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Eric X Li, Chinese pluralism vs. Western universality

As regular readers of this blog may know, we are fans of Eric X. Li. In this video below at the Aspen Institute, Anand Giridharadas (of NYT) interviewed him in front of a live audience. As Giridharadas said at the introduction, Eric indeed shakes the foundation of prevailing Western views present in the room. I especially liked his confident and forthright answers to a shaken audience towards the end. Eric characterized the Western peddling of values with universality – (in my view, a form of intolerance, really) – and the Chinese non-interference and acceptance of each culture’s values is in fact pluralism – IS SPOT ON. The video is a bit over an hour, but we highly recommend it.

[Editor Note: Please also see follow-up post by Melaktaus titled “The need for clarity“]

  1. March 2nd, 2012 at 01:04 | #1

    This is a good video. It’s targeted more at a Western audience than a Chinese audience (hence we don’t mind sharing it on youtube) and is worth viewing. If nothing else, it worth seeing someone articulate thoughts that buck the typical ideological muck you see most days…

    A few thoughts.

    1. discussing “freedom of speech” and Ai wei wei, someone asked whether there are unjust laws and whether ALL laws must be followed. Eric answered there could be unjust laws but not where Ai wei wei is concerned. I thought Eric could have gone further. In fact, Eric should have used the opportunity to articulate that in traditional Chinese societies, notions of justice – more than law – regulated affairs of mankind. It is ironic that many Western scholars have harped how backward Chinese law is. It might look backward because we are intending it to do what they were never meant to do: in traditional Chinese societies, laws were never intended as the “primary” way of regulating people’s lives as they are in the West!

    So yes – laws can be unjust when they violate the norms and values set by the Chinese society and culture.

    Now – regarding freedom of speech and the issue whether people should have a right to protest unjust laws, I’d have answered yes. But you must follow norms of the society. (In this case, the norms against subversion of the state happen also to be clearly codified in law.) In particular, about whether a non-democratically elected gov’t can be responsive to people’s needs. Today, in particular, the gov’t actively takes an interest in what people write, say, blog, etc… The people have a voice – perhaps more than the shame of elections we have in the West. It’s a consultative process. You can work with the gov’t – but you don’t have a right to subvert an entity that so many Chinese depend.

    Now, if you are truly serious about affecting change, the norm of Chinese society dictates that you need to earn that badge. Playing politics is not a “right” of the masses – it is a responsibility that must be earned. Work to join the CCP. Be constructive. Again, the Chinese people do not tolerate subversion – however high minded you might be. Too many lives and opportunities have been lost in the last few hundred years because the gov’t has been subverted.

    2. Eric was pressed with the issue of non-interference with a hypothetical example of genocide in Africa a few times. One person in the audience hypothesized whether if Eric is ever improperly imprisoned in Africa, if the Chinese gov’t has a duty to save Eric. Eric answerd yes – because he is a Chinese citizen. The questioner then thought he’s got Eric. Ah ha – if the Chinese gov’t has a right to intervene in the domestic politics of another nation on Eric’s behalf, why not for a group of people that may be the victim of genocide? Eric answered it’s not an internal affair because Eric is involved – and he is a Chinese citizen.

    I’d have pushed two more points:

    a. who is the Chinese gov’t to fight in Africa in the name of Africans? Why do you want to force China to uphold human rights in a far away land, standing between people whom they do not govern? It’s being disingenuous at best. If people are being killed injustly in a far away land, it is for the polity in the area to deal with it. If the polity itself is injust or corrupt, the people / cultural entity must deal with that – not China – and (I must add) not the West.

    b. what is genocide anyways? In Africa, tribes often get into conflicts because of shortage of resources. When groups of people fight over limited resources, how can you take sides? In Africa, rarely if ever are things about extermination per se. It’s about a fight for resources. The real solution is development – to make available more resources – not to take sides in squabbles. Besides, if people who have lived together for eons can’t get themselves to refrain from conflict, how can an external power genuinely get them to do so in a non-partial way? Conversely, if people start fighting along class lines, should we intervene? What about religious lines? What about between nations? Why make a fight that can be characterized into ethnicity a special case? When genocide takes on such import, and people latch on their political interests to the potent symbols genocide has become in the aftermath of WWII, it seems all these talks about genocide in Africa is more about political expediency than anything else.

    3. when asked about Tibet, I don’t know why Eric concluded his comments by noting that minorities have always been trampled upon and no one has figured out a solution. This especially given his observation that the Tibetan people – at least in terms of population – are thriving. In fact, Tibetan culture are generally thriving. (see e.g. http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=2732 and http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Sautman-2006-Colonialism-Genocide-Tibet.pdf). Even if not, this is an issue for the Chinese polity to deal with. The Chinese polity has never been about Han culture. It’s been about a form of “secularism” that allows all cultures to thrive. (That’s why the Chinese civilization has this notion of minority ethnic nationalities.) If that “secularism” doesn’t work, the Chinese polity needs to figure out a new one or reform it. It’s not to be externally dictated.

    4. following on the notion of non-intervention, when a member from the audience posed to Eric that if there were only 100 fish left in the ocean surrounding an African nation and that a “corrupt” gov’t had just sold the rights to those fish to the Chinese, whether the Chinese ought to care, Eric answered valiantly no. It’s for the local people / gov’t – cultural entity – to decide. But I’d have added by exploring who is the Chinese to judge whether the fish should be sold for some price or whether the fish should be consumed locally with no external income. It’s an issue the local polity have to decide. Sure the gov’t could make a bad decision – but so could it make a good decision – if there is any entity to decide, it’s the local gov’t/people together – not the Chinese gov’t, some Chinese executive, or the Chinese people.

    It’s nice that right after this question that a person from Ghana remarked how disgusting it is that people dismiss African governance – and frame issues in Africa always presumptively about a corrupt and incapable native polity. That is condescending.

    In my view, yes – Africa like everywhere else may have problems – but no one should have the presumption – not academics, conference attendees, foreign politicians, etc. – that they know what is best for the local people. Let the local polity do their job. If they are truly corrupt, give them the space to grow and develop – to bumble in the dark and make mistakes, etc. – like everyone else instead of simply prescribing a solution from afar. People need to work things out themselves. Imposing from afar doesn’t make things more just per se. Look at the military bases the West has encircling the globe. If it is into proscribing real justice, do you we think we need such disproportionate show and threat and applications of force around the globe?

    This is why I think Eric made a really good point that if there is any one Chinese value to spread, it is the notion that values must not be forced upon others. It is the trust that all cultures should be respected and be allowed to develop and thrive in their own way. It is the antithesis of Western universalism.

    To that – a toast to humanity. Bravo Eric…

  2. pug_ster
    March 2nd, 2012 at 10:14 | #2

    Excellent post there. I think the problem is that Western universality seems to be the ONLY sentiment like an echo chamber and the idea of Chinese pluralism not exactly popular. But I think Li’s ideas will reach to a broader consensus over the next few years.

  3. pug_ster
    March 3rd, 2012 at 07:57 | #3

    I also think the problem with America’s democracy, is that we have to be so dependent on individuals to make and ensure the fairness of society but these individuals are flawed themselves. Why not have a governmental body that has the consensus of the majority instead of trying to ‘promote them’ like many of these fake democracy. The problem with capitalism and democracy is that only people with money and power managed to get you to the top. Unfortunately, most of the time, they don’t represent the majority. Just look at the Republican Caucus, it is more like a circus act and people have to be forced to vote for bad or worse candidate.

    The sad thing is that this kind of madness of our government drove the rational politicians out of the government like Olypmia Snowe and replaced by many people who otherwise belong in the looney bin into the government.

