The banality of ideology

There’s a fine essay up on the New York Times website reflecting on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and the new film about that seminal moment in our understanding of the human capacity for evil. Having read Ms. Arendt once when I was in high school, and then again some twenty-odd years later, I’ve always been at a loss to explain the uncivil meltdown of the New York intelligentsia when it comes to her work.

Roger Berkowitz, the essay’s author, is entirely correct in noting that there has been a rush to imply — without real cause — that Ms. Arendt’s assessment of Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust was dismissive or exculpatory, that she was in any way marginalizing his fundamental responsibility. The “banality of evil” was not a phrase created to suggest a mere clerk following orders, but of a man conceding all deeper moral thought to the demands of ideology. He was, indeed, as Ms. Arendt argues, a committed ideologue — “a joiner” — who needed something bigger than himself to provide purpose and meaning.

Reading this essay, I began to understand that it suits no one of an ideological bent to land anywhere in the middle on the question of who the Eichmanns are and how they come to be. For those that see us all as ripe for totalitarian brutality given mere circumstance, there is little to be contemplated in the human soul. And there is no narrative beyond the individual for those that see nothing systemic in the world that cannot be overtaken by the life-force of the great and vile men and women of history. Ms. Arendt had blind spots, to be sure; she at points wrote of Holocaust victims with less patience and sensitivity than their standing requires. But in finding a more truthful place between fixed, ideological points when it came to Eichmann himself, Ms. Arendt offered real, but complicated insight.

There is a small irony here, given that “Eichmann In Jerusalem” is itself a study in the cost of ideological purity to the human spirit.  That those on either side of a philosophical divide would go so far as to mangle and mischaracterize Ms. Arendt’s work to assert against a middle ground is a shorter journey on that same, worn road. Perhaps, this is why her report from that Jerusalem courtroom still matters.

Look around at the hyperbolic and uncivil discourse between Democrats and Republicans, socialists and capitalists, Zionists and anti-Zionists, libertarians and liberals, the religious and the secular, pro-choice and anti-abortion: If you believe in anything completely — to the point of a rigorous purity — then you will at moments behave as an intellectual cripple. If you think any one ideology is greater than the potential of your own intellect and moral sense, you have likely impaired your ability to think and act honestly. If you can abide every all-encompassing cliche uttered on behalf of any single cause or argument, you are very likely poised to say, or do, something foolish, if not destructive.

This is not to say that there aren’t competing philosophies to be considered, or that one cannot find oneself more in agreement with one cause or argument than another. But when ideology itself becomes paramount and when all of the world can only be seen through such a prism, we are all of us taking a few, short steps in Eichmann’s shoes. True, we don’t approach his crimes, or match his craven inhumanity, but that may say less about our character, and more about the limitations of our position and historical circumstance.  It’s not that we are all mere clerks, or that the other fellow is a ready sociopath.  It’s that when we believe in anything to the exclusion of our own intellectual and moral rigor, we are simply less worthy and viable as human beings.  That is Hannah Arendt’s great insight, and it stands.

What do you believe in?  Is it always true?  Does it always work?  Is it always right, in every circumstance?

If so, look again.  You have diminished yourself in some way.


  • I confess that I have not read through the legion of comments already present on this post. So forgive me if I’m making a point that someone else already has made. But….

    What do you believe in? Is it always true? Does it always work? Is it always right, in every circumstance? If so, look again. You have diminished yourself in some way.

    Okay, fair enough, but is there no danger of these very sentiments in fact becoming the very thing they behold? Have you always diminished yourself in some way? Is this very sentiment always right, in every circumstance?

    It seems that your own argument has failed to look itself in the mirror.

    • Deconstruction of rhetoric isn’t much of an argument.

      I say that fealty to an ideology in all circumstances is an intellectual crutch and will eventually result in someone doing or saying something stupid and disassociated from any possible solution to a problem or issue. I think that is overwhelmingly true. Do you have a corresponding argument to make in which ideological purity always achieves the proper and correct result?

  • David,

    Apologies for being off-topic here. I know you have written quite extensively on the NSA (faux) scandal. However I wondered if you had some thoughts about what the movement towards ‘total surveillance’ could mean for the profession of journalism. Will journalists be able to have confidential informants in the future? I ask this in light of the troubling detainment of David Miranda and recent revelations from the Guardian about govt agents seeking to confiscate and destroy data in their possession. Is this another case of sensationalism and fabricated panic or is there something to this?

    Many thanks


    • Think a lot about it actually. Probably gonna write something else on the subject shortly, given so many recent developments. Stay tuned.

      (Working on a script right now, so…)

  • While dialog in the sense of building useful bridges is important, many arguments are hardly between two sides of equal standing. Which begs the question of where the zero-level is, the non-negotiable line in the sand. There is a very uncivil ‘discourse’ between Holocaust deniers and informed people. But it’s hardly to be viewed in egalitarian terms, where both sides should be given equal air time and respect.

    Similarly, the vast majority of intellectual dishonesty and aggressive trolling of what might otherwise be or become public fora with a credible claim to universality, especially on the internet, comes from Libertarians (or, in trying to be fair to honest people, “Libertarians”). Are people arguing e.g. for single-payer health care “on a par” with Koch-sponsored (and/or just plain ill-informed) people who rapidly drag the level of discourse down to racial slurs and to the worst remnants of McCarthyist propaganda?

    My next point would be to put this to the test, with you Mr. Simon as the subject. There is another schism running through Western society and American society in particular, one that is aggressively fought from both sides, which remarkably includes its being sidelined and ridiculed (as an issue of import) by one of the sides. The topic in question is the circumcision of boys, and the cultural, ethical, medical and legal issues surrounding it.

    To make matters as bad as possible, in the sense of theoretically radicalized and thus interesting, I happen to be a German and a staunch intactivist (“intactivism” stands for human rights activism with a focus on genital integrity). I would decidedly disagree that there are two sides with different but equal arguments. In fact, this issue entails a far deeper and more radical divide than even gun rights and abortion law, in that there is no neutral position and no real middle-ground (definitely not in the long run).

    There imho those who are blinded by ideology and denial, and then there are people who are –consciously and actively, or merely as a matter of course– against subjecting children to any form of alteration of their bodies which isn’t justifiable by immediate medical necessity.

    Where does your dogma-free intellectual and moral rigor lead you on this issue, the limitations of your position and historical circumstance notwithstanding?

    [The following is completely unrelated but I can’t not include it: As to Eichmann, Arendt and the involved implications of the Asch conformity experiments, I deem it noteworthy that the fact that only Eichmann was tried in Israel is the result of a deal with Germany’s Adenauer administration, who wanted to prevent a looming PR debacle. Adenauer’s Chief of the Chancellery was no other than Hans Globke, legal commentator of the Nuremberg race laws and author of the emergency legislation which gave Hitler unlimited power. In the exchange, Israel received money for limiting the trial to only Eichmann, and Germany experienced a lasting boost in the already rampant victim blaming called “secondary antisemitism” (“The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz”, as Zvi Rex put it). The joiner Eichmann was punished, but the enabler Globke was not.]

    • That’s a lot of talk to say that sometimes, someone vents so much vile horseshit that you can’t credit their position. Of course, this is so. Sometimes, a rigorous reliance on ideology is to blame. Sometimes, the person is a sonofabitch, or a racist or intellectual sociopath. And sometimes, perhaps less often, a good soul has arrived at a point on their own recognizance and in those instances, perhaps, some discussion can help.

      On the other hand, elsewhere on this site, you rode right by the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, right through Budapest and the Prague Spring and the Polish generals cracking down on Solidarity to declare that the West is guilty of an “Anschluss” in foisting capitalism on the poor unwitting folk who were otherwise so well kept by the Warsaw Pact. That was astonishing, and I have to wonder that you have any doubt as to an ideological cul-de-sac rendering an argument purposeless. Because that one was certainly stillborn.

      • Sorry for being long-winded.

        Would you mind giving me an answer to the question I asked? I am trying to gauge how much you are able and willing to hold yourself to your own standards.

        • Your question on circumcision? I didn’t take that seriously, I am sorry.

          I am a Jew. I am also agnostic, bordering on atheistic, and certainly I believe in no covenants between any particular tribe of Bedouins and an interventionist diety. That said, I am so thoroughly and definitively Jewish in my sense of culture and peoplehood that I am afraid I take circumcision as a given. It just is. Moreover, my older brother has been one of the leading infectious disease researchers in my country and has been active in HIV research since the discovery of the virus, and as with other venereal diseases, circumcision has indeed been shown to diminish the efficacy of transmission for HIV. There is something hygienic in the practice that has proven itself out in these past three decades according to the epidemicological work that I have read.

          If the shoe was on the other foot, so to speak, and there was epidemiology that suggested circumcision was linked to increased incidence of disease, then I don’t think my residual cultural sensibilities would be sufficient to maintain the practice. But this is not the case.

          Moreover, I don’t really think this has anything to do with the ideological. My essay is not an argument against tradition or even faith, as one chooses to practice it within the confines of one’s personal life. No percentage in even pretending to such an argument, for anyone about anyone. My argument is about the willful insistence on ideology in all circumstances, which in the religious life would be fundamentalism.

          I happen to think circumcision has a public-health relevance — one that seemed to wane with the advent of antibiotic solutions to venereal problems in the last century but is now, with HIV, revealed to be still-relevant. On the other hand, the dietary prohibitions of Judaism make no sense to me and so, personally, I neglect them. Just as I am indifferent to the Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, or the isolation of menstruating women or any of the other nonsense that occupies so much of Leviticus. My point being that if you are conflating religion with ideology — and there is an equivocation in doing so, mind you — I am nonetheless no ideologue. I am a Jew, more than anything else certainly, and I self-identify with the Jewish people. But my observance of my peoplehood and faith is rooted in my own, highly personalized sense of what of Judaism matters to me, and what does not. This would be not a fundamental ideological stance, but one in which, like my politics, I travel issue to issue. That would seem consistent with the essay in every sense.

          • So you’re appealing to your brother’s authority on the issue? And your blindness to the logical fallacy in that does not speak to an immersion in ideology? Good.

            Can your brother also explain why the HIV infection rate is much higher in the USA than anywhere else in the industrialized world? Can he explain why the sincere scientists performing the RCTs in Africa stopped checking for infection rates of female partners after the first RCT in Uganda?

            The HIV argument is just the latest in a neverending stream of rationales used to justify circumcision, all of which have been and keep being thoroughly debunked. Always reminds me a bit of the way cannabis prohibition is being justified by a neverending stream of debunked rationales.

            As an aside, don’t you see the deep irony of Jewish scientists trying to prove benefits of circumcision? If any of those benefits could be proven –which they can’t– that would make circumcision something good, something that can hardly serve as a point of ritual sacrifice (which by definition means giving up something good). And how many other of the 613 Mitzvot are you observing?

            If any of the alleged benefits were actually true, it would be easy to reason adult men into undergoing the procedure. To perform it on minors is a gross transgression of the individual’s basic right to self-determination.

            Foreskin amputation takes away the majority of fine-touch receptors and destroys a host of other unique functions. There is no argument that can justify amputating healthy tissue off of a healthy body, much less off of a healthy newborn’s body.

            Your solution is to not really think about it. I’m not saying that it has anything to do with deep religious feelings, for most secular Jews it really hasn’t. But it is a socio-cultural blind spot, and I’ve found that whoever actually opens their eyes to the issue will rapidly turn into an intactivist. If you prefer the comfort of disavowal, that’s [fill in adjective].

            • Whhhhaaaaaat?

              Can you explain the utter absence of tertiary transmission of HIV in the West, as compared with its great efficacy in other cultures? Are you dismissive of all of the studies that suggest that circumcision may actually be one of the causal factors that inhibits female-to-male transmission? Do you understand that citing the religion of a given researcher is not only irrelevant — the studies cited are indicative of the findings of epidemologists from a variety of cultures — but ad hominem and therefore a rhetorical fallacy?

              As to the other Mizvot, I am observing 17 at last count. They are the big ones, in my opinion.

              Sorry, but this is in no way proof of a fundamentalist ideological construct on my part. Not when I’m easily inclined to discard other fundamental aspects of Jewish identity, theology and dogma. You’re undercut at the premise. I just happen to think a dick is cleaner, healthier and happier when circumcised. That’s taste, really, with a cultural backdrop influencing my opinion. And I’m happy the mohel did his work when I was eight days old. At two weeks, I’d’ve probably reached for my own knife to cut the guy right back.

              My question is, why do you give a fuck how another guy’s dick operates? Seriously. This is where you want to demonstrate your intellectual rigor? Weird.

              • I’m well aware of the junk science studies conducted with the sole intent of creating yet another rationalization. Are you aware of all or any of the papers refuting the methods and findings?

                There is a real risk that circumcised men are more likely to avoid condom use, since they’ve lost the vast majority of erogenous nerve endings. There’s a reason why the middle-aged man who doesn’t like condoms is such a staple in US comedy. Moreover, the unnatural scraping penetration of a circumcised penis may create micro-tears on the vaginal walls, possibly increasing male-to-female transmission — which is much higher in the US vs. Europe.

                What’s more, babies don’t have sex. If the argument is so good, use it to convince adults. Never use it to justify amputative surgery on a child’s body.

                “I just happen to think a dick is cleaner, healthier and happier when circumcised.” — I’d call that a typical case of post-purchase rationalization.

                “My question is, why do you give a fuck how another guy’s dick operates?” — Oh you. I care about human rights. You are the one who is imposing his own views on another human being by having part of his body cut off.

                I give a fuck insofar as I had the correct hunch that this is an issue with regard to which you are not following your own insight in the blog entry above.

                • I grabbed what follows quickly off of Wikipedia. I took all of it, from every STD category, so that I couldn’t be accused of cherry-picking. I don’t know what constitutes “junk science” in your mind, as these are sourced largely to public health studies at teaching hospitals and public health organizations. I’m guessing from your passion that “junk science” is that which does not offer you empirical solace but instead confirms your self-righteous belief that you have The Answer to how all other close men ought to wear their penises.

                  Before we get to the data, Mr. Adrian, let me just say that I have been friends with my penis for a long while now. We are fond of each other and very much enjoy each others’ company. We’ve had some good times, I must say. My adult son, upon my query, says he is quite content with his penis as well and they have grown accustomed to each other, as is so often the case. In all due consideration of the mass of human rights violations that plague our world, neither of us feel imposed upon or violated by our circumcision in any way. The point here, all kidding aside, is that your crime seems to lack an actual cohort of complainants or victims who recognize themselves as such.

                  If you are happy with your penis, then I am happy for you. If your passionate concern that other men should conform to your genital ideology and standard is not rooted in some latent anti-Semitism, or some deep-seated insecurity or inferiority in the appearance and operation of your own genitals, or in some converse sense of self-superiority that requires others of your gender to emulate your uncircumcised existence — if this is really the place where you think it matters to assert for the human rights of millions upon millions who do not themselves require or seek your advocacy — well, okay. Go forth and rage.

                  But the notion that only “junk science” has found correlations between circumcision and greater protection from a host of STDs is itself the uncorroborated argument here. To wit:

                  Sexually transmitted diseases
                  Human immunodeficiency virus

                  There is strong evidence that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection in heterosexual men in high-risk populations.[10][31][32] Evidence among heterosexual men in sub-Saharan Africa shows a decreased risk of between 38 percent and 66 percent over two years,[10] and in this population studies rate it is cost effective.[11] Whether it is of benefit in developed countries is undetermined.[33]

                  There are plausible explanations based on human biology for how circumcision can decrease the likelihood of female-to-male HIV transmission. The superficial skin layers of the penis contain Langerhans cells, which are targeted by HIV; removing the foreskin reduces the number of these cells. When an uncircumcised penis is erect during intercourse, any small tears on the inner surface of the foreskin come into direct contact with the vaginal walls, providing a pathway for transmission. When an uncircumcised penis is flaccid, the pocket between the inside of the foreskin and the head of the penis provides an environment conducive to pathogen survival; circumcision eliminates this pocket. Some experimental evidence has been provided to support these theories.[34]

                  The WHO and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) state that male circumcision is an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention, but should be carried out by well trained medical professionals and under conditions of informed consent.[1][12][35] The WHO has judged circumcision to be a cost-effective public health intervention against the spread of HIV in Africa, although not necessarily more cost-effective than condoms.[1] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has calculated that newborn circumcision is cost-effective against HIV in the US.[36] The joint WHO/UNAIDS recommendation also notes that circumcision only provides partial protection from HIV and should not replace known methods of HIV prevention.[12]

                  The available evidence does not indicate that circumcision provides HIV protection for heterosexual women.[5] Data is lacking regarding the effect circumcision may have on the transmission rate of men who engage in anal sex with a female partner.[35][37] It is undetermined whether circumcision benefits men who have sex with men.[38][39]

                  Human papillomavirus

                  Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most commonly transmitted sexually transmitted disease, affecting both men and women. While most infections are asymptomatic and are cleared by the immune system, some types of the virus cause genital warts, and other types, if untreated, cause various forms of cancer, including cervical cancer and penile cancer. Genital warts and cervical cancer are the two most common problems resulting from HPV.[40]

                  Circumcision is associated with a reduced prevalence of oncogenic types of HPV infection, meaning that a randomly selected circumcised man is less likely to be found infected with cancer-causing types of HPV than an uncircumcised man.[14] It also decreases the likelihood of multiple infections.[41] No strong evidence indicates that it reduces the rate of new HPV infection,[42][43][41] but the procedure is associated with increased clearance of the virus by the body,[42][41] which can account for the finding of reduced prevalence.[41]

                  Although genital warts are caused by a type of HPV, there is no statistically significant relationship between being circumcised and the presence of genital warts.[42][43]
                  Other infections

                  Studies evaluating the effect of circumcision on the incidence of other sexually transmitted infections have reached conflicting conclusions. A 2006 meta-analysis found that circumcision was associated with lower rates of syphilis, chancroid and possibly genital herpes.[44] A 2010 review of clinical trial data found that circumcision reduced the incidence of HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus, type 2) infections by 28%. The researchers found mixed results for protection against trichomonas vaginalis and chlamydia trachomatis and no evidence of protection against gonorrhea or syphilis.[13] Among men who have sex with men, reviews have found poor evidence for protection against sexually transmitted infections other than HIV,[38][45] with the possible exception of syphilis.[38]
                  Phimosis, balanitis and balanoposthitis

                  Phimosis is the inability to retract the foreskin over the glans penis. At birth, the foreskin cannot be retracted due to adhesions between the foreskin and glans, and this is considered normal (physiological phimosis). Over time, the foreskin naturally separates from the glans, and a majority of boys are able to retract the foreskin by age four. If the inability to do so becomes problematic (pathological phimosis), which is commonly due to the skin disease balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO), circumcision is the preferred treatment option.[2][46] The procedure may also be used prophylactically to prevent the development of phimosis.[6]

                  An inflammation of the glans penis and foreskin is called balanoposthitis; that affecting the glans alone is called balanitis.[47][48] Most cases of these conditions occur in uncircumcised males,[49] affecting 4–11% of that group.[50] The moist, warm space underneath the foreskin is thought to facilitate the growth of pathogens, particularly when hygiene is poor. Yeasts, especially Candida albicans, are the most common penile infection and are rarely identified in samples taken from circumcised males.[49] Both conditions are usually treated with topical antibiotics (metronidazole cream) and antifungals (clotrimazole cream) or low-potency steroid creams.[47][48] Circumcision is a treatment option for refractory or recurrent balanoposthitis, but in recent years the availability of these other treatments have made it less necessary.[47][48]
                  Urinary tract infections

                  A UTI affects parts of the urinary system including the urethra, bladder, and kidneys. There is about a 1% risk of UTIs in boys under two years of age, and the majority of incidents occur in the first year of life. There is good but not ideal evidence that circumcision reduces the incidence of UTIs in boys under two years of age, and there is fair evidence that the reduction in incidence is by a factor of 3–10 times,[5][51] but prevention of UTIs does not justify routine use of the procedure.[2] Circumcision is most likely to benefit boys who have a high risk of UTIs due to anatomical defects,[5][51] and may be used to treat recurrent UTIs.[2]

                  There is a plausible biological explanation for the reduction in UTI risk after circumcision. The orifice through which urine passes at the tip of the penis (the urinary meatus) hosts more urinary system disease-causing bacteria in uncircumcised boys than in circumcised boys, especially in those under six months of age. As these bacteria are a risk factor for UTIs, circumcision may reduce the risk of UTIs through a decrease in the bacteria population.[5][52]

                  Circumcision has a protective effect against the risks of penile cancer in men, and cervical cancer in the female sexual partners of heterosexual men. Penile cancer is rare, with about 1 new case per 100,000 people per year in developed countries, and higher incidence rates per 100,000 in sub-Saharan Africa (for example, 1.6 in Zimbabwe, 2.7 in Uganda and 3.2 in Swaziland).[53] Penile cancer development can be detected in the carcinoma in situ (CIS) cancerous precursor stage and at the more advanced invasive squamous cell carcinoma stage.[5] Childhood or adolescent circumcision is associated with a reduced risk of invasive squamous cell carcinoma in particular.[5][53] There is an association between adult circumcision and an increased risk of invasive penile cancer; this is believed to be from men being circumcised as a treatment for penile cancer or a condition that is a precursor to cancer rather than a consequence of circumcision itself.[53] Penile cancer has been observed to be nearly eliminated in populations of males circumcised neonatally.[50]

                  Important risk factors for penile cancer include phimosis and HPV infection, both of which are mitigated by circumcision.[53] The mitigating effect circumcision has on the risk factor introduced by the possibility of phimosis is secondary, in that the removal of the foreskin eliminates the possibility of phimosis. This can be inferred from study results that show uncircumcised men with no history of phimosis are equally likely to have penile cancer as circumcised men.[5][53] Circumcision is also associated with a reduced prevalence of cancer-causing types of HPV in men[41] and a reduced risk of cervical cancer (which is caused by a type of HPV) in female partners of men.[6]

                  • All Wikipedia articles concerning circumcision have been principally written by a guy named Jake Waskett. You may read more on Mr. Waskett here:


                    Waskett recently handed over control of the articles to his chosen successor, to focus more on his work as an “amateur researcher” into circumcision. Needless to say, Mr. Waskett holds no degree in medicine or any related field. He’s a computer programmer by profession.

