Sunday, June 10, 2007

They Are Just Nuts

There was an essay from Daily Kos, perhaps the major liberal website, a few days ago (No offense meant to Huffpo, MyDD, Democratic Underground, et alia). It notes an obscure bit of legislation that the author believes is being put into place so that George W. Bush can declare martial law and refuse to give up the presidency in 2009. It’s just nuts.

We have to start there. This is a supposedly serious thinker, writing on a supposedly serious political site, and it’s just nuts.

Sane people can have crazy ideas. In fact, it is likely that all of us have an odd belief or two tucked in an odd corner. I know relatively sane people who think that Henry Kissinger is the Antichrist, or that the pagan goddess on the seal of the EU is significant in apocalyptic prophecy. Tax protesters, New Agers, and diet addicts all have their favored beliefs. Lots of folks read or watched The DaVinci Code last year, and some folks still get outraged if one suggests that WWF is fixed. People fall for Ponzi schemes. There are amazingly improbable urban legends which remain widely believed even by educated people, and there are urban legends which are believed especially by educated people.

I touched on this a year ago in a similar context. Fashions in paranoia change slowly, I guess.

Conservatives see this as merely bizarre, that anyone could think that Chavez, the Saddam of yore, and Bush differ in national authority only in small degree. Liberals think conservatives blind for not seeing it. It is for this reason that protestations that the left is being paranoid and hyperbolic fall on deaf ears. They really believe that a president wields enormous power, and any move by the Bush administration to assert authority in an unclear area is an attempt to capture that last few percentage points of power and bring us close to autocracy.

I sent the story along to a few liberal friends, who wrote back that they hoped it wasn't true. One added the disclaimer that he was sure that there were some in this administration who would act like this if they could. Astounding. This is on the level of believing in the Illuminati - of the animals believing Napoleon when he blames Snowball in Animal Farm.

In a related story, I had someone again tell me at work the story of Dan Quayle wishing that he's brushed up on his Latin so he could speak to the people of Latin America. Snopes, as usual, comes to the rescue with the news that this is false, and just one more urban legend.

Why do they need so badly to see Republicans as evil and stupid? What does it say about you if you are willing to gullibly swallow anything about your opponents?


GM Roper said...

I think it says that holding on to the identity of what ever tribe you belong to is more important than figuring out the truth of something. At least I find this true for the group you've labled the Arts and Humanities Tribe. Or maybe, Krauthammer is on to something with his Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Tad said...

Again, I state that Assistant Villag Idiot ought be promoted to Deputy Village least.

I actually grinned and chuckled and some of the stuff. Further, I past it all along to some friends and some people who believe all sorts of odd sillinesses.

AVI, Keep at what you do. You are saving the sanity of some of us, or so I would believe.

copithorne said...

You don't give any reasons why you believe that article to be "nuts."
I take it that the reason is that you trust George Bush to uphold the constitution and regard that trust as self evident.

I don't believe that George Bush will declare martial law in 2009. But I do see that you and George Bush are capable of every manner of rationalization to justify killing and stealing and torture and subversion of the constitution. I guess you are capable of these rationalizations because you see it as self evident that you and George Bush are intelligent and have good intentions and that nothing either of you could do would be evil.

Dick Cheney recently expressed open contempt for the U.S. Constitution as a constraint on his executive power. He is joined in that by almost all of the current candidates for the Republican nomination who support torture and reject the right of Habeus Corpus.

I believe that it is self evident that killing and stealing and torture are stupid and evil. I can understand that it does not feel evil on the inside to engage in these behaviors. But evil is as evil does. That view is consistent with the traditions of moral reasoning that I respect.

Jonathan said...

Oh man! The first person I thought of when I read this was Copithorne. Dude, it's awesome to have you back. It's been way too long.
I also think it's evil to steal and torture. One quibble- do you mean murder or any death caused by another human?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

You got half of my reasoning correct, copithorne, and believe you understood it.

