May 27, 2004

Really excellent piece here on the Nick Berg murder and its exploitation by the American Right. It requires a Kurtz-like unflinching incisiveness to point up the hypocrisy of the 'this proves what savages the muslims are' lobby . Someone brutally executing one person is worse than bombing thousands? How is that exactly?

Posted by mark at May 27, 2004 12:10 AM | TrackBack

heya Mark, if you wanna talk about hypocrisy, see my buddy's lil rant here for more:

great lil blog...he isnt nearly prolific enough, but that's because he's busy writing for a living

Posted by: Rob at May 27, 2004 02:10 AM

He's claiming it's a "stain on our country's honor"... I think not. The stain on your country's honor, Bush dear, was the one on the infamous blue dress that made headlines while Clinton was in the White House...


Posted by: duggie at May 27, 2004 11:22 AM

given your bold (bold in the spirit of that comments box anyway, if you look at some of the other opinions) point about Thatcher in the great BBC license fee debate entry, i'm surprised that we shouldn't recognise a very obvious and foundational (therefore, of course, also unsatisfactory, but you should at least perhaps acknowledge) difference within moral philosophy and all that wayward jazz, that the intentional execution of one person is on a different ethical plane to the unintended side-effects of a firestorm.

the above is bunk in light of reality (or answering basic philosophy about quantity and scope of human suffering, granted), and practically an offensive rejoinder (esp. given what we know about the collective punishment that was meted out, grotesquely, in Fallujah), but i just wanted to make it.

excuse my pompous, wrong-headed witterings mate.

Posted by: scott at May 27, 2004 07:04 PM

Scott, I think it's a really odd ethical distinction to make. Only from some strict deontological POV could the execution be thought of as WORSE than the bombing of thousands. Certainly from any ethical viewpoint which takes into account consequences as well as motives, the bombing is grotesquely worse. Calling the killing of civillians 'unintended' is a little prissy, since such killing was wholly predictable, unavoidable even, once bombing was decided upon.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 27, 2004 09:02 PM

yeah i know i know, but i made it!

"deontological" was actually a word i couldn't remember (i only ever did philosophy at night-school didn't i) and was one i would've, er, wrote, er, typed.

anyway, i guess i'm being devil's advocate here.

i was hoping to draw you into something more substantive than that so i shall just ask you a question: how do you best (pref' w' simple but respectful language) suggest the shutting-up of pie-eyed ignoramuses (etc.) who insist because bombing crews are doubtless losing sleep over their smart weaponry going 'astray' (doubtless many are, and are severely traumatised by their following their orders, etc., and may suffer horribly in PTS syndrome for years yadda bleh) a more noble endeavour is going on than the wholly deliberate decapitation of Nick Berg &c., and so ppl *can* make the distinctions the admirable article you link to is fighting against (goes the narrative)?
one can't just recite simplified bits of the article above when one's out in the country due to shabby memory...
i.e., myself seeking advice when talking to biscuits in rural Americana.

Posted by: scott at May 27, 2004 10:11 PM

Sorry for coming on with the jargon, Scott, but I've been doing deonotogy versus consequentialism all year at work, y'know... and this issue seems to highlight some of the major problems with deontological ethics; to wit, the view that ONLY motives/ intentions matter.

Why shd it matter if a few flyboys lose sleep over bombing children? (Find this a little implausible meself - case unproven to say the least). Nevertheless, the children have been bombed. So what if the pilots were better people than the Iraqi executioners; so what if they had better intentions? Why should this matter?

Posted by: mark k-p at May 27, 2004 11:52 PM

ah but our logic and REASONABLENESS soon runs up against what The New Historicists call FUCKWITTED REDNECKS.

do you see? do you see?
meeting an acquaintance first-time you don't wanna piss on his politics, do you... ...or i don't, if only for entirely 'pleasant/nice' reasons...

Posted by: scott at May 27, 2004 11:54 PM

Fair play, Scott, but the reason I invoked Apocalypse Now's Kurtz in the orig post was because he rubbed American noses in that elision of sentimentality and atrocity so typical of the US mindset... It's sentimentality pure and simple that leads Americans to weigh one death (however atrocious) more heavily than many thousands. And it's that sentimentality that feeds and inspires further acts of mass murder.

Posted by: mark k-p at May 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Point of informantion, or possibly disinformation: It now looks very much like Berg's videotape beheading was fake -- head cut off afterwards, white not brown skin under the robes, a dozen too many suspicions glitches in the video, etc etc.

Just thought I'd share that.

Didn't come from The Times though Mark :-)

Posted by: paul "Essex boy" meme at May 28, 2004 05:11 PM

i kinda gathered the reasons for invoking Kurtz Mark, but let's just ignore my dunderheaded ironies up above and i'll ask you a question that might strike you as bizarre (and also offensive).

i don't even know why i'm asking this but anyway, let's just say you're 'mediating' a - Israeli set - dispute between someone who thinks suicide bombing can be morally justified, and someone who thinks any level of response from maddened settlers, the Israeli military machine, etc. is justified.

do you say to the extremist Likudist because the IDF always regrets incursions etc. (obv. their intent is not to harm anyone other than militants, but consequences mean that people will get harmed that are not terrroristic) their scope is slightly better??
i.e. Israel has a right to defend itself and all that, neither moderate 'side' can be entirely in the right when extremists on either side claim to speak for them etc.

suicide bombing justification is extreme nihilism right?

now i realise this is all immature and stupid to ask and also i'm aware borderline offensive thing (arguably) to be intellectually (sic) curious about, but i was just wondering - since you've told us about your deonotology versus consequentialism trope at work - well, praps you could flesh out a few responses off the bat, from a more high-flown pstn?

Posted by: scott at May 28, 2004 05:22 PM

OK, Scott. Let me be provocative:

What is the supposed difference between a suicide bomber and a US bomber pilot except that the suicide bomber is guaranteed to die?

OK, OK, we come back to the deontological defence; it's motive that matters. The US bombers are not deliberately targeting civilians. Even though, de facto, they know that they will kill them in large numbers.

But is anyone satisfied by this defence? Isn't it mealy-mouthed? Don't both the bomber pilots and the suicide bombers accept an ends-justify-means logic: it's OK to kill some civillians (do collateral damage) in the name of a greater good (this is where the justification becomes consequentialist rather than deontological).

Posted by: mark k-p at May 29, 2004 12:20 AM

excellent points indeed... ...philosophically speaking, the motives/consequence debate is a fascinating one.

not necessarily provocative, as i think you know me (quite) well...;-)

so who will you vote for? Tory? Respect? Libs? i take it NOT Labour from your invective...

Posted by: scott at May 29, 2004 02:13 PM

Well, Scott, I'll vote for Ken in the Mayoral elections, for the congestion charge alone, which I think is undoubtedly a Good Thing.

As for the Euro elections, I'm not sure....

Posted by: mark k-p at May 29, 2004 02:18 PM