A Quest Called Tribe

2012/12/08 Leave a comment

Tribal America by Mark Steyn, National Review

It’s just so perfectly conservative and appropriate for Mark Steyn to pick out Zimbabwe’s 1980 election as an example of the perils of tribalism. One can only assume that he still pines for the halcyon days of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, that time when the country was unified and those tribal people knew their place. But this might be expecting too much thought from a writer who thinks that California’s “white” [sic] population has fallen by half, as if Hispanics couldn’t be white and a state’s population couldn’t grow overall.

His recounting of the history of the Western Hemisphere is equally laughable: “North America was colonized by Anglo-Celts, Central and South America by “Hispanics.” Up north, two centuries of constitutional evolution and economic growth; down south, coups, corruption, generalissimos, and presidents-for-life.” I seem to remember North America attracting colonists from not just Britain but Spain, France, even the Netherlands; meanwhile I think Portugal might have had some influence in South America. And “constitutional evolution and economic growth” is one way to describe what might also be characterized as enslavement, rebellion, genocide, ethnic cleansing, insurrection, civil war, and a fair bit of corruption as well. Or does our need for “American exceptionalism” mean that those bits of our history get tossed down the memory hole?

Just War vs. “it’s just war”

2012/08/31 Leave a comment

You know what might justify dead American soldiers? Some thoughts from an old buddy of mine:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Are we willing to honor our inevitable dead by taking increased devotion to their cause of helping Bibi’s reelection chances? The tragedy of Afghanistan (much like Iraq) is that it might be a noble and worthwhile aim to build a stable and peaceful nation there, it is not by all appearances a goal that is within the power of our military. Our armed forces can destroy, as is their job, and they may be able to pacify and oversee an occupation for a time, but they cannot build the future. Tanks don’t build that. A war to preserve the union and to end chattel slavery, or a war to push back and overthrow the forces of genocidal totalitarian expansionism: those are wars deserving our full measure of devotion, knowing all that will inevitably go horrifically wrong in the process. What’s the end game in Syria? Perhaps some Libya-like air war in theory could have benefit, but in practical terms it sounds less likely. Or with Iran? The US is never going to invade and occupy Iran and it’s very doubtful they’d be able to do anything militarily to effect regime change. A “surgical” strike on Iranian uranium fuel processing centers seems very difficult and risky and likely to have minimal effects. [[citation needed]] The idea of murdering nuclear scientists ostensibly working on fuel for civilian nuclear power plants strikes me as close to terrorism.

Of course we do have the technical ability to prevent Iran from getting a nuke (though not to prevent Syria from attacking its own civilians). We could nuke it ourselves as some kind of simulacrum of paranoid defense via unprompted first strike. Of course that would just demonstrate that the characterizations of the U.S. as amoral, paranoid, and trigger-happy were justified, and like after Iraq every other nation out there will be put on warning that obtaining nukes is the only way to prevent the U.S. from interfering with and overthrowing your nation on flimsy pretext and forged intelligence.

Is this belligerence the kind of cause that would hallow the ground where our soldiers and countrymen fall? Is this a cause worth one’s last full measure of devotion?


2012/05/30 Leave a comment

Jennifer Rubin, February 2, 2012:

Obviously — at least to the entire press corps, most voters and 99 percent of Republican office holders and candidates — Trump is a noxious, self-serving figure who is not a serious political player, but rather uses politics to further his own financial interests. He’s crass and ostentatious, hardly the model for rich or poor.… It’s unseemly for someone like Romney, who is running as a serious executive, to associate himself with Trump. It undermines Romney’s message that he is the responsible adult in the GOP presidential race.

The notion that Donald Trump’s fundraiser is some kind of debacle for Mitt Romney is one more “shiny object” stunt that is a transparent diversion by the Obama campaign so the media will avoid examining President Obama’s record. And it’s yet another indication of just how in-the-tank-for-Obama is so much of the media coverage

I find it inconceivable that there are voters out there who will change their votes because Trump raised money for Romney. But relevance doesn’t equal news judgment. Voters, I suspect, aren’t so dim as to disagree with Romney’s comment: “You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”

That Romney has disclaimed any hint of birtherism is also no reason for the media to restrain itself.

