An und für nichts (liberalism on drone warfare 2)

When I used a stray tweet last Friday to illustrate a point about liberalism’s difficulties in relation to any discussion of drone warfare, I did not anticipate anything quite like the blogging performance that the tweeter, Adam Kotsko, would put in over the next couple of days.

First, Kotsko published a post on the Obama drone warfare/assassination policy under the title “Is hypocrisy to be preferred?” that is almost pugnaciously self-contradictory and proudly infirm, in the manner somewhat of a satire, a kind of “moral modest proposal.” Yet his conduct during the ensuing comment thread seemed to confirm that he really means it – actually means his hypocrisy – a mode of expression that perhaps ought to be impossible, but that, it turns out, may not be if you are open about it.

As I proceed in this post, I will link back to Kotsko’s, but I am appending the entirety of “Is hypocrisy to be preferred?” along with its comment thread – for the usual archival reasons, also to save readers from having to click back and forth between here and there, but mostly because I would not be surprised if, perhaps in an access of self-reflection, Kotsko ends up trashing “the evidence.” Of course, if he re-opens the thread, that would also demonstrate a certain consistency, or consistent inconsistency: As one commenter recognized relatively early on (Comment #16 of 37), Kotsko with his positive consideration and evident practice of what can be called the “not very noble lie” has entered a twilight zone of unpredictability, of sheer irresponsibility and inconsequence, in regard to his blogging methods as well as his political utterances.

My own contributions begin at comment #6 in the thread. Some readers may recognize familiar themes from my blogging condensed for purposes of discussion. Kotsko responds first with a crude insult which may have been intended to pick up on a piece from the Onion he had linked earlier, and which he then follows up with an apparent offer of discussion. My next comment (#9) receives another two-part response, first with another insult joined to an apparent statement of banning, then with a parenthetical remark informing other participants that my comments thusfar were being allowed to appear at all only as a kind of object lesson:

(I only let CK’s first comment through in case anyone was skeptical that people were defending Obama’s policy. Now it’s an interesting experiment to see if there are any lurkers out there who are angrier at me for my tone than they are at CK for advocating US imperialism!)

I will leave it to the unusually interested and enterprising reader to determine and explain what in either of my comments (#6, #9) could justly be associated with “advocating US imperialism!” In the meantime, against Kotsko’s stated intentions, other commenters had been responding to my comments (as well as to each other’s, of course) with varying degrees of thoughtfulness, interest, and even some sympathy, leading Kotsko as blogger-moderator to reverse himself, and to promise that I would be able to comment thenceforward “without fear.”

That fear would be of working up a new comment, hitting “submit,” and then discovering that I had completely wasted my time, since my words would not be “let through” after all. And just this feeling of abject terror was justified today, when I wrote a response to Kotsko’s own statement of a political position, but then discovered, when I hit “submit,” that he had decided to close the thread. Clearly, we commenters had fulfilled his low expectations. No longer content with insulting me alone, he chose to extend his judgment to all of his commenters (#37):

This is one of the worst comment threads in human history. I’m shutting it down.

This verdict would seem to extend even to himself, presumably, though, to be fair, the value of taking responsibility for one’s own ideas and actions is not, as we see from the top post down, something Mr. Kotsko supports consistently. Nor is, as we have noted, consistency.

Ironically, and yet consistently, and therefore contradictorily, and therefore all the more ironically and consistently – and so on – my would-have-been Comment #38 took a late turn or resort by Kotsko to the responsibly political on its face. I refer initially to his comment #36 – though the words quoted in my parenthetical remark were from another commenter (#35):

Adam Kotsko – “repeal the AUMF and Patriot Act” is at least the beginning of an effort in the realm of debatable policy, rather than the assertion of a non-debatable value proposition (the latter having the tendency to put any comparison of alternatives, or argument in favor of such comparison, under headings like “pure war-mongering barbarism”).

In relationship to the drone policy specifically, you could even say, “One of the best reasons to repeal the AUMF and the Patriot Act is that this unnecessary war leads inevitably to horrors like the drone policy and its [insert agitational description here] – along with torture, torture by proxy, indefinite detention, creeping erosion of civil liberties, de-stabilization and war in countries around the world, generation of hatred and creation of more terrorists…” and so on.

[Note: Find way to add “drives a certain kind of academic intellectual quite mad” to list of horrors, but under a less trivial formulation.]

I’m not going to minimize the political dangers and difficulties that people like you might then encounter, including the possibility that someone who believes what you believe, that no military response to AQ was ever justified, is always at grave risk of losing the sympathy of the vast majority of those to be persuaded, but at least you, or your coalition, would be implicitly taking into account the potential for successfully ending the drone program while leaving the war footing in place, and getting something worse in exchange.

It goes without saying that you would still face the risk of losing the larger argument. Perhaps it’s less obvious that under certain contingencies, the ones that we may reasonably surmise loom large in the minds of policymakers, actually getting what you wanted – more or less immediate cancellation of the WOT, and not just in name – might have a very high cost as well.

I’ll close with a brief consideration of a passage that I had expected to get to earlier on this blog and in the general discussion of drone warfare, from Sacred Violence, a work by Paul W Kahn that I was just mentioning in connection to the Chris Hayes “heroism” controversy. Published in 2008, Sacred Violence mainly focuses on torture, but it is my strong and only getting stronger belief that Kahn’s thinking on torture is quite useful in relationship to the “presidential Hellfire” policy. At every mention of torture in the following statement, we can insert the words “drone assassination” or similar, adjusted for syntax and immediate context:

To most liberals, torture appears as a display of pure power: the torturer says to the victim, “I can do this to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.” This asymmetry of power is anathema to liberal morality, which insists on the equal dignity of and respect for every individual. From the liberal perspective, law has no place for torture and politics must be circumscribed by law. Most academic work today is little more than repeated demonstrations that torture violates the fundamental principles of liberalism. In truth, liberalism has nothing interesting to say about torture.

What Kahn might have meant with the above (or how he asked his readers to take it) deserves its own discussion, but I submit that Kotsko’s post and its world-historically worst thread already offer a preliminary explication, even though I suspect that Kotsko features himself an interesting radical rather than a mere liberal. It would seem that in this context, both liberals and radicals are “inconsequentialist.” The difference is that the liberals are committed to discussion (perhaps “at other blogs“) that goes nowhere, if without their knowledge; the radicals continually re-commit themselves to nothing – openly and consistently – that is, hypocritically.

[wpspoiler name=”Is hypocrisy to be preferred? – full post by Adam Kotsko at AN UND FÜR SICH, including comment thread, 2-3 June 2012″ closebtn=”Close”]

Is hypocrisy to be preferred?

