Harris/Chomsky II

Harris’ thinly disguised “I’ve made up my mind and won’t listen to anyone about it anymore” statement fully demonstrates the problem I think I outlined in my previous entry. (No, those quotes aren’t real… he didn’t say that. It’s my interpretation of what Harris said.) Harris is so convicted by his idealism, he literally cannot hear his critics. His idealism has made the boundary between considering and not considering intentions artificially crisp. Such a boundary is actually quite fuzzy.

Chomsky gave zero indication that he thought intentions were never important. He only indicated that in this particular comparison (collateral damage from bombing a pharma plant vs. the 9/11 attack on the twin towers), the consideration of intention is not the most salient consideration. If I’m right that this was part of Chomsky’s argument, then I have to agree. (If it wasn’t part of his argument, then I’ll simply make the argument myself.)

Clinton (and the US government) was explicitly given the responsibility to consider the consequences of his actions. That’s one of the things for which we paid him … why we elected him. It’s part and parcel of his duty. That applies through the whole chain down to the soldiers who follow orders. This is one of the things that makes our military different from many others. Our soldiers are legally cupable for any illegal orders they obey. It is, in part, their duty to consider the consequences of their actions. This is especially true the higher up in the chain you go. The president, as Commander-in-Chief has a fiduciary duty to consider the consequences of his actions.

For Clinton to have considered the collateral damage and made the sickening, but perhaps necessary decision to purposefully kill those people who suffered from the lack of the pharma plant, would be morally difficult, but justified in a sense. But for him to fail to consider those consequences would be a dereliction of duty. By many standards, dishonor and failure to do one’s duty are considered more morally repugnant than purposeful (mass) murder. Bin Laden fulfilled his duty. Clinton did not.

So, Harris is quite free to disagree with the honor/duty standard. Most of Western culture has begun to degrade that standard and is opting for softer, more context-sensitive approaches. But for him to be completely blind to the point is surprising. And I believe it’s clearly Harris’ idealism that is preventing him from hearing the point. (The other option is cynical, that Harris simply wants attention and to save face.)


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