                    Note that Mr. Waskett is also a member of a group called “Circlist”, a forum where circumcision fetishists are exchanging their favorite circumcision porn stories, as well as pictures of themselves jerking off on circumstraints.

                    Just saying.

                    • Don’t quite know what to say about Wikipedia being hijacked by such a creature, or about whatever circleleaks.org is that would affirm such allegations. All very strange. And the footnotes seemed to reference actual medical and public health studies, regardless of who wrote them. But no matter. Let’s depart from wikipedia and just go to the latest study, as cited by the science and medicine writer for the Los Angeles Times:

                      “Circumcision study supports HIV theory
                      Researchers say the foreskin can shelter troublesome bacteria, so its removal may bolster the immune system to keep the AIDS virus at bay.

                      April 15, 2013|
                      By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times

                      A study of the bacteria living on the skin of the penis could point scientists toward a way of offering the HIV-preventing benefits of circumcision without having to do the procedure, researchers say.

                      Circumcision is known to reduce a man’s risk of HIV infection by at least half, but scientists don’t know why. A new study offers support for the theory that removing the foreskin deprives troublesome bacteria of a place to live, leaving the immune system in much better shape to keep the human immunodeficiency virus at bay.

                      Anyone who has ever lifted a rock and watched as the earth beneath it was quickly vacated by legions of bugs and tiny worms would be familiar with the principle, said study leader Dr. Cindy Liu: After the foreskin is cut away, the masses of genital bacteria that once existed beneath it end up disappearing.

                      “It’s the same as if you clear-cut a forest,” said Liu, a pathologist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, Ariz. “The community of animals that once lived in that forest is going to change.”

                      Of particular note is that circumcision undercuts anaerobic bacteria, the microbes that thrive in oxygen-deprived environments, she said. By reducing the number of anaerobic bacteria, the body’s immune cells may be better able to destroy the virus — and less likely to fall prey to its Trojan horse-style of attack, the authors suggest. Liu and her colleagues present their case in a paper published Tuesday in the journal mBio.

                      Numerous studies conducted over the last two decades have shown that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection in men who have heterosexual intercourse by 50% to 60%. Some researchers have speculated that the foreskin is prone to tearing, giving the virus more routes of entry. Others have argued that removal of the foreskin simply reduces the surface area available to be infected.

                      Liu and coauthor Lance Price, a professor of environmental health sciences at George Washington University in Washington, suspected it had to do with the bacterial species that inhabit the coronal sulcus, the shallow groove behind the head, or glans, of the penis.

                      To establish a possible connection, study authors enrolled 156 Ugandan men in a randomized trial in which half of them were circumcised and the other half were not.

                      Study participants ranged in age from 15 to 49. While the prospect of undergoing circumcision as an adult might not appeal to many American men, 5,000 Ugandan males volunteered for the study. In a region where 1 in 6 people are infected with HIV, circumcision’s “powerful potential” to reduce the risk of infection was strong motivation, said coauthor Dr. Aaron Tobian, a health epidemiologist and pathologist who teaches at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

                      On average, there was an 81% reduction in bacteria in the circumcised men one year after surgery, the researchers reported. Some of the biggest drops were recorded for anaerobic bacteria, they said.

                      Bacteria on the coronal sulcus fell by more than 33% in the circumcised men, Liu said.

                      Interestingly, the men in the uncircumcised control group also experienced a reduction in bacteria, but not to the degree that the circumcised men did, Liu said. This was probably because of health and hygiene information that was given to all study participants.”

                      Emphasis on the trending of multiple studies affirming the link between circumcision and lower rates of infection is mine. I imagine we will soon learn of Mr. Morin’s affiliations and implied degradations forthwith, but until then I’ll just assume that the L.A. Times science and medicine writer is a neutral transmitter of fact.

                • Dude.

                  You need to step back from all the genital talk. It’s pretty creepy.

                  You’re also skating on thin ice with respect to Jewish people.

                  • As I wrote above: “I give a fuck insofar as I had the correct hunch that this is an issue with regard to which you are not following your own insight in the blog entry above.”

                    What can I say? I’m an intactivist. I care about the human rights of children. If that creeps you out, you may want to think on that some more.

                    Since the Conference of European Rabbis has already stooped to labelling the vast majority of Germans as “antisemites” for caring about the human rights of children over the religious rites of parents, I pretty much don’t give a damn about that label anymore.

                    When in 2009 a Mohel in NYC infected several babies with herpes during metzitzah b’peh (and at least one baby died), there were calls for using at least a sterile glass pipe to prevent such infections. The response? Accusations of antisemitism.

                    Yeah, sorry, that label has been rendered entirely meaningless by Jewish organisations.

                    • Your “hunch” though is in opposition to the simple fact that I do believe that circumcision is more hygienic and that there are numerous studies, unaffiliated with my religion and undertaken by public health organizations, that affirm this belief. And further your claim is shipwrecked by the basic fact that other Jewish mizvot have my considered indifference and/or non-observance. Clearly, while I might not be discerning and deciding on this issue in the manner that you would wish, I am making choices and discerning in some regard, rather than observing any given theology or ideology in any fundamentalist or purist fashion.

                      Do you see your rhetorical failure here? You claim that you raised circumcision as a means of gauging whether I was being hypocritical in my critique of ideological purity. And yet, it is clear that I am citing not ideology or theology in my defense of circumcision, but rather my belief that there is more — and not less — evidence of a health benefit to circumcision. You are, in effect, left in the untenable position of claiming that someone who chooses not agree with you on an empirical basis is, de facto, an ideologue. That is rhetorically incompetent, if not plain ridiculous.

                      What we are now left with, in fact, is a dispute over the public health research and writing on circumcision, with absolutely no evidence on my part of an ideologically-based or theologically-based defense of circumcision. If I did not conclude that there is credible evidence of the health benefits of circumcision, I would indeed cease to advocate the procedure or its employ. And if my brother, who is the chairman of the infectious disease department at George Washington University and a leading HIV researcher for the last three decades, did not so believe, he would act with regard to medical principles and ethics. The problem here is that we disagree with you not on ideology, but on the interpretation of the available data. Yet you falsely claim that I am not following my “own insight in the blog entry.” If that were the case, I’d also be avoiding crab and lobster and driving a vehicle on Saturdays and any myriad number of non-observances of orthodox Judaism. Ergo, your unsupported claim as to any ideological motivation on my part is false on its face. And your maintenance of it is wholly dishonest at this point.

                      And given that your claim that there is no correlation between circumcision and lower rates of STD is open to debate, your self-righteousness on behalf of a cohort that is not actually seeking your activism is noted, as well.

                    • You’ve accused Mr. Simon of making a decision based on his heritage. He has denied it, citing plenty of other ways in which he doesn’t live mindlessly according to the edicts of his ancestors. He has also provided numerous sources that offer non-ideological support for his own pov. You are focusing on discrediting those sources for reasons unclear because they have nothing to do with your ideology accusation.

                      And you keep bringing up being Jewish. I get that you are pointing that to Mr. Simon’s heritage, but he has given you many examples of why you are wrong.

                      I am an American of Irish descent born into Catholicism. I live in a town with an overwhelming number of German Catholics. I have a son and grappled with my own decision on this topic before he was born a little more than a decade ago. What his father and I ultimately decided is none of your business.

                      What I can say for sure is this — there is no pro-circumcision Jewish ideological lobby in the US. I hear parents say that the decision comes down to two things — their son not being self-conscious in the locker room about looking different and their son looking like his father. Yes, these medical studies and lofty ideas and even sometimes tradition enter into it. This is what parents do though, consider all kinds of angles and make the best decisions they can for their children.

                      No giant tin-foil hat (condom?) wearing sinister plan here. No rabbi visited me to influence my decision. Beside you and maybe my son, I doubt anyone cares about my decision at all.

                      What puzzles me is your reference in male genitals in this an on another thread. I don’t have any idea if you think it adds gravitas to your argument, or you think that you will stand out for being provocative, or if you just can’t help yourself. I’m telling you that it doesn’t work for me. It sounds creepy.

                      You keep bringing this back to Jews. I’m telling you it has nothing to do with Jewish people. You are confusing ideology with cultural norms. And really coming
                      off as bizarre.

                      And ironically, way more ideological than the person you seek to discredit.

  • Awesome read. No doubt an uncritical and blind following of a political movement will result in the acceptance of many irreconcilable contradictions. Also agree that “Eichmann in Jerusalem” gets at the heart of someone who, in search of something greater, committed unforgivable crimes. No doubt he contorted the world in his head so as to make everything fit within a wholly discredited worldview.

    Still, I think that to say that human beings can escape ideology altogether is naive. I understand that there’s a difference between Eichmann-like devotion and a clear-headed dabbling in ideas. But our intellectual and social culture, perhaps as a result of the Enlightenment, portrays the ultimate pursuer of knowledge as someone who’s healthily divorced from tradition and movements.

    I think Orwell, at the end of his life, contemptuous of “smelly little orthodoxies,” (all the while compiling rat-lists for British intelligence) symbolized this intellectual orientation. Note that I’m not aimlessly shitting on Orwell, who in death evokes near-violent passions when criticized (in my experience anyway). Of course, as someone who did much to illuminate the darker machinations of 20th century totalitarianism (no matter where it came from), Orwell was more than capable of shaping useful ideas.

    The “ethos” of the wholly detached intellectual has morphed, though, into a sort of self-obsessed and self-absorbed mantra that has much contempt for everyone else who doesn’t embrace “independence.” To be cut off from all forms of ideological commitment is to be divorced from society itself, it would seem to me. How can we right the wrongs of our society if we do not try to shape organized movements, like Occupy (which had its faults), and play our modest part in making the world a better place?

    The extreme, “contemptuous-of-everyone-else” version of ideological independence had to have been best exemplified by Christopher Hitchens, who, despite his marketed image as an “independent,” “contrarian,” and “dissident,” was a spear-carrying soldier for the War on Terror.

    • Lot to love about Hitch. He was right on the totalitarian nature of religious fundamentalism and radical Islam’s imprisonment in such; wrong about invading Iraq. But he was no perfect ideologue for anyone. Orwell, either. We all believe certain things more than others; it’s in leaving the door open to walk in or out at will that we prove ourselves thoughtful and pragmatic, I think. Those guys qualify.

      An interesting read on Eichmann is also “The House on Garibaldi Street,” the memoir by Israel’s Isser Harel who captured Eichmann. In the early hours of his capture, even before the Israelis were able to fly out the Nazi, he tried to ingratiate himself to his captors. He told them that he had learned Hebrew and knew much of the Jewish liturgy, and quoted some Jewish sages to the Shin Bet agents. There is no doubt in my mind, after reading Arendt, that Eichmann was in the beginning stages of trying to once again “join” and coalesce with something larger than himself. A chameleon who wants to believe in whatever color is in vogue at a given moment.

      • Strongly disagree on Hitchens. He was wrong about much of religion, especially Islam. He used a caricature of religion to represent all faiths, and couldn’t, it would seem to me, ever really step away from it (Islam being the primary example). He was an incredible writer, and I read him consistently. Still, I used to idolize him and became deeply disappointed.

        I’ve heard a lot about the Harel memoir, though I’ve yet to pick it up. I think another word to use here is “opportunist,” though one with a strong will to believe in the dominant ideology. Still, Chris Hedges (who self-admittedly “worships” Arendt) often says that after walking away from so many violent conflicts, the most disturbing “take-away” is that doing evil is “just so easy.” It’s “banal.” Anyone is capable of it, given the right circumstances.

        • You’ve equivocated on my statement and, I think, on Hitchens’ critique. I am not now speaking of Hitchens argument for atheism, from which I remain tacit. It is what it is; clever but no more an argument against faith than faith is an argument against empiricism. I’m speaking of religious fundamentalism, which is, de facto, a caricature of religion unto itself. Hitchen got in early on the mullahs and their totalitarian impulses because he was attentive to that early and telling fatwah on his old school chum. Looking back on that horseshit, it really was the canary in the coal mine for so much stupidity to come. Hitch was offended and rightly so when the West took what happened to Rushdie as being an opportunity to self-reflect on our own intolerance. No, the fatwah was the offense and it asserted for a primacy of politicized fundamentalism that is, philsophically, connected to a lot of tragedy over the past couple decades. I’m with Hitch as far as the critique of fundamentalist intolerance goes. He’s right.

          Atheism? A critique of religion as a whole, not so much.

          But look at my language. I wasn’t speaking of religion, or Islam as a whole. I was speaking of fundamentalism. Which is horseshit whether it’s Islamic, Jewish or Christian.

          • I agree with everything you say about fundamentalist religion. I agree with everything Hitchens says about radical Islam and fundamentalist XYZ. The fatwa was unforgivable.

            But Hitchens singled out Islam as the religion that can’t escape violence. That’s why he champions Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who says as much (though not surprisingly, given what she had to go through). He got away with lying in the media about Islam because no one knew anything about the religion. People assumed he had the credibility to talk about way more than he actually did. Alex Cockburn and Michael Lind’s obituaries of him sum it up.

            “Politicized fundamentalism” in the Muslim world is more connected to Western foreign policy than it has to do with some fatwa given by some shaykh somewhere.

            • Nah, I’m not buying. Blame the West for a lot, but not for fundamentalist Islam and its embrace of violence. The decision to politicize the religious comes from within the religion, and its a little disingenuous to claim external pressure can accomplish such. And frankly I also reject a false equivalency between fundamentalist Islam and other religions when it comes to introducing political violence in the world, at least in our time. Radical Islam is demonstrating a singular inability to work and play well with others, moreso than the fundamentalist strain of other religions. You have to ignore an awful lot of global violence to blithely suggest otherwise. I’m not that politically correct that I can manufacture a jihadi logic for fundamentalist Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism that compares.

              I’ll yield to no one in defense of any faith as an exploration of the human soul and I’ve read the Koran. It is as worthy and as problematic as either the Old Testament or the New as a blueprint for approaching the concept of monotheistic religion. I don’t believe that Hitch singled out the core values of Islam more than any other religion, aside from his own blanket affirmation of atheism. What he went after was the degree to which political forces throughout the Islamic world — from militarist dictators to religious insurgencies to ruling tribal entities — have purposed the religion itself to justify everything from beheaded journalists to blown-up Tel Aviv buses to hijacked planes and dead innocents. You want to blame Western policies or Israeli intrasigence for whatever for the embrace of violent means? Okay. But I’d feel a lot better if such brutality was not intertwined in religious validation, thank you very much. That’s an end game that the West has actually largely walked away from.

              I think most Muslims reject it as well, quietly and with great personal purpose, which is why jihad holds only limited appeal considering the great mass of the Muslim street and I credit the true precepts of the religion and the pragmatism of most human beings with this. But it would be better to hear some stronger, louder voices in the Islamic world shouting down the cries for death and martyrdom. The silence offended Hitch — from the West and from the Islamic intelligensia that is itself too timid by half when it comes to this stuff. I think he was right to take offense.

              • I disagree with your main points. I wish we had a better forum for this much-needed debate.

                Full disclosure: I’m a Muslim convert. Two years now. I reject violence against the innocent. Period. Full stop. No questions asked.

                I suggest you take a look at the polls and at the numbers when it comes to Muslims and “radical Islam.” I work for a media company that produces op-eds for global syndication. I just edited and published an excellent piece by a former Obama adviser named Dalia Mogahed, who just happens to have led the most comprehensive Gallup polling ever of the Muslim world. She co-authored a book with Georgetown’s John Esposito called “Who Speaks for Islam” that’s based on the polling.

                Please, please, please read Mogahed’s article: http://www.themarknews.com/2013/07/18/assuming-collective-guilt/

                The numbers show that you’re right to say that almost all Muslims reject al-Qaeda ideology and violence. Almost all of them admire America’s democratic underpinnings.

                The best studies show that people radicalize within specific contexts (Underwear Bomber within Islam, and Andreis Brevik within Christianity), but these contexts are not sufficient to be identified as the causes of their radicalization. I think it’s very, very dangerous to equivocate.

                Conservative scholar Robert Pape’s work shows that it’s the Tamil Tigers, a secular group, that has executed the most suicide bombings since the 1980s. He concluded that military occupation by a foreign entity is what primarily sparks radicalization (though this is different from homegrown radicalization). According to Mogahed, who’s dedicated a lot of time studying radicalization, right-wing, anti- government terrorism is as much a domestic threat to the US as “jihadis.”

                I’m not sure what you mean by “religious validation.” What I do know is that it’s absolutely valid for a Muslim to believe in the religion, condemn US violence, and reject al-Qaeda all at once. Period.

                Finally, and this really gets my blood flowing, Muslims don’t need to automatically stand up to condemn al-Qaeda if the Jewish community isn’t expected to get up and condemn Baruch Goldstein–or if the right wing Christians aren’t expected to get up and condemn Tim McVeigh. If that rule isn’t applied across the board, then give the benefit of the doubt to everyone.

                Not to name drop (I just wanna bring up names with more credibility than me), but I just got off the phone yesterday with Akbar Ahmed, former civil servant in Pakistan and one of the foremost experts on the Muslim world in the US. He says that since the Taliban have arrived in Pakistan, around 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed by either the military of by extremists. My point? 9/11 was a horrible tragedy that can never be forgiven or forgotten, but the truth is that Muslims are the ones that bear the brunt of al-Qaeda/Taliban violence. Just look at the numbers.

                • If Baruch Goldstein was the sociopath who killed all those Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, I specifically remember the quote from Yitzhak Rabin: “Judaism spits you out.” Not in our name, definitive.

                  Not sure Tim McVeigh is remotely analogous. He didn’t kill as a fundamentalist Christian. He killed as a rightist, militia-inspired libertarian. He was indeed political.

                  When fundamentalism justifies violence in the name of the religion — this was what Hitch found more prevalent in Islam than in other faiths in our time. Not prevalent in the sense of the vast majority of believers accepting violence or following jihad, but in the greater share of violent interventions in which the cause of the religion is invoked.

                  • He’s right. Good on him for saying that. (Too bad he made life hell for Palestinians.)

                    I would say that the West assumed that was his position even if he didn’t make it. It doesn’t assume the same for Muslims.

                    Not to drag this on, but you made many points. The point you made about the Muslims being silent (esp. the intelligentsia) is off: look up Hamza Yusuf (Bush and Blair adviser–they didn’t take his advice), the most influential Muslim in the West. Look up Abdul Hakim Murad of Britain–Dean of Islamic studies at Cambridge.

                    When Rushdie went through his ordeal, 100 Muslim/Arab writers and intellectuals got together and defended him: http://www.danielpipes.org/618/pour-rushdie-cent-intellectuels-arabes-et-musulmans-pour-la

                    [no need to post if you don’t want; the columns are getting really narrow. This is really just for your own ref. hope it helps.]

                    • I didn’t mean to imply the fundamentalist violence in Islam has been without challenge. I know otherwise. I do think that the undercurrent of jihad has nonetheless had too much tacit toleration as it has wrapped itself in the mantle of the religion.

                      I did not assume that McVeigh had anything to do with Christian doctrine. More militia, fringe-libertarian type shit. His enemy wasn’t any infidels. It was the federal government of the United States.

