7 March 2013

Dag van de complimentjes

- door de koningin, die zeer goed het verschil kan appreciëren tussen complimentjes en sweet talk

Die georganiseerde kinderachtigheid in onze samenleving! Alsof complimentjes niet meer dan een soort luxueuse verwenkuur zijn. Waarbij vergeten wordt dat complimenten moeten verdiend worden om geloofwaardig te zijn. Al die professionele opvoeders die vergeten hun rol van volwassene te spelen, omdat zij zelf nooit hun adolescentie ontgroeid zijn. En niets anders kunnen dan kinderachtig doen tegen kinderen, die op die manier natuurlijk mismeesterd worden.

Goed zijn op school is normaal, daarvoor ga je tenslotte naar school. Slecht zijn vraagt om uitleg. Alleen wanneer het uitzonderlijk goed is is een compliment verdiend: wanneer de volwassene zelf verbaasd is en dus ook eerlijk zijn bewondering kan uitdrukken. Educatieve complimentjes zijn vooral een toegave aan het belangengeöriënteerde denken: je moet kinderen belonen. Geen wonder dat de kinderen de complimentjes ook alleen zo opvatten, en er dan gaan om vragen! Tracy: je zegt alleen maar dat het slecht is, nooit dat het goed is, met 6 jaar, toen zij begon te schrijven en altijd weer haar potlood verkeerd vasthield. Het was gewoon niet goed genoeg!

Philip Greenspun on MIT as a 'no praise zone': when you did alright, nobody said anything; when you were having difficulties, you got an answer to your questions like: "you're having trouble with that problem because you don't know anything and aren't working hard enough".

Kickers Dixmille Sandalen voor de Koningin (rechtervoet zonder voet noch tenen)

Sweet talk is iets helemaal anders dan 'complimentjes', en zoals iedereen kan ik er niet genoeg van krijgen: hoe minder verdiend, hoe beter! Voor mij, voor mij, voor mij, het centrum van mijn wereld! Keizertje is vaak te moe om eraan te denken, en ik het doe het dan maar zelf. Ik doe graag dingen zelf. Koop mij een paar sandalen in de Kickers-shop voor €55, verrast als ik was dat zij zo mooie sandalen maken, en bewonder dan luidop mijn eigen voeten en tenen! Luidop, nietwaar, als hij moe is is dat nodig om de aandacht te trekken. En om de aandacht is het mij tenslotte te doen, niet om de sandalen. En om wat daaruit volgt, natuurlijk. En als er iets volgt, dan beperk ik mijn sweet talk geenszins tot mijn eigen voeten en  tenen, wat had je gedacht. Dan zijn er geen grenzen meer die niet overschreden mogen worden! La joie innée d'exister! 

Idiocy in world politics and how to draw attention to it, or draw attention away from the idiots

- from our correspondent at the Augean Stables

I very much agree with Joanne's thinking impulse. Only, expressing just the wish is not enough, you have to ask yourself the question: what can be done to make it happen?

Argueing with George Galloway is not going to draw the attention away from him. For that you would need to draw the attention to somewhere else. Normally the most effective way to draw attention is by setting yourself up as the center of attention. That's what Israel should do: by accusing the world of routinely denying the crime against humanity of which Israel is a victim since 1948, i.e. for 65 years now, no less. And Israel could easily do that, because it is true and easy to prove.

I wrote an email to Angela Merkel saying the same thing, but got no reply yet. They cannot very well reply officially: you must be out of your mind, not even Israel is making such an absurd claim. Because that would involve them in an explicit denial of the crime. Not replying on the other hand leaves them the excuse of not having received my message (it was 'lost').

Dionissis, I think, is reading too much psychology into Western politics (holocaust shame or guilt, inferiority complex towards Jewish morality), and the subconscious is an empty concept in any case. Unconsciousness or unawareness on the other hand is very much at the center of Western political decisions with regard to the 'conflict': unconsciousness of the inconsequential attitude that recognises Israel's 'right to exist' without recognising at the same time that those who are refusing to make peace with Israel are the criminals responsible for the conflict and not its victims. Unconsciousness which is dangerous because it can lead to well-intentioned decisions that are wrong, self-defeating, and amounting to blaming the victims themselves for their unfortunate fate.

To Wygart I would say: political attitudes towards the 'conflict' are more of a sideshow in Western politics, not symptoms of some new menace to democracy (beyond the usual). Which isn't meant to say that making wrong decisions in the Israel-islamist conflict cannot have seriously menacing consequences for Western civil society. But the Jews now have a state. That state should behave like any other state, and not like a Jewish state. It should accuse the world, and especially the Western democracies, of being inconsequential and anti-semitic by not recognising Israel's right to exist in peace. George Galloway is an idiot; Jakob Augstein also is an idiot, and a far more influential one, I would think; but they are not really valuable targets: the valuable targets are David Cameron and Angela Merkel. And it is my conviction that there are still enough decent Europeans who feel ashamed of their governments' participating in that charade of a 'peace process' that rehabilitates the criminals. They may even be a majority. But they are quite naturally a silent majority that will never step up to shout down the loud-talking intellectuals and politicians occupying the front of the scene. The only chance you have to get this silent majority to express itself (find itself some representatives to speak out for them) is by creating a focal point for them in public discourse. In Germany, this debate about Jakob Augstein's condemnation by the Simon Wiesenthal Center looks like a great opportunity to do that. The Israeli government should adopt a leading role in seizing that opportunity. (I mean, Jakob Augstein is defending Günter Grass's assertion that it is nuclear Israel that has become the principal menace to world peace! And he seems to be winning the debate! How can the Israeli government NOT react to such irresponsible and idiotic nonsense? In my opinion, they cannot simply leave that kind of defense to the SWC. It would be a show of unconscious irresponsibility on their part not very dissimilar of the irresponsibility displayed by the European governments themselves. Moreover, Angela Merkel herself has already complained(!) that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the German government to maintain a reasonable stance with these idiotic nonsensical ideas gaining traction in German public opinion. The Israeli government should take her up on her own words and show her how she, as chancellor, is supposed to deal with such idotic nonsensical ideas.) This is a fight. A fight Israel must win (i.e. cannot afford to lose - and Richard Landes is of course right that Europe can also not afford to lose it): in such cases you must go for the jugular, because there is no other way to win the fight. There is now a 65-year long history that proves that point, I would think.

Sure, Richard Landes says such things as well, but I see it either as part of his blogging style ('fisking') or as part of a larger explanation, from which I tend to take things selectively by applying Occam's razor. That's all I wanted to say, as I am far more interested in understanding politics by reducing the explanation than by enhancing it. And fundamentally I am convinced that the most powerful explanations are the 'negatives', the things not said and done that would make a real difference.

Miss Israel 2013 IDF Nominees

But Dionissis, the IDF women you showed me before were lovely! Why would I reconsider? I never doubted they knew how to defend themselves, but the thoughts they gave me were not thoughts of abduction or stabbing, God forbid! Mind you, in the mean time I learned a bit about how to defend myself with a pocket-knife, because when I was bragging earlier about running around with my pocket-knife in my pocket I didn't have the slightest idea of how the knife is to be held and used, except for peeling an apple. Someone showed me, and I'm better prepared now, although still much less interested in confrontation than in seduction.

