The bad logic of intervention in Libya


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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73 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:


    The fun part is when we realize that Congress’s Affordable Care Act is analogous.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

      How is it analogous? Or is it analogous in a way that essentially almost anything could be analogous if you try hard enough? Like, are we entering the slippery slope of talking about slippery slopes now?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Under the auspices of “we, as a society, have a responsibility to act morally toward those who need us to take care of them in the absence of their being able to take care of themselves!”, one can justify bombing people. One can justify wealth transfers from the middle class to corporations.

        All you have to do is embrace the moral argument to the exclusion of the pragmatic one.

        If someone points out that intervention worked very well in, say, Japan as justification for intervention in Iraq… Is it relevant for the opposition to point out the gulf that exists between Japan and Iraq?

        If someone points out that Denmark provides universal health care as an argument for how it’s possible for a society to care for those who cannot care for themselves… Is it relevant for the opposition to point out the gulf that exists between the system that Denmark has and Congress’s Affordable Care Act?

        I ask because I remember in the run-up to the passage of that bill written by insurance companies having dead bodies shaken in my face… I remember folks being asked whether they would save the lives of these dead children if it meant the passage of a bill completely unlike the one being discussed in Congress.

        And now, I suppose, I want to ask you similar questions to see what your answers are.

        E.D., don’t we, as a society, have a responsibility to help people who cannot help themselves? When a dictator is slaughtering his own citizens, shouldn’t we try to stop him from doing so? He’s used air power on groups of peacefully protesting human beings. Air power! If you were one of those crowds peacefully assembling and exercising your human right to free speech and petition your government for redress of grievances, wouldn’t you want someone like the US to prevent Gadaffi from killing your children, your family, your friends, from killing you?Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          Because E.D. shook dead bodies at you? I’m here to say he did not. Take it up with Ezra Klein. Every argument of every supporter of X is not the responsibility of every supporter of X.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            Oh, no! E.D. never did. I do not mean to imply that he did.

            Does that make the argument something that does not have to be addressed? Heck, I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t think we ought to intervene (“if it’s so important to the international community, let them do it” is much closer to my position).

            The amount of good that we could do, however, was an argument used… and arguing against that position was, effectively, arguing that we shouldn’t do the good that we could be doing.

            Does that argument so very obviously not apply when dictators kill civilians?Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              The fact that you don’t like “Think of the Children” or “We Have to Do Something” as arguments doesn’t make every situation in which you think you see them being used “analogous” to each other.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Sure. But my feelings about the arguments says nothing about whether they ought or ought not be engaged on their own merits in any given argument for or against intervention.

                Indeed, I’ve even gone so far as to make the analogy rather than merely assert its existence.

                I think that I’ve done enough groundwork to request groundwork on the part of those who assert “that’s different”.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I just honestly don’t get what you’re trying to say with this analogy thing. People are going to consider courses of action. One of the considerations will be any potential good that could come out of a given course of action that might not come out of a different one. There are all kinds of other considerations, but that’s one. That’s not an analogy among all the situations in which people consider proposals; it’s just something that people do when evaluating options prospectively, and always will do.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:


                And if it’s appropriate there, it’s appropriate here.

                And if I felt obliged to answer such questions there, I don’t see why others wouldn’t be obliged to answer such questions here.

                Is it because they don’t like the questions?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                So your problem is that people make arguments about what should be done based on what they think will result, and this makes you feel “obliged” to answer said arguments? Has it occurred to you that you’re not actually obliged, but that instead, because you are proud, competitive, argumentative, and ideological, you don’t like to let arguments you don’t like go unrebutted, so you experience a positive desire to respond to them, not an obligation?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, when people put together an argument that consists of somewhat reasonable claims that somewhat logically lead to a somewhat reasonable conclusion…

                THEN I feel obliged to answer said arguments.

                And maybe that is because I am SOO AWESOME, as you point out… but there is also the problem of if we are not obliged to even answer argumenst that consist of somewhat reasonable claims that somewhat logically lead to a somewhat reasonable conclusion, when would we be obliged to answer them?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                You began this little tussle with a feeble attempt at thread jacking. More Kant for you: especially the Metaphysics of Morals. Asking others to do Groundwork when you won’t even come to terms with what constitutes an obligation, well it’s a feeble argument to drag ACA in here. Dictators do slaughter, that’s what dictators do: they have one objective, staying in power. Dictators also let their people starve to death, as Mao did.

