Getting to Essentials

Harry Binswanger exemplifies a method for thinking about an issue that helps one get at its essentials. The issue he deals with is the current contention over placing a Dubai company in charge of U.S. ocean ports. He asks a question ignored/evaded by pundits and politicians (or anyone else, so far as I know). “Why is it an issue at all whether or not a Middle Eastern company runs our ports?” A marvelous set of answers and further questions follows:

“Because we are afraid of the very real possibility of Islamic terrorists doing something like detonating a nuclear bomb in New York harbor.” And “Why is that a very real possibility?” Well, “…we haven’t crushed the jihadist movement.” Why not, since we certainly have the means? “We lacked the moral certainty of the rightness of that course. …the will uncompromisingly to assert our right to self-defense.”

As to the next question, why we lack the will, “…America lost the knowledge that men have rights and that therefore the nation of rights is right. For a long, long time, our intellectual leadership has regarded America as evil. No nation whose intellectuals are solidly against it can act with moral certainty…”

And at last, ” Why have the American intellectuals been anti-American for all this time? Because of the altruist morality and the anti-reason epistemology.”

So, it comes down to philosophy — the essential — the prevailing ethics and epistemology this country has absorbed. If, instead, America were still the country of egoism and reason the question about who should be in charge of the ports would be moot. Harry Binswanger puts it to words:

” You fear a nuclear bomb going off in New York Harbor? Then crush the enemy. End the mullahs regime in Iran. Crush Syria. Whip the Saudis into line. And tell the world that self-sacrifice is evil and religion is a lie. Which means: tell the world that man is an end in himself, that his life on this earth is the only thing that is sacred, that the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, and that reason, not faith or force, is man’s only means of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.”

And thus, through a series of common sense questions and answers, he disposes of the “issue” of what company should be in charge of the seaports and brings the discussion back to the essentials — the ideas behind the “issue.”

–Ken

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