

In a world with terrorists with WMD, our institutions may require the consent of everyone! And the debate shifts from attempting to achieve consent to whether that is possible and then what other institutional framework is required. As Zimram Ahmed of Winterspeak notes:

Whether or not to negotiate with an entity does not rest on whether it is a “death cult” or a “(virtual) state”. It depends on whether there is a geniune zone of agreement where both sides can agree, and whether negotiation is preferable or not to not-negotiating. Personally, I cannot see any possible zone of agreement between jihadis and the rest of the world, which means there can be no value to negotiation. If jihadis want a state, they can contest for one in countries that allow elections, or they can fight for one in states that do not allow elections. And they are fair game for those who protect states — armies and police.

Do What You Love

August 13, 2004

via Bruce Eckel via a slashdot thread on programming:

In 1960, a researcher interviewed 1500 business-school students and classified them in two categories: those who were in it for the money – 1245 of them – and those who were going to use the degree to do something they cared deeply about – the other 255 people. Twenty years later, the researcher checked on the graduates and found that 101 of them were millionaires – and all but one of those millionaires came from the 255 people who had pursued what they loved to do!

Now, you may think that your passion for Icelandic poetry of the baroque period, or butterfly collecting, or golf – or social justice – might consign you to a permanent separation between what you love and what you do for a living, but it isn’t necessarily so. Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest novelists of this centurey, was far more passionate about butterfly collecting than writing. His first college teaching job, in fact, was in lepidoptery. REsearch on more than 400,000 Americans over the past 40 years indicates that pursuing your passions – even in small doses, here and there each day – helps you make the most of your current capabilities and encourages you to develop new ones.

(From The other 90% by Robert K. Cooper, Three Rivers Press 2001.)

Arguably this just shows that passionate loving people are more likely to get things done in general. However it neglects the cost money-making people pay for not doing what they love. If you do a job you hate, how much does that cost you in terms of things you love. If you quit and did what you love, you might be wealthier (and you would not pay taxes on that income!).

Multilateralism and Bush

August 5, 2004

Nicholas and Robert in the comments on previous posts complain that Bush was did not get international support for the war with Iraq and that Kerry would be more multilateral. In response to these sorts of claims, Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post notes:

As former Clinton administration official and current Kerry foreign policy adviser Richard Holbrooke put it to the Post, the Bush administration advocated “extremist ideas” that had “never had a voice in the policymaking bodies of the executive branch.” One such idea, the Post paraphrased, was “acting unilaterally.” But what does “acting unilaterally” mean? It does not mean “going it alone.” After all, there are several dozen other countries actively involved in US operations in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.

Neither does “acting unilaterally” mean that in Iraq the US is acting outside of a clear UN Security Council mandate. Ahead of the US-led operations in Kosovo in 1999, in which Holbrooke played a key role, Russia used the threat of its Security Council veto to prevent the US from taking action under a UN umbrella. Yet no one has ever accused the US of acting unilaterally in Kosovo.

What “acting unilaterally” actually means to Holbrooke and Kerry is that the multilateral coalition Bush assembled in Iraq does not include France. It was France that prevented a UN Security Council resolution backing the US-led invasion, and it was France that led the EU and NATO to reject US requests to forge coalitions under whose aegis the US would lead the war against Saddam’s regime.

The rest of the article goes on to talk about the danger and stupidity of following the wishes of the French. But the main point here is that these unilateral accusations are baseless and repeating them does not make them true. I would further add that absent some claim about the value of including France they also have little content. I challenge critics to explain just what would have been accomplished by including France (and how much it would have cost to do so)..