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Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble 
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Post Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
This thread is for discussing Chapter 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble. You can post within this framework or create your own threads.

Chris O'Connor

"For Every Winner, There Are Dozens Of Losers. Odds Are You're One Of Them"




Sat Jul 03, 2004 9:49 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
Harris states that a society cannot appreciate sovereignty if it is not earned. I agree with this statement. However, dismissing the Palestinian quest for a physical state as it's inability to secure such a state by it's own hand is, to me, an oversimplification of the way things have worked over 'there'.

The struggle for sovereignty is not something the Palestinians have thought of overnight. This struggle for the land in question is ancient. Who has right to the land? Simply the stronger force? Did we and do we continue to help Israel become a strong force in this situation? If it were not for our help, would Israel have such a dominant position in this struggle?

Much of this conflict is based in religion...the promised land and all that crapola...so is Israeli dominance just another example of 'fantasy ideology' that Harris pins on the 'bad guys'?

To 'give' the Palestinians a state is not the answer, but to maybe try and level the playing field is. I am sorry, but the terrorist tactics of any group cannot be dismissed as a fantasy...there is much more too it. It may just be that the conflict continues because of 'forgetfulness'...do they even know what they are fighting for?

This example is a Klauswitzian war. The Palestinian's want a state. Just because they do not have the means to take it, for they do not have the allies that other states do, does not mean they do not deserve one. Are we and will will always be about might? Is the Liberal World view really dead? Sad. But maybe I am just a Utopiest.

Mr. P.

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Thu Jul 22, 2004 9:59 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
I'm looking forward, with some trepidation, to seeing where Harris goes with his phrase, "Liberal Internationalist". I find myself largely agreeing with Harris but also, I think of myself as pretty liberal. The phrase, without clarification, strikes me as, how to explain this? Unnecessarily pugnacious.


If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984




Thu Jul 22, 2004 7:44 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
Oh I think of him as more an apologetic than some great understanding mind, but he does make good sense and is very succinct in his writing. A smart and well learned man.

But...I think he tends to oversimplify matters.

Mr. P.

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Thu Jul 22, 2004 8:08 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
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The current international arrangement [is comparable] to an economic system in which each business [is] assured of not going broke


And just look at how honorably most businesses operate. CEOs bilking the system they are charged with looking after? How many scandals do we accept? A I always say, it is not the system, but the humans who work it.

Bad analogy. As a species, we should foster an environment of goodwill and assistance to others. We should foster cooperation and mutual benefits to all who cooperate. There are good and bad in all. Now, I do not say that we should tolerate crap from any one party. There has to be some form of acceptable behavior.

To throw away a whole system because of the actions of a few is retarded thinking. To use Harris' example, that would be like throwing away our whole economic structure because of the malfeasance of Enron and Tyco.

Again, Harris oversimplifies the issues in an apologetic style in an attempt to justify everything 'the west (read: America)' does. I love this country, and this is precisely why I will not fall into this way of thinking.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain




Mon Aug 02, 2004 7:10 pm
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Post Re: Ch.2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
After reading this chapter, I have to agree with MP's assessment that Harris oversimplifies. This oversimplification seems worse than generalization as generalizing, if done carefully, sometimes allows one to get to fundamental truths. But Harris' oversimplification ignores the realities, both historic and current, so to fit the Middle East problem within his categories. Harris is trying to fit the proverbial square peg in the round hole. This is ironic because Harris' main point in this chapter seems to be that our current categories are obsolete in the 'new historical epoch' and the 'liberal world order' can neither describe or deal with today's demands.

I don't see how Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is new and something not seen by the world in past epochs. Is oppressive despotism something that Saddam Hussein invented? The ancient nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has already been pointed out in an earlier post by MP.

One of my main problems with Harris is his argument for a sense of the realistic or lack thereof in the Middle East. To make his point he uses a derivation of Marx's alienation theory. That is that man gets a sense of the realistic by applying his labor to the materialistic world around him, and that sense of the realistic is universal and not culturally dependent.

Of course, Harris' extension of this theory to nations is nothing that Marx ever did. Nor was Marx's point that man lost a "sense of the realistic". Marx's point was that capitalism alienated man from his labor (a source of human fulfillment). Marx was criticizing capitalism and its negative effect upon the individuals that participate in its economic organization. Harris uses a perverted Marxist argument to say that Iraq, like much of the Middle-East, has had everything handed to it and therefore has no sense of the real demands of the world. Because they have not worked for it, in essence, they are spoiled babies whose imaginations run wild.

The problem with Harris' argument is that it would apply to any and all capitalistic societies. In fact, his argument against reaping the benefits -- and often ridiculously large benefits -- of scare natural resources is an argument against one of the fundamental principles of capitalism. The name 'capitalism' itself embodies this idea. Capitalism is not just the investment of built up capital in factories, but it is also the capital ownership of scare resources. Under Harris' argument, the DeBeers should be a bunch of crazed fanatics because all they ever did was own South African beaches where they could pick-up diamonds out of the sand -- not a lot of tough labor involved there.

