The Dartmouth Observer

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by Listed on BlogShares

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
John McCain's Graduation Speech

Many of you know that I am a very big John McCain fan. Here is the transcript of his speech to Columbia. -JST

Thank you, faculty, families and friends, and thank you Class of 2006 for your welcome and for your kind invitation to give this year's class day address. I want to join in the chorus of congratulations to the Class of 2006. This is a day to bask in praise. You've earned it. You have succeeded in a demanding course of instruction. Life seems full of promise, as is always the case when a passage in life is marked by significant accomplishment. Today, it might seem as if the world attends you.

But spare a moment for those who have truly attended you so well for so long, and whose pride in your accomplishments is even greater than your own: your parents. When the world was looking elsewhere your parents' attention was one of life's certainties. So, as I commend you, I offer equal praise to your parents for the sacrifices they made for you, for their confidence in you and their love. More than anyone else, they have helped make you the success you are today and might become tomorrow.

When I was in your situation, many, many years ago, an undistinguished graduate of the Naval Academy, I listened to President Eisenhower deliver the commencement address. I admired President Eisenhower greatly. But I remember little of his remarks that day, impatient as I was to enjoy the less formal celebrations of graduation. I do recall, vaguely, that he encouraged his audience of new navy ensigns and Marine lieutenants to become "crusaders for peace."

I became an aviator and, eventually, an instrument of war in Vietnam. I believed, as did many of my friends, we were defending the cause of a just peace. Some Americans believed we were agents of American imperialism who were not overly troubled by the many tragedies of war and the difficult moral dilemmas that constantly confront soldiers. Ours is a noisy, contentious society, and always has been, for we love our liberties much. Among those liberties we love most, particularly so when we are young, is our right to self-expression. That passion for self-expression sometimes overwhelms our civility, and our presumption that those with whom we have strong disagreements, wrong as they might be, believe that they, too, are answering the demands of their conscience.

When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It's a pity that there wasn't a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.

It's funny, now, how less self-assured I feel late in life than I did when I lived in perpetual springtime. Some of my critics allege that age hasn't entirely cost me the conceits of my youth. All I can say to them is, they should have known me then, when I was brave and true and better looking than I am at present. But as the great poet, Yeats, wrote, "All that's beautiful drifts away, like the waters." I have lost some of the attributes that were the object of a young man's vanity. But there have been compensations, which I have come to hold dear.

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

I supported the decision to go to war in Iraq. Many Americans did not. I stand that ground not to chase dreams of empire; not for a noxious sense of racial superiority over a subject people; not for cheap oil; not for the allure of chauvinism; not for a foolishly romantic conception of war. I stand that ground because I believed, rightly or wrongly, my country's interests and values required it.

War is an awful business. The lives of the nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer. Commerce is disrupted, economies damaged. Whether the cause was just or not, we should all shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. However just or false the cause, how ever proud and noble the service, it is loss-the loss of friends, the loss of innocent life, the loss of innocence-that the veteran feels most keenly forever more. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes war.

Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. It has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It's your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.

Americans deserve more than tolerance from one another, we deserve each other's respect, whether we think each other right or wrong in our views, as long as our character and our sincerity merit respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the noisy debates that enliven our politics, a mutual devotion to the sublime idea that this nation was conceived in-that freedom is the inalienable right of mankind, and in accord with the laws of nature and nature's Creator.

We have so much more that unites us than divides us. We need only to look to the enemy who now confronts us, and the benighted ideals to which Islamic extremists pledge allegiance-their disdain for the rights of Man, their contempt for innocent human life-to appreciate how much unites us.

Take, for example, the awful human catastrophe under way in the Darfur region of the Sudan. If the United States and the West can be criticized for our role in this catastrophe it is because we have waited too long to intervene to protect the multitudes who are suffering, dying because of it.

Now, belatedly, we have recovered our moral sense of duty, and are prepared, I hope, to put an end to this genocide. Osama bin Laden and his followers, ready, as always, to sacrifice anything and anyone to their hatred of the West and our ideals, have called on Muslims to rise up against any Westerner who dares intervene to stop the genocide, even though Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, are its victims. Now that, my friends, is a difference, a cause, worth taking up arms against.

