Friday, July 08, 2005

Explanations vs. excuses, revisited

The coverage of yesterday's London terrorist attacks has shifted somewhat from facts about the bombings themselves to reactions and analyses of those reactions. Many express solidarity with the British and make references to their history of courage in the face of those who have tried to break their will in the past. Others blame Bush and Blair's recent Iraq policies for angering the Moslem world and providing motivation for the bombings.

Of course, I'm of the former group and not the latter. But I want to make clear that I am one of those people who actually is interested in the "why" of the bombings. I like searching for explanations; I find it valuable. Keep in mind the difference between explanations and excuses, a distinction I wrote about here.

To summarize the idea I discussed in that rather lengthy post: seeking an explanation for a phenomenon is a neutral process. The results can be used to make excuses for that phenomenon and its perpetrators--to blame others and fail to place the responsibility on the actors themselves. But the results can also be used to try to understand and to counter or change the phenomenon in the best and most efficient manner.

The entire "bring democracy to the Arab world" neocon enterprise is predicated at least partly in such an explanation. Whether that explanation ends up being correct remains to be seen. But the analysis goes something like this: why has terrorism in the world of Islamicist extremists reached such a fever pitch and acquired so many adherents? The neocon explanation--at least in part--is that the citizens of most of the countries involved are under the thumb of either doctrinaire brainwashing theocrats or brutal dictators, or in some cases both. Human rights are very compromised in these countries, exploitation is rife, the people have almost no say in their governments, and the economies are stagnant. If these things can change in the direction of people gaining autonomy and freedom, it is likely that the people will not only rise to the occasion but that these vicious ideologies will lose a great deal of the misery on which they feed and grow.

Well, that's certainly an explanation, but it's no excuse. With it comes a plan that emerges from the explanation. You are, of course, free to agree or disagree with the reasoning behind the plan as well as the likelihood of its being achieved.

Leftists offer another explanation: Western imperialism and occupation and exploitation leave the poor third-worlders with no options but to blow up people on subway trains in London. I won't bother to argue the merits of that one--it's been done many times before, and you either buy those arguments or don't buy them; at this point I doubt I'll change your mind. But this explanation is not just an explanation, it is an excuse. It excuses the perpetrators of the bombings and makes them into victims.

I believe that the explanation for the bombings that Amir Taheri offers in this column has validity. His summary explanation is as follows (and I urge you to read his column in its entirety for the details of the religious underpinnings behind this point of view--hat tip: Dr. Sanity):

But sorry, old chaps, you are dealing with an enemy that does not want anything specific, and cannot be talked back into reason through anger management or round-table discussions. Or, rather, this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock and, if you dare resist, he will feel it his divine duty to kill you.

I would add to Taheri's explanation still another one, nonreligious in nature: a nihilistic rage and urge to wreak destruction, to be seen as (and to see oneself as) the most powerful and baddest dude on the block.

As for the motivations of those who make apologies and excuses for terrorist murderers, I offer the following, which appeared as part of this post by Neuro-Con. Neuro-
Con quotes a commenter named Michael McCanles at Belmont Club (and, by they way, if you have a moment, please read Belmont Club's latest).

McCanles writes:

Fear of envy" (i.e., the "evil eye") is for anthropologists a major embodiment of this narrative's central obsession. Thus: Islam must hate us because "we" have robbed them of something that they want: thus the incongruous overlay of the marxoid group-conflict model on top of terrorist motivations. The nice thing about this narratival explanation is that it allows the teller a hidden modicum of control. If we can say "they are attacking us because of something that we have done, then all we have to do is correct it by giving them what they want, and all will be well. Thus we control the situation because our actions are the root of the evil being done us." This is why leftists are so dedicated to scapegoating and fingerpointing.

An excellent explanation--not an excuse--for the behavior of so many leftists.

16 Comments:

At 4:43 PM, July 08, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

Their war is also more of a blood feud than a war, as some have said today. They are "paying us back" for what they perceive is a long history of wrongs. That's about the extent of their agenda.

In a state or state/religion that denies autonomy and controls every aspect of their lives, thoughts, even their bodies (chadors, beards, etc.) the way people achieve identity and acclaim is to use that body and soul in service to that state: the suicide martyr becomes its highest ideal.

 
At 5:28 PM, July 08, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

There is a spiritual legitimacy, in their eyes, for terrorism that we can't understand or even grasp. It is a whole lot easier to die for God than it is for one's nation. The reward for sacrifice is acknowledged throughout all monotheistic structures, but there is obviously a huge divergence in the concept of martyrdom. We will give our lives to save lives, they will take their lives to take lives. The laws of nature and evolution are on our side in the long run in this profound divergence, if we can survive their onslaughts that bear so heavily upon us.

