The Long View 2006-11-27: Atheists Panic; Democracy & Necessity; CO2/SCOTUS; Cannibalism Today

I’m about as disinterested in arguing with internet atheists as Ventakesh is with arguing with internet theists [that is Eve Keneinan’s beat], the reason I put this here is that the tendency John Reilly was describing is still pretty strong. Arguably, the two firmly committed poles here are just getting more entrenched.

As John says, I do think most internet atheists are unacquainted with the best arguments both against and for their position. For the most part, this turns on tribal identify and personality more than reasoned debate. However, much like null RCTs on diets, a lack of reasoned debate on God doesn’t mean conversions don’t happen.

Here is an argument that I think may have convinced me of the opposite of what John seems to mean here:

One way to restate Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis is that, at the end of the Cold War, the proponents of liberal democracy finally convinced everybody in the West, except for a few cranks, that democracy is irresistible in the long run. If democracy is not a universal imperative, however, then it is everywhere contingent. In other words, if it is not compatible with the current culture of the Middle East, then one could imagine situations arising in the West in which it would not be compatible, either. At the moment, no argues anything like this, except in the context of judicial review. Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss the prospect that "realism" will spread to domestic politics.

John was a big advocate of the Iraq war, but if you read the rest of his corpus, it is pretty clear that democracy isn’t a universal good at all times and in all places, not in Iraq now, and maybe not in the West anymore either.

Atheists Panic; Democracy & Necessity; CO2/SCOTUS; Cannibalism Today

Surely it is a splendid thing to be a " professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago," as is Richard A. Shweder. This morning, however, he rose to an even dizzier eminence with the publication of this opinion piece in The New York Times:

It has long been assumed that religion is opposed to science, reason and human progress; and the death of gods is simply taken for granted as a deeply ingrained Darwinian article of faith...Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? ...The most obvious answer is that the armies of disbelief have been provoked....A deeper and far more unsettling answer, however, is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory than real....

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the “dark ages,” finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. ...Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion. ...Much to everyone’s surprise, that great dance on the Berlin Wall back in 1989 turned out not to be the apotheosis of the Enlightenment....

Science has not replaced religion; group loyalties have intensified, not eroded. The collapse of the cold war’s balance of power has not resulted in the end of collective faiths or a rush to democracy and individualism. In Iraq, the “West is best” default (and its discourse about universal human rights) has provided a foundation for chaos...

There are sophisticated arguments for atheism, but the scientists who take up iconoclasm as a hobby rarely seem to be aware of them. At least in part, that may be because the sophisticated arguments involve the sort of fundamental skepticism that would also undermine the optimistic epistemology on which the scientific enterprise depends. The price of making God invisible is to turn out all the lights.

* * *

Speaking of the default mode of politics, Mark Steyn's recent comments on the excellent British site, New Culture Forum actually have graver implications than he supposes:

The fact of the matter is that the snob right in Britain, the Max Hastings crowd, who denounce American adventurism in Iraq and all this, the Michael Moore conservatives as they are sometimes known over here, basically their argument - that George W. Bush is engaged in a hopeless task in Iraq, that Islam and democracy [are] completely incompatible - that’s not a problem for Iraq, that’s a problem for Britain, and Belgium and the Netherlands and Scandinavia. And to airily make that statement about Iraq and not to see its implications for your own country is almost unbelievably crass.

One way to restate Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis is that, at the end of the Cold War, the proponents of liberal democracy finally convinced everybody in the West, except for a few cranks, that democracy is irresistible in the long run. If democracy is not a universal imperative, however, then it is everywhere contingent. In other words, if it is not compatible with the current culture of the Middle East, then one could imagine situations arising in the West in which it would not be compatible, either. At the moment, no argues anything like this, except in the context of judicial review. Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss the prospect that "realism" will spread to domestic politics.

* * *

Pigs will fly before the Supreme does what the plaintiffs are asking here:

The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming....The case is Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 05-1120...A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles.

Even though the Court would not order the EPA to control CO2 emissions, however, I would not be surprised if it found the EPA already had the power to do so. This suit illustrates why it was so important for the United States not to sign the Kyoto Treaty. It would have done for climate policy what Roe v. Wade did for population control.