Saturday, June 2, 2012 — Adam Kotsko

In the last decade or so, one has frequently heard people express the sentiment that it is somehow “better” for powerful politicians to openly proclaim the evil things they do, because “at least it’s out in the open.” In my mind, this is profoundly and disturbingly misguided, as our present experience with Obama’s “kill list” shows. When Bush openly claimed excessive powers, his party embraced that position and it became part of the mainstream debate. Similarly now with Obama’s “kill list” — there are now liberal pundits who are openly defending the indefensible, simply because it’s their guy doing it. I don’t think any rational person can argue that this course of events has improved the chances of rolling back the Bush-Obama anti-terror policies.

What’s nice about hypocrisy is that it at least maintains some point of connection with morality. It keeps moral principles — like “you don’t torture people” or “you don’t send killer robots to murder people on your sole say-so” — enshrined as norms, meaning that there’s some kind of leverage for change. Actually committing the crimes is bad enough, but publicly proclaiming them to be the right thing to do is an even more horrific crime, because it closes down the possibility that the crimes may end in the future.

We have a “natural experiment” before our eyes right now of how the “at least it’s out in the open” strategy worked with Bush and Obama — once moral norms are dethroned, it just leads to further degradation. I know that one might be uncomfortable with such slippery-slope arguments given how often they’re used by conservatives, but that really is how it works. We just happen to think the moral norms they lament weren’t truly moral in the first place — it’s good that we’re on a slippery slope toward greater freedom to divorce, greater acceptance of gays, etc. It’s not good that we’re on a slippery slope toward greater acceptance of torture and assassination. (I hope this isn’t too complicated for anyone.)

So in conclusion, if I had to choose between Obama having a top-secret kill list that he’d disavow in public and the current situation, I’d chose the top-secret kill list every time — because say what you will of hypocrisy, at least it leaves open the possibility of an ethos.

37 Responses to “Is hypocrisy to be preferred?”

  1. willmcjunkin (@willmcjunkin) Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 9:42 am Nowhere better to hide something than right out in the open, in plain sight. When it’s all openly acknowledged, that removes the jarring effect, the jolt that results from having to bringing something to light, because that’s already done in advance. The two layers of public and the concealed subterranean level become collapsed. There’s no longer the possibility to have real scandal.By the way, the creep of this logic seems to be advancing in other ways too. Note Romney’s nonchalance this week when it came to light that he had given hecklers the OK to disrupt his opponents’ rally speech, which he seemed to acknowledge with a shrug. To which my first reaction wasn’t “how awful that he would stoop to such tactics”, but was more an icky feeling that “we really shouldn’t be told that. Why aren’t you HIDING that?” That’s the difference between say a Nixon and Bush-Obama-Romney. Shame is becoming more and more rare, as Lacan might say.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 9:49 am Here as elsewhere, The Onion lends insight.

  3. zunguzungu Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 9:49 am Worth adding that this process is still nothing close to democratic accountability, and the idea that this is “out in the open” is therefore itself a pernicious fiction. The fact that we know that a group of top secret dudes get together and decide who they will secretly kill is just the public announcement that the executive arbitrariness of the process will not be something they wil hide, but will, rather, flaunt. But there will be no oversight of it, which is the only important thing about its ostensible public character.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 10:02 am I think this is the ultimate apotheosis of the Christian gut instinct that always prefers honesty to hypocrisy. If you think about it, the typical Christian apologetic move of “we’re just as terrible sinners as everyone else, but we openly admit it” is the archetype here.So I’m going to say that openly embracing the kill list policy is the best possible proof Obama is a sincere and devout Christian.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 10:06 am (Shorter last comment: “Paging Dan Barber!”)

  6. CK MacLeod Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:09 am Setting aside the question of whether “you don’t send killer robots to murder people on your sole say-so” is in all crucial respects an accurate description of the current policy, is it obviously much worse than any other mode of warfare? Why? How about “you don’t send assassins to slit people’s throats” or “you don’t order planes to drop bombs that turn people into bits of meat” or “you don’t order your conscripts to mow down thousands of enemy conscripts with machine gun fire”? The focus on the novel means of applying lethal force seems arbitrary, a substitution of aesthetic reaction for analysis. Your problem might be with this war, or with war in general, or with any use of lethal force on behalf of sovereign power – assuming you actually have a coherent position. As I was just arguing in abbreviated form with zunguzungu/Mr. Bady on The Twitter, it seems to me that you and your political allies find it easier to agitate against the war-pornographic image of the killer drone and its pseudo-personalized victims than on behalf of a serious alternative policy – and by serious I mean at least as legitimate (and susceptible to legitimation), not to mention likely less harmful to children and other living things, than the current policy – which has been formed in part on the basis of prior rounds of left-liberal discomfort with “military necessity” as previously understood and concretely realized.The ostrich solution that the blogger ends up advocating fits nicely within the larger pattern of political and moral avoidance. So at least on that score, it’s consistent, even if it seems to add up to “I’ll just let the grown-ups handle this for me.”

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:12 am God, you’re an asshole.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:17 am More substantively, though: I’ve opposed every war America has been involved in since I could vote. I went on record as opposing whatever would be done in retaliation for 9/11, on the very day. There is essentially no such thing as “military necessity” for a country that accounts for half of the world’smilitary budget.I’m not willing to come out against violence or war in every conceivable situation — but I’m definitely against all of America’s wars, because our incredible advantage over everyone means that every one of them is de facto an act of unjustified aggression.

  9. CK MacLeod Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:35 am I’m not sure that your second reply really is so much more “substantive” than your first one. That you have opposed every one of America’s wars is I suppose very interesting to you. The notion that having too much of an advantage is to be avoided would be of possibly even more interest to those who actually do the fighting, if implemented as policy.American militarism can certainly be questioned and criticized, but having a gargantuan military budget or seeking global military pre-eminence has nothing directly to do with the concept of “military necessity.” Making up your own definitions is another good avoidance tactic, I guess, but not really much more substantive than vulgar insults.

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:53 am Sorry not to get the finer points of your sophistry. I hope you enjoy commenting on blogs other than this one from now on.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 11:59 am (I only let CK’s first comment through in case anyone was skeptical that people were defending Obama’s policy. Now it’s an interesting experiment to see if there are any lurkers out there who are angrier at me for my tone than they are at CK for advocating US imperialism!)

  12. willmcjunkin (@willmcjunkin) Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm CK MacLeod : ” seems to me that you and your political allies find it easier to agitate against the war-pornographic image of the killer drone and its pseudo-personalized victims than on behalf of a serious alternative policy”This strikes me as a kind of projection, one that overlaps, at least potentially, with an apology for/glorification of war/violence that we would probably agree is typically conservative. You’re saying that all this prating about the ways we justify, parse, conceal, or openly disclose the violence we inflict are just so many ways of refusing to look violence in the face and own up to it. It seems according to this position that to the extent we can’t make that killing stop, or reduce it, we need to stop engaging in idle talk and stick to doing things constructive, like devising less destructive POLICIES. And then of course when those policies are not to be had, that will just end up meaning making peace with the status quo.An opposing view – an arguably “radical” one, i.e. guaranteed to baffle from a liberal standpoint – might hold that there is something else at stake here, something just as important as “mere” life – which is the fate of the human in its moral dimension (strange as it may sound, it doesn’t always appear to coincide with a concern for human life in the strict sense). The taboos — i.e. the sacredness or public non-questionability of the ideals we strive to uphold — and the hypocrisy that ensues when we inevitably fail to live up to them, are also important, though this fact seems sometimes to condemn us to an impossible/absurd dilemma. Maybe the difference is that we’re in favor of avowing/acknowledging this dilemma, while you’re saying the only sensible thing to do is disavow it and submit to the deadlock of inevitable violence.

