By: Shiho Fukada / WPN
Sixteen-year-old Rubel works at an aluminum factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Source: Time Best of 2007 Photo Gallery
By: Shiho Fukada / WPN
Sixteen-year-old Rubel works at an aluminum factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Source: Time Best of 2007 Photo Gallery
The title of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s new book.
I’m only two chapters in and for my money it is one of the best books I have ever read. Within the category of (Western) philosophy it’s right up there with Being and Time, Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, and The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
The work begins very simply (but profoundly) by asking what is it to live in a secular world?
Taylor articulates three different definitions of secularity:
1)The reduction of religion from the public sphere and decisions made on non-doctrinal basis. (e.g. No Divine Right of Kings or State Church).
2)The secularization thesis: i.e. that religion is an early phase of human development that will be outgrown into rationality. Auguste de Comte, Karl Marx, and now Richard Dawkins.
3)[Taylor's view] Secularity is about a world where one’s identity, view of the world, culture, etc. is chosen. Or at least open to multiple viable options.
Counter to #1 would arguably be India.
Counter to #2 is the United States,where contrary to (some) left/secular fear-mongering and social con/right ignorance, the United States is not a Christian nation. It is a secular nation, but has not followed the path of Comte’s secularization thesis as opposed to Western Europe which generally has. [Canada being somewhere midway between W. Euro and USA].
What Taylor’s outlook does is allow one to trace the history (through narrative form as Taylor does) of secularity AND allow for multiple streams within the secular world. It gets not at what people think or believe, but how they think what they think, how they come practically and philosophically to what it is they believe.
It is an irenic text. While he does take Foucault seriously–even in certain ways out-Foucault-ing Foucault–the text, like Habermas, is overall a defense of modernity. But this time from a devout Catholic Christian. Not a naive, blushing, cheer-leading defense of modernity, but not a deconstructive pomo trashing of modernity either.
By undertaking an investigation into the feeling, the thought-world of secularity (both religious within secular and non-religious within secular), Taylor is light years ahead of the dumb faith-science debates. It’s a deeper phenomenology of the conditions for belief, secularity, and the like.
I’ll do periodic posts as I work my way through it (700 pages or so). Personal note: Taylor is deeply influenced by Catholic Social Thought, as I am. He comes less from the Locke-J.S. Mill libertarian/utilitarian streak of individualist and more from the Catholic social thought strain of modernity.
But even those who are from the more Lockean-strain I think will find the book (I hope) illuminating.
And “intuitive understanding.”
This piece by Reza Aslan is a proper corrective to the view that only a so-called intuitive understanding of the world is enough to lead on the issues of foreign policy. His point, which is correct, is that policy choices and actual decisions in the end matter more than life experience. True, though I think the Obama argument is that he made the right choices (as he sees it on Iraq, on talking to Iran, on not leaving the fight in Afghanistan) and that his experience helped him make those choices. Not that his life experience was some end in itself. At times that distinction I think has gotten blurred, so I can see where Aslan is coming from.
Aslan’s bigger point, which is worth asking is whether the next president can in fact do much of anything to reverse the policies and the failures enacted by the current administration.
The next president will have to try to build a successful, economically viable Palestinian state while protecting the safety and sovereignty of Israel. He or she will have to slowly and responsibly withdraw forces from Iraq without allowing the country to implode. He or she will have to bring Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran, to the negotiating table while simultaneously reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, keeping Syria out of Lebanon, reassuring Washington’s Sunni Arab allies that they have not been abandoned, coaxing Russia into becoming part of the solution (rather than part of the problem) in the region, saving an independent and democratic Afghanistan from the resurgent Taliban, preparing for an inevitable succession of leadership in Saudi Arabia, persuading China to play a more constructive role in the Middle East and keeping a nuclear-armed Pakistan from self-destructing in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Unfortunately (for my money) Biden has never gotten the press coverage–and he comes with his own problems. But lack of foreign policy knowledge is not one of them.
