Thursday, March 31, 2016

Just War Theory & Hope

Wartime Hopes

            Analyzing hope can help explain a certain objection that is sometimes made against Just War theory.  I start with hope.
            There are at least four judgments or moments in hope.  First is the judgment of desire.  Very little thinking need be involved; one simply recognizes that he wants some outcome.  Second is an evaluative judgment.  One judges that the thing hoped for is a component of the good, thus an appropriate goal of hope.  We often realize that some of the things we want aren’t actually good, so we don’t hope for them.  Third is an epistemic judgment.  One judges whether the desired goal is likely or unlikely.  If the desired good thing is likely to transpire, it is easy to hope for it; we expect the good thing.  Fourth is a practical judgment.  One judges how important the desired goal is in one’s life as a whole.  There are situations in which it is praiseworthy to hope even though the thing hoped for is unlikely to happen, e.g. a person alone and badly injured on a seldom-used logging road might still hope that someone might come by to help.
             Now let’s consider Just War theory.  Among the various rules promulgated by Just War theorists is one that nations should not fight wars in which victory is unlikely.  The rationale for this rule rests on the basic ideas of Just War theory: 1) war is prima facie a bad thing, because it has many bad results, such as destruction of property and people getting killed, 2) nevertheless, some outcomes are even worse than the bad results of war, so 3) wars may be permissible, but 4) wars should only be fought when the evils of the war are less than the evils the wars will prevent.  The idea that war may prevent some worse evil is essential to Just War theory.  Therefore, if defeat seems likely, a nation should not enter a war, because the evils of the war will not prevent the worse evils, but only add to them. 
Notice the parallel between the analysis of hope and the rule against hopeless wars.  Both cases ask persons to judge the likelihood of future events.  In hope, we judge whether the desired outcome is likely.  In war, we judge whether victory is likely. 
Notice also that the parallel ends.  It is sometimes right and praiseworthy to “hope against hope,” that is, to hope for unlikely outcomes.  But Just War theory says it is immoral to fight wars when the chances of victory are small.
            It is at this point that many warfare “realists” object to Just War theory.  They argue: Just as it is permissible, even morally praiseworthy, to hope for unlikely outcomes in times of peace (a random vehicle may drive along the forest road and the injured person may be saved), it can be morally praiseworthy to hope for military victory even when victory seems unlikely. 
Strict Just War theory requires that nations accept defeat without fighting when the chances of victory are small.  The objector says we need to make a practical judgment: though victory seems unlikely, nevertheless victory is such an overridingly important goal we may rightly fight when the probability of success is small.  In the summer of 1940, Britain stool alone against Nazi Germany.  Hitler had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and France in less than a year of fighting.  The British army had lost much of its equipment at Dunkirk.  To many minds it seemed Britain’s chances of victory in the war were small.  And yet, the objector says, it was right for Britain to fight on.
            Just War theory requires a nation’s leaders to judge whether victory is likely, but such judgments can be fraught with error.  Given that it is sometimes praiseworthy to hope against the odds, it can be praiseworthy to hope for victory against the odds.  Besides, hope itself makes victory more probable.
            Against this objection, the Just War theorist may reply in the following way.  There is a crucial difference between hoping for unlikely things that do not harm other people and hoping for unlikely things that do harm other people.  If the injured man in the woods hopes for a rescue that does not come, no harm has been done.  But if Britain had lost the war against Hitler, it would have committed significant evils in vain, gaining nothing of moral worth.  War fighters too often loose sight of the evils they inflict on the enemy, but Just War theory insists that wars must be evaluated by their effects on all persons concerned, including the enemy soldier and civilian. 
            More could be said by both the objector and the Just War theorist.  The debate between them interests me, though I side with neither.  I am a pacifist.  I think the debate shows that many people who profess allegiance to Just War theory (“I am not a pacifist; I believe in the Just War”) don’t really accept the fundamental ideas of Just War. 
The debate also shows there may be a gray area between virtue and behavior.  Overt behavior is only one component of the syndrome of hope, which includes perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as actions.
            Adrienne Martin says it is praiseworthy to hope against hope, and that we may rightly act on the basis of unlikely hopes.  A cancer patient may incorporate hope into her thinking, feeling and planning, even when she knows that an experimental drug has only a very small chance of curing her.  But Martin also says the hopeful person may also have a “back up” plan.  Licensing oneself to hope does not mean that a person deceives herself about the odds.  It is not unreasonable or inconsistent to hope for an outcome and act in certain ways anticipating that outcome while at the same time preparing in other ways for the outcome to not occur.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Problem with Radical Hope

