Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Farewell Osama Bin Ladin, Nice Knowing You

As I am sure by now my readers are aware American, forces have stormed Osama bin Laden's "evil fortress of doom," which, it turns out, was not some cave but an urban compound. I was hoping for bin Laden to go down with a pair of Gatling guns Wolfenstein boss style. It is only fair that the closest thing to a comic book villain this country has had since at least the Cold War should agree to give us the full comic book villain ending.

In thinking back on bin Laden in the shadow of the jubilant celebrations going on around the country I find that I do not hate him nor does the prospect of him being tortured by his promised seventy "Virginians" hold much appeal. Bin Laden was an enemy true, but he was a political enemy and hate, like any other emotion, has no place in politics. This is something both the Left and the Right fail to understood that their rush to bring morality into politics only serves to defeat their own desired ends.

If Bin Laden really was a monster, a being who either lacked reason or simply chose to act from malice, then there could never have been a chance for peace. How could one ever hope to negotiate with such a creature? Thus we would be left with no other option, but unrelenting Hobbesian war to the death with all moral considerations left to the wayside.

I like to believe that people, even Bin Laden, are rational and can be negotiated with. Bin Laden desired for the world to run a certain way, as a global Islamic theocracy. I do not judge him for that; I grant every man the right to want. Now it happens to be that the United States government also wanted things, such as global liberal democracy and capitalism, which conflicted with the desires of Bin Laden. Again there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is inevitable that human beings, with their different wants, will come into conflict with each other. Now there are two ways to deal with conflict, negotiation or coercive violence. Rational beings have the advantage of being able to choose the former, unlike animals, which are limited to the latter. Bin Laden, through the act of 9/11, chose violence. An act that was surely not in my self interest, but I am not saying that he was wrong for doing so; I never had any reason to expect Bin Laden to take my self interest into consideration. For this reason, up until the day we killed him, I would have been open to negotiating some a peace agreement with bin Laden. He would not have even needed to apologize for 9/11; all I he would have needed to do was offer me an agreement that gave me a more preferable set of options than war, backed by a rational reason for me to believe that he would actually keep such an agreement.

Let every man believe as he wishes as long as he accepts the full logical consequences of those beliefs. Bin Laden believed that it was in his rational self interest to pursue war with the United States without keeping to the traditional rules of warfare such as only States wage war and war is to be limited to military personal. So be it, but in turn that means that we will have no choice but to reply in kind, waging pure unrelenting Hobbesian warfare against him, his supporters or even anyone we might scare enough into waging against him for us.

Should we have responded to 9/11 by nuking Afghanistan, killing millions of innocent civilian Muslims, or even taking out the capitols of every Muslim country? If it would have made this country safer then yes. Considering that, as long as we are considered rational enough to be negotiated with in the future, such extreme actions would make anyone in the future think twice about attacking this country; it is not obvious to me that the mass killing of even innocent civilians would have been the wrong decision. What would the Muslim world look like if Muslims on the street believed that the actions of people like bin Laden would lead to the deaths of them and their families. Whether or not bin Laden was rational and desired to live, I respect Islam enough to believe that the more than a billion ordinary Muslims are rational and do want to live.

I do not hold it against bin Laden for attacking us. Of course, since I do not see anything intrinsically wrong with such behavior, I have no objections to behaving just like him. I believe in rational people working out their differences. In support of that goal I am willing to be the worst monster in history; the sort of person that no rational being would ever seek to fight.            


Clarissa said...

This is the kind of post that makes me really like your blog. It is very comforting to see such a reasonable, rational and logical approach amongst the see of hysterical gushing that is always unleashed whenever something major happens.

Ben-Yehudah said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but it really seems that you are putting (at least in some ways) Arabs into a Western box.

I believe that I may understand and accept Arab culture better than the average Westerner, because I do not try to put them into a box where they do not belong, nor do I believe they have any interest in belonging.

Rationality does not necessary mean the same thing nor have the same manifestations in Arab cultures than it does in Western, liberal cultures.

I believe that the goals of these two cultures are also very different. It's like an apple asking an orange to become an apple, all the while pretending that that he really does want the orange to remain an orange.

The Bray of Fundie said...

unrelenting Hobbesian war

educate me. What does this term mean?

Do you acknowledge the existence of Mental illness? If you do wouldn't you acknowledge that their have been at least a few heads of state/ militias in world history who have been certifiably, clinically and criminally insane? Or at least sub-clinically? Do you still maintain that negotiations are possible with EVERYONE?

Clarissa said...

If a person is certifiably insane and keeps beating their head against the wall, then obviously that person isn't making any actual policy decisions. There has to be group of people doing that instead. That group of people is who one should try to negotiate with.

The Bray of Fundie said...

Stalin negotiated with and had a signed non-aggression pact with Hitler SR"Y. How far did that get him?