                      Listen, I saw your tweet and it misrepresents my argument. I am not saying that anything inherent in basic Muslim theology makes anyone more likely to engage in violence. I don’t believe that. But I do believe that the political construct in which the Islamic world operates — and, yes, its conflicts with the political West are a part of this — is one in which fundamentalist corruptions of that theology are used to manufacture and justify violence to a greater and more overt degree than other contemporary faiths. Two decades of headlines from around the world say this is so to a degree unseen with other theologies. That’s different from saying Islam itself results in more violence, as you have me saying. That’s a dishonest simplification — again, typical of my problem with twitter as a means of representing argument.

                  • the last response was for your first paragraph (of ur latest response). I didn’t see ur second and third paragraphs.

                    I have work in the morning and will reply in full tomo. No need to post this.

                    • The tweet has been replaced. When you said “Blame the West for a lot, but not for fundamentalist Islam and its embrace of violence. The decision to politicize the religious comes from within the religion…” I thought that’s what you meant. Guess I misread, my bad. It wasn’t meant to be a dishonest move.

                      Also, you have Twitter?

                      I have a few hard-core anti-establishment “fringe” libertarian ex-coworkers. None of them are violent. The point is that McVeigh radicalized within his political context as a fringe-libertarian. Does this mean that libertarianism caused him to bomb ppl? I don’t think so. It took a lot of external political pressure, in tandem with his own psychology, for him to want to commit murder. The best studies admit that we still don’t know what the cause(s) of Radicalization is.

                      Muslim terrorists also radicalize within their own contexts, and people automatically assume Islam is the engine. So they expect the Muslim community to come out and condemn it again and again. This is stupid, I think. I would read Mogahed’s article for a better explanation of this dynamic.

                      When Anders Breivik shot dead 70+ ppl in Norway, no one blamed it on Christianity. He was hardcore Christian. His “manifesto” is pretty clear about it. That’s bcz ppl know better. But why don’t they know better when it comes to Islam and Muslims?

                    • I do not tweet. I can read a twitter feed, tho,

                      As to your question, no of course I won’t blame all libertarian theory for those who use it in defense of sociopathic and violent action. But to progress the analogy to Islam and its uncomfortable relationship to 21st Century fundamentalism and jihad, if you read Ayn Rand and conclude that government is evil and so fundamental an evil that it must be resisted with all due force, then those who believe in such a black-and-white postulate have a framework that can justify or tolerate radical action against the government. The great majority will eschew violence. Some will not. To the extent that Islam is pluralistic in its possession over the monotheistic god and tolerant of dissent (the broad-mindedness of the Great Caliphate, the deeply personal explorations of the Muslim falsafas and their encounters with Aristotlean logic), it is as worthy a framework for human endeavor as any other monotheistic faith, or agnosticism, or atheism, or an Eastern religion. No worries. To the extent that it, too — either through the embrace of political forces — be they tribal rivalries, or totalitarian regimes, or rebellion against those regimes — utilizes a fundamental reading of Islam to justify and tolerate terror and violence, the religion itself is burdened. And in this young century, the greater share of random atrocity — from Bombay hotels to Chechen grade schools to the World Trade Center — has been undertaken in Islam’s name.

                      That is not to say, certainly, that there have not been past epochs in which other faiths have demonstrated fundamentalist intolerance and brutality, or that there aren’t examples of other faiths (Baruch Goldstein, the killings of doctors and bombings of abortion clinics by the Christian right) elevating fundamentalist argument to violence. But now, in our time, the only consistent and prolonged pattern of such globally has its origins in politicized, fundamentalist Islam. Nor am I saying that all of Islam is not cruelly and unfairly tarred with this burden, or that it is embraced by the great majority of Muslims. I do not think this is true. But neither do I think it untrue to believe that a certain percentage of the Muslim world is indeed tolerant of jihadi culture and philsophy and equates that culture with both political aspiration and religious righteousness. We can’t pretend that it is wholly without support when Sheik Bin Laden is a T-shirt. I believe in Palestinian aspiration for statehood, and I am critical of the Israeli settlement policy, and I think the U.S. stood a little too close to some of the more despotic regimes prior to the Arab spring. All that is true, and yet I can’t forget the site of women in the streets of Gaza ululating as the WTC burned and fell, or the Friday sermons in some mosques that blamed that action on a Zionist plot or that justified the hijackers as jihadi marytrs.

                      I’ve read a lot of Hitch and I recall him taking off against the fundamental streak in any religious framework, and against Islam specifically for politicizing that framwork to the point of violence and affronts to freedom of expression. If he went beyond that to discredit the whole religion — other than to be generally dismissive of a deity in any system of belief; he thought all gods were man-made and comparable to North Korea’s Great Leader(s) — then he was certainly wrong and unfair. But as far as what we have witnessed over the last couple decades around the world, there are indeed some people who have hijacked Islam and done some vile shit in its name. If I were a Muslim, I would be aggrieved on behalf of my faith, in fact. As I was aggrieved and ashamed at Barch Goldstein, or at Meir Kahane or the inherent anti-Arabism of the Israeli settler groups and their political supporters. That they use fundamentalist Judaism to prop themselves may not stain the core values of Judaism, but fundamentalist Judaism — as with fundamentalist Islam — is quite stained by their actions, in my opinion.

                    • Look, I wasn’t afraid that you’d see the tweet. I’m just kind of flattered that you noticed. Lol.

                      Let’s get this out of the way: “jihad” as a term has been perverted by our post-9/11 vocabulary. I’ve always held it as one of the highest ideals a person can aspire to: a struggle against one’s own ego (or “tainted soul”), a commitment to social justice through non-violent means, and at times the usage of martial justice when needed. Al-Qaeda-like behaviour is not related to jihad, despite what they think. I use the term “jihadi” despite myself.

                      I agree with much of what you say here. George Makdisi, an important but little-known scholar, has written most extensively on the contribution of Muslim scholarship to Western civilization. Arabic is embedded in the very language that we speak, as well as our approach to the universe both technically and metaphysically. Zaytuna College in the Bay area, the US’s first Muslim seminary is dedicated to reaffirming and exposing these ties. Take a look: http://bit.ly/1aJ0wa4

                      “Random atrocities” is an ambiguous term though. First, the vast majority of killing (of both innocent and not) in this century has been carried out by the United States. That doesn’t mean Americans are evil or that the US is an Evil Empire, etc. It is what it is. Still, Muslims have committed unspeakable atrocities—like the ones you mention. These atrocities, I would argue, are connected to the violence visited upon the Muslim world. That’s not to excuse Muslim atrocities, which are unforgivable. But Western atrocities allow Muslim extremists to hijack Muslim grievances. It plays more of a role in radicalizing people than, say, religious scriptures, which can be cherry-picked (i.e. sword verses like 9:5 in the Quran).

                      You raise a couple of related points:
                      1. “But now, in our time, the only consistent and prolonged pattern of such globally has its origins in politicized, fundamentalist Islam.”
                      2. “But neither do I think it untrue to believe that a certain percentage of the Muslim world is indeed tolerant of jihadi culture and philsophy and equates that culture with both political aspiration and religious righteousness.”

                      I honestly don’t know what else to tell you but to look at the evidence and the numbers. Take a look at the Gallup poll I referred to. I know where your criticisms are coming from and I understand them fully. I would just say that the “portion” you’re talking about is accorded an undeserved/disproportionate amount of attention (not t mention fear, which is dangerous). The vast majority of Muslims, based on empirical evidence, disapprove of political violence in the name of Islam.

                      Please don’t call Bin Laden a “shaykh.” Who made him a “shaykh??” He has little credibility and authority in the Muslim community. Indulge me in one more example: every year, the biggest gathering of Muslims in North America (20-30K) is the Islamic Society of NA (ISNA) convention. Go. You will be treated with respect. Go and listen to the speakers/leader (many of whom are female), and I guarantee a change in perspective. The same thing happened to me.

                      I agree with you on Hitch. I can’t say I have zero respect for him. I already noted his rhetorical genius. Still, sometimes I wonder if that’s all he had. My bias against him comes from his rather disingenuous attack on my great hero Edward Said, who was suffering from leukemia (and unable to respond) when Hitch wrote his stupid assault in The Atlantic. In the end, no one is perfect—as you’ve noted.

                      Finally, Mr. Simon, and this is most important (and we are mostly in agreement): when the towers fell, when innocent Israelis were killed, I did not feel aggrieved or ashamed of my religion and faith—because I am confident that Islam stands against such injustice. I felt aggrieved and ashamed of a “portion” of the Ummah, whose grievances may be recognized as real, but whose actions are illegitimate, and a stain on Islam and humanity, period.

                    • Steve, no need to lose ourselves in semantics.

                      1. If not jihad, then some certain call to a Holy War with actual violence involved.
                      2. Let’s look at 911 as the largest and most fundamental terrorist attack on the West: What was it in response to? Grievances over the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? No. U.S. support for a given regime? No, not directly. Other Western affronts to Islam? No. Be honest, Steven. The preeminent complaint of Bin Laden that produced his declaration of war on the U.S. was none of the above. His rage stemmed from the House of Saud’s unwillingness to let him and his Afghanistan-blooded jihadis liberate Kuwait on their terms, as a pan-Islamic victory, without reliance on non-Muslims. And he was infuriated the Saudis willingness to let a U.N.-sanctioned coalition that included Westerners touch the sacred soil of the Arabian peninsula in staging the restoration of Kuwait. Not exactly a Western atrocity, that. More a fundamentalist outlook on what it means for a non-believer to be on the holy ground. Bin Laden’s concerns were religiously fundamental and, too, geopolitical. He saw the liberation of Kuwait as a means to blacken the eye of a secularist Arab dictator and to press the argument for a new, pan-Islamic caliphate. Those were his stated goals. The American goal — proven at that time because the U.N. coalition stopped after Kuwait was restored, did not drive to Baghdad, and then demobilized itself — was to restore Kuwait. Attributing those subsequent deaths in New York, or on the U.S.S. Cole or at the African embassies to specific Western “atrocities” is simply specious. Bin Laden considered the Saudis corrupt puppets of the Americans and allowing the West — even under U.S. auspices with Arab League support — to stage and liberate Kuwait was the great affront to bin Laden. Call it what it was.
                      3. The T-shirt called him a Sheik. Are you suggesting he does not have such standing, even in death, anywhere on the Arab street?
                      4. Edward Said was a good man and honorable voice.
                      5. Yes, we are in agreement on the basic point.

                      Also, I didn’t think you were being furtive with the tweet in any way. I just thought it wasn’t what I was endeavoring to say.

                    • 1. A “Holy War” called by some idiots in some cave who have successfully hijacked Muslim grievances in some areas. See point #3 on their perceived “credibility.” Jihad matters to me. It’s not just semantics.

                      2. Without American atrocities, it’s rather unconditional support for Israel, and its support for Arab dictators, Al-Qaeda would not have been able to hijack Muslim grievances in the way it did. They used it for marketing purposes and to recruit. I’m not saying that the US somehow “deserved” to suffer after what it did or some stupid crap like that. OBL saw the US as the “Far Enemy” and the Saudis as its puppets. He’s self-styled as some sort of Spartacus character…and it appealed. That’s a tragedy.

                      3. Look at he numbers. Look at the polling: http://bit.ly/3QyPL9. Some (very few) do like him. I even know of a few of those people. But the title “shaykh” isn’t given to someone because X or Y amount of people like him on “the Arab Street.” It’s obtained by going through traditional avenues of learning and scholarship. Hamza Yusuf is a Shaykh, Abdullah bin Bayah is a Shaykh. OBL is not. “Shaykh” is associated with orthodoxy. OBL is a discredited and weak reformer. His own teachers in Saudi condemned him.

                      4. Agreed.

                      5. Okay.

                    • 1. They’re pretty fucking credible to all the people they’ve killed in New York, Madrid, Bali, Tel Aviv, London, etc. Your diffidence with regard to their perceived credibility and influence lands differently on your ears than it does on those who have been victimized by the dynamic.

                      2. You’re sliding off the facts. Israel was an afterthought in bin Laden’s calculations. He didn’t kill for Palestine. He committed mass murder because the Saudis engaged the West to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. That was sufficient and necessary for him to calculate that a mass killing in New York was the next chess move. Not U.S. policy in support of Israel, not its ties to secular dictators. You claimed his motivations for killing thousands was American atrocities. I am claiming otherwise; his motivations were to leverage his own standing and that of his cause, which was steeped in Islamic fundamentalism.

                      We in the West are used to seeing Israel, Zionism and the Jews used as an afterthought by all kinds of Arab and Muslim potentates to justify their own misrule/ambitions/geopolitics when in fact their core purposes have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. OBL was no exception, and citing Israel now, in retrospect, when it clearly was not the primary calculation or instigation for OBL’s barbarism is wholly off-point, if not disingenuous.

                      3. I hope so. I hope those women ululating in the streets of Gaza as those buildings collapsed were not representative of anything at all.

                    • Don’t you have to write for like a show or something? I work an office job so I slack off…but I guess you’re on vacation or something.

                      1. I never suggested the contrary. I don’t purport to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of some bomb. I can’t blame people who have gone through that type of thing for fearing Muslims, etc. I get it. That doesn’t mean the vast majority of Muslims out there are to be feared.

                      2. I agree with your point about OBL’s motivations. I would just say, again, that terrorist recruitment has a lot to do with grievances. Israel may have been an afterthought in OBL’s “calculations” but it’s foremost on the minds of potential terrorists. More state terrorism = more terrorism.

                      3. You hope right.

  • Partisans either knowingly, or possibly without realizing what they are doing, deny themselves the liberty to think beyond their presuppositions.

    Most people would rather be on the team than on the side of what is right.

  • While ideologues are annoying I find they often hang themselves in the inevitable contradictory positions which ideology forces. For example, I about drove off the road this morning when the Speaker of the House said it is unfair to the American people to give Businesses a break but not the average tax-payer. So the ideologue is a fool but a relatively tame fool. The zealot is the one you have to look out for. Zealotry has more potential to turn to violence and even the most benign ideology can be warped to violence in the hands of zealots. It is almost as if Zealotry as it is expressed in human interactions is an ideology itself; a combination of the underlying ideology and a second superseding ideology which says that actions taken in defense of the underlying ideology are clearly moral. Thus the zealot is not only always morally correct but also those opposed to her views are always morally depraved.

  • Mr Simon,
    Perhaps I am young and foolish, but I do not believe all ideologies are created equal, and extremity of position only exists in relation to someone else’s ideology. I am from a very rural and conservative area. My political positions are distinctly left of center in my place of origin, and the place from which I write to you.

    On the other hand, when I went to college, my views were much less radical. Most of the things I was concerned with (for example, a diversity of roles for women in society, not seeing LGBTQ folk hung on fences to die) were regarded as baseline values, and nobody cared. The righteous answers had already been found, and “we” had better stuff to talk about, further political refinement to do. Why did I keep harping on these things?

    In my continued concern I was regarded as a fuddy-duddy. People I love and care about are killed in soul and body by what others thought unworthy of discussion.

    In the end, I am probably pretty centrist. But I don’t know. Most of the time I just keep my mouth shut. I feel pulled back and forth, and don’t feel particularly comfortable anywhere. Maybe I’m flip-flopping too much. But I’ve had to argue my positions over and over again. I get tired. I’ve had to think about this a lot. Maybe the reason I like staying where I am (besides my John-Birch family members, who I genuinely care about despite the number of topics we’re not allowed to discuss) is because it gives me an opportunity to feel self-righteous in my isolation. Or maybe it’s because the American Left doesn’t care very much about anywhere rural or inland.

    But I do my best to work at points of agreement and intersection, however tenuous they may be, wherever I am. Isn’t that our best shot, sir?

  • I read the essay in question and the source material, Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jersualem”, but I have not seen the movie. I like Mr. Berkowitz’s point about Arendt exploring a concept that is far more complex than the term “Banality of Evil” that it became associated with.

    Words are inherently reductionist and inherently biased. For example, you yourself use the term “anti-abortion” in this post, while those on the other side prefer the term “pro-life,” and find the term “anti-choice” misleading at best. Pro-lifers use the term “pro-abortion,” which could and should be construed as equally as disingenuous as “anti-choice.”

    Words matter in framing a discussion; our brains are hard-wired to have Pavlovian reactions to certain stimuli. fMRI studies have shown that partisans’ limbic lobe (emotional part of the brain) has increased activity, while the pre-frontal cortex (reasoning) has reduced activity, when exposed to a political stimuli, such as a picture of a well known politician.

    If only words were continuous variables, but they are not. They are discrete variables and with that comes all the pitfalls of such a category. And so, it is no wonder that people have distilled Arendt’s work into “The Banality of Evil” and have reacted in kind to the term rather than the actual work.

    In order to challenge our own beliefs, we must also learn to challenge our own lexicons.

  • I have not followed the discussion here but everyone involved might want to check out the work of Yaacov Lozowick, who did exhaustive research in the German archives and came to the conclusion that the entire thesis of “the banality of evil” was flat out wrong, at least as applied to the Nazi genocidaires. It is always better to base our ideas on data rather than speculation. A brief related post on his (now sadly mostly inactive) blog is here:


    Another post is here:


    There are lots of interesting links in the two posts.

    His book on the question is here:


  • Is this a reflection upon your apologist article about the NSA, taking a considerate regard for the simplicity by which each of us, having played a role that seemed sensible at the time, come to excuse the very conditions of power that we struggle every day to contest?

    Or is this a defense of the pure simplicity by which the ideologues can be delineated and separated from the politically aware?

    The objections of that article – that the legal process is clearly able to identify appropriate circumstances of intervention upon private individuals – seems to be the very question at stake for Arendt with regard to Eichmann. What ought to distinguish Eichmann and The Wire?

    • You seem to have mangled the actual substance of my position on the NSA programming, doing so to shape my facts to fit your story.

      Let us begin — and end, because it is wholly sufficient to dismiss your embarrassing equivocation here — with the fundamental statement of intent for the NSA program of data-mining. It is intended as an intelligence and counter-terror asset for use by a national security agency of an elected, republican form of government that is indeed engaged in ongoing, low-grade, high-risk counter-terror efforts. Let us now turn to the agenda of the National Socialist Party of Hitler’s Germany.

      Conjuring alternate scenarios for the NSA datapile and fearing the worst of the American government is certainly a legitimate stance as far as it goes. Going miles and miles beyond that to equate with the Nazi program of mass slaughter and mechanized genocide of racial, religious and political cohorts with, say, the possibility of civil liberty affronts and excessive and unwarranted domestic surveillance by the American government is, well, pretty fucking shameless.

      If I can acknowledge the potential — potential — for abuse in the NSA programming, and you can’t even bring yourself to admit that such programming also does have legitimate application to a shared, national goal of terror suppression — well, that’s bad enough. For you to hurl yourself beyond that garden-variety myopia to a darker point at which you actually equate the potential civil liberties and privacy abuses in the present case with Eichmann’s embrace of legalisms on behalf of a stated policy to destroy millions of human beings is exactly indicative of the hyperbolic passion and ass-hat fearmongering that has been yoked to this debate. Get a grip, brother. Really.

      Beyond that, I’m not merely arguing the legalism that underlies the use of phone metadata in American crime suppression. I’m not saying its legal and therefore it’s good. I’m beginning from a premise that any tool of law enforcement is suspectible to misuse and civil liberties affronts, but that the remedy for such cannot plausibly be the abandonment of the tool, but rather sanction and punishment for the affronts. I am further arguing that while the use of phone metadata is and has been legal in America for decades and for a variety of crime suppression purposes, it has been used more intrusively — yet legally — in other capacities by law enforcement, and that there are other intrusions and more legitimate Fourth Amendment questions that can be raised involving other methods and circumstances, but are not because the burden lands on someone other than self-actualized white people. How those considered positions relate to Adolf Eichmann and the Third Reich, I have no clue, but I am sure that if your fever runs high enough, you will find a way to connect the dots if you really, really want to do so.

      • You’ve transformed my comment into a silly equivocation. I did not suggest that the NSA policies are in any way equivalent to the Nazi project. What I asked was: how do you understand the precision of drawing a line between the information gathering from the early 1930s-1937 and the information gathering that the NSA is performing.

        Is the bottom line of your argument that information gathering under a given heading is necessarily contained by the rule of law? Do you still feel this is guaranteed in a regime of secrecy? If so, how are the risks of such violations to be assessed?

        • No, sir, your comment required no transformation. Your reach for an analogy to Nazi Germany rendered it silly at its origin.

          The Nazis did a lot of things in the 1930s. They gathered information. They practiced agriculture. They promoted physical fitness. They removed all Jews from civic and civil life. They began to sterilize and murder political opponents and the mentally disabled. They rearmed the nation. They improved mass transit.

          Citing some of these things is indicative of a totalitarian state preparing for great brutalities. Citing others and connecting them to the Nazi regime and then implying some threat in the gathering of information or agriculture is a logical fallacy in which you are indulging.

