19 December 2007

Iraq War: Round #5

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 14, 2007

The Theist's powerful and interesting arguments for continuing to pour money and lives into the Iraq are worth close consideration. He provides three arguments for continuing the war. First, we want to demoralize the Middle Eastern terrorists. Second, we destroyed Iraq's country (their internal security forces and infrastructure) and thus owe it to the Iraqi citizens to leave the country on firm footing. Third, it is in our economic interests because further terrorist attacks will cripple our economy. Seeing why these arguments fail highlights what's wrong with the view that we should fight on no matter what the costs.

Consider The Theist's first argument: the war demoralizes Islamic terrorist organizations. The Theist concedes that the purpose of the war is not to defeat Al Qaeda. He likely does so because continuing the war will at most set them back. It probably won't eliminate them in Iraq and has little to do with their presence elsewhere. Even General David Petraeus, the commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and leading proponent of continued U.S. effort there, admitted in his report to Congress that rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces would not result in Al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground. It's also worth noting that as of this past August, violence in Iraq was at an all-time high (measured in terms of average daily attacks against coalition, Iraqi security forces, and civilians). Any gains are very recent and probably don't reflect the terrorist organizations' death throes.

Consider how unsuccessful the demoralization strategy has been against other terrorist groups. Most of Israel's recent gains against Palestinian terrorist groups didn't come about by demoralizing them. They came about when Israel withdrew from the occupied territories and built a wall to isolate itself from them. Great Britain didn't defeat the Irish Republican Army by breaking their morale. Ditto for the Soviet Union against the mujahadin and the United States against the Viet Cong. If a strategy has repeatedly proven itself to be a loser, we shouldn't adopt it.

I issue two challenges to the pro-war side.

1) Provide a list of more than a few or handful of ethnic or religious terrorist attacks when the target wasn't occupying or helping to occupy the terrorist's homeland.

2) Provide historical examples when ethnic or religious terrorist groups have been defeated by demoralizing them, as opposed to killing them or negotiating an agreement.

Answer or admit defeat.

The Theist's second reason is that because we destroyed their country, we should rebuild it for them. This is a version of the Pottery Barn slogan, "You break it, you buy it." This rests on a mistake about the duty to compensate those we've injured. If you defend innocent victims against an unjust attacker, you need not compensate those indirectly harmed by the defensive action. For example, if a rapist attacks a woman in a parking lot and you club him into submission, you don't owe compensation to his children for the income and support they lost as their dad lay in the hospital. Similarly, if Saddam Hussein was indeed an unjust and cruel tyrant, and this is uncontroversial, and the U.S. removed him using proportionate defensive force, then it doesn't owe compensation to those who were indirectly harmed by the defensive violence.

The Theist might respond that it is still be a nice gesture to hand over another trillion dollars (another $14,000 per working couple) and spend a thousand more lives to help out the Iraqis. The notion that taxpayers' wallets should be drained and the U.S. military turned into an international charity is an expansive view of our government that is distasteful for anyone who thinks that the military should only be used to defend Americans against attack and who doesn't think that Washington should show compassion by shoveling dollars to foreigners.

The Theist's third argument is that ongoing war is economically prudent because it will prevent a future attack that would cripple our economy. This is a mistake for a couple of reasons. Nothing wrecks an economy like high taxes and this war is a massive source of increased spending that helps to maintain anti-competitive tax rates. The U.S. already has some of the highest corporate income-tax rates in the world. Only Germany and Japan have higher corporate-tax rates and only Japan has a higher inheritance-tax rate. If we continue to have an atmosphere that is hostile to business, our economy will suffer. Politically, the war has helped put taxpayer-haters like Charles Rangel (D-NY) into the driver's seat. They then spend their days figuring how to jack up capital-gains and dividend-tax rates. Also, if our continuing presence in Iraq makes terrorists attacks more likely (see above challenges), then The Theist's argument doesn't even get off the ground. Also, if it leads to a war in Iran, even he would have to admit that this war has generated an unbelievably expensive mess.

One related argument is that if we leave Iraq, the terrorists will turn their attention to Israel and we will be drawn into defending them, which will be far more expensive. Israel has no problem defending itself. They have the best military in the Middle East and a well-known and potent nuclear arsenal. Terrorist groups and especially their state sponsors know full well that starting a fight with Israel leads to certain death and destruction. Even if that weren't the case, we give Israel more than $2.5 billion in welfare a year. Even if this were justified, and I don't see why it is, this is more than generous enough.