  13. CK MacLeod Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm willmcjunkin (@willmcjunkin) I’m considering a reply to your thoughtful comment, but I appear to have been disinvited – put under the blogger’s sovereign ban. As I write, I can’t have any confidence that he will “let [my] comment through,” this comment or any particular comment – not conducive to discussion, to say the least..

  14. Jason Hills Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm Adam,This has made me ponder whether the round-about insult is better than the direct insult.I teach the wider point when we discuss Machiavelli, and it is always the most poignant moment of the course when I play the courtroom scene from A Few Good Men. When we sacrifice the moral for the political, even in the name of the moral, have we not already lost? Or spend our power accidently killing cadets and covering it up rather than fighting wars, as in the movie. I concur with your point that open sanction opens debate on a topic and politicizes it, which is rarely for the better.Regardless, Macleod, can you not note that you first comment was almost all accusation and that the response, at least from Adam, was entirely predictable?

  15. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm CK may reply without fear. The consensus seems to be undermining my fearsome sovereign ban.

  16. Craig McFarlane Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:06 pm “CK may reply without fear. The consensus seems to be undermining my fearsome sovereign ban.”Given your principled defense of hypocrisy, this is hardly reassuring! When’s the drone strike? Will there be posthumous evidence of innocence?

  17. Jason Hills Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm CK may reply without fear, because no one should fear Big Brother.

  18. Robert Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm I’ve always imagined the President uses his Nobel Peace Prize as a paper weight to keep his kill lost from flying off the desk.

  19. somebody who doesn’t want to say Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm The other problem with it being out in the open is that when you continue being a good citizen after the big reveal it just makes clear your own complicity in it. How awful that is.

  20. Jason Hills Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm Touche!

  21. Jason Hills Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm Somebody,We inhabits of the nation-state cannot avoid that. Perhaps Hegel was right about the diremption of Spirit occurring from the necessity of the modern state, to which we feel beholden, in the face of its alienating aloofness from our everyday lives.

  22. zunguzungu Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm If nothing else, CK’s first comment is a nice demonstration of how basically counterintuitive an anti-war perspective has become. “If you don’t like drones, then how are you going to kill all the bad guys at all costs?” The idea that, you know, *not* firing hellfire missiles at people is the best policy, well, that’s just crazy talk; we’ve got to fire SOMETHING at them.

  23. Sarah Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm I like CK’s emphasis on advocating FOR alternative strategies, rather than simply against the existing ones, and I don’t think that ignorance is an excuse the public can hide behind anymore. Like it or not, we have access to a ridiculous amount of information now, and the responsibility for championing morality is ours, not the government’s, especially not in a lip-service-only manner. We are supposed to let measures like indefinite detention pass and then still walk on the streets and call ourselves good citizens because it’s not our signature on the bill? The world situation is calling the little guy to step up in a big way to come up with new solutions to replace the current order, and though at the moment most of us have no clue how to make that step, that fact does not absolve any of us of the responsibility.

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm In this case, it seems like simply refraining from carrying out the attacks Obama is carrying out is a perfectly valid “alternative strategy.” If I were going around serially murdering someone, I think you’d be well within your rights to tell me I should stop without also telling me how I should spend my Saturday nights.

  25. Sarah Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm Fair enough, Adam! So why ask the murderer who advertises his next victims to keep it a secret for the sake of decorum?

  26. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 5:40 pm It’s different when a private individual says it and the president says it, for reasons that should be obvious — but apparently aren’t?

  27. Jason Hills Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm Sarah,Do tell me how the average private citizen can make a difference? Now, exclude all the responses that do not have significant effects, such as “consciousness raising” without action. There are few alternatives unless one wishes to devote much of one’s life to it, and that is part of the problem. There are ways of overcoming this, but I rarely see them mentioned. Do you offer specifics or alternatives to this common problem? So far, I have barely ventured beyond what you say, but then I add, with those real possibilities, how can we have responsibility?Personally, I prefer building local “publics”/”public commons,” or just plain ol’ building community, but that seems to require the cooperation of the local community, which again is defeated by our uprooted socio-economic milieu. It’s hard to build communities in a culture that advocates not putting down roots, not necessarily doing what your parents did, or moving to the jobs.

  28. zunguzungu Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm Sarah,
    My point is that the statement “but what would *you* propose?” has within it the barely buried assumption that you must propose some other way of getting the (people someone has decided to call) terrorists. Some of them may well be extremely vile people, but there are A. lots of other extremely vile people in the world that we aren’t (or shouldn’t be) willing to kill random bystanders in order to “get” and B. lots of reasons to question whether the people we are targeting for death by drones are actually even what anyone could reasonably call guilty of anything. Given that the costs of killing them is quite high and the necessity to kill them quite dubious, the rational response, it would seem to me, is not to fire hellfire missiles at them. To me, it seems a lot like someone saying “Ok, invading Iraq may be problematic. But how would *you* suggest we deal with Saddam?” To which my answer would be: how about we just decline all the terrible options on offer and go from there?

  29. Sarah Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 6:33 pm Jason, I’m still wracking my brain over this one. I confess to being one of the ones with hardly a clue of what to do beyond signing petitions and talking with anyone who will listen. I understand all the reasons why people don’t act, because I am one of them… I’m not out making a large public outcry… I wouldn’t know what to say and I fear having what little stability exists in my life destroyed if I did. It seems that any small action (e.g. not voting for abusers of power, which may include all the candidates) would make a difference if nearly everybody did it — united we would be anything but powerless — but of course I don’t see any movements picking up that much momentum at the moment. Yet I still feel a moral burden to figure it out. I am convinced that if we accept our powerlessness we give up too early, when an innovative answer or a new window of opportunity may be just within reach.

