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The Magistrate

The Magistrate's Journal
The Magistrate's Journal
August 17, 2013

I Expect They Did See It Coming, Sir, And Thought They Would Win

Some in that body may still think that.

As you observe, this is an episode in a long fight, and while there has certainly been long blood between the military and the Brotherhood in Egypt, it really does go beyond that. Islamic societies in the Near East particularly have faced, since the first serious colonial intrusions in the nineteenth century, a struggle over to how to react to the evident fact of their weakness relative to Christendom, the European powers, the West, call it what you will, from the start and down the years. It is a thing made all the more bitter by the conviction of inherent superiority which is a strong motif in Islamic history and a notable feature of its doctrine. One strain of thought, obviously, has been to imitate the West, to do what it has done, and this line, from the late nineteenth century, has given rise to various nationalist, secularist, and modernist movements. Another line has held that re-assertion of fundamental principles, return to the old ways towards which the deity manifested favor, is the only solution, and within this line, there has been a further split, between those who feel that some Western elements can be adopted for use without entailing the full corruption of the West, and those who feel that anything beyond the purely mechanical must be rejected entire of the deity's favor is to be achieved.

It is an odd feature of history that when societies find themselves at the sort of disadvantage those of Near East found themselves at relative to European powers in the nineteenth century, it is often the military which emerges as the champion of progressive development. This is because, when a society is in a pre-modern, semi-feudal state ( which the Near East was under the rule of the Ottoman in the nineteenth century ), just about everything from improved routines of taxation and increased economic activity to better education and sanitation and improved farming methods, will redound to an increase in military power, translating directly into better soldiers and better weapons for them, and better means to assemble and move them.

Thus the military of a country has often been the spearhead of what a Marxist would refer to as 'the social revolution', the revolution that overthrows a feudal order, a theocratic order, and establishes a modern order, or at least a more modern order, on bourgeois or capitalist lines. A degree of social liberalization is often the accompaniment of this movement, though its authors frequently have no particular interest in such. For however much military elements may see the benefits of social progress for the efficiency of their trade, and so in some circumstances will take very advanced positions on matters economic or industrial or educational, it is also true that military leadership tends to hold extremely conservative views where social and cultural mores are concerned. It is this duality, of desiring some of the fruits of modernity while abhoring others, which ensures that this sort of 'military progressivism' generally produces a social order in which individual liberty and expression meets many restrictions on a personal and political level.

In modern Egyptian history, the military has played this role of 'vanguard party of the social revolution'. In doing so, it was opposed by not only the colonial power of England, and its late puppet, King Farouk, but also by the political and social elements which believed the proper balance of power between Islamic societies and the modern West could only be achieved by re-assertion of the fundamental practices of Islam itself, that the weakness of the place owed not to any flaw in or failure of Islam itself, but to the corruption of Islam, and the backsliding from its ways, which had set in since the glorious days of its foundation, when Islam had swept all before it and been the apex of civilization. While this conflict was pressed with arms from the Islamic side, it would not have to be so pressed to still represent a deadly and irreconcilable conflict with the line see by military leadership as best for its power and the society it was rooted in.

I expect there may have been some brief period after Mubarak's ouster when the military leadership, or at least elements in it, thought some commonality with the Moslem Brotherhood might be managed, since the two parties are in substantial agreement on questions of social and cultural mores. But this cannot have lasted very long, as the commonalities are surface things, and the conflicting elements lie deep in the nature and direction of the two forces.

What we are going to learn as time goes by is which side of this has correctly assessed its actual strength, and which side has over-played its hand....

May 30, 2013

I Expect They Will Find This Specimen, Sir: It Will Be Fun

The whole 'law-abiding gun owner' line is in the same class as 'jumbo shrimp': the demands of their fantasy lives as heroic slayers of 'thugs' and resistors to 'tyranny' require them to adopt an attitude of 'bending the rules' and 'defying authorities' in the pinch when the gun is in hand. So their actual attitude to the law is not 'I will obey the law' but rather 'I will decide which laws I will obey', and yet still their own conviction they are righteous and law-abiding people allows them to feel they are not criminally inclined when they harbor the intent to break laws at will, and even to believe that they are not criminals when they actually break laws.

