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But why aren’t you talking about …

December 1st, 2006

Norman Geras pulls out one of the oldest moves in the Cold War playbook, saying

There are some clever people about who will tell you that responsibility isn’t zero sum: Bush and Blair bear responsibility for what’s now happening in Iraq even if others do too. They only fail to follow through on the ‘others do too’ part of this idea, reserving all their blame, all their ire, all their passion, for… Bush and Blair.

He’s aiming mostly at Chris Bertram, but since I’ve made exactly the same argument, and Geras is using the plural, I’ll respond.

Of course, I’ve never posted a condemnation of terror attacks, noted successes in the struggle against terrorism or matched condemnation of Bush and Blair with the observation that whatever evil has been done in our names, our terrorist enemies have shown that they can and will do worse. Well, only here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and so on.

But this is unlikely to worry Geras. As he would know from his days on the left (and from the parallel experiences of dissidents on the other side of the Iron Curtain), the point being made here is that, unless every criticism of our own government is matched by a ritualistic denunciation of our enemies, taking up at least as much space as the original criticism, it is obvious that you are on the wrong side.

And having made this point, it’s not necessary to examine your own support for policies that have brought death and disaster on hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

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  1. melanie
    December 2nd, 2006 at 08:37 | #1

    Hear! hear!

  2. Sean Kellett
    December 2nd, 2006 at 11:02 | #2

    It’s just a variation of the “at least we’re not as bad as Saddam” argument.

    Of course, this implies they believe they’re in the same league as the “terrorists”.

    And who are we to deny them that?

  3. December 2nd, 2006 at 16:29 | #3

    But, JQ, you yourself use the same logic when you assert that there is no longer any doubt about global warming.

    I want to make it quite clear, I am not commenting about global warming as such one way or the other. I merely want to highlight that you are inferring that the subject is settled simply because nobody is arguing the other way any more – at least, where you are reading (but see the more balanced ambivalence at Jerry Pournelle’s site).

    It seems to me that this is precisely the same line of reasoning, applied to a different issue. Certainly, absence of evidence as evidence of absence is more solid when a search for evidence has been made – but as you correctly note, fatigue is also a possible explanation for no longer finding adverse data.

  4. jquiggin
    December 2nd, 2006 at 16:34 | #4

    PML, can you explain further? I can’t see any analogy here at all.

  5. December 2nd, 2006 at 16:57 | #5

    JQ, you appear to be concluding that there is no longer any doubt about global warming, not simply in the sense of the word doubt meaning that the whole story is not in, but in the sense that nobody any longer is expressing doubt. That is, you are making an inference about the consensus, quite apart from any direct conclusions you may yourself be drawing about global warming.

    However the lack of expression of such doubts does not mean they are not there any more, any more than the lack of expression of criticism of terrorists means an acceptance of terrorism. The inference is one of evidence of absence based on a search for evidence that “should” have turned up evidence if it had been there. That’s a sounder approach than simply inferring from absence of evidence, of course, since that can also come about from not looking. But both issues are still flawed because people may no longer be expressing the contrary view for quite other reasons, e.g. fatigue.

    So I see you using a similar line of reasoning yourself, on that other issue.

  6. Katz
    December 2nd, 2006 at 17:18 | #6

    Norman Geras is making a fool of himself.

    “There are some clever people about who will tell you that responsibility isn’t zero sum…”

    Who in their right minds would ever say responsibility IS a zero sum game?

    A zero sum game is where gains and losses balance out to zero.

    What can be on the opposite side of the ledger to “responsibility”? It’s conceptual nonsense.

    What Geras seems to want to say is that the responsibility of Bush and Blair for the Iraq fiasco is mitigated in some way by virtue of the fact that other folks are doing Bad Things in Iraq.

    While this cannot be doubted, Geras’s hate objects — leftie Bush and Blair haters — have two entirely legitimate lines of counterattack:

    1. As citizens of members of the COW we have a right and a responsibility to influence stupid and evil government policy. That’s what democracy’s for. We are not responsible and have no legitimate way of influencing the behaviour of terrorists in Iraq.

    2. The methods chosen by Bush and Blair to influence the behaviour of terrorists in Iraq are stupid and counterproductive. Objectively, they have encouraged the rise of terrorism in Iraq. Is this what they wanted to do? Bush and Blair are not prepared to go hard. They should therefore go home.

