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March 31, 2009

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Good points, Eric, but somehow I feel like it's arguing with creationists. The view of the world that suggests serial bombing of Iran is a policy even worth considering is so bizarre that I don't see how it yields to even the strongest, easiest to grasp, arguments.


Is it 'Here' or 'Hear' in the Decemberists song? I had 'Hear', because that fits better with the fading. The singer is probably not saying that in his new location, bombs gradually become transparent and vanish. (No less an authority than Spencer agrees.)

See Neil, I always thought of it the way you and Spencer did, but dangit if every lyrics post on these 'here' intertubes don't suggest it's "here."

It could make sense though: The theme of the song being the creation of a new society, where the bombs fade away.

But I'm open to correction on that front.

The neoconservative argument seems to be a take on the, "I hit you because I you love" argument, with Iran playing the role of battered spouse.

Me thinks a domestic violence-based foreign policy is not a terribly good idea.

Is it a tasteless analogy? Absolutely! But it's also an apt expression of the contempt I hold for some of these extremists.

The theme of the song being the creation of a new society, where the bombs fade away.

"And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation . . ."

Kind of like that . . .

Sadly, Mr. Yomtov is right, arguing with this kind of delusion is indeed like arguing with creationists. In fact, there's a lot of overlap in the intellectual underpinning.

It is well demonstrated that invasions do not win hearts and minds. So, why DO goopers keep ignoring this obvious fact? In my experience, smart people reject empirical data because (a) it is so counterintuitive they just can't believe it, and/or (b) they have a great deal invested in believing the opposite.

(b) obviously could apply here. As Brock's memoir "Blinded By The Right" shows, there is a lot of peer pressure among the conservative intelligentsia - if you don't reflexively warmonger, you lose friends, contacts, and funding.
(a) is trickier. How can a smart person possibly ignore the reality of patriotism? Especially a smart conservative, since that side of the aisle has made a fetish of patriotism and jingoism for decades.

But this particular blind spot is actually very consistent with themes I see again and again in modern mainstream conservative intellectual thought:

(1) The greatest good is freedom
(2) Freedom means freedom to be Christian and capitalist; no other definitions are comprehensible (that theme is backed up by an unusually complex and reticulated defensive meme structure, as explained in detail by Andrew Sullivan among others).
(2) All people naturally yearn to be free
(3) The greatest proponent of freedom in the world is the USA!USA!USA!

If you immerse yourself too much in these cozy & consistent notions, you may easily lose track of the fact that they are at best hypotheses that have failed all empirical tests, and that many people disagree in good faith. It helps, of course, if you believe you will go to hell if you dare put religious principles to empirical test even in your own thoughts.(That also explains the self-righteous, vindictive hatred that permeates the product of, e.g. Coulter and Limbaugh: we who disagree with them are not just opposed, we are evil, corrupting, self-evidently wrong, and in bad faith).

One natural conclusion from these premises is that there are no truly patriotic Iranians. How could there be, when their government is illegitimate -- as proved by the fact that it opposes USA!USA!USA! and is neither laissez-faire nor Christian? Iranians would no more rally round their government than inner-city moms & dads would rally around a street gang that had taken over the neighborhood.

This unfortunate mode of reasoning is reinforced by the twin memes of manifest destiny and "with faith, all things are possible." If you actually believe those, then anything standing in the way of America's divine destiny will miraculously change. The scenario in which people love you for bombing them, however odd it may sound to the uninitiated, is intuitively correct, because it is in accord with G-d's will.

Once the patient is this far gone, medication is unlikely to help.

"(1) The greatest good is freedom"

In an instrumental sense, yeah, since without it you can't pursue any other good. You might achieve other goods without freedom, but it won't be because you were pursuing them, only because somebody else decided to grant you them.

"(2) Freedom means freedom to be Christian and capitalist; no other definitions are comprehensible
"

Nah, I'm a libertarian, and I'm quite willing to accept that freedom includes the freedom to not be a capitalist. (As an atheist, I'm fairly comfortable with the freedom to not be a Christian, too, you might suspect.)

I might think that the freedom to not be a capitalist is a very foolish, self-destructive freedom to enjoy, rather like the freedom to not take advantage of agriculture or soap, or any other fundamentally useful invention, but it's still a kind of freedom.

But freedom is individual. Individuals are free or not free, not cultures or nationalities. Which is to say, you've got the freedom to not be a capitalist, but this doesn't imply any right to demand that anyone else not be one.