* * *

Enlightened atheists are correct when they fret that ancient brutalities are reasserting themselves these days; the problem is that they are looking in the wrong places. As we have noted before, uncontrolled illegal immigration has already re-created significant pockets of indentured servitude in sweatshop industries, and then there are the poor slave-nannies who dare not complain to authorities no matter how their employers treat them. Most gruesome of all, however, is the prospect of consensual cannibalism:

The wait for a kidney can stretch for years. People die waiting for one -- more than 4,000 in the United States alone last year.

A recent editorial in The Economist magazine suggested that instead of making it illegal for people to sell their kidneys, governments should permit it: even license and encourage it.

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist, who says that legalizing the individual sale of kidneys would help. Legalizing the process, he says, would end a black market for the organs.

The key, Franklin says, would be "a robust system of regulation."

We all know how keen The Economist is for robust regulation.

All this reminds me of an episode in the Futurama series. The characters walk into a deli in New New York in the 31st century and see the food available from all across the galaxy. One of them says: "Boy, I bet you can find any kind of meat here but human!" The clawed and semi-aquatic shopkeeper asks, "You want human?"

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2003-05-22: What this Country Needs....

John said in 2002 that no century in modern times had produced less intellectual history than the twentieth. Another way of putting it might be that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The quoted WNYC story in this post from 2003 is by now clearly right. Our attempt to build representative democracy in Iraq could have been foreseen to turn out exactly the way it did. Brian Lehrer, do you ever look back and think to yourself, "I told you so"?

Unfortunately, part of the dynamic behind why things keep going around in circles in recent history is that no one is on top of the pile for long. Learning from the mistakes of your political enemies may be even harder than learning from your own mistakes. I wonder whether Lehrer questioned the value of democracy in Libya the same way after the fall of Qaddafi, because the same result could have been predicted in Libya, or really anywhere affected by the Arab Spring.

Further evidence that nothing really changes except who is on top is provided by the second section of John's post. In 2003, anti-war liberals were heckled on college campuses. Today, anti-gay marriage conservatives are heckled on college campuses. The behavior is the same, only the approved targets have changed.

Finally, we might note that suit has again been filed to force the Selective Service to accept women. One thing is different now: with a lack of real combat operations for ground troops, no one has to face the cost of putting women in combat roles. This kind of thing went nowhere in 2003. In 2015, it is plausible that it will succeed, precisely because no one will ever see a 19-year old girl in a body bag or a wheelchair now.