I see subverting the Constitution at that level of disregard to be so extreme, that even considering that George Bush, or Bill Clinton, or any roughly decent American would do it to be self-evidently silly. I trust George Bush not to do that, and I trust even the people in American politics I trust least - Ted Kennedy, for example - not to do it either.

You object to some things that Bush, Cheney, et alia have done or proposed as approaching that level of disregard for the Constitution. I would suggest that any Constitutional issue which can attract more than 20% of constitutional scholars to its side is by definition a semi-reasonable argument. It may turn out to be wrong, declared unconstitutional, and drop from consideration later, but if it attracts some support it is not ridiculous.

As you consider Cheney's POV self-evidently wrong, I would ask that you summarize his belief, then show where it is wrong. Equating it with torture or stealing shows you have not understood him. What would his description be? Then show where it is wrong.

False equivalences are not moral reasoning, copithorne, but moral evasions.

Anonymous said...

Cheney believes that the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States are obstacles to his agenda. He supports torture. He supports imprisoning young children. He resents the protection of habeus corpus. He mocks people who appeal to the protections of the constitution as "delicate" hypocrites.

I think upholding the protections of the Constitution should be the agenda of the executive branch, not obstacles to that agenda. That was the oath he took.

I understand that you embrace moral relativism and believe that if 20% of people believe something is reasonable, it must be reasonable. I do not share that approach. I think there is right and wrong. I believe that killing and stealing and torture are wrong. I believe that suspending habeus corpus is wrong. It doesn't matter to me if I am the only person who believes this or if this belief is universal, I will hold to these values.

My expectation, given all that I have seen, is that if George Bush suspends the constitution, declares martial law and calls it "defending American democracy" most of the remaining 30% of Americans who still support him would eat it up with a knife and fork. If you say you would not, I welcome your intention to defend the Constitution.

It is evident to me that George Bush's thinking and demeanor are growing increasingly disturbed. If he is actively drinking and using drugs, there is no limit to how disturbed his thinking and demeanor could become over the next 18 months. I am more concerned that his disturbance would lead him to start more wars than I believe that he would suspend elections.

-- Copithorne

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Copithorne, make the argument, not the accusation. What is Cheney's view of habeus corpus in the areas under dispute, and why do you believe they are unconstitutional? We hear very clearly what your accusations are. We have not seen the supporting evidence.

As you misrepresented what I said about the 20%, I must conclude you either did not understand it or are being dishonest. Not that I am sure there is a clear difference between those two possibilities for a person with some intelligence and education.

Make the argument. Summarise the beliefs you find objectionable and then refute them. I have yet to see you do the former.

Anonymous said...

copithorne....are you a real person, or an imaginary conceit invented by AVI to show the craziness and incoherency of the left?

Anonymous said...

copithorne....are you a real person, or an imaginary conceit invented by AVI to show the craziness and incoherency of the left?

Anonymous said...

Dick Cheney supports waterboarding. I believe waterboarding is torture. I think torture is wrong. Americans are torturing people on the basis of policies created by Dick Cheney. I can show you pictures if you need them.

Dick Cheney and George Bush and Alberto Gonzales do not believe in habeus corpus. They have said so. On the basis of that policy there are hundreds of people in Guantanamo, hundreds of people in secret prisons -- including children under the age of 8 -- and at least several American citizens and legal aliens who are being held without charges and without access to an attorney. The Bush administration has produced thousands of pages of legal briefs arguing that George Bush has the authority to imprison anyone he wishes as long as he designates them an "enemy combatant."

All Republican candidates for president, with the exception of John McCain support these policies of torture and imprisonment by executive fiat.

My perception is that you live in a realm of words. You think that torture is a bad word and not something you would ever support. But "enhanced interrogation technique" is a good word and who would object? If 20% of people want to call waterboarding an enhanced interrogation technique, who could object? Who could say that there is an objective reality and someone could say that there is one way of speaking which is truthful and one way which is ghoulish?

If we call killing hundreds of thousands of people, "bringing democracy to the Middle East" who could object?

If we call stealing trillions of dollars from future generations, "tax relief" how could anyone see it as morally wrong?

