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  #1  
Old 12-10-2011, 06:16 PM
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Default Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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  #2  
Old 12-10-2011, 07:04 PM
David Edenden David Edenden is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

FYI: Michael Ignatieff's review of Wolfe's book in Slate:

"How To Learn the Language of Evil"

My review of Michael Ignatieff's deeds, not words, while leader of the Liberal Party of Canada ... read it and weep:

Michael Ignatieff and the Banality of Evil
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  #3  
Old 12-11-2011, 12:19 AM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by David Edenden View Post
My review of Michael Ignatieff's deeds, not words, while leader of the Liberal Party of Canada ... read it and weep:

Michael Ignatieff and the Banality of Evil
Given his performance as a politician and the resulting prime minister of Canada, "the Evil of Banality" would also have been a propos
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  #4  
Old 12-11-2011, 06:16 PM
basman basman is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by miceelf View Post
Given his performance as a politician and the resulting prime minister of Canada, "the Evil of Banality" would also have been a propos
Sidebar admittedly: but Pretty good P.M. if you ask me. But don't ask me: ask the first past the post Canadian electorate who keeping giving him an increased share of their vote.

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  #5  
Old 12-11-2011, 06:46 PM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by basman View Post
Sidebar admittedly: but Pretty good P.M. if you ask me. But don't ask me: ask the first past the post Canadian electorate who keeping giving him an increased share of their vote.

Itzik Basman
I assume you are talking about Harper rather than Ignatieff, who managed to convert at best general dissatisfaction with harper into a pretty stunning decimation of the liberals.

Harper's party increased in the popular vote from 36.3% to 37.7% to 39.6%. It's true that that's an increase each time, but certainly a very modest one.

As to his merits as prime minister, I suspect we will agree to disagree.
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  #6  
Old 12-13-2011, 12:12 AM
Diane1976 Diane1976 is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Given his performance as a politician and the resulting prime minister of Canada, "the Evil of Banality" would also have been a propos
My feeling is that Michael is a good academic and an intellectual who has received significant international recognition, but he was an awful politician.

The Liberal Party seemed to think they found a new Trudeau, but there was such a difference. For one thing Trudeau was not only an intellecutual, he was a smart political activist. For another thing, Trudeau loved this country and made personal sacrifices for it, which most Canadians don't recognize.

He made himself hated in his home province of Quebec and in the West, mainly by bigots on both sides, in accomplishing the patriation of our Constitution. He was a courageous man who stood up for what he believed, even at personal and political cost, and for the country. Ignatieff spent most of his life out of it, and I never felt he really cared about it. He just thought if might be interesting to be prime minister.
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  #7  
Old 12-13-2011, 06:22 AM
miceelf miceelf is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Diane1976 View Post
My feeling is that Michael is a good academic and an intellectual who has received significant international recognition, but he was an awful politician.

The Liberal Party seemed to think they found a new Trudeau, but there was such a difference. For one thing Trudeau was not only an intellecutual, he was a smart political activist. For another thing, Trudeau loved this country and made personal sacrifices for it, which most Canadians don't recognize.
Yeah, my impression as well. God, I miss Trudeau.
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  #8  
Old 12-11-2011, 08:28 AM
ledocs ledocs is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

I owe to Ignatieff my sobriquet in another forum. Ignatieff referred pejoratively to someone as a "pseudo-Marxist realist," but this struck me as a good thing to be, especially when compared to the fatuousness of Ignatieff himself (at least with respect to the Iraq war), so I became "proud pseudo-Marxist realist." What's wrong with being a pseudo-Marxist, after all? It's the only position that makes sense.
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  #9  
Old 12-11-2011, 06:42 PM
basman basman is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by David Edenden View Post
FYI: Michael Ignatieff's review of Wolfe's book in Slate:

"How To Learn the Language of Evil"

My review of Michael Ignatieff's deeds, not words, while leader of the Liberal Party of Canada ... read it and weep:

Michael Ignatieff and the Banality of Evil
Thanks for the link to Ignatieff's review of Wolfe's book, which book I haven't read. I thought it a good review both at the level of rehearsing Wolfe's general arguments and of pointing to the difficulty of applying these general arguments to specific cases. As to your review of Ignatieff, maybe in the next life.

Itzik Basman
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  #10  
Old 12-10-2011, 10:39 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Very interesting discussion and a reminder that terms that are as emotionally charged in a primitive, irrational way such as "evil" are not good tools for rational political decision making.

Putting the weight of myth, primal fears, and religion originated imprints when addressing foreign policy is a recipe for disaster.

The other side of the coin, of course, is to attach the idea of exceptionalism or destiny, or purity, or some other virtuous quality to certain nations.

One would think that by now the idea of all good or all bad, black and white, would have been abandoned by modern understanding of group dynamics, but somehow this regressive way of thinking keeps being kindled in the interest of political manipulation.

We need more writers like Wolfe who can advance rational thought.
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  #11  
Old 12-10-2011, 10:44 PM
Sulla the Dictator Sulla the Dictator is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
Very interesting discussion and a reminder that terms that are as emotionally charged in a primitive, irrational way such as "evil" are not good tools for rational political decision making.

Putting the weight of myth, primal fears, and religion originated imprints when addressing foreign policy is a recipe for disaster.
Yes. WWII didn't end well for us, after we engaged in emotional and irrational labeling of the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan.

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The other side of the coin, of course, is to attach the idea of exceptionalism or destiny, or purity, or some other virtuous quality to certain nations.
LOL Will this religion of navel gazing and self mortification by the left ever be over? Isn't there some kind of finality to it? Some Book of Revelations portion where you are all Raptured to Brussels, or the Federation?

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One would think that by now the idea of all good or all bad, black and white, would have been abandoned by modern understanding of group dynamics, but somehow this regressive way of thinking keeps being kindled in the interest of political manipulation.
I would like to see you apply this exact concept of politics, and "understanding", to the Nazis. Please demonstrate.
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  #12  
Old 12-10-2011, 10:57 PM
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Sulla the Dictator View Post
Yes. WWII didn't end well for us, after we engaged in emotional and irrational labeling of the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan.

LOL Will this religion of navel gazing and self mortification by the left ever be over? Isn't there some kind of finality to it? Some Book of Revelations portion where you are all Raptured to Brussels, or the Federation?


I would like to see you apply this exact concept of politics, and "understanding", to the Nazis. Please demonstrate.
I'm sorry that you don't get it. Perhaps you should read the book to have some idea of what Wolfe is talking about.

I'm not taking baits tonight.
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  #13  
Old 12-10-2011, 11:37 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
One would think that by now the idea of all good or all bad, black and white, would have been abandoned by modern understanding of group dynamics, but somehow this regressive way of thinking keeps being kindled in the interest of political manipulation.

We need more writers like Wolfe who can advance rational thought.
I have not read Prof. Wolfe's book, so I can comment only on this diavlog. I am surprised how muddled the presentation was. He wants to avoid using the word "evil", especially as a noun, preferring the adjective form as somehow less provocative. The word was, however, used freely in this discussion, and without any attempt at definition.

It is asserted that Hitler really was evil, but the Axis of Evil isn't really evil. Well, how do we really know this? Where is the ground of Truth?

Ideas can be partly good and partly bad. That's a fair point, but rather trivial. If we can't define "evil", can we define "bad" instead? If there is such a thing as "bad", should we be upset at those who fight against it? Or shall we drop the good/bad distinction altogether and just not worry about anything?

I don't know what the goal is here. I don't see rational thought at all. I see word games. Show me the rational thought.

Last edited by Simon Willard; 12-10-2011 at 11:40 PM..
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  #14  
Old 12-11-2011, 12:03 AM
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
I have not read Prof. Wolfe's book, so I can comment only on this diavlog. I am surprised how muddled the presentation was. He wants to avoid using the word "evil", especially as a noun, preferring the adjective form as somehow less provocative. The word was, however, used freely in this discussion, and without any attempt at definition.

It is asserted that Hitler really was evil, but the Axis of Evil isn't really evil. Well, how do we really know this? Where is the ground of Truth?

Ideas can be partly good and partly bad. That's a fair point, but rather trivial. If we can't define "evil", can we define "bad" instead? If there is such a thing as "bad", should we be upset at those who fight against it? Or shall we drop the good/bad distinction altogether and just not worry about anything?

I don't know what the goal is here. I don't see rational thought at all. I see word games. Show me the rational thought.
I agree that the difference between the two denotations wasn't defined clearly enough. I also agree that Wolfe should have used a different word for his interpretation of evil as applied to politics in order to avoid confusion.

Although I didn't read the book, I can imagine that in the book he explores these differences more extensively, while here we're just getting a glimpse.

But the gist of it is that the term evil has been used in a way (intentionally or unintentionally, I'm not getting into that discussion) that elicits a primitive form of fear and rejection. It's the essence of evil, all bad and corrupt and ungodly. Once you accept that your enemy or rival embodies such essence of evil, you become the rightful warrior, god's sword in a certain way. These archetypes are dangerous, because once adopted it's a battle of life and death, or even worse, mixed in with ideas of mission and destiny. These are all abstract heroic concepts that stimulate emotions and drive action, but they tend to obtund reasoning. You're fighting monsters unable to reason, who are only driven by their corrupted malignant evilness. There's no road to negotiations, to understanding, or to finding common ground.

Wolfe states that when we use terms such as evil as it pertains to political processes, we have to abandon this charged connotation and interpret it in a much softer way. It would be closer to the sense, or "bad" or "wrong" or any other down to earth term that describes those who act in detrimental ways.

Beyond the triviality of using one term or the other, the main point is that using one connotation or the other sets up the rules of engagement. He could have articulated the same by approaching the topic from other angles, but this is the one he chose to make his point.
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  #15  
Old 12-11-2011, 12:20 AM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Beyond the triviality of using one term or the other, the main point is that using one connotation or the other sets up the rules of engagement.
Fair enough. But this is all still trivial, in the sense that everyone chooses words every day to maximize their persuasive effect. And why should we not do so? What would be the point of language otherwise? There's no theorem that says extreme language works the best. Quite the contrary; when you go too far with language, people tune you out rather quickly.
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  #16  
Old 12-11-2011, 12:31 AM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Fair enough. But this is all still trivial, in the sense that everyone chooses words every day to maximize their persuasive effect. And why should we not do so? What would be the point of language otherwise? There's no theorem that says extreme language works the best.
I would think this is something that can be studied. Is this kind of language (and the respective frame of mind that it evokes) what has historically been used leading up to major wars?

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Quite the contrary; when you go too far with language, people tune you out rather quickly.
I'm not sure what you're referring to. In this diavlog they are discussing using language to evoke popular sentiments, frame conflicts in terms of The Good against The Evil, by skilled political figures or communicators of some kind. There will always be a population that's receptive to the message and a segment that is not. Those who are not tune out. But think of the discussions we have in this forum. Even some of the most outrageous language and ideas find a receptive group, even if small. And that is with what's supposed to be a somewhat educated crowd.

I've got to sleep now. Enjoy the rest of the evening.
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  #17  
Old 12-11-2011, 12:33 AM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Fair enough. But this is all still trivial, in the sense that everyone chooses words every day to maximize their persuasive effect. And why should we not do so? What would be the point of language otherwise? There's no theorem that says extreme language works the best. Quite the contrary; when you go too far with language, people tune you out rather quickly.
I thought the point that it's best to remove "evil" from political discourse made sense. First, there's a pretty simple point about avoiding incendiary language as a violence reduction measure, well applied to Internet forums (flame wars) as well as diplomacy (Axis of Evil). Taunting, demonizing and dehumanizing often provoke violence. Everyone learns that in junior high school, if not sooner.