  30. Sarah Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 6:34 pm zunguzungu: totally agree.

  31. CK MacLeod Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm zunguzungu: No one called anything “crazy.” The question remains whether you are taking a position generally against a resort to military action at all – warmaking, sovereign use of lethal force – in the Conflict Formerly Known as the War on Terror, or whether your problem is more with the presidential-Hellfire-assassination policy.If the administration merely gave in to its further-left and libertarian critics on the “kill list,” to my understanding it would still be required by law (beginning with the ’01 AUMF, still in effect) to employ whatever necessary force, including military force, in combating Al Qaeda and its to-be-designated affiliates, facilitators, and sponsors. I believe that public opinion is still on that side as well – and I tend to expect that the morning after the next attack it would be all the more so. Opposing the drone policy but not the war makes the question “If not drone assassination, then what?” more immediate, especially if you believe that a next attack is at all possible, and that, if possible, might have very severe political effects beyond whatever immediate destruction (as is in the nature of “terrorism” or “political violence”). This consideration takes us to “if not war, then what?” – a different question, not just in terms of potential consequences, but in terms of what kind of political strategy would be sensible. It’s not that, in my view, you or anyone is obligated to produce a sensible political strategy, or to think up a workable and implementable alternative either to Hellfire-assassination or to the CFKATWOT, but your inability or unwillingness to do any of that will tend to discourage anyone else from taking you seriously at all, even a little bit. Certainly, it’s possible to oppose both policies independently, but that means it’s possible to examine both policies independently as well.Willmcjunkin seems to be arguing or at least pointing to a position under which “taking you seriously” would already be too loaded a phrase, but saying so repeats the same refusal – a refusal of the political per se that, taken to its logical conclusion, would make any discussion at all, including this one, utterly pointless. Why not ban me or anyone else from participation? What difference would it make? The discussion would no longer be about making a difference. Differences of that type are too/merely serious. After suggesting that I’m engaging in “projection” regarding the focus on drone warfare, which I compared to a pornographic fascination, Mr McJunkin suggests that my position “overlaps, at least potentially, with an apology for/glorification of war/violence that we would probably agree is typically conservative.” I remain uncertain about how much ground “typically conservative” is meant to cover: Does it include every offering of any kind of “apology” for any kind of violence? One might think not – that’s too absurd, too extreme, and would include almost everything that up until the day before yesterday we might have called “left” or “liberal” – but in the rest of Mr. McJunkin’s comment he seems, somewhat like the blogger and like at least one other commenter, to contemplate the rejection of any policy consideration at all, any comparison or estimation of consequences, as too “complicit” from the perspective of “the fate of the human in its moral dimension.”As for the last part of McJunkin’s comment, I’m not sure how the situation he describes poses a “dilemma” at all, since one of the two lemma seems to be the placeholder for an absence, for a lack of intention to pose the or any problem, alongside assertions that something also “important” is “at stake,” but no indication of what that might be or how it might be addressed at all… so maybe a kind of melancholy over a conversation that cannot be held, not because its terms violate “taboos,” but because they’ve already canceled each other out.

  32. miguel cervantes Says:
    Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 8:58 pm Lets take this forward, since we have a general gist of what AQ demands, not only pulling out of the Middle East, abandoning Israel, but the more aggressive elements wants Sharia imposed, democratically if possible, by direct
    action if not.

  33. ShaLaugh Says:
    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 12:11 am CK MacLeod: “…a kind of melancholy over a conversation that cannot be held, not because its terms violate “taboos,” but because they’ve already canceled each other out.”Maybe the conversation can begin to be held if we change the context and come at it from a different direction. We’re talking about the uses of hypocrisy: hiding the truth for “moral” reasons.Let’s move the context to one of marriage. If a couple are “only in it for the children,” and otherwise cannot stand one another, is their fundamental dishonesty really helping their offspring become healthy adults?Going back to one of the blogger’s original statements: “What’s nice about hypocrisy is that it at least maintains some point of connection with morality. It keeps moral principles — like “you don’t torture people” or “you don’t send killer robots to murder people on your sole say-so” — enshrined as norms ….” My thought is, if your “connection with morality” depends on having someone in authority lie straight to your face, those aren’t “morals” that you’re enshrining.It seems to me that trusting the lie to be a mirror for “morality” is in fact enshrining the master-servant power dynamic.

  34. voyou Says:
    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 2:36 am The fascinating thing here is that CK MacLeod’s position is deeply unserious – while zunguzungu and, to a lesser extent, Adam, are talking pretty specifically about the actions taken by the US government in the war on terror, CK is talking in the vaguest abstractions: a conflict CK isn’t even willing to name, and a “sensible political strategy” which one can apparently discuss without ever specifying what the goal of said strategy is supposed to be.

  35. Alex Says:
    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 5:38 am “If not drone assassination, then what?” – surely errrr no arbitrary trial-less executions on land not under any US jurisdiction? MacLeod’s argument is pure war-mongering barbarism.

  36. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 6:29 am Repeal the AUMF, and the Patriot Act while we’re at it — that’s my policy preference.

  37. Adam Kotsko Says:
    Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 11:15 am This is one of the worst comment threads in human history. I’m shutting it down.


47 comments on “An und für nichts (liberalism on drone warfare 2)

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  1. First of all, no matter which way we choose to swing or find ourselves swinging, or are swung, we should enjoy the way you write. You critique like Benny Goodman. Nevertheless, sometimes we also find ourselves wishing you had a clarinet rather than a computer. Sometimes. It would be a great loss if you only had a clarinet, but sometimes it would be better for everyone, especially you, if someone like me were to have the influence to hand you a clarinet and say play this instead. As always, the swinging only happens on level that inspires no solution. Your clarinet solo came and went here without adding anything to Kotsko’s playing. It was just a Kahn. Like a good Kahn man, whatever he writes is bad so it bounces off the percussion section and sticks to him. You don’t want to have gum all over you. Rise up! No matter what Kotsko plays it’s better than what gets played on the level of violence. You’re never going to unreptilian the reptilian brain. Cortisol is cortisol. It’s not a chord. Cortisol is what TV watching inspires on a chemical level and it inspires reptilian brain thinking. Watch TV news and cortisol levels increase whether you are for or against drone attacks. So you first have to get “your mind right.” Be cool, Luke. Get your mind right and you will see feel how to play. No drone is ever going to groove on the clarinet. Can’t happen.

    • Scott Miller: No matter what Kotsko plays it’s better than what gets played on the level of violence.

      Not exactly, if on the level of violence Kotsko and whatever Kotskoites aren’t really playing at all. If activity that could be anti-violence is instead inactivity or counter-activity, then it cedes the ground to violence, or worse violence.

      Finding an alternative to Kotskoism may mean writing in a way that you yourself are quite understandably reluctant to indulge, writing as though free of all pre-suppositions, including in regard to friend and enemy, but also in regard to violence and non-violence, war and peace, death and life – as if we might not even know whether there is or can be anything right or anything considered wrong, not because writing in this way is good, or that we know that it is better or could be better, but because we know that the alternative is a merely violent, if not immediately physical, conflict of mere opinion, leading more or less inevitably to the point that any divergence from the statements of the presumed inarguable, in the required format, are taken as equivalent to the presumed absolutely evil. What that leads to is that, because I question a certain element in Kotsko’s presentation as logically defective, I am to be taken as a “warmongering barbarian imperialist typical conservative” etc. In other words, there’s no discussion at all, just an opportunity to locate a scapegoat and do the only kind of violence to him that happens to be at hand, and the discussion must be canceled just at the point where it’s in danger of actually becoming a discussion.

