Wednesday, May 18, 2011


A Rigorous Philosophical Argument For Peace

By its very nature, peace as an idea is an elusive and nebulous concept w/ moral/ethical and religious overtones. It does not evoke any visual corollary in the imagination precisely because of its passive, non active nature. Traditionally, the "peace" movement has been perceived as a reactive and moral sentiment against aggressive action. It inherently describes passive resistance in forms of symbolic gestures responding to overt aggressive action and violence . For this reason, (its inherent passive nature) there is no dedicated body of structured thought other than anecdotal narratives describing various symbolic acts, such as Ghandi’s Satrygraha” or salt making and garment burning , or the Christ’ outstretched hand on the mount, as a few examples. All these are part of the mosaic stream of imagery in the cultural lexicon but do not in themselves constitute a cohesive body of thought. These are but reference symbols, mostly rendered as religious art that form a visual and oral menagerie. Many of these symbolic acts, like the proclamations of a conscientious objector or the burning of draft cards defy the laws and social codes of the established order. There is no systematized rigorous body of thought or dedicated philosophy of “peace,” however, other than the various allegorical parables in the Biblical or Quran traditions for example.

So, by example, what might clarify this point: Things that require action and effect material change or reorder can be written about and described in minute detail.. For example, in the construction of a high rise building there is an almost unlimited number of separate and distinct categories that require descriptive language as well as visual graphics and illustrations informing the various processes along the way. Something can be said and written about in a hundred different categories. What is said ,written, or illustrated on the page elicits visual imagery that is objective in nature. From soil compaction ratios, density and load bearing actuarial tables in the substructure, to the action potentials and variable range coefficients of the uppermost antennae on the top of the building, and all construction aspects in between. Because the construction of the building requires a series of interrelated and successive actions performed in a lineal chronology of events, much can be said of each separate phase as well as the entirety of processes leading to the end result. The essential process of building construction involves material change and reorder. This chronology and all the interdependent phases can be graphically displayed in a blue print.

Like the construction of an edifice, the science of war can and has been described in similar ways in infinite detail. There is a massive historical log on the "Culture of War" From Sun Tzu’s “ Art of War” to Clausewitz’ treatises, to the elaborate drawings of Da Vinci’s weapons, as jus a few examples. They necessarily require material change and reorder. The very first “narratives” enshrined in the canon of Western culture have to do w/ warring. In fact the very first “histories”, and for that matter epic poetries of the western tradition, describe wars and their attendant ethos. It is for this reason that we seem to have concluded that war and violence are more predominant human traits and more accurately describe the core nature of the human animal.

Homer’s Iliad and Thucydides Paloppenesian Wars, for example, are among the very first founding literary precedents upon which much of the subsequent written record builds its traditional footings. This is a crucial and profound point that needs constant reiteration if we’re to understand from what founding rock the western legacy stands upon, and , more importantly, the fundamental efficacy challenges that any of the so called “ Peace Movements” must face: The first notions of historical record keeping in the West, in written form, organized and utilized as social tool by “civilized man” have to do with the tales and ethos, the tragedies and triumphs of wars…
Now contrast that w/ what can be said of Peace… If this idea juxtaposition is rendered in acute focus, and understood, the task might seem incomprehensibly formidable: waging “peace” against war as a fundamental tenet of a more secure intra -national political order. We have inherited a legacy of storytelling where the major formative forces of history, and the character exemplars who enliven these stories seem to form hub points of turning around wars. Achilles and Hector come to mind as the proto character heroes of the Trojan War. In our American experience, for example, so much of what we hold dear, more, enshrine as the inalienable rubrics of “democratic liberties” have been preserved and enshrined through the sacrifice of warriors in the act of preserving the dear liberties cradled in the Mother or Fatherland. This ethos is precisely what drives the heroes of the Trojan War. This is what the historical record has archived.

In essence, the challenge “The Real New World Order” faces is based on the revolutionary concept of peace as the most efficient and utilitarian mode of political and economic interrelation for all. This is not an apologists appeal for the pacifist ideal at all. Wars have been necessary in an absolute sense, and still are necessary and will continue be a rationale answer into an uncertain future to some struggles for core freedoms that would be denied by despotry and totalitarian rule. But, if the concept of eternal peace can be conceived of and aimed for in a rigorous and structured body of thought, the groundwork might be laid for such a reality to actually become a part of human discourse.

What is the essential ontology of the peace movement? This seems a fairly straightforward question in the asking; but the answers are as nebulous as the concept itself.