The psychology I would be interested in is that of the 72 black-eyed houris. Here is a compilation from islamic sources you can find on the wikipedia page on houris: "a houri is a girl of tender age, having large breasts which are round (pointed), and not inclined to dangle, ... with beautiful, big, and lustrous eyes, ... her sweat will smell like musk." These same people then complain about houris being used in Western adverts for lingerie or cars. OK, I tend to agree that it is a form of wasteful underemployment for houris. But these people also shoot living houris through the head with kalashnikovs! And then bomb pizzerias with people inside or fly airplanes into tall buildings also with people inside only to get their imaginary houris in paradise! That's not shortsightedness. It's more like toofarsightedness! I once suggested the idea of forming a living houri brigade to teach these boys some sense to a Moroccan girl in that same café. And she didn't find the idea stupid! She wasn't afraid of my staring either. And not interested at all in covering her hair. Which was lush and not something that should be covered. On my demand she uncovered more things for me. So sometimes you can see glimpses of hope. But they are rare, far too rare to make a difference. (Philippe Sollers made a big splash in 1983 with his book on "Femmes": "Le monde appartient aux femmes, c.à.d. à la mort. Là-dessus tout le monde ment." He made a big splash, but nobody listened, as usual.)

Jewish Nakbah (Pierre Rehov) - Jewish Girl with Franz Kafka's Eyes

PS: The same Moroccan young woman (30) said very nice things about Jewish people she had known in her childhood in Morocco. It wasn't always clear to me what she really meant, because I had thought that these Jewish people had been driven out before her birth. But we agreed entirely that it is all such a waste of human happiness! And all because of politics, and the general stupidity to fall into that trap of expecting good things from politics. That was mainly my conclusion, because she couldn't anymore follow me there, thought that the big people who had studied so much more than her probably knew what they were doing! People taken individually always should know better. But for that they need to trust themselves. Which they don't, most of the time. If I knew how to insert pictures into these comments, I would show you another fascinating Jewish girl having Franz Kafka's eyes, a picture I took from Pierre Rehov's film on the "Jewish Nakbah". She's behind bars, and there is a smugly smiling soldier guarding her. I find it an emblematic picture of this 'politics destroying human happiness' idea. Westerners tend to brag about 'freedom', but most of the time they don't know what they are talking about, reducing their idea of freedom to either political freedom (elections) or economic freedom (choosing your model of a car). It's childish and stupid. Muslims, and even islamists like Sayyid Qutb, often complain quite sensibly about that emptiness in Western life. I would think that that is also a good subject for a dialogue with them. Do you know of a good islamic blog where one could try to do that?


PPS: About the silent majority of decent people: I remember my Belgian grandmother almost spitting on her own carpet each time Yassir Arafat appeared on the news! "Den duvel" (the devil), she simply called him, missing the words and education for a fuller explanation of her thinking.

5 March 2013

Chef van Mogadishu

- by the emperor, having had a bit of luck when zapping through TV channels before putting on some music

Saw it on VRT Canvas, on Somalia and some man (Ahmed Jama Mohamed) coming back from London to rebuild his businesses by investing some of the profits from his London restaurant: 4 restaurants and a beach resort 'The Village' at Jazira Beach.

He is also into politics in a natural human manner: feeding the tribal elders regularly in order to attract them to his position. But doesn't really like it, because it makes him even more of a target to the islamists than he already is, with Al Shabaab attacking him and his businesses (one 'successful' suicide attack).

The man is very interesting, but the journalist doesn't ask him at all how he became who he is. The journalist is sort of dumb, talks about brave idealism, but doesn't understand a thing about the natural law: Ahmed is presented as some admirable dreamer, but the really important things will have to come from politics. He also doesn't go into the matter of the islamist threat. They are just awful terrorists to him, without having any link to the islamic belief system. Big omenous words ("country at the crossroads"), no real understanding, as usual on TV. 

Politieke roep om reddingsoperaties, of: zijn politici nog te redden?

- van de koningin, die het eigenlijk ook eens in Italië wil bekijken, het politieke spel en zijn meest ontmaskerende protagonisten Berlo en Beppe

Dat zat er wel aan te komen natuurlijk, nadat de Grieken het hen met succes hebben voorgedaan, dat ook de Italianen onze onvermoeibare eurocrisis-bestrijders een neus zouden zetten! Nu nog de Portugezen. En waarom niet allemaal? Tegen de onmenselijke door Europa opgelegde austeriteit? Elio di Rupo en Paul Magnette zijn zoals steeds bereid ons de anti-kapitalistische weg te wijzen. 

Afgrijselijk worden ze genoemd, de afdankingen in de industrie. Slagen in het gezicht. De Europese industrie moet beschermd worden! Door wie? Door de Europese industriële politiek, natuurlijk, en de zich daarmee bezig houdende politici, dat is gemakkelijk te raden. Waarmee? Met regels, sociale en milieuregels, wat anders, en wereldwijd als het kan. Waartegen? Dat is heel wat minder duidelijk, maar logischerwijze zou je vermoeden dat de industrie vooral tegen de industriëlen moet beschermd worden. Die kennen er tenslotte zo weinig van dat zij vooral de afbouw van economische activiteiten lijken na te streven. Geobsedeerd als ze zijn door ingebeelde politieke vijanden aan wie ze slagen in het gezicht willen verkopen. Dat zij daarbij kapitaal verliezen lijkt hen weinig te deren, en in voorspoedige winstvooruitzichten willen ze al even weinig geloven. Waar zoeken die kapitalistische industriëlen toch hun eigenbelang?

De industriële politiek is dus dringend aan een heropwekking toe. Tijdens mijn recente studeerwerk in de politieke wetenschappen heb ik nochtans vernomen dat zelfs de Fransen de industriële politiek aan het einde van de jaren '70 opgegeven hadden. En die hadden dus een paar decennia ervaring met economische planning en sturende overheidsinterventies in de industrie. Eerder slechte weliswaar, zoals die mislukte poging om van Honeywell Bull een te duchten Frans-Britse concurrent voor IBM te maken. Zonder het minste vermoeden dat de echte concurrent natuurlijk uit een onvoorspelbare hoek zou komen, de hoek van Microsoft en Apple, en zonder de minste overheidssteun, hetgeen eigenlijk niet zou mogen.

Tja, wat moet een politicus doen, indien vooral de mislukkingen goed voorspelbaar zijn, en de echte succesverhalen alleen maar uit onvoorspelbare hoeken komen? Niets doen lijkt geen slechte keuze op het eerste gezicht, maar voor een politicus is dat uitgesloten, hij moet toch met iets zijn stemmen verdienen. Door met goedbedoelde initiatieven mislukkingen in te zamelen kan hij nog altijd een paar stemmen verdienen met zijn goede bedoelingen. Door de zaken gewoon op hun beloop te laten brengt hij zich in een onmogelijke positie om zijn verdienste aan te tonen voor die onvoorspelbare successen. Hij kan ze tenslotte zo weinig voorspellen als iemand anders.

Wijze oude man Anthony de Jasay heeft altijd wel een paar ideetjes over hoe actieve politici die meer willen doen dan nietsdoen hun energie zouden kunnen steken in het weer afbreken van alles wat zij in hun ijverigheid hebben opgebouwd. Hij argumenteert daarbij overtuigend dat de afbraak-politici grote onvoorspelbare successen zouden kunnen hebben, en in zijn laatste stukje zelfs, ook al gehad hebben, zoals Gerhard Schröder met zijn arbeidsmarkthervorming in Duitsland: "One size fits all, but not well: collective bargaining conceals and may waste a rich source of productivity." De in de vergelijking toch redelijke Duitse kiezers hebben het toen wel evenmin begrepen als de Italianen het vandaag hebben willen begrijpen van Mario Monti, dat afbraak voor vooruitgang kan zorgen. 