                Others, it seems, have no moral compunction when it comes to the sickness and suffering of others. He who drags in Metaphor instead of Substance shall be crucified upon his own cross: I’d strongly argue there are certain groups in this country whose only motivation is to remain in power and are quite willing to let Dead Bodies stack up in pursuit of that goal.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                And when it comes to Wealth Transfer, there’s nothing quite so beneficial for business than a hard-nosed dictator. The efficiencies alone justify the establishment of dictatorial, authoritarian regimes everywhere, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Jaybird?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                What do you mean “threadjacking”.

                It’s an argument against Libyan intervention. I responded with an argument for Libyan intervention.

                It degraded into a meta-argument over whether or not certain arguments ought to be responded to.

                “We ought not X” being responded to with a post asking how you deal with arguments that we ought to X is *NOT* threadjacking, dude.

                Accusations of threadjacking, however, might be.

                I’ll deal with any substance in your comments after my irritation has passed.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Bullshit. Moral arguments, pragmatic arguments, you dragged ACA in here, nobody else, and it manifestly was a threadjack. When asked to make the comparison, you’ve done nothing but contumaciously fart and carry on, but I cannot see how Denmark’s domestic health care policy has anything to do with an international intervention. Denmark has planes flying over Libya. If you must inject Denmark into this conversation, confine yourself to those jets, not its health care policy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                When asked to make the comparison, I made the following argument:

                don’t we, as a society, have a responsibility to help people who cannot help themselves? When a dictator is slaughtering his own citizens, shouldn’t we try to stop him from doing so?

                If you would like to say that this argument is contumaciously farting and carrying on, well, let me say that *I AGREE 100%*.

                The problem is that an argument exceptionally similar to this argument was seen as the superior argument only a very short time ago.

                I wanted to explore why.

                I’m sorry I didn’t give you a better opportunity to talk about how you spent time in Denmark.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              Perhaps I’ve simply misread you. I take you to be recoiling from all these consequentialist claims in both cases.

              The amount of good that we could do, however, was an argument used… and arguing against that position was, effectively, arguing that we shouldn’t do the good that we could be doing.

              Does that argument so very obviously not apply when dictators kill civilians?

              No — it does apply, certainly. So we agree, then? I get the feeling not.

              People make these moral claims about actions that could be taken, and we should, so far as they are serious claims, consider them in great detail, while taking into account pragmatic probabilities about the likely efficacy of the proposals being made (which pragmatic probabilities, it should be said, if the moral claims we’re examining are serious, should in fact already have been taken into account by those making the claims, though certainly perhaps they might have been calculated differently differently than we would do). That moral case/pragmatic case dichotomy is a false one: the only way to do the moral calculus is via a thorough pragmatic analysis of likely outcomes, allowing for the vagaries of unintended consequences. And that’s just what we should do in all cases of proposed action where great moral valence is suggested to be implicated. On ACA, Libya, wherever. (And it seems to me this is, in a more non-rigorous way, more or less what E.D. is doing here on the Libya question — i.e., via engaging not rejecting the ACA-like dead bodies being shaken in his face, he concludes that the likely benefits of the proposed action are too uncertain and the potential downsides too numerous to justify outside military action as compared with military inaction, so it seems like his answer is also, yes we should entertain the claims.) But doing this won’t always come out to the conclusion of, Action, Never. In aggregate it comes out to, Action, Maybe, Sometimes. Which just means we live in the complicated world we live in and you have to do the math as best you can.

              I read you to be reacting to this process of dealing with the possibility that certain proposed actions in the world could have effects that are better relative to the effects of other actions or inaction to the extent the the difference could have great potential moral import after the fact to those who had been in a position to choose one of those courses of action over others with a kind of bemused impatience. But what else can we do? “Action, never” is no less irresponsible than “Action, always.” You have to do the math problem. Maybe you’re on board with that, but I read you otherwise initially. Did I misread you? At this point I just can’t tell.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I’ve been chewing on a response to this all day…

                Here’s an essay that does a better job than I could probably do.


              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think Sanchez has the right idea there, though he kinds of floats off into a mist of abstraction and analogizing to non-concrete things as he is wont to do. But the issues he raises I think are precisely the kind of extra-body-shaking considerations of context, large-scale priorities, process, etc. that I am saying is the entirely legitimate response to the “We can prevent Harm-X if only you go along!” consequentialism that you seem to want to say is something less than welcome, not the same formal rejection of those claims’ legitimacy that I think you are implying.

