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There is a refusal to name the threat in the middle east by its name. The justification is that calling them for what they are would give them "dignity.".

What do Objectivists think about this?

asked Feb 22 '15 at 17:13

user890's gravatar image


I heard this from our President recently. He said (if I understood the news report of his speech correctly) that terrorists seek to justify their actions in the name of religion, but that all Americans should "refute" such claims, i.e., deny that terrorism is ever justified by religious belief. The President's apparent premise is that the murderous, barbaric actions of terrorists are never consistent with any religion, since faith allegedly implies peaceful cooperation (!).

Objectivists disagree with this. Commentaries available from The Ayn Rand Institute routinely refer to the main terrorist threat today as "Islamic totalitarianism," motivated and inspired by the religion of Islam (in a particularly stark and consistent form). Just this month (February 2015), a leading Objectivist journal, The Objective Standard, has published two articles on the relation between militant Islam and religious faith (link).

To be consistent, anyone (including the President) who denies that militant Islamic terrorists are inspired by their religion would also need to deny that the Medieval Christian Inquisition had anything to do with religion. Too many modern observers today resist consistency, i.e., cognitive integration (also known as "connecting the dots"). (To be historically precise, the Inquisition reached its full expression near the beginning of the Renaissance, before the Renaissance led to the Protestant Reformation of the church.)

It's true that there was a Renaissance in the West several centuries ago, but religion existed in the world long before the Renaissance. Pre-Renaissance forms of religion have been growing again as the Enlightenment and its lingering echoes have declined. That is the form of religion we are witnessing today in these militant Islamic terrorists (and their state sponsors), and it is crucial for the West to understand it -- to understand that it is fundamentally inherent in religion as such, when religion is allowed to mushroom into a fully consistent expression without any traces of a Renaissance or Enlightenment opposing it.

If our President wants to "make a case" for the Renaissance and Enlightenment in opposition to the religious claims of terrorists, let him proceed to do so without further waffling. Religion and its worst (most consistent) elements cannot withstand a rational alternative. But any such case will ultimately fail if one attempts to cling to religion in any form while trying to oppose the terrorists' claims of religious sanction. It is too late to aim for any "middle ground" between post-Renaissance religion and its pre-Renaissance ancestry devoted to pervasive demands for unquestioning belief, allegiance to faith, and severe punishment or death for unrepentant deviants and non-believers. The attempt to find "middle ground" will only strengthen and hasten the resurrection of the older dogmas, edicts, and brutality.

(Incidentally, if anyone wonders what "ISIL" and "ISIS" mean, there is an informative Wikipedia article on "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." In either case, the first "IS" stands for "Islamic State.")

answered Feb 24 '15 at 00:19

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

It seems to me that the most important issue with regard to using a name to describe an enemy (as opposed to a generic label like "criminals") is what the name is. When we are talking about a legitimate threat on the national scale, I do not think that the mere fact of using a name to describe that enemy is going to give it "dignity".

However, I do think that it is an error to accept and use the wrong name to describe an enemy. By wrong name, I mean a name that implies something about the enemy that is not true or obscures something important about the nature of the enemy. Often, the self-professed names of an enemy are the wrong name to use, because they often attempt to falsely imply good things about the enemy or conceal the true nature of the enemy. For example, I do not think it was good that the world at large accepted the self-professed names of enemies such as the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), the PLA of China (People's Liberation Army of China), and so on. These organizations are dedicated to violating rights and the implication that they are "liberators" is ludicrous. Moreover, these names obscure the primary nature of these organizations (i.e., that they are Islamist (PLO) and Communist (PLA)).

Thus, although I have no problem in general with using a name to refer to a national-scale enemy, I would be wary of accepting their self-professed names without due consideration. (of course, now that names such as PLO and PLA have been largely accepted, it does no good for us to refuse to use them now; doing so would only make it difficult to communicate clearly).

In fact, I think that failing to use any name to describe a national-scale enemy (as the linked article advocates) can sometimes be more harmful than even using a wrong name to refer to them. Referring to an enemy merely descriptively (e.g., "terrorists", "criminals", "bombers", "youths", etc.) implies that they are not serious, large-scale, and organized, because we usually give names to serious, large-scale, organized groups/institutions/movements. However, when the threat truly is serious, large-scale, and organized, implying that it is not so misleads the uniformed and can foster complacency and mis-evaluation of the threat.

I presume that the rationale for refusing to name an enemy is precisely in order to imply that they are unimportant (i.e., they are not serious, disorganized, small-fries, etc.). However, if in fact it is not true that the enemy is unimportant, then you are only hurting yourself by promoting that notion. It may feel good to "slight" the enemy by implying they are unimportant, but this is just emotional masturbation. Pretending that they are unimportant when they really are quite important does not do any good, and in fact harms you by making you mis-evaluate their threat. Faking reality is never in your long-term interest.

Of course, if an enemy really is unimportant, then yes, giving them a name may give them dignity that they do not deserve. Giving a name to a rag-tag group of 4 idiots intent on doing harm may give them too much dignity, because it might imply that they are more than a mere collection of criminals. However, this type of situation in which using a name would give undeserved dignity is not going to apply to any legitimate threats at the national scale. Any enemy that rises to the level of legitimate national-scale threat, is presumably important enough in fact that giving them a name is not going to give them any undeserved dignity.

Turning to the impetus for this question, ISIS, this is an example of a self-professed name that I probably would not quibble with. I do not see any implication of virtue in the name, and the name seems to properly identify the essential nature of the group--i.e., "Islamic". An argument could be made that they are not truly a "State" (yet), and thus "Islamic State" gives them some false dignity (the dubious dignity of being a "State"). However, because the chief goal of the group is to establish an Islamic State, I would argue that the name is properly descriptive of the group--it describes their primary goal and organizing principles. Thus, this appears to be a case where the name is fine. Moreover, the group is clearly serious, large-scale, and organized, and therefore I do not think that the mere act of naming them is going to give them any recognition that they are not due---they are a serious threat, and no amount of Obama fantasizing will make that fact go away.

answered May 14 '15 at 10:54

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited May 15 '15 at 08:58

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Asked: Feb 22 '15 at 17:13

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Last updated: May 15 '15 at 08:58