      And why shouldn’t I question that loathsome post? Kotsko is saying it would be better if our leaders did the dirty work for us in a way that lets us pretend our hands are clean. Kahn, by contrast, is facing some difficult truths. No con (at least on that level – there’s more to what he says, of course, some that I find highly criticizeable).

      That reminds me to point out the best comment on the thread, from ShaLaugh, responding to me (#33):

      My thought is, if your “connection with morality” depends on having someone in authority lie straight to your face, those aren’t “morals” that you’re enshrining. It seems to me that trusting the lie to be a mirror for “morality” is in fact enshrining the master-servant power dynamic.

  2. Touchy, that fellow Kotsko, is, so you repeal the AUMF and the Patriot Act, then what, you haven’t solved the problem, which was stated by a character in the MI-5 series, Mohammeed Khordad, ‘America out of the Middle East, a corrupt free Saudi Arabia, and justice for Palestine; regardless those are not achievable goals, that is what drives them.

  3. Now to be fair, CK you were maddeningly uncommittal, however it’s not like committing to one side or another, would really have satisfied him

    • The situation may be tragically mad – so you’d be shooting the messenger. As noted, I was not treated in Kotsko-land as “maddening non-committal.” I was called bad names – I was “asshole imperialist warmonger” for pointing out that dropping bombs from B-52s is also a bad thing, and in many ways a worse thing, than Skynet Drones.

      To pretend that it makes no difference how and why the drone policy is opposed and, potentially, revised or canceled, is the height of irresponsibility – like the meat-eating vegetarianists that Scott was telling us about months ago, happy as long as someone else, along with the animals, absorbed the sin and death for them. (Maybe Scott can explain that story again – I’m hazy on the details regarding time and place and doctrine.)

  4. What he doesn’t want to acknowledge is this conflict didn’t begin in 2001, one can trace it back to 1996, with the first declaration of war, or 1992, with the first attempt on US forces in Yemen, so revoking the AUMF, and the Patriot Act,
    really doesn’t even come close to solving the problem.

    • No, but the AUMF is the main legal authorization for treating the conflict with AQ and penumbra as a “war” – as an exceptional situation in which the executive, under general understandings, is given wide enough latitude to prosecute the drone program. So a serious effort to repeal the AUMF (and Patriot Act) would implicitly be a movement to end the “war.” The Prez would still retain the right and responsibility under the Constitution, and tradition, to act as C-in-C and to decide on exceptional situations, but would be significantly constrained both legally and politically, instead of required by law and expected to DO STUFF.

      The “real” as in underlying problem is of course much, much deeper. The real as in current problem is moving from here to anywhere clearly better in a way that doesn’t make the next and the next current problem worse.

  5. It would be treated as a surrender, and an acknowledgement about what UBL said about strong horses and weak ones, then what, the UAV is the successor to the Tomahawk, I suppose it makes one feel better, and that is what counts.

  6. that “God, you’re an asshole.” reply not only shows that Adam does have nothing…….but does see to only put you in pretty good company, invoking both divinity and Scott……which is, as they say, a pretty wide spread.

  7. Naturally, I would defend you (CK) regarding those quoted attacks. You aren’t any of the things they called you. Obviously. I should have made that clear from the start. Sorry. My point, as usual, is that problems can’t be solved on the level of consciousness on which they occur. And that is a political point. Einstein said it as a politician. It goes both ways. Liberals can’t argue conservatives into being liberals and conservatives can’t argue liberals into being conservatives. Peace occurs on the level of consciousness above the conflict both intellectual and physical.
    The vegetarian story had to do with Tibetan Buddhist living at very very high altitudes where vegetables couldn’t be grown. So meat-eating was necessary for survival. But then they would have other people do the killing and believe that that somehow separated them from the negative karma. Very silly. It was especially silly coming from folks with otherwise hardcore (what I see as victimizing the victim type…) ideas about the way karma works.

      • I’m sure it is well known. But it is still a bit more frustrating when people voicing things other than the party line of either the liberals or conservatives are cast in stereotypical roles by folks needing to see things in black and white terms. Since you’re good at seeing the facts on both sides, and see people on both sides the same way–as “rocks and boards”–I think you do best in respect to educating folks about certain realities when you acknowledge their reality and then shift it slightly. There’s no reason for you not to use that strategy more often since you’re not really defending any particular political stance anyway, right? And maybe you did start with that this time, I don’t know. Even if you did, it’s always possible to stick with it more consistency out of intellectual generosity, which works best coming from the most knowledgeable person taking part in any given discussion.

        • I’ll take that in the helpful and sympathetic spirit in which it’s offered. There’s no knowing when to be sharp and seek distinctions, and when to nudge. Really, though, when I entered that fearsome place in the shadow of death, I didn’t expect that a bit of even sharp dissent would be treated with such hostility. I thought Kotsko himself had been around the block intellectually, around several blocks. Maybe I should have known from the top post that he wouldn’t welcome the presentation of alternative and opposing points of view, but I never claimed to be infallible. I was honestly surprised by how lame his responses were. Yet maybe if I had known he’d, from my perspective, expose himself, I would have gone ahead anyway more or less as I had, since I’m not really unhappy with how things turned out, how his effort to make me an object lesson for others to consider ended up enabling me to make that effort an object lesson for others to consider. On the other hand, maybe if I had gone in anticipating and consciously seeking to provoke just such a lame reaction, I would have found myself getting a better version of Kotsko in response – and who knows what we’d be talking about now if that had happened?

  8. Is Kotsko really saying that, that isn’t really clear at all, he doesn’t acknowledge and perhaps isn’t aware of the Levick Group
    and other enterprises, public relations strategy to stigmatize all aspects of counter terror policy,

  9. A hypothesis I’ve been mulling is that a significant node in this web is that the US has evolved into an untenable theory/reality of sovereignity. Part of this is the elevation of American Exceptionalism from Stalin’s critique of the idea of America’s supposed exception from the laws of Marxism, to theidea that America is exempt from historical and legal processes in general,

    The problem isthat the US has ben able tomake signifcant actions under this theory. For instance Luxembourg could come to a similar view of Lux Exceptionalism, but would not likely meet with enough success for anyone else to take the idea seriously.

    The US is inthe position of defending a unique form of sovereignity. To change this position would be a profound a far reaching project. I know that my brain is not up to the task of scetching out the possibilities.