28 February 2013

On Hitler, the Nazis, and the question of genocide

On Hitler, the Nazis, and the question of genocide

(This is my way of understanding it. I may be wrong here and there about facts, but if these errors do not really matter for my understanding, I would like to avoid a discussion of these irrelevant errors, or more simply, I do not intend to participate in it.)

With the Jews, the Nazis and even Hitler were not genocidal from the beginning. The 'Jewish problem or disease (including bolshevism)' of German society were one of the two obsessions of Hitler, the other was about the menace to Germany coming from the Russians, with whom he was much more openly genocidal, and whom he wanted to either exterminate or push out of Europe in order to create Lebensraum for Germany and get to the Caspian oil resources. (I'm summarising what I think Rudolf Augstein worked out quite convincingly over his career as a journalist-historian.) If Hitler could have passed on the 'Jewish disease' to the rival powers of Germany, he would have preferred that. But they didn't let him.

When the Nazis became genocidal with the Jews, they didn't do so openly, far from it. They were criminals, and in their heart they knew it. So they covered up their crimes from the outset, what else would you expect criminals to do? And that's why we will never completely find out about how it really went: this is like an unbelievable detective story nobody will ever elucidate. And the German Jews were Germans, not really different, and therefore as much affected by the pneumopathology as the Germans. Which would explain why they didn't know how to defend themselves any better than the other Germans against the ideological and political (democratic) derailment, that started much earlier than in 1933.

The question "how ordinary Germans allowed things to reach the point where genocide was normal", in my view is an ambigous question. For one, genocide was never normal, and certainly not in the sense that ordinary Germans found it normal. So in a way they were always right when they said "wir haben es nicht gewusst", if 'wissen' is understood as "we knew that an (open) genocide against the Jews was being committed and we all knowingly made up our mind to find that normal". When you understand the question as "how the spiritual and thereby enabled political derailment in which ordinary Germans participated led to a point where this genocide became at all possible" on the other hand, the question makes a lot of sense, I think. But it becomes then a very complex question that is much more about understanding pneumopathology and politics than about historical facts of the nazi-period.

Methodological individualism: ordinary Germans were people with their individual horizon and understanding of the world they were living in. On this blog of all places we are very conscious of the disorientation caused by the MSNM in particular and public discourse in general. It was very much the same at that time. I also asked my mother about what they heard on the radio. Goebbels, she answered, announcing: "Ab heute wird zurückgeschossen!" That was in 1939, and she was 10 then, but she remembered it first hand. Germany was under attack! Again! After Versailles and all that injustice it had already had to swallow! How do you want ordinary Germans to see through all that, especially as some of it (Versailles) was not altogether wrong?

Did you ever read Max Weber's memo after he resigned in complete disappointment: "Bemerkungen zum Bericht der Kommission der alliierten und assoziierten Regierungen über die Verantwortlichkeit der Urheber des Krieges"? J.M. Keynes's "The Consequences of the Peace" also contains that disappointment, but in a more forward looking way. And Max Weber may have been somewhat volatile in his early years, but he was no criminal. He actually was very sensitive to the 'pneumopathology', but unable to figure it out theoretically. And that intellectual and practical helplessness broke him as a man. It makes me cry, right now, while writing this down, when I think of him! If he had had Voegelin to learn from, and had become President of the Weimar Republic, there would have been a chance of an attempt to try a different history for Germany. But that's dreaming, isn't it?

I have other such dreams, about Ludwig Bamberger and Otto von Bismarck, after 1870. Ludwig Bamberger was Jewish, and had married into the von Bischoffsheim family to become a banker (Paribas). He was a classical liberal who understood economics and capitalism, and who admired Bismarck for very good reasons after German unification. But he didn't see it either, just as Max Weber later couldn't see it. The chance they had with Bismarck, instead of fighting his so-called anti-democratic authoritarianism in order to get to the executive power, to take him on his word and to use the legislative power they had to keep the executive power in its place. In that dream, Bismarck would have understood and cooperated from his side of the executive power. Bismarck somewhere expresses the idea that objectively he thinks of himself as a republican. But he disliked theoretical speculation in politics, and as long as there was no true liberal on the other side of the legislative power to make him a proposal, he wasn't going to investigate it any further. In that dream Germany would have become the first lawful democracy in Europe. The first anti-political and truly civil polity. And in that same dream we would now live in a completely different Europe, with government capturing no more that 5% of national income, and not 50%. And in a world without a single Jewish Holocaust memorial.

These are speculative dreams, I know. The kind of speculative dreams you start to develop once you've understood Frank Van Dun's theory of natural law and Eric Voegelin's idea of pneumopathology. If the disorder of the human world comes from the disorder of the human spirit, why not dream of an ordered world in accordance with the order of the human spirit you find in yourself? And in my speculative mood, I would think that that dream is not all that different from a very particular (!) idea some at least have had in the past of the catholic church.

Envy and shortsightedness in world politics (a few more speculative dreams)

- from our correspondent at the Augean Stables

(1) Without British naval power envy there would have been no Bolshevik communism in Russia

I'm not going to praise Russian czarist rule, but why did the British have to choose the side of the Muslim Ottoman Empire against Christian Russia? Why not let Russia have the straits? It is at least certain that Russian society would have developed differently if that access to the Mediterranean had been available to the Russian economy.

(2) Without French civilisational envy there would have been no WWI, no WWII and no Holocaust

French envy of Germany is certainly the cause of the 1870 war, which then led to WWI. Russia and France were the only European powers with clear political goals that could only be achieved by a general war. France egged on Russia, knowing very well that Germany would respond by a declaration of war. That declaration of war the French in their childish self-righteousness used after the war to burden Germany with the sole responsibility for the war and to impose Versailles. (Germany could not win a defensive war against Russia and France when her territory was invaded. This had to do with the source of her military capabilities - industry and railroads - which they could not allow to be disrupted by an invasion. This strategic constraint was known at least to military strategist all over Europe and the reason behind the German saying that mobilisation was the equivalent of a declaration of war. And honest as they were, when Russia went from partial to general mobilisation the Germans did what they had said they would do and started their defensive war. I am of course aware of the 'Fischer controversy'. I just find that in Max Weber's writings you can find much more plausible and convincing explanations for these ideological expressions of German imperialism.)

(3) Without French economic envy there would have been no carving up of Africa

French envy of British industrial superiority and trade advantages led them to follow a statist and protectionist colonial policy, to which the British then had to adapt by giving up their preference for indirect rule.

My purpose is not to start an endless discussion of facts. It is to ask whether it makes any sense at all to derive such a general understanding of the multitude of facts by summarising them.

I very much think that it does make sense. Not in the sense of establishing 'true history', but in the sense of working out an interpretation of history that can become useful in a political dialogue aimed at making the right political choices. History isn't only a matter of facts. Historical interpretation is also a matter of politics. And this happens inevitably, so that interpretations that are much worse than the one I'm offering may actually become (or have indeed become) decisive for the making of political choices.

I also would assume that there is a clear connection between envy and shortsightedness. Uncontrolled envy typically attaches itself to the apparent source of envy (which becomes the enemy) and not to the ultimate source (oneself). It is a source of disorder and of war, whereas controlled envy would lead to orderly development in competition with others, by trying to catch up in one's own development instead of preventing others from following theirs.

Shortsightedness for all practical purposes means that the decision is made on the basis of the more immediate goal or motive while the ulterior goal or motive is discarded. Whether the one making the decision is aware of it or not is practically irrelevant.