Behavior Consonant with Radical Hope

Three months ago, in a blog post titled “Hope and Behavior,” I said there ought to be an appropriate “fit” between virtues and behaviors.  Then I wrote:

Now what are the behaviors appropriate to hope? 
Since people hope for many things, and many kinds of things, our initial answer will have to be very general.  It may sound vague.  Here it is, in the form of two guidelines: 1) If and to the degree possible, one ought to act to build for one’s hopes.  2) One ought not to act in such a way as to contradict or prevent one’s hopes. 

            I illustrated my vague guidelines with examples such as my hope to recover from injury or the hope many people have for peace in Syria.  Since I can do things (e.g. obey my doctor’s directives) to recover from injury, hope for recovery ought to express itself in doing those things.  Achieving peace in Syria may be beyond ordinary persons’ powers, but we can pray for peace and at the very least not ignore the suffering of the people there.
            Someone might object that my guidelines don’t work well when it comes to “radical” hope.  Here I am borrowing a concept from Jonathan Lear.  Radical hope, he says, is hope for a good future even in times of “cultural devastation”—situations in which our thick concepts of a good life and the virtues appropriate to a good life have come unstuck.  Lear thinks we can hope for the good even when we don’t know how to image the good.
            The objection is that without concepts of the good future it’s impossible to apply the two guidelines.  How do we build for an unknown future?  How can we avoid acting in ways contradictory to that future, if it is unknown?
            This is not a merely theoretical objection.  In fact, I think it points to a widespread problem for Christians and others who cherish transcendent hopes.  We hope for a future made possible by the power of God (or some other transcendent power; I will concentrate on the God of the Abrahamic religions).  But what is it that we hope for?  What images do we have of the good future made possible by God?
            Most Christians have seized on a single biblical word to express hope; they hope for “heaven.”  But if asked what heaven is like or what heaven means, they aren’t sure—and for good reason.  The Bible doesn’t say much about heaven.  
            Christians often think about heaven as a place, as in “going to heaven” after one’s death.  Heaven is the place where God is.  That sounds a bit like the pagan gods who dwelt on Olympus, and most Christians would hasten to say they don’t mean that; after all, they know God is omnipresent.  The point is, a typical Christian might say, that we’re talking about something spiritual.  We don’t really know anything about it.  I suspect that most Christians would say that (1) they aren’t at all sure of what the afterlife will be like, but (2) it will be good.
In other words, for most Christians, their hope for the afterlife meets Lear’s definition of radical hope.  So: how can a radical hope direct behavior?  If our images of the good future are very thin, how do we know which behaviors “fit”?
            N.T Wright provides a response to this problem by turning to the images of the future in the New Testament.  He insists, in Surprised by Hope, that Christian hope ought to be expressed in Christian behavior.  We need to get away from defining Christian hope in terms of heaven (especially as a “place” to which we “go”) and emphasize other New Testament phrases: “a new heaven and new earth,” “the kingdom of God,” and “resurrection.”  Christian hope is not that we will be taken out of this world to a different one, but that that this world will be transformed.  The “kingdom of God” will come to earth.  We will be resurrected in bodies similar to Jesus’ resurrection body, and we will live on an earth renewed.
            The “kingdom of God” suggests social relationships, a world where people live together under God’s rule.  Since God is holy, loving and just, the kingdom of God is “righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).  Wright argues that if we are going to hope for righteous and just relationships in the afterlife, we must build for such relationships now.
            “A new heaven and new earth” may well be thought of as a “renewed” heaven and earth.  The future earth might be this earth—but cared for as it ought to be.  Some Christians will object that the present earth will be destroyed and replaced when Jesus comes.  Even if that is so, Wright would answer, we ought to act now in terms of our hope.  We ought to treat this earth with the kind of care we will give to the new earth.
            On Wright’s interpretation, the New Testament gives us images of Christian hope.  Not as many as we might like, but enough to free us from the empty image of “heaven.”  A content-less image of heaven strikes many people as boring.  I’ve heard atheists claim that because heaven would be boring we ought to be glad it doesn’t exist.  Unfortunately, some believers implicitly share the notion that heaven will be static and uninteresting, though they would reject the idea if it were made explicit.
            I think Wright is right.  The Bible gives us images, words, and metaphors for God’s future.  We need not be satisfied with empty pictures of “heaven.”  But we need to dwell on the biblical ideas.  We need to let the Bible shape our imagination.  Then we will be able to act in ways consonant with our hope.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Images in Hope

