How Many Bad Apples Before You Blame the Farmer?

Human Rights Watch has a new report on the widespread torturing of Iraqi detainees by US forces from 2003-2004.

I’ll be curious to hear the explanations, excuses, alibis from defenders of the war. Probably quite a few will try to kill the report through a thousand quibbles. I suspect many of them are just going to drop the pretense that this is isolated misconduct and try to actually justify it, either as the result of the understandable emotional reaction of US troops (which, you know, is why countries committed to human rights normally take formal steps to safeguard the rights of prisoners of all kinds, precisely because we understand that there will be a temptation) or even as a legitimate tactic of counterinsurgency.

Given that this was contemporaneous with Abu Ghraib, it’s also possible that some of this misconduct has ended or been checked. I’m fully prepared to hear convincing evidence to this effect. But that it happened at all, and on this scale, is a devastating blow to not just the war in Iraq, but the overall legitimacy and credibility of the United States in pursuit of its declared objectives in the “war on terror”. So if you care about that war in any way, or about the specific theater of Iraq, there’s really only one legitimate response to allegations like these: take them seriously, be gravely disturbed by them, demand that the people responsible (including at the very top, in the Administration) be held responsible–and ask yourself what it would take for the war you defend to be fought in terms which are a credit to the best of America’s possibilities. If you evade, doubletalk, or worse of all, legitimize, when confronted with this sort of evidence, you’re no defender of the struggle against terrorism, no defender of the global aspiration for freedom: you’re on the other side.

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28 Responses to How Many Bad Apples Before You Blame the Farmer?

  1. Endie says:

    Yes, the offences discussed are often terrible. Don’t think from that first sentence that I am about to try and lessen their importance or to attempt justify them in some way.

    But, equally, these offences do not act as an argument against the possible legitimacy of the war in which the offenders are taking part. In 1945, particularly once on German soil, French and British troops indulged in a variety of atrocities, including mass reprisals and summary execution of civilians. The British withdrew from one town and shelled it when a soldier was killed there. Some French units in particular shot and raped their way through a proportion of the civilian population. Lets not even go there re the Soviets.

    Yes, it was wrong. Yes, it was an understandable reaction in its own, wicked way. But no, it did not lessen the legitimacy of the effort to remove Hitler and alter the nature of German society. Nor were Churchill and de Gaulle to blame, neither for the acts themselves, nor for the failure to adequately punish the offenders.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    I think they do argue against the war because these actions actively work against the aims of the war, and in a way that strikes at the heart of some of its major contradictions (as similar actions undertaken by the French in the Algerian civil war). In the context of World War II, atrocities of the kind you mention could legitimately be said to be secondary to the major war aim of defeating the German military first and second, to be blunt, of pacifying postwar Germany and pursuing deNazification. What was understood in this case was that Germany had to some extent been involved in a total war effort, with a good portion of its citizenry endorsing or at least tolerating the Nazi regime, participating in the prosecution of the war and its accompanying genocide.

    In this case, from the outset, the premise has been that this war is much more strictly liberatory, that there is a regime whose odiousness was judged partly on the premise that it was strongly unrepresentative and alienated from its population, that most of the population suffered from totalitarian mistreatment at the hands of the regime. Moreover, the war was prosecuted by its most enthusiastic supporters as an opportunity to foster a liberal democratic regime in a region largely dominated by autocratic regimes. For US forces to engage in indiscriminate, even casual, brutality (as in the reported case of an off-duty cook showing up with a baseball bat to break a detainee’s leg) is a direct contravention of both of those war aims. It’s not a sideshow offense; it’s more the equivalent, in terms of the Second World War, of a tank unit deliberately opening fire on Allied Forces.