It is not a clash of civilizations. I believe, as I hope all Americans would believe, that no matter where people live, no matter their history or religious beliefs or the size of their GDP, all people share the desire to be free; to make by their own choices and industry better lives for themselves and their children. Human rights exist above the state and beyond history-they are God-given. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

This is a clash of ideals, a profound and terrible clash of ideals. It is a fight between right and wrong. Relativism has no place in this confrontation. We're not defending an idea that every human being should eat corn flakes, play baseball or watch MTV. We are insisting that all people have a right to be free, and that right is not subject to the whims and interests and authority of another person, government or culture. Relativism, in this contest, is most certainly not a sign of our humility or ecumenism; it is a mask for arrogance and selfishness. It is not worthy of us.

Let us argue with each other then. By all means, let us argue. Our differences are not petty. They often involve cherished beliefs. Let us defend those beliefs. Let's do so sincerely and strenuously. And let's not be too dismayed with the tenor and passion of our arguments, even when they wound us. We have fought among ourselves before in our history, over big things and small, with worse vitriol and bitterness than we experience today.

Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people. But let us remember, we are not enemies. We are compatriots defending ourselves from a real enemy. We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, promote the general welfare and defend our ideals. It should remain an argument among friends; each of us struggling to hear our conscience, and heed its demands; each of us, despite our differences, respectful of the goodness in each other. I have not always heeded this injunction myself, and I regret it very much.

I had a friend once, who, a long time ago, in the passions and resentments of a tumultuous era in our history, I might have considered my enemy. He had come once to the capitol of the country that held me prisoner, that deprived me and my dearest friends of our most basic rights, and that murdered some of us. He came to that place to denounce our country's involvement in the war that had led us there. His speech was broadcast into our cells. I thought it a grievous wrong and I still do.

A few years later, he had moved temporarily to a kibbutz in Israel. He was there during the Yom Kippur War, when he witnessed the support America provided our beleaguered ally. He saw the huge cargo planes bearing the insignia of the United States Air Force rushing emergency supplies into that country. And he had an epiphany. He had believed America had made a tragic mistake and done a terrible injustice by going to Vietnam, and he still did. But he realized he had let his criticism temporarily blind him to his country's generosity and the goodness that most Americans possess, and he regretted his failing deeply.

When he returned to his country he became prominent in Democratic Party politics. He still criticized his government when he thought it wrong, but he never again lost sight of all that unites us.

We met some years later. He approached me and asked to apologize for the mistake he believed he had made as a young man. Many years had passed since then, and I bore little animosity for anyone because of what they had done or not done during the Vietnam War. It was an easy thing to accept such a generous act, and we moved beyond our old grievance.

We worked together in an organization dedicated to promoting human rights in the country where he and I had once come for different reasons. I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy, but my countryman countryman ...and later my friend. His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals. We were not always in the right, but we weren't always in the wrong either, and we defended our beliefs as we had each been given the wisdom to defend them.

David remained my countryman and my friend, until the day of his death, at the age of forty-seven, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.

And may God bless you, Class of 2006. The world does indeed await you, and humanity is impatient for your service. Take good care of that responsibility. Everything depends upon it.

And thank you, very much, for the privilege of sharing this great occasion with you.

Friday, May 12, 2006
What Makes A Question Interesting?

As an aspiring academic, it is good to think about: "What makes a question worthy of pursuit" to fetter my scholastic endevours to questions that serve humanity in some way largely defined.

The motivating questions are those questions that drive us to abstract thinking and argumentation in the first place. These questions--let's call them first order--are questions with which every person in their lives has paused at least once to think about. As a political scientist, then, I need to think about those questions which drive people to study politics in the first place: questions of war, peace, democracy, and participation. My overarching question for my research is "Why do civilians die as result of international political behavior?" Nevertheless, I must continue my analysis of what makes all questions, not just political ones, interesting. It must now be said that not every first-order question remains an interesting question.

This first order approach, however, allows for motivating questions that have become masturbatory in their pondering. For instance, "how do I know I exist" is a first-order question which has led to self-indulgence on the part of philosophers due to strange and quirky specifications on what kinds of arguments are allowed and respect by their standard. In my analysis, first-order questions are naturally interesting questions, worthy of pursuit unless some discipline or profession places limitations on the questions through obtuse specifications.