  4. zack
    March 3rd, 2012 at 16:31 | #4

    the bald guy in the red shirt is a fucking idiot; he equates interfering with a country’s civil war/genocide with a government’s responsibility to its citizens overseas (the scenario of eric li receiving help from the Chinese foreign office).

    this, gentlemen and ladies, is what a religious zealot looks like; it’s clear that that particular individual, lacking factual logic, attempts to make an emotive argument that is, irrelevant and absurd to the discussion at hand.

  5. Wayne
    March 3rd, 2012 at 20:10 | #5

    The thing is though the West does not really believe in ‘universalism’ themselves.

    The contradiction I think is not between the West’s so-called universalist approach, and Chinese pluralism. The real contradiction is between Western imperialism and the oppressed nations of the developing world.

    If Westerners are really genuine about universalism, I would not have too much problem with that, or at least I would not dislike them anymore than I would dislike a persistent Christian who wants to save my soul. At least the persistent Christian actually genuinely cares for my soul.

    And in fact China adhered to more or less a universalist approach during the first 30 years of the PRC. China supported revolutions world-wide, China in fact enjoined the Soviet Union to put down anti-communist uprising in Hungary, and China proclaimed a universalist message of emancipation to the developing world. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I think not.

    The problem I believe is not Western ‘universalism’ in iteself, but rather the fact that Western ‘universalism’ is often preached as a front for naked imperialism.

    That is the point. The West is not into universalism where people in the developing world have the same standards of living as Westerners themselves. The West is not ‘universalist’ when they demand that China hold’s back China’s carbon emissions and relegate Chinese to a lower standard of living than the West. And the West is not ‘universalist’ when it judges developing nations using a benchmark that the West themselves would not have met when they were at a similar stage of economic and social development.

    The West is certainly not being ‘universalist’ when they back feudal reactionary theocratic states like Saudi Arabia on the one hand, but then attack Iran for doing the same things as Saudi Arabia (but in fact in a milder way).

    So the real contradiction is between imperialism and anti-imperialism.

    Not between the values which the West proclaims (which are in the main good values), and non-Western values. In fact this is the way the West likes to portray it. Because it makes them look good.

    We should not fall into that trap ourselves.

    Also policies which are designed to meet the exigencies of the current time, in terms of development and social stability, should not necessarily be portrayed as a reflection of the value system of a particular country or culture.

    China’s restrictions on the internet, mass media, do not necessarily mean that Chinese culture or civilization is against the ideal of freedom of speech, but these restrictions are a necessary instrument at this time in China’s development to ensure social stability and guard against subversion by hostile outside forces which would want to destabilize her. Western governments adopt exactly the same type of policies during wartime, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, earthquake or whatever.

    So it is wrong to point to particular Chinese government policies which deal with practical and urgent considerations of everyday governance of a huge and historically unruly country, and say these reflect Chinese ideals and a different approach to human rights. Because it is very likely if Western governments were faced with the same challenges and problems as China, they would adopt similar policies, or even worse.

    It was Abraham Lincoln himself who said “necessity knows no law”.

  6. Wayne
    March 3rd, 2012 at 20:35 | #6

    I don’t know why Eric concluded his comments by noting that minorities have always been trampled upon and no one has figured out a solution. This especially given his observation that the Tibetan people – at least in terms of population – are thriving. In fact, Tibetan culture are generally thriving

    You are exactly right. And why is Tibet brought up in a discussion about different philosophies towards responsible governance? Again, we should not confuse emergency regulations and measures, with political philosophy, nor use these emergency regulations to characterise China’s real attitude and intentions when it comes to minorities.

    China’s intent towards minorities has always been noble, under any sort of criteria used.

    Contrast the condition of Tibetans with Native Americans or Australian aborigines. In spite of China being far poorer per capita than the US and Australia respectively, the Tibetans are far better off than the indigenous peoples of Anglo occupied territories.

  7. March 4th, 2012 at 17:06 | #7

    I disagree with much of what he said here. Here’s what I think about his presentation:

    First of all, his defense of the Judeo-Christian origin theory of human rights is not convincing. As I’ve said before, there are more obvious explanations for the development of a kind of rights approach. Notice that Eric conflates two very different concepts (that of natural rights and divine rights). This is a mistake that is common from those attributing rights development to western religion.

    See here:

    “Natural law is also distinct from divine law in that the latter, in the Christian tradition, normally referred to those laws that God had directly revealed through prophets and other inspired writers. Natural law can be discovered by reason alone and applies to all people, while divine law can be discovered only through God’s special revelation and applies only to those to whom it is revealed and who God specifically indicates are to be bound. …In practice, Locke avoided this problem because consistency with natural law was one of the criteria he used when deciding the proper interpretation of Biblical passages.”

    The Judeo-Christian tradition is about as anti-Liberal as any tradition that has ever existed. There is nothing in the tradition that is seminal of a human rights approach (in fact quite the opposite) and any reading of it as such cherry picks things to support that theory and makes far-fetched interpretations. The modern rights approach in both the west and in China is not divine conception. Rather they tend to be more naturalistic and rational.

    He said that the “men of the enlightenment” would all agree that the rights of man came from god. That is simply false. NONE of the fathers of our present natural rights approach asserted that these rights “came from god” and in fact, explicitly DENIED it. That’s natural because they were all either deists (people who do not believe in a personal god) or atheists and agnostics.

    The declaration of Independence does mention a “creator” that has “endowed” men with certain rights but this was tongue-in-cheek as the personal beliefs of many of the founding fathers were clearly that god had no role in human affairs and that it was in virtue of human reason that they had these rights and can discover them using that same reason. God simply factors out of the equation (many of them were very explicit about this).

    The rights approach today are carried out by many people who are not religious at all.

    It’s funny what he says next because Li contradicts himself in almost back to back sentences (11:15-12:00). He says he doesn’t know what democracy is but then says that it is a religiously inspired idea and that China will not be one. Democracy is also not a religiously inspired concept. There were democracies far before any Judeo-Christian religion. In fact, there were democracies far before western culture.

    I felt that he was clearly often very confused and relied on slogans and things he did not understand to defend his case. But the interviewer also seems a little confused relying on vague and ambiguous notions such as democracy and freedom in asking the questions. Li is right to question these concepts because it was not made clear by the interviewer and it often remains unclear in common discourse. That’s not to say that these concepts aren’t important and that discourse about them aren’t productive, it’s just to say that the way they are used is often vague and confused and they must be made precise to avoid talking passed each other and mutual bullshit sessions. Again, I made the case that there are many more precise notions of democracy and that in a crucial sense, China is moving in that direction and is already quite democratic and that many of the so-called democracies in the world are not actually very democratic.

    I do agree with Li that China has much of the freedoms that the US has if not having even more substantive freedoms (and here, Li actually provides precise examples of comparable freedoms unlike the interviewer who keeps relying on slogans and vague terms).

    Li seems to accept some assertions uncritically from the interviewer such as that China is unconcerned with genocides. That is false. China through both words and deeds in the last decade seems as serious as any nation in preventing things like genocide across the globe. You can make a case that they are more successful and that the countries that are criticizing China’s role simply are ignorant and that they also partially cause many of those genocides (Rwanda, Indonesia, Darfur, etc, etc). Li makes himself seem like a sociopath here by saying that bad things ought to be allowed to “take their course”. I seriously doubt he would have that attitude if these “bad things” were happening to him or his family and friends. He seems the prototypical “wallstreet type” only caring for the bottom dollar. I’m glad the Chinese government is not like that. The Chinese government has been consistent and committed in denouncing serious human rights violations around the world and providing the UN with necessary resources (human as well as material) to carry out successful reduction of conflicts and atrocities. Li ought to know that. China has also been far more successful at conflict resolution using mediation, diplomacy and international law at preventing conflicts before they start than the west.

    The Nigerian commentor completely demolished his claim that there is nothing above the law. Li again, made contradictory statements and the commentor exposed that. Li said that one set of laws were “just” (namely those that Ai was accused of) but that the laws imposed on the Chinese weren’t. But this sets “justice” above the law. It’s sad that Li cannot see that he was caught in a contradiction and quite embarrassed by it.

    I do agree with Li that consent is a vital notion for democracy and that he does a good job of questioning whether our assumption that our system of voting for representatives really covers that or maybe some other notion is just as legit. The interviewer seems truly ignorant of China if he thinks that you can go to jail for expressing your views on a Pew survey.

    And lastly, as others have pointed out, Li made a very bizarre point at the end about Tibet that probably should have been left unsaid as he caused more confusion and awkwardness than he should have by making it.

    In short, I didn’t think Li made intelligent, coherent and relevant responses. I’m not impressed by most of what he said here and also in his NYT piece about the failure of democracy (in which he simply avoided the topic). He seemed to have rather embarrassed himself and not made a good case for his arguments. That’s sad because I think much of the spirit of what he said is perfectly defensible and reasonable.

  8. March 4th, 2012 at 19:23 | #8

    @melektaus

    Hmm – I think you are little tough on Eric. I actually think he did a much better job than you made out to be.

    About whether natural rights arose from divine rights, my studies have shown to me that if you read things in context, natural rights are based on divine rights. Yes divine rights are obtained from the bible, while natural rights from logic and self contemplation, but the self contemplation is done in a Western Judaeo context. We can go about a rat hole defining this and that – but the gist of this point to me is uncontroversial. The effects on Western, on development of law – is uncontroverted. What Eric said was right on that for the most part.

    You wrote:

    It’s funny what he says next because Li contradicts himself in almost back to back sentences (11:15-12:00). He says he doesn’t know what democracy is but then says that it is a religiously inspired idea and that China will not be one. Democracy is also not a religiously inspired concept. There were democracies far before any Judeo-Christian religion. In fact, there were democracies far before western culture.

    I don’t wee the contradiction. It’s a conversation, but if you see things in context, it’s clear what he means. First there is the notion of democracy that looks to people to participate in governance. Whether that works or not is a faith. Second there is the notion that democracy is deemed by the West as the best form of gov’t. But there are many versions and forms of demoracy. He doesn’t know what we are talking about in this context.

    As for democracy being a religious concept – I don’t think he meant it to be a Christian concept. Just the first notion I noted above.

    I felt that he was clearly often very confused and relied on slogans and things he did not understand to defend his case. But the interviewer also seems a little confused relying on vague and ambiguous notions such as democracy and freedom in asking the questions.

    It’s a conversation. There is no time to get into every details. It’s a matter of level of granularity and framing (means many things to many people, so might as discuss these notions generally). Even in your post, I also see many problems (you presented one angle, but there are many issues that require a deeper analysis; also your notion of “science” and “objectivity” is controversial; science may not be as objective as you make it…most especially the social sciences where how you frame things makes the issues you study non objective to start out with, but that’s for another post) but I wouldn’t say you are confused.

    The Nigerian commentor completely demolished his claim that there is nothing above the law. Li again, made contradictory statements and the commentor exposed that. Li said that one set of laws were “just” (namely those that Ai was accused of) but that the laws imposed on the Chinese weren’t. But this sets “justice” above the law. It’s sad that Li cannot see that he was caught in a contradiction and quite embarrassed by it.

    You need to explain this. I don’t see anything of what you wrote in the video. Did you really mean “Nigerian”? In general, Li’s focus on the law doesn’t mean there is nothing above the law, as Eric said. Justice is above it. But what is justice?

    Finally, about genocide – I challenge you to make a post of what is genocide, pick an example and discuss how intervention should be carried out. (Maybe we can have a HH debate on that). Truly bad things happen all the time around the world, I don’t see how it’s for the West, China, or anyone to intervene. It’s a complex issue, made perhaps more complicated because you and I disagree on the basic issue of what is “moral” – if there is such thing as universality “morality” that can be used to actuate concrete political actions.

    By the way, China is probably not as “non-intervention” as Eric may make out, but it’s unclear what China’s position really is. Chinese gov’t doesn’t really have an ideology or overarching framework for foreign intervention. It’s kind of case by case – feeling things out – trying to comply with Western expectations and values… And it is evolving.

    I myself strongly believe in non-intervention and multi-polarity – although I understand I have some holes in my theories. Maybe I need to do a post on that…

  9. March 4th, 2012 at 19:27 | #9

    @Wayne

    Thanks for this comment.

    I agree – universality is not as bad as imperialism applied in the name of “universality.”

    Also – even if we agree with Chinese gov’t policy today – one needs to be careful about elevating the support on basis of Chinese tradition and values. Policy is pragmatic – what works. Tradition and values guide and last much longer. Is Chinese tradition and value “anti-democratic” – or “anti free speech”? Probably not. Even within Chinese history, the degree of tolerance have fluctuated.

    Anyways, I still stand by my comments above – but I welcome your comment. Insightful as always…

  10. dr.gerbs
    March 5th, 2012 at 09:49 | #10

    I thought Eric’s tone was too business like and direct. Regarding horrible issues such as genocide, I feel his tone could have been more sensitive which would only help the audience digest his points and beliefs.

    In regards to the first question posed by the man from Africa at 38:00, my partner says what Eric failed to mention is that the laws imposed on the Chinese during the Opium Wars period (i.e. 150 years of humiliation) were not laws set by the Chinese. Laws at the time were dictated by foreigners which explains why Chinese uncharacteristically opposed those laws and continue to carry a feeling of resentment and humiliation. Since current laws are set by the Chinese, the majority of Chinese citizens follow the law and feel that Ai Wei Wei should do the same.

  11. March 5th, 2012 at 11:15 | #11

    We should keep in mind he is framing his arguments for the Western mindset in a culture where the West tends to only able to see things in ‘YES’ or ‘NO.’

    I agree with Melektaus that Eric accepted the assertions uncritically from the interviewer that China is unconcerned with genocide. China commits troops to U.N. and generally supports U.N. peace keepers when warranted – in a constructive sense. In the case of Syria, it was in fact an active rebuttal to the Western wish to take down the government. So, reality is China works with the existing world bodies – and through them intervene.

    BUT, in that forum, I think if Eric injected that nuance, it would have diluted his message. The Western mindset when talking about intervention in a genocide, they emotionally think, I am the judge, and I am going to carry out the bombing. That’s their impulse. They don’t give a rats ass about whether their judgement is right or wrong. It’s already propagandized for them in their mass media.

    When they are thinking about intervention, they are not thinking about a multilateral U.N. effort under the leadership of U.N.. They are too used to thinking they’ll just simply bomb and solve the problem that way.

    Hence, the response has to be an obtuse and resounding ‘NO!’

    For me too – I thought the part pointed out by dr.gerbs – on unjust laws – over Chinese complying with laws dictated by foreign invaders could have been handled better. But he also made some comments related to the fact that if you don’t like a law, you fight to change it. He could have made that questioner look like an absolute idiot. On the other hand, it’s hard to be flawless and be that quick on your feet all the time. It would be dream come true if I am half as articulate.

  12. March 5th, 2012 at 14:00 | #12

    Following up on comment #8 above, I am want to stress that the origins of natural rights – whether it’s scientific and objective or divinely inspired and culturally reflective – in some ways is not important to our discussion of democracy today.

    Science as we know it – with its focus on theories and repeatable measurements – may be a Western phenomenon in the sense that it was created to deal with the problem of over-arching religion in the West – yet the result is something the world over should adopt without being “westernized.” 1+1=2 no matter you are in Europe or Asia, a Christian or Buddhist or atheist.

    However saying that democracy (however defined) is a religion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a concept inspired by religion, only that it’s a set of values that is not necessarily Universal – that there ought to be a choice for the world whether to accept democratic values.

  13. March 5th, 2012 at 15:34 | #13

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    Hmm – I think you are little tough on Eric. I actually think he did a much better job than you made out to be.