                IOW, the impressions left are:

                Sanchez: “Yes, I understand the concern about the children. However, how do we know when and what we have to do about this sort of thing as a general matter?”

                Jaybird: “Hey man, don’t tell me I don’t care about the children! Blank off!”

                These are different things, even if each of you shares some part of the other’s intention.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I should reiterate, because I mentioned it above in the thread, but not here, that I am merely saying we should take on board these “we can prevent x amount of harm if we do this” arguments with a certain amount of forbearance and be willing to take the claims as moral considerations in determining action seriously when they are themselves serious claims. I am not saying they should simply determine our course always. I also said there will be many other considerations whenever we choos what to do, including more process-based and principle-concerned considerations that might outweigh the consequentialist moral claims, even in ncases when we might find them serious and compelling to a degree. But we shouldn’t have contempt for those who raise such concerns in earnest, nor caricature how they are raised as just being cries of ‘WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN??” or “PEOPLE ARE DYING!!!”

                A fulsome debate about what to do about problems is realistically only going really be fulsome via the process of collective discussion and evaluation of multiple viewpoints, not by every individual participant weighing every consideration equally. Some people will raise certain considerations in the discussion without fully accounting for all the countervailing considerations that may be very salient to others in the decision making body. But that’s okay; that is still participation that is legitimate in form and substance, and as a group we should receive that input with respect based on an assumption that it is voiced in good faith, even if not in full consideration of all the other factors that the group need consider in deciding a course.

                That respectful hearing is all I’m calling for; not that such arguments be given a deference that precludes other considerations that the body must take into account.

                As it happens, though all things considered I think action on ACA was warranted, and avoiding this action in Libya would have been the wiser course, I actually think the particular arguments as they were made were much better formed and serious in the case for intervention in Libya, and that Ezra Klein’s invocation of the hundreds of thousands of dead in the absence of ACA was particularly tendentious, ill-formed and badly placed in that debate. But in both cases, considerations like those I mention that are other than the consequentialist body-shaking claims you’re referencing in each case proved to result for me in conclusions on those issues that were somewhat at odds with what I thought of those particular arguments — i.e. ultimately supporting ACA depite having poor opinion of Klein’s argument about an ACA-less world killing people, and opposing intervention despite accepting, as I do, the seriousness of the claims about what could be prevented in Libya by military action.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                But we shouldn’t have contempt for those who raise such concerns in earnest, nor caricature how they are raised as just being cries of ‘WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN??” or “PEOPLE ARE DYING!!!”

                It depends on whether these arguments have a follow-up that hold that people who disagree do not, and please note this word as it is very important to the people who use these particular follow-up arguments, “care”.

                Once “caring” is brought up, we’re in wacky world, dude.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I understand. But it still doesn’t have to blow our circuits. We can keep our cool and say, Yes, if the calculations are correct and X harm could be avoided by taking the action, then we do care about that harm occurring (if we do, and bearing in mind that just because there isn’t a rider on the argument assuring that the interlocutor understands that we do care doesn’t mean they are saying we don’t, or in other words just because we feel that the question of our “caring” has been implied doesn’t mean it has actually been brought up); it’s just that there are still other considerations that still cause us to oppose taking the action. Or we can politely take issue with the calculations in the harm-mitigation proposal (pragmatics; unintended consequences, etc.).

                …Of course if we don’t actually care about the harm that could be mitigated, assuming it is real, well, then that, too, is a fact about the world, wacky or no. Bringing it up may well be wacky or impolite, I’ll grant that.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

          E.D., don’t we, as a society, have a responsibility to help people who cannot help themselves? When a dictator is slaughtering his own citizens, shouldn’t we try to stop him from doing so?

          Jaybird – what else is society but a strength in numbers? And if it is a strength in numbers than yes, we do have a responsibility to one another to help those who cannot help themselves. There is absolutely no responsibility to help the citizenry of some other country half a world away, however. The two are not analogous. I have a responsibility to my family but not to yours; I have a different responsibility to my country but not to theirs; I have yet another responsibility to the ‘global community’ but not to the global community of some other planet. These are not the same responsibilities at every level.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            The responsibility to one’s country is very arbitrary, though. Only a minority of people in the world get to chose what country they live in, (and nobody choses which one their born in). And what is considered ‘my country’ ‘your country’ and ‘their country’ at the margins is mostly an accident of history.

