UK paperback


Humanity, terrorism, Iraq

My review in today’s Guardian, and a further discussion.

Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7
by Ted Honderich (Continuum)

Suppose I intend to assassinate a man whose death, everyone agrees, would make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the only means I have to do so is a nuclear bomb. Knowing a little about nuclear bombs, I predict that its detonation will kill a million other people. Still, the villain needs to die. So I set off the bomb. Is it reasonable for me to claim afterwards that I didn’t intend to kill the million other people, that they were regrettable “collateral damage” in my noble undertaking? Or should I say that, yes, I killed a million, but 20 million previously oppressed people will now live in liberty and comfort? Can I even say that I had a “moral right” to go nuclear?

To prod the reader into thinking through such arguments properly is the aim of philosopher Ted Honderich’s deeply provocative and forceful new book. It expresses a bracingly airy contempt for our “conventions of idiocy”, for our leaders, and for numerous other thinkers. Sometimes the tone is peremptory: “The general principle against violence can hardly be serious,” Honderich writes, though it was apparently seriously meant by Jesus, whatever you think of him. The author can also be enjoyably catty – the Blair government is described as “inanely resolute” – but he always treats the reader with high intellectual civility.

What is to be our guide in deciding moral questions? International law, “just war theory”, international relations, conservatism or liberalism, talk of democracy or freedom – our author considers them all, and chucks them all in the bin. What we need is his own Principle of Humanity. A “bad life” lacks one or more of the following goods: a decent length of life; the means to bodily quality of life; freedom and power. The Principle exhorts: “We must actually take rational steps to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives.”

The Principle’s first result is the most resistible. If you grant the Palestinians’ moral right to national self-determination, and if terrorism is the only means for them to pursue that right, then you must grant that they have a moral right to their terrorism. Honderich emphasises that such a conclusion is “terrible”, because terrorism is “prima facie wrong”. But the conclusion depends also on a question of fact. Is terrorism really “the only possible means” available to the Palestinian people to alleviate their suffering?

The question is really three. First, how exactly is it to count as a “means”? In what reasonable way can a suicide bomber targeting teenagers at an Israeli nightclub hope that his or her actions will lead to nationhood? (The hope must be reasonable, on Honderich’s own argument.) Second, has Palestinian terrorism in fact been such a means? Third, why are the efforts of Palestinian writers, lawyers, protesters or even politicians not allowed to count as means?

That terrorism is the only means is “evidently … a factual proposition in need of support”, Honderich notes. But the support is not here forthcoming. It is, Honderich says, “something about which myself I have no doubt”. The reader may doubt that, in the absence of factual support in the text, the “terrible conclusion” amounts to much more than a defiant way of expressing one’s sympathy for Palestinians. (The Principle also tells us, by the way, that the founding of the state of Israel and the “terrorism for it” were justified.)

Honderich goes on to describe 9/11 and 7/7 with appalling vividness. That they were wrong was “written on them”, he says, a potent image that is almost out of a holy book. The Principle does not condone them; also, to pretend that they had nothing to do with what else has gone on in the world is fatuous. Yet his account of the context is askew: 9/11 is said “first of all” to have as its necessary cause the post-1967 actions of Israel in the occupied territories, even though the writings of founding militant Islamist Sayyid Qutb predate 1967, and even though Osama bin Laden was inspired first of all by Afghanistan in the 80s and Saudi Arabia and Bosnia in the 90s.

Of course, civilians are bombed by people other than suicide-bombers. Many more of them, for instance, are bombed by the US and UK governments, recently in Iraq. It is said that our killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq is not comparable to killing by Palestinian or Saudi Arabian or British suicide bombers. The moral difference is that we somehow didn’t intend to kill those civilians: their deaths were unfortunate accidents in our noble undertaking.

But the disavowal of intent is incoherent, and masterfully demolished by Honderich. If people in early 2003 were not stupid or amnesiac or drunk on fantasies of “smart weapons”, they knew that invading a large country would result in a substantial civilian death toll. History, after all, is not ambiguous on this matter. If one thought war was a good idea anyway, then one cannot later claim not to have intended those deaths. To intend to do something that has the foreseeable consequence of many deaths is to intend that consequence. “It is nonsense to suppose,” Honderich writes, “that something is to be judged right as a result of ignoring some of what you know or believe it will do.”

Certain conclusions, not shyly expressed, follow. Iraq was a “terrorist war”. The so-called “war on terror” has not addressed the “causes” of terrorism as it should have done. Our leaders “have been deficient in moral intelligence”. Perhaps we should even refuse to pay our taxes. Maybe the reader will think Honderich is “an ideologue”, but, he advises in conciliatory mood: “Such argy-bargy between us doesn’t matter much. You were here for a kind of inquiry, here to look into things, here to hear what can be said for some propositions, here to follow some arguments.”

Looking into things and following arguments might be our only hope. At times, indeed, Honderich expresses a wistfulness about impossible worlds: “The world isn’t a university or a book or a half-decent discussion. If it could be, there are people who make sure it isn’t.” Well, this is a book, and readers who enjoy being goaded into thinking for themselves will enjoy a better than half-decent discussion with it.

Postscript: Arguably, the name of Professor Honderich’s “Principle of Humanity” itself qualifies as Unspeak: if you disagree with him, you must be inhuman. Yet it is certainly hard to disagree with its axioms (as opposed to some of the conclusions he goes on to draw from it).

Meanwhile, an interesting case of what one might regard as visual Unspeak – Unshow? – arises in the printed version of my article (page 10 of the Guardian‘s Review section). It is illustrated by a photograph showing the “aftermath” of the suicide bombing “outside the Tsrifin army base, Israel, 2003”, which killed seven soldiers – yet in the view of many people, myself included, an attack on military personnel is not properly termed “terrorism”.

The Guardian gives the review the facile sub-heading “Means, rather than ends, must come under scrutiny, says Steven Poole”, even though this does not reflect my position, nor is it the opposite of Professor Honderich’s. (We both think that means and ends must be interrogated, though evidently we disagree on how to identify a means, particularly an only means.)

Lastly, an endnote advises the curious reader that “Steven Poole’s Unthink is published by Little, Brown.” “Unthink” is certainly one possible judgment on the quality of my arguments, but it’s not the name of my book. Or, wait, perhaps I should use it for a sequel?