    Eric may have convinced some people but there are people in the audience much more sophisticated for example the first Nigerian commenter I think made a devastating case that Eric’s view is either confusing or maybe even confused. There was another commenter that said that the world seems to be moving away from the kind of amoral, isolationist strategy Eric wants. Eric could have easily made a better case with the reality that China realizes this too and is now the most active member of that more integrationist and moral movement. Eric presents HIS case, not that of China which knows better.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120104060.html

    It’s not that China doesn’t want active peacekeeping and humanitarian work, it’s that they actually know how to do it instead of saying it and doing the opposite as western nations have done.

    About whether natural rights arose from divine rights, my studies have shown to me that if you read things in context, natural rights are based on divine rights.

    I hear some people expressing this view but I have never seen any convincing evidence for it. In fact, everything I have read from the fathers of liberalism suggests that it is the opposite from the truth. Natural rights was the antithesis of the Judeo-Christian hegemony designed to protect the masses and society as a whole from religious tyranny. Many made explicit claims that natural rights (or natural law) are discoverable through reason alone which humans have.

    I also think that many of the Christian origin of human rights theorists fail to take into context many things. Look at their reading of “the creator”. Taken the context and the ambiguity of the term, they fail to realize that the creator could simply be the naturalistic process of the cosmos that go into creating humans and thereby endowing them with rights. They fail to take into context the actual philosophical and theological positions of the fathers of Liberalism who as far as I know were all naturalists, materialists and believed that rights were discoverable only through reason and are there to protect against coercive religious “universality” in favor of pluralism not an extension of said “universality” as Eric claims.

    Yes divine rights are obtained from the bible, while natural rights from logic and self contemplation, but the self contemplation is done in a Western Judaeo context.

    In the Bible the only “person” with real freedom, autonomy, and dignity, the conceptual foundations for rights, is god. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to talk about human rights. Humans have no freedom (this follows because god is omniscient and sees all our actions and choices before they are even done). We have no autonomy because we are designed to value and worship god as our only goal in life. We have no dignity because we live in a state of sin that can only be redeemed through a personal savior.

    Therefore, I see no good reason to conclude Judeo-Christian derivation of human rights. That’s seems to be a contradiction in terms. The truth as I see it is almost the opposite, that Judeo-Christian values are antithetical to human rights (and history also bares this out). It’s just something western people tell themselves to make themselves feel good about their own values top justify them to themselves and others for accepting their religion.

    I don’t wee the contradiction. It’s a conversation, but if you see things in context, it’s clear what he means.

    It’s not clear to me at all. How do you not know what democracy is but then assert that it is a Christian concept and say that China will never be a democracy? That seems confusing, strange if not contradictory. In any case, Eric failed to make his case convincing as you can tell by many of the reactions in the audience.

    I agreed with some of the things he said but he seems to talk about things he is confused about or have little understanding and this showed. Only one of the audience members made stupid comments and questions and that was the person that thought it was contradictory of Eric to say that China had a obligation to rescue its own citizens from trouble in other countries and China’s “non interference” policy. I agree that that wasn’t a good argument. You can make a coherent case that a country’s obligation towards its citizens in other parts of the world is justified but that it has no obligations to do other kinds of “interference” such as preventing genocide. I don’t agree but it is at least coherent and not contradictory. Eric did make contradictory statements several times, sometimes almost back to back sentences, as a matter of fact and that is embarrassing. I don’t think he has given these issues the clear-headed thinking they deserve.

    As for democracy being a religious concept – I don’t think he meant it to be a Christian concept. Just the first notion I noted above.

    It doesn’t matter. It’s a political and social concept and not a religious concept.

    It’s a conversation. There is no time to get into every details.

    It’s not just the details, its the content that seems confused and unconvincing.

    It’s a matter of level of granularity and framing (means many things to many people, so might as discuss these notions generally). Even in your post, I also see many problems (you presented one angle, but there are many issues that require a deeper analysis; also your notion of “science” and “objectivity” is controversial; science may not be as objective as you make it…most especially the social sciences where how you frame things makes the issues you study non objective to start out with, but that’s for another post) but I wouldn’t say you are confused.

    I never said that science was “completely objective”. But it’s certainly more objective than faith or superstition or biased prejudices. I don’t think that is a controversial position to hold.

    You need to explain this. I don’t see anything of what you wrote in the video. Did you really mean “Nigerian”? In general, Li’s focus on the law doesn’t mean there is nothing above the law, as Eric said. Justice is above it. But what is justice?

    The very first commenter was a Nigerian gentleman (he commented and asked questions). Eric explicitly said that we shouldn’t question the laws of the country we’re in and that we ought always respect them and that a higher law that does put into question such specific laws are equivalent to a religious view. The Nigerian asked him if he would question the laws that were imposed on China by the western powers and the laws his father were sentenced under the CR to prison and he denied that those laws ought to be respected but the Nigerian commenter asked from what authority do you question such specific laws? Eric was lost and couldn’t formulate a coherent and clear answer and in my opinion, was embarrassed by it.

    So at least, he is guilty of not being very clear, confusing if not confused. At worst, he is guilty of bullshitting, talking about subjects he has little understanding and experience.

    I always like to give people charitable interpretations but you can always go so far and from what I have read from his NYT piece and this interview I don’t see anything impressive about this guy. He may be a very noce guy (or not, I don’t know him) but he could do a much better job in articulating China’s case and I have many reservations about what he says.

    Finally, about genocide – I challenge you to make a post of what is genocide, pick an example and discuss how intervention should be carried out.

    There’s plenty of books and common and legal definitions of that term.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide

    I talked about the concept of genocide and some of the problems with common and legal definitions in my philosophy blog.

    http://lapisphilosophorum333.blogspot.com/2010/02/definition-of-genocide.html

    What ought be done is determined by the circumstances. You can’t have a one size fit all answer for everything. You can’t simply says, well, we’ll use military force always. You can’t equally say, well, we’ll sit back and do nothing always. You also can’t say, well, we’ll use sanctions always. What needs to be done is determined by the context and reasonable rational deliberation, not a dogmatic all or nothing policy.

    My views as for general principles of just humanitarian war is that it must satisfy three stringent criteria.

    1. Consent. That is the interventionist power must go some ways in securing at least some degree of informed consent from the population for the military intervention.

    2. Principle of proportionality. The war’s outcome must be reasonably seen as likely proportionate.

    3. Accuracy of justification. The justifications for way must be reflective of reality.

    Now these principles I think provides very adequate grounds for making humanitarian difficult because they are conservative principles and ought to be interpreted conservatively. Rarely does circumstance satisfy all of the above criteria because they are difficult to satisfy. But these rules are far more concrete than the abstract, vague and confused “interventionist” and “non interventionist” dichotomy.

    So in practice few interventionist strategies would meet these criteria but sometimes some may. For example, I think the US was correct to fight the Nazis and the Japanese for the crimes against humanity and the justification for war would have satisfied all the above criteria.

    (Maybe we can have a HH debate on that).

    That would be a good idea.

    Truly bad things happen all the time around the world, I don’t see how it’s for the West, China, or anyone to intervene.

    I’m not saying that “intervention” is always a good idea, just that it’s simplistic to say that every country ought always be non interventionist as Eric seems to be saying. Intervention is an ambiguous term. What about sanctions? What about UN criticisms? What about what China is now doing in Syria in seeking a non violent solution? Is that “interventionist”? We can keep talking in these vague and abstract terms or we can actually try to figure out how to live in concrete terms that looks at each situation individually and seek concrete actions without preconceptions. That’s what China is doing.

    It’s a complex issue, made perhaps more complicated because you and I disagree on the basic issue of what is “moral” – if there is such thing as universality “morality” that can be used to actuate concrete political actions.

    I don’t actually know what your positions on morality are so I can’t say I actually disagree or agree or even what specifically are your views.

    By the way, China is probably not as “non-intervention” as Eric may make out, but it’s unclear what China’s position really is.

    They probably have a common sense and pragmatic view that depends on context and not some preconceived notion that China ought always do such and such and never do such and such plan (which is how I see Eric’s position that China ought never do anything to intervene and to allow things like genocide to “take their course” without even qualifying his words). China also seems to be concerned with international humanitarian disasters both natural and unnatural such as what is happening in Syria. They have explicitly said the violence needs to stop and that we ought to take measures not allowing such violence to continue. That seems like common sense moral position. Where the west and China disagree is how to achieve that.

    My view and what seems to me to be the Chinese view seems to be very none interventionist. But that doesn’t mean we think that the international ought always let things like genocide occur, to “run their course”. Rather, we think that we ought to make the world a better place and that China does have a crucial role to play in doing that and often that is using things like “soft-power” and so forth. Other times it may involve some coercion such as enforcing sanctions and still others, military intervention (for example, during the Sino-vietnam war, the Chinese government used just such a justification among others for war with vietnam).

    However saying that democracy (however defined) is a religion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a concept inspired by religion, only that it’s a set of values that is not necessarily Universal – that there ought to be a choice for the world whether to accept democratic values.

    But my problem is that that’s simply question begging. The issue of whether democratic values are universal and even what they are need to be addressed and can’t be simply dismissed by saying that it is a western religion (which is also false).

    At minimum, Eric was being unclear and unconvincing but I think he is guilty of worse, of being seriously confused and holding contradictory views. In any case, I’m not impressed by what he has said so far.

  14. March 5th, 2012 at 20:39 | #14

    @melektaus

    There is lots we disagree in interpreting Eric’s take … but that’s ok, if we ever sit down to have a real-time discussion, it’d be interesting to hammer some of those out.

    The two main issues I see we disagree is what is meant by “religion” (I think part of Eric’s use is metaphorical – i.e. values / faith – not necessarily “Christian”) and your interpretation that Eric meant that law is the highest authority of anything political (he did say, follow the “law” in the sense that that disposes a lot of criticisms of China – these people are not crusaders, they are law breakers; but to the issue of whether the law is right or wrong, he didn’t say much – he mentioned justice (justice ≠ human rights)… which I thought was sufficient, although I think he could have articulated it more).

    As for your link to your post on genocide, it was a good article – but my problem with genocide is deeper. What’s the problem if some killing is racially motivated?

    I mean however bad the holocaust (the mother of genocide) was, were the other intentional killing not just as bad – e.g. the 13 or so million Soviet civilian deaths or the 16 or so million Chinese civilian deaths (deaths attributed to war per se not to genocide per se) in WWII? What makes racially motivated death worse than the others to deserve a special place in discussion of evils? Isn’t killing enough?

    On the flip side, what is racially motivated killing? When U.S. dropped the 2 nuclear bombs in Japan – the target is to kill Japanese – the more the merrier. It was meant to cause the utmost horror and widespread in injuries and death. So were the carpet bombing of Germany toward the end of WWII. It was to kill a particular ethnicity / nationality.

    Are those genocide?

    What about the American civil war – where the North killed many in the South. The South felt they were a different nationality / people – don’t those count as genocide?

    My problem is not just with definitions of “intent,” or “systematic” – issues you raised in your post, but the general problem that if we take what’s given often as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group” seriously (provided in your wiki links above) – all wars – at the minimum – are genocides. As I have written before, I’m ok with someone being anti-war per se, but genocide?

    As for your definition of good justification on intervention:

    1. Consent. That is the interventionist power must go some ways in securing at least some degree of informed consent from the population for the military intervention.

    2. Principle of proportionality. The war’s outcome must be reasonably seen as likely proportionate.

    3. Accuracy of justification. The justifications for way must be reflective of reality.

    I will probably write a post on it when I get time. But quickly.

    1. consent – if it’s truly “consent” – then it’s not “intervention” per se – it’s called coming to the aid of another people. Of course, what is consent? How many people have to ask? This gets to be real problematic when there is no unified voice: what is the threshold?

    2. proportionality – I don’t see how that makes sense in intervention. Looks like a self defense principle wrapped up here. So if U.S. is responding to Kurdish cries for intervention, and in so doing must they make sure they don’t topple Saddam? If Kurds took the opportunity to attack Saddam and he attacked back, then what? Proportionality is not so easy to do when you intervene. Nation to nation self defense is simpler: if you attack me, I have the right to repel you, but not necessarily to nuke you to oblivion (although that’s what nuclear deterrence calls for). But intervention in domestic affairs – that’s a different beast – it’s intrinsically not amenable to proportionality in my opinion.

    3. justification – not sure what “reality” you mean. Do you simply mean things can’t be made up? That’s goes without saying – doesn’t it (do you have in mind Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction?)? Not sure what limitation this condition actually places on interventions – as far as theoretical framework is concerned…

    In conclusion (for now), I am not saying there should not ever be intervention. Ideally, I don’t like far away powers – simply because they are powerful – to intervene in the name of anything. Ideally, I think all people have a right to self determination – which means that when truly despicable things happen, I think that all people have the capacity to work things out themselves. If things are so hairy that local powers cannot work things out, I don’t know if far away powers can necessarily do a better job finding an equitable solution. They might take sides and dictate an outcome, but I don’t think they can do anything else…

    In general, sure I think one can condemn certain developments, etc. in far away places – but to think one has a right to intervene – that I just don’t buy.

  15. March 6th, 2012 at 13:31 | #15

    Allen :
    @melektaus

    The two main issues I see we disagree is what is meant by “religion” (I think part of Eric’s use is metaphorical – i.e. values / faith – not necessarily “Christian”) and your interpretation that Eric meant that law is the highest authority of anything political (he did say, follow the “law” in the sense that that disposes a lot of criticisms of China – these people are not crusaders, they are law breakers; but to the issue of whether the law is right or wrong, he didn’t say much – he mentioned justice (justice ≠ human rights)… which I thought was sufficient, although I think he could have articulated it more).

    I don’t know what you interpret him as meaning by “faith.” That seems to be a strawman under the most common understanding of the term. The west’s natural law approach, the approach that has been the dominant position in the last 300 years, does not rely on faith like religion does, it relies on reason and evidence. It is dioscoverable through reason alone, not faith in any particular god or religion. Now whether the Europeans and Americans have it correct is another separate issue but the issue is not faith.

    Eric seems to be trading on either incoherence or a strawman.

    I’m still not convinced that your interpretation of him makes his comments any less contradictory. I’ll post a separate post a little later giving a more detailed version of what I mean than my first comment in this thread.

    As for your link to your post on genocide, it was a good article – but my problem with genocide is deeper. What’s the problem if some killing is racially motivated?

    I mean however bad the holocaust (the mother of genocide) was, were the other intentional killing not just as bad – e.g. the 13 or so million Soviet civilian deaths or the 16 or so million Chinese civilian deaths (deaths attributed to war per se not to genocide per se) in WWII?

    By saying that genocide is bad is not saying that there aren’t other bad things like soviet or Japanese atrocities. It’s not saying that that is the only bad thing in the world, just that it is among the very bad.

    I believe that genocide is worse, everything else equal, from ordinary mass killings because there is a destruction of dignity aspect that makes it a worse evil. The reason for killing someone because of their race makes the killing worse than killing that person for another reason such as a political reason or for other aggressive reasons such as resource procurement, etc. It makes the other person an object that is essentially inferior to the perpetrator. Often, in other kinds of killing such as in resource procurement or wars waged for territorial expansion, there is no presumption that the other side is inherently inferior like there is in genocide.

