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Textual Criticism and the Reliability of Scripture
January 23, 2006 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Reconstructing Aunt Sally's Secret Recipe. Addressing the Retranslations Fallacy, a common misconception about how the Bible we read has been handed down to us. [via]
posted by brownpau (64 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't think there has ever been any doubt that the New Testaments' texts have been very very stable for thousands of years.

It doesn't say anything about truthfulness. Or truthiness, or whatever. I'm fairly sure that the version of Lord of The Rings I read is pretty close to the version that was originally published. That doesn't make it true.
posted by empath at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2006


This article doesn't address the issue of translation (and related cultural misunderstandings), however. Or the process of choosing and excluding the texts which became the Biblical canon.

Beyond that, I'm hoping that the Languagehat beacon is currently lit.
posted by jokeefe at 12:53 PM on January 23, 2006


empath, my sentiments exactly...

If I write a book saying that the world is made of fairy dust, the fact that later copies are textually identical to my original manuscript doesn't make the world made out of fairy dust. Even if the original text had been altered (Jonah eaten by a whale and not a fish, for example) or had not been altered, how does this in any material way make the religion more or less "believable?" Its not like people making stuff up 2000 years ago is more truthful than that made up 1500 years ago.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:54 PM on January 23, 2006


the real issue, IMO, is whether those who canonized it a) had any real divine mandate to do so and b) whether they canonized the right stuff.

It goes back to what gagglezoomer and empath are saying: Even if it's textually accurate to the original, what reason is there to believe that the people who canonized it could really speak authoritatively to what is "scripture" and what is just literature?

In fairness, though, LOTR is all one piece of literature, written by one guy, whereas the NT is a collection of writings. So it's really not possible to simply discount the whole thing as being fiction all in one blow.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2006


He's not making an argument for the truthfulness, just against the 'it's been copied so many times it's nothing like the original' argument.
posted by signal at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2006


But if God writes a book and then critics claim that the book you're holding doesn't say what God originally said then it becomes important that your book is indeed accurate to the original.
posted by zeoslap at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2006


What empath said.
Also, the article doesn't address those concerns wrt the old testament (the reason for this, I submit, is because it can't).

But it's all sort of a pointless conversation, don't you think? Some people will believe the writings and put a lot of stock in them, and others won't. Both camps are essentially functioning on faith based in what they percieve to be good reason. The worldviews are so far apart that they're barely even speaking the same language. Proving that the wording we have now is accurate or inaccurate to what was originally transcribed changes no one's opinion and accomplishes exactly zero.
posted by raedyn at 1:02 PM on January 23, 2006


But if God writes a book and then critics claim that the book you're holding doesn't say what God originally said then it becomes important that your book is indeed accurate to the original. - zeoslap

But the translators and scribes were guided by God's divine hand as well, so they did what God intended, so today's version is correct.

See what I mean about the worldviews being incompatible?
posted by raedyn at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2006


zeoslap: God didn't write the NT, and Christian theologians do not claim that God wrote the NT. It's a compilation of early christian writings that includes purported firsthand accounts of Christ's life, letters by early missionaries to various colleagues and congregations, and John's account of a revelation he claims to have received. None of it purports to be written by God.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2006


Jek: As far as I know, some of them do believe that God wrote the NT, in the sense that the authors inerrantly wrote down the divinely inspired words of God.
posted by empath at 1:11 PM on January 23, 2006


empath: find me an example of an actual theologian (not just some self-proclaimed holy person with a degree from an imaginary school) who believes that God inspired the very words of the NT, and I'll be very surprised, and maybe even eat my hat. Believers, including may theologians, often believe that the authors were generally inspired, but I'd be very surprised if there's an actual biblical scholar who believes that the very verbiage was dictated by God.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2006






not just some self-proclaimed holy person with a degree from an imaginary school

Does the Catholic Church count?

(This is a statement of official doctrine as of at least a few decades ago. It may be out of date now. However, it's as serious and official as Christian theology gest, one would think.)

