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In which commentary becomes copy-and-paste

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

The Israeli government’s military began heavy artillery shelling of civilian targets in Gaza this weekend. The idea was that by besieging Gaza, and then firing heavy artillery down into one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas — along with a continued barrage of aerial bombardment, which has been blowing the hell out of universities, mosques, residential neighborhoods, and other civilian targets for the past several days — the Israeli government’s military might be able to somewhat reduce the number of its professional soldiers killed in combat during a ground invasion.

Israel unleashed an artillery bombardment on Gaza today for the first time in its week-long offensive, prompting increased speculation that a ground invasion is about to begin.

Palestinian medical officials also said that an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza mosque had killed 10 people and wounded dozens more. Al Jazeera quoted witnesses as saying there were at least 200 people at prayer inside the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque in northern Gaza when the missile struck.

The Israeli TV station Channel 10 said the entire length of the Gaza Strip was under attack. Palestinian witnesses told Reuters the shelling had caused a large explosion in Gaza City and there were a series of blasts close to the frontier with Israel. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israeli TV commentators said shelling could be used to clear Hamas-laid minefields ahead of a possible ground invasion. Israeli troops are massed on the border waiting for orders to go in.

. . .

More than 400 Palestinians and at least four Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive last Saturday. The UN estimated yesterday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

— Matthew Weaver, The Guardian (2009-01-03): Israel fires artillery shells into Gaza

Then the Israeli government’s military began its ground assault — that is, sending in infantry and armored divisions to invade and occupy Gaza, with the usual imposition of martial law and military curfews and more-or-less shoot-on-sight procedures, the blockading of roads and bridges, the house to house operations of storming, searching, and commandeering civilian homes en masse, and all the rest involved in exerting military command-and-control over a large, besieged city.

Israel has said that its offensive in Gaza could take many long days as its troops moved deeper into the Palestinian territory in the second day of its ground attack.

Troops backed by air and naval power surrounded Gaza City and in effect sliced the territory in two.

An Israeli air strike hit two ambulances in Gaza on Sunday, killing four paramedics as they tried to reach those injured in the offensive.

Israeli government officials say they are not targeting civilians, only trying to stop rockets by the Palestinian Hamas movement governing Gaza, which are still being fired into southern Israel.

Civilian injuries and casualties in Gaza continue to mount and the death toll now stands at 521, with at least 64 people killed since the ground offensive began, according to Palestinian medical authorities. Some 2,450 have been injured.

Among the latest victims were a mother and her four young children, killed in an Israeli air strike on their home in Gaza.

Four Israeli civilians have been killed and two injured by Palestinian rocket attacks.

Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

According to Shimon Peres, arbitrary President over the territory of Israel, the idea is to teach a lesson to Hamas.

We don’t intend neither to occupy Gaza nor to crush Hamas, but to crush terror. And Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it.

Shimon Peres, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Somewhere above 100 civilians have been murdered in the process of delivering this lesson to unrelated third parties. Ehud Barak, arbitrary Minister of Defense over the territory of Israel, tells us (from his perch in a comfortable government meeting room) that this is because War is not a picnic.

The operation will be expanded and intensified as much as necessary. War is not a picnic.

Ehud Barak, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Indeed; but for whom?

So, anyway, to review, in Israel, four civilians have been murdered, two have been injured, and some other residents of towns near the Gaza strip have suffered some fright and some property damage from poorly-aimed rocket attacks launched by Hamas, the quasi-governmental terrorist faction that claims a right to rule over the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. In the process of retaliating against these attacks, the Israeli government’s military has locked down those 1.5 million people — the primary victims of Hamas — under a state of siege and bombarded their homes, their schools, their roads, their houses of worship, and the ambulances that tried to come to their rescue. They have killed more than 100 times as many Palestinians as Hamas has killed Israelis, and injured more than 1,000 times as many. More than 100 of those killed in the massive indiscriminate bombardment (that is, at least 25 times the number killed in Israel) are known to have been civilians, who had nothing in particular to do with the poorly-aimed rocket attacks that the Israeli government’s military claims to be trying to stop. Many of those killed have been children. The Israeli government’s military has also deliberately stormed houses, bombed bridges, destroyed school buildings, cut electrical lines, and blockaded land crossings and sea lanes so that not even emergency relief NGOs can reach the people being maimed and killed by the bombardment. They show no signs of letting up: this death and destruction is only the beginning.

The official reaction from most of the rest of the world — which is the dignified term that the press uses to describe the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority sitting in comfortable government offices far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments — has been to call for moderation. We will be told that both sides in this conflict have made moral and strategic blunders, that the best thing to do is to take a soft touch and to try to convince the belligerent states and quasi-states involved to tone things down and come to the bargaining table in some sort of diplomatic negotiation process. The problem is that there are not two sides in this war; like any other war, there are three sides — or, more properly, millions of tiny, individual sides — because in any war there are not only two states fighting each other, but also everybody else, the millions of people caught in between. Besides the belligerent states and quasi-states facing off against each other, in any war there are also the millions of people held hostage by one or both of the belligerent powers and coldly shoved into the crossfire by the usurpers who style themselves their leaders, and by the rival usurpers who are the enemies of their self-styled leaders; millions of people who have nothing at all to do with any casus belli or with any of the political maneuvers that led up to the onslaught; millions of people who were just trying to live their lives, and, for doing nothing worse than existing in the wrong place at the wrong time, will be hurt or maimed or bereaved or killed themselves — all in the name of the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority who sit in comfortable government offices or heavily-fortified bunkers far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments. Of course news coverage never discusses this other side — that is, our side — those of us who do not sit in the halls of power and do not have our fingers on the triggers. Government diplomats care nothing about the interests our side and nobody ever consults us or considers whether we have legitimate interests worth respecting. Instead this is presented as a fight between Israel and Gaza — all of them, apparently, all at once — because it’s necessary to talk about it that way in order to obscure the question of who is really dying, and how many, and where, and for what. I should like to say something more about this, but what more can I really say? I say it again, and again, and again, and it doesn’t make a bit of difference but it remains no less true. There is a point at which no more commentary is possible; there is only copy-and-paste. Thus:

The murder of civilians by Palestinian . . . terrorists is criminal, and those who committed the murders can be stopped from committing further crimes through the use of violence, if necessary. But the right to use force against someone does not mean the right to use any amount of force necessary against anyone at all in the process of stopping her. It's true that if you really are willing to do everything in retaliation for the kidnapping of a soldier, or attacks on your forces, or attacks on civilians, then this is included. Any atrocity at all is included in doing everything, and that is precisely why the willingness to do everything in retaliation for an attack, no matter what the cost to innocent third parties, is a moral crime of the first order. Destroying the lives and livelihoods of scores of innocent people in the process of trying to stop the murder of one or two other innocents is criminal.

— GT 2006-07-13: Proportionality

And doing so to hundreds of civilians in the name of reducing military casualties in an invasion, or in the name of teaching a lesson to unrelated third parties — as if these hundreds of civilians were just so many Post-It notes, on which the Harrow of the State can write its little messages for the edification of rival state powers — is nothing less than an atrocity.

See also:

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  1. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    I understand and respect your passion on this issue. That said, I am not sure you had a good answer to something raised by Adam Reed in another forum.

    What does a person do when a terrorist organization deliberately enscones itself in a civilian populace? It seems to me that the U.S. military would never be able to successfully target many genuine threats to you or I without endangering civilians. It strikes me as plausible that Hamas does hide weapons and produce weapons in nominally civilian institutions. Adam spoke of terrorism being designed to create “propaganda theatere”. The terrorist engages in a way that ensures the death of civilians by a rational military actor seeking to protect innocents. You could say that state actors like Nazi Germany create similar situations in starting international warfare — something pointed out by Aster.

    Is the moral thing for me to do to accept death by another 9-11 rather then 5 dead Afghan civilians laying next to Osama’s body? I admit that my own death, and those I care deeply about has more immediate emotional pull for me. I am not at all sure what to think about these issues anymore though. I was very much a staunch anti-war activist who decried the slightest action that could harm civilians, but I wonder if what I saw as beautiful principled morality bears no rational relation to the nasty world I inhabit. It seems counter-productive when ethics tells us the destruction of a semi-free society by medieval minded terrorists should be allowed to occur before civilians nearby the terrorist die.

    Don’t get me wrong. I do not like the orthodox Objectivist comfort with retribution and allegedly earned suffering. I am interested in principled necessity and not any warrior ethos. It irks me that they can wish suffering upon the ominous collective called the “Palestinians” when many children have died. Say what you will about the innocence of someone who helped smuggle a rocket in for Hamas, but the notion that a 5 year old in thrall to their parents bears moral responsiblity for a conflict they may not even have the cognitive capacity to fully understand is ludcrious.

    I stand by my criticisms of the Objectivist commentary on Arabs and Middle Eastern war made at the M Society. I am not sure whether I still hold the same kind of purist view I used to though. I still don’t endorse the present Israeli actions.

  2. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    Just a few clarifying points:

    1. I don’t see ethics as a Hobbesian war of all against all. It’s not that I treat the taking of innocent life anywhere casually. It’s more about how I can actualize living individualism in reality when terrorists present me with choosing between the death of all I cherish vs taking non-combatant lives they bear responsiblity for endangering in the first place. This issue has stark importance when the possiblity of large scale Islamist terror attacks is more real then before. I am not saying I buy everything the U.S. government says about impending threats, but it seems reasonable that global Islamist insurgents are still planning attacks of great severity.

    2. In terms of philosophical metholodogy, it seems difficult to arrive at a workable ethics via deducation from instrinic forms or absoloutes. You can pluck the maxim that it’s always wrong to kill civilians from an allegedly superior Platonic world. It’s an abstract deduction from an otherwordly conception of instinic good — in theocratic Christianist terms, it’d be God. On the other hand, our inductive investigation of the facts of reality shows shifting contexts, so we are faced with the task of generating suitable abstractions-principles with that in mind.

  3. JOR

    “Is the moral thing for me to do to accept death by another 9-11 rather then 5 dead Afghan civilians laying next to Osama’s body?”

    Well, shucks Nick, I don’t know. Maybe you can answer a related question though: What would be the moral thing for the 5 Afghan civilians to do?

    Are they obligated to die for you?

  4. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    I don’t think they are obligated to die for me. I prefer situations that don’t present the duality I posited above. I am talking about emergency scenarios where an aggressor endangers non-combatants and no less intrustive effective means of self-defense is avalible. A tyrannical group that takes over a country via contiunally obtaining tactical immunity through cover of civilians would go unopposed without the broach of this question. I am not alone among the libertarian minded whose grappled with it or anguished over it. Roderick Long argues that the killing of innocents is justifiable under very specific circumstances — http://libertariannation.org/a/n030l2.html

    There’s no need to approach me with hostility. I made clear I don’t celebrate slaughter.

  5. Bob Kaercher

    Nick: You don’t deserve any hostility, and you don’t celebrate slaughter. But do you see the kind of logic presumed in your question?

    “Is the moral thing for me to do to accept death by another 9-11 rather then 5 dead Afghan civilians laying next to Osama’s body?”

    To my knowledge, none of the civilians killed by U.S. or Israeli forces to date were anywhere near Osama bin Laden when their lives were snuffed out by U.S. taxpayer-funded bombs and missiles. I can’t think of a single instance where that was the case.

    But to answer the question anyway, no, it’s not the moral thing for you to accept your own death, which means the Afghan civilians are not morally obligated to accept their own deaths, either. Equality applies both ways. Personally, in that scenario, I would much rather pass up the opportunity to get bin Laden if it meant risking the deaths of innocent people in the process. I know that most people in this country would throw rotten fruit and vegetables at me if they heard me say that in public, but it’s not that I don’t think something should be done with bin Laden, it’s just that I don’t think that innocent people should have to pay the ultimate price for his crimes or for the mere feeling of safety Americans may get upon learning bin Laden’s dead. If capturing or killing bin Laden or his cohorts means killing innocents, then forget it. I’d rather wait for an opportunity to get him that doesn’t endanger others.

    Bin Laden should be pursued in the interests of justice, not for mere feelings of security, nor for lust for revenge (which is not to say you do, just referring to some general sentiment expressed in this country). Once you’ve made a bargain that a few (—or a few dozen? A few hundred? A few thousand?—) innocent people are fair game for “collateral damage” (you or me not being among those designated as expendable, of course), then justice is perverted, not served. And then you have the angry Arab father shaking his fist at you, asking you why his son or daughter or wife had to die for the sake of capturing Osama bin Laden? And then perhaps he feels justified in visiting death and destruction on innocent Americans, and so the cycle goes on and on, feeding ever more animosity, more lust for vengeance and more desire to make others suffer, and everyone participating in the slaughter will claim justice is on their side as they continue slaughtering each other.

    And as far as I’m concerned, the “rational” Objectivoids at ARI and all the other moral retards in the Objectivist movement who promote the concepts of collectivist guilt and punishment, and talk about which, when, where and why foreign people are expendable like they’re talking about cleaning out their closets, can just shove it.

  6. Chris Acheson


    From the link you posted:

    Well, the argument goes something like this. Suppose Eric straps a baby to his chest and then starts shooting at me. I can’t shoot him back without hitting the innocent baby. Yet although it’s too bad about the baby, it seems plausible to say that I still have the right to defend myself against Eric, and if the baby gets killed, the blame should lie not with me but with Eric, for bringing the baby into the situation in the first place. By the same token, it is argued, innocent deaths that result as a byproduct from attacks on hostile targets should be blamed on the hostile targets, not on the attackers.

    But the moral legitimacy of collateral damage in the Eric case seems to depend importantly on four factors: first, the relatively small extent of the collateral damage (just the one baby); second, the high probability that shooting at Eric will actually stop him; third, the great extent of the contribution (total, as described) that stopping Eric will make to ending the threat; and fourth, the absence of any alternative way of stopping Eric that would be less dangerous for the baby. The case for collateral damage grows weaker as we alter any of these four variables. If Eric is shielded not just by one baby but by a whole city of babies; or if there’s some doubt as to whether Eric is actually even in the city; or if Eric is just one cog in a military machine, his individual contribution to the total threat being fairly small; or if there are ways of taking Eric out without bombing the city—to the extent that any or all of these are true, the case for the legitimacy of collateral damage is correspondingly weakened. As these variables move away from the Eric paradigm, the moral difference between collateral damage and direct targeting of civilians becomes more tenuous—as does the case for treating the two as morally different. Since in most real-world cases of collateral damage in warfare, most or all of these variables are shifted pretty far away from the Eric paradigm, I conclude that a general military policy of comfort with collateral damage is without justification.

    By this reasoning, the IDF’s method of responding to Hamas’ attacks aren’t morally justified.

  7. quasibill


    The principle involved is the same one involved in pretty much every ethical dilemma. You want something – your safety from a risk. Your ability to achieve that something is ethically limited to the point where you begin to force someone else to pay for your it.

    In this case, you are asking these Afghans to pay for your safety with their lives. If you posit that they are similarly victims of the criminal, you have two options: 1) if you feel that they would be willing to die for a chance at their own freedom, you can attack the criminal, and be liable for possible claims after the fact (if you act in an unreasonable manner that placed them at greater risk from your agency), or 2) take every precaution possible that doesn’t involve you placing them at greater risk and live with the risk that is left. After all, one definition of the condition of “life” is “the condition of being at risk of dying.”

