Wednesday, February 26, 2003

When Thomas Friedman deigns to give a lesson in intellectual generosity he does so by condescending equally to all of us. And if he does not choose do so by recourse to realism, he does so by means of high morality, and we strike out either way. Politics is a cynical business, but there are both practical and a moral differences- differences that affect our ability to respond - between the behavior of a state authority in its treatment of its own citizens and it's treatment of vanquished and in the relevant case here, stateless, victims.
You quote William Reese-Mogg on the recent protests:

"There was, I thought, one slogan which was missing. There were quite a number which called for `Freedom for Palestine' [but] I looked in vain for one which called for `Freedom for Iraq.' . . . None of the speakers expressed any wish to free Iraq. . . ."

I was talking to my mother a few years ago and somehow the subject of Henry James came up. He was a favorite author of my father's. I said that from what little I had read I found him hard to take, and preferred Jane Austen. She agreed. I described it as the difference between condescending to members of another class, and thinking it proper only to condescend to members of one's own. This problem is something you and Rees-Mogg choose to ignore, since it suits your interests, though I am sure you would both lecture us on it's importance in some other circumstance, when you again find Realism a useful defense for your opinions.

The only way that you succeed in condescending to the Palestinians is that for reasons that have everything to do with politics and nothing at all to do with morality they have little weight in the American political marketplace. Under normal circumstances, for example, it is fine for the British and for the French to make fun of themselves, but not of each other. It is considered appropriate for anyone to laugh -freely and often- at their own foibles, but laughing at someone else's is a more complex matter. This is referred to by analytic philosphers as 'self other asymmetry' and is considered common sense. But such asymmetry nonetheless assumes the presence of two equal terms. And while the Israelis recieve the deference due a state, the Palestinians, who have none, do not.

Politics is also more bloody than a faculty lunch. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait the issue of any abuse of the domestic Iraqi population was the concern of only a few people. After the invasion, it became politically important. What Hitler was doing in Germany was not so much the issue either, at first. Is it simply the limit of political will? Cowardice? The residue of otherwise perfectly reasonable deference? You know as well as anyone that it's all of the above. When is it presumptuous to help someone without being asked? When is it presumptuous to help the people of a state before being asked by their leader? The answer depends on many things, some of which are moral and some not. But you know all this.

You are smart enough to know your shelf life as an intellectual will last about two years longer than your career as a pundit. What bothers me more than the prospect of 30 more years- if we all live that long- is that there will be someone else with an intellect as shallow and self serving as yours to take your place. It's unending. I should give up being angry about and just respond as if it were my job. But it isn't and it shouldn't be. I'm at a loss.

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