a blog full of magic

Hypocrisy about tyranny

Great headline from Greenwald at The Intercept, here.

Putin/Crimea and Reagan/Granada

Here is an article comparing Putin’s reasons for invading Crimea to Reagan’s reasons for invading Granada.

Carter on pardoning Snowden


Greenwald on a past – and future – case study in Democratic hypocrisy

Here. The past case is Democratic support for the Obama administration’s decision to release photos of abuse against Iraqi and Afghani detainees, followed by Democratic support for the Obama administration’s subsequent decision not to release photos of abuse against Iraqi and Afghani detainees. The future – and soon to occur - case is Democratic support for the Obama administration’s decision to bulk-collect American metadata, which will be followed by Democratic support for the Obama administration’s (currently reported) subsequent decision not to bulk-collect American metadata.

UPDATE: This isn’t really an update, but it’s related. Here is a brief two minute clip of Jimmy Carter talking about the NSA, and his support for reform.

Philosophy limericks

Here, from a fellow graduate student.

Searle on his contemporaries

What do you do differently from the everyday person? Do you get up early and read texts by ancient philosophers?

John Searle: I don’t watch television very much … I think it is clear that the media have had an enormous effect on our sensibility. It’s very hard to know what the long-term effect of this is, but I think there’s no question that we’re getting an impoverished sensibility as a result of overexposure to electronic media. I don’t read much philosophy, it upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up … so mostly I read works of fiction and history. I love reading history books and I love reading works of fiction, there’s just an enormous amount of great stuff written.

The rest of the interview is here. H/T Brian Leiter.

Mobsters, foreign policy, and eternal damnation

Suppose you accepted both this thesis and this thesis?

Amnesty International wonders…

whether Obama will ask the Saudi government about women’s rights.

Does Israel recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

Some commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the “Jewish state” here. The title of my post was inspired by this paragraph:

Even Israel has not officially defined itself as a Jewish state. Lawmakers have proposed bills over the past three years to define Israel’s nature as a Jewish state, including how that applies to the 20 percent Arab minority. However, wide disagreement on the issue prevented any of the bills from becoming law.

Feigned incomprehension?

It is difficult to believe that commentators like Thomas Ricks at Foreign Policy don’t actually understand why it’s silly and disingenuous to demand that people like Edward Snowden denounce the crimes of places like Russia.

(1) In defense of the claim that he, Snowden and other Americans are not morally obligated to denounce Russia or any other non-U.S. policy, Greenwald often cites this statement by Noam Chomsky, which says,

My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.

It seems to almost never happen that critics respond to this justification (repeatedly offered) for focusing on the crimes of one’s own country. But one need not offer the principled defense, since the point is easy to see when you imagine the roles reversed. As a parody of Ricks’ demand, Jon Schwarz demanded that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese human rights activist living in the United States, denounce U.S. drone policy:

(2) Ricks appears to likewise not understand the rhetorical purpose of the demands put to him. Some of them are meant as parodies (presumably, the Peruvian and other like cases fall in this category). Others are meant to demonstrate the moral vacuousness of Ricks’ own demand (e.g. the demand that he exert his critical efforts on things he can have more effect on, like drones, falls into this category).

(3) There is a third sort of parody going around, which includes one Ricks cites, i.e. the demand that Snowden denounce the earthquake in L.A. Ricks interprets this as suggesting that Snowden isn’t obligated to comment on “all” events, again ignoring the (obvious?) selection principle described in (1) above. The principle of course (also guiding the earthquake parody) is that we have moral obligations over what we are responsible for – either because we positively contribute to it or because we can change it. But Snowden doesn’t contribute to Russian policy in Ukraine, and he can have about as much effect on it as Chen Guangcheng can have on U.S. drone policy.

I say “feigned” incomprehension because these principles and arguments are so simple that it’s almost impossible to believe that an intelligent person doesn’t understand them. Now, perhaps there are ways to challenge these principles, and presumably Ricks would want to. Lucky for him: the principles are very easy to understand, so he should have no trouble addressing them clearly and directly.


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