    The human shield is capable of, and should be allowed to make their own decisions as to how best to survive the situation. You don’t owe them any duty to lessen their risk with respect to the criminal, but you owe them a duty not to increase their risk with respect to you. Otherwise, you would have to posit that they have some form of right of self-defense against YOU.

  8. Kalkin

    What does a person do when a terrorist organization deliberately enscones itself in a civilian populace? It seems to me that the U.S. military would never be able to successfully target many genuine threats to you or I without endangering civilians. It strikes me as plausible that Hamas does hide weapons and produce weapons in nominally civilian institutions.

    I am a consequentialist, ethically, so I must admit that there are some imaginable circumstances under which deliberate harm to innocents (which is what ‘collateral damage’ is) can be justified. But I think there’s something disturbingly wrong with having this conversation in the context of what’s going on right now in Gaza.

    Self-defense does not justify nor even explain Israel’s actions. There’s a good post here on the 40+ victim bombing of the UN school, and Israel’s shifting and implausible but unapologetic explanations, and a long list here of other civilian targets. There’s an article here on Hamas’ demonstrated willingness to keep a ceasefire. (I’d like to post something of my own on that, since I just finished a book with an excellent discussion of techniques for lying with graphs well exemplified by the last Israeli government production shown there, but probably won’t have time tonight.) Here, finally, is an extensively-researched Human Rights Watch report on similar Israeli accusations of Hezbollah use of human shields during Israel’s assault on Lebanon two years ago, which concludes plainly that “Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes, not Hezbollah’s shielding as claimed by Israeli officials, caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths.”

    Discussing Israel’s behavior in the framework of self-defense, then, is misleading, to say the least. It asks us to assume the point of view of Israel’s military leaders, and as others have mentioned it forbids us from assuming the point of view of civilians in Gaza. There’s nothing wrong with your question in the abstract, but this is not the time nor the place for it.

  9. Bob Kaercher

    It amuses me greatly which militant organizations that deliberately ensconce themselves among civilians are commonly designated “terrorist” and which are not.

    Do not the U.S. and Israeli governments count as “terrorist organizations”? That’s two groups right there that plunder the population of their respective countries for the purpose of killing many thousands of civilians over the years, for the purpose of forcing their respective ideologies on others.

    The terrorist organization called the United States Government maintains over a hundred bases of operations throughout the world, many of them not that far off from civilian populations.

    But I guess so long as you wear fancy-lookin’ “official” clothes and use taxpayer-funded weapons, you don’t count as a “terrorist.”

  10. Neverfox


    What about Israel’s actions even comes close “5 dead Afghan civilians laying next to Osama’s body”? That would at least imply some sort of attempt at a “surgical” strike. It also seems to me that your reply considers only Hamas is a terrorist organization here. You don’t say it but it’s heavily implied. Am I wrong?

    If you follow Long’s four points, as Chris pointed out, I think both Israel’s and Hamas’ actions are an epic fail.

  11. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    I guess I made it difficult to know what I was talking about here. The five Afghan civilians example was a hypothetical designed to illustrate the essentials of a scenario where self-defense may incur danger to people near the initators of force. In terms of Israel’s present actions, I’d agree with you that Long’s anaylsis wouldn’t support them.

    As for Hamas, I see it as a combination possessing several different organizational functions. A national liberation movement or insurgent organization can also be a terrorist group or engage in terrorist actions. The FLN drove the French out of Algeria through bus bombings and other such actions.

  12. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    Actually, it’s not a hypothetical. To use one example: the CIA discovered Bin Laden in a compound with a wife and children. I think this question has real importance for the real world surivial of people and societies.

  13. Rad Geek


    What does a person do when a terrorist organization deliberately enscones itself in a civilian populace?

    That depends on whether or not you can defend yourself (or whatever third parties you are trying to defend) without a level of violence that’s disproportionate to the threat you are defending yourself (or third parties) against. The point of this post is precisely about proportionality.

    Is the moral thing for me to do to accept death by another 9-11 rather then 5 dead Afghan civilians laying next to Osama’s body?

    I’m not sure what you mean by accept death by another 9-11. If you’re just asking about yourself, then I think that you are morally obligated to let yourself get killed if the only way for you not to get killed would be by doing something that kills 5 innocent people. You have no moral right to kill them just in order to save your own skin.

    If you’re asking about whether you can save some much larger group of innocent people (which is what you suggest by bringing up the attacks on the World Trade Center, which killed 400 times more people than the 5 civilians you imagine), and not just yourself, then I think that it depends on the criteria that Roderick mentions in his discussion of the Eric case and human shields arguments for collateral damage. Strictly speaking, there are no cases in which it is ever permissible to kill a human shield, in the sense that there is no violation of the human shield’s rights; when a human shield gets killed, it is always murder. The question is just whether the moral responsibility for the murder falls on you, or on the person hiding behind the human shield. In a few extremely limited cases, the features of the situation may plausibly shift the responsibility from you to the person hiding behind the human shield — but those cases have exactly nothing to do with the indiscriminate aerial bombardment or heavy-artillery shelling of schools, ambulances, hospitals, mosques, homes, apartment complexes, or other civilian targets, which may or may not actually have people you can legitimately target in them (your only evidence on way or the other being the suspicions of military intelligence), but which you know for sure will have scores or hundreds of innocent civilians in them, when that bombardment makes only a tiny contribution towards stopping the threat you are supposedly responding to, and when the number of innocent people you’re killing in the process is a hundredfold greater than number of people that you’re supposedly protecting from the threat you’re supposedly responding to.

    (As a result, these kind of arguments not only have precisely nothing to do with justifying the bombing, shelling, or invasion of Gaza by the Israeli government’s military; they have precisely nothing to do with justifying any modern government war at all, since all modern government wars are conducted using weapons, strategies, and tactics that make this kind of disproportionate slaughter of innocents practically inevitable.)

    As for semi-free societies, I will note that whether or not Israel counts as semi-free depends a lot on who you are. A society under martial law is not free at all for the people under martial law, so Palestinians in the occupied territories have never known the semi-freedom of Israeli society. A society in which political dissidents and journalists are disappeared, imprisoned for life, or tortured, based solely on their political beliefs, nonviolent activism, or journalistic activities, is not even a semi-free society for those who face the threat of disappearance, imprisonment, or torture.

  14. Rad Geek


    I don’t think the kind of so-called targeted assassinations of Osama bin Laden (or Saddam Hussein or Hamas leadership or whoever) you have in mind — that is, attempts by governments to kill enemy military or political leaders by means of blowing the hell out of houses, apartment complexes, wedding parties, etc. with missiles or bombs when the target is suspected to be in them, along with dozens of other innocent people who get killed in the process — can be justified by human shield arguments, either. Besides the number of innocent people who are inevitably killed in attacks like these, it is more or less never the case that killing the target will end an imminent, ongoing threat. (So you kill Osama bin Laden. As if there were no-one else who would take over after he’s dead and continue posing whatever threat ObL was posing while he was alive.) The human shield cases seem plausible precisely because there’s an element of immediacy and an element of decisiveness in the ending of the threat; both those elements are completely lacking in cases where you’re blowing scores of people up in an attempt to assassinate some military leader that they have the misfortune to be existing near.

  15. Aster

    “If you’re just asking about yourself, then I think that you are morally obligated to let yourself get killed if the only way for you not to get killed would be by doing something that kills 5 innocent people. You have no moral right to kill them just in order to save your own skin.”

    I immensely, intensely. disagree. Or at least I object deeply to the scathing spiritual tone. If I was in such a situation, I don’t know what I would do- I don’t think I’d personally find great joy in life after keeping myself alive at such cost. But in cases of survival and hideous emergency situations no one has a right to make such pronouncements. People wish to live and be happy, and telling them that they must not save even the possibility of happiness when no other choices but cruelty and injustice exist is to make ethics a senseless weapon against humanity. There is no good answer in cases like this; the situation is tragic. But I’m not interested in any system of ethics which uses such callous moralistic phrases as ‘saving one’s own skin’ (except possibly as rhetoric off university ground). If we care about living in this world we need in fact to cultivate much more respect and care for our own flesh. Ethics only has meaning and value insofar as it helps us pursue a better life. It can never require suicide, except in the (all too real) sense of showing us in which situations a worthwhile life is no longer possible.

    I don’t know what I would do if I could only continue living by killing a stranger. My formal egoistic ethics tell me that most likely the rational thing to do would be to kill that person, but my head is cluttered with spooks and I think it’s very likely I couldn’t emotionally handle it. And- more rationally- I’ve seen the gritty wrecks of humanity that are the result of those who did make monstrous decisions in order to defend keeping living, and very likely oblivion is preferable. But I don’t know. And I might advance that none of us who hasn’t been through such a situation really knows what we would do. I would not judge a person in such a case altho’ I might well react in horror to what such a person has become as a result (two quite different issues). I definitely believe that spreading guilt and moralism about what people do in survival situations is useless, cruel, and frankly often quite privileged. Nobody makes it out of Hell without bloody hands.

    Thankfully such situations are not so common. Or are they? Most of us simply to live use products made with what is essentially slave labour all the time, but could by painful awareness, effort and sacrifice refrain from doing so. Most of us do not and continue along with our lives just fine- or at least we think that it’s fine. I suspect that realistically, the question of what one we will do to survive is largely a matter of subjective mitigating factors and irrational emotional immediacy. Class privilege is to a large degree the ability to live off human blood without ever knowing it or hurting from it, and sometimes I think what semi-liberal social systems in fact perfect (precisely because their spiritual structure is the arguably impossible attempt to generalise aristocracy) is the ability to transmute the classical slaughterhouse of individuals of slave societies into a model which maximises all oppression of others which can be carried out least consciously, while loudly mostly foreswearing the rest.

    There are other times I think that this idea is %#%#!! created by advocates of true horror so as to weaken our defense and attachment to liberal social orders and reverse what little fragile happiness has with immense effort has been made possible in this awful world. But the fearful doubt remains. Sometimes I think that the human species preys on itself by nature despite being wounded by knowing it, and that imperialism and the class system are simply the farm on which some humans keep others for slaughter, while unseen and unknown hands do the butchering.

    Yick. What a way to start a morning. When I find myself thinking like this what it actually accomplishes is making me want to log into WoW and go blast mobs until my conscience has been thoroughly frostballed. A conscience is probably an irrational Christian artefact or sociobiological stupidity anyway.

  16. Rad Geek

    Ethics only has meaning and value insofar as it helps us pursue a better life.

    That’s fine, but the question is who is included in that us and who is excluded from it. If the only way to save one’s own life is by inflicting a massively disproportionate amount of violence — for example, slaughtering 5 completely innocent people in order to save one from the violence of an unrelated third party, who those 5 have no control over and may not want anything to do with — then I think it is the worst sort of sacrificial morality to claim that you can rightfully inflict that violence against those innocent victims. Other people have as much right to pursue a better life as you or I do, and while there is a perfect right to defend oneself from violence, that right isn’t the right to do so by absolutely any means necessary, no matter who many innocent people get hurt in the process. Their lives matter too, and if that’s callous moralizing, then I think we had better note who it’s callous towards, and for whose sake.

    This is especially the case — urgently so — when we’re talking about the ethics of so-called collateral damage in wartime (that is, deliberately maiming and killing civilians in order to achieve some unrelated goal), because then is especially egregious for trained, professional, heavily-armed soldiers to sacrifice the lives of (usually unarmed, usually besieged) civilians in order to save themselves from being killed in combat. If that be callous moralizing, well let us make the most of it.

    Do I have a right to tell you you haven’t the right to save yourself (alone) using tactics that will kill five times as many innocent strangers? I dunno. But I think those innocent strangers certainly do.

    It can never require suicide, except in the (all too real) sense of showing us in which situations a worthwhile life is no longer possible.

    I agree with you about that, but I think the except is awfully important; we may have different views of what kind of lives are worth living. I think there are some kinds of lives which are clearly and categorically not worth living for human beings (even if the person living it happens to think differently at the time). The life of a vampire is one such life. And a trained, professional soldier who knowingly and willingly kills defenseless civilians in order to save himself from enemy fire is no better.

  17. Marja Erwin

    Well, when people say that living our own lives is only instrumental to serving some other purpose, it tends to produce a push-back where preserving our own lives becomes something higher than anything else.

    In extreme situations, yes, that push-back leads to the ridiculous assertion that people are justified in trying to kill each other to preempt each other and preserve their own lives.

    It may help to refuse to judge.

    Of course, none of this has any resemblance to the liquidation of the Gaza Ghetto.

  18. Aster

    Rad Geek-

    Charles, you have one of the best minds I know, and I respect your opinion on a matter a great deal. I’ve no serious dissagreements with any of the conclusions you reach here and I think there are plenty of good egoistic reasons to be, well, nice and liberal and humanist in this world. But at the same time I find something incongruous in your ethical framework, an arbitrary presumption of a global sense of ethics which I don’t rationally share.

    In the sort of case we’re discussing above, I can certainly agree that there is a problem when my interests require the sacrifice of yours, and vice versa. Certainly many of these cases are unnecessary in the sense that they are the byproducts of irrational social structures (race, class, and gender divisions, to cite some obvious examples). Certainly it makes sense for us all to work to minimise these cases, which produce ugliness, cruelty, and waste. But to suggest this kind of problem must be addressed by demanding that people limit their interests in deference to the other requires a global ethical framework preceding and transcending human interests, to which we owe a deference. And my answer is simple: WHY, for goddess sake? Why on Earth is there some cosmic necessity for each of us to act in away that acts out some harmonious pattern of interests- again, it’s not the worst model as to what kind of society human could profitably create. But it’s simply not a given. I look at the life of other organisms and the whole idea seems absurd. What standard in this world can one appeal to to justify such a thing? Kantian self-hypnosis by logic doesn’t impress me; utilitarianism is simply social and minute application of the same arbitrary claim, and even Ayn Rand tries to spin egoism a little too neatly into all the high verities. Reality, it seems, it quite a bit messier- and if we’re going to be philosophical there is no use in assuming comforting standards outside of it.

    Obviously, if two people can only each survive by annihilating the other- the lifeboat situation- then there is no globally just solution. But I see this observation as producing only tragic awareness- I wouldn’t hate or despise a person who is acting egoistically to preserve their own life at my expense, altho’ I would oppose them and most likely be extremely towards them emotionally. In my view, each should act to preserve their own possibility of happiness and do so in seriousness and horror but not hesitation or guilt. I just do not see the need or justification for the sort of global morality you seem to be presupposing, sense that things do or ought to work our right in some harmonious pattern of justice. It makes me strongly suspect that there is something amounting to God hiding in the background.

    As for the argument that the life of a vampire or a professional soldier is not worth living, I might agree for myself based on my own emotional experience- like most people, I’ve done nasty things, and the result from such cases has been a painfully darkened mental landscape. But what do you do if you run across a vampire or professional soldier who seems to be or claims to be flourishing (I mean, actually being happy, not falsely opining so)? History is awfully littered with aristocrats who clearly lived realtively worthwhile lives (I mean here primarily spiritually, not socioeconomically, altho’ the latter can provide means for the cultivation of the former) and yet cannot possibly be described socioeconomically as anything but entirely exploitive. One can rage all one wishes against a Thomas Jefferson, but rage isn’t an argument. Do you really believe that you could prove that Thomas Jefferson would be better off being dead than being Thomas Jefferson? That is not the impression I get from observing this slaveowner’s life- and yet this is really what this kind of argument has to claim. Aristotle too lived by slavery and imperial largesse. And neither sentiment nor moral anger knocks down these sort of ‘Nietzschean’ objections. I think that the intelligent pursuit of happiness can justify a great deal of humanist niceness but that it just doesn’t work with a sense of a prior global moral order- I see those who try to square this circle either end up putting limits on egoism (which is what I think you do) or trying to expand their self-interest into a global moral law which all must follow (which is incidentally exactly what Randians do to arrive at their horrific approach to class and international relations).

