Saturday, March 29, 2003

"Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, delivered a stark warning to Syria yesterday, accusing it of failing to stop cross-border sales of military equipment, including night-vision goggles, to the Iraqi army.

Mr. Rumsfeld called the shipments "hostile acts" and threatened to "hold the Syrian government accountable", but refused to say whether he meant military action.

He also struck out at Iran for letting state-sponsored anti-Saddam militants flood into Iraq, interfering in the coalition's war plans."

Times Editorial
"None of that, however, justifies providing Iraqis with means of killing Americans. This goes beyond political calculation, and beyond pique. Mr. Putin must understand that if Russian arms are reaching Iraq by any route, and are putting American men and women in harm's way, it is simply not enough to declare that he is not responsible, or to pretend it is not happening. Many Americans may share the Russian objections to this war, but no Americans will tolerate or forgive having an American tank blown up by a Russian missile."

If we are engaged in an illegal war, then the UN sanctions no longer apply, and moralizing by anyone is silly.

Everything gets coopted by our need for consensus, and our politics and our democracy is dumbed down to the point of irrelevance. As the ground shifts beneath our feet, is there no principle that doesn't shift it's subject?

Does it make sense to ask anyone about this war who has not heard the name Mohammad Mossadegh? It should be the first question on any poll. Are the soldiers who have invaded Iraq and who may end up in Iran or Syria all dupes? Have none of them had the opportunity, in the richest nation on earth, to learn anything about history, our own or that of Europe or the Middle East? Who is responsible for the education of the officer corps? How long until I can say, and say in public, that I no longer support their actions?

Fixed Ideas.
Again and finally I want to say that the problem of Scalia et al. is not one of legal but moral philosophy. Someone who wants to do a study should do one of historicism in a wider context. This is an important issue in all intellectual history. The question of how we interpret or even if we can understand works of art produced hundreds of years ago, of how we should perform Mozart or Bach all center around these same questions. Should Bach be played on the piano, an instrument that is wonderfully appropriate for his works even though it didn't exist in his lifetime? These debates have been central to art history and musicology as long as they have been argued in law. They begin with the Bible, which means they have no beginning.
It's is useless to debate Scalia. What needs to be done is to train the next generation of his adversaries and to do it in a way that they understand the history and implications of their arguments.

The questions are the same for Scalia as for everyone else. What is the principle at stake? If due process is the end to be achieved, and is considered just in itself, is it permissible to execute a prisoner who had a fair trial but may in fact, for reasons unknown at the time, be innocent? If a war is just then that makes the killing of a number of civilians just as well. Perfection is impossible.
Is Bach still Bach, played on the piano? Are you still a Jew if you eat bacon?
If we need language to communicate, and language needs consistency, what is the impact of the incessant transformation of nouns into verbs? Is it rendering our language unsubtle?

Interpretation is an inevitable fact of life. Questions about it's limits are raised in every field, because freedom is not the same as anarchy. At some point the thing being interpreted can be 'interpreted' away entirely. You can not use slavery to protect freedom. Or can you? An Army is based on a servitude similar to monarchy and even closer to fascism. We have used them in the past to protect our freedom. Are we doing so now? No.
I wrote this in December: "What does it mean when Antonin Scalia says 'The Constitution as I interpret it, is dead'? He's given away the game." And he has.

Legal and philosophical arguments are rhetorical, and they follow a natural progression. An argument against the death penalty for example, may be no less logical a thousand years ago than it is now, but it did not fit in well with the nature of society as a whole. Democracy may have been equally as superior, but it did not fit in well either. Years ago I wrote a paper, still unpublished, on politics and art and -among other things- the banality of the Salon paintings of mid 19th century France. I argued that they were on the whole 'objectively' bad, and that was a new phenomenon in art. In as sense, they were bad because they were examples of a sort of argument the artists themselves didn't believe in. The works were hypocritical, images laughably claiming to be chaste were prurient, as Rumsfeld's claims to morality are absurd.
There is a time and a place where barbarism and violence is a form of justice. And such cultures can produce great beauty. But as I said:
"What is it when one tries to remove from history language that in a sense has already been written? If monarchism was once considered just, and was superseded by democracy, can one replace monarchism on its pedestal without doing damage to language itself. What does it mean to be so reactionary in a democratic state?"
Here is my post on Fascism and Kitsch.
Here's the end of it:
" Why did the history of monarchy produce so much art of lasting value and fascism produce none? Why is fascist art considered kitsch? Is it only that we can not judge; the crimes are so great and so recent? I don't think so.
What I think we could say is that fascism, unlike monarchism, [and therefore barbarism] is a violent order where the perpetuators have the same understanding as the victims; the only difference being in the psychological state of the perpetrators themselves."

In other words the killers are hypocrites, trying to justify their barbarity with modern morality. They are criminals because they are trying to hide the fact that's what they themselves think. Fascists are moralizing liars. Barbarians would not need to do either.

Legal argument comes from a mix of art and logic. The process is one of describing the present. of describing in language what is the state of things. If the process is valued as a thing in itself -as Scalia says he does, but which by ignoring precedent he in fact denies- then the result is a description in current language of our current sense of justice. When the argument sounds good, when it flows easily off the tongue and into the mind without cheapening either, it is good.
But just when that is the case is up to some interpretation.

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