The Burka and the Bikini
November 24, 2001 9:12 PM   Subscribe

The Burka and the Bikini "Our war against the Taliban, a regime that does not allow a woman to go to school, walk alone on a city street, or show her face in public, highlights the need to more fully understand the ways in which our own cultural ''uncovering'' of the female body impacts the lives of girls and women everywhere. ... Whether it's the dark, sad eyes of a woman in purdah or the anxious darkly circled eyes of a girl with anorexia nervosa, the woman trapped inside needs to be liberated from cultural confines in whatever form they take. The burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum but each can exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women."
posted by Steven Den Beste (53 comments total)
Via Instapundit.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:12 PM on November 24, 2001

Steven, this article is atypical of even you.

Disclaimer: Not a personal attack, simply a fact.

The Taliban removing basic rights from women is a black and white line; it is WRONG. Under any rational, sound moral schema, stripping someone of their basic rights as a person, and stoning her to death in public if she does not follow the laws set not by a voting public but by what could kindly be called a fascist dicating council ... is WRONG. These women live in fear because it is something that they did not and can not choose.

Yes, we have a society that places appearance above all else. We have created this society ourselves, and it is the duty of parents to watch their daughters for signs of anorexia, bulemia, and the multitides of other eating disorders that afflict our populace because we value bouncy little airheads with fake boobs like Britney Spears. Yes, this is a bad thing, and people shouldn't make others feel bad because they don't look like Britney Spears, never mind that it's an unnatural appearance and probably about only 1% of the female population has the genetics, let alone the willpower, to appear that way naturally. I've never seen a girl get stoned to death for being overweight, though, which means it's a choice that they make.

So. The editorial provides a problem but -not an answer-. What is the answer? Censor the media? Deflate Britney's boobs and put her on a diet of mayonnase, ice cream, and bacon cheeseburgers? Or start reminding your loved ones that you care more about their health and mind than you do about their appearance, which sane and morally sound human beings do every day? A law about wearing a Burka we can do something about. Changing our culture is something that needs to come from within our own minds.
posted by SpecialK at 9:25 PM on November 24, 2001

Steven, this article is atypical of even you.

Disclaimer: Not a personal attack, simply a fact.

Clarification: You usually post well-thought-out articles and comments. This can be classified as empty drivel because it provides a call to action without even a hint of an action.
posted by SpecialK at 9:26 PM on November 24, 2001

Wow, America has finally found a country against which they can be compared as sexually liberal -- and even then, you have a shitload of the kind of Dworkin-esque feminists who are ready to argue why things must become more repressed. Is anyone forced to wear bikinis? No? So what does the author argue for? Laws against bikinis? This kind of "feminism" is nothing but a different name for the same disease of antisexuality, which became obvious in the sex abuse witchhunts. (Fundie) Christians, Muslims and Dworkinists are all against pornography and nudity, and have a strange relationship to sex in general.
posted by Eloquence at 9:33 PM on November 24, 2001

Ah, thank you, Eloquence. *grin* I was going to do a play on your name, but I think I'm too tired and caffinated to attempt it.

This is a sore subject for me because of a past girlfriend. I thought she was rather cute, but her body was oddly shaped... Then I met her family. Her grandmother had the classic 'pear' shape that is partly caused by a lack of exercise and is encouraged by a parent's genetics. Her mother, though, had what could easily be defined as a model's figure. Her father thought her daughter should have her mother's figure, when actually, she had the figure of her grandmother... inherited -through him-. He was basically starving her to enforce this. They were devout christians, and in fact had just returned from a six year stint as missionaries in the Czech republic. Boy, that was one messed up gal, but there was nothing I could do about it. (In fact, the family hated the fact that I was not a Christian... *grin* I'm evil.) And actually, her grandmother really liked me....... long story.

Anyway. In short, I don't think it's the bikini's fault that american girls have a strange body image of themselves. I think the blame falls squarely on parents for forcing their kids to conform, or not expressing the fact that it's OK not to conform, to the american beauty ideal.
posted by SpecialK at 9:40 PM on November 24, 2001

This article is the most opportunistic, illogical crap I've read in a long, long time. Lots of analysts are trying to work some angle from the New War to buoy up their pet theory, but this is just too much. Now that the Taliban's horrific treatment of women is common knowledge, dieting and working out to wear a string bikini might seem to be a patriotic act. Can you say "non sequitur"?
posted by signal at 9:45 PM on November 24, 2001

The unrealistic body images that we see and admire every day in the media are literally eating away at the female backbone of our nation.

Literally?! Not, oh, metaphorically?

Baaad writing, worse editing.
posted by nicwolff at 10:00 PM on November 24, 2001

SpecialK, you seem to be confusing me for someone who thinks that this article makes sense. I think it's total horseshit; I posted it because I consider it a particularly egregious example of fallacious moral equivalence.

But I've been informed that I'm not permitted to express opinions about what I post; I'm just supposed to post.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:01 PM on November 24, 2001

In Victorian America, good works were a measure of female character, while today good looks reign supreme.

Right there is where the author's lost all credibility and squandered the baseline benefit of the doubt. Total logical break. In one clause we're reading about character, the next we're reading about valuing appearance, with nothing done done to connect these very distant points.
posted by NortonDC at 10:01 PM on November 24, 2001

Wow... a catalog of non-sequiturs. The paragraph that mentions violent images and teen smoking is a repeat offender, with plenty of other logic crimes thrown in for good measure. Too bad, something interesting could be said on the topic.

Steven: aha. I thought I smelt an axe being ground, with this and your last post.
posted by D at 10:12 PM on November 24, 2001

show me your tits!
posted by quonsar at 10:20 PM on November 24, 2001

*shows quonsar his tits*
posted by rodii at 10:23 PM on November 24, 2001

wow, steven's all pouty now.
posted by moz at 10:31 PM on November 24, 2001

and stoning her to death in public if she does not follow the laws set not by a voting public

SpecialK: So are you saying that if the laws were enacted by a democracy it would be OK? Just wondering.

Other then that, I think it's important to point out that while men are removing their beards, most women are not taking off their burqas. They're going out without escorts, but for the most part they are leaving their burqas on.

Expecting them to take them off would be like expecting American women to go around topless if our country was 'liberated' (say after Jerry Farwell took power or something) by a people who's culture allowed topless ness, like those primitive tribes in the Amazon or something.

That said, I don't think it's unreasonable to compare different cultures take on women. There are some parallels there I guess.
posted by delmoi at 10:44 PM on November 24, 2001

Has anyone here read Anne Hollander's Seeing Through Clothes? It's a fascinating book, from tracing the impact of the technical difficulties of depicting drapery on human bodies in classical Greek sculpture upon all subsequent Western art, or the effect upon couture that photography had when people could finally see themselves caught in mid stride to the history of basic bohemian black. And she goes into the varieties of ideal physiques throughout history, which is one thing to think about concerning ax grinding, coherent or not, on the subject.
posted by y2karl at 11:46 PM on November 24, 2001

Fashion Theory Links --found this doing a Google search on Anne Hollander--nice Veblen links, too.
posted by y2karl at 12:02 AM on November 25, 2001

I'm sorry, folks, but I don't think this article is all that bad.

It's badly written, I agree.
Some of the examples are way off base i.e. Victorian vs. Modern women.
I am not a Conservative
*end disclaimer*

Statements (in reference to the article) like this have gone unchallenged for years because their absolutely mind-numbing stupidity makes a reply seem almost pointless. Instapundit

What I got out of the article was two-fold: that the Taliban may have very justifiable reasons to hate Western culture and vice versa; and that both systems need to be looked at as being unhealthy.

I just don't see what statement was being made that was so mind-numbingly stupid. If somebody could explain that to me without going off the deep end, without falling out of their chair laughing, I would appreciate it.
posted by ashbury at 1:47 AM on November 25, 2001

I've never met a gal who was forced to wear a bikini.

I've also never met, mind you, a woman wearing a burka either.

Burka clad ain't talking about it publically.

I'm wearing a bikini now and publically telling all about it.
posted by crasspastor at 2:05 AM on November 25, 2001

My partner was commenting the other day that she could see advantages in a culture where women remained "covered up". And that's coming from someone who doesn't just claim to be a feminist, but has actually been out on the streets fighting against a dictatorship with the scars (literally) to prove it (I suspect only Portugese posters here can claim similar right-on credentials - Miguel?).

ps I don't claim for a minute that Pinochet wanted women to wear burkas (quite the opposite, I suspect ;o), but given the overblown rhetorical mud-slinging at the top of this thread it seemed neccessary to stake a claim for political credibility before pointing out that there is some sense in that article...
posted by andrew cooke at 3:42 AM on November 25, 2001

I missed rodii's manboobs. Dammit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:55 AM on November 25, 2001

Steve: "I've been informed that I'm not permitted to express opinions.." What I have to say about that would go off-topic, so I started a different thread.