Unfortunately, most people opposed to capitalism don't appreciate that distinction.

"(2) All people naturally yearn to be free"

Ah, if only it were so, in any meaningful sense. Pretty much everybody yearns to have freedom for themselves, so few yearn to have it for those about them...

"(3) The greatest proponent of freedom in the world is the USA!USA!USA!"

I think that was true at one time. Hasn't been true for quite a while, alas. We're still better than most nations in that respect, but that's only to say that most nations are remarkably awful.

you've got the freedom to not be a capitalist, but this doesn't imply any right to demand that anyone else not be one

You've got the freedom to not be a slave owner, but this doesn't imply any right to demand that anyone else not be one.

Different era, same theory.

In an instrumental sense, yeah, since without it you can't pursue any other good. You might achieve other goods without freedom, but it won't be because you were pursuing them, only because somebody else decided to grant you them.

Exactly how are the "non-instrumental" and "instrumental" flavors of freedom distinguished?

e.g., Is invading a country to replace their government with one that is "more free" the former or the latter form of "freedom"?

nuclear weapons are a very cost effectice method of deterence - that is why they proliferate

if you want to stop proliferation you must provide a different source of security

The recent bush presidency seems to suggest that no other security exists

hello Nukes

Bombing Iran also assumes that we know exactly where the critical facilities are, and can hit them. Our intellegence in this part of the world has not been very good ...

Worst case, we bomb a bunch of decoy sites and kill a lot of civilians, the mullahs get a propaganda coup, and the Iranian bomb proceeds on schedule.

I'd also expect the Neocon expectations of Iranian reaction would be every bit as accurate as their expectations of the Iraqi reaction to an invasion.

These bozos have soiled their (and our) trousers, bigtime. Their credibility is zero. We should treat them like the ranting street- corner lunatics they've shown themselves to be.

Brett's idea of freedom is rather interesting: "--since without it you can't pursue any other good."

Well, if I'm locked up on in prison, I'm definitely not free. Still, I can pursue several good things. I can try to escape, for example. In that case, the escampe attempt is "pursuit of freedom". Still, the society punishes fugitive inmates severely, so the "good" reached in a successful escape attempt is definitely not "granted" to a person by someone else. It is taken. However, I think that in Brett's thinking, only a legal object can be a "good" to be "pursued".

Although I do not subscribe to Heinlein's thought, I rather like the idea he expresses in Starship troopers: "You can cast a man into a dungeon, you can chain him, but you cannot stop him from pursuing happiness. But nothing, not the society, not the parties, no amount of money nor subtle drugs can ensure that he reaches it." (I quote from memory, so please pardon my inaccuracies.)

"You've got the freedom to not be a slave owner, but this doesn't imply any right to demand that anyone else not be one."

I suppose that analogy makes sense... For sufficiently large values of batshit insane. It's the sort of notion you ought to keep carefully isolated from anything resembling sense, so as to not be fatally irradiated when they mutually annihilate. I suppose I should thank you for your obvious zeal in maintaining that precaution.

"However, I think that in Brett's thinking, only a legal object can be a "good" to be "pursued"."

Absolutely and categorically wrong, and I'm totally at a loss for how you could think that. What the law prohibits, and what is (for any given person; It's rather subjective.) a good, is almost perfectly orthogonal.

Speaking of rocket science – I’m a little more concerned about delivery systems these days. So - shoot down that NK rocket? I think that proving we can do that at will is more deterrence than bombing the desert in Iran.

Wait – what am I talking about? You could ship a nuke via Fed-Ex and with our port security we would never know it until we saw the mushroom cloud…

You could smuggle the components in in bails of pot, and assemble a bomb already in place, for that matter. The knowledge of how to construct a basic nuclear bomb got out a couple of decades ago, the tough part today is the concentrated fissile material, and shrinking one down enough to put it on a missile.

I think Eric is a bit too relaxed about the consequences of Iran getting the bomb, they're not the least aggressive of nations, they mostly seem to want it to deter any major party response to their own aggression. But I agree that bombing their facilities is not an effective long term strategy.

I'm not sure there IS an effective long term strategy, we really ought to concentrate on hardening our society against the consequences of having a major city blowing up. It's going to happen sooner or later, and most of what you'd do to achieve that is useful in more conventional civil emergencies anyway.