Killing me softly with your drones

2012/02/09 Leave a comment

In response to the terminally tedious Glennzilla’s post about progressive hypocricy:

I agree that Guantanamo should be shut down. It’s a powerful symbol of America’s abdication of moral leadership and breakdown of its own long-standing principles of justice. But the idea that the Obama administration has intentionally targeted and killed innocent civilians as part of its GWOT/GSAVE/etc. is lacking evidence or any inkling of a motive; the fact that many have been killed as collateral damage in these strikes is significant and relevant to their use, but saying Obama wants to slaughter brown babies is inaccurate and tendentious. I think that the drone strikes and assassinations of American citizens do bring up some interesting questions at least.

If we really are at war with Al Qaeda and aligned organizations, how would American citizenship confer immunity on an enemy soldier? This country fought a war against the secessionist Confederacy made up of US citizens. Was it wrong for the US to shoot at American citizens who joined the side of Nazi Germany in a sense of ethnic solidarity? Armed drones are only the latest in a long line of technological advances that offer complicated tradeoffs between military effectiveness, chance of causing casualties among innocent bystanders, and risk to one’s own soldiers. The issues they bring up don’t appear substantially different than the issues surrounding strategic bombing. The real problem isn’t with the citizenship of the targets or the capabilities of the weapons but with the scope of the war. In the absence of war it would be morally abhorrent to kill terrorism suspects without any due process; in the context of war the killing, disabling, or capture of enemy forces is the primary goal, as long as the laws of war are adhered to. Once an “enemy combatant” is captured and is no longer an immediate threat, due process comes into play, either in the form of prisoner-of-war status or through criminal prosecution. That’s why Guantanamo needs to be closed: its existence is an affront to the protections this country signed onto as part of the Geneva Conventions.

This new style of war declared (or authorized) against a non-state terrorist group does bring up uncomfortable legal and moral questions, but pretending that drone strikes and killings of American citizens is happening and being justified in a peacetime situation strains credulity. Maybe I’m just missing the subtleties of some argument, but I don’t see how those actions would be constitutionally suspect except in the case that they weren’t taken as part of a legitimate war. If this war isn’t legitimate, though, then any exercise of violence undertaken under its auspices loses moral justification, whether drone strikes on American citizens or just old-fashioned shooting bullets at bad guys. What do Greenwaldians object to in drone strikes that they don’t object to in more conventional military operations?

I wouldn’t have any issues with having an extra layer of checks and balances present when it comes to targeted assassinations. I don’t think holding an American citizenship is a significant factor in any moral equation; the U.S. constitution itself, in the Fifth Amendment, declares that no “person” shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and makes no distinction between citizens and non-citizens. I honestly don’t know enough about the use of drone strikes to gauge their effectiveness against the blowback from collateral damage, but in the context of war I don’t think drone strikes are prima facie unjustifiable. I fear that a lot of the manpower-intensive effort being put into Afghanistan (and Pakistan) is not going to bear fruitful consequences and that our ability to shape the political trajectory of foreign societies is highly constrained, especially in societies as infamously tribal and hostile to outsiders as Afghanistan. I think any enemy soldiers captured are entitled to be treated as prisoners of war and have the right to due process should they be prosecuted. In many cases these stances go against the policies enacted or espoused by the Obama administration, and I suppose I’m disappointed by that in some sense.

I’m not about to react by charging off to endorse or champion some neo-confederate race-baiting crank who extolls the virtues of liberty for totalitarian state governments rather than individual people, even if my understanding of economics doesn’t put much credibility in the pronouncements of someone who’s predicted 25 of the last 0 instances of hyperinflation and preemptively blames the CRA and Fannie and Freddie for an economic meltdown precipitated by unregulated private-sector lenders.

That’s just me though; your mileage may vary.

