Category Archives: Contradictions

Nods head

Two comments on torture.  First, President Bush:

BUSH: First of all, whatever we have done, was legal. And whatever decision I will make, will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is is there. And the reason why…there’s a difference between what happened in the past and today is there’s new law. And um, and so to answer your question, whatever we will do will be legal. The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack and for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them which attack would they rather have not permitted…stopped? Which attack on America would they have said, you know, well, maybe that wasn’t all that important? That we stopped those attacks. I’ll do what’s necessary to protect America within the law. That’s what you gotta understand. And um, [nods head]

Not surprisingly, that doesn't make any sense.  What we did was legal, but the major difference between then and now is that there is a law, making what we will do legal–unlike before, when it was legal.  That's why there is a law.

Now from someone who has been waterboarded:

Waterboarding has, unfortunately, become a household word. Back then, we didn't call it waterboarding we called it "water torture." We recognized it as something the United States would never do, whatever the provocation. As a nation, we must ask our leaders, elected and appointed, to be aware of such horrors; we must ask them to stop the narrow and superficial thinking that hinges upon "legal" definitions and to use common sense. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is clearly a crime against humanity.

I guess they used to call it "torture."  Glad we don't call it torture anymore.

Miracles of physics

Michael Gerson almost forces me to pull the "Don't know much about " title.  He writes:

I have little knowledge of, or interest in, the science behind this debate. Can gradual evolutionary changes account for the complex structures of cells and the eye? Why is the fossil record so weak when it comes to major mutations? I have no idea. There are unsolved mysteries in Darwinian evolution. There is also no credible scientific alternative.

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

But you don't know much about them, so why bother?  The silly thing is that he's trying to be conciliatory.

Sanitation technician

Today David Brooks tries to erase any subtlety from the immigration question. The real conflict is between educated globe-trotting elites and local Nascar types. In case you thought that’s the usual silly dichotomy, you’d be right. This time, however, he finds a way to contradict himself and patronize both groups of the dichotomy.

>The conventional view is that an angry band of conservative activists driven by nativism and economic insecurity is killing immigration reform. But this view is wrong in almost every respect.

Three paragraphs of general assertions lead to the following conclusion:

>What’s shaping the immigration debate is something altogether deeper and more interesting. And if you want to understand what it is, start with education. Between 1960 and 1980, the share of Americans enrolled in higher education exploded. The U.S. became the first nation in history with a mass educated class. The members of this class differed from each other in a thousand ways, but they tended to share a cosmopolitan approach to the world. They celebrated cultural diversity and saw ethnocentrism as a sign of backwardness.

No attempt is made to support that claim with any research. Broad, unsupported generalizations–even in the context of a 750 word column–don’t deserve anyone’s serious consideration. If you can’t even point to the right kind of source for that evidence, you probably shouldn’t write it in a newspaper.

Here’s the dichotomy. First, the smart, elite types:

>Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.

Now the yokels:

>This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.

But they’re not driven by nativism–they only feel that the ancient ties of solidarity and community of their native culture is under threat from outsiders.

Brooks on Gore III

Lots to choose from today: Sam Brownback’s evolution confusion or George Will’s “Case for Conservatism” (which is, as one would suspect, the case against his cartoonish liberal with the subsequently unjustified claim that this makes the case for his view–which it doesn’t). But David Brooks’ column the other day still offers some final ignorant tidbits. So far, the reader may remember, Brooks has accused Gore of favoring some kind of vulcan-like existence because he wants people to argue with facts and logic.

The final paragraphs of Brooks piece descend into nonsense. He writes:

> This, in turn, grows out of a bizarre view of human nature. Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.

Now the mind is identical to the brain? Doesn’t that make Brooks a determinist?

>The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

>Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Now we’ve veered far from the discussion of civil discourse, into simplistic (ironically it seems) pseudo-science about the nature of reasoning and consciousness and their relation to brain processes.

>Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

>If a philosopher did write such a book, it would help us understand Al Gore, and it would, as he would say, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

I don’t think any philosopher would write a book of that sort, as it rests on a confusion between argument and explanation. Brooks can’t bring himself to consider Al Gore’s argument, so he distorts it, and then asks what would explain such a distorted view. Ironically, even Gore’s distorted view is superior, on Brooks’ own grounds, to Brooks’ brain state analysis of human nature.

