The Berkeley Resolution

This is the text of the resolution that the Berkeley City Council passed on October 16, 2001, concerning current events. It was passed by a vote of 5-0 with 4 abstentions, except for parts 1 and 5, which received 6 votes.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2001, page A14.

According to the resolutions, the members of the City Council

For a government document, this is very clear and straightforward. It's even written in English, in contrast to the Oakland Board of Education's Ebonics resolution, which was not written in English or Ebonics or any language known to hupersonkind.

And yet, it is controversial, and people have threatened to boycott Berkeley because of it. Let us examine why.

First, the Berkeleyans condemn the September 11 attacks. Not controversial. Note that "mass murder" and "atrocities" are strong language and are used without any kind of reservation whatever.

They also honor the heroism of the rescuers. Again, not controversial.

They don't want to endanger the lives of innocent people in Afghanistan. This at least is not intensely controversial. It is true that a few Americans have made clear that they want to endanger and snuff out as many lives in Afghanistan as possible; some have suited their actions to the word by assaulting, and in a few cases murdering, people in America who looked as if they might come from that part of the world. But it's hard to see Berkeley's position as actually treason when it agrees with the announced policy of the United States government.

They want to bring the bombing to a conclusion as soon as possible, and to minimize danger to our military personnel. In these matters also, they are loyally following the federal government in principle, though they may disagree on details.

They wish to bring the perpetrators--no, not just them, but all who are complicit--to justice. Who doesn't? All right, I admit, some people don't.

To that end, they want to work with international organizations. A cynic might say that during the first part of this year, any proposal to work with international organizations would have been controversial. But that time lasted just eight months and ten days and is now over.

They want to eliminate some unpleasant things "that tend to drive some people to acts of terrorism." Ah, at last something that we can find to be politically controversial!

Clearly, these people are Root-Causes Liberals. (Personal disclosure: So am I.) There is disagreement about this sort of thing.

In America, the political Right admonishes us continually that Actions Have Consequences. It would be neatly symmetrical to say that the Left preaches that Actions Have Causes; but it would be wrong. That would sound deterministic, as if people were not responsible for their choices; obviously that's not what the Council is saying. Probably they mean that some conditions are more likely sources of bad actions than others are.

It's rather odd that there should be such animosity over Actions Have Consequences versus Actions Have Sources when both are true, and in fact are much the same truth. But they can tempt people to different perversions: the one, to vindictiveness and Schadenfreude, or at least a failure of charity toward suffering fellow-sinners; the other, to wishy-washiness, or a failure to stand firmly enough against evil. But right here, no one is gloating at another's misfortune, and no one is claiming that an evil is not evil or is somehow justifiable; so what is at issue?

The idea that outside influences can affect a person's fate as a moral being is often treated as morally irresponsible when expressed by Liberals or Social Democrats. And yet the same principle does not seem to abrogate responsibility when the bad influence complained of is, for instance, immoral TV programming. Bad as the Media Bosses may be, the people exposed to their stuff are ultimately responsible for their own choices, no? So the controversy over poverty and oppression as sources of evil action is not one of principle, but a disagreement about practical matters of fact.

Finally, the Berkeley people want to lessen our dependence on oil from the Middle East. Here is further room for political disagreement: the costs of such a policy may be greater than the costs of keeping the oil supply lines open by eternal vigilance concerning the political problems of a supremely unstable and dangerous part of the world (my description, not theirs!). But it's only fair to keep both possibilities in mind.

As a postscript, here are some things they did not say. Normally it's a waste of time to talk about what's not there; but in this case, after a lot of irresponsible reporting in the media, some confusion may exist.

They did not call for an immediate end to the bombing. They could have written the resolution that way; according to news reports, some people wanted to; but they didn't, because the resolution wouldn't have passed. Get that? The resolution would not have passed. Here is the true measure of anti-American craziness in Berkeley: A call for an immediate, unconditional end to the bombing would not have passed.

In seemingly un-Berkeley fashion, they "ask", "urge", and "request" our representatives to take certain steps. Are you not glad that the rhetoric of Non-Negotiable Demands is dead and buried?

They do not gloat or accuse. No gloating (as I did a moment ago) about the government being forced out of its unilateralist policy. No political adversaries accused of being child-murderers or oppressors. Not even a snide remark about SUV-drivers. Just the facts, and just the recommendations, in a spirit of unity in which we can still differ politically.

If you like Berkeley, you will (I hope) like this. If you don't, will you suffer your political friends to behave worse than Berkeley does?

Date last modified: November 1, 2001.
Built April 2, 2002
Dan Drake's Home Page
Mail to
Copyright (C) 2001 Daniel Drake. A royalty-free license to reproduce this document in whole or in part is hereby granted provided (i) all additions, omissions, and other changes are clearly marked; (ii) the work is not reproduced as, or as part of, a work for which payment is charged; (iii) this notice is reproduced without change. Quotations for critical or polemical purposes, with proper attribution, are permitted in any case, being obviously fair use.