Terrorism and Cancer

by John Quiggin on December 30, 2005

I just received an email drawing the (far from original) comparison between terrorism and cancer. It struck me that, to make this metaphor exact we’d need

  • attacks on cancer researchers for seeking to ‘understand’ cancer
  • even more attacks on anyone trying to find ‘root causes’ for cancer in the environment, such as exposure to tobacco smoke
  • lengthy pieces pointing out that the only thing we need to know about cancer cells is that they are malignant
  • more lengthy pieces pointing out that criticism of any kind of quack remedy marks the critic as “objectively pro-cancer”

I guess Steven Milloy and other “junk science” types come pretty close to providing the first two. Has anyone seen examples of the third and fourth?

{ 84 comments }

1

Dirk 12.30.05 at 5:50 am

I agree with your sentiments, but I was recently thinking about the federally funded War on Cancer. It’s been going on since the 1970s, and everyone agrees it has been a failure, at least in comparison with the advances in some other areas of technology. Back in the late 1970s, researchers never would have thought that by 2005 so little progress would have been made in treating cancer. (Yes, there has been some progress, but not what many expected.)

And yet compared to the War on Terrorism or the War on Drugs, the War on Cancer continues with little public criticism. It’s easy to find people who have all sorts of negative opinions about the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism, all sorts of people who would like to shut these wars down or complain about how they are conducted and collateral damage. But there is no public outrage about the War on Cancer and its failure. If they can fire Mike Brown over Katrina, maybe they should fire someone at the National Cancer Institute over colon cancer.

2

Ron F 12.30.05 at 7:40 am

Excellent points, to which we might add –

Loud advocacy for ‘cures’ which the advocates have been warned will actually increase the threat of cancer.

(Referring, in case you didn’t know, to the warnings Tony Blair received from the Joint Intelligence Committee that invading Iraq would increase the threat from al Qaeda & Co.)

3

PersonFromPorlock 12.30.05 at 7:47 am

Well, if terrorism is like cancer then cancer is like terrorism; so are you arguing that cancers shouldn’t be treated until their root causes have been determined? Or that the mere fact of malignancy isn’t enough to justify treatment, even if the only treatments available are quackery? Or that medical schools should hold symposia on cancer from cancer’s point of view?

A weak analogy and a cheap shot in return.

4

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 7:51 am

As for four, advocates of alternative remedies often allege that the established medical people and drug producers are syppressing a superior treatment in order to protect their profits — they’re willing to let people die of cancer so they can keep collecting money.

A few years back I saw a very striking graph in an epidemiology book. The death rate from heart disease and stroke and (I think) infectious disease had declined by a factor of 3 or 4 between about 1950 and about 2000, whereas the death rate from cancer was stable.

Of course, this could mean that we were treading water, in the sense that while treatment was improving, the environmental causes of cancer were simultaneously increasing.

Or it could be argued that people have to die of something, and people who died young of heart disease lost their chance to die later of cancer.

On the other hand, in cancer medicine “five year survival” counts as cure, so early diagnosis (without effective treatement) might make cure rates seem better than they really are.

I know that one factor in the lack of success was that “cancer” is not an entity — there are many forms of cancer, and each has to be treated on its own terms.

One cancer where there’s been enormous progress is some, but not all forms of leukemia. 30 years ago people treated leukemia as a death sentence, but not any more.

“For acute lymphocytic leukemia, we can now predict that greater than 90 percent of children will achieve remission with conventional therapy, and more than 70 percent will have long-term survival and cure with treatment.”

5

john m. 12.30.05 at 8:15 am

Also, to follow on from John Emerson says in #4, it is important to note that many diseases have been reclassifed or recognised as cancers in the last 40 years leading to far more people dying of cancer statistically – it is critical to look at the success rates for any particular cancer rather than generically. Not that this has anything to do with trying to make terrorism and cancer analogous, which is just silly.

6

Louis Proyect 12.30.05 at 8:19 am

Actually, the more useful analogy is between cancer and capitalism. Both exhibit rampant but ultimately destructive growth. (See today’s NY Times article on the environmental consequences of gold mining in Nevada for evidence of this.) I first heard this analogy from Joel Kovel about 10 years ago, something he elaborated on in his book “The Enemy of Nature” that I strongly recommend.

7

soru 12.30.05 at 8:21 am

attacks on cancer researchers for seeking to ‘understand’ cancer

I see such attacks rarely on those genuinely trying to understand cancer, often on those using cancer as a marketing tool for their pre-existing quack cure.

even more attacks on anyone trying to find ‘root causes’ for cancer in the environment, such as exposure to tobacco smoke

I do think the idea of a single, objectively identifiable ‘root cause’ in any complex situation involving multiple independant, interacting and conflicting actors is simply and obviously logically wrong. As such, it is unlikely to be used by anyone smart without some intent to mislead.

soru

8

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 8:31 am

Soru — your generalization is true in many cases, but not as a generalization. Tobacco smoke and smoke in the air are the root causes of most lung cancer. There’s still be some lung cancer without those causes, but much, much less.

When you talk about the root cause of crime, it’s obviously trickier.

9

Barry 12.30.05 at 8:36 am

For #3 and 4, just head over to the right side of the blogoshpere, the AEI/whorosphere, and the right wing of the MSM.

10

soru 12.30.05 at 8:51 am

Tobacco smoke and smoke in the air are the root causes of most lung cancer. There’s still be some lung cancer without those causes, but much, much less.

By that standard, the root cause of terrorism is journalism, as journalism is always present where terrorism strikes, and countries without a news distribution system of any kind (e.g. North Korea) don’t suffer from terrorism.