(a) "These books are held by the Church as sacred and canonical, not as having been composed by merely human labour and afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been transmitted to the Church as such." (Concil. Vatic., Sess. III, const. dogm, de Fide, cap. ii, in Denz., 1787). (b) "The Holy Ghost Himself, by His supernatural power, stirred up and impelled the Biblical writers to write, and assisted them while writing in such a manner that they conceived in their minds exactly, and determined to commit to writing faithfully, and render in exact language, with infallible truth, all that God commanded and nothing else; without that, God would not be the author of Scripture in its entirety" (Encycl. Provid. Deus, in Dena., 1952).
posted by empath at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2006


My hat tastes surprisingly good. Could you pass the salt?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:28 PM on January 23, 2006


I am God and wrote this here Bible book on my day off from hurling celestial bodies about the firmament. It's Sumerian fan-fiction.

But yeah, it hasn't changed much since I wrote it.

HTH,

G
posted by fleetmouse at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2006


Sumerian fan-fiction? That explains all the HoYay.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:40 PM on January 23, 2006


I also had a hand in the original Batman scripts.

HoYay,

G
posted by fleetmouse at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2006


This article by Margaret Barker is very interesting.
posted by Buck Eschaton at 2:01 PM on January 23, 2006


Game, set and match Mr. empath. But mr. Porkins was asking for it, wasn't he Bill?
posted by nkyad at 2:05 PM on January 23, 2006


What an absurdly oversimplified article. We don't even have the source material for two of the Gospels, and much of the rest of the Bible. And he doesn't at all address the fact that most of the Bible up to Paul's letters was orally transmitted for years (70, in the case of the Gospels; hundreds in the case of the Torah) and oral tradition alters content to adapt to the needs and contexts of listeners.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:10 PM on January 23, 2006


What we have in both the NT and the OT is a text which makes claims about its own origin, authenticity, and truthfulness. "I'm the truth! Really! Cuz I say so."

In any other context, this would be laughable. Why do we suffer Xian (or any other) apologists to foist such tripe?

The article and its arguments are absurd and laughable. Which is precisely what sane and rationale people should do to such arguments.

Laugh them off the stage. Buh-bye.
posted by mooncrow at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2006


Gar. Half of my sentence was eaten by the interweb.

We don't have the source materials AND the kind of content one finds in a recipie (the kind that's verifiable by experimentation) is very different from the kind of content one finds in the Bible (narrative, poetry, abstract ideas, philosophy), and then, too, it matters is Aunt Sally and her friends are all dead already.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2006


His analogy to the recipe doesn't really hold water, far as I'm concerned. With a recipe, the copiers are generally interested in making sure they copy it correctly--especially a recipe for eternal youth.

Copiers of religious documents aren't neccessarily as interested in exact copies as they could be in affecting the actions/beliefs of the reader.

However, throw a wrench into the recipe situation: add a person who is interested in upping the sales of ingredient X and all of a sudden the recipe is different because they have an agenda. I would think this would be more analagous.

I guess you could say that people would stop eating the dish/drink because it was no longer working. At that point I think you'd have the best analogy of all.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2006


Textual criticism isn't really my bailiwick, but the linked article seems sensible to me.

This comment was directly inspired by Apollo Smintheus.
posted by languagehat at 2:43 PM on January 23, 2006


Also, there's a bizarre mathematical assumption in the author's argument - the assumption that the original was retranscribed multiple times before third and fourth generations appeared.

To use the author's "Aunt Sally's Letter" example, the whole house of cards rests on the fact that the original was copied three times. But if it were copied linearly once or twice before it "caught on" and were copied geometrically (to use the author's terminology), then the textual analysis he refers to would only give a degree of assurance that the many fragments reflect an early copy of the manuscript, rather than the original.

He also seems to assume that every copy is given equal weight - but if three imperfect copies were made of the original, and there were differences among the three copies, and one of those three were deemed to be official (despite the fact that none of them exactly matched the original), then that one out of the three might be the one replicated in the next generations, rather than all three of them.

Not to mention the problems with translation and the drift in connotations of words over time.
posted by Chanther at 2:44 PM on January 23, 2006


So, in other words, little unimportant passages like "Thou Shalt Not Kill" will, indeed, have been correctly translated?

That puts a bit of a crimp in the death-penalty arguments that it's really "Thou Shalt Not Murder".
posted by Malor at 2:46 PM on January 23, 2006


Malor, fwiw, as I had it explained to me years ago by an athro prof, it essentially does say "thou shalt not murder." The proscription is not against killing -- it's against killing hebrews. I.e., against killing "your own".

Which is not to excuse anybody -- just makign the point that it's basically a tribal document, not something that really bears generalization beyond tribal scope of relevance.
posted by lodurr at 2:55 PM on January 23, 2006


In any other context, this would be laughable.

Not at all. Firsthand written accounts of events aren't laughable per se. The newspaper isn't laughable, especially when the reporter is writing about events that he/she claims to have personally witnessed. Same goes for legal proceedings, where declarations and affidavits are used all the time. Now, if you had any written accounts of the same events that contradicted those in the bible, that could certainly cast doubt on the bible -- like a letter from someone who knew Lazarus and said that he wasn't ever really dead in the first place, or a written record from someone who was part of Moses' flight out of egypt who wrote that they knew the guy who actually carved the 10 commandments into the stone and it wasn't really God.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2006


The article was interesting but, as usual, the mefi discussion is even better.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:22 PM on January 23, 2006


What eustacescrubb and a flock of others said.

To me, it's mindboggling that so much credence is lent to (and so much blood spilt over) a text that relied so heavily on memory for oral transmission. To take an example closer to our own time, find a person who heard FDR's Pearl Harbor address to the nation. Let's say that person was eighteen years old on 12/8/41. He or she was listening to this milestone speech at a moment of tremendous upheaval in American life. Every word would have had significance in charting the course not only of the nation's life but of the listener's for years to come. Alright. Now it's, say, 1991. The person is a mentally-razor-sharp sixty-eight years old. Ask that person to repeat, as close to verbatim as possible, FDR's words. Okay. And we're talking about a speech that, for Americans, is likely only second to MLK's Dream speech and some of JFK's addresses for widespread mainstream reproduction and citation.

How, then, can anyone maintain (barring belief in a miraculous intervention that granted the Galilean listener total auditory recall) that the text of the Gospels conforms in anything but the most general way to the exact words spoken by Jesus Christ?
posted by the sobsister at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2006


Researchers who try to ascertain the accuracy of a handed-down text are very interested in multiple texts about the same event. And, if I know my bible right, there are some Jesus stories that appear in multiple gospels. And I believe at least some of them differ from each other.
Anyone else out there who knows the details? Are the differences between gospels significant?
posted by Triplanetary at 3:38 PM on January 23, 2006


lodurr writes "Malor, fwiw, as I had it explained to me years ago by an athro prof, it essentially does say 'thou shalt not murder.' The proscription is not against killing -- it's against killing hebrews"

I don't think this is right. This is certainly the first time I've heard this particular interpretation suggested. Here's a relatively careful analysis of the issue, and it doesn't even mention the idea that "ratsach" might mean "to kill your own". In fact, it mentions an instance in which the word is applied to a lion killing a man; certainly the lion was uncircumcised....
posted by mr_roboto at 3:40 PM on January 23, 2006


What's frustrating to me is seeing people trying to take documents from another culture and presume that they have the ability to understand them inside ours. Without the context of their culture, the meaning behind the metaphors, the stories in the bible don't make a lot of sense.

When you study the area and read what remains of the folklore that the Jews were steeped in, you get a sense of how the stories in the Hebrew bible are commentaries on their own society and values, using well-known images and turns of phrase in order to signify something else. This is much like rap music, the ones using lots of samples and pop culture references. If you don't know where any of the samples are from, what any of the references mean, you can still listen to the music, and even think you understand it. But actually, you don't, you're missing all the critical cues. You're not getting the whole picture.

Sadly we don't have enough documents left to really reconstruct that much meaning for biblical documents. Word-for-word translation is only half of the problem.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:48 PM on January 23, 2006


Some of the mechanics involved in the preservation of the Torah text might be interesting to MeFi'ers (alert: rather biased against the integrity of the New Testament texts). For a more scholarly (and much longer) analysis, from R' Gil Student, AishDas has an excellent article.
posted by Adamchik at 3:58 PM on January 23, 2006


certainly the lion was uncircumcised....

What, you don't want to check?
posted by luftmensch at 4:00 PM on January 23, 2006


Are the differences between gospels significant?

Yes, they are significant, and there are far too many to discuss in comments to a MeFi post. At the heart of the issue, though, is the fact that the bible cannot be reduced to a 2-sided "it's true" versus "it's baloney" discussion.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2006


Aunt Sally's secret recipe for Pralines is absolutely wonderful.