    I do not think there exists a prior ethical order to the universe. If there was, I suspect as human beings we would find it to be torture, which is what the most serious advocates of prior ethical orders (C.S. Lewis comes to mind) have in fact maintained. That doesn’t mean there’s no use for the idea of ethics- ethics can also mean an awareness of the most flourishing manner of living, a set of rules to sustain a polity, or a particular aesthetic approach to life. But the kind of ethics you presuppose- why should we have ever gotten into our heads that there is thing thing called ‘morality’ hanging binding claims above us? It seems to me that Homer’s Odysseus, for instance, doesn’t have this concept, and is spiritually healthier for it, however appalled one may be at the cruelty that it allows him to inflict.

    For the record, In my practical life I’m not currently considering putting a CV in to Guantanamo- actually, precisely these questions are putting me in a sort of Unitarian-Universalist mood, but my serious mind calls this nothing but sentiment and the mental chains of childhood teaching. I find life to be better when we are kind to others, and think my own life would be better is I learned to be more kind- but this kind of approach know matter how far you carry it, is just an argument for a different style of egoism.

    I’d sincerely appreciate a good argument for your sort of morality- altho’ if it can’t be done without requiring de imitatio Christi (by whatever secular name; google ‘Robert Jensen’ for a good vomit), then I think I shall just go to Hell. Which incidentally, according to my mind, doesn’t exist. And if the divine does exist, I have heard that it manifests in the psyche in ways that defy any possible Christianity, universalism, or humanism equally.

  19. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    “I’m not sure what you mean by “accept death by another 9-11.” If you’re just asking about yourself, then I think that you are morally obligated to let yourself get killed if the only way for you not to get killed would be by doing something that kills 5 innocent people. You have no moral right to kill them just in order to save your own skin.”

    Just to clarify: does the only me part deal with porportionality?

    I agree with you that the focus on killing Osama Bin Laden often misses a larger context. In fact, I am fairly confident that killing Bin Laden would not end the organization he helped begin.

    I recommend the work of Michael Scheurer to you. He’s a right wing Catholic nationalist type, but he knows more about Islamist insurgency then our political elites seem to.

    “This brings up a point that many U.S. officials and some commentators have missed; namely, that al-Qaeda is not structured as a terrorist group but rather as an insurgent organization modeled on the Islamist insurgent groups that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is a linear (if far more sophisticated) descendant of those groups, and so is always planning to face a far more powerful enemy. Al-Qaeda clearly is not eager to lose leaders, but one of the prices for challenging a superpower militarily – as the Afghans learned in battling the Soviets – is the loss of significant numbers of leadership cadre. Thus, succession-planning becomes one of the most vital keys to survival; the organization must be able to survive the loss of key commanders more or less without missing a beat. The best Afghan insurgent groups did this, and al-Qaeda has done so in spades.”


    My concern with this subject relates to this: let’s say that we are morally responsible for the death of innocents in all or 98 percent of cases. All that an enemy has to do is contiunally remain among innocents in a way that immunizes them until entire nations are wiped out. In the end, the only person left remaining could be the guy who finds aggressive violence entirely ok. I am not making a consquentialist argument here. This is more of a “check your premises” kind of moment for you.

    Fortunately, you’ve hit on a very real world point. There is such a thing as an interminable cycle of violence — which Bob K rightfully brought up. In the case of a competent insurgent organization designed to survive, then it’s entirely clear that cutting off the head doesn’t automatically deal a death blow. Like I said, the whole mania about getting Bin Laden misses the point that Islamist insurgency-terrorism is a global ideological phenmomnen. A captive army may surrender after their military commander disappears, but this can’t be imputed acontextually to every military style organization. The progress of civiliazation depends on an ability to ever more precisely and decisvely end threats.

    “I’m not sure what you mean by “accept death by another 9-11.” If you’re just asking about yourself, then I think that you are morally obligated to let yourself get killed if the only way for you not to get killed would be by doing something that kills 5 innocent people. You have no moral right to kill them just in order to save your own skin.”

    I meant that I live in a country suffering blowback from decades of imperial empire. It’s not stastically likely that I’ll die from a terrorist attack, but the prospect of a nuclearized dirty bomb or other kind of weapon of greater killing scope increases my likelihood. This is particularly true when I live right outside of D.C.. I don’t really worry about it, because of its improbability, but it does make this issue seem much closer to home. I agreed with Chris Sciabarra about the permissability of the U.S. military narrowly responding to September 11th — I didn’t see any other contextually realistic alternative. I admit this places me in much more of the minarchist category occupied by Chris.

    He wrote: “Even though I support relentless surgical strikes against terrorists posing an imminent threat to the United States, I have argued that America’s only practical long-term course of action is strategic disengagement from the region. In the long-run, I stand with those American Founding Fathers who advocated free trade with all, entangling political alliances with none.”

    Wouldn’t a proper ethic advise us to avoid the bloodiness of violence until an imminent threat defeatable by no other means arises? I suspect we agree on this point. The related issue deals with whether you’re ever going to find Al Q targets that meet a very limited criteria. In an American context, this is complicated by determining how many attacks by U.S. predator drones on terrorist-insurgent personnel in Pakistan really deal with imminent threats to the mainland rather then just attacks motivated by a nearby U.S. occupation.

    Anyhow, I know a lot of people left thoughtful responses to me. I haven’t responded to all of them, because there’s a lot and have been busy. I also don’t know if Charles wants me to go off into things not pertarining to Israeli military legitimacy — seeing that that’s the topic of this post.

  20. quasibill

    “In my view, each should act to preserve their own possibility of happiness and do so in seriousness and horror but not hesitation or guilt.”

    It’s not often one gets to read the inner workings of a sociopath. It’s fascinating and repugnant all at the same time. Though it does shed some light on Aster’s past behaviors – cyber-stalking and serial slandering apparently are the least of the evil Aster is willing to unleash on the world to satisfy her own ego.

    Anyone who thinks there is anything redeeming in her thought or in engaging in dialogue with such a sick personality should re-read the above comment she made. While she uses more flowery language, at her base, she is no different from (and in my mind, much lower than) Dondero or Hollick. That people attacked her victim (especially without first censuring Aster for her despicable behavior) when he struck back does not speak well of this movement. Expending effort and time to dialogue with such people only proves the old adage about fools and those who argue with them.

    No hesitation or guilt in murdering a baby.

    Repugnant to the core.

  21. Marja Erwin


    When one person attacks another person, not for her positions or her action, but for being like me, I’m going to call them on it. And I was friends with Aster – years ago – and her lasting influence helped me shake loose from totalitarian ideologies and attitudes.

  22. Aster


    Nietzsche died in 1900. Benjamin Tucker published the first American edition of The Ego and Its Own in 1907. Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness came out in 1964. If one cannot advocate a position which openly dispenses with Christian ethics in the 21st century then we might as well abandon our critical intellects and go worship whatever fictions we were taught in childhood which serve to keep the tribe together. This, of course, is what a United States regressing through a de-Enlightenment is currently doing on a massive scale.

    I am not a philosophical nihilist (nor a clinical sociopath, altho’ I don’t place much trust in established psychology’s labels in the first place). I think that with an eye to the nature and conditions of human flourishing (particularly with the awareness that we are conscious beings and exist in an inner or mental as well as physical landscape) we can intelligently comprehend what ways of living do indeed promote a deeply meaningful human life and that we can therefore an evaluate social and political systems with an eye to what wold enable this end. I think history fairly clearly shows that the best social system which permits people to develop their talents and live full and deep lives is the open society, specifically a liberal democracy upholding a civic order of human rights. I would like to see this approach extended in scope and consistency which is why I am interested in progressive social change.

    But no, I don’t believe in a priori morality. I think some elements of traditional morality intuit rational values but in an irrational, authoritarian, and harmful form. But the notion that there is a ‘good’ preceding human action is to me an entirely baseless assumption, and what destructive of any attempt to understand what is actually worthwhile for us.

    If you wish to provide an argument in favour of deontological ethics (what Rand called ‘intriniscism’, more or less), please do so and I will be happy to discuss the issue. Waving pictures of bloody babies, however, is not a philosophical argument; it’s the sort of thing specialised in by Christians and other religionists who are very consistent in their application of a morality for which good is a self-sacrificial duty to which the autonomy and self-actualisation of (female) human beings must be sacrificed. And while I have the same protective instincts you do, shouting the word ‘baby’ doesn’t address the issue as to whether it is permissible to kill in order to preserve one’s life and liberty, or whether rights are to be construed as a platonic abstraction to which one must be willing to forfeit one’s own survival. and no, I don’t consider guilt to be a sensible emotion to cultivate- if a necessary evil is really and truly necessary (as in Long’s scenario), it does no one on Earth any good to feel miserable up over it; the fact that as human beings we do feel pain in these cases may be decisive in practice (at least I don’t know if I could pull Long’s trigger, even in self-defense and even being rationally convinced that I should), but a ratinal argument it does not make. In short, I don’t share your ethical intuitions.

    Now, as applies to the immediate issue: I’m more initially inclined to support Israel than are some others here because the preservation of a society which respects (to a very compromised degree) some individualist principles- which allow people to live their own lives- comes first in my ‘heirarchy of values’ (I don’t like that phrase, but that’s another issue) before an intrinsic duty not to harm to others. I do support the principle that unilaterally harming others is a bad idea, but not as a duty and not in precisely the same form or reasons which would be enjoined by an altruist morality. That’s why I need to do a double-take on the Israel-Palestinian conflict- if, in fact, the Israeli attacks did intend and effect to defend a society which permits some degree of selfhood from a society which is deeply hostile to the same (and whose leaders have often called for the destruction of a semi-free society as a good end in itself), then I would not be inclined to protest, as in such a case the Israeli state would be the least bad side choosing the least bad option. I don’t think that’s the actual situation, but I’m very hesitant to join in a cause which typically frames an issue in a way which ignores the importance of the values I fight most absolutely crucial- in this case the distinction between the open and closed society.

    As it happens, I think the Gaza attacks are more a manifestation of militarism, tribalism, and religiosity and ths very bad in their principle and results. I certainly do not desire a world in which the conventionally powerful can ignore others’ rights because as a human being who values human beings such oppression is in principle threatening to me and to all of us. Colonialism is a nasty product of a tribal mentality which is always in essence hostile to the individual spirit. But I won’t forget the difference between a society which allows some selfhood and one that enjoins a lifetime of submission. this is especially true given the context of antisemitism, which I regard as a contemptible prejudice even for a racism; the hatred of Jews usually in essence a fool’s reification of rage against everything I admire in this world. The easy turn of the Left to an anti-Israel stance echoes a little too closely all of the ways in which historical socialism has too often been a secular damnation of prosperity, worldliness, mobility, moral dissent, and self-interest. For this reason, I want to be very careful that condemnation of Israel for its culpable atrocities isn’t tainted with hatred for what Israel represents or is seen to represent to people. I used to have precisely the same view of anti-Americanism, until I came to the conclusion that America has ceased to be a symbol of Enlightenment is any meaningful sense. I sadly think that the same may be true of Israel, but I’m not entirely convinced of it.

    Again, if you wish to discuss foundational moral principles, or their political applications, and explain to me why I should adopt your ethical standards, I am fully open to discussion; all I ask is that gender attacks and other hate speech, which makes it impossible for me to stand in a dialogue, be placed outside. Since I see no evidence that you wish to engage in bigotry I would be happy to sit down in civil discussion (well, relatively civil, since this is the internet).

  23. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    I too agree that labeling Aster a sociopath is a stretch. She’s been anguished over the ghettoization of Palestine and criticized perceived classism in Libertarian circles. This is not a woman clinically out of touch with the existence of other human beings or their well being. We can’t forget that we are part of these hypotheticals too i.e. it may be that not pulling the trigger in Long’s scenario means our own death. If a person concludes they have to, then a paralzying guilt could be the difference between life or death. This is precisely why sensitive gentle people like me are the easiest targets for Islamists or Christianists or random thugs. I get nervous about the prospect of killing someone in self-defense from an attempted street mugging — interestingly, this makes me prefer a firearm for defense, because I can potentially use it from a greater distance.

    On another note, I feel like I started off my ruminations in entirely the wrong way. What I meant to investigate was where moral responsiblity lied for the death of “human shield” innocents. It was not about whether I or them should die e.g. the notion that they have a duty or obligation to die for me or vice versa. Fortunately, Charles correctly pointed this out.

  24. Aster

    Marja, and Nick- thank you. Marja especially- I’d honestly written off anything good coming out of those years. If I really had any effect on helping you get your mind out from under their world, I’m glad of it. For my part, you’re one of the few people from that time who I remember as a true individual, and I’m grateful for anyone who helped me remember that those still exist.

    It disturbs me that given our vast population and relatively greatly expanded freedom and literacy that one still has to find most of them in books.

    The sociopath is going to be offline for a day or so while she housesits for a friend and takes care of her cats.

  25. JOR


    “As for “semi-free societies,” I will note that whether or not Israel counts as “semi-free” depends a lot on who you are.”

    Just so. Actually, any society is a free society for its ruling class.

  26. JOR


    These other goons may not notice what you did, but I loved the way you went all Aster on Aster.

    It was perfect. You made my day.

  27. JOR


    Grow a thicker skin.

    “It’s more about how I can actualize living individualism in reality when terrorists present me with choosing between the death of all I cherish vs taking non-combatant lives they bear responsiblity for endangering in the first place.”

    The actual choice you are faced with, in this real world that you supposedly have some better grasp on than us mystical Platonists (or whatever), is more like this: are you going to support some gangsters who kill a lot of innocent people in other countries, and a lot (but not as many) in your own, and sometimes kill other gangsters in other countries who are mostly a threat to the innocent people in those countries but who also may say nice things about (or maybe help fund) other terrorists and gangsters, who share their beliefs to some degree or another, who do some very bad things somewhere on the same continent as you, someday? Or are you going to condemn the aforementioned gangsters? Or are you going to wring your hands over the difficulties of actualizing living individualism in a world where there are these things called other individuals, who have moral claims every bit as strong as yours, regardless of your antipathy toward their cultures?

    You seem to be going for the third choice, for the most part. You can take some comfort in the fact that if you’re making the wrong choice (and you are), it will have no practical effect at all.

    Meanwhile, I tire of hypotheticals that gain their persuasive power by luring us to imagine other people as mere objects of action, mere moral patients at best.

  28. Marja Erwin

    Military confrontations themselves cultivate certain anti-libertarian values on both sides: nationalism, xenophobia, obedience to hierarchies, etc. The occupation has shaped both sides.

    Actually, any society is a free society for its ruling class.

    Nope. It may or may not be semi-free for it’s ruling class – Hegel took the extreme view that slave societies are not free for anyone, including their ruling classes, but that seems an odd description for, inter alia, wealthy men in Classical Athens. (On the other hand, Hegel also took the equally extreme view that the modern Prussian state was free for everyone.)