But the larger problem Alan seemed to be getting at was that the rhetorical use of "evil" or terms like "Islamofascism" obfuscates and prevents one from distinguishing between Hamas and Hitler.

I was very pleased to see Daniel Pipes Christopher Hitchens and Alan Dershowitz all called out for the kind of rhetoric that wages war on clarity of thought.
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  #18  
Old 12-11-2011, 01:37 AM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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I thought the point that it's best to remove "evil" from political discourse made sense. First, there's a pretty simple point about avoiding incendiary language as a violence reduction measure, well applied to Internet forums (flame wars) as well as diplomacy (Axis of Evil). Taunting, demonizing and dehumanizing often provoke violence. Everyone learns that in junior high school, if not sooner.

But the larger problem Alan seemed to be getting at was that the rhetorical use of "evil" or terms like "Islamofascism" obfuscates and prevents one from distinguishing between Hamas and Hitler.
I just don't see how we could successfully prescribe the use of words in political discourse. I will agree with you that words can be incendiary. It remains true in American society that you should not use certain words beginning with F and N or you will offend most people. But politicians normally don't want to offend their constituents.

I also think that words have different effects on different populations. There are words that really grate on liberal sensitives that seen quite innocuous to conservatives. And vice-versa. And the valence of these words is constantly shifting with time, which would make it difficult to prescribe rules.

Words acquire connotations from context and usage. If, instead of "axis of evil", George W. Bush had spoken about "the bad group" of Iran, Iraq and N. Korea, how long would it take until Democrats developed an objection to the phrase "the bad group"?

The bottom line for me is that the audience for your words will ultimately decide on the appropriateness of your language. If Bush thinks that the word "evil" can fire up the Right, he may not care if it irritates the Left. In fact, he may use the word deliberately to irritate the Left.

Did Churchill skew the debate when he said "blood tears toil and sweat"? Did Roosevelt skew the debate when he said "day of infamy"? Did King skew the debate by using the word "dream"? Did Jesus skew the debate by calling the pharisees "thieves"?

Of course they did.

Last edited by Simon Willard; 12-11-2011 at 01:39 AM..
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  #19  
Old 12-11-2011, 11:57 AM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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I just don't see how we could successfully prescribe the use of words in political discourse. I will agree with you that words can be incendiary. It remains true in American society that you should not use certain words beginning with F and N or you will offend most people. But politicians normally don't want to offend their constituents.

I also think that words have different effects on different populations. There are words that really grate on liberal sensitives that seen quite innocuous to conservatives. And vice-versa. And the valence of these words is constantly shifting with time, which would make it difficult to prescribe rules.
You are making it sound like we're talking about words not being politically correct, in the usual sense of not using pejorative or discriminatory language.

But that's not the issue discussed. There are certain words which are code for larger narratives that tap into primitive fears. This is the case in the way the word "evil" was used at the time. It wasn't about using it just once, but creating that epic narrative and making it part of everyday discourse in America. It is plain old political manipulation of the public. It capitalizes on deeply seated beliefs and values. The deeper, the better. It goes straight to our emotional responses and bypasses reasoning.

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Words acquire connotations from context and usage. If, instead of "axis of evil", George W. Bush had spoken about "the bad group" of Iran, Iraq and N. Korea, how long would it take until Democrats developed an objection to the phrase "the bad group"?
No, not the same. There's certainly some skill in finding the right words that tap into core beliefs/fears. Evil is too close to religious connotations to be compared to milder words such as "bad" in its power to elicit a response.

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The bottom line for me is that the audience for your words will ultimately decide on the appropriateness of your language. If Bush thinks that the word "evil" can fire up the Right, he may not care if it irritates the Left. In fact, he may use the word deliberately to irritate the Left.
Well, of course, that's a given. But your first sentence in the above paragraph misses the point. There's no such thing as a decision when it comes to being political manipulated by messaging. It just bypasses those levels.

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Did Churchill skew the debate when he said "blood tears toil and sweat"? Did Roosevelt skew the debate when he said "day of infamy"? Did King skew the debate by using the word "dream"? Did Jesus skew the debate by calling the pharisees "thieves"?

Of course they did.
Rhetoric, when used effectively can change and shape the debate. The question is what kind of narrative is a particular message tapping on.

We're not discussing the effectiveness of using this kind of rhetoric. We are questioning the consequences of using a message, and of creating a narrative that leads to extreme measures and preempts other means of conflict resolution. Negotiation, compromise, using diplomacy in various contexts are all rendered practically impossible when you set up the framework of dealing with evil entities. Evil entities don't share our values. They lack morality of any kind. They don't have common interests. And if you put that together with some sort of belief that we have a moral responsibility to be the warriors for the "good", then the recipe for war is unavoidable.
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Old 12-11-2011, 05:08 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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There are certain words which are code for larger narratives that tap into primitive fears. This is the case in the way the word "evil" was used at the time. It wasn't about using it just once, but creating that epic narrative and making it part of everyday discourse in America. It is plain old political manipulation of the public. It capitalizes on deeply seated beliefs and values. The deeper, the better. It goes straight to our emotional responses and bypasses reasoning.
It's fine to make your argument; your point is defensible. Your argument is useful in rebutting the rhetoric of those who throw around the word "evil". If someone says "Iran is evil" you can and should stand up and say "that's a dangerous and misleading statement".

The larger point, I take it, is that discourse in America has been somehow corrupted by the use of language that capitalizes on deep-seated emotions. This is where I say "So what?". Of course people appeal to emotions and religious prejudices. It's a normal part of arguing. You can't control that. It doesn't happen only on the Republican side; everyone does it.
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Old 12-11-2011, 06:14 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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It's fine to make your argument; your point is defensible. Your argument is useful in rebutting the rhetoric of those who throw around the word "evil". If someone says "Iran is evil" you can and should stand up and say "that's a dangerous and misleading statement".
Yes, that's it.