  7. December 2nd, 2006 at 17:47 | #7

    Geras’s Moral bankruptcy was perfectly demonstrated by the Eustan manifesto.

    Shorter manifesto – We support the Iraq invasion, denounce tyranny (as long as the tyranny doesn’t originate from the west, in which case we’ll ignore it)

    It’s an obscene document, written by someone who should know much better.

  8. Tom
    December 3rd, 2006 at 16:00 | #8

    P.M.Lawrence is not making any sense to me either. He or she seems to be saying “The lack of evidence of John criticizing terrorism doesn’t mean that all lefties support terrorism…. Therefore the lack of denialists on climate change doesn’t mean it isn’t contested….just that John isn’t reading the right publications and that the proponents of denialism are fatigued.” These leaps in argument don’t appear to be supported or connected to me.

    Some problems – one is that a strawman “leftie” who never criticises terrorists was attacked, and John showed in the real world this is not true. And even if such a lacking were it true, you don’t need to criticise things which are self-evidently evil (like terrorism), so how does a silence on the self-evident invalidate criticisms of Bush and Blair? So isn’t John showing that even a cursory glance at the evidence proves this Geras wrong? I.e. That Geras is a dogmatic person attacking a strawman and that reasonable people operating with any connection to reality rather than punditry would not make such a silly argument. I.e. that if the facts are a google away, then missing them isn’t an excuse. Are you trying to claim that John hasn’t googled for the facts or hasn’t engaged with the denialists? I think he has been very charitable in the airtime he has given them. I think he has addressed denialist points, and done away with them in a reasoned manner. If you think that his ending of the debate on his own blog is somehow equivalent to Geras making a ridiculous strawman argument I suggest that you go back and look at how long John entertained denialists.

    The second problem is that being fatigued isn’t a very good excuse for losing an argument unless you are actually in a hospital bed. Also it is difficult to assert fatigue as a reason for the under-performance of a disparate group of individuals around the globe engaged in intellectual debate (as opposed to a rowing team). I suppose many people who are wrong and hold to their positions doggedly against vast majorities do end up getting fatigued, but most people would surmise their defeat was due to their being wrong…

    But then again, maybe you have some brilliant point and I just can’t follow your double negative sentences etc. Assuming for a moment you have a point and that I just didn’t follow it I can still level the criticism that rhetoric is about persuading people; so P.M.Lawrence, I suggest you learn how to write so that people can read what you are saying.

    P.S. that you have obviously updated your website by at least 2004 and yet you still have a icon advocating the use of a WWW browser for DOS disturbs and amuses me.

  9. December 3rd, 2006 at 18:35 | #9

    Hey, I’m using Arachne right now. You appear to be bigoted on the subject of browsers.

    But as for strawmen, that crack about lefties appears to be entirely your own invention.

    As for comprehensibility, I’ll run that lot past others to check whether or not the incomprehension results from some omission of mine or is merely exposing a blind spot among those of certain views.

    BTW, “certain views” doesn’t mean “lefty” – it means those who use a certain line of reasoning. Oh, and that doesn’t mean “lefty” either.

  10. December 4th, 2006 at 08:21 | #10

    I am not sure if this is what P M Lawrence is saying but I am prepared to follow up along the following lines:

    John is appaarently prepared to foreclose on debates like global warming and the Popper vs Lakatos issue because he has found some people who see things his way and he is too busy or not sufficiently interested or qualified to do more research to test his own position more throughly. He has been sold a dummy on the Popper/Lakatos issue and he cherry-picked an article by a professional in the field to extract the para that he liked and ignored the more robustly argued part of the article that went the other way. How oftten is John doing this?

    Second, on the matter of “your guys crimes versus others, assuemed to be ours” the need is to get past finger-pointing and come up with a set of principles that can be applied consistently to work out which direction we would like social reform to move in any society, from Australia to Sweden, Vietnam, Iraq or Zimbabwe. The problem here is that classical (free trade, minimum state) liberalism became virtually invisible for most of the 20th century and in that situation people of good will were constantly offered impossible choices (Catholicism vs communism, Hitler vs Stalin). The intellectuals generally became hooked on Marxism and socialism, and in extreme cases communism, so the end result is a lot of fellow travellers with regimes that have nothing to offer the ordinary people but they manage to enlist the support of western intellectuals because they embrace certain kinds of symbolism and rhetoric. Sometimes it is the positive rhetoric of leftwing “freedom fighters” and sometimes it is just the rhetoric of anti-Americanism or anti-imperialism.

