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April 16, 2003

Reading comprehension, and other problems
Posted by Teresa at 06:59 PM *

I see from Technorati that I’m getting linked to by various blogs that are full of spluttering indignation about how I obviously value a museum full of trinkets over the lives and liberty of the poor oppressed Iraqi people.

Well, no. That’s neither true, nor what I said. These people don’t read too well.

The big lie is that the looting and general disorder was a necessary tradeoff for freedom. The blowhards are out in force: You must not care about all those Iraqi babies Saddam was eating for dinner! I care more about the Iraqi people than about a few trinkets, huh huh huh!

(There’s a new one: bleeding-heart freepers. They didn’t care about the Iraqi people last week and they won’t care about them next week. It’s just their football cheer of the moment. The advent of the internet has made so many things possible. Self-published recreational journalism has always been around; but back when you had to at least learn to run a mimeograph, and you had to pay postage to distribute your deathless prose, people who didn’t actually have much to say for themselves found other hobbies.)

Anyway, it’s complete balderdash. This failure to maintain public order, and the consequent catastrophic looting (which has not been limited to museums), is happening because our leaders screwed up. Our troops are stretched so thin that they couldn’t afford to move a squad and a Bradley three hundred yards down the street to keep a major institution from getting trashed. Days after the outcry over the museums, they couldn’t keep the National Library from being burnt.

How many times have we heard now that we’re more or less in control of Baghdad?

If you want to invoke babies, we can discuss the costs of massive social disorder. This is from Salon’s piece on the looting of Mosul (formerly Niniveh), from a reporter who got there not long after Rumsfeld announced that the city had been taken by a mixture of US special forces and peshmerga:
April 12, 2003 | MOSUL, Iraq — A little girl in a red velvet dress stood in the middle of the street on the outskirts of Mosul on Friday morning, holding a box. Traffic zoomed past her in both directions. She was hesitating, uncertain about which way to go, because she was transfixed by everything that was rushing past her. I saw the little girl in the street a second before the car in front of us ran her down. She must have been only five or six years old. The driver who hit her was trying to get his fair share of the loot, and because she was there in front of him, he hit her. She disappeared in the traffic for a moment, then—miraculously—stood up. The car had only knocked her down. She made her way to the median and looked shocked and sad; her parents were gone, or perhaps were busy trying to get something for themselves. Her mouth filled with blood. Behind her, a supermarket burned.
You may take it as axiomatic that in a situation where there’s serious looting going on, there’s also rape and casual brutality. You may also take it as axiomatic that where the looters have finished, the vandals and arsonists move in.

It is Saddam’s fault that he ran a violent and oppressive regime. It’s our fault that we’ve gone in to do too much with too few troops, lost control, and delivered the helpless people and institutions of Iraq into the hands of the worst elements of their own society. Every society has them, ours included.

And why did we screw up like that? Because the looters are destroying a lot of documents we’d just as soon went bye-bye.

Also because we don’t have the manpower. Our guys couldn’t protect Baghdad’s hospitals, so 39 out of 40 of those are gone, stripped to the walls. The banks are gone too; and if you think that’s trivial, imagine you’re an elderly Iraqi whose savings were in a bank that’s not only been robbed, but stripped of its computers, filing cabinets, furniture, light fixtures, and plumbing. Mom-and-pop stores are being pillaged. The offices responsible for dull but essential social services are being plundered for their office equipment and furniture. It’s ugly.

And why are our troops stretched so thin? Because when the war was in its planning stages, Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly dismissed and overruled the experienced military planners who told him how much force would be needed to invade Iraq. We have the troops. We have the equipment. Our annual military budget could practically have bought the country. More conventionally, we could have gone in with massive force and done everything in an orderly fashion, the way all our military doctrine says we should do it. But Rumsfeld said no.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: It was Rumsfeld’s decision, not some fuzzy misunderstanding shared between twenty officials in three different organizations. It’s documented. Rumsfeld repeatedly, personally, decisively, insisted on cutting troop allocations to a fraction of what was needed. He has his own cronies and advisers, and they’re at fault too; and of course George Bush okayed it so he’s responsible in the end; but this mess is as clearly Rumsfeld’s fault as anything in the history of military folly.

