The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: May 2013

Brief comments on the Syrian civil war

I haven’t written much about this because I don’t know enough.  I think it’s worth noting, at this point, that the full commitment of Hezbollah seems to have swung the war in Assad’s favor.  I am not surprised by Hezbollah’s involvement.  Had the rebels won, Hezbollah’s supply lines to Iran would have been cut.  Russia seems to agree that Assad now has the upper hand.

Assad’s not a good man, he routinely engages in very nasty torture, and I have no mandate for him or his regime.  But those opposing him seem to be a very dodgy bunch as well.

What is happening in Syria is another cost of Mubarak.  Assad cannot step down, he knows he will not be allowed to go into exile in the South of France, but will be tried.  So he fights, as did Qaddafi.  Unlike Qaddafi, I suspect he’s going to “win”.

Realpolitik at its worst.  There are only interests.

Ethics 101, Part 3: Forseeable Consequences

Since we’re on basic ethics, let’s take another basic ethical principle.  It is impossible to have a good society if you do not punish and reward people for the forseeable consequences of their actions.

Let us take the most simple: in a war people die, they are injured, many rapes are committed.  Disease runs rampant, infrastructure is destroyed and people die to to the loss of that infrastructure, such as having sewage mixed in to their drinking water.  If we put sanctions on a country, people will die as a result of the lack of medicines, or food, or jobs.  Even without actual death, people will suffer who would not have suffered otherwise.

These consequences are forseeable.  When we implement the policy, we KNOW people will die. We are responsible for those deaths.  That does not meant that war is never the right thing to do, nor sanctions, but it does mean that the bar is high.  This is why the Allies hung Nazis at Nuremburg, because they started a war from which all the other deaths and rapes and hunger and so on flowed.  Those deaths, that suffering, was the foreseeable consequence of their actions.

The idea of forseeable consequences is fundamental to reasoning about ethics and morality.  It is especially important in reasoning about public policy.

It also applies to things like the subprime real-estate bubble, the use of derviatives, the piling on of leverage, the policies of neo-liberalizing money-flows first, trade second and immigration third.  All of these things have, and had, forseeable consequences.  People have died, lost their jobs, lost their houses, been beaten by their spouses, gone without meals, had their countries erupt in revolution because of the financial fraud and manipulation engaged in by bankers, brokers, central bankers and politicians in the run-up to the financial crisis on 2007/8.  The consequences were forseeable, they were forseen by many people (I did, and am on the record as having done so), and the actions taken by bankers and their compatriots were fraudulent on the face.

Entire countries have gone in to permanent depression as a result of the forseeable consequences of their actions.  Then various countries, especially in Europe, doubled down on austerity. Austerity has never worked to bring an economy out of a financial crisis or depression, and it never will.  It does not work, and this is well known.  Engaging in austerity has forseeable consequences of impoverishing the country, reducing the size of the middle class and grinding the poor even further into misery.  It also has the forseeable consequence of making it possible to privatize parts of the economy the oligarchs want to buy.

It is done, it has been done and it will be done because of those forseeable consequences.  They are all either desirable to your masters or, if not desirable, irrelevant compared to the advantages austerity offers them.

These are, if not criminal acts, then unjust and evil acts, done to enrich a few at the expense of the many, with disregard for the consequences to the many, including death, hunger and violence.

One of the reasons I write so little these days, is that there is so little point.  Basic ethical principles are routinely ignored even on the so-called left.  Basic principles of causation are ignored.  Basic economic reality is ignored.  And virtually everyone in the so-called democracies is scrambling to pretend that they have no responsibility for anything that has happened.

If someone does something with forseeable consequences they are responsible for those forseeable consequences.  Just because an act has bad forseeable consequences doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken, the alternatives may be worse, but whether the action should be taken or not, the decision has consequences.

I will, if I continue being irritated, deal at some point with the idea of alternate scenarios.  Too often we pretend that there are only two options, say “bailing out bankers” or “doing nothing” and ignore that there were other possibilities, like “forcing bondholders and shareholders to take their losses, nationalizing the banks and breaking them up.”