In politics we must of course distinguish between various actors, and my general interpretations of history were concerned with imaginary actors that are representative of the general mass of people involved. I don't think these imaginary representative actors do exist in reality, or have anything to say in politics, e.g. an ordinary citizen having speculative dreams about politics such as myself. But that's exactly why I find these interpretations interesting, as well as the whole question of how a civil society, i.e. the general mass of people involved, could find a way to represent itself in public discourse, or rather, in public dialogue.

Once you start examining the real actors involved in political decision making, it very quickly becomes clear that what appeared as envy and shortsightedness in the general and representative interpretation is easily explained by a motivation that is entirely different, namely the motivation of the real actors.

That was the central point of Philip Greenspun's article on Israel. And in my own explanation of what is needed to get peace negotiations started for the Israel-islamist conflict, I also clearly said that the whole Palestinian political leadership must be banished. Or better even, hanged. (I'm all in favour of the death penalty for political criminals, because the burden of proof can often be easily met, i.e. the disrespect of the natural law in the obvious cases is so enormous that there can remain no doubt. That is also the meaning of the quote from Democritus: "It is needful to kill the enemy, whether a wild or creeping thing or a human being.")

The general and representative interpretations of history are important because the real actors willfully exploit misrepresentations as a useful fiction behind which they can hide themselves together with their true motives. That was indeed my starting point: these general interpretations of history are a matter of politics, they are the symbolic battleground for representation of the mass of the people involved. 

Or in a few words: the apparent envy and shortsightedness in the general and representative interpretations of history are proof of the political disrespect of the natural law. 

27 February 2013

Verdraaide verdraaingen in de Standaard van 2013-02-23

- door de koningin, die er niet in geslaagd is om aan dit stukje een leuke draai te geven

Jef Verschueren vindt dat het grote taboe op vergelijkingen met de jaren '30 van de vorige eeuw gelijkstaat aan een weigering om vergelijkingspunten te zien waar ze hun wezenlijke grond hebben, namelijk in het vergoelijkende discours dat 'de afweerdrempel tegen echt totalitarisme' verlaagt. Hij zegt er niet bij wat er nu vandaag eigenlijk vergoelijkt wordt zoals in de jaren '30, noch tegen welk totalitarisme er afweer geboden is. Hij suggereert dat die twee vragen al beantwoord zijn en hij er gewoon overheen kan gaan. Zijn suggestie is niets anders dan een intentieproces: hij gaat er van uit dat het zogenaamde taboe dat hij waarneemt tegen vergelijkingen met de jaren '30 een ontkenning is van vaststaande en niet verder te bewijzen totalitaristische tendenzen. Hij doet dus door het taboe aan te vallen juist hetzelfde als diegenen die door het taboe geviseerd worden: een ongegronde vergelijking maken met de jaren '30. Het taboe op ongegronde vergelijkingen met de jaren '30 moet bijgevolg dringend uitgebreid worden tot Jef Verschueren en andere opiniemakers die gewoon om het even wat beweren om hun vooringenomen gelijk te halen tegen de vanzelfsprekende politieke vijand. Want als er iets is dat aan de jaren '30 doet denken, dan is het dat: een enkel door machtsstreven gemotiveerde ideologische vooringenomenheid tegen een ingebeelde vijand.

Paul Goossens heeft dezelfde neiging om te redeneren dat alles wat niet naar zijn sociaal-democratische zin is aan de ingebeelde kapitalistische vijand kan toegeschreven worden en dus ondemocratisch is. Indien decennia van sociaal-democratische politiek de Europese welvaartsstaat in een schuldencrisis hebben doen belanden, dan zijn alle pogingen om die schuldencrisis te bedwingen natuurlijk ondemocratisch en kapitalistisch: een nadrukkelijk teken dat het "economisch systeem de democratische bedding" probeert te verlaten, zoals hij dat in zijn suggestieve taal niet alleen verwoordt maar zelfs denkt te bewijzen. Dat de schuldencrisis pas ontstaan is omdat de door de democratische regeringen daartoe aangezette banken altijd gerekend hebben op de onbereidwilligheid van de democratische regeringen om de no-bailout clausule waarop de Europese muntunie gebouwd was ook hard te maken heeft volgens hem natuurlijk niets met democratie te maken. Zo weinig als het bewijs van die onbereidwilligheid van de democratische regeringen bij de eerste dreiging van een overheidsfaling in Griekenland. Waartegen hij zich dan eigenlijk wil verzetten door een radicalisering van de democratie te eisen is in zijn geheel onduidelijk. Er valt alleen maar te vrezen dat een man met zoveel onverstand van de feitelijke gang van zaken en al evenveel ideologische vooringenomenheid daadwerkelijk gelooft dat een radicalisering van de democratie de schuldencrisis en het wantrouwen van de schuldeisers gewoon weg kan decreteren. Wat voor een democraat niet waar kan zijn, hoeft alleen maar weggestemd te worden, dat is tenslotte democratie: het primaat van de kinderachtigheid en de onverantwoordelijkheid. En eigenlijk heeft hij dat nog niet zo slecht gezien.

25 February 2013

On envy and resentment, social inequality, and what to do about it (or: the conundrum of distributive justice)

- from our correspondent at the Augean Stables

I haven't yet studied the material, because I encountered statements such as the following:

"The manifestations of jealousy are determined by the normative and institutional structure of the given society. This structure defines the situations in which jealousy shows itself and regulates the form of its expression. It follows that unless jealous behaviour is observed in different cultures, unless a comparative point of view is adopted, it cannot be intelligently comprehended as a human phenomenon."

Words like 'normative and institutional structures' give me the (intellectual) creeps! So I prefer to start by making clear to myself how I understand it from my own experience, which is directly available to me. In order to read and understand what I read from that point of view, i.e. my own. To be truthful, this understanding of my own experience is definitely formed by what I have learned so far in life, including by studying natural law and Thomas Aquinas. And by Eric Voegelin, of course, which must be the reason why I find the above statement a typical and nonsensical statement out of the positivist social sciences. These people! They must be doing it on purpose! Just to keep busy 'observing in different cultures' and ask for research and travel grants.

'Envy' is at the basis the direct result of a conflict between my interest (what I want) and the world, including other people, frustrating that interest. In most cases it appears as if my interest is frustrated by other people putting themselves between my interest and its realisation, because the objects of my interest are their (exclusive) property, so that I envy them for being in the position to the object of interest I would like to occupy. E.g. I can envy them for having such a beautiful appartment in the middle of the Marais in Paris.

But on closer examination, this is never the true source of my frustration: the ultimate source of my frustration always lies with myself. E.g. I don't have the money (or the wish to sacrifice other interests to have the money available) to buy my own beautiful appartment. If I envy Prince Rogers Nelson for his talent as a pop musician, it's only because I don't have his talent.

I'm thinking hard about cases where the frustration of my interest is not ultimately related to myself. And I can't find any. As a student travelling through Europe, I constantly envied people for having the chance to live where they lived and not in drab Belgium, e.g. the Sorrentines on the Amalfi coast, or the Venitians in Venice. But that kind of envy is also ultimately related to myself, because it is related to my fate. The day I will lose my legs in a traffic accident, I will start envying all the people who had a better fate (and there are still quite some people around with all their legs, so my feeling of unjust bad luck will be enormous).

That's where resentment really comes from and is the strongest, when the frustration and envy is related to my fate, the things about myself I cannot influence at all. And in truth, ultimately it always is! In the example of the beautiful appartment in the Marais this indirect relationship goes like this: to buy my own I would have to give up other things, which I could but don't want to do. If only I had inherited such an appartment, I could have one without a need to make such a choice. But I haven't. That's fate!

