Long time between posts but I’m going to try to write a little more again, although writing more about my thoughts on things than posting cool stuff I see while procrastinating at work, although I’ll include some of that stuff too :P
I’ve spent some time reading through this selection of thoughts by some of the worlds leading thinkers immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US (which actually occurred on September 12 in Australia). Very interesting and I wish I had have read it back then instead of now.
There are some great responses, and I think Freeman Dyson speaks for me the best, as he often does. When the attacks happened I remember the sense of fear and horror, but also very much a tinge of a sense of justice and for a long time I believed that the attacks were a result of US foreign policy and understandable (although not justifiable). I attribute this entirely to my very strong leftest up bringing. While I still lean to the left, I hope I’ve shaken off those extremes and view the world objectively without dogma. A lofty hope perhaps, and sadly one where I regularly notice my failings but am always working towards the impossible task of perfection.
So what do I think now?
First off I think the issue of Islamic terrorism, and all terrorism, is an example of an exceptionally complicated problem. Although we can make some fairly strong and broad statements judging parts of the problem, finding solutions is both the most important action and the most difficult, and our broad statements don’t really help with the answers.
I believe that we should always endeavour to avoid violence against other humans and especially against civilians. I view a civilian as anybody who isn’t actively engaged in activities of violence against other humans – so corrupt politicians and businessmen are still civilians. I think this is a reasonable proposition that doesn’t require a great deal of justification (although there is certainly room for a great deal of discussion). We are less likely to be subjected to attacks against us if we don’t attack other people, and especially if we don’t create a sense of injustice against us. The same applies to our “enemies.” The 9/11 attacks weren’t good for the Islamic fundamentalists movements any more than the Intelligent Design campaigns were good for creationists. In both cases they led to massive counter responses and a hundred thousand dead Muslims. They’re now in a war they can never win, but that will see terrible losses of lives in the communities and lowered standards of living until they surrender. The West is too strong for the Islamic terrorists to be able to fight against us, and they’re the ones that are suffering, not us. Of course I’m sure they maintain strong self delusions that make them believe that the conflict is worthwhile for their cause and maybe even that they’re winning. Their beliefs don’t change reality.
The point is, if we’re going to criticise our own response for the civilian deaths, we should be judging the “enemy” to the same standards. Of course at the same time, it’s foolish to view this as a binary conflict. You can choose other options that complete support or opposition to the war, and that’s certainly what I do.
I no longer hold the US at all responsible for the attacks. That was very shortsighted. It is true that had the US done things differently the attacks may have not occurred. That’s not the same as saying that it is the fault of the US. I think a great analogy that will probably offend some leftists would be to say that blaming the US for the attacks is the same as blaming a rape victim for dressing “provocatively” (even the use of the word “provocative” is rather offensive). Ok so there are some differences in situation, but in both cases we can say that the actions of the victims lead to the attack, but most importantly we can look at the nature of the attack and say that it’s completely unjustifiable. We should tell the rapists and the terrorists as loudly and as clearly as we can; “Learn self control and learn how to behave appropriately in society.”
Of course if we’re going to actually solve the problem we really do need to understand and address the motivations of the terrorists. It’s hard to see how any other response could possibly work. Sam Harris is probably right in saying that we may not be able to change the minds of the most hardened terrorists, and perhaps in those situations our only option really is to kill them before they kill us. I don’t know, I think that’s certainly a grey area. However I don’t think that’s even a significant issue. We really should be worrying about the majority of people, not those at the extremes. Terrorism is a tool for supporting causes. Any cause. A cause can be fairly justifiable, like the cause of the Tamil Tigers, or it can be completely unjustifiable, like the cause of Muslim fundamentalists. The value of the cause doesn’t dictate the tools used for its support and the tools used for its support don’t impact on how valid the cause is. So if we’re going to fight a war on “terrorism” our goal is merely to stop people using that tool to support their causes. How can we do that? We need to empower them and give them the sense that they can support their causes in a peaceful manner. Yet we need to avoid dictating to them how to behave. This is obviously difficult. I’d suggest massive investments in infrastructure and especially education. Some cynics would call this brainwashing. Knowledge is power, and people in these countries already have the power to peacefully create the countries they want to live in, we just need to show them where that power is. Of course by educating them hopefully we can change their ideals about a functioning society as well. Winning the hearts and minds of the majority needs to be the priority, not killing extremists.
Of course it’s more complicated than that. People want security and that needs to be another priority. So there needs to be some balance, and perhaps killing extremists needs to remain a part of the plan.
We also need to be patient. This isn’t a war we can win in a short period of time. It’s probably one that will take generational change.
It’s not our fault the attacks happened but we need to learn from them and come up with the solution that will result in the best long term results, not the solution that appeases the most amount of people quickly or best reflects our outrage.
So I’ve been a little lazy with posts lately; which doesn’t mean I’ve stopped procrastinating, just that as soon as posting in my blog becomes something I feel I should do, I start procrastinating from doing that too.
Firstly the best website on the internet. You’ve probably seen the stuff about the spider already, but check out the other links. Hilarious stuff.
This was also something interesting, although a few years old. Basically a crazy academic become the mayor of Bogata and did lots of weird things that were very effective like hiring mime artists to control traffic.
Here is an awesome collection of photos via Zooillogix (my favourite blog).
Also check out this hilarious video.
Apparently there is a positive relationship between war and number of zombie movies made. I’m not completely convinced, but check out the chart anyway.
Sorry for a bit of delay between posts. Have been too busy with study/work/touch football (I have 4 nights of touch this week :/).
Anyway here are the favourite things I’ve read lately;
Christopher Hitchens rightly has a massive swing at the Republican’s strong anti-science platform. Anti-science seems to be all the rage these days. In fact just recently the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett dismissed what actually amounts to over 400 peer reviewed scientific journal articles that show that logging forests reduces their carbon carrying capacity as “bullshit.” In doing so he ensured that I will never vote for him any higher than just above the religious political parties. It’s also interesting to note Bartlett’s view that emissions from forestry are not a big deal because they represent such a small portion of global emissions. The same can be said for every single persons individual emmisions, all of us make an almost insignificant impact on global warming, and it’s only when you add up all those almost insignificant impacts that you end up with a very significant impact. People in Qatar (the country with the highest per capita emissions) emit 0.0000002% of annual global emissions. Using Bartlett’s logic they don’t need to bother doing anything about climate change either – and everybody in the world emit even less than them.
There is a good article about Richard Dawkins here. He addresses some criticisms well and demonstrates that he’s a funny guy too (although anybody who reads his stuff would know that already :P).
Speaking of religion, there’s a interesting, but heavier, essay about it from Pascal Boyer in Nature. Definitely worth a read.
Here are a bunch of links in regards to this. I’d suggest you read them, and send a letter or email to your local politician and to Steve Conroy. I sent one to my local MP, and he tried to tell me the policy had been “largely welcomed,” which is interesting when you look at the comments to the abc news online link (which are unprecedented in their agreement. I’ve never seen anything close to that level of onesidedness in their comments.
This interesting story in New Scientist about sleep barely mentions it, but it turns out that in the wild sloths don’t spend the majority of their time sleeping, as many people will try to tell you, but actually sleep less than 10 hours a day. Always happy to correct things!