Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, July 27, 2006

You push the first one down, and the music goes 'round and 'round...

Funny, but I was just teaching this yesterday:


Q Yes, but you just said a moment ago that it would be -- it would not be an enforceable cease-fire. How do you know until you have a cease-fire? Why not get a cease-fire, and then if Hezbollah does not follow it, the world community sees that they're to blame.

MR. SNOW: In other words, why not -- because we are -- because what you're asking for is a PR move rather than a strategic move. The question of why not --

Q Why would it be PR if people are not dying?

MR. SNOW: No, no, no, wrong. Again, Hezbollah is firing, what, 150, 200 rockets a day. Do you seriously believe they're going to stop if somebody in Rome says there's going to be a cease-fire?

Q Nobody knows until you do it, right?

MR. SNOW: No, no, no, don't play "what if." That is naive, Ed, it's naive.

Q You're playing "what if" by saying it's not enforceable. You don't know that. Nobody knows that.

MR. SNOW: Yes, we do. Yes, we do. Yes, we do.

Q Well, then, if it's not enforceable, at that point, the whole world will see Hezbollah is not playing by the same --

MR. SNOW: How many times do peace efforts have to fail? Do you really -- apparently, what you're saying is it didn't make us happy because we expected a cease-fire. What Secretary Rice went for was to get people to roll up their sleeves and take a realistic look at the region. And that's important.
I was trying to explain to a Freshman English class about causation as an essay writing strategy. You see, there are basically two ways to use causation: either retrosptectively as an analytical tool (working backward from effect to determine cause(s)), or prospectively, as a predictive tool (what effect would this causal agent likely produce?). The idea of a cease-fire between Lebanon and Israel of course came to mind. And here's Tony Snow giving a class in exactly how not to use the latter.

The reporter sees the blunder, of course: you can't make a prediction that something won't work until you have tried it. David Hume made the point about causation in general, that we only know effect and we presume cause, and from such experience we then predict (but think we are assuming) effect from a cause that has not yet occurred. It's a subtle point of empiricism, but Mr. Snow is trying to use it in the real world, and so he stumbles. Because the reporter is right: if we don't try to effect a cease-fire, we can't say it won't work. If it fails, nothing is really lost. If it succeeds, people stop dying.

But to Mr. Snow, clearly if a cease-fire succeeds, the Administration's efforts to "remake the Middle East" will fail. (What Condi Rice calls "birth pangs" others call a "humanitarian crisis." "Diplomatic Disneyland" indeed.) There is, of course, a cause and effect relationship at work here, and the Bush Administration is relying on it. But the effect they want is a "remade Middle East," something they still imagine they have the power to create. Violence is their unrelenting cause; but it is still not having the desired effect. Interestingly, that seems to be a point even US Senators can grasp:


Senator Chafee started off reading a Bolton statement that he made in the past where Bolton essentially blamed terrorism as the fundamental problem in the Middle East. Chafee said to Bolton: "You are a brilliant man. Terrorism is a device. Your statement makes no sense. Explain it."

Bolton gave a long and convoluted response but also stated: "There is no basis for peace in the Middle East now." He suggested that one of the reasons why the U.S. has resisted calls for immediate cease fire in the region is that it wants to generate a "comprehensive solution". He said "we need to use current circumstances as a fulcrum to move towards a more stable, longer term solution."

Chafee jumped back: "Can't you go any deeper? This isn't just terrorism. What about the history of terrorism in the region? What are the root causes?"

Bolton continued to duck the question. And jumped back to focus his answer on Hezbollah -- which he said has one foot in as political party, one foot in as military movement and that it would have to abandon its military part for peace to move forward.

Bolton sounded reasonable but still ducked Chafee's question.

So Chafee charged AGAIN.

Chafee said, "We have serious problems now. This is a conflagration. You are not answering my question. What are the root problems? What do we have to get to -- to get to a permanent peace? Is there anything deeper than just terrorism that you can identify as the root cause of the conflagration?

Bolton finally began to yield to Chafee's impressive pressure and focus.
I'm only sorry I didn't get to see that.

Continued violence is simply not the answer; that seems obvious to everyone except the Bush team. I was listening to a local radio program this morning that mentioned a study which gets to the psychology of this. It seems almost universal in human culture that one blow answering for another is deemed "legitimate." Even-numbered responses, in other words, provide recompense and balance, if not finality and conclusion. They should provide that, of course, but they don't. And why not? Because the "even-number" is not objectively determined. "He started it!" is the legitimating cry, but it too often overlooks the entire complex causal chain, and begins instead where one party wants it to begin. So we have, for example, Amb. Bolton's statement that some parties in the Middle East "don't recognize Israel's right to exist." Could that be, perhaps, because Israel's existence was born, not out of agreement, but out of a brute exercise of power?

Probably.

The analysis goes on, but much of it centers on what we could theologically call "original sin," which I would define as "selfishness." It seems we are all but incapable of returning a blow with a similar blow; we usually percieve the hurt we give as minor, the one we recieve as major. And so the "even-numbered blow" is again never even, because you hit me harder than I hit you; so I get one more, to make us "even." And while I am quite aware of how I feel and perceive the situation, I know what you think only from what you do (where speech, too, is simply a behavior, not absolute evidence of your perception). On and on it goes, then; and no breaking it unless we find a magic formula that makes us all think alike. Maybe "reason" would be the cure! That, at least, was the hope of the Enlightenment. And that experiment as begun, oh, how many centuries ago now?

Are we there yet?

Analysis is helpful, then; and bad analysis is revealing, too. Opposition to this nonsense must increase. Sen. Chafee may have started a ball rolling, or he may pull an Arlen Specter and retreat from what seemed like a good beginning. Time will tell. But the issue of cause and effect, while it is a central one to empirical thinking, and to human experience, is not our sole guide to behavior. We will have to think a bit harder than that, and delve a bit deeper than even th human psyche for answers. Becuase, to be honest, while I found that report and the studies it was based on to be interesting, I also found myself thinking: "Well, duh!"

And then I thought: "Are we there, yet? And if not, why not?" And I think I know the answer to that. But it brings the condemnation of secular left blogistan down on my head (if they even notice me) to say it.

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