The situation has irreducibile internal complexity, it can’t be analysed as a black box with external inputs in the way people catching cancer can be.

soru

11

Jimmy Doyle 12.30.05 at 9:43 am

If Mr Quiggin is suggesting that deliberate, intentional human action should not be thought of as fundamentally different from natural phenomena like disease, it is surely inconsistent with such a view to blame anyone who disagrees for not seeing the truth of it. On such a view, that would be like blaming cancer — or terrorists. A thoroughgoing application of the view would immediately destroy the basis of human interaction.

If, on the other hand, he is merely noting an inconsistency in a certain sort of conservative anti-terrorist zealot comparing terrorism to cancer, but then showing no interest in identifying the sorts of condition that tend to foster it, then fine. But we shouldn’t forget that not all ‘root causes’ talk is honest or helpful. Norm Geras has argued persuasively that some ‘explanations’ of this sort are nothing more than exculpatory special pleading in denial of the morally obvious (eg that no grievance justifies murder). Few apologists are crass enough to claim explicit justification, but such a claim is often enough entailed by what they do say.

12

Luc 12.30.05 at 9:54 am

Did soru really write comment #10 as an example of bullet point number 2?

How do we get him to admit to 3 and 4?

Press him on the “multiple independant, interacting and conflicting actors”?

13

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 10:08 am

Soru, are you saying that tobacco is the root cause of lung cancer, but that there is no root cause of terrorism? Or are you saying that tobacco is not the root cause of lung cancer? I agree with the first, not the second.

14

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 10:12 am

“No grievance justifies murder”.

This is true a priori, since murder is wrong by definition. “No grievance justifies killing” is false except for pacifists.

When someone wants to name an absolute moral principle, usually it’s “Thou shalt not kill”. But this is not an absolute moral principle. Several exceptions are routine: war, self-defense, “choice of evils” and capital punishment are the main ones.

15

chb 12.30.05 at 10:37 am

What about the forfeited war on cybercrime/terror? Welcome to the latest turn in the Bush Security Grift.

chb ranteth: http://cardcarryingmember.blogspot.com/2005/12/downloading-dollars.html

16

Jimmy Doyle 12.30.05 at 10:44 am

Murder ought to be looked upon as wrong by definition, but it is not. If it were, the many people who believe that Truman’s decision to incinerate hundreds of thousands of Japanese noncombatants was justified, while also believing (as they could scarcely avoid believing) that this was murder on a grand scale, would simply be contradicting themselves. The supposed wrongness-by-definition of murder did not survive the rise of consequentialist modes of moral thinking. I was therefore mistaken to say that it is “morally obvious” that no grievance justifies murder — at least, if what is morally obvious is supposed to be morally obvious to most people.

17

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 10:52 am

Based on what you said, I can’t take Geras seriously. As I recall, he’s a hawk.

18

Aaron Swartz 12.30.05 at 11:04 am

The right wing think tanks have also promulgated some form of #4 in their quest to abolish the FDA. Here’s an example from Capitalism Magazine:

To prevent patients from choosing their own risks is to prevent the rational, contextual judgments that their lives require–which often means to condemn them to suffering and death. The history of the FDA is filled with bans or delays of drugs like Interleukin-2, TPa, and various beta-blockers that many would have benefited from had they been free to take them. The death toll from such bans is, according to conservative estimates, in the hundreds of thousands. ([cite](http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:www.capmag.com/article.asp%3FID%3D4146)

19

soru 12.30.05 at 11:07 am

Soru, are you saying that tobacco is the root cause of lung cancer, but that there is no root cause of terrorism?

I am saying that there is nothing that qualifies as a root cause of terrorism in anything like the sense that smoking qualifies as the root cause of cancer, and that there is nothing surprising or unusual about that, at least to anyone who is not some kind of extreme Skinnerian Behavioralist.

The usual candidates for such a root cause (poverty, Islam, imperialism, tyranny) can be unambiguously ruled out with the 30 seconds of evidence gathering required to find the equivalent of millions of non-smokers dead of lung cancer, or large groups of smokers with near zero cancer rates.

Of course, it might turn out to be the case that something like a 40Hz tone and blue light of a particular frequency, a particular gene secquence, or environmantal oestrogen, might turn out to be a root cause in that sense. If any research along those lines gets published, I’d look at it with a skeptical but open mind.

soru

20

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 11:19 am

OK, I agree. I don’t know you, and I thought that you were questioning the tobacco / cancer connection. (CT gets the damnedest trolls, you know.)

I’ve always thought that the unexamined element in Muslim terrorism is large amounts of easy money from oil rents concentrated in a few idle hands. If poverty caused terrorism, Bangla Desh would be wreaking havoc, but except when they’re hired with oil money, Bangla Deshis aren’t a threat.

21

Brett Bellmore 12.30.05 at 11:26 am

Aaron, Capitalism magazine was simply pointing out that the FDA has some destructive incentives: They get the blame if anything bad slips through, but no credit if something good is approved. Ergo, they error, and rather heavily, in the direction of obstruction. An error which costs lives. And that they’re doing so can be objectively established, by comparing the performance of our FDA to other nations with less restrictive drug regulation.

You might add to the list their obstruction of folic acid suplementation, for years after the link between folic acid deficiency and spinal bifida was established.

The FDA is, in fact, a major cause of death and suffering in the US. That’s not speculation, it’s easily proven.

22

Daniel 12.30.05 at 12:09 pm

Norm Geras has argued persuasively that some ‘explanations’ of this sort are nothing more than exculpatory special pleading in denial of the morally obvious (eg that no grievance justifies murder).