What This Country Needs...
Last week, WNYC's Brian Lehrer made what, in effect, was a plea for a military dictatorship in the United States. Here are his key points:
The President's whole approach to democracy in Iraq, is in fact, the opposite of his approach to democracy at home. He is carefully building a transitional Iraqi government based on the idea that all major groups need to have some real decision-making power. The term he keeps using is a representative government - not elected or even democratic government, but a representative one. And he is right to do so. It's a worthy goal....So what about for us? This President squeaked into office in what was essentially a tie vote...[I]magine if he were building democracy in Iraq on the basis of 51 percent winner-take-all majority rule. Iraq would be a Shiite State tomorrow. Too bad on the Kurds, the Sunnis and other minorities...[M]aybe, Mr. President, your foreign policy would work as well at home. While Iraqis get to know you as the Affirmative Action President, maybe Americans whose groups have faced the biggest disadvantages need more opportunities, just like in Iraq. And maybe a more representative form of decision-making would improve OUR democracy too.
That is as clear a statement of post-democratic liberalism as you could hope to find. It puts "representation" before everything else, even at the cost of turning the organs of representative government into mere symbol. Under such a system, the real power necessarily resides with some version of Tommy Franks, who can correct the errors of unenlightened electorates. People who favor "guided democracy" generally assume that they will be Tommy Franks when the time comes, or at least they will be able to choose him. They are almost always wrong about that assumption.
* * *
Speaking of choosing the wrong patsy, no doubt many readers saw the four-hour drama that aired on CBS this week: Hitler: The Rise of Evil. Every generation gets its own Hitler, just as each gets its own Richard III. For myself, I kept wondering why Johnny Depp suddenly wanted to take over Germany. Still, the series was fine. Events had to be slurred and compressed to make a manageable story, particularly for the last year of elections and ministerial crises before Hitler became chancellor. (Hindenburg actually offered Hitler the chance to form a government twice, but Hitler refused to even try to assemble a parliamentary majority: he wanted a presidential appointment.) There are just three points about the program that I would like to highlight:
First, Hitler did not achieve electoral success by emphasizing antisemitism. That was important for keeping part of his base together. When he had the chance to win elections, however, he talked about economics and law-and-order.
Second, the Nazis probably did not burn down the Reichstag. They really didn't need to: they controlled the police and the media, and President Hindenburg was obviously not going to live forever.
Finally, the show had trouble attracting advertisers, at least for the New York City market. It's a bad sign when the commercials for prime time on a major broadcast network are for individual car dealerships.
* * *
Remember back when people first started to complain about political correctness? The problem came to public notice 15 or 20 years ago, when it became difficult for a conservative to speak in any academic forum without being heckled to silence. The fact that anti-war liberals are now having the same problem does not mean the world has become a better place. Still, it's happening. Consider the case of New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, whose antiwar commencement address at Rockford College was shouted down with some enthusiasm.
I'd like to be sympathetic; certainly I hate to be heckled. What lends these events a certain rough justice, however, is the visible outrage of liberal media pundits. They live in ideological hothouses; they often don't know that there are opinions other than their own. They genuinely equate being contradicted with being censored.
Probably the Dixie Chicks don't qualify as pundits, but Bob Herbert of The New York Times does. His remarks in today's column is chiefly about Halliburton's contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, but he does say this in passing:
"The Dixie Chicks were excoriated for simply exercising their constitutional right to speak out. With an ugly backlash and plans for a boycott growing, the group issued a humiliating public apology for 'disrespectful' anti-Bush remarks made by its lead singer, Natalie Maines."
This is confused. The Dixie Chicks were not excoriated for exercising a right. They were excoriated because of the content of what their lead singer said. Government generally can't do that, but private persons can. In fact, the reason government regulates speech only procedurally is precisely to facilitate public reaction to its content. Of course people who say provocative things in public are praised and blamed. That's not "ugly." It's the First Amendment.
* * *
On the subject of confusion, I see that recent comments on homosexuality by Cardinal Arinze caused a walkout by some faculty at Georgetown University. His eminence was listing dangers to family life today, among which he mentioned homosexuality, which he says mocks it. The theologians in particular were shocked.
The interesting thing about this incident was not that a Catholic cardinal was criticized for stating a commonplace of Catholic doctrine at a Jesuit university. The interesting thing was that he was also stating what I gather is a commonplace of Queer Theory. Ideologies of sexual liberation begin with the premise that traditional family roles, and indeed traditional ideas about gender, are oppressive constructs. They must be deconstructed and laughed out of existence, or at least greatly modified. It's a little disingenuous to suggest that the cardinal was being paranoid.
* * *
Finally, this brings us to confusion coupled with depraved indifference to human life. Some under-employed civil liberties groups are bringing suit against the Selective Service system. The argument is that requiring only young men to register is sex discrimination.
Have these people given any thought to what would happen if they win? We are not talking about the promotion of women lawyers at major law firms. If they win, the ultimate result will be bodybags with dead 19-year-old girls in them.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2002-07-05: The International Criminal Court

Partly as a matter of personality, and partly as a matter of profession, I care very much about the letter of the law. Thus I find myself very sympathetic to John's legal reading of the Rome Statue that governs the International Criminal Court. Since I am not a lawyer, I have no opinion on the technical merits of his argument.

As an interested amateur, I find this a very fascinating subject, and I wish I knew more. I do find John's characterization of the UN General Assembly convincing: most of the countries in the world owe their existence to how tiresome their more powerful neighbors found it to govern them, than any kind of natural right. If the most powerful countries leave behind ethnic nationhood for universal states, you can expect this to become less true.

The International Criminal Court



I read the Rome Statute that governs the Court, and that went into effect on July 1. It's the damnedest thing. The Court is its own little legal universe. It not only has its own criminal statutes (for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the still to be defined crime of "aggression"), but its own rules of statutory construction, plus the the Court's structure and sources of funding. At 29,000 words in the English version, the Rome Statute is almost three times the length of the US federal Constitution, but then the US Constitution is notoriously short. Besides, the US Constitution does not cover as much ground.