    I think this conduct is also not the misdeeds of a few, but the consequence of asking soldiers to undertake missions for which they are not trained or equipped: infrastructural and economic reconstruction, the provision of everyday security and justice, civilian administration, and even for the most part counterinsurgent military operations. That they are unready and unable to undertake this mission is something that the political leadership has been incapable of recognizing from the outset, not the least because this sort of effort runs into some extremely difficult fundamental contradictions that have been hugely exacerbated by the programmatic arrogance of the Bush Administration in dealing with multilateral institutions and diplomatic negotiations, by the evident discomfort of the Administration with “soft power”. The stated war aims in Iraq are quintessential “soft power” objectives, assigned to a military whose capacities are largely invested even now in fighting major conventional wars.

    So in this case, the widespread misconduct of US forces–combined with a retreat behind bunkers, “shock and awe” tactics in local theaters, careless rules of engagement at checkpoints, and an evident cultural gap between the average US soldier and the people whom he is meant to liberate–is a direct blow to the war objectives. World War II is not a good comparison here.

  3. hestal says:


  4. Endie says:

    I’m perhaps misunderstanding you. Boiled down, I’m suggesting that an atrocity is an atrocity is an atrocity. That there is no moral difference on the level of the individual actors between an American soldier assaulting prisoners in Abu Graib, or in the five camps around Bretzenheimin early 1945. There is a substantive difference, of course, in that 18,100 Germans died in ten weeks in the Bretzenheim camps (and some 50,000 at the Rhine Meadows camp over a slightly longer period), most as a result of deliberate abuse.

    I’m a bit confused, in that you seem to be saying that the political circumstances surrounding a conflict justify certain illegal actions (illegal under both treaty obligations and domestic laws), whether those circumstances are the nature of the war aims or the conduct of the other side. This seems a horribly dangerous, morally relative path to go down.

    Murder of prisoners is murder of prisoners and rape of civilians is rape of civilians. Each is a crime under the Geneva convention and if you wish Bush to be held responsible for the actions of individual soldiers at the sharp end then trials of every single leader who ever took his country to war should result. And while I know that there are hardcore pacifists who certainly believe that such should, indeed, be the case, most of society, thankfully, does not. Churchill or (had he survived) Roosevelt should not have been strung up next to Streicher and Jodl at Nuremberg. But that is the inevitable conclusion if you hold Bush vicariously criminally responsible for the actions of his soldiers.

    The amazing thing to me is that a conflict on such a large scale has thrown up so very few incidents as this. Each is still wicked and barbaric, and I have no sympathy with those who defend such actions on the grounds of efficacy unless they, themselves, are happy with the idea that it might be them being “beaten for freedom” (although, on a personal level, stick me in a foreign land with people who wish to murder me for doing them what I see as a favour (however small that murderous minority in fact, is) and I don’t know what I might do in a moment of weakness several months on).

    Merely detesting the elected authority is not a good reason to cripple your country’s ability to do good in the world – or even just to defend its interests – forever. The answer is not a Leninist’s opportunist spreading of guilt to wider political opponents, but to hold the individual soldiers involved responsible for their actions, however provoked they were. That way, the advances made by the armies of the west towards eliminating such behaviour will be reinforced and continued.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    First, I don’t think this conflict has thrown up only a “few incidents as this”. I’m not sure what metric you’re using to measure in this case.

    I don’t disagree that there is no moral difference between any individual actor in an atrocity in one conflict and an individual actor in another.

    I would say as a matter of course however that there are implications for the declared war aims in this conflict that there were not in World War II. That’s not an opinion about morality: it’s a judgement about the difference between the two conflicts and the relationship of misconduct by US forces to the concrete achievement of war aims. You essentially argue that misconduct by US forces is irrelevant to the capacity to “do good” in this war: I think that’s an empirically incorrect statement that holds a hopelessly vague sense of this war and the “good” that can be done with it.

    There is another issue as well, which is your assumption that atrocity or misconduct in this war is a matter of individual moral error. There is more evidence to be collected, but I think there is already persuasive evidence that this is systematic misconduct which stems in part from command decisions made well up the military hierarchy, in some cases going straight to the civilian authority.