In return, I’ll “argue persuasively” (I’m assuming that Jimmy is using this phrase in the philosopher’s sense of just meaning that he’s said it) that lots of instances of people stating “No grievance justifies murder” are just exculpatory special pleading on behalf of atrocities or repressions carried out by the “legitimate” authorities of the day. In general, the side with the suicide bombs demands that the root causes of violence be addressed and the side with the helicopter gunships says that no grievance justifies murder and it always surprises me how many people find one side of the argument so very much more convincing than the other.

23

Semanticleo 12.30.05 at 12:22 pm

The non-profits always seem to become ‘money pits’.

The salaried folks populating the organization
seem to have budgets that grow at the expense of
pure research grants. Are they truly MOTIVATED
to find a cure? It is a thought.

The war on terror is creating it’s own cottage
industry with service companies, security firms
and of course the ubiquitous ‘private contractors’
(Mercs). Are they really motivated to kill
this cash cow, this sugar daddy known as the
Pentagon?

24

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 12:37 pm

What Daniel said.

25

Anarch 12.30.05 at 1:01 pm

And that they’re doing so can be *objectively established*, by comparing the performance of our FDA to other nations with less restrictive drug regulation. [Emph mine.]

Only if you can isolate the effects of the FDA and its foreign counterparts in the entire milieu of drug research, approvals and distribution, which is most definitely assuming facts not in evidence.

The FDA is, in fact, a major cause of death and suffering in the US.

The beauty of this sentence is that it could mean one of two different things, and that while an argument for one has been presented in the post (though not terribly convincingly), I’ll wager that it’s the other we’re supposed to hear. To wit:

1) The current policies of the FDA are suboptimal.

2) The very existence of the FDA is the problem — the true (root?) “cause” of all this death and suffering.

The former proposition is certainly arguable, though I’m not particularly convinced that the solution is to weaken the FDA; the latter is laughable on its face, which is why I suspect it wasn’t made explicitly.

26

soru 12.30.05 at 1:03 pm

In general, the side with the suicide bombs demands that the root causes of violence be addressed and the side with the helicopter gunships says that no grievance justifies murder and it always surprises me how many people find one side of the argument so very much more convincing than the other.

I assume you have done a systematic study, or perhaps have some relevant personal experience, comparing societies with security provided by uniformed and disciplined law officers and military under legal control, and those where the same job is done by individuals or small groups on their own initiative, and outside the law.

I would be interested in whatever information you have that caused you to come to your conclusion that those two things, on the face of it rather different, are actually by an surprising coincidence neither better or worse than each other, but are in fact pretty much the same. If such information exists, it would, as you imply, make those fools who prefer one or the other demonstrably ignorant and wrong.

soru

27

eudoxis 12.30.05 at 1:04 pm

It struck me that, to make this metaphor exact we’d need…

Attacks on anyone who fundamentally disagrees with the three prongs of treatment for cancer: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. All three brute force but robust cancer killing methods.

28

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.30.05 at 1:24 pm

Yes, doesn’t treatment of cancer always include violently destroying the cancer cells? :)

29

fifi 12.30.05 at 1:53 pm

I just finished E.O. Wilson’s The Future of Life on Earth. Cancer’s a pretty strong metaphor for a pimple on a circus elephant’s ass, IM new O.

30

madison 12.30.05 at 1:55 pm

re: cancer = capitalism analogy:

there’s also McMurtry’s book
cancer stage of capitalism

I personally hated the style it was written in, but a lot of great ideas and observations in there nonetheless.

31

Jimmy Doyle 12.30.05 at 3:08 pm

D2: Come off it, man. By “argue persuasively” I meant argue persuasively. If there’s something wrong with Norm’s arguments, you need to let me know what it is. As for the rest of what you say, I don’t think I disagree. I’m fortunately not accountable for the views and attitudes of everyone who might assent to the words “no grievance justifies murder.” I’m interested in the sense in which it’s true, which is the same as the sense in which it can go missing in some purported ‘explanations’ of atrocities. When it does go missing, it’s no less shocking than the opposite ideological illusion, that murder is somehow not quite murder when it’s committed by people in uniform at the behest of a democratic state.

32

earl 12.30.05 at 3:47 pm

Really good points. Thanks for that. Make sure the writers of the other see it, eh?

33

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 3:49 pm

Could someone find Soru, take him by the hand, and lead him back to the actual argument?

Davies was talking about a civil war situation, specifically in Israel. Geras was applying an absolute moral standard to one side and not to the other.

A conservative political argument can be made for favoring the established authorities over insurgents in almost all circumstances, but it’s not “morally obvious”. And “no grievance justifies murder” is just not true at all, except tautologicaly or for pacifists.

34

Sebastian Holsclaw 12.30.05 at 4:08 pm

Are we observing any distinction between “murder” abd “killing” in this discussion.

35

John Quiggin 12.30.05 at 4:26 pm

Even more striking is Geras’ support for the Iraq invasion, which has seen large-scale killing of civilians both by US forces and by participants in a civil war [or a series of overlapping civil wars] that was the (predictable and predicted) result of the invasion.

In the process, Geras has produced numerous versions of “the opposite ideological illusion, that murder is somehow not quite murder when it’s committed by people in uniform at the behest of a democratic state.”

36

John Emerson 12.30.05 at 4:29 pm

I tried to introduce the murder/killing distinction, which makes the “nothing justifies murder” statement tautological.

37

Daniel 12.30.05 at 4:34 pm

By “argue persuasively” I meant argue persuasively.

just poking a bit of festive fun at this philosopher’s use; surely “persuasively” has to be a word which is intrinsically self-indexed; there is no objective standard of what’s persuasive so it means “well, it persuaded me”.

If there’s something wrong with Norm’s arguments, you need to let me know what it is.