The Theist's arguments are unconvincing. They rest on misconceptions about stopping terrorist attacks, our responsibility for economic harm that resulted from our removal of Saddam Hussein, and the war's continuing costs. Dumping another trillion dollars and a thousand more lives into Iraq is just not prudent.

06 December 2007

Gays and Sloppy Thinkers

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 14, 2007

In the last couple years, there have been a slew of laws banning gay marriage or hindering interstate recognition of it. Same-sex marriage is recognized only in Massachusetts. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (passed in 1996) no state need recognize another state’s marriage of a same-sex couple and the federal government is banned from recognizing it. The motivation for these laws is that gay sexuality is wrong or bad. There are three main arguments for this claim: it is unnatural, harmful, or God prohibits it. These arguments fail and this failure speaks volumes about the irrationality of far too many Americans.

An act is wrong only when it wrongs someone or causes great harm. One person wrongs a second only if he violates the second person’s right or exploits her. If a lesbian couple has gay sex, no one’s right is violated because both participants voluntarily consent. Nor does it involve exploitation. Exploitation occurs when one person uses his superior position to get another person to agree to a terrible deal. For example, if during a winter storm tow truck operators charged $1,000 per tow to desperate and freezing motorists, the operators would exploit the motorists. Nothing like that is true of gay sex. And ordinarily such sex doesn’t cause great harm. I haven’t asked them, but I’m guessing that the gay students and faculty would probably claim that it’s more fun than reading my columns.

One argument against gay sexuality is that it is wrong because it’s unnatural. This is usually followed up with the claim that sex is natural only if it’s for the purpose of reproduction in the context of heterosexual marriage. Now this obviously takes the fun away from infertile couples or couples in which the wife is already pregnant. This is ridiculous.

Furthermore, when we ask what makes an act natural, we shouldn’t be surprised if the critics of gay sex sweat as much as the ladies in Richard Simmons’s videos. By “natural,” they can’t mean what’s morally right since this is what’s at issue. Nor do they mean that natural acts are statistically common ones because some rare acts (for example, acts of battlefield courage) are clearly permissible. By “natural,” the critics probably don’t mean that it was widespread during most of the time in which human beings evolved. This is because there is a good chance that human evolution took place in the context of polygamy and I doubt the critics believe that monogamy is unnatural. Opponents of gay sex might think that natural acts are ones that are in line with human beings’ purpose, although they then have the daunting task of identifying what that purpose is. If you think that human beings came about via evolution, and you should, they don’t have a purpose.

It’s not even clear why unnatural activities are wrong. It’s not clear to me that doing chemistry experiments, running ultra-marathons (some are 50 or 100 miles long), or performing ballet is natural. We certainly didn’t evolve to do them, nor are they closely tied to our special purpose.

A second argument against it is that it’s wrong because it’s bad for the participants. A critic of gay sex might claim that it leads to sexually transmitted diseases or makes participants less eligible for marriage and parenthood. Now it’s not obvious that acts that hinder the agent’s interest are wrong. Tailgating and watching the Bills might also make a person less eligible for marriage in so far as it makes him fat and bitter, but that doesn’t make it wrong. In any case, the critic must provide data in support of the claim that gay sex makes gays’ lives go worse than they otherwise would have gone. I haven’t seen any such data. Perhaps I missed it.

Religious folk often claim that homosexuality is wrong because God prohibits it. In some cases, this is linked to the Divine Command Theory. This theory says that some acts are morally obligatory because God commands that we do them; others are wrong because he forbids them. This is silly. If it were true, then God would have no reason for forbidding certain acts (for example, rape and battery) rather than requiring them. If God has an independent reason for forbidding such acts, then it must be because they are wrong independent of what he commands. Hence, Divine Command Theory isn’t much help here.

Alternatively, the critics might claim that God has clearly told us that it’s wrong and so we need not reason for ourselves on this question. Here are some quotes that support this claim.
· “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Leviticus 18:22.
· “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Romans 1:27.

However, using the Bible as the sole guide to morality leads to absurdity. Consider the following helpful pieces of advice.
· Pig Eating: “[Swine] shall be even an abomination of you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.” Leviticus 11:7-8
· Money Lending: Anyone who engages in money-lending “he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” Ezekiel 18:13.
· Slave Owning: “[Y]ou may acquire male and female slaves … You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” Leviticus 25:44-46.

These examples show that we should not use the Bible as a substitute for independent thought.

I've never understood why various groups are opposed to the activities of our gay brethren. Regardless of the explanation, it’s time for them to drop their anti-gay claims and laws and think like adults.