    But comparatives aside, both the Chinese government as well as most people and all the governments in the world agree that the issue isn’t whether genocide is bad, they all agree that it is, but rather how we go about solving issues like conflicts and genocide. In general China is more diplomatic and sees military intervention as dangerous because it tends to make things worse. In that I agree. But I also agree that sometimes humanitarian intervention is necessary even in the forms of coercive intervention such as sanctions and military action. It’s a issue of degree and not some abstract absolute dichotomous separation between “universalist” and “pluralist” approaches as Eric believes but one of substantive concrete differences in beliefs. All sides agree that genocide and mass killings and war are wrong and ought *not* be allowed to run there course as Eric explicitly says they should. They disagree often on how to best achieve that. China is more preventive and diplomatic.

    On the flip side, what is racially motivated killing? When U.S. dropped the 2 nuclear bombs in Japan – the target is to kill Japanese – the more the merrier. It was meant to cause the utmost horror and widespread in injuries and death. So were the carpet bombing of Germany toward the end of WWII. It was to kill a particular ethnicity / nationality.
    Are those genocide?

    Genocide requires that the primary motive be racial so I do not believe that the dropping of the bombs on those Japanese cities to be genocide but I also believe that the dropping of those bombs are wrong because they were terrorist acts. I believe that the US fighting of the Japanese was a just war but some of their techniques used such as terrorism was wrong. The war as a whole was just but many of the methods used were wrong.

    But I fail to see the relevance of this to Eric’s speech.

    I will probably write a post on it when I get time. But quickly.
    1. consent – if it’s truly “consent” – then it’s not “intervention” per se – it’s called coming to the aid of another people. Of course, what is consent? How many people have to ask? This gets to be real problematic when there is no unified voice: what is the threshold?

    Not really. Intervention may come with the justification of consent as I was using the term. The standards obviously should be set high to avoid unjustified war. Like I said, I tend to have very none interventionist intuitions alone with most people here and the Chinese government but i would not ever go so far as to make the absolutist and immoral statement that Eric made that genocides ought to be allowed to “run their course.” That is an morally atrocious and and stupid view. I’m glad the Chinese government alone with the rest of humanity have more sense than that.

    2. proportionality – I don’t see how that makes sense in intervention. Looks like a self defense principle wrapped up here. So if U.S. is responding to Kurdish cries for intervention, and in so doing must they make sure they don’t topple Saddam?

    Proportionality means that the outcome shouldn’t be worse than the consequence of intervention. Example, the US’s justification for military intervention with Syria is based on humanitarian justifications but the Chinese view is that such intervention is likely wrong because it will not be proportionate in that the ends may be worse than allowing for the current killings to go on. the military intervention may cause even worse killings such as occurs in a bloody civil war that is likely. That seems reasonable. I see nothing wrong with that reasoning and view of proportionality.

    If Kurds took the opportunity to attack Saddam and he attacked back, then what? Proportionality is not so easy to do when you intervene.

    Of course not. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be interpreted conservatively to prevent unjust interventions.

    The reason the US war in Iraq was wrong was because not only did it not fulfil all the criteria I set above but it didn’t even fulfill ANY of them. The US never attempted to attain consent from Iraqis for a US led invasion. The results of the war was far disproportional (with 1.5 million Iraqis dead and the country left in disarray and fear) to that of the alternative of allowing Iraq to be under Saddam. It also doesn’t fulfill justification because it justification did not correspond with reality (that Iraq had WMDs and links to Al Qaeda and was a threat to the US).

    Nation to nation self defense is simpler: if you attack me, I have the right to repel you, but not necessarily to nuke you to oblivion (although that’s what nuclear deterrence calls for). But intervention in domestic affairs – that’s a different beast – it’s intrinsically not amenable to proportionality in my opinion.

    That’s really a might makes right approach. In the real world, there are powerful countries and not so powerful countries. The main purpose of international law and the UN is to prevent strong countries or coalitions of countries from attacking weaker ones. China does not want to be attacked by stronger countries like it was attacked during its last 150 years.

    In conclusion (for now), I am not saying there should not ever be intervention.

    But that’s what Eric said, he said that things like genocide should be allowed to “run their course”. What justification do you have for that? I think they shouldn’t be allowed to run their course and that every country in the world ought to see to it that they don’t so we don’t see atrocities like the holocaust or the Japanese invasion anymore. This may involve military intervention sometimes and sometimes more often, may involve preventative diplomacy, economic sanctions, etc, etc.

    Ideally, I don’t like far away powers – simply because they are powerful – to intervene in the name of anything.

    Neither do I but who does? Look, all of us can agree that much of the “interventionism” so far committed by the west and especially the US is wrong. But you can’t make blanket statements that they are always wrong and that genocide ought to “run their course” as Eric says. That’s what I was criticizing.

  16. March 6th, 2012 at 13:48 | #16

    @melektaus

    I don’t know what you interpret him as meaning by “faith.” That seems to be a strawman under the most common understanding of the term. The west’s natural law approach, the approach that has been the dominant position in the last 300 years, does not rely on faith like religion does, it relies on reason and evidence. It is dioscoverable through reason alone, not faith in any particular god or religion. Now whether the Europeans and Americans have it correct is another separate issue but the issue is not faith.

    In philosophy, people sometimes refer to first principles or first truth, such as Descartes on I think therefore I am. While first principles are sometimes not agreed upon – the notion of first principle I kind of agree – they are things that if we reflect deeply we all agree.

    The natural laws notion rests on something not as fundamental – on so-called reason and evidence – which as far as I can tell is rather the reason of a man in the 17th century based on things that men of that era agree upon as so-called evidence. It’s really not fundamental. It’s cultural – faith – or “religious” like Eric said.

    But you can’t make blanket statements that they are always wrong and that genocide ought to “run their course” as Eric says. That’s what I was criticizing.

    I actually tend to agree with Eric. The reason is because genocide is almost always a front (that’s why I push you for specifics above) – for mischaracterizing complex real-life conflicts in simplistic terms that appeals to emotion (sort of like terrorism today also, as I also discussed in the post linked). Because I think almost all uses of genocide are just covers, I think it’s more useful that what are called genocide be deemed normal conflicts. As such, in almost all cases, they should be let run their own course – because I trust all people are rational in the end, that they can solve their own problems. There can be political conflicts that flare into open conflicts everywhere around the globe. However bad conflicts inherently are, they do not need Beijing, London, or Washington, or Brussels, or Moscow to dictate political solutions.

    Of course, I also allow cases where we really have a complete collapse of government, where chaos is the main enemy, not politics, where local populace are basically calling out for broader help – then as brother to brother, we should help. (But you see the slippery slope. Libya can be characterized as this. So can Syria. If you are not careful…) But we must help without dictating political settlements. We are all adults – whatever color we are, or however poor our economy or science may be.

    All sides agree that genocide and mass killings and war are wrong and ought *not* be allowed to run there course as Eric explicitly says they should.

    Really? War and conflicts are wrong per se? As I have written, if that’s your bottom, then we have nothing to argue. I have the utmost respect for pacifists – even though I think they are also biased in a way: their aversion to war may justify condoning the status quo at whatever cost – however unjust things may be.

  17. March 6th, 2012 at 14:05 | #17

    @melektaus

    I want to write separately on your application of

    1. Consent. That is the interventionist power must go some ways in securing at least some degree of informed consent from the population for the military intervention.

    2. Principle of proportionality. The war’s outcome must be reasonably seen as likely proportionate.

    3. Accuracy of justification. The justifications for way must be reflective of reality.

    Let’s just take the example of Syria. If I’d to argue for intervention, I could argue:

    1. consent. Because there is a sizable opposition that want to topple the current regime, and because that opposition is being militarily attacked, we have consent to go in.

    2. proportionality. Because the opposition doesn’t want to work with the current regime and wants to see it go, our going in and attacking the regime, with the ultimate goal of removing the regime, is proportional.

