Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Why don’t I blog more? I don’t know. Should hans’s blog even count as a blog, or should it be called “Really good theological reflections once a year?” With those questions in mind, keep reading. This is a random post about something I’ve been thinking about.

I don’t think Richard Rorty is a relativist. I even wrote a paper about that once, took it to Texas, and presented it. Some of the people didn’t agree with me--some did. But the ones who didn’t were able to point to statements like the following:

“A given society is just if its substantive life is lived in a certain way – that is, in a way faithful to the shared understanding of its members.”

That was actually written by a political theorist named Michael Walzer. (Just to throw you off, if he sounds like a peace-loving latte-sipping cutting-and-running hippie relativist, think again: he supported the war in Afghanistan and was critical of our European allies for their conduct before the Iraq war.)

Rorty quotes Walzer in multiple places in his work and endorses such statements. Since for Rorty there are really no such things as “moral principles,” only “things most people agree about,” the above definition is all that’s possible for a society: if no one's complaining, how would you know anything was wrong?

I don't agree with the statement, however. Just because a society gets together and decides what's just and then lives it out and no one complains is NOT a necessary and sufficient condition for justice. To be honest, I don't know what those conditions are. (John Rawls might, but since I can't get through his books, it doesn't look good for me.) I would say that a given society is just if and only if it's just. There's more to say, but I can't get it into one sentence.

Rorty says that lots of people think of morality as the following: a thin, core set of unarguable principles and practices surrounded by a thick accretion of customs and contingencies. He proposes that we think of evyerthing as contingency, and "principles" as those things we can abstract from the set of all behaviors of the human race.

In conclusion: Richard Rorty remains not a relativist. The unqualified endorsement of statements like the above does not help his case.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Sudan?

In Slate, Anne Applebaum asks why the crisis, genocide and refugee situation in Sudan have generated so much fanfare, when there are so many other debacles across the world:

"Darfur is not the only place in the world where there has been mass murder, even ethnic mass murder, on a large, historically familiar scale. The North Korean regime has for years run concentration camps directly modeled on the concentration camps of Stalin's Soviet Union. But, though there is excellent documentation of Pyongyang's camps—the U.S. Committee on Human Rights in North Korea even has satellite photographs on its Web site—and though some religious and university groups have made an effort, the level of interest, and therefore perhaps of U.N. involvement, is much lower."

She makes a good point, but for me, the level of interest in NK vs. the Sudan is because I feel like I personally can have an impact on the situation in the Sudan, while I can't affect NK, which is locked tight. Doctors Without Borders, a 4-star charity and recipient of the 1999 Nobel peace prize, doesn't even operate in NK:

"MSF operated inside North Korea from 1995 to 1998. During this time, the organization attempted to supply drugs and medical training for approximately 1,100 health centers and to run 60 therapeutic feeding centers for malnourished children in three provinces. In 1998, convinced that its assistance was not reaching the most vulnerable people, and was, on the contrary, helping to feed the regime oppressing them, MSF withdrew from the country."

Contrast that with its $25 million budget in the Sudan:

"MSF has been running projects in Darfur since early 2004 and today has 123 international and 2,233 national staff working across the region's three provinces. With a total budget in Darfur for 2006 of nearly $25 million, it is one of the most significant operations in the world for MSF."

That's my take.