  6. emschwar says:

    It seemes to me the biggest obstacle I see to addressing this problem is the unthinking polarization in modern politics. You can’t be both pro-war and anti-torture, it seems, so any support for the idea that “Gee, maybe we shouldn’t be breaking these people’s legs because we need something to do during our off hours” is automatically translated to, “I hate you and everything you stand for, so please sod off and DIE you hateful warmongering FREAK!!!”

    It would be bad enough if this sort of behaviour were restricted to the Limbaughs and Frankens of the world, but the attitude . There’s no room for subtlety, it seems; no room for a reasonable and reasoned discussion of issues; you’re either a Democrat or Republican, and that is itself all anyone needs to know about you. (If you’re Independent, you don’t count, apparently.)

    Andy Weir has a nice example of this from the premiere of “Commander in Chief”, at .

  7. Endie says:

    >> You can’t be both pro-war and anti-torture, it seems

    Well, *I* am pro-war and anti-torture. But then being European helps, in not being caught up in the spectacularly visceral version of politics that have gripped the US since the Clinton years. For plenty of “New Left” pro-war, anti-torture types go to Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War (

    I wonder where the constant recourse to judges comes on the scale of cause and effect? I always admired the genius of the constitution’s framers in creating their role – pretty much from wholecloth – as guardians of that same constitution. But that overtly political role, in a society so spectacularly litigious, seems to have created an alternative political process. Not happy with the outcome of the elections? Unable to believe that the dumb electorate fell for the opposition candidate? Change might be just a judge away… Or why not get a special prosecutor?

    Returning to war aims, and whether these incidents will be significantly damaged by coalition misconduct, it’s not really necessary even to leave the same example of allied misconduct in WW2 to find evidence to the contrary. In ’46 and ’47 in particular, there was a great deal of doubt as to whether what would become West Germany could be “saved for democracy”. Collaborators were murdered, especially in the south. French troops in particular had done terrible things – far worse on any scale of comparison than the US troops are accused of. Instead of videos from Al-Zaqawi, the Werewolves’ Hakenkreuz was visible after many retaliations.

    And we in Britain experienced something not dissimilar in Ulster for thirty years. Etc etc… Insert your own example here.

  8. hestal says:

    Every time I say this people think that I am nuts; shoot, even I think I’m nuts. But I think that reasonable dialog is not possible. I believe that evolution has produced a range of human natures. That one end of the spectrum, say the left end, are those people whose nature will cause them to risk, or even give, their life to save yours. At the other end, say the right, of the spectrum are those people who believe they have the natural right, by virtue of their inherent superiority, to take your life when it suits their purposes. Between these two extremes are graduated groups of various human natures moving smoothly and continuously from saints to murderers. Dialog between groups is more or less possible depending on how close the groups fall on the human nature spectrum.

    Those humans who have the divine right to take your life will stop at nothing to gain what they want. The others hesitate and are lost. So evolution has produced these variations and they are contesting with other for life. What passes for dialog is almost always simply jockeying for position, especially when the extreme right side of the spectrum is involved. The left side, populated by saints, tries to be agreeable and so is easy to manuever into a weakened position.

    Unless and until we recognize that we humans are different in this fundamental characteristic, and that, once we are truly formed, changing our natures is impossible, then things will probably get worse. The most aggressive group, on the right end of the spectrum, is becoming increasingly dominant and may soon cut off the oxygen to the other variations.

    So the things that humans do only reflect their variable natures. In fact, these varying types of human nature, to my mind, constitute different species of humans. Homo hero, … … …, homo murderer.

    I know that my remarks are far from where Herr Burke started in his comments, but I see us spend so much time and intellectual effort in trying to understand why people do the things they do that I could not resist opening my mouth.

  9. Endie says:

    Hestal, I’d have to say that your analysis would be more wisely put if you’d found loess loaded terms than “left” and “right” with which to describe the opposite end of your hero/murderer spectrum.

    But in any case, looking just at your idea that the murderous are gradually overcoming the pacific, I think that you are needlessly pessimistic if you think that today’s world is more volatile, more dangerous or more murderous than it was thirty, sixty or eighty years ago. In Europe, only Byelorussia is not democratic. That has never been the case before.

    Terrorism may seem a big, terrifying thing to countries unused to it happening to them, but in Britain, the IRA (funded by points west of here) carried out over forty succcessful attacks in London alone in a single year in the 70’s (’74, I think). Call me a glass-half-full kinda guy, but in the wider picture, the world is looking rather dapper.

    In any case, evolutionary psychology is an area in which less and less stock is being placed. People, it seems, are just people. Some are bad and some are good. Fortunately, the bad ones have less power these days. Today, we have no Mao, no Hitler, no Pol Pot, no Stalin… There are those who might indeed wish to have such power and murderous ability (it would be needlessly provocative to name them), but they don’t. The idea that aggressive, murderous types will dominate the rest is exactly the Social Darwinism that Goebbels propagated for 12 years (and which, with its associated “science” of eugenics, was very popular amongst the left in the 20’s and 30’s). And he was proved wrong.

  10. hestal says:

    Endie, thanks for the response. I deliberately chose “left” and “right” because I think that the homo tyrannus and the homo occisor species are clustering to the right end of the political spectrum. The dictatorial manifestations of the Republican Party in which lives are taken for no good reason is, to me, pretty persuasive.

    Furthermore we still have mass murderers hard at work, their names are not as well known as your examples. Something is happening in Africa that looks a lot like Pol Pot and others. Of course we have the terrorists plying their evil across the globe. They lack only the weapons for mass murder in order to gain entry to the 20th century club of murderers.

    People aren’t just people. There are tendencies in people’s choices and the actual actions they may take to implement their choices are very limited and include the use of weapons. People find themselves doing the same things in the same situations throughout their lives. When you say some are good and some are bad then you have said it all. Whether this is a product of evolution or what they eat for breakfast, by age 25 or so they are what they are.

    So we should do what we can to keep the bad ones from gaining power over others. One way is to identify the bad ones and bar them from power. But that way is “loaded,” to borrow a word. The other way is to restructure our institutions so that the bad ones, if they should get power, can be stopped from abusing it.

    So if evolution, plus enculturation, did not produce these good and bad people, where did they come from? Do you think, once a good or bad person reaches age 25 or so, that he can change to the other type? Even if breakfast contributes to the formation of a person’s character and propensities, it must interact with something within that person and that something can only be genes. So while eugenics may not be a science, genetics certainly is.

    So when my ideas are dismissed by those who cite what seem to be my intellectual forebears, such as Herr Goebbels, I am abashed. But when no one offers any alternative, except perhaps the laughable Herr Freud, I am alarmed.

    Terrorism not only seems, but actually is, a big terrifying thing. I am not talking about you here but there is a point I think. Historians tend to ignore the deaths of individuals. The can easily say that Stalin killed tens of millions and that WWII killed 25 million or some such, but we learned from the experience. And that is the problem. The individual is what matters and our goal should be to prevent the murder of even one. The days of cannon fodder ought to be over, but they are still here.

    Finally homo tyrannus and homo occisor are dangerous in less direct ways. These two types act out of “gut feelings,” G. W. Bush is an example, not reason. They listen to their “guts” and then they look for an excuse to justify their actions. We need reason more than ever. Homo tyrannus and homo occisor, when they are in power, set us back. To ignore global warming may well be the most murderous act humankind has seen since the Great Flood. So optimism may not yet be warranted.

  11. hestal, if I were to construct a useful ‘spectrum’ for the classification of all of humanity (which I wouldn’t), instead of saint murderer it would stretch from homo pragmatus (I’m only fluent in cartoon latin) to homo idealismus, from those that believe in the fallibility and incompleteness of human cognition, including/especially their own, to those that believe in the ability of humans especially themselves to see the future with certainty and judge others absolutely

    the idealists are occasionally useful, particularly for making improbable attempts at solving longstanding problems that have befuddled the pragmatists, i.e. Bush and Iraq – but they are also, as you say, “nuts”. you are definitely in this, ah, “idealistic” camp. the idea that we ‘ought’ to have moved beyond the days where we could have a war without tragedy and atrocity and the loss of innocent lives, and the idea that the loss of innocent life eliminates the ‘reason’ for war, are both extremely ‘idealistic’ (the first is practically science fiction). I don’t really get this kind of ‘idealism’ but good luck with it, seriously, but don’t imagine that you are part of the ‘reality-based’ community here

