Sunday, September 30, 2007

Infinite Justice

"Support the Troops"!

...Especially when only 40 percent of Marines and 55 percent of Army soldiers in Iraq said they would report a fellow service-member for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi...

Police and the Public Sector (Part I)

I want develop a strong libertarian stance towards the structure of police forces. That is, in a completely free society, what would a private police force look like?

After watching a series of police brutality videos on the net, a friend of mine, working from the idea that private property is itself an illegitimate institution, told me that the police are basically only protecting the property and the property owners themselves. The second half of that idea is largely true, and I believe property is one of the underlying reasons, actually, why anyone should have an incentive to hire a security service. It provides a legitimate basis for jurisdiction and protection. The idea the property is inherently wrong is something I am very skeptical about, but here I want to talk only about private versus government police. However, to push this point further, I don't think there is a legitimate reason why any of the security services (police, military, etc.) should be in the hands government operations. I believe they should all be community-based and landowner-based.

But to point something out very quickly, police do not only protect private property. Police protect communities, streets and land-areas as well. My University, for example, has its own community protection service which is perceived to be more courteous and trusted than the governmental police, Tacoma PD. There are many other areas, besides private universities, that are government-owned and publicly-owned and patrolled by governmental police. Parks, for example. And there is always an issue of ownership and jurisdiction involved. These jurisdictions are based on the governmental grid-mapped boundaries and streets (whether federal, state, or local.) Legitimate protection in a free society requires that all these areas be privately or jointly owned by citizenry, not tied to governmental boundaries.

To understand my position, then, what needs to happen is a complete reorientation about our thinking. This is a world in which all land areas are in the hands of private citizenry, where all land areas are dis-owned by governments, (except places like courthouses, etc.)

Consider the entire city of New York, for example. Some areas of the city are extraordinarily crime-ridden areas where there is little police protection provided by the city authorities. There are some places in every city where citizens walk the street in a state of anarchy, dependent solely on the peace and goodwill of other citizens. And suppose that one area, the Times Square area, including the surrounding streets, was completely privately or jointly-owned. The streets are jointly owned by, say, the Times Square Merchants Association. The merchants would know that if crime was rampant in their area, for example with muggings and holdups, then their customers would fade away and would go to competing areas and neighborhoods. Hence it would be to the economic interest to supply efficient and plentiful police protection so that customers would be attracted to their neighborhood.

It would also be in their interest to supply pleasant and courteous protection. Governmental police have no incentive to be efficient or worry about their customers' needs, but they also have the temptation to wield their power in a brutal and coercive manner. Police brutality is a well-known feature of the police system. As my friend pointed out, we could spend our entire lives watching an endless stream of police brutality videos on YouTube our entire lives -- "if we don't kill ourselves before then." Governmental police are held in check only by remote complaints from the harassed citizenry and media. Yet if the Merchants Association's police yield to the temptation to brutalize their customers, the customer's will quickly disappear to cleaner, more courteous areas of the city. Hence the Merchant's Association will see to it that their police are courteous as well as efficient.

This provides the foundation for a network of private quarters to work with each other so supply adequate security services, giving rise to joint-ownerships or joint-jurisdictions. Merchants and landlords would buy into these protection services, and it would quickly become an expected condition for customers and tenants to do business. Just as heat and running water is expected of merchants and landlords, so would security services come to be expected. One can imagine the security services associations pooling together security-insurances and back-up services to deal with quick re-allocations in times of crisis, much like how lending companies will rely on the security of a "lender of last resort" (i.e. a Central Bank.) In general the services would supply all and only the necessary conditions for adequate and efficient police protection.

There should be nothing surprising or startling about the principle of this libertarian society. We are familiar with the effects of inter-location and inter-transportation competition. We are familiar with the competitive spread of new services like broadband, or airports, or railways. When the private railways were being built throughout the nation in the 19th Century, for example, despite 19th Century labor conditions, the early competition provided an energizing force to develop their locations. Each railway tried its best to induce immigration and development in the areas in order to increase profits, land values, and capital values. (Unless they wanted markets and tenants to move to other ports, other cities, and other lands served by competing railroads.) The same principle would be at work if streets and roads were private as well.

We are already familiar with some of the private police protections. Within their property, stores and banks provide courteous guards and watchmen; factories employ watchmen; shopping centers provide security guards; neighborhoods with high crime rates often have their own security services; cities historically provided guards and towers for watchmen to protect from outsiders.

In fact, the title of this blog, The Nightwatchman, is based on the idea that the only purpose to setup a state is for this very purpose: preserving those most basic Lockean and human rights. The "nightwatchman" is a figure borrowed from a medieval merchant's town where guardsmen were paid to protect the city from alien colonizers and raiders. In comparison, other medieval towns relied on Caesar's protection, and had to suffer from the foreign occupation of Roman soldiers who often yielded to brutal and gluttonous temptations like raping women and consuming inventories. Communities, neighborhoods, jointly-owned districts, centers, and lands ought to work on the nightwatchman principle of providing adequate community protection from invaders, and keeping the peace within the walls of the city.

The libertarian society would simply extend this service to streets and roads, as well as entire cities and trade routes. It is not accidental that there are far more assaults and muggings on the streets than inside the walls of stores and banks themselves. This is because the stores are supplied with watchful, private guards, while on the streets we must always rely on the chaos of inefficient and brutal government police protection. Various blocks in New York City, in response to the galloping crime problem on the streets, the practice of hiring of private watchmen to patrol the blocks became common. And soon this became practiced elsewhere. Due to the very nature of the nightwatchman duty, the benefits extended beyond the specific property boundaries into adjacent streets and stores, etc. The voluntary contributions of landowners and landlords effected the tenants and homeowners on the same blocks. This is called a positive externality.

The problem presently is that the streets and roads themselves are not owned by the residents or the landowners. The governments still own these, and hence there is no effective mechanism for gathering the capital to provide the protection on a permanent basis. Further, the street guards cannot legally be armed since they are not on their owner's property, and they cannot, as store and property-owners can, challenge anyone acting acting under suspicion in these areas. Streets and roads need to be owned by communities and landowners, not governments, and the privatization of security services would simultaneously find a healthy niche.

Restructuring society this way does not simply benefit wealthy capitalists, as skeptics assert. Private mechanisms would end the current spectacle of police being considered by many communities as alien imperial colonizers. The empowerment of governmental police does not give rise to "service" toward the people. It invariably leads to the oppression of their communities. Especially communities of color. We have many areas of cities with tenants and people of color which are patrolled by governmental police. The American Indian Movement in the 60s and 70s fought bitterly against a brutal FBI agents and for-hire vigilantes. This year, black communities in St. Louis are tyrannized by the St. Louis Police Department. Governmental forces are alien to the communities, just like the imperial Roman forces who oppressed and tyrannized townsfolk in the Dark Ages. Police supplied, paid for, and controlled by the residents and landowners of the communities themselves would be a completely different story. Much like a well-developed and empowered neighbor-hood watch regime, they would be supplying (and perceived to be supplying) legitimate services to their customers, rather than coercing them on behalf of an alien authority.

A private police force is only one part of the libertarian society, but it is a crucial part. The society works from the principle that individual and jointly voluntary operations are legitimate; foreign and non-voluntary operations are illegitimate actors. Many people have a hard time believing that community and private operations can provide adequate services like this. They would rather rely on governments and Caesars even when it is clearly apparent that these forces do more harm to their societies and other societies than we should accept. The libertarian alternative provides solutions, and these are empirically and historically positive. It is also infinitely more satisfying to see that we can protect ourselves without relying on paternal forces elsewhere.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How "Feminist Jurisprudence" Works

Anti-feminists have said that sounds like a contradiction in terms.

But Patricia Smith argues it isn't contradictory. It is a "self-interested" account of jurisprudence, she says. First, what makes her theory feminist is not simply that she is a woman writing about jurisprudence. That's far too simplistic, and you should be wayyy over that. Consider this. We all operate within a worldview that constitutes a certain "picture of reality" - a picture that is profoundly and systematically gendered.

