Category Archives: Politicians

Logical fallacies straight from the horse’s mouth.

Non-existent principles

This from Brooks’ column yesterday. Inspired by this.

>[H]is self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”

I missed the part in the Bible about history moving in the direction of democracy. That idea–democracy–was someone else’s. I’m also uncertain whether the dispute about Bush’s belligerent and counterproductive policies primarily concerns whether or not certain principles “exist.” Whatever the source of such foundational principles of value (divine beneficence, common agreement, or whatever), there will always remain the question of how to apply them. Claiming that they’re divine, in other words, tells us nothing about how to apply them.

The Philosopher President

H/t to Leiter and others for this:

>At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.

>Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I’m facing? How will history judge what we’ve done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?

>These are the questions of a president who has endured the most drastic political collapse in a generation. Not generally known for intellectual curiosity, Bush is seeking out those who are, engaging in a philosophical exploration of the currents of history that have swept up his administration. For all the setbacks, he remains unflinching, rarely expressing doubt in his direction, yet trying to understand how he got off course.

>These sessions, usually held in the Oval Office or the elegant living areas of the executive mansion, are never listed on the president’s public schedule and remain largely unknown even to many on his staff. To some of those invited to talk, Bush seems alone, isolated by events beyond his control, with trusted advisers taking their leave and erstwhile friends turning on him.

Two questions: (1) which philosopher would you send to converse with Bush (don’t recommend yourself please)? (2) how does he or she answer Bush’s questions?

Les Mis

From Editor and Publisher:

>SECRETARY RICE: Look, let me tell you what I think about Scooter Libby. I think he’s served the country really well. I think he did it to the best of his ability. I think that he is going through an extremely difficult time with his family and for him. And you know, I’m just desperately sorry that it’s happening to him and I — you know, the legal system has spoken, but I tell you, this is a really good guy who is a good public servant and ought to be treated in accordance with that.

I wonder if such feelings of pity are proper for fallen soldiers.

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.

Logic and reason

In the category of questions that answer themselves, Al Gore wonders,

>why logic and reason and the best evidence available and the scientific discoveries do not have more force in changing the way we all think about the reality we are now facing.

Part of his answer is the “serial obsessions” of the media with with Anna Nicole Smith types of stories. And when they talk about politics, they obsess over the irrelevant details of the political horse race. And when they obsess over that, they focus on the most tabloid aspects of the election process.

Fair enough. But this really answers a separate question: why is no one interested in the reality we are facing.

Losing it

Some argue that the surge is working. Some, like Joe Lieberman, claim that the evidence of its not working is not to be seen as evidence of its failure, but rather as evidence of its necessity. He writes:

>Last week a series of coordinated suicide bombings killed more than 170 people. The victims were not soldiers or government officials but civilians — innocent men, women and children indiscriminately murdered on their way home from work and school.

>If such an atrocity had been perpetrated in the United States, Europe or Israel, our response would surely have been anger at the fanatics responsible and resolve not to surrender to their barbarism.

>Unfortunately, because this slaughter took place in Baghdad, the carnage was seized upon as the latest talking point by advocates of withdrawal here in Washington. Rather than condemning the attacks and the terrorists who committed them, critics trumpeted them as proof that Gen. David Petraeus’s security strategy has failed and that the war is “lost.”

Very slowly now:

>(1) the surge has increased the number of troops in Baghdad and other hot spots in order to quell violence of the type described in the passage above.

>(2) if that strategy were working, we wouldn’t see violence on this order.

>(3) we see violence like that.

>(4) the surge is not working.

From (4) Joe Lieberman concludes that we ought to continue surging. The failure of the surge is evidence of its need. When, one might wonder, would the evidence of its failure be evidence of its failure?

Worse than this, Lieberman accuses those who examine the evidence and ask the obvious questions of somehow siding with the terrorists: so the doctor who tells you that you have cancer is siding with the disease.

Blame spiral

A commenter posted a remark by another blogger (or two) about “politicizing” the Virginia Tech massacre. They–Matt Yglesias and Majikthise–were tired of the accusations of politicization and argued that as it was an event in our lives, we ought to argue about it, especially now that the memory is vivid.

Fair enough, but it’s a little early for anyone to know what the lesson is. We ought all of us have the patience to wait for a little evidence before we draw any specific lessons.

But some lessons no amount of evidence will support. Take the following.

Mark Steyn blames the culture of passivity.

Neil Cavuto blames hatred for the rich.

Newt Gingrich blames “liberalism”:

>GINGRICH: Yes, I think the fact is, if you look at the amount of violence we have in games that young people play at 7, 8, 10, 12, 15 years of age, if you look at the dehumanization, if you look at the fact that we refuse to say that we are, in fact, endowed by our creator, that our rights come from God, that if you kill somebody, you’re committing an act of evil.

>STEPHANOPOULOS: But what does that have to do with liberalism?

>GINGRICH: Well, who has created a situation ethics, essentially, zone of not being willing to talk about any of these things. Let me carry another example. I strongly supported Imus being dismissed, but I also think the very thing he was dismissed for, which is the use of language which is stunningly degrading of women — the fact, for example, that one of the Halloween costumes this last year was being able to be either a prostitute or a pimp at 10, 11, 12 years of age, buying a costume, and we don’t have any discussion about what’s happened to our culture because while we’re restricting political free speech under McCain-Feingold, we say it’s impossible to restrict vulgar and vicious and anti-human speech.

Finally, Tom Tomorrow shows us another lesson some will draw.

What is a war anyway?

Michael Chertoff, Homeland security czar (that’s not what they call him, but they might as well), today writes an op-ed directed against some recent remarks of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Brzezinksi has claimed that we’re not involved in a “war” on terrorism; terrorism is a method, not a group or a state or a thing (like drugs). Brzezinski argues that we have failed in the war on terror precisely because we have approached it as an actual (and not a metaphorical) war. Rather than working to prevent terrorism, capture terrorists, and do the other things that will prevent more terrorism (like, and this is just a suggestion, capturing bin Laden), we have incorrectly militarized what is primarily a political issue. Of course war is politics by other means, but Brzezinski’s argument is that we can’t achieve a military victory against a non-military enemy. And, more than that, the enemy in this instance yearns for the authenticity and legitimization that only we can provide (by calling it a military war).

Leave it to Chertoff–the one who lamented the possibility of “clean-skin” (i.e., white) terrorists–to misunderstand Brezezinski’s point. He writes:

>Brzezinski stated the obvious in describing terrorism as a tactic, not an enemy [“Terrorized by ‘War on Terror,’ Outlook, March 25]. But this misses the point. We are at war with a global movement and ideology whose members seek to advance totalitarian aims through terrorism. Brzezinski is deeply mistaken to mock the notion that we are at war and to suggest that we should adopt “more muted reactions” to acts of terrorism.

Right–He doesn’t see the threat. Now bring up Iran:

>The impulse to minimize the threat we face is eerily reminiscent of the way America’s leaders played down the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary fanaticism in the late 1970s. That naive approach ultimately foundered on the kidnapping of our diplomats in Tehran.

We were not and are not at war with Iran. So that wasn’t a war either. Analogies only work if things can be compared. Sure, no serious person doubts that terrorists will do violent and awful things if they get a chance. This doesn’t, however, make it a war. And furthermore, calling what they do a war doesn’t change what they do. It only changes what we do. And what we’ve done so far has been an abysmal failure.

El presidente

No explanation necessary:

>_”Politics comes and goes, but your principles don’t. And everybody wants to be loved _ not everybody. … You never heard anybody say, `I want to be despised, I’m running for office.'”

>_”The best thing about my family is my wife. She is a great first lady. I know that sounds not very objective, but that’s how I feel. And she’s also patient. Putting up with me requires a lot of patience.”

>_”There are jobs Americans aren’t doing. … If you’ve got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I’m talking about.”

>_”There are some similarities, of course” between Iraq and Vietnam. “Death is terrible.”

>_”I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times.”

>As he has before, Bush told the story about how his first presidential decision was to pick a rug for the Oval Office, a task he quickly cast to his wife. He told her to make sure the rug reflected optimism “because you can’t make decisions unless you’re optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.”

>Later, when he talked about his hope for succeeding in Iraq, Bush said, “Remember the rug?”

Here’s the video. I think this man has broken new ground.