Should we seek to understand why societies like those which created the Taliban hate America? I think we already do. We have freedoms, or at least an illusion of freedom. They do not. We're able to make tolerance and co-existence work most of the time. They're barely capable of not pulling the trigger on their neighbors day in day out.

Brumberg and Jackson inadvertently reinforce the very thing they are spouting off against. We should not begin covering up females just because the more conservative forces of the world can't handle it. This boils down to something remotely different than they claim in their *ahem* well-written editorial.

Burka vs. Bikini does not boil down to moral conservatism versus corruption of femininity. It boils down to a male-centered tyrany versus a free society for both genders, founded on inalienable rights. Previous posters are correct. Women are not forced to wear a bikini in America. Those women who do wear bikinis, do so of their own free will, and that should be encouraged. Women who wear burkas do so against their will. This should (and will one day) be squashed.

What I find oppressive in our society is the illegality of such things as pornography and prostitution. If a woman CHOOSES to enter such a vocation, she should be allowed to do so. Conversely if she chooses not to, she should not be forced into it. A woman prostitute should be allowed the same medical and other benefits that any woman of any vocation is allowed. She should not be penalized for choosing to use her sexuality for financial gain in a direct and straightforward way. And I BET you if we could keep a majority of women in all three branches of government for a generation, that's exactly what would eventually happen.

Now I am NOT talking about how prostitution happens NOW. The black market version of it is male-controlled and involves both physical and mental abuse. I'm talking about female escort services, or a woman acting as a sole-proprieter who hires security as protection. The role currently known as "pimp" would become extinct. Prostitution would work and it would be safe, if it were legalized. It'd get rid of the criminal element - not condone it. BTW I never have purchased a woman's services in this area. Not that I'm a prude. It's presently illegal and I could never afford it anyway. I'm not against the idea, however. I AM against how it is done in this country now, because of the oppressive, male-oriented nature of American laws.

Instead of becoming MORE coercive and oppressive in response to other countries' opinions of us, we should become LESS oppressive by contrast. We should be able to see why oppressive treatment of women doesn't work, by using places like Afghanistan as an example.

The tendency of American society to exhalt an inhumanly anorexic and absurd concept of perfection for women is a lot of things, but it's not coercive. It is preferable to the restrictive and dehumanizing concept of perfection for women in the eyes of the Taliban. Y'know the real reason why the men in the Middle East insist on women covering themselves? It's not a holier than thou religious thing. That's what they tell women to convince them to do it.

Men there can't control themselves. They see a woman who's not wrapped up like some other man's gift under a Christmas tree, and they wanna boink her. The temptation is too strong for them, so they want the tempation removed. The morally restrictive males there are sexually immature. If another man owns the female in question, the others don't want to look at her, for fear they'll get themselves in trouble. Oppressing women in the manner that they do is supposed to minimize sins like adultery, and emotions like jealousy. However, I betcha it happens anyway. It's supposed to insure a woman possessed by a man there is only for that man. Out of sight, out of mind. No temptation if you can't see her T&A.

Morally restrictive human beings have a stunted view of sexuality. That goes for either side of the Atlantic ocean.

I think it would be really cool if women in America decided en masse to choose one day to wear burkas. Partially just for fun but also as a statement of solidarity - that they empathize with the plight of women in restrictive societies like Afghanistan. However, it'd still be an option. A choice. So it would only be a manifestation of what women denied their freedoms must go through. It wouldn't be the real thing.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:24 AM on November 25, 2001

I wonder if there's more to this than the authors' inability to comprehend the difference between voluntary and involuntary behaviour - awkward prose is sometimes a sign of a clumsy attempt to make an unpopular view more palatable:
Covered or uncovered, the homefront choice is not about morality but the physical and emotional health of future generations.
Since the ideal female form isn't a moral issue, there would be little need for the authors to reassure us that they aren't pushing a moral agenda if they weren't doing just that. Notice how they mix in the usual vices (drinking, smoking and pornography) along with unhealthy self image? Or the recurring nudity theme ("American culture has dictated a nearly complete uncovering of the female form", "American girls and women have been stripped bare by a sexually expressive culture") which, combined with the bikini fixation, suggests that the authors would prefer women covered up more? The praise for Victorian culture seems overly fond, as if they'd prefer it return.
posted by adamsc at 4:56 AM on November 25, 2001

My objection to the article is more fundamental. If there is any subject that those who are part of the anti-war left agree on, it's feminism. (Hell, I agree with feminism too, if it's not carried to ridiculous extremes e.g. "Fish needs a bicycle".)