As a society we have in the last few decades and are today making decisions with entirely forseeable consequences (as with climate change) that will kill a few hundred million people to well over a billion people.  We know it will happen, and we’re doing it.

We are monsters.  And we tolerate monsters.  And we get worked up over exactly the wrong things, “ooh a single soldier was killed”, rather than what is going to kill the children we care about, like global warming, or the people who have or will kill hundreds of thousands, like George W Bush, or Putin or people who are engaging in ongoing serial murdering like Barack Obama.  We ignore financial fraud, we ignore… well, why go on, the list is endless.

Forseeable consequences.  We’re awash in them, and we don’t care.

Ethical Degradation

We make distinctions between crimes, even the same crimes.  Unintentional killing is ranked lower than intentional killing, and pre-meditated (planned) killing is ranked higher than crimes of passion (finding your husband in bed with another woman and killing him.)

We also make distinctions between people who kill one person, two people, three people and so on.  A person who has killed more people, gets a longer sentence.

This is known as proportionality. All murders are not the same, nor are all thefts, nor are all acts of fraud.  The amount of harm they cause varies, and the amount of punishment they are due varies by reason: we punish the woman who kills her cheating husband when she finds him in bed with another woman a lot less harshly than we do a cold calculating murder to get the life insurance reward.

Distinctions between crimes, between bad things are important.  They are important for policy reasons and for ethical reasons.

The inability to make these sort of ethical distinctions, to say ‘well Fred killed one man, a military man, and that’s just as bad as Stalin killing millions” is an ethical failure.  It is an abominable ethical failure.  Scale matters and crime and justice are not boolean.  More to the point, it is far more important to stop the mass murderers of this world, whether they are Stalin, Mao or lesser mass murderers (note the distinction!) like George Bush and Barack Obama.

This is the same brand of ethical failure that locks up non-violent drug offenders for life, that doesn’t jail bankers who commit fraud (because they didn’t do anything violent, even though people die as a result of what they do), and so on.  It is of a piece.  There is no justice without proportionality and anyone who is incapable of drawing distinctions between crimes is an ethical imbecile.

To use one of the phrases of the day “this is why we can’t have nice things.”  Specifically, this is why we cant have a justice system that works, a just foreign policy, politicians who aren’t monsters and citizens who aren’t complicit in mass murder. If you think what the Woolwich murderer did is anywhere close to as bad as what George Bush or Tony Blair did you are unable to make even gross ethical distinctions, and are unsuited to exercise the responsibilities of citizenship.

Tens of thousands of murders are worse than one murder.  Understand this.  If you can’t, recuse yourself from the public sphere, please.

The Moral Calculus of the Woolwich Murder

So, a man killed a soldier in Woolwich London by hacking his head off.

That’s bad.

But on the scale of bad, immoral things, it ranks very low.

The murderer took the time to kill someone in the military.  He did not target civilians.

This makes him superior, morally, to the Boston bombers.  It also makes him superior, morally, to Obama, who routinely murders civilians, knowingly, by hitting weddings and funerals.  It makes him morally superior to the British ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and to George W. Bush, who launched a war based on lies against a country which was no threat to Britain or to America.

All the hysterical hand-wringing and the rush to moral condemnation bores and tires me.  It is a fact that America and Britain killed, deliberately, tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians in a war which was not even pre-emptive. The Iraq war was exactly the same type of war-crime for which Nazis were hung at Nuremburg.  Exactly.

You should read a transcript of the Woolwich murderer’s reasons.  It seems that he was offended by the fact that other Muslim civilians were routinely being murdered.  Having been taught, by the state, that murdering is acceptable, he proceeded to do so.

He, however, proved himself superior to the contemporary American and British States by murdering a military man and not a civilian.  He took far more care in choosing his victim than Obama does his.

So spare me the hand-wringing and condemnation.  He’s a bad man, to be sure, but he’s not as bad a man as the men we put in office.

When Tony Blair and George W. Bush are put in front of war crimes trials, along with Rumsfeld and many others, we can talk.  Till then, our “justice’ isn’t, it’s just tribalism dressed up in the name of justice, because it picks and chooses amongst murderers, letting the greatest of them, the ones with the most blood on their hands, walk free.

on edit: oh yes, and there are calls to censor the internet more.  The net result of these attacks is to reduce your freedom.  And no, censoring the internet more won’t make you more safe.

Interview on causes for hope, fracking, global warming and the surveillance state

Sound is much better on this one than the last one, and speech from me is clear though there are some issues with the sound from the interviewer.  I think this one is definitely worth a listen.


Listen to internet radio with Jay Ackroyd on BlogTalkRadio

On Bangladesh’s Textile Disasters

My father worked in Bangladesh for 8 years in the 80s, and in East Pakistan (what Bangladesh was called pre-independence) in the 50s.  I have relatives who live in India, and I spent my summers and many Christmas vacations in Bangladesh.  My mother spoke fluent Hindi (though that isn’t the language spoken in Bangladesh) as she grew up in Darjeeling and Calcutta.

Let’s run through the points.

The first is the simplest: I find it interesting that there is so much textile manufacture in Bangladesh. There was none to speak of in the 80s.  Let me put it crudely, Bangladesh is way down the chain, there are very few poorer, more corrupt countries in the world outside of Africa.  The textile industry is running out of cheap places to make clothes if they’re in Bangladesh.

The second is this: Bangladesh’s government will never enforce safety regulations in the textile industry. It is impossible, it will not happen.  Nothing happens, nothing gets done in Bangladesh without baksheesh—bribes.  Bribes are the actual salary of government employees, they are not paid enough to live decently on without them.  Textile factories will be throwing off so much money, in Bangladeshi terms, that virtually anyone can be bought, and with so much money at stake, anyone who can’t be bought will be otherwise dealt with.

Which means that if textile manufacturing jobs are to made safer it must be done by the companies buying the textiles, like Joe Fresh.  Only they can do it, because they control the money spigot. If unsafe work circumstances will cost the people running the factories money, they will fix it, assuming that the audits are thorough and rigorous, by incorruptible people.  Those people will have to be outsiders (outsiders aren’t necessarily incorruptible, but locals can be gotten to too easily) though they will need local fixers on staff.

My prediction is that some nominal steps will be taken, but only nominal ones. You don’t do textile manufacture in a country like Bangladesh because you want safe, you do it because you want cheap.  Really, really cheap.  Bet on the big headline disasters being only the tip of the iceberg, with routine maimings and horrible work conditions being part of the daily life of the workers.

All that said, if you live in Bangladesh, odds are you have no options.  These jobs may be horrible but they are jobs, and pay better than most of your other options.  That’s why the textile companies are there, no one who has other options would work in their hellhole sweatshops.

Ultimately that comes back to us and our corporate leaders.  We want cheap clothes, they want outsize profits (they don’t pass most of the “cost savings” on.)  If you aren’t dirt poor yourself, I suggest you look at the label, and if it’s made in a third world country (including China), don’t buy it.  It’s not much, but it’s about as much as you can do.  And, generally speaking the quality of clothes will be better.

If you really want to do something about this, tie work safety to allowing clothes made in such countries to be imported to developed nations, and have the inspectors be government employees of the country where the clothes will be exported.  That goes against everything our current government and corporate leaders are willing to do, however, and also offends the sensibilities of many on the left  so just get used to the fact that a lot of blood stains your clothes, just like lots of blood is mixed in to your oil and is used to fertilize your food.

Closing Guantanamo

1) Close it.
2) Send most of the prisoners to US ultramax prisons.
e) No longer together, break their solidarity and thus resistance.
4) No longer at “Guantanamo” and with “Guantanamo” closed, break the media narrative.

Anyone who thinks Obama cares about force feeding prisoners is delusional. Bad press, on the other hand…

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén