Via Scott McLemee’s blog Quick Study, some trenchant social criticism from Neil Young:
The recognition that the Bush administration, especially Cheney and Rumsfeld, authorized and directed the torture of prisoners is now taken for granted by Newsweek. What’s that say about the state of the nation? In the linked article, it wasn’t so much the information — which has been widely known for a long time — but the tone that struck me. I don’t think they should hang, but not because they don’t deserve it — because we’d be better off being merciful. Of course, we’ll be lucky, as a country, if we get a public apology. More likely, Bush will give everyone, including himself, a pardon & we’ll be told that it’s better for the nation of we just let bygones be bygones.
Fred Clark points to interesting research that shows that a dog has a basic sense of fairness, at least when they are the ones being treated unfairly. If you have two dogs who know how to “shake” and you put them side by side, then ask them to shake, but reward only one with a treat, the one who doesn’t get rewarded will fairly quickly lose interest in cooperating with you. Clark also points out that the press reports of the research make a common error, confusing justice with envy, then makes an analogy to human justice:
The researchers might have conducted a parallel study while carrying out this research. They could have hired two graduate assistants, telling each of them that they would be paid $100 at the end of each day’s research. And then, at the end of each day, they could have paid the first assistant, but not the second — not the underdog. My theory is that the underdog would quickly become “less and less inclined” to continue showing up for work.
In the case of these hypothetical assistants, of course, no one would mischaracterize the unpaid underdog’s response as “envious.” She might be angry, but she’d be refusing to cooperate not because she’s jealous of the other assistant, but because she is the victim of an injustice — because the situation is clearly unfair. Her response is not motivated by envy but by a sense of justice.
The Times and National Geographic reports on the actual study do not allow for the possibility that a similar motive is at work in the dog’s response. They don’t seem to recognize the significant and crucial distinction between “angry at unfair treatment” and “envious.” National Geographic stumbles toward a clarification, conceding that “this kind of envy” is “really an aversion to unequal reward,” but then their article goes right back to using the word envy as though these two things were reliably interchangeable.
This particular confusion is, sadly, quite popular. We hear exactly this same bit of madness almost constantly from apologists for irresponsible wealth. Express any concern about inequality or about the plight of those who have less than the minimum amount they need to get by and they will say you are guilty of “the politics of envy.” Try to explain the distinction and they will, in turn, explain that they understand what you’re saying, they simply reject it. “Justice,” they will insist, is simply a polite euphemism for disguised envy. The virtue is just a mask for the vice.
It’s not surprising that they would argue such a thing. Of course they don’t believe there’s any such thing as justice in this life or any other. That’s what they’re banking on. Envy they accept as real. Justice they regard as mere superstition.
Okay, I have a couple of non-political posts in the hopper, but I want to get this down in pixils before returning to regularly scheduled programming. So, here’s what I care about at the present political moment:
- Real health care reform that does not simply reorganize the current domination of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I would prefer a national single payer plan, but I am open to innovation.
- An economic stimulus plan that pushes investment in infrastructure, education, and and green energy.
- A complete and unambiguous repudiation of extraordinary rendition, torture, and the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.
- A complete & final withdrawal from Iraq & no escalation in Afghanistan.
Number three will be a bright line indicator for me of the Obama administration’s moral seriousness. There are also several things I don’t give a hoot about:
- Hillary as Secretary of State — might create something of a circus atmosphere, but if Obama wants her I don’t have any objections.
- Same goes for bringing in seasoned professionals from the Clinton administration. I seem to recall that, long ago, in what seems like a fairy tale, president Clinton presided over eight years of peace and prosperity despite the frothing radical right’s attempts to destroy him.
- Prosecuting Bush / Cheney for war crimes. Some on the left are disappointed that this appears unlikely & yes the invasion of Iraq was a crime, but a prosecution wasn’t / isn’t ever going to happen in any case & would consume all of Obama’s political capital if it did. That’s just not the way the system works & I’m not going to spend too much time regretting this. History, as Bush himself has said hopefully, will judge. (I think his hope is misplaced & that he will be judged harshly.)
I’ve been posting furious denunciations of Lieberman at TPM & reading the bland responses at 538 in disbelief, where the consensus is that the DFHs really need to just get over Lieberman & move on (doncha know), but I won’t go nuts here on my own weblog. I’ll just say that: 1) I feel dissed by the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, just after spending a lot of time & money getting Obama elected; and 2) if this really is a window into Obama’s soul, then I don’t expect much in the way of progressive politics from the incoming administration. Centrism is corporatism is conservatism. I thought that’s what the country just rejected, but, hey, I’m just a dirty fucking hippie (DFH) out here in the netroots — useful to the party leadership at election time, but kind of embarrassing, doncha know? Anyway, via 3Quarks, here is the most useful thing I’ve seen on the subject, from Simon Critchley at Adbusters. [Rachel Maddow video via Pas Au-dela.]