Thursday, March 24, 2011

On intervention

Any intervention in another's affairs requires a very high burden of proof to show that it can be justified. All evidence in favor needs to be evaluated as to whether it can meet this burden. Without meeting this burden intervention can be assumed to be wrong.

The anarchist position as I understand it is never non-intervention as an absolute principle, but that intervention is wrong without adequate justification; particularly, as it relates to the preferences of the affected parties.

The fact is, as much as we do not like Western power in principle, in practice there are many instances where we solicit it for what we think is right, because there is no alternative. Naturally, we seek out these alternatives if we can. But it is hypocritical to foreclose the same options to others when in our daily lives as Westerners we pursue them all the time.

53 comments:

Jack Crow said...

These are actual anarchist arguments and principles:

"If this is the price to be paid for an idea, then let us pay. There is no need of being troubled about it, afraid, or ashamed. This is the time to boldly say, “Yes, I believe in the displacement of this system of injustice by a just one; I believe in the end of starvation, exposure, and the crimes caused by them; I believe in the human soul regnant over all laws which man has made or will make; I believe there is no peace now, and there will never be peace, so long as one rules over another; I believe in the total disintegration and dissolution of the principle and practice of authority; I am an Anarchist, and if for this you condemn me, I stand ready to receive your condemnation."

~ Voltairine de Cleyre

"Concentrated power can be always wielded in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. Government in its last analysis is this power reduced to a science. Governments never lead; they follow progress."

~ Lucy Parsons

"The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish crime. Aside from the fact that the State is itself the greatest criminal, breaking every written and natural law, stealing in the form of taxes, killing in the form of war and capital punishment, it has come to an absolute standstill in coping with crime. It has failed utterly to destroy or even minimize the horrible scourge of its own creation."

~ Red Emma (and it really works if you understand that the response by the US/EU powers, in Libya, is a policing operation)

And as a tidy conclusion:

"The political arena leaves one no alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rogue. "

~ Red Emma

What you've argued, recently, is not anarchist. It's run of the mill cruise missile liberalism.

Montag said...

i don't think of Western power as something that we can solicit. it is something we must cope with. an element in the ecosystem in which we must survive. like the wind. sometimes a nice cool breeze is all you need on a hot day to take the edge off, but wind is unpredictable. most of the time it's blowing your paper plate off the picnic table, or messing with your hair, or slowing you down on your bike ride, and with alarming frequency, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it'll tear through and suck the roof off every house in the neighborhood.

just as Western power isn't something we solicit, it's also not something we can really foreclose to anyone else.

my criticism of the Libyan intervention is its violence. i don't believe that any of the three violent actors (i.e. the Colonel, the rebel leaders, nor Western powers,) are acting in the interests of everyday Libyan people.

reflecting on my own principles, the largest part of my idea of ethics is simply: persevere! so i should be happy for the nonviolent Libyan who has been bought some time by a US cruise missile. i dont feel that it is inconsistent or hypocritical to both feel sympathetic to that person while abhorring the violence of the situation.

i mean, here we say, "look! an incredibly violent and regrettable situation!" and "bomb 'em!!!!" is the first and best answer? i realize, JRB, that this isn't the view you are putting forward. what i can't get past is that no matter how good a nice ocean breeze can sometimes feel, the wind don't know how to do anything but blow.

Richard said...

"as much as we do not like Western power in principle, in practice there are many instances where we solicit it for what we think is right, because there is no alternative"

What does this mean? When do we "solicit" Western power?

(I like what Montag says above.)

That you are highlighting intervention, as such, in this way, helps me to understand what some of the problem might be. As ever, we are presented with a situation, but we often fail to successfully think outside of the frame in which it appears. We are presented, again, with the idea of a "humanitarian intervention". Others have done well in arguing against the "humanitarian" portion of the idea (it will not be humanitarian, and can't be; we have inarguably good reasons for saying so, given what we know about who makes the decisions and takes the actions). I'd like to question the notion that it's an "intervention" at all. We hear about goings on in another country, about which we know doubt understand very little; they sound bad. The cry goes up to "do something", to "intervene". But Libya is not outside the global capitalist system. Western power does not need to intervene; it is already there. It has already substantially shaped the reality on the ground. It takes actions when and how it decides it needs to, for its own purposes, having to do with configurations of capital and of power. It is nothing more than a happy convenience that it can plausible be claimed that they were invited to enforce a no-fly zone.