  1. 1  Sohail  August 26, 2006, 9:32 pm 

    Hello Steve

    Good insightful article though, frankly, as I see it the moral questions you and Honderich posit can never really be settled in any meaningful sort of way simply because it all boils down to one thing: my morality is right and your morality is wrong. Furthermore, in the case of the Palestine-Israeli conflict or any other conflict for that matter, it is the victor’s or the conqueror’s morality that ultimately prevails. And when such conditions arise the oppressed are faced with a simple choice of either to work with it or work against it. I think this is partly why the Fatah has failed and Hamas is prevailing. People are simply tired of working with western hypocrisy around international humanitarian law – that it is not suggest of course that it is morally flawed though.

    Therefore, it seems to me that the question of means is one you pose from the standpoint of the victor – namely of the post-WW2 West that fostered the creation of the Israeli state.

    Look, pressure cookers tend to explode when the pressure becomes unbearable. In such instances, careful ethical issues of means are not always the first among one’s considerations. And, yes, exactly, people do desperate things in desperate circumstances. Revenge and retribution suddenly suggest themselves.


  2. 2  sw  August 27, 2006, 3:59 am 

    I would appreciate clarification on a couple of matters that I found confusing.

    First, the relationship between Osama bin Laden and Bosnia: you state that Bosnia was an influence on him on par with Afghanistan & Saudi Arabia. A citation would do. (I don’t think you are making this up out of thin air – I’ve heard vague mutterings about this and am not doubting that some Muslims and Mujahideen went to Bosnia to fight on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims, but I’d be curious to find a reputable source that explains the connection in a meaningful way, and especially curious about one that makes Bosnia as central to bin Laden as Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia; my suspicion has been that the link is invoked more as a matter of convenience – anti-Muslim rhetoric, associating the Bosnian Muslims with jihadists, and anti-Western rhetoric, appropriating the suffering of the Bosnian Muslims as part of an imagined tradition of attacks on Islam by Western(ish) Christians.)

    Does The Principle of Humanity apply to the person or to the group? I ask, because you go from these principles to Palestinian Statehood and terrorism. If you have cited his Principle of Humanity in full, I fail to see how it necessarily grants statehood to Palestinians, Basques, Kurds, etc., any more than it grants statehood to any minority population or, for that matter, women. You really lost me on how the Principle can explain/justify terrorism.

    The Principles themselves? Longevity, physical health, freedom and power. Well, that covers just about anything and everything without saying a lot. “We must actually take rational steps to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives.” Yes, “rational steps” rather begs the question, doesn’t it? And what happens when your freedom and power threatens your longevity and physical health (smoking, skydiving, signing up to join the Miami police force)? Who is this “we”? Does “freedom and power” constitute the “quality of life” portion of the equation and if so, do “freedom and power” adequately describe what is needed for “us” to have a non-bad life?

    By the way, I know that the Unspeak community has been dying for an opportunity to discuss the most significant and revolting act of Usnpeak in decades, something that rises to the level of the most egregious and awful abuse of language in recent history – the expulsion of Pluto from the planet club. Fucking hell. Pluto’s not a “planet”? Motherfucking unspeaking scientists.

  3. 3  SP  August 27, 2006, 3:24 pm 

    SW, you can read Kohlmann, Evan F., Al Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe (2004). I did not in fact write that the activities of mujahidin from Afghanistan and elsewhere in Bosnia were “as central” as or “on par with” Afghanistan and SA for OBL; but it certainly provided a lot of propaganda material for him and his chums subsequently.

    According to Honderich, a right to self-determination of peoples (see my para 4) is included under his definition of “freedom and power”: hence his application of this to Palestine and terrorism.

    I quite like the new terminology of “dwarf planet”. I picture Pluto with a beard and a floppy felt hat.

    PS to all readers: my anti-spam software was apparently causing some difficulties for people trying to comment. I’ve switched: let me know via the contact form if you still have trouble.

  4. 4  sw  August 27, 2006, 10:26 pm 

    One might be forgiven for thinking that “and even though Osama bin Laden was inspired first of all by Afghanistan in the 80s and Saudi Arabia and Bosnia in the 90s” puts Bosnia pretty high on the list of influences (especially if “first of all” applies not chronologically but to all three locations as the primary inspirations in their respective decades).

  5. 5  SP  August 27, 2006, 10:39 pm 

    SW, I will of course forgive you for thinking anything you like, even if you incontinently change your interpretation from “as central to” to “pretty high on the list of”, apparently abandoning the claim that I made an explicit equivalence among the three, which I obviously did not, and changing it to a claim that it is high on a list: well, it is third on my list of three.

    In other news, apparently dark matter exists. Pretty cool, huh?

  6. 6  sw  August 27, 2006, 11:51 pm 

    I always knew Philip Pullman was right.

  7. 7  sw  August 28, 2006, 12:00 am 

    And, I submit the above exchange regarding Bosnia to the community: am I being incontinent? Was I asking for Steven’s forgiveness? Did I actually say that Steven made “explicit equivalence among the three”, or was I looking for a source that could do so? And have I not consistently asked whether it belongs in _roughly_ the same category (“on a par with”, “pretty high on the list of”, etc.)? Is Steven really justified in saying that it’s third in a list of three?

    “Three of my heroes are Crockett, Tubbs and T.J.Hooker.”
    “T.J. Hooker is a hero of yours?”
    “No! He’s third on a list of three . . .”

  8. 8  SP  August 28, 2006, 12:11 am 

    SW, to forgive only when forgiveness is asked for is perhaps less than perfectly virtuous.

    “Three of my heroes are Crockett, Tubbs, and T. J. Hooker.”

    “You mean you worship T. J. Hooker just as much as you worship Crockett and Tubbs?”

    “Well, I didn’t actually say how I ranked them among themselves. Now that you’ve asked, I will reveal that I like T. J. Hooker a little less. It’s the wig, you see. That’s probably why I didn’t name him first.”

    Anyway, I’ve offered you, as requested, the title of a good book on the subject of muhajidin in Bosnia etc. Why don’t we talk about the incoherence of protestations of not intending to kill people? Or, if the rest of the review is really of no interest, astronomy?

  9. 9  SP  August 28, 2006, 12:24 am 

    By the way, any readers interested in the style and detail of some of Honderich’s arguments can find an extract at his site here.

  10. 10  sw  August 28, 2006, 12:59 am 

    Perhaps an interesting starting point in deciphering the “incoherence of protestations of not intending to kill people” would be to find examples of people coherently acknowledging that people will die and that it will be worth it.

  11. 11  SP  August 28, 2006, 1:18 am 

    An eccentric idea, perhaps, but also perhaps fruitful, to start with the inverse case. Such people as make the honest kind of argument you suggest appear to be very few, at least in the case of the Iraq war. You will remember that this was touched on a good while ago in the post Force. If any readers can cite a pro-war commentator or politician explicitly making that kind of argument at the time, it would be interesting.