    + fwiw, the idea that ‘to ignore global warming may well be the most murderous act humankind has seen since the Great Flood’ is incredibly ‘idealistic’, it’s a bowl of cashews dipped in peanut butter

  12. hestal says:

    Then how is progress made? How and when do pragmatists, of which you are apparently one, decide that it is time to stop killing and to take global warming seriously?

    Spectrums for the classification of all humanity are made all of the time and no one seems to mind. Political, religious, ethnic, nationality, avocations, tastes in food, etc. are examples of spectrums.

    But in any case, I have to say that if the pragamists are the chosen ones to lead us into a better world then they better get started. The one they have saddled us with today is showing signs of wear.

    I have made my pile, by the way, being a pragamist in the world of computer systems. And I have noticed that all parts of the spectrum are quite certain that they have all the answers.

    So if my concern about global warming is ‘idealistic’ then what should I think about the subject. What is the correct view about the issue? Please elucidate.

    And lastly I have been a regular reader of this blog for some weeks now and I must say that it reflects the popular opinion of the academic world, which is that it is decidely not ‘reality-based.’ The most recent illustration of this is the diary in which your associates were discussing the problems of paper reading and paper writing and conventions and whether to attend sessions, etc. — while the people of New Orleans were wading through disease infested waters trying to find food, safe water, and their loved ones. Talk about your disconnect with ‘reality.’

  13. Endie says:

    Hestal, I’m not sure that the people of New Orleans would have been best-served had the academic community at large cast aside their books and, after a show of hands, waded off into the disaster area handing out fresh water and controversial opinions on the role of Straussian dialogue in shaping the federal government’s response.

    It would be dreary to go over, yet again, the left-right scorecard in terms of the mass killings of which you speak. Suffice to say that of the top four, Stalin is in with a bullet at number one, Mao in second place, Hitler struggles in a plucky third, while Pol Pot probably manages to sneak in with a distant fourth. Only one of these has even a hint of rightism about him, and the Austrian in question doesn’t actually fit at either end (see under “planned economy”). Nihilism isn’t a terribly good fit under either political category.

    And as regards your mid-entry declension narrative about the state of the world under “pragmatists”: have you really thought it through? At what point in the past would you rather have lived? When was the world more peaceful? When is this Golden Age you yearn to return to?

    PS I’m agnostic on the subject of global warming, but you’re right that we can’t ignore the risk. Therefore, as a childhood fan of Wyndham, and since I rather liked JG Ballard’s “The Drowned World”, I fire off a couple of cans of hairspray every evening. Just doing my pragmatic bit.

  14. hestal says:

    Whoa, I can’t keep up. So are you saying that you fire off the hairspray in order to worsen global warming?

    Don’t doubt yourself or the academic community at large. A couple of academics from LSU hit a couple of good licks for progress, the pragmatic type. No doubt if the academic community at large had focused all its reality-based power on New Orleans even more progress would be made. Certainly more progress for good than that produced by focusing on whether the AHA should eliminate formal paper sessions.

    As for the left-right question, here we have an example of academia missing the boat. The left-right political spectrum is based on various types of government rather than on how those governments treat their citizens. Academia does not care that a citizen is tortured to death, it cares only which type of government does it. All of those murderers you have listed belong at the right end of my spectrum. The left end belongs to those people who risk or even give their lives so others may live.

    See how simple it is. A murderer is a murderer. It really does not matter if he is fascist, nazi, communist, …

    Insofar as the state of the world is concerned, I am talking about state murder. You seem to think that we are doing okay and I don’t. It is kind of “dreary” to talk about, but comparing death tolls instead of eliminating death tolls is, to me at least, obscene. And of course, there is no Golden Age to return to and I am surprised that you don’t already know that.