          I expect law enforcement to gather information and to maintain data bases. It is a fundamental part of policing. I certainly expect national security and intelligence agencies to do so. It is their legitimate purpose in a world in which all modern nation-states gather information on each other constantly and often surreptitously. The information itself is inevitable and necessary. How it will be used and to what purposes is the legitimate issue that we are debating.

          Let us leave Nazi Germany to the Nazis and travel instead to modern Germany, where the use of metadata by German law enforcement solves an actual real-world problem. Seems someone was riding the autobahns throughout the country and randomly shooting at other cars from a considered distance, and doing so repeatedly and without detection. You’re driving down the road and the car window shatters from a bullet, and by the time you pull over and regroup, you have no clue. And it keeps happening. Until the German authorities use the database of GPS readings from all vehicles in the entire car-loving country to narrow the field, ascertaining and apprehending the actual suspect. A civic good, or no? A violation of the privacy rights and civil liberties of the mass of Germans, or no?

          Information is morally and ethically neutral. Technology is morally and ethically neutral. Eichmann was not. And his government was not. And we are not and our government is not. We are capable of creditable democratic self-governance and we are also capable of extralegal and amoral excesses. It is entirely reasonable for us to have a debate about the purposes and uses of a given technology by our government, about the legal boundaries for such a use, about the civil liberties protections that should be required, about the oversight that is required. I have never said anything otherwise, and indeed, my concerns rest on the secrecy and lack of oversight inherent in the FISA court processes. That’s where real reform is required.

          But when I listen to arguments against the technology itself, I know that the civil liberty barricades, however well-intentioned, are in the wrong place and arguing uselessly for the wrong thing. The technology is here. It has uses, good and bad. And we have been here before as a society, and as a nation of laws, and the outcomes have been consistent. We do not eschew fingerprint files, or DNA, or search warrants, or informants, or phone metadata, or road toll records because they can’t be abused and misused by authorities — all of those assets can be misused and abused, some of them routinely. But a lot less crime would be solved without those assets, so we use them and rely on sanctions and oversight against misuse. I don’t see the NSA datamining in a different light.

          Is it now possible that you might come back to 21st Century American and leave the Nazi analogies be?

          • Information is morally and ethically neutral.

            No. Science is morally and ethically neutral. Information is not. How do you think propaganda works?

            • No, very wrong. Information is indeed neutral. That non-neutral entities can mangle and misshape it is without question. But data is data. A fact is a fact. What people do with them is the point at which the neutrality of facts can be compromised.

              • Data is not always true, hence it can be immoral, or moral. I assume we’re talking about people here, so they are the ones who create the information in the first place. Once that happens, it’s already tainted.

                Also, you are asking me to believe that information can exist in a vacuum, I don’t think it can otherwise it wouldn’t be information.

                • I really don’t have the patience tonight to argue a small, and quite ridiculous semantic point with you. I’m not particularly interested in arguing about anything this evening, actually. The fuck is the point?

                  • I’ve noticed your tendency to construct arguments based on logical fallacies built on the importance of your own interpretation of semantics. A good example is your stance on the concept of addiction which underpins the drug war – does it not?. If you’re not in the mood, that’s fine with me – hey, it’s your blog dude.

                    • Agree to disagree on your point about where neutrality and bias reside with regard to facts and their interpretation. I’m a little more focused on the atrocity in Florida, sorry.

        • Actually, your questions, to my reading, are wrongly premised in when-will-you-stop-beating-your-wife fashion. Given my actual views, can I ask if you still see your questions as legitimate or requiring another answer?

          “Is this a reflection upon your apologist article about the NSA, taking a considerate regard for the simplicity by which each of us, having played a role that seemed sensible at the time, come to excuse the very conditions of power that we struggle every day to contest?”

          A confusing sentence, given that you seem to have the NSA taking considerate regard. But if I understand you, my “apologist” article should be reconsidered in some light of Eichmann’s tolerance and acceptance of Nazi ideology. And that my willingness to “play a role that seemed sensible at the time,” in this case failing to oppose the NSA data-mining, will come to excuse some later totalitarian outcome. Really? Isn’t the actual reasoning for my tolerance of this information-gathering sufficient to answer this question? No? Okay, my argument wasn’t apologist; indeed it is offered without apology to anyone. I neither work for the government, nor feel inhibited from critizing the government at various points for any number of failures and affronts. And as indicated repeatedly elsewhere, I see a distinction between the gathering of data and its use for a legitimate societal goal and the misuse of data for a known totalitarian intent. That which can be used can also be misused. Eichmann was not in the dock in Jerusalem for data-keeping, or for proactive suppression of violent criminal attacks. Your question leans hard into this equivocation.

          “Or is this a defense of the pure simplicity by which the ideologues can be delineated and separated from the politically aware?”

          “A defense of the pure simplicity?” I’m not sure I agree that it’s always a simple thing. More of a sliding scale for most folks, as we are all at points influenced by ideologies and, likewise, considerate of fresh ideas and new evidence. Some folks reveal themselves over time to be more attentive to one than the other. Some folks quickly prove comical in their adherence to prime ideological directives. Some people elude all category. What are you asking here that requires any additional answer?

          “The objections of that article – that the legal process is clearly able to identify appropriate circumstances of intervention upon private individuals – seems to be the very question at stake for Arendt with regard to Eichmann. What ought to distinguish Eichmann and The Wire?”

          As I noted, you’ve mischaracterized my article entirely. Yes, it notes that phone metadata has been a law enforcement asset for decades under our laws, but it certainly doesn’t rely on mere legality as a circular defense of its use by the NSA for the stated purpose of counter-terrorism. No, it also notes a legitimate counter-terror use and benefit that is, by all measure of popular consent, an agreed-upon goal of governance. Moreover, this goal — proactive terror suppression — corresponds in no ethical way to the goals of Eichmann or his political ideology. At the point that the morally neutral act of maintaining a pile of phone metadata and using it for counter-terror operations results in the abuse of the privacy or civil liberties of actual human beings, then legal or not, the opposition to such becomes a moral imperative, for me as for anyone. Isn’t this obvious? To be perfectly analogous in a place where no such analogy should have even been attempted on your part: Eichmann never claimed to be gathering or maintaining data on Jews to protect them from any external threat and then later found himself building gas chambers.

          Leave the Nazis behind. Forced analogies of that kind actually demean the legitimate concerns of civil libertarians when it comes to the NSA programming. Begin with a premise that the NSA data pile has some efficacy for legitimate societal goals as well as the potential for considerable abuse — and that responsible citizens need to deal with both realities to address the very real conflict between privacy and security, and between individual liberty and shared responsibility. A discussion framed by those two elemental realities has some chance of being meaningful; one that likens your opposition to unthinking apologists for the coming totalitarianism is just more hyperbolic tripe.

          • I appreciate that you have made an effort here to respond directly to my questions. Your defensiveness is reasonable given my wording, but you are construing my inquiry into the parallels in a way that I never suggested.

            Surely you are aware of the manner that intricate information gathering implemented and executed by the National Socialist regime later was taken up in an entirely different context for executing policies that had no relation to the initial forms of information gathering.

            Let me be clear: I am not suggesting information gathering = Nazism.

            The single question I would like to hear you address is: what distinctions should we make legally in order to ensure that present information gathering is not later taken up for an entirely different context?

            It seems from your NSA article that your suggestion is that legislative approval and court oversight is the necessary line. This argument seems to me to neglect the fashion that legislative action can transform the acceptable horizons at a given moment. Are you then suggesting that checks and balances are necessarily adequate? If so, what makes them adequate? Is this a question that in your mind is too obvious to ask?

            I apologize for my initially hyperbolic wording; the question is sincere.

            • Thank you for acknowledging that any defensiveness in the answer would be predicated on any offensiveness in the question. In reply to your specific query about the means of legal redress:

              We are always capable — always — of using the means of our own republican government to anti-democratic purposes and have done so repeatedly in the past: The red scare after World War I and the persecution of leftists, the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, McCarthyism, COINTELPRO. The only means we have of redress when the levers of government are used wrongly and undemocratically are popular dissent and, when such dissent coalesces, a recalibration of the same levers of government.

              Does that sound unlikely to you? Well, history shows us righting ourselves and drawing back from totalitarian excesses time and again. The fix is never permanent, of course. The tension is constant in American political life, because security and privacy, and individual liberty and shared responsibility — all of which are necessary for the health of the society — are in genuine conflict.

              My concerns at this present moment are this:

              1) The FISA process needs to be opened up. The court needs to be made adversarial, with the equivalent of a security-vetted federal public defender’s office of attorneys that can argue a civil libertarian viewpoint before the court and has the capacity to review and appeal the court’s orders. There also needs to be an oversight board containing a significant number of civil libertarians, which, while pledged to the maintenance of essential national security secrets, are nonetheless obliged to issue a public report card that assesses in general terms the legality and efficacy of the court. A more detailed and classified report from that panel should go to the congressional intelligence committees for private review and it should contain specifics as to court-approved programming and the manner in which that programming is being implemented.

              2) The FISA court’s decisions should be subject to in-camera appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, and those appeals can be brought by the public defenders serving the FISA court.

              3) I have separate concerns about the need for legislative protection for domestic internet metadata, bringing its acquisition consistent with that of telephonic metadata. The internet age arrives without the same considerations for privacy that telephonic communications have achieved over the course of recent legal history; the anachronism needs to be reconciled.

              4) I have separate arguments that go to overreach by law enforcement and counter-terror operations in a variety of other areas including habeus corpus, rendition, torture, lack of due process, etc. But all this is off point to the issue of the NSA programming.

              But in response to your concern that the American government can at some future point decide to proceed on some amoral or totalitarian enterprise, or can attempt to legislate past our basic Constitutional protections — my answer is, of course. We have done so in the past at points, going all the way back to the Alien & Sedition Laws or Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus. Our history is replete with government overreach and, too, with counter-reaction to such overreach. The pendulum will swing again to be sure.

              I don’t buy the notion that it is a thin line between this republic and a totalitarian surveillance state. It is a continuum, and the inevitable overreaches, when they actually affront the real privacy of real Americans, or result in real violations of civil liberties of real Americans — these will mark not only damage done, but opportunities for coalesced dissent and real reform. That — and not the theoretical fears or potentialities over what might happen with new technologies — is where the rubber will hit the road. In the pre-FISA era, no one gave a shit about the authorized but warrantless wiretapping of people by the executive branch until it went as far as anti-war activists and civil rights leaders in the 1960s. Then, for that and other excesses, we got the Church Commission. That’s how we do.

              But technology itself? Listen, the most hideous and most totalitarian technology ever devised by the mind of man is nuclear weaponry. Follow the analogy on the maintenance of the NSA data pile to our nuclear weapons policy and try to imagine a world in which the U.S. unilaterally eschews a nuclear arsenal. It ain’t gonna happen. Not until there is some failsafe capacity for the verification of comprehensive nuclear disarmament, not only by all of world’s nation-states but by stateless entities operating from within some failed states. So, we all live with the sickening terror of mutually assured destruction as geopolitical practice. Once they banged the atoms together, there was no going back. And so everything we do now to prevent a nuclear exchange is predicated on a nuclear-armed world. Certainly, the stakes are higher and more horrible for this technology than for the collection of all U.S. phone calls in a pile in Utah. With one, the price of misuse is genocide and possible extinction. With the other, the price is wholesale violations of civil liberties. One of these can be redressed through public dissent, the electoral process and the courts. The other has no redress at all.

              The analogy is not undertaken to suggest that concerns about the NSA program and its potential for abuse should not be considered and argued and addressed. They should be. Just as the proliferation of nuclear arms and the need for more safeguards against their first-use by any nation should be argued, passionately. I offer the analogy merely to point out that with any technology that has a legitimate use, no one has successfully found a way to abandon or ignore that technology because the amoral and inhuman use of it would to be appalling. We have a nuclear arsenal to prevent our being vulnerable to other nuclear arsenals. Same thing with biological and chemical weapons. Same thing with intelligence capability. (Arguments about any first-use doctrine in the use of WMDs or the misuse of our intelligence capability to actually intervene in the affairs of other nations are separate and entirely worth the time.)

              The real world can be ugly, but it carries the distinction of being real.

              • This response certainly puts your NSA article in a different light. It sounds like your point – quite well put, I believe – is that we need to seriously consider what the standing is of the legal safeguards and/or checks and balances that we assume are operative, asserting/defining them carefully rather than becoming distracted by general fears regarding governance. This makes a great deal of sense. I wish that the initial article had started with this point; as presented, many people – myself included – construed the response as a general dismissal of the fears, not as a re-direction to a different way of engaging the same fears.

                Perhaps this deserves an article of its own? The proposals you make are very concrete and hard to argue with (apart from secrecy, which doesn’t go far in my mind, but which I would like to hear your arguments posed in a way the security/secrecy-minded might abide). Put in this way I feel that you are in a position where you have the ability to generate significant discussion about concrete proposals/responses.

                So I want to re-iterate my apologies for having distracted the discussion to start with a hyperbolic and potentially offensive presentation. I would ask that you consider the tendency to respond in this way may in part be related to the difference in how you understand your position versus how your readers have received your writing.

                • Thanks for that.

                  The initial post on the subject was the initial post, but there is a lot already in the subsequent posts on this site and in the commentary, too, that elaborates on all of what I’ve contended here. It’s there — and the back and forth went on for a couple weeks. Can’t bear the thought of repeating it again in an additional framework.

                  The initial post was reacting to a hyperbolic and panicked response to the initial revelations about the NSA program, which included claims of indiscriminate spying and even wiretapping of Americans by the NSA. If it sounds dismissive of substantive issues and fears, it’s because it was actually dismissive of manufactured and exaggerated ones.

                  If you read the subsequent postings and commentary, the context is there.

  • Everybody has an ideology.

    Take industrial civilization (please!). It’s only been around since, what, 1850, and we’re already so socialized to it that we can’t imagine life without fossil fuels.

    We know that burning fossil fuels is changing our weather and climate, and yet, each year, we still emit more than the previous year.

    That is a powerful belief system.

    There are 7.2 billion people on a planet that cannot support them without fossil fuels.

    Fossil fuels are finite. The planet is finite. How do you have infinite growth on a finite planet? No one has been able to answer this question……it’s always a vague “technology will save us” sort of response.

    That is an ideology that is going to kill us all and yet, few speak of it and those that do are labeled as ideologues.

    Everybody has an ideology. Some are just so intrinsic that they aren’t ever examined.

    • Agree about your arguments regarding sustainability of the industrial model. Not sure that it constitutes ideology, per see. Now, if your political or religious or social affiliations prevent you from engaging in the ecological realities, such as they are, then yeah, it’s a case study of the dynamic. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you want to ignore the necessity of economic growth and economic sustainability for human civilization, focusing only on the ecological potentialities, then you’re not going to find a lot of practical traction either. People will not go backward until we are faced with an existential environmental crisis, and maybe not even then.

      The problem solving, if it will happen at all, must occur in the center, between both fundamental truths.

      • “People will not go backward until we are faced with an existential environmental crisis, and maybe not even then.”

        Yep, I agree.

        I would argue that that is clinging to a belief system of some sort.

        For anyone paying any little attention to the science of climate change, with its attendant impact on food that isn’t, you know, grown in a laboratory, the immediate outlook is pretty grim.

        We know the weather disruptions we’re seeing today are from emissions 20 years ago. We know that, in those ensuing 20 years, emissions have increased each year. What do you think the weather will be like in 20 years?

        But we won’t trade “economic growth” for life on this planet. I find that to be an unexamined ideology. How do you have continued economic growth on a finite planet? How? No one is answering that question and because no one is answering that question, I’m saying that there is a belief system in place that says human beings are so exceptional that we will not go extinct anytime soon. Yet, we also know that every species that overshoots its habitat does indeed go extinct.

        You don’t think this is an ideology?

        • Yes, I think at this point anyone still arguing climate change in the politically chattering class is an example of ideological corruption.

          I don’t know that every species that overwhelms its habitat does go extinct. Often, it’s my understanding that the herd is culled by scarcity, but that the species itself sometimes endures in lesser numbers. I don’t mean to suggest a Malthusian outcome for humanity here, but I am just remarking on the natural dynamic.

          Well, obviously we are a nation that has six percent of the population and is using 30 percent of some natural resources — including fossil fuels. That has to end. Quickly. How to manufacture consensus around this given the ideological dysfunction of our political system is an open question. But also, we have no standing to consign the third world to different rates of poverty than the industrialized west. Either we transmit a sustainable economic framework along with industrial and post-industrial capitalism or disaster awaits as China and India and the rest of the developing world comes online. Telling them they can’t come is as politically untenable as it is environmentally impossible. That’s what I am saying. No one is going back to an agrarian or rural future. No one is going backwards.

          Either we figure out how to make cities work environmentally or the 21st Century will indeed be a horror show. In the next 100 years we will be building more urbanity and urban infrastructure than in the entire human history up until this point. This is inevitable and unstoppable. Will those cities be sustainable environmentally? Or will they devour the existing ecologies and resources? That’s the only argument left to us. To ignore it on some ideological or philosophical or religious ground will be an act of amoral and astonishing human indifference and ignorance. Not that many won’t try.

          For example, I would argue that everything we know right now says that privately owned automobiles that operate on petroleum or alcohol-based products have to be abandoned within two decades. Given the ideological fervor with which such a reality will be greeted, it’s hard to imagine this can occur. But if automobile ownership even approaches half of the American rate in the third world, the environmental damage will be extraordinary and rapid.

          And yet, we are a species in which people are still arguing about the borders and living arrangements for two Semitic nationalities living side by side in a small patch of the Middle Eastern Levant. And they’ve been arguing since 1947. Just as the Paks and Indians are bickering over Kashmir. Just as we are at each other’s throats in this country over something as pragmatic and viable as national health care. Ideology, partisanship and group allegiance — and the intransigence that is created by the primacy of such things — doesn’t leave a wide margin for hope, does it?

          • The topic here is ideology. My point is that everyone has one…..not just at the fringes, but the dominant culture.

            It goes something like: the world is a hierarchy and homo sapiens is at the top of that hierarchy. Behold man, he has dominion, he has the large brain, he decides for the world.

            That is a set of beliefs, and the hierarchy then splits, with white men at the very pinnacle and everyone else being somewhere lower on the ladder. Get down to the earth and the lowly microbes that live in the dirt, and they don’t matter a whit.

            You buy that ideology and so do the vast, vast majority of people in this world……so-called first world or third….it is so embedded in the culture that it isn’t even noticed.

            The rest of your environmental argument is based upon what the mainstream press is telling you. It is much, much worse than you think. We don’t have centuries anymore, we have decades. We can’t even change our thinking about time frames. No one, not one model on climate is taking into account the various positive feedbacks we’ve tripped. The accounting, you see, is based upon an ideology.

            • I’m sorry, I really don’t buy a shard of any ideology that places white men anywhere by dint of race or gender. You overreach there.

              I will concede that I feel superior to most microbes. I can’t help myself. Maybe if I got out and socialized more.

              As to my environmental fears, they’re pretty profound. If you say I need to be even more concerned, I am inclined to agree.

              • Sorry, *I’m* not placing white men at the pinnacle….just saying that that was the open belief at the time the ideology was being constructed.

                The inherent ideology, that man is at the peak of the pyramid, stands. It’s being modified to allow for *some* people of color, and women, as long as they adhere to the code of the ideology, to wit: Homo sapiens rules.

                Cities, by their very nature, will never be sustainable. They have to import food and other resources. Where do they get those? From people who may or may not want to give them. See, for instance, the Amazon rainforest.

                Still, I’m not trying to convert you here. I’m an ideologue and proud of it…I fly my freak flag high. All I’m trying to do, and probably badly, is to point out that the dominant culture IS an ideology in and of itself.

                I saw recently a quote attributed to Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon/Mobil that perfectly encompasses this:

                “What’s the point of a healthy planet if the people are miserable?”

                • I’m sorry, but no, I reacted to this sentence: “You buy that ideology and so do the vast, vast majority of people in this world.”

                  Never mind you. I don’t buy it. And while certainly, too many people do, I think you are overstating it grandly to suggest that such an ideology, even implied, has much traction globally. FOr one thing, more than half the planet is female. Some portion of that gender might indeed tolerate or accept political and social submission to men, but certainly not a majority, and certainly not in the West anymore. And given the small portion of the human population that constitutes white folk, I’m guessing ideologies rooted in white superiority have even less traction. If you want to claim that there is a reservoir of racism and sexism that abides in the human condition, sure. But don’t generalize ridiculously.

                  As to our predominance over nature and its results being rooted an inherently white or male bias, there is no supporting evidence of this. Ecological mayhem is perpetrated on a multiracial, multicultural basis. In fact, the notion that agrarian, or rural or nativist communities were in any way ethically superior to European modes of resource use and misuse in the pre-colonial era has been wholly debunked. Native Americans were not more attuned to nature and therefore more respecting of nature. It’s simply that they were less in number and being hunter-gatherer or, later, subsistence-agrarian, they couldn’t hope to do the same degree of ecological damage.

