Tuesday, January 31, 2006

...Freedom marches on

Some observations from the state of the union address...

1. Freedom is a referent to capitalist representative governments, in particular, the United States. I suspected this previously, and am now convinced of it.

One of my first political philosophy professors used to give me some advice that President Bush could use: if it can't do my laundry, then it can't participate in an active verb.

E.g., "Yet we also choose to lead because it is a privilege to serve the values that gave us birth. American leaders -- from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan -- rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march."

This sentence has no meaning unless "freedom" is a reference to some other noun. Freedom in itself cannot be on the march because it is an idea, and ideas don't march. Ideas move persons to march, but otherwise...

However, Bush does not merely mean that "freedom" moves persons to march. He means something very particular. "No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it." Now, correct me if you think that freedom has a different noun behind it, but reread this sentence: No one can deny the success of Capitalist representative governments, but some men rage and right against it."

2. Is anyone else extremely troubled by the extent to which "ideas" are raised to a very high status in politics today, so much so that they seem to overreach and become more important than the persons involved beneath the ideas?

The difficulty of this language is that the words trigger us in a very particular way: when we hear "freedom," "democracy," we are triggered to think about something good, i.e., the things about our government we like. When we hear "terrorism," and "totalitarian," we are triggered to think about something bad, i.e., the things we don't like in the world. (This is a point about language that I have learned much about from Toby, who has helped me realize what words can do...)

The result is language that is impossible to argue against, because even though they are substitutes for different, particular ideas, they are masked within these broad, overreaching key words that lead one to believe that the actual message is much more larger than it actually is.

3. "Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder -- and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder."

This is an unhealthy idea of totalitarianism. For, the forceful answers that we have provided the terrorists in the Middle East consists of what might effectively be called "totalitarian" moments. E.g., Americans would not call their government "totalitarian," but the actions in the Middle East to overthrow Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are de facto instances of totalitarianism.

Just because a political system is given a certain name (e.g., democracy) does not mean that that system is immune from particular outcomes (e.g., totalitarian outcomes). This is another danger of raising ideas above actual politics: if one only thinks of a particular regime as free and democratic by structure, procedure, or law, one becomes more likely to misunderstand the fact that even non-totalitarian regimes can exert totalitarian moments.

4. Again with the equation of peace with the absence of violence. I'm beginning to think that violence is nothing more than a means, and cannot be condemned in itself.


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