Adventures in Ethics and Science

Futile cycles.

While we’re speaking about revolutions and such, Hilzoy on the ongoing violence in Gaza:

I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong. For both sides.


I’m inclined to think there are generalizable lessons here.

And, that the same responses to bad stuff lead to more bad stuff does not mean that doing nothing is an acceptable option (in the hopes that at least maybe the amount of bad stuff will level off rather than increasing).

What it does mean is that people need to shift out of auto-pilot and imagine different options. They need to be ready to put effort into responding differently. They need to be able to peer down more links of the causal chains they are getting ready to set in motion. And they need to muster their empathy for the others on the verge of setting other causal chains in motion.

Empathy may be the toughest piece of this, but I reckon its the one that will make the most difference in the end, whatever the struggle.

Comments

  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 30, 2008

    What it does mean is that people need to shift out of auto-pilot and imagine different options. They need to be ready to put effort into responding differently. They need to be able to peer down more links of the causal chains they are getting ready to set in motion. And they need to muster their empathy for the others on the verge of setting other causal chains in motion.

    Unfortunately, the course of world history makes it abundantly clear that human beings are abysmally bad at doing what they need to do to avoid catastrophe. Human beings blithely continuing to fuck up until catastrophe ensues has been the norm throughout history, and I see no reason to think that the present is going to be any different than the past. It is the saddest and most pathetic of ironies that we laugh at the Easter Islanders.

  2. #2 Neuro-conservative
    December 31, 2008

    Empathy is defined as “Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”

    To truly empathize with Hamas, you must understand that these are people who use Mickey Mouse characters to indoctrinate and train children as young as two years old in suicide bombings.

    Their leading cleric (Mufti Sheikh Ikrimeh Sabri) preaches: The younger the martyr – the greater and the more I respect him.

    If you truly possessed empathy for Hamas, you would understand the need to eradicate this evil.

  3. #3 TheEngima32
    December 31, 2008

    @Comrade PhysioProf

    Or the Golden Age Mayans, for that matter.

  4. #4 Michael Reagan
    December 31, 2008

    I heard a report on NPR about the Israeli military bringing missles to an Israeli elementary school and encouraging the children to write messages to the Palestinians on the missles. It reminds me of the song from “South Pacific” – “You Have to be Carefully Taught”. Both sides are teaching hate.
    Moonshadow

  5. #5 Robert Bird
    December 31, 2008

    NC,

    If Israel thinks Hamas is evil and needs to be eradicated, then they need to design their tactics to achieve that goal. Ideas tend to outsurvive people, unless you kill everyone, so trying to kill enough people to make Hamas go away seems impossible (because there probably won’t be enough people left to sustain a society, or, if everyone is considered simply “everyone local”, then they will probably have to deal with a real war rather than T. Rex vs. scorpion), particularly when Israel appears to be busy creating a generation of Palestinians with no viable option other than simultaneous suicide and homicide (they are creating enemies faster than they can kill them).

    Isn’t Hamas in power because the previous Palestinian ruling authority was unable, through its own greed and Israel’s commitment to eradicating them, to make the lives of their people better? If the willingness of Israel to make the lives of people in the Palestinian territories untenable is in part responsible for the current situation, how is more of the same going to improve the situation?

    Israel’s tactics seem to prove to themselves and others how tough they are, but if that end is in conflict with what you are saying their primary goal is (negating Hamas), then they need to change tactics. Their current tactics seem likely to generate prolonged resistance, which seems to be odds with the goal of providing Israelis a secure homeland. Fear is a powerful motivator, but the decision to pursue terrorism by making war on the terrorists and their society from which they come is alien to me – you destroy your principles (and your reason for existing), your external support, and you provide political justification for those who wish to kill you. Treating people who commit mass homicide as murderers rather than as political enemies (and the decision to maintain the civil society required to do so) seems to be a more effective method of dealing with Hamas (and their ilk). Destroying civil society and its framework is not likely to help Israel to defeat Hamas – if you kill their leaders and leave rubble behind, something else will sprout from the rubble, and it won’t be good for Israel.

    We want the world to conform to our wishes, even when we know them to be harmful and likely unachievable. We won’t stop trying to control our world until there is no choice. In lots of situations, that desire has helped us, but in others, not so much.