One of the side effects of the war in Afghanistan has been how it has radically improved the lot of women there by saving them from the most repressive regime on earth. The treatment of women in Afghanistan was completely inhuman. Now, at long last, they'll be permitted once again the simple pleasure of being able to walk on the streets without a male relative accompanying them, and the ability to hold jobs, and to have their daughters attend school past the age of 8. Little things like that.

But this represents a profound embarassment for the antiwar left: the war served the cause of feminism. What to do? Of course they can't admit that they were wrong about the bombing. (Admit error? Perish the thought.) But as feminists they have to be happy about the improvement in the lot of the women of Afghanistan.

This article demonstrates their answer to that dilemma: they still need to demonize the West, so the argument is the Taliban were monsters with respect to how they treated their women, but we are too so we're not really virtuous for freeing the women of Afghanistan because in our own way we still oppress our own women.

In other words, it's an exercize in moral equivalence. They're groping around to find some way, any way, to demonstrate that we (the US) are not really better than the Taliban. By so doing, they preserve their moral position of condemning the US for nearly everything it does. If one grants their premise, then their explanation for the improvement of the lot of the women of Afghanistan is that it was an accidental side effect of the war, and one which the US probly would have tried to avoid were that possible since we's also anti-feminist oppressors ourselves.

It's a masterpiece of rationalization and distortion and it's real goal was to figure out a way to continue to criticize the US and not admit that the US actions in Afghanistan just resulted in something praiseworthy. (Praising the US? Perish the thought.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:33 AM on November 25, 2001

They are representative. One of the most remarkable things about the last two weeks has been the deafening silence from leftists about how the bombing improved the lot of Afghan women.

All I've seen is attempts at rationalization to preserve a moral position that permits continued criticism of the US. This was an example of that.

Not all leftists have been so stupid, and I didn't say "the left". I said "the antiwar left". A lot of leftists have supported this war.

But those who opposed it are being slow to admit that there may actually have been justification for fighting it and that it may actually have helped the people (especially the women) of Afghanistan.

Your argument, Skallas, can be used to defend against any political argument against any point of view: if no-one holding that viewpoint expresses an opinion publicly then I can't argue against them, but if they do and I argue against them then they aren't typical anyway.

Thus those holding that point of view can't be criticized at all. I don't accept that. In a political debate, those who hold a position have a duty to defend it publicly. If you think these two women did a lousy job, then do a better one yourself. (Debate me!)

All I can do is to judge what those who are vocal say. When I get told "But they're not typical!" then I ask for pointers to someone who did a better job presenting the position -- only no-one can find any such, not even the antiwar leftists themselves.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:22 AM on November 25, 2001

One of the side effects of the war in Afghanistan has been how it has radically improved the lot of women there by saving them from the most repressive regime on earth

To use the fate of Afghanistani women as a justification for the war is pretty depressing. As many people have pointed out before me, no-one (apart from those whiny lefties) cared before, and social justice was not the motive. Everyone wanted an end to the Taliban (sneary lefty publications such as the Guardian have been writing against them since they came to power). It was the means rather than the end that was in dispute. Simon Jenkins of the (London) Times has always said that Blair favoured political pressure, not war, but was not listened to by the US.

But the fate of women has been used to score political points ever since the attacks. I seem to remember people arguing here that Western civilization is more successful because women have equal opportunities, as if success was the point rather than simple justice.

But I've said before that polarizing the world into two belief systems, Taliban vs US democracy, is an idiotic oversimplification of global politics and a particularly unhelpful way to view a topic like women's rights. Burkhas vs bikins? Like there's no alternative to that.
posted by Summer at 6:27 AM on November 25, 2001

Sometimes, Steven, serendipity is just serendipity - praisworthy only insofar as luck is praiseworthy. So we inflicted some collateral happiness. I'm pleased, but I'm not ready to adorn myself with garlands and assume the mantle of 'Great Emancipator'.
posted by Opus Dark at 6:33 AM on November 25, 2001

The argument in favor of the bombing has always been that while it is evil, in the long run it would be less evil than not bombing. The argument was that the bombing was necessary to eliminate a greater evil. If we're making a moral appraisal of the alternatives, we have to evaluate them in their entirety.

The anti-war leftists have never failed to point out every unintended evil side effect of past US foreign policy actions, and held the US responsible for them even though they were unintended. So it has to go both ways: even if liberation of Afghanistan's women was unintended, it is nonetheless good and has to be considered as part of the evaluation of the bombing.

Sauce for the goose...
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:52 AM on November 25, 2001

Steven, humorously enough, Doctor Phil of the Oprah Show has an interesting response to the situation you're in. When people realize they can't win an argument or debate, one of the things they do is change the game.