You want to talk about not supporting our troops? (Try to remember. It was last month’s football cheer.) Rumsfeld sent our guys into harm’s way with inadequate numbers and inadequate support. That’s why little 19-year-old supply clerks were getting shot to pieces. It’s why our soldiers have been having to use inappropriate munitions like cluster bombs, and in moments of stress and uncertainty have been shooting at civilians. It’s why we can’t spare the manpower to preserve hospitals and museums and essential government ministries from looters.

Since this is in fact a complete and godawful screwup, the mighty spinning Wurlitzer has come up with “it was the necessary price paid for the liberation of the Iraqi people.” And since these lines always come equipped with a concomitant “You must be a bad person if you don’t agree” bit of spinnage, we’re getting “You must care more about things than about people.”

(This is the heart of the deal for freepers. They get their regular dose of fictional indignation, which gets metabolized as cheap moral righteousness—and don’t ever let anybody tell you that isn’t an addictive vice. The concomitant “why those liberals are bad” line is for those who like to mix active bullying with their cheap moral glow. Next week it’ll be a different cause for indignation, and a different bit of abuse to throw at anyone who can be construed as disagreeing with them. There can’t much actual processing going on, because they never seem to notice when these spin cycles contradict the previous rounds. The ostensible content can’t be sticking in their memories.)

How many reasons have there been now for this war, and how thoroughly have they been discredited? Let’s see how many we can remember:

Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 attacks. Try as they will, Bush & Co. have never succeeded in manufacturing evidence that Iraq had anything to do with that.

Saddam is ignoring UN resolutions. Other nations have ignored UN resolutions, but we didn’t invade them. We’ve ignored UN resolutions ourselves. Besides, Saddam’s been ignoring UN resolutions for years. Why didn’t we go to war before? Why now? And please, don’t tell me that Bush & Co. have any actual respect for the UN.

Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Every piece of evidence advanced to substantiate this claim has collapsed, embarrassingly quickly, on inspection. Besides, it’s obvious that our leaders don’t believe the Iraqis have WMDs. They refused to wait for UN inspectors to finish looking for them before they sent in our troops, and they cut troop allocations down so low that we’ve had trouble just dealing with conventional weapons—both of which would have been insanely risky moves if the Iraqis had had WMDs. Then they bombed the site where the WMD records would have been kept, and didn’t investigate it afterward. Now they’re combing the country for WMDs that still aren’t turning up.

Saddam supports al-Qaeda. Saddam and al-Quaeda despise each other.

Saddam hasn’t given up fast enough or thoroughly enough. We were getting desperate by then.

We have to go to war because we’ve already gone to war. And furthermore, anyone who criticizes the conduct of the war at home or abroad is unpatriotic, probably a traitor, and is failing to support our troops (see above, “desperate”).

This is too working. It’s a good plan. We planned all along to take weeks taking Basra, get into an extended fight at Nasiriyah, and bog down in front of Baghdad. And furthermore, anyone who criticizes the conduct of the war at home or abroad is unpatriotic, probably a traitor, and is failing to support our troops (see above, “desperate”).

We are fighting to save the oppressed people of Iraq from further harm at the hands of the monster Saddam. The world’s full of oppressed people we aren’t helping. Why the Iraqis, why now? We supported Saddam’s regime for years when we knew perfectly well he was a psychotic bastard. And if rescuing the Iraqis was the idea all along, why aren’t we doing it? There should be massive amounts of help and support coming up behind our strike force. It isn’t there. And by the way, Bush’s latest budget has zero money allocated for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which we were also supposed to be saving from evil oppressors.

Saddam Hussein stole more than the looters did.

What a mighty and inspiring democratic slogan! It’s the latest musical phrase emitted by the mighty Wurlitzer: What’s been stolen by looters is less than what Saddam stole. Considering how many years he had to work, as compared to a week or so for the looters, this isn’t much of a recommendation. But it’s also a load of codswallop. First, as I pointed out earlier, looting-for-liberation wasn’t an inevitable tradeoff. Second, the list of reasons we’ve gone to war may be long and ever-changing, but “an improved kleptocracy for Iraq” has yet to appear on it.

Third, sorry, but the looting is worse. Saddam is/was a nasty bastard and a thief, but he was also a pro. He knew that if you want to maximize your rakeoff, putting the bite on profitable businesses and keeping society running is the gift that keeps on giving. He also knew that if you go around burning libraries and smashing up your cultural heritage, it just puts people’s backs up. Many of the things he stole still exist in recognizable form, as do the places from which he stole them. This is more than you can say for the National Library.