 
At 5:53 PM, July 08, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

I'd proffer a related but different explanation from the neo-con case as you've summarized it. THe question that case gives rise to is why so many other states and peoples who also suffer under dictators yet display no tendencies toward the kind of bloody terrorism displayed by the Islamists? The reason, I think, has to do with the kind of ideology that Islamism represents -- rigid, medieval, focused on death, and suffused with both rectitude and contempt. The latter qualities in particular are what give rise to their sense of historical grievance, but that has much more to do with the relative loss of power and influence in the world on the part of Islam itself, over the last number of centuries, than with any recent wrongs, whether real or perceived, by western powers. And that sense of wounded cultural vanity, coupled with weakness, in turn, is what underlies the vicious and indeed cowardly belligerence displayed in both their rhetoric and their actions.

If that's at all true, then the very worst response of all would be to appear to be intimidated by them (such as by giving them what they say they want), since this would be precisely the signal both to existing Islamists and supporters, and to their marginal sympathizers, that their terror tactics work, and is the path to restoring a lost former glory. In other words, in retrospect, one of the major "root causes" of Islamist terror would be the sort of pusillanimous response of the Carter administration to the Iranian hostage crisis. And one of the best ways to get at those root causes now is to act with the sort of pre-emptive determination that the Bush administration has been displaying.

 
At 6:43 PM, July 08, 2005, Blogger Psycho said...

There is one problem that is more hidden than most people perceive. The problem is not so much religion, but the twisting of religion to suit sinister plans. We can attack "their religion" till our faces turn blue, it will make more devout followers.

We're dealing with psychological manipulation much more complex than Charles Manson. Religion is a personal choice. Attacking the religion is effectively a personal attack on peoples decisions. Believe it or not, calling a religion evil is a very hostile act.

Don't ignorantly attack things. Learn all you can first or you won't be able to predict predictable results. Advantage enemy. The religious leaders in those countries are very intelligent. They know everything I have talked about and then some.

Specifically,

"In a state or state/religion that denies autonomy and controls every aspect of their lives, thoughts, even their bodies (chadors, beards, etc.)"
- everyones beliefs control every aspect of everyones lives. (some people dress in a suit and tie because they believe they will lose their job if they don't.)

and...
"the way people achieve identity and acclaim is to use that body and soul in service to that state: the suicide martyr becomes its highest ideal. "
- soldiers that lose their lives for their country are held in high esteem no matter what the culture.

 
At 8:13 PM, July 08, 2005, Anonymous meander said...

Whenever I resee or recall this particular piece of video footage that shows some muslim children being "taught" in one of their religious schools, I truly shudder and think, "My God, how are we ever going to change those particular minds?" The children are rhythmically rocking and chanting the same thing over and over again and their eyes are glazed and lifeless. It is a sad yet profoundly disturbing sight.It doesn't take much imagination to believe that one of them could easily grow up to be another Mohammed Atta.

 
At 8:34 PM, July 08, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

You're out on the moral equivalency lim, Psycho.b I'm talking about totalitarian regimes versus consensual governments.

Dressing in a suit and tie for work is totally different from wearing a burka so you will not be beaten or worse.

Dying as a soldier in a legitmate army abiding by the rules of war is different from strapping on explosives and targeting civilians.

 
At 11:47 PM, July 08, 2005, Blogger neuroconservative said...

neo --
For a perfect case study of exactly what you are talking about, see this op-ed in the Guardian, which I fisk on my blog.

 
At 3:04 AM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the quote from Belmont Club. It touches on something I noticed in the late 1970s when I began to turn away from leftism, which is the idea inherent in much leftist thought that "we" (meaning something like Western civilization, the white patriarchy, the United States) are controlling the entire world, while "they" (the Third World, the South, people of color) can only react. Travelling around the world, I saw that places like Brazil, Japan, Korea, and Russia (to name a few) are self-sustaining civilizations that consider themselves to be the centre of the universe. They may have received help, especially in the form of military protection, from the U.S., but they are fundamentally responsible for themselves and whatever successes they enjoy. They are also repsonsible for whatever wrong they do -- the U.S. had nothing to do with, for example, slavery in Brazil or Japan's colonization of Taiwan. In a very fundamental way, leftists, particularly American leftists, simply cannot grok this. They really believe that the American power structure controls everything, and they cannot accept the notion that others on the outside are independent agents. This is IMO a projection of their (perhaps unconscious) belief in the superiority of themselves and/or their civilization. Their multicultural and anti-racist rhetoric is at odds with this deeper belief.

 
At 7:40 AM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, during my own departure from leftism, I noticed the same unconscious assumption of control and superiority on many issues closer to home. For instance, support for affirmative action sometimes depends on an unstated assumption that white people are all-powerful and in complete control, while people of other races do not have and will never have the inner resources to succeed in the world without help from benevolent, all-powerful, (superior!) whites.

