Monday, November 21, 2005

Inside Their Minds

Hamidreza has asked me "...what is your opinion about western leftists taking the side of such repressive and unsavory folks like Zarqawi and Baathists and Sadr in Iraq. What makes them identify with these unsavory characters? "

I think I'm in a fairly good position to answer this since I am a westerner (not literally, but in the sense which we use the word), I live in a fairly leftward leaning country and I have voted for the left-most major party in politics here a number of times.

There are a number of reasons, but I believe that the main answer to this question is: because it's easy, because they're full of themselves and because they've lost their perspective on the American people and people in general.

Most of us in western countries (and in others besides) want to be "good". We've been taught that certain things are bad - hurting people, killing people, coercing people. If we do any of these things we'll almost certainly be punished for it, and we are lucky that they are relatively uncommon in our societies due to the culture we have developed and the policing and judicial systems we have.

We also want to be part of a larger entity, and we want that entity to behave in the manner we believe is consistent with our own behaviour. So, essentially, we want our country and our fellow citizens to behave in what we believe is a moral manner. If murdering another person is indefensible, why isn't being part of a country which sends overseas its armed forces which then proceed to kill people, also not indefensible?

To believe that engaging in or even instigating a war could be moral requires a lot of mental effort. If you say to yourself "we should never go to war", that's the end of that. However, if you say to yourself "we should never go to war, except..." then try to answer the question of "when it is permissible, and what is permissible", that is very difficult and involves complex analysis of local and domestic issues, human rights, an understanding of the military, and various other topics on which ordinary people are typically not well versed. Gun control and other such logic also causes problems here. If guns are inherently bad, then the military is bad, and therefore anything the military does is bad. Most people who believe such things don't have any problem with police carrying guns, though.

There is plenty of information available about what makes for a just war, the history of warfare and nations - everything that we need to create an informed opinion of how the events of today compare to the events of the past, in order for us to avoid making old mistakes over again. I'm afraid most people are not sufficiently aware of this type of information. They're so naive, they often believe what is fed to them without questioning it. I think this is a failing of our education system. We've abandoned reasoned thinking for regurgitation of what we have been taught, and when these people leave high school or college, they continue to behave as if what they are seeing and hearing is the scientific truth which should be believed. Without a healthy amount of skepticism, how is anyone to make sense of what the media presents to us daily? But it's easier to just read it, assume it's true, and move along than it is to question and try to build a logical framework for the barrage of information we are subjected to, within which some of it fits and some doesn't.

In short, grand moral questions are not something that most people want to spend their time thinking about - even if they want to appear as if they do. They tend to fall back upon much simpler rules - those same rules which govern our society. The problem is, global morality is a lot more complex than societal morality, because the world does not have the same police or judicial constructs or agreed-upon laws to govern it.

Interestingly, the basic desire to be good cited here does not seem to translate into universal compassion for other people. Otherwise how can these same people who claim war is wrong justify bombers who target innocent people and otherwise behave abominably, and how can they fail to consider the wellbeing and freedoms of the people who would be most radically be affected by our retreat from the current conflicts? Of course, not all of them do, but there certainly are examples of this type of behaviour. I believe their ego is clouding their judgment - they don't realize that even if a given thing is wrong, it is not necessarily true that every possible way to oppose it is right. Then again, many of these people seem to be more obsessed with what is "legal" than what is "right", which should be a hint as to how much they actually care about the victims.



Another important reason is hatred of America and Americans. And yes, I believe a lot of Americans harbour these feelings too. It's an extreme form of cynicism - the belief that foreigners, or people from other states, are somehow abnormal compared to the people that you associate with. I simply can't correlate the Average American that I have met with those who seem to occupy the minds of people who believe that Americans are capable of such evil.

Many people here are perfectly willing to believe that American soldiers will kill civilians for fun, torture people without asking any questions, and generally behave in a manner which they themselves would never consider behaving. They think people who join the armed services are poor and dumb, and they only do it for the benefits. This seems to me to be a stark contrast with the US military members I converse with. They seem to have on average, if nothing else, an above-normal amount of common sense.

Of course, we know that monsters such as many believe make up the bulk of the US military do exist. They are the kind of people who explode a bomb purposefully in the middle of a crowd of church-goers or a group of children. I am under no illusions that there are no such people in our society, in our governments or in our military. However I believe these kind of people to be aberrations and the rest of us would not tolerate their behaviour if we saw it. That includes the members of the US armed forces. So, while abuses and criminal behaviour (like at Abu Ghraib) do happen, they're the exception, not the rule. Why should I believe these people, who live normal lives at home, and seem to be determined to serve their fellow citizens in any way possible, are any better or worse a group of people than any other?



In conclusion, I believe it is the combination of intellectual laziness, naivete, an inflated sense of self-worth and the willingness to believe the worst of the average American which forms the seed of these beliefs. They are solidified and perpetuated by GroupThink. These beliefs allow the holders to feel morally superior without having to do any of the difficult philosophising which is required to have a truly strong set of morals. It ignores the lessons of history - but I believe the "new left" is an organization based upon appealing to the ignorant. Where else would you find a subset of people who believe Communism can work, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and who ignore the horrors that were inflicted upon the poor subjects of those experiments?

This is not to suggest that the "right" are somehow magically perfect - far from it - and yes, I think they do suffer from GroupThink at times too. However, despite disagreeing with many on the right on many issues, I find that they at least have a historical perspective. After all, as I paraphrased earlier, "Those who can not remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them."

Hamidreza, I hope this answers your question in a clear enough manner. I'm afraid I've used some fairly complex sentences, and this is very long, but I've found this hard to explain otherwise.

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