  12. 12  abb1  August 28, 2006, 12:02 pm 

    Means, rather than ends, must come under scrutiny, says Steven Poole

    Neither means nor ends need scrutiny but the essence, the nature of the conflict. I think in each and every case it should be relatively easy to figure out who the aggressors and who the victims are. And then it’s pretty obvious that in each and every case the victims are entitled to pretty much any means and the aggressors are entitled to none; other than to cease-and-desist immediately, of course.

  13. 13  SP  August 28, 2006, 12:34 pm 

    the victims are entitled to pretty much any means

    An interesting formulation. Does it mean “any means at all”, and so definitely include the random murder of civilians? One way to get to a justification of the random murder of civilians is to identify every single Israeli citizen as being among the “aggressors”. Of course this would be a policy of collective punishment, and as such no more just than the same sort of collective punishment regularly applied to Palestinians or, recently, Lebanese.

  14. 14  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 1:37 pm 

    As Thucydides once put it “The strong do as they can, while the weak suffer what they must”. Or to put it slightly differently, the powerful ultimately enjoy the luxury of directing a conflict, and the weak must simply follow. Which is why randomisation and collective punishment mean virtually nothing when we divorce them from the nature of the conflict. For surely the random killing or collective punishment of an ant cannot be equated in a conflict with the random killing or collective punishment of an elephant. Or let’s take a more extreme example: the random use of nuclear weapons surely cannot be equated with the random use of Qassam or Katyusha rockets. Surely, one can see that the powerful ultimately control, constrain and limit all ethical considerations.

    Question: If a frail woman were being pummeled to death by a ruthless brute, would she not be morally justified in hitting back with what ever means she had despite the consequences and however random?

    As I suggested before, careful ethical considerations are hardly ever a plausible priority under desperate circumstances. Ethical considerations of just aggression are a luxury and of course a responsibility of the powerful.


  15. 15  SP  August 28, 2006, 1:48 pm 

    Question: If a frail woman were being pummeled to death by a ruthless brute, would she not be morally justified in hitting back with what ever means she had despite the consequences and however random?

    Of course she would, since she would be hitting back directly against her aggressor. But she would not be justified in running across the street and stabbing a bystander at a bus-stop.

  16. 16  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 3:06 pm 

    In my experience, such hypotheticals tend only to take place in highly creative for-the-sake-of-argument type scenarios. Nonetheless, to answer your point, in the real world given her mental and emotional state one could certainly appreciate why a frenzied act of stabbing a bystander at a bus-stop might plausibly take place after a brutal physical attack on a frail woman. But more importantly, as rational onlookers, we all know of course that people don’t act that way in normal circumstances unless of course they experience some hightened emotional state of frenzy. So do we not factor this into our ethical judgements?

  17. 17  SP  August 28, 2006, 3:25 pm 

    If you don’t like hypothetical arguments, don’t introduce them yourself.

    So suicide bombers who target civilians are ethically justified in what they do because they are in an emotional frenzy? How is this emotional frenzy to be squared, I wonder, with the very careful and deliberate planning and execution necessary for such an act?

  18. 18  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 3:41 pm 

    Look, there’s nothing unusual about a frail woman being attacked by a rutheless brute. It happens all the time. But a woman that then goes and stabs an innocent bystander at a bus-stop is a touch creative.

    There’s nothing wrong with hypotheticals.

    In any case, the interesting point we might explore is to what degree is the ruthless brute culpable for the actions that follow the attack he initiated and which lay ultimately under his control.


  19. 19  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 3:53 pm 


    I’ve just noticed your point about suicide bombers which oddly appeared after my post.

    Well, I’m not going to try to understand a suicide bomber’s emotional state of mind. It’s certainly not a frenzied state – there’s I imagine a cold calculated rationality to it. Perhaps one needs to live in the hell that is Gaza and West Bank to figure that one out. Or perhaps one needs to try losing a 5 year old daughter or have one’s house flattened by people who think you are the scum of the earth.

    The other problem I have with the moral questions you pose about suicide bombers is choice. Would the same person who aspires to be a suicide bomber be one if he also had the choice of flying a fully loaded F-16 over Tel Aviv and bombing a military target?


  20. 20  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 4:09 pm 

    A quick afterthought: one of the reasons that the Israelis don’t have suicide bombers is because they know that their vast arsenal of F-16’s, Apache helicopters and US-guided missiles can do the job infinitely more effectively.


  21. 21  abb1  August 28, 2006, 4:33 pm 

    Well, the concept of collective punishment is one of the oldest there is – it’s all over the old testament. And it’s also as modern as the bombings of Serbia in 1999, the “battle of Fallujah” in 2004 and, of course, most recently, bombings of Lebanon.

    In the modern world without collective punishment there would be no possibility to fight wars. Imagine that one side attacks by unmanned aircraft and remotely controlled tanks; operators are safe in deep underground bunkers. For the other side to refuse collective punishment as a tactic would be in effect an equivalent of committing mass-suicide. That’s why, IMO, moralizing about the means as such is impossible, only in context.

  22. 22  SP  August 28, 2006, 5:09 pm 

    abb1, the original review is precisely arguing about the means in their specific context, the context of Palestine and whether randomly killing Israeli civilians (not soldiers, that is already justified by international law) is actually a rational or effective or justified means towards self-determination – questions that the book itself does not itself properly engage, and which need to be addressed before you can move to any moral justification. You have not supplied any illuminating context about this either.

    Meanwhile, you appear to have missed the point of my comment #13, which doesn’t really need a lecture in return about collective punishment of Lebanese, since I already noted that that was what happened. (You can find some material about Fallujah in my book.) But your general principle that collective punishment is a justified tactic for the weak doesn’t seem to me to be a very reliable ethical yardstick.

  23. 23  abb1  August 28, 2006, 5:35 pm 

    It’s not that it’s justified necessarily, all I’m saying that it’s a fact of life. It’s like ‘thou shall not kill’. In principle we all agree, but then we say: well, if someone is trying to kill you, then, regrettably, it’s OK to kill. And if your tribe leaders and priests tell you to kill, then you should, and so on. I think ‘collective punishment’ is one of these things.

    I’m not saying it’s good. Personally, as a non-combatant, I would love to have this immunity. But I realize that people who are being hit by bombs dropped by my government are not likely to grant me any immunity and I can see their logic.