My specific problem with the argument is that one of its premises (the factual claim that moral exculpation of atrocities is common on the European left) is false; I argued against a much more ridiculous version of the same claim made by Jeff Weintraub a while ago.

There are certainly a few people who appear not to believe that dead Israelis are dead, and they’re bastards. But there are quite a lot more people (including Norman G at least some of the time) who either make exactly the mistake you describe, or believe that the fact that Martin Luther King once won a liberation struggle without terrorist violence (and we hear about this so much because it’s just about the only time it happened) that this is the only morally permissible way to have one.

38

pdf23ds 12.30.05 at 5:15 pm

Daniel,

Arguably, feminism has been similarly successful.

39

gmoke 12.30.05 at 6:07 pm

How does the resistance by the chastity cops to the HPV vaccine fit into this schema?

40

Shuggy 12.30.05 at 6:46 pm

A weak analogy and a cheap shot in return.

I was going to second that commenter but maybe your use of an already weak analogy isn’t quite as useless as it first appears. Smoking can cause lung-cancer, therefore to reduce the risk of contracting this disease, one should cease smoking. But if one already has lung-cancer, while it would obviously be wise also in these circumstances to quit, the cancer has an existence completely independent of whether one continues to smoke or not. It requires, assuming that it has not advanced beyond useful treatment, to be dealt with independently.

I’m sure one doesn’t have to go on to join the dots for all you erudite minds but I don’t care to anyway because the comparison, whether made from a ‘hawkish’ position, or the one favoured by most of the commenters here, is offensive in comparing human beings capable of moral actions to cells who have no such agency. In that sense, one should indeed criticise “root causes” arguments if this is the level to which they can descend.

In the process, Geras has produced numerous versions of “the opposite ideological illusion, that murder is somehow not quite murder when it’s committed by people in uniform at the behest of a democratic state.”

You’re conflating two things here, and I’m finding it difficult to believe that this isn’t deliberate on your part. The notion that no moral distinction can be made between civilian casualties in war and murder is very close to the basic pacifist argument. It’s not as difficult to defend, even in the context of WWII as people readily assume, but most people including myself are not pacifists. Indeed, the overwhelming majority who opposed the war are not pacifists either, so I think you’re being disingenuous. I really don’t think either you or most other opponents of the war take issue with Norman Geras, and by extension the rest of us who supported the invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that all war per se involves murder dressed up in some ideological disguise; you take issue with our support for this war.

If I’m right, you should stop this nonsense about justifying murder if it’s at the behest of a democratic state – if I’m wrong then you should make it clearer that you don’t just condemn Norman Geras but all those who supported wars in the past because they believed them to be a lesser evil.

If it is indeed the case that you imagine supporters of WWII for example (since it’s an analogy used above) were justifying mass murder you could, I suppose, draw the conclusion that the rest of the human race are simply either less intelligent, more susceptible to deception, or simply less morally developed than y’all here at Crooked Timber. But that would be a mistake.

41

soru 12.30.05 at 6:54 pm

and we hear about this so much because it’s just about the only time it happened

Well, and Gandhi and Mandela.

Which I think, with the somewhat debatable exception of the Sandanistas, makes close to 100% of the successful liberation struggles, those that actually improved things for anyone except the new ruling elite.

I suppose somewhere out there, there are probably people who glorify cancer, claim it is just the bodies way of sending you a message about your lifestyle or something, maybe even put pictures of a free radical up on their student bedroom wall…

soru

42

John Quiggin 12.30.05 at 7:11 pm

“Well, and Gandhi and Mandela.”

Is that the Nelson Mandela who founded Umkhonto we Sizwe after concluding that only armed struggle would lead to liberation, or are you talking about someone else, soru?

43

John Quiggin 12.30.05 at 7:15 pm

Shuggy, Geras’ position goes well beyond a consequentialist “lesser of two evils” case justifying some wars, which, as you say, most at CT would accept.

He argues, for example, that the US is not morally responsible for the deaths incurred during the insurgency, and that the invasion was justified even if the outcome was an increase in death and suffering (since the latter is due to the unjustified resistance of the insurgents).

44

Dan Kervick 12.30.05 at 7:21 pm

In making the metaphor even more exact, we might try chasing the government of the State of Tennessee out of office, because Tennessee is next to North Carolina, and North Carolina is well-known as a major state sponsor of cancer.

We might try getting ridding Tennesssee of its government by fumigating the city of Nashville with, oh, let’s say tobacco smoke.

Then when the residents of Nashville start developing cancer by the tens of thousands, we can declare Nashville the “central front in the war on cancer”, and call for yet more toxic levels of tobacco smoke to kill off the Nashvillians for good, before they spread their cancer cells elsewhere.

45

soru 12.30.05 at 10:42 pm

Is that the Nelson Mandela who founded Umkhonto we Sizwe after concluding that only armed struggle would lead to liberation, or are you talking about someone else, soru?

Can I suggest a good history of the period, like Meredith’s ‘The State of Africa’?
It sums up the campaign on p125:

most of the attacks were clumsy and innefectual, and caused no lasting damage

Now, I suppose if you were sufficiently desperate to make a case for the effectiveness of armed struggle, then I suppose you could somehow say that those few clumsy attacks were somehow, 30 years later, responsible for the democratisation of South Africa, and not the moral persuasion and economic boycotts that actually preceded negotiations.

But frankly, I could make up a more persuasive case for cancer being sometimes benificial.

soru

46

John Quiggin 12.30.05 at 10:58 pm

“few clumsy attacks were somehow, 30 years later,”

The armed struggle continued throughout the apartheid regime. Mandela refused an offer of release in 1985 because it was conditional on renouncing armed struggle.