Although of that list, all require the other side to make its own determinations. i.e. The US President, given the low-state of cred that the country now possesses thanks to Bush, can’t deliver on all those anyway (though again with say an Obama election maybe soft power does rise, say a 25-35% recovery free of charge, not everything, but not insignificant either).
Do the Israelis want a Palestinian state? Do the Palestinians (divide amongst themselves) want an Israeli state? As we see with Pakistan the violence and instability is going to increase rather than decrease. Iraq is already a destroyed state so I don’t know if worrying about a future implosion is a legit issue. Iran will likely reach to the level of being able to make a bomb if it wants to–is that reigning their nuke ambitions? The resurgent Taliban are increasingly going to leave Afghanistan (though not entirely) for Pakistan, which is the real front-line in the War on Terror.
All that to say it is far more ambivalent than simple black/white views and I think it is still hard to accept that the US’ influence has declined–not 100% to be sure. But it the aura of total victory has been tarnished badly. And worse so has the moral standing.
The most appealing aspect of Obama to me is that he is not practicing the politics of resentiment. Edwards and Clinton are nothing but revenge-rhetoric politics. Clinton against the Republican “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Edwards the “elites.” What Sullivan calls Fear v. Hope.
But that could fail and increasingly contrary some common wisdom I agree with The Pitt Gazette, the choices are underwhelming. I think this election more than any other shows that the office of a single-person presidency no longer is adequate to the complexities of the domestic and foreign policy spheres. And frankly, the individual choices are light years ahead of either party, which at this point are in a arms race to the bottom of the s–t pile to see who can be more pathetic. Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell. Ugh.
Interesting piece in Wall Street Journal (two links to WSJ in one day!!) covering the possibility for new statues incorporating transgendered-ism into hate crime legislation.
[Sidenote: It says at the bottom of the page that she is the deputy Taste editor, which I find quite ironic. And the title is open to criticism].
I’ve never been a fan of the GLBT formulation. I understand the concept of political alliances, but those communities are so different from one another (and so much diversity say within the gay male or lesbian communities themselves), I don’t think it’s a very helpful formulation.
I’ve never understood how bi-sexuality fits in either, but that’s a separate issue. Probably less so transgendered.
I’ve met very few transgendered individuals in my life (only 3 come to mind off the top of my head) and must confess to being pretty much in the dark on this one. The article highlights for me that the study and narratives of the topic–health vs. pathology–seem very underdeveloped. But I think it will be, as it were, the new gay (or black or whatever it is we are on now). (more…)
My article assessing which Rep.-Dem. pairings Bloomberg would or wouldn’t enter has been linked to in the Wall Street Journal. (Way down at the bottom, but it’s there).
The WSJ piece is here.
The author is Ben Casselman (whom I’ve not encountered before).
Unfortunately Mr. Casselman links the first line not the title of the article, making it look like it’s a HuffPo piece (which I linked to in my article). Oh well. Cool nevertheless.
Not related to anything Jonah said, but to correct something stated by Helen Reynolds. (The interview is here).
Jonah is describing the “liberal fascist” state as one that emphasizes nurturing the individual, caring for them, etc. (“Nanny-ing” in the parlance). Reynolds says that this reminds her of Carol Gilligan and her thesis that women were more about nurturing, compassion, and collective care than individual rights. This idea (which by the way is an incorrect reading of Gilligan, more on that in a sec) offended Mrs. Reynolds because she cares deeply about individual rights. And she’s a woman. Ergo, Gilligan is wrong. [Not the air-tightest of logic].
Gilligan most famously argued, based on her research, for a feminine-version of her teacher Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. What Gilligan said was that women tended to emphasize relationship, care, etc. when making moral determinations. And that those decisions fell into a developmental order–i.e. there were better (more developed) and worse (less developed) feminine-care levels of morality.