So they wake up in the morning and find out that the United States is attacking those facilities and, presumably, with some good messaging about why weʹre doing it and why we are not against the people of Iran.

Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with the Americans, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the very unpopular ayatollahs in a country 70 percent of whose population is under the age of 30, why did those old guys get us into this mess.

So they wake up in the morning of September 12th and find out that al Qaeda is attacking and, presumably, with some good messaging about why they're doing it and why they are not against the people of the United States.

Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with al Qaeda, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the old white men who decided to muck around in other countries' affairs for more than 70 years, who rule a country 70 percent of whose population has never been outside of North America, why did those wise old guys get us into this mess?

You could ship a nuke via Fed-Ex and with our port security we would never know it until we saw the mushroom cloud…

That type of technology is many, many, many years beyond Iran's capacity.

In fact, the whole "suitcase bomb" myth is, well, just that: a myth.

You could smuggle the components in in bails of pot, and assemble a bomb already in place, for that matter. The knowledge of how to construct a basic nuclear bomb got out a couple of decades ago, the tough part today is the concentrated fissile material, and shrinking one down enough to put it on a missile.

Well, yeah, but how does Iran acquiring the bomb change that?

If it's fissile material you're after, you'd have better luck trying to score some from the former USSR.

they're not the least aggressive of nations, they mostly seem to want it to deter any major party response to their own aggression.

Really? Where?

they're not the least aggressive of nations

When is the last time Iran launched a war against another country?

they're not the least aggressive of nations

When is the last time Iran launched a war against another country?

It's not necessary to answer that to support Brett's very anodyne claim here. Not the least aggressive of nations is a very low bar to reach, and it's true. Iran isn't very aggressive, but they're more aggressive than, say, Sweden, or Switzerland, or Denmark, or Belgium. So Brett's claim is true.

I'm not contesting his claim as stated; I'm just trying to nudge him toward a less trivial claim, one that might justify treating Iran differently from Sweden or Denmark. (I've got my eye on Belgium, though. Too quiet.)

Clearly Andorra is the most aggressive nation, and I am sick and tired of the echoing silence from Obama's pansy-ass liberal administration about the Tyranny from the Pyrenees. Wake up, America!

Last I heard, Sweden wasn't in the habit of attacking shipping in a commercially vital strait. Iran's chokehold on the strait of Hormuz would be a lot more effective if the US navy were steering clear of it for fear of being nuked.

Anyway, maybe you didn't notice that I'm NOT advocating bombing Iran? I'm advocating hardening our infrastructure. Because whether or not we manage to keep any particular sociopath from getting the bomb, sooner or later it's going to fall into hands that will use it.

A US city being nuked is essentially inevitable in the long run, what we ought to be doing is trying to minimize the impact to the nation when it happens.

rather like the freedom to not take advantage of agriculture or soap, or any other fundamentally useful invention

In what sense is capitalism an "invention"?

Capitalism is a way of structuring the human behavior of making, trading, buying, and selling, all of which appear to be as inherently and inescapably human as, frex, talking or making music and art.

To the degree that a culture is organized around that particular way of doing those things, it can in fact be quite difficult to opt in or out of being a "capitalist".

It's actually quite a different category of thing than soap or agriculture.

This was OT, my apologies, but I wanted to make the observation.

Neocons consider anyone who believes in diplomacy or thinks war can be averted is hopelessly naive. But they are, themselves, no less naive in the wonders they think a little judicious exercise of military power can achieve. And since we have achieved what could sort of be considered victory in Iraq, all memory of six years of war have gone out the window. Our invasion instituted freedom and democracy; therefore we can just apply a little military force whereever we want and by magic, flowers and candy!

Brett's fourth and final point is absolutely spot-on -- all people want freedom for themselves, but many are not willing to respect freedom in others. That is what makes freedom and democracy hard to achieve among people who lack experience and practice with it. Somehow we have to drill a hole through neocon skulls and pour this important concept in.

But Brett's final point completely negates his earlier one -- that individuals, not societies are free. People who want freedom for themselve but do not respect it in others will use their own freedom to deny freedom to others, if they have the power to do so. Many of the armed factions in Iraq provide especially graphic examples.

Last I heard, Sweden wasn't in the habit of attacking shipping in a commercially vital strait. Iran's chokehold on the strait of Hormuz would be a lot more effective if the US navy were steering clear of it for fear of being nuked.