            (Not to say that using this accident of history has some practical benefits. But it is question begging from a pure morality standpoint)Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            “These are not the same responsibilities at every level.”

            I agree, but have a hard time justifying that concept on any consistent grounds outside of the fact that I don’t “feel” like I have less responsibility the farther outside the immediate circle I go.

            So you list family, county, and then global community. If we have the most responsibility to our families, instituting something like mandatory care of one’s biological elderly makes sense.

            But it’s the lines between “my” country and the “other’s” country that give me a hard time, especially when the process for becoming a part of “my” country can often seem so arbitrary and capricious.

            And I guess in the whole interventionist quarrel it’s the question of tribalism and it’s limits/justificiations that isn’t being addressed, as I think there in lies the strongest argument against intervention that could be justified in moral terms. But so far I haven’t been able to find any in the blogosphere or MSM willing to offer a thorough reasoned account of how moral obligation deteriorates quickly as one scales up the size of the organization/community.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              There’s a simple scale for determining how moral obligation varies inversely with community size: acting on behalf of an entire community supposes that action is beneficial to all. The smaller that community, the clearer the objective and therefore the more obvious the solution.

              Consider the problem of Helping the Poor. They are an amorphous lot, difficult to help and difficult to represent; they do not vote. It is easier to deal for a politician to deal with a corporate lobbyist who has his point summed up in a five second petition, uttered while walking down the hall with the Congresscritter. Because that five second petition has the benefit of clarity, “The shoe industry is asking you to vote No on Bill N”, the politician can act on behalf of an entire industry without having to seek its opinion.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                … I did leave out quite a few steps, I’ll grant you, but they’re obvious steps to me. Taking up the matter of intervention in Libya, it’s not just a question of distance or alternate nationality, it’s a question of perceived intent: how will the Libyans themselves react to this intervention, our own excellent reasons to smite Gadhafi notwithstanding.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You progressivist’s (Wilsonian) warmongers make the Bush/Cheny desert ‘fighters’ look like a bunch of underachieving sissies.
                I had no idea the ‘left’ was so inclined toward war; oh wait, it won’t be their kids dying for our Kenyan-Marxist president’s f*cked up foreign policy.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            There is absolutely no responsibility to help the citizenry of some other country half a world away, however.

            Sure. I agree with this.

            I have a responsibility to my family but not to yours

            I agree with this! The problem comes when people start pointing out exactly how many responsibilities I have toward their families… or, at least, the families of others.

            These are not the same responsibilities at every level.

            I tend to agree. The problem comes when folks argue that I have a responsibility to their families then go on to argue that I have no right to butt my nose into such things as folks slaughtering other folks in the street.

            Once you start establishing that we all have moral responsibilities to each other (including my responsibility to your family), mission creep sets in *REALLY* fast.

            From my perspective, it seems far more likely that I have a capital-M Moral responsibility to prevent Qaddafi from killing civilians than any number of things I’ve had recently explained to me are moral responsibilities.

            Is the fact that it’s allllll the way over there sufficient?

            What if we lived in France or Italy? Would our responsibilities toward Libyan citizens change at all?Report

  2. Avatar Sam says:

    Second, entangling ourselves in a third conflict in the Middle East makes it much less likely that we will intervene elsewhere if another government decides to take the show-no-mercy approach in curtailing protests. Do we honestly think that intervention in Syria, for instance, would be a good idea should protests there erupt into a civil war? Now that we’ve spread our military so thin, could we intervene if Bashar al-Assad decided to crack down?

    Remember that we aren’t acting unilaterally this time – we are acting within a real coalition. If things should blow up in Syria, Yemen, or anywhere else, we could see another UN resolution drafted, debated, passed, and then the coalition of willing states will allocate their resources according to what’s available to counteract the threat. So the slippery slope is not nearly as steep as you think.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Sam says:

      “Remember that we aren’t acting unilaterally this time – we are acting within a real coalition. ”

      Which comes down to the UK and France, neither of which have large ground-force expeditionary capabilities, and would probably not go into some place like Syria even if they did.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Sam says:

      From what I read in the Arabic language press, there’s a complete reversal of opinion on the West’s involvement. Whereas the West was seen as backing the dictators from fundamentally selfish and Israel-centric objectives, the Arabs are now castigating themselves for failing to act in their own best interests over the long decades of the Strong Men.

