Welcome Back

For those with “edu” email accounts, the New York Times Select pages are now free. That means once again we can read David Brooks, a man who has been wrong about everything. It’s been a while. But maybe some will remember David Brooks‘ favorite logical trope: the false dichotomy. For Brooks, the false dichotomy results from a straw man. First, he caricatures the opposition viewpoint, then he sets up that caricature as the unacceptable alternative in a false dichotomy. So today he misreads Carl Levin’s speech yesterday in the Senate. Brooks says:

>The intelligence agencies paint a portrait of a society riven at its base with sectarian passion. They describe a society not of rational game theorists but of human beings beset by trauma of Sunnis failing to acknowledge their minority status, of Shiites bent on winner-take-all domination, of self-perpetuating animosities, disintegrating bonds and a complex weave of conflicts.

The problem is that no one argues (and no one’s view can be taken to imply) that Iraqi society is composed of “rational game theorists.” And the falsity of that claim does not imply the somewhat orientalist notion that Iraqi society is “riven at its base with sectarian passion.” So not only does that claim infantalize the Iraqis, grossly mischaracterize Levin’s argument, but it also fails to take into account the obvious fact that sectiarian passions can take shape in the mind of rational game theorists.

5 thoughts on “Welcome Back”

  1. Professor Casey,

    While I generally agree that Brooks is often guilty of the False Dichotomy/Straw Man problem, I would not be so quick to make that judgement here. Having actually heard Levin’s remarks, its really hard to consider his strategy a viable alternative. He really does seem to imagine that were the United States to leave, the only obstruction in the path of a functioning Iraqi security force would would vanish with us. It’s really not a strong position. As Clinton pointed out yesterday, evacuating our forces from Iraq will not prevent sectarian violence from engulfing that nation and falling into a bloody civil war. We must come to terms with the only real strategies offered on both sides of the aisle. If we pull out we have to be realistic about the consequences. Hilary Clinton, yesterday, acknowledged the risks of a complete pullout and has advocated that some troops be left to help assist security forces. They will not be there to pacify the country, but simply to keep Iranians out of the affairs of the Iraqi government. Others, like McCain call for renewed faith in the surge, and they too must acknowledge the consequences of that decision. Finally there are those that would seek to pull out immediatley. Unfortunately, the Senate Democrats have not embraced the consequences of that position. Just listening to Levin was really upseting for a lot of people. His naivtee about the goings on in Iraq, is strange given his reputation as a copetent leader in Foreign Affairs. David Brooks was not the only one who picked up on it. He’s right to criticize Levin’s nonsensical speech. I would personally like to figure out which Caucus leader put him up to it.

  2. Dear Steve,

    I’d say you ought to reread the post and go read Levin’s speech. You seem to be thinking of something else.

  3. either the times hates me, or you lied about the freebie for “.edu” addresses, because i tried it and it still shut me out.

    see, even my sarcastic attempts at parody are falling short. (the above is a brooks-esque false dichotomy, because there’s always the third live option: i am a complete f–ktard on the computer sometimes) whatever will i do without a daily dose of david brooks? oh, yeah, i’ll watch him pretend he doesn’t right a column every night as he backtracks all over the NewsHour studio.

  4. holy crap. i wrote “right” instead of “write.” at least i prefaced with the f–ktard admission.

  5. Yeah, this isn’t the speech I was referring too. I’ll go hunt it down and share it with you.

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