Thursday 07 November 2002

A bystander who cares must wonder…

I can’t recall any recent piece of writing that has resonated with me so much yet which has challenged my preconceptions more deeply than A Message from Andrius Kulikauskas, to which David Weinberger linked in last month’s JOHO. The dual triumphs in a single week, of Bill Gates and George W. Bush, can hardly be unrelated—they brought to mind three paragraphs from Andrius’s remarkable essay:

I know that America has a troubled past, notably slavery, the crushing of natives, the invasion of Mexico, the regime making by the CIA. Yet all these wrongs recede away from the everlasting principles to which Americans commit their country to. Around the world, these principles bring hope for the future, for Americans hold them true not only for themselves, but also for others.

But now I hear from the President that it is most important for America to enforce its values around the world, which of course, means that it is less important to worry what those values are. In other words, others should worry about their values in a way that America need not. This is the ugliness of the British Empire, or the Roman Empire, or any empire, where insiders practice on themselves very different values than they do on others.

A bystander who cares must wonder, if America can allow itself such an unremarkable President, receptive Congress, and acquiescent people, then they must be quite out of touch with those values that make America everlasting. If America succeeds here, then it will not be for having risen to any challenge. America will simply confirm itself on a path towards that violence that will ultimately dissolve it.

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Comments

A very good piece, thanks for pointing it out.

Posted by Michael Webb on 8 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

"....it is most important for America to enforce its values around the world, which of course, means that it is less important to worry what those values are."

Without commenting on the merits of the remainder of the piece, I should point out that this sentence is a logical fallacy.

Posted by Josh on 9 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Josh - it's not a fallacy. It's zero-sum priorities. Whenever something becomes more important, something else necessarily become less important. I believe the message here is that the current priority of the administration is value enforcement, not value definition.

Posted by RKB on 9 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Not a logical fallacy at all, Josh. The gap between the professed "values" of the administration and its behavior (and underlying motives) is enormous, as evidenced by its near total lack of interest in reconstructing Afghanistan. The Bush administration, as does Microsoft, represents power without morality.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 9 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Power without morality is the logical and defacto consequence of incorporation, an act designed at its base to shield owners and investors from responsibility. So it should be no surprise that the corporate administration is on an agressive course of self interest. What is surprising is that they have been so successful with the sheeps clothing, the folksy 3rd grade level rhetoric, and that the press seems to have lost all will to seriously investigate and question.

Posted by Michael Webb on 9 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

An utterly incoherent bit of writing in parts, that, says the old rhetoric teacher in me. The sentence as it stands is, formally speaking, a petitio principii, though it does state a pretty widely accepted fact: The historical record affords our government very little credibility when it cites the need to promote democratic values in the wider world.

The special ugliness of the American empire is the ugliness of the Ugly American: doesn't speak the local lingo, doesn't give a damn about the local culture, doesn't feel the need to. Let the bloody wogs learn English (though to their credit the Victorian colonialists included such accomplished linguists as Edward Lane, translator of the One Thousand and One Nights, whereas the FBI didn't have enough qualified Arabic translators on duty on September 10). And recall that Pontius Pilate let the local authorities decide the fate of a certain heretical demagogue according to local legal traditions.

Hey, how about enabling HTML in your comments, JD?

Posted by Lampião o Gringão on 9 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

HTML comments will return when I move the site to my new hosting service and install Brad Choate's Sanitize plugin (http://www.bradchoate.com/past/mtsanitize.php).

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 10 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

What nonsense!
America is not enforcing its values. It is just defending itself.
And I say that as a non-American

Posted by John Ray on 12 November 2002 (Comment Permalink)

[Removed (spam)]

Posted by danu on 13 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

[Removed (spam)]

Posted by atio on 15 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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