March 25, 2013

A Couple Of Points, Sir

Offered in part, certainly, as advocatus diaboli, but also in recognition that there is some sense behind the classic conservative view.

The classic conservative view of social and political life was originally rooted in the very idea you describe as essential to progressivism, namely that things are imperfect, and tend to get worse. Starting from this ground, any change, any alteration in things as they are, is viewed by a classic conservative as a deterioration, as this principle of increasing imperfection in operation. The classical conservative considers the imperfection of things to be so inherent a feature of life that he or she must reject the very idea that perfection is possible, and so must regard proposals for improvement are mere moonshine at best, and deliberate fraud at worst, since the thing itself, moving towards perfection amid imperfection, simply cannot be done.

The progressive view is rooted in the idea that social and political life, imperfect as they obviously are, can be improved, can be moved towards perfection, at least, and that perhaps even perfection itself can be achieved. Put bluntly, it is a course fraught with peril, involving as it must novelty and experimentation in uncharted terrain, since perfection, both sides of this agree, is terra novis and exists only in speculation and ideal, and any number of instances where attempts at improvement proved to be anything but may be adduced from history. A deep conviction of the wrongness, of the operation towards evil, in a present state of imperfection is needed to steel people to the conviction it is worth the risks of attempting change.

Modern 'conservatism', examined closely, actually has adopted the basic root of the progressive view, namely that perfection is possible. What it views as perfection is, certainly, very different from what a progressive would consider perfection, but the very belief that an ideal condition, even one couched as a return to a traditional past which was perfect, which embodied the ideal state of social and political life, is a profound break with classical conservative thought. What calls itself 'conservative' nowadays in our country is in fact an extreme radicalism, aiming at revolution with the intent of perfecting society, even humanity itself.

"This is the best world possible; everything in it is a necessary evil"

"Most problems began as solutions."

March 9, 2013

Exactly, Ma'am

This has been one of my recurring points for a decade here.

If you are paid a salary, you are a worker, selling labor.

If you sell labor, you are a member of the working class, you are not part of the middle class, not part of the strata between the large owners of capital and the workers, not a bourgeois nor a petit bourgeois, not a professional in practice nor a man in trade in a small way or small proprietor --- you are a worker.

The fact is that, above almost anything else, work and people who do work are despised in our society and culture. A great deal of lip service is paid, and lip music played, to the opposite claim, that work is the highest value, but this is a deep, damnable lie. We value the grifter, the speculator, the fellow who finds an end around and gets there easy before the rest, the fellow who can set himself up to take advantage of all the poor slobs who have to go to work for a living, and never has to llft a finger for himself, unless it is to wave the waiter over with another drink....

February 6, 2013

A Note On 'Drone Strikes', Ladies And Gentlemen

The largest problem in discussion of this matter is that it does not fit neatly into familiar categories, leaving people to choose that which suits them best, rather than that which might be the most accurate fit.

The source of this poor fit with existing categories is that what is actually occurring is a passage of hostilities between a state actor and a non-state actor, namely the United States and a loose-knit movement of Islamic fundamentalists who manage to wield on occasion in places military power approximating that of an established state.

That such hostilities exist, and are pressed from both sides, is beyond argument: that is a fact. One may view the hostilities as more or less justified from either side, or as being of one degree of seriousness rather than another, and adopt a view accordingly of what policies may be most appropriate to their conduct, but to deny that such a state of mutual, and mutually pressed, hostilities exists, is to remove oneself from sensible conversation, waving a flag inscribed 'Carry on without me, folks, I am not taking this any more seriously than you ought to take me.'

Traditionally, states faced with hostilities pressed by a non-state actor refuse to treat adherents of the non-state body as belligerents, but rather consider them simply as common criminals, engaged in a variety of felonies. This is, however, a political decision, not something required by existing law. States make this decision, when they do, because they feel it casts the non-state actor in a bad light, and makes it easy for people to ignore the political aims of the non-state body, so that no one needs bother considering whether these aims are legitimate or not. The benefits to a state from this course are obvious, but it does come at some cost, at least to a state which has some tradition of liberty under law. This cost is restriction of state action against the hostile non-state actor to the bounds of ordinary police enforcement of criminal law; the whole panoply of warrants for search and arrest, trial with evidence and defense, and so forth. This can render dealing with the hostile non-state body somewhat more difficult, and more time consuming, all of which may well allow the hostile non-state body appreciably greater scope for action.