I’m not by any means a fan of armed struggle, and agree that apartheid might have collapsed without it, but it’s just silly to present Mandela as a counterexample.

47

John Emerson 12.31.05 at 6:21 am

Soru, what’s your reference reality? Pacifist literature?

48

john m. 12.31.05 at 6:35 am

“…makes close to 100% of the successful liberation struggles, those that actually improved things for anyone except the new ruling elite.”

Soru, am I to take it that you then consider the liberation of Iraq to be failure other than for the ruling elite (whoever they may be)?

49

Daniel 12.31.05 at 7:50 am

ANC supporters regularly murdered people by hanging burning tyres around their necks. Winnie Mandela made a very public speech in favour of this practice and Nelson did not by any means immediately disassociate himself from it. It might just be my memory, but I seem to remember that “the Left” (as “the Decent Left” used to be called) managed to keep their thinking pretty straight on a) whether this was murder or not (it was), b) whether it completely undermined the status of the ANC as a legitimate liberation movement (it didn’t) and c) whether one had to make a ritual condemnation of necklace killings before one said anything nasty about apartheid, to avoid “singling out” the South African state (one didn’t). It must have been a single, never-to-be-repeated moment of moral clarity.

Gandhi’s own view on the legitimacy of violence in liberation struggles is set out pretty clearly in his autobiography and he’s not actually against it.

50

John Emerson 12.31.05 at 8:12 am

And then you have the Irish Republic.

51

Brett Bellmore 12.31.05 at 8:42 am

OF COURSE the US isn’t morally responsible for the insurgency’s killings. Are Iraqis not moral agents in their own right, perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether or not to embark on a killing spree aimed at grinding other Iraqis under the boot heel of oppression?

We launched a war to remove a murderous dictator, and that war succeeded with remarkably few casualties. THAT war we were responsible for. The insurgency, after that success, started the war we’re currently fighting in along side the new Iraqi government. They, not us, chose to have this war. They, not us, are the agressors. They, not us, are responsible.

If I walk through a dark alley in a bad neighborhood, I may be imprudent, but the mugger is the one who’s morally responsible for the subsequent mugging. I may have made the decision to be there, HE made the decision to attack.

I find the left’s denial of moral agency to everybody but us, in order that we can be blamed for evils other people have chosen to commit, rather offensive.

Daniel, quite true: Gandhi was not philosophically dedicated to pacifism, he simply regarded it as the smartest strategy in the face of an opponent which both possessed overwhelming physical force, AND moral scruples. And which thus could not be beaten on the battlefield, but could be shamed into retreat. He was quite clear about it not being a universally appropriate strategy.

52

John Emerson 12.31.05 at 10:07 am

Brett, if our war to replace Saddam replaces himself with a dictator or dictators equally bad, and if it comes to seem true that opposition to dictators was not really our motive, are we not responsible for our own acts?

If the Iraq War ends in a good outcome at not too much cost, it will have been worth it. Even if the ultimate outcome is not good, if the original plan had been reasonable and well-intended, I wouldn’t call the war criminal.

But Bush has given us little reason to believe that his war was well-intended and reasonable. We seem to be heading toward an interminable debate between the incompetence theory and the criminality theory.

To me the issue of the thread has become Geras’s biased moralization of the conflict — allowing violence to one side and not the other. You can support our side, fine, but if you accuse the other side of violating “obvious moral principles” it’s just cheezy propaganda.

53

Brett Bellmore 12.31.05 at 10:32 am

“Brett, if our war to replace Saddam replaces himself with a dictator or dictators equally bad, “ Which it is most likely to do if we follow the Democratic policy of cutting and running before the job is done.

Yeah, I do allow violence by the good against the bad, and not by the bad against the good. And that IS a moral principle, morality having to do as much with what you’re trying to achieve, as the means you are using.

54

John Emerson 12.31.05 at 11:03 am

Based on what I said, it wasn’t the good against the bad. It was a power struggle. We failed to establish ourselves as good, and many of those we wounded or killed were bystanders, not bad guys. And what’s going on now and will continue to go on, with us or without, will be more power struggle between bad guys of various sorts.

55

Uncle Kvetch 12.31.05 at 11:08 am

If I walk through a dark alley in a bad neighborhood, I may be imprudent, but the mugger is the one who’s morally responsible for the subsequent mugging. I may have made the decision to be there, HE made the decision to attack.

Don’t the police enter into the equation somehow? If they’re supposed to be walking the beat on the block where you’re mugged, but they’re not there because–oh hell, I don’t know, the new police chief decided he could get the job done with 1/3 the previous number of beat cops–don’t they bear at least a teensy smidgen of responsibility here too, if only in an abstract sense? They’re charged with (and paid for) maintaining public security, after all.

I don’t really expect to get very far with Brett with this line of argument, because it requires that one accept the factual reality that Iraq is still, for the time being, under United States military occupation, and thus the United States bears the primary responsibility for the safety and security of the Iraqi people. Over on the other side of the mirror, of course, Iraq is a free and sovereign nation (purple fingers! purple fingers!), the Iraqis are solely responsible for their fate, and our 100,000+ soldiers on the ground there are just…well, here’s where I get confused. Just what the hell are they doing there, Brett?

56

John Emerson 12.31.05 at 11:11 am

In any case, Geras wasn’t saying that what the bad guys was doing was bad because their purposes were bad. He was saying that their acts violated obvious moral principles, and that made them bad guys. But he was being self-serving in this, which is the same thing he was accusing his opponents of.

The Democrats’ cut-and-run policy is the same as Bush’s cut-and-run policy. He never expected what happened, and he wasn’t prepared for it, and neither were the American people, because Bush deceived them when he sold the war.