      I cannot overemphasize the self-flagellation going on among the Arabic intelligentsia these days. Why, for example, did it take the Americans to remove the universally-hated Saddam? If the Americans made a botch of it, and they did, why weren’t the Arabs able to reform their own societies from within? Why are the Arabic-speaking societies so backward and poverty-stricken? Why didn’t the freethinkers rise up, long before, as they have done in Egypt and elsewhere, to make a difference from within? Why hasn’t The St. Petersburg Declaration struck a chord anywhere within the Islamic world itself?

      Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
      Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
      But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
      Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
      I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
      I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
      And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
      And in short, I was afraid.

      The dead hands of the Strong Men reduced the current crop of freethinkers to pitiful Prufrocks: as soon as they could get away, they did, to France and the USA and elsewhere, often into the intelligence services of those regimes. Democracy has become a dirty word in Arabic, a synonym for capitulation to Western ideals. The new euphemism is Reform. The fans of Democracy are huffing and puffing, more than a little late to the party, their Western ways more than a little out of style. Everything must be drafted anew, and more’s the pity, because the only political entities with the intestinal fortitude to stick it out and go to jail for their beliefs are the Muslim parties. The big vote in Egypt for constitutional reform went Yes in a big way, but the Fans o’ Democracy voted No, saying they needed time to catch up and form political parties of their own. Dumbasses! They should have been thinking about this two decades ago.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The Chinese emperors had a doctrine embodied in their title for the world of mortals, the Tianxia, the All Under Heaven. The emperor, the Tianzi governed according to the Tianming, the Mandate of Heaven.

    Insofar as the emperor maintained good order in the world, he and the mortal world were blessed with good fortune. But the Mandate of Heaven was not a static thing, it changed and moved around for many obscure reasons and much of the emperor’s job was to stay current with this mandate. If he lost that mandate, the entire system would collapse, but it would collapse back into a fundamental order congruent with the Mandate of Heaven, much akin to the concept of entropy and the conservation of energy applied to a house of cards: having fallen once, it could be rebuilt again and again.

    If we see these protests and revolutions through the lenses of this worldview, the Strong Men have lost the Mandate of Heaven. Times changed. The Strong Men didn’t. All their old excuses were always lies.

    All things must become conformal to the Logos. That’s Heraclitus. Everyone remembers him for that cliche about not stepping in the same stream twice, but I think ol’ Heraclitus was onto something. The Christians would take on that Logos concept, though they really didn’t understand it all that well. Ask any ten competent students of philosophy what the Stoics believed about the Logos and you’ll get ten different answers, but I have a feeling that’s why it’s such an important concept. For me, it’s the interaction of the world and the mind, our responses to the world, from Samuel Johnson kicking that rock shouting “I refute it, thus!” to Kant observing “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”

    These revolutionaries are finally speaking, like a terrified victim freshly escaped from the dungeon of his kidnappers. It might not make much sense to us, just now, but we can’t just walk away from this situation with the kidnapper in hot pursuit, weapon and handcuffs in hand. There’s no 911 to call in this situation.

    Not making a decision is also making a decision: if we allow these revolutions to fail, we are returning to our old positions of tacitly supporting the Strong Men who lied to us for all those years. We put up with their shit because there was no alternative. If that’s what we want, more of same, it’s not the Logos, it’s not the truth of human existence, it’s not the truth of the rights of man. The Mandate of Heaven has left the Strong Men and we cannot say what will come of this. But in our indecision and failure to act, we will lose the Mandate of Heaven for ourselves.Report

  4. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    It seems from the polling at least, and the history of public opinion that there definitely isn’t the political will for that type of strategy. And though there are the resources in theory, they really only exist if there is sufficient political will to allocate them toward that end, which again, there doesn’t seem to be.

    Perhaps if some form of that strategy were sustained at MUCH lower levels, in much more subtle and manageable ways, (i.e. not militarily), and for a much longer timeframe, something COULD come of it.

    But for those outside of foreign policy, our interactions with other countries and any longterm strategy is simply one out of many policy objectives, and anything on the scale of Lynch’s proposal would require an imperial gusto I don’t think even the most energetic among us could muster.Report

  5. Avatar agorabum says:

    It’s not very likely that the UN Security Council will vote for action in other situations. It was a rather striking statement of Gadaffi’s unpopularity that the international community actually said: we have no formal objections to crushing his armor advance.

