Saturday, February 08, 2003

We'll show them!

Do you remember when you were a child and you thought that adults perhaps knew what they were doing?

I thought that bad would get their comeuppance and good would inevitably triumph. The wise, the good, the sensible would rout the mendacious, the crazy, the stupid.

Those hopes should be completely washed from my brain but still I want the world to make some sense.

Sometimes I assume that everyone who controls our lives--the powerful--are truly acting in good faith but simply have the wrong ideas. It makes me feel better and sheds a light of intelligibility on the world.

One thought I first had during the invasion of Panama was that maybe the idea was the 'we'll show them!' idea. Like the nuns in my Catholic school. They seemed to think it's best to tolerate no malfeasance because if you do all hell will break loose and everyone will get the notion that they can get away with everything. It was sort of like those movies of concentration camps where the whole population is made to stand outside in the rain until they give up the one evildoer. (A less extreme version of this, of course.)

Collective punishment.

The background idea seemed to be that if you let some tinpot dictator get away with things this will give ideas to all the tinpot dictators and in fact we'll all be worse than before. If you come down and come down hard on those who defy sensible rules of good behavior all those who might be tempted to engage in those activities in the future will be deterred. So Noriega should be squashed--even at the cost of the lives of innocent Panamanians--to teach a lesson to those in the future not to make these sorts of mistakes.

I read an annoying article that I'm too lazy to find the link for now. It was supposed to be an article designed to show peace activists (the writer characterizes himself as a 'dove') what arguments they should not use in arguing against the war. The author said a few dumb things but I remember one of his claims was that no one should depend on the idea that moderate muslims will turn against the U.S. (the 'West' they sometimes say) since "Muslims like winners."

Annoying. Do you like a 'winner' when he steps on you? Do you like a 'winner' when he does something brutal to win?

Still, it made me remember that there may be certain psychological assumptions being made and I was thinking that I cling to these partly because it makes the world make more sense. No one wants to commit one really would kill for profit and glory...they see themselves as doing good but they are just confused about what it is to do good.

It isn't that those who think they are doing good are any less dangerous--of course they are much more dangerous and do much more evil than those out for what they can get. When people like that get what they came for, they generally stop...quit while the going's good. When people who are on some quest get going, they tend not to know when to stop.

I think perhaps over there in the State Department and the CIA there are a bunch of both professional and amateur psychologists and cultural anthropologists...and they have a theory The show of strength: It commands respect...perhaps the notion that you are weak only brings greater contempt from your mysteriously culturally different opponent. They admire warfare...they are warlike, etc. They extol the supreme military rulers from their own if you show yourself to be supreme--perhaps they may be cowed into submission but with a touch of admiration and so forth?

(When I remember that most of them are Political Scientists then I really get scared. What if the discipline of political science had to be held accountable for all the damage its progeny had done thus far? Of course, for the political scientists who think they are genuinely being scientific one can make no sense of this since they believe they removed morality from the scene altogether.)

The 'we'll show them!' theory sort of lies in the background many times...This half-baked 'deterrence' theory of politics.

We haven't had a lot of success with the 'We'll Show Them' idea...We bombed Libya and it seems we no longer had to worry about Libyan terrorist quite as much. We bombed Sudan. We had the War with Iraq....

We could say: Well, things quieted down after now didn't they? Yes, but prior to that there had been no terrorism on U.S. soil.

So at the very least it is a wash.

Israel seems to be another place where the 'We'll Show Them' idea plays fairly well...It doesn't seem to work quite as they want it either.

There are some definite drawbacks.

And maybe the world doesn't make sense in any case.


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