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Preface - a discussion! 
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Post Preface - a discussion!
This thread is for discussing the Preface. Please feel free to 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"

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 7/3/04 10:53 am



Sat Jul 03, 2004 9:34 am
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
The preface has grabbed me by the balls and engaged my attention like few other books have. My impression so far is that this will turn out to be one of those "changed the way I look at the world" works.


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




Wed Jul 14, 2004 5:29 am
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
I must admit that I found Harris's preface quite interesting. I hope he manages to be as gripping throughout the rest of the book.




Tue Jul 20, 2004 4:46 am
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
What exactly did we forget? In the words of the author, "it is necessary for the parents and the grandparents to forget as well". Well, my mom and dad were alive during WW2 and Vietnam and I was alive during Desert Storm...so I do not think the idea that we forgot anything is valid.

The Middle East has been a hot spot for so long that it was evident that if major trouble were ever to shake the world again, it would come from there. It has nothing to do with our forgetfulness and everything to do with the strife in the region.

I can see the authors point, however, but I reject the fact the it is exclusively a fantasy of the enemy. Oversimplification will not make this go away. But that is for later chapters.

I like the authors style and I do believe he has excellent info to present, but I do not appreciate the idea that what we are suffering is amnesia and that is our only fault in all of this.

Mr. P.

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




Thu Jul 22, 2004 8:34 am
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
Funny, Harris mentions Kurosawa's "The Seven Samauri", I rented this two weeks ago and have yet to watch it (3.5 hours of subtitles!). I guess I will make time to watch it now.

Mr. P.

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




Thu Jul 22, 2004 8:12 pm
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
I enjoyed Harris' preface and look forward to how he develops his ideas. I especially liked how he points out that we do not choose our own agenda in the world in relation to who or why we have an "enemy". This is a point that I think that we often forget. The other things in the preface that struck my attention are:

1) Harris says that mankind has always thought of the enemy as someone who if you do not kill first will kill you. Has he left out a second category of the enemy? What about those who decide someone is their enemy because they want to kill them to get something they have, despite the fact that they are in no danger that the enemy will ever kill or attack them? (e.g., Hitler's decision to attack in the east to create "living space". The Germans, no doubt, thought of the Czechs and Poles as the enemy although they were not in danger of either state killing them in the future.)

2) In defending itself against the enemy, Harris says that a community needs "... a single man to make instant decisions" and it needs to be trained to "... respond to his commands with unthinking obedience". Does this preclude the community from reflectively thinking about and making judgments on this leader's decisions after the necessities of immediate obedience have been met? (i.e., Is it better for a community to be able to replace a leader it has decided is incompetent or mediocre with a superior leader or continue with unquestioning obedience?)

3) Harris defines the highest values that civilized life has to offer as: tolerance, individual liberty, government by consensus, and rational cooperation. He seems to assert this as if it is inherently obvious. Is that so? Many Western critics of democratic capitalism seem to suggest otherwise; not to mention those in the East.

4) I wonder about Harris' use of peasant dilemma presented by 'The Seven Samurai'. Here, Harris seems to presuppose the need for a trained, specialized warrior class and standing army. In his scenario, the peasants would have no need of the samurai if they were capable of defending themselves against the raiding gang of bandits. If they were capable of such self-defense, then the problem of developing and controlling your own "gangsters" goes away.

This is important because throughout history societies have not normally required, or at least used, professional standing armies. The dilemma he presents is definitely a real one (exhibited by our own founding fathers' debate over the need and size of a standing army and its inherent dangers), but one not necessarily faced by all civilizations at all times in human history. I can see Harris potentially drawing incorrect conclusions from his view that this choice "... has been the lot of most of mankind".

5) From the above, Harris also seems to make a jump to the "code of honor". He says that the code of honor must be an unquestioned law governing the community. But why does the code of honor have to govern the community? Is it not enough for the code of honor to only govern the warrior class (if one is even needed)?

To take Harris' example: it does not matter if the peasants in 'The Seven Samurai' live by and follow the samurai code -- they don't have the arms and training necessary to dominate their neighbors; it is only important that the samurai follow it. And this has potentially important implications. Harris says that a code cannot be chosen by us because then we may opt out of it since we see it as an option. But if only our warriors need the code, then can't the civilian population rationally chose which code to implant into them. The example of the US military comes immediately to mind. The military has explicitly chosen a code to follow (and it even explicitly acknowledges the underlying reasons for their code). When someone joins the US military, they often do not follow anything close to that code; but our experience shows that through rigorous training and promotion we can embed this code of honor within them.