    Your overall comment, with its references to things that I’ve never heard about: Straussian dialogue, nihilism, mid-entry declension narrative, Wyndham, JG Ballard, “The Drowned World,” is simply overwhelming. So I must apologize if my ignorance of these elements prevents me from seeing that you actually have a pragmatic solution for this nitpicking problem of state murder. We, the ill-educated, have our own terms to describe the world. One that applies here was a favorite of George Wallace: “pointy-headed intellectual.” That George, he was a card.

    I did look up eugenics and found that you were off base. I looked up evolutionary psychology and found that you did not have a point. You were just dismissing me with the phrase, “less and less stock is being placed.” But you still did not answer my question: where do bad and good people come from if not from evolution? Surely you know. In fact you probably have an academic obscurity that will give the answer.

  15. Endie says:

    Hestal, “worsen” is such a judgemental term. I prefer the more neutral term “accelerate”. And if we don’t compare death tolls, how on earth can we keep score? We’ll never know who’s winning. I can’t help but think that you’ve not really thought this through.

  16. hestal says:

    Again, with the sarcastic dismissals.

    Help me think it through. Answer my questions.

    Where do bad and good people come from if not from evolution?

    What is the difference between “eugenics” and using genetics to improve human life?

    Why don’t academics at large produce pragmatic solutions to state murder?

    Why aren’t the libraries full of books by historians which list the lessons of history?

    Why do academics try to obscure discussion when pressed?

    Why do academics sarcastically dismiss those who disagree with them?

    In fact, what good are academics?

  17. Endie says:

    Hestal, to be honest you’d be a lot better served by settling down with Plato and working forward from there than by asking some of the widest-ranging questions possible of me. But since you ask, my opinion tends towards nurture, not nature: I believe that people are the joint product of their background, upbringing and of their own moral choices. If you believe that people inherit badness and goodness then, inevitably, you must hold that some races will be more pre-disposed to one than to the other. Fortunately, my rational beliefs reject this as readily as do my moral ones.

    For the difference between eugenics and genetics, you might wish to look at the practical application of each. Shying away from the T4 program in nazi germany, why not consider instead the compulsory sterilisation programs that are an intrinsic part of applied eugenics, from the US (c. 62,000 compulsory sterilisations following the 1907 enactment, starting with Indiana) to Sweden (a very similar number but over a 40-year period). For a good, free intro to this distasteful “science”, see After that, the difference should be pretty obvious.

    The rest of your questions look more like debating points. I hope you’ll forgive me if I refuse to be drawn. If you really want to have these discussions, then why not try a less confrontational approach? And I hope that you’ll forgive me for pointing out that I am certainly not what you’d call an “academic”. You rather rushed to judgement on that one.

  18. hestal says:

    In the case of bad people, good people and evolution you have let your prejudice, not your rationality, show. It is not inevitable that one race will be more good than another. The evolution+enculturation variations of the degrees of good and bad occur across all races, and remember you are the one who raised race, not me. So there is absolutely no grounds to support your contention that it is inevitable that one race is more evil than another if such characteristics are the product of evolution. By the way, the inability to distinguish prejudice and rationality is also a product of evolution and is distributed evenly across all brains.

    The nature vs nurture argument is advancing. The nurturists have been driven into a corner. They now try to limit the debate by ignoring the iron-clad relationships between gender and some types of social behavior. The fact that most violent crimes are commited by males across all cultures is unquestionable proof that nature controls at least that aspect of our individual makeup. Nurturists now focus on other behaviors to stay in the game.

    Of course the idea that morality is not evolution-based is also weak on the same grounds that crime is a product of evolution.

    I do agree that enculturation is very important, but it is not definitive. The nurturists argument in this regard is weak because they ignore the fact that culture itself is, to a significant degree, a product of evolution.