And if George Bush called suspending elections "protecting democracy" people would go along with that too. Though his M.O. is more to engage in secret electoral fraud. If you say that you have a limit as to what insults on America you will tolerate from George Bush, that is a wholesome sign.

I certainly welcome you to present a coherent rationale for why you can support killing and stealing and torture. I've invited you to explain your moral reasoning but you have never been able to. You make a few suggestions, I try to interpret your remarks as a coherent moral philosophy and then you object that I am misunderstanding you. I don't understand your moral reasoning. I don't have the impression that you understand your moral reasoning either.

Killing and stealing and torture are the policies of the Bush administration. To you, anyone who believes that killing and stealing and torture are evil is "totally nuts." In my experience these are normative moral values and anyone who holds themselves accountable to a coherent form of moral reasoning adheres to them.


Anonymous said...

Here's a link documenting how Dick Cheney's public support of torture leads to actual torture.

Here's a link about the Republican party killing habeus corpus:

Here's a case of a legal alien imprisoned without charges and without an attorney:


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you for stepping up your game in response to the challenge on at least one point.

No, I don't think waterboarding is torture, and I've seen a video of it. I think it's unpleasant and I wouldn't want to go through it, but that's not the same thing. As my definition of torture tends more to the beheadings, drillings, starvings and other physical torments with permanent damage, I would say that those who call waterboarding torture are the ones playing with words. Mere incarceration away from family is tormenting, so it is not unpleasantness that defines torture. If you care deeply about man's inhumanity to man, I suggest you contemplate actual torture before you throw the word around so freely. You have mentioned those who really do torture little, or not at all. This naturally leads to the suspicion that it is not torture per se that concerns you.

That said, we might still decide that waterboarding is a tactic we do not wish to use. We might decide it is too frightening or traumatising, or that it gives us bad PR, or that it doesn't work. That doesn't make it torture. You don't get to define words as you please.

As to habeus corpus, it has not been suspended. The Bush administration maintained that it never applied to enemy combatants. That is no different than what you would find in any other nation in the world, and is in full accord with the Geneva Convention. Whether his claim that person A or B is actually an enemy combatant, or falls into another category is what has been challenged in court. The administration may win or lose on that claim. But even if the latter, that is not the same thing as "not believing in habeus corpus." Also there are no briefs that "George Bush has the authority to imprison anyone he wishes as long as he designates them an "enemy combatant."" That is your exaggeration of the claim. Unless you really believe that George Bush is arguing for the right to walk down the street and say "lock up that one, lock up this one.?" Because that is the meaning of your sentence.

After that, your statements become simply unhinged in the previous way, misrepresenting what has been said by me and by others. I do wonder if these are mere rhetorical flourishes on your part, or if you actually hear with your emotions instead of your intellect. Just because two things seem equivalent to you does not make it so.

A short course in Lewis Carroll's Elementary Logic and The Game of Logic would point out to you what equivalences can be drawn from statements and which cannot. For example, "a implies b" is not equivalent to "b implies a," a mistake you make frequently.

Anonymous said...

The dictionary defines torture as "the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty." So, I'm hardly "defining words as I please."

My opinion is that waterboarding meets that definition. The civilized world will agree with me that waterboarding is torture. The civilized world will agree with me that torture is evil. If you want to torture, you'll just have to suck up the judgment that people may find you evil. Nothing personal. It's just evil is as evil does. Complaining about it will just be projecting your disowned conscience onto another.

I guess your moral reasoning here is that other people are evil, so anything is permitted to you. This is not moral reasoning. It is the absence of moral reasoning.

Yes, George Bush claims the authority to designate anyone an "enemy combatant" without any oversight or review by the judiciary. Even US citizens. That's standard Republican doctrine these days.

-- Copithorne

Jonathan said...

"Dick Cheney and George Bush and Alberto Gonzales do not believe in habeus corpus. They have said so. "

Dude, do you really think W can pronounce "habeus corpus?"

Jonathan said...

"If we call stealing trillions of dollars from future generations, "tax relief" how could anyone see it as morally wrong?"

Can you explain how we're stealing trillions of dollars from future generations? Do you mean the national debt? If so, what is your plan for paying it off? Do you mean trade imbalances (i.e. helping poor people in other countries achieve economic independence)? I'm not trying to be difficult, I just really have no idea what you're referring to.

Jonathan said...

"My opinion is that waterboarding meets that definition. The civilized world will agree with me that waterboarding is torture."

That's all very nice that you feel that waterboarding is torture, but can you define why? And how do you know that "civilized" people will agree with you- how many people understand what it is? Plus, what does it matter if they do- the issue is whether or not it is torture, not what people feel about it.

It's nice that you're attempting to reason this round, I'd just like to see some facts, as opposed to just stealing the base and leaping right to the opinion that my dad is a fan of torture. Unless you've heard him snore, in which case I understand completely where you're coming from.

copithorne said...

Jonathan, I don't believe your father has any intenion of paying back the money he borrowed from you and future generations. "Borrowing" money that you have no intention of repaying is stealing. This is just the common meaning of words. If you run up a credit card debt that you plan to skip out on, it is stealing. If you order a meal at a restaurant and don't pay the bill it's stealing. It's not complex.

I gave you a definition of torture: "the act of inflicting excruciating pain." Waterboarding meets that definition a hundred times over. Waterboarding will meet any definition of the word torture you find.

The only people who don't see waterboarding as torture are those people who have an interest in minimizing their responsibility for their own conduct. Im going to say that 95% of people in the world who are not members of the United States Republican Party will see American waterboarding as torture.

I can only speak for myself. AVI supports torture and he is also bewildered and offended that people would regard him as evil. These impulses are contradictory. He is deferring responsibility for his own choices outside of himself.

I understand that he is a nice, urbane man who contributes to society and enjoys culture. There are many such people who are nevertheless unable to apply their civilized disposition to their political reasoning.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Well copithorne your "guess" as to my moral reasoning was wrong. Not what I said. Not close. It is as I suspected. You cannot seem to follow the distinctions I am making, so you assume there is no distinction. Ah well.

I would call the key word excruciating in that definition of torture, and why waterboarding would be eliminated from consideration. Thus my assessment of idiosyncratic definition of torture would still apply. I would note that not only civilized people disapprove of torture, but most uncivilized ones as well. There's just not a lot of moral elevation involved in being "against torture." Just about everyone is.

So, you find it amazing that so many people in a civilized country, people who otherwise seem quite reasonable and well-disposed to their fellow creatures support something that is morally reprehensible; why do you conclude it must be all of them who are evil, and not you who have misunderstood them? I find it puzzling that the idea you may have misunderstood does not even occur to you.

Anonymous said...

I see torture happening. It is evil. There is nothing abstract or complex about it. The behavior is evil.

You seem to be lost in a realm of words in which you are only relating to concepts in your head.

Maybe nothing in your own moral education has equipped you to discern that torture is evil, so you can support politicians who implement a policy of torture.

For Christians, our guidance is very clear. We have the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ being tortured and that torture is understood as the apotheosis of sin. We also have his explicit promise that we will be held accountable in the afterlife for treatment of prisoners as though those prisoners were Jesus Christ himself.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Copithorne, you don't seem to grasp that you are not hurting my feelings. Your arguments are so weak as to be of no effect. Everyone hates torture. So what? When have Americans beheaded Iraqis or drilled holes in their hands?

Video of waterboarding here:

Anonymous said...

Everyone hates torture. And yet people do it and people like you are able to rationalize it and make excuses for it.

I quote Jesus Christ and my arguments are so weak as to have no effect for you? Most people have no use for the teachings of Jesus Christ. But we witness anyway.

My experience is if the contemporary Republican Party can rationalize torture, they are able to rationalize anything.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Mentioning Jesus isn't quite the same as drawing a moral argument from his teachings.

Perhaps you would do better to read someone who seems to agree with you and seems particularly persuasive, then look closely at what they are doing. On any of these conclusions, you might be right, but who would know? You haven't made the case.

First, show that you know what it is you are arguing against.