Imagining a Good Future

Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land,
and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver
to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom.
2 Kings 15:19 New International Version

            Pul, known in history as Tiglath-Pileser III, ruled Assyria, a major world power in the 8th century BC.  Menahem of Israel was a bit player on the world stage.  The Bible records him as a “bad king” for his religious failings, but this particular episode shows him buying off Tiglath-Pileser, no doubt using money extracted via taxation, to maintain his hold on power.  In effect, Menahem was a vassal under the Assyrian overlord, a collaborator.  He was a petty king paying a bribe to hold a life of wealth and power—for a very short while.  Menahem’s reign lasted ten years.
            A life of wealth and power—I take Menahem as a symbol of the ruling class in any culture in world history.  Far too often, people are willing to do just about anything for money and power.  As a king, Menahem did not labor in the fields.  He had servants.  He set policy.  He lived in greater ease and comfort than anyone else in Israel.
            Now compare Menahem’s ease and comfort with yours—or that of your contemporaries.  Menahem lived before anesthetics; I wonder: did he ever have an abscessed cavity (as I have)?  In my experience Novocain is a wonder drug.  Menahem lived before antibiotics, before synthetic fabrics, before trains or cars, before phones or telegraphs, before inexpensive publications (everything from great novels to comic books), before television.  Menahem sold out his countrymen (at least some of them would have said he did) for a quality of life far below the life we take for granted.  (That is, quality of life as a function of material comforts.)
            That comparison may strike you as bizarre.  What’s the point of comparing the ease and comfort of a life in the ancient world with our lives today?  When Menahem considered his life, he compared it to the lives of people he knew in the world he knew, such as the peasants that he taxed to pay off the Assyrians.  Compared to them, his life was good.  The comforts and pleasures of modern life never so much as entered Menahem’s mind.  Such comforts and pleasures were unimaginable to him. 
            And that’s the point.  We live our lives, including the moral choices we make, against the background of what we can imagine.  We act to achieve some good.  Hope is a virtue that looks forward to some good, judges that the good is at least possible, and also judges that the good is of sufficient value to incorporate hope for that good into one’s life.  (Here I am parroting Adrienne Martin’s “incorporation thesis.”)
We may be wrong about the good we pursue, in that we misjudge some end as being good when it really isn’t.  And we may pursue our ends in immoral ways, not realizing that the evil we do along the way obviates the value of the good we desire.  Nevertheless, hope always focuses on a good that we imagine.  Menahem never hoped for a hot tub.  The best he could imagine was to be attended by servants as he lounged in a pool.
But wait a moment.  Does hope always fix on an imagined good?  Jonathan Lear argues that in extreme cases, cases of “cultural devastation,” we may resort to “radical” hope.  There might be times in our lives when we have no substantive image of the good future that we hope for.  Lear says that in radical hope we “thin out” our substantive moral concepts.  For Plenty Coups of the Crow, the coming of Europeans to the plains meant that courage could no longer be exemplified in traditional ways, such as planting one’s coup-stick in battle or raiding the Sioux to capture horses.  Courage had to be reconceived.  The traditional images of courage had to be replaced by new images.  The courage of the clandestine raid became the courage to master European-style schools.  Radical hope hopes for a good future, Lear says, even when “good future” doesn’t convey thick images.
As I type these words, the news channel reports on villages in Syria.  After five years of civil war, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions living as refugees, what kind of hope do Syrians have?  Some of them probably imagine going back—to the way it was before the way, to their homes, to their villages.  But others probably realize that will never happen.  Their hopes focus on a future very different from the past.  For some of them, their hope may be a radical hope.  They cling to the possibility of a good future without thick concepts of what it would be.
These reflections raise a question: is religious hope “radical”?  When religious believers hope for a good future, their hope rests on faith in God.  Do they have thick images of what they hope for?  What is the place of imagination in religious hope?  I will return to these questions in a later post.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Radical Hope Revisited