This worldview is patriarchal. Therefore the jurisprudence it produces is also patriarchal. A feminist jurisprudence is working to combat the patriarchy within jurisprudential theory and beating down its hostilities to real equality, and therefore it is a defense of real jurisprudence from the wild misrepresentations and biases provided by the patriarchal model.

"If law stands for justice," she argues, "it must be justice for all."

Her account of jurisprudence is in line with the Marxist account of law as a part of the superstructure, part of the dominant code of society. In a sense, while she's arguing against the ideological forms of jurisprudence, she is making a claim that is much more similar to natural law theorists, who posit that there is something, justice, to which all law must aspire. If the law is not aspiring to justice, she can make a claim that it is not really law at all.

I agree with this analysis. Patricia Smith's feminist jurisprudence is a critique of jurisprudence - "patriarchal jurisprudence", which is redundant now that we've spelled it out.

Comment on Iranian Appearances

Amidst the sticky politics surround Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University and the UN, and the subsequently ridiculous debate over homosexuality in Iran, most media have skipped something else valuable in his speech:

I am ready in the United Nations to engage in a debate with Mr. Bush, the president of the United States, about critical international issues. So that shows that we want to talk. Having a debate before all the audience, so the truth is revealed, so that misunderstandings and misperceptions are removed, so that we can find a clear path for brotherly and friendly relations. I think that if the U.S. administration, if the U.S. government puts aside some of its old behaviors, it can actually be a good friend for the Iranian people, for the Iranian nation.

This disposes of the "madman" theory of foreign dictators that would have us believe the enemy is so unpredictable that we might as well intervene militarily. Saddam Hussein never had the chance to speak to the United Nations before our invasion. The IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Prize tried to speak on behalf of the Iraqi people. But he was quickly overruled. With this kind of dialogue we see with the Iranian President, despite whether you say it is propagandistic and insincere, makes it seem as though a unilateral invasion into Iran would receive such an overwhelming condemnation toward US foreign policy that I highly doubt even the most hawkish cabinet could go forward with it. I am beginning to feel at ease about its immediacy, despite previous blogs that might have been a bit alarmist. The plans to bomb 2,000 targets in Iran, however, are still very real and the administration is more than willing to find the opportunity.

La Rebelión de las Monks

"There are, above all, times in which the human reality, always mobile, accelerates, and bursts into vertiginous speeds. Our time is such a one, for it is made of descension and fall."

José Ortega y Gasset

Burma is exploding into violence. Today, nine more monks were killed, including a Japanese foreign journalist. The attack on the media is extensive. A hotel where foreign journalists were staying has been ransacked. Yesterday the government confirmed one death, when in reality at least five were murdered by the State Peace forces. The UN unanimously condemned the government, which is including China and Russia who rejected a resolution condemning Burma in January. The circumstances in which the monks and the masses find themselves is extremely oppressive. There is a continually violent dialectic exchange between the government and the people.

Ortega wrote that our lives are simultaneously fate and freedom, and that freedom “is being free inside of a given fate. Fate gives us an inexorable repertory of determinate possibilities, that is, it gives us different destinies. We accept fate and within it we choose one destiny.” For the Burmese, death is now certain if they go out into the streets. The government promised severe retaliation, "serious action", for opposition this morning.

As individuals in a global society, we are not detached from our past. We are not isolated historical persons. Severe retaliation means thousands of Burmese revolutionaries and monks will be executed in the street, just like in 1988. And perhaps no one, not the United States, not the United Kingdom, not the United Nations, will step in and interfere. Perhaps this is a fight that only the Burmese can take on for themselves, in an effort to build a strong, democratic nation, taking matters into their own hands and defeating the military dictatorship. Cease-fire agreements can only postpone the inevitable, we know this from history. The military government is not interested in peace. False peaces can only make a quick and climactic coup into something long and dawn-out, where more Burmese civilians lose their lives and their liberties before overturning the regime. If a cease-fire agreement is made now it will be decades until the next wave of unsatisfied masses will take a stand against their government, and in the meantime thousands will be killed, thousands will be politically imprisoned.

Comparing Two Neighbors: Panama and Colombia (Part II)


All this data explains very well why Panama is doing well in the global economy, but it does not explain how Colombia could be doing, ostensibly, so poorly. Why does Colombia have nearly the same GDP per capita, yet spend significantly less per capita on health services? By way of explanation, we take every scenario in which Panama is thought to excel, and compare this to Colombian policies.

1) Colombia is an industrial and agriculturally-based economy.

For example, Colombia is not a service-based economy. Its main exports are manufactured goods such as petroleum, coal, and surprisingly, pop-up books. The Colombian economy is largely in the process of developing legal exports like coffee instead of cocaine. After recovering from a large recession in 1999, the focus is on rebuilding the economy through crop substation policies and this leaves less money to spent on health services.

2) Differences in the methodology of calculating GDP.

The GDP of Colombia is also adjusted for illegal crop production, to give a better sense of all the economic activity within the borders. Illegal producers are not subject, however, to the same governmental regulations and services, leaving many self-employed citizens out of programs directed towards health services. Social Insurance programs, for example. GDP increases due to anti-crop programs like Plan Colombia also work to offset GDP in a way that would make it appear disproportionate to average health expenditures in other countries of the same GDP per capita. Panama, by contrast, receives no such aid.

3) Migration, Stability and Location.

It is also worth saying that Colombia, while it does not share the Panamanian Canal, does indeed benefit quite a bit from its location which is bordering Panama. But retirees are not fleeing to Colombia. A country in which government corruption is a large problem, and where rebel forces like the FARC and the paramilitaries control certain provinces, is not attractive for American retirees who would likely spend much more on health services than a younger, native population.

The data here is not conclusive. Looking at the graph alone would give the impression that there is much more proactive health care planning in Panama than in Colombia. Colombia has the social security and health care infrastructure in place, yet at the moment its priorities are in line with a program to end the production of illegal drugs. While it certainly provides evidence that a growing economy like Panama can indeed provide the conditions for a healthy human population, in cases like Colombia, where the economy is also growing quite well, political problems and instabilities get in the way of affective health services, and their public or private consumption.

Comparing Two Neighbors: Panama and Colombia (Part I)

If we look at a comparison between health care expenditures (per capita) and GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) in Latin American countries, we find some peculiar disparities. I thought I might have to exclude Brazil from this model, since it dwarfs all other countries in terms of GDP. It has the highest purchasing power, but its health care expenditures were roughly the same as Uruguay's. Mexico has the highest expenditure on health services, and its purchasing power is the second-highest the region, behind Brazil, and followed by Argentina and then Colombia. Yet Brazil's GDP per capita is slightly more than Colombia's.

One of the most disparate comparisons is between Colombia and Panama. Whereas Panama, Belize, Brazil, and Colombia have roughly the same GDP per capita -- Panama's health expenditures are much higher. I would hesitate to label Panama as an "outlier". It is simply that, among all the countries who GDP in US dollars is of 20 billion, Panama is the highest spender in health services. I have come up with several reasons as to why this is the case.


1) Panama's economy is largely service-based.

Any economy that is service-based is likely to have a higher demand for government services like health care, like environmental quality, etc. Economist and Nobel Prize winner Simon Kuznets once detailed the relationship between rising income and demand for quality environmental services. The same sort of argument could be made for health services. As a service-based economy is much more in tune with global health practice, and is constantly exposed to healthy foreigners, it will most likely also begin demanding better health services. The sort of infrastructure that a service-based economy has provides the structure for a vibrant and healthy population. Service-economies must have higher-valued human capital than non-service economies.

2) Panama owns a key geographic location.

This is an argument for its economic growth, which is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for health care expenditures to increase. The Panama Canal is a key, strategic location, and is home to the Colon Free Trade Zone, and has nearly 2,000 firms importing and exporting throughout the region and the world. Colombia is in fact the largest purchaser of Colon Free Trade goods.

3) Panama developed an extensive social security program.