                  If the urbanization of the population — with all of the attendant replication of delivery systems and efficiencies possible from such — is an unsustainable model for seven billion humans, then rural, agrarian models are not going to resolve the dilemma either. Not unless a few billion people are ready to step off the planet. I’m not ready to volunteer. You?

                  • Me either. Point is, there will be a population crash. The population numbers are past carrying capacity. We’re at peak oil now. Tar sands and fracking are going to add more crap to the air, with the added benefit of poisoning water.

                    Dominant ideology says, “we *have* to keep industrial civilization going because otherwise, enormous numbers of people die.”

                    Notice what isn’t counted.

                    But if we keep doing what we’re doing (and we will, we agree), enormous numbers of people die. We’ve altered the weather. The jet stream is really screwed up and no one saw that coming.

                    Really ample agreement on these points. The only real debate is how soon it will happen. Dominant ideology says….after everybody already here is gone. I think that is hopium, myself.

                    Either way, we’re fucked. We as in homo sapiens. I’m just kinda hoping to not take every other species with us.

                    Again, with love and respect, I’m trying to point out that everyone has an ideology.

                    • You’re just making empty claims. And tossing out words as if stating them proves your concept. It’s a real boring method of discussion.

                    • For some reason, I have no reply button to Les.

                      Western civ is based upon ideas from white guys named Aristotle and Plato and the dudes that wrote the Bible.

                      Industrial civ is based upon that ideology plus fossil fuels.

                      My “words” that bother you are facts you can google. Google the arctic death spiral, for instance.

                      Google “earth carrying capacity”. Google “peak oil”. These words mean something, dude.

                      Just read that a glacier the size of Chicago broke off in the Anarctic.

                      When the cities in either the Middle East or Africa erupt in bread riots, we’ll talk again about ideology.

                      Love to you all and good luck.

                  • Last word here: Trayvon Martin was legally murdered. If there is no dominant ideology at work here, I’m from the planet Romulous.

        • I think there is the unexamined context that we are immersed in (e.g., the legitimacy of unlimited use of fossil fuels) and there is ideology.

          As a simple example, the Bechdel test regarding movies (does the movie have two named female characters that talk to each other about something other than a man?) covers an area that I had not consciously thought about until I heard of the test. Now I am aware and apply the test all the time. I don’t think that any of this passes the ideology smell test, but it was an element in my unconscious view of the world.

  • The power that blind adherence to ideology has to manipulate the thoughts of its adherents is amazing when you think about it. One of the more surprising facts about Eichmann is that he claimed to be influenced by Kantian ethics (though he later claimed to have abandoned it). That he could twist something like the categorical imperative, of which one formulation states that people must not be treated as merely a means to an end, but the end in and of themselves, into the opposite meaning where the ends justify the means, shows how powerful his ideology manipulated his thoughts. Other examples in Naziism include the manipulation of Nietzsche, a person who hated anti-semites, into someone who wanted to create a race of pure supermen and the manipulation of science to show the existence and superiority of the Aryan race. It seems to me that powerful ideologies are like a mold, where every dissenting thought has to be hammered into the right shape no matter how it is distorted.

    I was once an ideologue. I was at sea in the Navy during the debate and buildup to the Iraq War (so I missed the demonstrations and news reporting), but once it started I thought that the powers in charge must know what they are doing and that it couldn’t be another Vietnam because the Powell Doctrine made that impossible. When the WMDs couldn’t be found, I found myself unconsciously ignoring the reporting because it was uncomfortable and it was contrasting with my beliefs. The WMDs must have been well hidden or moved to Syria. After all, the Secretary of State was talking about all of these chemical warheads and uranium stockpiles. And when the war kept degrading and the casualties mounted, I felt that the media was ignoring the good works the military was doing and twisting the bad news out of proportion. The cognitive dissonance eventually became so painful that my ideology broke. The problem with being an ideologue is that you don’t know it until you are no longer the ideologue. To an ideologue, everybody who says something in contrast looks like an ideologue to you. It is a tricky situation. How do you argue and present facts to someone who doesn’t believe you have any credibility (and who you feel in return doesn’t have credibility)? And how do you know you are not the actual ideologue? The best that I can say is that when I now feel the desire to ignore something because it contrasts with my beliefs, I try to feel the thought out instead of suppressing it. And when I feel myself agreeing with everything someone is saying, I try to seek out opposing viewpoints. It is extremely comfortable to be around people who agree with you on everything, but it is not productive.

  • Citing F. Scott seems appropriate here. If “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” then it would seem that by that definition, ideologues can be safely classified as those of second-rate intelligence.

    • Very, very much so. I think it reflects on the state of national discourse that I used to invoke that quote on rare occasion. I find myself doing so now as a matter of sad routine.

    • I reject the notion of an Idealogue because we don’t know enough about how things work – which makes everybody an idealogue to a lesser or greater extent (in fact it’s meaningless to even talk of an ideologue at all). Simple example, with our current understanding of the laws of physics which we believe control the universe go out of whack when we talk about black holes. Humans know less than nothing really – they operate to a large extent on guess work, it’s enshrined in our various written and unwritten constitutions and traditions. In fact, we need to be ideologues to push forward theories. So for me an anyone who says they’re not an ideologue is someone who thinks they know everything. As for me, I’m overwhelmed with ideological thinking in regards to my current profession of nursing. One example, the concept of cultural safety. Still trying to figure that one out.


  • when we believe in anything to the exclusion of our own intellectual and moral rigor, we are simply less worthy and viable as human beings.

    Amen and thank you for saying this. I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts on the NSA/Snowden issue because finding nuance or full consideration is frequently scarce in any discussion. It’s almost like taking the time to consider the full issue or allowing oneself to consider that the “side” you’re supposed to be on given your political leanings is tantamount to accepting the other side’s position. And I’ve run into that all my life, being from Northern California and feeling like anytime I question something (not because I disagree outright, but just see all the underlying factors, don’t follow the argument, and am the type who likes to debate/argue) on the Left/Progressive side automatically makes me the bad guy.

    • Same here, also in the Bay Area (but from Chicago). And I’m actually fairly liberal. Many liberals here are genuinely confused as to where this stereotype of them as closed-minded, unreasonable, and shrill comes from: but it comes from them consistently living up to it. Not all liberals, of course, but way more here than in any other region.

      Not that they are anywhere near the biggest problem at the moment, obviously. It’s the difference between Fox News and KPFA, the local Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. It’s probably *more* insane than Fox or commercial talk radio. But only a few thousand people listen to it, compared to millions who consume the right-wing nonsense. This is not a symmetrical problem.

  • There is a really wonderful book on evil written by M. Scott Peck called “People of the Lie.” As a psychiatrist, he saw the need for defining/diagnosing the evil person. Religion had been wrestling with the subject for centuries, but science, in particular, psychology, had stayed away from it. To paraphrase Peck, he worked in prisons and he said he rarely encountered prisoners who were “evil.” They were destructive and impulsive, but they were open with their wickedness. They were “honest” criminals. Truly evil people, he found were never in jail. Evil people lived in disguise: disguise to those around them, but most importantly, they were in disguise to themselves. They could not perceive their on wickedness; they lacked the capacity. Scapegoating and projection were the evil doer’s tools.

    Peck cites Eric Fromm as the one psychologist who spent much of his life studying the evil of Nazis. His studies were praised because no one could question/contest the validity of his subjects; they were evil; but he was faulted because his studies allowed people to think that evil existed “back there” with the Nazis. It led people to believe that evil does not still reside in our neighbors or in ourselves. When in fact, Peck, says, “Evil human beings are quite common, and usually appear quite ordinary to the superficial observer.”

    Arendt is being faulted for seeing Eichmann as terrifyingly normal. Peck would say of course he appears that way.

    As to your essay and us taking “short steps in Eichmann’s shoes,” I think the key is self awareness. Peck says that it is a person’s failure to put themselves on trial – that’s where the evil arises. We cannot see ourselves above reproach. We must take care not to lash out at anyone who does reproach us. And thirdly, we must be able to tolerate the pain of self-reproach.

      • My bad. You’re talking about the Road Less Traveled author. Haven’t read “People of The Lie.” Will check it. Thx.

      • No, I think that Robert Newton Peck wrote “A Day No Pigs Would Die”. M Scott Peck is most known for the book “The Road Less Traveled.” It is a great book too!

        • Yes, I responded to myself, correcting. Read “The Road Less Traveled.” Will check out the other. Thx.

  • Great piece. Thank you.

    I find most people are pretty good at finding the faults and inconsistencies in others but lousy at noticing anything amiss with their own views. The interesting ones are those who know they have been wrong a thousand times and will be wrong many more times. They tend to have a pleasant sense of humor. They still care about issues and have strong views but they know they don’t agree with the person they were ten years ago so aren’t stunned to find that others disagree with the person they have become today. As such, they are good at carrying on a decent discussion instead of a diatribe.

    Mostly though I just wanted to thank you for writing sentences that contain phrases such as “if someone’s beliefs are so leviticusly deutoronomous….” That, sir, is good writing.

    • That is plagiarism. It’s a Tom Waits phrase, muttered on his live album, “Nighthawks At The Diner.”

      As Jimmy Cagney once famously said, “Never steal anything small.”

    • Surveillance by the government over every single person is unacceptable. That’s an agency which has a massive failure of the imagination. It’s infeasible that every person could be a terrorist. It’s even more infeasible that the NSA can deduce from internet traffic who they are based on throw away online comments. I mean, for God’s sake, the Boston bombers had a YouTube channel, stating a love of muslim fundamentalists, and the Russians had warned the FBI about them, and yet – what a surprise – they still managed to carry out their evil plans with deadly intent. Even if your net history suggested you had an unhealthy interest in making home-made bombs, and a deep disrespect for the president – does that equate to a would be assassin? I think not. I’m guessing that effective terrorists don’t update their Facebook account with their plans.There’s a saying in fishing – first fish your feet. These clowns have now decided to trawl the ocean bed for a solitary pilchard which doesn’t exist. All they’ll find is a red herring. Also, the NSA’s plans have a massive chilling effect on reporting in general. Protecting a source is now a thing of the past.

      • 1) The Verizon datapile is in no way surveillance of every single person. That is hyperbolic. The government has tax records for every single citizen. is that surveillance of every single citizen? Or is it a data base through which algorithims are run, seeking those people whose tax liability does not correspond to their known income levels? At the point at which an IRS investigator looks at your returns, or the point at which an NSA analyst looks at your phone metadata, a threshold for probable cause has been established. This is just so, no matter how much you want to believe that all of us, 300 million, are at an analyst’s fingertips being assessed and targeted.

        2) Proactive law enforcement cannot prevent all crime. Citing instances of crime to argue against crime suppression efforts is embarrassingly fallacious. Crime suppression efforts reduce but do not eliminate any category of crime. Yet every legitimate society attempts to reduce crime to the extent possible.

        3) The NSA isn’t involved in the chilling effect on reporting through the use of this datapile in Utah. For that, the regular sonsabitches in the U.S. Justice Department were easily able to acquire the phone records of specific news organizations through ordinary court orders to ordinary district court judges. That’s the most embarrassing part of all this paranoid overreach by the conspiratorists here. Phone metadata has been without Fourth Amendment protection since 1979; if the government wants this data to harrass or intimidate people, or target individuals, or hunt sources and whistleblowers, they already have it. No problem. They don’t need the NSA or this program or that big empty edifice in Utah. Nor would they use that for such, given that it would expose to ordinary domestic courts a top-secret counter-intelligence asset. Why do that when any run-of-the-mill FBI agent can walk a subpeona over to a run-of-the-mill federal magistrate or judge and then fax it over to the Verizon office in an hour? You’re passionate here. But you’re not making sense.

        • Sorry, should have said I was talking specifically about the PRISM surveillance (and the others).

  • I agree with your post that a strict attachment to an ideology is dangerous but why do you think secularization is an ideology? It is merely a call for the public discourse, whether in the government or the market, to be based on facts and evidence.(If you want to believe in myths, fine just leave it in your home) Socialists and capitalists each have some evidence in favor of their ideologies as do the other groups you listed, with the exception of the religious. This group has no evidence backing their ridiculous claims. Secularists aren’t arguing for an ideology, we’re just arguing for facts and for those facts to presented. I know your main point is about the danger of ideologies and not secularists vs mythologists, which I respect. But this notion of our society that these two sides are anywhere close to equal when it comes to the facts must be challenged and defeated if our species is to further evolve and deal with the greater problems that the planet faces.

    • I am a secularist. But if I want to engage constructively with someone whose ethical and political framework is based on religion, then it seems to me I need to allow them to access their own ethical framework and act on that. What I can’t allow or tolerate is for them to require all of society to adopt that ethical framework as a universal. If they require that, I can’t yield, I agree.

      I don’t need a Catholic hospital to perform abortions, nor do I need a Catholic school to teach evolution. But I can’t abide a religious argument against a secular, pro-choice institution serving the reproductive rights of all women at a non-Catholic facility. Or the teaching of creationism in a public school given the dramatic lack of evidence for that non-scientific theory.

      In the first case, I do understand that if you think abortion to be a violent crime against humanity, you are entitled to oppose it and to encourage alternatives to abortion. However, given that you will not convince at least half of these United States of your views, and given that women will seek abortions in dangerous circumstances should you achieve any restriction on the procedure, I think the utilitarian end-game is for a philosophical debate to continue, and for programs to reduce unwanted pregnancies and encourage adoption to become viable oppositional initiatives. But a legal fight that extends into the uterus of your neighbor? Really? How does that work in a nation that maintains any credible ideal of privacy or personal freedom in a democracy? In the second case, it’s science that wins out. And science, if you read the testimony in the Delaware case that brought creationism into a courtroom and vanquished such on the merits, is damned unequivocal when it comes to evolution.

      You get to be religious in America. You can shape your life, and your arguments and your votes on the basis of your theology. You can put your best arguments into the world, even into the political world. You don’t get to enforce those arguments on others who believe differently. At that point, the utilitarian separation of church and state protects not merely the majority, but the minorities.

      • But as a secularist , how you can engage constructively with those who base their ethical framework on fictional stories, especially when those fictional stories state that slavery and rape are god-sanctioned practices. The abortion debate has many male politicians who seem confused about the moral and medical consequences of rape. Could this be because their ethical framework says rape is not immoral? “You get to be religious in America” You also used to be able to own slaves and keep women from voting while you beat them bloody but we evolved.

        • Well, obviously if someone’s beliefs are so leviticusly deutoronomous that they embrace slavery and rape in some fashion we will not find much common ground. But it is conceivable that a born-again Christian or devout Catholic, while offering me no common ground on abortion rights, will prove a reasoned ally with regard to, say, drug decriminalization or bringing an end to the privatization of prisons, or global warming, or stimulus spending. Today’s opponent is tomorrow’s ally, unless ideology and partisanship require permanent, across the board stalemate on all issues.

          You do understand that there is an equivocation in you standing my assertion that there is freedom of religion in America next to slavery and the denial of the vote to women. The latter are now specifically outlawed by constitutional amendment and the first is not. If anyone — religious or otherwise — wants to return to slavery or deny women the franchise, they have a long, quite unlikely road ahead of them to amend the constitution. I’m really not sure what you are arguing at this point.

            • “I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous – if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.” Robert Ingersoll The truth is not ideological thinking. Pi=Pi regardless of human imagination

              • Oh come on, Seamus. You are not arguing here in favor or Pi or Newton’s laws. A secularist can be just as wrong as a religious person. Just as much of an asshole too. Your quest for “truth” may not look like my quest for “truth” but I guarantee you there is more than one way to get there. Multiple destinations too.

          • I am not lumping mythologists into one amorphous group of fanatics, I lumping them into one amorphous group of liars. The concept of revelation is as illogical as it is immoral. If a deity did exist it would have the sense of morality to not interfere with a primitive smelly ape people, doing so will always lead to wars, persecutions, and death. Its the prime directive times a million.

              • How can one tolerate the lies? I am a deist. It is not the belief in a deity that enrages me, it is the impossible, immoral belief that this deity communicates with humans that plagues the human species. If I can sort of bring this back to your original argument. I am very critical of American capitalism, but I must admit I do not know the exact degree of socialism needed to temper it. So I am willing to sit down and compromise with those who are very critical of socialism so maybe we can reach an agreement in the middle. But with mythologists, I KNOW their argument is bullshit, derived from an ancient helplessly ignorant people.

                • I don’t believe in God. But even I can see the great work in some of those who do, Mr. Seamus. For every stunted fundamentalist who throws themselves over the precipice of ignorance and bigotry, I can name a believer who has utilized the Judeochristian ethos to great good. And there are those who have clearly made the crude Biblical and Koranic origins of monotheistic thought into something intellectually resonant and morally transformative.

                  Again, Maimonides or Augustine or the great falsafas of the Caliphate.

                  Open your eyes a little wider. As with every other human argument or thought, the mythos of the Biblical Yahweh offers the potential for good and bad.

                  • Artists are the only ones who can tell the truth with fiction. Why? Because artists acknowledge that their works are fiction. Only when one admits the Old and New Testaments to be total fiction can one use these texts as a conduit for truth and progress. But with that said, even if one does acknowledge these texts are fiction, the immorality greatly outweighs what little specks of morality one could find in them.

                    • Once you start believe you have it all figured out, you’re probably more wrong than you ever have been.

                      ~ Me

              • Thanks to my Jesuit education, I often find myself defending Catholic individuals even while critiquing religious institutions. And I think that’s probably a useful mindset in most areas of debate.

                You never forget the people who taught you how to think, though. Even George Carlin admitted that his early education in a progressive Catholic school shaped a lot of his perspective.

                • Me too Max, on all counts. Catholic social teaching is mostly about offering dignity to the poor and a voice to the voiceless. I don’t agree with them on abortion, gay marriage, or a host of other issues. And there’s no excusing the scandals. But I think understanding the complexity has helped me not think ideologically. You’re either with me or you’re against me is of no interest to me.

              • Despite sounding otherwise, I am not a Catholic apologist. I just try to find the common ground. The current pope recently said:

                “A savage capitalism has taught the logic of profit at any cost, of giving in order to get, of exploitation without thinking of people… and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing.”

          • Your hyperbole is now just silly. Citing the ur-text of ancient Bedouin origin as a means of evaluating the actual morality and practices of modern Judeochristian deists is as ridiculous as it is intellectually dishonorable. We have all read the Old and New Testaments. We know the historical anachronisms and contradictions. Are you suggesting that it is legitimate for you to cite whichever perversity is embedded in Leviticus or the Gospel of Luke, but look past the brilliance of Isiah, or the Sermon on the Mount, or Augustinian philsopophy, or Maimonides, or Martin Buber or even C.S. Lewis? And all of that rooted in Biblical origins yet expanded upon to form a body of deeply humanist thought? That’s just perverse. Take a breath there, brother. You’re being damned myopic in your assessment of the contributions of monotheistic theology, and the degree to which it has maturated from its primitive origins.

            To keep with the theme of my initial comment, if someone’s ideology is that of Christianity or Islam, then so be it. It being other than my own, I will attend to his or her arguments regardless and evaluate his or her propositions on the merits. Those that use monotheistic insight to arrive at worthy results I will credit, regardless of my own theology. Those that are meritless, I will not credit. Same as I would with say, a libertarian or neoconservative. True, someone who abides only the most rigorously fundamental view of monotheism is less likely to produce an idea with which I can find favor, but even here, it is not so impossible as you suggest.

            I’ll truck with anyone on an idea until the idea itself is judged. It’s as simple as that. Why? Because I would prefer it if — despite the fact that I am a secular Jewish, argumentative, left-leaning, profane sonofabitch — they would nonetheless address my ideas without giving too much thought on my labels and ideologies. It makes for more meaningful discussion and debate. Hey, I think the golden rule is in there somewhere, so chalk that one up for good old monotheism. Point to Akiva, or Jesus, or both, though I think both are predated by Confucius, who arrived at the same ethic of do unto others without ever even meeting a Bedouin.

            • First of all my problem is that it is all untrue, all of it. Second, why is citing the “ur-text” of ancient Bedouin origin as a means of evaluating the actual morality and practices of modern Judeo christian deists is as ridiculous as it is intellectually dishonorable. If the root is rotten then so will the branches that sprung from it. To be a deist means one rejects the concept of the judeo christian narrative as well as all revealed religions. Let me address your specific examples of the men you provided, I think it is important to note you did not reference any women, which speaks volumes to the ignorance and oppressiveness of revealed religion. Isiah probably never existed and if he did he claimed to talk to god, so he is a liar and a manipulator, fuck him . What’s so great about the sermon on the mount? Anything of importance that Christ said Confucius has said better 300 years before. Augustine frankly is wrong, his words may be brilliant but he is still wrong, especially about sex. Maimonides contributions are legal, philosophical, or scientific, his religious beliefs are irrelevant . I regret that I have not read any Martin Buber but a quick look at his Wikipedia page makes him seem like a secularist. And C.S. Lewis? Christian apologists are some of the most delusional people to ever walk the earth.The only honest mythologist is a fundamental mythologist, even if their beliefs are offensive and crazy, they are at least honest. True reason, a loyal dog like Toto, will always pull the curtain back, not put it back. It was not the biblical origins that expanded, it was the minds of the people that would have expanded with or without myths. Whatever brilliant philosophical or scientific discoveries were made by people of faith, they would have realized them regardless of their faith. Pi was Pi before humans figured out how to cultivate the earth and PI will be Pi long after our species has gone extinct.

              • Why is citing any narrative or philosophy authored or revered by humans a guide to anything? Why read Hegel? Or Sarte? Heidegger?

                Certainly, I don’t believe in the supernatural aspects of the Bible. Do I believe in, say, the Exodus? I do. I believe that there was a rag-tag band of Hebrew slaves who slipped away from the Egyptian dynastic empire and then constructed an extraordinary narrative of peoplehood and liberation theology that transcends their own narrow tribal history and now runs deeply through Western liberal thought. I am delighted that the Mosaic narrative exists and that it is so epic and resonant. Any history of the civil rights movement in America is incomplete without the Exodus running through it as powerful allegory.

                You’ve set your mind in opposition to monotheistic history and ethos, and that’s fine, for you. But you’re at pains to trash it for everyone else, oblivious to whether it might be a crippling ideology for an individual or a genuinely inspirational one. You can’t know. And frankly, I’m surprised you feel the need to come between any other man and his ideas about god, or not god, or faith. I admired Christopher Hitchens for a lot of reasons, and his defense of atheism was elegant enough. But it worked precisely because he restrained himself from telling others that he could prove with any certainty that they were wrong about god, or dogma, or faith. He frankly didn’t want to address others on such terms, and in his restraint, he asked for the same from deists with regard to his own non-belief.

                I have no interest in affronting others on matters of faith, or in claiming some sort of empirical superiority on such things. Empiricism here is not only beside the point, it’s, well, rude. Faith is faith. Respect it for what it is and what it can provide those who find or seek it, and don’t demean it for what it most certainly is not. None of us can know with any certainty about the supernatural. By definition, that which is undemonstrable is unknowable. That consigns it to a realm unsuited for proofs and legalisms.

                The ethos that results from religion? The behavior and practices it inspires? The good and bad that religious thinking achieves in the political and social realms? Okay, have at it. That’s food for meaningful discussion and debate. But unless you are seriously saying that no good can come from religion and therefore you will not entertain the ideas of anyone so mistaken as to believe in a god or in a given version of a god, then why draw your sword over this? And if you are saying that, well, it’s intolerance.

                Frankly, I’m willing to hear ideas on global warming or campaign finance reform from a practicing Druid or Zoroastrian or Devil Worshipper. I don’t give a shit. What is the idea and how does it interrupt the flow of carbon gases into the atmosphere? How do we keep the money out of the electoral dynamic? If Stonehenge makes a guy think hard and come up with something good, then bless its every rock. If in the midst of a satanic ritual, another fellow constructs a legal or legislative means of separating money from speech in American politics, then give the devil his goddamned due.

                I don’t have to take Druidism or Satanism seriously, or to argue even that neither had anything to do with the other fellow’s insight. Everybody stands somewhere, everyone believes in some things and not others, and everybody is closer and deeper to some ideologies and philosophies and political affiliations than to others. I’m not condemning that. Why bother? It’s inevitable and natural. I’m condemning the fixed notion that one must first consult those ideologies and affiliations and predicate a political response based on that self-identification. That’s all.

                I’m surprised this isn’t clear. Or that it isn’t clear that the converse of this tolerance is also true: That I demand that my own arguments be addressed on content alone, rather than strained through anyone’s views on my pre-existing ideologies or affiliations. That’s the part you seem to have a real problem with when it comes to organized religion, and I think your stance is as heedlessly rigid as those that you are seemingly attempting to condemn.

                • The Exodus did not happen. Almost all historians, archeologists, and anthropologists agree on this. Why are there no Egyptian sources on this massive event. Some historians believe the Jewish people did not even exist as a people until way after the supposed exodus took mplace.The civil rights movement might not have be needed if wasn’t for the war criminal Moses, although it probably would have been needed. His supposed words were the justification for American slavery. But I believe the morality of the civil rights movement would shine not because of religion but because it was needed. Also one can prove that revelation is false. Thomas Paine did it 200 years ago and no one has ever successfully challenged him. I still do not know how calling out liars for lying is intolerance. I’m sure you have read Spinoza, Paine, and Ingersoll. They all preface their pamphlets with something to the tune that they wish to respect all person’s opinions. But they follow that up with the statement that for an opinion to be valid it must be based on some kind of evidence. That is my point. There is no evidence outside of the holy texts to back them up. As for Hitch, I like a lot of his writings, but he stated that women are not funny based on absolute bullshit. Just for this, my opinion of him has gone down greatly. Ok I admit I am rigid on this topic, but that is because I am right about revelation. “Truth is the only basis of virtue.”- Mary Wollencraftstone. Religion and truth are not compatible. Bruno Giordano found that out by being burned alive. I gotta go, sorry if my views appear intolerant, seriously I am. I do not wish to offend anyone. But in my humble opinion our species has great potential. But we will never reach that as long as myths and superstitions are given the same respect as math and science.

                  • The war criminal Moses? Heh. You really can’t help yourself, I suppose.

                    Your certitude is inspiring, but actually, there are some linkages not to the supernatural aspects of the Exodus, of course, but to specific environmental circumstances that approximate the story of the plagues and a corresponding slave rebellion. Obviously, in the grand scale of Egyptian dynastic history, the fate of a few hundred runaway slaves — David Ben Gurion, an amateur archeologist as well as an Israeli founder, argues that it was never more than two hundred in all — would scarcely rate more than a mention, if that. Proof? Of course not. But definitive certitude that it did not occur? Or that it has no historical basis whatsoever? You can’t know. You don’t know. Though you are quick to claim otherwise. I’m more cautious with certitude; it’s why I used the verb “believe.” I believe that the Biblical exodus, while adorned with all kinds of deist, chosen-people supernaturalism, must have had some kernel of historical truth for the descendants of a random group of Bedouins to make it so central to their historical narrative of origin, that the oral history of the tribe probably did have some tether to a flight from bondage in a larger, alien culture. That makes credible sense. I do not know, and neither do you. Yet you hold to certitude about things for which there can be doubt, but not certaity.

                    Disproving the “proof” of believers is not a disproof of anyone’s faith or an argument against belief. You misconstrue Ingersoll and Paine if you think they accomplished the latter. Spinoza was actually careful to grant that he was only addressing the former, though it didn’t help when the bet din excommunicated his ass. And when you say that religion and truth are not compatible, I am reminded of Picasso. Art is a lie, Mr. Seamus. It is a magical lie, when it is done well, but it is in no way the truth. Yet, in Picasso’s words, “art is the lie that shows us the truth.” Picasso said it perfectly, and the same holds true for religion. Even the mythic accounts of revelation can lead human beings to deeply fundamental truths, or conversely, to deeply fundamental distortions and dishonesties. It depends not only on the myth, but on the human being. I agree with you on the distinction between art and religion, that one willingly implies its own fictional aspect and the other argues itself as truth. To me, that makes a fundamentalist observance of any religion problematic, but not all faith or observance by any means. We are indeed back to the point of my original comment, which is to say, it is not crippling to have an ideology or a philsophy, to stand somewhere in the socioreligious or sociopolitical construct; it is quite crippling to see every problem or issue from that prime directive. Hardly an argument against faith or theology, that’s an argument against religious fundamentalism, the same as political fundamentalism, in fact.

                    We must agree to disagree.

                  • There are numerous instances in the Egyptian royal record of groups of bedouin (Shasu) immigrating either as captives or as migrant pastoralists. Some of these groups provided a specific service for the King in return for his blessing, some were just appreciated by the local economy. There are also numerous instances of Kings expelling groups of troublesome foreigners from Egypt. Some of these people even bore the descriptor “habiru” which translates loosely to “border crosser.” From the middle of the 18th Dynasty to the early Ramesside era there are also several documented occurrences of plague and pestilence. It wouldn’t be odd at all to suggest that a King reacting politically might begin by resettling foreigners, particularly nomads, elsewhere.

                    I’m not trying to construct a conspiracy fiction, only point out that the events described in “Exodus” are typical of that time and place.

                    • Indeed. Mr. Seamus, in his readings of Paine and others, seems convinced that he has defeated faith itself by proving that religious accounts could not have possibly occurred. And this is overreach of the same kind that believers make when they claim historical or philosophical confirmation of revelation or religious intervention in human history.

                      Mr. Paine and Mr. Ingersoll and others make very short work of any credible claims of proof of revelation or divine intervention, and rightly so. Faith is faith, and to the extent it serves its purpose, it does so precisely because the doubt which it seeks to vanquish is ever-present, certain and fundamental. If god could be proven, we would all of us be believers.

                      But it’s vanity and arrogance to think that everyone from Ingersoll to Hitchens has gone beyond that to proving a negative, which is as impossible a task as rationalizing faith. It is one thing to devour the convoluted philosophies and historical cites that claim to prove the existence of the divine, quite another to prove that no god ever intervened or revealed himself in the affairs of men.

                      Only Moses or a Jean D’Arc can know whether they were confused, intoxicated, full of shit, or divinely inspired when they found themselves talking to burning bushes or spouting holy war. We can doubt. I do doubt. We can rightly note the absence of any empirical or historical evidence of the divine in the accounts, or even argue that we believe the account did not occur as described or even occur. All of which proves that the other fellow has no proof. It does not prove that god does not exist, or that there has never been divine intervention or revelation. It’s in that place where rationalization can’t reach that faith is entitled to exist, logically.

                      The best that an atheist can do — and it is sufficient to argue well enough for atheism — is to ascertain that there is no proof of god, certainly no proof of an interventionist or revelatory deity. To go beyond that and insist — as Mr. Seamus continues to insist, misreading the net achievements of Ingersoll or Paine — that you have proof that an interventionist god can not exist is effrontery of a kind that is the marked equal of any religious zealot.

                    • Didn’t Prof. Dawkins, an avowed atheist if ever there was one himself say when asked if on a scale of 1 to 8, 1 being the belief that God absolutely exists and 8 being that God absolutely does not exist, that he would have to go with a 7 (or a 6, I don’t recall which now) because going with an 8 would make him just as zealous as the ones he chooses to criticize and disagree with? I am paraphrasing, the video is on YpuTube..on Maher’s show I think

              • Good points. Get rid of religious indoctrination, and allow the world to become a better place. Don’t teach religion in any schools, ever. Teach Bertrand Russell instead. If people want or need to believe in fairy tales, let them do it on their own time when they’re old enough to know better.

                • Absolutely the worst idea ever, truthseeker. You cannot legislate thought. Our species will eventually rid itself of the fairy tales, it is inevitable. Its power is shrinking, not fast enough in my opinion, but it is happening. But it cannot be forced.

                  • I didn’t say legislate it, just don’t teach it. Or better yet, teach it, but harshly critique it. Hand out Chrisopher Hitchen’s book “God is not great”, Bertrand Russel’s essay “why I’m not a christian” and the bible.

                    I remember being forced at school to say the Lord’s prayer every morning before assembly, and then sing some mindnumbingly boring hymns, and attend Religious Education (RE) classes for 3 years! If that’s not designed to indoctrinate you, what is?

                    One time, I went into RE class and boasted I had been doing the Ouija board all week (by myself in the kitchen) and the RE teacher turned WHITE, started to shake, and virtually said I was possessed by demons. lmfao. The truth is I could never get the damn glass to move.

                    • You know, I was always more interested in the stuff that people said I shouldn’t learn, or shouldn’t be taught to me. I wanted to know about that stuff even more. It’s a marketplace of ideas, kiddo. You get to pick and choose. You don’t get to argue about what you want to see on the shelves.

              • *sigh* …I find many new athiests to be as dogmatic as those they criticise, or even moreso. It doesn’t hurt one to be skeptical of one’s skepticism.

              • Why are you so obsessed with debating whether or not it is true? Religious and non-religious will always exist; the best case scenario is a society which honors and protects the rights of both groups. Not all religious people are dicks, and not all secularists are wise. We do not live in a world of absolutes. Fundamentalist, black-and-white thinking arises when one cannot abide the uncertainty of life. You obviously find it comforting to believe wholeheartedly that these religious texts have no value and are complete fictions. Go ahead. That is your prerogative. But what have you substantively contributed to this forum other than glorified, self-righteous name-calling? Let’s debate actual events and policies, rather than the beliefs people hold in their hearts. Beliefs only matter if they become laws and institutionally oppress others. And at that point, we’re not speaking in abstractions and potentialities but assessing hard data.

            • Also I did not know criticizing child rapists who are protected from civil authorities by a man in pointy hat is hyperbole. “Does the pope shit on the dreams of 300 deaf children”? You betcha he does.

              • I’m sorry, I mistook your comment about the justification of rape to be a reference to Biblical narratives, as you paired it directly with the ancient justifications for slavery. I was thinking Lot and his daughters. Or whatever.

                If you were referring to the profound culpability of the Roman Catholic church with regard to child sexual abuse, you are certainly correct in being outraged, as many people are. Does that scandal, as appalling as it is, obviate every other aspect of Catholic thought, ethos and spirituality in your mind? Does the intransigence of Israeli settlement policy, or the fundamentalist racism of the rightist West Bank settlers, or even the machinations of a Bernie Madoff obliterate the precepts and contributions of Judaism for you? Do those airplanes flying into those buildings require your blanket denigration of all Islamic thought and achievement?

                That kind of hyperbole is a rhetorical cul-de-sac. And forcing the whole to stand for a tainted portion is a fallacy of logic that goes straight back to Aristotle. You can do better.

                • There is no Islamic or Christian thought and achievement.. They is only human thought and achievement. One cannot be a Christian or Muslim anymore than one can be a jedi. Christianity and Islam are just as fictional as the force. One can believe that one is a Christian, Muslim, or jedi, but no one can actually BE these things. I am not saying the rape of children validates or denies catholic belief. The catholic belief is wrong because math, science, and reason say so. However my criticism is that because of religion’s power in our society these rapists get away. If it weren’t for religion these rapists would not be free to rape in another parish.

                  • And yet human beings continue to be Christians and Jews and Muslims and all the fuck else, despite your semantic admonitions.

                    Are you suggesting that there wasn’t something unique about the liberalized view of monotheism that flourished during the Caliphate that inspired some of the most open and advanced scientific and philsophical thinking up to that point, far advancing past the Dark Ages of Europe? Or that there isn’t a unique, of-the-culture-but-apart-from-the-culture nature of the book-worshipping Jewish mind that produces Maimonideses and Spinozas and Freuds and Szilards and Einsteins at such an extraordinary, punching-above-their-weightclass rate?

                    You’re desperately trying to rip the seams and separate those elemental points at which religious culture and thought becomes informative and supportive of progressive, and not regressive, human endeavor. Sometimes, religion is a hothouse for inhumanity and ignorance. Sometimes, it is a hothouse for the opposite. You are one of those glass half-empty dudes, I’m thinking.

                    This child rapist nonsense I can’t entertain anymore. It is as red a herring as ever swam through a net, a Tourette-like provocation to justify your anger and intolerance toward all religious belief. Stalin was an athiest. So was Pol Pot. I promise not to hold them or their respective body counts against anyone’s non-belief, ever. See if you can stay on point and abandon that embarrassing fallacy of logic.

                    • Moses was a war criminal. If you have read the bible, you cannot escape this conclusion. He makes Julius Caesar look like Cesar Chavez Here are a few examples. http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm http://www.evilbible.com/Slavery.htm
                      I did not fully explain my opinions on the “exodus”. I do believe that a migration may have occurred over several generations. However there was no confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh (The authors of the bible do not even know his name, probably because it was written several hundred years after the supposed events.) no plagues, no parting of the Red Sea. Thomas Pain’s whole reason for writing the Age of Reason was to disprove revelation, specifically Jewish and Christian revelation. How did he fail? His arguments against revelation stood then and still stand now; again no one has ever successfully disputed him. As for the caliphate and it contributions to science, those discoveries were accomplished by individual humans and would have been made had Islam never existed. And I say these individuals’ accomplishments derive more from their local customs then their religion. Many of them were Persian, a culture that predates Islam by nearly a thousand years and had had connections with both the Greeks and the Chinese, two of the more developed ancient civilizations in terms of the math. The doctrines of Islam had nothing to do with this. The same goes for Newton and Galileo and the catholic church and the Anglican church. Just because they were born into a time when they had no choice but to say they believed in the nonsense does not mean that this nonsense somehow contributed to their great scientific discoveries. And the connection between rape and religion is not a red herring. We live in a rape culture that allows things like Steubenville to happen. A big part of that is that religions do not consider rape a crime, and second that women are the God given property of men. Rape is a big problem in this country and ignorance caused by religious belief is a part of that. And as for Stalin and Pol Pot, I am so sick of this argument. They were not atheists. How can one be an atheist if one demands that a group of people worship him or her? I guess you are right, we must agree to disagree. I cannot convince you, but maybe Picard and Troi can better convey my opinions. Please watch and listen
                      Moses was a war criminal. If you have read the bible, you cannot escape this conclusion. He makes Julius Caesar look like Cesar Chavez Here are a few examples. http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm http://www.evilbible.com/Slavery.htm
                      I did not fully explain my opinions on the “exodus”. I do believe that a migration may have occurred over several generations. However there was no confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh (The authors of the bible do not even know his name, probably because it was written several hundred years after the supposed events.) no plagues, no parting of the Red Sea. Thomas Pain’s whole reason for writing the Age of Reason was to disprove revelation, specifically Jewish and Christian revelation. How did he fail? His arguments against revelation stood then and still stand now; again no one has ever successfully disputed him. As for the caliphate and it contributions to science, those discoveries were accomplished by individual humans and would have been made had Islam never existed. And I say these individuals’ accomplishments derive more from their local customs then their religion. Many of them were Persian, a culture that predates Islam by nearly a thousand years and had had connections with both the Greeks and the Chinese, two of the more developed ancient civilizations in terms of the math. The doctrines of Islam had nothing to do with this. The same goes for Newton and Galileo and the catholic church and the Anglican church. Just because they were born into a time when they had no choice but to say they believed in the nonsense does not mean that this nonsense somehow contributed to their great scientific discoveries. And the connection between rape and religion is not a red herring. We live in a rape culture that allows things like Steubenville to happen. A big part of that is that religions do not consider rape a crime, and second that women are the God given property of men. Rape is a big problem in this country and ignorance caused by religious belief is a part of that. And as for Stalin and Pol Pot, I am so sick of this argument. They were not atheists. How can one be an atheist if one demands that a group of people worship him or her? I guess you are right, we must agree to disagree. I cannot convince you, but maybe Picard and Troi can better convey my opinions. Please watch and listen

                    • I am indifferent to the anachronistic readings of history in which the supposedly enlightened arbiters of our own age look back upon previous generations and sneer at the lack of humanity and the too-obvious failings of whatever passed for human endeavor when the world was young and unlearned in the ways of modernity. Usually, it’s someone content to denigrate, say, a Lincoln because he only became an emancipator by degrees and began from within a culture that accepted as a given the inferiority of Africans. Or they morph themselves back a few centuries to wax righteous about the barbarism of a Cortez, when in fact, the culture that he was affronting was certainly his equal when it came to bloodlust.

                      It is easy — and silly — to look back at the past and discard wholesale any evidence of the humanity of those that came before by an act of arrogant, self-satisfied hindsight. Trained historians know to take great care to avoid becoming judgmental when they are obliged to examine the past because they have long understood the inherent intellectual dishonesty that results from manufactured anachronism. They know that to understand and judge anything or anyone intelligently, it needs to be contextualized carefully in time, culture, place.

                      Usually the intellectual affront from those who are less careful is a matter of decades or a century or two. You’ve outdone them all.

                      And then, when it comes to actually dealing with someone from our own general timeframe, say a Pol Pot — someone who wasn’t actually born in a primitive culture five fucking thousand years ago, when tribal warfare was ordinary and accepted and the Geneva Convention was not yet a gleam in the eyes of untold generations unborn — you rush frantically to make semantic excuses for his atheism by manufacturing a horseshit religion of self-love so as to crawl away of the obvious and fallacious hole that this kind of argument digs for itself and those who offer it up.

                      Respectfully, let’s end this. It’s now officially nonsense. Overstatement and self-righteousness are the inevitable byproducts of many a good argument, but frankly, if we remove these two elements from this one, there isn’t much left.