    The goal of eugenics is to improve human life by use of our knowledge of inheritance. Many of the early attempts to reach this goal were stupid and some were grotesque. But the goal is a sound one. But here you have employed one of the principal accomplishments of academia — the ability to dismiss an idea by likening it to another idea which has only a superficial resemblance. I know that you keep saying that “thinking through” is the right way to go, but in practice superficiality and glibness seem to be your watchwords.

    I apologize for asking you broad questions. I also apologize to you for calling you an “academic.” And I further apologize to any academics who may be reading this thread.

    I don’t think, however, that asking why academics don’t write books that tell us the lessons of history is too broad. You are not the first person who I have asked this question, and you are not the first to suggest that I do some reading on the subject. Well, I have done some reading on the subject. Over sixty years worth, and I am sure that one of the lessons of history is that good and bad people are produced in large part by evolution.

    Furthermore, I am sure that people become virtually unchangeable by the time they reach age 30. I am sure that it is individuals, not types of government who murder citizens. I am sure that historians avoid writing about how history would have been different if different individual had had power. For example, in the present time, would things have been different if Ross Perot had been president rather than George W. Bush?

    And historians avoid writing about the lives that have been blasted by bad leaders. The rational conclusion is inevitable — murderous nations are led by murderers. And our systems of government fail to detect and prevent these evildoers from gaining power. And our systems of government fail to stop the evildoers once they gain power and start their murdering. Surely historians can identify the weaknesses in our systems that permit such horrors. Surely academics can develop and propose ways to stop this blight on the world.

  19. Endie says:

    Umm, read what I said. I reject the idea that genetics determine nature. I reject the idea that “goodness” or “badness” are racial characteristics.

    As to the rest… Well, apology accepted.

  20. hestal says:

    “If you believe that people inherit badness and goodness then, inevitably, you must hold that some races will be more pre-disposed to one than to the other.”

    You said it, I did not. You raised the question of race, not me. You clearly say that character is race-specific. Rubbish. Your defense smacks of the legalistic and technical attempts of Bill Bennett, an example of homo tyrannus, to explain his remarks about aborting all black babies. His prejudice slipped out and the world knows it.

  21. barry says:

    “In ‘46 and ‘47 in particular, there was a great deal of doubt as to whether what would become West Germany could be “saved for democracy”. Collaborators were murdered, especially in the south. French troops in particular had done terrible things – far worse on any scale of comparison than the US troops are accused of. Instead of videos from Al-Zaqawi, the Werewolves’ Hakenkreuz was visible after many retaliations.”

    The Condi Rice/Donal Rumsfield version of history has been debunked. See Slate:

    For a start.

    “And we in Britain experienced something not dissimilar in Ulster for thirty years. Etc etc… Insert your own example here. ”

    Actually, it was highly dissimilar. How many hundreds of people per year were killed in bombings in London, in the peak killing years of the IRA bombing campaign? IIRC, there were US cities which had more murders per capita than Belfast, during the ‘war’.

  22. Endie says:

    Oh good grief. Look at the truth table. Do the logic. Read the next sentence. I …. do … not … believe … the … premise. Ie I do not believe that people inherit goodness and badness. I was pointing to the dangers of your arguments on inherited behavioural traits.

    The rest is left as an exercise for the reader. Hestal, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t continue with this conversation, as I have a desk-drawer here with just enough clearance for me to repeatedly smash it closed onto my head. This will be marginally more profitable, and considerably more enjoyable.

  23. hestal says:

    You are selling, but I ain’t buying. My idea is that good and bad people are the product of evolution. If you … do … not … believe … the … premise, it would have been sufficient to say simply “Hestal, I do not believe your premise that good and bad people are the product of evolution.” But you took an unnecessary and revealing step. You added race.

    I agree that this conversation is not productive insofar as you are concerned, but it actually has been useful to me. I put forward my premise on many blogs to see what kind of reactions it engenders. Yours is very common. Many, many people can not separate race from questions of good and bad. It is so sad.

  24. emschwar says:

    Good heavens what a tempest my (I thought) simple comment endengered in this usually placid teapot. Let me try to wrench the conversation back to its somewhat original premise.