  29. Keith Preston

    Quasibill and JOR,

    Isn’t it ironic how Aster and her fan club exhibit the very “tribal morality” she supposedly finds so appalling? Not only does Aster engage in “cyber-stalking and serial slandering,” as Quasibill points out, but attempts to do so with cowardly anonymity. When I called her out for it, her disciples not only failed to recognize any wrongdoing on her part, but vigorously defended her “right” to do so anonymously under the cover of “privacy.”

    Meanwhile, Aster engaged in repeated insults, wild accusations and personal attacks directed at me, even calling me subhuman. Yet, when I cracked a joke about her cocklessness, her fan club feigns indignation with regards to matters of civility and formal rules of debate, when they’re really just engaged in special pleading for their pet causes and personal sensitivities. Does this not epitomize the hypocrisy, double standards, groupthink and herd-morality that all of these enlightened, egoistic, individualistic, free-thinkers supposedly stand in opposition to?

    Thanks, Aster and friends, for making one of my consistent points-that the great majority of human beings are indeed tribal creatures and creatures of the herd.

    Quasibill said:

    “That people attacked her victim (especially without first censuring Aster for her despicable behavior) when he struck back does not speak well of this movement.”

    Agreed, but fortunately there are plenty of diverse, libertarian-oriented movements and tendencies with a radical left edge out there that are not dominated by social losers or the psychologically disturbed. Cases in point:





  30. Nick Manley


    I wrote a long reply to this, and it didn’t post correctly. I am not going to repeat it exactly. For the record, if I come off as pompous, then it’s subconscious. I am not declaring I have more of a grasp on the real world then you. I am just making arguments. They may or may not be more in touch with the real world. That’s something to be discovered through constructive exchange. I am happy to do that, but I ask that you refrain from ad homeniem attacks. I’ve been entirely civil with you. I responded to your earlier comment with substantive argument. Aster has done the same with others in this dialogue.

    And for the record: I’ve known Aster pretty well. Like Marja, she had a positive impact on my life. She’s not perfect and can have her moments of cruelty, but the idea that she is some sociopath eager to unleash destruction on the world is unfounded. She has explicitly condemned Israel’s treatment of Gaza. She’s been critical of alleged classism in both Objectivist and Libertarian circles. I find Aster to be a sensitive intelligent kind woman — in a non-Christian sense. In this discussion, she has only had substantive argument to offer. Her comments are interesting and robust. Instead of reflexive defensive anti-Asterism, there should be curious and critical engagement.

    As for gangsters in government: I have condemned the foreign policy of Israel and the U.S. a billion times. I see real people at work here — not inert objects of action or moral patients. My first post on the horror in Gaza called for a moment of silence for Gazan children. The hypotheticals I’ve used are not really hypotheticals in a strict sense. In the real world, there are people who face opponents deliberately walking among non-combatants. I did not endorse blind indiscriminate attacks in such cases. I cited Long on four factors we could use to assess such situations — Charles followed up with fairly excellent analysis based on the four factors. If I thought no one else had moral claims, then I wouldn’t care to engage in philosophic musing at all. I’d simply be an anti-intellectual conservative mindlessly calling for the mass murder of Middle Easterners.

    For the record, I support U.S. government disengagement from the Middle East and Israeli foreign policy change too. This includes unilateral cessation of expanding state subsidized settlements for fundamentalist Jewish crazies or anyone else.

  31. Aster


    First of all, thank you for the civility.

    On your third point I agree entirely. I do condemn the Palestinian occupation as well as Israel’s most recent actions, but not in a manner which elides the distinction between Islamic nationalism and liberalism or modernity or forgets the context of antisemitism. The awareness of these issues is precisely what I see missing from many progressive discussions.

    On the second point, my view isn’t the same as Nietzsche’s (in any of his moods), or I wouldn’t use the concept of ‘rights’ in the first place, or defend liberalism or any form of humanitarianism. The primary reason I brought Nietzsche’s name up is to emphasise that the most popular Western systems of ethics are not self-evident and do require justification. These I don’t share, and without apologies. I think that what they actually deliver is the murder of human souls, and that at heart the most consistent advocates know it.

    As for dispensing with the entirety of the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’, that’s a complicated issue. I suspect that it gets some things right, and I certainly think it would be rash to discard thousands of years of culture as a spiritual or poetic resource. I certainly don’t think it’s rational to dismiss an idea simply because it has some connection with Christianity. Nevertheless, certainly some ways of thinking cease to make sense outside of their initial Christian context, and in ethics particularly I think that we’re likely all haunted by legions of spooks.

    On to the first point. The philosophical issue is: what validates the concept of ‘rights’? In my view, ‘rights’ denote the awareness of the conditions which must be preserved for human flourishing and thus the boundary lines to others’ actions for those who wish to promote this. In my view this is a good guide to a) a minimum of how one should act towards others one wishes to see flourish (and the default state is that one does), b) what one needs to minimally demand of others, and c) what one should insist be codified as minimal ground rules for collective social organisation. I arrived at this point from a Randian perspective, but I don’t think Rand’s defense of natural rights works- like much of Rand’s thought around the late 30s, it starts incongruously shifting from a first-person to a top-down ethical perspective and adopts a much more ‘respectable’ overall structure. I see my adjustment of Rand as one which resolves her dichotomy between ‘normal’ and ’emergency’ situations into a contextual question of whether one can or cannot beneficially live with another person, along the lines of classical distinctions of states of war and peace, but beginning at the level of the individual consciousness.

    If you wish, it might help to point out that the extreme situations we have been talking about are relevant only in states of war or other ’emergency’ conditions- lifeboat situations, or cases of desperation or extreme poverty, for instance. But I feel much better with a single ethical system of values which can be applied in any circumstances than a system for which practice demands suspiciously large exceptions. Standard libertarian rights theory assumes a state of peace, but history shows that unfortunately war, violent oppression (for instance, the Palestinian occupation), and slaughter are unfortunately typical features of human life. Given a state of peace (which I am immensely grateful to finally share with my surrounding physical community), I am perfectly happy not only to assert a liberal rights theory as one component of a civic morality but to codify it as public law to be enforced, a la minarchism, by the state. My philosophical point is that rights do not precede human existence and human values, and I can’t imagine how anything could possibly justify this claim without an appeal to moral metaphysics (A.K.A. “God”). If there is a right or wrong preceding our exploration of this world and how we might live in it, then I believe it philosophically proper to ask for the evidence for this claim.

    Lastly, I wish to note that it’s not yours’, Rad Geek’s, or Long’s stance I seriously object to. What I do object to is the use of (even good and properly applied) ethical principles against a particular party as a means to blank out crucial distinctions between parties or to demand the unforgivable. In Israel’s case, it’s not unheard of to hear people twist the ‘better to die than do evil’ stance into a demand that since Israeli society does evil in the name of existing, morality demands that it not exist. Leaving aside the fallicious and counterfactual issue, I find this basic principle and tactic outrageous: nobody has a right to command someone else to lay down their life in the name of floating abstractions. If you love your life, when you are cornered with no peaceful options left, you do what you must, with as little damage to bystanders as you possibly can. I think it is more reasonable and realistic to simply admit this than to engage in an abstract calculus as to when it is not ‘permissible’ to survive. Life-or -death situations are hideous enough already.

  32. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    Well, I’ve disagreed with Aster and told her so pretty confidently. I don’t count myself a disciple of her in any creepy cultish sense. All I said was that her stated reasons for being anonmyous were unrelated to cyberstalking. During that debate, I called for peace. I criticized name calling all around.

    I probably have some emotional-psychological issues to work through, but I don’t feel like a loser for it.

  33. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    “I am perfectly happy not only to assert a liberal rights theory as one component of a civic morality but to codify it as public law to be enforced, a la minarchism, by the state.”

    My worry about your pragmatic evolution is that you will actively enforce taxation yourself. I have my views about gradualism, but I draw the line at actively assisting the initation of force. I’d arguably not be able to enlist you as an intellectual ally under such circumstances.

  34. quasibill

    Just to be perfectly clear about my comment about 3rd parties, I’ll provide a hypothetical based upon a post on this blog about a year ago and a troll who commented.

    Suppose there is an office party. There is a shy woman at the party. Throughout the night, the office clown repeatedly pulls up her blouse and yells “boobs!” The other party goers, including the host, say nothing about this repeated behavior. After several repetitions of this obnoxious behavior, the shy woman is infuriated. When the clown grabs her shirt again, she grabs the closest object, which happens to be the fire poker and smacks the clown on the head with it. The clown suffers serious injuries. Now, the crowd and host say to the woman “you are evil and vile, and have lowered yourself to his level. You crossed a line in responding to his admittedly childish behavior.” They don’t specifically say anything to their friend the clown, however. And the host permits the clown to continue on attending parties without any sort of actual censure.

    I do think that such behavior indicates a certain blindspot regarding pet causes and personal preferences. And it’s something that those involved will have to address if they want to be taken seriously outside their own echo chamber. Which is something I want them to be.

  35. Lady Victoria

    I guess I’m just a cult follower, then; I do know Aster too well to just let the name ‘sociopath’ pass by so easily. I actually associate that diagnostic label with ‘The Corporation’, a documentary comparing the structure and function of a corporation with that of a sociopathic personality, which lacks empathy or compassion. Projection?

    I’m an individualist, feminist, anarchist, queer, neo-pagan, transsexual Witch, to speak for myself; I live in SanFrancisco, where I came to know Aster as a neighbor and close friend, sensitive and empathic, working together on Salon Liberty and other projects.

    I’m here looking for a vision of a better world, and our means for getting there, specifically the civility of our discourse, have to be consistent with the fair, egalitarian, and peaceful ends we desire. When I read too many militaristic metaphors, accusations of sociopathy, or competitive language, that’s just not the society I want to live in. You speak of a cult; I celebrate a circle of friends.

  36. Keith Preston

    Nick said:

    “During that debate, I called for peace. I criticized name calling all around.”


    “…but I don’t feel like a loser for it.”


    Quasibill said:

    “I do think that such behavior indicates a certain blindspot regarding pet causes and personal preferences. And it’s something that those involved will have to address if they want to be taken seriously outside their own echo chamber. Which is something I want them to be.”


  37. Nick Manley


    I don’t think Aster should engage in ad homeniem attacks on Keith Preston or vice versa. I am honestly not up for rehashing and analyzing every detail of that past conversation though. I will say that Keith’s view of the tribal nature of human beings does not automatically make him a personal sexist or racist — even if Aster was right that it’s an obvious foundational basis of people who are. Aster did suggest he was one himself during the conversation. I retroactively criticize that formally here. I really don’t have a super intimate or close friendship with her right now. All of my comments about and to her are done so from a position of extremely limited contact. I am not part of an Aster cult. I just didn’t think she qualifies as a flaming sociopath. That’s objective truth for me — not Aster pandering. My evaluations of her in this thread have been reality as I see it. You can speculate about my own hidden subconscious psychological bias or something, but I can’t do much to deflate those beyond this kind of explanation. If it helps, I’ve had contact with both Keith Preston and Aster during her hostility towards him. She didn’t dictate who I could talk to, nor did I try to act according to my perception of her tastes.

  38. Neverfox

    The philosophical issue is: what validates the concept of !!!@@e2;20ac;2dc;rights’? In my view, !!!@@e2;20ac;2dc;rights’ denote the awareness of the conditions which must be preserved for human flourishing and thus the boundary lines to others’ actions for those who wish to promote this. In my view this is a good guide to a) a minimum of how one should act towards others one wishes to see flourish (and the default state is that one does), b) what one needs to minimally demand of others, and c) what one should insist be codified as minimal ground rules for collective social organisation.

    How is Rad Geek’s attempt to describe a normative guide to the situation incompatible with this view and how does it instead count as preceding human existence and human values? “Must”, “demand” and “should” are all terms of obligation. What am I missing?

  39. quasibill

    Lady Victoria,

    “When I read too many militaristic metaphors, accusations of sociopathy, or competitive language, that’s just not the society I want to live in. You speak of a cult; I celebrate a circle of friends.”

    Interesting that this feeling did not manifest itself while Aster was using such language in cyber-stalking and serial slandering Preston, on, e.g., this very web-site. Or is it okay if you like the person who is using such language?


    I agree that you criticized Aster, after you had criticized Keith for his response. I have no doubt that you or anyone else is not a cultist, in the literal meaning of the word. I don’t believe that was my accusation at all, in fact.

    But (and this is speaking as an admittedly deeply flawed person myself, as we all are IMO) don’t you see why your and others’ criticism of Keith’s response now ring quite hollow, when you refrained from criticizing Aster until you could first criticize Keith? Would you really ascribe much value to the opinions of the party-goers in my hypo? Wouldn’t you be rightfully critical of the behavior of the party host, at the very least? Contrast it with the way Roderick handled the exchange – total silence. I think that there is nothing wrong with that (as opposed to the hypo) – since if you’re going let Aster go “no holds barred” for so long, you gotta let her take her lumps back, even if they do cross a line themselves.

    “even if Aster was right that it’s an obvious foundational basis of people who are.”

    As is every possible intellectual position, taken out of context. Even yours. And especially Aster’s, as I have pointed out. That doesn’t make Aster’s taking it out of context and slandering Keith any more defensible. Heck, it doesn’t even begin to make Aster’s slander even remotely relevant to the discussions they interrupted.

    And if you’re wondering whether the same can be said about my post in this thread, you’d be right. But then, that was sort of my point.


    “How is Rad Geek’s attempt to describe a normative guide to the situation incompatible with this view and how does it instead count as preceding human existence and human values? “Must”, “demand” and “should” are all terms of obligation. What am I missing?”

    Nothing. There is nothing rational or useful there. The self-contradictory statements fairly jump out at me, at least. Which is why I stand by my assertion that there is nothing to gain from such a dialogue other than being associated with its irrationality.

  40. Bob Kaercher

    If anyone’s interested in whether or not the Israeli government’s claims that Hamas is using “human shields” is actually, y’know, true, then you should read this:

    A recent study by the International Committee for the Red Cross, the widely recognised arbiter over questions related to the laws of war and war crimes, said the use of human shields generally involves cases “where persons were actually taken to military objectives in order to shield those objectives from attack,” with the individuals often held against their will.

    As in previous wars, Israel has used the term “human shield” more loosely during its current operation in the Gaza Strip, which today enters its 18th day.

    In the deaths of at least 39 Palestinians at the UN’s Al Fakhoura school last week, it was a default position, apparently designed to blunt criticism that its forces were acting too cavalierly towards civilians in Gaza. Justifying Israel’s attack on the school, Israeli officials at first claimed that their fighters were responding to mortar fire from that location.

    Then the spokesman for the UN relief agency in Gaza, Christopher Gunness, said the organisation was “99.9 per cent certain” that there had been no militants or militant activity within the school compound. The agency also said that all its schools and other facilities were clearly marked and that their locations had been provided to the Israel Defense Forces.

    Mark Regev, the chief spokesman for Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, replied that Hamas was responsible for the deaths because it had used the civilians as “human shields” to try to make their own positions immune from attack. Mr Regev offered no evidence that Hamas fighters had forced Gazan civilians at gunpoint to provide cover for their attacks or protection from retaliation.

    While actual proof that Hamas is using human shields appears to be lacking in this incident and others, the repeated accusation by Israel helps buy time and dilutes international pressure for a ceasefire.

    It also preserves the reputation of the IDF, which has been frequently praised by the country’s leaders as the “most moral” military force in the world. Further, it panders to the widely held view in Europe, the United States and elsewhere that Islamists of any stripe are life-hating nihilists.

