Friday, November 23, 2007

I see dead people - but I'm not the only one

The following is an excerpt from an ongoing correspondence with someone whose age and experiences differ significantly from mine:

a close personal cyberfriend writes:

i know that for many boomers of a certain age vietnam
and military war/peace are the defining issues of
their lives. but for me it will always be AIDS, and
the treatment of women and gay people, the culturally
enforced hatred of them for simply existing. not for
having bad or stupid ideas or creeds. just for daring
to exist at all and for not knowing their place as
subhuman objects. and for letting them die in droves
as punishment.

i'm not being hyperbolic when i say that there were
long stretches in the 80s when i attended several
funerals every week. week after week for years on end.
when, in that interview, james speaks about his
emotions at the vietnam memorial, realizing that (at
that already very early date) more americans had
already died of AIDS than had died in the entire
vietnam war i nod my head and feel that horrible

my politics are completely shaped by that experience
(or were till 911 which dovetails with those issues,)
in much the same way that many boomers politics were
shaped by vietnam.

it's why i can never have any respect for people who
follow creeds that inculcate that hatred and
subjugation. why i will never be quiet or polite about
my raw return hatred for the people who propagate it.
whether it's fred phelps or some turbaned freak it
matters not to me. their hate is the same hate. and it
is why, perhaps, i get less worked up about overt
military war. because i lived thru a war, by another
name. long before 911. where more than half of the
people i knew were killed. where we didn't lose one or
two brave young boys from whatever town, but lost half
the population of my town, or my part of town anyway.
where they were made to die for being themselves. for
loving other people.


my reply:

i admit it, there is no question that for me vietnam and war/peace is a defining issue of my life - the Vietnam war was not a bug that was fixed, it was a manifestation of a persistent feature, seemingly hard-wired into the system - a feature that is activated again and again - the Spanish-American War, the Reagan-era wars against the people of Central America (paid for by the US, using money Oliver North got by selling stolen weapons to Iran, although mainly fought by local hirelings), Panama, Iraq I, Iraq II, etc. etc.

my bachelor's degree was in political science at MIT - some of the professors in that department were making big bucks (for polisci professors) consulting for the so-called Department of Defense on things like the "strategic hamlet" program - the last couple years i was there armed guards searched our briefcases and backpacks as we went into the building (there had been a small-scale bombing at someone's office overnight - by extremists, or by agents provocateurs - who knows?)

i'm not arguing that the suffering produced by yankee imperialism is more - or less - than that caused by the HIV pandemic - the 20th century was full of dramatic and exciting experiences, and there's no shortage of corpses to count - but one difference i see is that AIDS is caused by a virus, although clearly worsened by the way people mistreat each other

whereas war (what is it good for? business, my boy - it's real good for business - and for keeping and increasing political power) is a purely social phenomenon (one could say 'man-made' - although there is plenty of female participation in the norm-inculcating processes that promote mass murder)

may the Creative Forces of the Universe have mercy on our souls, if any - and assist us in the long process of guided self-observation said to bring such souls into existence - and stand beside us and guide us through the Night with the Light from Above [speaking metaphorically]

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What makes an action "moral" or "immoral"?

It's whether or not somebody gets hurt, right? And whether there's fairness and reciprocity ("The Golden Rule", in more recent centuries formulated as Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, and personified in Charles Kingsley's 19th century novel The Water-Babies as Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby) - that's what counts, don't you think?

Well, yes, I agree with you on this, but a lot of people regard some other considerations as very important in evaluating whether something is right or wrong.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist on the faculty of the University of Virginia, has found that liberals tend to rely mostly on the two questions I first stated - the first is "consequentialist", the second "deontological". However, conservatives also use other "innate, intuitive ethical systems" to decide if something is "immoral" or not. At "The Moral Foundations Home Page" it is put this way:

Moral Foundations Theory proposes that five innate psychological systems form the foundation of "intuitive ethics." Each culture constructs its particular morality as a set of virtues, values, and ideas based on or related to these five foundations (as well as to many other non-moral aspects of the evolved mind). The current American culture war can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. In every sample we have examined (including samples in the US, UK and Western Europe), political conservatism correlates negatively with endorsement of the Harm and Fairness foundations, and positively with endorsement of the Ingroup, Authority, and Purity foundations.

I've just started reading Haidt's book The Happiness Hypothesis (a few chapters of which are available for free download on the web) and am finding it very interesting.

Friday, November 02, 2007

MICFiC - an acronym every child should know

I'm formally suggesting an easy-to-say acronym for the ruling class. The phrase "the military-industrial complex" was featured in Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address, which in a humane and reasonable America (in the future? in an alternative universe? in one's dreams?) will have the prominence it deserves. Wikipedia tells us

The first public use of the term was by the Union of Democratic Control, formed by Sir Charles Trevelyan in the United Kingdom on 5 August 1914. Point Four of their pacifist manifesto declared:

4. National armaments should be limited by mutual agreement, and the pressures of the military-industrial complex regulated by the nationalisation of armaments firms and control over the arms trade. -- page 144, DeGroot, Gerard J. Blighty: British Society in the Era of the Great War, London & New York: Longman, 1996.

Eisenhower's speech in draft form had the phrase "the military-industrial-congressional complex", but he took "congressional" out after objections from those who thought it might offend important people (as it would have, of course. I've restored that word, and added a couple of others for comprehensiveness.


M ilitary
I ndustrial
C ongressional
Fi nancial
C orporate Media Complex

The second "i" in MICFiC is not capitalized, which makes it a bit more interesting if it should ever come to the "graphic design" stage, as well as facilitating easy pronunciation -


I wondered if I could come up with an aphoristic explanation, and decided that the elevator version is:

The MICFiC is a conspiracy to use, abuse, and confuse the people, to "milk, shear, and slaughter the sheeple", figuratively speaking - except the "slaughter" is literal.