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Liberal Iranian
Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Intellectual Connivance
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Ideas are arguably the most powerful tool humans have. This statement is self-referring, as it is itself an idea. It is very broad and covers many facets of our lives; from involuntary impulses that cause us to act in certain ways in response to certain stimuli, to grand decisions we make over a prolonged period of time and after painstaking scrutiny of the situation at hand. Moral statements are also ideas, indeed theories, that seek to explain certain phenomena and provide us with solutions to problems that arise in those phenomena.

This picture suggests that we must feel responsible for our share of processing ideas that we perform even through our everyday, mundane, conversations with family and friends. This is true, even though we lack a satisfactory system of defining and exacting that responsiblity in a way that could be relied on in the public sphere, say, in courts. Indeed, such exacting may well be impossible without jeopardizing personal freedoms, and thus must be avoided in a free society. However, in our own personal conscience, we must be aware of this responsiblity.

There is one case of this responsibilty, for which, I believe, the liberal man is compelled to make a distinction in that, even though the responsibility may not be determined in a socially acceptable fashion, he must strive to make it clear in his own personal circle. It is when a person or a group of people take sides with an idea whose clear and direct effect is to destroy the basic civil liberties and, most of the time, indeed the very livelihood of a group of people who are themselves not involved in any demonstrable illegal or immoral activity. A case in point is the advocacy in some layers of young Iranian diaspora for the evil remarks of the President of Iran's Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, regarding the Holocaust and his attitude towards Western democracies. Those who advocate these ideas, even if they profess not to be supporters of Ahmadinejad, are accomplices in the intellectual act of spreading and promoting such evil ideas, and turning them into lasting memes.

In the political arena, this situation is usually colored as black and white by politicians who tend to oversimplify the situation in order to maintain the support of their constituency or to make new recruits to their camp. Although this practice is inadequate and in cases of error simply perilous, there is a seed of truth in it. That is, such situations are usually so grave that it pays to gather the support of as many people as possible by explaining to them, even in oversimplified terms, what is at stake. This would be justified even if it alienates a minority who would see the complexity of the situation and be put off by such oversimplification. It is an unfortunate irony of life that, in these occasions the less sophisticated (who constitute a larger portion of most societies) would see and understand the situation better than the more sophisticated and analytic minds who, nevertheless, lack the sharp imagination necessary to go beyond the surface of the political game.

I believe it is justified to use such an oversimplification once we have demonstrated the case as one of such gravity to make little difference to include the more complicated dynamics. That is to say, this oversimplification is a good first approximation to the complete understanding of the problem and its solution. The first step of an intellectual assessment of such cases is indeed an answer to the ovesimplified question, are you with us or against us? This answer will set apart two moral paths. The liberal man must be clear about the one he must take, and denounce the intellectual connivance of those who are not. 
If contemporary philosophers wrote with clarity, brevity, and simplicity, far more people would read their philosophy.
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