Monday, October 22, 2007

Operation Iraqi Freedom: An Altruistic War

This is my first published article which appears in the fall issue of the student periodical The Undercurrent:

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM: AN ALTRUISTIC WAR

At the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on August 22, President Bush spoke about the lessons of World War II, arguing that the U.S. occupation of Japan serves as a model for the current conflict in the Middle East. But the terrible state of the Iraq War makes it clear that he has not learned those lessons himself.

Here's what happened in WW II: On December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked by Japan, a nation of suicidal and religiously motivated warriors. Less than four years later, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito--his country in ruins and his people utterly demoralized--surrendered unconditionally. The subsequent U.S. occupation of Japan met little resistance, and state-sponsorship of the national Shinto religion was suppressed, allowing a smooth transition into a new government. The two countries have since become allies.

By contrast, it's now been over four years since the Iraq War began, and the death toll continues to mount. Judged by the standard of World War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom has been an abysmal failure. Our lack of success is underscored by the fact that our military is vastly superior to the Iraqi opposition. The Japanese were a much more formidable foe, and yet the U.S. was able to achieve complete victory against them in less than four years. What is the difference?

The difference lies in the moral philosophy guiding our nation's leaders. WWII was a war of self-preservation, waged to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens. It would have been considered treasonous to call the U.S. operations in Japan, 'Operation Japanese Freedom'. Securing freedom for Americans, not the Japanese or German people, was the purpose of the war. That purpose guided every American decision, from which weapons to use to which constitution to impose on the defeated enemies. Even the U.S. reconstruction efforts in Japan after the war were aimed at keeping the Japanese permanently non-threatening.

What is the goal of the Iraq war? Is it to secure American freedom and relentlessly punish those who threaten it? No: "Our men and woman are fighting to secure the freedom of [Iraqis]," Bush has declared. Bush's aim is not to secure American freedom, but to engage in a worldwide crusade for democracy.

The moral foundation of this goal is the ideal of altruism. Altruism is a moral code which judges an individual, or a nation, by the standard of how much one sacrifices to others. As an altruist, Bush believes that morality requires America to sacrifice for other nations. It requires that American soldiers be slaughtered in order reign gifts on the Iraqis.

One can see the stamp of altruism all over Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the publicly touted goals of the war, to the methods used to wage it. From the very beginning, U.S. forces have taken great care to minimize damage to Iraqi civilians, infrastructure, and even feelings. The rules of engagement forbid U.S. soldiers from attacking mosques--which our enemies often use as bases of operations--in order to avoid offending Iraqi religious sensibilities. New recruits must endure Islamic sensitivity training before they are deployed. All the while, American soldiers keep paying the price for these policies with their lives.

The U.S. military is functioning more like the Peace Corps than an occupation force. Allied soldiers build bridges, dig toilets, and secure public markets for Iraqi use. Many U.S. forces are engaged in protecting and supporting the impotent Iraqi government. As allied soldiers face daily attacks from insurgents, Iraqi politicians--some of which explicitly support the insurgents--bicker over which faction should benefit most from state-owned oil production.

These altruist goals and methods necessarily conflict with the goal of national self-preservation. Iraqi insurgents--and terrorists around the world--are emboldened by every sacrifice offered to the Iraqi people. They hide in mosques and disappear into the civilian population, knowing they will not be pursued.

The true lesson of WWII is this: in order to defeat a powerfully motivated enemy, a nation must fight proudly and openly for its own self-defense, doing whatever is necessary to secure victory. And we must understand what victory truly means: the unconditional surrender of the enemy and the destruction of his ability to wage war.

A nation can either fight to defend its own citizens (as we did in WWII), or sacrifice for the benefit of enemy civilians (as we are doing in the Iraq War), but not both. If America is to enter a war, it should be for one reason only: to eliminate foreign dangers to American freedom. We should identify any threat to our national security, annihilate it as quickly as possible, and then bring our soldiers home.

--Dan Edge

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Captain America" Retires

3-Time UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture retired Thursday, officially ending his reign over a sports empire he was instrumental in building. As Mixed Martial Arts becomes more prominent in the news (the UFC was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this year) and more profitable at the bank (the UFC had the highest pay-per-view ratings in 2006), only one man could accurately be described as "the face of MMA" in America.

Randy Couture will be remembered as MMA’s greatest champion and ambassador. An Olympic athlete, an honorable sportsman, an intelligent spokesman, an unconquerable warrior -- these are the traits used to describe a superhero. The moniker "Captain America" is truly fitting.

As a 3-time Heavyweight Champion of the UFC, Randy Couture is unarguably the Baddest Man on the Planet. A tougher human being literally could not be found. Yet he charmed an entire generation of sports fans with his pride, his professionalism, and his perspicacity. In a country riddled with spoiled, belligerent, and criminal athletes, a true sportsman like Couture is a breath of fresh air.

I have no doubt but that the healthy UFC will continue its meteoric success after Couture's departure. But he will be sorely missed by his fans, his promoters, and especially by those he inspired to compete in an exciting new sport. One can only hope that out of the next generation of fighters, some elite few will approach the sport as Couture did.

Football gave us men like Dan Marino and Brett Favre. Basketball has Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. Boxing’s greatest include names like Rocky Marciano and Muhammed Ali. Now “The Natural” Randy Couture joins Royce Gracie in the group of Mixed Martial Arts’ founding members and greatest heroes.

Thanks for the ride, Randy, and best wishes in your future endeavors.

--Dan Edge

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Are There "Bad" Emotions?

We know that emotions are the psychosomatic form in which one experiences his automatized value judgments. So if a particular emotional response is a reaction to a false judgment, is it a “bad” emotion? Should one judge himself negatively for habitually experiencing “bad” emotions? These questions recently came up in a conversation with a friend, and I want to share my thoughts on the issue here.

