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U.S. Imperialism: Real or Imagined?

 
 
Aedes
 
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Reply Tue 17 Mar, 2009 06:53 am
@Khethil,
A good, thoughtful response. I think that we make moral judgements based on intent rather than an unconsciously-produced outcome. But it seems that imperialism seldom intends harm. It intends influence or wealth, both at the level of the imperialist power and at the level of companies that exploit the opportunity. Beyond that, the effect on local populations is usually an afterthought, and whether what happens to them is good or bad depends on a lot of factors.

Until the early 19th century, with the abolition movement in Europe, it seems that there was very little moral imperative cast upon colonizing powers (ie to be respectful and not exploitative). These days, I think the behaviors of major actors in the world are inescapably scrutinized, and judged against our own moral positions. So whether or not the US currently has imperialist behaviors, the most objectionable acts happen at a different level (i.e. taking advantage of cheap labor and few labor laws in other countries, exploring for oil without regard to environmental impact, buying raw materials on the cheap but selling those raw materials back monopolistically once processed).

On the other hand, there is more of a moral mandate in our treatment of other places. Remember, we're agreeing (I think) that it's the intent and not the outcome that affects our moral judgement, so when we have things like USAID, federal funding for diseases and economic hardships in developing countries, and tax exemptions for charitable organizations, one can argue that our intent is that our influence and presence be good in the end, and not blindly exploitative.

My feeling, though, is that when people's lives and livelihoods are at stake, it's the results that matter and not the intent. If the results aren't good, the methods need to be revised.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Mar, 2009 07:13 am
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
A good, thoughtful response. I think that we make moral judgements based on intent rather than an unconsciously-produced outcome. But it seems that imperialism seldom intends harm. It intends influence or wealth, both at the level of the imperialist power and at the level of companies that exploit the opportunity. Beyond that, the effect on local populations is usually an afterthought, and whether what happens to them is good or bad depends on a lot of factors.


Quite True; and again we are reduced to the almighty "It Depends" - quite so.

But at the time an act is performed we can't know the outcome; if we base our ethical judgment on outcomes alone, how might we choose 'correctly'? Weighing intent -vs- Effects is a central quandary of ethics. I've tended to side on effects, myself; while concurrently acknowledging the role intent plays. Unfortunately, this has only gotten me just so far.

Aedes wrote:
...These days, I think the behaviors of major actors in the world are inescapably scrutinized, and judged against our own moral positions. So whether or not the US currently has imperialist behaviors, the most objectionable acts happen at a different level (i.e. taking advantage of cheap labor and few labor laws in other countries, exploring for oil without regard to environmental impact, buying raw materials on the cheap but selling those raw materials back monopolistically once processed).


They are moreso, to be sure. The saturation of press coverage - worldwide - helps this cause. And despite the controversy-mongering that I think most press agencies are guilty of, this provides a good "Popular Oversight" check. Comparatively, I think most instances of 21st century imperialism are less devastating than during that Age of Imperialism we usually recall; thought this is by no means absolute.

Aedes wrote:
My feeling, though, is that when people's lives and livelihoods are at stake, it's the results that matter and not the intent.


  • Ultimately, and in the end equation as we look back to judge; Yes.


  • Also, if we're to base our judgments on observables; then only such results can realistically be subject to later-scrutiny: for sure.

But again - and at the risk of waxing obstinacy - I'll refer back to my first question (this response); at the time of the action: I'm President Khethil deciding whether or not I should enact <this treaty> or <that trade restriction>, should I give consideration to the (1) "Imperialism = Bad" notion? Or might I legitimately conclude: (2)"This is imperialistic but has a better-than-average chance of being mutually beneficial?"

  1. In one case I base my decision a kantian-type ethos that values respect of independence/autonomy (while risking a lost opportunity for 'good' results)


  1. In the latter I base my decision on potential benefits (while risking an aggregate loss of respect and possible disaster).



There... great... I've just talked myself into a insolvable circle.

Anyone have an aspirin?
Didymos Thomas
 
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Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 02:10 pm
@Khethil,
Vide: The US involvement in Tripoli was also a response to Barbary pirates capturing American ships and enslaving crews.

Aedes wrote:
We might want to clarify one thing, and that would be (for the purposes of this discussion) to divest imperialism from any moral judgements. Clearly American involvement in the Indian Wars was a crime against humanity. But American involvement in the Spanish-American War astoundingly improved the standard of living and quality of life in Cuba, not the least of which by virtually eradicating yellow fever.


And this is what makes imperialism such a tricky issue. Once you get the ball rolling, once one nations begins to colonize new places and dominate other people reversing the process is nearly impossible. You are right: US control of Cuba was an improvement for the people of Cuba. We managed to do some good work: but at what time, if ever, do you hand over power to the locals, to the people of that nation?

Aedes wrote:
If we're to consider ALL things resembling imperialism as morally bad, then we'd have to go to pre-Babylonian times to find an acceptable society.


Modern Bhutan?
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 06:31 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;54053 wrote:
Modern Bhutan?
Modern Bhutan is a monarchy, but it's hardly imperialist. This discussion is about imperialism and not about monarchy.
Didymos Thomas
 
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Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 08:16 pm
@Aedes,
I'm not saying that Bhutan is an imperial state: just the opposite. You said that we would have to go back to pre-Babylonian times to find an acceptable society if we consider all things resembling imperialism to be bad. I tossed out Bhutan as a modern society that does not seem to resemble an imperial state.
Aedes
 
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Reply Fri 20 Mar, 2009 07:52 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas;54117 wrote:
I'm not saying that Bhutan is an imperial state: just the opposite. You said that we would have to go back to pre-Babylonian times to find an acceptable society if we consider all things resembling imperialism to be bad. I tossed out Bhutan as a modern society that does not seem to resemble an imperial state.
I see... but Bhutan hasn't been some isolated, unadulterated kingdom since antiquity, and they HAVE waged wars of aggression and conquest against their neighbors in the past (though not recently). My point more broadly, however, is that there are probably no societies in the world that haven't somehow come into being because of imperialism. That's not to impune people within the societies, but rather the circumstances of history that have drawn our cultural, societal, and political boundaries.
0 Replies
 
Phosphorous
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Apr, 2009 06:00 pm
@Khethil,
Well, whether imperialism is ethical or unethical, it's a fact that all nations intend to maximise their interests, and thus it can hardly be said that other nations wouldn't do the same as america should they become superpowers.

But it's clear to me that imperialism is a fact of life for all countries. The only real difference here is that america is a superpower, and thus has that much more imperialistic leverage over other countries.

Hate the game.
0 Replies
 
 

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