    For the truth in that, assume hypothetically that a Hamas or Hizbollah missile struck Israeli military headquarters, the Kirya. The compound is located in downtown Tel Aviv, surrounded by commercial and residential buildings. In all likelihood hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians would be killed.

    It is highly unlikely that saying they never targeted civilians would spare Hamas or Hizbollah international condemnation. It also seems unlikely that Israel or its allies would blame the IDF for the bloodshed, saying it had effectively used the people of the neighbourhood as “human shields”.

    That’s right, defintions are subject to change by those in the militarily dominant position.

  41. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    Double standards are a dime a dozen in conflicts like these. The conflicting explanations for the school incident definitely raised my eyebrows. That said, I’ve read a New York Times story that mentioned Hamas fighters firing next to apartment buildings or something. It strikes me as plausible that Hamas figures see civilians as being sacrificed for maryterdom a la themselves. I wouldn’t want to say this is true of every person in the organization. It’s just an inference based on the group’s religious fundamentalism. In fact, I read a story where an Islamic Jihad fighter confirmed this:

    “Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.

    “But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”


    “Dr. Awni al-Jaru, 37, a surgeon at the hospital, rushed in from his home here, dressed in his scrubs. But he came not to work. His head was bleeding, and his daughter’s jaw was broken.

    He said Hamas militants next to his apartment building had fired mortar and rocket rounds. Israel fired back with force, and his apartment was hit. His wife, Albina, originally from Ukraine, and his 1-year-old son were killed.”

    That’s the incident I was thinking of. There’s also a video of Israeli air force footage that shows missiles being diverted to spare civilian casualites e.g. when alleged Hamas operatives enter a civilian home.


    I know I’ve been portrayed as insensitive or irrelvant for not simply bashing the Israeli government or military in my posts on here. I am appalled by what is going on in Gaza. I strongly oppose the collective punishment of Gazans via embargo and ghettoization. I want all racialized treatment to come to an end in Israel proper plus the occupied territories. That includes an end to house demolitions and other tools of collective punishment or social control. The religious settlers should not be subsidized with tax dollars and be tried for crimes against Arabs with the full force of the law — no Jewish-Arab sentencing disparity.

    That said, I see Israel’s killing of civilians as likely falling into the unintentional yet not unforseen category. It’s a consequence of the weapons used and nature of the environment being fought in — Charles helpfully pointed this out in his post on it. I am not saying that the Israeli military is completely of free people with a jaundiced view towards Arab life. I don’t have any raw data, but I wouldn’t want to dismiss it out of hand. I just haven’t ever read a news story that gave me the impression that the IDF randomly dropped bombs on areas without any context of militant conflict whatsoever. That does not put an end to the kind of discussion your article is designed to provoke though.

  42. Rad Geek


    But part of the point of the article is that it’s seriously misleading (and, on the part of the IDF spokes-flacks, probably more or less deliberately deceptive) to refer to the cases like those you’re talking about as human shields.

    I’ve previously characterized the sort of argument involved as a human shield argument, but only because the (few and limited) cases in which it’s actually plausible are, usually, classical human shield cases — that is, cases in which an attacker goes out of her way to grab someone by force and force her into the crossfire so that defenders cannot get at the attacker without harming the shield.

    Nobody is denying, as far as I know, that Hamas fighters sometimes put weapons caches in places where a lot of civilians are, or that they live in houses where civilians live, or that they fire off rockets from nearby places like hospitals or schools. (Although that last apparently happens less often than the IDF claims that it does. No surprise — military press communication is often full of self-serving lies.)

    But it is seriously misleading to describe the innocent people being killed in these cases as human shields. They have not, generally, been forcibly pulled out by Hamas or forcibly put in the crossfire between Hamas’s armed forces and the IDF. All they are doing is existing, and trying to live their lives under hellish circumstances. Often they are concentrated in places like hospitals or schools, not because Hamas took steps to corral them in there, but rather because the heavy bombardment or ground assault by the Israeli government’s military has forced them to seek safety in those refuges, and then they shell or bomb the refuges. Which makes the government military’s attempts to shift responsibility over to Hamas all the more outrageous.

    The ethics of human shield cases have to do with whether or not moral responsibility for the murder of an innocent third party, in a given situation, should reasonably be shifted from the trigger-man to the trigger-man’s (ex hypothesi non-innocent) ultimate target. How far that responsibility can be shifted depends on a lot of factors. One of them is proportionality in the seriousness of the force being used. But another factor is surely how far the ultimate target has gone to force the third party into an abnormal condition of danger; the more that the target has done so, the more that she bears moral responsibility for the murder of the innocent third party. But if that’s not the case — if the third party is in the crossfire just because she’s trying to exist as she normally does, in her own house or at a hospital where she’s seeking medical care, or… — or, worse, because she’s reacting to a situation created by the trigger-man — that makes it much harder to justify the claim that the trigger-man doesn’t bear any responsibility for the murder.

  43. Marja Erwin

    I don’t pretend to know all that came before; I don’t follow every thread on this blog or on Roderick Long’s. (Which is a blog, but has not been socialized as a blog, and is not a blog-born-blog, not that that matters here.)

    Imagine that you walk into a room and someone kicks you in the face. It’s hard to be objective, and it’s hard to care whether they were trying to kick you or trying to kick someone else. It’s only natural to see it as an attack on you, or an attack on that someone else, rather than self-defense.

    I don’t know about the alleged original cyberstalking. However, who chose to turn this into a debate on Aster, and her character, instead of the conflict in Palestine, and ethics in general?

  44. Neverfox

    However, who chose to turn this into a debate on Aster, and her character, instead of the conflict in Palestine, and ethics in general?

    I have no idea who Aster is or what in the name of taste and decency any of this is about. I think I missed a memo or something.

    I second RG’s last post. It hits on the basic concept under contention.

    Furthermore, Israel has mandatory military service. This means that there are almost always Israeli military near Israeli non-military. Yet you don’t seem to get anyone saying that Israeli military are “using human shields” or hiding out near civilians to justify Hamas.

  45. Nick Manley

    Right on, Charles. All I meant was what you said: “Nobody is denying, as far as I know, that Hamas fighters sometimes put weapons caches in places where a lot of civilians are, or that they live in houses where civilians live, or that they fire off rockets from nearby places like hospitals or schools. (Although that last apparently happens less often than the IDF claims that it does. No surprise — military press communication is often full of self-serving lies.)”

  46. Aster

    “How is Rad Geek’s attempt to describe a normative guide to the situation incompatible with this view and how does it instead count as preceding human existence and human values? “Must”, “demand” and “should” are all terms of obligation. What am I missing?”


    Perhaps I was unclear, and if so my apologies. I’m not against a normative guide to human values; what I am against is a normative guide to human values which presumes an extra-individual frame of reference for morality. I think it is very possible to formulate an ethics as a guide to how a human being can live a deeply and passionately fulfilled existence, and I think a guide to relations with others is properly a part of this, as is a guide as to what sort of community, including a political community, one should support.

    I don’t think the terms ‘must’, ‘demand’, or ‘should’ necessarily connote moral obligation, unless the word is meant extremely generally. ‘Obligation’ suggests either a social relation or a transcendant standard, and this interpretation makes sense only if one initially considers ethics to refer to a transcendent ‘good’ (which seems to me an inherently religious or metaphysical concept) or intrinsically oriented towards the claims of society or of other persons. Niether is the way I see it. I see ethics as the study of question as to how to live- which I see as as complicated and as serious a matter as an art form. In this context, the standard of ethics is that which does in fact lead one to a happy and fulfilled life, and ‘must’ and similar terms assert that something is necessary toward that end, or some sub-end implied by it. Relations with others are not the essential or definitive component of ethics and interpersonal ethics constitute an (important) subset of ethical questions.

    As regards dealings with others, I more or less agree with Rand, and support a similar politics as a consequences. My views aren’t precisely the same on either issue, but that is a very complicated manner (very roughly, I lean partially towards Stirner on essentials and partially towards the post-countercultural Left on conclusions).

    Needless to say, granted such an ethics, it makes absolutely zero sense to say that a person (or a group of people) has a duty to sacrifice his or her own life (or I would say strictly his or her own possibility of happiness; breathing is overrated) because of harm to others entailed by self-preservation, unless that harm to others itself was itself worse than death for the acting individual. Now, in some cases- being directly responsible for the deaths of friends or lovers- I am inclined to take that possibility seriously (incidentally, I think contemporary culture {or at least male culture} usually underestimates the importance of friendship). The same would apply regarding anything else one feels personally attached to, which to me would include a general community I feel attached to, to a degree proportionate to that closeness. It may well be the case that the cultivation of sensibility with the well-lived life also recommends frequently converge with the prescriptions of some non-egoistic ethical theories- my own experience of life has been that when I’m nicer to others I am usually happier, and that when I’m not the result is spiritually and practically harmful. I intuitively agree with most of the conclusions in Long’s baby-shield scenario, but I don’t trust philosophical arguments which entail any sirt intuition very much.

    I would be very curious to hear an argument which might offer some theory which explained and validated these kind of intuitions as something other than habit, upbringing, or evolutionary biology. I’ll admit openly that I wish I knew how to integrate these kind of feelings into a rational philosophical framework, but right now I think that along with nice, harmless, and edifying things our intuitions can also go into some very black places, many of them disguised as the holiest of alleged virtues.

    That said, I’m not sure whether or not my approach differs greatly from Charles’- Charles is not one of the people here from whom I feel impossibly distant. I know that Roderick Long is greatly influenced by Rand and has defended the principle that all ethical statements need to refer back in the final analysis to the good of the actor. Given Charles’ close ssocaition with Roderick, and the fact that I’ve never seen him make an ethical statement incompatable with this standard (and no, you don’t necessarily have to be an altruist to oppose social injustice), I always assumed that Rad Geek was fairly close to the same page I’m working from, at least on basic principles. I may be wrong, and if so I’ll certainly accept his correction.

    Those who disagree with egoism are welcome to reply with a rational justification of an alternative ethics if they wish, altho’ I do confess I have trouble imagining what could possibly justify demanding that another person act against his or her rational self-interest, or what could convince a currently egoistic person to change his or her stance. Those who just wish to condemn egoism as depraved- well, I already knew many people thought that. I still see no use or foundation for Christian ethics or its secularisations (which doesn’t mean that I don’t respect some individual Christians on my own grounds; I highly regard Chris Hedges, for instance). What I find strange is that libertarianism, a movement which has been heavily influenced by ethical egoism, has come to be so dominated by Christian-derived morality (there’s little on Lew Rockwell that doesn’t reek of Christianity), while at the same time the Left, whose roots derive in large part from blatant secularisations of the Christian project, seems in both its established and radical forms to be reasonably and relatively open to egoism, except in name. I wish I understood precisely why– I suspect that if I did, I’d be very close to resolving many personal issues of unresolved political sympathies.

  47. Aster

    ‘My worry about your pragmatic evolution is that you will actively enforce taxation yourself. I have my views about gradualism, but I draw the line at actively assisting the initation of force. I’d arguably not be able to enlist you as an intellectual ally under such circumstances.’


    (I hope this is a full explanation- apologies for the length)

    I don’t like taxation. It rubs me the wrong way because it seems to imply that society has some prior claim on the individual. I’m a little more comfortable with the concept if taxation is treated as simply a form of public expenditure made inevitable by the realities of interdependency in social living- and I do think nearly all of us flourish as social creatures. But I still don’t feel comfortable with the idea, and do not think taxation can be part of the best society. I certainly son’t love the kind of communitarian or public-servant attitude which celebrates the taxman.

    That said, taxation isn’t on my list of the first twenty priorities of social change. Consider that those actively concerned with opposing taxation are almost always deeply in league with either 1) the established rich, who to my mind are the uberthieves in the first place, or 2) cultural reactionaries trying to move the power of the purse back to families or churches as a means of restoring a closed society. Granted this, I’d rather see social welfare programs stay in existence when the actual alternative is one-way socialism for the rich, and I would much rather see children attend secular public schools where they can have some exposure to a broader world of culture and ideas than see them locked up in church schools. I agree with Chomsky that if the choice is between public institutions with some degree of transparency and some statutory protection of individual rights, versus private tyrannies with no accountability behind closed doors, then the public option is regrettably to preferable option.

    Incidentally, I increasingly this view less and less as a pragmatic adjustment to reality- I think it’s more a recognition that an ethic of self-realisation in the context of our social and interrelated nature results in something a little less stark and fuzzy than Rand or Rothbard could tolerate. Just as libertarianism has trouble comprehending how freedom can be negatively affected by social institutions which don’t reduce very well to atomistic interaction, so libertarianism has trouble comprhending ways in which collective institutions can positively promote self-realisation. So while I would like to see models that take seriously the ability of individuals to opt out and go their own way, I also think that the public provision of goods and services can be supportive of free spirits- especially given that the alternative is likely to involve traditional support networks heavily tied to church and family, which will demand as price something far more expensive than money. I would far prefer a society which passionlessly taxes a populace to one in which access to common resources is dependant upon adherence to tribal rules and customs. I think that we are to a large degree simply stuck with society, stuck with common lives- and we would be well advised to set the rules to allow the maximum space for individuals to flourish rather than try to directly implement individualism by abolishing public authority, which given that our individualism is almost necessarily realised in a social context will have the actual result of leaving us at the mercy of social institutions which predate awareness of the human individual, address the total human being and not merely the citizen, and entirely absorb the individual into a socialised universe of unchosen values.

    I see this approach as similar to Kevin Carson’s approach to welfare statism, save that where Carson applies this analysis to economic relations of power I would apply it also to cultural relations of power- in both cases taking into account how both laws and real social relations empower or disempower individual self-determination. On both kinds of issues, I think we should ‘cut taxes from the bottom up and cut benefits from the top down’. For the moment, this practically means that while I won’t campaign for new taxes or expenditures, I’m also keeping my mouth firmly shut as to criticisms of the same, except as where such state action assists and reinforces economic or cultural controls which oppress the individual. I’d change this stance if antistatism and progressive values became more spiritually aligned causes- but what I actually see everywhere is antistatists actively arming economic and/or social conservatives against substantial individualism. Because of this, I see little meaningful difference between myself and the more culturally focused progressives- most of whom don’t really love the government very much either, especially since anarchism displaced Communism as the most prominent faction of Left-wing radicalism.

    Whether you feel you can ally with this approach or not is up to you.

  48. quasibill


    “I don’t pretend to know all that came before; I don’t follow every thread on this blog or on Roderick Long’s.”

    Well since the cyber-stalking and slandering occurred in the very thread you posted to and jumped on Preston, this doesn’t seem to be a very meaningful defense. Either you were careless of context, or were aware of it and didn’t care.

    “Imagine that you walk into a room and someone kicks you in the face. It’s hard to be objective, and it’s hard to care whether they were trying to kick you or trying to kick someone else. It’s only natural to see it as an attack on you, or an attack on that someone else, rather than self-defense.”

    Again, given the fact that Aster’s attack was in the very thread you jumped into to attack Aster’s victim, this seems quite hollow. The better parallel is the party where you watch Aster repeatedly kick Preston in the teeth, while doing nothing to stop it. When Preston gets up and attacks blindly, he hits you. Your actions in helping Aster continue to kick Preston in the teeth is somewhat less defensible, no?

    “However, who chose to turn this into a debate on Aster, and her character, instead of the conflict in Palestine, and ethics in general?”

