Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Categorical Imperative

You all remember Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative," don't you boys and girls?

Sorry, Spotty. Doesn't ring a bell.

There are a couple of popular bromides that sort of, but not entirely, describe what Immanuel Kant was talking about. The first one, discussed in the linked article is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The one that Spot prefers is: What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Kant has his critics—sometimes Spot among them—the consequentialists or utilitarians. But there is a useful nugget of truth in Kant that is helpful in today's discussion, boys and girls.

One of the things that Kant at least implies is that if you set a moral standard, you shouldn't be surprised—or complain—if others follow it. That's a problem, perhaps a big one, if the standard you set is a low one. You lose your moral authority to complain. You look like, well you are, a hypocrite.

The idea that the US could impose international standards of conduct on others while not observing them ourselves is a notion rooted in the idea of American Exceptionalism. Only remaining superpower; we're better than that; blah blah blah.

But sometimes, when others do what we do, and we don't like it, our responses are, er, morally circumscribed. For example:

Let's assume for a moment that Iran is supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents as President Bush asserts. Although as some other blogger observed, it's hard to imagine that the Iraqis were so dangerous in 2003 that they needed to be disarmed immediately, but in 2007 that they're too stupid to make a roadside bomb, especially with all the stuff we left unsecured after the invasion. But isn't that exactly what we did in arming the Afghan insurgents against the Soviets in the 80s? The mujahedeen shot down damn near the whole Soviet helicopter fleet with American-made Stinger missiles. Wasn't much of a secret either. You could ask Dan Rather.

Thankfully, the Soviet Union did not touch off WWIII to retaliate for our support of the mujahedeen. But George Bush seems prepared to touch off at least a regional war over support that Iran is supposed to be supplying to the Iraqi insurgents.

But Spotty, the situations are entirely different!

Iran probably doesn't think so.

Tags: ,

No comments: