Gator Aid

Jonah Goldberg, the editor-at-large at the National Review Online might soon qualify for the category “not worth the trouble.” That’s not yet a category, but it should be–it would be filled with all sorts of tripe merchants whose reasoning is so bad that it doesn’t warrant anyone’s attention.

The other day we find him arguing in favor of ethnic profiling. As we are all accustomed to by now from right-wing columnists, arguments in favor of such things are typically arguments against the oppositions’ straw men. Take the following, which barely merits response:

>What is so infuriating about this is that the ACLU favors policies that discriminate against all sorts of people–old people, women, children and others who, under random searches and other idiotic numerical formulas, are pulled aside for no reason at all.

That being randomly searched constitutes “discrimination” offends the conscience.

Even more absurdly, Goldberg argues in favor of Cheney’s whacked-out “One Percent Doctrine.” In brief, Cheney has held that even if there is one percent chance of a terrorist using a nuclear weapon, we should treat it as a one-hundred percent certainty. Here’s Jonah:

>Ron Suskind’s new book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” explores Vice President Dick Cheney’s view that if there’s a 1 percent chance terrorists might detonate a nuclear bomb in an American city, the government must act as if there’s a 100 percent chance. Despite the guffawing this elicited from administration critics, it strikes me as eminently sensible. (If there were a 1 percent chance the snake in your back yard would kill your child, wouldn’t 1 percent equal 100 percent for you too?) The ACLU’s self-indulgent position, meanwhile, seems to be that if there’s a 1 percent chance a cop will be a racist, we must act as if it’s a 100 percent chance. And that means humans can’t ever be trusted.

Hard to know where to begin with this one. In the first place, we’d take issue with the method of calculating the odds of such events. Considering the way Dick Cheney and his fans hyped the possibility of Saddam having weapons versus, say, the government of Pakistan (which actually has nuclear weapons) falling, we’d have to say that the odds were really far below one percent. Second, it strikes us that Cheney and Goldberg have conflated logical *possibility* with *probability.* Two fundamentally different things. Anything that doesn’t imply a contradiction is possible. Saddam having ties to al Qaeda was possible. It just wasn’t actual or even probable. Anyone with a passing knowledge of his regime could have told you that. Now just because something is logically possible doesn’t mean that it should be assigned a probablity score. One percent, in fact, probably means very little or no probability anyway. So if we actually calculated numerically what Cheney meant, the actual chance would be far below 1 percent. Finally, that Goldberg is confused is evident from his specious analogy (click here to see others do the same on various topics). For many parents–especially those who live in the bug, snake, shark, and gator-infested parts of our country–there is a chance that they’re kid will get eaten by these things in their natural habit. Their solution? Keep their kids of out the water with gators in it. Goldberg-Cheney’s solution? Get rid of all of the gators.

3 thoughts on “Gator Aid”

  1. I think this sort of arguments should go into the “Not even wrong” category, fallacious reasoning that does not begin to be wrong. The idea that racial profiling works is laughable, my understanding is that “terrorists”, although evil, are human and as such they can learn and plan. If terrorists know that specific groups of people, in this case Arab looking people, will be searched they will avoid looking like that group of people, and thus render the whole process useless. Goldberg ass-umes that terrorists will look like Arabs, that they should be profiled only by their virtue of looking Arabic, and believes that profiling will be an effective tool to stop terrorism. To me is seems that the probability of a terrorist attack is a poor excuse to abrogate our civil rights.

  2. I think if we look at the use of racial profiling in other contexts, such as in the “war on drugs”, we find a blueprint for failure. The WOD affects a disproportionate number of black and hispanic males, with black males making up the majority of prison inmates, while being the smallest ethnic group population wise (between whites, hispanics, and blacks). See here for stats:
    For more racial profiling information see here: (though the authors of this report claim that the data does not lead one to conclude that racial proifling is occurring, I would disagree with this statement.
    More than half of all inmates are in prison for non-violent drug offenses, and yet drug use in all populations has not decreased as a result of these draconian incarceration measures.
    Though there are differences between institutionalized oppression of ethnic minorities and discrimination against potential external threats from Middle-Easterners, the conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that finding and arresting the “evil-doers,” though necessary in some respects (we still need to prevent planes from being blowed up), is not a long-term solution to reducing the likelihood that illegal activities will occur again in the future. On the contrary, by inaugurating a new inquisition (other than the “war on the poor”) against a group of people that seem to be less fearful of personal harm and oppression inflicted on them (martyrs brigades, etc.), the U.S. is in danger of growing a crop of homegrown dissidents of middle-eastern descent, where there once were few, if any at all.

  3. Just a minor quibble. jcasey writes:
    “Saddam having ties to al Qaeda was possible. It just wasn’t actual or even probable.”
    I wouldn’t readily concede even the possibility part: Saddam and al Quaeda were ideological enemies. It’s not a logical impossibility for them to have been allies, to be sure, but not quite a possibility either.

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