I had them for the first time years ago in New Orleans, and she's just recently reopened after the terrible floods there. You should try them.
posted by Jatayu das at 4:11 PM on January 23, 2006


I'm a translator. I was at a conference for Japanese-English translators some years ago, where someone had the bright idea to play a sort of translation-telephone game. He wrote down on a slip of paper a statement something like "Understanding is the foundation of bridges between cultures" and gave this to an E>J translator, then gave the result to a J>E translator, and so on.

Something similar in spirit continued for about 10 back-and-forths.

By the time the text got to me, my translation read "what would you do if god were fat?"
posted by adamrice at 5:04 PM on January 23, 2006


I'm a translator. I was at a conference for Japanese-English translators some years ago, where someone had the bright idea to play a sort of translation-telephone game. He wrote down on a slip of paper a statement something like "Understanding is the foundation of bridges between cultures" and gave this to an E>J translator, then gave the result to a J>E translator, and so on.

Something similar in spirit continued for about 10 back-and-forths.

By the time the text got to me, my translation read "what would you do if god were fat?"
posted by adamrice at 5:04 PM on January 23, 2006


Some of the mechanics involved in the preservation of the Torah text might be interesting to MeFi'ers (alert: rather biased against the integrity of the New Testament texts). For a more scholarly (and much longer) analysis, from R' Gil Student, AishDas has an excellent article.

Please don't look to Aish for information. They are notoriously biased and more than willing to misrepresent the truth (i.e. lie) in order to convince unaffiliated Jews to "return" to Orthodoxy. If you don't believe that they're full of crap, just check out their page on Bible Codes. They also believe that the Torah is more or less the word of God, written by Moses.
posted by callmejay at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2006


They also believe that the Torah is more or less the word of God, written by Moses.

Outrageous! Unheard of! Scandal! Just kidding.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2006


JekPorkins,

Well, if you're looking for information about textual... anything, an organization that takes that as a given isn't going to be very useful.
posted by callmejay at 6:54 PM on January 23, 2006


Eustacescrubb gets it, but many comments here are interesting. Much of the Christian Testament, up to Paul, was not a "text" at all, but stories told about the life of Jesus. What was written down in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is a collection of stories based on what could at one time have been called first-hand experience with the man, but none of the gospels can be called "first-hand" accounts themselves. (I actually like the "telephone game" analogy, even if it seems a bit silly.) Scholars would peg the earliest "text" of the gospels around 70 CE, well after the crucifixion.

This doesn't make them true or false, but just human--stories told as hagiographies, and eventually written down. The "mean old textual critics" the author seems to suggest don't exist, as far as I can tell. People who get into biblical textual criticism are usually open-minded folks. And smart too--you need about five languages at minimum to be taken seriously as a biblical scholar, maybe more.
posted by bardic at 7:01 PM on January 23, 2006


Considering the simple fact that the all-important Name of Christ hasn't even been carried through correctly, the whole thing becomes questionable. "Jesus", as I understand it, is an anglicization of Latin, which was based on Greek.
posted by Goofyy at 8:10 PM on January 23, 2006


Jesus is also a nick-name for Joshua.
posted by bardic at 8:12 PM on January 23, 2006


Forgot to add:
Jatayu das, nice spam, since you implied a recipe, which wasn't there. I wonder what they mean by "praline", which has different meanings in different locations.
posted by Goofyy at 8:13 PM on January 23, 2006


Dusting off some off my high school Theology class factoids:

The first Bible was written/compiled in 555 AD in Paris, written in Aramaic. Translation errors in at least cultural/historical nuance? Yup, a distinct possibility.

The Bible has been edited several times that we know of, including the Council of Nicene, the Council of Trent, Vatican II, and probably a couple I'm forgetting. So has it changed since the apostles? We know it has.

Of course the Vatican has rejected the Dead Sea Scrolls utterly, yet if they have any validity whatsoever these documents remain logically the most untainted copies of scriptures, and the differences to the King James are noteworthy.