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The larger point, I take it, is that discourse in America has been somehow corrupted by the use of language that capitalizes on deep-seated emotions.
Yes.

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This is where I say "So what?". Of course people appeal to emotions and religious prejudices. It's a normal part of arguing. You can't control that. It doesn't happen only on the Republican side; everyone does it.
Simply some people may object to the use of this kind of rhetoric because of its particularly dangerous consequences. There's nothing wrong, as far as I can tell, in expressing an opinion, explaining why this is dangerous and generating a discussion.

If you understand, for example, that some people may object to politicians lying, deceiving, in order to manipulate, this is just another form of manipulation.

Do we all manipulate to some degree or the other? Sure, we do. But there are some forms of rhetoric that are particularly malignant because they're plainly dishonest and misleading and have very serious consequences(wars, violence).

Should I assume that you don't have any problems with dishonesty and deception? Or do you?
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Old 12-12-2011, 11:13 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard View Post
Fair enough. But this is all still trivial, in the sense that everyone chooses words every day to maximize their persuasive effect. And why should we not do so? What would be the point of language otherwise? There's no theorem that says extreme language works the best. Quite the contrary; when you go too far with language, people tune you out rather quickly.
I agree with this.

To perhaps shorten the point I was trying to make in my extended diatribe above, the problem with "evil" in foreign policy discussions is that it's a side step of the justification for the use of force. If someone is "evil," the good must oppose him or her, regardless of the broader discussion about when force can and should be used.

I do agree with you that complaining about the overuse of the term "evil" is not really the issue, though. The issue is that it's a confusion of categories. Also, it's -- I think -- a failure to be clear about what "evil" is when we talk about it in the correct context, the moral or theological one.

This is actually related to the point raised toward the end of the diavlog, about whether it's bad to try and explain bad acts by pointing to things that might make them more likely. Seems to me that the reaction by many to that is based on this confusion of categories. Pointing to something as a potential cause does not mean that the person who acts based on that reason is not morally culpable. Traditionally, that you think you have a reason for what you do doesn't make one not "evil," it makes one human.

But to a certain extent this relates to a debate within moral philosophy or, primarily, theology about what evil is, and demonstrates how out of context the focus is.
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  #23  
Old 12-12-2011, 01:40 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
To perhaps shorten the point I was trying to make in my extended diatribe above, the problem with "evil" in foreign policy discussions is that it's a side step of the justification for the use of force. If someone is "evil," the good must oppose him or her, regardless of the broader discussion about when force can and should be used.
I don't completely recognize the connection between evilness and the justification of force. I would use force when it's beneficial to use force, without direct constraint by religious considerations. I mean, if there are religious considerations, (and I'm not denying there are) they flow for me into the calculation of what's "beneficial".

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Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
I do agree with you that complaining about the overuse of the term "evil" is not really the issue, though. The issue is that it's a confusion of categories. Also, it's -- I think -- a failure to be clear about what "evil" is when we talk about it in the correct context, the moral or theological one.
Talking to Ocean has convinced me that I don't have the same response to the word "evil" that some people do. Perhaps it's because I'm not intimately immersed in religious traditions. I certainly do consider "evil" to be a stronger word than "bad", but I haven't grasped this business of word "categories". Categories come from context. I don't think of isolated words as being heavily fraught with categories. I use metaphors freely.

Anyway, I think it's important for everyone to understand that words don't have the same effect on all people.

Last edited by Simon Willard; 12-12-2011 at 01:49 PM..
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  #24  
Old 12-12-2011, 02:17 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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I don't completely recognize the connection between evilness and the justification of force.
I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.

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I would use force when it's beneficial to use force, without direct constraint by religious considerations.
I'm not talking about religious considerations (unless by that you mean the general framework about when force is justified).

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Talking to Ocean has convinced me that I don't have the same response to the word "evil" that some people do.
But it's important that the use of the word "evil" and the shock when people resist the characterization or the conclusions the characterization is supposed to lead to makes it clear that your reaction is contrary to what is actually being said with the usual political rhetoric use of the term. When Saddam is described as evil (and I don't object to that, I disagree with that focus of Alan's argument), you are expected by the describer to have the kind of reaction Ocean is talking about. That's the point of it.

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Perhaps it's because I'm not intimately immersed in religious traditions.
I don't think it's religion that is injecting this "extra" meaning onto the term, but simply how the term is used. It's the meaning that the person using the term intends to convey. That you don't have that reaction doesn't change it's rhetorical meaning, how the term is employed.

Indeed, when we focus on the religious use you have to be clear what you mean too, because it is possible to use "evil" in a much more neutral way than it is usually heard (due to the more causal English use as well as some other kinds of religious uses) within the context of a theological discussion. I'd point to my categories (1)(a) and (b) in my post to Ray -- "evil" could just mean contrary to good and an "objectively evil" act be one that's wrong, even if not especially extreme in scope. However, it's clear this is not how the term is used in political rhetoric.

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I certainly do consider "evil" to be a stronger word than "bad", but I haven't grasped this business of word "categories". Categories come from context. I don't think of isolated words as being heavily fraught with categories. I use metaphors freely.
It's not the word, it's the nature of the discussion. This goes back to whether we are talking about the justification of force, however, which I think we are. Debating whether someone is "evil" is not the correct question whether discussing whether to use force. However, it often seems to be brought up as a way to avoid the issues that one would normally discuss (like whether it is beneficial, however one defines that) in considering the use of force. It gets trumped by focus on the sheer Evilness of that which must be stopped, any means necessary. That's one part of what I mean by confusion of categories. Contrary to Alan's argument, I see no harm in calling Saddam evil, certainly no merits to the "not as evil as Hitler" defense. I simply don't think Saddam's relative evilness vs. Hitler is relevant to whether Iraq was or was not a smart war or determinative of its justification.