Say for example a married couple are arguing. The wife is unhappy that again the husband was out too late that night. He responds by saying something like, "you've been talking to your mother again haven't you?" and then turns the argument into whether or not his wife thinks with her own brain, thus changing the subject of the debate, and the game, to something he thinks he can win.

"Your argument, Skallas, can be used to defend against any political argument against any point of view: if no-one holding that viewpoint expresses an opinion publicly then I can't argue against them, but if they do and I argue against them then they aren't typical anyway. Thus those holding that point of view can't be criticized at all. I don't accept that. In a political debate, those who hold a position have a duty to defend it publicly. If you think these two women did a lousy job, then do a better one yourself. (Debate me!)"

In saying that, you are calling them on it. Which is precisely the way one has to handle someone who changes the game. The reason why some people question your use of your own opinion in threads that you start is not because it's improper to use opinions in MeFi. That's absurd. It's also not because your opinions differ from theirs. It's because they can't win that argument against you so they change the argument to something they think they can win. In fact, oftentimes Topic Drift on the 'Net is caused because someone in the thread can't win the argument, so they change the argument to something they can win.

In other words you already won the argument. They've already admitted failure. Congratulations. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 7:06 AM on November 25, 2001

Could I just mention that I was as happy as anyone when I heard that the Taliban had fallen in Kabul, and I suppose I'm one of those anti-war lefties you've placed in a convenient box. I wasn't so happy when I read a bit more about what the Northern Alliance is all about.

Interventionist govts should be held responsible for outcomes that could have reasonably been predicted. The onus is on that govt to do no further harm. But cheering when something good happens that wasn't part of the remit is just point scoring.

And anyway don't you think you're jumping the gun a bit? No government has been appointed in Afghanistan, and even when it has been, no one can guarantee it will stay there. It doesn't look like the US is going to dirty its hands sending in troops to protect a coalition govt. Women aren't removing their burkas yet, they're too scared. Perhaps they remember the women who had acid thrown in their faces right before the Taliban came to power. When the US (or the UK for that matter) actually does something purely for women's rights, I'll cheer.
posted by Summer at 7:22 AM on November 25, 2001

Its like using PETA propaganda to criticize anyone who's for animal rights.

I don't think so Skallas. I think it's like using a thirteen year old girl's description of why she's a vegetarian to critize anyone who's for animal rights.

I've just read the article again. It sounds like it's written by someone who has totally missed thirty years of feminist debate. "It is time to note the dangers of unhealthy body images for girls and women." You don't say.
posted by Summer at 7:45 AM on November 25, 2001

Skallas: Because I haven't seen any other viewpoints from the anti-war left. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I've been searching and everything I've read is equally nonsensical.

Summer: So the US is responsible for all bad effects of its policies, whether intended or not, but only gets credit for good results when they were directly intended? You don't see any inconsistency in that point of view at all?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:46 AM on November 25, 2001

no-one (apart from those whiny lefties) cared before

Isn't that statement just as silly as claiming that no lefties cheered when the Taliban fell?
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:53 AM on November 25, 2001

Because I haven't seen any other viewpoints from the anti-war left. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I've been searching and everything I've read is equally nonsensical.

Well, duh, Steven. You're looking for
anti-war opinions
from people you define as having "lefty" views
whose are different from these people you define as representative of lefty views.

You're not going find something outside your definition of "lefty" that qualifies as "lefty" to you.

The question is whether or not to think you realize the inherent impossibility of what you claim to seek and are using to maliciously beat up on people you disagree with or are just acting out of ignorance.

Which is it?
posted by NortonDC at 8:17 AM on November 25, 2001

And I agree with you on the war, Steven.
posted by NortonDC at 8:19 AM on November 25, 2001

So the US is responsible for all bad effects of its policies, whether intended or not, but only gets credit for good results when they were directly intended? You don't see any inconsistency in that point of view at all?

Yes I do. But I think too many people assume that success equals right. That if something turns out well then the methods, or the country/person, are justified. Many things in history turn out right by chance and the reputations of leaders are assured because of it. And that works in the negative as well. Sometimes things turn out unintentionally badly but that doesn't mean the motives were wrong.

BUT when you're a very powerful nation with the ability to change the fortunes of individual countries you are obliged to make sure you don't cause harm and you should be questioned if you do, even if it's unintentional. With power comes responsibility. If you accidentally do some good I'm pleased, but I'm not going to congratulate you for it, especially when the women of Afghanistan have never been a priority (for governments) before.