Was Hitler insane? Is head banging the one and only indicator of insanity?

Izgad said...

I do not see myself as putting either Arabs or Muslims in a box. They are capable of reason like anyone. The ability to think in terms of rules and consequences does not belong to any one culture. Granted that some people, such as Arabs and modern liberals, try to ignore rule based thinking when it is inconvenient more so than others.
Hobbesian warfare is the war of all against all; where all rules of war and moral consideration cease to exist and it is just kill or be killed.
I do not assume that it is possible to negotiate with everyone. I can only negotiate with people with the mental capacity to think in terms of rules and consequences and are willing to negotiate and follow a set of rules. I hope to be able to negotiate with people, because the consequences of not being able to is Hobbesian warfare where I have no choice but to kill or enslave (including prison and insane asylums) people.
Whether or not Hitler and Stalin were sane (I assume they were at least to the level I define it), they were supported by people who were and such people could be made to suffer the consequences of failing to negotiate. The German people made a rational decision Hitler on the path of coercive violence. They therefore every one of them could be killed. The deaths of innocent children would be of no consequence as the blood would be placed on their German parents who chose not ignore the consequences of their actions.

Ben-Yehudah said...

The last paragraph of this comment seems like a halakhic response, as in the case of Israel being constantly beaten up by Arabs.

What to you know?


Yet, the first part, though, just seems to emphasize how different our perspectives are.

Back to the Arabs, though, how many more times must Israel repeat the same mistake over again (negotiations), expecting different results (insanity), before it is allowed to try a new strategy (eg. kicking them out, etc.)?

no one said...

you write real gems sometimes like this essay

Simon said...

You conflate several issues:
The first issue is whether we view someone as evil and the second is whether we view him as rational. I agree with you that Bin Laden was rational, but I disagree in that I view him as evil, even though he was rational.
The third issue is whether one ought to negotiate with a person who is rational, but evil. You argue that we ought to negotiate with some like that when it is in our interest to do so. However, you neglect the fact that may be in our long term interest to decide not to negotiate with a terrorist even if it turns out to be in our short term interest to do so in order to deter other terrorists.

Izgad said...

I refrain from using the term “evil’ because it fails to serve any purpose not already covered by “rational person deciding that me being harmed is of innate value to him.” Trying to add a moral dimension only confuses the issue and limits one’s options.
I grant you that it is possible that it might not be in one’s self interest to negotiate with someone who previously made the decision to turn to causing you physical harm and to not rest until you have pursued utter Hobbesian war (skinned the person alive, raped his wife and sold his children into slavery) in order to gain a reputation as being the sort of person that no rational person would ever desire to get on the wrong side of. Of course this vicious monster reputation needs be balanced by making sure people understand that you are a rational vicious monster, who can be negotiated with even if one has previously wronged you. I do not wish to wage Hobbesian warfare against Muslims so it is in my interest to give Muslims an alternative to waging Hobbesian warfare against me.

Simon said...

I believe that the word evil is useful because it indicates that we have more beliefs that characterize what we stand for and that by our standards this person is evil. I don't believe that using the term limits our options.
Your second paragraph displays an either/or mentality. Either we bargain or we fight a Hobbesian war. I don't believe that those are the only choices. We can decide that we will not bargain with terrorists, but at the same time we will not go beyond certain limits. So the US didn't rape Bin Laden's wife and didn't mutilate his corpse. We may rationally decide that we will not bargain with terrorists in order to deter others and at the same time behave within certain norms either because (i) we believe in these norms or (ii) because we want others to respect as well as fear us. For instance, the US declared that it is not at war with Islam because it doesn't want Muslims to hate the US, at the same time as it was not ready to negotiate with terrorists.
The following Churchill quote illustrates a non-Hobbesian unwillingness to negotiate “In war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity.”

Izgad said...


The moment you say that someone is “evil” you imply that the person is beyond being negotiated with and that you have no other option but Hobbesian war.
Waging Hobbesian war means that by definition you have boxed yourself into one option of trying to get what you want through brute force. If you had other options you would be in the realm of negotiation. I am not claiming you have to go out and skin people alive. Though I would argue that holding on to absolute moral standards is not a workable moral option in politics in that it takes away the motive of your opponent to hold himself to certain standards. As I see it our leaders are morally culpable for not executing prisoners in Guantanamo in response to terrorist attacks since that allowed for more Americans to die.

Simon said...

I disagree with your statement that calling someone evil means you cannot negotiate with them. The most obvious example is President Reagan who call the USSR the "evil empire," but negotiated. I think that we have both set out our views and, rather than disagree with you on specific points, I will just suggest that while Hobbes posited the state of war, since he deals with the state which ends that state, he does not provide any guide regarding how to conduct a war. For this, the best guide is Machiavilli, who shows that one can fight with guile, by using (or seeming to use) principles as well as killing.