As far as societies losing a grasp upon reality because they reap the benefits of their geographical location, I think one example will do to disprove this thesis. Harris says about Iraq,
Quote:
Iraq was paid for its oil, which in turn paid for its weapons, and both were produced by us, to be used against us.

Taking an old historical example: Macedonia was paid for its gold, which in turn paid for its weapons, which in turn were used against the Greeks and rest of the world to establish a world empire. Does Harris believe that Macedonia's lack of hard work, especially compared to the rest of the classical Greeks who worked harder than we do today, caused Phillip and Alexander to not have a sense of the realistic.

Further, using Harris' developmental thesis, I think it would be hard to argue that the Arab world had less a sense of reality than the United States. We, again using Harris' argument, have had a fairly easy go of it in our climb to power when historically compared to any other region of the world or epoch. Our geographical isolation from competing states has made our external security pretty easy. On the other hand, the Arabs are more keenly aware of their history (even if slanted by a religious perspective) and the history of that region. They know about the difficult struggles that that history speaks to. Harris also ignores that the majority of the Arab street is living on a subsistence level. They struggle with nature daily just to survive, while we live in air conditioning. I think that Marx would argue that the Arabs are more in touch with their labor and the materialistic (real) world than we are.

I do think that Harris has hit on something in his belief that the Arab world is out of touch with the reality situation; I just don't think that his materialistic Marxist argument can be the reason for it. I think we need to look somewhere else (perhaps religion?). (I do think it is kind of funny that Harris relies so much on Marxist materialism. This is the same Marx that developed the 'fantasy' of materialistic/economic determinism that leads to a socialist utopia and end of history.)

Neither does Harris' argument that the liberal world system and 'honorific' states bolster his lack of sense of realism argument. He says,
Quote:
...think back to the old chaotic world in which the rules of realpolitik operated: there, if a state pursued a domestic or a foreign policy that was too grossly unrealistic, it would inevitably pay the price of doing so... The price of any nation-state's survival was the cultivation of a heightened sense of realism.

Let's first take foreign policy. If we just look at recent history, the Middle East, according to Harris' argument, should have an all too real sense of realism. The 1941 invasion of Iraq by the British to put down an Islamic fundamentalist movement; the Iran-Iraq War; all the Arab wars with Israel; the first Gulf War; Palestinian frustrations; Lebanon; the general frustrated attempts of radical Islam to unite or gain control of Arab governments; etc. By Harris' argument, shouldn't all of these failures have given the Arab world a sense of reality?

From a domestic standpoint, in what way does liberal internationalism sanction the status quo of despotism? The international community, post Cold War Soviet-USA competition, does not guarantee despots their position vis-a-vis internal politics. If anything, we work explicitly to establish democratic revolutions. The problem, of course, is that these despots have such a tight domestic control on their populations (a condition that according to Harris' own argument makes them a "genuine state") that these efforts are seldom realized.

Harris also seems to suggest that if international liberalism would let the natural world order progress, that these tyrannies would cease to exist (one way or another) and nicely progress toward liberal democracies (maybe he has read too much of that idealist Hegel). But the problem is that historical events and the real world tell us otherwise. Just look at Haiti if you question this.

And all this is what I don't understand in his end of classical sovereignty argument. By his very definition all the states in the Middle East, with the exception of Palestine, meet his test as a classical genuine state. Which country in the Middle East doesn't? Did not Saddam Hussein struggle, albeit with disgusting methods, to become the despot he was? Despite their internal difficulties, which Middle East state does not maintain itself? Although this might often be violent, is it any different than the majority of classical nation-states throughout history?

What proof, what specific argument does Harris offer of how if the liberal system was abandoned that these states "...would have long been extripated, or else... they would have rapidly shed their delusions for a more realistic manner of proceeding"? Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia; please give us an example.

Summarizing his chapter, Harris says, "In sum, the modern liberal world system has permitted the growth of power in the hands of those who have not had to cope with reality in order to acquire this power." Did not Saddam Hussein have to "cope with reality" to acquire his power? The Taliban fought to gain control of Afghanistan over the 'honorific' government put in place by the Soviets when they withdrew. (I'm not sure how the Taliban was ever 'honorific' since the West and U.N. would not recognize them as a legitimate state.) The Iranian government overthrew the U.S. backed and supported Shah in violent popular revolution. These are just a few counter examples of those who had to "cope with reality" in order to acquire, and maintain, power. Again, Harris seems more concerned with fitting the Middle East within his categories than the true historical record.

This is a shame because I think that Harris might have hit upon something with the idea that radical Islamists portray a lack of a sense of the real. But his argument of why just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.