This is perhaps the most obvious reason why Panama has high expenditures in health services. The United States Social Security Administration website provides an outline of the program in Panama, which includes coverage for all foreign workers, except those working less than two months. There are no maximum earnings for contribution purposes, and unlike most countries, it covers sickness, work injuries and maternity as well as survivors and old-age benefits. Benefits for dependents are also generous, including specialist care, surgery, hospitalization, laboratory services, medicines, and dental care.

4) Immigration

More interesting, however, is the fact that many Americans are moving to Panama to retire, in fact, due to inexpensive health care and medical insurance, but also the tropical environment. A heart stent, for example, costs 52,000 in the United States. In Panama it costs $11,000. Health insurance companies in Panama also do not deny coverage to those with existing illnesses.

Roger Gallo, publisher of, a site for international relocation, says in a New York Times article that Argentina and Belize have become attractive to American retirees in recent years. But Panama remains among the highest. This would explain why, in terms of sheer numbers, Panamanians would be spending much more on health care per capita than most countries of its GDP per capita size. As more American retirees flee to Panama, the amount expected to be spent on health care services should increase. American retirees in Panama may be surprised that they are still expected to pay income taxes in the United States, however.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Century of Heidegger

Almost the entire second half of the twentieth century continental philosophy is Heideggerian. Perhaps the other half is Wittgensteinian. I'd love for my generalizations to be correct, but they are probably good as far as generalizations go.

In general it's because Heidegger is so original and calls into question nearly all of traditional philosophy before him. Heidegger straddles Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, who were already calling into question, radically, traditional philosophy before them, and whether it made any sense. Heidegger is mostly starting from scratch, however. He understands Nietzsche and Kierkegaard very well and makes them systematic. Unlike them, he writes like a systematic philosopher.

There is something wrong with the entire tradition and something wrong with the traditional understandings of what it is to be a human being. If you understand what human being are and what theory is, traditional philosophy and science treats human beings as special, complicated objects. Which is entirely wrong. After all, scientism is simply one sort of human practice. One can have a theoretical understanding of human nature. But it makes no sense to do the human sciences this way: by this I mean anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.

Cognitive sciences (cognitive psychology, cognitive politics, cognitive anthropology, etc.) have to be done completely differently. Their theoretical foundations are all wrong. If it looks anything like a statistical or computer model, it would be wrong-footed from Heidegger's point of view. Heidegger was opposing the whole idea of computer models before there were computer models.

This is why he is so important in Anglo-American philosophy, which takes the scientific/computer model completely for granted. But for Continental philosophy, Heideggerian theory is itself taken completely for granted. This is really the most amazing thought I have about Heidegger's place in contemporary philosophy.

Jean-Paul Sartre, of course, brilliantly misunderstood Being and Time. You have to be a kind of genius, like Sartre, to take a book that is wholly anti-Cartesian through-and-through and rewrite it as if it were a Cartesian book. Sartre would be the first to say that he is simply fixing up Heidegger. I really learned nothing at all about Heidegger from reading Sartre.

Another French philosopher, Merleau-Ponty, understood Heidegger as an anti-Cartesian. Heidegger really has nothing to say about perception or the body in Being and Time, and that's what Merleau-Ponty talks about, but hardly ever mentions Heidegger. He uses Heidegger ontology and Heidegger's terminology to open up a space to talk about what it is to be a human body which perceives things.

Boudieu made a reputation for himself by condemning Heidegger. Foucault said his main influence was Heidegger, but he made a reputation for himself by acting like he had never heard of Heidegger. Only on his deathbed did he say that he felt he was a Heideggerian.

And, in fact, I think I am a Heideggerian, in some sense. But I'm not going to talk about this here, or now, at least. Perhaps this is the start of a series on Heidegger, since I've been reading Being and Time (slowly), and I will therefore slowly reveal my thoughts on what it means to be human.

Burmese Murders Will Be YouTubed

The 1988 Revolution in Myanmar was not YouTubed. But given the incompetence of Burmese military net intelligence, their inconsistencies have given foreign media the ability to uncover and distribute information from within the regime. The net was introduced there in 2001, yet mostly only government officials have access to it for strictly professional uses or e-mail. By 2003, however, about 25,000 people had access to the "Myanmar Wide Web", a local intranet set up by the regime and giving access to just a few thousand online publications, mostly on government service or administrative sites permitted by the authorities. The two ISPs have their inconsistencies, however. One blocks all international sites. The other blocks all regional sites.

Reporters without Borders describe how a guide for dissident bloggers recently provided to young Burmese was seized upon, copied and feverishly disseminated among a growing group of the young, politically active and computer-literate. One of those bloggers, Ko Htike, is based out of London, but publishes video, photo and other media and information from an underground network of monks and dissidents within the city. They send them this information via free hosting sites and emails through foreign proxy services, which are explicit in their mission to get information out of the country and into foreign media. Burmese bloggers commonly use and to bypass the military paternalists.

The pictures that have surfaced are sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky, captured at great personal risk on mobile phones or hidden cameras. But each represents a powerful statement of political dissent.

Yet the military is cracking down even harder on the independent media outlets. Today at 3:00 pm, most of the mobile phone access was cut and internet access was drastically reduced, after at least three monks were killed by gunfire. Foreign journalists and Reporters Without Borders now have an almost impossible task of documenting the military repression of pro-democracy demonstrations all over the city: from the Shwedagon Temple (where rallying has gone on for a month) to the street near the British Embassy, where the monks and demonstrators sought solace from the military goons who chased behind them in tanks, spraying tear gas and bullets into the air. Dozens were injured.

Foreign journalists have been rejected entry since the protests begun. And internet bandwidth is extremely slow. Some journalists from the 1988 protests are still imprisoned by the regime. U Win Tin, for example. Thirty more were imprisoned today, including an activist who, days before, was interviewed by the BBC. Despite retaining total control of the country's only two internet providers and severely limiting internet usage, anyone who fails to register a computer with a state-sanctioned internet provider faces a 15-year prison term.

The government-owned Burmese media says in a broadcast warning the demonstrators of military action that the "demonstrators are extremists," and describes the prayers as unattractively as it could. The domestic media, just like every other repressive media organization, is meant to quell concerns and have a normalizing effect on the population.

Myanmar = State Peace?

Even though we have found out what is happening in Myanmar, there's no telling what exactly is happening inside the country at all times since it's an extremely closed society. The media in Myanmar is very tightly controlled. The print media only prints what the government wants, and it's all government-owned anyway. The same thing is true of the broadcast media. Foreign journalists are barred from entering Myanmar, officially at any rate. Receiving information from inside Myanmar is therefore very difficult. The government blocks the internet and the telephones on and off. Amnesty International notes that there are at least 1,160 political prisoners who are being held in deteriorating prison conditions.

Interestingly enough, a Flickr user by the name Racoles has posted photos documenting the month-long protest in Rangoon, when the regime began fixing petrol prices higher than most would withstand.

100,000 Buddhist monks filled the street of the capitol (Rangoon) this morning, in what is hopefully not a repeat of the 1988 uprising when "State Peace" open-fired on protesters and killed more than 3,000 people.

The BBC says at least one monk was killed today. Other reports say eight. Watch this very rough YouTube video posted this morning to get an idea of what is going on. The UN is urging a restraint on the military junta. President Bush is also urging sanctions. Sanctions, however, have been in place for years. And it's not clear how more sanctions will affect the regime. The full title of the military junta regime of Myanmar is State Peace and Development Council.

A mediating force between the regime and the population might have been the monks, at least a month ago. Yet this mediating force has suddenly become swept up in the frenzy of protests themselves. A BBC newscaster said on a video that early in the morning the faces of the monks were peaceful. After the deaths, everyone was suddenly furious. Monks were seen yelling, shouting, and screaming. Perhaps a more international force will take over the "mediating" position. But this position seems highly overrated at this point. A standoff between the military regime and the population will most likely end in bloodshed and revolution. Hopefully the democrats will overturn the regime this time.