Victimization theory on the Left in general depends on this attitude. You can find it, for instance, in some forms of feminism (women are so weak that they need legal protection and support to shore them up against all-powerful men) or in the more extreme thought-control policies on modern college campuses (members of minorities are so fragile that they will be completely destroyed by insensitive comments.)

I'm a woman and a feminist myself, but I don't think I'm so weak that that men will inevitably prevail over me unless special legal protections are propped up around me. I know there is still a weary world full of racism out there, that many men do victimize many women, and that we have a long way to go before white people don't hold a disproportionate share of power. (And of course, I have to say all this to fend off attacks by commenters who will assume I'm racist/sexist/evil for saying such things out loud.) I just don't think it's necessary to assume that disadvantaged groups are inherently inferior in order to bring about social change. I do think many leftists carry an unconscious assumption of superiority around with them, not even realizing how much it props up their own egos at the cost of those they are supposedly helping. It's a form of the old "Lady Bountiful" concept, and it's not pretty.

 
At 11:10 AM, July 09, 2005, Blogger Psycho said...

Anonymous said...
"I'm a woman and a feminist myself"

"For instance, support for affirmative action sometimes depends on an unstated assumption that white people are all-powerful and in complete control, while people of other races do not have and will never have the inner resources to succeed in the world without help from benevolent, all-powerful, (superior!) whites.

Victimization theory on the Left in general depends on this attitude."

Gee, another Anonymous Feminist.

If you are a femenist you are an elitist. You think white males "rule the world"? If it was up to me, you could have it, but you're going to have to kill the real ruler of the world, money.

OJ and Jakko proved you can do whatever you want as long as you have the cash to CYA.

Everyone makes their own decisions. However, many people can be tricked easily. Drug companies have poisoned us for years feeding the public half truths. We're all vunerable to brainwashing of sorts. We are all victims because the sources of information aren't always trustworthy. I don't blame anyone except greed for that.

PatCA said...
"I'm talking about totalitarian regimes versus consensual governments."

Same thing. We have less power than you appear to believe.

"Dressing in a suit and tie for work is totally different from wearing a burka so you will not be beaten or worse."

It was just an example, but I'll go with it. Dress up or starve, dress up or be shot in the head? I'll take the headshot please.

"Dying as a soldier in a legitmate(sic) army abiding by the rules of war is different from strapping on explosives and targeting civilians."

I'll give you half of that. It's more honorable to die in a legitimate army abiding by the GC. Of course it's more honorable for you to fight an enemy with a sword, one on one, than to have a sniper take someone out. War is not as much about honor as it is about winning.

The truth sounds so crappy.

 
At 1:07 PM, July 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PatCA says: The truth sounds so crappy.

It's not the truth, PatCA, it's just you.

 
At 3:16 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

Um...I did not say the truth is crappy, Anon. I believe that was Psycho, an apt name.

See you, trolls.

 
At 6:29 PM, July 09, 2005, Blogger antimedia said...

Neo - you might be interested in reading Professor Rummel, if you aren't aware of his work already.

http://freedomspeace.blogspot.com/
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE13.HTM

I was stunned when I read his thesis. I don't want to trivialize it. You have to read in depth what he has to say. But some basic facts should pique your interest.

Since 1900:

No democracy has ever gone to war with another democracy.

Totalitarian and autocratic regimes have been responsible for the deaths of 174,000,000 of their own people.

All the wars fought since 1900 to date have been responsible for the deaths of 36,000,000 people.

The Nazis murdered 6,000,000 Jews. Everyone knows that. But did you know they also murdered 14,000,000 OTHERS?

I highly recommend reading his work.

 
At 7:37 AM, July 10, 2005, Anonymous Richad Aubrey said...

If you graduated from high school after, say 1965, you need to read his work.
The teaching of history has gone down the tubes. It's one reason the left has been able to fool so many young people.

 
At 5:36 AM, July 11, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

To Larry:

"THe question that case gives rise to is why so many other states and peoples who also suffer under dictators yet display no tendencies toward the kind of bloody terrorism displayed by the Islamists?"

Maybe because they didn't have to? For example the Soviet's didn't have to blow up busses, THEY HAD THE ATOMB BOMB to keep us in line, and out of their backyards.

 
At 12:12 PM, July 11, 2005, Anonymous Larry said...

Ho Chi Minh: For example the Soviet's [sic] didn't have to blow up busses, THEY HAD THE ATOMB BOMB to keep us in line, and out of their backyards.

Those were the days, eh? Funny how many lefties yearn for the days of the old Soviet Union, isn't it? So great is their hatred for their own country and its commercial, capitalist foundations in particular, that they'd prefer the old regime of Mutual Assured Destruction.

You know, Ho, you might actually have more in common with that other despiser of the west, Osama Bin Laden, than you think -- maybe you should consider a change of handle?

 

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