Friday, January 20, 2006


Says Ezra:

There's this mass belief among the Daniel Pipes-segment of the right that, whatever al-Qaeda says, their actual goal is to stand atop the carcass of the West while exercising total hegemony over the East. Maybe. But then there are all these moments where al-Qaeda says they'd really just like us off their holy lands and to stop invading Arab countries. And then there's my favored explanation: that bin-Laden wants power but needs support, and thinks pitting us against fairly banal demands for cultural autonomy will make America the sort of enemy he can gain power by attacking.

This may end up revealing more about me than about Bin Laden, but I stand a lot closer to the Pipes view. (I can't believe that Osama is so dumb as to think that 9/11 would prevent America from doing more invasions of Arab countries. And I'm guessing that the kind of guy who organizes dramatic acts of violent terrorism is a guy who lusts for the final battle. BTW, drunk post warning.) The problem I have with Ezra's view is that I can't even understand the allure of that kind of power.

Why does my utilitarian ass want power? So that I can bring about pleasure for everybody and reduce their pain. I can't really understand power as an end. Fame, I can understand, since it's fun to be admired. But there seems to be only a trivial amount of fun in being able to get what you want, if you set aside the fun of actually getting and enjoying the cool things you want. And so it seems deeply implausible to me that Osama is doing all this just because it's his path to power. That he does what he does for some deeper goal -- to bring the immoral West to its knees, or to set up a glorious society based on Islamic law, or because it would've impressed the hot chick he wanted in high school (okay, probably not that) makes sense to me. Power for power's sake doesn't.


Blar said...

Answered, 143 years ago:

[W]e may remember that virtue is not the only thing, originally a means, and which if it were not a means to anything else, would be and remain indifferent, but which by association with what it is a means to, comes to be desired for itself, and that too with the utmost intensity. What, for example, shall we say of the love of money? There is nothing originally more desirable about money than about any heap of glittering pebbles. Its worth is solely that of the things which it will buy; the desires for other things than itself, which it is a means of gratifying. Yet the love of money is not only one of the strongest moving forces of human life, but money is, in many cases, desired in and for itself; the desire to possess it is often stronger than the desire to use it, and goes on increasing when all the desires which point to ends beyond it, to be compassed by it, are falling off. It may, then, be said truly, that money is desired not for the sake of an end, but as part of the end. From being a means to happiness, it has come to be itself a principal ingredient of the individual's conception of happiness. The same may be said of the majority of the great objects of human life- power, for example, or fame; except that to each of these there is a certain amount of immediate pleasure annexed, which has at least the semblance of being naturally inherent in them; a thing which cannot be said of money. Still, however, the strongest natural attraction, both of power and of fame, is the immense aid they give to the attainment of our other wishes; and it is the strong association thus generated between them and all our objects of desire, which gives to the direct desire of them the intensity it often assumes, so as in some characters to surpass in strength all other desires.

Anonymous said...

A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order. A system that "subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production" is contrary to human dignity. Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of emptiness. It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons. Simony is defined as the buying or selling of spiritual things. To Simon the magician, who wanted to buy spiritual power, one responded: "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain spirituality with money!" "You received without pay, give without pay." It is impossible to appropriate to oneself spiritual goods and behave toward them as their owner or master, for they have their source in the infinite. One can receive them only without payment. Idolatry not only refers to false worship. It remains a constant temptation. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature, whether this be gods or demons, power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. History forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. It also forbids the desire to commit injustice by harming our neighbor in his temporal goods: When the Law says, "You shall not covet," these words mean that we should banish our desires for whatever does not belong to us. Our thirst for another's goods is immense, infinite, never quenched. Thus it is written: "He who loves money never has money enough."