              • You’re really coming off as a buffoon here, I must say. And an enraged one at that, which makes you just another dime-a-dozen Internet commenter. I’m guessing that you think of yourself as savvy, above-it-all, and wordly-wise, and “clownish Internet commenter” is not an identity you’d prefer to wrap yourself in. But that’s exactly what you’re doing.

                Just for starters, ask yourself what “criticizing child rapists” has to to with the subject at hand. Nothing, of course. You seem to be simply blowing off steam, which might not be as fascinating to the rest of us as you seem to believe it is. And there are more appropriate venues for it.

                And by the way, I say this as someone who is mystified by religious faith, and who is appalled by the many excesses of religion. (As if it matters what I think about that stuff.)

                • what does criticizing child rapists have to do with the subject at hand? Everything! It has everything to do with it. And I’m more critical of the cover up. Please cite examples of my buffoonery. It is not about being fascinating, it is about the truth. Why are people so allergic to the truth

                    • specifics please. That’s what I meant by examples. “I know what you are but what I am”: plonk

          • p.s. I am aware Seamus did not identify himself as an athiest. I would include many deists in my previous assertion.

          • You know Seamus, you are so far out of bounds here that I know you won’t here a word I say, but I’m going to try anyway.

            The sex abuse scandal and subsequent cover up is beyond any discussion or justification. It was horrific and wrong and drove a whole lot of people away from the church. There is not a person in the world who would argue otherwise.

            I can’t believe I even need to say this, but only a small fraction of priests abused children. That is not to make light of it, or diminish its importance. But there are thousands of GOOD men and women every day out there working to care for the neediest people in the world in the name of religion. Look into all the good work Catholic Social Services does. And nuns. The are out there in the shit and the muck every day trying to improve the world.

            If all religious institutions were to magically disappear, are you going to care for these people?

            I am a Catholic layperson, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. I am not what you would call devout, but my kids attend parochial school, we go to Mass every week, and I am a very active volunteer. You know what I have to do to be allowed around children there? Be finger printed. Have an FBI background check. Watch an extremely painful pair of videos about sex abuse, including interviews with kids who were molested by priests. I have monthly continuing education to keep sex abuse at the forefront of my awareness.

            All of us who want to step foot anywhere near children in a Catholic context have to do that now. Priests, teachers, coaches, cafeteria workers, playground volunteers, parents who want to escort their kids on field trips.

            Why do you think that is? Because the church admits how wrong it was and has put procedures in place to prevent another child from being harmed. Because fixing this going forward matters. Because the vast majority of people in the church know that protecting children comes before anything else.

            So you can sit there with your art revealing truth, but I suggest instead that you get out from behind your computer and get your hands dirty. The world isn’t black and white.

  • I’ve got some mixed thoughts and feelings on your post. I feel like your moral thinking here has a little more truism than truth. We all have the human capacity to be Eichmann, or like Eichmann; it’s just as human to be a pure ideologue or a moderate ideologue. None of this solves or even helps us with the problem that evil poses us, or for that matter the problem of ideology. Mr Simon, I admire you deeply because of your stance for human beings and ostensibly against ideology, and I actually made this point discussing some of your previous article with friends. Every time ideology plays a role in The Wire, for example, it’s usually higher-ups from outside that have no connection to the human stories and experiences. But ideology is a human phenomenon too, and since it isn’t going anywhere it might also need a little understanding as well. Left wing radicals have had positive effects on the development of this country, and even though I believe in democracy, I still think those radicals should be there. Like it or not, we owe a great deal to religious traditions as well, and many of those traditions have their radical and moderate elements. You can’t stop that. Somehow, though, the radicalism of an Eichmann or a totalitarian system makes up an entirely different problem. And the fact that the Times article points out that Arendt’s analysis of evil was entirely wrong with respect to Eichmann might be no kind of defense at all. How can any argument be considered successful if its primary focus happens to be the exception that proves the rule? I think ideology can be evaluated, and that more ideologues can and must be spoken to. In our present political environment, without understanding ideology we’ll be less capable of picking apart rhetoric-as-political-warfare.

    • I think you read too quickly. The Times essay actually takes on the conventional wisdom that says Ms. Arendt got to a fundamental truth about evil even if she, in fact, misapplied that truth to Eichmann. The essay turns the corner sharply and convincingly argues that Ms. Arendt in no way mischaracterized Eichmann. It cites her in detail to show that her critics had overreached in their argument, erecting a straw-man version of Ms. Arendt to pummel.

      The essay calls them on that directly.

      I was careful in my own comments, I think, to acknowledge the need for political ideologies and philosophies. As a general rule, everyone has to be somewhere. My criticism is reserved for anyone who seriously believes that a complicated, often contradictory and pluralistic society can operate from a single ideological prime directive. When they grant ideology that much authority — as Eichmann clearly did — they are in for a lifetime of disconnect and distortion. A political career? Sure. They will do just fine. But problem-solving. No. No shot.

  • I’m reminded of the scene in the classic Parker Posey indie PARTY GIRL, when an irate library patron demands: “do you have a problem with political thought, or is it a [i]particular vendetta against Hannah Arendt?[/i] Every single book of hers was out of sequence!”

    The essential problem with what you’re saying is that while it’s perfectly accurate — fanatic devotion to any ideology inevitably ends in fascism of some kind — it’s terribly difficult to build a political coalition among people of even slightly differing ideologies. It’s easy to rally a group around a single idea, but American culture does not train us well in the arts of consensus and compromise. We saw that in the flaws and eventual collapse of the Occupy Wall Street movement…

    This is the real ongoing challenge for liberals and progressives in this country. Our ideas are not easily put into sound-bites, as we are wont to (shockingly!) sometimes attempt to see both sides of a situation. We are willing to compromise and question our own ideologies, and as a result often find neo-conservatives running roughshod over us. We are bad at gritting our teeth and voting for the lesser of two evils (and I say this as a former Nader voter myself!) — which Republicans have generally been geniuses at, from the time of Reagan up to the recent takeover by the Tea Party, anyway.

    How do we build coalitions? How do we absorb the concept of discussing an issue at length until we arrive at the most acceptable solution for the greatest number of people — even if *nobody* considers it the MOST ideal? We don’t understand that, as a culture. We only understand winning.

    We’ve made some moves towards this sort of thing, with the election and re-election of Barack Obama being dependent on a coalition of ethnic minorities, women, the LGBT community, etc. “All of the USes”, as Harvey Milk would say. But it is not something that is easy to accomplish or sustain (just look at the inevitable backlash against Barack from his once most-messianic followers) and it’s something we need to continue to strive for.

    • Exactly so. I recently disagreed with the liberal mainstream on the matter of the NSA revelations, and found myself, to some amusement, not merely subjected to counter-arguments on the merits, but to get-out-of-the-tent assertions that I was a cryptofascist apologist for the coming surveillance state. If I had a subscription to say, The Nation, I’d be obliged to cancel.

      Realpolitik has always proven elusive for the ideological left. Before anyone can do any actual work of governance, the socialists must be separated from the democratic socialists, and the doctrinaire communists from the doctrinaire Marxists, and the merely democratic must be roundly mocked for even engaging with a rigged system. The wails of betrayal from atomized Menschiveks and puritan Trotskyites that accompany any given leader’s off-line vote of conscience on a given issue rival anything that the Tea Party can throw at any old-school Republican.

      We’re liberals. We believe in dissent, more than the other guy. Unless the dissent is from us.

      I’m about 60 percent content with the decisions and behaviors of the current federal administration. Had the other fellow won, I don’t expect that I would be half as pleased. Had the libertarian candidate prevailed, I might have my bags packed for a society that still had some first-rate ambition for itself. But no, even then, I’m sure I would find some things with which to agree. The point is that regardless of the political outcome, I never expect all of my opinions to be reflected in the political course of this fumbling, pluralistic experiment in self-governance, especially one in which the elective methodology for representation is so heavily influenced by capital. Having lived through a couple few swings of the political pendulum in my life, I’m always surprised when so many others are so completely disenchanted by the realization that they live in a bickering, generally centrist union. As Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government until you consider the alternatives. I am instead intrigued by the battle for consensus and how sometimes — as with the extraordinary march of gay rights in my lifetime — the mass of Americans eventually arrive at the moral course, or how, say, with regard to our war of choice in Iraq, the popular consensus leads to error and tragedy.

      • Re: the NSA debate, I’m observing something that I also saw reflected in the Occupy Wall Street movement, that I feel directly contributed to its ultimate failure — I don’t notice a lot of female journalists, or people of color being outraged by the not-so-shocking revelation that corporations are holding our information and turning it over to the government when asked. (This was reflected in your recent citation of Paul Mooney…) It’s typically white males of a middle-to-upper-class background that are seemingly appalled by this — when, let’s face it, this is the demographic least likely to be targeted or prosecuted by the government for anything.

        I sense that perhaps among liberal movements and debates, there’s a certain guilt at play — it is the people of the cushiest and most privileged backgrounds that feel the need to present themselves as the most militant, to the point that they sometimes completely forget about the actual, practical concerns of the community. They are trying to prove something — and somewhere, in the back of their mind, they also know they’re not risking that much, since Daddy can pay for a good lawyer.

        I’m not saying liberalism doesn’t need militance to drive it forward. But we also need practicality. Not everything is solely about principle. Those who claim it is — well, I generally say look past their dreadlocks and their anarchy A-symbol and check to see how expensive their shoes are. Movement leaders shouldn’t all be people that studied socialist theory in an Ivy League university and already have their bail money covered.

        • I’m just more interested in real-word conflicts and actual problem-solving. Sloganeering is fine as far as it goes. But…

          Occupy was a wonderful first act. It had no second act — no specific demand other than the generalized decoupling of capital from our governance, with which I entirely agree. But street marching and encampments don’t address that. Campaign finance reform does to some extent. And getting a couple of the hacks off the Supreme Court and replacing them with jurists with even one eye on the actual health of the democratic experiment is the essential fight here.

          The way to do that? I’ve been thinking long and hard, actually. More to come, when I finish a couple scripts that I owe.

          • Amen to that, brother — both the scripts and the judicial replacement (I personally don’t think SC judges should serve for life, but that’s a debate for another time).

            I’ve got a slightly different view of Occupy, which is just that I’m less disappointed in the lack of a unified list of demands, than I am in the failure to produce a list of solutions or alternatives. Obviously, a grassroots movement isn’t going to overthrow capitalism overnight (certainly not without violent revolution, which has never in history produced an entirely positive or predictable result, to the best of my knowledge). But first of all, what alternate system are we proposing? What can we do within our communities to provide what government doesn’t, or to mitigate the negative effects of what government does do? For my money, the free kitchens and bookstores, and the organized relief provided to hurricane victims during Occupy Sandy were the real positive results — I would have liked to see a lot more of that. Increased engagement in the community, in the welfare of those around us, is the first step to social or political change, IMO.

            Anyway, I’m skipping around a lot here but those of your readers that are interested in Hannah Arendt and/or the philosophical world response to the Holocaust might also be interested in Einstein’s writings on Zionism. There was a man that knew how to argue all sides and potential pitfalls of an ideology, even when he was deeply immersed in it.


            • Agree on Einstein. I.F. Stone, too.

              Stone’s early visits to Israel just after World War II represent the views of a man who understands the elemental need for the post-Holocaust Jewish remnant to restore itself in a homeland, but at the same time, he is unrestrained in his demand that the Israeli state acknowledge responsibility for Palestinian rights and nationhood as well. He saw the future clearly; the Israeli founders did not, thinking, as Abba Eban once said, that Palestinian self-determination would fade within a generation or two following 1967. Wrong, tragically.

              Again, ideology gets you only so far. The Israelis are here to stay. So are the Palestinians. That the ideologues on either side of this can’t see the inevitability of a two-state solution and achieve such over the course of sixty-odd years doesn’t bode well for something really complicated, like, say, global carbon emissions and climate change. I am a Zionist. I am also a supporter of a Palestinian state, which at this point, I believe should be unilaterally declared on the West Bank and Gaza by the U.N. regardless. And had the last sixty years of war and violence and alienation not happened between these two Semitic branches, I would probably be passionately arguing for a single-state solution. But they have happened, and so, as with India-Pakistan, what I hope for, being a practical sort, is two states that might coexist, share a future, and calm the fuck down for a generation or two. Then see where we can go from there.

              The best that can be said for India-Pakistan is that their rivalry hasn’t brought about open warfare in a couple generations, though the ongoing brutality over Kashmir is certainly a low-grade calamity. But that region is certainly more stable than it was. Ireland, too, is suggestive of a dynamic in which if people are left to their devices, without blowing each other up every few years, a natural coalescence can occur. No one, a couple generations ago, would have believed that The Troubles were anything but permanent in Ulster; now, if the Irish can keep the calm, introduce a joint economic future that crosses all of the provincial boundaries, and implement various secular protections for Protestant life, it is actually imaginable that in a generation or two more, there might be a political reconciliation in that country.

              First thing is, stop making bodies and martyrs on both sides. And for that you need leadership. A Mandela, or a Palestinian version of Michael Collins, or another Israeli such as Rabin. Someone willing to go back to his people with half a loaf, or, in the case of Mandela, to genuinely reassure the other side. Guys like that are hard to come by, especially in the Mideast.

              I.F. Stone saw it all, and even in the dramatic aftermath of the Holocaust, and even from within his advocacy for Jewish peoplehood, he wrote long and hard for a consideration of Palestinian aspirations, as well. Even today, you read Mr. Stone’s essays and discover an almost a perfect prophet of all the tragedy and waste to come. We need voices who can empathize in both directions, who can speak to the Palestinian reliance on terror and the Israeli intransigence on settlements and Palestinian rights with equal ferocity. Anyone who sees only Zionism or anti-Zionism as the solitary ideological directive here is damned useless, which brings us back to my original comment, I suppose.

              • “I am a Zionist,” I don’t necessarily understand. I agree Israel has a right to exist and is here to stay, but after reading your post foreboding of ideologues and ideologies of all creeds then reading that kind of threw me off-guard.

                Great read, regardless. I agree that good leadership is the only real way to solve these problems and that the Middle East by-in-large has a definite scarcity of good leaders, but there’s also something to be said of the long-standing foreign policy and standard operating procedure of Western powers in immobilizing MidEast leadership when it rears it’s head.

                • I am a Zionist. So are you if you believe in a Jewish state and its right to exist. I am also a supporter of a Palestinian state. I am a Democrat, registered. Sometimes, I vote for a Republican. I am a capitalist, in that I believe that capitalism is the only macroeconomic tool that can generate mass wealth in the modern world. I am a socialist, in that I believe capitalism without a social compact will be overbearing and destructive in its excesses.

                  Nothing wrong with acknowledging a point of view or even accepting a general label. As I say, we all gotta be somewhere. But being a Zionist doesn’t lessen my contempt for the Israeli settlement policy. And being a socialist doesn’t negate my understanding of personal initiative and the resulting personal gain as being a prime mover in economic growth. I was critical not of the existence of ideology, but to that moment ideology makes one’s views stunted and myopic, or produces rank hyperbole and cliche rather than expressions of nuanced thought.

          • Thanks for that point about Occupy. One of the things that bothered me about Occupy (even while I vaguely supported their cause) was they never rallied behind specific legislation. That would have likely fractured the movement, as it was always a loose aggregation of leftists with different allegiances. But I think it could have proven much more useful had it, for example, urged congress to take up campaign finance reform as you suggest. Who knows what they could have accomplished?

            • Well, given Citizens United, there are limitations to what even legislation can now accomplish. But even jurists as intellectually barren as the majority on the current Supreme Court can, over time, come to realize the extremity of a decision if a great mass of the body politic stands in prolonged opposition. A focused campaign on removing capital from our political process is essential to the American republic’s survival, no doubt.

              That this court misapprehended corporations as individuals was not actually the corruption in their decision. Corporations, sociopathic as they are obliged to be by fiscal definition, are indeed granted the rights of individuals under our law. Always have been, thereby defining the legal purpose of incorporation. No, the corruption was in equating money with speech. Therein lies the seeds of plutocracy, if not kleptocracy.

              • Perhaps I exaggerated the ability for a movement such as Occupy to effect legislative change. What do you see as the antidote for this disproportionate influence of corporations on our government? It was heartening that the explosion of Super PACs ultimately did little to sway the 2012 election. But in terms of actually addressing our systemic socio-economic problems, money still hampers the process. And I don’t mean that in an overtly nefarious way; congressional representatives and senators understandably try to serve the economic interests of their narrow constituents. But what do you think can be done, other than passing a watered-down campaign finance reform bill?

                • I worry that things will have to get worse before they get better. But rigorous limitations on campaign financing, and far greater transparency in the process, is simply essential. I think we are on a bad road, and until Americans begin to walk away from the rigged game, en masse, it will be played out to the last string. This is a topic for a long post and I am on deadline elsewhere, alas.

              • It seems that “…jurists as intellectually barren….” might just fall within the “hyperbolic and uncivil discourse” you mention in your main post. I’m not trying to make a grand point but I am trying to use it as an example as how hard it is to not degrade those with whom you disagree.

                Isn’t “intellectually barren” a somewhat more articulate way of saying “dumbass”? I don’t know any of them but I suspect that all of the Supreme Court justices are pretty intellectually sound even if you find their decision stupid.

                • Having actually read the written output of Justices Scalia and Thomas, as well as certain comments and behavior in public settings, I am comfortable with the critique. It is performance-based. They are ideologues, and politicized ideologues at that. And the manner in which they leach all potentiality of the U.S. Constitution as a living, guiding document for the 21st Century is, to me, astonishing. That last sentence actually refers to Justice Scalia; it is unclear that Justice Thomas has ever thought deeply enough about such a thing.

                  No, I am not calling them dumbasses. Or even fools. Or assholes or anything of the like.

                  I am saying their performance on the U.S. Supreme Court has been intellectually barren. They lack insight into what the American experiment actually is, and how the Constitution exists in service of that experiment or in opposition to it. This is my opinion only. But it is based on their performance, not who they are.

                  Citizens United is the worst Supreme Court decision since Plessy. If not, Dred Scott.

        • I love reading this discussion. I wonder if there is a Paul Mooney equivalent for women? We do get very worked up over the abortion issue, but you are right. Not much outrage over PRISM. I don’t know why. One of the Miss America candidates was asked about it during the question portion of the pageant and she had twenty seconds to answer it. (Which of course was made into a mockery later). I appreciate your observation about female journalists (and I’ll say females in general) being notably absent on the subject. We need female voices as well as other minority voices coming forward.

      • You may not be a cryptofascist -but you are an apologist of wholesale state surveillance. You remind me of the old joke.

        A man meets a woman in a bar and asks her if he will have sex with him for a million dollars. The woman thinks about it for a moment and says yes.

        The man then asks the woman if she will have sex with him for $20. The woman becomes incensed and says, “What do you take me for, a whore?”

        The man replies, “Ma’am we’ve already established what you are, now we’re just negotiating price.”

        We know you don’t mind the government invading our privacy, but we don’t know yet what type of fascist you are – yet.

        • We clearly disagree about what “wholesale state surveillance” actually means.

          And you have a problem arguing any more deeply than the ad hominem. I could as easily say, “we know that you are an insubstantial fool who can’t make careful distinctions in actual arguments, but rather mischaracterize others and descend to old jokes that have no point other than name-calling.” But that would be wrong. Better to address your argument specifically, if perhaps, you have one.

          The Verizon pile of phone metadata, as it is utilized, is not wholesale state surveillance. Anyone who contemplates for a moment what that phrase would mean in practice — as it existed in East Germany for example in the past, or in Venezuela now — would not conflate that term with the stated uses of the phone metadata by the NSA. To do so, you have to lose all perspective on the actual facts on the ground.

          And yes, it is an old joke.

        • “We know you don’t mind the government invading our privacy, but we don’t know yet what type of fascist you are – yet.”

          But that sort of absolutist thinking is counterproductive and disingenuous. Your joke deems the fictional woman a “whore” because she agrees to have sex with a stranger for one million dollars rather than twenty. Maybe this is an oversimplification, but who wouldn’t consider just about anything if one million dollars is involved? Take a look at reality television, and how poor and rich Americans alike will debase themselves for as little as tens of thousands of dollars. With my crippling student debt, I admit that I’d consider a lot of seemingly desperate things to get out of it.

          But of course we’re not talking about whoring ourselves for any price, as your joke implies; we’re talking about the knotty issue of our national security. Instead of bartering over the price of our bodies, we’re debating the subtle balancing of civil liberties and surveillance to effectively protect our citizens and interests. That’s unless, of course, you would equate preventing terrorist attacks and prosecuting criminal activity with prostitution.

          Also, how many times can David Simon say that the FISA courts should be more transparent before people stop calling him a crypto-fascist? I’ve heard of ideological purity, but this is getting ridiculous.