    • The view supported by Kahn and somewhat following from Gordon Wood, and also traceable in diverse writers all across the traditional ideological spectrum, is that American popular sovereignty, like all theories/realities of sovereignty – so, sovereignty put simply – is in some sense logically defective or incomplete, but that its logical defectiveness does not render it inoperative or ineffective, as you point out. Similarly, I don’t need a complete theory/reality of writing this blog comment or writing in general in order to write this blog comment. I don’t even have to know who or what I am to write sentence after sentence with the first person pronoun playing a lead role. Similarly, the Divine Right of Kings was able to function despite the fact that in today’s world you’ll find very few people who consider it intrinsically sound. On this note, I (who/whatever that is) have always found it interesting how these ideas about political community and power parallel ideas about the self-constitution of the individual.

      Kahn, whose day job is “Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities, and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale,” describes the European Union as an attempt to create a post-sovereignty political order that would embody a complete if territorially limited victory of the lawful, logical, peaceful, universal Kantian order, where everyone wills the universal, where borders fade, wars become unthinkable, and ethnicity and nationality no longer reign, on the way to a territorially unlimited victory. Its notions pervade concepts of international law and the so-called law of war. But we see now in the rolling economic crisis how issues of sovereignty, and eventually raw power, return as soon as perpetual peace stops beings so perpetual. (The Marxist thinks that the problem is that the real power all along has been the ruthlessly logical system of capital, now in a period of crisis which may be the final crisis at least of one of its major configurations, in principle of the system itself.)

      Whether the post-sovereign order is authentically post-sovereign and really has successfully re-defined the political is another question. I tend to suspect it’s a really good story, but, then again, my “I” was constituted in America, born in war (sacrifice) and still proud of it (beholden to it), unlike modern Europe, born in reaction to near-total destruction by war.

      • What I wonder about is that the US version of its sovereignity is that it is the only truly soereign nation, that all other nations are to some extent tribal – not only dependent on the US for protection, but also to one extent or the other, lacking the capacity to function fully in the broader world as it is, much like the US govt related to tribal nations within its borders – seeming to recognize them legally, but having little pause in killing or moving entire populations.

        So I wonder if there is a connection to the use of drones in say Pak and Yemen, countries still characterized by a significant tribal component. Again back to Lux. It Lux was harboring a terrorist, we probably would not use a drone to kill him.

        I also wonder it would be accurate to characterize US policy/attitude toward Islam in general and Islamic countries in particular as more tribal than the norm, discounting whatever nation state status we recognize in them.

        • I suppose that is more true than not, recall that Gadarfa and magrathi (sic) not even the most numerous of elements, reigned in Libya, the Saud, a subgroup of the Anizeh, The Tikriti clan, out of the Dulaimi region, what difference does that make,

  10. What’s that line from ‘Man of La Mancha’ To dream the impossible dream, rest assured the other hegemons are nowhere as foolish, you could ask Zandarbichev, exiled Chechen chieftain, from his sanctuary in Doha, actually you can’t because the FSB blew him up, even aspiring powers like Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran, do seem to have a fluid understanding of other’s sovereignty.

  11. Kahn, has an interesting angle, although it’s more accurate to call America, ‘a propositional nation; In that regard one wonders if we had followed up on Miles Ignotus’s ‘Modest suggestion,’ from 1975, and invaded Saudi Arabia,

  12. CK–thanks for posting “Sacrificial Nation.” It raises many crucial points. But, as usual, the western mind fails to be inclusive enough and falls into the “splitting” habit. The correction would happen with a perception of 3 “qualities” namable in Sanskrit as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. They can be simplistically understood as Light, Action, and Heaviness. Those qualities and the things that manifest from them are inclusive. Love and Justice are not inclusive. When they are seen as inclusive a kind of political insanity takes place. Kahn would do well, then, to study Rudolf Steiner who always saw things in terms of 3 forces that were inclusive, calling them Luciferic, Arithmetic, and something else. The something else was Rajasic–expressive of what Christians would refer to as Christ Consciousness and inclusive of both love and justice. So love and justice are part of only one third of the basic 3 qualities in the Universe and try as America might to limit itself to a play between love and justice, the attempt and the attempt to see America in relation to those things will inspire craziness.
    Of course, the whole sacrifice thing is interesting. We could compare the American version to what is in the Bhagavad Gita–which is the classic spiritual text on sacrifice and yoga. But again, the Christian version is so troubling. Christ kept telling his followers that he would not kill in order to establish justice. So if Christ is our model, it’s simple. Christians should refuse to kill. The Gandhian sacrifice makes much more sense. Even the disturbing vision brought to my attention here on this blog that quoted Gandhi on what Jews should do was less insane than the one Americans unconsciously promote. One of Arjuna’s yogic choices was to do nothing and die. He didn’t take it, but it was one of the logical choices. In context of their spirituality, Christians seeking to emulate Jesus’ way of living cannot justify the choice to kill.
    And I’ll give a clear example of what Kahn misses as a result of his basic misapprehension:
    Standing outside the American play of love and justice is American gangsterism. There are what we can call Luciferic American gangsters connected to both church and state that are above the crowd and connect with American exceptionalism, and Arithmetic gangsters connected to both church and state and also living completely outside of those institutions, doing their dirty work in a heavy way, literally counting the money as they rob the poor in every conceivable way. And in both varieties and in connection with all 3 manifestations of Gangster Nation, we are easy pickins’ because gangsters who don’t seek love or justice can so easily take advantage of the love and justice folks. Plus, the system established and maintained and exported by naive and misguided liberals and conservatives is not just preyed upon by the ruthless but run by them and that’s why the U.S. is rightfully hated as a hypercritical state.
    But Kahn does see certain truths very well. At one point when he was explaining about the American way of wanting everyone to recognize American justice as justice because it is ours, I was reminded of a moment when I was trying to help two gay mentally challenged lovers treat each other better. They were working for me at the time, supposedly doing the gardening. It didn’t go well and they were always in conflict. Cutting to the point, I was continually pointing out how they were trying to manipulate each other and how they might stop that. It didn’t go well. Finally, in desperation, I said to one of them, “What do you want?” And he said, “I wan him to think I am not trying to ‘anipalate him.”
    So, yes, I see America as a retarded gardner who is nothing like Chauncey Gardner.
    The best thing about hiring the two retarded gay gardner guys was that they told me about their fundamentalist church experience. They wanted to do some service for the church and before the church members knew anything about their gayness they were asked to hold a sign out on the corner advertising the church services. When they were out their they were holding hands! The church goers were horrified. I almost peed in my pants when they told me that story.
    Then they became Buddhists. I swear to God.

    • One thing that might help you take Kahn’s description on the level he offers it is that he doesn’t claim it’s “ready for use” or any direct application. He certainly doesn’t promote it as the basis for a new religion or augmentation of an existing religion or spiritual practice, or philosophy of life. He doesn’t assert that it should turn people away from their political commitments or change them – to the contrary. There is a question here – whether you can really close off your philosophy from application – but it’s his explicitly and repeatedly stated position that he’s not trying to dish out new norms or new points for someone’s political platform (or, by extension, self-improvement group). He sees himself as trying to illuminate specific processes or failed processes, seeming disconnects in the realm of politics and law, that cause frustration.

      So, let’s say you’re right about what you call “American gangsterism.” I’m not sure what’s particularly American about it, but, leaving that aside, why doesn’t “America” do anything about it? Maybe America recognizes it’s important, but doesn’t think there’s anything America can do about it. Maybe, even worse, America knows about it, but doesn’t think it’s the most important thing, and thinks that the most important thing might be endangered by strenuous efforts to defeat something that, even if it could be defeated at some tolerable cost, would be replaced soon enough by something just as bad or worse.

      Anyway, that’s a kind of a steppingstone on the way to the (Straussian) classical philosophical view, which is one recourse – or temptation – in the face of the failure of modern democratic politics and of modernity in general, but which ends up on the side of liberal democracy, conservatively, gangsters and all, because among forms of government suitable for very large populations it seems to be the one that produces and maintains a space for free philosophical and spiritual inquiry, keeps the gangsters from penetrating every process of life. To some extent it’s a glass not totally dry view of the way things are, as compared to the “monastic temptation”/glass completely empty perspective. I don’t see it as inherently more negative or desperate than the Curtis White A-perspective that you like to Tiago-Splitter away from into your positive and hopeful magical-spiritual B-perspective. Please don’t take “magical” as derogatory: I’m not pre-judging it – it’s just a word for “adepts whose powers and exploits go beyond common perceptions of the possible” – what Curtis White ends up advocating: “believe in magic because it’s our only hope.”

      • Right. I have no issues with the spirit of his efforts.
        I bet the guys holding hands story comes back into your awareness like the meat-eaters thinking they don’t get karma story comes back from time to time. It’s in your consciousness now.

      • If the gangsterism is necessary for the “liberal” “democratic” state to endure, then any consideration space is formed by ignoring the gangsters, and rather than not penetrating life they’re the real reason it continues. Under that, paens to The People are pandering BS and the thugs are the source of importance.

        Even if I recognize you have a point with regard to the contradiction of authority at the heart of liberalism, can you recognize why most people still recoil from this realization? It amounts to admitting that the social structure we live in is built on a humongous lie.

        • I think you put things well, as to the logical and moral implications of the gangster thesis, but I still regard it as unproven, and perhaps overly simplistic. On the other hand, we’re too far from the Cold War and from WW2 to make the obviousness of the superiority of the “least bad” system over its main alternatives easy to maintain.

          I certainly understand why people would recoil from the suggestion that they’re living amidst and depending on defective and mutually contradictory values. At some point such doubt can become dangerous to a society or social system. Often (sooner or later?) doubt-spreading itself is recognized as a danger. This problem was much more before the minds of thinkers from previous eras or in different political settings – the problem of a fundamental conflict between the truth or love of the truth and the needs of the state.

      • Didn’t use the word “retard.” Used the word retarded, which is quite a bit less offensive than “retard.” When someone calls someone a retard, it’s name calling. When someone uses the word retarded it dates them as someone unwilling or unable to keep up with the times in a politically correct way. Since I first used the term “mentally challenged” it’s clear that I’m willing and able to keep up with the times, so the use of the word later is clearly either connected to some kind of expediency or humor, or a bit of both. You’re looking for trouble where there is none, bob.

        • It is also interesting that you missed the context. Obviously, I was mitigating the potential self congratulation of being a good deed doer. Since I was telling a story about how my continued good deed doer attempts led to a particular quote, the use of the offensive word was there for balance. When a reader looks for trouble and can’t sense the energy behind a writer and lets their negative mind set keep them from sensing what something’s really about, there’s not much a writer can do but shake their head at how some folks just don’t get you.

          • nice rationalization. I think you call it splitting. However small the readership is here, it’s a public place. “Retarded” is just as offensive.

            It was just a joke – humorous. Seriously?

            Then it’s my problem. Classic.

            for the record – I wasn’t looking for trouble. I paused some time before making my comment. I don’t know why you can’t grant me sincerity here.

            • I know that “retarded” is considered offensive, and “retard” even more so, because used as a playground insult, but I confess I’m not sure why references to “retardation” are treated as offensive rather than as merely inappropriate.

              “Retardation” seems to connote belief in a better or correct pace of mental growth, though it may also suggest “slowness” in responding to mental “challenges.” Apparently, the term is still in use in professional and clinical settings, at least according to the Wikipedia entry – – which makes early mention of the “euphemism treadmill,” noting that “mental retardation” was originally a perceived value-neutral replacement for a previous set of terms that had come to be seen as too disparaging. I think that MR may have replaced the conventional spectrum on “low IQ,” which had “moron” standing for near-average IQ, “imbecile” standing for very low IQ (extending to non-existent language and social skills), and “idiot” standing for dysfunctional except for basic autonomic/organic processes. Could be that this taxonomy or approach to taxonomy was somehow implicated in the Nazi “euthanasia” of “life unworthy of life,” whose first applications were against the “mentally defective.” “Defective” implies brokenness, permanent inability to perform at some minimum required level. “Retarded” may have been seen as an improvement, since it implies “like the others, just a little behind.” It’s not hard to imagine all of the current terms someday being deemed inadequate or insulting – or even as an adequate basis for Nazi-like “biopolitical” measures.

              I wonder what terms Laura (Scott’s shrink wife) uses or recommends.

              • Good clarification there, CK. Exactly what my understanding was. Obviously, I was addressing things situationally. If I wasn’t aware of the fact that there was some issue with the word I wouldn’t have used a different term first. Still, bob thinks he’s going to teach me something. That’s just hardheadedness. I often find his perceptions hardheaded but I don’t say anything about it because it’s just him. He could do the same with me. Sadly, it doesn’t even help when I hand him the “New Age Meanie” handle. He still doesn’t get it and I bet the same would have been true 20 years ago. Bob likes straight down the middle. He missed the content of the story, which is too bad because it’s funny. So there’s not much I can do. if someone can’t pay attention to content, much less context, then everything has to be presented straight down the middle. I don’t bother with straight down the middle. It’s okay. But straight down the middle doesn’t have to be written about. It’s just there. It’s okay but I don’t see the point in writing from that perspective. To me, playing everything straight down the middle is a rationalization for not paying attention.

                • ADDed out and forgot to answer your question about what terms Laura uses as a shrink. She uses “developmentally disabled” or “developmentally delayed.” There was a film character with the name Delay. Can’t remember what movie it was.

                    • No, exactly. That’s why we have to distinguish between retarded and retard. There is no comparison, which is why this whole thing is so troubling. If bob had just admitted that he made a mistake criticizing me for using the word retard then none of this happens. But I’ve never known him to apologize. I’m sorry, that’s where the hardheadedness comes in. I apologies all the time. I have to be good at it because my ADD causes lots of mistakes. Making a mistake is human. Holding on to the mistake is hardheaded.

