Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Thing of Theirs

Paul Wolfowitz, one of the prime movers in the invasion of Iraq, recently resigned as head of the World Bank. Having set out on an anti-corruption campaign Wolfowitz was found by an internal investigation to have broken Bank rules in arranging apparently preferential treatment for his partner. A report seen by the Guardian quotes Wolfowitz warning that there would be serious consequences for senior figures in the Bank if they put pressure on him over his conduct:

'If they fuck with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to fuck them too.'

The Guardian reporter, Richard Adams, suggests that he sounded 'more like a cast member of the Sopranos than an international leader'. But I am not sure. In a recent report on Pentagon conduct in the Abu Ghraib affair, Seymour Hersh reports in the New Yorker how General Abizaid told Antonio Taguba, the officer who had investigated allegations of torture at the prison, that he and his report would be investigated. Taguba describes his reaction:

'I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.'

It can take that long before an honourable man comes to realise that, in the words of another general, Smedley Butler, 'war is a racket'.

The bleed between the language of politics and organised crime can take on a comical aspect. Ralph Reed, the 'Republican strategist', describes his born-again experience in terms that have more than a little of the protection racket about them. According to (this from his Wikipedia entry, which cites Nina J. Easton's Gang of Five:

'The Holy Spirit simply demanded me to come to Jesus.'

As a former Enron consultant and associate of Jack Abramoff, it is perhaps fitting that Jesus's consigliere made Reed an offer he couldn't refuse.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Maybe This Was the First Review ...

Tom Chatfield calls The Threat to Reason 'excellent' on the Prospect blog in the entry for June 20th (now on page 2). Which is a review as far as I am concerned, albeit a short one. He also worries that the cover it too racy for reading in public. Can't say fairer than that ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Actual First Review For The Threat to Reason

So I've just seen my first review for The Threat to Reason; Jonathan Derbyshire's piece for the New Humanist is published online here. It is fair to say that he isn't overwhelmed by the book, which is fair enough, though he does call it 'breezy' at one point. Breezy I can live with.

But in his conclusion Derbyshire makes a claim that I find very troubling. He says, of my comments on the danger posed to free inquiry by states and corporations, that:

'The problem with this kind of analysis is that it criticizes the dupes of military or corporate might on the basis of principles (justice, say) that, by its own lights, can't be anything but the ideological residue of power politics. But the ‘betrayal of the Enlightenment’ that Hind denounces wouldn’t be real if its principles themselves weren’t real.’

I can't see why he thinks that my analysis implies that moral principles are 'the ideological residue of power politics'. I yield to no one in my ethical and epistemological simplicity / simple-mindedness; the truth is the truth, no matter what power politics tells us, and it is good to try to find out the truth and to share it with others. In my book that's what the Enlightenment is, or should be, and it is entirely possible to betray it.

I have written to Mr Derbyshire to ask him why he thinks the analysis in the book implies some sort of scepticism about morality. It would be horrible if I gave anyone that impression. Hopefully we can have a public-spirited debate about the meaning and relevance of the Enlightenment in the modern day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Cash of Civilizations, Part 1

There has been a good deal of coverage of recent events in Turkey, largely couched in terms of a struggle between secular nationalists and Islamists. We're quite familiar with the structure of this story - a democracy on the brink, clash of civilizations and all that - but the case of Sibel Edmonds suggests that there is more to that country's politics than a struggle between Western modernity and Eastern irrationalism.

Edmonds is a Turkish-American translator who was fired from the FBI in 2002 after she raised concerns over the questionable, even treasonous, activities of certain US officials. A series of gagging orders means that Edmonds can only describe what she found out in very general terms, but the suggestion seems to be that illicit cashflows were set up and managed by individuals in the Turkish and American defence/security establishments. There is a long interview with Ms Edmonds here and you can read a Vanity Fair piece about her case here.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

On Not Reviewing Al Gore

What do you do when a former Vice President writes a book warning that modern politics is becoming a sound and light show in which reason and meaningful participation are increasingly marginalised? That what Al Gore has done in The Assault on Reason.

And the response has been all but unanimous. Let's not discuss the book's argument, let's have a pop at silly old Al Gore. If he says there is no room for serious debate in the modern media, let's wildly over-simplify his argument ('His latest book goes over a lot of well-tilled ground about Mr Bush's "faith-based politics"' - good work there from the Economist; let's ignore the fact that Gore believes that 'is is truly power that is key to understanding the cynical manipulation of faith and the assault on reason' and that Gore says very little about Bush's Christianity or lack of it).

If he suggests that technology might have an impact on political culture, let's denounce him for his 'technological determinism'; if calls for a renewed commitment to reasoned deliberation then he is of course a Vulcan, and a 'radical technological determinist' (stand up David Brooks).

And my personal favourite; writing on the Guardian web site, Richard Byrne pauses to acknowledge that 'Gore's right' about the trivialising effect of tabloid television and moves briskly on to the 'deeper question' - whether 'Al Gore is the right messenger'. That's the way, Richard. Never mind the content of a claim, let's concentrate on the person making it. Isn't that after all what the Enlightenment was all about?

(ps A helpful copy editor had headlined the piece 'Kill the Messenger' - so perhaps the lights are still on in EC1)

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