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Saturday, August 05, 2006

 

Wrong reason

posted by Razib Khan at Saturday, August 05, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
No matter the reality that reason is imperfect because our own reasoning process is fraught with "noise" introduced by our biases in the form of slanted premises and unexposed assumptions I believe it is a good place to start, sometimes. John Emerson in the comments says this:

The idea that militant Islam is a threat equal to Nazi Germany or the USSR, or might become that big a threat, is assumed by many and perhaps most hawks, and it really underlies the whole Iraq War. That idea is almost impossible to argue in detail and I've seldom or never seen it argued. It's just pure fantasy.


I don't know if it is pure fantasy, but yes, I do think that to a great extent it is fantasy. I've believed this from the fall of 2004 when I extended my reading to non-science blogs. Many of the individuals expressing a hawkish perspective claim a historical perspective, but as someone who loves history for its own sake I tend to find their analyses grounded in biased and minimal data points. Additionally, they do not avail themselves of the full range of insight from the human sciences, in particular psychology.


In Aziz's post below he outlines a sober and realistic plan for peace. Over at Dean Esmay's blog Aziz called out for peace proposals, and the responses were often quite unhinged. They are not necessarily unhinged because they lack reasoning powers, but, their assumptions are simply detached from reality. This is not Hitler's Germany, the corruption of one of the premier nation-states of the modern world. This is not the USSR, the #2 world power of the 20th century. This is not World War III. But like religious beliefs it does not seem that these assumptions are open to reasonable or rational decomposition. What to do? Make alliances with those grounded in reality. Speak to the public and others who might be unsure. Sometimes it is time to write off the True Believer.


Discussion

I note with some grim irony that your post title oculd be taken as a lament for super-rationality. I find solace in the belief that SR doesn't exist, frankly.

I've been too numbed by the response to my effort at DW to really have any interest in pursuing further debate. There are some issues that just defy reason.

Part of the problem is the human urge to simplify. Thoreau advised us to "Simplify..." - but in fact the burden of action upon the intellectual is actually to complexify, not simplify. Complexify, and see the degrees of freedom with which you can harness to SOLVE the equation of life - simplify, to "assume the cow is a sphere", and you end up with policy as detached from reality - glorious, messy, complex - as the responses in that thread at DW.

 

Part of the problem is the human urge to simplify

sure. but let's call a spade a spade, part of the problem is laziness and stupidity. part of the problem on my end is that that the premises are so obviously, nakedly and trivially fallacious that it is hard to credit sincere belief.

granted, this is not a problem just with the "right." i have serious issues on some domestic policy premises which i believe the left holds to which also are trivially fallacious. but one thing at a time....

 

I find it fascinating that some think you can't compare this to World War III simply because, well, Islamo-fascist radicals lack the power of the Soviet Union or Imperial Japan. So we're stupid or illogical if we find the comparison appropriate.

Is it perhaps that you're not very bright in thinking this way? That, indeed, to a lot of people the urge to "see complex issues complexly" is another way of saying, "we want to dither and talk and whine and not actually make any concrete proposals?"

Parsimony is often the best path sought by science in seeking an answer. Indeed the hallmark of some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last 100 years, in all sorts of areas of science, is notable for its parsimony. Occam's razor is a useful maxim: that which requires the least assumptions is most likely to be correct. And a hallmark of a failed paradigm is often that over time it grows more and more and more complex, as defenders of a hypothesis, confronted with apparent paradoxes, add more and more and more rationalizations and extensions to the hypothesis instead of asking if they've got a failed paradigm on their hands and need to do some rethinking.

In terms of thinking about murderous religious fanaticism, we can look at it two ways:

1) Those who attacked us on 9/11 were basically a bunch of punks who got lucky.

2) Those who attacked us on 9/11, an attack far worse than Pearl Harbor, were the spear-tip point for a loose alliance of a particular breed of religious fanaticism, one that's proven to itself time and time again that it will happily murder as many people as possible, committing suicide without hesitation to do so, and represent a threat that can only grow with time if we don't deal with it now--just as we should have dealt more forcefully with Hitler when we had the chance.