Absent those interdictions, first-order questions are interesting because they are the questions that both fester in the back of our minds in the quiet dark of the night and drive us to the public sphere seeking an audience. The push and pull of the private and public nature of questioning constitutes the Kantian tension of "antisocial sociability" that he outlines in his writings on political philosophy. On the one hand, these questions nag us as we walk, occur at unpleasant moments of self-doubt, and in those moments of terror when "the fear of the nothing" might overtake us. On the other hand, these questions drive us to tell others about them because we are as Aristotle suggested "zoon politikon", or, political animals. Interesting questions are those question that we not only hope for disagreement, but would be devastated to find consensus; the performance of agnostic difference and the expectation of radical disagreement provokes us to ponder the importance of the question without trying to reduce its complexity and interest through a forced answer.

Interesting questions not only beg for unreconciled and unmitigated difference, they also are complex because they unsettle the "horizon of the taken for granted" in new and disturbing ways. Questioning God, existence, life, or pondering the abyss of war are questions that we would all see as interesting not only because we wouldn't expect to agree, but because those questions get us very close to thinking about our contingent mode of being-in-the-world. In a way, being seems as natural as waking up, and indeed, it is, for to be is to live; however, living itself is such a complex and variegated phenomena that it begs to be questioned in a radical and unsettling way. These questions are the interesting first-order questions.

Lastly, and this should be clear at this point, interesting question aren't interesting simply because they are complex, provoke disagreement, or drive us to abstract thinking. These questions are interesting because they created the need for an audience of an indeterminate character; the performance of the questioning thereby creates the questioner, the audience, and the response. In this performance of provocation lies a space where we find what is unique to this mode of being: humanity.

Questions are interesting because they force us into a paradoxically private yet interpersonal ( universal democratic) space which is one of the few spaces where truly human, free, and equal persons can be said to exist. We all long for this space because only there are we in an almost Levinasian "face-to-face" moment of being relating to itself. This is why doubting is the first step to meeting God.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Should The Kurds Have an Independent State?

Al Jazeera reported "PKK threatens raids on 'devious' Iran." The article reports: "
Cemil "Cuma" Bayik, the de facto leader of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), said: "We have the right to launch attacks against Iranian forces."
The PKK has fought Turkey for years in its battle to establish an independent state in the majority Kurdish southeast of the country. He said recent Iranian artillery shelling of PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan meant that the rebel group's battle could spread to Iran. "We are on the defence. If we're not attacked we won't either. We believe politics and democracy are a better path," Bayik said.

But Bayik said PKK "intelligence reports" suggested that Iran was preparing to shell rebel positions again.

Some have interpeted this as further proof that ethnicites can not live together for long periods of time under conditions of "artificial" borders. The logical outcome of this statement is that every nation, if possible, should have its own state. This wisdom was encapsulated in Wilson's 14 points, and, the idea of 'national self-determination.' But do nations need separate independent states when possible?

Nations and States Internationally

Kurds, or any other political community which wants to express itself collectively, only need a "state of their own" when existing state institutions are designed to harm them and the ability of the community to self-express.

National self-determination is not, as some would have you believe, a good in and of itself. The idea of self-determination is premised upon an organic conception of nationness, which presupposes that some group, connected through history either by blood, culture, or both, always already exists and is merely waiting to be internationally and juridically recognized. Organic definitions of the nation tend to focus on factors like ethnicity, religion, and language as being sufficient conditions for nationness--as if common birth and territoriality produced the sense of being in nation before political activity takes place. This is the idea behind the sentiment that you are "born into" a nation and can't help what nationality you are. This idea of the organic nation is wrong because the nation itself, as a political idea, gets produced and imagined in different ways over time.

The nation is not an objective thing existing separately from the collective imaginings of the people who often express nationalism as a political response to certain kinds of discrimination-- as the Kurds certainly are. Nationalism is not a simple reflection of an ethnicity or language community in a given territory. Rather, the nation is a community of anonymous others in which individuals imagine themselves as experiencing a simultanous series of calendrical clock-moments (what Benedict Anderson calls "transverse empty horizontal time"), and, who are, in principle though not in fact, involved in a horizontal fraternity of equality. These collective imaginings are reinforced through certain kinds of public performances, like war memorialization, and certain medias, like the novel and the letter. Both public commemoration and literary devices create the sense that individuals were connected across time and space through some entity called "the nation", and, allowed for certain elements of the "past" to become political definitive of the national identity in the present.