Conclusion: envy and resentment are always a revolt against myself and my fate. And I only have the choice between accepting my fate (and giving up my envy and resentment) or not accepting my fate (and acting out my revolt typically by holding other people responsible for my fate). As other people are never responsible for my fate any more than I am myself, only the first choice is lawful, whereas the second choice necessarily is unlawful, i.e. it will dispose me to commit unjust acts and to invent untruthful justifications for those unjust acts.

(If other people are indeed responsible for my fate, I'm not going to envy them! I'm going to be justly angry at them, like at the drunken driver who cost me my legs, and I'll ask for restitution!)

Jealousy is either simply a synonym of envy: I'm jealous of him because he has found a way to seduce that beautiful girl whereas I failed (if only by making no attempt). Or it points to a feeling coming from unlawful proprietorship. I cannot really be jealous of my rights, I can only be jealous of my privileges. Sexual jealousy is a very interesting thing, but that's for my own book, and unlawful proprietorship is always involved, I think: nobody can own his woman, or any woman, as she is a person of her own.

So, we're back to natural law, from where we should never have left. For contemporary Western politics it means that all of it, and most obviously social-democratic promotion of social justice, is a revolt against the fate of natural inequality based on the cultivation of envy: a clear disrespect of the natural law. Inherited wealth is unjust? The inheritor didn't take it, he received it from someone else, who was free to do other things with it than leaving it to the inheritor. Go back in time? We will most certainly somewhere reach a point where unlawful appropriation played a role in getting the chain of wealth accumulation started. There will also be unlawful expropriations in that chain. Heck, there must be quite a number of virtually wealthy inheritors living today who were unjustly deprived of their lawful inheritance somewhere in the past! At any rate, the only way to correct the injustices of the past is by committing new injustices in the present and perpetuate the chain of injustice. That's not a warning. In Frédéric Bastiat's time around 1850 it may have counted as a warning. Today it's simply a description of the Western political society we're living in. Anthony de Jasay has a few funny articles where he explains the fallacies in 'equality of opportunity' thinking, using the metaphor of the moving goal posts. There simply is no end to ending inequality of opportunity, that's a logical fact.

PS: I'm probably going to read the stuff from the Greeks, but somehow don't really feel the need for it. I've got enough thoughts of my own already for my book, which is about natural law and the sexual nature of man, hence the title: "Tractatus logico-sexualis".

On inequality and what to do about it (or: the conundrum of distributive justice)

Inequality (of chances) is a fact of life: it is our fate (individually and collectively), and the meaning of the word fate is precisely that our fate amounts to undeserved luck or the lack of it.

We do not choose to play the lottery of life, but if we want to abstain from playing we can (suicide).

Whenever I encounter somebody whose fate I do not prefer, I have no reason to complain about inequality (although compassion does give me a reason to start complaining on behalf of the other's bad luck); whenever I encounter somebody whose fate I do prefer I have a reason to complain about inequality even without knowing how my fate relates to the mean or average fate (and sympathy with the other's good luck will not stop me from complaining); therefore everybody (except 1 as long as I remain within just 1 dimension of the inequality problem) in the end has a reason to complain about inequality.

End result (taking into account all forms of inequality): strictly everybody has at least one valid reason to complain about inequality.

Because everyone has a reason to complain about inequality, the obvious question seems to be: ought we to do something about inequality? The most problematic word in this obvious question is "we", the second most problematic word is "something".

If "we" is understood in the sense of "each of us", the question becomes trivial, because all that "each of us" can do about inequality is to accept it and to make the best of it.

Therefore the obvious question necessarily leads to another understanding of the word "we", namely "we together". This in turn leads to the question by which decision rule will we decide "together". Unanimity, which is the only decision rule that fully respects the will of each of us (and thereby the "natural" rule), will never lead to a decision on the "something" we ought to do about inequality, not just because there are so many "somethings" from which we can choose, but because every "something" will be vetoed by someone of us.

The tension between the obvious question (we all want to do something about inequality because we all see the potential gain) and the absence of an acceptable solution will lead to (but must it lead to?) power play on the choice of the decision rule, with each of us only having one aim in mind, namely to be among the winners of the power game and not among the losers. The name of that power game is "politics", and democratic "rules" cannot change its nature as a power game.

If we assume that compassion with other people's bad luck more than envy of other people's good luck is what drives us to the conclusion that "we ought to do something about inequality", then it should be possible to steer ourselves away from the power game implied by collective action, because abstaining from collective action doesn't exclude voluntary individual contributions out of compassion (charity).

PS: Some time ago there was a long interview with Bea Cantillon in the newspaper, director of some important research center for social policy in Belgium. The main idea she expressed in that interview was about the problem she had with the idea that the social status of a person is ultimately his own responsibility: that couldn't be true, as bad luck (or fate) obviously played a role.

Now, elementary reasoning on causality should permit her to see that the social status of a person is indeed the result of the combined effect of fate and effort, and given the complexity of the causal chain, that it is simply impossible to neatly separate the consequences of fate from the consequences of effort.

How can that be a problem for her? Only if her unavowed purpose is to create more confusion in favour of some ideologically motivated decision she's having in mind all along. And apparently newspapers think they have to offer her a platform for that unavowed purpose. Which makes you suspect a conspiracy! Or just an awful lot of stupidity in the higher echelons of our political system (institutionalised irresponsibility). 

Bangladesh and the West: The Problem of News Media Silence

- from our correspondent at the Augean Stables

Of course Benghazi wasn't an Obama-conspiracy. It was no more than a debacle. But not a debacle that can be abstracted from Western difficulties to understand and address the islamist threat. I for myself have now gone one step further than Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Koenraad Elst, who say that islam itself is the problem and Muslims must be severed entirely from their islamic belief system, if we do not want to be left with the only option of violent self-defense against Muslims being led and terrorised by islamist rabble into an anti-Western insurgency. I explained my thinking in my piece on "Natural law and Friedrich Nietzsche's discovery of the individual. Or how it is not the madness of the prophet that is the problem, but his godforsaken self-righteousness and disrespect of the natural law". I think I posted it as a reply somewhere else on this blog, but can't find it anymore.

My new position is not practically in contradiction with Ayaan Hirsi Ali's and Koenraad Elst's position, i.e. the end result at which it is aimed is the same. I just think it is clearer and less exposed to the inevitable ad hominem counter-attack of islamophobia to say: we do not even fear Muslims (people) adhering to their self-righteous islamic beliefs (prophet) as long as they respect our own and everybody else's right of life, liberty and property. I myself don't know how both could be reconciled. But if Muslisms find a way to do so, they're always welcome.

It also has the advantage of not offering any compromise to the Western social-democratic (leftist) ideologues' own self-righteous disrespect of the natural law (the individual right of life, liberty and property, with property rights and freedom of contract being their main and explicit targets). Because it is Western social-democratic self-righteousness that explains the natural affinity Western multi-culturalist and relativist ideologues appear to be developing with islamist ideologues. Anti-capitalism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Western insurgency, it's one same self-righteous struggle against the 'oppressors'.

I'm using my own blog now to keep some order, and to prepare I don't know what yet for the 2014 Belgian federal election, which will be a tough and very confused fight between the social-democratic mainstream parties backed-up by the MSNM and a reborn Flemish nationalist party attracting the not so nationalist protest votes of liberal-conservative Flemish voters in great numbers. The fight of the social-democratic mainstream parties against the Flemish nationalist challenger, with misrepresentation of the challenger's position and motives being greatly facilitated by this nationalist ideological heritage, actually started with the 2007 election, and it has already become impossible to untwist all the twisting that has been going on since then. It is fearsome, I can tell you. And as Koenraad Elst somewhere says from his Indian background, "a few well placed bullets" can have serious consequences in such a situation. 

Nous n’avons pas de leçons à apprendre: The French React to American "Can Do."

- from our correspondent at the Augean Stables

"L’État, c'est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde." - Frédéric Bastiat, Journal des débats.

There is nothing really new in this debate of today, the same question was already debated at the French Assemblée Nationale around 1850, when Frédéric Bastiat was an elected member and his admonitions fell on a majority of deaf ears. It was the time of the discovery of democratic politics in France after the 1848 February revolution. Once you've started to confuse interests and claims with rights, you're into an endless debate and struggle to make your interests and claims prevail over those of others. Misrepresentation of each other's interests, claims and motives is a necessary weapon in that struggle. Honour-shame culture is just another name for the culture of self-righteousness, it's not an explanation in itself. The culture of self-righteousness is better explained, I think, as the inevitable consequence of the disrespect of the natural law (the respect of individual natural rights). And Frédéric Bastiat said the same thing in 1850.

It's like those girls who come to a public place like a café to show off their new cell phones and boots, and then start a fight with you because they don't like you when you're looking at them in an incomprehending manner. They feel like they have a 'right' to tell you what is the 'right' thing for you to do. That's the meaning of the word self-righteousness. I told them: "Ce n'est pas parce que vous n'avez rien dans la tête, que vous devez avoir des prétentions. Je comprends bien, n'ayant rien dans la tête vous avez du mal à vous en apercevoir. Mais c'en est pas moins vrai pour autant." Incomprehending stares is all I got. And silence, which is not too bad under the circumstances.

As long as you haven't found a way to effectively shame the self-righteous about their self-righteousness, these debates are totally hopeless. Socrates was sentenced to death for it, and accepted the death sentence because of that hopelessness.

I'm thinking of politics, not of dimwitted girls, who are a nuisance, not a real danger, as French politics is for Europe. The most promising strategy I would think is to ask for an opt-out: instead of trying to invalidate self-righteous claims directly, just let them have it, but ask for respect of your right not to be part of it. Their self-righteous maliciousness will then come out into the open. Because respecting your right to be on your own would mean defeat for them.

Last time I was in Paris, I couldn't find Raymond Boudon's "Pourquoi les intellectuels n'aiment pas le libéralisme" (2004) in any bookstore (Amazon still has it, though). The woman I asked at Gibert-Jeune even remembered the book, said she had read it, while showing that she hadn't liked it. So I don't know how Raymond Boudon explains it. I know how Anthony de Jasay explains it: (classical) liberalism is anti-political, and political attempts at redemption are like toys for bright boys, they don't want to give them up.

It's a sad story, because the French had in fact far better liberal thinkers than the 'Anglo-Saxons': Alexis de Tocqueville, Frédéric Bastiat, Benjamin Constant are much better at giving you an idea of the connection between liberty (to each his own) and the achievement of the human spirit than a puritan like Adam Smith. That's why French social-democrats concentrate on fustigating Anglo-Saxon liberalism and conveniently forget their own more convincing liberals. Fundamentally, the best explanation for the anti-liberal bent in French politics is still in Tocqueville's "L'ancien régime et la révolution": they lost the taste and practice of liberty and self-government already under the ancien régime, a long time ago.

Someone should have warned Maurice Taylor about that, because now he has only made things worse.

PS: Saturday evening in a restaurant I met a French woman temporarely staying in Brussels and a couple from her home town Tours who were paying her a visit. When I invited them for a drink afterwards, they dragged me to some street bar offering exotic cocktails and shots of Brazilian rum. I had one too, but didn't like it, told these Frenchies that I liked cognac better. It has become too expensive, they said. And why is that, I asked. They didn't know, but they liked to talk a lot about France going backwards. The guy even maintained that French Laguiole pocket-knives are now made in China. I have one in my pocket, and I don't believe that it is made in China, it can't be that bad. 

24 February 2013

Little movie on islamic injustice (as a counterpoint to Gerald Scarfe's anti-semitic blood libel cartoon)

- by the emperor, showing that he is no heartless fellow

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh are known for having produced a little film about islam. I've never seen it. Because I didn't feel the need to see it. I already had a little film in my own head, no longer than 30 seconds, less time than you need to read my description of it.

There are two sequences of 15 seconds each, the first coming from some TV pictures I once saw on the news, the kind of pictures preceded by a warning about their disturbing character. It was from an execution of a woman by the taliban, pictures of her being put to death for adultery in some football stadium. You saw it all happen from afar, she walking forward under her light blue burqa, followed by a taliban man dressed in brown, leisurely carrying his kalashnikov in his arms across his chest. She kneeling down and he lowering his kalashnikov to shoot her through the head. 15 seconds. You could see some smoke, and her head exploding under her burqa, how her body was knocked forward, and how she fell on her face. Her life destroyed by some unassuming self-righteous taliban man in a football stadium. In front of I don't know whom.

The second sequence of 15 seconds then played out in my head, after the first sequence almost made me puke, feeling the sickness in my stomach, so that I could not help myself anymore, and wept. Thinking about her beautiful brown skin, her lovable cunt swollen with lust and wet with desire, her eyes inundated with pleasure. Thinking of her, how she was destroyed because of all that, in the name of islamic justice. How her life was taken away from her simply because she was a divine creature made for producing happiness, pleasure and joy in limitless quantities. And how one should tell Ahmadinejad, that this repulsive 'phenomenon' called islamic justice, is proof of the godforsaken madness of the prophet. Proof beyond any doubt. Notwithstanding the fact that even in our Western world there are positivists who deny that such a thing as islamic injustice can be rationally proven. 

May God have mercy on our helpless souls.

PS: For those who find the use of the word 'cunt' pornographic and inappropriate for a prayer: pornography is nothing less than a natural theory of life, and a definitively proven theory, mind you, not just some speculation. The proof is with yourself: where do you think you come from? 

Overheidsregulering en haar onverwachte effecten op de koningin

- door de keizer, die zijn liefje geen ongelijk wil geven, en bijgevolg helemaal voor de aanschaf van die machine is

De koningin heeft er zich echt in vastgebeten, in dat thema van de voorspelbare onverwachte effecten van overheidsregulering. En de aantoonbare overbodigheid ervan. Die studies in de politieke wetenschappen hebben haar toch wel onverwachte inzichten verschaft. Komt daarbij dat zij erg goed is in het maken van verbanden met haarzelf. Egoistisch is ze, dat is haar natuur. Als ik het dan (alleen nog maar af en toe) aandurf te zeggen dat ze als koningin niet moet denken dat de wereld alleen maar om haar draait, dan is ze helemaal niet meer te stoppen! "Mijn wereld moet om mij draaien! Daar heb ik recht op! Zoals iedereen!" En print mij dan haar notities uit, want ze is blijkbaar van plan er een systeem van te maken, van haar egoisme, alsof het dat niet al was. "Intuitie is goed, met wat uitleg wordt ze alleen maar beter", zegt ze. Hier is haar uitleg (containing strong language):

Narcissism, liberty, and feeling good about yourself

The typical conventional accusation of narcissism focuses on self-love: "Don't be so full of yourself, you arrogant self-centered narcissistic prick, the world doesn't revolve around you alone!"