          • He arrived just in time to define the pathology we were discussing. It’s always a hint: If you are defining your opponent not by a critique of his argument, but through the invocation of an ideological label, then ideology itself probably matters to you more than it should. Not always true, perhaps. But very, very frequently, I’ve found.

      • “As Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government until you consider the alternatives.” When the US starts practising democracy we can discuss this statement. As such that statement is meaningless. Alternative to what, exactly? Making decisions for the vast majority of its citizens without their approval? That’s a dictatorship.What consensus was there when the US invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, decided to splice data cables to store everyone’s data. The only consensus occurred in the mainstream media and its apologists. Churchill also said capitalism was the unequal sharing of wealth – he got that right. The 1% own virtually everything.

        • I’m starting to see that you are impulsively given to deconstructing any reality. We are a republic — one with some inherent flaws in our mode of representation, agreed — but a republic nonetheless. We have an elected national executive and an elected national legislature. The votes sought for those overseas interventions actually corresponded to the overwhelming support of Americans, in poll after poll. I say this as someone who opposed the Iraq War, but I say it in full awareness of actual facts on the ground. If you ignore all of this to claim an absence of representative government and some basis of democratic action, you’re merely venting.

          You are correct that overseas espionage is not subject to popular referendum, merely to oversight by the executive and legislative branches that are again, representative of the populace and elected by the populace. This is true in every nation-state on the face of the earth. They all spy on their neighbors — allies and enemies alike. They all do so clandestinely. But your righteousness on this point is noted.

          I think I’ve critiqued capitalism to a notable extent on this site and elsewhere. I see it as a tool for generating mass wealth and little more than that; untethered to a social compact, it is vulnerable to classism, greed and abusive economic inequalities. We are in agreement. Certainly, mistaking profit for a metric by which we build a just and inclusive society is one of the great tragedies of the last thirty years. But do you have an alternative to capitalism as an engine for generating wealth? What is it, exactly? Or are you just venting some more?

          For someone with the moniker of truthseeker, you manage to look past a lot of reality to make some grandiose pronouncements about dictatorship, about consensus and about blame. I would like to see something remotely prescriptive from you as to how we are able to sustain a society 1) without petroleum 2) without reliance on capital as the engine of economic growth 3) without some delegation of popular will to elected representatives and, yes 4) without foreign-intelligence gathering in a world that offers all nations some certain amount of existential threat. The real world beckons, Mr. Truthseeker.

          • I will. But I just want to pull you up on one thing “I say this as someone who opposed the Iraq War, but I say it in full awareness of actual facts on the ground. ”

            What facts were those Mr Simon? I’m still waiting for the location of the WMDs. Wasn’t that the pretence given for the invasion? “Oh my God! They can kill us all cos Sadam’s bonkers and has a nuke aimed at us capable of reaching us within 10 minutes” (if that’s not entirely accurate, that’s the gist of the rhetoric thrown around for the invasion).

            • “The actual facts on the ground,” referred to my acknowledgment that I was in a minority of those Americans who opposed the war, and that a national legislature constituting the elected representatives of the citizenry voted to empower the president to undertake that conflict, and that the president was himself an elected official.

              For you to take those fundamental facts — which were cited in reply to your claims of dictatorial acts — and now utilize my phrase for another purpose altogether is equivocal in the extreme. When it comes to a contempt for the manner in which American support for the war was manufactured through misinformation and fearmongering, I will be second to no one. But such manipulations are entirely possible in a democracy; you can fool most of the people some of the time, to be sure. Such manipulations are, de facto, not even necessary in a dictatorship. You don’t need to manufacture consent or legislative support in a dictatorship.

              My “facts on the ground” stand in opposition to your declarations of dictatorship. They are in no way in support of the Iraq war. You have confused yourself and the issue mightily.

          • In response to your 3 challenges. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything better than capitalism. I would water it down, though. We can alleviate reliance on petroleum by educating people to become less enamoured with the supposed delights which consumerism promises. That begins with better education. To do that we can overhaul the tax system so that corporations pay taxes, and the taxes are used for better education and health-care. We can nationalise the pharmaceutical industry. We can use increased tax revenue to build better infrastructure which encompasses mass transportation, and wean people off their cars. We can teach people and organisations to get off the rat wheel by allowing better work-place practices which allow people to set their own hours. We can reduce spending on the military and use it to revolutionise technological education. I would also change the way public officials are allowed to run election campaigns by setting a limit on spending, and enforcing total transparency of how they are funded. That’s my philosophy anyway. Oh yeah, I’d ban Fox news.

  • Do I believe torture is always wrong? Yeah, I do, to the point at which I believe that anyone who believes otherwise should be willing to take his chances in front of a jury. I’m not sure if that makes me an extreme ideologue, even on this one issue, but it’s a position that enables me to look at myself in the mirror and look my kids in the eye.

    I want to say it was Hunter S. Thompson who once wrote that he embraced certain positions so strongly because he didn’t want his grandkids asking him why people were calling him a “good German.” I’d like my kids not to ever have to ask me the same question. That fact, plus the fact that certain government decisions can and do lead to nontrivial numbers of undeserved premature deaths even among our own people (e.g., lack of health insurance), governs my stand on many issues. I spent a quarter-century in journalism squeezing nuance out of stones and got very good at it. I can still do it if necessary, but it’s a relief not to have that be the default approach anymore, particularly on big issues with lives at stake.

    • Torture is an easy one, at least for you and me. Universal health care is for me, too. It seems a hallmark of civilized society, at this point.

      Let me offer something harder. I thought our engagement in Afghanistan was inevitable, hardly a war of choice given the events of 9-11 and the fact that the Taliban was maintaining its harbor for the organization that undertook that act. We could no more remain inert to such an event than we could avoid a declaration of war in the wake of an attack that killed less Americans in Hawaii more than a half century earlier.

      But Iraq, no. That was a war of choice, with no remote connection to the forces that undertook the 9-11 attacks.

      Do you know how many ideologues are able to make the same arguments for both interventions or against both interventions, in a single sentence, without acknowledging that the origins of both conflicts are distinct? Mark you, it is possible to argue against our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq both, or argue for both conflicts. But not in a single, short paragraph offering the same reasons for each. The dollop of ideological horseshit required to even attempt such a thing ruins any rhetorical recipe.

      • Yeah, no one would mistake that dollop of horseshit for horseradish.

        That said, as easy a call as opposition to torture appears to you and me, close to half our fellow Americans are OK with it, despite the fact that none of them — and God knows how many I’ve heard from, but it’s a lot — has been able to offer a single justification that held up under any sort of scrutiny.

        As Jefferson said, I tremble for my country when I reflect on the fact that God is just.

      • I don’t believe the origins for Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are distinct. You can wrap them up in different ways to justify them, but I always assumed Iraq and afghanistan were both about securing oil, and they were both wars of choice. I wonder what conflicts the US would be engaged in if their own oil wasn’t running out? Is that a short enough summary for you? Anyway, who appointed the US as the world’s policeman? So yeah, both conflicts could have been avoided. Was Afghanistan inevitable given 9-11? Yeah, but only if you come from a country which needs oil. And I mean, Afghanistan and Iraq have both proven colossal failures. Well done America, you’ve radicalised even more nuts in Afghanistan, and totally failed to win hearts and minds. And Iraq is now one of the most unsafe countries in the world.

        Maybe it’s about time the US stayed home more often.

        • Not a lot of developed petroleum in Afghanistan.

          I assume that your point is that Bin Laden targeted Americans in the wake of the first Gulf war’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Arabian peninsula, where we have allies because of our oil consumption. Well, that’s pretty broad. You have to go the long way around not to acknowledge that Kuwait was in fact overrun by a neighboring country and that the coalition that responded to that aggression did so under U.N. authority and included a variety of forces from a multitude of countries, many of them Arabic and Islamic.

          Bin Laden’s ire was simply that the Saudis had invited Westerners into the country for the limited purpose of staging the liberation of Kuwait; Bin Laden wanted to liberate Kuwait in the fashion of the mujahadeen of Afghanistan. Thwarted by the Saudis in this desire, he decided to begin killing random Americans en masse. That you have somehow conflated Bin Laden’s extreme xenophobia, our participation in a legitimate, multinational response to the aggression in Kuwait, and an ideologue’s willingness to believe that his religious and geopolitical resentments justify the murder of thousands of civilians — how all this boils down to our need and desire for oil is simply astonishing in its simplicity. Alas, the world and its entangled realities requires more nuance than just raw anti-Americanism.

          I can critique our foreign policy quite harshly, and yes, our overseas entanglements have often been disastrous and amoral. But all the self-flagellation in the world can’t really justify 9-11, or obviate our inevitable response to that obscenity.

  • I had a friend who said to me years ago, “The thing I fear the most is ideologues of any stripe.” Over the years, through much experience, I too came to fear them. I don’t fear them in an immediate sense but in the overall sense of what they do to civility, civil discourse, and the ability of a nation or society to function in a healthy way.

    We are in the grips of an ideological age and a fundamentalist mindset. Politicians now act as if they belong to a strict religious sect in which to deviate from party line is to be branded a heretic and banished from all community, or as we put it nowadays ‘primaried.’

    The onset of this ideological age, which I believe began with the embracing of fundamentalist right wing evangelicals by the Republican Party and using them to organize and get out the vote, makes governing almost impossible.

    Moreover, the core principle and values that foster democracy, pluralism, diversity, market place of ideas, compromise, negotiations, and deal making, are not present in the ideological mindset thus whether its the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt or the Governor Perry in Texas, the democratic process is manipulated, abused, and trampled in order to implement the pure ideological agenda.

    Thus, it is the ideological mindset that must be confronted but its almost impossible to do if you’re asking one side, the Democrats, to unilaterally disarm and cave, when the other side is willing to follow their ideology to the brink and over the cliff as happened in the budget debates.

    I don’t know what the solution is but as my friend said over forty years ago, “The thing I fear most is ideologues.”

  • “It’s that when we believe in anything to the exclusion of our own intellectual and moral rigor, we are simply less worthy and viable as human beings.”

    Although I think you are correct, I think it would be impossible to do otherwise. We must also concede are ineptitude to objectively form beliefs or even view the world without being imbued with pre-existing beliefs, ideas, impressions, etc. If you begin to question you’re own ability to question, there is simply no stopping.

    • Yes, I lean left. And yet there are issues on which I find myself traveling paths unacceptable to the doctrinaire left. I abhor the premise of ibertarianism, but there are arguments about specific government interventions in which I am a fellow traveler. And I see much of modern conservative thought as inhumane and selfish, yet there are places where I find myself acknowledging that the more humane and liberal answer is impractical and even damaging.

      Do I shape facts to fit my story? At points, I don’t doubt it. But it seems to me there is at least some qualitative difference between attempting to begin with the facts on the ground, or not. When the first act is to gut-check your ideological standing, no good can result.

      • Reading this exchange reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago. This friend is rather conservative politically, and was against any new gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting. My friend, whose opinions are for the most part honest and well thought out even if I sometimes disagree, thought it was shameful that so many members of the clergy were injecting themselves into the debate on the side of stricter gun regulations. In other words, using their moral authority as clergy to argue for a particular political outcome. I was struck by the fact that my friend has never once drawn a similar conclusion on issues such as abortion or gay rights, where the clergy most often inject themselves on his side of the issue. His ideology was so deep that he literally couldn’t see the contradiction, and that the tactic he was objecting to was literally the same exact one that he had supported in so many other instances.

        I thought that was interesting.

  • A timely comment. I think your series of NSA commentary demonstrated how difficult it can be to debate an issue honestly when there are consistent attempts to mould the argument to fit one’s ideological stance. It is very difficult to grapple with a dedicated ideologue – I should know, I used to be one in my youth! Looking at the political landscape in the US particularly, I feel like people are being pushed to increasingly polarised positions as ideologues dominate public discourse. Not only do we need to resist ideology within ourselves, its clear that we need to challenge the ideologues amongst us.

    As to the question of the nature of evil, my understanding has changed over the years. In the land of my birth, Zimbabwe, I have witnessed how quickly the thin veneer of civility can been stripped away from good people by economic and political pressure.

    • ” I have witnessed how quickly the thin veneer of civility can been stripped away from good people by economic and political pressure.”

      I think this is one of the lessons of the Holocaust and of what happened in Germany. We’ve seen it many times since then – Argentina, Rwanda, etc. – and it could easily happen here.

  • Sadly, a seemingly small and diminishing number of people seem to understand what should be a fairly simple concept. And I believe we’re in grave danger because of that.

    If you deduce your opinions from facts and reason, you’re not an ideologue. If your opinions are shaped by how they conform to other opinions – whether your own or those of other people — you’re an ideologue.

    Either way, you’ll still likely end up on one side of the political spectrum or the other in terms of the totality of your beliefs. But in the first case, it just sort of happens, while in the second case, you have forced yourself there — probably way over to one side or the other. That’s why “moderates” and “centrists” tend not to be ideologues — not because, as if often argued, they’re consciously “splitting the difference” and artificially forcing themselves into the center (though some do that — many of them fear-riddled newspaper editors) but because that’s just naturally what happens when you examine issues one at a time, without regard to dogma. You can have very strong centrist opinions (as opposed to mushy ones – like those of many fear-riddled newspaper editors.) Intellectually honest people tend to be moderates – not necessarily on a given issue, but in terms of their overall worldview.

    Two of the thing that have made the situation worse: The increasing complexity of public-policy matters, which causes uneducated people and those who don’t care to think too much about any of it to take the easier (lazier) route of ideology; and the Internet, which brings people with half-assed, gut-generated opinions together into groups with others of like mind (or like gut). Those people used to spout their nonsense to friends and family in barrooms and basements. Now they do so for a much wider audience. And it’s only going to get worse, with potentially dire consequences for the republic.

    • It’s the confirmation bias that worries me. There are few arenas that challenge our assumptions. The internet, yes, but also talk radio and cable news – you can go through your whole life without ever meeting a serious challenge to your point of view. When you hear your own opinions reflected back to you from an institution, you feel legitimized and totally miss the fact that this is a business model. The people in the middle get drowned out by all the shouting and politicians have to pander to that to get any air time. We need time and space to contemplate, but our lifestyles don’t encourage slowing down.

      I hate comparisons to Nazis because it’s become a way to take a cheap shot, but it scares me to think about how they did what they did without the always-on world we live in now.

      • The three major cable news networks trouble me for this reason. I used to watch MSNBC, but now I assume they’ll always echo my opinions, which leaves my critical thinking skills in a state of atrophy. Not to mention the fact that analyzing an issue purely through a leftist lens is like playing fantasy football. Fox News, meanwhile, constantly makes me question whether I live in the same country as everyone else. And CNN propagates the lazy false equivalence between the two political parties (a pox on both their houses for the unending gridlock). Maybe the notion that journalism can ever be truly objective is naive, but I don’t watch/read the news to be told what I want to hear. Teach me something I don’t know. Show me how the facts undermine my lazy assumptions.

        • Agree. When I am obliged to follow an issue in real time and find myself absorbing much cable news, my breathing becomes labored within minutes.

          • That’s why they’re always selling us new pharmaceuticals during the commercial breaks: to mitigate the deleterious effects of their programs.

        • But the difference is that much of MSNBC is actually pretty intellectually honest. Rachel Maddow, for instance, always fairly presents all the relevant facts and opinions, even as she’s giving her take on an issue. And she often has conservatives on and engages them in honest debate. I still don’t regularly watch because it’s still TV news, and Maddow’s presentation when she’s giving her one-shot commentaries is just too goofy for my taste (I wish she wouldn’t do that because I think she’s otherwise a fine journalist.) But MSNBC isn’t always just the Fox of the left.

          I agree with everything else you said here. Except, I wouldn’t judge all of journalism based on the cablenets. Try reading more, watching less.

          • I’ve definitely seen some deep, rigorous reporting on Maddow’s show, so I’m not singling her out specifically. I’m mainly referring to the cumulative impact of watching Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Ezra Klein, Ed Schultz, Melissa Harris-Perry, etc. Instead of broadening and complicating my understanding (as good print journalism does–and I do read a variety of papers and magazines, incidentally, as both of my parents used to be print journalists), they just echo one another after a while. Know what I mean? And that’s the reason I barely watch cable news anymore. I’ll go with the nightly news, Al-Jazeera, the BBC, and episodes of Vice on HBO (which is great). That’s basically it. Other than that, print and online is the way to go.

    • You are saying that when complexity makes understanding difficult, people tend to fall back on ideology. This isn’t my experience–I think people primarily rely on authority. (the dissipation of authority is one of the key challenges of the Internet).

      Consider intelligent design and the theory of natural selection. I would argue that one approach is essentially ideologically based, and one is fact based.

      But an intelligent design advocate would disagree.
      To prove this point, the ID advocate would demonstrate to me that my own intellect and moral sense are, in fact, limited on this issue. They could quickly show that we/I don’t fully understand it, or how it doesn’t explain certain aspects of, say, the koala bear. In fact, my view of evolution is based on my faith in the scientific method and the wisdom of scientific authorities. This is no different than taking the word of a priest on faith. So therefore I concede that both are equally deserving of scientific inquiry and teaching in schools.

      The liberal inclination to be open to dissenting opinions is a vulnerability that puts a heavy burden on us to understand complexity that ideologues use to their advantage. This is the reason that intelligent design is such an effective tactic, why we can’t gain consensus on global warming, etc…
      Equivocation can be dangerous–I think Shakespeare had a play about that.

      • Equivocation is always dangerous, as are the rest of the classical fallacies — every one of which is in the employ of every ideologue out there.

        But either we try to exalt a cleaner, more honest form of rhetoric, or we pack up the democracy tent now and stow it in the attic. You’ve made no inroads against Churchill’s dictum about democracy. At our best, we are capable of slow consensus. At our worst, we are inert and grossly misled. But the alternatives, whether based on someone’s version of scientific empiricism or someone else’s version of ideological prime-directive are infinitely worse. Hell is indeed other people, especially when they all have an opinion and only a modest majority make any real sense. But you can’t build a society out of anything other than your fellow human beings. Yes, there will always be someone with an extremity of opinion and not everyone can be convinced by rational argument. But the defeat of the fringe is in the greater share of the demos abandoning the ideological to the extent possible and approaching each problem as something to be reckoned and solved. This is not extraordinary. I think the mass of Americans occupy that center ground in practice. I think our media culture and certainly our political culture does no honor to the majority of us, and ultimately, to any utilitarian solutions.

        • I just finished Charlie Pierce’s “Idiot America,” and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The title is unfortunate because it makes it sound like a liberal answer to all those “Liberal Socialist Lesbian Arugula Munchers are Destroying America” books by the likes of Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. But it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a wise, insightful, fairly deep, nicely written piece of work. My guess is the publisher foisted the title on him.

          In a nutshell, because I’m pressed for time: Pierce argues that America has always been a great place for what he calls “cranks” (conspiracy theorists, political nutjobs, etc). They actually once served a purpose, and preferred to be on the margins, where they belonged. But thanks to money and media (talk radio, Fox News, etc.), they now not only *want* to be in the mainstream, they actually are there, and getting stronger all the time. So we have a congress full of not the usual corrupted pols, but of outright lunatics bent on destruction, and a media full of their water-carriers. And “museums” where the exhibits are made up of dinosaurs with saddles on them, to which huge numbers of people flock.

    • I think that’s exactly right. My theory is that individuals feel the need to identify themselves with something greater (be it a religion, a political ideology, or what have you) and then refuse to budge from whatever set of beliefs that particular orthodoxy puts forward. A deviation from our orthodoxy forces us to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and that, just possibly, there’s nothing out there greater than ourselves and our own capacity to solve our problems.

      • Man in disorder.

        This might well be our natural state. And some of us — too many, perhaps — find it intolerable. To go from problem to problem and consider solutions without the crutch of a prime ideological directive is fucking hard. Dogma is so much easier.

    • I’m still struggling with thinking about thinking, because I’m unconvinced it’s as easy as this. Brain science, after all, is relatively new. Our understanding of it and the various brain functions and how hormones and other chemicals affect our ability to think is still young.

      Facts and reason….I grew up with my father yelling at me to “be reasonable” whenever cruelty or injustice brought tears of rage. Men don’t like emotion, as a rule….at least, that has been my experience, and yet emotion plays a role in many of our decisions.

      Anyway, I did a search on rules of rhetoric and I swear to a god I don’t believe in, the first thing that came up (and was helpful) was the Five Canons of Rhetoric, found on….wait for it…..The Art of Manliness.com. You can’t make that shit up.

      Last point here, is that maybe it’s not that people are lazy. Maybe they are really confused. There is so much propaganda, so many casual lies, so much STUFF out there that it really is hard to sift through the information. I have trouble even believing a photo anymore because of Photoshop. Add in corporate ownership of most media, and it’s not like being well informed is easy. If information is the key to thinking, and the information itself is being manipulated, well, what do we do now?

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