On the other confusion of categories point, I think people often insist that acts or people are Evil in order to say they cannot be morally justified or excused. That's where people get upset about the considering of reasons for the actions of terrorists or some such -- as if by saying that they are more likely to attack us if we do X or Y that we are saying that that somehow lets them off the hook, makes them not morally culpable, their acts not "evil." My point is that when we are talking foreign policy, I'm not especially interested in the personal moral culpability of the terrorists. I am interested in ways that we could make attacks less likely.

For example, I often think Bob is wrong in his assumptions about what would, but that's different from the suggestion that by pointing out possible causes that we are saying terrorists are not morally culpable. I don't think the latter is Bob's point at all, and it seems disingenuous to me when people react as if it is. That reaction is often in connection with a claim that causes must not be relevant, because that denies "evil."

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Old 12-12-2011, 07:54 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.
OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime. I'm not enough of a historian to know if FDR actually tried to cast the Nazis into this category, but I'm simply going to rely on Wolfe's own singling-out of Hitler as being unquestionably evil. If Hitler or the Nazis really do fall into this category, I don't know why such an appeal by FDR would be beyond the pale.

Besides, we do know that Roosevelt lied to the American people in various ways to spur a reluctant US to war. And the judgement of history (admittedly written by the victors) is that the US effort to completely destroy the Nazis and Germany's infrastructure was a good thing.

Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect. Isn't it simply a political matter? If I wanted to vilify the people of, say, Iceland with such heated rhetoric, I doubt my words would get much traction! But I will not rule out any option to persuade my countrymen with fraught language if that's what I think will help my persuasion succeed in an extreme situation.
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Old 12-12-2011, 09:24 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime.
Based on what he said, why wouldn't he be?

I think Alan was saying that it makes sense to talk about "political evil" but that we aren't rigorous enough in our definition. My argument is that when we talk about "evil" we aren't rigorous in that way, because we are fundamentally talking about something else. Alan seemed to be saying that it was wrong to call Saddam evil and not Hitler, because Hitler was evil in a way that called for intervention -- the ideas of the threat, of expansionism, perhaps of the Samantha Power type arguments (I agree with Wonderment that a diavlog on that topic would be interesting), etc.

My response -- although I admit I should check out his book first -- is that the problem isn't that we are too loose about "evil" and it ends up not related to the kinds of political problems that lead to the use of force/intervention. It's that by using the term "evil" we are really talking about something different, the category error, and something that is often not well defined or used in the same way by people. Thus, there's nothing wrong with calling Saddam evil and the "as evil as Hitler" argument is silly or pointless. The mistake is in thinking that calling Saddam evil means that you've made a valid argument for war.

There's also a more general problem with the way that terms like "evil" are used in our rhetoric that is related to this, but I don't agree with Alan's approach to it as I understand it. I simply do agree with him that he's talking about the problem that exists.

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Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect.
I don't get the "justify the mixing of categories" thing. When I say there's a category error, I mean one is not addressing the issue one claims to be addressing. If one is supposedly talking about reasons to use force and starts with "so and so is evil," that simply is a failure to address the issue.

I don't really think we should use terms like "evil" as loosely as we do, at least without being clear what we mean. However, I think when we are in a war we generally will, it's almost impossible not to, as a society. Again, I think this goes to that diavlog a while ago with Scott Atran about the impossibility of approaching war rationally.
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Old 12-12-2011, 10:17 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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The mistake is in thinking that calling Saddam evil means that you've made a valid argument for war.
I think you just boiled the whole discussion down to "Calling people names doesn't prove anything". I can't argue with that. But have we wandered away from Wolfe's thesis?

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When I say there's a category error, I mean one is not addressing the issue one claims to be addressing. If one is supposedly talking about reasons to use force and starts with "so and so is evil," that simply is a failure to address the issue.
I accept this.
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Old 12-11-2011, 06:24 AM
Hume's Bastard Hume's Bastard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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I agree that the difference between the two denotations wasn't defined clearly enough. I also agree that Wolfe should have used a different word for his interpretation of evil as applied to politics in order to avoid confusion.

Although I didn't read the book, I can imagine that in the book he explores these differences more extensively, while here we're just getting a glimpse.

But the gist of it is that the term evil has been used in a way (intentionally or unintentionally, I'm not getting into that discussion) that elicits a primitive form of fear and rejection. It's the essence of evil, all bad and corrupt and ungodly. Once you accept that your enemy or rival embodies such essence of evil, you become the rightful warrior, god's sword in a certain way. These archetypes are dangerous, because once adopted it's a battle of life and death, or even worse, mixed in with ideas of mission and destiny. These are all abstract heroic concepts that stimulate emotions and drive action, but they tend to obtund reasoning. You're fighting monsters unable to reason, who are only driven by their corrupted malignant evilness. There's no road to negotiations, to understanding, or to finding common ground.

Wolfe states that when we use terms such as evil as it pertains to political processes, we have to abandon this charged connotation and interpret it in a much softer way. It would be closer to the sense, or "bad" or "wrong" or any other down to earth term that describes those who act in detrimental ways.

Beyond the triviality of using one term or the other, the main point is that using one connotation or the other sets up the rules of engagement. He could have articulated the same by approaching the topic from other angles, but this is the one he chose to make his point.
I read a Kindle sample of Wolfe's book before I listened to this diavlog. (Is Bob plugging Kindles and Nooks now? It certainly helps to sample a book before these review-type diavlogs.) I also was put off by Wolfe's philosophical analysis of "political evil". He seems to want to start with a common-sense connotation of evil, and then whittle down the meaning until he can talk about the sausage-grinding business of diplomacy and politics without abandoning this word "evil". Call me a social science type, but I just think Wolfe needs a stiff whiff of empiricism. He tries to first to distinguish types of evil. Then, he distinguishes between four types of political evil, which are terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and torture. These are four different concepts. And then, my sample ended.

