Guestblogger Introduction: Conor Foley

by Henry on August 10, 2009

We’re happy to announce that Conor Foley will be guestblogging with us for a little while. Conor is an occasional commenter here at CT, and has extensive experience in working both for NGOs (Amnesty International, Liberty) and international organizations (the United Nations) on aid and human rights issues. He also has a strong and provocative take on the politics of human rights, best set out in his (in my opinion, excellent) recent book _The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War_ (Amazon, Powells, B&N). As “Michael Williams”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/26/humanrights-internationalaidanddevelopment describes the book:

Throughout the 1990s, the idea of humanitarian intervention rapidly gained in popularity in a world where the balance of power was suddenly no more. … Foley contends, … correctly, that this has set dangerous precedents. First of all, what right and responsibility do these various NGOs have in naming a conflict “genocide” or a “humanitarian disaster”? … here is also the issue of the role humanitarians play in actual conflicts. … Finally and perhaps most importantly, there is the issue of humanitarianism and legitimacy. Has humanitarianism become a way to legitimise and justify our interventions in the affairs of other states for ulterior motives?

Conor has interesting opinions on a whole variety of other topics. We’re happy to have him with us.

Genteel Wherewithal – Boy Named Sue edition

by John Holbo on August 10, 2009

Following up our earlier reflections on genteel naming conventions, explored and expressed in the medium of webcomics: we note that this may be the greatest American Elf ever. However, there remains a question as to the absolute propriety of James Kochalka hereby ruining his older son’s chance ever to be President. (Then again, it’s a crap job.)

But you know what really makes me really proud? Not that I can write posts like this one, oh no. Rather, the Kochalka child in question has just invented a character named Mean Guy, who really does look quite mean. But my kid totally invented Mean Girl two years ago. Same look. And she has a rich, satisfying mythos to go with. Thus do I achieve through my children. (But I have a suspicion Eli Kochalka is better at video games than my daughter. She cannot steer a MarioKart to save her life, ye gods.)

Here’s a thought I’ve been meaning to write up for a while. This post has inspired me. Your opponent says healthcare reform will put us on the slippery slope to socialist soylent green serfdom. You reply by acknowledging the objection, in outline: ‘You’re worried Obama/liberals want something different from what they are willing to ask for, for fear that they would lose public support. You are also worried that what is being proposed may have bad, unintended consequences.’ (See if you can lock your interlocutor in on these two points. Which shouldn’t be hard. Now move on to step two.) ‘Fine. Suppose you’re right. Suppose they are lying, or half-lying. They don’t want the moderate stuff they say they want at all. They want something radical, or at least something more.’ (See if you can get agreement to that.) Also: ‘you are right. Something this big and sausage-like sure could work out badly in practice; that’s something to worry about.’ (Now you spring the trap.) ‘But suppose someone said these things and meant them. Suppose Obama were just the liberal he presents himself as. Call this guy Bizarro Obama if you want to emphasize that you aren’t fooled for a second into believing our Obama is this guy. Fine. Would you have any objection to Bizarro Obama – the actually just moderately liberal one? Also: suppose the policy worked more or less as proposed. Not perfectly. But suppose it didn’t just totally blow up. I know, I know, you don’t believe this policy will work. That’s fine. But suppose it did. Would you have a problem with that. If so, what’s the problem.’

Call these: sticky slope arguments – or – the argument from intended consequences. I think you see where I’m going with these names, and maybe you see as well why leading your opponent down this path might leave your opponent a bit deflated, rhetorically. Which might then be an opener for saner debate. [click to continue…]