It's the conventional appeal to 'altruistic ethics' that makes that accusation so intimidating and effective. It takes a good grasp of the natural law, i.e. the understanding of the confusion that is implied in that notion of 'altruistic ethics', to withstand that intimidating effect.

And to say: "I have a right to feel good about myself, and to live in my own chosen world with my friends, a world that does indeed revolve around myself, as long as I do not deny that same right to others."

Or to ask: "If the world doesn't revolve around myself, what is the center around which it revolves? Why does a world full of happy people need a center at all?"

Or finally to turn around the accusation against the true narcissist: "Aren't you doing exactly what you're accusing me of, suggesting that my world should revolve around what you yourself think its center should be, namely, you yourself, in all probability? Why don't you go and mind your own business, you arrogant self-centered narcissistic prick?"

That's what the natural law is about: founding your individual sovereignty on the faith you put into your own individual soul, while granting the same right to all other people. And it is only on the basis of these mutually respected sovereign rights that interesting exchanges or transactions can ever take place between people. The first step to enjoy life with your fellow man is to stop poisoning his life with your own selfish expectations. It is that obvious. And very simple. Children normally understand it quite naturally. If grown-ups can't remember it, it's because they have been learning the wrong grown-up ideas. It's a civilisational disease called pneumopathology.

Nu, het verband dat ze legt tussen die kwestie van overbodige overheidsregulering en haarzelf betreft eigenlijk mij: zij vindt dat mijn handen teveel in beslag genomen worden door het ondertekenen van al die papieren die erbij te pas komen. En ik kan haar dus geen ongelijk geven, ik ben er tenslotte zelf uren mee bezig, elke dag. Nu is ze te weten gekomen dat zij in Frankrijk voor zulke gevallen een handtekeningenmachine gebruiken, die dat dus automatisch kan zonder dat mijn handen er nog aan te pas komen. Zo'n machine moet in huis gehaald worden, daar wil ze nu niet meer vanaf. En ik geef haar geen ongelijk, ik gebruik mijn handen graag, zeer graag zelfs als het niet is om handtekeningen te zetten. Een Franse revolutie, noemt ze dat, en als het moet wil ze zelf wel met ontblote borsten en een vlag op de barricaden klimmen! Zo opgewonden is ze nu al. Wat mij alleen maar meer zin geeft om haar niet tegen te spreken, want ze is fantastisch als ze opgewonden is. Ik heb haar er wel op gewezen dat een revolutie nogal eens uit de hand loopt, eigenlijk niet anders kan dan uit de hand lopen. Wel, dat lijkt haar alleen maar nog meer op te winden. "Ofwel die machine, ofwel de frontale aanval op de overbodige overheidsregulering." Dat is de keuze die zij mij laat. "Jouw handen zijn van mij." Mais bien sûr, ma jolie fleur sauvage des haies, ma petite fouteuse nue aux yeux fous. 

PS: More study notes by the queen. 

Pop Essay on Ethics, Justice, and Politics (starting from a Jostein Gaarder Quote)

The word 'ethics' has a condensed meaning in everyday life which I would like to describe first. It's a mixed bag of things that are not easy to distinguish clearly and are in the common understanding somehow conflated and thought together.

My thesis is that what is in there is primarily ethics and justice, which by being mixed up degenerate into politics.

"Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feelings for the welfare of others."

This quote by Jostein Gaarder is, I think, a very good expression of this condensed understanding of 'ethics'. There is responsibility and reason (pointing to a duty of self-restraint: "you cannot just do whatever comes into your head without thinking about the consequences"), and there are the feelings for the welfare of others (pointing to a duty of self-sacrifice: "you cannot only think about yourself and forget about others"), and there is the overarching idea that being 'ethical' means being 'altruistic': "we're in this world to share it and take care of each other".

There is of course the well known dialogue between this 'altruistic' standpoint "we're here to serve others" and the sceptical question "and what are the others here for then?"

I would follow Schopenhauer's distinction between the 'duty of justice' (never to harm others) and the 'virtue of charity' (to help others when you can) to say that 'justice' and 'ethics' are simply two different questions, and that it leads to utter confusion when they are conflated (as they are in this typical condensed understanding of 'altruistic ethics').

Justice is about an order of natural rights (my life, my liberty, my property), and these rights are standing on their own (suum cuique), they are not dependent on each other, nor 'limited' by each other. Saying that my freedom is limited by your freedom is confusing: where exactly is the boundary, more to my side or more to your side? What it means is that my freedom in exercising my right is limited by the respect for your right (but not at all by your freedom in exercising your right). And in case of conflict, the burden of proof is not on the right that is exercised (there is a presumption of liberty), but on the objection to liberty in the name of the right that is violated (the one who argues that there is a needle in the haystack must verify the proposition, and cannot shift the burden to the other side, which can never falsify the proposition).

Ethics on the other hand have nothing to do with justice, they are about the 'summum bonum' for which we live, and justice requires that everybody's natural right to follow his own mind when making decisions in the matter is respected. So ethics is strictly individualistic (having nothing to do with justice and others), although each individualistic ethic will also be about how to deal with others in questions that go beyond the requirement of justice, such as the virtue of charity.

The altruistic conflation of ethics and justice leads to confusion and explains the tendency to restate duties of virtue towards others as second order 'rights to something' or claims on others. With claims on others being much more interesting than duties towards others, everybody tends to forget about his duties and starts to run around making claims on others, with all minds set on 'proving' those second order 'rights' (which one could just as well conflate into one single 'right to a decent living in accordance with human dignity'). It is that perversely altruistic game of trying to live at the expense of others which I would call politics (well, admittedly Frédéric Bastiat was first in 1850). And because of the confusion politics has become a question of 'ethics'. Whereas the question of justice tends to be obscured, and more importantly, justice in practice tends to be superseded by politics.

What all this means for individualistic ethics is anybody's guess, as we cannot look into other people's hearts. But one may have apprehensions, such as those expressed quite some time ago already by V.S. Naipaul in the concentrated formula: "Thirty years of free milk and orange juice have led to an army of thugs." 

23 February 2013

Imagined response by POTUS to 2006 letter from President Ahmadinejad, a letter that is very similar in content and argumentation style to his speeches at the UN General Assembly (2012 and other years)

- by the queen, who also knows how to write nice letters, especially after her crash course in the social sciences, and who is fully prepared to explain it again in person to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, combining intellectual arguments with some other powerful means of expression at her disposal

(Western politician's response: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the letter as "offering nothing new" and the White House said there would be no formal written reply.)

(Western intellectual's response: Stokes, Karina, Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush opens dialogue in Middle Eastern rhetorical style, Journal of Language and Politics, Volume 9, Number 1, 2010, pp. 96-114(19) - Abstract: "Understanding how Middle Eastern rhetoric differs from Western communication can aid in deciphering diplomatic correspondence like the 2006 letter from President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Failure to understand such communications and respond appropriately may result in missed opportunities to avert hostilities or establish effective rapport with other nations. Success in grasping the intent of Iran's diplomatic overture can provide a basis for creating a response that expresses American sentiments in a way that can be seen as intelligent and appropriate by Middle Eastern recipients. Such correspondence could entail establishing a respectable ethos, arranging content as expected, and emphasizing common values. Knowledge of the Middle Eastern rhetorical tradition can inform a viable understanding for diplomatic correspondence.")

(My question: are Western politicians and intellectuals out of their minds? To miss such an opportunity to speak, not only to the Iranian President, but to the Iranian people as well, who may need some encouragement?)

