Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kalashikovs and Cupcakes

Christina Lamb's weblog over at the UK Times puts forth an interesting question:

If you can get $10 a day fighting for the Taliban and $20 a month as a policeman
what would you choose?

The answer I am sure she expects is "Hey I will fight for the Taliban." The nature of the question is idiotic and misguided. It is based on a false assumption about the nature of man. The answer she expects is posited on the assumption that people weigh allegiances on a purely economic cost/value scale. This is an unwarranted assumption.

The idea of right versus wrong or good versus evil does not play into her piece at all. Her question is similar to asking "$30,000 dollars a year as a cop or $60,000 a week as a drug smuggler, what would you choose?"

The answer is quite clear to me. She completely overlooks the fact that there is honor in one. By phrasing the question in the manner in which she did, she makes it seem as if either choice is as equally valid as the other.

Of course I am sure that is how she meant it. Modern day ethics tells us that there is not such thing as an objectively good or bad choice. All choices are inherently equal. It goes back to Weber's (may he burn in hell) fact/value distinction. The problem with this is that it ignores the fact that values can be facts and facts can be values.

People fight for reasons that are not connected to economic gain.

John Keegan, the greatest military historian of modernity, put it this way:

The graphic depiction of the reality of legionary warfare, in which the
unvarying daily order of the camp...could be suddenly interrupted by
confrontation with a yelling crowd of unshaven and unkempt strangers, reeking of
dirt and fear and sweating with the intense exertion of muscle-power warfare,
conveys withou the need for further demonstration that the Roman professional
soldier did not serve for the monetary rewards enlistment brought him. his
values were those by which his fellows in the modern age continue to live: pride
in a distinctive (and distinctly masculine) way of life, concern to enjoy the
the good opinion of comrades, satifaction in the largely symbolic tokens of
professional success, hopes of promotion, expectation of a comfortable and
honourable retirement.