  24. 24  Paul Ward  August 28, 2006, 5:56 pm 

    Dear SP

    Whilst the Palestinians would no doubt, if asked, like a bit of ‘national self-determination’ – why, hec, I wouldn’t mind a bit myself – I fancy that the real ‘nub’ of their grievance can be put much more simply: ‘that for the last one hundred years or so some bugger has been nicking their fucking land’.

    If we accept this rather than Hondrich’s starting point we can dispense also with your other preposterous argument about a globally dispersed religious grouping having a moral right to national self-determination – and just as well as what a mess that would lead us into.

    Also you imply rather sagely that unlike Hondrich you think Palestinian targeting of the Israeli population (all Israeli adults are either in the military or in reserve or about to be conscripted) is not in fact the only means open to them (I would agree that it is not a means that is likely to achieve its desired end which then begs the question whether it can be a means at all within the context of the argument or perhaps it would have to be certain not to acheive its end for it not to be a means which is also impossible to establish before the event so to speak that is without the benefit of hindsight). In fifty years of off and on conflict little that the Palestinians have done has stemmed the tide of Israeli immigration, growth, expansion, and land-theft. Since you seem to have thought of something that neither I nor Hondrich has perhaps you would be so good as to let the Palestinians know. I am sure you will get a receptive audience.

    By the way when you advised SW to read Evan F Kohlmann were you serious?

  25. 25  SP  August 28, 2006, 5:57 pm 

    abb1 – well, the logic is the same as Osama bin Laden’s justification of 9/11; I’m not a great fan whoever is using it. I think we agree, anyway, that understanding something is not the same as saying it’s ethically right. Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner, perhaps, but not tout justifier.

  26. 26  SP  August 28, 2006, 6:06 pm 

    Hello Paul Ward: you have lost me in splenetically dismissing an argument you attribute to me about “a globally dispersed religious grouping having a moral right to national self-determination”, since I can’t find where I ever said such a thing.

    As you parenthetically note, my objections to Honderich are whether bombing really does count as a means, and whether no other thing really is a means. Because your parenthesis is correct, your assumption outside the parenthesis, that I somehow need to name another magic means that really will help the Palestinians, is faulty.

    The Kohlmann book is poorly written but a detailed account, so yes, I do recommend it to SW.

  27. 27  Paul Ward  August 28, 2006, 6:44 pm 

    I was referring to your parenthetically inserted argument about the founding of the Israeli State.

    Kohlmann is a self-proclaimed ‘consultant’ on terrorism whose book may well have done his largely internet-based business no harm at all (which given his vested interest should be read very critically and sceptically). He makes many references to secretive biographies of supposed Al Quaeda agents who are either dead or ‘incommunicado’. At 27 his interest in Jihadis began less than a decade ago where as a teenage student he developed what at the time seemed like a very unhealthy obssession with Islamic/Mujahideen websites. His mentor at Georgetown University was the Egyptian-born Dr Fandy – currently a senior fellow of the ‘Baker Institute’ and a darling of the Bushies. Kohlmann is often wheeled out by the FBI or CIA as a prosecution witness whenever they have a dodgy dude with a beard and a copy of the Koran in the dock – but diddly-squat evidence of course. Kohlmann’s closeness to the Intelligence Agencies and various far right Think Tanks should make you at least a wee bit cautious in using his material – at least not without caveats. He is not a trained historian and much of his cited evidence is at best unverifiable. In fact he and a number of his associates have been probably far more effective than OBL himself in terrorizing the American people. A man with an agenda I would say. If you really want to promote a good primer on the ‘Balkan Vortex’ and its historical antecedents then why not start with Misha Glenny’s ‘The Balkans’. It may be short on Mujahideen but it’s a stonking good read. And you won’t come out of it with a febrile paranoia about men in beards either.

  28. 28  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 6:47 pm 

    Don’t tell me that Kohlmann is another “expert” on “Al-Qaeda”! It’s just incredible the amount of crap (well or poorly written) that can be said about a totally bogus organisation that simply doesn’t exist in any meaninful way. What’s also regrettable is that many young impressionable Muslim men have been duped into believing the nonsense alongside all sorts of self-serving western “experts” – including the affable Jason Burke. I suppose it’s all part of the Al-Qaeda Expert Industry.


  29. 29  SP  August 28, 2006, 8:30 pm 

    Hello again Paul Ward: the parenthetical part about the Israeli state is a report of what Honderich argues in the book.

    Kohlmann’s book is well thought of by Richard A. Clarke, who is no idiot, and certainly no “darling of the Bushies”. I do not of course recommend the book as a primer on the Balkan wars in general during the 1990s, which would be ridiculous. SW was asking specifically about accounts of Muslim fighters from elsewhere coming to Bosnia.

    Some of my best friends are men with beards. No febrile paranoia here, you’ll be glad to know.

  30. 30  SP  August 28, 2006, 9:06 pm 

    Sohail, Jason Burke himself argues that Al Qaeda only really existed as anything like a (very loose) command organization for merely a few years in the late 90s/early 00s, and has not existed as much more than an inspirational “brand” since then.

  31. 31  Sohail  August 28, 2006, 10:39 pm 


    Yes, you’re right. And that’s probably his only single major contribution to understanding what Al Qaeda is. Period! But you don’t need to be an “Al Qaeda expert” to know that. I mean just ask yourself a simple question: have you ever met or seen an Al Qaeda operative? As a well-travelled British Muslim from London who has lived in the Middle East for the past ten years and who speaks four foreign languages fluently including Arabic and Urdu, I certainly haven’t. But I’ve known of people of virtually every other -ism in the Muslim world you can think of. And this is supposed to be a massive global network with tentacles in every major Western capital in the world. There’s also frankly a lot of nonsense about the “deep” links with Sayyid Qutb. A lot of it is pretty laughable stuff. Kohlmann is doubtless a continuation of more endless crap on this extremely spurious self-serving specialism. Haven’t we learnt anything from the Cold War era?


  32. 32  Paul Ward  August 28, 2006, 11:47 pm 

    Dear Steven
    I first came across Ted Honderich’s website several years ago when I was searching for material on Anthony Giddens, New Labour & the Third Way so-called, and the thorny issue of Globalisation. Despite Ted’s eccentricities of delivery I found myself warming to him – in fact I wouldn’t mind a chat over a beer and a cheese sandwich sometime.