Oh yes, the definition of the Bible as taught to me by a rather forward thinking monk: "The Bible is a partial record of a religious interpretation of the real history of the Israelites."
posted by Mr. Crowley at 11:09 PM on January 23, 2006


The main thesis of Greg Koukl's article is broadly correct. The text of the Christian Bible has been maintained and transmitted with exceptional accuracy since at least the third century AD, and probably even earlier. In support of this thesis, however, Koukl makes a number of very questionable assertions:

1. The 'Aunt Sally' analogy is misleading. 'Pretend your Aunt Sally has a dream in which she learns the recipe for an elixir .. When she wakes up, she scribbles the directions on a scrap of paper' (etc etc). In this imaginary example, all the copies of Aunt Sally's recipe are descended from the same original source. But this cannot be taken for granted in the case of the New Testament, where the text as we now have it may descend from several different sources.

2. Koukl places a lot of weight on the sheer number of surviving copies. 'The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is stunning .. 5366 separate Greek manuscripts .. nearly 3000 minuscule fragments' (etc etc). But this, on its own, proves nothing. We need to know how these manuscripts are related to each other. To establish the reliability of the text, two manuscripts descended from separate sources would be more valuable than two thousand manuscripts all descended from the same source.

3. Koulk's article is only concerned with the text of the New Testament. But if we are interested in the history of the Christian scriptures, it isn't enough to study the text; we also need to study the context. That's where discoveries like the Nag Hammadi papyri are so interesting: they don't challenge the received text of the New Testament, but they give us other documents which help us to put the New Testament in context. In doing so, they suggest that the New Testament -- unlike Aunt Sally's dream -- resulted from a process of evolution and selection, rather than springing fully-formed from a single inspired source. That's a very important insight -- arguably the most important insight to have emerged from the last century-and-a-half of New Testament scholarship -- but it's not one that Koukl seems prepared to acknowledge.

One other point, in passing:

To me, it's mindboggling that so much credence is lent to a text that relied so heavily on memory for oral transmission

A common misconception. Oral transmission introduces lots of errors, whereas written texts are much more accurate, right? Wrong. In a pre-literate society, oral transmission can be an astonishingly accurate way of preserving a text. One reason for the stability of the Jewish and Christian sacred texts is that they were used liturgically, i.e. recited aloud to an audience who knew them by heart and would immediately notice any textual variations. Written texts, on the other hand, open up whole new possibilities for scribal error and creative interpretation, as any textual scholar will tell you.
posted by verstegan at 3:34 AM on January 24, 2006


Well, that all depends on the tradition of oral storytelling. If it is a tradition that allows for no variance, you're right. But if it is a tradition that allows the storyteller to embellish, then a text can get changed considerably.

As the Tanakh is likely stitched together from numerous sources, we don't know that there even was one excusive storytelling tradition used in its transmission. And there are entire strands of oral storytelling that are hinted at, but have not been redacted into the current text, such as tales of Moses's sister, Miryam, who is also seen as being a prophet.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:21 AM on January 24, 2006


Buck Eschaton, Margaret Barker's article is excellent! Thanks!
posted by acrobat at 4:45 AM on January 24, 2006


Mr Crowley: 555 AD in paris?

The Council of Nicaea was 200 years earlier. I don't think France was converted to Christianity until the 700s.
posted by empath at 6:40 AM on January 24, 2006


And neither the Council of Trent or Vatican I or II changed the Bible one iota, as far as I know, though they did tremendously change Church policies.
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on January 24, 2006


Finally, it's not necessarily true that the Dead Sea Scrolls or any other newly uncovered texts are 'more accurate' versions of the Bible. Why should one assume that the products of theological dead-ends and heresies somehow contain the long-hidden truth, while the generally accepted mainstream, canonical versions ALL contain the mistakes. Christianity branched off early and often. Which makes sense, since they were making it all up as they went along anyway.
posted by empath at 6:48 AM on January 24, 2006


empath: .... the products of theological dead-ends and heresies ....
Dead-ends, maybe (after all, they're all dead now, right?). But heresies? Only to the orthodoxy.
posted by lodurr at 7:24 AM on January 24, 2006


It doesn't matter whether the current version of Aunt Sally's recipe is the authentic one, but whether the current recipe is indeed "an elixir that would continuously maintain [your] youth." Does it keep Aunt Sally young?

