Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Norberg on Globalization

My good friend (and perverse adversary), Young Master Sunshine seems inexplicably impressed by the rather worn rhetoric of one Johan Norberg, a prime example of a “fair and balanced” free market apologist to my mind! I’ll confine myself, for lack of time and energy, to the claims he makes in the extract included in YMS82’s post. Norberg dismisses Vandana Shiva because “she’s funded by a lot of different Western groups,” insinuating that she's a untrustworthy puppet of shadowy special interests. The Third World Network, of which she is a director, is an independent non-profit organization, and as such relies on donations to survive. What about the crony capitalist elites in many less developed countries which are “funded” by “different Western groups” with far greater resources than the ragbag of idealists who throw a few coppers Shiva’s way—and far less laudable motives too? He contends that farmers in the developing world would like to get their hands on “these new crops”—by which I assume he means patented seed by the likes of Monsanto, genetically engineered not to germinate on harvest. Thus these farmers have to spend a fortune on new seed every year, when they could produce it themselves from sustainable crops, if non-GM seed was readily available. As I understand it, there are some poor farmers who are less than enthusiastic about this! And he touts the better goods at cheaper prices which he states we could all afford if trade barriers were weakened. But what about the people who’ve lost their jobs to cheap overseas labor? Will they be able to afford these goods too? I could go on, but I wont.

This is not to say that Norberg makes no sense—just that his whole argument is completely one-sided. Globalization, in short, is a far more complex phenomenon than advocates like Norberg—and some of its more zealous opponents—make it out to be. Its advantages and disadvantages are extremely difficult to weigh up conclusively. One thing seems inarguable to me though: greed is greed is greed. Libertarians would love to think that there is some simplistic magic formula which, if applied, would eventually benefit everybody, without their having to worry too much about injustice, misfortune and the plight of others. But it just isn’t so! There’s no substitute for ethics—in personal, political or economic life. Let me end by quoting a passage from Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain:

I believed in the beautiful myth about having a good time so long as it does not hurt anybody else. You cannot live for your own pleasure and your own convenience without inevitably hurting and injuring the feelings of practically everybody you meet.

I 'd imagine that this is not the end of this particular debate…

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Inventive Invective Angrily Directed at an Unimpressive Impresario

Check out this open letter from Sinead O'Connor to Louis Walsh (the man to blame for Boyzone, Westlife, Samantha Mumba etc.) in today's Sunday Independent. It's somewhat unbalanced to say the least, but highly enjoyable, and probably not altogether wide of the mark.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Falling sparrows and other Fowl

Dick Cheny's choice in Christmas cards leaves something to be desired, if this report from the Guardian is to be trusted!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Bush's Approval Ratings Climb in Days After Hussein's Capture

"I have a message for the Iraqi people: You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again. All you have to worry about now is me. May God help the people of Iraq, and may God help America. 2004, here I come... Yeehaw!"

(Grazie a Grainne for the groove.)

A robin redbreast in a cage/ Puts all heaven in a rage.

--thus William Blake in Auguries of Innocence. Check out this whimsical take on the ongoing atrocity which is factory farming. (Thanks to Michael for the link.)

I syng of a mayden/ That is makeles...

"You remind me of a friend of mine," one says to a new acquaintance, meaning thereby to give a compliment--but a careless remark of this nature is rarely taken in a spirit of thanks. The person thus addressed feels that she is being thought of as a fungible article, which offends her amour propre--and a secret rivalry and resentment towards this "friend" springs up unbidden in her breast.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

How (not) to Write a Paper in Philosophy

The understanding of the schools, always fearful of error, crucifies its words and its concepts upon the cross of grammar and logic, and is severe and stiff to avoid uncertainty at all costs, employs many words to be quite sure of not saying too much, and deprives its thoughts of their strength and edge so that they may not cut the unwary. But genius delineates its own thoughts at a single felicitous stroke of the brush with an eternally determined, firm, and yet absolutely free outline.

--Friedrich von Schiller, Naive and Sentimental Poetry

Monday, December 15, 2003

A Tale of a Tub

Sadaam Hussein, his position as former leader of the Bath Party notwithstanding, looked badly in need of a good wash when at last he was apprehended by American forces the other day!

Or at least a visit from the barber of Baghdad:

(--And a barbarous bloody barbarian he is too, says the citizen...)

"Beholden" to Rob Heffernan for the "humor."

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Mariners, Ancient, Wise and Foolish (and women on buses that don't go all the way...)

Michael Sevel posted some interesting thoughts on foundationalism, holism and metaphoricity on his blog yesterday. While I disagree with his conclusion that Neurath's boat is an image "better suited to illustrate some version of foundationalism" than a more Quinian position in epistemology, I am with him as far as the moral of the story goes. Metaphors should be chosen with care in philosophy, since it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of understanding by a vivid analogy. We might lose the substance by grasping at the shadow, if I may be forgiven an argument from analogy against analogy. (The problem with analogies is that they are like buses--they don't take you all the way to your destination!) "A picture held us captive," as Wittgenstein put it, who was speaking from experience when he made this remark... I am probably not alone in wishing that Immanuel Kant had made a few more concessions to his readers at times. But the great man, of course, was not without his reasons for such kantankerosity. Here follows his excuse for declining to descend from the starry heavens of abstraction:

Abbot Terrasson has remarked that if the size of a volume be measured not by the number of its pages but by the time required for mastering it, it can be said of many a book, that it would be much shorter if it were not so short. On the other hand, if we have in view the comprehensibility of a whole of speculative knowledge, which, though wide-ranging, has the coherence that follows from unity of principle, we can say with equal justice that many a book would have been much clearer if it had not made such an effort to be clear. For the aids to clearness, though they may be of assistance in regard to details, often interfere with our grasp of the whole. The reader is not allowed to arrive sufficiently quickly at a conspectus of the whole; the bright colouring of the illustrative material intervenes to cover over and conceal the articulation and organisation of the system, which, if we are to be able to judge of its unity and solidity, are what chiefly concern us.

--Preface to the First Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason

So, if Michael and myself are not quite in the same boat, at least we're probably up the same creek. "Bitter breast-cares have we abided," to slightly misquote Pound, and "known on our keels many a care's hold." Gale abaft!

Monday, December 08, 2003

Boots on the Ground, Hearts on Their Sleeves, Head in a Fog

David Brooks, in his December 2 op-ed in the New York Times, argues that "our men and women in Iraq are called upon to define a new sort of heroism." One moment they find themselves fighting a vicious war, the next they are attending to the needs of the Iraqi people. "Can anybody think of another time in history when a comparable group of young people was asked to be at once so brave, fierce and relentless," he asks, "while also being so sympathetic, creative and forbearing?" Now I do not mean to suggest that there are no courageous and caring soldiers in the American army--there are courageous and caring people in all kinds of unlikely places. But such neo-imperialistic kitsch is really unworthy of a serious commentator. Another comparable time in history? How about any one of countless similar occasions when a gang of sanctimonious colonials foisted the white man's burden on naive young men and women in a noble effort to civilize the savages from a safe distance!

We learn for example that one Capt. John Prior "was inside a gas station when a commotion erupted outside. A mob of people was furiously accusing a man of butting in line and stealing gasoline. Prior established that the man was merely a government inspector checking the quality of the fuel. Frazzled and exhausted, Prior took the chance to teach the mob a broader lesson: 'The problem is that you people accuse each other without proof! That's the problem!'"

It is not so much that words fail me here as it is that propriety forbids! A member of an army which attacked and occupied another country without proper evidence or a legitimate casus belli patronizingly lectures its inhabitants on the dangers of accusing people without proof, and the glaring irony of this spectacle never makes it into the dim recesses of David Brooks’s besotted mind. Another hapless altruist dispenses baubles to Iraqi orphans, but the heartless Iraqi workers snap them up "like sharks in a feeding frenzy." Things seem to go more smoothly, he says, if he stations himself over the toys with his M-16. In every encounter the natives are portrayed as an unruly gang of irrational halfwits. The "elemental respect" which the members of the armed forces feel for them would seem to be buried very "deep down" indeed in such cases.

One wonders further whether these "young idealists" and "thorough democrats" could possibly be the same people mentioned by Brooks in another recent piece. "History shows that Americans are willing to make sacrifices. The real doubts come when we see ourselves inflicting them. What will happen to the national mood when the news programs start broadcasting images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt? Inevitably, there will be atrocities that will cause many good-hearted people to defect from the cause. They will be tempted to have us retreat into the paradise of our own innocence." [sic] My own doubts on seeing Brooks "inflict" such "sacrifices" on English usage aside, I hardly think the prospect of "brutal measures" being broadcast on network television in the US is a likely one, since even funerals of soldiers killed in action are off the media’s menu at the moment. Robert Fisk may be slightly overstating his case in charging Brooks with "advocacy of war crimes by US soldiers," but the latter does seem in the above passage to edge considerably beyond connivance.

"If some president did want to create an empire, he couldn't do it with these people," thinks Brooks. "Their faith in freedom governs their actions." This kind of banality is hard to believe. As if the "nameless, unremembered acts of kindness" of a number of young servicemen and women on the ground could possibly protect the people of Iraq from the rapacious designs of a commander-in-chief and his henchmen who have shamelessly and repeatedly lied to them, their fellow citizens, and the world community at large!

One would have thought that readers of the New York Times had enough on their plates between Messrs. Safire and Friedman. How David Brooks got a job is beyond me. It might be true of the troops in Iraq, but it is surely true of him, that in his shockingly precipitous decline into doublethink he is "straddling the divide between insanity and order," and in danger of traversing it completely.

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