                • Down-the-middle or interestingly-to-the-side, I think you can accept bob’s criticism without taking offense, even if bob offered it somewhat judgmentally. I really don’t know which of you is wronger on this one, because I really don’t fully understand why “retarded” is taken as a slur. Is it simply because a group subjected to prejudice is granted the compensatory privilege to decide on its own behalf or through its legitimate representatives how it’s to be named?

                  So it’s because I honestly lack confidence in my own understanding that I asked for professional input from Laura. Because I’m aware of the contention, of the offense taken on behalf of a community, I simply avoid the word rather than take on needless distractions or hurt anyone’s feelings through my own ignorance.

                  I think what happened to you in your comment is that you wanted to appropriate the pejorative sense for your derogatory view on America, but that wouldn’t be possible if you didn’t already know that the term is derogatory. It infects your discourse, and leads to your second, as-if-normalized use.

                  I think bob is right at a minimum on the level that you should probably avoid the terms, for your own good. I’d still like to hear why he (or anyone) thinks they’re not just “taken to be offensive” but deserve to be taken as offensive, not that I would end up using them even if persuaded they had gotten a bad rap.

                • I dind’t miss the content of the story, asserting it is projection on your part. I never addresssed that aspect. To fill in the point now, the story doesn’t redeem the offensiveness. The humor does not redeem the offensiveness.

                  Or alternately, I did miss the story. I did miss the humor. I guess I’m just not smart enough.

                  Personally, I’m just fine with who I am. It’s OK you’re not.

                  Just wondering, why talk about me like I’m not here?

                  • Glad you’re here, bob. You’re here and you’re smart. My whole point is that I’m cool with you being you. If you were cool with me being me, trust me, the situational humor would have struck you as funny. I’ve relayed that scenario with lots of folks, including the guys, and everyone has a great laugh. You missed out and you can get defensive and make a silly comment about not being smart enough, but come on. You can do better than this. I know you can.

                    • In the disabled blogs, the past few months there have been account after accont about people devasted by the word and its cognates. It doesn’t matte if you’re gardeners are OK with it. This is a different place, different people, maybe people none of us know.

                      These words hurt, hurt badly.

                      No amount of deflection, or analyzing me or whether or not I get you changes that.

                      Don’t make this about you or me.

                      That’s it – straight down the middle.

                    • I kinda wish you guys would give up on sorting your rightness/wrongness in relationship to each other, but I don’t consider it within my persuasive powers to get you to stop.

                      It’s just that as long as you two are getting right/wrong with each other, I’m not finding out why the word in either form is considered offensive enough to be devastating in “account after account” and to “hurt badly.”

                      I’ll avoid getting overly theoretical about it on the sticks-and-stones question. I would honestly like to know what I’m not getting, and would very much appreciate having my apparently defective sympathy and understanding repaired to whatever extent possible.

  13. Well there’s a certain logic, we fought the Kaiser, we ended up with the Nazis. we beat them we got the Russians, we bet them we got the Taliban and AQ,

  14. The reply line went off, so I’m writing here now. Bob, this is about you and me. We’re the ones communicating. If you are hurt by the word, I’m sorry. There’s no one else here to get hurt. I understand your point. When people assume that because a few people are okay with something that makes it okay they’re wrong. If I was doing that, I would be wrong. But look at the context bob. I was telling a story about intolerance. A community of bigots got their karmic deserts. They didn’t know the guys were gay. They found out in an hilarious way when it hit them in the face. It’s a stronger tale told by someone who isn’t all liberal perfect. The story was nuanced for Christ’s sake! I established the lack of bigotry with preliminary correctness. You were just looking for a fight, and when you realized it was wrong, you insisted on something that isn’t true. First you made a mistake. You thought I used the word retard. If I had, you would have been right. Then, instead of recognizing your mistake you made another one. There is a huge diff between retard and retarded. You said there wasn’t. You were wrong. Can the world retarded still be offensive? Yes. Of course! Without the context and without the fact that I was in obvious support of the guys it would be. I’m obviously not saying that just because they don’t find the word offensive, it’s not. It is. Relatively so. They became Buddhists because Buddhists are more tolerant. The story is about intolerance but we don’t have to be so concerned all the time that we can’t nuance things as well as I did and have people get it. You would have got it if you didn’t hear “retard.” You heard retard because you were looking for trouble. Again, there is no trouble here.
    Look at how difficult you’re being. First you get sensitive because I’m talking like you’re not here. Then you don’t want me to make it about you and me. You might want to make up your mind on that one.

  15. CK–it is interesting linguistically. This is all also very germane in connection to the Kahn way of seeing things. It may not be about love and justice, but there’s sacrifice involved. In a way, I’m being asked to sacrifice any possible gain I was getting from using the word. Because I have no interest in using it to exert some kind of intellectual or political power over anyone, it’s easy for me to drop its use here on the blog. No problem. But can a word be hurtful outside of context? Yes and no. “Retard” would fall into the “never to be used” category. And yet, even on the yes side everything depends on context. The n word is a word I’m never comfortable using. But how about “black”? When I used to be the only white guy at this one gym, after playing ball, at around 2 in the morning, we would all sit around and have a beer and shoot the shit for a bit. There was usually one or two new guys, so it was up to me each time to communicate well and effectively. To make the process go smoothly and quickly, if it became part of the conversation, I would use “African American” a few times. Then, once my awareness of racial sensitivity had been established and it was obvious where I was “coming from,” I would for the sake of “expediency, humor, or a bit of both” slide into the use of “black”–as in “I know black guys look at me and think I can’t play.” Using a cumbersome term is restrictive when it comes to humor. People should have a feel for where someone is coming from. I never met an African American man who couldn’t roll with things contextually. A bigot using the word black is going to feel a certain way to an African American. So there are what we could call dangerous words. Unlike the “never to be used” words, they depend on context. As you have pointed out, retarded is not in itself particularly offensive, but it is dangerous and a feeling of danger is part of comedy. Being on either side of humor in a good way required a willingness to be at least slightly out of control. Control oriented people are rarely funny and rarely enjoy humor. You can’t be truly funny and be afraid of dangerous words and ideas. Won’t happen. And while people afraid to be funny can make other people feel bad for enjoying a good joke or story, it’s their loss.

    • mmmyeah… but it looked like you were protecting something that you don’t usually extend yourself to bother to protect. I won’t say any more because I don’t want to re-open the annoyance between you and bob. If I really wanted to cause trouble, I’d try to dissect aspects of your “one white guy” story critically, but I think I’ll watch the game right about now instead.

  16. Gangsterism is by it’s nature, illegirimate, it is force without consent, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re using in the Marxist sense, that only a charnel house like the Soviets could manage without irony, We strive not to attack noncombatants, they see it as a mark of honor to do so, It’s odd for a democratic regime to fighting on multiole fronts of the same war, for the better part of a dozen years, I suppose the Indian wars, are the closest parallel.

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