Sunday, June 20, 2004

Steven den Beste has a reputation in some circles as one of the deep thinkers of the right-tending blogsphere. This post, for instance, discusses in great detail subtle points in the application of logical reasoning to political discourse.

He begins by discussing the work of historian Howard Zinn. Den Beste, as it happens, doesn't like Howard Zinn very much, because Zinn fails to appreciate the importance of logic:

Zinn's book is apparently a classic example of the new approach to history, which uses it to support a priori conclusions. (In this case, that America is the root of all evil, and that everything America ever did caused only pain, death, and hardship for non-Americans and for Americans from the lower classes, and that the reason America was and is so awful is because Americans refuse to give up sovereignty and nationalism, and refuse to start thinking of themselves as post-nationalist citizens of the world, and refuse to submit themselves to world governance. [Or was that Chomsky?])

Contradictions don't matter, of course; "logic" is local (the term actually used, I gather, is "situated"). Logic is a tool created by White Men to oppress everyone else in the world. If someone (usually a White Man, please note) tries to claim that an argument in favor of the right lessons doesn't make sense because it is logically inconsistent and because it draws conclusions which are not logically justified by its premises and reasoning, then that's just another demonstration of the way logic is used as a tool of oppression.

A lesser mind than den Beste's might want to be sure which left-wing academic he was trying to criticize. But then again, a lesser mind might want to back up criticism like this with an example or two from Zinn's own writing in which Zinn, well... rejects logical deduction because it conflicts with his own a priori conclusions. To den Beste, this is all unnecessary. In fact, the only claim from Zinn that den Beste bothers to cite, right up at the top of his essay, is that the Red Army was primarily responsible for the defeat of the Nazis in Europe -- a point on which den Beste grudgingly acknowledges that Zinn is absolutely right.

Instead, den Beste goes on to illustrate the use of logic by deriving, from the unattributed claims of unnamed liberals, the logical conclusion that Reagan must have negotiated with the Soviets. Since that conflicts with den Beste's own a priori conclusion that the Soviet's were worn down by Reagan's manly, uncompromising force, the original claims of den Beste's liberal straw men are thus refuted by the classic technique of reductio ad absurdam.

Such is the power of the logic of Steven den Beste.

There's just one loose end which he neglects to tie up. What exactly does he think Reagan and Gorbachev were doing at Reykjavik?

But den Beste isn't the only right wing blogger who has interesting ways of applying logic to political debate. Eric Soskin shows the advanced use of logic in dealing with the apparent contradiction between this:

This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda.
-- President Bush, in an exchange with reporters, June 17, 2004

and this:

[A]cting pursuant to the Constitution and [the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002] is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
-- President Bush, in a letter to Congress outlining the legal justification for commencing war against Iraq, March 18, 2003

There are, apparently, two logical difficulties here, quoth Soskin:

[Slate writer Tim] Noah would like readers to believe these are the President's words. Yet the statement derives directly from the text of Public Law 107-243 (the Iraq Resolution), as it makes clear with its "Acting pursuant to..." language. Indeed, it contains exactly the language that Congress required him to certify 48 hours in advance of military action against Iraq.

So, Congress required Dubya to certify something was true before attacking Iraq. Dubya said it was true, using exactly the language specified by Congress. Therefore, he wasn't speaking in his own words. And since he wasn't speaking in his own words, he's less responsible if the statement was actually false.

Or something like that.

But there's a more important point:

Second, "consistent with." The reason that this statement can't be "unambiguously false" is that one must interpret these words to understand the statement. Do these words mean that action must advance the war on terrorism directly? Do they mean the action may advance the war on terrorism indirectly? Or does it mean the action must not inhibit the war on terrorism? All of these are justifiable interpretations, and the relationship of Iraq and the broader war on terrorism is clearly a hotly-debated topic, not something that can be answered unambiguously.

And in true den Bestian manner, the argument is ended by this application of logic.

Liberals might want to focus on evidence that Dubya's attack in Iraq actually has inhibited the war on terrorism, by for instance diverting critical intelligence resources away from direct attacks on al Qaeda strongholds. We liberals might even want to look into Dubya's diversion of $700 million that Congress had appropriated for Afghan operations to logistical preparation for the Iraq invasion. Rand Beers, once the top anti-terror guy in Dubya's NSC, resigned because he thought that way, as did Richard Clarke, another career anti-terrorism guy, who was maneuvered out of that position earlier by Condi Rice because he was demanding too much attention for anti-terror efforts in general, and al-Qaeda in particular. And apparently they're not the only ones. But that just shows our poor appreciation for the value of logical argument.

This, by the way, via Eugene Volokh who goes on in the same vein for quite a bit more...


Blogger lightning said...

Once Upon A Time, my cable TV "local access" had something called "The Lyndon LaRouche Hour". Invariably, it consisted of an earnest young man explaining tha LaRouchie view on some political thing. The host was an expert in finding data and arguments that buttressed his position. I'd find myself nodding along, "yeah ... yep ... yes ... NOW WAIT A MINUTE" as he'd come up with some total howler as a conclusion.

Den Beste has the same talent. Unfortunately for him, in the blog format, it's possible to go back and look for the fallacy or bad data that sent the whole USS Clueless off track and into an intellectual ditch.

I got bored with this little exercise a long time ago. He comes across as a nerdy little college wargamer pontificating on what Eisenhower did wrong at Normanday. Long on abstract "book knowledge", short on the experience that would make it useful.

11:08 PM  

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