FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Syrian Debate

by MICHAEL P. BRADLEY

Perhaps the most interesting development relating to the current US-Syrian crisis – at least for me coming from a somewhat academic standpoint – is the way in which this crisis has illumined the importance of “justificatory practice.” I have even thought, perhaps in less guarded moments, something in our democracy might actually be working?

As I consider what Barack Obama and those closely connected with him, have said in defense of their Syrian policy, it’s not so much “what” has been said that intrigues me (and by the way, many recent articles in CounterPunch have shown the policy involves grand degrees of hypocrisy), but more, that “something” was indeed said.

When I discuss the fields of logic and critical thinking with my students, I like to talk to them –apart from of any specific practical political or moral issues – about why it is that humans often engage in justificatory practices, that is, in forms of communication that are explicitly focused on the defense of controversial ideas and actions.

The occurrence of this phenomenon is primarily dependent on the conditions of equality and the distribution of power persisting amongst a population, and the existence of sufficient levels of disagreement amongst the members of the society. In liberal settings, some engage in justificatory practices because they believe that somehow truth or objectivity or progress emerge with greater probability out of conditions of open and informed debate. Others engage in justificatory practices because of its empowering effects. Still others engage in these practices, quite frankly, because they are forced to do so, partly because we all live in a world full of expectations regarding our behavior. Those in positions of greatest power (those already supported by vast economic and coercive resources) are much less likely than others to participate voluntarily in such exercises of rational persuasion in pursuit of something like truth or empowerment.

Obviously there is tension, and indeed inconsistency, between especially believers in and those otherwise forced to engage in justificatory practice. Ultimately, these different groups are probably playing different games. For the believers, justificatory practice makes us truly human. For those more or less forced into justificatory practice the effort expended amounts variously to distraction, annoying and wasteful inconvenience, all the way to the successful construction of bald-faced lies enabling the use and accumulation of even more power. But, sometimes, in a democracy the weight of the commitments and actions of those who believe that discourse can and should be made to be as rational as possible may overwhelm the cynicism of those who offer justifications only reluctantly or in the spirit of lying under pressures of others’ expectations and recognized rules. So it is most important to try to understand what are the conditions under which this sort of result becomes more likely?

What accounts for Barack Obama’s current justificatory engagement with Congress (and the world beyond)? First, there was the perhaps clumsy way in which the President apparently initially painted himself into his red-lined corner, thus impregnating the context with the germs of credibility, followed by the denial that personal credibility was at stake and the extravagant suggestion that rather, it is the credibility of humanity as a moral race that is on the line. Barack Obama – the Nobel Peace Laureate President – surely has sufficient cause to be concerned about his own level of personal integrity here. An interesting question may be, can and should anti-escalators and the wider peace movement find ways to assist the president in enhancing his levels of integrity and credibility?

Second, the internal logic of the sheer folly and danger of raining cruise missiles onto ancient Damascus creates its own pressures to engage in justification of the idea itself. Perhaps for reasons of ego, power, and interests, persons in such positions seem unwilling or unable to simply waive the white flag. Again, can and should the peace movement try to find ways to make a potential reversal of policy look less like presidential indecisiveness, capitulation, and political weakness?

Third, so far, public opinion, both domestic and international, seems significantly opposed to the Obama administration’s game-changer of a policy. And, again so far, a significant portion of mainstream media along with the dogged efforts of the progressive press, have been well focused on publicizing the current disposition of public opinion. Here the way forward is much more clear. Those wishing to promote peace in Syria and the Middle East must reach energetically and respectfully to much less informed, often misinformed, local publics and forums, especially to those who do not usually engage meaningfully or effectively in discussions about political controversies. It is also of utmost important that activists absolutely flood Congress with phone calls and letters urging negotiation rather than more war.

Finally, distant, aging historical and institutional pressures (Congressional purse strings, consultation with and consent of Congress, the War Powers Act) still cast cooling and inviting if fleeting shadows over the scorched earth policies of imperial executives. Again, here the way forward is clear and well underway. We must continue to support especially organized legal actions designed to reinvigorate democratic processes and our Constitutional rights.

I don’t know how quaint or naïve this may sound, but there may be cause for hope here. Can we be energized by the possibilities for what ethicists and philosophers have called “the moral point of view?” In his classic book, Ethics, William Frankena , following David Hume, defends the importance of endeavoring to “be free, impartial, willing to universalize, conceptually clear, and informed about all possible relevant facts.” Likewise, Kurt Baier (in The Moral Point of View) urges us to avoid egoism, act from principle, universalize our own principles, and consider the general welfare. In so far as humans can be rationally persuaded that they have certain obligations to each other, or that they should value certain states of affairs, individuals need to try to recognize and take seriously the importance of what I have described here as justificatory practice in their own lives.

Michael P. Bradley is a professor of philosophy and political science at Blackburn College in Illinois. He can be reached at: mbrad@blackburn.edu

Michael P. Bradley teach political science and philosophy at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail