Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Identity, Responsibility and the Afghan War

I had myself quite a little twitter rant today and I wanted to flesh out my ideas a little in blog form. As I noted on twitter, I have a habit of trying to philosophize practical issues, even though I have no special expertise in philosophy. So with that warning, I wanted to write a little bit about what I think “identity” has to with “responsibility” and what both those things have to do with the Afghan War.

To me, identity is fluid.  It changes with time.  It’s also a summation of all I was, am, and will be.  Lots of things influence my identity–in fact, I could say that my identity has changed since I got home this afternoon.  Inside that summation of me, are my ideas.  I’m not exactly sure what percentage of the self ideas are, but if you think about the greatest thinkers in history, say a Nietzsche or an Einstein, they are thought of almost completely as ideas and not as people.  

(As an aside on this point, coming up with great ideas or using ideas in a new way is one way to establish a legacy, or in Becker-ian terms, deny death.  In that way, Nietzsche and Einstein live.)

This is where identity begins to intersect with responsibility.  If my ideas are part of my identity, and I am responsible for my ideas, then it stands to reason that I am responsible for my identity.  I recognize that there is genetic determinism at play here–Part of our identity is our height, but I wouldn’t make the claim that I’m responsible for my height; as if I could get taller. As far as ideas go, however, I think it best to think that ideas are malleable and contigent; fluid and changable based on new experience and the discovery of new facts.  That is to say that I can take responsibility for them in a way I cannot take responsibility for my height.  If I’m right about that, then I’m responsible for a certain percentage of my identity. (And I tend to think that percentage is fairly high.)

I say all that to get to this point: If I fail to take responsibility for my ideas, then I’ve failed to take responsibility for my identity.  It’s like dividing my identity by zero.  It makes no sense.  It says that I do not have responsibility for my identity.

And all of that possibly tortured argument brings me to counterinsurgency and the Afghan war.  In 2009, generals, pundits, politicians, think tankers, and Versailles-on-the-Potomac royal courtiers were advocating the idea of counterinsurgency (COIN) as a solution to America’s Afghanistan problem.  There are a variety of reasons why this cast of characters pushed COIN–some honestly thought it was the correct course and others, quite cynically, pushed it because they believed it to be politically expedient.  But I don’t think it matters, responsibility-wise, why one holds an idea.  Either way, if my formulation is correct, it is still part of your identity.  

Since 2009, COIN has proved itself to be a failure.  Arguably, (but not very) the United States is in a worse position in Afghanistan in 2012 than it was in 2009.  Now those same generals, pundits, politicians, think tankers, and courtiers are doing their best to avoid taking any responsibility for the situation. It seems to be they are engaged in a massive effort resulting in dividing their identities by zero.

You may have noticed, well at least I hope you did, that I made a slight rhetorical switch there.  The crux of the switch is this–Does one have to take responsibility for the consequences of the ideas that make up their identity?

I’m inclined to say yes.  Ideas have consequences.  Ideas that are advocated publicly have consequences.  Ideas advocated by those with the ability to influence policy have consequences.

Further, the identities of those who advocate ideas publicly with the ability to influence policy are even more influenced by those ideas.  

So all you generals, pundits, politicians, think tankers, and courtiers, stop dividing your identity by zero and start taking some responsibility. 


Written by keithboyea

June 27, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Excellent post! The COIN kool-aid was drank by many inside the beltway and the media…and while it has it’s use in certain theaters and situation….not only is Afghanistan not that theater, but we’re expending the majority of our effort against a tangential enemy, largely of our own making.

    I notice we share many of the same interests and blog links [as well as general location]. I’ll be following your blog and look forward to future posts.


    July 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    • Thanks for the kind words. I’ve been following your blog in my Google Reader for awhile now. Always like your stuff. I wish I posted here more often, but I sometimes have trouble gaining motivation to write.


      July 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

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