Afterwards we will have the assignment of blame for Bush’s abject failure, and with much help from Independent Libertarian Thinkers such as yourself, the Republican media machine may well succeed in hanging a tin can on the hapless Democrats.

I’m expecting lots of bloody shirts and accusations of treason, and I’m counting on you to pitch in in your high-minded way.

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otto 12.31.05 at 11:15 am

The real difference between the PLO and the ANC is that while both are political movements of those who have been colonised and ethnically cleansed by the west, the ANC could rely by 1970s and 1980s on massive interest goups mobilisation in the West against aparteid, by both ‘liberals’ and the African-Americans as an ethnic group, which meant that there was a road to decolonisation via Western power, rather than violence.

Whereas even now western ‘liberals’ cannot bring themselves to forcefully condemn or act against jewish colonisation in Palestine, instead advocating a refugee bantustan solution which was specifically rejected for South Africa. The ethnic interest group mobilisation in the West is overwhelmingly in favour of further colonisation and ethnic cleansing. So there’s no road to decolonisation via Western power for the palestinian arabs, so there is much less incentive for the decolonisation struggle to be sensitive to western liberal scruples.

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soru 12.31.05 at 12:40 pm

‘The armed struggle continued throughout the apartheid regime.’

Killing approximately 30 people associated in some way with the apartheid regime (and rather more in internal faction struggles, and much less than the security services).

Clue: ‘rogue elements’ in the apartheid security services planted bombs and blamed it on the ANC.
Why do you think that was?

The idea that those 30 killings had any positive influence on the outcome, or that if they had killed 60 instead of 30 apartheid would have ended earlier, is transparently delusional.

The idea that if they had killed 300,000 instead of 30 the outcome could still have been good is less obviously wrong, but, as a study of post WWII history should show, wrong nevertheless, and not so much for moral reasons, but pragmatic ones based on likely outcomes. The world rarely arranges itself into theose neat symmetric conundrums of ‘is it permissable to kill one twin to save the other?’. The real world is more random, more ‘is it better to kill one twin and starve the other, or buy one a cheap doll and the other a pony?’

‘Soru, am I to take it that you then consider the liberation of Iraq to be failure other than for the ruling elite (whoever they may be)?’

If the situation remains unchanged, then it would be. Bet that way if you want.

Winning a war, as may or may not happen in Iraq, can, occasionally, change things for the better, and on some of those occasions at a cost that a majority of the survivors would consider worth it. The advocates of terrorism, like homeopathic doctors, argue that diluted violence, violence sufficient only to start and then lose a war, can have the same benificial results.

I suspect there is something genuinely in common between the thought processes involved in homeopathy and terrorism – it’s all about symbols and essences, analogies and correspondencies, not quantitative calculations, predictable effects and using monitoring of the results to guide the course of future treatment.

soru

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neoconvict 12.31.05 at 2:26 pm

The analogy doesn’t really hold, because doctors don’t SAY they’re trying to stop cancer while really trying to foment it. This whole “war on terrorism” is all about building up “al Qaeda” into a formidable enough enemy to sustain the neocon dream of permanent war. Bush had no intention of ever catching Bin Laden (why would he? Their familes have done business for 4 decades) and in fact let him go. According to some reports, the CIA provided him with a plane, and he is being sheltered in Pakistan with full knowledge of Musharraf.

So flawed premise, flawed conclusion here. Don’t buy into the neocon bullshit, folks. This has nothing to do with terrorism. It has to do with the military neocon regime’s plans of global imperialism and American rule.

Click here to ask Barbara Boxer to lead the fight for fair elections!

Everyone please sign the petition urging Senator Boxer to get out in front on Election Fraud. Diebold is currently rolling into California and North Carolina just in time for ’06. Unless a prominent politician (NOT Kerry, ahem) speaks out and forces the mainstream media to address this issue, we’re all in big, big trouble. Boxer was the only senator to stand up against the seating of the electors in January. I believe she can be swayed. Urge everyone you know who cares about the fate of America to sign this petition.

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Jon H 12.31.05 at 4:28 pm

We’d also need calls for people to be intrusively and invasively wired up with sensors to detect cancer in the early stages.

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justfortoday 12.31.05 at 6:29 pm

#3 Nice try, but your “patient” is a straw man. No one’s proposing to not address terrorism until its root causes have been determined. And, yes, if the only treatment available (and this does draw a great analogy to Iraq) is known quackery, then it would be most prudent to not proceed–since quackery doesn’t really DO anything to help–and may do additional damage. And as much as you want to make fun of the idea of understanding a phenomenon as a step toward dealing with it, understanding the root causes of terrorism seems like a pretty rational action to take if you want to come up with a real plan to deal with it. That is, unless you really like quackery, which, from your post, it appears is the case.

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Bro. Bartleby 12.31.05 at 7:01 pm

The root cause of death is life.
Let’s just take the evolution model, got a petri dish handy? I suppose you could cultivate a good sneeze to get the experiment going. If you don’t note a good battle (war) being waged after a few days, then introduce another party, any sundry bacilli will do. The war begins, survival of the fittest. Elementary my dear friend Watson. For the atheist in the crowd, I guess this is about as good as it is going to get, the petri dish is your crystal ball. For us in the monastery, we seek and understand a different model, but I won’t go into that now. And for the faithless, it’s as simple as birth, life, death. The bookends you have no control over, but life, just grab all the gusto you can, for if life is ultimately meaningless, then why waste time and energy taking about wars and good guys and bad guys and all the other rot of the petri dish, when you could be partying.
Cheers for a new New Year,
Bro. Bartleby

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Dan Simon 01.01.06 at 3:31 am

ANC supporters regularly murdered people by hanging burning tyres around their necks. Winnie Mandela made a very public speech in favour of this practice and Nelson did not by any means immediately disassociate himself from it. It might just be my memory, but I seem to remember that “the Left” (as “the Decent Left” used to be called) managed to keep their thinking pretty straight on a) whether this was murder or not (it was), b) whether it completely undermined the status of the ANC as a legitimate liberation movement (it didn’t) and c) whether one had to make a ritual condemnation of necklace killings before one said anything nasty about apartheid, to avoid “singling out” the South African state (one didn’t).