Don’t Mind the Gap

2012/01/31 Leave a comment

David Brooks: The Great Divorce

Bourgeois bohemian David Brooks takes a look at Negros Be Dumb coauthor Charles Murray’s latest opus, Coming Apart, and comes away with his mind blown. (As Charles Pierce notes, Brooks doesn’t mention the rest of the title, “The State of White America, 1960-2010.”) While black America had only its lack of intelligence to blame for its economic status, white America, or as Brooks calls it “American society,” is suffering because the “lower tribe” (which has nothing to do with class dammit) is behaving badly. Or as Newt would put it, poor whites are poor because they’re acting black.

“His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big.… More important, the income gaps did not lead to big behavior gaps.” Why is behavior considered more important than economic well-being?

“Today, almost all of Manhattan south of 96th Street is an upper-tribe enclave.” Totally has nothing to do with the financial elite that those liberals supposedly complain about.

The fact that the poor can only afford to “live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive”? Not related to income inequality at all.

Thankfully, Bobo has the perfect solution to this income behavior gap: forced reeducation camps. Seriously. Because taxing the wealthy, providing decent public schools, subsidizing mixed-income housing, or supporting jobs programs for the unemployed would be socialist.

It’s a good thing the lower tribe only needs a bit of paternalism to succeed. Unlike those dumb blacks.

Ross Douthat: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Its Rivals

2012/01/30 Leave a comment

Ross Douthat: Government and Its Rivals

Straw liberals are so cute when they philosophize. Don’t they understand that government actions have tradeoffs? Only conservatives really appreciate non-governmental organizations, which is why they are so hesitant to legislate moral questions. At least this is the view from the New York Times’s resident moral scold and splenetic sourpuss, whose current complaint is that employer-provided health care plans are required to cover contraception, even if the employer is a religious charity that isn’t down with the dirty deed unless there’s a threat of unwanted pregnancy hanging overhead. (Of course they’re not likely to spring for infertility treatments like IVF either.) Douthat wants to paint this regulation as “violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place,” though I hope that charities and hospitals have higher aims than prudishness in mind. But these organizations already hire non-co-religionists to work for them, and once their wages are paid out, the employer has no say how that money gets spent. In this country employer-provided health insurance is a key part of compensation, one that’s often prohibitively expensive to obtain as an individual. An employer should no more be able to prohibit money spent on health insurance from being used to purchase contraception than it should be able to prohibit money spent on salaries to be spent thusly. Health care decisions should be made between an employee and her physician, not her employer’s religion’s clerics. Bishops have the choice not to use contraception, and the right, as church leaders, to argue that their followers should do the same; the fact that they believe in a divine lord does not give them legal license to make their employees serfs.

Marriage is Gay

2011/06/26 Leave a comment

New York just passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. It took the defection of a few Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate, which makes me wonder how this will affect their election chances. It’s hard for me to appreciate how much effort some people are willing to put into preventing others from getting their relationships approved—no, recognized—by the government. But it’s no longer surprising for me to hear the Catholic archbishop comparing the democratic legalization of gay marriage to the depravations of communism and authoritarianism though. I suppose from a theological perspective there’s little difference between Caesar, Stalin, Mao, or Cuomo; it matters more whether they govern in accordance with “God’s laws” than whether they represent the people. Maybe Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s Italy would be more in accordance with their preferences.

The Catholic church already doesn’t recognize marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic unless the children are promised to be raised in the church. It doesn’t recognize divorce or remarriage at all, at least in theory, Newt Gingrich apparently excepted. Is it advocating that these restrictions be enforced by the law? What about the government’s recognition of other religions (from Islam to Hinduism to Wicca to Satanism)—surely those would be a more direct violation of the church’s tenets than same-sex marriage, but does that mean the government should deny them legal legitimacy? If they want to believe that the definition of marriage comes from God and can’t be altered, that’s their right, but if the government doesn’t need (and isn’t able) to enforce their definition of God, why should it need to enforce their definition of marriage?

I also don’t buy the argument that marriage is the foundation of civilization and thus shouldn’t be redefined. I’d say agriculture is more foundational to civilization than marriage, or certainly than any modern conception of marriage, but religious conservatives aren’t fighting to outlaw tractors and combines as abominations.

When it comes down to it, I don’t really want the government checking that every marriage contains exactly one penis and one vagina. That’s the issue at question here.

At least the whining from the repellant Maggie Gallagher is entertaining to hear.



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