January 23, 2008

Civility

I found this post from Craig Murray rather surprising. Murray is rightly a critic of the ideas of the Times journalist David Aaronovitch- but he has gone further and stated that Aaronovitch is a "sleazy fat neo-con slob". Murray says in his defence of those words that

David Aaronovich is confused as to why I would wish to be impolite about him. The answer is quite plain. Supporting the Iraq War, and cheerleading for it, is not a legitimate policy choice. It is complicity in an appalling act of aggression and mass murder. The invasion of another country, resulting in the death of (literally) countless civilians, in order to seize control of natural resources, was an act of hideous criminality. Nazi "Journalists" stood trial at Nuremberg charged with propagandizing for illegal war.

I tend to have rigorously argued political views. I am, for example, strongly against the private finance initiative and other private provision in the NHS. I am opposed to state aid to Northern Rock. On those and other issues, many people have other opinions and I genuinely respect those views and engage with them, much as I may disagree.

But the Iraq war is not like that. Supporting the illegal invasion of other countries is a crime; it is no more legitimate than to argue that "The Yorkshire Ripper Was Right". It does not surprise me that Aaronovitch and other renegades of the hard left like Phillips and Hitchens have taken this position - ruthlessness and disregard for individuals provide the consistent thread in their odyssey around the unpleasant extremes of politics.

I am afraid, David, that decent people will look down on you the rest of your life. Get used to it.

Murray here equates some political choices with crimes whereas he says that others are just differences of opinion. To invade Iraq is to behave like the Yorkshire ripper, to demand that the NHS be left in inefficient public ownership is to have a political opinion. Nowhere does he define exactly what he means by any of this. Indeed the standard that Mr Murray adopts seems to be whether Mr Murray cares about a particular issue or not. Being opposed to state aid to Northern Rock risks for instance causing the decent into poverty of its depositors- no doubt Mr Murray would disagree- but you could say that to advocate that is to have that on your conscience. Again if you believe that (which I don't) the NHS is more inefficient within the public sector, to oppose its privatisation is literally to sign the death sentence of those who die because we have a worse health sector.

Those who argued for the invasion of Iraq argued that it would produce democracy within Iraq and replace a particularly nasty dictator with a democratic regime. They argued that the concept of international law that Mr Murray believes in, in which the invasion of Poland was a more serious crime than the Holocaust, is overwritten by a concept based on human rights law according to which Saddam Hussein's regime was illegitimate and ripe for deposition. You may agree or disagree with their analysis or their argument- but it isn't a criminal argument or criminal analysis no more than the prudential calculation about the health service or Northern Rock is. I am not sure that there are criminal arguments in politics anyway- though if there are they would one might think have to aim at criminal ends, like the extermination of a race, rather than aim at democratic liberation. Mr Murray's argument makes no sense.

Furthermore its also bad practise. Democracy is about different groups of citizens having widely different opinions on important issues. Freedom of speech allows us all to discuss those issues and come to a view. If we are to do that, we must be at liberty to make our views known and furthermore we must take our time to evaluate and consider views before dismissing them. We also have to take the fact that we are citizens of a comunity that has others within it too seriously- so for example we need to listen and attempt to persuade others to our point of view. Insulting people doesn't help persuade them that you are right- indeed insults prove to me that you have lost an argument because you aren't considering the possibility of persuading your interlocutor. We all occasionally lose our cool- and I am sure Mr Murray has on this occasion- these remarks are not aimed at him personally and there are some arguments which seem petty and ridiculous- but he has announced a principle and I disagree with him. Civility ultimately is neccessary for democracy to survive- something that eighteenth century theorists who crafted our modern notions of politeness well knew.

Amongst the blogosphere's major problems is this tide of invective: it doesn't help either those that manufacture it or those that are the recipients of it.

5 comments:

terrycollmann said...

Anyone who thinks we'll take his political/philosophical/moral position seriously by calling his opponent "that sleazy fat neo-con slob" has definitely lost the plot. Sorry, Craig - any respect I might have had for your argument disappears imediately once you start flinging ad hominem insults.

Political Umpire said...

He's just trying to avoid argument. By labelling your opponents as akin to ripper apologists, you needn't engage with any of the tiresome details like what they actually said.

Gracchi said...

I agree with both of you- perhaps in retrospect I gave his opinions too much respect.

mutleythedog said...

You might as well argue that to fail to invade Iraq makes you guilty of not helping victims of Saddams genocide..

Gracchi said...

Mutley exactly!