    Well, you’re clearly right that I sidetracked the debate, although my point was less about Aster than those, like you, who defended her horrendous activities by piling onto her victim after you had been silent about her prior behavior.

    And if you think my de-railing this discussion has been annoying – multiply it by five to understand how Aster’s serial slander and cyberstalking must have made Keith feel. After all, on the very thread you posted to in jumping on Keith, Aster had derailed the discussion in exactly the same way, for at least the third time that I’m aware of. You didn’t seem to have a problem with continuing that derailment in any way. What’s changed?

    People who continue on treating Aster with the respect she clearly does not provide to others have their credibility affected. That her arguments consist of nothing more than more flowery versions of Donderoisms or Hollickisms just adds to the problem.

    Look, I could care less about Aster at this point. In my mind, she is to be ignored for the troll she is. I do care about Charles, Nick, and you, who have appeared to be nothing less than sincere in your discussions. And as I said above, I do care that you three be taken seriously outside this echo chamber that has been constructed – you all have important insights that need wider circulation. Aiding and abetting cyberstalking and serial slander is going to be a serious impediment to that.

  49. Marja Erwin


    What are Christian ethics? I am a Christian and I don’t know!

    Jesus, and most very early Christian writings, condemn purity systems and honor systems (the latter by opposing revenge, oaths, etc.). To an extent, Paul explores virtue ethics, but he portrays character as something hopeless (sin) which God allows us to escape (grace). I think that virtue ethics can lead in dangerous and misguided directions, particularly the idea that if and only if you force a child to do “the right thing” will they ever do “the right thing” as an adult.

    Many classical liberals have read their own values and ideas into Barbarian Europe. Interestingly pre-feudal ideologies, feudalism, classical liberalism, and several schools of anarchism all center on contract. In the feudal and pre-feudal versions, it involves two or more parties and God as a witness. In the liberal versions, which reacted to the wars of religion and the rise of the state, it either reduces to the two parties or – as in Locke – effectively substitutes the state, in the name of social peace, for God.

    It’s only reasonable for anarchists to seek models which avoid the dependence on the state, and often also the dependence on God. That can lead to radical egoism, or it can lead to something like the Anabaptist models – which try to avoid oath-taking and violence, and which therefore avoid including either God or the state in contract.

  50. Marja Erwin

    … Which explains why the anti-state right tends to have much higher views of contract than the anti-state left, often regarding them as both holy and enforceable, and, conversely, why the anti-state left tends to leave more space for fairness, forgiveness, etc.

  51. Dain

    I’m with Aster on self-interest. But my self interest in avoiding blowback from US aid to Israel keeps me firmly on the Palestinian “side” by default.

    As for the idea of a world in which liberal values can flourish, I don’t think this is threatened by cessation of support for Israel per above. What could be threatened, arguably, is the extension of hedonistic and free spirited individualism (which I greatly defend as merely a lifestyle preference) to the middle east in the near future by the limiting and retraction of American hegemony. But according to a litany of surveys, notably by John Esposito and colleagues, is that the people of the middle east, women included, don’t desire it. They believe it to be decadent.

    Getting back to self interest, it’d frankly be easier on me and the smooth functioning of international trade and travel which I enjoy to simply respect these differing cultures’ lifestyle as they now stand.

  52. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    I am not so sure that Israel would collapse without U.S. government aid — it has 200-400 nuclear weapons. I encourage people to support the best aspects of Israeli society on their own intiative. I also support the best of P society.

  53. Keith Preston

    Nick and Dain,

    There was a time when I simplistically thought that a threat by the U.S. to shut off aid to Israel would end the occupation. I was heavily influenced by Chomsky at the time and regarded Israel as something of a U.S. puppet (now I’m inclined to think the opposite may be true). Not only does Israel have a huge nuclear arsenal, but they are wealthier than many European countries, which means they could not only exist as a sovereign state but maintain the occupation as well even without U.S. aid, though American aid and international diplomatic support no doubt plays a role in strengthening the occupation. Besides, even if American aid was miraculously shut off, Israel could still easily find another benefactor like Russia, China or India.

    Gaza is essentially one big prison camp, and I don’t think the eventual fate of the Palestinians will be a happy one.


    With regards to taxes, I would say the principal issue with taxes is not that there is simply a rule that says we all have to turn in a 1040 on April 15, or that the average American is slightly less wealthy than they might otherwise be without taxes. Americans on average are already fabulously wealthy by world or historical taxes, and typically have a higher standard of living than citizens of other industrial states (and pay less taxes as well!)

    The first issue with taxes is that it is the primary source of funding the U.S. imperial empire, with its millions of victims throughout the world. The average Middle Eastern person, for instance, is much more victimized by the American tax system (though indirectly) than the average American.

    With regards to Americans, I would share Michael Kinsley’s assessment that Americans are “big babies” on this question. Most credible research shows Americans on average not only like “big government” but want more of it. They just want the other guy to pay for it, that’s all.

  54. Dain

    I don’t think that Israel would fall apart or any such thing if the US ended the aid, but I think that the vitriol directed at the US vis-a-vis the Israel/Palestine issue would subside at least somewhat.

  55. Nick Manley


    Agreed. The U.S. has attempted to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict for ages. Its just been one failed peace plan after another.

  56. Aster


    This is in reply to your query regarding my sense of Christian ethics. I wished I could have replied to you more quickly (there are always any number of things I wish I’d been able to say online, which unfortunately time and limited energy levels don’t always permit).

    I suppose the most inclusive definition of a Christian might be ‘a person for whom the story of Christ is a foundational narrative.’ Obviously, by this definition, the values of Christians could vary as much as potential reading of the Christian texts, and this set would be broadened even more greatly by the proliferation in the last century of alternative gospels and non-canonical Biblical texts. In this sense, it is doubtful that there is anything which could be usefully called Christian ethics.

    There is, however, I think a fairly distinct ethical worldview which has been historically promoted by the majority of influential Christian intellectuals and institutions- for instance by Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Catholic tradition. When discussing Christianity in a political context I think it’s reasonable to refer primarily these mainstreams of influential traditions. I recognise that there have historically been alternative developments of Christian spirituality (Pelagianism, for instance). I alsorecognise that as you’re self-admittedly an unusual variety of Christian that my sketch may not entirely apply to you. Finally, my focus in primarily on those elements of Christianity which I find objectionable- there are some elements of Christian tradition (moral universalism, an appreciation of the importance of inner life, a focus on integrity, and a rejection of hunter-killer morality, for instance) which I can agree with.

    I also wish to stress that my focus here is neither on modern bourgeois pseudo-Christians, nor is it on the witch-burners and Bible-belt yahoos- altho’ in the latter case I do think that what I see as Christianity’s misreading and misprescription for the human situation bears some responsibility for its perennial results in practice, just as there are reasons why (for instance) Marxism continually empowers certain distinct kinds of horror which are nevertheless contrary to some essential Marxist values.

    Now, in essentials, I would be tempted to define Christianity as ‘a sense of ontological inadequacy’- a sense that our very being is deficient and in need of orientatation to a metaphysical source of intrinsic value, or Good, or God. This is turn leads to an emphasis on an alleged dual nature of humanity, the contrast between the human and the godly, with the resulting problem of the distance the between human and godly. Virtue is orientation towards this God.

    Evil, in contrast, is seen as separation from God, especially as the willful choice of the same. Moral action largely consists in the conflict between the worldly and the godly. Sin begins in the attempt of humanity to be ontologically self-sufficient and to take itself as the point of reference for ends and values, thus denying our dependence upon God. From this worldview sensibly follows the identification of traditional Christian vices- pride, lust, greed- etc. The most essential source of evil in this worldview is self-centrism. It is impossible for me not to mention that the separation of soul and body, and suspicion of the latter, is an almost inevitable consequence of this worldview.

    I think it is also fair to add that a Christian by definition (to use Bertrand Russell’s characterisation) needs to have ‘some kind of belief about Christ’- that is not divine He must at least be for us the definitive moral ideal- specifically, the ideal of what it would mean for a human being to live in accordance with the divine source fo value. This in turn points to the cross as a symbol of what moral perfection means for a human being, with self-sacrifice as the pinnacle of moral perfection for human beings on this Earth.

    This analysis would also apply in large part to other systems of thought reasonably close to Christianity- such as Platonism, neo-Platonism, Judaism (but not secular Judaism), Islam, or Kantianism. To any immense degree, elements of the above worldview are the deeply assumed givens of Western (and not only Western) culture- indeed, I think that humanism, secularism, and liberalism are by comparison deceptively fragile and shallow emergences against this moral and religious background, and largely in practice confined to youth, to urbanity, and to the arts and sciences.

    If there is something which I haven’t mentioned which is decisive for one’s self-identification as a Christian, please correct me. I am less interested, ultimately, in the secondary controversies and disputed details of Christianity than in what distinguishes Christianity as a way of life in contrast to other ways of life, and whether or not this accords with how you and I ought to live. I believe that it is not, keeping in mind especially that if how we should live is a question open to us, the burden of validation is on one who would asset a positive answer.

  57. Marja Erwin


    I’m going to have to take my own time to reply. But I do not believe that human life is inadequate. The presence of one perfect life is, of course, an exception, and the presence of such a life does not imply that any variation must be an imperfect life. I do not believe that selfishness, self-sacrifice, and self-transformation are necessarily opposed to one another.

    Self-sacrifice as an end in itself cannot be a universal ethic. It only makes sense as a means to someone’s self-realization- in the Christian traditions, of course, that may include one’s own self-realization, as well as someone else’s.

  58. Marja Erwin

    To clarify, an exception to any claim that humanity is in itself inadequate.

  59. Nick Manley


    It sounds like a dialectical claim of some kind. Is it still a sacrifice when you do something that helps someone else realize something while also involving your own self-realization? Egoists of a Randian variety propose societies of independent traders.

    Honestly, I don’t see why Christian constructs are necessary to arrive at a notion of mutual benefit. I see no reason to adopt them.

  60. Marja Erwin


    I believe that God is present in the creation (in the Logos), and in every human being (in the Holy Spirit), and that this union flourished in Jesus (without any dual nature). Jesus’ saying that we should love God, and love our neighbors, as ourselves, reflects this presence.

    I tend to focus on the resurrection, the the crucifixion. One interpretation is to see the crucifixion as any other murder. Certain institutional structures (and sin in general) try to murder Jesus (and God and humanity in general) and fail – Jesus doesn’t stay dead. Another complementary interpretation looks into execution, scapegoating, and sacrifice. An execution is one of many places where the rulers, on behalf of society, sacrifices humanity to their laws. The crucifixion can be seen as a failed execution – again, Jesus doesn’t stay dead. It can also be seen as self-sacrifice, God sacrificing hirself to humanity – and winning hirself back.

    Let’s not get into substitutionary atonement, it is a medieval invention. Many medieval and modern Christian ‘orthodoxies’ have been written into earlier Christian traditions; in some cases the supporters of ‘orthodoxy’ have literally rewritten the bible (e.g. 1st John 5:7-8). Augustine invented the doctrine of ‘original sin,’ drawing on Genesis to rationalize it and the virgin birth to create an exception for Jesus (the Catholics later added the immaculate conception to create an exception for Mary the mother of Jesus). Pelagius merely happened to be an opponent of Augustine. Of course, those Christians, including myself, who reject these ‘orthodoxies’ can easily substitute our own modern assumptions for, among others’ Augustine’s late-antique assumptions, even when reading early commentaries.

  61. Araglin


    Although I consider myself somewhat of an Augustinian Catholic (which got me anathematized by Aster in an earlier thread – “quoting Augustine is SO not the way to impress me. EW. Conversation extremely over…”), I am highly unconfortable with certain of the distinctive features of his particular version of “orthodoxy” (his take on original sin and predestination, and his apparent rejection of synergism in favor of monergism), which in many ways set the trajectory for the development of the Latin West. With the emergence of Protestantism and Jansensim, however, I think that the Catholic Church has explicitly rejected certain of these dubious aspects of Augustine’s theology.

    On this point, I would highly recommend Charles Taylor’s recent work, A Secular Age, which provides a fascinating account of how the somewhat over-dour, disciplinary character of the Latin West beginning in the Late Medieval era, may be (dialectically) responsible for the disenchantment of the cosmos, the construction of an “exclusive humanism,” and the arrival of a “secular age” in the modern west.

    However, I take issue with your explication of the Original Sin, Virgin Birth, and Immaculate Conception issues:

    Specifically, Augustine didn’t invent the doctrine of Original Sin (it’s there in St. Paul, and impliedly in Genesis 3 as well); however, he did invent the (in my view, mistaken) quasi-biological ‘inheritance’ theory of original sin, which had no precedent among the earlier Church Fathers, and was never picked up by the Eastern church. In fact, it isn’t even normative in the Latin Church (as a perusal of the works of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as people like Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar ought to indicate).

    Nor, did Augustine invent the doctrine of the Virgin Birth (that’s there in the Gospel of St. Luke, the Book of Isaiah, etc.); however, Augustine’s interpretation of original sin did give rise to anomalies for the Western Church, which required the ‘development’ of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in order to resolve. Because the Eastern Church have a proper doctrine of original sin, they don’t need the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in order in order to consistently maintain orthodox coctrines of Christology, Mariology, or soteriology.

    Cheers, Araglin

  62. Araglin

    P.S., I also have nothing but disgust for penal-substitionary accounts of the Atonement (which require some sort of perverse, violent transaction going on in God as providing the means of salvation). Of course, the received view is that this account of the Atonement had its inception in St. Anselm. However, more recent scholarship (I’m thinking here of a particularly good article by David Bentley Hart) has pretty well vindicated Anselm himself, by pointing out the significant differences between ‘satisfaction’ (in Anselm’s account, following medieval and feudal usage) and penal-substition.

    You’re also exactly right about the stress needing to be on the Resurrection, whereby God dramatically ‘reverses’ the verdict of the Principalities and the Powers who have put Christ to death…

  63. Marja Erwin

    Sorry if I was unclear; I didn’t mean to suggest that Augustine had invented the virgin birth. The doctrine was derived from Luke and was generally accepted well before Augustine. I meant that Augustine had drawn on the doctrine, and it allowed him to assert that we were born sinful without arguing that Jesus was too.

    In effect, Augustine asserts that Jesus’ humanity was qualitatively different from anyone else’s humanity, and does not show the potential in anyone else.

  64. Araglin

    Sorry about that, Marja! Chalk that up to sloppy reading on my part (which is all too typical, I’m afraid).

  65. Aster


    If I may, I’d like to ask a few questions so that I can better understand where you’re spiritually coming from. I think I know well enough what to expect from the likes of Araghlin (and, well, then it’s self-defense mode), but I don’t fully understand your atypical take on Christianity.

    1) When you describe yourself as a Christian, do you think of your creed as more true or valid than other faiths or approaches to the divine? If so, what do you believe that Christianity uniquely correctly apprehends about the cosmos or the human condition in contrast to other faith, spiritualities, or practices?

    2) If not the above, and you regard Christianity as one contingent and not uniquely valid approach to the divine, then may I ask what is it about the spiritual message of Christianity that attracts and personally draws you- what makes you take this as your own spiritual road- as opposed to other faiths, spiritualities, or practices?

    3) Why the divine at all? Why do you believe a secular account of the world, in any form (Ancient, Enlightenment, skeptical, materialist, positivist, Marxist, Nietzschean, Freudian, Randian, existential, poststructuralist, etc.), to be insufficient? Do think that atheists are wrong about anything?

    I wish to say in this context that while I’m currently uneasily defining myself as an atheist (at least while standing on universal ground), I don’t dismiss the pursuit of spirituality. I feel personally drawn to spirituality (of a very different expression), and do not know what to make of this. My rational judgment has little trouble finding religion as such abhorrent in source, structure, and effect, and unspeakably destructive to human consciousness and its outward flourishing. Nevertheless, I’ve concluded that dishonestly repressing any element in oneself- even if one can’t make any sense of it- is a bad idea and leads to cruelty and double standards (sincere apologies and personal thanks, Jeremy, for rightly calling me on this issue). I would like to try to understand what is at the root of the attraction to spirituality- and I appreciate the chance to discuss this with a thinking person.

    Most religious people who take their beliefs seriously are guardian dogs defending the psychological and material dominance of their community over the individual, perpetuated by a cycle of abuse continually inflicted upon young minds who must be made to learn to cede their independence for the sake of acceptance and survival. Such religion is in essence the statement that human society can only continue to exist by concealing from individuals their own minds, desires, and interests- and that the speaker has taken the side of society against the individual and against themselves. But it is not clear to me whether there is or is not something else o something better at the heart of human spiritual experience.

  66. Marja Erwin


    A lot of my reasons are intensely personal, and I’d prefer to discuss those elsewhere.

    1) Many people have used creeds to defend one doctrine or anathematize another doctrine without understanding the creed they defend, its history, or the alternatives; they combine willful blindness with blind certainty. I hope I have learned from this, and I regard creeds as working interpretations. I have certain historical beliefs (e.g. the resurrection, for reasons I’d prefer to discuss elsewhere), and also believe some non-Nicaean Christian theologies have explanatory value which more popular alternatives lack. (e.g. allowing monotheism without predestination.)

    2a) Much of this does depend on one’s point of view. Some early Christians argued for the single personality of God on the grounds of original simplicity; of course, most modern Christians have trashed this and believe in tripersonality. The old principle of original simplicity is dubious; it seems to be a culturally-specific assumption, rather than a logical principle or a context-based principle; if accepted, it would not distinguish between one personality and an infinitude, and anyway, would not apply to anything in the created world – e.g. Jesus or the Holy Spirit. To the extent that the Holy Spirit is one with the various conscious beings, then God in the Holy Spirit can be said to have as many personalities as there are conscious beings in the universe.

    2b) To be completely honest – path dependency. That said, early Christianity reached out to marginalized groups and oppressed individuals. For me, Galatians 3:28 stands out. I have a hard time imagining how it has changed from an instrument of liberation to one of oppression. At least some early Christians condemned legalistic moralities, patriarchy, slavery, and even hierarchy in general, in Mark. Not only has modern Christianity defended each of these institutions, it has insisted on the separation of the human from the divine and the sacred from the profane.

    3) That is largely rooted in experiences I’d rather not discuss in this thread.

  67. Aster

    I do hope you will write to me personally then; there’s little I feel I can say from the scattered issues you address here, without a broader sense of premises, ideals, and passions.

    1) I’d like to ask: ‘why Christianity’, not ‘why non-Nicean Christianity’, as the first question precedes the first.

    As for the Resurrection, if proposed as a historical event I find the idea absurd. I honestly have trouble undertanding how a person whom I know as deeply intelligent could believe otherwise. I don’t think the historical issues are decisive one way or the other as to the essentials of the Christian worldview, but my sense is that modern scholars are iffy as to whether a Jesus ever even existed. I personally find it most likely that there is some historical basis for the Jesus of the gospels, but the Resurrection is a myth, and hardly unique or original.

    2a) For the most part this makes sense to me- however, I would argue that the creator/creature/creation distinction is itself fully a matter of personal or cultural intuition as the notion of ‘original simplicity’. In my view this would either invalidate both or subjectivise both (altho’ I try to avoid the terms ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’, as I think the original distinction between the two is an invalid confusion and that reflection since that time has largely been variations on an error).

    2b) Does path-dependency truly apply to ideas? I think in the sense you mean I have no serious objections- correct me if I’m wrong, but the issue here is imagery more than propositional truth, and a personal code of values more than ethical foundations.

    I certainly support the ethical universalism of the passage you cite. I don’t like the Christian message but do think that Christianity’s stress that its principles apply to all people is one of its best moments. Nevertheless, you don’t need Christianity to do this- Hellenism, Judaism, or Buddhism will do the same thing fine, without even getting into modern systems.

    As for how a religion of slaves could develop into an ethic of slave masters, I agree with Marx, Nietzsche, Goldman, or Rand- Christianity offers to speak to the state of the miserable and downtrodden…. it believes in the weak This does less to challenge relations of power than it teaches the oppressed to spin a world in their shadow, while extending the psychology of the abused to the privileged also. What is needed is to extend the highest to everyone, subject only to a critical revision of the high so that it no longer tacitly assumes a socially unjust foundation.

    I think patriarchy, heirarchy, etc. are blights, but how and why one sees them as blights matters a great deal. I think they are blights because they do immense damage to our ability to enjoy and explore the world and thus make it greyer and poorer. I do not think that, for conscious and reasoning beings, they are the world. I want to see us become more powerful, more ambitious, more in love with this life. I see conventional power as not a great evil but a smallness unfit for people who have learned to feel and think. I rage against a world where so much weakness is only an unspeakable waste of stolen strength.

    I think that the primary shapers of Christianity- Paul to start with- were twisted and tormented (if brilliant ans sensitive) people who have sense inflicted their own demons upon billions of victims for the gain of none. I think that Christianity has taught us to fear the happy along with teaching us to fear the dominating and as such acts to simply reinforce the equation of happiness and domination. The Christian Satan is just the other side of Christ and, like all repressions, the demand that one dismiss an element of the psyche does not destroy it but merely conceals its manifestations. To oppose domination can in fact be worse than useless if one misunderstands with which spiritual elements within us it is allied. Christianity to my mind gets key elements of this almost precisely wrong, with the predictable results in practice.

    3) If you feel you can discuss this personally I would love to.

    I can definitely empathise, tho’ it is very possible on this issue that I do not sympathise with myself. As I stated, intellectually I think the case against theism is immensely strong, and the case for theism not only weak but inherently allied with every possible unhealthiness. And yet I am deeply unsatisfied by attempts to deal with spirituality via dismissal or hushing up, and neurological or biological reductionism (the latter a problem more for me than for you) is barbaric.

    My most optimistic guess is that spirituality is ultimately most properly a form of aesthetic expression, possibly safe once detached from a collective polity- what we must do is learn to absorb religion into creative art and learn to expand the latter into a full practice of life, while remaining conscious of its wholly contingent and human nature. This is what the most secure aesthetic traditions at the zenith of a culture’s historical cycle seem to develop; the open society should be able to fully individualise and perpetualise this principle.

    My issues here are: 1) these things don’t feel right when recognised as contingent, altho’ perhaps the human condition just has to deal with this and 2) I’ve seen a few odd things which leave me not entirely certain than the universe might be a rather stranger place than the other 99.99% of integrated information allows.

  68. Marja Erwin

    Sorry for my rambling, repetitive, and disorganized response; I’m dealing with a nasty flu.

    I can only claim so much as a matter of perspective. We can split religion and spirituality can into two categories. One is mythic and deals with matters beyond truth and falsehood, which depend on one’s approach, and one’s interpretation of the whole system. The other deals with claims that are either true or false – “historical” is not the right term because there are, for example, non-historical interpretations of the resurrection.

    In Christianity, these separate at the resurrection. Even Paul admits this; without the resurrection, the rest is bull. Of course, it need not be a bodily resurrection; the narratives are at least partly symbolic. For Paul, the relevant resurrection was his vision on the road to Damascus, quite separate from the empty tomb.

    Mind you, I reject the notion of “burden of proof.” It amounts to saying “any rational person will look at the evidence with the same biases I do.” Different people may look at the same evidence with different biases. A willingness to reconsider things in the light of evidence is more important than taking the proper default positions in an absence or scarcity of evidence. Indeed, if everyone takes the same default positions, there is no dialogue, and no development of their understanding.

    Path-dependency applies to Christian myth not to the truth or falsehood of Christianity. It is very easy to misuse or misinterpret a system of myth, which is one reason I’m willing to investigate non-Christian systems, but reluctant to interpret the world through them.

  69. Aster

    For the record, on the original Israeli-Palestinian issue- this discussion and my own readings have convinced me that:

    • The Israeli state is primarily responsible for the present (if not clearly the past) conflict and is aggressing upon the Palestinian population. It should accordingly be condemned for a policy of brutal colonialism, one which is further worsened by secondary elements of racism and religious fundamentalism.

    This, despite the that:

    • The Medieval culture of the Palestinian victims, and Islamic culture in general, is destructive and repressive of reason, individualism, freedom and every value which allows for the flourishing of the human individual, whereas Israeli society is significantly open, free, and life-affirming by comparison.

    I think the basic situation, and the basic stance one must take, strongly echoes that of the Cold War. In that conflict, the distinction between the semi-free ‘West’ and Soviet totalitarianism was so great that anyone who genuinely cared for human happiness ought to have without hesitance supported the first against the second. Nevertheless, many of the actions taken by the better side in the war (Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc.) were unconscionable brutalities. The contrast of the Soviet Union have prevented anyone from opposing racism, imperialism, statism, repression, or social injustice in America or elsewhere.

    Unfortunately, in both cases, there seems to be an unwritten rule that one may either stand with relative good against evil or one must keep silent about an immense evil in order to give moral significance to the lesser evils of the alternative. This dualistic thinking is wrong. Objectivists and neoconservatives such as Daniel Pipes are telling the truth about the horrors which political Islam inflicts upon the human spirit, but dissidents such as Noam Chomsky or John Pilger are also telling the truth about the West’s neo-imperial crimes.

    We need to support an open, free, secular, liberal democratic civilisation- and unsparingly condemn acts of oppression carried out by regimes (or by individuals) partially influenced by these principles. If a society which one respects is nevertheless simply in the wrong and the aggressor in a specific case, then it is the aggressor in that significant case. Loyalty properly belongs to principles and not to institutions.

    This not least because such breaches of liberal principle will inevitably empower demagogues who will then plausably indict liberalism as the cause of the crimes. This is false- the fact that people who in some cases stand for human rights violate others’ rights does not in any way imply that concept of human rights is itself faulty. All of the evils conducted in liberalism’s name long predate it and have only been partially mitigated when liberal principles have been attended to. Conservatives recognise this issue when discussing American racism and slavery, but given that their objective is to absolve their society of any responsibility for these crimes and their aftermath, their focus is seldom to defend the principles actually responsible for the decline of these evils in a few parts of the world, as what they wish to defend is not Enlightenment ideas, but the moral purity of their tribal-religious group. Actually, without liberalism oppression and violence are everywhere essentially unchallenged and unchallengable, and not the exception but the rule. But wherever a society acts in a dominating matter there it is not liberal and is, in that context simply another bloody tribe.

    This ought to be, really, mostly banal common sense (a common sense which I should certainly remember more often). It shouldn’t be partisan, and it’s not radical, altho’ its consistent application may well be. Yet for some uncertain reason I suspect that nearly everyone will find it objectionable.

  70. Aster


    Very well. Then in regard to the resurrection, what do you believe, and why?

    I don’t personally see why one needs to accept the resurrection to take Christianity seriously. Albert Schweitzer seems to me have been a much better Christian than any random millions whose minds could more easily accept Christian mythology.

    I suspect I disagree with you about burden of proof, or as I would prefer, ‘burden of validation’, for Objectivism-derived technical reasons.

    I agree that in many cases burden of validation is arbitrarily assigned. But the principle that the assertion of the existence of an entity needs to be established, rather than assumed and then disestablished, is not arbitrary. In this case, it is entirely reasonable that anyone who asserts that a man rose from the dead in defiance of the entirety of all of our integrated knowledge of history and science be asked to prove their point; even the more rational assertion that a single man’s death has divine significance is a very serious demand requiring some very serious validation- the event is after all offered as a reference point in whose consideration one’s life is to be lived.

    More broadly, I believe that preemptive treatment of all ideas as biases is, except as a contextual method, an unwarranted approach which merely distracts from the effort of applying what we have learned of our ability to know while levelling the epistemological playing field between the justified and unjustified. This is not a minor manner. Billions of people have been and are willing to kill, die, live miserable lives (and enforce those lives on all of us) on the basis of these opinions. The priesthoods and intellectuals of such societies make every possible effort to immunise the core of their belief systems from the possibility of rational scrutiny, and claims that all things are equally a matter of bias and faith is one influential and effective method of accomplishing this end. A belief system which needs to emphasise our inability to answer a question, while at the same time putting enormous stress upon an asserted answer to this question, does not merit our attention and respect. Why should it?

    I agree that there are a great number of issues surrounding Christianity which, yes, likely do rest upon cultural assumptions (for instance, in ethics or metaphysics, or methodology in the Sciabarran sense), where there may be no clear burden of validation. But the resurrection isn’t one of these- the issue isn’t a matter of subtle background assumptions but an understanding of a specific alleged event. Human beings are prefectly capable of understanding specific events in terms of both factuality and meaning.

    This wouldn’t be the case if we were dealing only with myth (in which case, it wouldn’t matter what happened- the story of Jesus compels, inspires, or fails on other grounds). I think I agree with your approach to myth, specifying that by ‘beyond truth and falsity’ I would imply not faith but narrative or aesthetic meaning (which I consider to be the important thing, but that really is very much a matter of my own biases). But you seem to think of Christianity generally and the resurrection specifically as something in addition to a myth or a story or a way of life, and to some degree as something more than one human attempt to comprehend the divine, granted there is a divine. What, then, and- why?

    Perhaps we should move this discussion off this forum?- I’d certainly be able to understand your perspective more clearly in a space where you felt more comfortable to speak of more personal issues (I am certainly equally open to personal questions).

    And my sympathies about the cold. I know what poor health can do to your mental functioning- my own, as you know, is quite difficult. If it helps I don’t find your arguments particularly disorganised, and I’ve never known you not to express your mind clearly.

  71. Aster

    Correction- the last word in the second paragraph should be a word slightly less sharp in degree than ‘superstition’. I do not mean ‘mythology’ in the sense we seem to be both using in this discussion.


  72. Marja Erwin

    I believe there were resurrection appearances, in visions and dreams, but probably not in the flesh. As a society, we tend to dismiss dreams and visions; that can help us avoid charlatans, but I think it can hurt us too.

    I think that early Christians appropriated the empty tomb narrative as a counterpoint to the crucifixion narrative, and may have remade the one to be as concrete as the other. In addition, just as proto-Docetists and Docetists reinterpreted pre-crucifixion encounters as visions, their critics reinterpreted post-crucifixion encounters in the flesh.

    The empty tomb story itself develops, if we compare the short ending of Mark, the long ending of Mark, and the later Easter narratives.

    Kuhn discusses several different measures of the value of a theory, in science, but the principle applies to other rational endeavors. These include explanatory value, elegance, predictive value, their interrelationship with the rest of our understanding, etc. It’s not correct or incorrect to prioritize one of these measures over another. I think of reason as a creative endeavor, and any “burden of proof” as an attempt to reduce it to rote – and that is dangerous.

  73. Marja Erwin

    Actually, this raises an important point.

