The Politics Of Feeling

I was surfing around at relative random yesterday, waiting for TG to get ready for the New Years Eve festivities when I visited Jacob Levy’s blog (referencing l’affaire Althouse). I’m only mildly interested in the squabble, because it’s become about personalities much more than ideas – and if I wanted to deal with that c**p I’d work in Hollywood and make a lot more money than I do – but I clicked on Levy’s CV and then read the first chapter of his book ‘The Multiculturalism of Fear’.

I studied political theory as an undergraduate (with Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar)…that was a long time ago and pretty much ran from Homer up to Rawls (who had just published ‘A Theory of Justice’) and then stopped.

So it was with a lot of interest that in Levy’s work I read about and noted Judith Shklar (who I’d heard of but not read) et al who essentially write about a political theory of feelings and emotion, and appear to elevate hurt feelings – literally – to a parity with core human rights. Levy discusses Shklar –

Shklar subordinates the evil of ‘moral cruelty’ or humiliation to the evil of physical cruelty, but acknowledges the reality and harm of such moral cruelty. ‘It is not just a matter of hurting someone’s feelings. It is deliberate and persistent humiliation, so that the victim can eventually trust neither himself nor anyone else.’

This is interesting, and on first account worrisome. It legitimizes the views of such folk as Ahmed Sheikh (Editor-In-Chief of Al-Jazeera) who I cite as saying:

In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.

The problem with this, I note is

It’s impossible – or very damn close to it – to negotiate with someone who is interested more in his self-image than in any objective thing that may be achieved in the negotiation. Because no matter how the matter is settled, each party to a good settlement feels somewhat wronged.

And if that feeling of wronged-ness is the driver…well, getting to a negotiated settlement is going to be damn difficult.

On first blush, I’m frightened of a political theory of feelings. I need to do some reading because this is something definitely worth digging into a bit. Shklar sounds like a good first stop…(and I’d love some other suggestions).

The Kagan Plan?

Wretchard points me at the new Fred Kagan plan (pdf) for winning the war in Iraq. It’s a very good read, and better because it meshes well with what Phil Carter wrote in Slate a few months ago.

Kagan suggests the obvious – that we can win the war if we choose to, i.e. if it is important enough for us to do so. He suggests a variety of reasons why we should consider it so, none of which will be news to readers here:

Withdrawal will not end the pain

* Regional ripple effects will require continued U.S. involvement
* America will likely have to re-engage within a few years on much worse terms
* There will be no “decent interval” – withdrawal will take place under fire amidst growing violence and atrocities

The plan is fairly detail-rich, and maps well to Carter’s plan – which requires that we get troops out of camps and into the streets. Read them both and judge for yourself.

Yes, it will involve more casualties, and yes, there will be more fighting. But aversion to casualties can’t be the sole strategic razor we use to slice into this problem. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that we will bear (and cause) far more suffering in the medium and long term if we choose to quit in Iraq.

In the face of the conventional wisdom that the war is lost and Iraq a quagmire of violence and despair, Iraqslogger reprints a blog post outlining the economic vitality happening under the media radar – economic growth that is wholly consistent with what I’ve heard directly from Iraq and which simply can’t coexist with the level of hopeless violence that is the typical view of Iraq we’re asked to accept.

This all paints a very strange picture of Iraq. If we assume that the country is indeed operating with a high level of violence and chaos, it’s really remarkable that the economy seems to be so strong at the same time. Does it make sense that Iraq can build new houses, import cars, and build cellphone towers and networks while bombs are going off and they have trouble keeping power supplied to their cities for more than eight hours a day?

Iraq has essentially become the modern equivalent of the Wild West, where danger and opportunity walk hand in hand every day. People who are willing to take the risks and spend a third of their company budget on security can make a lot of money, and the people of Iraq are working hard despite hardships and making a living by taking advantage of the opportunities created by rapid change. For the most part it is not the United States or the Iraqi government which are driving economic growth in Iraq. Most of the growth is homegrown and in direct response to the failures of those governments. People have had to take their welfare into their own hands.

It’s an interesting post, and one well worth reading and thinking hard about as we debate this issue in the coming year. Big points to Iraqslogger, by the way for reprinting it. I criticized them for seeming nakedly biased, and my criticism may have been premature – I hope so.

Happy New Year, Everyone

- even hypocrisyrules and Andrew Lazarus! Here’s hoping 2007 allows us to continue debating and maybe even learning together here at Winds.

In the real world, may each of you have a year without too much high drama. Boring is OK, you know.

And for all the troops and others who are in harm’s way – may you all outlive this year and come safe home, covered in honor.