But a state may well decide, and certainly is within its rights to decide, to treat the non-state body pressing hostilities against it as a belligerent party, as an object for the war-fighting power of the state to engage. While this does elevate the political status of the non-state actor somewhat, the state may gain benefits more than commensurate with this. Put bluntly, at war, the state is free from any constraints of police enforcement and court adjudication of criminal law in its treatment of adherents to the the non-state body it regards as being at war with it. No one ever served a search warrant on a pill-box, no one ever set out to place members of an enemy infantry regiment under arrest and bring them to trial. Enemy combatants in the field are simply killed, and if taken alive, are simply held prisoner until hostilities are concluded. The state is bound only by treaties it has entered into regarding the conduct of war, into which concepts of criminal law and civil liberties simply do not enter.

The third possible category which exists is insurrection. Insurrection must arise within the bounds of a state, and be conducted by persons who are inhabitants or citizens of the state, and are expected to show it loyalty accordingly. If one takes an expansive view of the United States as Empire, it would be possible to class the hostilities the loose-knit body of Islamic fundamentalists are pressing against the United States as insurrection: one would have to regard them as subjects of the Empire, whose writ runs over the whole of the Islamic world. If one does view the thing as, in some sense, an insurrection against imperial rule, the thing is simply brought back to the case of warfare, for a state's or an empire's relation to an insurrection is one of war, where the insurrection is powerful enough to maintain control of some portion of territory within its bounds, and field organized armed forces. This condition, as a matter of fact, obtains in several places at present ( providing one is prepared to accept, even if only for purposes of argument, that those places are within the imperial bounds of the United States ).

It is the presence of citizens of the United States among the adherents of the non-state body engaged in hostilities which gives this categorical uncertainty ( or in some cases, deliberate blurring ) its great heat. Such persons, if the matter is regarded as not being warfare ( commonly on the grounds that war occurs only between states ), would be entitled to the full range of protections and rights under the Constitution. If the matter is regarded as warfare, however ( on the reasonable ground that the non-state body they have cast their lot with meets the qualifications for a belligerent party ), then such persons are simply enemies in the field, and liable to all the hazards of participation in war against a state, with their citizenship becoming immaterial, save for its placing them at hazard of prosecution for treason should they be taken alive.

My personal view is that the matter ought to be regarded as warfare. A citizen of the United States who adheres to an external body engaged in hostilities with the United States is just one more combatant in the field against the United States, with no right to be treated as anything but a combatant in the field against the United States. It is proper for the authorities of the United States to continue to treat such a person as a citizen, if he is taken alive. But the authorities of the United States are under no obligation to take extraordinary steps to take him alive, rather than kill him in the course of military operations against the belligerent party he has joined.

And to forestall likely reflexive responses, had the previous administration killed al' Alawi in the Yemen, my attitude would not be different by a whisker.

May 15, 2012

Among The Problems Here, Sir, is That The Rewards Of Defeat Need To Balance Those Of Victory

No real risk is taken if no real suffering attends the person who takes the risk when it comes a cropper.

Where the rewards are so outlandish as those received by modern financiers and chief executives, the penalties must be similarly outlandish if the system is to have any balance. For instance, to take one from today's head-lines: the losses at J. P. Morgan. A few people are being put out of their offices, forced to live on their millions of dollars of capital --- hardly a fate to reckon with even looking from the short end at long odds. Something ranging from confiscation of all assets to make good what can be on the losses, to breaking on the wheel in a public square, would seem a proper balance for the enticement of the millions and billions held out as reward.

The fact is that these purported 'risk-takers' risk nothing at all themselves. They put at hazard the savings and employment and lives of many other people, but put at stake for themselves only their current place in the game. They want risk premiums, but only from a fully insured position.

May 8, 2012

A Thorough Conventional Analysis, Sir, Which Does Point Up the Real Problem

Which is that these people are fundamentally frivolous, without any sound core of judgement, and led by the nose over trifles. Your third element comes the closest to presenting anything of substance, and even it boils down to describing a complete incapacity to outgrow childhood illusions.