Mr President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad

I'm grateful for your letter and the questions you ask. They are good questions, and the answers to them are of the greatest importance. Fortunately, the answers to these questions are also very easy to find. What is very unfortunate, though, is that you cannot find these answers by yourself. Because if you were able to find these answers by yourself, the central question you ask in your letter - "how long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers?" - would never have become so pressing!

Iraq and WMD

You ask how I can justify the occupation of Iraq (and all the terrible consequences, as well as the heavy burden on our Treasury) "because of the possibility of the existence of WMD" in that country. The answer is simple: Iraq is not simply a "country", it is a country with a people and a government; and what you call "the possibility of the existence of WMD" is not simply a "possibility", it is the result of an act of the Iraqi government for which that government is responsible. The Iraqi government could have cooperated with us in order to prove that they had no intention to produce or to possess WMD, in other words, that there was no "possibility of the existence of WMD" in their country.

But the Iraqi government refused to do so. It is only then that I had to ask myself the question: if the Iraqi government is not prepared to cooperate with us and to show their good faith, how great is the threat posed by that government, which is possibly intent on acquiring WMD? And how representative is that government of the Iraqi people, of whom I naturally assume that they want to live in peace with the rest of the world? Because if that assumption is correct, and I believe it to be correct, an Iraqi government that is representative of the Iraqi people would have cooperated with us and shown their good faith.

It is only logical that I had to come to the conclusion that the Iraqi government, which refused to cooperate and to prove that they were not intent on acquiring WMD, was not representative of the Iraqi people and was therefore a threat to the rest of the world (and indirectly to the Iraqi people itself). I certainly wish I could have concluded otherwise. But for that the premises would have needed to be different. Not the logic, as you seem to suggest.

Western oppression and cooperation

The question isn't in your letter, but I can hear you ask: why should the Iraqi government, or any other government, have to cooperate with us and show their good faith, when we ask for it? Aren't they independent?

I believe that the question to ask rather is: why should they NOT cooperate with us and show their good faith? Even when they are independent?

Because asking the first question is nothing else but a perverse trick to make a legitimate request for cooperation appear as an illegitimate request for submission. In other words, it is an act of bad faith disguising itself as an act of proud resistance against alleged oppression. Struggle against oppression may be a religious duty for the faithful. But I'm sorry to say, jihad against Western oppression construed in such a fraudulent manner is plainly a scam intended to mislead the faithful. And as you point out correctly yourself, "telling lies is reprehensible in any culture: people do not like to be lied to", not in Iran, not anywhere else.

Israel and the Palestinians

You ask how one can justify the "establishment of a new country with a new people" where it hadn't existed before, and especially the cost at which it was established. Again, the answer is simple: time doesn't stand still, and the Jewish people, which wasn't "new" as you say, wished to establish a Jewish state in Israel at that time.

The maps may be difficult to find, but there are other sources that indicate that the old Jewish people once had a state or at least a country in Israel. You also correctly assume that the unbelievable murder of a very large number of Jewish people is not only true, but a contributing factor to this wish of the remaining Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in Israel (six million is indeed no more than a rough estimate, but if it turned out that the exact count was only 5,223,119, the murder would be just as unforgivable). Now, when the Jewish people and their representatives had this understandable wish to establish a Jewish state in Israel, they were very conscious of the fact that the land wasn't just there for them to take, but that the creation of a Jewish state in Israel had to proceed by negotiated agreement with the people already living in the land.

What happened then goes a long way to explain not only why I continue to support the Jewish State of Israel, but especially why the "cost" at which it was established was so high (and continues to be high). It is the simple fact that the Arab rulers who claimed to be representatives of the people living in the land (a claim that was obviously untrue for at least some of the Jewish and Christian people who were also living in the land) refused to cooperate and to negotiate an agreement (just as Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate and to prove his good faith). They assumed that they had a right proven beyond any doubt to the land in question, and thereby a right to simply reject altogether the wish of the Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in Israel. However, this right to reject the wish of the Jewish people cannot be proven any better than the right of the Jewish people to establish a Jewish state in Israel (there are also no maps of a Palestinian state in that land at that time). Which is to say that the refusal by the Arab rulers to cooperate and to negotiate an agreement was not only a very unfriendly act, it was also unlawful before God, who wants us to find ways to coexist and to live in peace in this only world he gave us.

It is true, the representatives of the Jewish people, when confronted with the refusal by the Arab rulers to negotiate, did not simply abandon their wish to create a Jewish state in Israel. They went ahead and created the Jewish State of Israel without an agreement. But you must also acknowledge that they didn't simply take all the land, they just took that part of the land on which they thought that an agreement could have been reached, so that an agreement would still be possible after the fact, an agreement on how to share the land and establish two states, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, that could prosper together in peace on that same land. They also didn't simply displace, let alone massacre, the Arab population in their new state, although that population behaved in a rather hostile way following the example of the Arab rulers.

The real and deplorable "cost" of establishing the Jewish State of Israel thus didn't simply occur in "the process", it only occurred when the Arab rulers, in defense of their unproven right to reject negotiations with the Jewish people, decided to make war against the new Jewish State of Israel in order to destroy it. And that was definitely an unlawful and criminal "phenomenon", to use a word you seem to like a lot. A criminal "phenomenon" for which both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people pay the price until today, and unfortunately  will continue to pay the price as long as the Arab (and Persian, I might add) perpetrators of that criminal "phenomenon" hold on to their hatred of the Jewish State of Israel.

The people and its rulers

The central question you ask - "how long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers?" - has thus a very simple answer: as long as there are rulers who make incorrect decisions! And you cannot simply assume that the rulers making the incorrect decisions are always the others, and never you yourself! Did that simple reflection ever cross your mind? Did you ever ask yourself how you could do yourself a lot of good for the people of the world paying the price for incorrect decisions? Because if you do not ask yourself that question, the day will come when God will ask you why you never did.

I for myself am certainly afraid of that day of reckoning. Not because I haven't asked myself the question. But because I cannot know for certain that I've always found the right answer. I said before that the answers I can give to your questions are easy to find. This is only true insofar that it is easy to find answers that are not completely wrong or "incorrect", to use your words. But it is very possible that the decisions I've made were not always the best that I could have made. I only wish, when taking these decisions, that I could meet more often with leaders who try hard as well to find the right answers, and less often with leaders who simply content themselves with asking self-righteous questions of others, and of me in particular.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Yours sincerely,


PS: I almost forgot. On the question of Iranian nuclear science: you can deduce from my answers to your other questions that I do not condemn nuclear science as such; it is the good faith of yourself and of other leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, when it comes to not using that science to develop a nuclear weapons capability, that I ask to be demonstrated. Again, just as it was for Saddam Hussein, it is easy for you to prove your good faith, as there are so many ways to do that. Calling upon the Iranian people to shed their blood as martyrs for the Islamic revolution isn't one of them, though. This whole "phenomenon" of bloody martyrdom, which was started by the ayatollah Khomeini, but of which you and ayatollah Khamenei also seem to be very fond, strikes me as wholly incompatible with your concern for "the people of the world paying the price for the incorrect decisions of some rulers". Because it suggests that the Islamic rulers of Iran, including yourself, act upon the principle that the heavier the price they make the people of the world pay for their incorrect decisions, the more glorious these incorrect decisions become in the eye of God! Therefore I must warn you: I do not believe that this repulsive "phenomenon" can be "rationalised or explained" by your faith in the one and only God. I take it to be a clear sign of your godforsaken madness!

PPS: I can just as well add, so as to spare you the trouble of writing me another letter full of questions, that there is always a way out of this godforsaken madness: it is the way of repentance. I pray, may you find it soon.