6) Lastly, Harris states that the enemy requires the cultivation of "unthinking personal loyalty to a leader", at least among our warriors. But is this so? It seems that in our society we have been successful in cultivating an "unthinking personal loyalty to an IDEAL". Many in our military may not have any sense of personal loyalty to our leader, in fact, some may even dislike/hate him (e.g., the opinion of some in the US military during the Clinton Presidency); but they still unquestionably follow his orders base upon a higher/more important loyalty to the idea of the United States of America.

This seems important because not only does it open up other potential directions for the development of a communities code of honor, but it might also be far less dangerous than that suggested by Harris. (I can't stop thinking about all the civil wars of the Roman Empire that could have been avoided if her soldiers were more loyal to Rome than to their particular general.)




Mon Aug 02, 2004 3:51 pm
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Post Re: Preface - a discussion!
Mike:

Welcome first of all!

Quote:
1) Harris says that mankind has always thought of the enemy as someone who if you do not kill first will kill you. Has he left out a second category of the enemy? What about those who decide someone is their enemy because they want to kill them to get something they have, despite the fact that they are in no danger that the enemy will ever kill or attack them? (e.g., Hitler's decision to attack in the east to create "living space". The Germans, no doubt, thought of the Czechs and Poles as the enemy although they were not in danger of either state killing them in the future.)


Well, is not your example of this aggressor simply the enemy of the latter? Harris, in his oversimplifying way, talks of things in simple terms: We are the innocent, they are the enemy. So your point, in Harris' world, reverts conveniently back to his thesis. There is no room in his paradigm for any variation from what he wants to impart on the reader.

Quote:
2) In defending itself against the enemy, Harris says that a community needs "... a single man to make instant decisions" and it needs to be trained to "... respond to his commands with unthinking obedience". Does this preclude the community from reflectively thinking about and making judgments on this leader's decisions after the necessities of immediate obedience have been met? (i.e., Is it better for a community to be able to replace a leader it has decided is incompetent or mediocre with a superior leader or continue with unquestioning obedience?)


No. It is necessary to always question the leadership, especially in a society such as ours. I do not buy into the 'unthinking obedience' crap. Harris also states that we must have a 'trust [that is] not evidence of one's credulity" but strictly on 'civic duty'. Nonsense. Are we to be automatons? Thinking is what brung us to where we are.

Quote:
3) Harris defines the highest values that civilized life has to offer as: tolerance, individual liberty, government by consensus, and rational cooperation. He seems to assert this as if it is inherently obvious. Is that so? Many Western critics of democratic capitalism seem to suggest otherwise; not to mention those in the East.


Harris assumes much IMHO. He expects everyone reading to buy into what he has to say by fiat, he has no interest in an honest exploration of the subject at hand.

Quote:
4) I wonder about Harris' use of peasant dilemma presented by 'The Seven Samurai'. Here, Harris seems to presuppose the need for a trained, specialized warrior class and standing army. In his scenario, the peasants would have no need of the samurai if they were capable of defending themselves against the raiding gang of bandits. If they were capable of such self-defense, then the problem of developing and controlling your own "gangsters" goes away.


I think that is his point. Later in Chapter 6, he returns to the Seven Samurai for one paragraph, stating that "The only way to deal with such gangs is to have one yourself. Only, in order to keep it from preying on you, you must have successfully learned how to domesticate it." He also goes into the methods of Sparta, which I liked very much. Sparta perfected the disassociation from the family and self as the primary unit of loyalty and transferred that loyalty to the team concept, thus allowing Sparta to coalesce into a new form of societal organization that brought change in other societies by necessity. The villagers of Kurosawa's film did not have this ability, thus were subjugated. Harris basically states that a requirement of civilization is a strong military and a focus on preserving society.

Quote:
6) Lastly, Harris states that the enemy requires the cultivation of "unthinking personal loyalty to a leader", at least among our warriors. But is this so? It seems that in our society we have been successful in cultivating an "unthinking personal loyalty to an IDEAL". Many in our military may not have any sense of personal loyalty to our leader, in fact, some may even dislike/hate him (e.g., the opinion of some in the US military during the Clinton Presidency); but they still unquestionably follow his orders base upon a higher/more important loyalty to the idea of the United States of America.


I agree...it is the IDEAL that is much larger than the person. But I think Harris means the office of "President" rather than Bush, Clinton or anyone else. Although I still do not buy the "unthinking " part!

Some points of mine:

Harris states that "Before 9/11...the very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary". But by Harris' definition, our forgetfulness comes about when "parents have forgotten what [the harsh and savage] world was like. That is it necessary even for the 'grandparents' to forget.

Well, it was only in the 80's that our biggest enemy fell: Soviet Russia. Who has forgotten that? Not I.

Harris states that an idea of a Utopian future is unattainable, all we need to do is look back at history to learn this. Simply, "the past tells us that there can be no...perpetual peace". But can we not learn GOOD lessons from history? Like how futile war is in the long run? Are we doomed to fight in perpetuity?

