Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not Again-- Pragmatism and North Korea

Well I seem to read this headline on an annual basis “North Korea agree to stall nuclear program for xxx million or billions of dollars” Yay! I wonder if they will ever fire back up. I wrote this essay on North Korea 3 years ago… It still applies

Every now and then philosophy, in spite of itself, has the ability to permeate our modern lexicon and pop culture. Some deep thinker amidst subjective dilemma finds himself spurned on to create words that describe, and are only applicable to, their specific mental angst and pretty soon every trendy intellectual can orate a vague sense of the word. Freud gave the women at the art galleries “Oedipus” and Sartre gave the middle class rebel “existentialism”. Thomas Dewey gave us today’s favorite — pragmatism. The people that can define pragmatism usually do so with one of the following statements “thinking outside of the box” or “using creative and innovative techniques to solve old problems”. It’s a term that is thought of as progressive and intellectual compared to the stagnant “dogma”, a good word that the church probably destroyed with its own type of historical propagandize. The truth is though that pragmatism is a philosophical term coined by American intellectuals William James and Thomas Dewey, and it’s a doctrine that defines truth as “that which works”, meaning to evaluate situations and solve problems without set principles or preconceived notions of what is right.

Harry Sterling, former diplomat and Ottawa based commentator is one of these people. Recently he issued an article proclaiming the virtues of pragmatic thinking compared to the “hard line”, meaning principled approach George Bush assumes when dealing with North Korea. Staying true to the idea that truth is arbitrary and bound to perceptual instances, he demonstrated three cases where pragmatic thinking has succeeded internationally. His first example is Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offering of humanitarian assistance in exchange for “Pyonyang admit[ing] what it had long denied, that in the 1970’s and 80’s it had kidnapped 11 Japanese citizens”.

The Prime Minister eventually pertained a commitment to let the remaining Japanese leave at some undecided point in the future. Mr. Sterling presumably uses an example like this to point out that a hard line dictum that forbid humanitarian assistance to Communist dictators that kidnap citizens abroad wouldn’t have generated what was needed most in solving the conflict: introductions and the establishment of cordial relations. Even though the admission of guilt was achieved through extortion, the problem was solved, the reader remembering “the truth is that which works”.

Next Mr. Sterling points out that just last May, based on his earlier visit, “Koizumi paid another visit to North Korea and in exchange for the release of five North Korean-born offspring of kidnapped Japanese, Koizumi promised Pyongyang $10 million dollars US, plus 250, 000 tons of food aid.” Typically Mr. Sterling doesn’t exactly say what he has achieved, so I will have to speculate, that the resolution’s aim was to free the kidnapped Japanese and if aid is what was needed to achieve this, then they should do it. Never speculating that the solution legitimizes North Korea’s kidnapping of international citizens’ in the eyes of its own people and the rest of the world. The aid, along with propaganda proclaiming Kim Jong II’s benevolence and western corruption, distributed to the loyal bureaucrats of Pyongyang while the rural population, the real victims of his policies starve to death. And worse yet, based on North Korea’s own pragmatic models of thinking: If money is needed, trade hostages, if hostages run low kidnap more!

Mr. Sterling proceeds to give another example, this time of Australia’s foreign minister promising Pyongyang “substantial benefits of aid and investment if Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear program”. North Korea predictably agreed to “freeze” and “stall” their program for partial aid. And now the author has represented his greatest goal, the stalling of North Korea’s nuclear program in contrast to Bush, who has not achieved anything close to this. Once again never suspecting what North Korea might invest its financial aid in, possibly more weapon proliferation technology, and even worse Mr. Sterling never even begins to presume what will happen when North Korea next needs aid or investment again. Further contemplating his pragmatic solutions is the moral question of whether it is right for governments to loot the earned wealth of its own citizens to support corrupt dictators that starve their populations, who use the transferred wealth for building bigger, and even more dangerous militaries.

The common theme of all Mr. Sterling’s examples is that of compromise. The compromise of the earned wealth of free productive citizens for the sake of friendly relations with an unpredictable, maniacal, kidnapping despot, a despot who’s only contribution is this dangerous compromise is his admission of crimes everyone knew he already committed. What else do we receive for millions of dollars and thousands of tons of food? For his, an admitted liar’s promise of “stalling” an openly hostile nuclear program. How does this method of compromise protect us from the next irrational demand of money? And the answer is that it doesn’t, because pragmatic thinking is only concerned inherently, with the current kidnapping. As a philosophical principle, a statement which in itself is ant-pragmatic, pragmatism isn’t concerned with conceptual long range planning, as its truths are dependant on the immediate and its individual dynamics. And since the future can’t be predicted neither can the principles which will be needed to solve the problems, essentially making principles redundant and worthless.

Some other examples of pragmatic thinking was the funding of a young tyrant named Saddam Hussein to fight the spread of Shiite fundamentalism (the original suicide bombers). Only conceptual, long range, abstract thinking could have predicted that funding one dictator to fight another to a bloody stalemate was only going to create two dictators or said differently twice the problem. But Mr. Sterling would argue that if the goal was to stall Iran, and establish instant stability, then it was achieved. He admittedly wouldn’t be concerned with the fact that they, the Americans were the ones that legitimized Saddam’s power, and gave him credibility in the eyes of Iraqi citizens, all the while undermining America’s own position as an impartial foreigner.