    Asserting an actual spiritual resurrection distinguishes Christianity from a mundane non-theism, but it does not distinguish Christianity from any other system which teaches a comparable resurrection.

    Focusing on the resurrection of Jesus, as opposed to other resurrections, is hard to distinguish from an ordinary point-of-view difference, and the cause-effect relationships are rather, er, complicated. So that is a matter of one myth-system and another myth-system. His life and teachings are rooted in the particular circumstances of the Roman occupation of the East, and His teachings require interpretation.

  74. Araglin


    I probably ought not even bother to make this reply to you, since it seems pretty clear that that you think you’ve got me pegged (“I think I know well enough what to expect from the likes of Araghlin (and, well, then it’s self-defense mode)”), and are content with summarily dismissing where I’m ‘coming from’ without so much as a single semi-charitable question or comment.

    Nonetheless, in hopes that there is some modicum of curiosity (as to the sorts of arguments and considerations underlying my own position on the matters under discussion in this thread) lying behind your uniformly-dismissive statements, I thought I’d provide links to three essays that have been formative to my own take on Christianity proper, textual or hermeneutic problems, and reasons for maintaining a commitment to the historicity of the passion and resurrection narratives:




    Thanks, Araglin

  75. Aster


    Actually, this does interest me. I’ve begun reading the first selection and a few online accounts of Millbank’s work. As with many religious writers, I disagree 180 degrees with his values and perspecive, yet I believe that his analysis deals more directly and properly with the crucial issues at stake.

    May I ask what Milford means, in your opinion, by the inherent ‘ontological violence’ of liberalism?

    I am quite curious, altho’ the source of my curiosity is a desire to understand where, precisely, my own ideas have gone wrong so as to consistently ally me with people whose worldview and goals are in essentials the opposite of my own (I think the issue has something to do with Christianity, class, and individualism vs. collectivism). For what it’s worth, once I figure this issue out I expect I’ll move on from the left-libertarian community- so, in feeding my curiosity you’re helping yourself be rid of me.

    As for dismissiveness, when someone proposes a course of action which will, by logical necessity, condemn everything I love in my life and in the world, which has caused enormous pain in my own life and the lives of those I care about, which threatens to bring to an end centuries of fragile progress which have resulted in a society in which I can- in contrast to nearly all history- survive and find a life in, and is on top of this, false and absurd- then I believe it is entirely proper to express hostility. Indeed, nothing else could deserve our comprehensive hostility so much as a set of ideas which attack the hman mind and its possibility of happiness. If one takes that mind and one’s own happiness seriously, one ought to do nothing else. Tolerance of the kind which undercuts the human ability to reason and declare absurdity false is not a virtue but a unilateral disarmament. If you do not dismiss a falsehood which seeks influence for a false and harmful belief then it will in time dismiss you.

    I do admit that there are almost certainly ways by which one can assert knowledge with integrity and yet also do so with tact and courtesy. I do not do this well and would very much benefit from learning how to do combine conviction and courtesy. Nevertheless, if I don’t know how to cojointly respect both knowledge and rhetoric I would prefer to speak a rude truth rather than maintain a polite relativistic diplomacy. A false idea which devours human lives is a much, much, worse thing than poor manners. Nor I can I ever forget that my own life is one of the first which these kinds of ideas will sacrifice.

  76. Marja Erwin

    Sometimes I feel like our culture-war politics, among other politics, are geared to pit freedom and individuality for the few against freedom and individuality for no one. When, really, I for one want to see it for everyone. Then we face the dynamics where one outgroup tries to win acceptance by distancing themselves from another outgroup. That may be a response to institutions like NARTH which have a vested interest in hatred against somebody but can shift from one target to another within certain limits.

  77. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare

    The problem is that there is no harmony of interests in our present society for reasons of statism and other forms of similarly constituted oppression. I know Aster mused about why people must have a harmony of interests, and I sympathize with the more Stirnite perspective on egoism. That said, I personally don’t like living in a society that doesn’t let me advance without crushing others. Of course, I live in the real world. I have clothes made in shops with horrid working conditions in third world countries. I dream of going to NYU or Berkley sometimes. I understand that my acceptance may depend on having better grades then someone else who could have been depressed during a semester or something. I performed below my capablities last semester, because I was depressed with the state of the world. I was lucky to get a C in French, but I am going to do it again when I feel better. It’s not self-acutalization or success or individuality I dislike. It’s the incessant social climbing that pits people in competition over pointless things. This is how patriarchy distorts the world of sex work i.e. let’s all compete to look like Britney Spears. On a monistic level, that is beauty in terms of raw animalistic instinicts. That element of humanity shouldn’t be dismissed in any rational definition of beauty, but a true beauty is integrated. When I ponder finding a sex worker to have a session with, I look for an integrated woman of intellect and physical beauty. I find that my tastes are rather varied in the department of physical beauty though. Fortunately, I don’t have to sacrifice “lesser” women to be happy. That said, I agree with our resident “sociopath” that moralizing to others about the pursuit of their happiness in an imperfect world is ultimately counter-productive. A self-denial about what one sexually responds to goes nowhere.

    A world of harmonious interests without an ethic of sacrifice is possible, but it does not exist at present. And Rand was right to say that only “capitialism” in her unknown ideal sense would harmonize the interests of rational individuals. I am deliberately sidestepping the debate over whether capitialism is by necessity and definition a statist system here — Kevin need not fear me here ( :

    I would merely add that patriarchy need be abolished for there to be harmony of interests among rational sex workers.

    Incidenetlly, the idea that only Britney Spears can represent pure physical beauty rests on rather anti-individualist assumptions. We need not embrace subjectivitism, but there is such a thing as pluralism. This whole revival of sex work philosophizing in me reminds me of the need to continue a study of the courtesan I had wanted to begin.

    Ok, I am off for the night. And need I only speak for myself when I say that some members of the left-libertarian community will miss Aster’s prescence? For the record, I personally am not identifying in strict ideological movement terms right now. My website will be revamped to become the platform for my professional writing and philosophizing life, but it will be less movementesque.

    That said, I seek to continue to influence the readers of this blog and others. I certainly have not rejected the ultimate political ends of anti-statism, cultural individualism, and economic freedom.

  78. Aster


    I agree with your last comment, but I don’t see what it intersects with in the broader conversation- or, at least, I can imagine several different ways in which it might. Could you please elaborate? I don’t see what NARTH (vile, yes) has to do with any of this?

    On other issues:

    I started to reply on Kuhn, but I think I need some re-reading before I can do so fairly. You could probably predict my view if I just say that I’m a soft Randian here, and I think sophisticated critiques of the actual operation of rational people or structures are implicitly premised upon reason’s validity and, as such, should instead be accepted as further developments of what they purport to critique. For me it was Foucault, not Kuhn, but I suspect the same basic issues are at stake. I don’t think any arguments seriously problematise the basic point of Greek or Enlightenment confifence in reason.

    You beat me to the point on ‘spiritual’ ressurection- combine this with the notion that Jesus was not sui generis, and one is merely asserting an ecumenical spiritual perspective in the broadest possible sense (or, arguably, it is just {just?} saying that we can speak to some dead people). Which amounts to answering “no” to my original question 1). In which case, as I mentioned offline, I think disagreements on 2) can fully be moved into the same realm as ethics and politics- we’re not questioning which spiritual apprehension is more true but what spirituality is more good or just or valuable in some other secular sense. As for 3), I again understand why one doesn’t want to discuss these things personally- and personally, my own answer is a mess.

    What do you think of Unitarianism?

    On dreams- well, again, wrong place and time. I’ll merely state here that I think visions, following Locke, certainly have no public validity and carry no rational weight. But I think one can state on perfectly secular grounds that internal experience can provide aesthetic and narrative meaning as can external art- if dreams are a subconscious recycling of our mental landscape then they merely provide new insight for the tending of that landscape, which is very much not an unimportant thing. In that sense, our contemporary institutions (especially established psychology) do write off dreams and visions too easily. However, the possibility of charlatans is a distraction- yes, people lie about dreams and visions, but the questions is what the honestly reported dreams and visions may get at. And I haven’t yet run across any evidence that can carry interpersonal weight that could justify an answer like ‘God’.

    Hmmm…. throughout this discussion, I’ve been saying that the maximal stance on spirituality I could ever accept would be a religious worldview capable of operating within liberal epistemological and social rules (i.e., precisely what Milbank, Richard Neuhaus, or the volks over at the Tacky Magazine would decry). I think there are enormously good reasons to take this position, ultimately going down to the basic requirements of valid human knowledge. I assumed (given your Marxist background, hostility to the religious right, and usually secular approach) that you were on the same page, but I should check… am I right that you accept this view- i.e., that you defend a liberal Christianity and believe that Christianity can and should operate harmoniously with a broadly Greek and/or Enlightenment worldview?

  79. Araglin

    Aster, thanks for your earlier reply. I don’t have time just at the moment to adequately lay out what I take to be Milbank’s claim that liberalism involves a kind of “ontological violence” (except to briefly indicate that it’s to do with the presupposition that reality, whether natural or social, is inevitably a site of rivalry and violent conflict, and that the ‘point’ of ethics, law, or politics is to do with negatively containing this violence, and imposing order on the primordial chaos, and thereby establishing a kind of ‘contractual peace.’).

    However, as against your lumiping Milbank in with the late Fr. Neuhaus and the denizens of TakiMag, I should emphatically point out that Milbank is by no means a ‘conservative’ or ‘right-winger’ (unless religious commitment and a rejection of the Whig Theory of History suffice to qualify him). He’s a socialist (of the non-statist sort) and an ultra-(social-)constructivist, and his regular interlocutors include such luminaries of the European left as Zizek, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Rene Girard, and the like. He’s also very much against the Patriarchy (very much drawing upon the work of the post-Lacanian feminist theoriest Luce Irigaray, of “Newton’s Principia was a rape manual” fame.).

  80. Marja Erwin

    Well, religious experiences tend to be private, while many religious institutions insist on public adherence to established practice. It’s a troubling disconnect.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘liberal epistemological and social rules.’ If much of the evidence is personal and irreproducible, then it can be irrational for the observer to disbelieve it, and it can be equally irrational for others to believe it without substantiation. Empiricism still has value. The historical sciences, of course, often depend on public but irreproducible observations, while the physical sciences usually depend on public and reproducible ones, which results in different approaches to hypothesis-testing. I think that another approach may work for personal experiences, but it can be hard to reach. The use of control groups, etc., etc. has all grown incrementally.

    Many religious institutions insist on firm belief and discourage, for example, multiple working hypotheses. That’s backwards.

    It’s hard to define divine, but I think that one of the key ideas for early Christianity was the presence of the divine in the creation. Of course, late-antique Greek trinitarianism denied that the Logos could be part of creation, while modern enlightenment unitarianism has either denied that the Logos exists or denied that it can be divine. Both insist that the created cannot be divine. Historically, the former systematically anathematized and later silence any who dared to disagree with their doctrines. So, um, Greek and Enlightenment isn’t the best example for me…

    Of course, I believe I support rational inquiry into every subject, universality, tempered by an awareness of context, and intellectual curiosity in general.

    As for the aside about the culture wars, I was trying to make sense of the emergence of bigotry, particularly in nominally-libertarian circles.

  81. Nick Manley -- Classical Liberal Nightmare


    Just to clarify: my comments were directed at your aside. I relied on it being implicitly noticed. You must forgive my referencing of our private friendship. Fortunately, I don’t think you care to keep it a secret. That said, I wrote my posts in a mood of fast contemplation and triumph.

  82. Rad Geek


    Incidentally, I don’t think this has any serious effect on anything said here, but I do have an occasional side project of trying to keep feminist quotes straight on the Internet (a big project; cf. 1, 2, etc.). So, for what it’s worth, Luce Irigaray wasn’t actually the one who described the Principia as a rape manual. (I have seen a couple discussions where this view is inaccurately attributed to her, and some others — e.g. in a book by Richard Dawkins — where it’s not attributed to her, but is put alongside things she did say with phrasing ambiguous enough that the former misattribution may have come from a too-quick reading of the latter passages.) Anyway, the quotation is actually from Sandra Harding, an American feminist and philosopher of science; what she wrote (in The Science Question in Feminism) is:

    One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method. Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and by the public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphyiscs the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as Newton’s rape manual as it is to call them Newton’s mechanics?

    –Harding (1986), 113.

    Not that Irigaray hasn’t expressed some similar views about science and the metaphors used in it (while I tremble to try to interpret French psychoanalysis, what I gather is that Irigaray’s views on the matter are, if anything, stronger than Harding’s).

  83. Araglin

    Hey Charles,

    Thanks for pointing that out – if you’re right (which I’m confident you are), then this is yet another one of those urban legends that pass for truth as to what feminists have tended to say and think.

    My first exposure to Irigaray’s name was via someone no doubt trying to discredit her, feminist theory, and/or continental philosophy more generally. My own provisional take on her and Lacanian psychoanalysis (rank amateur, that I am) is qualifiedly quite positive; hence, I suppose I’ve tended to assume that if she said that (re: Newton’s Principia) that she was probably being intentionally provocative, or else meaning it to (metaphorically) interact with the Baconian concept of science putting “nature to the rack.”

  84. Araglin


    You said: “…when someone proposes a course of action which will, by logical necessity, condemn everything I love in my life and in the world, which has caused enormous pain in my own life and the lives of those I care about, which threatens to bring to an end centuries of fragile progress which have resulted in a society in which I can- in contrast to nearly all history- survive and find a life in, and is on top of this, false and absurd- then I believe it is entirely proper to express hostility.”

    While I certainly sympathize with the principle enunciated here*, I’m really at a loss as how it could conceivably apply to any ‘course of action’ I’ve ever proposed. If it’s not too much trouble, I would appreciate it if you would elaborate a bit.

    • Although, I would express certain reservations about any insinuation on your part that the passage of the last 700 or 800 years, say, has issued in progress and improvement in every important facet of life.
  85. Lady Victoria

    Marja, you wrote, “….religious experiences tend to be private, while many religious institutions insist on public adherence to established practice. It’s a troubling disconnect.” Let’s try to resolve this troubling disconnect: What distinction do you see between religious experience and spiritual experience? And Aster, you seem to use the words “religion” and “spirituality” as mostly interchangeable, only implying that there is a distinction. Again, what distinction do you see between “religion” and “spirituality”? I’ve been enjoying this discussion and I’m glad some portion of it is still accessible, while some understandably has to take place in private; and I see that itself as expressing the main difference between public, political, tribal religion which usually upholds conservative cultural values and a private, personal individualist spirituality that can support activism. How do you all distinguish “religion” and “spirituality”?

  86. Marja Erwin

    Lady Victoria,

    “What distinction do you see between religious experience and spiritual experience?”

    Not much, really. Much of religion is an attempt to make sense of these experiences. We might say that religion is the attempt to interpret spirituality. However, our attempts to make sense of an experience usually begin as part of the experience. There is no uninterpreted spirituality to contrast with religion.

— 2011 —

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    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2011-05-04 – Military targets:

    […] GT 2009-01-05: In which commentary becomes copy-and-paste… […]

— 2014 —

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    Rad Geek People's Daily 2014-01-28 – Welcome, Reasoners:

    […] 2005-08-09: A day that will live in infamy, GT 2007-12-26: Bomb after bomb, and GT 2009-01-05: In which commentary becomes copy-and-paste explain some of the reasons why I’m not just opposed to The War here and now, but in fact […]

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