I’m not saying Saddam was a good guy in any way, shape, or form—and what a contemptible piece of calumny it is, to claim that anyone who criticizes our leaders and their war must needs be pro-Saddam. I’m saying that before, Baghdad and Mosul had libraries, museums, hospitals, stores, banks, social services, and a thousand and one other essential institutions. Now they don’t. There’s a world of suffering in that. It will go on, as will the pillaging.

Another line I’ve been hearing is that this is something the Iraqi people have done to themselves; so I’m going to talk now about rioters, looters, vandals, and arsonists.

Are the pillagers to blame? Yes, of course they are. They’ve wrecked and stolen and burned. It was wicked, and they are at fault. But in any society, ours included, there are people whose good behavior is wholly conditional on their estimate of the odds that they’ll be caught and punished. Part of the work of civilization is to help citizens grow up with a better sense of responsibility and cooperation than that; but I suspect we’re always going to have some people who’ll do whatever they can get away with.

A good way to get a sense of this is to look at employee theft, a relatively well-documented subject which has been studied over a very broad sample of the population. Experts in employee theft prevention estimate that 10-20% of all employees are honest. They won’t steal, no matter what else is going on. Another 10-15% will steal whenever they think they can get away with it. The rest might or might not, depending on need, opportunity, and whether or not they see someone else getting away with it.

That last one’s important. You can see it demonstrated during morning rush hour on the New Jersey Turnpike approaches to the Holland Tunnel, where there’s a traffic light with a very long timing cycle. A mile of cars will stack up while the incoming turnpike traffic waits for its turn. However, if you illegally drive in the breakdown lane, you can bypass them and go straight to the head of the line. Most drivers won’t do that. A few will. But if more than two or three cars go zipping past in the breakdown lane, you’ll see drivers who’ve been sitting patiently, awaiting their turn, start to pull out and do the same themselves.

So. Back to the looters. If you demolish the previous system for maintaining social order (irrespective of how evil or benevolent it was), and it then becomes clear that you’re not going to maintain law and order, you’re giving permission to that 10-15% who’re always waiting for an opportunity. Once those guys get going, visibly unchecked, the middle range will start to join in.

This is what’s behind the controversial practice of announcing, during episodes of temporary catastrophic disorder, that looters will be shot out of hand. The point isn’t that any particular looter deserves to die; it’s that looting will snowball if you don’t get it stopped fast. You want to head that off. Second order, you want to keep groups of looters from forming, and becoming more organized and violent.

There’ve been reports of COW troops explicitly encouraging gangs of young men to ransack properties that belonged to Saddam Hussein, his supporters, and the Baathist Party. Was this a deliberate attempt to destroy evidence? It might have been. But even if there was no such intention, it was still a strikingly bad idea. They were teaching those men to loot. Nothing was more predictable than that they’d keep looting, once the approved targets were used up.

There’ve been reports that the early rounds of museum looters, the ones that cleaned out the gold artifacts, went in hard and fast, and appeared to know what they were looking for. The indiscriminate ransacking mobs followed after, and then the vandals and arsonists. This was standard mob behavior; and again, it was entirely predictable. The same thing could have happened in Winnipeg or Houston.

(There’s a thought. Would Bush have laughed it off as “high spirits” if it had happened in Texas?)

So. Are the looters at fault? Sure. Are our leaders who created this situation at fault? Deeply. The damage has been horrendous. It’s still going on. And it’s happening on our watch.

Comments on Reading comprehension, and other problems:
#1 ::: Jaquandor ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:48 PM:

This is one of the finest posts about the whole Iraq matter, and the looting of the museums, I've seen anywhere. Bravo.

#2 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 09:53 PM:

Yes, I'm bookmarking this for reference so that, at the point that I run into people who believe that football cheers do a policy make, I can direct them to a salient analysis of the full situation.

Thank you.

#3 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:17 PM:

I started to remark that you didn't need to defend yourself--your point was clear for those with eyes to read--but, what a defense!

Now I'm a member of the "rabid left" according to one of your critics. Heh. (as Comrade Professor Reynolds likes to say.)