  6. #6 Neuro-conservative
    January 1, 2009

    @Michael Reagan — There is no moral equivalence between an isolated Israeli incident taken out of context and the systemic death-cult that is Hamas.

    @Robert Bird– Your argument that fighting terror creates more terrorists has been recently disproven in Iraq. The Palestinian people, who have voted for an evil regime and have persistently been opposed to any compromise with Israel, have brought their suffering on themselves. Since their goal is the destruction of Israel, your suggestion that Israel treat them as a civil society is an historically ill-informed non-sequitor.

  7. #7 Robert Bird
    January 1, 2009

    “Historically ill-informed”? From a conservative I’ll take that as a compliment.

    I’m not certain how Iraq disproves my point exactly. When there was a working peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel (let alone when Israel wasn’t trying to eradicate the Palestinians using the partition tactic that sort-of-worked for South Africa – I should be glad they didn’t enact a religion line), where exactly was Hamas? They weren’t running Palestine, that’s for sure. They existed but were not a viable threat. Israel (though partition and the border controls it requires) has made civil society in Palestine untenable, which was its point. If they simply wanted to remove support for Hamas and its ilk, doing the jobs it did (like running schools and welfare – those things that a civil society might be expected to do) would have pulled the plug on most of them, and given police and security forces an achievable job. Given a better choice and a future, Palestinians didn’t seem quite so interested in destroying Israel, and not given one…well.

    There is also, of course, the longer-term history to think about – depersonalizing your enemies is an easy road to becoming what you hate. For a society based on religious principles that appear to contradict that, it might be something to keep in mind.

  8. #8 Neuro-conservative
    January 1, 2009

    Re: Iraq — Prior to the surge, it was widely argued on the left that our presence in Iraq was radicalizing the populace, breeding terror. That notion was proven false.

    Re: civil society — The Palestinians have never had a leadership that was interested in building a civil society. Both Hamas and Fatah are constitutionally committed to the destruction of Israel. Hamas in particular is founded on a radical Islamist/jihadist ideology. Fatah leaders from Arafat on down have always been more interested in fomenting hatred and terror than in meaningful governance.

    The period of peace to which you refer is a figment of your imagination. The Israelis have offered many opportunities for a better future, from 1948 on. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have always preferred to pursue the destruction of Israel.

    But don’t take it from me, take it from their own supreme religious leader: “in as much as you love life – the Muslim loves death and martyrdom.”

  9. #9 Brett Dunbar
    January 2, 2009

    Israel has spent the past forty years building settlements on occupied land, an action clearly in breach of several treaties to which Israel is a signatory and a direct attack on the prospects of a viable Palestinian state. The extent of Israeli commitment to peaceful co-existence can be gauged from the fact that during the 1990s peace process, which did seem to be making progress with Fatah making an explicit commitment to a two state approach, Israel not only failed to remove the settlements, it actually accelerated the rate of settlement building. Rather than remove the tiny enclave of racist religious fanatics from the centre of Hebron, Israel retained control of 20% of the city and many thousands of Palestinians. On the one hand violent resistance in Lebanon and Gaza eventually defeated Israel on the other negotiation and relative peace got the settlements expanded, obvious lesson; use violence, it works, peace doesn’t. What Israel should have done is reward the most moderate elements amongst the Palestinians, rather than just the most extreme. A good start would be to remove the settlements near Jericho, which has never been the source of much violence, enlarge the area under Palestinian control and increase the extent of Palestinian control, handing over full planning authority for example. And then fund infrastructure projects, essentially give the most pro-Israel Palestinians an incentive to be more pro-Israel, and offer the same deal to other Palestinian local governments if they can reduce attacks.

    The cowardice of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the face of a few fanatical Israelis was a major factor in the failure of negotiations as it prevented him from offering the Palestinians more than a Bantustan, which they would reject as it fell far short of minimum requirements of a viable state. Israel never managed to come up with a sensible proposal so you cannot claim that the Palestinians ever rejected one. The failure to halt settlement building was a massive deliberate breach of the land for peace principal. If you engage in state action directly in breach of your side of a deal you hardly have moral standing if the other side do not then feel constrained to keep their side of the deal.

  10. #10 Neuro-conservative
    January 2, 2009

    Brett — Your pseudo-historical review leaves out many relevant facts, most notably the fact that your Jericho idea was actually implemented (remember the phrase “Gaza & Jericho first” from the early 90′s?).