Participating as both a national sphere and in nationalist moments, a political community can express collective demands on the state institutions of the territories in which they reside-- a phenomena know as nationalism. The coup of the early 20th century--- what Britain and France through the League of Nation mandates refer to as the "spirit of the age" when implementing the Sykes-Picot agreement in the Middle East after WWI-- was to these nationalist imaginations and affective bonds to the territorial power of the state institutions, and presenting this relationship as natural and desirable. Zionism, in a strange way, reproduced this effect by claiming that anti-Semitism demonstrated that the Jewish nation needed a state of its own to experience the particular collective imaginings entailed by nationalism fully. Current criticisms of colonialism also support the idea that the national-state, or the nation-state, is the desired norm. The criticism maitains that the crime of colonialism and imperialism was not the brutality through which one state imposed tyranny on populations that would never be welcome into the colonial center but rather that one nationality would rule over another, and then draw "artificial borders" that created states without respect to nationality. (A little history would prove this argument silly as the European states developed *before* nationalism existed, proving that states can arise independent of nationalism and be fine. In fact, France's problem after the French Revolution was not discovering who the "real" Frenchmen were and including them in the French national-state, but rather the state needed to produce a nationalism to ensure loyalty and to create the mass army. The problem was turning "peasant into Frenchmen" as Hobsbawm put it. The anti-colonial nationalism of the postcolonial world were easily swept aside, in some cases, by state-centered nationalisms as Partha Chaterjee details in "The Nation and its Fragments." Iraq, Syria, and South Africa, for instance, contain many nationalities who, when the state institutions were strong, commandeered the anti-colonialist nationalism and enveloped them into a state-centered nationalist project. Turkey, and Attaturk's Turkification, is one of the best examples of state-centered nationalisms.)

The "Kurds" are not a nation waiting for a state, as if not having a state was some form of lesser national existence, nor, do states require monolithic unified "nations" inside them to secure their territory and distribute goods and services. The Kurds are, rather, a persecuted minority who have turned to collective imaginings, similar to the Zionists, as a potential solution to the discrimination they face in the states in which the Kurdish minority is recognized and imagined as a group coherent enough to slate for discrimination. In the United States, race, gender, and sexuality rather than nation, arethe politically salient factors by which some individuals have been targeted for discrimation. As such, we see racial, gendered, and sexual imagining through both commerations--like the civil rights movement, Stonewall, or Roe v. Wade--and through literary genres of representation and difference. In Europe, we should see an emerging Islamic "nationalist" public, as religion is the new ethnicity in Europe these days, demanding a politics of piety and recognition as equal citizens within the European states.

If a Latino uprising manifested in the Southwest, and, we had a group of citizens imagining themselves as a nation, the correct response is to facilitate their collective self-expression through existing state institutions and find ways in which the collective imagining of what is American includes, and is not opposed to, what is Latino.

National States and the Struggle for Justice

Analysis of Lenin's support for national self-determination gives reasons why granting nations states will not solve the dilemmas of discriminaiton within the community, only, discrimination against it. Lenin emphasizes the class aspects of the struggle too much, but does an excellent job of stressing the limits of national self-determination as a means of redress.

For Lenin, national states are the sign of the first period of capitalism—the triumph over the feudal order—and represent its awakening. “The typical features of the first period are: the awakening of national movements and the drawing of the peasants, the most numerous and the must sluggish section of the population, into these movements, in connect with the struggle for political liberty in general, and for the rights of the nation in particular (Lenin 1974, 45).” Nationalism is an excellent source of mobilization, and, in turn creates the desire for each nation to create its own state. This nationalism, however, is dangerous because of its connection to reactionary elements: “The general “national culture” is the culture of the landlords, the clergy, and the bourgeoisie (Lenin 1974, 12).” The nationalist imagination itself is a product of bourgeois culture, and it ultimately used in the service of spreading capitalism through what Lenin terms 'imperialism.'