As far as I can tell, the Bible, in all testable ways, is useless. It doesn't make Aunt Sally or anyone else good. It doesn't stop war or hunger or disease. The only interesting promises it makes are unverifiable and inseparable from fiction.

I don't mean to say that tracing the origins of the Biblical texts is not interesting; it is very interesting. As a piece of literature and cultural history, the many versions of the Bible still matter, as do the Gilgamesh texts and other ancient texts. But aside from matters of literature, the important question about the current Bible sitting on so many shelves is whether it does any good.
posted by pracowity at 7:27 AM on January 24, 2006


But heresies? Only to the orthodoxy

Well, obviously.
posted by empath at 8:00 AM on January 24, 2006


Mr. Crowley writes "The first Bible was written/compiled in 555 AD in Paris, written in Aramaic."

This is nonsense, as is, I think, the rest of your comment. Nice troll. Seriously: nice troll.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:39 PM on January 24, 2006


In a pre-literate society, oral transmission can be an astonishingly accurate way of preserving a text.

That's isn't necessarily true. In Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy he describes some of the rare instances when researchers have been able to witness a pre-literate culture transmitting "texts" orally over decades and the "texts" were frequently altered to fit the desires/political necessities of the current orator or his king/chief. Of course, the orators themselves didn't realize they'd altered the "text". They believed they were reciting what had been passed to them, word for word.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:34 PM on January 24, 2006


It doesn't matter whether the current version of Aunt Sally's recipe is the authentic one, but whether the current recipe is indeed "an elixir that would continuously maintain [your] youth." Does it keep Aunt Sally young?


Try to convince a believer of homeopathy/magnet therapy/any other woo-woo cure or device -- or religion. While I have the same disagreements to the author's recipe example as have been stated already, I think he chose the "elixer of youth" for a reason.
posted by luftmensch at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2006


So Christian literalists believe "Thou Shall Not Kill Hebrews" is the Nth commandment?

That is teh funnies!

luftmensch: I have a theory involving the application of homeopathic amounts of oxygen to the patient. Namely, that all his complaints will soon cease after he is immersed in a homeopathic atmosphere.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:09 PM on January 24, 2006


fff, ummm.... that's what I said, and there were counters arguing that the word in question ("ratsach") doesn't mean that. Mr_Roboto also links to a discussion of the term, pointing out they don't even mention that as an idea.

I'm not so sure I still don't like it, though; in a tribal context, the concept of "murder" is usually reserved for people you regard as human beings -- i.e, members of your tribe. So while "ratsach" might not mean "killing your own", it might implicitly mean doing whatever to your own, and not really be applicable to, say, Samaritans.

But then, that's not a textual analysis.
posted by lodurr at 7:32 PM on January 24, 2006


I like that it can be scaled. In Hebrew times, it was almost certainly understood to indicate "do not kill other Hebrews," with there being a complicit understanding that if a non-Hebrew gets killed, we'll all just look the other way. Shit happens.

I think it's pretty commonly understood in most countries that one should not be killing anyone else. You wouldn't normally, y'know, go on vacation to another "tribe" and just wantonly start axe-murdering the hotellier and waitstaff. No one's gonna look the other way. Not even your own mother.

So we have this uneasy exception in the name of "War," and in the good old days we had it easy: you really got a chance to get face-to-face with the enemy, who was pretty clearly a madman intent on taking over the world by force, a threat of imminent imported warfare. Hell, it took a Pearl Harbour to really set fire to your heels.

The real difficulty now is that we have nations that mostly seem to understand that our borders are all pretty much permanently fixed in place. Yah, bits of the falling Russian Empire are still settling it out, but other than China, all the big economic and military powers have it figured out. I mean, except for China and the USA. The USA seems to figure it should be intercontinental. And transcontinental, for that matter.

It's a bit of a piss-off, because if the USA would just retract its military back into its borders, except as a presence in international peace-keeping forces, we could probably get "do not kill" to apply to everyone.

Don't kill your neighbour. Don't kill your fellow worshippers. Don't kill your countrymen. Don't kill other nations' countrymen. It's that last hurdle we just have to clear.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 PM on January 24, 2006


To clarify, before someone taunts, in the third paragraph "the enemy, who was pretty clearly a madman intent on taking over the world by force," I'm referring to the 1930's German leader, and not a contemporary face in the craft of war.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:16 PM on January 24, 2006


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