A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, January 24, 2005

Can Morals Matter?

I started this and it turned out huge. I found my thrust was wandering a bit, Whittleresque, so I've separated it into at least two distinct parts.

I think an inquiry into Morals is a good thing, and especially topical, given the importance they apparently played with voters in November. I've already given my argument for the end to the cease-fire in Iraq here.

In the following, I just wanted to talk about the counter-arguments briefly, at least as I have witnessed, and start to introduce the concept of Morality as something upon which to base decisive action.

Given Bush's innaugural address, this seems particularly appropriate.


The arguments against the Bush Doctrine seem to be twofold, each with it's own subsets.

The first Wing's argument is simply stated as, Violence is Never the Answer. It has, so far as I can tell, two groups of people espousing the position.

One group proclaims that 2 wrongs do not make a right, and again breaks into two factions:

The first faction, the one that I have no argument for, is peopled by those who subscribe to the principle that violence should be avoided categorically. This is a philosophical absolute that true believers are willing to die, but not fight, for. I can respect this because these people do not waver in their convictions and they offer an ideal to which humanity can truly hope to achieve. Its great failing in my estimation is that there are far more hedonists than altruists in the world. I'd say it's probably at least a ratio of a million to one.

The second faction, which I strenuously disagree with, is peopled by those who would apply a measure of moral equivalency to the violence committed by both sides of the current conflict. The Michael Moores, the Howard Deans, the Noam Chomskys, the BBCs and Reuters who subscribe to the platitude "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". They push the "circle of violence" meme as if there were no morally discernible ground between Palestinians who stalk school children, and the Israelis who target terrorists. The difference between Sharia culture and Secular Democratic culture is as stark as it is bloody. Moral relativism against the backdrop of beheadings and the purposeful targeting of children is the last refuge of those too insecure to make adult decisions.

The other subset of the Violence is never the ANSWER crowd is peopled by those hypocrites for whom violence is an answer sometimes, but only when it is authorized by a president with the correct letter denoting party affiliation or a country pursuing the correct ideology, usually a derivation of Marx or Voltaire. These people receive my contempt for their intellectual and moral dishonesty. One cannot hope to actively rationalize or tacitly approve of Kennedy's war in Viet Nam or Clinton's actions in the Balkans or France's in Angola or the Sandinista's in Central America as somehow being fundamentally moral, then hysterically protest America's "Imperialism" and decry the Korean War, Nixon's Viet Nam, and the military actions in Grenada, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq as morally bankrupt.

The other major wing of the anti-Bush Doctrine, the one that most Democrats in politics seem to have settled on, brings an argument to the table that can essentially be summed up as an agreement that the War on Terror must be fought, but fighting the war on the Enemy's territory is so HARD and the potential for disaster so broad. This crowd argues long and hard against whatever it is that the current administration proposes and carries out, but offers nothing in the way of another solution.

The defense here is simple: Bush has never said the military solution is going to be quick or easy and that missteps won't be made. Successive administrations will follow different tactics. Such is the effect of presidential term limits in a democratic society. Regardless, that conclusion is moot in the face of the higher moral argument for bringing democracy to the world. If the right thing is to engage our enemy militarily, it is made no less right as the level of difficulty increases. Hard work ennobles almost any pursuit.

The question that adults must answer is NOT whether or not people around the world agree with us. The question is, quite simply, WHAT is the right thing to do? So any arguments that our enemies hate our actions (which is a given no matter what our action) or that our allies disagree with our methods are irrelevant.

The great failing of the left in regards to the debate on what to do with terrorism is that while it does a fairly adequate job of pointing out worst-case scenarios under a Republican administration's plans, no practicable counter-solution is ever offered. If you refuse to offer me a way to save both my house and the tree that threatens to fall on it in the coming hurricane, you'll just have to pardon me while I gas up my chainsaw and start cutting. I'll listen to you complain in the dry comfort of my living room after the hurricane has passed. Maybe you'll have some good suggestions on where to plant a new tree.

The American people are unique in the world, with a unique history and therefore a unique perspective on the world. We diverged from the dominant global perspective some 230 years ago, and embarked on the greatest and most revolutionary governmental and social experiment the world has ever known.

Yes, we had innate advantages that European countries did not have. We didn't have to defend our borders constantly from people with whom thousands of years of intense rivalries had been developed. We had ample resources with which to sustain ourselves without needing to accept often grossly unfair trading practices with other nations.

But we also granted ourselves advantages. A Constitution and a Bill of Rights guaranteeing that the common man had the ultimate power over it's government through an inviolable schedule of elections. A refusal to get involved militarily with petty European squabbles. An industrial national spirit based on free-market principles. We achieved a united nation from coast to coast, thus insulating ourselves from outside forces that might wish us harm.

Yes, we achieved much of this with the occasional use of questionable means. Slavery, the Mexican/American war, and the subjugation of Native American cultures are black marks on our history. While the bleeding-heart left is paralyzed by the guilt of it's fathers, Realists such as myself understand that there is no honor to be attained in going back; the best way to rectify past wrongs is to improve the way of life of ALL Americans in a non-discriminatory way.

The 20th century saw the United States achieve something unique in the history of the world: We achieved greatness and indeed world dominance not by subjugating it's own citizens or those of other nations, but instead by freeing them from the tyranny of their oppressors.


Now we find ourselves at the absolute height of our power. We are a veritable juggernaut Militarily, but more importantly, Economically and Socially. Everyone appears to agree that it is incumbent upon us to wield our power wisely.

Many on the left agree with this in principle, but then never seem to find a way to use that power at all, rather seem intent on giving power away under the misguided theory that if only all people are equally poor, the impetus for violence will be removed and Altruism will become a universal trait.

Conversely, I believe that power ignored is opportunity lost. 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq might never have known free elections if not for the principle that a measured use of power can bring great good to the world.

History will be the ultimate judge of the Bush Doctrine. His re-election guaranteed its pursuit for another 4 years, and this President is not shy about pursuing his foreign policy goals. His boldness, to the horror of the so-called intellectual class, and to the relief of the rest of us, is a product of his moral certitude that free people are inherently more peaceful and prosperous than those under the hard boot of a despot.

His morality demands action.