The countries of Asia, the greater part of whom Lenin identifies either as colonies or as depressed, dependent nations, best exemplified the historical link and logic of nationalism and capitalist development. Japan, the only independent national state in the region, had witnessed a speedy growth of capitalism, after which the bourgeois state began to “oppress other nations and enslave colonies. (Lenin 1974, 43)” The link between the bourgeoisie culture, capitalist development, and imperialism caused Lenin to distrust valorizations of these national liberation movements because they distracted the proletarians from their class struggle and threatened to divide the proletariat along national lines. “All liberal-bourgeois nationalism sows the greatest corruption among the workers and does harm to the cause of freedom and the proletarian class struggle…It is under the guise of national culture…that the Black Hundreds and the clericals, and also the bourgeoisie of all nations, are doing their dirty and reactionary work (Lenin 1974, 11).” The challenge, Lenin postulated, was to create a concept of national liberation that did not sell the working class revolution short. To do that, he turns to the fact of imperialist oppression to forge the tactical, though not ideological, alliance between the social democrats and the nationalists.

“In every nation there are toiling and exploited masses” and the oppression of those masses give rise to the democratic claim of national self-determination as a claim against imperialism (Lenin 1974, 12). Narrowing the goal of liberation to the expression of a desire against exploitation served Lenin’s internationalism in three ways. First, it allowed him to situate national liberation in the progression of history from communalism to communism: “If we want to grasp the meaning of self-determination of nations…by examining the historico-economic conditions of national movements…the self-determination of nations means the political separation of these nations from alien national bodies, and the formation of an independent national state (Lenin 1974, 28).” Second, mere political separation constitutes a social democratic claim similar to the right of women to divorce their husbands and opposed only by critics on the right. “Just as in bourgeois society the defenders of privilege and corruption, on which bourgeois marriage rests, oppose the freedom of divorce, so, in the capitalist state, repudiation of the right to self-determination…means nothing more than the defense of privileges of the dominant nation and police methods of administration, to the detriment of democratic methods (Lenin 1974, 66).” Three, casting nationalist aspirations as particular manifestations of democratic dreams co-opts a potent source of mobilization from Lenin’s political adversaries. “Combat all national oppression? Yes, of course! Fight for any kind of national development, for “national culture” in general?—Of course not (Lenin 1974, 22-3).” Lenin feared that nationalists wanted to divide the worker’s movement to continue capitalist exploitation along national lines, a situation he saw as currently present in the United States. “In the Northern States Negro children attend the same schools as white children do. In the South there are separate “national”, or racial, whichever you please, schools for Negro children. I think that this” resulted from “the division of education affairs according to nationality (Lenin 1974, 25, 24).” The challenge for social democrats, as well as the challenge for Lenin, is to accomodate nationalist imaginings without deferring justice.

Lenin's internationalism--his focus on the coming world social revoltuion-- encouraged Lenin’s frigidity toward struggles for national liberation. Even though he mentions that it is the duty of socialists to aid revolutionary parties in their struggle against imperialism, even if these struggles took on a nationalist character, the struggles for nationhood were distractions from the struggle for social democracy and mere transitions along the path to world socialism (Lenin 1974, 113-14). The growing number of nationalist movements testified to the success of imperial capital awakening the need for national states; socialist assistance of this need aimed toward the imminent world revolution. The nationalisms of the peripheral, colonial, and depressed nations were important only as sites of armed resistance against capitalism. Oftentimes that imperial burden obfuscated the glorious mission of proletariat, observed Lenin in his reflections on Engels and Marx’s comments about the relationship between the British and Irish working classes (Lenin 1974, 81-4). Since “only the victories of the working class can bring about the complete liberation of all nationalities”, it is not surprising that Lenin observed “the English working class will never be free until Ireland is free(Lenin 1974, 82). ” Justice for the Irish, a subjugated nation at the time, is subordinate to the democratic aspirations of the working classes within the imperial nations.

Unlike Lenin, I believe that nationalism, and collective imaginations are helpful in expanding democratic public spheres and presenting identities that political institutions can recognize. The expansion of the publics and the recognition of new identities grounds political liberalism in a search for an overlapping consensus in which the laws and norms of society are revised by the participants to attain the largest possible coalition of persons for whom the law is self-authored. Multiple collective claims increases not only the contexts from which liberal subject emerge, but also furthers the diverse bases of the liberal project through pluralist politics. In this way, it is better for nation collective imaginings to democratize institutions through sustained political engagement and revolution if necessary, than to spawn off into a more localized tyranny.