    Even more importantly, the notion that the settlements were the key sticking point raises a critical question:
    Why does a policy of Judenrein need to be the basis of peace?

  11. #11 DDeden
    January 2, 2009

    Palesrael (Palace Royal), me as king/caliph/chief, (part-time job, plus diving). Anything else is just blah blah.

  12. #12 Brett Dunbar
    January 2, 2009

    The problem is that the settlements are being built on land that is not part of Israel and are deliberately placed to prevent a viable Palestinian state. The settlements also result in Palestinians being excluded from not only the land illegally seized by the Israeli state but also from a substantial surrounding area on security grounds. The settlements are a direct and deliberate attack on the Palestinians, as they create an Israeli lobby with a vested interest in opposing a viable Palestinian state. As it is most unlikely the settler would willingly accept either removal or transfer to Palestinian administration.

    Anyway you can hardly complain about Palestinians objecting to Israeli colonia in the occupied territories unless you support an equal right for Palestinians to build colonia on hilltops in Israel. Strangely those who support Jews being allowed to live anywhere they like in Palestine rarely extend this to Palestinians who wish to return to Israel. One might be forgiven for thinking they were racists and were angry that araqbs thought they should be treated as if they were real people.

    As the occupying power Israel is obliged under various treaties which Israel has signed to act in a manner that minimises the inconvenience to the inhabitants of the occupied territory and is explicitly not permitted to transfer Israeli civilians to the occupied territory. Essentially Israel is obliged not to materially alter the facts on the ground.

    Jericho has remained largely peaceful throughout but has not got any favours for this, there are still settlements near there. Given a city which has been notably lacking in hostility to Israel the Israelis have been notably unwilling to transfer additional powers to the city authorities. While violent opposition forced Israel to eventually remove the Gaza settlements and flee Lebanon, attempts in the 1990s to negotiate had simply seen Israel use the opportunity to encroach on land that the Palestinians wanted for their proposed state. Note that violence got rid of all the Gaza strip settlers, while the West Bank settlements continue to expand, this is not going to help Israel convince the Palestinians to support negotiation rather than force. The whole point of Land for Peace was that Israel would deliver land and the Palestinians would deliver peace, both were obliged to do something politically very difficult the Palestinians to move against militants widely viewed as patriots and the Israelis to forcibly remove many thousands of Jews from homes they had lived in for many years, both ultimately failed. The Palestinians did try, Israel found it too hard politically to even try.

  13. #13 Neuro-conservative
    January 2, 2009

    Brett, what color is the sky on your planet? You seem to have selectively forgotten about the existence of 1.1 million Israeli Arabs who have greater political rights in Israel than most Arabs in the starkly anti-democratic Arab world. Your condemnation of the settlements as a “direct and deliberate attack on the Palestinians” seems rather ironic in the absence of any condemnation of actual direct and deliberate attacks on Israelis directed by Palestinian leadership from all factions (including Fatah, which has never, in deed and action, renounced incitement and organization of terrorism). Your continued insistence that Jericho was given insufficient consideration for self-rule is simply counter-factual. I suggest you read up on the history of the Oslo period, including the various interim agreements leading to the Wye River Accords, all of which involved real phased withdrawals by Israel that were unmatched by any Palestinian reciprocity.

  14. #14 Brett Dunbar
    January 2, 2009

    Israel gave up direct administration of some populous Palestinian towns that it clearly was not going to be able to keep anyway, not actually a huge sacrifice. It however retained the settlements, and even expanded them. The Palestinian had only limited authority over a severely fragmented territory dived by Israeli controlled access roads and subject to sudden unpredictable closure. The settlements made it impossible for the West Bank or Gaza Strip to be consolidated into contiguous blocs under Palestinian control. Unless Israel is able to remove the settlements then no peace deal is possible. If negotiation will not get Israel to evacuate the settlements then don’t be surprised if the Palestinians chose a leadership willing to use force. Israel retains the capability to use force, Fatah quite understandably wish to do the same. Even if you want talks to succeed you may want to be in a position to win the probable civil war if talks succeed (the Irish civil War for example was fought over whether to accept the 1922 treaty).

  15. #15 Neuro-conservative
    January 3, 2009

    Brett, your attempts to invent facts that might justify terrorism are wearing thin. Here is a map of what was offered by the Israelis at Camp David — contiguous, viable territory. This offer was met not by a counter-offer, but rather by a renewed terror war.

    Since you seem incapable of either condemning terrorism or citing actual facts, I see no need to continue this discussion.

  16. #16 Brett Dunbar
    January 4, 2009

    The problem is the salient fact that Israel has continued to expand settlements. That is both illegal and utterly stupid. It damages the political position of moderate Palestinian as it demonstrates Israeli bad faith and causes doubt about the Israeli governments willingness and political ability to remove settlements as part of a deal. The settlement expansion was an awful tactical mistake, as it damaged the Palestinian public’s willingness to trust Israel.

    The Camp David proposals left the West Bank cut in two by an Israeli controlled corridor between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea which along with Israeli annexations would have serious disrupted travel within the West Bank. Large territories would have remained under Israeli control for decades, the annexations were not fully compensated and Israel would have retained control of Palestinian airspace. It was still a Bantustan, if a much improved one compared to previous proposals. It was also dependent on Palestinians trusting Israel to both not excessively restrict Palestinian passage through Israeli controlled territory and to deliver on the promises of future handovers of territory.

    The Taba negotiations were broken off by Israel on the point of success. That was the only time Israel presented proposals that included a viable independent Palestinian state, with for example control over its own airspace.

  17. #17 Neuro-conservative
    January 4, 2009

    You know what, Brett, maybe you’re right about the settlements. Living amongst Jews in your midst must be unspeakably awful! Certainly justifies the response.

    By the way, your second paragraph is simply a lie, as demonstrated by my previous post.

  18. #18 Brett Dunbar
    January 5, 2009

    I checked the wikipedia article on the proposals and some of the links from that. Essentially they are the facts as the Palestinian side seems to have understood them. Israel was offering a Bantustan about 73% of the West Bank, there was a promise to hand over additional territory in 10-25 years time. The Palestinians may not have trusted Israel to actually deliver.

    Palestinan map of the proposals.

    All of the maps available are unofficial, both sides are presenting maps that justify their explanation of the talks failure.

    I find it hard to believe you cannot see that the settlements attack vital Palestinian interests.

  19. #19 Neuro-conservative
    January 6, 2009

    Wrong again!

    I find it hard to believe you cannot see that suicide bombings attack vital Israeli interests.

  20. #20 Robert Bird
    January 6, 2009

    I’m sorry for the catty conservative comment above.

  21. #21 Brett Dunbar
    January 7, 2009

    Both sources you quote have a reason for wanting to blame the Palestinians, note that the site I linked to included the maps produced by both sides.

    What I was doing was condemning some outrageously illegal and highly counter-productive Israeli behaviour. During the 1990s Israel expanded settlements, this was a truly stupid attack on the Palestinians. It strengthened an Israeli interest group opposed to any settlement, the settlers themselves would not want to leave their homes and it also strengthened the Palestinian interest groups who believed that the existing state of Israel was an implacable enemy, those stoned by mobs of settlers for example. The settlements started long before the first suicide bombing and Israel has repeatedly violated promises to freeze settlement building, doing so within a month of the Anapolis conference for example. It doesn’t exactly make you look reliable if your state institutions are directly and explicitly violating an agreement. The nature of what each side is committed to doing, respectively halt settlements and make a serious effort to prevent attacks make it much easier to determine whether Israel is doing what it promised than whether the Palestinians are doing what they promised. Israel’s state institutions are required to refrain from certain actions, the Palestinian state institutions are required to take certain actions. Israel had the easier task and the more effective institutions with which to fulfill the task.

  22. #22 Neuro-conservative
    January 8, 2009

    Brett, it is clear that your goal is to excuse Palestinian terror as a reasonable response to Israeli actions. However, you ignore the fact that the PLO was formed in 1964, three years before Israel gained the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war, and Arab terrorism against Jews in the Levant long pre-dates even the establishment of Israel. Indeed, Arafat’s uncle, the Mufti of Jerusalem, spent the WWII years in Berlin attempting to block the escape of Jews from Nazi-controlled Europe.

    Regardless of your best efforts to blame their actions, it is the very existence of the Jews that is the “root cause” of Palestinian terrorism.

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