    As for yourself well I know you mean well and presumably you are not intending to insult my intelligence even if that is the impression you are giving. Richard Clarke’s involvement with US intelligence goes all the way back to Reagan and it was HIS original intelligence work that was used to establish the Saddam-Al Qeada connection – one of the many stated reasons used by the Bush Government for the Iraq War/Occupation. Clarke’s subsequent disavowal (rather late for the Iraqi people sad to say) of his theory peeved the Bushies not surprisingly. His gaffes and inconsistencies are hardly a testimonial. But worse you seemed to have missed my point. There is so much about Kohlmann to raise questions about his objectivity that any of his material should be treated with the utmost caution. This is, as I suggested earlier, due to his close connection with the US Intelligence community. A testimonial from Richard Clarke seems merely to make my case a fortiori.

    But as Ted says this is all argy bargy in the end.

    Personally I think you should have dealt with SW’s query with some straight bat argument on Bosnia – not fobbing him/her off with a dubious source book. A thorough knowledge of the Bosnian conflict and its consequences is surely a prerequisite to any debate on its impact on Osama & Islamic fundamentalism – if he propagandised the Muslim atrocities opportunistically it could hardly be ‘an inspiration for his cause’ more a fillip. More confusingly in reality the US supported the Bosnian Muslim-dominated Government and carried out air strikes to route the Bosnian Serbs. They also supported the Muslim-dominated KLA as part of an orchestrated plan to remove Milosevic – described as a neo-Stalinist – from power. The bridgehead of Islamic fundamentalism that penetrated the Balkans as a consequence has been asserted by many interested parties for various political reasons. The Al Qaeda connection with its tentacular spread of evil has always been conspiratorial window-dressing usually by those with their own peculiar axes to grind.

    The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, characterises it as an endless battle between the powerful and the powerless – for Society there must always be an enemy. I have to say I kind of admire Bin Laden. That is I admire the purity of his cause. Peel away the layers of the US imperium and what you find is some chump change and a few dollar bills. The US’s true deity – the Dollar. But for some years now Bin Laden has had a 25 million dollar bounty on his head. So far there have been no takers. Perhaps that is why the US plutocrats hate Islam so much – they hate its ‘incorruptibility’. Well, perhaps.

  33. 33  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 1:30 am 

    Also Steven you are too clever by half to be trusted. I don’t mean clever in a flattering sense either but in a slippery, jesuitical, sneaky sense. My parenthetical comments earlier amounted to saying that unless you certainly know a means will not achieve its end then you cannot dismiss it on those terms as not in effect a means. But you can’t know that a means will not achieve its end until it has either achieved its end or not. Which is hindsight. So it is your argument that is faulty and yes you still owe the Palestinians some helpful advice on an alternative means.
    Come on mate, when is that perpetually flying cabbage crate going to finally land and pin its colours to the mast?

  34. 34  SP  August 29, 2006, 11:46 am 

    Hello Paul Ward,
    I happen to know SW is a sophisticated reader and is quite able if he so chooses to read Kohlmann’s book, as I have done and you apparently have not, with the sceptical attention any such work warrants. FYI, its title is rather more sensationalist than its content. You might also one day be interested in reading Clarke’s book, rather than merely repeating stuff about why he is not to be trusted from wikipedia.

    I’m afraid I don’t quite understand your stuff about flying cabbage crates, but it probably doesn’t matter.

    Sohail: I think we are talking at cross purposes. It is clear that “Al Qaeda” as described in government pronouncements these days is in large part an ideological fiction. Also, see my older post Villainize.

  35. 35  Sohail  August 29, 2006, 2:02 pm 

    Cross purposes? Yes, absolutely! Many Western commentators haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about in regard to the militant Muslim groups over whom they claim “expert” knowledege.

    And clear it certainly is not!


  36. 36  SP  August 29, 2006, 2:21 pm 

    Well, it’s clear enough with regards to the US military’s propaganda strategy regarding al-Zarqawi in Iraq, as that earlier post of mine shows, although such things don’t often get a lot of mainstream attention.

  37. 37  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 2:57 pm 

    Hi Steve
    Thanks for giving me the Wikipedia credit: I thought you were going to treat me like a complete bozo for a minute.

    Robert Fisk takes a dim view of the Internet and he may have some justification although I think his position is a little too fundamentalist for my liking. For many the Internet is a powerful research tool – I believe George Monbiot probably does 90 per cent of his research online nowadays. George, by the way, is a true exemplar of the scientific method and is careful to fully reference and cross-reference all his work accordingly. Me? Well, I’m just a sap. I go to Wikipedia for all my stuff. And why not? I mean it’s just so BIG and DETAILED. But the Internet is a mysterious place full of unknowns – after all WE could be anybody in real life. I mean for all I know SW could be Donald Rumsfeld – I certainly wouldn’t put it past the blighter.

    So you’ve read BOTH Clarke and Kohlmann? You must have plenty of free time I guess. I’m trying to reserve a bit of time for Honderich and maybe even Unspeak but Honderich is in the post as of yesterday and Unspeak, as yet, hasn’t turned up in the local library. Currently my reading list includes:

    Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis

    The Making of the Crofting Community by James Hunter

    Black ’47 & Beyond: The Great Irish Famine by Cormac O Grada

    Captain Swing by Eric Hobsbawm

    Heresies by John Gray

    The Revenge of GAIA by James Lovelock

    My Life Among the Deathworks by Philip Rieff

    The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge

    The Myths We Live By by Mary Midgely

    The Clash of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali

    and most importantly,

    The Perfect Pickle Book by David Mabey

    If there is one thing I do like it’s a good pickle.

    I can commend any or all of the above to you (especially the Pickle Book) if you can honestly commend Kohlmann to me.

    Apparently in 2003 (was it several Terabytes?) we generated more data than in the preceding 2000 years of human history. Sobering thought. Clearly the importance of being selective in what one reads is never so important as it is in the digital age especially given the brevity of our stay down here on planet Earth. Certainly I like to be selective.

    Since a genuine debate is clearly not on the cards I’ll shuffle off some place else.
    I live in hope.

    Kind regards
    Paul (or Pauly Baby as I am known to some)

  38. 38  dsquared  August 29, 2006, 4:15 pm 

    Does it affect matters now that we know that the priorities of the Israeli state (as deduced by revealed preference from the scale of its retaliations) value its soldiers’ lives at roughly a thousand times the value of its civilians? I am being facetious for the sake of it.

    In related news, Eric Reeves the noted Darfur “expert” was on Radio 4 last night suggesting that the UN needs to urgently authorise a “non consensual deployment of troops” in Sudan; I’m assuming that this isn’t the same thing as an “invasion” but you never can tell.

    A pal picked up my copy of Unspeak last weekend and asked me to inquire whether you are single, by the way!

