Monday, May 19, 2008

Counter - Narrative:Must provide a good example/that's not how you win wars anyway!

This is a counter-narrative that I'd kind of given up on when the build up to the Iraq war started back in 02, but on reflection, I think it still is of great intellectual and theoretical importance. It is based on my theory of the trade of "Sympathy". When a country/entity gets brutally attacked (eg.'s Jews in WWII, 9/11, Pearl Harbour, Suicide bombings, Hiroshima, Blitzkrieg bombings etc.), that which gets attacked obtains a sympathy credit. When a country/entity retaliates, anything close to proportional retaliation cashes in that credit.

In modern day geopolitical confrontation, keeping and holding that sympathy credit (ie. avoiding retaliation) is key to winning the peace. Revenge is something that never wins the peace, and retribution should be left to any court of law that can decide on it.

An important side note is that "who shoots first" is of absolute critical importance both in a battle sense and in a declaration of war sense. Thus no matter how rediculous it sounds, the US would be seen to be a World leader much more, would be seen to have absolute moral integrity within the UN, and would have been that much closer to a new world order in which it was the moral leader, had they either not attacked Iraq, or had waited (even indefinitely) for them to "shoot first".

Thus East Timor wins the peace in their country, partly because they didn't retaliate proportionally (nor request other countries to do so on their behalf).
Israel appears to be gradually cashing in their sympathy credit ever since the end of WWII, Australians in Afghanistan (etc.) are winning sympathy credits due to their rules of engagement which prohibits them from shooting until fired upon. The Iraq war has cashed in all (and then some) of the sympathy that the US had left over from 9/11.

Thus the war in Iraq was wrong on the count that it did not show a good example for other world citizens, and anyway, that is not how wars are won.


vladimir said...

Perfectly valid points, aye, but someone needs to tell me a story.

"Once upon a time in the land between the rivers, there lived an evil tyrant. When he invaded a small neighbouring country, the Emperor Beyond the Sea came and made him stop. But the magic goldfish and the fairies who lived in the pumpkin told the Emperor that he was not allowed to cast down the evil tyrant, because then the obelisk of Queen Zorcestlin would topple into the sea. Instead, the Emperor Beyond the Sea and the magic goldfish and the pumpkin fairies made the evil tyrant promise that he would be nice to bunnies and kittens and write a book report on 'Watership Down'.

But as year after year went by, he had still not written a book report on 'Watership Down'. And often, often, he had been unkind to both bunnies and kittens.

So Aslan went to the magic goldfish and the fairies who lived in the pumpkin and said: 'Why do we need that obelisk, anyway?'

And the magic goldfish and pumpkin fairies said: __________. But Aslan went right ahead and cast down the tyrant irregardless. So all right-thinking people and polliwogs and talking mice can see how terribly bad and wicked it was of Aslan (boo, hiss) to cast down the evil tyrant."

There. All you have to do is fill in the blank. It should be easy.

Jenny said...

Han shot first.

Marco said...

"It is not about the obelisk anymore. It is not for Aslan to judge the evil tyrant, but those that saw it right to make him promise "stuff" to judge whether those promises have been kept to some satisfaction. Aslan has seen it right to be bound by a moral code, and rather than executing his own judgement must be humble and demonstrate his ultimate righteousness even if this means ultimately his own death. Those that see righteousness displayed in actions will be humbled before it. Those that impose retribution that ought to be devine can be given scorn in proper proportion.

Dr. Clam said...

True, true... but really that is not the right story, it is just *my *narrative again. The counter-narrative will have to start further back, maybe with Hammurabi.

As fairy-tale entities, the magic goldfish and the fairies who live in the pumpkin are perfectly within their rights to impose one set of conditions on Aslan when it comes to the Land between the Rivers, and quite another on him when it comes to the Mountains of Poppies, and another set of conditions again on the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea-with-No-Pants when it comes to the Buckler of Christendom. I have no trouble formulating a consistent left counter-narrative based on fairy-tale logic...

Marco said...

It's not like that. They are not conditions so much as disappointment that Aslan is not as magnanimous and unselfish as his legend makes out. The New World Order has gained the most when opportunities have arisen for a leader to show up other countries via self-sacrifice or at least very selfless and brave policy. Once Aslan has demonstrated selfish or cowardly behaviour himself, he opens himself up to all sorts of criticisms independent of contradictory criticisms made against him at other times. This may look like unfair criticisms, but Aslan opened the door with unfair treatment of prisoners over in foreign Xcampia, and other cowardly activities.

Dr. Clam said...

Two words:

(1) Pish.

(2) Tosh.

When a leader demonstrates self-sacrifice, it is seen by the real world order - not the nice men in suits making pretty speeches, but the ones who are really playing the game - as a sign of weakness. In they rush, with their stone knives, confident in the sure and certain knowledge that the resurrection of Aslan was just a fairy story.

Name me *one thing* Israel has gained from:

(a) Giving the vast majority of the Palestinian population self-government.
(b) Withdrawing unilaterally from Lebanon.
(c) Withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza.

Name me *one thing* Bush gained from going down the path urged by Blair, humbly seeking the imprimatur of the World Order on the long-overdue and well-deserved take-down of a brutal tyrant.

Marco said...

I had abandoned this narrative back in 02 for some of the reasons you mentioned. However, it still has intellectual merit as a self-consistent narrative from the left. At this point I want to separate it from the "sniping" which is the hodge-podge of narratives we see in the papers.

The main reason I still like it in theory is that it is natural for humans to "keep score". Sympathy is instinctive rather than intellectual, but we still keep score.

I would like to add that many actions are perfectly acceptable in the moral sense, it is just that they score very poorly in the instinctive sympathy scores.

Take air strikes against (eg's Iraq, Lebanon, Serbia etc.) These have precedents as being acceptable ways of waging war. However, in sympathy terms these are very cowardly. There is almost no chance of being shot down, and the chances of collateral damages are staggeringly high. In these terms, the sort of stuff happening in Iraq and Afghanistan now is regaining some sympathy back. This arithmetic has nothing to do with more general military goals of bringing down tyrants, abandoning or conquering territory, etc.

Naturally, the instinctive arithmetic in Palestine is numbers of civilians killed on either side in living memory. NB WWII is starting to escape more and more peoples memory, thus Israel is losing its sympathy head start. However each and every incident ought to be analysed in sympathy terms.

Even though I have abandoned this narrative, I do believe every single battle's sympathy value should still be taken into account for every military entity, as well as the strict strategic or military value. The rules of engagement for Australian in Afghanitan is a cae in point.

Jenny said...

This is not about right and wrong, self defense or attack or any of these things. Its all about spin, create your own truth by pushing buttons that you know people have - because thinking is requires mental work.

Dr. Clam said...

It isn't what I would call a narrative. It's just an attitude. By a narrative I mean a story with a beginning, a middle, and some more middle, where the characters have motivations.

I think it will need to offer a different version of the Cold War than my narrative. I don't remember there being one at the time it ended, just a baffling silence, and then a return to business as usual from the 'left'.

Perhaps I am not phrasing my questions well enough. Most of the time when I disagree with people there is some standpoint from which their position coheres and has some sort of logic. But I just can't find it in this case.

Marco said...

I think I can probably generate a counter-narrative 25 year history of Iraq that includes this attitude that I've described. The anti-Iraq-war articles, politics and commentary should be only seen as a inconsistent extension of such narrative, however, rather than logical conclusions deriving from it.