The Enlightenment commitment to Public Reason

In a text which is famous (but perhaps not quite famous enough) Kant discusses the topic “What is Enlightenment“. Written during “The Enlightenment“, Kant is not giving a sociological or historical account of the the age he lives in, but concerns himself with the topic of enlightenment itself – what is it to become enlightened?

For Kant, enlightenment is not a state which you might reach but a process in which one ought be constantly engaged. Kant calls this “Sapere Aude!” or “the courage to use one’s reason”. The operative term here is “one’s”, the key is that one ought have the inner strength to appeal to and use one’s own sense of reason, rather than accept and repeat the reason of another, thereby submitting to an authority. Enlightenment is about becoming one’s own authority on matters of consideration and thought, becoming the master of one’s own mind.

We might find this obvious – if one does not appeal to one’s own reason, can one properly be considered free? To be the sovereign of one’s own will seems a precondition to taking responsibility and being taken as responsible by others. But in fact, there are many situations where we do not appeal to our own reason, and for Kant we can even be justified in not doing so. For example, Kant says that” it would be disastrous if an officer on duty who was given a command by his superior were to question the appropriateness or utility of the order”. And while I’m not one to directly support the blind authority of the police, the argument that at least some such institutions are essential for a well ordered society is something accepted by all major political frameworks, anarchism being the only exception.

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Fake Nazareth Recipe

Everyone knows that Nazareth is the best restaurant in Toronto. But you can’t always make it out there. Sometimes you just have to make your lentils at home. Here’s my recipe – it’s not really Nazareth style food. It isn’t even really Ethiopian. But it’s satisfying and simple and heavy on the lentils:

Dahl – saute onions and garlic, add spices (incl pepper) add red lentils. Add water and 1 can of tomato paste. When done mix in cilantro

Salad – quinoa, cubed cucumber, chopped celery, grape tomatoes, top with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and hot sauce and zatar.

Place Salad on large plate, leaving space in the middle. Spoon Dahl into middle until it is piled high. Eat with friends or lovers from the same bowl.

Cannery in Bella Coola

If this derelict building were in Vancouver, there would be fences and security cameras to discourage you from walking out on this rickety old bridge and probably falling in the water and drowning. But in Bella Coola not only are there no fences, no cameras – there isn’t even a sign telling you to stay on shore.

Northern Canadian Riverboat

When we found this boat at the dock in Bella Coola my father and I were genuinely confused. Originally used by the Imperial Oil company on the Mackenzie river, how did it find its way to the West Coast? Either it had been cut up and shipped out here on a truck, or it made the long trip all around Alaska, through the Bering straight and down the coast of Alaska to the north coast of British Columbia.

Dying Tug

There were many interesting boats at the Government Dock at Bella Coola. This old tugboat was clearly nearing the end of its life – the hull was not being maintained, and it was becoming quite badly stained with rust. My father diagnosed that it had probably been sold because it was no longer viable to maintain as a working tug, and its current owner would run it into the ground until it was completely worn out.

Coquihalla Hike

Thousands of people drive the Coquihalla highway everyday, yet few stop to enjoy the spectacular mountains it passes through. But it is possible to hike in these mountains. There is even something called the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area, although you wouldn’t know it driving through (there isn’t even a sign on the highway to encourage you to stop). Worse, few of the trails are signed, you really have to know where to look. So do your research in advance, bring a map, and do some hiking next time you find yourself travelling the Coquihalla.

Israel, Locke, International law, and the state of war

According to Locke, a society is chiefly valuable because it allows conflicts between individuals to be referred to a common judge. Without a common authority, any conflict can only be judged by each’s conscience according to its interpretation of natural law, and the attempt of each to enforce natural law will put the two in a state of war with each other.

International law is perhaps the best example of a very weak society. Although some common law exists which can be appealed to in conflicts, it is easy for states to avoid its enforcement as long as they have powerful friends, ideally a friend with a veto on the security council.

Israel’s position on the Occupied Territories is a rejection of the arbitration of International law, as I have argued above. Having rejected arbitration, it has put itself into a state of war with its opponents.

War, however, can be pursued by many means. Arms are just one way that force can be used between parties in the state of nature. In a sense, we could think of the UN statehood bid by Abbas a form of war against Israel, in the sense that Israel rejects the authority that the Palestinians are appealing to, and therefore insofar as this appeal is an exercise of force, and insofar as the Palestinians and Israel are in a state of war with each other (they recognize no authority which they can both appeal to), then any use of force puts them into a state of war with each other.

Israel tries to de-legitimize peaceful struggle against its policies, i.e. things like Boycotts and calls for Divestments and Sanctions, by calling them “economic warfare” – but maybe that is exactly what they are, and maybe we should support that. If there is no common authority which those who support the Palestinian cause can make an argument for and who’s decision Israel must obey, then must not they be in a state of war against Israel? Following this line of reasoning, might not armed struggle be but one form of war, and then even if the armed struggle ends, should we think the war is over? Maybe activists should embrace the idea of war, and while making arguments in favour of non-violence, emphasize that the arguments for non-violence must be grounded in the tactical considerations that non violent struggle is a more effective tactic of war against an enemy. In other words, non-violence could actually be more violent than violence, in the sense that it might be more effective at weakening and vanquishing the enemy.

Israel often appeals to its right to defend itself. But if it defends itself only because it is in a state of war, do not its opponents have the same rights? If Israel has the right of targeted killing of Palestinian militants, does that not mean Palestinian militants have the right of targeted killing of Israeli militants? And if every Israeli is in the army, then can even suicide bombing truly be considered “terrorism” anymore than a targeted assassination?

I don’t make this argument to support suicide bombing, but rather to oppose just as much the use of force against Palestinian militants insofar as they are engaged in defence of their territory and their communities. It may be imprudent for Palestinians to attack Israelis in the territories, but the argument from prudence is separate from the argument from right. It may be that Palestinians have the right to armed struggle in the territories against the occupier, but it may be that the best way to exercise this right is through non-violent resistance. This seems likely to me, but at the same time I believe strongly that it is up to Palestinians to make these decisions – the attitude of foreign activists who want to tell people engaged in struggle elsewhere what the most effective tactics are for them to pursue, is paternalistic and unfortunate.