Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Exception Handling

I believe that President Obama was correct in authorizing the use of force against the Somali pirates. Authorizing force means, of course, that people died and that Obama could be labeled a murderer where the press so inclined.

I dislike that we shot a bunch of ignorant kids who were sent on the high seas to capture ships by warlords in the Somali ports.

It would be wonderful to live in a world where people didn't kill each other. Yet I do not think it likely that the world will arrive at the place where we can make the prohibition on killing an absolute.

It is strange. Having rejected modern progressivism, I am often accused of being an absolutist. Accusing one's opponents of absolutism is usually just a tactic.

The reason I willing to accept things I do not like (such as taking ships back from pirates, aggressive interrogation of terrorists, and even the death penalty) is because I reject absolutism.

My opinion is that our society will never be able to eliminate bad things. The best we can hope for is to create structures that curtail the bad while promoting the good.

One of the best ways to curtail things is to create an exception handling system in the chain of command so that if people feel an exception is needed, they can appeal to a higher authority.

The framers of the Constitution gave the president the ability to approve exceptions. This is especially true in matters of foreign affairs.

The media is currently engaged in a witch hunt where they are trying to frame the use of agressive interrogation techniques after 9/11 as a policy making process gone horribly wrong.

I see an exception handling system that worked well.

Right after 9/11, the intelligence community was faced with the possibility that the attack might trigger other terrorist attacks such as the anthrax mailings. Existing intelligence efforts had clearly failed (a very serious attack just happened).

I am quite certain that the Founders of the United States would have been pleased with the actions taken by the intelligence community and President Bush. In response to an exceptional event: The president approved exceptions to standard policy. Having approved the policy, the administration continued to support the people who carried out the policy.

I suspect they would be less pleased with the partisan media in its untiring effort to associate the label "torture" to its opponent. The founders themselves avoided the charged word. They founders used the words "cruel and unusual punishment."

In the long run, I think it wise to have a set of most aggreessive interrogation techniques that are only used in the most extraordinary circumstances. Such a system allows the intelligence community to pursue the ideal of humane interrogations, with the knowledge that they would receive full administrative support on the very rare occasions when one is suddenly facing a truly monumental crisis.

Life has a strange way of configuring itself so that one must make exceptions to ideals. Even worthy ideals like that of creating a murder-free and torture-free society manage to get challenged. Murdering pirates to save the hostage or using agressive interrogation techniques to break up a terrorist plot may or may not be in order.

The ability to define exceptions allows a society to pursue its ideals. While efforts to make ideals absolutes seem to lead to situations that undermine the society.

A few posts back I started talking about secularism. The ideal of secularism evolved in Christian societies through the realization that the government is ever going to be the perfect representation of the ideals of the people. As governments learn to respond to exceptions, they will always end up doing things counter to the ideals of the people.

It appears to me that killing the Somali pirates was against the ideals of Obama and I would take offense at anyone who tried to label Obama as a murderer for the action. Life is such that governments are often faced with decisions counter to our society's ideals.

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