I'm inclined to accept that a philosophical analysis of the problem of evil is necessary. But, Wolfe's argument sounds like rationalizations pasted together with one word, evil, running through them.
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Old 12-11-2011, 12:02 PM
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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... I also was put off by Wolfe's philosophical analysis of "political evil". He seems to want to start with a common-sense connotation of evil, and then whittle down the meaning until he can talk about the sausage-grinding business of diplomacy and politics without abandoning this word "evil". Call me a social science type, but I just think Wolfe needs a stiff whiff of empiricism. He tries to first to distinguish types of evil. Then, he distinguishes between four types of political evil, which are terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and torture. These are four different concepts. And then, my sample ended.
Yes, I can see that. He probably should have used a different word, but I guess that was the catch for his book (finding a redefinition of the word that adopts a more benign outcome).

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I'm inclined to accept that a philosophical analysis of the problem of evil is necessary. But, Wolfe's argument sounds like rationalizations pasted together with one word, evil, running through them.
I got that impression too when he mentioned the four types of political evil. But, without reading the book it's hard to tell whether his concept holds together. After all, "evil" is a word that can be shaped to include many kinds of evil things (pardon the redundancy).
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Old 12-12-2011, 12:39 AM
Hume's Bastard Hume's Bastard is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

I could be wrong, though. It's also possible Wolfe is setting up an opening for an empirical treatment of the four political evils with a philosophical analysis.
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Old 12-12-2011, 11:05 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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But the gist of it is that the term evil has been used in a way (intentionally or unintentionally, I'm not getting into that discussion) that elicits a primitive form of fear and rejection. It's the essence of evil, all bad and corrupt and ungodly. Once you accept that your enemy or rival embodies such essence of evil, you become the rightful warrior, god's sword in a certain way. These archetypes are dangerous, because once adopted it's a battle of life and death, or even worse, mixed in with ideas of mission and destiny. These are all abstract heroic concepts that stimulate emotions and drive action, but they tend to obtund reasoning. You're fighting monsters unable to reason, who are only driven by their corrupted malignant evilness. There's no road to negotiations, to understanding, or to finding common ground.
I think this is true, but I didn't think Alan made this point well, if this was his point (which it may have been, in part).
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Old 12-11-2011, 12:29 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Originally Posted by Simon Willard;234264I
am surprised how muddled the presentation was. He wants to avoid using the word "evil", especially as a noun, preferring the adjective form as somehow less provocative. The word was, however, used freely in this discussion, and without any attempt at definition.

It is asserted that Hitler really was evil, but the Axis of Evil isn't really evil. Well, how do we really know this? Where is the ground of Truth?

Ideas can be partly good and partly bad. That's a fair point, but rather trivial. If we can't define "evil", can we define "bad" instead? If there is such a thing as "bad", should we be upset at those who fight against it? Or shall we drop the good/bad distinction altogether and just not worry about anything?

I don't know what the goal is here. I don't see rational thought at all. I see word games. Show me the rational thought.
Good points. Wolfe repeatedly used "evil" as a noun after starting out the diavlog by saying that he thinks its use a noun doesn't work. Lot's of muddled thinking - although Bob did a good job IMO of trying to focus Wolfe to say something that was meaningful. My overall impression is that the book is an apologia for the standard elements at the top of the prog/liberal belief hieracrchy:

i.e. That everyone is really good at heart and if we are just stop being so intolerant of them by doing non-inclusive things like naming them "evil" they will eventually be nice too - that everything wrong with the world (evilishness) is in our (western democracies') power to correct by becoming more tolerant to its practitioners - i.e. "understanding" them instead of condemning them. This liberal hawk will not be placing this book on his "to buy" list.
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Old 12-11-2011, 12:42 PM
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i.e. That everyone is really good at heart and if we are just stop being so intolerant of them by doing non-inclusive things like naming them "evil" they will eventually be nice too - that everything wrong with the world (evilishness) is in our (western democracies') power to correct by becoming more tolerant to its practitioners - i.e. "understanding" them instead of condemning them.
I don't agree with the above at all. It's just a caricature. And I certainly don't think this is what Wolfe was trying to say.

Wolfe stated that there are indeed people, including infamous political leaders who are corrupt or evil (if you must use the word). But conceptualizing the problem that they cause by invoking their evilness is an oversimplification. There are other factors that influence their actions. It's important to look at those other factors with the goal of intervening to prevent or stop their actions.

But if you create a narrative that they only act as they do because they're evil, the only measure to counter them is war.

Hawks have a problem with this kind of discussion because in order to be a hawk you have to polarize the world into this good/evil dichotomy. Looking at the dynamics in more depth threatens that hawk identity.
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Old 12-11-2011, 02:20 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

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Hawks have a problem with this kind of discussion because in order to be a hawk you have to polarize the world into this good/evil dichotomy. Looking at the dynamics in more depth threatens that hawk identity.
Good caricature. ;-)

I think you are missing the point. People do not do good or bad because of irrational thought processes. (I think Parallax also tried to explain this.) They do it because they have strong emotional beliefs high in their identity zone that direct their behavior in those ways. i.e. it's because of the beliefs they have held - since they were very young in most cases - that define who they are, their identity. In that regard - some people believe (as part of their identity) that instead of persuasion and negotiation - it'is not just fine but even preferable to use coercive (non-defensive) violence to get what they want from someone else.

Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil). We shaped our domestic and external policies with other states around the principle that violent coercion and intimidation are immoral; that persuasion and negotiation are the acceptable (moral) way to relate with others. As those ideas became more widely institutionalized in law much of the world (to the extent they adopted those principles) became a less violent, more productive, healthier - and essentially an overall happier place to spend one's life. You and I are the beneficiaries of those ideas - and of the millions of our ancestors who died to defend them.