#4 ::: Dustin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2003, 10:41 PM:

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

#5 ::: pixie ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:12 AM:

Goodness, I can't imagine why you'd be worried about what those people have to say.

Your post was beautifully written, and the follow-ups were each a piece of poetry, unique in themselves but utterly cohesive together. You should be proud of that post, it was wonderful, terrible, powerful and sacred.

However, your retort was excellent as well. Keep up the good work.

#6 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:20 AM:

"It's just their football cheer of the moment."

Um. Football?

I think you'll find that football fans are as varied a bunch as, well.

Those bozos, those human parrots, those fools you describe are just as annoying when they cheer professional sports as they are when they blither about politics, though they're much less consequential there. No team ever went to the Superbowl because the dittoheads flooded the talk shows.

#7 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 02:27 AM:

Thank you for reading my mind, my friends' minds, and the minds of oh so many people around the world and writing down what we all think in such a wonderfully eloquent and sharp, yet polite manner.

#8 ::: marna ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 04:18 AM:


#9 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 05:46 AM:

You folks clearly don't understand that ...

(Oops. Back up and try again:)

How about: "We had to destroy the country in order to liberate it"?

(Carved on Rummy's tombstone, for preference.)

As for democracy, I fear the tone in Iraq has already been set by the US Marine Corps firing on the first spontaneous post-Ba'ath era political demonstrations.

I fear for our future.

#10 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:49 AM:

Teresa, I'd offer to marry you, but as that is currently impractical for at least four different reasons, take a round of applause instead.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 11:30 AM:


#12 ::: Mark Bourne ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:07 PM:

It's not often that something makes me smile while simultaneously making me bone-deep sad.

That's a fine, fine piece, Teresa. I wish that saying "ditto" didn't feel so freepishly silly and inadequate.

#13 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 12:27 PM:

Thank you, thank you! I've been getting troll e-mail about my post on the libraries, pretty much singing the same song. I've linked to this; it's a much better answer than I ever could have given.

#14 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:06 PM:

Pretty well written. Don't agree with the stance, but good plot.

#15 ::: Mark Bourne ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:45 PM:


Experts: Looters had keys to Iraqi vaults:

Some of the looters who ravaged Iraqi antiquities appeared highly organized and even had keys to museum vaults and were able to take pieces from safes, experts said Thursday at an international meeting.

One expert said he suspected the looting was organized outside the country.


"It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate planned action," said McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad. "They were able to take keys for vaults and were able to take out important Mesopotamian materials put in safes."

"I have a suspicion it was organized outside the country, in fact I'm pretty sure it was," Gibson said. He added that if a good police team was put together, "I think it could be cracked in no time."


#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:50 PM:

Carlos, I didn't mean any disrespect to football or to football fans, except of course for the ones whom you don't like, who I'm sure are vile.

What I meant was that the actual meaning of the freepish slogans of the moment usually amounts to "yay rah our side, boo hiss to yours." They have the appearance of meaning, but they don't seem to link up conceptually with other material over time, nor be retained in active memory.

#17 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:55 PM:

Teresa, if I was not at work I would stand up and cheer -- well done. (Hmmm, I could shut the door . . .)

#18 ::: Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 01:55 PM:

Our genial hostess skrev:

the actual meaning of the freepish slogans of the moment usually amounts to "yay rah our side, boo hiss to yours."

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singin' songs and carryin' signs
Mostly sayin' "Hooray for our side"...

-- Neil Young, "For What It's Worth" (1967)

#19 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 04:20 PM:

Something new on this front - Bush Cultural Advisers Quit Over Iraq Museum Theft (Reuters)

The head of a U.S. presidential panel on cultural property has resigned in protest at the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.

"It didn't have to happen," Martin Sullivan said of the objects that were destroyed or stolen from the Iraqi National Museum in a wave of looting that erupted as U.S.-led forces ended President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s rule last week. Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for eight years, said he wrote a letter of resignation to the White House this week in part to make a statement but also because "you can't speak freely" as a special government-appointed employee.
The president appoints the 11-member advisory committee. Another panel member, Gary Vikan, also plans to resign because of the looting of the museum.

Nope, I don't think this has the legs to become a 2004 political issue (at least in this country). I can dream though . . .