An Yan Suu Kyi, the Noble Peace Prize winner, still on house arrest, might finally be able to resume her activism in the streets. Meanwhile, Amnesty is organizing worldwide protests at as many Myanmar embassies as possible.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Begging the Basic Rights Question

Henry Shue in his book Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy makes the peculiar claim that it would be self-defeating to say that one doesn't have basic rights, since they guarantee the order of other rights (which presumably follow). To deny basic rights, then, would be to pull the ground out from under one's rational basis for arguing for basic rights, since these more basic rights are the transitive telos in this hierarchical order Shue has going. We have basic rights, Shue says, in order to experience the "material substance" of other rights. I would like to point out that Henry Shue is quite obviously begging the question as to the rational basis for justified demands (which is his definition of "right"). Since basic rights--or moral rights, or legal rights--are necessary for positive rights to obtain, then Shue seems to think basic rights must be necessary. Yet no justification for basic rights is given, or even argued for. The existence of positive rights is used to persuade us that there must be moral rights justifiable due to this very contemporary scenario. The justification for basic rights, therefore, depends even more heavily on our intuitions and preferences about the positive rights themselves, which are much less justifiable without basic rights to begin with.

Pyrrhonism about ethical justifications is the only non self-defeating position to be in at this point. In every meta-ethical argument one must beg a question somewhere or insert an internalist assumption into the workings in order to arrive at a comfortable conclusion.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Define "Underdevelopment"

It's quite difficult to do this, since, depending on how we do it, it will have profound policy implications.

It certainly implies a kind of teleology, where some nation-states are seen as fully developed on one end of the spectrum, and other nation-states are seen as completely undeveloped on the other. Underdevelopment, according to the Marxist school, is when nations seeking to develop come into contact with Western developed countries, and hence become parasitized. Undevelopment is a scenario which results from autarky, or the absence of trade altogether. The concept of underdevelopment is more like an active process by which the global lesser-developed nations are exploited by their contact with an abusively capitalist group of already-developed nations. Not being a Marxist myself, I can sympathize with this definition still, since I believe it is rooted in the concept of the nation and of the state that some groups of people are collected referred to as "developed" and others are collectively referred to as "underdeveloped". It is actually entirely irrelevant which nation and which state they belong to, although public and private infrastructure is what generally gives rise to this misconception.

Yet taking a more optimistic outlook, and most neoliberals do this (though I'm not a neoliberal), is to see the development of nations in terms of stages of growth. Walter Rostow from Harvard wrote a "Non-Communist Manifesto" in which he described Hegelian-like stages of development. Harrod and Domar in the 1970s later came upon Rostow's work and corrected it to fit with more flexible conditions and realistic scenarios. The stages theories have several things in common: they tend to argue for liberalizing policies, and tend to explain underdevelopment in terms of stops and problems somewhere along the stages. The Marxists respond that this does not take into consideration the history of exploitation and imperialism involved. Yet I think the basic approach of the analytic modeling by the neoliberals is correct. We should think of development in terms of stages, models, and industry rotations. Marxists who respond that there are social-economic and socio-historical factors that the capitalist models ignore are certainly right.

However, explaining the problems pointed out by Marxists (which are, I admit, very very real and true) is not to deny them, but to say they are not entirely truthful. The models explained by capitalist theorists explain how economies ought to develop, and unfortunately there are governmental, political, and exploitations involved which interfere with the general tendencies laid out by capitalist models. An analogy to gravity is useful here. There is general tendency for heavenly bodies to obey the laws of gravity, however, when a force like electro-magnetism stands in the way, it gives an appearance of the body not obeying the law of gravity.

In effect, one can explain why nation-states are or are not developing while being able to also explain the reasons and factors which stand in the way of development. A more hardline Marxist approach is to say that global capitalist development is simply not possible, in that some countries necessarily exploit other countries to become more affluent. In this case, our heavenly bodies example is more like a universe where all the energy is conserved, and for one body to accelerate it must push against another body -- sending it flying in the other direction. This approach is completely mistaken analytically, since it altogether overlooks the notion of the co-arising benefits from trade due to an international division of labor. Socialist and Communist economies of scale presuppose this very idea as well. One person who trades with another does not by necessity impoverish the other person. Each one benefits by the interaction, and consequentially, the interaction would not take place otherwise.

To view international trade as a zero-sum game is to commit an age-old neo-mercantilist fallacy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Debating the Iraq War.... is sooo old, but they did it anyway

Last night I attended a debate at King's Books, a used book store in Tacoma, with the question posed being "Should the United States stay indefinitely?"

Steve Niva

Professor Steve Niva from the Evergreen State College, who argued convincingly that a swift pull-out (six to twelve months) followed by a rapid diplomatic and political process would lead to the greatest number of human lives saved.

Sid Olufs

Professor Sid Olufs from Pacific Lutheran University, who argued that a slow pull-out over the course of "two-to-ten years" (as General Petraeus has suggested) would lead to the greatest number of lives saved.

Oluf's argument

Sid Olufs designed a mathematical model that estimated the cost of an Iraqi life, the cost of an American life, and by using regression analysis he tried to show us where in his model the "optimal" time to leave Iraq would be. Right now, he said, Americans are acting like 1 American life is equal to 130 Iraqi lives, based on the number of deaths on each side. So the need to pull-out of Iraq should be sooner, rather than later.

Niva's argument

On the other hand, Niva criticized the war propaganda we are facing right now about the need to stay in Iraq. Niva argued concisely that these war hawks have provided us with disastrous outcomes if we pull out, and no analysis of who will attack from where and why they will do it. All of these craaazy scenarios are things anybody could blurt out as a warning. But are they really founded?

He dissected the rhetoric and the spectacle of war-making, which I found more convincing. "Turkey will attack Northern Iraq," they say. "But they would not unless we provided the PKK with weapons," he replied. "Iran would attack across the borders," they say. "But would they have a reason to if American forces were not on the other side?" he replied. Deconstruction, in other words, was his sharpest tool.

So, who won?

Prof. Olufs came across as embarrassed, I thought, because Niva was a competent opponent. Niva was so competent, in fact, that Olufs actually converted to the other side in the middle of the debate.

By way of explanation, Olufs argued that since the US is not pulling out of Iraq now, based on what his model projections suggested, he said, once the value of each nation's lives are equaled, this idiotic "model" provided the argument for an immediate troop pull-out.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Biting the Bullet for Physicalism

Physiology has convinced most scientists and philosophers that there doesn't seem to be any forces that are apart from the basic forces of nuclear, electromagnetic forces, gravitational forces. There doesn't seem to be any effects anywhere that couldn't be explained by those processes.

However, it's not cut and dry: it's still in principle possible that lurking in the interstices of our brain there are some special mental forces that no one has noticed yet. But there does seem to be any empirical or epistemological evidence for that, and there is an awful lot against it.

So how could the mind be physical?

If all physical effects have physical causes, then nothing that isn't itself physical can have a physical effect. Look at the mind for instance. We have a choice here. Either you say it has physical effects, as it seems (my mental choices seem to be responsible for my arms moving around) in which case you have to say that the mind is physical. Or, you could bite the bullet and say that the mind cannot be physical, and therefore it doesn't really have physical effects. And that's the epiphenomenalist view. People who are persuaded that the mind can't be physical, quite often, have to adopt this. They accept the conscious mind as kind of an epiphenomena: it floats above the brain, the brain does all the causing, and the mind is just a kind of pictorial accompaniment--it doesn't do any real pushing itself. It observes what is going on but plays no real part in the causal proceedings.

There are still problems with the strictly physicalist view. The hardest thing to be a physicalist about is what Thomas Nagel got everyone talking about, the qualia point of view. People don't have much trouble with the idea that bodies are just physical, and even some aspects of the mind it isn't so hard to understand how it is physical. But when it comes to the conscious mind, that everything is physical is much harder to comprehend.