Wed Aug 04, 2004 3:14 pm
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Post Re: Ch.2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
Quote:
The problem with Harris' argument is that it would apply to any and all capitalistic societies. In fact, his argument against reaping the benefits -- and often ridiculously large benefits -- of scare natural resources is an argument against one of the fundamental principles of capitalism. The name 'capitalism' itself embodies this idea. Capitalism is not just the investment of built up capital in factories, but it is also the capital ownership of scare resources. Under Harris' argument, the DeBeers should be a bunch of crazed fanatics because all they ever did was own South African beaches where they could pick-up diamonds out of the sand -- not a lot of tough labor involved there.


EXCELLENT. I wanted to elaborate on this very issue, but now that you have done so in such a fine manner, I need not.

Harris is lacking in any kind of real analysis. He is most definitely trying to fit events into his thesis and not attempting an honest exploration of the events through his thesis. He is as guilty of offering one side of the story as he accuses Moore and Chomsky of being in his article www.techcentralstation.com/040104B.html on Tech Central Station.

He is as partisan and ideological, and thus as credible, than any other propagandist.

Mr. P.

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I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain




Fri Aug 06, 2004 12:32 pm
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Post Re: Ch.2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
once again, Mike has done an excellent job of detailing what is wrong with Harris's assumptions. I'll continue to add some additional details.

In the first part of this chapter, Harris discusses how he believes we are in a crisis. I'm not sure I'm willing to accept his statement, but even if I was, I'm more interested to see what he says to do about it. So far, he has been silent.

THE DISSOLUTION OF THE LIBERAL WORLD ORDER

All the events Harris discusses existed before 9/11. They just were not front and center in the American psyche.

Quote:
those who opposed war with Iraq often justified their position by an appeal to the Iraqi people's right to self determination

Huh? Is this a typo? Is this a claim that the evil, oppressive Saddam was self determination by the Iraqi people???

This entire section seems to be based on saying: "OK, you can't do what you did before." but doesn't give any substitutes. How paralyzing! It's like fear factor x 100!

The Lessons of Marx

Quote:
WMD's came not from the efforts of the Iraqi people, but from money paid by the West for the purchase of petroleum
Gee. somehow he misses that the money came back to us (US?) to pay for those WMD's......

The entire discussion of the "current international arrangement" completely ignores all the political change that has peacefully occurred in the last 15 years, and that most change does come from within, not without.

The end of Classical Sovereignty

1) True, the Israeli's have worked very hard to make theirs a viable state. However, it is not clear that they would have been successful without help at critical times from the French, Brits and U.S. Without this timely help, the Israeli's could be the ones doing the wishful thinking. 2) Did Slovak's 'deserve' a state? Who knows, but they successfully negotiated one with the Czech's. Same situation applies with the 'stans' and the former soviet union. 3) "the Islamic world will be crushed"???? By who??? How would we do that? Nuke 'em? We certainly can't seem to control one country, much less the entire Islamic world.

The threat of a rogue nuclear state
Quote:
there is still debate about the possible connection between Iraq and the events of 9/11
No, NO, NO! The only debate about this for at least the last year has occurred only between the devils that haunt Cheney. There is absolutely no connection between the two. This link below is dated September 03. No excuse for this crap to still be in book published in 04.
bush quote

Suppose we were not able to finger who was responsible for 9/11. What would the world look like today? Well, we have a parallel. While not nearly as devastating, the Anthrax attacks occurred at the same time and were definitely what would qualify as a terror attack. What have we done in response to this attack? What would we have done if it had not come in the wake of 9/11? What was our response the first time WTC was bombed? We seemed to get on with our lives despite the tragedy. We didn't completely reorganize the government, or dangerously expand it's powers. But, somehow, now the world is different.

And in conclusion, after that big long speech Harris gives us about saying there is no way for us to understand and that we can't understand this new type of enemy, he concludes the chapter by saying that we have to understand them?




Tue Aug 10, 2004 10:06 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
I must agree with the comments above about Harris's tendency to oversimplify. With that said, I must say this, what he has done is put forth his analysis of our situation. In the course of doing so, I think he has put forward some good points which are meant for a contemporary audience. I get the impression that his analyses of things that are more permanent in the human condition are much more cogent and insightful, and can be strained by personal views (his and our own) when applied to the contemporary situation.




Tue Aug 10, 2004 4:24 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - Our World-Historical Gamble
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I must say this, what he has done is put forth his analysis of our situation. In the course of doing so, I think he has put forward some good points which are meant for a contemporary audience. I get the impression that his analyses of things that are more permanent in the human condition are much more cogent and insightful,


I agree, pc. I think Harris writes very well and his knowledge of history and its impacts on our world are comendable. I just do not agree with his conclusions for the most part.

I sent Harris that article about Islam and Sun Tsu. Lets see if he responds.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain




Tue Aug 10, 2004 9:00 pm
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