Spain’s agreement to pull its troops out of Iraq after the destruction of a train full of its citizens solved their immediate problem of safety, but only further entrenched the idea that the best way to get results from the west is through extortion, which has endangered countless amounts of people for an immeasurable amount of time in the future.

The opposite of a pragmatic solution is one based on principles. The Canadian Oxford dictionary defines a principle as a “fundamental truth or law decided on the basis of reasoning”. Only long range planning and reasoning would have predicted that compromising with terrorists would only encourage more terrorism and legitimize terrorism in the eyes of the terrorists; exactly what has happened since the pragmatic compromises of Spain and Philippines with Islamic terrorists.

It’s important to have principle because men are fallible. Men may be fooled on a perceptual level some of the time, but most men are not fooled on a perceptual level consistently. Countless bad decisions have been made on the whims and strivings of individuals thus we develop agreed upon principles. We call these agreed on principles the constitution. Constitutions are meant to give our hardest and most conflicting problems paradigms for solution. The American constitution was devised on the principle of protecting individual rights against the intrusion of government or other men. Thus laws were formulated on the predication or guideline of protecting individual rights. Laws devised contrary to the protection of rights were deemed unconstitutional and avoided. Principles take into account what the consequences of various solutions might be, in that giving men philosophical guidelines when making emotionally charged complex decisions, so that they’re not blinded by the immediate and short term. It would be a principle that declares “we do not deal with terrorists”, making hostages useless politically, it’s pragmatic thinking that declares “we deal with terrorist some of the time so try us!”

The worst part about principally based nations using pragmatic means to arrive at solutions is that they undermine their very own philosophical foundations of being a nation that has principles in the first place. Pragmatism, by its very nature makes truth arbitrary. It says that there is no universal truth, that having values is wrong. Using pragmatic solutions to solve some problems logically extends to denouncing the use of principles in all situations. It says the key to solving problems is by dealing with each one problem as an individual entity, ignoring all similar problems, previous models, and possible consequences, as each situation is immensely complicated and dynamic, so generalizations and dogma are useless. Ignoring the fact that the very idea that contemporary problems are so complicated leaves them even more vulnerable to the irresponsible or faulty indiscretion of one person or any small group of peoples faced with conflicting perceptual messages.

Principles can be reached objectively from an emotional distance, decided upon by debate, and judged with reason, so we won’t be dependent on instincts and whims when we’re in desperate and uncertain moral predicaments.


At 10:23 PM, Blogger notloz said...

I would have to disagree i think pragmatic solutions are valid and history has proved that to be effective. Lets take a case example of Canada and the united states. Religion will be the focus of this debate.
In the united states they took harsh and ineffective measures to separate church and state power. This battle still rages on and has exasperated the differences in an US vs them mentality. (this is too parochial and ineffective in dealing with this cultural cleavage. In Canada the separation of church and state has happened in a slower more pragmatic motion releasing the strong parochial emotions and biased opinions from the realm of debate. Sure pragmatism is slower to change but it is more effective.

"Only long range planning and reasoning would have predicted that compromising with terrorists would only encourage more terrorism and legitimize terrorism in the eyes of the terrorists"
Thats a laugh and bullshit even in simple logic.
The war in Iraq is fueling terrorism not quelling the hatred towards the west. This hatred is validating the radical views of people in society because they are reacting to you're non-valid non justified war. And people are going to flock to them because "the west" killed their relatives for NO REASON.
Even religious in the united states people cannot validate this war for it does not conform to ST.Aquinas's just war theory. LOL
I also think you're mashing the word post modern and pragmatism together. Getting this ABSURD notion of reality in which you ex spouse. I caught you Ignoring the categorical imperative with Kant and I was hoping you would be more thorough.
Look at history most of the problems were caused by drawing a line between two different camps. I'm surprised that Muslims have been so benign if you add factors like the crusades in the mix.
And that is exactly what you are a proponent of, a quick surgical strike or a war that will only exasperates these differences and cause a society or culture to draw that line even more so. The Isralies are a little xenophobic and nationalistic. But who could blame them they almost had their culture wiped out.
Simple logic a negative precedent/action does not produce a positive solution. IT only exasperates differences and promotes instability in a world that is coming together faster then it ever has.

At 5:50 PM, Blogger angryroughneck said...

Well here's someone who I know didn't read my longwinded rant. Boring as it were as leat it was logical. And then there was a notloz..

Notloz says:"In Canada the separation of church and state has happened in a slower more pragmatic motion"

Pragmatic doesn't mean a "slow moving process." By your own erroneous example-- Both countries adhere to the PRINCIPLE of the seperation of church state-- both sought it differently but according to the same principle.

Thats all for now. one error at a time

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

I would have to disagree i think pragmatic solutions are valid and history has proved that to be effective.

You would think somebody arguing in favour of compromising on the North Korea file as notloz seems to be doing would avoid the word "history" as much as possible, given that "historically" North Korea has gone against their promise regarding nuclear weapons despite cashing in big paycheques from the U.S. Treasury.


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