Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Meager principles of the Anarcho-Existentialist

            X, an individual from another site bases morality in war entirely upon the numbers of people killed.  Thus, dropping the bomb on Hiroshima was moral only if more people would have been killed had the bomb not been dropped.  That is, if the subsequent invasion of Japan proper would have resulted in more deaths than the deaths caused by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He also voiced the opinion that the deaths caused by the invasion of Iraq rendered the invasion immoral. 
            X  isn't voicing anything unique.  What he says is a common view on the Left, but where did it come from?  In earlier days people fought to protect themselves or their allies.  A general staff might well consider the number of soldiers they had available, and would strive not to run out of them before the enemy, but they were fighting for one or more recognized principles, not to avoid death.  Roger Shattuck in The Banquet Years described French Anarchists who turned against the French Government.  For them it was best to have no government at all.  These bomb-throwing Anarchists were eventually rounded up but their "cause" was taken up by the less overtly-violent "men of letters" in France.  Their point of view can be epitomized by Alfred Jarry's anti-establishment Ubu Roi, a play that favorably impressed the aforementioned X.
            Anarchism is Libertarian and Individualistic, and largely consistent with Sartre's Existentialism.  Leftists today, many of them, don't like being called Existentialists, but neither did the philosophers now commonly considered to have advanced this philosophy.  It is Cartesian in the sense of accepting one's own existence, but it turns away from Descartes by arguing that our own existence is all we can know.  It isn't solipsistic.  It accepts that there are other individuals "out there" who know only their own existence; so what is to be done?  Sartre chose to become a Communist because, he argued, the banding together of individuals for their own well-being was the best one could hope to do in this life.  Of course he was deceived about the nature of Communism as was the majority of French men of letters in post-war France, but what he argued is consistent with the argument of X.  If all we can know is our own existence, then surely that is all that is important.  No principle has any applicability beyond one's self.  We might want to band together, like Sartre, with like-minded existentialists in the Communist Party, but that is a personal choice.  Others might make different choices without affecting the validity of their existentialist beliefs. 
            It is not possible to argue directly with an Anarchistic Existentialist like X or Noam Chomsky because they don't hold to traditional values, the traditional values or survival strategies that caused our species to become a success.  As a species we have, until the French Anarchists taught us a different way, been willing to fight for personal, family, tribal and national survival.  And we saw no need to put too fine a point to it.  We were willing to fight for personal, family, tribal or national interest.   If it was in our interest to raid a neighboring tribe to steal some of their young women because we didn't have enough; then that is what we did.  In national terms, if we are in danger of running out of some important resource, as the Japanese were running out of oil in 1941, then we go to war to obtain that resource. 
            And we may go to war to protect an ally.  A tribe we have been especially friendly with, to the point of letting our daughters marry into it and our sons to obtain wives from it is being attacked by a powerful neighbor.  We go to their defense.  And if the question of morality were to be raised, then we would argue that it is moral to go to the defense of a needy neighbor.  We Americans pat ourselves on the back for going to the defense of Britain in World War II, but it took some conniving on the part of Roosevelt to get us to do that.  The majority of us didn't consider it in our "national interest" to get involved in European wars.  But Roosevelt convinced us to see things from his broader perspective.  The British didn't understand our hesitation.  We should have been in no doubt about where our duty lay.  But we Americans were slower than our European neighbors at understanding who our allies were.
            We confuse ourselves even more than we did in our earlier Isolationist-days when it comes to modern-day allies.  We in America don't form many treaties, but it is understood that we will go to the aid of our allies.  If Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait were invaded, we would go to their defense.   Many in the U.S. would like to see us return to something like Isolationism.  We can't, we often tell ourselves, become the world's policeman.  And yet when we consider the consequences of not going to the defense of an ally we abandon that idea and, as we did with Britain eventually, do the "right thing."