This is not an intervention in the affairs of other people.

JM said...

Boyd, get this through your skull, okay?:

exhibit A: http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/meet-mahmoud-jibril/

Exhibit B: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-libya-prisoners-20110324,0,5238438.story

I hope you read these otherwise, I can't help you.

Jack Crow said...

Well said, Richard.

(Montag, replied to your position over your way.)

Richard said...

(forgive the egregious "know doubt" typo; ugh)

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Rather than express the idea more thoroughly --as I prefer to let others do their own thinking and reasoning, rather than me doing it for them-- I will just echo what Jack said:

What you've argued, recently, is not anarchist. It's run of the mill cruise missile liberalism.

JRB said...

Friends:

By "solicit" I mean we attempt to influence it, for our own purposes, through a variety of means.

Jack Crow said...

I don't try to influence the various iterations of power and control. Then again, I'm also not trying to persuade people that by "listening" to absolutely unknown "Libyans," I'm not being a moral imperialist.

You're using the royal we again.

You've also still not come close to defining who these "Libyans" are, and although perhaps this is opaque to you, it's the major stumbling block almost every respondent has with your argument.

JRB said...

Just think about it, and we'll talk more next week.

JRB said...

By the way -- I would also invite you to visit zunguzungu, who has been doing very good work around these issues.

If you do visit, just promise to be nice!

Jack Crow said...

If you don't want to defend your assertions, just pony up and say so. I for one understand - they're indefensible.

And Bady is unremitting ass. His good work amounts to "on the one hand, on the other hand, and now I'll go masturbate to French movies."

zunguzungu said...

Hi Jack,
Kisses.
Unremittingly yours, Bady

Excuse me, would you like a bomb? Would your neighbor? said...

"His good work amounts to "on the one hand, on the other hand, and now I'll go masturbate to French movies."

LOL. That's Jack filling in for Oxy, who's probably skiing, as well he should.

JRB said...

Jack:

What we say about others often communicates most about ourselves. I hope you will use this to your advantage.

And -- be patient, dude. I can assure you all my assertions will still be here when we come back.

Ben Free said...

Um, isn't there something of an anarchist case for "non-intervention as an absolute principle" if by intervention you mean the initiation of violence?

Think what we will about the many, many factions in the Libyan civil war none of us can honestly say that any of them have attacked us. The ethical principles from an anarchist perspective get even more mangled in situations like the inevitable "collateral damage" already suffered by one 10 year old boy in that 'botched rescue' of the downed pilots.

To advocate violent intervention in a situation where our knowledge and clarity from such a cultural, geographic and class distance must be at best fragmentary and provisional would seem to run afoul of first principles for all manner of anarchist tendencies, not least for the pacifist, nonviolence and libertarian/non-aggression minded...

if the autonomy of decision making of those immediately involved in the situation is at issue-- as you posit-- how can you claim to know enough about such a situation to advocate a violent intervention from afar?

Ethan said...

Jack, this level of hostility towards people for being uncertain is pretty strange coming from you. I liked that post, at the time, enough to remember it now.

That said, my feelings on the topic at hand were nicely summed up by Montag and Richard at the beginning of the thread. I think uncertainty and yielding to the desires of those most affected by an action are wonderful things, but for all the above stated reasons they don't really even apply here. At the root, even if the "western powers" were able to ascertain that some overwhelming majority of Libyans wanted military intervention in order to stop Gaddafi's killing, that isn't something those powers are either willing or able to give them. What you're suggesting Libyans might be asking for is something that no one is giving them and no one will give them.

JR, you know I love you deeply, but my feeling here is that your as-always noble intentions are leading you astray. Luckily, not a single person in this conversation has an ounce of say in what happens!

Jack Crow said...

JRB,

I say what I mean. I don't pretty it up with professor stroking grad-speak and Christian-lite platitude. When I'm a fucking jerk, I am so publicly. I'm not going to hide behind snide and coy refrains.

That's about me. What I write about Bady refers to Bady. It doesn't say anything about me.

And I am sure your assertions will remain, still indefensible, with objections still left unaddressed.

I have fuller picture of your previous defenses of hierarchy, liberal capitalist feminism and authority, now.

You don't owe me or anyone an explanation, but I'm not really surprised that you don't have one.

Cruise missile liberals rarely do. Especially those who think they've got a handle on how to lecture their fellow white travelers on the best methods to properly listen to in vogue categories of brown people.

Jack Crow said...

Ethan,

I'm not writing from hostility. Disagreement and bafflement aren't animosity. I write what I mean. And I stick to what I mean. That's not hostility. It's honesty.

Jack Crow said...

On second and third thought, Ethan - what you're reading is confusion, and a not insubstantial disbelief.

Another person, at chez IOZ, expressed it better than I, so:

"stillnotking said...

I'm genuinely disturbed at the willingness of prominent, soi-disant "anarchists" to cry havoc, to start referring to the United States government as "we", and other bizarre, unpardonable sins. The best-case scenario is garden-variety contrarianism: these "anarchists" are suddenly warmongers for the same reason they became "anarchists" in the first place, i.e. because it's bold, different, and impresses hot young undergrads. Worst-case, much of the anarchist movement in America really is just confused and full of shit, not to mention possessing the spinal flexibility of a dead flatworm.

Even Matty Woodchuck managed, presumably by pressing his face hard against the greasy Metro window, to apprehend the dim outlines of the truth. Matty right, Boyd & Sartwell wrong? That had not occurred to us, Dude."

***

I did try the open hand. I asked questions. I tried to understand what he was getting at. At last count, twenty other people asked the same type and kind of them. Mr. Boyd's reaction was to ignore, or scoff.

But, you're loyal and that's admirable. Sincerely so.

Justin said...

JRB,
I've been thinking about this, from the beginning I wondered if you weren't trying to make a point about projecting our wishes and viewpoints on others. I've had the feeling that there is something here that I am missing, but can't put my finger on it. I could be wrong about that, but if I am right, and others are similarly, then maybe a clarification? Is Jack Kevorkian a better example than Libya?

Are you trying to remind us that Libyans are not ciphers for us to project our political beliefs onto? That they are thinking people who come to their own conclusions? That whether they want the U.S. to bomb them or not should be irrelevant or entirely relevant? Because, I'll be honest, if 99% or 100% of Libyans could somehow relate to us that they wanted our government to bomb them, I would still be opposed.

My opposition would be on the partly based on the belief that whatever they think is in their best interest, I believe the outcome will be worse except now I'll share in the cost and responsibility for their oppression. Is that the point you are trying to get at? If so, let me put it this way... I am not presuming to know better than they do about their circumstances. If they wanted to revolt against Qaddafi and overthrow their government, I make no judgments about the wisdom of that course of action. Even if someone made a plausible case that the aftermath of such a revolution would make life worse for the average Libyan, to me, I still have nothing more to express than solidarity and respect for their willingness to accept the consequences for acting on their beliefs.

My opposition is directed at the U.S. military and political machine, who from experience and history we know will hurt Libyans, directly, and I do not wish to supplant Qaddafi as their new dictator via a government and military that are, like it or not, my own.

JRB said...

Guys:

Not much time but I think part of the confusion here is that I'm not actually saying very much, only that Libyan circumstances, and to whatever degree possible, Libyans, should be taken into account when making judgments about what is appropriate in their affairs.

That's different than a priori judgments about the nature of Western power, and deserves to be treated as such.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

LOL. That's Jack filling in for Oxy, who's probably skiing, as well he should.

I only just visited Bady's site yesterday for the first time, and haven't had enough time to get any impressions. First blush is, self-impressed professor-wannabe, a type with which I'm pretty familiar, as they dominate the "leftist" end of blorgistan. I detected high-and-mighty, as well as a cultural-aesthete vibe.

So in some ways, it may be Jack was sorta expressing a forecast of what I'd think if I were exposed to more. Doesn't seem too far off.

Personally I wouldn't want Libyans coming here to "help" me deal with Obama/Biden. I extend them the same respect, "diplomatic" or "intelligence" oriented excuses notwithstanding.

For any nation MoBroSam wants to invade, a local interest warranting invasion can be found, documented, offered to the American populace. And if a person doesn't believe this, it's because he/she doesn't want to -- not because the evidence is lacking.

ohtarzie said...

only that Libyan circumstances, and to whatever degree possible, Libyans, should be taken into account when making judgments about what is appropriate in their affairs.