  39. 39  sw  August 29, 2006, 6:13 pm 

    I do not want to encourage Paul Ward in his speculations as to who I am, but I will say this about my identity: there are those for whom it is a known known, those for whom it is a known unknown, and those for whom it is an unknown unknown.

  40. 40  Sohail  August 29, 2006, 6:57 pm 

    Oh I get it! Steven Poole is not your real name. You’re real name is Donald Rumsfeld! I didn’t you did blogs!



  41. 41  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 7:14 pm 

    Is that Kant or cant? Still admirably gnomic for all that.

    Alas of all the petty perturbations to have enveloped me none have afforded such a salutary example of the humiliations which great minds may suffer when forced to have contact with the pedestrian intellects of the unperceiving laity. Excoriations & Fatuous Inquiries notwithstanding.

    I can do no better than leave you with a quote from that greatest of all living metaphysical poets & thinkers, De Selby:

    “Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death.” 1

    Now, if my eyes do not deceive me, it is time for my afternoon injection.

    1. Quoted in ‘Golden Hours’, De Selby, p102

    P.S. Please, SW, call me Pauly baby. After all, it’s not like we’re strangers or anything.

  42. 42  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 7:25 pm 

    I’ve just had another disturbing thought. Maybe Sohail is SW and the one is masquerading as the other. Even more disturbing perhaps Steven is pretending to be Sohail and SW and dsquared in order to make his column look like it is well commented on. Begob and begorrah, come to that I might even be Steven. This is spooky. I’m going to do some serious thinking.

  43. 43  abb1  August 29, 2006, 7:58 pm 

    Don’t worry Paul, all of you exist only in my imagination.

  44. 44  Sohail  August 29, 2006, 7:59 pm 


    Yes, serious thinking is just what you might need just as soon as the straps are fastened though.


    Apologies for posting my last in haste. I now get it. Not without reason though I thought you were trying to be eloquent. I now understand you were just being facetious!


  45. 45  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 8:27 pm 

    It’s a sad fact but the North Europeans are a serious lot much prone to prolonged ruminations – it’s a matter of weather and disposition in equal measure I fancy. Hence my passion for Italian food. I am particularly fond of a dish that consists of garbanzos and pasta with an all important dash of chilli – known with good reason by the Italians as ‘Thunder and Lightening’. However it is apt to bring on the melancholy. In which case I would refer you to the venerable writings of Robert Burton who was a lifelong student of the condition and who has devised many a physick for its amelioration. For the speedy alleviation of windy melancholy, for that is the title of the condition, Burton advises most sagaciously the judicial application of the bellows to the appropriate part of the anatomy. The results can fairly be described as immediate. I have tried it and I can say it certainly cheered me up.

  46. 46  Sohail  August 29, 2006, 8:35 pm 


    Thanks for the Burton suggestion. I think I know where I’d like refer you!


    PS: I happen to know Italy and its food extremely well. I have no idea of the dish you’re talking about. Diciamo che stai dicendo le solite cazzate!

  47. 47  Paul Ward  August 29, 2006, 8:58 pm 

    Lampe e Tuone! A peasant dish – earthy with a bit of attitude.
    I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve not heard of Tortellini Pie either.

  48. 48  SP  August 29, 2006, 9:17 pm 

    Hi dsquared,
    A “non-consensual deployment of troops” is masterful.

    I’m afraid I am spoken for, but it’s always nice to be asked.

    If SW is Donald Rumsfeld, does that make Paul Ward Margaret Beckett? If so, hello Margaret, and welcome to the site. I’m sure you will enjoy it here.

    By the way, I’m quite sure that if everyone quoted the inexhaustible maestro De Selby more often, the world would be a happier place.

  49. 49  Sohail  August 29, 2006, 9:46 pm 


    Earthy with attitude? Now why is it my bullshit meter is going into serious overload?


  50. 50  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 12:09 am 

    You know the disease of our times is cynicism.

    But as the poet has it:

    With lassoes of the brain we catch
    The Isness of the Was,
    And in the copses of the Whence
    We here the Think bees buzz.
    We climb the skippery Which bark tree,
    And pause betimes in gnostic rhymes
    To woo the Over-soul.

    Chickpeas are of course earthy and anyone with passion knows that chillis have attitude.

  51. 51  SP  August 30, 2006, 12:15 am 

    Not to interrupt the fascinating gastronomic discussion for too long, but SW wondered some time ago about the terms of the Principle of Humanity. Honderich has a longer explanation of it on his website here.

  52. 52  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 4:48 am 

    Dazzling stuff, Paul!

  53. 53  dsquared  August 30, 2006, 9:06 am 

    I would just like to clarify that it was really a friend who was asking, and I was not trying to pull Steven there or anything.

    no really you bastards, stop sniggering.

  54. 54  SP  August 30, 2006, 9:09 am 

    I never suspected otherwise!

    V interesting piece on Darfur, btw.

  55. 55  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 9:30 am 

    Had a very quick glance. Not very interesting actually.

    You can’t have a serious discussion on Darfur without going into the very strategic oil reserves that the region is sitting on and not least their role in gaining critical leverage over the Chinese. The “o” word hardly ever gets mentioned. I believe the Economist in one of its Dec 2005 issues is perhaps the only magazine/newspaper that has gone into this in some meaningful detail.


  56. 56  SP  August 30, 2006, 9:53 am 

    Post your recommendations for a “serious discussion” on that subject on the CiF page in question, not here.

  57. 57  biggles  August 30, 2006, 11:24 am 

    Problem is the separation of means and ends. As Marshall McLuhan said so long ago, the medium IS the message; that is, the means ARE the ends. To put it another way, the ends we intend are transient. They may be achieved or not but they will pass soon enough. But the means by which we attempt, and are willing to attempt, to achieve our ends are what endure. A nation that uses war as a means to peace may have peace, perhaps, for a short time, but the enduring legacy and the cultural end will in the long run be a culture of aggression validated – and so a greater likelihood of war.

  58. 58  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 11:38 am 

    For some interesting stuff on the ‘O’ word check out Monbiot’s piece at

  59. 59  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 11:53 am 

    Much prefer the Independent these days.

    If I had to recommend one book on oil, it would be the following:

    A Century Of War
    Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order

    By F. William Engdahl

    Lots of footnotes!


  60. 60  SP  August 30, 2006, 12:16 pm 

    Biggles – interesting idea. (Although the medium isn’t the message; the message is.) I suppose what you propose rules out any kind of utilitarian thinking, though. Do we not often (and rightly) use a kind of weak utilitarianism in our ordinary moral thinking?

    Sohail, Paul: further off-topic comments in this thread will be deleted.