The International Criminal Court is tricameral. With just 18 judges to start with, one chamber in effect operates as a grand jury, another as a trial court, and a third as a court of appeals. The Court is supposed to be funded by assessments on the states adhering to the treaty. Those states are also supposed to volunteer prison facilities for persons convicted and sentenced by the Court. The Statute seems to imply that the host country, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, will pick up the institutional expenses if no one else will. Moreover, the Statute specifically allows for donations from private persons and organizations, and even for volunteer staff. It is possible to imagine that the Court could be freed of budgetary constraints by foundations and NGOs.

The Court's Prosecutor can initiate proceedings himself, or complaints can be made by a state that is a party to the treaty, or by the UN Security Council. The key to jurisdiction is that the acts alleged to fall within the Court's purview must have happened within a party state, or the actions in question must have happened to the citizens of a paty state. The defendants can be anybody, anywhere. There are no enforcement mechanisms of any kind, but the party states are required to comply in the matter of extradition and service of process.

The parties to the Statute constitute the Assembly that oversees the court. Sixty signatories were necessary to bring the Statute into effect. Among the current signers, many of the world's middle-sized countries are represented, principally from Europe, plus Australia and New Zealand. However, none of the world's large countries have ratified the Statute, except for Brazil and Nigeria. We should remember that the count of sovereign entities in the early 21st century runs to nearly 200. Most of them have populations smaller than that of a middle-sized Asian city. In other words, most of the members of the Assembly represent "rotten boroughs."

The UN Secretary General has some administrative functions with regard to the Court. The Statute contemplates that the Assembly can meet at the UN Headquarters in New York, annually or more often if necessary. The drafters apparently contemplated that the Assembly of the Court would eventually become coincident with the UN General Assembly. (Israel has ratified the Statute, by the way, perhaps in the hope that its membership in the Court's Assembly will redress its second-class status in the UN.)

Most important changes to the Statute, including modification of its criminal law and the Court's structure, require a two-thirds majority in the Court's Assembly. In effect, the Assembly is a parliament empowered to legislate some features of international law. This would be new, if anyone takes it seriously

As for the law and the procedure of the Court, there are few points that would strike a Common Law jurist as extraordinary. In fact, with its attention to questions like burden of proof and self-incrimination, the Statute seems designed to mollify Anglo-Saxon misgivings. There are some eccentricities. For instance, double jeopardy seems to apply in full force only to decisions of the Court itself. Judgments by national courts can be reviewed by the International Court, to see whether international law was applied adequately. Moreover, the Court's Prosecutor can appeal an acquittal from the Court's trial division to its appellate division, even on matters of fact. This is only to be expected in a system without jury trials; judges in Common Law countries are far more willing to second guess other judges than they are juries.

From what I know of the subject, the Statute gives a reasonable statement of the principles of international law in the areas within its purview. To the extent there is any innovation, the Statute is fair about it; the Court's jurisdiction covers only acts committed after the Statue came into effect at the beginning of this month. Of course, as I have noted, the Statute does put international law up for grabs in a novel way.

Reading the Statute does not answer the question: what is this? The idea of a criminal court without a police force is ludicrous. The Statute makes ordinary statecraft impossible. Although the Prosecutor has some discretion about whether to bring a case or not, his discretion is defined with regard for the personal situations of the victims and the alleged perpetrators. The Statute revokes the traditional principle of sovereign immunity, but nowhere did the drafters make the tiniest acknowledgment that prosecuting heads of state and military personnel is unlike prosecuting domestic defendants. There is a provision allowing the Security Council to order the Prosecutor to defer a trial or investigation for a year, but that does not remedy the basic problem. One simply does not arrest a head of state, one negotiates with him. Failing that, one makes war on him. For the Court to do any good, it must be subordinate to some executive body capable of conducting politics and diplomacy.

The UN Security Council would serve nicely as the responsible executive, and in fact that is what the United States has been insisting on all along. Without some such mechanism, international law will be set at odds with international order. The Court and its Statute as currently constituted should be ignored to death.

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site