Isn't that statement just as silly as claiming that no lefties cheered when the Taliban fell?

Maybe. I don't like to label left and right. But the fact remains that the Taliban were known to be repressive shit heads and nobody, not the US, Europe or the UN, did sod all about it.
posted by Summer at 8:37 AM on November 25, 2001

I can't find any information about Joan Jacobs Brumberg's opinion of the war or US foreign policy on the web. Almost all of her writings deal with the problems of American female adolescence, especially how cultural pressures affect a girl's self-image and health. Here's a short blurb she wrote about one of her latest books.

Unfortunately, the co-author has a common name and I can't be sure if the few cites dredged up were about her.

Maybe someone oughta write these ladies and ask them if the bombings were a benefit for Afghan women, to see if the anti-war lefty ingrate shoes fit.
posted by nikzhowz at 8:38 AM on November 25, 2001

wow! the usual posting bitching about other posters and calling names. Nice to know things seldom change.
The North guyhs are NOT good. Ok. They will grow opium. but they do not train terror people in camps and that is what we are there for.
As for the article and women: check what science has to say about body types and attraction. Some babes are more attrative than others. The piece by the lady in University very silly: her specialty is women and beauty ( subset of Women's Studies), and she chatters about images of women smoking and sipping cocktails as examples of how we err. She must be referring to ads, though she does not say this.
Given a choice: Baywatch babes are hardly starving to death and seem fairly ok without face coverings--makes for easier water rescues too
posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on November 25, 2001

Norton, I'm not looking for people with different opinions. I'm looking for people who do a better job backing them up.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:45 AM on November 25, 2001

SDB: even if liberation of Afghanistan's women was unintended, it is nonetheless good and has to be considered as part of the evaluation of the bombing.

I think it comes down to how one feels about this. Of course it's true, but not necessarily significant. (Bad acts can have good consequences, but that doesn't necessarily make them good acts. E.g., if a serial killer unwittingly murders a cat burglar, that accident of fate doesn't make the murder a good act.)

The Left typically takes a nonutilitarian, moral stance on the war, not a pragmatic one. From a pragmatic stance, it is hard to argue against the war at all, I think; there's a chance that it will be ineffectual, but all the evidence indicates it will be more effective than not doing it, and that the benefits will outweigh the costs. But that is not the point at all -- the Left's entire dispute is whether pragmatic concerns are a valid basis for making what they think should be a moral decision. They don't argue the war will be futile, or deny that it will have good consequences; they argue that it is immoral.

Steven, how does this article have any bearing whatsoever on a nonutilitarian moral argument against the war? It seems to me like you've painted the Left into a position they never held in the first place. If you want to challenge them, you either have to challenge their system of ethics -- and I think there are good arguments for utilitarianism, though of course most people find it quite unpalatable -- or challenge their interpretation of it. You haven't done either, at least not here.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2001

Steven, you acknowledge that being a "leftist" does not match up with being anti-war, so let go of your fixation on "lefties" and just look for people in opposition to the war to spar with, rather than first looking for "lefties" to criticize and then trying to figure out if they oppose the war. Here's a suggestion: drop "leftists" from this discussion. It's irrelevant. You're looking for people that oppose the war, not "leftists".

This article is a particularly poor place to start since, as others have pointed out, they never pass judgement on the war.
posted by NortonDC at 9:44 AM on November 25, 2001

Matt, that argument comes down to the statement that it's better to be a dead saint than a live sinner.

That is an axiom. That's not something that can be argued -- but it can be revealed starkly by debate, and when it's put in those terms I believe that the majority will reject it.

It also states that the morality of an act must be judged locally and not based on its long term consequences. Is it wrong to deliberately assassinate (i.e. murder) a vicious tyrant? I don't believe so -- or rather, I think it's less wrong to do so than to not do so.

Because that's the third fault with that position: it assumes that inaction can never be evil.

I think that when most people are forced to look at it in those terms, they'll reject such a position as being morally bankrupt. It's consistent, yes, but repugnant.

Norton, I'm not aware of a substantial population in the US who are against the war who are not leftist. I've been deliberately using the term "anti-war left" because that seems to be an accurate description of them. It is deliberately chosen in order to make clear that there can also be pro-war left and neutral-on-war left, with whom I have no arguments. (Well, my only argument with the neutrals would be "Take sides!")
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:56 AM on November 25, 2001

Steven, you've never said you were looking for a substantial population. You have said you're looking for someone to oppose the war in an exchange with you. Limiting it to "left" serves no end other than enhance a "right" posture on your part.