    Endie, I did not mean to say it’s impossible to be pro-war and anti-torture. In fact, I also fall into that category. It’s just that there appears to be no room in our popular culture for it. Can you imagine Paul Begala interviewing such a person on CNN anytime soon? I think I could imagine Tucker Carlson doing so, but I’m not sure his producers would let him.


  25. Timothy Burke says:

    Interesting discussion while I was away. Fairly far from where I started, though.

    James Q Wilson, surprisingly, has taken a position that there is a “moral sense” which he regards as rooted ultimately in human heredity which is variably expressed in different individuals.

    Personally, I’m uneasy with such an argument, in part because what is considered good and bad behavior in human societies is demonstrably highly variable across history.

  26. hestal says:

    Herr Burke, you are correct of course. I use “good” and “bad” as a sort of shorthand. My spectrum of varieties of homo sapiens is not based on good and bad, it is really based on how an individual treats other humans. From left to right it is:

    Homo vir — the hero who will risk or even give his life to save yours
    Homo doctor — one who dedicates his life to help others live their lives the way they want to.
    Homo quietus — one who leaves others alone
    Homo tyrannus — one who tries to make others live their lives the way he wants them to.
    Homo occisor — one who takes the lives of others, and the taking has many forms — child molestation is a taking

    In my view these varieties have existed at least since the Sumerians and examples of homo occisor have been mentioned in this thread. The percentage distribution across the population is unknown but some crude estimates can be made.

    It is interesting, to me at least, that the characteristics which define tyrannus and occisor have already been declared by medical science as abnormal. I am not so sure. They may be normal but they are certainly undesirable.

    Our modern communication has enabled these individuals to clump in many ways, not the least of which is political parties, religions, faculties and student bodies of private colleges, etc. In the case of religion a case can be made that Jesus’ message has been hijacked by tyrannus and occisor to form modern Christianity and its many internal conflicts commonly known as hypocrisies.

    But in any case, individuals can not be identified by looking at them or even at their genes. But their clumps can be identified by their policies. And our institutions need to be changed so that if occisor gets too much power he can be stopped.

    Imagine a 9,000 member Supreme Court. It would be easy to manage, and would greatly diminish the power of one judge without sacrificing its overall Constitutional role. There is nothing magic at all about the present number of 9 judges and there is much wrong with it. Witness the present debates and pay attention to the undying question of “litmus tests.” This is a misnaming of an unconcious recognition that my varieties exist and the people want to know just which variety a potential judge may be. They are right to want to know.

    Other institutional changes can be made in Congress and in the executive which will not affect the balance of powers except to restore them to the relationships hoped for by the founders. These changes can be made easily and managed without too much difficulty. The greatest benefit will be that individual officials will no longer be able to accumulate power.

    Changes to the way we vote are a little more complicated but have been discussed and proposed for decades. There are several that will be an improvement.

    It should not be surprising to find such varieties in homo sapiens. In fact, to me, it has always been nonsense that there is just one human nature. I say that there are many, but because our universe only gives us a limited number of potential actions to express our natures we can analyze the range of natures by simply looking at the actions they take. You are what you do — to others.

    Lastly, I am uneasy about this subject as well. I don’t like the racial component and, at the risk of sounding even crazier than I have so far, I don’t like being burdened with the problem. I wish someone else was worrying about it. Certainly someone better able to argue the merits, certainly someone with real credentials, someone less confrontational, but mostly just someone other than me. If you know of someone else preaching this gospel please let me know so I can stop.

    I once asked someone in another diary on your blog what would history look like if it were written with my varieties in mind. I find it fascinating when I attempt it. And I think the most important development would be the identification and control of occisor and tyrannus when they, if ever, gain power.

    To me these varieties represent the most important lesson of history and the one, when recognized, that can do the most good.

  27. Endie says:

    Hestal, I can honestly say that that was an extremely enjoyable read.

    You have clearly given this a lot of thought.

    Please, do go on.

  28. hestal says:


    Forgive the double negative” Yeah, right.

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