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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. 
Thursday, August 31, 2006
What's in a "Regret"?
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We hear that Nasrallah claims they would not have abducted two Israeli soldiers (and killed eight more) had they known it would start a war. That's a nice gesture, one that is sure to be used by an even larger number of people now to state that it was actually all Israel's fault to start a war that Hezbollah did not want. But then if Nasrallah truly regrets the well-planned kidnapping operation, perhaps Hezbollah is going to release the soldiers, now that it is certain their abduction did start a war? No, they are not! So, what's in Nasrallah's "regret"? Wishful reporting is the answer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
All Problems Are Existential
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I am putting forward a bold conjecture that, all problems are ultimately existential. By problems, I mean those situations that need resolution in terms of understanding or explanation. My argument is that, all such resolutions have evolutionary effects. Good resolutions are advantageous and bad ones disadvantageous. (This last sentence is really just a definition.) A small problem might have a minuscule evolutionary effect, but the fact that it has even a tiny bit is enough for it to be considered existential when acting over the large time scales on which evolution is felt. A posteriori, one can also argue that, if the resolution of a problem had no evolutionary effect whatsoever, there would be no reason to spend our time and resources on it. In other words, those who do spend their resources on such problems are at a disadvantage and must have been (or will be) deselected by evolution against others who don't. 
Monday, August 28, 2006
The Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, who has been called "the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer" and one of its "most distinguished defenders of individual rights," and "the best-known criminal lawyer in the world," considers one of the toughest questions of all, both moral and practical. 
Befuddled Chomsky
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On August 16, 2006 Akbar Ganji met for the second time with Noam Chomsky at MIT in Boston. Though it is a very strange choice of person to meet given that Ganji's writings in recent years have been laced with names, such as de Tocqueville and Popper, who are the intellectual antidote of whatever Chomsky says and stands for, the meeting may not have been comepletely without benefit. Here is my selective translation of parts of their dialogue in Persian, since I could not find an English source to quote:
Ganji: The picture you have of the government in the US is one that is completely non-democratic [...]
Chomsky: [...] Polls are freely available, but not in the media. [...] There is an open society. I repeat that the US is the freest society of the world. [...] You face a paradox: on the one hand there is an open and free society, and on the other people are deprived of information. [...]
Ganji: I don't think I got my answer. On the one hand, you say that the US is the freest country of the world, and on the other that, there is a vast public dissatisfaction. I ask why this dissatisfaction does not turn into a social movement? If you ask me why public dissatisfaction is not seen in Iran, I answer that one of the important reasons is that the regime strongly suppresses any social activity by the dissatisfied. The regime claims that the NGOs pursue a velvet revolution. The bus drivers' gatherings were brutally suppressed and many were arrested. Women's gathering in Tehran was severly suppressed. Now, even the kind of student gatherings that existed before Khatami are banned. But you say that the US is the freest country of the world, so what is keeping the people of the US from expressing their views or peacefully demonstrating?
Chomsky: When I say that we have the freest socity in the world, I mean that over the years many popular movements have succeeded. [...] It took over a century for the capitalists in the US and Britain to relaize that they cannot block people's will through violent means. In both countries, which are the freest countries of the world, they have taken on new ways of suppression [...] like controlling the media. When you turn on the TV you see a superficial life. [...]
I just hope that Ganji sees that Chomsky is ultimately unable to form even a single rational thought on the question he is asking. The simplest consequence of Chomsky's claim that the media are controlled in the US and Britain would be that they are not free societies at all, let alone the freest in the world. But he chooses the way of insanity and claims both. In contrast, Ganji's first-hand experience of the tyranny in Iran has shown him what real oppression is and how it is implemented in reality. I hope he sees the true message of his meeting with Chomsky: never listen to him again