    3. accuracy of justification. We have evidence that the facts upon which the above 2 conclusions are based are accurate; hence we are justified going in.

    Sure you can argue – as you have in the previous comment – that a conservative take of the above might lead to different results, but what’s an aggressive vs. conservative take? What guides these interpretations?

    My main point is to emphasize there is nothing wrong with saying we want to let things take their course. If we truly believe in self determination – we must take the good with the bad. We must have faith that people around the world have the ability, the will, and the right to chart their course – however pleasant or unpleasant things get. The powerful in the world (the ones with ability to project power) must show self restraint. To not do so is to believe that the world is but their colonies to govern in accordance with their standards, beliefs, values, systems.

  18. March 6th, 2012 at 16:49 | #18

    Allen :
    @melektaus

    The natural laws notion rests on something not as fundamental – on so-called reason and evidence – which as far as I can tell is rather the reason of a man in the 17th century based on things that men of that era agree upon as so-called evidence. It’s really not fundamental. It’s cultural – faith – or “religious” like Eric said.

    I don’t know on what grounds you have to base that view on. I gave very explicit views that the modern position is based on reason and evidence, not on faith. Reason doesn’t mean “reason from the 17th century Europe.”

    Now granted, biases from that place and time often come into the equation and discourse biased because of that but by its very being a bias, it is not rational. So that is not what I and the modern day people working on rights mean by “reason”.

    I actually tend to agree with Eric. The reason is because genocide is almost always a front (that’s why I push you for specifics above) – for <a href="http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2009/01/on-the-mind-numbing-sensationalistic-use-of-emotionally-charged-words-in-international-politics/&quot;

    That may be true but that is a completely different issue. Sure, many times they are not accurate and are actually fronts but that wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about actual genocide, not fronts masking as genocides. There is no disagreement between any of us on the issue of fronts masking as genocide. I think all of us agree that wars and ‘interventionism” based on that front is wrong. What’s there to disagree? Let’s not make this more complicated than it is. This is really a simpler issue. Eric was talking about genocides. The interviewer was asking about genocides, not fronts masking as genocides (i.e., false pretenses for war).

    China does not want to see genocides and conflict for many reasons (destablizes global security/economy and is immoral etc). I don’t see why it is so controversial that China’s view along with that of the rest of the world in trying to stop these events rather than allowing them to run their course is so controversial. Eric’s view is at odds and thus at odds with common sense. he would at least need to seriously justify that prima facie ridiculous view (which he doesn’t).

  19. March 6th, 2012 at 16:55 | #19

    Allen :
    Following up on comment #8
    Science as we know it – with its focus on theories and repeatable measurements – may be a Western phenomenon in the sense that it was created to deal with the problem of over-arching religion in the West – yet the result is something the world over should adopt without being “westernized.” 1+1=2 no matter you are in Europe or Asia, a Christian or Buddhist or atheist.

    I don’t think this is an accurate view of science. Science is not anymore a western idea than anything else. Modern science is just systematised commonsense (and here I think most philosophers of science and scientists themselves would agree). We sometimes think of what scientists do as something magical and special but it only seems magical and special because commonsense is so uncommon.

    It is true that the codification and systematization of scientific method is a modern western phenomenon (arising about 1500-1700 AD) but common sense is there for all cultures and before the modern period.

  20. March 6th, 2012 at 22:19 | #20

    @melektaus #18

    I gave very explicit views that the modern position is based on reason and evidence, not on faith. Reason doesn’t mean “reason from the 17th century Europe.”

    But I don’t see it – or don’t agree. In your opinion, what is the reason and evidence upon which natural rights is based? For me, natural rights is based on faith not reason and evidence. It matters to me not what those philosophers in the 17th and 18th century say. They can say it’s based on reason and evidence…but I think it all sounds like hocus pocus faith to me. Hence my statement you quoted…

    That may be true but that is a completely different issue. Sure, many times they are not accurate and are actually fronts but that wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about actual genocide, not fronts masking as genocides.

    And all my writing above is to show that I don’t believe there is such thing as genocide – especially if one defines it broadly as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group” seriously (provided in your wiki links above). Even if there were, the issue is in my opinion not genocide per se, but just killing – so let’s focus on that, instead of this empty emotive symbolism we are conditioned to gasp about.

    China does not want to see genocides and conflict for many reasons (destablizes global security/economy and is immoral etc). I don’t see why it is so controversial that China’s view along with that of the rest of the world in trying to stop these events rather than allowing them to run their course is so controversial.

    China does not want to see destabilization. I don’t think China should fall for false fronts (which is what genocide is about) in the name of preserving stability.

    @melektaus #19

    Science is not anymore a western idea than anything else. Modern science is just systematised commonsense (and here I think most philosophers of science and scientists themselves would agree).

    I don’t think science is necessarily common sense. I mean for most of human history, the most common sensical explanation to many things is religion and superstition. China in the 19th century is much more superstitious than the West was; hence, partly West’s leaping forward in development.

    Sure, there were science before Western science, but Western science took things to a new level in the way it systematically reduces problems to hypothesis.

    Anyways – you are probably right that science per se is not a Western invention, but at least as of 1850 – China and others had a lot to learn from the West about science. The forces that gave rise to that most recent revolution in science is Western – as part of the intellectual revolution that threw off the shackles of church in Eruope. That’s all I meant. The source of the current wave may be Western, even if the result is not.

  21. March 7th, 2012 at 13:10 | #21

    Allen :
    @melektaus #18

    But I don’t see it – or don’t agree. In your opinion, what is the reason and evidence upon which natural rights is based? For me, natural rights is based on faith not reason and evidence. It matters to me not what those philosophers in the 17th and 18th century say. They can say it’s based on reason and evidence…but I think it all sounds like hocus pocus faith to me. Hence my statement you quoted…

    The rights approach uses reason to make sense of common intuitions that, as far as I know, are common to all cultures. Take the example I gave in my newest thread on Li’s argument. Take promising. I think most people in the world would say that you have an obligation to fulfill a promise if you reasonably can do so and thus not break it. But why ought you do so? Well, there’s really three main approaches. You can say “there’s no real obligation and you can break it if you want.” There’s a second strategy: You ought to obey some moral principle say duty and there’s many ways to flesh this “duty” out in the philosophical literature (such as that by breaking a promise you harm someone and harming people in needless ways are wrong). Or you can say, well, promise keeping is good for society and thus society ought to have institutions to enforce them. And these institutions are rights enacting-granting-enforcing institutions. The last two are rights approaches. Notice that God or religion or “hocus pocus” superstition did not come into the reasoning at all. It was rational process.

    And all my writing above is to show that I don’t believe there is such thing as genocide – especially if one defines it broadly as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group” seriously (provided in your wiki links above). Even if there were, the issue is in my opinion not genocide per se, but just killing – so let’s focus on that, instead of this empty emotive symbolism we are conditioned to gasp about.

    I was not directing my reply to your post but to Eric’s reply. Eric replied that bad things like genocide ought to be played out. That seems like a tacit admission that there are such things as genocides. If he agreed with you that they don’t exist then he would have, I would imagine, argued alone your lines that that is a non starter because there’s no such thing as genocides. But notice that there doesn’t have to be genocides because Eric is making a broader claim that includes all sorts of “bad things” such as unjust wars, occupation, mass killings of civilians, and so forth. Why ought these things be allowed to take their course? Should the nations try their best to insure that they are as unlikely as possible?

    China does not want to see destabilization. I don’t think China should fall for false fronts (which is what genocide is about) in the name of preserving stability.

    I don’t think science is necessarily common sense. I mean for most of human history, the most common sensical explanation to many things is religion and superstition.

    No, that’s not what I meant. I don’t mean that the results of science is common sense. I mean the methodology of science is commonsense applied systematically. It shouldn’t be a surprise that if people applied more commonsense that they would come to see that many of the views they thought obvious were false.