  61. 61  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 12:33 pm 

    You’re a hard man but fair.

  62. 62  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 12:43 pm 


    Fine. Would you care to address my point in message #18? It was certainly not an off-topic comment. There might be some reader interest in a response aside from all the trivial point-scoring.

  63. 63  SP  August 30, 2006, 12:54 pm 

    Your implication that the hypothetical ruthless brute is “ultimately” to blame for the woman’s stabbing of an innocent bystander is similar to the IDF’s justification of its killing Lebanese civilians by saying it was ultimately Hizbollah’s fault because they provoked the war, and then hid among the population etc. (An excuse which would still be bogus even if Hizbollah had started it, which it didn’t.) I don’t buy that reasoning in either flavour.

  64. 64  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 1:20 pm 

    No you’re totally missing the point. The strong have options. The weak don’t. The frail woman’s options are almost totally constrained by the ruthless brute’s aggressive actions. He ultimately determines the consequential chain of events.

    As for the IDF point, it’s not a poor illustration in my judgement because I don’t agree with your version of the facts. Hizbollah did not initiate the conflict as I see it. The IDF escalated it in a manner of their choosing. They had other options which they have pursued in the past. But let’s not get drawn into that. Please try a different example where at least we can agree on the basic facts.


  65. 65  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 1:23 pm 

    Oh and BTW let’s not dwell on the fact the brute is a over-hypotheticalised entity as if to imply that he is totally removed from reality. Sadly, such people exist in the real world.

  66. 66  SP  August 30, 2006, 1:27 pm 

    The frail woman had the option of not stabbing the bystander. Palestinians have the option of not bombing random civilians. Unless you want to revert to your strange theory about their being in a “frenzy”, so as totally to infantilize them and relieve them of any capability for moral responsibility whatsoever. It’s rather a condescending defence, don’t you think?

    I don’t agree with your version of the facts. Hizbollah did not initiate the conflict as I see it. The IDF escalated it in a manner of their choosing.

    Er, what did I say about that in #63? Clue: look between the brackets. Do try to keep up.

  67. 67  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 1:38 pm 


    Our divergent versions of the Lebanon crisis are not the issue here though I’d be happy to start a new thread on this. Furthermore, I have no strange theory about frenzy. That’s an extreme characterisation on your part. I make the point simply in regard to the woman. More interestingly, uf we broaden it out in regard to the Palestinian conflict, we can (I’m suggesting)extrapolate two points:

    (1) The emotional state of the Palestinian people(not necessarily frenzied but with some imagination on your part you can figure out what I mean)

    (2) Options – the Palestinians have limited options to defend themselves. See messages # 19 & 20. Please keep up!!


  68. 68  abb1  August 30, 2006, 1:47 pm 

    They are not bombing random civilians or bystanders. They are bombing Israelis, Israeli citizens, Israel. Israel is the state that is occupying their land, etc.

    You really don’t see any logic here at all?

  69. 69  SP  August 30, 2006, 1:48 pm 

    Uh, I said Hizbollah didn’t start it. You said that you disagreed because Hizbollah didn’t start it. This is not divergence of opinion, just an inability or unwillingness to read on your part. Do try to pay attention or I will get bored.

    I have no strange theory about frenzy. That’s an extreme characterisation on your part. I make the point simply in regard to the woman.

    False. In #16 you generalized it to “normal circumstances”.

    the Palestinians have limited options to defend themselves.

    The frail woman was not defending herself when she stabbed the bystander; just so, killing random civilians does not count as “defence”, whoever is doing it.

  70. 70  SP  August 30, 2006, 1:50 pm 

    abb1, sure, they’re bombing random Israeli civilians. Does that make it ok? Are all Israeli civilians responsible for the actions of their state? If so, I suppose all US citizens are responsible for the historical and present actions of the US, and so 9/11 was perfectly justified, and collective punishment is a marvellous thing all round. Didn’t we already go through all this above?

  71. 71  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 1:51 pm 

    Logic is not a luxury when you’re under seige, when your land and most prized resources are being stolen inch by inch, when your people are being slowly cleansed and when the world is looking the other way.

    This is not to justify violence but to understand the situation before we make easy moral judgements.


  72. 72  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 1:55 pm 

    Stebe You’re back t’ your fabourite tackic of ad hominem remarks. Clear you habe no argumin. Duh, you’re ebadigg some straitef’erd poits. Lebanon is NOT de issue. Duh! Doihh, COOL!

  73. 73  abb1  August 30, 2006, 2:41 pm 

    SP, it doesn’t mean that 9/11 was perfectly justified, or that bombings of Belgrade were justified, or Iraqi sanctions, or that my mother yelling at a cashier because something has been mislabeled is justified.

    But it does mean that there is a certain logic in identifying a group and holding every member of this group responsible for whatever injustice was perpetrated by some members of this group.

    Of course this logic is not perfect, of course it’s an approximation – but nothing is perfect; and across different scenarious it may vary from fairly convincing to totally absurd.

    It’s a matter of judgement.

    I’m not a Palestinian, I haven’t lived on occupied territories, my father hasn’t been beaten up by soldiers nor my little brother was shot in front of my eyes, so what do I know?

  74. 74  SP  August 30, 2006, 2:46 pm 

    abb1, I don’t think there’s a “logic” there at all. It’s illogical. It may, regrettably, be what a lot of people feel in a lot of situations, but the book, review and subsequent discussion are about ethics, whose subject, among other things, is that of trying to decide which of our allegedly “natural” responses to things are in fact morally justified – could, if you want to be sort of Kantian, be generalized to become a universal law.

    If you say that no such ethical judgments are possible about this or any other matter, then fine, but I disagree.

  75. 75  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 2:55 pm 

    As an adjective random means haphazard and so ‘killing haphazard civilians’. I would suggest killing civilians at random or randomly killing civilians. Perhpas you should begin by defining what a civilian is – in Afghanistan it comes down to whether you’re carrying a Kalashnikov or not. Then of course to define what is an innocent civilian since this too is an important distinction and germane to the argument. And Sohail, get a grip on yerself – you’re talking gibberish.

  76. 76  SP  August 30, 2006, 3:00 pm 

    PW, I go into that in quite a lot of detail in my book; I’m not going to repeat it here. Suffice to say that those who argue that there is no such thing as a blameless Israeli civilian are just as pernicious as those who say exactly the same thing about Palestinians.