Biting the bullet for physicalism, at this point, then, must be difficult to comprehend in light of conscious experiences. However, working under the principle that this can all be explained in physical terms, then the conscious experiences must be physical effects. But are they? Can they in principle be located? Or is there something truly dualist about the conscious experience. What does epiphenomenalism have to offer? Nothing by way of explanation. Epiphenomenalism simply opens the door to more dualistic-like explanations. It doesn't take a position on whether the conscious effect must be something completely different from physical substance. It seems to say that it simply isn't something physical, which is to be a dualist about the situation.

Therefore, epiphenomenalism collapses into dualism completely, and there is no denying it. Epiphenomenalism is simply a new way of expressing the old problems that the dualists raise, and it should therefore be no surprise, and nothing to be moved by, as if it were some new sort of argument.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nagel, Kripke and Jackson

The order in which I have ranked Nagel, Kripke and Jackson is in no way due to the order in which I have read them, although it would appear so. I rank their arguments against physicalism in just that order, from weakest to strongest. First, Nagel’s paper explicitly says that it is not an argument against physicalism. It is merely an opening up of dialogue about the possible completeness of physics, and in it Nagel argues there will always be a certain subjective realm about which science is unable to talk about exhaustively. The subjective/objective distinction, while carrying with it the possibility of radical Pyrrhonistic skepticism, is usually interpreted to be a fairly mild explanation of why physicalism as a project of 'scientism' is inadequate and cannot know inner subjective experiences. Yet it is “hard to see any objection to physicalism here,” as Jackson says, since it does not explain why physicalism would need to know exactly what-it-is-like for a foreign body to have subjectivity, or qualia. Hence Nagel’s argument, while provocative and persuasive, is the least offensive to physicalism.

Saul Kripke’s paper is a bit more of a challenge, yet due to the nature of the argument, which is based on whether the reader shares the conviction of the author or not, it is difficult to see that it delivers a decisive blow to physicalism. Jackson seems to make an empirical claim that if at least one person is unconvinced of the modal argument then it is doubtful. The modal argument, stripped of the creativity and imagination, says in one way or another that no amount of physical information about another person will tell you if they are conscious at all. But why should we think that’s true? The modal strategy says that if supervenience is not necessary, then physicalism is necessarily false. This is an acceptable strategy, yet by begging our intuitions to accept the anti-supervenience argument, it argues that supervenience fails in a number of imaginary cases. Zombies, for example, are said logically possibilities. But this isn’t a strong argument against the claim that everything that is physically identical is “mentally” identical by definition. Or everything that is physically identical must give rise to the same aesthetic qualities. The argument has no other substance than this one claim, provided by numerous examples. While I share Kripke’s notion prima facie, I doubt its validity not on the basis of Kripke’s unmet burden to shake my counter-intuitions into conformity, but based on the idea that it is not logically possible for zombies, et al, to exist. That is, the first premise in the argument in syllogistic form.

Frank Jackson’s argument is the most challenging, particularly since it is the most debatable. Nagel and Kripke are less debatable since either one shares the intuition or one doesn’t. Yet as I understand Mary’s Problem in particular, she is either lacking in relevant knowledge, or has not made the proper use of it. Assume, as Frank Jackson setup the problem, Mary really does know everything about the physics of light and the optics of color, etc. In that case she must know how the deep structures of the brain respond to information from the peripheral sense organs, such that these brain mechanisms give rise to -- qualia! If Jackson were to argue that Mary still doesn’t know how brain mechanisms give rise to qualia, it is based on his own subjective view that Frank Jackson does not know how brain mechanisms give rise to qualia. His argument seems to presuppose that Mary would know this, except he pulls this ground out from under us in arguing that she in fact doesn’t know what-it-is-like for qualia to be experienced in, for example, myself. Yet physicalism doesn’t need to provide an account of this for it to be true.

While I believe Jackson ’s Mary Problem is the most debatable, it is also the least valid, and hence not the stronger argument. While I tend to share Nagel’s convictions, I don’t believe Bat Problem even poses a considerable challenge to physicalism. Thus Jackson ’s argument remains the ‘least weak’, while Kripke’s is not actually an argument.

The Banality of Evil

A new Nazi photo album has just resurfaced from an old attic in Germany. The interesting thing is that the photos look as if "normal people" were in them. The American museum who collected the photos said that they therefore must be placed in the context of other photos which appear to show the evil of the Nazi regime.

The photos were originally collected by an SS officer named Karl Hoecker, who was stationed at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Many of the photos depict him as a normal person undertaking normal tasks, like training his dog, or entertaining and laughing with the Nazi women who worked at Auschwitz.

Historians and museums are still compiling documents and knowledge about the Holocaust, and preserving its integrity. That part is clear. However, why these photos took so long to surface, is another question. These pictures, and others like it, would obviously give credence to the idea that these Nazi soldiers were "human" after all. The collector of the photographs, interviewed on NPR, seemed particularly worried that, while Nazis are indeed human, that they would be viewed as too human, all too human. And this is a problem for the cultural condemnation of a people. Nazi Germany was rightly condemned. Looney Toons cartoons affirm this. If humanizing images of Germans were shown in tandem with dehumanizing images, this could have seriously affected the state propaganda. This sort of Lyotardian monopoly on knowledge is a tool of propagandists who, for decades, would liked to have silenced knowledge of human life under an enemy regime.

In fact, this is exactly what Hannah Arendt has said about how evil regimes like the Nazi party give rise to a "banality of evil". That is, the Holocaust and other evils of history, are not carried out by sociopaths and fanatics, but they are carried out by people performing their duties and their obligations to their governments. All of the people in these photos have accepted the premises of their state and therefore acted under the view that their actions and their duties were normal, and to be accepted. This is the same sort of reply we hear from neoconservatives today. Soldiers in Iraq are simply doing their duties. This is fundamentally why this answer, this appeal to "duty", never fulfills and never answers the question or the criticism.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mary says what it's like to be a bat...

If you are not familiar with Thomas Nagel's paper What It's Like To Be a Bat, what I'm going to say may not make sense.

Frank Jackson is right in saying that Nagel speaks as if the problem he is raising is one of "extrapolating from knowledge of one experience to another, of imagining what an unfamiliar experience would be like on the basis of familiar ones." In terms of Hume’s example, from knowledge of some shades of blue we can work out what it would be like to see other shades of blue. Nagel argues that the trouble with bats (or Martians, squirrels, etc) is that they are too unlike us. But it is hard to see an objection to Physicalism here. Physicalism makes no special claims about the imaginative or extrapolative powers of human beings, and it is hard to see why it need do so.

Jackson's own Knowledge Argument makes no assumptions on this point either. If Physicalism is true, enough physical information about Fred, or the bat, or the Martian, would deter any need to extrapolate or to perform special feats of imagination or understanding in order to know all about his special color experience. The information would already be in our possession. Jackson says this information is not in the possession of the physicalist scientist, even if he or she knows everything there is to know about the physics of everything. "That was the nub of the argument," Jackson says.

But I think the Knowing How/Knowing That distinction breaks this argument apart. I am not sure who originally formulated this distinction, however. (It was probably in the 80s when all the Anglo-American analytic professors congregated in their philosophy department hallways to argue about Nagel, Kripke and Jackson et al.) The distinction is between knowing how it is that light interacts upon the faculty of vision and knowing how this is experienced to the mind whose vision is doing the perceiving. This is, in fact, the distinction Nagel makes, except with much more alleviating clarity and less mysterianism. Mary, the omniscient scientist with respect to physical properties, knows how it is that physical properties work to produce experiences of light and color upon my perceptive abilities. But she does not know how it is that the experience should feel to me.

Does this mean physicalism is false? Hardly. Everything that has happened in my mind is still a series of physical events, even the experience itself is explained in physical terms. But the particular way in which that should feel to me, or what-it-is-like to experience it, is not readily available to Mary the Scientist. Just as it is inconceivable to us that we would know everything Mary knows about physics, so it is inconceivable that Mary would know the experiences themselves, extrapolated from my inner experience. She knows everything, granted, about my physical happenings. But she does not experience what I am experiencing when I see red colors.

For dualists to say that she must also have the experiences I am having, in effect, if she knows everything about the physics of my mind, misunderstands the scope and reason of physicalism.

Mind-Blowing Mind Dualisms!

A bit of epiphenomenalism this morning:

The modal argument (stripped of the creativity and imagination about all possible modalities) says that no amount of physical information about another person will tell you if they are conscious at all. But why should we think that’s true? The claim is not an argument, but a claim, an intuition. This is important. If anyone had shared the intuitions and doubts them now or doubted them later, this is evidence the intuition is doubtful, or least evidence for concern. Modal logic and the Modal Argument for Dualism receives a lot attention and praise for being imaginative, yet at its beating heart, this is how fragile the modal argument is.

A common modal strategy says that if supervenience is not necessary, then physicalism is necessarily false. This is an acceptable strategy, yet dualists like Kripke--who originally advanced the modal argument for dualism--argued that in Naming and Necessity by begging our intuitions to accept the anti-supervenience argument. Zombies, for example, are said logically possible. That is, they’re just like us physically, but have no inner and conscious experiences. That certainly sounds possible. But this isn’t a strong argument against the claim that everything that is physically identical is mentally identical by definition. Or everything that is physically identical must give rise to the same aesthetic experiences in the same person. It’s an intuition that they are possible scenarios.

“That seems possible,” provides no other analysis, however. Daniel Dennet rightly says that these kinds of arguments are intuition-pumping, in that they simply ask us to reflect upon our own intuitions to see if this claim is true or false. If we share the intuition, then the claim will seem true to us. And if we do not share the intuition, the claim will seem false.

Still, if zombies are possible, then physicalism is false, since on the physicalist account, nothing like a zombie should exist, or more precisely, possibly exist. So the correct line of argument for the physicalist is to show that zombies are not, in fact, possible. However, these claims are to be based on the arguments put forth by physicalists themselves, which are much more technical and rely on advances in neuroscience, not based on an intuition that it is possible that a counter-scenario may exist.

Why We Ought To Leave Iraq

We have lost our ability to shape politics in Iraq.

By keeping our army there we merely save Iraq's Shia majority from the need to come to terms and share power with the disaffected and disfranchised Sunni minority. It is possible that Iraq will never become unified again. I've blogged before on this and think that it will eventually split apart into various independent governates. Strong independence movements inevitably end up this way. By his insistence on staying and making only token troop reductions as his presidency counts down, George Bush just postpones the inevitable. Our ability to shape politics for the better is no longer true of the situation in Iraq. So we ought to leave.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The State of Exception

However simplistic and obvious it is to mention, we must acknowledge that the state of exception -- any state which accepts a stance of foreign policy exceptionalism -- is dangerous and violent in places of operation and in terms of its modeling affect on other states. The Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben uses the phrase "state of exception" to describe regimes like Nazi Germany and the United States under the George W. Bush Administration. The concept of an 'American Exceptionalism' is not new, yet the Italian perspective of Agamben is interesting, (and hence has cultural history with fascism and thus states of exception).

When specifically speaking about the Patriot Act, Agamben writes,

“What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of people charged with a crime according to American laws.”

Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantanamo Bay without trial. To this day individuals at Guantanamo have been treated outside of the Geneva Conventions and outside legal jurisdiction. It is solely a military operation, an therefore an Executive Office operation, accomplished without proper oversight through the suppression of knowledge.

Agamben's analysis is something like this. Political power over others acquired through the state of exception, places one government or one branch of government as an all powerful domain, operating outside of the legal code. During times of this extension of power, certain forms of knowledge are privileged and accepted as true and certain voices are heard as valued, while of course, many others are not. Thus opposition is systematically silenced, like a snuffed-out micronarrative. This oppressive distinction holds great importance in relation to the production of knowledge. The process of both acquiring knowledge, and suppressing certain knowledge, is a violent act within a time of crisis, and hence the fulfillment of The Postmodern Condition.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

American Plans To Invade Iran Soon

I thought perhaps this was an alarmist bit of news I found on, however, the UK's Telegraph is usually very credible. Rumors of plans to invade Iran have been circulating as of late, yet none so concerning as this. The Telegraph reports in this article that it has learned of updated military plans to invade Iran, stating,

"Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran."

As I blogged last year here, this is not the first multi-faceted operation to invade Iran. Even before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, senior officials of the Bush Administration had been developing "Operation Iranian Freedom" and the infamous "TIRRANT" (Theater IRAN Near-Term), an operation to invade and destroy dozens of targets in Iran. The targets in the new plan are relatively the same, including Fajr base near Tehran where armor-piercing projectiles are said to be developed and shipped into Iran to aid groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq.

An invasion of Iran, or even a small bombing or short scuffle on the border (which allegedly has already happened on numerous occasions), would not only violate international law and be a an absurd act of American aggression, it would also evoke a major response by the Iranians. (What's troubling is that this doesn't affect the military leaders in Washington who, purportedly, would not display any fear of an Iranian response. That would be defeatism, they argue. Yet it would also mean total war.)

Serious debate has not taken place in the public arena about Iran. So what ought to be the stasis, that is, the focal point, of an upcoming debate?

We ought not begin a debate about whether we would "win" or "not win" a war with Iran. It is not a question about military might. This is the kind of debate puerile neo-conservatives and stay-at-home military moms who peruse YouTube looking for trouble would have us get into. A debate about whether or not Iran is developing nuclear power with the intention of developing weapons is a broken record, and hypocritical if Israel is allowed to have them (although the truth of the matter would be useful.) The appropriate debate to have, at a time like this, is how to go about resolving conflict without an invasion of a sovereign nation. Yet those associated with military planning who are critical of the invasion efforts, like the other 80% of Americans, are dismissed as "ineffective" by hardliners:

"Many senior operatives within the CIA are highly critical of Mr Bush's handling of the Iraq war, though they themselves are considered ineffective and unreliable by hardliners close to Mr Cheney."

Is it possible that the United States could invade Iran, after 80% of Americans polled believe the "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was a mistake? It seems unlikely, yet Mr. Cheney, Miss Rice and Mr. Bush have already discussed a sophisticated propaganda campaign underway in Washington.

"Miss Rice's bottom line is that if the administration is to go to war again it must build the case over a period of months and win sufficient support on Capitol Hill."

In response, President Bush

"privately promised her that he would consult "meaningfully" with Congressional leaders of both parties before any military action against Iran on the understanding that Miss Rice would resign if this did not happen."

An intelligence officer interviewed by the Telegraph said that there are two major plans to invade Iran which are on the table presently.

"One is to bomb only the nuclear facilities. The second option is for a much bigger strike that would - over two or three days - hit all of the significant military sites as well. This plan involves more than 2,000 targets."

This is outrageous. As the invasion slowly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, France has advised many of its nationals earning incomes through business in Iran to pull out in the expectation of an invasion by American forces. Indeed, the world should be ready for a war with Iran over its nuclear program if diplomacy continues to fail, according to Washington. "We have to prepare for the worst," the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, said, "and the worst is war."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Perverse Core of Zen

Politically, Zen is revolutionary terror: born on the blades of swords wielded by the Medieval Samurai class. The focus is on inner peace while the universe, or society, is constantly changing, or habitually at war.

The perverse core is, in fact, that Zen is assumed to be the opposite of this, and only just the opposite. If Zen is "Your everyday mind," as D.T. Suzuki says, to what purpose can Zen lend itself? To the Zen warrior, for example, war is a necessary evil performed to being about the greater good: "battle is necessarily fought in anticipation of peace". This is accompanied by a more radical line of reasoning in which, much more directly, "Zen and the sword are one and the same." We ordinarily would interpret this as benignly spiritual as possible, but there is ample reason to interpret it in the alternative and practical framework I have provided. After all, as Alan Watts said, the answer Zen gives to all practical questions is spiritual in nature. And its answer to all spiritual questions is practical in nature.