  22. March 7th, 2012 at 13:41 | #22

    @melektaus

    I may be knit-picking, but keeping a promise may be more complex than you think (this study compared Asian vs. Western values, and assess the different ways promises are kept / not kept when they come into conflict with other values). Also, in law at least, breaking a contract, or any promise, is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. If you keep on pressing the issue that you must keep all promises, we get into problems of legally enforced servitude / slavery.

    I remember doing some bible studies with friends when I was in college and being very shocked and perplexed to find all the violence God seemed to command and condone. The thing is that when the Bible was written, those were accepted values. It was deemed to embody truth. Yet, many details and morals seem so anachronistic today.

    Same with slavery. The same people who came up with the constitution and grand notions of equality also condoned and owned slaves.

    So I still think reason and objectivity can only be relative – to the culture and the times…

    But notice that there doesn’t have to be genocides because Eric is making a broader claim that includes all sorts of “bad things” such as unjust wars, occupation, mass killings of civilians, and so forth. Why ought these things be allowed to take their course? Should the nations try their best to insure that they are as unlikely as possible?

    I see…

    Sometimes I wonder if the U.S. had a moral obligation to enter the war against Germany and Japan. According to David Swanson in a good book called “War is a Lie” – WWII was not about a moral war, it was a war based on lies. U.S. didn’t have to enter war with either, but made up moral justifications (lies) for doing so.

    I wonder…

    But I am certainly grateful U.S. decided to fight against Japan.

    When there are injustices (wars, conflicts, mass killings, etc.) around the world, should a far away power have the right to intervene? My gut reaction is still no. Where does the sense of injustice stop? Maybe the subservient role of women in some nation shocks the conscience of the citizens of another nation, does that other nation have a right to intervene to liberate the women in that other nation?

    If there are injustices in a nation, a government by all means have a right – a mandate – to right the injustice. But in a far away land? If so – does the government think of itself as some kind of supra global gov’t? Is the rest of the world just a colony of sorts now?

    No gov’t in the world – in my opinion – have the right or mandate to fight for justice around the world. Let the people around the world decide for themselves. I may sound ideological in saying that … and maybe I am.

  23. March 7th, 2012 at 14:56 | #23

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    I may be knit-picking, but keeping a promise may be more complex than you think (this study compared Asian vs. Western values, and assess the different ways promises are kept / not kept when they come into conflict with other values).

    I’ll read that a little later but suffice it to say that I am aware of the literature on cross cultural moral values and that basic intuitions regarding obligations and rights have very large overlap. One way to test basic intuitions on the obligation to protect people’s rights is the classic thought experiment of the trolley problem. See here

    One way to state the issue is to imagine the following scenario: Person A can take an action which would benefit many people, but in doing so, person B would be unfairly harmed. Under what circumstances would it be more morally just than injust for Person A to violate Person B’s rights in order to benefit the group?

    ….

    The trolley problem was first imported into cognitive science from philosophy in a systematic way by John Mikhail,[9] who began testing trolley problems on different groups of people, including children and people from non-Western cultures, when he was a visiting graduate student in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Mikhail hypothesized that factors such as gender, age, education level, and cultural background would have little influence on the judgments people make, in part because those judgments are generated by an unconscious “moral grammar” that is analogous in some respects to the unconscious linguistic grammars that support ordinary language use.[10] Preliminary results pointed in that direction, and Mikhail’s initial findings have been confirmed and expanded to more than 200,000 individuals from over 100 countries.[11]”

    Also, in law at least, breaking a contract, or any promise, is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. If you keep on pressing the issue that you must keep all promises, we get into problems of legally enforced servitude / slavery.

    I never said that you should keep all promises. Clearly some promises ought to be broken when it is not feasible to keep them. I said that all cultures as far as I know value keeping promises when they can be reasonable kept. Can you name on culture that does not? If not why do they value this? Or ought they not value it?

    Sometimes I wonder if the U.S. had a moral obligation to enter the war against Germany and Japan. According to David Swanson in a good book called “War is a Lie” – WWII was not about a moral war, it was a war based on lies. U.S. didn’t have to enter war with either, but made up moral justifications (lies) for doing so.
    I wonder…
    But I am certainly grateful U.S. decided to fight against Japan.

    Here I guess we have to agree to disagree. I think it was just and permissible for the US or other countries to fight Japan for the crimes they have committed. But if you don’t think such crimes are worthy of “interference” then I can’t think of any argument that would convince you otherwise.

    But don’t you think you should make concessions to the vast swaths of humanity (including Chinese) that does seem to grant that these kinds of atrocities grant is permissible to interference by others? Which Chinese person would say, “no, no country should interfere here. The crimes of the Japanese ought to play out on their own.” Very few if any Chinese.

  24. March 8th, 2012 at 15:45 | #24

    @melektaus

    My point of pointing out that even a basic value as keeping a promise or duty may not be universal. To understand the value of a promise, one must understand the contexts under which they may be broken. That gets into a lot of values – not all universal – held by individual societies. They can not be obtained from reason alone – as you seem to posit #21.

    About whether U.S. or any other has a right to intervene in the war between Japan and China, the answer is absolutely yes. When one state is attacked, a third party should be permitted to come to the aid of attacked. This is not what I meant by intervention though. In international law, it’s called coming to the aid of another that is the target of an “illegal” attack. In my notion of intervention, it’s coming to the aid of the Chinese people.

    Now – the more interesting (but tangential) question is whether the U.S. or any other have an obligation to come to the aid of China – I don’t know. In today’s parlance, the controversial aspects of intervention comes under the rubric of a responsibility to protect. It’s a both responsibility (positive duty) and a true intervention in that outside powers intervene against the desire of a state – perhaps even of a people – because in the eye of the international community, something really bad is happening and the powerful have a right to intervene.

    I am in general against this – or at least am for it only in a very nuanced and qualified way – which will be the topic of a future post on non-intervention.

  25. March 9th, 2012 at 16:57 | #25

    Allen :
    @melektaus
    My point of pointing out that even a basic value as keeping a promise or duty may not be universal.

    I think you mean “absolute” rather than “universal”. There’s a difference between universal and absolute. Universal means applies everywhere. Absolute means applies in every context. I never claimed that you ought always keep a promise (that it is absolute). I just claimed that it seems to be a universal value in the sense that all societies seem to value it. Of course some situations make keeping promises unreasonable or not feasible but all cultures seem to view breaking of promises when they can be reasonably kept as wrong.

    To understand the value of a promise, one must understand the contexts under which they may be broken. That gets into a lot of values – not all universal – held by individual societies. They can not be obtained from reason alone – as you seem to posit #21.

    I never said that the context didn’t come into play. In fact, I said they did. But that doesn’t mean that promise keeping is only a western concept not applicable to other cultures because it clearly is.

    About whether U.S. or any other has a right to intervene in the war between Japan and China, the answer is absolutely yes. When one state is attacked, a third party should be permitted to come to the aid of attacked. This is not what I meant by intervention though. In international law, it’s called coming to the aid of another that is the target of an “illegal” attack. In my notion of intervention, it’s coming to the aid of the Chinese people.

    My point was that Eric would clearly be against this and thus believe it impermissible or at least it ought not happen (that “bad things” should be allowed to “play ought”. Whether you call it intervention or “intervening” or “being attacked”, Eric would would not want any country to intervene.

    I am in general against this – or at least am for it only in a very nuanced and qualified way – which will be the topic of a future post on non-intervention.

    Then you and I have no disagreements. I am in general very much against military actions and thus I consider myself a non interventionist and a contextual pacifist. They usually make things worse and they are often not enough evidence to justify them in the “nuanced and qualified way” you claim. However, I would never make the blanket statement that things like genocide ought to be allowed to “play out.” They ought not be. Whether or not military action, sanction, or some other method be used is determined by the circumstances and facts.

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