Radical Hope

            Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow people lived his life in hope.  At least, that is the thesis offered by Jonathan Lear in Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.  Plenty Coups hoped for a good future for the Crow people, a future in which they would keep their land and maintain their cultural identify as Crow.  And he held this hope in spite of his belief, grounded in visions he experienced as a boy, that the coming of white people to the plains would irrevocably change the Crow way of life.
            Lear says this is “radical” hope.  Radical hope looks forward to a good future even when the very concepts one uses to describe a good future have been robbed of their meaning.  The Crow people had a rich traditional way of life; centered on nomadism, buffalo hunting, and intermittent warfare against rival tribes.  Their traditions included religious rites (such as the boy Plenty Coups’ vision quest), sacred dances, celebrations of successful hunts and raids, and many other things.  White domination devastated the Crow way of life; by this Lear means not just that the Crow lost their independence but that they lost what philosophers call “thick” concepts of the good life that the future would hold.  Plenty Coups had only the “thin” concept that the future would be good after the storm.
Lear wants to make Plenty Coups available as an exemplar of wisdom for secular people.  He recognizes, of course, that Plenty Coups’ hope was grounded in religious beliefs.  Plenty Coups and the Crow elders interpreted the boy’s visions as messages from the Great Spirit, telling the Crow people to imitate the Chickadee, to listen and adapt.  Nevertheless, Lear denies that religious beliefs are necessary for radical hope.  He says that the goodness of the world is greater than finite people can possibly know.  Even secular people may rationally believe this.  Therefore, Lear argues, even secular people can hold to hope in times of cultural devastation.
Lear says nothing about which forms of cultural devastation that might threaten his readers.  What are the great anxieties of our culture?  Disastrous climate change?  Terrorists who obtain and use nuclear weapons?  A failure of liberal political regimes such that, when faced with terrorism, liberal states collapse into tyranny?  Technological horrors as depicted in science fiction dystopias?  A 21st century version of Big Brother?  Each of Lear’s readers is free to read Lear’s interpretation of Plenty Coups in light of her own deep fears.
Radical hope is not an ostrich-like denial that bad things may come.  Lear emphasizes the realism expressed in Plenty Coups’ visions (and the interpretation the elders placed on them).  Native American tribes had no way to prevent the onslaught of European invaders.  White trappers would be followed by white miners, white settlers, and white soldiers.  The invaders would bring their own definitions of justice, by which they forced the natives off their land, killing as many as necessary to take possession.  Crow leaders—to the degree they understood the situation in terms of realpolitik—knew that Plenty Coups’ vision was true.  The storm is coming, and we cannot stop it.
Our situation is different.  We do not know that any of the “storms” we fear are unavoidable.  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that the effects of climate change will be mitigated, that terror groups will be defeated, that liberal government will meet 21st century challenges, and that we will gain the wisdom to rightly use new technologies.  Nevertheless, we may say: it is possible that a storm is coming.  Radical hope enables one to look for a good future no matter how bad the storm.
But radical hope is not a Pollyannaish belief that everything will turn out fine.  The good future we hope for will be different that what we expect.  Lear underscores the depth of the disaster experienced by the Crow (and other tribes as well, but his focus in on Plenty Coups’ people).  The Crow had to learn a revised set of moral concepts.  Courage is still a virtue—but what is courage in this new age?  Courage no longer means planting a coup stick in battle.  It may mean facing a new age resolutely, even when many traditional behaviors no longer make sense.  As Lear understands him, Plenty Coups led his people to a new and deeper understanding of virtue and of the good life.
If one of our deep fears comes to pass, we will need radical hope.  The concepts we use now to describe human flourishing may need to change.  Jonathan Lear never says this explicitly, but I think it is implied by his argument.
Here is an example.
The dictator of North Korea threatened this week that his country has intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry his nuclear weapons to targets all over the world, from Seoul to Washington, D.C.  Does North Korea actually have this capacity?  Military and technical experts express some doubts, but it seems clear that North Korea aims to have such powers soon.  Does Kim Jong Un merely intend to bully his neighbors?  Would he actually use such weapons?  We may hope (a kind of extreme hope) that Un would have sanity sufficient to restrain himself and never use nuclear weapons.  But what if Kim Jong Un is as unstable as some news reports say he is?
Suppose North Korea fired missiles and destroyed Seoul, Tokyo, and Seattle (to pick a random North American city).  The international response would be immediate and overwhelming, for no political leader could tolerate letting North Korea fire a second round of missiles.  Let us suppose that retaliation, led by the United States, was carefully limited to strikes against North Korea.  (We may imagine that China endorsed retaliation against Kim Jong Un, so long as China was not attacked.)  But let us further suppose that somehow, either directly as a result of attacks on North Korea or because of sabotage by Korean fanatics, fifteen or twenty large nuclear weapons were detonated in North Korea.  What we are imagining is a North Korea turned into an atomic wasteland.
This scenario is not the doomsday story that haunted the cold war, the annihilation of humanity.  Most of the world’s people would survive.  But our future would be changed in unpredictable ways.  Nuclear fallout would hit South Korea, China and Japan first, but its effects would spread worldwide.  Radiation poisoning would affect tens of millions of people.  Just as important would be the social and political fallout—but we cannot predict what it would be.  What would governments do to try to prevent a recurrence of the Korean catastrophe?  What “lessons” would be learned by terrorist organizations?  How would ordinary people conceive a good life in a post-catastrophe world?
The Korea example is not the worst “storm” that might afflict our world.  Nevertheless, we may hope.  We may hope for a good future, even if we are not sure what a “good future” might look like.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Jonathan Lear and Hope