I don't see anything simplistic about viewpoint #2. In fact, I doubt the intelligence, the ability to understand complexity, of anyone who simply rejects #2. Sorry, but I do.

If you cannot explain to me, in a few dozen or a few hundred words, a strategy for dealing with the problem, then I have little respect for your proposals. A lot of others do as well. "Think harder" and "listen more carefully" are not prescriptions for action, they are just insulting and indicate to me and a lot of people that you aren't very bright.

 

I'm happy to consider your "analysis number 2", and in fact I recognize the truth in it. More than that, I would add in the political dimension that you omit -- your "loose alliance" of religious fanatics include some who have political ambitions which include the establishment of an authoritarian theocratic state, perhaps an expansionist one.

You could, perhaps, even find some similarities between these groups in their current forms and European fascism in its early stages.

All of that said -- I find arguments in favor of our current foreign policy that are based on analogies to WWII to be (a) wrong headed and (b) disingenuous.

Why wrong headed?

The entities we fought in WWII were states possessing enormous military and economic power. They were states embarked on a program of world domination, both as a matter of policy and in fact.

We face no such state now. A program of total war against state actors won't do the job. At best, it will simply turn into a game of whack a mole. At worst, which is what we see now, it creates new and fertile ground for our enemies to work in.

In terms of concrete proposals, what we *ought to have done* post 9/11 was this:

1. Overturn the Taliban
2. Disarm the warlords
3. Put enough US or coalition troops in Afghanistan to secure the entire country, not just Kabul
4. Keep those troops in country for the 10 to 15 years it would take rebuild the infrastructure of that country and allow its indigenous political institutions to reemerge.
5. Send expeditionary forces into Waziristan and northwest Pakistan as needed to root out remaining organized militants
6. Puruse Al Qaeda aggressively using intelligence, criminal, and military assets as needed, but primarily the first two

Where does Iraq fit in here? It does not. Invading Iraq was insane as a response to 9/11. I-N-S-A-N-E.

Unfortunately, we did only a handful of the things I suggest above. We did, however, do the insane one, and in spades.

Having, as I see it, responded to 9/11 by doing stupid things badly, IMO the best we can do at this point is minimize the damage.

What that ought to mean is putting sufficient people on the ground in Iraq to secure the country, to rebuild basic infrastructure, and to establish the civic institutions needed so that the Iraqis could decide their own fate through political, rather than violent, means. Unfortunately, through the manifold and remarkable stupidity of this administration, the above is really no longer a realistic option.

So, regarding Iraq specifically, I have no useful concrete suggestions, because this administration has made them, all of them, unrealizable.


So, that's why wrong-headed. Why disingenous?

During WWII this nation devoted ourselves, body and soul, man woman and child, to fighting our enemy. Luxury and many non-luxury items were rationed. The industrial base of the nation was repurposed to support the creation of war materials. People bought war bonds. Every, or close enough to every for this discussion, able-bodied man under the age of 40 was in uniform or was otherwise participating directly in the war effort.

The top marginal tax rate was 94%, and at the height of the war, 20.4% of the US GNP was spent on the war.

Nowadays, not so much. Today's advocates of war, war, and more war like to invoke the moral purpose of WWII, but they do not want their taxes raised. They will not countenance a surcharge on the use of gasoline, let alone rationing.

Among the service-age members of the punditocracy, few if any actually put on a uniform, and they are mightily offended if anyone suggests that they ought to.

So, since Nation-Building aims to be a decorous venue, I will say they are disingenous. Were it not, I would be inclined to describe them in stronger words.