Most expressions of support for 'other demographics' are not framed as 'implicit and frequently explicit attack on white men': many white men past a certain age, particularly in rural and southern locales, take them as 'explicit attack on white men' because they understand they do occupy, and feel entitled to occupy, a position of inherent superiority in a caste system of race and gender, which they cling to for solace against other unpleasant and disappointing facts of their lives. So long as they continue to draw much of their sense of self-worth from this caste superiority, it will not be possible for anyone to frame 'support for other demographics' in a way that such people will not take as 'implicit and frequently explicit attack on white men', because by their lights, that is exactly what 'support for other demographics' is, and from their point of view, they are quite accurate in seeing that to be so. It is not, in other words, a problem that can be fixed, at least on the terms stated. You are essentially suggesting that people be sure their complaints concerning being treated as inferiors be couched in terms that will not ruffle the feathers of those who feel themselves superior to them.

Umbrage at 'political correctness' is a longstanding staple; most of us even on the left have our own humorous examples of earnest excess. But the long rightist protest against it is as bogus as it is inane; all it actually is is the ringing proclamation 'Damn it, I'm a jerk, I like being a jerk, I intend to go on being a jerk, fuck you if don't like my being a jerk --- me being a jerk is the height of human Liberty!' People who take up that cry ought to be laughed at, slapped, shamed in whatever manner is most immediately available and appropriate, and the treatment continued till they learn to grow up show some sense.

Now this comment of yours actually does state the problem, and does so very well: "When you've grown up preached to daily that the country is the paragon of freedom, the bastion of Christianity, and the unchallenged leader in all metrics of good and right, and that it is the white male's bounden duty as the privileged holder of the reins of power to keep it so, much of the message that it is guilty of enormous wrongdoing, lagging behand in basic humanity, and laughably naive theologically, however true, will not win your hearts and minds." The problem is that the people we are discussing actually do believe this, and yet to all appearances are fully grown adults, often with grey heads and beards, and a person who can reach adult stature, even an elder's state, and still believe this labors under serious moral and mental deficiencies. They not only live in a state of profound delusion, they require it as an essential prop to their image of themselves and their place in the world. You might as well try and convince a person laboring under paranoiac delusion that the world really is not plotting against him: he knows damned well it is, and takes a certain satisfaction from the prominence this entails, and the best you will manage is to convince him you are an especially oily servant of the great Combine dedicated to his downfall.

No remotely mainstream political figure on the left, certainly no one running for office, really talks of 'starving the MIC'': the stream-lining and improving line you suggest is the one actually employed, not that this makes a tinker's damn worth of difference. Solid majorities of the people in this country, including majorities among Republicans, want the Afghan business brought to a halt, and soon. And again, the line actually being pressed by political figures is exactly the one you suggest, and it does not seem to make a smidgen of difference to the attitudes these people display in a voting booth. All down the line, your fourth point is already being implemented, and with scant apparent success.

The final thing is the most frivolous of all. We will put to one side argument over how harassed by thousands of laws the poor fellow who owns a gun might or might not be. Whatever the burden, it does not seem to have put any crimp in the steady increase in gun sales and possession. But the real gist of the 'gun issue' is absolute hysteria, deliberately fomented by a few organizations on the right. Those who make 'gun rights' their sole, or even a major, criterion of how they will vote, are showing a instinct for the capillary, revealing an inability to give proper weights to matters of state and state policy: lacks which tell strongly against the sense of innate superiority they so often seem to feel their inalienable possession.

January 1, 2012

For The Year's End, My Friends: Aeroplane In A Bottle....

This is my favorite of the models I have done over the past year. It is a Caudron G.VI, scratch-built in 1/72 scale (six feet to the inch). Though a major part of French equipment during 1917, it has fallen into obscurity even among students of the period, and it is only fair to mention it had a reputation as a very difficult machine to fly, being both prone to spin and very hard to pull out of a spin once one was begun.

This particular machine, C5472, was part of Escadrille C575, formed at Port Said in August of 1918, and retained as a mainstay of French air power in the region, based at Beirut, till 1921.

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