            There are many, and not just from the Left, who think we are over-extending ourselves.  They think our list of allies (those we are willing to go to war to defend) ought to be smaller than it is.  But it is very difficult to cross names off of our list of allies.   If Iran were to close the Straits of Ormuz, we as a nation could get by with oil from elsewhere, but China couldn't.  If we don't go to war to open up those Straits then China will.  It's national interest will demand it. And since we don't feel it in our national interest to have a Chinese Navy in the Straits of Ormuz, we have given the Chinese assurance that we will be responsible for keeping those Straits open.   Probably all recent presidents and most of congress believe it is in our national interest.  Anarchistic Existentialists, on the other hand, will not be able to relate to these "political realities" or principles beyond their meager principles of individual self-survival.
            In regard to Iraq, a war the Anarcho-Existentialists love to criticize, there were good political reasons for that invasion.  Legalists will argue that there is one and only one reason that Iraq was invaded (WMDs), but  anyone interested in the reasons, any non-Anarcho-Existentialist whose mind isn't already inexorably made up, can readily review them.  Here are a few that come to mind: 1) The Pakistan secret service told us that Al Quada had two suitcase bombs.  We needed to get help from Saudi Arabia in pursuing the people who might know more about them, but the Saudis were reluctant to help us because Saddam didn't approve and they feared Saddam and didn't think we could eliminate him as a threat.  2) Great numbers of Shiites and Kurds came to the U.S. to plead that we rescue them from Saddam.   They valued personal freedom more than they did an Anarcho-Existentialist fear of death.  3) WMDs was a valid reason because Saddam had used them in the past against the Iranians, Shiites and the Kurds, did try to develop a home-grown nuclear program, and was currently receiving help from France, Germany, and the Russia in that regard.  Saddam wanted people in the region and in his own government to believe he had WMDs, for without them he would seem less powerful.  4) Saddam was firing at U.S. and British planes regularly, as they engaged in over-flights to make sure Saddam didn't try to punish the Shiites and Kurds for opposing Saddam during the previous U.S. led invasion.  5) By going to the aid of the majority Shiites as well as the Kurds in Iraq, we would be turning Iraq from a threat to the region and our own national interests into an ally. 
            X argues that we increased the Islamist threat by our removal of Saddam's regime in Iraq, but that isn't true.  The Islamists will work at conquering the entire Middle East regardless of what the U.S. does.  Islamists need to be opposed and suppressed in virtually every Middle Eastern nation.  There was an eight-year-long war in Algeria, for example, over whether the Islamists were going to gain power there -- and the U.S. had nothing to do with that.  Which brings us to an interesting characteristic of the Anarcho-Existentialists: they attack their own nations and because they don't operate on principle, they don't care that some other nation might be doing the same thing or worse.  Thus, Chomsky during the Cold War claimed not to be a Communist sympathizer, but aside from that disclaimer spent no time attacking the Communists.  His venom and rage were directed almost solely upon the U.S.  Interestingly that characteristic has remained true after the collapse of the USSR and the advent of Islamist Terrorists.  However, murderous these Terrorists are, they get a free pass from the Anarcho-Existentialists who continue to direct their vituperation at their own nation.
            On page 171, Beevor and Cooper (Paris after the Liberation, 1944-1949) discusses the Zazous, "a shamelessly unheroic and anarchic movement of disdain for Vichy, the Germans and all military values everywhere. Zazous , with their long greasy hair, have sometimes been described as the first beatniks, but the boys' fashion for long jackets with high collars and the girls' for very short skirts made them look more like teddy boys in the 1950; while the anti-virile ethos of the boys had more in common with the hippies of the 1960s.  To avoid military service, zazous used to crush three aspirins into a cigarette which they smoked an hour before their army medical examination.  But zazous also ran a risk evey time they appeared in public.  If a gang of fascist youths from the Parti Populaire Francais spotted a zazou, they would beat him up, or if a girl, torment her mercilessly."  And here we see another characteristic of the Anarcho-Existentialists.  They are likely to do well only in Liberal Democracies.  Totalitarian governments seem to give them short shrift.

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