#20 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 04:32 PM:

The committee he was the chair of was the Cultural Property Advisory Committee which is appointed by the President to advise the State Department on the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

It looks like he was one of the most senior advisers to the government on just this issue. They gave the advice, but it wasn't listened to.

#21 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 06:24 PM:

> Neil Young, "For What It's Worth" (1967)

Steve Stills (back when he was seen as Neil's peer)

#22 ::: Abby ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 07:08 PM:

*salutes you*

#23 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:45 PM:

I suppose asking these comprehension-impaired souls who reads your blog to them would be just plain mean...

#24 ::: Demosthenes ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 09:51 PM:

Very, very well written, Teresa. very little to add to this entry, and much to learn from it.

#25 ::: Madeleine Reardon Dimond ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 10:48 PM:

Thank you, Teresa, for expressing what I think and feel in a coherent, intelligent, considerate manner. These qualities were the first casualties in the war.

It's truly a wonderful essay.


#26 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2003, 11:10 PM:

This is a fine, fine post, Teresa. I'm both impressed, and moved. Thanks.

#27 ::: Dano ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 02:19 AM:

I write a lot (grad student).

I must say that wherever you were when the muse visited must be indescribable.

That was really something. I'm sorry you had to write it, but if something good comes of this, you made a difference

#28 ::: Jm Trchr ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 09:12 AM:

Tht ws brthtkng. 'm gng t rd tht t ld t th nxt frry cnfrnc!

#29 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 11:38 AM:

Well (and necessarily) said, all of it.

#30 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 11:54 AM:

I too would volunteer to marry Teresa, but since she's no longer a Mormon, that would be bigamy. (It'd be big of all of us involved, in fact.)

And it would also seem to be a tad redundant, as my comic book collection somehow seems to be her communal property anyway...

#31 ::: Airmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 02:21 PM:

Well done.

#32 ::: john steppling ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 02:54 PM:

yes, as everyone has said, an excellent post. The looting and burning seems to have served as a de-facto destruction of cultural well as everything else you've clearly noted. And to have to listen to Rummie and his pals put the spin on this is to experience language at its most debased.

#33 ::: Brian C.B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 03:16 PM:

You've done such a splendid job of marshalling your own outrage at Anglo-American conduct in Baghdad and blogging it (so much better than what I've done with mine, which is post snatches if similar sentiment in blog commentaries all around the Internet, between bouts of pounding my head against the wall in sorrow for the war losses) that, if you persist, I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to ask that you have my baby. And no one wants to see that happen, least of all my wife and kids.

You have been warned.

#34 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2003, 05:50 PM:


Not only have you written a wonderful essay, but you've done a great service to those of us dealing with freepers, allowing us to just link to it so say, "What she said."

I've been over at an otherwise remarkable poetry forum having someone accuse me of inventing my interest in antiquities just as something to attack Bush with. I suppose this means I must have also invented a time machine so I could go back to the eighties to somehow influence my then-self to get the degree in anthropology which I now have, forgetting that if I hated Bush that much, I might have better uses for a time machine.

Freeper projection seems to be a real problem.

I've also encountered the "art or babies" thing over there too. Where does this meme come from? Was there some Batman episode I missed where the Joker had Shirley Temple and the Mona Lisa suspended over a vat of acid and Batman could save only one?

Actually, that's more of a Two-Face scheme, but same dif.

#35 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 11:51 AM:

Joe Conason writes in Reading these stories, I have wondered what the first lady thinks about the artistic and literary wreckage in Iraq. She is, after all, a former librarian, who now oversees the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries and serves as honorary chair of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Just a few days before the library burned down in Baghdad, Mrs. Bush had proclaimed National Library Week. (This year's theme is "At Your Library," although perhaps it should be "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.") Mrs. Bush could surely prevail on her husband and his loutish advisors to protect whatever is left of Mesopotamia's legacy. They didn't listen to the experts, but maybe they will listen to the first lady. Urgent but polite letters asking her to intervene can be sent in care of her foundation:

For what at least one British conservative thinks about the situation, see Rod Liddle's article in The Spectator.

#36 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2003, 06:11 PM:

Hi Teresa,

Just wanted to let you know that I quoted most of this essay on my personal journal, because it just says so many things I've been trying to articulate this past week, in a much clearer fashion than I ever could. Figured I should just be open about my pilfering-with-credit. Thanks for the great writing!


#37 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2003, 11:07 AM:

Yonmei -- the Spectator article is chilling. It's bad enough to see the people who wanted war to put more of the world's oil in hands of a friendly regime (which is different from the way war-for-oil was usually put, and IMO more plausible), and to see that Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush didn't give a damn about cultural treasures, or to see the benefits US corporations are getting from unbid reconstruction contracts. But the possibility that the museum was deliberately unprotected for the benefit of private interests is appalling.
(I find myself wondering what Ron Liddle thinks about that perpetual sore point, the Greek demands for return of the Parthenon (aka Elgin) friezes?)

#38 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 12:38 AM:


You are not alone -- I have been called "that Vera woman was clearly the worst" here for abandoning babies and saving museums:

By the way, excellent post on your part.

#39 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 03:05 AM:

Incidentally, I posted a response to some of this on my online journal here:

#40 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 05:32 PM:


You basically asked: how in the world can this NOT be a difficult decision?

These are the same people who have always asked "Of what practical use is your discovery?" and say "Everything important has already been invented.", or who can't really understand that the future is going to be really different. In short, Mundanes.

But perhaps 'Mundane' isn't an entirely useful epithet. Virginia Postrel has suggested a new pair of terms that describes a political polarity to replace the old left/right or slightly newer authoritarian/libertarian approaches; Dynamist vs. Stasist.

In short, the view that the past is important to rediscover and remember, in order to facilitate future serendipitous growth and progress, is essentially a Dynamist one. The Stasist view is either reactionary (seeking to impose a recent past golden age when things were 'better'), or technocratic (one where future progress must be imposed from above), and sometimes both. In any case, a Stasist wouldn't assign much value to ancient history, if they think about it at all.

#41 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:26 AM:

The Stasist view -- that's the one that the Stasi had, yes?

#42 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 10:16 AM:


Yes, thank you! That is exactly the heart of my argument that this should be a difficult decision to make. The issue of Iraqi specifics was a springboard for a general theoretial argument on the nature of "what is important."

And it is rather amusing in a sad way to see how some people are incapable of reading just what is written, and instead read what they want to see to support their own tunnel vision.

Mine was a rant not just in support of the cultural heritage but also against such narrowmindedness, such emotional righteousness.

Another "rant" will follow later today as soon as I get home from my night shift and FTP unpload the journal entry.

Read it in about three hours from now. :-)

#43 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:06 PM:

Vera, you're welcome.

The whole 'people vs. things' argument completely misses the point that these 'things' are merely the physical embodiment of something that is actually immaterial.

We can always up the stakes a bit. Let's say, a baby vs. an unspecified scientific discovery? Vs. a discovery that *may* lead to a cure for cancer? Vs. all non-human life in Australia? On the planet? Vs. the entire history of an alien civilization? Heck, how about vs. an indisputable example of non-terrestrial life?

Oh, I know, let's just make it one baby vs. freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. After all, *obviously* saving a single baby's life is more important than something abstract like freedom and democracy, right?

'Things'. Pfeh.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a failure of imagination.

Paula, just in case the needle on my humor-meter is sticking, 'Stasist' is derived from static, as opposed to dynamic. 'Statist' was already taken. I reccomend the book 'The Future and it's Enemies' (synopsis) by Virginia Postrel.

#44 ::: Thomas Yager-Madden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:26 PM:

Just wanted to had another "very well done" to the richly deserved chorus. This is as brilliant as a brilliant brilliant thing that's brilliant.

#45 ::: Joseph ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 01:56 AM:

From a new reader of your blog:

Congratulations, Ms. Hayden. You made very good, very cogent points.

Me, I figured that the 'babies vs. things' argument was blown out the water when not even hospitals were safe from looting. How can you claim saving babies over "value-less trinkets" is more important when you don't even ensure hospitals be secured from these looters? But that's just my two cents.

Anyway, bravo on your stand...

(Sorry for my grammar...)

#46 ::: Anthony VanWagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 02:44 AM:

"Saddam supports al-Qaeda. Saddam and al-Quaeda despise each other."

That is pretty much clueless. I have been hearing this from the Left for a while. It reminds me of the pure rubbish that Sunnis and Shiites won't ever work together.

Please read this entry for another view.

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