Category Archives: Politics

“Heroes” and the “9/11 Truth” Virus

So, what’s the connection between the plotline of “Heroes” and the 9/11 Truth virus?

<Spoilers ahead>

Both involve secret conspiracies to blow up New York for political gain. But what’s the relationship between them? Are the producers and writers of “Heroes” secretly infected with the truth virus? Perhaps trying to make the idea more palatable for the general public? Or are those who actually believe the silly conspiracy theories unconsciously influenced by representations in the media they consume? If they see it on TV, they believe it in real life.

<End Spoilers>

Or are both of them instances of the tendency toward paranoia in American thought? We Americans are poor reasoners sometimes. We often assume — contra evidence — that the world is shaped just like our hopes or our fears. Much to the detriment our our ability to make our way through.

But the real question is this: when is Michelle Malkin going to take on “Heroes” the way she did Rosie O’Donnell and Ron Paul?

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Nussbaum on Democracy in India

This has been getting some attention, which is good because Martha Nussbaum kicks ass. She’s one of my favorites. Perhaps a wee bit of a crush, even.

It’s important to keep in mind that the clash between religion and democracy is unique wherever it happens; there is no single globalized conflict with multiple local instances. What’s happening in Turkey is a different kind of conflict from the conflict in India which is different from what we have going on here in the U.S. which is… and so on. Huntington’s thesis of a “Clash of Civilizations” between our way and their way of doing things is a great framework to use to explore these issues, with only the minor flaw of being falsified by the facts.

But there’s another important point lurking in Nussbaum’s piece:

The real “clash of civilizations” is not between “Islam” and “the West,” but instead within virtually all modern nations — between people who are prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others who are different, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single “pure” religious and ethnic tradition.

I think this is exactly right. In fact, this single quote says just about everything I could ever want to say, and that redundancy should certainly count as a point in the “Why I Shouldn’t Start a Blog” column.

If there is anything left for me to add, it would just be this: there is no way to simply map this “real ‘clash of civilizations’” onto any of the traditional divides you find here on the net: between Right or Left, between Democrat or Republican, between Christian or Secular, between Hindu or Muslim, between Darwinian or Creationist, between… Despite what my liberal friends say, the forces who are “prepared to live on terms of equal respect with others” are not limited to those who consistently vote Democrat, and likewise, and contrary to what you read on, those who “those who seek the protection of homogeneity and the domination of a single … tradition” are not limited to secularists, humanists and Richard Dawkins. Some of the good guys, some of those who work for pluralism and respect, play for the other team; and some of the bad guys, who work towards the absolute exclusion of alternate views, are in our own dugout.

A related point:

At a deeper level, as Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

The real clash is on the level of individual psychology, between those who can accept, can feel comfortable working and living with people unlike themselves, and people who — on some level — need cultural, social or ideological uniformity. And people of both kinds can be found in any and every affiliation — perhaps not distributed equally (I think the Unitarian Universalists are probably overwhelmingly accepting, although some might be extra dogmatic about it), but still, examples of each type can be collected everywhere.

But this is good, because we know how to overcome at least some of this psychological inertia, some of this reticence to accept others: education, strong democratic institutions and a strong sphere of public discourse. Of course, there are times when I think these are the vary things we are watching evaporate in front of our eyes under the relentless pressure of American Idol and the corrosive effect of the Internet. So maybe we should worry after all.

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Is Blogging Dangerous?

Here’s my brief, contrarian question: are we, as a representative democracy, well-served by allowing just anyone to blog about anything they want?

Take the (mal-named) War on Terror: to win this war we need — as opposed to a conventional war where winning just means killing more of them than they kill of us — to eradicate the very source that give rises to the mujaheddin and Al Qaeda. To simplistic thinkers on the Right (Michelle Malkin, Robert Spencer, Ann Coulter) the source of terrorism is the ideology inculcated by Islam. To simplistic thinkers on the Left (Michael Moore, too-smart-for-his-own-good Noam Chomsky) the source of terror is purely economic in origin — usually viewed as a shallow story about us exploiting them for oil.

But the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. To defeat Al Qaeda, to solve the Palestinian crisis, to bring stability to Iraq, to convince Iran to act like a grow-up country rather than a spoiled, impetuous teenager — all of these require a nuanced, wonkish approach, sensitive to the subtle interplay of the forces involved. Which means we need leaders capable of being sensitive and nuanced.

But the Internet fosters political polarization. People can use Google searches and blogrolls to find their political fellow travelers; and this reduces the amount of cross-ideological debate between different world-views. Finding their like-minded comrades means people aren’t required to justify the fundaments of their belief to people with whom they disagree. And this means that people are less likely to choose leaders capable of nuance, subtle thinking and negotiating the compromise the real world requires between rigid political positions — as evidenced by some of the events in the current primary races.

Which means that — if my simplistic analysis is correct in outline — that the netroots movement is bad and (at least partially) responsible for our current mess. Perhaps the new power of the net and political bloggers, more than Karl Rove, can be blamed for electing a President incapable of the fluidity of thought required by the modern world.

So this is certainly an argument against blogging. But it’s not just an argument against my blogging, but against anyone blogging. So it doesn’t really help me with my decision; after all, being more subtle and nuanced than the average, perhaps adding my voice to the din might be a net benefit.

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Wolfowitz Resigns…

…and yet the world still turns.

What a silly way to fall from grace: a scandal that should have been easily avoided, but because it taps into deep-seated dislike of his management style he gets no benefit of the doubt.

Considering how much we’re all supposed to hate Wolfowitz — because Michael Moore and the DailyKos tell us so! — I’m sure everyone was hoping for a more dramatic flame-out. It’s hard to feel the appropriate scheudenfreude for a guy who pulls strings to get his girl another job. Especially when he was required to get her a new job in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

For me, I had hoped that Wolfie’s experiences at the World Bank would help him blossom into a new man. I imagined the interview:

“Well, Oprah, let me tell ya, I’ve really been convinced that the carrot is the way to go, and not the stick. Just a little bit of sweet talk, some whispered promises about improved credit scores and some dropped hints about how all the cool countries have macroeconomic stability, and I’ve convinced all the world’s dictators to become democracies! The axis of evil, Russia, Belarus, Myanmar — all on the side of good! Boy, makes me really regret ever thinking that invasions and war were the way to fix the world…”

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Falwell Tributes

On the one hand, we have Andrew Sullivan who damns Falwell with silence:

Since I can think of nothing good to say about him, I’ll say nothing. And pray for the repose of his soul.

On the other hand we have Falwell taken to task for his crimes by Timothy Sandefur at Positive Liberty:

Jerry Falwell was an embarrassment to a nation whose values of toleration, liberty, and reason he sought to undermine in every conceivable way. He exploited the ignorance of some of the most helpless members of our society, and sought only to train more like him to spread a ludicrous and insidious dogma into the most powerful levels of government—and, of course, to dissolve the separation of church and state that stands as the greatest defense against such ambitions.

Which is the right approach to take? For me, I don’t have the words to express the contempt I have for people like Falwell. I also have more important things to do with my time than to keep track of the multitude of transgressions. Ultimately I feel it’s a waste of time to follow people like Falwell around, trying to scrub the world clean of the trail they leave behind. This sounds paradoxical, but, despite the obvious widespread impact he’s had on the world — primarily by being a magnet for money donated by the gullible — I think that Falwell is too small and meaningless to be bothered with. Sure, there are lots of people with blackened hearts who follow him and his ilk, if only for the false certainty they provide. But the truth is, our “values of toleration, liberty and reason” are too strong to be undone by one mere fundamentalist Baptist.

But perhaps I’m an optimist.

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