Unless by "shipping" you mean "US navy ships in foreign waters," or by "attack" you mean "verbally attack," I don't know what you're talking about. Has Iran ever sunk commercial ships (other than Iraqi tankers while the two countries were at war)? And what currently possible Iranian government would nuke US Navy ships over anything short of a US first strike? Threaten, maybe; Iran threatens lots of things. And if you mean they're unusually aggressive in their rhetoric, sure, but that has nothing to do with this discussion. Smack talk doesn't threaten any vital national interests.

Anyway, maybe you didn't notice that I'm NOT advocating bombing Iran?

No, you're not. You're just buying into the frame that bombing supporters use to make it seem like a reasonable option.

No, I'm merely pointing out that worrying about Iran getting the bomb isn't quite as silly as worrying about Sweden having it.

What's the difference between aggressive rhetoric, and aggressive action? Frequently, lack of power to carry out the rhetoric. Iran's aggressive rhetoric should make you worry about them getting the bomb.

Doesn't mean bombing the heck out of them is the appropriate solution, though.

"Last I heard, Sweden wasn't in the habit of attacking shipping in a commercially vital strait."

Has Iran done that other than during a war they didn't start?

And last I looked, if we're looking at that sort of thing, the Iranians could assert that we're "in the habit" of shooting down civilian airliners.

"No, I'm merely pointing out that worrying about Iran getting the bomb isn't quite as silly as worrying about Sweden having it."

I'll agree with that.

"What's the difference between aggressive rhetoric, and aggressive action? Frequently, lack of power to carry out the rhetoric."

And frequently not. Certainly there's no evidence that the Iranian leadership, contrary to some claims, is suicidal. If they were terminally warlike, they'd never have made a peace with Saddam.

I'm not completely complacent about Iranian nuclear ambitions, and I wouldn't compare them to Sweden, but I'm not grossly worried at this time, either. Even assuming they achieve nuclear weapons Real Soon Now, somehow or other (as pointed out, it's not the designs, it's the sufficiently enriched bomb material, which they have none of, and still show no actual signs of making), I don't see any reason to think they're more suicidal than the Soviet, or Maoist, leadership, who didn't lack in "aggressive rhetoric."

Anyway, maybe you didn't notice that I'm NOT advocating bombing Iran? I'm advocating hardening our infrastructure. Because whether or not we manage to keep any particular sociopath from getting the bomb, sooner or later it's going to fall into hands that will use it.

A US city being nuked is essentially inevitable in the long run, what we ought to be doing is trying to minimize the impact to the nation when it happens.

Yet another compelling reason that we should prioritize a move into communes off-grid decentralized communities.

"You've got the freedom to not be a slave owner, but this doesn't imply any right to demand that anyone else not be one."

I suppose that analogy makes sense... For sufficiently large values of batshit insane

The analogy is clear and apt.

You do not have a right to be a slave owner and you do not have a right to be a capitalist and the public has a right to demand that you not be a slave owner and the public has the right to demand that you not be a capitalist.

Moreover, the motivations of the slave owner and the capitalist are the same - they desire a moral and legal framework by which it is acceptable for them to take a greater share of the labors of others for themselves and by which it is acceptable for them to ignore the effects this has.

In ways, the slave owner is more moral (certainly more honest) - the slave owner has the motivation to keep up his property. The capitalist seeks ever more disposable laborers, and discards them when he finds one slightly more exploitable. Exploitable has a very definite and quantifiable meaning here.

Brett, I missed your 9:15pm post last night. I hope you did not understand me to be imputing those memes to you. As you have correctly pointed out many times, you disagree on many essential points with today's so-called conservative mainstream.

"Moreover, the motivations of the slave owner and the capitalist are the same"

Oh boy.

You must have read the news today.

"The analogy is clear and apt."

No, it's batshit insane, resting on the notion that paying somebody to do what you want is the same as owning them, that having the power to stop paying them if they stop working for you is the same as the power to torture or kill them.

Only madmen think that's true. And historically, the notion has mostly served as an excuse for the state to end up owning everybody, with just those powers to torture and kill.

the power to stop paying them if they stop working for you

The idea that capitalism is simply the power to stop paying them if they stop working for you is batshit insane and only madmen think it is true.

The analogy is clear and apt.

I don't think that's a comprehensive description of capitalism, no, but I'm at a loss for where you're finding any parallels between capitalism and slavery.

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