The “peace movement” as it is referred to, is inextricably linked, in a form of binary and bipolar arrangement, to the war tradition. It arises out of reaction to and opposes actions of violence and war. It is not a first cause initiator, but rather a following response to first cause, or, less often, as a preemptive appeal to a priori threats of an aggressive nature. This is an essential point of psychology: It is not seen as a primary action , but rather as a secondary reaction.

The active volitional forces that are required to assert power by violence, ( war) vs. the passive inactive and neutral aspects of “peace” a) acts of violence and assertions of power and control are just those: acts, or action. Acts that require volitional and dedicated execution, physical exertion and material impositions of one aggressive group of people upon another people, and their property. Action resulting in material change. The active force, (war and violent acts) necessarily accomplishes and effects a material change. The passive one, peace only advances an idea which attempts to contravene the active one: war . This is why a single act of violence from a single gunman, for example, can overwhelm and control the material lives of many people who are passive, and inactive under his control though they may appeal to his relinquishing power by placating w/ ideas.

In order for the concept of peace to take hold as a unifying principle, it first must be seen to address and satisfy utilitarian concerns for national and intra-national relationships. At all political and social levels of interaction, its first necessity is to build an active, volitional and organized set of ordering principles. In short, a body of systemized, pro-active thought.In other words, “peace” needs to learn to be aggressive, needs to be an “outty” rather than an “inny” as an ordering philosophy- a first cause set of means, and not soley as a reactive 2’ nd force response. It's efficacy must have an underpinning that serves utility as it applies to human relations.

This is a sort of Hobbesian concept of achieving overall intra-societal security. The new Leviathan if you will. Instead of the “sovereign” dispensing unilateral powers at the cost of relinquishing certain individual liberties over the governed in exchange for ensured protections, it would be an idea graphed over many generations or perhaps centuries into the human collective stating that ultimate security for all must ultimately, and by strict necessity, only derive from the para mutually accepted concept of peaceful co-existence. In a sentence, a world where war is outlawed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Case For Moral Ambiguity?

This whole question of bin Laden's killing is troubling on many counts and deserves more than just a cursory sigh of relief that the mother of all terrorists has finally met his demise. In particular it is the nature of his dispatch and the exquisite level of premeditation that went into the plan before the Seals "went in". For some the whole affair poses a dilemma of moral ambiguity, situation ethics, and pragmatics when trying to reconcile our constituted beliefs in due process with Obama's "justice done" statement. We will never know what will make for a safer world as only one course was taken and what might have been can only be studies in counterfactual conjecture. It does appear, however,that the Obama team set out on a search and kill mission as its only objective. From the very outset, long before the black hawks crossed into Pakistan air space, the plan was one of summary execution and swift burial at sea. This alone should cause some reflection. There will be no shrine erected to the "modern prophet" and the place where his bones lie unless one at some point is prefabricated.In an odd legal consideration,the writ of habeas corpus has been denied post mortem- denied those who might glorify him in death.
Was this the best thing to do, considering that the bones lying under any shrine may incite a more intensified jihad? Should we not at least admit to ourselves that an exceptional suspension of law, custom and decency was warranted in the case of bin Laden?

This is the rub of moral ambiguity which, for me, makes the question important- at least, to ask.
Qaddafi, Saddam pose no such dilemma, really.Are we laboring the death of Qaddafi's son from a surgical strike? I'm not. If Qaddafi was assassinated in a surgical strike, would there be this hue and cry? Not from me.
If a drone rocket had blown up bin Laden, his children and everybody in the compound, would we be asking any questions about moral ambiguity? If we knew his location for months, which it appears we did, observed the comings and goings of the people who lived in the compound, struck the compound when the children were not there--(were any of these options ever considered?) would the moral question even arise? Is there something about facing the enemy at close quarters with the whites of their eyes clearly visible that compels us to think longer, to apply a different set of standards? Why?

The fact of pre-meditation, pre-orchestration and preconceived
means of execution and burial rights in a seeming strict chronology gives me the chills. The question of whether or not his capture and trial on a world stage would have made the world a safer or more dangerous place will always remain an open question now. But I think it is an important question to ask any way.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Weight Of Osama's Millstone

Unless you've lived on some “green world” remove as far from the madding crowd as Fletcher Christian was on Pitcairn Island, the death of Osama bin Laden, for better or worse, has gotten under your skin. Who was this enigma now tied to a millstone alone, deep in a watery grave at the bottom of the Arabian Sea? For some of us the ignominious dispatch of bin Laden is seen as a just redress for his many crimes against humanity, thus his demise is rightly celebrated as the death of the devil himself. For others it is the martyred death of a modern prophet at the hands of the infidel West. Either way a virtual tsunami of pent emotion has found its breaking shore almost 10 years after its horrific release on 9/11.

What has given this wave its awesome world circumnavigating power? Why is there dancing in the streets in the USA and mourning in some cities in the Muslim world? How could this one man elicit such contradictory emotions? Who are we, those who rejoice in his death? Who are they, the people who lament? Why do some praise the man we behold as evil incarnate? Is it relevant to draw the question along such stark lines? Are there immutable principles of common human decency that should offer guidance on the right values, the right people, and the right god? How will the legend of Osama unfold now that he is gone and what portion of weight must each side bear of Osama's enigmatic millstone?

His death draws into sharp relief a deep and dark gulf between 2 divergent cultures and their respective religions. It is both the “Philistinism” and the ” xenophobic fear” with which each regards the “other” that defines most of this gulf and the rules of engagement with which they converge along bloody urban borders around the world. How is the West to come to terms with its misunderstanding of bin Laden? Are we even aware that there was an era in world history when Islam reached its own pinnacle and then precipitously fell from grace? For 600 years Islam was the renaissance culture of the world. It is hard for many westerners to imagine but western culture had all but forgotten its own intellectual, scientific and cultural roots as the rise of the Roman Church suppressed the glorious past of ancient Greece and Rome. This cultural amnesia was finally reborn with the help of the Muslim polymath Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides who began to translate into the vernacular all that had been lost through the Dark Ages. After this crescendo was reached in 14’th century Al Andalus, Spain and in old Baghdad, there have been many centuries of rapid descent and “cultural humiliation” felt by Muslims. The symbol of bin Laden, more than the man himself, may represent the desperate attempts of a culture trying to revive its own glorious past.

Wrought of this cultural humiliation Islam has clung to the only thing that connects it to its glorious past: Its Sacred Religion. Islam is a culture of deep and nostalgic remembrance of things past. Given so much poverty and dispossession experienced in the Muslim world today, it is only through this glorious past that this present humiliation can be assuaged. Bin Laden did not look forward, he looked back with a seething sense of the desecration of his sacred faith and his chosen means to expose this desecration was his violent jihad not only against the West, but also against moderate Islam as well. It seems essential to understand the crucial historical dichotomy between the Christianized West and the Islamic East. Where the West finally began its slow philosophical process of separating church from state, while still holding on to the vestigial exceptionalism that it is only through the sacrifice of Christ that salvation can be found, Islam, on the contrary, has never been able to accept this separation and has in fact seen the separation as blasphemous and infidel.
The Koran must be left in the pristine form with which Mohammad himself originally conceived it. For this reason it clings dearly to its Sacred Religion as the only thing that keeps the entire religious culture intact. The roots of this present jihad do not start with a war on the West, but, rather, a jihad within Islam itself, pitting the fundamentalists against the modernizing moderates within the faith. It has been largely an internal struggle starting in the 1950's.

This is why it is so important to understand the life and times of Osama bin Laden and just why he came to the fervent jihad he did. The raison d'etre of Osama bin Laden was not created in his own solipsist's vacuum, but brutally wrought in the crucible of these times. He is more than just an individual gone pathologically awry. He is both a symbol and an emblem to this defiance of cultural humiliation, this sense of being “cast out”. He was far more genuinely emblematic of his faith than was Saddam Hussein with his false Islamic Arabism. But, in the end, it was not so much his jihad to revive the pristine tenets of the faith that resonated with millions of Muslims around the world, but his defiance and unwillingness to submit, and most importantly, his efforts to turn back centuries of cultural humiliation and to find the lost pride of Islam that was once the jewel of the world.

End note:
If the reader concludes that this is an essay that attempts to justify bin Laden’s sacred jihad, then I have failed to clarify the point of the essay. It was not written in the spirit of an apologist’s appeal, nor as a rational defense of bin Laden’s horrific crimes against humanity. There is no doubt that all rules of international law and common decency demanded that bin Laden be pursued and brought to justice. Question is, was this final justice worthy of modern international jurisprudence or was it the same kind of justice- one of retribution and vengeance- that bin Laden himself believed so justified his sacred, bloody jihad?I think there is enough moral and practical ambiguity here to at least ask ourselves these questions.