  11. jquiggin
    December 4th, 2006 at 14:21 | #11

    To be boringly clear, Rafe, I haven’t “foreclosed” on the Lakatos/Popper debate. I observe that my interpretation is supported by professionals in the field (notably including both Lakatos and Popper) and I therefore don’t feel the need to defend it against criticisms from you that I frankly can’t follow. As you say, I’m “too busy or not sufficiently interested or qualified to do more research to test my own position more throughly” on this topic. But I’m perfectly prepared to concede that your interpretation, whatever it is, has some well-qualified supporters, and that debate is still open.

    On global warming by contrast, I am interested enough to follow the debate closely and qualified to assess most of the statistical evidence, which is central. I conclude that that the consensus view is supported by the careful work of thousands of scientists, while the number of credible critics of that view is, depending on how loose your criteria are, either zero, or very close to zero.

  12. wilful
    December 4th, 2006 at 14:51 | #12

    So no one actually understands the analogy put forward by P M L?

  13. Katz
    December 4th, 2006 at 15:02 | #13

    “Second, on the matter of “your guys crimes versus others, assuemed to be oursâ€? the need is to get past finger-pointing and come up with a set of principles that can be applied consistently to work out which direction we would like social reform to move in any society, from Australia to Sweden, Vietnam, Iraq or Zimbabwe.”

    We all have our druthers, but unless there is a particularly salient reason for meddling in the affairs of others, it would seem prudent to allow others to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes.

    As someone is reputed to have said of Napoleon when he rumbled into Spain “with a set of principles that [could] be applied consistently to work out which direction” Napoleon wanted Spain to develop: “No one likes missionaries with guns.”

    In other words, the very fact of invasion and occupation gets people’s backs up. It’s hard for the invader/occupier persuade the object of their supposed benevolvence that they’re trying to do the ignorant, benighted natives some good under those circumstances.

    The best way is to try to set a good example at home and then use clever advertising and PR to sell it to others. It’s called “soft power”.

  14. FDB
    December 4th, 2006 at 15:43 | #14

    Jesus, Rafe.

    “Libertarians for Foreign Military Adventurism” has a nice ring to it, I suppose, but you’ll have to explain it to me.

  15. December 5th, 2006 at 05:56 | #15

    “To be boringly clear, Rafe, I haven’t “foreclosedâ€? on the Lakatos/Popper debate. I observe that my interpretation is supported by professionals in the field (notably including both Lakatos and Popper) and I therefore don’t feel the need to defend it against criticisms from you that I frankly can’t follow.”

    John I can see that you don’t follow the arguments, that was my conjecture from the very start of the discussion. I thought that your interpretation of the situation was that Lakatos (and others such as Kuhn) identified shortcomings with Popper’s views on falsification which (a) he could not correct and (b) Lakatos improved upon.

    To support this view you quoted a passage from a paper by a professional. The passage that you drew upon was (a) incoherent and (b) contradicted hy other passages in the paper.

    Now you say that your interpretation is supported by Popper. Are you serious?

    The reason why I am persisting with this investigation is that I think there has been a massive waste of resources in the philosophy of science following invalid criticisms of Popper by Kuhn and Lakatos in the 1960s and 1970s. That has impacted on economics by encouraging the (so far unhelpful) efforts of Blaug, Latsis and many others to try to make something out of the ideas of Lakatos. This has distracted efforts from the more helpful work that has been done by Larry Boland and from pursuing the implications of Popper’s views on situational analysis in other social sciences.

    I am trying to work out why people think that it was ok to sideline Popper on account of the criticisms from Kuhn and Lakatos.

  16. Terje
    December 5th, 2006 at 08:39 | #16

    I didn’t understand PMLs analogy. I also did not understand the point of the original article by JQ. I think that the comments by Geras were hardly of substance and I’m not sure why JQ bothered responding. However the fact that Rafe is now hijacking the discussion makes the whole thing really comical.

    Cooee!!!

  17. wilful
    December 6th, 2006 at 12:39 | #17

    I think there has been a massive waste of resources in the philosophy of science…

    So why are you taking it up with an economist, who admits to not being expert (or influential) in this field, rather than with a philosopher of science?

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