So, is it more about getting into an exchange with an opponent of the war, or posing?
posted by NortonDC at 10:05 AM on November 25, 2001

But what so few people understand is that morality and pragmatism go hand in hand. Pragmatism should be looked at morally, and morality should be looked at pragmatically. I'll show you what I mean.

Steven mentions at his website, "If I get angry and punch my neighbor in the nose, he'll call the police who will come for me. If I resist, they'll draw their guns. If I have a gun, too, they'll shoot me. When I go with them, they take me to a court, where I'm given a trial, and then they take me to a prison, where I'm prevented from leaving by guards who also have guns. So I don't punch my neighbor in the nose, because I don't want to go to prison."

Those who commit criminal acts, and test the system in hopes of improving their situation, are gambling that by going against society's rules they will improve their selfish position. A moral position is pragmatic. A moral person sees pragmatically that to commit heinous crimes against other people adversely affects society, and in turn adversely affects the self. People unfortunately don't think through to the logical conclusion of their actions, which is why we have to put locks on our doors, because someone out there is a loser who will turn to violence because they aren't getting what they want.

It is in our best interests to help our fellow Man, because no matter how many locks and doors and bars we put between ourselves and anyone we don't like, we are still trapped with those people on the same spinning rock in space.

All ten of the commandments mentioned in the Judeo-Christian bible are not only moral imperatives - but they are logical choices. Upon examination, most other religious systems have pragmatic qualities. It's the stuff that's not pragmatic or logical that gets everybody in trouble.

When you separate the dogma from the logic, religion is not only moral but also pragmatic. It's common sense. If everyone on the planet could just look at their actions pragmatically, they'd live a moral lifestyle. NOT because some disembodied dude up in the clouds told them to, but because they are being selflessly selfish. They'd help others because they know it'll help them in turn by improving their own environment.

Human beings make things much more complicated than they need to be.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:44 AM on November 25, 2001

That poor expired equine has been pulverized into a pool of rancid protoplasm: Quem É Que É Mais Irritante? Boy, someone could use a supositório right now...
posted by y2karl at 10:45 AM on November 25, 2001

I think that when most people are forced to look at it in those terms, they'll reject such a position as being morally bankrupt. It's consistent, yes, but repugnant.

Your arguments above are indeed attacks on (an extreme version of) the Left's system of ethics. But you do yourself (and your claim that you want to argue against a cogent position) a disservice by interpreting their position with so little subtlety.

And your conclusion is not compelling. I don't reject the Left's position because of what "most people" think about anything (how does people's rejection of a thing constitute an argument against it, anyway? And how is it morally bankrupt?!? What are you talking about?), or because it's repugnant. If anything is repugnant (beyond how politicizing a dispute destroys any hope of deciding it rationally), it's some people's callous insensitivity to the concerns the Left expresses about human rights. No, the Left's position isn't the repugnant one; it's untenable because of its likely, unfortunate consequences.

I can't tell you how frustrating it is that you claim you want to discuss arguments against the war when in fact all you write is that you find them repugnant.
posted by mattpfeff at 11:03 AM on November 25, 2001

My response to this article: shrug.

Like Gertrude Himmelfarb, who in The De-Moralization of Society distorted and oversimplified Victorian history to score political points--the chapter on Jews being the most egregious example--the authors took some historical points, flattened out all the complications, and found some nice comfy parallels. It's the dreaded plague of "what happens when academics write op-ed pieces," and it's an equal-opportunity disease. Aside from debating the effects of this kind of sloppiness on the reader ("Hey! they're historians! they must know what they're talking about!"), I'm not sure it's worth the bother to get upset over the content. Once you've pointed out all the problems, what's left? It's really just a variation on what one scholar called "convenient lies to tell your students"; the moment you expose the oversimplifications, the argument falls to the ground. Reading this article brought back fond memories of the time when I was still bothering to pay attention to the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton: my father and I used to have fun correcting all the historical errors in his editorials, but once we'd done that, there was little of any interest left.

The feminist reading of the burqa, by the way, is quite old. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu came to similar conclusions in the eighteenth century.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:04 AM on November 25, 2001

"See the girl on the TV dressed in a Bikini/

She doesn't think so but she's dressed for the H-Bomb..."