Consider some examples of people whose emotions are responses to irrational value judgments:

A man is taught at a very young age that pleasurable sex is dirty and immoral. He later discovers a rational philosophy and begins to integrate it into his life. He meets a woman who shares his new values, and he falls in love. But when she gives him pleasure, he feels ashamed and angry without knowing why. His lover senses this, and it causes negative tension in the relationship.

Or: a bright young woman discovers Objectivism in middle school, and begins to feel alienated from her peers. She develops a Malevolent People Premise, which she carries into adulthood. She constantly rages against the irrationality in the world. When she receives poor customer service at Walmart one day, it puts her in a bad mood for a week.

In both of these examples, a person’s emotions are reacting to false or inaccurate judgments. And in both cases, the problem is difficult to identify and may continue to exist for many years. The man who feels ashamed during sex is operating according to a false principle: that sexual pleasure is immoral. The woman who rages against poor customer service is also reacting to a false principle: that irrationality is of primary importance in her life. Are these “bad” emotions? Should these two judge themselves negatively for continuing to experience these emotional reactions, even after the problem is identified?

My answer to the former question is “no.” Emotional reactions are automatic -- not volitional -- and as such they are exempt from moral judgment. One cannot judge himself for things which are not under his direct control. Those who condemn themselves for their feelings only compound their psychological confusion. There is no such thing as a “bad” emotion. All emotions are good, in that they provide one with evidence about his automatized value judgments.

Nor is it immoral to retain irrational principles from childhood. A child’s mind is like a sponge, soaking up everything it comes in contact with. Children are not fully volitional in the adult sense. It is not until young adulthood that one gains the ability to sort through his mind’s contents and discard any false premises he may have absorbed.

This principle – that there are no “bad” emotions – is an important one for young Objectivists to recognize. Deeply ingrained contradictions do not disappear the moment one discovers a rational philosophy. It can take years of introspection and self-training to overcome these issues. I have seen too many young people ignore their emotional reactions because, according to their explicit philosophy, that’s not how they should feel. They are ashamed of their “bad” emotions and sweep them under the rug. This compounds their confusion, and the problem persists.

These people fail to identify the root of their psychological problems. It is not the emotion that is wrong, but the automatized judgment associated with it. It is only immoral if one pretends the problem does not exist.

For instance, if the man in the earlier example talks to his lover about his feelings, starts a journal, and ruthlessly introspects about the issue -- then his actions are perfectly moral. His emotional response to sex may not change immediately, but he has nothing to be ashamed of. He is working towards a solution. However, if he represses the emotional reaction because he doesn’t think he should feel it, and ignores the evidence his emotions provide about his automatized values -- then his actions are immoral. He is evading a contradiction.

An adult is certainly responsible for clearing up any false principles in his mind that may exist from childhood. But he cannot hold himself responsible for the emotional reactions to these contradictions. He must fix the problem at the root, and eventually his emotional life will fall in line with his chosen values.

--Dan Edge

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Start a Journal, Make a List, and Check It Twice

Towards the end of 2005, I was at a very low point in my life. I had developed an array of bad habits that precluded me from achieving significant life goals. In fact, I had no explicit life goals, beyond the broad framework of principles ingrained into me by years of studying Objectivism. I felt very little passion or motivation for anything.

Late one night, I was talking to my wonderful future wife, Kelly, about my inner sense of suffocation and paralysis. As she so often does, Kelly had a brilliant suggestion for me -- "Start a journal." She advised me to get on my computer that evening, open a Word document, and write at least a few lines. "Just do it, even if all you do is write, 'I don't want to write in this journal right now, but here it is.'"

That's exactly how my first journal entry began. But then I kept going. A half hour later, I had written a page and a half. I decided ahead of time that I would never show the journal to anyone, so I spoke only to myself. Over the next few days, I introspected about the state of my life, my mind, and my emotional state. I began to form a battle plan about what direction my life was going to take. But I knew I needed to start simple.

Day 3 into my journal writing, I decided to make a simple list of tasks to be completed by the next day. These chores included: making my bed, cleaning my bedroom, paying a bill, and making another journal entry. The next day, after I had completed these goals, I placed a digital smiley face -- :) -- next to each completed task. I wrote a new list for the next day and added other chores.

When a particular task became automatic, and I no longer needed to remind myself to do it, I transferred it to a new list which I entitled "Automatized Tasks." Many of the new chores were smaller steps towards larger goals. In this way, I continued to become more goal-oriented an productive.

By the next week, I was working out every day, keeping the house tidy, training the dogs, and keeping close tabs on my finances. A month later, I applied for readmission to the University of South Carolina. Six months later, I finally completed my BA in Philosophy (ten years after I started going to school). About six months after that, I started my own business. It's now been over two years. A day planner has replaced the Word document with the digital smilies, but it serves the same purpose.

These days, I am very productive. I am the president of a small business, a sophomore in the OAC, a weekly blogger, a contributor to The Undercurrent (my article is in the next issue!), and I'm about to start a small eBay business buying and selling old NES video games. Kelly and I will be married in April, and we are in the process of planning our life together. Beyond that, I have found -- or rather created -- my rudder. I have become a deliberate, passionate, productive valuer.

I share this because I know there are others out there who know how to live in theory, but have not learned how to form a plan and execute. If you find yourself directionless and demotivated, I highly recommend keeping a journal and writing lists. Doing these things gives physical reality to your thoughts, goals, and emotions. It provides you with a structure through which you can charge passionately and deliberately in the direction of your dreams.

If this blog entry strikes a chord in you, then I advise you to do what I did -- start your journal tonight. Start simple. Start anywhere. But start tonight!

--Dan Edge