Morality is certainly a man-made product of human minds. What is moral for me is not what is moral for Saddam Hussein. I justify my morality because of the greater happiness it creates for those who abide by it and have the integrity and responsibility to enforce it. It's not perfectly expressed in all Western societies but it's pretty good for a man-made paradigm. And even the poorly implemented versions are vastly better than dictatorships or fascist regimes. So far, you and I and the world generally, are fortunate that the societies that base their morality around such principles have used much of the wealth created by that "better system of rules" to create strong military forces and weapons systems. So far we have been able to defeat foreign societies and groups that maintain individual and national identities formed around warrior values and the use of violence to take what they want from weaker societies. (I'm not saying that every use of such power was for that purpose alone. But I will say that the great majority of it was - and that we worry about such things and try to correct them when we err.)

Much of the continued violence and genocide that exists today is the result of this weakening of Western resolve. The Arab/Israeli conflict is a case in point. You and others here claim that the Arabs were justified in attacking Israel when it won its right to statehood through the UN Partition Plan - and are still justified to use non-defensive violence to correct that outcome. Creating the state of Israel was done non-violently through the process of negotiation and persuasion. Yet you justify violent attacks against Israel because you disagree with the result of the process.

(You claim that its not black and white and we should try to "understand" their motives - or some version of that. It's hard to keep all the apologists for terrorism stories straight here so correct me if I mis-characterized your views on that in some important way.)

Without going into the psychological and sociological reasons for this lowering of standards of morality in the West I'd just say that you are advocating for war - whenever someone feels they have a justification to attack someone else who has not attacked them - when you claim that calling out such anti-enlightenment evil for what it is is an oversimplification.
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Old 12-11-2011, 02:52 PM
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Good caricature. ;-)

I think you are missing the point. People do not do good or bad because of irrational thought processes. (I think Parallax also tried to explain this.) They do it because they have strong emotional beliefs high in their identity zone that direct their behavior in those ways. i.e. it's because of the beliefs they have held - since they were very young in most cases - that define who they are, their identity. In that regard - some people believe (as part of their identity) that instead of persuasion and negotiation - it'is not just fine but even preferable to use coercive (non-defensive) violence to get what they want from someone else.
Sure, some people don't need to be manipulated through narratives of larger than life good and evil. Some people, by ideology, or because they've never known other possibilities, resort to primitive forms of conflict resolution: violence.

But, there are people who would understand the non-violent forms of conflict resolution as long as they're allowed to operate within the limits of rationality. If their rationality is bypassed by engaging their automatic emotional responses to key narratives, such as those invoked by words like "evil", then their consideration of alternatives is rendered null.

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Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil). We shaped our domestic and external policies with other states around the principle that violent coercion and intimidation are immoral; that persuasion and negotiation are the acceptable (moral) way to relate with others. As those ideas became more widely institutionalized in law much of the world (to the extent they adopted those principles) became a less violent, more productive, healthier - and essentially an overall happier place to spend one's life. You and I are the beneficiaries of those ideas - and of the millions of our ancestors who died to defend them.
Okay.

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Morality is certainly a man-made product of human minds. What is moral for me is not what is moral for Saddam Hussein. I justify my morality because of the greater happiness it creates for those who abide by it and have the integrity and responsibility to enforce it. It's not perfectly expressed in all Western societies but it's pretty good for a man-made paradigm. And even the poorly implemented versions are vastly better than dictatorships or fascist regimes. So far, you and I and the world generally, are fortunate that the societies that base their morality around such principles have used much of the wealth created by that "better system of rules" to create strong military forces and weapons systems. So far we have been able to defeat foreign societies and groups that maintain individual and national identities formed around warrior values and the use of violence to take what they want from weaker societies. (I'm not saying that every use of such power was for that purpose alone. But I will say that the great majority of it was - and that we worry about such things and try to correct them when we err.)
I will accept the above for the sake of this discussion, although I would have to qualify quite a number of statements to make sure we're in agreement, since a number of views there seem extremely simplistic.

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Much of the continued violence and genocide that exists today is the result of this weakening of Western resolve. The Arab/Israeli conflict is a case in point. You and others here claim that the Arabs were justified in attacking Israel when it won its right to statehood through the UN Partition Plan - and are still justified to use non-defensive violence to correct that outcome. Creating the state of Israel was done non-violently through the process of negotiation and persuasion. Yet you justify violent attacks against Israel because you disagree with the result of the process.

(You claim that its not black and white and we should try to "understand" their motives - or some version of that. It's hard to keep all the apologists for terrorism stories straight here so correct me if I mis-characterized your views on that in some important way.)
I'm not going back to this discussion. I'm skipping this segment.

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Without going into the psychological and sociological reasons for this lowering of standards of morality in the West I'd just say that you are advocating for war - whenever someone feels they have a justification to attack someone else who has not attacked them - when you claim that calling out such anti-enlightenment evil for what it is is an oversimplification.
I don't see any lowering of standards of morality at all. I'm not advocating, and neither is Wolfe for what I could gather, to justify the actions of those who attack others without just cause.

The main claim here is that by calling someone else evil, we don't advance our cause. We would be better off not using that charged term, which sets up the narrative for violent response. We would be better off trying to understand the cause of the actions so that they can be addressed by whatever means are appropriate.

If I see my neighbor dumping garbage on my lawn, and my immediate reaction is to think that he's evil, it will be less likely that I'll try to find out why he's doing it. It may turn out that my kids have been dumping that same garbage at his front door, and he's fed up with it.
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Old 12-11-2011, 03:26 PM
thouartgob thouartgob is offline
 
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What is moral for me is not what is moral for Saddam Hussein.
... or Yigal Amir. He saw and understood what evil was and took action. Pre-Defensive Violence or Pre-Attack Defensive Attack if you will ( like the Iraq war etc. )
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Old 12-12-2011, 11:26 AM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil).
You are making two arguments here:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) "Evil" is merely the term for what we consider "morally wrong."