Gang of Four, "I Found That Essence Rare" (Entertainment!, 1979)

posted by gimonca at 12:53 PM on November 25, 2001

Wow, America has finally found a country against which they can be compared as sexually liberal

Not really true. The US may not have the nudity it in advertisements and porn on at 5 p.m., but it is one of the few countries in the world where sex and sexuality are discussed seriously, openly and candidly (Or at least more than a great number of European Countries). Three cases it point:

While living in Italy I read newspaper article in Feb. 2000 how it was just not acceptable for men to be "house husbands." While this break with he past is new Italy, it is old hat in the US.

Also divorce has been legal in the US for longer than most western European Countries. For example, Ireland and Italy have only legalized it in the past 25 years

While traveling in Britain in April of 2000 I read a newspaper article about how a man was called a "fag" for crying at work. I think this type of extreme homophobia this self-explanatory.

I'm tied of being look at from down the nose of hypocritical Europeans about the US' sexual morays; face facts, you may have nude women on ads (nothing wrong with that, in fact I like it a lot), but that doesn't mean you're ahead of the times. In fact, it may be a way to avoid coming up to the times.
posted by Bag Man at 5:09 PM on November 25, 2001

"While traveling in Britain in April of 2000 I read a newspaper article about how a man was called a "fag" for crying at work. I think this type of extreme homophobia this self-explanatory."

I have seen examples of this all over Canada. I've spoken to people from the US who profess the same sort of bigotry. Homophobia is most definitely not limited to Europe.

And since I didn't read the article, I won't comment on it - especially since it would be impossible to remove the constant "beauty" propaganda that is inherent in North America [and elsewhere, but I can only speak for the continent I'm sitting on] without the complete destruction of the current "way things are".

Why bother?
posted by Nyx at 6:28 PM on November 25, 2001

Mr. Den Beste: My Quaker upbringing may make it convenient for you to lump me in with the "anti-war left."What is does not do is speak to my opinions, beliefs or concerns in toto.

Generalizations of others and preformed opinions are the enemy here.
posted by sillygit at 8:21 PM on November 25, 2001

“One of the most remarkable things about the last two weeks has been the deafening silence from leftists about how the bombing improved the lot of Afghan women.”

The bombing didn’t improve any Afghan’s lot in life, likely it worsened it while it was happening. Only by relinquishing power did the Taliban improve life in Afghanistan. Dropping bombs on them was one of many ways to achieve the desired effect, perhaps not the best way. I suggest you’re probably reading selectively.

If you want people to evaluate the various militaries in Afghanistan by way of some sort of goal matrix (casualties, cost, duration, etc.) I think you’ll find the US military is superior. They definitly have the biggest guns and they know how to use them.

What you don’t want to do, apparently, is explore the ways in which the US arrived at a predicament in which a former ally is harboring a terrorist bent on its destruction. This is pretty much the case whereever I turn in the last couple months, meaning Faisal Bodi’s prediction came to pass.

So corral me in your anti-war (over)generalizations as a doctor who thinks the technique is good, but the procedure misguided. I think Lewis Lapham wrote the best essays on this subject in the August and November (’01 obviously) issues of Harper’s. The American Rome: On the theory of virtuous empire and Drums Along the Potomac: New war, old music.

But frankly, I don’t know why I’m even responding to you, since you haven’t wavered much since your big challenge. Your challenge was followed by this doozy:

“The problem is that there hasn't been a single [solution to the terror problem] which passes the pragmatism test. ... they reflect well on the good nature and intentions of those who believe them. But they're all fatally flawed. Every single one of them.”

So, your decision is made up. “Debating” you would be like challenging a Preacher on the existence of God. It’d pointless, fruitless and if you kept to the same rhetoric used til now, probably pretty hostile. I’m not sure why you haven’t been taken up on the offer.

Debate is ironically quoted since the word implies weighing the possibility that conventional wisdom is incorrect. You’ve stated this is impossible for you (all opposing solutions are “fatally flawed”) so whatever debate you want to have is seriously limited.
posted by raaka at 12:14 AM on November 26, 2001

Errr... there are some other people that, although glad that the Taliban have fallen, are not quite happy with the bombings, or the new status quo.
Since RAWA was fighting against the Taliban while the US government didn't seem to mind, I think that their particular brand of feminism is much more relevant and telling than that of a bunch of neopuritan "feminists".
posted by talos at 5:04 AM on November 26, 2001

See Judith Lewis's article in the LA Times, "Out of the Frying Pan: After the Taliban, will Afghanistan’s women really be free?" She quotes Afghan women saying: "I don’t believe they [the Northern Alliance] will be better for women. They might be worse.” And: “History has taught us that the bright future is nothing but a mirage for Afghan women. The reality is tears, chained hands and silenced mouths.”
posted by ferris at 6:07 AM on November 26, 2001

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