I am not obliged to take anyone into account if they are seeking my involvement in something that harms me, harms others and is completely at odds with my own deeply held convictions and reading of history.

i will add, for Ethan's sake, that I am also not obliged to entertain politely, at least not indefinitely, an ostensible radical's alignment with state power predicated on a disingenuous show of heightened sensitivity to the soon-to-be-bombed population any more than I am obliged to entertain, politely, 'uncertainty' on questions of white supremacy or whether or not incinerating Afghans is feminist.

The most amazing thing is how polite people are being. Not that Jack lost his cool.

ohtarzie said...

Should have said 'bombed' not 'soon-to-be-bombed' though both are correct at this juncture, I suppose.

Ethan said...

If it matters, I guess I should clarify that I was only referring to the "unremitting ass" bit, and just suggesting that people could have more patience with uncertainty, especially since we're not in a position to do anything about it other than talk at each other. I'm no more interested in a "tone" discussion than anyone else is.

JRB said...

ohtarzie:

Your approach is a good example of why I prefer to avoid conflict where there isn't any.

Naturally, you can qualify what I've said anyway you like, and then throw a tantrum.

The only question that interests me is whether you disagree with my statement as it is written.

Anonymous said...

JRB - Wait until next week? Really?

You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don't fool Jesus. This bush league psych-out stuff. Laughable, man - HA HA!

Montag said...

[a little exasperated, but hopefully polite enough still...]

well said, Justin. though i might quibble with your last 7 words. ;-)

JRB:
Libyan circumstances, and to whatever degree possible, Libyans, should be taken into account when making judgments about what is appropriate in their affairs.

sure. yes. as far as that goes. but you've gone a step further. you didn't ask folks to examine that statement as written. the case presented is one where it isn't a judgement of a generic "what is appropriate." it's a judgement of whether "We" should use force, Western power, if circumstances merit and Libyans truly and enthusiastically want "Us" to. (all in a phantasmagorical realm where "We" correctly ascertain the collective will of the diverse whole of Libya!)

so even if we grant that we can determine what Libyans want and need, and the answer is the application of Western military force, are we ethically free to ignore the a priori judgments of Western power?

Anonymous said...

Never thought you for a posh barmy wanker, Boyd. Do now.

JRB said...

Hey guys:

I'm going to respond in detail to the thoughtful inquiries here over the weekend. Hopefully that will help. I do appreciate the interest and the patience expressed in this thread, particularly.

I will speak directly to Jack's concerns, but only in a constructive context.

I also want to acknowledge James N. at the end of the More Libya thread, who offered to summarize my approach before drawing any firm conclusions about it, thereby insulating us both from the pandemonium. He basically got it right, and I may need to retain him as a translator in the future. George Jones would also point to the relevant formula to bear in mind in this case.

Having said all this, I'm going to subsequently wrap up my role in these threads and continue with my usual work. Others who want clarification about something can write me directly.

And to all the Anonymouses and others who fling dirt only to inevitably slink silently away, please know that I appreciate you too: You play an invaluable role.

Thanks.

la Rana said...

Asking what the anarchist position is on military intervention is like asking someone who doesn't like bananas whether they prefer bananas in shakes or in a fruit salad. It is a category error.

What does it mean to a ask what the Libyan's think? Do you propose there is a uniform position? do you propose their is a consistent majority position? Do you think these are policy positions, rather than circumstantial, dictated by need, and thus subject to regular change? How many Libyan's are needed to approve aerial bombardment? Is a good sample methodology sufficient? Does Libyan opinion dictate bombardment or invasion? How does that opinion influence the moral problems inherent in murder and destruction? Can a majority of Libyan's give the US the moral authority to kill the minority?

Why do you ask what Libyan's think? This one has an answer. You ask in order to evasively suggest that aerial bombardment/partial invasion is justified. Simple. You choose this route because you find that you cannot answer the questions that confront a more honest approach. You will also find that you cannot answer the additional questions presented by myself and others on this thread. But I hope you try. The hopeless logical and moral knot that will inevitably emerge will make it all the more clear what your project really is.

JRB said...

la Rana:

Yes, I've heard the name. My impression is that it is somewhat respected?

As to your claims -- this might not mean anything to you yet, but I was born and raised in that briar patch!

Best of luck.

ohtarzie said...

The only question that interests me is whether you disagree with my statement as it is written.

I agree with the first two paragraph, which differ somewhat from previous posts. I have been taking your communications on this as a whole. Your previous endorsement of the intervention seems to be at odds with what you are saying now.