Thanks

 

one that's proven to itself time and time again that it will happily murder as many people as possible, committing suicide without hesitation to do so, and represent a threat that can only grow with time if we don't deal with it now--just as we should have dealt more forcefully with Hitler when we had the chance.

the hitler rhetoric has power as a call to arms, but in terms of genuine analogy it is weak, for reasons russell highlighted. i tend to agree with agrees policy planks. though i'm not one who believes in unilateral and immediate withdrawl from iraq, i see a lack of realism about the situation on the ground the possibilities for the future of iraq (unlike aziz i favor partition).

in any case, the idea that islamists are the evil-to-end-all-evils is something i don't buy. "rebel" forces in the democratic republic of congo have been responsible for orders of magnitude more deaths than al qaeda has since 1996. as for the idea that suicide is committed without hesitation, well, perhaps, but i don't osama or ayman dead right now. sounds/seems like they are your standard issue generals fighting from behind the lines. in other words, it isn't that different (many amerians would gladly die for their country, and do, on the orders of old men who will die in their sleep). the key is this: what is the potential for their future destructive capability? and the key is potential. frankly, from what i can tell, it seems like you need a state and a full economy to get into WMD level threat for at least the next several decades. chamberlain achieved 'peace in our time' and got 1 year of quiet before war in europe. assume the worst case scenario pans out, i believe that a chamberlain's bargain would give us a few decades. in that time the societal roots of islamism and anomie could be addressed.

here's an analogy for you: islamists are not fascists, they are like the anarchists of the 19th and early 20th century. that means that their threat is not trivial, but it also modulates the extent of threat.

also, here is the exact translation of what william of okham said:


entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity


in other words, the simplest explanation is not necessarily the right one! all things being equal is the best, but if you need to add complexifying parameters to generate a better model, you'd better do it.

so, i would conclude that many out there are not adding new information to their models, or complexifying parameters, as time goes on. that results in an inability to predict the future, and that isn't good.

 

and dean, here is a policy statement that i think we should heed more: first, do no harm!

 

Today's advocates of war, war, and more war like to invoke the moral purpose of WWII, but they do not want their taxes raised.

Your argument is based on the premise that we're already devoting most of our government tax revenues to defense spending and need more revenues to increase it.

I challenge you to find me a single individual in American politics who has simultaneously said that if he were to raise taxes he would put all of the revenues from that tax into military spending... a single person. Fact is, you can't.

Whenever social programs start sucking up more and more money, they always get that money by cutting the defense budget. Whenever the Democrats talk about how "Clinton balanced the budget," they never tell you that he did it by cutting the military budget by 35%.

And the fact of the matter is that we do not need to raise taxes to pay for the war. Of the total federal budget, the defense budget makes up 18%: less than 1/5 of the federal budget is dedicated to the military. As far as GDP is concerned, we spend about 3.8% of GDP on the military (based on General Schoomaker's latest figures), whereas the total federal budget takes up somewhere around 20%.

If you want to increase the military budget while not pushing the government further into deficit, all you have to do is eliminate failed social programs and modernize social security and Medicare.

But that will never happen.

Your argument is faulty and I reject it.

 

This is not Hitler's Germany, the corruption of one of the premier nation-states of the modern world. This is not the USSR, the #2 world power of the 20th century.

We've discussed this before and you agreed with me that the Islamists are simply lacking in capabilities, not murderous intent or willpower, and that if they did have the resources of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union they would be equal if not worse to them by how they used those resources.

So, it's not a question of intent: their intent is as murderous as that of the Nazis and Communists, they just lack the capabilities.

Tell me, what are we to do if Hezbollah gets nuclear weapons with the help of Iran or North Korea and uses them? Should we just sit back and negotiate? I am appalled at all these idiot "experts" who say that we should not strike Iran now and cause a limited amount of death instead of waiting for them to gain nuclear weapons and use them, at which point every person in Iran would most probably be killed in response.

I say the same about those who oppose Israel's intent to destroy Hezbollah... Hezbollah was limited to south Lebanon, as many have claimed. At one point in time, they generally were, but since they were integrated into the political process and seen more and more by people as a legitimate entity, they have begun taking over the entire country. So, those who oppose Israel going into Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah now would rather wait until Hezbollah controls the entire country, and then have Hezbollah destroy the whole of Lebanon in the process?

"There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others." - Niccolo Machiavelli

 

Tell me, what are we to do if Hezbollah gets nuclear weapons with the help of Iran or North Korea and uses them?

?

and what will we do if aliens with massive powers land? though seriously, i don't take this possibility seriously because it is clear what we'd do: we'd probably destroy iran. and this is why i keep telling you guys to study human psychology: the iranian regime is not suicidal, the mullahs send their youth to be canon fodder, not themselves. and, as everyone knows, not everyone associated with the iranian regime is suicidal. this is why i keep telling people to read some psychology (real cognitive psychology, not psych 101 in college): if you take people at their words you are going to make some really weird decisions (those of us who have been involved with relationships with the opposite gender know this by experience and instinct).


i am not against by the idea that we should invade iran to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. but, we have to be careful, they aren't a threat to the US since they don't have bombs.

as for the rest about hezbollah, well, i didn't say anything about, so i'm not going to address it.

 

"Your argument is based on the premise that we're already devoting most of our government tax revenues to defense spending and need more revenues to increase it."

Well, no. We don't already devote most of our government tax revenues to defense spending.

And, that's not my point.

My point is this:

During WWII, the government argued that war was necessary because global fascism was an existential threat to the US, and more broadly, to Western democratic civilization.

This argument was backed up with specific and concrete policies that required sacrifice from the US population. And, the US population was more than willing to respond.

During our current so-called Global War On Terror, the government argues that war is necessary because political militant Islam is an existential threat to the US, and more broadly to Western democratic civilization.

This argument is backed up by no -- zero -- policies that call for significant sacrifice from anyone other than folks in the active or reserve armed forces.

So, I don't really take the claim of an existential threat all that seriously, because those making it do not. In my opinion, it is a rhetorical device for building popular support for policies which are pursued for other reasons.

Thanks

 

"Your argument is based on the premise that we're already devoting most of our government tax revenues to defense spending and need more revenues to increase it."

Well, no. We don't already devote most of our government tax revenues to defense spending.

And, that's not my point.

My point is this:

During WWII, the government argued that war was necessary because global fascism was an existential threat to the US, and more broadly, to Western democratic civilization.

This argument was backed up with specific and concrete policies that required sacrifice from the US population. And, the US population was more than willing to respond.

During our current so-called Global War On Terror, the government argues that war is necessary because political militant Islam is an existential threat to the US, and more broadly to Western democratic civilization.

This argument is backed up by no -- zero -- policies that call for significant sacrifice from anyone other than folks in the active or reserve armed forces.

So, I don't really take the claim of an existential threat all that seriously, because those making it do not.

If they did, every nuclear and chemical plant in the US would be secure.

If they did, more than 2% of shipping containers entering the country would be inspected.

If they did, we would have an aggressive plan for securing nuclear materials, here in this country and abroad.

If they did, the Amish Country Popcorn company and the Groundhog Zoo would not be on the list of potential sites of terror attack, and the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building would be.

If they did, we would be engaged in an aggressive program to find alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation.

If they did, every able-bodied pundit between the ages of 18 and 35 arguing for the GWOT would be lined up, front and center, at the front door of their nearest military recruiting center, asking to be sent where they are most needed.

None of the above are true. So, to be frank, I call bullshit on claims that militant Islamic fundamentalism poses an existential threat to the US. Or, at least, I call bullshit on the claims of those who do not also call for all of the items I've named above.

The greatest threat posed by the attacks of 9/11 was the possibility that flight 93 would hit the Capitol, that sufficient members of Congress and their staffs would be killed such that Congress would be inoperative, and that the executive would respond by declaring a dictatorial state of martial law. The passengers on flight 93 made that possibility moot at the cost of their own lives.

In my opinion, the claim of an "existential threat" from militant Islam is a rhetorical device for building popular support for policies which are pursued for other reasons.

If you'd like to argue otherwise, the floor is yours.

Thanks

 

committing suicide without hesitation to do so, and represent a threat that can only grow with time

i agree with razib, that leadership cannot be suicidal. Citizens can be utilized as a resource by such regimes, eg, kamikazes and the child army deployed by Ayatollah Khameini in the iran/iraq war. but not leadership.

the threat can only grow with time? plz. islamic fundamentalism is under continuous onslaught. Western values, media, mores, philosophy, economics, etc, are eroding the fundamentalist base all the time.

and, azizhabbibi, the SR will at least exist in the Singularity. it is just this messy organic substrate that is giving you trouble. ;)

 

Where does Iraq fit in here? It does not. Invading Iraq was insane as a response to 9/11. I-N-S-A-N-E.

Although the war against Saddam Hussien was marketed and sold to the American public as a part of the war against terrorism, it was actually an attempt to maintain stability in the Middle East. Cheney and Bush were following the Carter doctrine, which basically states that American forces should intervene when 'America's friends' are threatened.

Yes, we were still following Carter's advice and we still think nations like al Qaeda-supporting Saudi Arabia are friends. The policies are insane, but not in the way you think.

Since we removed the Taliban from power, there really hasn't been much of a war against terrorism - our government's main focus has been on our efforts to maintain stability and the balance of power in the Middle East. The results of our efforts have been - more instability in the Middle East. However, if we'd been doing nothing, the area would still be unstable. We can't bring stability to an area that doesn't want it. There are 'hot' wars, there are 'cold wars', there are tribal feuds, ethnic cleansing, and just plain old hate. The Middle East is spoiling for a fight, and there's not much we can do to stop it.

Sometimes, an area or region just wants to have it out. Europe was that way during the first half of the last century, America was that way during the civil war. Outside intervention couldn't stop it. However, with globalization, a 'smaller' world, we can be affected by this. Our efforts shouldn't be towards maintaining an impossible stability in the Middle East, our efforts should be towards reducing the damage done to us, our real allies (like Israel) and everyone outside the region. Since the armies involved are not as powerful as the Nazis or the Soviets, we may be able to do this.

Iran is gaining power and Iran is headed for a fall. It would be in our best interests to let them gain power, so when they do fall, they take part of the terrorist infrastructure down with them. We don't really have to do anything to accomplish that. Events are just flowing in that direction.

If the terrorist infrastructure is damaged, the hostilities in the Middle East may be confined to the Middle East. Our efforts should be ensure that this happens, and, of course, to develop alternatives to oil. Since the hostilities in the Middle East are fueled by oil money, I'd guess that these "crazed zealots" will still find a way to keep the oil flowing and the cash rolling in, but it always helps to have a plan B.

 

ummm...russell?
a common fallacy is that we need to inspect shipping containers entering this country.
at that point, it would be far too late.
they must be inspected at transhipment, in foreign ports.
sorry for nit picking, but i am just mortally sick of hearing that.

and, what we really need to do is to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot, work the diplomacy angle, be subtle and subversive rather than trying to bully everyone into buying skull furniture identical to ours.
it won't happen like that, cultural change is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one.
but this is the age of information, and information will spread.

also, i have come to think "democracy" as some sort of antidote for warfare and conflict is silly.
you have to have the substrate of economics and education before democracy can take hold.

 

Dean Esmay:"....represent a threat that can only grow with time if we don't deal with it now."

I don't think that we know that it "can only grow with time". Maybe it will, maybe it won't. You need to believe that it can only gow with time, because you have your own various agendas.

"Deal with it" can mean lots of things. Not neccessarily World War III. Absolutely nobody was saying "do nothing at all".

Just as we should have dealt more forcefully with Hitler when we had the chance.

You can't keep away from the Hitler comparison, can you? It's like saying, "Just as the West ignored Hitler far to long, so have you ignored the weeds in th garden far too long. They will be very hard to get out now." At some abstract level it's an accurate analogy, but in truth it's just loony.

Rather than thinking about how big and awful the Islamic threat is right now, start off by thinking seriously about how big the combined Soviet-Nazi threat was in 1942 or 1943. Between them they controlled almost all of Europe and the majority of the industrialized world.

After thinking about that, THEN say that the Islamic threat is equally great, and give details.

 

I quit... I've made my point and I've shot down so many false arguments only to have them shot back in my face again, or have some idiot say, "no, that wasn't my point," that it isn't worth my time anymore.

 

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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.