This is a common Lakatosian "protective belt" in Zen promulgation. Yet I do not want, as is popular to do with Christianity, to talk about the way in which Zen is commonly practiced and conclude something about the history of Zen at war. The way in which it is practiced is given credence by the philosophical structure of Zen itself.

Zen and the sword. They are one with each other.

Assume we interpret this to mean "selflessness" or "no-self". This reasoning is based on the opposition between the reflexive attitude of our ordinary lives (where we fear death, live for pleasure and profits, etc.) and the enlightened stance in which the difference between life and death ceases to matter. We regain the original selflessness and the unity of, not just swords, but people too, especially our enemies. When we are one with the sword, we are action, we are the act of swinging the sword itself. A popular Zen koan says that the puddle at night doesn't think about reflecting the moon. And this is the spontaneity, which arose out of the samurai need for agility and immediate responses to attacks. Militaristic Zen embraces the basic tenets of Zen and tells us these are the same things as fidelity to military officers, obedience to authority with cat-like immediacy, and the perform of duties without reflecting on the possibility of death.

The warrior no longer acts as a person because he is thoroughly subjectivized. As D.T. Suzuki says, "It is really not him, but the sword itself which does the killing. He had no desire to do harm to anybody, but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim. It is as though the sword performs automatically its function of justice, which is the function of mercy."

Doesn't this description of murder provide the ultimate justification of the phenomenological attitude in which things just appear as they are? It's the sword itself which does the killing, it's the enemy himself who just appears, and makes himself a victim--I am not responsible. I am reduced to the passive observer of my own acts.

This illustrates how Zen and Zen-like attitudes of anti-normativity could very well function as the support of the most ruthless killing machine. As if its goal were to create an army of "Zen-mind" warriors who act merely as vessels of justice.

Is it too simple to conclude that the militaristic perversion of Zen is the true message of Zen. The truth is much more unbearable. What if--in its very kernel--Zen was ambivalent, or, rather, utterly indifferent to this alternative? What if--a horrible thought--the Zen meditation technique is ultimately just that: a spiritual technique, an ethically neutral instrument which can be put to different sociopolitical uses, from the most peaceful to the most destructive?

So the answer to the torturous question, "Which aspects of the Buddhist tradition lend themselves to such a monstrous distortion?" is: exactly the same ones that emphasize compassion and inner peace. It's not a wonder why business owners are beginning to whip their workers into Zen-like obedience to their command. In Japan and the USA we have seen the emergence of "training" for corporate employees designed to quell dissatisfaction and discord. Militaristic Zen appears to have been resuscitated. It is no wonder why ninja movies were so popular during the eighties, when a quick, Zen-like response was a necessary mindset to defeat the communists. No wonder, then, that when Ichikawa Hakugen, the Japanese Buddhist who elaborated the most radical self-criticism after Japan's shattering defeat in 1945, listed twelve characteristics of the Buddhist tradition which prepared the ground for the legitimization of aggressive militarism, he had to include virtually all the basic tenets of Buddhism itself: the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-arising or causality, which regards all phenomena as being in a constant state of flux, and the related doctrine of no-self; the lack of firm dogma; the emphasis on inner peace rather than justice...

If external reality is ultimately just an ephemeral appearance, then even the most horrifying crimes eventually do not matter. This is not an argument against moral relativism. This is an argument against philosophical idealism.

Why We Have an Obligation to Follow International Law

Even as early as 1900 during the Paquete Habana v United States case, the US Supreme Court ruled,

"International Law is part of our law."

The justices, including Chief Justice Gray who is quoted above, ruled that since there has been a long-standing international custom in place, as evidenced by numerous cases and international policies of civilized nations, we ought to follow these rules as well, and rule in favor of the international custom. This is also evidenced by the US Constitution, in which the supremacy clause makes clear that international treaties to which we sign become the "supreme law of the land."

The case is quite interesting itself, since it puts forth a conclusion that conservatives today still loathe. At the time, the United States was at war with Spain during the Spanish-American war. The Paquete Habana and the Lola were Spanish fishing vessels, or "smacks", used solely for fishing in and out of Havana, Cuba (Spanish territory). The smacks sailed under the Spanish flag, and unbeknownst to their Cuban crew, sailed into waters which were blockaded by the United States Navy. Both vessels were brought to US territory in Key West and, after a final decree of their condemnation as prizes of war, they were auctioned. In 1898 the court declared it was not satisfied that, “as a matter of law…shipping vessels of this class are exempt from seizure.” Already we see an example of US exceptionalism, since it had been ruled in earlier cases that peaceful vessels were exempt, internationally and domestically.

This decision was reversed in 1900. Chief Justice Gray delivered the majority opinion, reasoning that "International law is part of our law," and in cases where there is no established treaty or no executive or legislative act, courts must resort to international custom in "civilized nations". He cites numerous examples of custom where this is upheld in wartime. As evidence of international custom, the court may also pool together the works of jurists and commentators who "by years of labor, research, and experience have made themselves peculiarly well-acquainted with the subjects that they treat." The customs and practices are sought out in these texts not for what speculations juristic authors might have about law, but for "what the law really is."

In this case, exempting the fishing vessels was what only seemed fair. It turned out to be an opino juris, an opinion held by many nations as a law and a custom of other nations. Custom expected reciprocity, meaning the US was expected to exempt the vessels. And out of comitas gentium, that is, "neighborliness", "politeness", etc., the custom is to be treated as a rule governing prize law and warfare. Needless to say, the comitas gentium was upheld.

It has lately become the opinion of the United States, however, that international opinion is not something that we should seriously consider in lawmaking, or rule-making, or when considering what is the neighborly, or what is the polite thing to do. American Exceptionalism is now the new opinion of our wartime decision-making practices. In 1900, we were a very small player in international affairs. We did not have any veto powers in a body of nations, and thus our opinions were more polite, and more neighborly. If we had treated our enemies with comitas gentium, we reasoned, we should expect the same from them. And therefore, any enemy should be presumed to reason the same way in we had. And we therefore ought to then treat all of our enemies with comitas gentium.

Today we argue that because terrorists are presumed not to be capable of comitas gentium, we ought therefore not to give them any of legal benefits and rights that our enemies, for centuries, have been granted. We ought not give them comitas gentium because we do not see how it could directly benefit us. The writ of Habeas Corpus is one grievous example of a custom that has for a millennium been established and practiced, and is now not granted to our enemies.

As an unimportant player in 1900, our reasoning to comply with international custom was reasoned largely on the basis that it was unconditionally granted to us in the first place. We were simply obliged to comply. But we seem to have forgotten this, and hence we now blatantly contradict the opinio juris of international custom, according to which, we ought to be following the conventions set forth at, for example, Geneva and Brussels. In so doing, we are setting a new precedent, a new custom, to which our enemies are now expected to follow our lead in doing, and which we would simultaneously and hypocritically expect them not to follow. We are expecting comitas gentium, and the orderly obedience to international custom from all nations, when we are simultaneously not following the comitas gentium and the orderly obedience to the customs of nations. Since we now cannot expect our enemies to reason the same way we have in granting comitas gentium to our enemies in 1900, we can expect them to disregard comitas gentium and the customs altogether.

We no longer treat our enemies with this custom, and this, unfortunately, is now to be expected in return.

Harrare is the Next Darfur

Sudan is not the only country falling apart in Africa. Zimbabwe is falling apart, and the world community takes little notice. Check my other blogs on Zimbabwe to follow this development.

Over three million people have left Zimbabwe in recent years, where there is 80% unemployment and heightening inflation is above 10,000%. President Mugabe's price controls only worsen the problem. The UN World Food Program estimates that 4 million Zimbabweans will rely on food aid by next year, due to the impossibility for most to purchase foods at such inflation rates. Mugabe's idiotic land reform program, which stole from whites and redistributed to blacks, turned a prosperous industry into subsistence agriculture.