I don't think that's what it conveys to many (although I think the latter claim is related to how I'm arguing for its use). More significantly, I think you've essentially gotten rid of the argument for "evil" as the definition of when we should and shouldn't use force in a foriegn policy context. Lots of things are morally wrong from my perspective. We don't have the right to attack every country or leader that does morally wrong acts. We do have the right to attack some of them.
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Old 12-12-2011, 12:29 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
 
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You are making two arguments here:

(1) Morality is relative.

(2) "Evil" is merely the term for what we consider "morally wrong."

I don't think that's what it conveys to many (although I think the latter claim is related to how I'm arguing for its use). More significantly, I think you've essentially gotten rid of the argument for "evil" as the definition of when we should and shouldn't use force in a foriegn policy context. Lots of things are morally wrong from my perspective. We don't have the right to attack every country or leader that does morally wrong acts. We do have the right to attack some of them.
After watching the very good diavlog between Maggie and Jessa - I purchased the Kindle version of Gladwell's "Outliers" - which Jessa referred to in the discussion. (Gladwell, Malcolm (2008-10-29). Outliers: The Story of Success. Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

In Chapter Six (p. 161) "Harlan, Kentucky “DIE LIKE A MAN, LIKE YOUR BROTHER DID!” Gladwell tells of a guy on trial for murder. He had been repeatedly taunted by some construction workers one day. He went home and came back with his shotgun and killed several of the workers which he did not deny in court. Only one juror of the twelve voted to convict him. One of the eleven "not-guilty" jurors when questioned afterword said that the accused "would not have been much a man" if he had not taken his shotgun and killed a few of them.

I do believe morality is relative. I am claiming that (IMO) only one thing justifies the use of force against others. That is in self defense against an initial violence. I agree that it is my own parochial view. I use it and think of it as "morality" because I believe that logically it is the only means of making the world a less violent and happier place to live out one's life. And conversely, when people allow for exceptions - i.e. the use of violence to coerce or intimidate others non-defensively such as to correct a non-violent insult - then there remains no reasonably consistent way to draw a line between violence that is "moral" and that that is not. It simply becomes a matter of "my use of violence is justified" and my enemy's is immoral.

I don't understand why those who claim to value peace and non-violence would not only disagree with this view - but would have almost no ability to discuss their reasons for their disagreement - would show almost no evidence of having considered this question in a way that would allow them to discuss it intelligently - would even avoid the discussion by claiming that they've "had that discussion before" and the use of other such escape clauses.

(I don't put you in that category. You appear to be willing to try to justify your beliefs on any topic - our disagreements notwithstanding.)
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Old 12-12-2011, 01:19 PM
stephanie stephanie is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Ray in Seattle View Post
I do believe morality is relative.
I think this relates to the confusion that often prevails about the use of the term "evil." It gets used in a few different senses:

(1)(a) in an absolute moral sense -- "evil" as the opposite of (or absence of) good.

(1)(b) is the culpability issue -- if an "evil act" is one which is objectively wrong (my (1)(a) sense), then one has acted evilly when one does an evil act with no excuse.

(1)(c) is an extension of (1)(b) -- often we are willing to say that certain acts are so extreme that no excuse is imaginable, which is when we start getting into the uses of "evil" that Ocean seemed to be talking about -- the idea that we aren't talking about ordinary human acts, but something so monstrous that it cannot be understood without presuming a difference between the actor(s) and other humans.

On the other hand, there are more casual uses of the term that fit with (but are not limited to) more relative notions of morality:

(2)(a) with respect to personal behavior -- "morally depraved" -- but this tends to assume that the person is violating agreed-upon or known moral standards. As St. Paul might say "I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want."

(2)(b) is the way I think you are using it, to mean "morally depraved" according to the subjective standards of the speaker, not the person whose actions are spoken of. I do not think this is the common way of using it in public dialogue. Usually I think more is meant to be conveyed.

(2)(c) is closely related to (2)(a) and (2)(b) but doesn't distinguish between them and yet is a more common everyday use. Basically, "really, really bad." It doesn't set aside the nature of what is being complained about as a specific type of moral wrong, but an intensifier of the condemnation.

Quote:
I am claiming that (IMO) only one thing justifies the use of force against others. That is in self defense against an initial violence.
Fair enough, but I don't see how this fits into the "evil" discussion.

I guess it would if you are saying that unprovoked violence is "evil" and is the only "political evil" worthy of the name. IMO, focusing on the term "evil" there is just confusing and distracting, as when we call Hitler or even Saddam evil, I don't think the main point is simply that they were willing to use unprovoked violence. It's something about the scale, etc.
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Old 12-15-2011, 11:34 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

This is an interesting discussion. I've been gone this week and have been reading the back and forth with interest. So I thought I'd dive in here to ask for some clarification.

Quote:
Quoting Ray in Seattle:
Western values that emerged from the ideas of the enlightenment and the US Constitution, etc. said that such non-defensive violence is morally wrong (evil). We shaped our domestic and external policies with other states around the principle that violent coercion and intimidation are immoral; that persuasion and negotiation are the acceptable (moral) way to relate with others. As those ideas became more widely institutionalized in law much of the world (to the extent they adopted those principles) became a less violent, more productive, healthier - and essentially an overall happier place to spend one's life. You and I are the beneficiaries of those ideas - and of the millions of our ancestors who died to defend them.
So how did the enlightenment values take hold? Why did people see them as superior to the notion that might makes right? You say that it is emotions which cause people to behave in certain ways. Is it that as enlightenment values became more and more popular they were taught to the young...the young saw people react to non-defensive violence in emotionally charged ways and learned that this is not good? I realize that this is probably all gradual but how long does it take for these changes in society to take place or deteriorate?

Do you think that a person witnessing non-defensive violence in say 1200 would have a different emotional response to it than you would?

Do you think there may be some innate attraction to enlightenment values?
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Last edited by badhatharry; 12-15-2011 at 11:54 AM..
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