  77. 77  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 4:10 pm 

    PW Not gibbehish. My messages webuhre tampehid wid. Duh. […] I’d be happy t’ continue but get the, uh uh uh, feeligg dehe’s no stamina f’ robust debate. Sohail

  78. 78  abb1  August 30, 2006, 4:16 pm

    The felony murder is a rule current in some common law countries that broadens the crime of murder in two ways. First, when a victim dies accidentally or without specific intent in the course of an applicable felony, it increases what might have been manslaughter (or even a simple tort) to murder. Second, it makes any participant in such a felony criminally responsible for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony. While there is some debate about the original scope of the rule, modern interpretations typically require that the felony be an obviously dangerous one, or one commited in an obviously dangerous manner. For this reason, the felony murder rule is often justified as a means of deterring dangerous felonies.

    For example, a getaway driver for an armed robbery can be convicted of murder if one of the robbers killed someone in the process of the robbery, even though the driver was not present at and did not expect the killing.

    Do you see logic in this rule? How is it conceptually different?

  79. 79  SP  August 30, 2006, 6:07 pm 

    abb1, I don’t see what you’re trying to say with that example, if it is not (again) that every Israeli citizen is a participant in the analogous “felony” etc, and so we are back to collective punishment, about which I’ve made my view clear.

    But I think we are talking past each other. You say the random killing of civilians is understandable, with which I don’t disagree. It’s understandable, but wrong.

  80. 80  abb1  August 30, 2006, 6:53 pm 

    Fair enough, thanks.

  81. 81  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 7:15 pm 

    abb1 SP is basical telligg you he is incapaggle of folligg an argumin dat lies beyond the, uh, extreme narrow definid parametehs dat his scripp allows. Dat’s what “talkigg past each odeh” means. ======= Stebe What’s dat bizarre funcshun you habe installid on dis blog, duh…uh…? It’s pretty debious. It basical conbehts ebehydigg you write into “Unread”. Sohail

  82. 82  Sohail  August 30, 2006, 7:17 pm 

    If you don’t like inconbenient commins dat mite affeck book sales, duuhhhh, dgust delete dem. Uhhh….But don’t reduce dem t’ “Unread”. It’s downrite debious. Sohail

  83. 83  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 7:50 pm 

    Thank god you’re back Sohail. I thought they’d done something unspeakable to you.
    It’s a while since I did Philosophy and to be fair in my debating group we never really got past Descartes before we were all too pissed to remember much. However since then I have managed to pick up a few bits and pieces. And, by the way, many thanks are due here to the excellent Wikipedia.

    Now it seems to me SP that you might well be some sort of neo-liberal individualist contractualist type in the spirit of, for example, Rawls. As you are no doubt aware the Enlightenment Project did a pretty thorough job ditching all that Christian morality stuff and, then, wasted no time in rebuilding the glorious edifice from the ground up. However Nietzche’s demolition job on Kant has been heralded by some modern philsophers as a clear sign that this project has been a pretty miserable failure. We are engulfed in an endless moral relativism (See MacIntyre, After Virtue).

    Now I am only guessing but I reckon, SP, that you are not guided by the absolute edicts of a supernatural authority in the manner of say a Jesus or a Mohammed. More likely you are viewing the concepts of right and wrong from essentially within a contractualist’s/relativist’s viewpoint. That is you agree to a set of socially decreed rules in exchange for certain socially guaranteed rights, liberties you might say as in Honderich’s Principle – an important component of which is access to justice through judicial process. This contractual framework is essential to any moral judgements involving the apportioning of blame – it is from within this framework that the dos and donts of conduct can at all be meaningless. This could allow one to say that in the absence of the civilised rules of society the game of apportioning blame enters the realm of the absurd. It is simply inapposite and unhelpful.

  84. 84  SP  August 30, 2006, 8:01 pm 

    Now I am only guessing but I reckon, SP, that you are not guided by the absolute edicts of a supernatural authority in the manner of say a Jesus or a Mohammed.

    See, that’s where your otherwise impressive reasoning falls down. I am guided by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  85. 85  Paul Ward  August 30, 2006, 8:47 pm 

    Oh alright. I’ll go and read your book. Still, do you really think the Israeli State would exist today if it wasn’t for the OIL?

  86. 86  biggles  August 31, 2006, 2:38 pm 

    Way back to 60.
    I can agree that the content is the content but it is glib to dismiss the meaning of what I was sugggesting, as so many did McLuhan’s argument – not to suggest I am his equal – in that way (“the message is the message”). (McLuhan was glib himself and no doubt “the medium is the message” was to an extent a clever piece of glibbery.)McLuhan’s point I think was that the message for instance of television – that is, the technology and thereby its effect on our ways of seeing the world, and through that the very structure of society and how it understands itself – was far greater than any content. What goes on in a Big Brother house is supremely inconsequential. The fact that it is done and that people fight to be a part of it and desire their privacy to be so entirely deleted has already had a social impact and yet the content (the message) of the program approximates zero.
    As a result of the internet the world has become, as they used to predict back then, a global village. It is a fundamentally different world, to those at least who have access to the internet, to the world even of the early 1990s.
    The effect of the technology, or if you like the “message”, of the internet is quite independent of the content it carries. The content of, say, some of the contributors to this blog comments page may often be nonsense, even intentionally so, but that iniconsequential beside the enormity of the impact of the fact that they can do it at all.
    So of course there is content and of course there are ends and they are not nothing but neither is ultimately the lasting impact. That is a result of the “medium”, or the “means”.
    To answer your nudge about “weak” utilitarianism, naturally our actions on a day to day basis, not only on moral questions but in almost every way, are unavoidably utilitarian. We take action to achieve a result. We go to the shop to buy food for dinner. We speak to our children to make them wise about the world. But the fact that the shop is a hypermart has a greater impact on us and the world than whether we have peas or beans for dinner. The fact that we speak to our children (for instance rather than smacking or yelling at them) has a vastly greater and longer term influence than anything we might tell them in particular, even though the immediate outcomes might be similar (they stop throwing their mashed potato at their sister).
    So we are utilitarian animals (who might explain some utilitarian actions with the excuse of morality, or by the use of “Unspeak”) but that doesn’t alter the fact that the means are the real ends.
    And that’s why while we are unavoidably pursuing ends with means it is wise to consider the impact our proposed means will have, because they will be the real legacy.

  87. 87  SP  August 31, 2006, 2:44 pm 

    Right: I quite agree with your expansion of what McLuhan meant, and with your point that his slogan is “glibbery” (nice word): the slogan, indeed, is too often glibly invoked by people who mean something silly. Apologies if I implicitly included you in that group.

    Your argument that the means will be the real legacy is a striking one. But does it imply, to take the obvious example, that the second world war should never have been fought?

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