Mugabe is a thief with regards to democratic rule as well. He stole the vote in the last election, and this March, he is expected to do it again if he looses the majority. In Chetugu, close to Mugabe's home, the streets are reported as "bare", as the struggling factories lay off workers by the hundreds. People are so hungry in Zimbabwe that the opposition to Mugabe has virtually vanished, and solidarity in the search for food has become a priority. In the outskirts of Harrare, the capitol city, much-feared youth militias roam the streets, foreshadowing a possible outbreak of violence between Mugabe's ruling party and coup-conspiring paramilitaries. The opposition to Mugabe is reportedly stronger in the polls, mainly residing in urban areas. The agricultural districts, however, are of course loyal to Mugabe -- where the failure of land-reform is little understood, and loyalty to racial connections is much stronger.

It only gets worse. In the next few weeks, the ZANU-PF Parliament is expected to pass a bill that will push 51% of all businesses into black ownership. This will be added to a law which already exists to preserve 60% of all businesses for blacks. This means the business community will be 80% redistributed altogether. South Africa has a similar, retroactive policy. But Zimbabwe is the only country to declare that a white person cannot own more than half of a business either. African capitalists and businesspeople are furious, and are threatening to sell most of their ownership if the law is passed.

In the following year, I am expecting that Zimbabwe will utterly fall apart unless drastic changes are made, and adequate attention and condemnation is given to Mugabe's completely unfair socialist regime.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Race and Pedagogy

I returned tonight from the first night of the annual Race and Pedagogy Conference, and with a renewed sense of community. The problems in our society which exacerbate the racial Achievement Gap are foremost community problems, and I am glad most of the community leaders of color share this belief. It is true that the social cohesion of African American communities in 1967 was stronger (albeit much more oppressed) than communities today in 2007. Why is this exactly? American culture in general has distanced itself from community. Minorities are distanced even further from community centers through renaissance development projects. Hilltop Tacoma, for example. And furthermore, most American cities lack substantive community centers. Again, Tacoma, for example. After spending the summer in European city centers, the differences in urban development are powerful.

Another part of the reason is due the expansion of the welfare state during the Great Society period. Since welfare's reform into the TANF, program, however, communities of "needy families" have begun taking initiative instead of being characterized as a helpless situation under a system of oppression. This is my ideological position, of course. But it seems apparent that to ask government to solve achievement problems is unlikely to see successful results. Empowering citizens by granting them the same legal status and liberties to choose their own paths, seems to be the only productive path to development. Government has stepped out and community has begun to thrive once again, where community allies from the "agent groups" (i.e. mostly the white population) are becoming more committed to a new kind of community development.
The focus of the conference is on pedagogical ways to interrogate race: the interrogation of practices and ideologies about racial issues in the classroom. These are very real, and it isn't surprising that it goes unnoticed by many in the agent groups. Target groups, on the other hand, are those who become devalued by racial ideology. Upon hearing these words at the conference, I initially thought of how I had heard this before, and that it wasn't really new information. Yet there is still a great deal to learn from reflecting on this information. All too often, I tend to overlook something dismissively like this. It's not a big problem, I tell myself. But then I understand that, even according to the logic of this analysis, as a European-American male I am supposed to minimize its importance. I am expected to misunderstand. I am expected to not understand that I never see these racial issues lived out, since I my experiences are phenomenologically different from those of an African-American or a woman, etc.

The way White America thinks about race is further promulgated by the evening news. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter was demonized as an Asian student. It was also said simultaneously that this was the largest mass murder in U.S. history, which in fact was false. Yet Virginia Tech, as I've said before, ought to be prevented with greater community measures. To opt for higher 'security' without cohesive communities, is like purchasing an expensive dental insurance plan and never brushing your teeth.

These community, where all these problems arise out of, is in trouble. A community's distancing mechanisms are due, as Psychologist Leticia Nieto pointed out, to oppressive and even "neutral" strategies exhibited by most in the community, from community leaders to smaller players. Members of the agent groups, whites, hardly seem to notice their behaviors. We hardly seem to notice doors that are largely open for us, are in fact closed for other people. The mechanisms manifest themselves in the subtlest ways, such as building a fence to keep the neighbor's children out of your yard. And yet that divide separates the chances of community growth, welcomes crime and, for our purposes, exacerbates low achievement in education. I admit that I am largely completely unaware and unwilling to be aware of racial realities. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, and I know the issues are staring me in the face, and yet I act as if there were no remaining difficult racial issues. Perhaps then I occasionally contribute to this community problem, and I'd like to begin using these opportunities differently.

Noriega and the Ambiguities of International Law

This is an update on an earlier blog this month on the ex-Panamanian President, Manuel Noriega, who is now serving a ten-year sentence in France under money laundering charges. There was an issue over whether Noriega ought to be extradited to Panama, where he is wanted for other crimes still, or France. If sent to Panama, however, he would not have been able to be extradited again (if he lived out his sentence there) since the Panamanian constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens. Which presumes Noriega to still be a citizen of Panama. Previous international law cases, the historic Lotus case, for example, (in which Turkish courts were upheld the ability to try French nationals in Turkish jurisdictions), give credence to this sort of arbitrary due processing, where citizens tried abroad must uphold decisions that are made abroad.

Nonetheless, if Noriega had gone to Panama, it would certainly have raised questions and concerns domestically about the current government, led by President Martin Torrijos, who is a member of the same political party Noriega was, the Revolutionary Democratic Party. The current speaker of their National Assembly is also wanted for murder charges in the United States.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Was Ist Amerikaner Kultur?

Antwort: Dreck.

The Soy Republic

A friend of mine studied the economics of soy production in Argentina this summer, which is one of the three largest soy producers next to Brazil and the US.

Since Monsanto genetically modified soy to be resistant to its Roundup weedkillers, the European Union placed a ban on GMed soy imports. And since this, the WTO ruled that this is disallowed under international trade law. This ruling seems fair to me, from a consumer-choice perspective, yet the simultaneous ruling which stated non-GM products may not advertise their being non-GM is unfair. Information ought to be as symmetrical as possible, and the WTO ruled against this.

It simply gives undeserved credibility to Roundup Ready GM soy, and prevents consumers from making intelligent choices. It is reasonable to believe, as the legal jargon goes, that since there are studied and unstudied health affects of GM soy, many consumers would prefer non-GM soy. More than half of rats exposed to GM soy died prematurely compared to rats that weren't exposed. The fact that GM soy is exposed to much more Roundup weedkillers than non-GM soy should be a red flag. This is due to the fact that GM soy's DNA contains bacterial genes that allow the soy plant to survive heavy exposure to Monsanto's "Roundup" brand herbicide. Some 85 percent of the soy gown in the United States is Roundup Ready. Soy is present in the majority of processed foods sold in the United States, so most Americans eat Roundup Ready soy in some form every day.

Soy is the food of the future. Meat will be phased out if we are to live with sustainability on this planet. It is interesting, then, that the soy we eat is so infected with dangerous elements. GM soy is also grown carelessly--since there is little or no variation in GM products, the risk of an entire crop failure is much higher. Adverse weather conditions may affect a particular genetic makeup, and with little variation, the entire crop fails. Weeds all over the world have grown resistant to the now heavy use of Roundup weedkillers, and Monsanto is struggling to deter this. In Argentina, two weeds have grown resistant. In the US, an even larger number of weeds have grown resistant, due to our long practice of spraying herbicides.

Greenpeace and other organizations have documented the systematic environmental degradation due to GM soy production in Argentina. Run-off from Roundup ends up in major rives, polluting everything, and eventually reaching the ocean. Soy farm expansion, due to a favorable export price, increases deforestation. This in turn has led to floods, not to mention a loss of natural capital and habitat. In Brazil, of course, part of the destruction of the Amazon is due to expanding soy and cattle production.

What should be done?

The first step seems obvious--give consumers to freedom to choose their soy products, through the WTO. Free trade also means free information. Producers and distributors ought to be allowed to put the information they find relevant on their product. Since GM soy is often fed to cattle and other animals, cattle producers who don't use GM soy also ought to be able to advertise this.