Then again, “the Left” made similarly generous judgments about Mugabe’s ZANU, Mao’s and Castro’s Communist Parties, and any number of other horrible, brutal regimes that they mischaracterized as “legitimate liberation movements” even as they were slaughtering their own citizens and ruthlessly suppressing political freedoms. Those leftists may have kept their “thinking pretty straight”, but it was generally in a badly misguided direction.

In fact, the practice of certain kinds of violence–not just any kind, mind you, but certain kinds, such as the targeting of innocent civilians, and most certainly the sadistic lynching of civilians declared persona non grata by the leadership for political reasons–is a fairly (though imperfectly) reliable indicator that the guilty movement is not a “legitimate liberation movement” at all, but rather a totalitarian dictatorship in the making. That occasionally a movement can rise above its ugly past practices, as the ANC did, and lead a reasonably democratic government, doesn’t erase the correlation between politically motivated violence against civilians and totalitarian ambitions.

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No Preference 01.01.06 at 7:13 am

Yeah, I do allow violence by the good against the bad, and not by the bad against the good.

This is a pure description of George Bush’s view of the world, with the unstated assumption that “we” are “the good”.

It’s possible to view terrorism as the product of both parties. The bomb-throwing anarchists of pre-revolutionary Russia aren’t regarded as heroes today, but who doubts that they were a product of Russia as it was then?

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Brett Bellmore 01.01.06 at 8:56 am

Where’d you get the idea that the assumption was unstated? It’s both clearly stated, AND the left’s rejection of it is the biggest problem they have getting anywhere with the American people.

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No Preference 01.01.06 at 10:29 am

Bush’s insistence on it is the biggest problem we have with the world. Nobody, but nobody buys it outside the US.

Many Americans don’t share your cartoon vision of us as “the good guys” with the right to kill. Bush’s current low approval rating is an indicator of that.

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John Emerson 01.01.06 at 12:39 pm

Normally you don’t sort individuals into good and bad before using that information to decide whether their actions are good or bad. Normal you judge individuals by their acts.

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John Emerson 01.01.06 at 12:44 pm

/Godwin >

Yeah, the left had problems communicating with the German people too.

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Uncle Kvetch 01.01.06 at 4:34 pm

Normally you don’t sort individuals into good and bad before using that information to decide whether their actions are good or bad. Normal you judge individuals by their acts.

We’re not a “normal” country, John. We’re America.

I’ve always wondered why we in the US use the phrase “My country, right or wrong” as a shorthand for simple-minded, unthinking nationalism. It’s clear that in the case of many Americans, a more apt phrasing would be “My country is never wrong.”

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neil 01.01.06 at 10:26 pm

Taking Quiggin seriously, I wanted to provide examples of the following:

* more lengthy pieces pointing out that criticism of any kind of quack remedy marks the critic as “objectively pro-cancer”
The Cancer Conspiracy
Another Cancer Conspiracy
Many such pieces about AIDS can be found, too.
* lengthy pieces pointing out that the only thing we need to know about cancer cells is that they are malignant

Why cancer patients may ignore, ridicule, reject, & attack alternative cancer treatments — this one works well if you substitute liberals for doctors

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John Emerson 01.02.06 at 12:00 am

Neil, OT (on-topic) posts are not allowd at CT.

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abb1 01.02.06 at 9:13 am

Institutionalized injustice (or perception of it) will cause terrorism with at least the same degree of certainty as heavy smoking will cause cancer. I think this is rather self-evident.

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abb1 01.02.06 at 9:19 am

The mechanics of one particular incident are described in the wiki article about Mohamed Atta:

In Germany, Atta was registered as a citizen of the United Arab Emirates. His German friends describe him as an intelligent man with religious beliefs who grew angry over the Western policy toward the Middle East, including the Oslo Accords and the Gulf War. MSNBC in its special “The Making of the Death Pilots” interviewed German friend Ralph Bodenstein who traveled, worked and talked a lot with Mohamed Atta. Ralph said, “He was most imbued actually about Israeli politics in the region and about U.S. protection of these Israeli politics in the region. And he was to a degree personally suffering from that.”

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abb1 01.02.06 at 9:31 am

And here’s what Dr John R Smith, an Oklahoma psychiatrist, said about Timothy McVeigh:

Dr Smith said McVeigh was in many ways surprisingly normal – of above average intelligence and with good social skills.
[…]
“He’s a young man capable of feeling great anger particularly at people or institutions that he considers to be bullies.”

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John Emerson 01.02.06 at 9:59 am

ABB1 — I actually disagree. Sometimes oppressed peoples are completely intimidated and servile. Terrorism seems to come when such peoples have a window to the outside world and see themselves on the global stage, possibly with international support, and have some source of financing.

For example, terrorism in Bolivia is fairly recent (last several decades), but I can’t believe that Bolivia was less repressive in the 1930’s or 1940’s.

To me terrorism is a slippery concept which is often used self-servingly in the Bellmore manner (“violence by bad people”).