As to your third paragraph, I don't think you can lump all engagement with state power together. Since I have never asked the state to kill anyone and create chaos on my behalf, I am not hypocritical in foreclosing that option to others. I don't fault them for asking, however, and might even do something similar under the right (or rather, wrong) conditions.

ohtarzie said...

Actually, not that it matters, but I don't feel I have the background to endorse the second paragraph. I am only just now coming round to viewing myself as an anarchist and only then because it seems to fit more than anything else that has a name. I am not at all concerned about whether or not a position is authentically anarchist.

Devin Lenda said...

Paragraph 1 (strong burden of proof necessary to justify intervention) is the right starting point but the rest of this discussion gets way off track.

The second step should involve determining what exactly would meet that burden. I'd say you have to show that there has been a previous intervention by the U.S. or a similar power that has been an overall win for the intervened-upon population and for both the intervened-upon and interveners taken together. This should take into account, along with the obvious stuff like deaths and injuries, the cost of intervention to U.S. taxpayers being "worth it" (however defined), the long-term boost to the weapons industry, and the strong possibliity of blowback. Secondly, you have to show the similarity of your example to the current Libya case to the point where one can reasonably expect a similar result.

If someone accepts this burden of proof, I don't think they can come anywhere near meeting it. If they don't accept this burden of proof, they're saying you don't need a precedent, that something that has never happened before will happen in this case. It's tough to call that a "high burden of proof."

Another point related to keeping the discussion on track: since when is intervene or don't intervene a legitimate question? This strikes me as a false choice. A better question: If I were a member of that small group of people actually making these decisions, what would I do to make the lives of the people in Libya (and the Middle East) better? This is the right question because it's: 1) more representative of the true range of options 2) more relevant to the broader West/Middle East context 3) easier to answer.

The answer is: stop flooding the whole damn region with weapons; stop propping up dictators; stop crushing grassroots efforts at self-determination. As for Libya, offer Gaddafi a deal. If he doesn't take it, get back to that burden of proof.

JRB said...

Hello all:

I'm going to go through the posts as indicated above, Montag through Justin. Please let me know if my explanations to others are sufficient in your case, as I expect there will be some duplication in my responses.

I won't say much after this -- so please don't submit rejoinders to every response, at least not addressed to me; as always, you reserve the right to remain unconvinced!


Montag:

This is a wonderful stand-alone formulation, and I'm very glad to see it come from an interpretation of what I have said; it is one of the things I like best about blogging.

However, as an interpretation, I think it is one among many that could plausibly be drawn from that paragraph, because I see now that what was intuitive to me was basically cryptic for others. This is just an inevitable problem when trying to write in a concise style: it works much more effectively when people can readily intuit what you mean.

This in turn has led to multiple reformulations over the past several days, in an attempt to finally arrive at what I think is the best expression of my fundamental concern, simply stated above in this comment thread, to which your response was, quite humorously for me, "sure. yes. as far as that goes."

In fact, this goes quite far for me, because I haven't seen any tangible evidence of interest in such a possibility, but lots of concern that the question would even be raised -- to the degree that a better part of this discussion has for many been spent agonizing over a question of how one could possibly ever learn or infer somebody else's preference in a concrete situation where evidence abounds. The only thing I ever encouraged anyone to do was to try, and by trying, to discover the extent of such possibilities themselves -- the minimally decent thing to do with respect to anyone whose welfare we* profess to care about, in my opinion.

* i.e., me and my audience, as specified

JRB said...

Richard:

"as much as we do not like Western power in principle, in practice there are many instances where we solicit it for what we think is right, because there is no alternative"

What does this mean? When do we "solicit" Western power?

You are right to ask because it is an unorthodox way of saying what I want, which is meant to be expansive: Everything from standing on the roof of our house after a flood with a sign which reads "Save Us" to active engagement in class struggle.

One way or the other, it is important for us to influence particular applications of state power, especially insofar as we lack any good alternative for meeting our needs. Yet when it comes to our needs, we do not likely confuse the potential legitimacy of state power as applied with the separate question of the legitimacy of the state and its implications, per se. We don't shit a brick because our mail is delivered by the state, because we aren't opposed to mail delivery (presumably it would exist in any decent society), even if we are opposed to states.

(Some anarchists are tormented when they fail to draw these distinctions, because they inevitably fall into boycotting life insofar as it is administered by some illegitimate concentration of power, and end up not being very productive or supportive people, trapped as they are.)

What concerns me here is an anti-imperialism which isn't sufficiently informed by historically specified contexts, but which says that because the US, say, is a "death machine" all other considerations become secondary, including those that may be primary in other people's lives at a given moment. US state power is not the only relevant human concern, or the most immediate at all times, even if we as US citizens we are obliged to focus on it. Our focus is not the same as everybody's focus, and even our focus shifts in accordance with our needs.

If our needs existed in the context of a civil war where we faced certain massacre without, say, a bomb landing on advancing tanks, our concerns about one expression of Western state power could very well become secondary to our concerns about impending slaughter. I'm saying, it's possible -- so you don't rule it out in advance.

I'd like to question the notion that it's an "intervention" at all. We hear about goings on in another country, about which we know doubt understand very little; they sound bad. The cry goes up to "do something", to "intervene". But Libya is not outside the global capitalist system. Western power does not need to intervene; it is already there. It has already substantially shaped the reality on the ground. It takes actions when and how it decides it needs to, for its own purposes, having to do with configurations of capital and of power. It is nothing more than a happy convenience that it can plausible be claimed that they were invited to enforce a no-fly zone.

Yes, this is a very good formulation, astutely expressed. It's already there, and it's already here. So everybody has a stake in what it does as it relates to them.

I hope this addressed your concerns, or at least clarified my thinking here.

JRB said...

Ben Free:

isn't there something of an anarchist case for "non-intervention as an absolute principle" if by intervention you mean the initiation of violence?

In effect, you are asking whether the use of force can ever be justified insofar as somebody "starts it." But we know from human relations that there is never any consensus around what this means. Some might argue that economic deprivation is a form of violence which justifies armed rebellion -- while others will see the latter alone as the initiation of force.

For this reason, I think the formulation stated in the first two paragraphs of this post is the best guide to negotiating whether "intervention" -- in fact, any act of authority -- can be justified in any relation.

Think what we will about the many, many factions in the Libyan civil war none of us can honestly say that any of them have attacked us. The ethical principles from an anarchist perspective get even more mangled in situations like the inevitable "collateral damage" already suffered by one 10 year old boy in that 'botched rescue' of the downed pilots.

Ethical considerations in real life circumstances usually come down to choosing between different sets of problems in order to prioritize those that matter most to us under the circumstances.

The fact that the US federal government, for example, would predictably make aspects of the Katrina disaster worse was one problem. The fact that people needed help was another.

To advocate violent intervention in a situation where our knowledge and clarity from such a cultural, geographic and class distance must be at best fragmentary and provisional would seem to run afoul of first principles for all manner of anarchist tendencies, not least for the pacifist, nonviolence and libertarian/non-aggression minded...

As I say above, any act of authority is assumed to be wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong. I can't just walk up to you and throw you to the ground. If I did that to prevent you from being hit by a bus, you might accept this within the context, even if you don't accept a general principle of throwing people to the ground. We see how trying to debate the ethical merits of throwing people to the ground (because the overall history of throwing people to the ground unequivocally shows that people are better off not being thrown to the ground) without historical specificity is not helpful here.

if the autonomy of decision making of those immediately involved in the situation is at issue-- as you posit-- how can you claim to know enough about such a situation to advocate a violent intervention from afar?

That is a very good question. What I have argued is that no one should be eager to announce a position either way without at least trying to evaluate the relevant evidence. Naturally, anarchism requires a lot if the determination is going to be in the affirmative; but this does not obviate a process of evaluation which accepts all evidence -- certainly not if you presume to hold a firm position.

JRB said...

Ethan:

Thanks for the loving dissent. BDR, too -- and the steadfast consideration given to this site by IOZ, as always. This above all is what I "agree" with, whatever other differences arise.

I think uncertainty and yielding to the desires of those most affected by an action are wonderful things, but for all the above stated reasons they don't really even apply here.

I hope I have clarified through these responses why they apply for me.

Let me give you the most likely example of something which animates my concern in this regard: Someone with family in Libya reads this blog, and takes away from it some conclusion about what anarchism is all about as it relates to the people they love most.

If you want to express solidarity with others, bear in mind what you are communicating to them. They will never condemn you for keeping an open mind on matters of primary importance to them.

At the root, even if the "western powers" were able to ascertain that some overwhelming majority of Libyans wanted military intervention in order to stop Gaddafi's killing, that isn't something those powers are either willing or able to give them.

By now you probably see that I am not speaking from the perspective of Western power, but from my own -- as a person in a particular context, with particular goals and commitments accordingly.

What you say next is an evaluative judgment which I would want to confirm in that context.

What you're suggesting Libyans might be asking for is something that no one is giving them and no one will give them.

This may not be your meaning, but I am reminded of the Christian fundamentalists and anarchists who make similiar arguments about gay marriage: that the state can't give them what they want because that can only come from God or from truly free relations between people. But do the affected individuals get a say? -- if they did, we might might learn that they are proceeding from a different premise altogether, not ours.

JRB said...

Justin:

I've been thinking about this, from the beginning I wondered if you weren't trying to make a point about projecting our wishes and viewpoints on others. I've had the feeling that there is something here that I am missing, but can't put my finger on it. I could be wrong about that, but if I am right, and others are similarly, then maybe a clarification? Is Jack Kevorkian a better example than Libya?

This is a very important instinct. One of the reasons why I rarely comment even in my own blog is that most of the time I'm not satisfied that I really understand what others are saying; by which I mean not only what they are saying but their motivations for saying it, which is where you really start to understand what is happening. There just isn't a lot of time to do that in the way that I require, so it happens much less often.

Projecting our wishes and viewpoints onto others certainly enters into this -- you are correct.

Are you trying to remind us that Libyans are not ciphers for us to project our political beliefs onto? That they are thinking people who come to their own conclusions? That whether they want the U.S. to bomb them or not should be irrelevant or entirely relevant? Because, I'll be honest, if 99% or 100% of Libyans could somehow relate to us that they wanted our government to bomb them, I would still be opposed.

I take it as more or less axiomatic in human affairs that people don't "want to be bombed." If there is evidence which suggests this, the greater likelihood is that we are misinterpreting its meaning, and should redouble our efforts to have it make sense. Because in that form, it manifestly does not.

My opposition would be on the partly based on the belief that whatever they think is in their best interest, I believe the outcome will be worse except now I'll share in the cost and responsibility for their oppression. Is that the point you are trying to get at? If so, let me put it this way... I am not presuming to know better than they do about their circumstances. If they wanted to revolt against Qaddafi and overthrow their government, I make no judgments about the wisdom of that course of action. Even if someone made a plausible case that the aftermath of such a revolution would make life worse for the average Libyan, to me, I still have nothing more to express than solidarity and respect for their willingness to accept the consequences for acting on their beliefs.

My opposition is directed at the U.S. military and political machine, who from experience and history we know will hurt Libyans, directly, and I do not wish to supplant Qaddafi as their new dictator via a government and military that are, like it or not, my own.


Well, my friend, I think if you ever have the opportunity to talk to someone intimately connected to this situation, you will have a very good discussion, because they will likely respect your motivations, and both of you will learn something new.

Montag said...

Let me give you the most likely example of something which animates my concern in this regard: Someone with family in Libya reads this blog, and takes away from it some conclusion about what anarchism is all about as it relates to the people they love most.

What I have argued is that no one should be eager to announce a position either way without at least trying to evaluate the relevant evidence. Naturally, anarchism requires a lot if the determination is going to be in the affirmative; but this does not obviate a process of evaluation which accepts all evidence -- certainly not if you presume to hold a firm position.

these two quotes satisfy the qualms i had. thanks, JRB, for sticking with this.

i think the approach is useful for evaluating the effects of an exercise of Western military power. though my standard for looking favorably on its violence is still, i'm afraid, impossibly high.

ohtarzie said...

Well, I'm still not sure that the skeptical, cynical way I have interpreted your remarks so far was in any way incorrect so I'm just going to pose this question. Do you believe these remarks, which you made on Monday, pass the smell test for evaluating something that you have laid out in this thread:

"Leaving the country to be reconquered by Qaddafi would not have been good for Libyans -- I think that much can be said for sure. In light of the regime's advances on rebel cities in recent weeks, I'm not sorry to see it newly discouraged by Western support on the rebel side, even if this poses a new set of problems in the longer term."

Also: are you supporting the intervention now?

Please forgive if you have already answered these questions. I may have skimmed passed them.

ohtarzie said...

Let me give you the most likely example of something which animates my concern in this regard: Someone with family in Libya reads this blog, and takes away from it some conclusion about what anarchism is all about as it relates to the people they love most.

You really are pulling out all the stops. From Katrina to gay marriage, now a Libyan who might be reading your blog.

On the remote possibility that Libyans are fishing for moral support or a political education from English-speaking anarchists on relatively obscure blogs, isn't there a less-than-remote possibility that they might find 'uncertainty' on the question of US intervention, this open mind you have, as disheartening as other anarchists find it, depending, say, on the likelihood of their being bombed themselves or being the objects of rebel revenge? Assuming, wrongly, that your blog has the potency to really critically affect someone's judgment of anarchism as a whole, isn't there a possibility that your open-mindedness (the only thing you seem really bent on demonstrating) might induce a negative view?

For all the genuflecting to a non-ideological open-minded approach to the Libyans, there has been, from Monday's post on, the unmistakeable whiff of the white man's burden to just about everything you've said here and a failure to acknowledge the complexity of the Libyans at all.

.

JRB said...

ohtarzie:

It's never incorrect to be skeptical; the trick is to be consistent.

Cynicism is a judgment we have to make for ourselves under the circumstances.

Do you believe these remarks, which you made on Monday, pass the smell test for evaluating something that you have laid out in this thread

What I've laid out in this thread is the means by which I make an evaluation and the reasons why one might want to.

What I said on Monday, and at various times elsewhere, was informed by my evaluation; by what I understood at that time, and what I thought about it.

Because most of last week was spent arguing the importance of thinking through a situation, and how to do this, etc.; I haven't really been able to pursue it since.

If you want to read someone who has, you can read Aaron Bady; who in his capacity as a scholar has more time for it.

Also: are you supporting the intervention now?

I believe there may have been justification for it, based on the evidence I've seen, but I don't know. It's actually not a very important question to me in and of itself; there are honorable reasons for going either way, depending on what we know. I just think we should know as much as we can.

You've since posted again, so let me say that "pulling out all the stops" in your words is what I would call explaining a general principle -- i.e. it can be applied in any case.

And, yes, I'm always concerned about what I'm communicating to people when I am discussing their affairs.

Thanks for the interest, and keep pursuing yours.

ohtarzie said...

I have read Aaron Bady, mainly because people I respect/used to respect seem to find something there other than what appears at first glance: an ambitious, gimmicky charlatan who has not ruled out the possibility of one day serving power on the parole. I have read the piece you linked to and, sadly, it has actually hardened me in my opinion.

This little grouping is precious: "people like Gaddafi, Chavez, Mugabe, or Ahmadinejad", as is trotting out Britain's 2000 intervention in Sierra Leone as if it is at all applicable.

So many brands of sock puppet to choose from, these days.

Jack Crow said...

Good call, tarzie. Bady is one paying gig away from being printed next to Klein and Yglesias.

Richard said...

maybe he's just wrong?

but, no, you're right; ad hominems are better.

Bady said...

It's hilarious when people think blogging is good for an academic's career. Rest assured, of the many things standing between me and my dream of a secure position as an elitist swine in the bourgeois knowledge-factories, being a blogger is high on the list.

Jack Crow said...

Who said anything about your blogging, Bady? I suggested that what separates you from compromised apologists like Klein and Yglesias is the paycheck.

Bady said...

Pretty sure ohtarzie did. You and I are still cool.

Christopher M. said...

Bady's post was incredibly unconvincing to me, and boiled down to "Qaddafi is very bad," and an unsupported shruggingness that whoever the US installs to replace him will obviously be better, so, eh. This position on US/Western imperial intervention in Libya is framed in the midst of an elaborate, pained pose of taking no position on that intervention whatsoever - a framing which strikes me as a bit disingenuous - and which itself relies on the tired old argument used by war proponents everywhere and everywhen, insisting that "we" have to do "something" - where "something" equals the inflicting of mass death on people halfway across the world - or "nothing," where "nothing" implies complete complicity with the worst possible hypothetical future in which said mass death has not been dealt out.

I should say that I've admired Bady's writing in the past, have found it illuminating, etc., as I have with JRB. On this subject, though - I'm sorry, but you've both lost the plot, and it's been a pretty easy one to follow.

Ethan said...

A bit of blog history just popped into my head--I think maybe Mr. Boyd's posts on this topic could (possibly; I'm always open to being wrong) be better understood as not being all that different in meaning from this one on Glenn Greenwald and Palestine.