Tuesday, August 26, 2014

principled position

Maybe it's one of those dog-ate-my-homework human proclivities: When current principles become too binding, don't change the principles, just change the vocabulary. In that way, personal or social,  it is possible to forgive a frailty while maintaining a 'principled' position.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a sarin gas attack in Syria left between 281 and 1,729 people dead. The United States among others was quick to condemn the use of chemical weapons and equally quick to suggest that Syria itself had been the author of the attack, though no perpetrator was named specifically in the wake of an investigation. The slaughter in Syria was OK, though criticized, but the use of chemical weapons was a wartime no-no. U.S. principles were intact -- Syria was the bad guy, a Goliath stomping down on a rebellious David. The message was that if it could, the U.S. would aid the rebels, but ... well ... it was complicated so, although principles were intact (dictatorship was a bad thing), involvement was not wise if principles were to be maintained.

The world yowled as the dead piled up. Syria was the bully. It would be unprincipled to cozy up with Syria.

A year later -- which is to say last night -- Syria offered and the United States seemed to be seriously considering Syria's aid in fighting 'terrorism' on its soil. Of course, there was no notion that the U.S. might commit "boots on the ground" -- though in an aside there was a suggestion that perhaps specialized troops might be invested. No one mentioned the Joint Strategic Objectives unit ... the hit men who took out Osama bin Laden at the president's behest.

JSOP is troops -- boots on the ground -- but if no one mentions it, the principle of no-boots-on-the-ground assuages a war-weary American public. The principle is maintained without actually maintaining it. The U.S. remains a principled and thoughtful player. Within this speculative scenario, principles count even when actions are likely to belie their assertion. We are the good guys.

How many times does anyone cozy up with yesterday's enemy? If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. How many times, for example, does the "compassion" of spiritual life get drip-by-drop transformed into a very-very-very-nice persuasion or another psychological escape valve? Compassion is said to be "incomparable," and yet the need to compare, to find a principled foothold is overwhelming?

Are principles worth the price of admission? If so, why? If not, why not? One thing seems to be certain -- changing the vocabulary to suit some feel-good need hardly seems to qualify as "principle."


  1. Your not wrong ... sellouts!

  2. I think it was 2000 when dad said he wasn't going to vote anymore, that it didn't make a difference. I vote in the hope of being an irritant to the powers that be, and so that friends who believe it makes a difference won't give me grief. Dad was right of course. But if i can cover my ass and give a last act of defiance in one gesture... i'll take the twofer.