How to Hope:
Radical Hope

            In my last two essays I considered hope in regard to mundane things and extreme things.  Mundane hopes are for things like new jobs, better relationships, and successful projects.  Extreme hopes are for things like recovery from cancer via experimental drugs or escape from prison.  Roughly speaking, mundane hopes are outcomes we desire that we judge to be probable, while extreme hopes are for improbable outcomes.
            The particular question is how to hope.  I suggested that in regard to mundane hopes, we find good advice in C.R. Snyder’s hope theory.  If we can think up pathways to the outcomes we want and recognize that we are motivated to use those pathways, we have mundane hope.  When it comes to extreme hopes, we should honestly admit that the outcomes we desire are unlikely, in some cases very unlikely.  Nevertheless, following Adrienne Martin’s incorporation thesis, we may rightly judge that some very unlikely outcome is of great importance.  Therefore, since it is possible and practically important, we “license” ourselves to hope for that outcome.  Like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, we incorporate the hoped for outcome into our perceptions, thinking, and planning.
            Now I want to move on to another sort of hope, beyond extreme hope.  Jonathan Lear calls this sort of hope “radical hope.”  Radical hope applies in cases wherein we can’t so much as imagine a good future.  In cases of extreme hope, such as Bess the cancer patient or Andy the prisoner, we know what we’re hoping for; the difficulty arises because we know it to be unlikely.  But in radical hope, we don’t have a clear idea of what a good outcome might be.  Nevertheless, we hope for it.
            Jonathan Lear provides us with an example to help understand this strange idea.  In Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, Lear tells the story of Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow people.  Plenty Coups (Alaxchiia Ahu, “Many Achievements”) lived from 1848 to 1932.  During his lifetime the Crow people, along with every other Native American tribe of the plains, mountains, and western regions of the United States, were driven onto reservations.  For many tribes, the assigned reservation land was far from their original territory.  For the Crow, Plenty Coups achieved a peace with the invading whites that gave his people a reservation covering much of their traditional land.
            When he was a boy, Plenty Coups had a vision, which he and the elders of his tribe understood as a message from the Great Spirit.  In Plenty Coups’ vision, buffalo were replaced on the plains by strange buffalo-like creatures with spots and weird tails.  Also, a great wind blew down all the trees of the forest except one, the tree of the chickadee.  The elders of the tribe and Plenty Coups interpreted his dreams as predicting the coming of white men.  Plenty Coups led the Crow as chief for decades, at various times allying the Crow with the whites against the Sioux and the Cheyenne, traditional enemies of the Crow.
            One might interpret Plenty Coups as a master strategist, who foresaw the triumph of the Europeans and found a way to accommodate the inevitable.  But Jonathan Lear argues that something more profound was going on.  He quotes Plenty Coups, explaining the move onto the reservation:

When the buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again.  After this, nothing happened.

            “After this, nothing happened.”  History did not stop, of course.  Plenty Coups led his people for decades after the move onto the reservation.  He invited mission schools to come to reservation land.  He urged his people to learn farming and took great pride in his own garden.  But to his interviewer (in the late 1920s) Plenty Coups said nothing about those things.  Lear takes Plenty Coups’ evocative sentence to speak of cultural devastation.  “Nothing happened”—in the sense that the traditional Crow way of live (centered around buffalo, open plains, intertribal warfare and the virtues of the warrior) ended.
            What kind of hope can you have when you can see (perhaps you alone of all your people can see) that your whole way of life is going to be turned upside down?
            Lear describes the Crow situation in terms that moral philosophers would use.  Before the coming of Europeans, the Crow had a rich moral vocabulary in which loyalty, bravery, cunning, and defiance were important virtues.  These virtues fit well into the traditional practices of Crow life: moving, making camp, hunting, warfare against other tribes, celebrations, etc.  But the catastrophe that Plenty Coups foresaw overtaking the Crow—the great wind that blew down all the trees of the forest except one—would eliminate that way of life.
            Here is a particular example.  In their traditional way of life, a raid to steal horses from a competing tribe would be a praiseworthy accomplishment, a way for young men to try themselves and show their mettle.  But after the move to the reservation, raiding became stealing, prohibited by law.  A traditional practice that exhibited virtues of cunning and courage became a crime.  In this and countless other ways, the moral universe of the Crow was obliterated.  “After this, nothing happened.”
            Radical hope, says Lear, is hope for a good future, even when your old concepts of a good future have disintegrated and you don’t yet know what will replace them.  For Plenty Coups, radical hope gave him confidence that the Crow would come through the storm and still find ways to be Crow.  They would not simply disappear or assimilate into white culture.  The Crow could freely adopt this or that aspect of the strangers’ culture (schools, farms), but they would do so in a manner distinctive to their identity.
            Plenty Coups was an extraordinary leader.  He led his people through radical change with confidence in a good future, even though he did not know what that good future would be like.  Plenty Coups’ hope was grounded in his visions and his belief in the Great Spirit.  (Late in his life, Plenty Coups was baptized as a Christian, but this should not be interpreted as a loss of faith in the divine origin of his vision.)  Lear admits this, but he argues that belief in the supernatural is not necessary for radical hope.
            Lear interprets the Plenty Coups story in a way that makes it accessible for secular readers.  The world has more goodness in it that we can ever know, Lear says.  We are finite beings; we live a few decades at most.  The goodness of the world is far beyond what we can comprehend.  Therefore, he says, even a secular person who does not believe in supernatural help can still hope for good futures in any circumstance, even in a time of cultural devastation.
            Lear has not directly answered the question how to have radical hope.  That is a matter for further reflection, to which I will return in another essay.