I like his examples of the Greek way of thinking about past and future:

For the Greeks, the past 'was before them', for the could visualize the events and understand them. The 'future was behind them, sneaking up like thief in the night'. This is profound in the extreme!

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 6:53 pm
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Post Preface Comments
Chris,

Thanks for organizing the discussion. I was planning to do this with my comments once I had read the preface. I knew that I didn't think I'd like where this book was going. Anyone bashing the Enlightenment is not my friend! :evil

So I'll try to read the book with an eye on catching what I think are the authors errors in 'Reason' ;)

Toward the bottom of page xiv, he discusses having an enemy, just because the enemy has defined you so. This seems very fatalistic, as individuals are not in control of their place in the world. He also seem to contradict himself here, saying that societies that have enemies are different than those who do not. Harris says that all unsuccessful societies have treated the world as if they had enemies. Of course all unsuccessful societies have been conquered at one time or another. But the same could be said for societies that have been 'successful' (except for the present). So it is not clear that the warrior mentality is the causal factor.

Harris really gives away his objective at the top of p xv " a single man to make instant decision that affect the well-being of the entire community, and it does not need to train the community to respond to his commands with unthinking obedience." If I recall, this was also Lenin's goal, and certainly Stalin's. Pretty scary stuff, if you ask me.

On p xvi, Harris says that we have always had a choice between the gangsters without and the one's within, given what we know of human nature. I think we need to award Harris a 'Mr. P' for that one.

At the bottom of the same page, he makes an assertion that I find wanting. Specifically, that codes of honor are not chosen, but chosen for us. By who? How does this happen? What code of honor is the best? What code of honor is Harris suggesting for us? He doesn't say. Codes of honor really seem to come from history, and they do change over time. Ethics in general has the same issues: Which is the correct set of ethics? There is much debate, and it is not clear that there is a 'better' decision.

Overall, I found Harris' analysis condemning society to a never ending cycle of paranoia. If there is no enemy today, perhaps there will be one tomorrow, we must always be prepared to stand under the one ruler. Sounds great if you are the one ruler or one of his henchmen. Additionally, we have always had enemies. What has changed is the ability of the enemy to strike havoc do to more destructive and perhaps more imaginative weaponry. But this fact has not prevented us from somewhat successfully having a pluralistic society.




Mon Aug 09, 2004 1:31 pm
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Post Mike's Commentary
Hi Mike,

Thanks for the great analysis of the preface. You have a lot of great ideas. I would like to comment on two:

3) Harris defines the highest values that civilized life has to offer as: tolerance, individual liberty, government by consensus, and rational cooperation. He seems to assert this as if it is inherently obvious. Is that so? Many Western critics of democratic capitalism seem to suggest otherwise; not to mention those in the East.

Worse than this - even if he wants to have these as the highest ideals, he wants to throw them away by giving all the power to one leader at the top.




Mon Aug 09, 2004 1:37 pm
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Post Mike's commentary
Hi Mike,

While I don't disagree with you "unthinking personal loyalty to an IDEAL" is a difficult concept to implement in practice. If your ideal is to promote the safety of the US against attack, was attacking Iraq a good idea? I know my opinion, but I know many disagree with me. When person's try to implement principals, the frequently come to different conclusions about what is correct. We see this all the time with ethics.




Mon Aug 09, 2004 1:42 pm
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Post Re: Mike's Commentary
"Worse than this - even if he wants to have these as the highest ideals, he wants to throw them away by giving all the power to one leader at the top."

Ginof, I noticed the use of Bagehot in Harris, and so I looked at some cursory material and found a quote that might shed some light on this.

"So long as war is the main business of nations, temporary despotism - despotism during the campaign - is indispensable."

It is from Bagehot's Physics and Politics, ch. 2, sct. 3 (1872) quoted by The Columbia World of Quotations. 1996.

www.bartleby.com/66/52/5152.html

The idea in times of great upheaval free peoples would place power in the hands of a single man is far from obscure in history. SENATUS CONSULTUM ULTIMUM and Dictatorship were far from unknown in the Roman Republic. The use of Martial Law in times of crisis in American History is not unknown when the war front is on American soil as in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Lincoln even suspended Haebeus Corpus for years. FDR sanctioned the mass imprisonment of Americans, even the use of torture on German POWs in certain instances. JFK and RFK pushed the use of COINTELPRO against the KKK and approved of wiretapping MLK. Even if we take the (first) Adams and Jefferson administrations use of the Alien & Sedition Acts. Jefferson actually used a Bill of Attainder during the Revolution, one of the actions for which King George is condemned for by Jefferson. By historical comparison, the Patriot Act is tame compared to the actions of FDR and Lincoln who we do not detest, in fact, they both have memorials in DC.




Tue Aug 10, 2004 3:47 pm
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