Perhaps Gore can include Brooks unreasoning response as an appendix in a subsequent edition of his book about the assault on rational discourse.

David Brooks rethinks

David Brooks once called John Kerry "a fraud with a manly bearing." He made fun of him for correctly understanding the nature of terrorism–that it wasn’t a question of armies and generals and nation states, but rather a matter of politics, and of course, law and order. Now this:

The war on terror has shredded the reputation of the Bush administration. It’s destroyed the reputation of Tony Blair’s government in Britain, Ehud Olmert’s government in Israel and Nuri al-Maliki’s government in Iraq. And here’s a prediction: It will destroy future American administrations, and future Israeli, European and world governments as well.

That’s because setbacks in the war on terror don’t only flow from the mistakes of individual leaders and generals. They’re structural. Thanks to a series of organizational technological innovations, guerrilla insurgencies are increasingly able to take on and defeat nation-states.

So he was wrong. But it turns out that it wasn’t anyone’s fault after all. Not so. The mistakes in Iraq–and in Afghanistan–flow from one single source–the commander guy. Had he not envisioned the whole thing–wrongly–as an epic battle between good and evil, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now. And it seems wrong therefore to call all insurgency, as Brooks does, "war on terror." If you take what he says seriously, that’s the problem.

Fish on religion and liberalism

I think Stanley Fish doesn’t understand either liberalism or religion. He writes (behind the Times firewall):

>First of all, I stipulate to the usefulness of teaching the bible as an aid to the study of literature and history. I’m just saying that when you do that you are teaching religion as a pedagogical resource, not as a distinctive discourse the truth or falsehood of which is a matter of salvation for its adherents. One can of course teach that too; one can, that is, get students to understand that at least some believers hold to their faith in a way that is absolute and exclusionary; in their view nonbelievers have not merely made a mistake – as one might be mistaken about the causes of global warming – they have condemned themselves to eternal perdition. (“I am the way.”) What one cannot do – at least under the liberal democratic dispensation – is teach that assertion of an exclusive and absolute truth as anything but someone’s opinion; and in many classes that opinion will be rehearsed with at best a sympathetic condescension (“let’s hope they grow out of it”) and at worst a condemning ridicule (“even in this day and age, there are benighted people”).

In the first place (as we noted in an earlier post), there’s nothing incoherent about studying the body of propositions that compose any particular religious doctrine without embracing their truth. For instance, Fish has made the doctrine and the seriousness with which its adherents believe it without making us affirm it. If what he said about religion were true–you cannot teach it–then he couldn’t talk about why you can’t. Since you can–he has–then what he says is false.

Second, the Rawlsian liberal will point out that there is no absolute truth when it comes to matters of foundational questions of justice and political structure. This is quite a different claim from that which says there is no absolute truth at all. Liberals are not relativists, as Fish seems to think. There is of course plenty of absolute truth possible in matters empirical. These may inform, but do not form the basis of, our conception of justice. So in the end, no controversial system of value can serve as the basis of a political structure.

Equal rights

There’s a lot to complain about in this confused George Will op-ed. One could point out the limbaughesque caricature of “liberals”:

>Liberals, dolled up in love beads and bell-bottom trousers, have had another bright idea, one as fresh as other 1970s fads. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, high-octane liberals all, have asked Congress to improve the Constitution by adding the Women’s Equality Amendment, which, like the Equal Rights Amendment before it, says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

But I’d rather focus my attention on the following blaring confusion. Since Will can never be bothered to examine any of his opponents’ actual reasons for their views, he just makes them up. So he wonders why someone would need an equal rights amendment when the courts–you heard that right–found them to be a consequence of the 14th Amendment:

>March 1972 was a year after the Supreme Court cited the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment when invalidating a law that involved discrimination on the basis of sex. And March 1972 was 10 months before the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade.

I’ve lost count of how many columns Will has written undermining that very principle of constitutional interpretation. And he finds the very principle of such litigation–i.e., the kind of litigation that clarifies the proper interpretation of the laws–odious:

>If Kennedy and like-minded legislators think that the condition of American women needs improvements, they should try to legislate them. Instead, they prefer to hope that liberal judges will regard the ERA’s language as a license to legislate. But, then, support for the amendment testifies to the supporters’ lack of confidence in their ability to persuade people to support such policies.

And someone might point out that a constitutional amendment is a form of legislation.