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abb1 01.02.06 at 10:06 am

Sometimes a heavy smoker lives 100 years and never gets lung cancer. Sometimes a non-smoker gets lung cancer. Nevertheless, the connection is obvious.

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soru 01.02.06 at 6:14 pm

Sometimes a heavy smoker lives 100 years and never gets lung cancer. Sometimes a non-smoker gets lung cancer. Nevertheless, the connection is obvious.

That would be a valid explanation for why some individuals suffer oppression and don’t become terrorists, and why some millionaires sons do. That’s not what is being pointed out, what you actually see is the equivalent of French people not getting lung cancer.

That should be a clue a less simplistic model is needed.

soru

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engels 01.02.06 at 8:46 pm

Conventional ethics: Some things are bad. People who do bad things a lot are bad people.

Bellmorian ethics: Some people are Bad. (It´s just obvious who). When they do stuff it is therefore bad, even if the same stuff wouldn´t have been bad if a “Good” person had done it.

Shorter Brett (a la Duchamp): Badness is whatever the Baddie spits out.

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Bro. Bartleby 01.02.06 at 10:42 pm

Petri dish ethics: Everything is good, because the victor writes the history and enjoys reading it.

Postmodern ethics: One thing is certain, we cannot be certain when it comes to ethics … or anything else.

Traditional Christian ethics: I know good when I see it, and I know bad when I see it. Good, good. Bad, bad.

Street ethics: All is bad, and don’t blame me, you created this mess.

Terrorist ethics: I know good when I see it, and I know bad when I see it. Good, bad. Bad, good.

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rollo 01.03.06 at 1:46 am

This may or may not have bearing on the metaphorical application of smoking and lung cancer to oppression and terrorist violence, but there’s a more accurate way to describe the tobacco used in the equation: as commercially grown and prepared.
Tobacco is free of the constricting though not nearly enough so pesticide policies that food in the US is subject to – meaning that pesticide residue in commercial non-organic tobaccos, which is much much higher than legally allowable in fruits and vegetables, may be and probably is a factor worth serious consideration. Further adulteration with flavor-enhancers and flame retarding chemicals, and the burning of all these added and residual chemical compounds before they’re inhaled into the lungs make the causative link somewhat more complicated than a simple tobacco=cancer.
While we do know that indigenous Americans revered the plant and used it extensively, there’s probably not a great volume of research literature on the cancer rates of significant populations of long-term users of organic tobacco exclusively – so we’re left to surmise according to our bias and suspicion.
As we do concerning acts of terrorism.

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Doctor Slack 01.03.06 at 2:51 am

Yeah, I do allow violence by the good against the bad, and not by the bad against the good.

To most people — including many of the American people for whom you falsely pretend to speak against “the left” — “good” and “bad” are defined by actions and their consequences. If you don’t grasp this, you’re living in a comic book and frankly don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

And that IS a moral principle, morality having to do as much with what you’re trying to achieve, as the means you are using.

I’m sure Stalin would have agreed with you…

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abb1 01.03.06 at 4:41 am

That would be a valid explanation for why some individuals suffer oppression and don’t become terrorists, and why some millionaires sons do.

A common individual suffering oppression will cut a conveyor belt or throw rocks at a IDF jeep, he’ll shoot his supervisor at a post office or some jocks at his school. These actions don’t even count as ‘terrorism’. Common individuals usually have a very narrow perspective, IOW they blame and attack the immediate agent of their oppresson.

It’s easy to see why an educated, smart, well-read and especially well-travelled individual – assuming this very specific (intolerance for institutional injustice) psychological profile (or psychological disorder, if you wish) is much more likely to become a revolutionary or a terrorist. That’s been going on for ages and all over the place, from Luther to Garibaldi to Bakunin, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Castro, Che, etc, etc. That’s the rule rather than exception.

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soru 01.03.06 at 7:18 am

Reading abb1’s comments is just so depressing. It’s like starting work on Jan 2nd, and seeing a vast warehouse, stretching as far as the eye can see, all full of misconceptions that you have to clean up.

Best make a start on it.

What makes you connect:

a clerical reformer like Luther, author of against the murderous theiving hordes of peasants.

an intellectual like Engels (who did actually fight in the 1848 revolution in Germany, but as part of an organised army)?

a revolutionary like Castro?

a terrorist like zarqawi (or pick any other one that is actually a terrorist, not a mislabelled ?

What definition covers those four, that doesn’t amount to ‘notable person’? A famous successful terrorist will probably share some traits with famous successful people in other fields (revolutionary, but also rock star, politician, actor, …), but I don’t think that explains much.

Whatever his other opinions, Trotsky was very sound on terrorism:
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1909/tia09.htm
However, in order to murder a prominent official you need not have the organised masses behind you. The recipe for explosives is accessible to all, and a Browning can be obtained anywhere. In the first case, there is a social struggle, whose methods and means flow necessarily from the nature of the prevailing social order; and in the second, a purely mechanical reaction identical anywhere – in China as in France – very striking in its outward form (murder, explosions and so forth) but absolutely harmless as far as the social system goes.

soru

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abb1 01.03.06 at 8:31 am

Hmm, I thought Luther did support the uprisings, at least for a while; if not, I stand corrected.

In any case, the revolts were a direct consequence of his rhetoric. The guy was a revolutionary. The point is that the whole reformation thing wasn’t initiated by an oppressed peasant, but by a rich, highly educated guy, a lawyer.

The definition is something like ‘political hyper-activism’, ‘political extremism’. I think terrorism easily falls into this category. I don’t know much about Zarqawi: hard to separate facts from fiction at this time.

The Trotsky’s quote I am sure has something to do with one of the many splits between autoritarian communists (Marxists) and the anarchists around 1900.

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