But that in no way suggests women do not appreciate the necessity of individual rights–nor that such was Gilligan’s argument. Presumably women are well aware that their ability to make connection and bonding is dependent upon being free citizens. Nor does it mean that justice is not important to women. Tend to, not exclusively for all women all the time.
The most obvious example where plenty of women are highly cognizant (and some politically mobilized) of individual rights concerns abortion. Often described as the right to choice or the right to ownership of her body. That’s pure individual rights/justice language–that much is clear whatever one’s personal views on the matter.
Plus no mention from Reynolds that for Gilligan there were levels of such feminine moral development. Just as for men. Only discussing men versus women neglects the differing levels, thereby cutting out (at least) half of the entire theory. A man and a woman at stage four, though the man likely (though not automatically) tends to emphasize justice/rights in his moral decision making is much closer to a stage four woman–who is making largely the same determinations though in a different way with different emphasis (again likely to…)–then a stage four man is like a stage 2 man.
Here is an interview with Jonah Goldberg explaining his own views, his own take, his argument from his new book. (On with Helen and Glenn Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Instapundit).
The book is obviously controversial–the title alone is that–so I think it’s good to check in with his views first before reading others.
Goldberg emphasizes that he is not saying that all liberals are fascists. He is arguing that the narrative of 20th century political discourse is that fascism is a movement of the right-wing whereas in fact (according to him) it is actually a left-wing movement. Nazism was the national socialist party–he is putting the emphasis on the socialist.
From there he argues American progressivism (from Woodrow Wilson, through FDR, social gospel-ism, to Hillary Clinton) is not the son or daughter of continental National Socialism, but as he says, more its niece or grandniece. i.e. Progressivism is about the state running everything–the so-called nanny state.
And that I think is where there are some cracks in the floorboards of his thesis (to put it nicely). It is certainly true that the Italian and German fascists appealed to the proletariat and lumpen-proletariat to gain power. (more…)
Rummaging around the “internets” I found this fascinating article by Jurgen Habermas, written just after the US invasion of Iraq. While not wanting to endorse (necessarily) his defense of the UN over against the “coalition of the willing”, there is a great deal of truth in what he says.
On asymmetric warfare and terrorism/criminality:
 In the face of enemies who are globally networked, decentralized, and invisible, the only effective kinds of prevention will be on other operative levels. Neither bombs nor rockets, neither fighter jets nor tanks will be of any help. What will help is the international networking of flows of information among intelligence services and prosecutorial authorities, the control of flows of money, and the rooting out of logistical supplies. The corresponding “security programs” in pursuit of these goals are relevant for civil rights within a state, not international law. Other dangers which arise from failures of negligence in non-proliferation policies (concerning nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) are at any rate better handled through stubborn negotiation and inspection than with wars of disarmament, as the subdued reaction to North Korea illustrates.
And this networked reality because:
 Empirical objections to the possibility of realizing the American vision converge in the thesis that global society has become far too complex; the world is no longer accessible to a centralized control, through politics backed up by military power. In the technologically supreme and heavily armed superpower’s fear of terrorism, one can sense a “Cartesian anxiety” – the fear of a subject trying to objectify both itself and the world around it; trying to bring everything under control. Politics loses its primacy over the horizontally networked media of both markets and of communication once it attempts to regress to the original, Hobbesian form of a hierarchical security system. A state that sees all its options reduced to the stupid alternatives of war or peace quickly runs up against the limits of its own organizational capacities and resources. It also steers the process of political and cultural negotiation down a false track, and drives the costs of coordination to dizzying heights.
As a result of going against this way of normativity, Habermas believes:
For half a century the United States could count as the pacemaker for progress on this cosmopolitan path. With the war in Iraq, it has not only abandoned this role; it has also given up its role as guarantor of international rights. And its violation of international law sets a disastrous precedent for the superpowers of the future. Let us have no illusions: the normative authority of the United States of America lies in ruins.
Given that statement (which I agree with–”in ruins”), the only remaining question is: can that guarantor role be restored in a post-Bush administration?