    But what are the odds that the international community will unite like that again soon? Rather unlikely.

    Viewed through the prism of a UN SCR, the risks of further conflagrations are low.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to agorabum says:

      The “international community” seems to be nothing more than an extension of the US state department.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Murali says:

        Hey, we tried. Thought you guys wanted a “kinder, gentler nation”. I think we’d be quite happy riding ourselves of the oppressive albatross of European “national security”. The Pershings worked. Those hilarious, idiotic demonstrations against them were the fuel to really slap Gorby around. The last thing he wanted was a bunch of moronic nuke bashing peaceniks who forgot Woodstock was thirty years ago. Oh well, thanks anyway.

        So we offer our sincereReport

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Heidegger says:

          I was thinking more along the lines of a return to classical international law rather than the rapacious madness that passes of american foreign policy nowadays.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

              He’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures.

              His “why I am not a Libertarian” always makes me laugh.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Direct link? Can’t find the post.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                It’s here. To save you an unforgivable lot of reading, most of it very dull, here’s the core:

                [L]ibertarian principles cannot be logically justified except an [sic] appeal to the historical traditions that have descended to all Americans as received wisdom via the Patriot branch of the evolutionary tree. A libertarian, therefore, is fundamentally a conservative.

                And if you admit that the Loyalists may have been right and the Patriots may have been a bunch of asshats, conservatism takes a heavy slash to the neck from Occam’s razor. Because a so-called “conservative” who is a Patriot – or even a supporter of the “Glorious Revolution” – is someone who believes in progress up to a certain point, but no further.

                I don’t agree. Even if I did, I’d have to add that all other principles of political justification have similar historical roots, Moldbug’s most emphatically included. And this gets us precisely nowhere.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Here’s the part that wolfishly grabbed me like I were a baby (the opener):

                Fear not, gentle reader. Perhaps you have been linked to this essay quite casually, purely on the basis of its catchy title, and you are expecting one of those little chatty NPRish pieces that explain quite patiently to you, as to a retarded child, that libertarians are evil and the New Deal was the best thing since sliced bread.

                This is not one of those essays. UR is, in fact, an extremist blog. Here at UR, we do our damnedest to have no concern whatsoever for the political fashions of 2007. One easy way to “overcome” this bias is to compare one’s opinions not only to the fashions of 2007, but also of 1907. Or even 1807. Or even perhaps 1707. Or, what the heck, 7.

                I don’t agree with his conclusions… but am exceptionally fascinated with the very idea of comparing morality across centuries. Is your idea of “morality” something that would make sense in 1200 BC? If not… what connection to any underlying moral fabric could it possibly have?

                If there is an underlying moral fabric (*HUGE* if), then we ride it as one surfs a wave rather than us molding and shaping it according to our whims (and a good way to check to see if something is not part of the fabric is to see if it collapses due to unsustainability, if you ask me).

                But I digress.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yea, I’m sure in 1200 B.C.E. eclipses were the work of gods. Now we understand them in terms of mathematically represented empirical patterns.

                The first paradigm shift in science probably led a lot of people to think that their was no understandable or consistent workings of nature. We now of course think otherwise. A new scientific development does not lead us to toss away the very conception that something can be known, simply because what was considered “true” changed over time.

                And if you separate out the preference/taste/aesthetic aspects of morality, and leave behind only the ideas of mental and physical health, I think you could make a similar argument that changes in what is understood to be “moral” from one period to the next does not indicate that morality is an empty concept or unknowable thing, but rather that it can have an answer, or many answers, even if they aren’t known or could never be known.

                We may never understand everything about the universe and how it acts, but to say that our understanding of the universe has remained stagnant or that we don’t know more now than before is wrong.

                Now while I admit that things we tend to associate more with culture, like art, symbolism, and meaning, change over time, the more empirical qualities of human nature (biology) and environmental effects are quite understandable, at least up to a point. So while some people might like to pursue one lifestyle, while others would rather do something else, our increases in understanding human physical and mental well being seem to point toward increasing capacity to know what social norms will help to maximize those things, even if that understanding is still horribly stunted and requires great prudence and humility.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                If our medicine looks nothing like the medicine of 1200 BC, then it can’t possibly have any connection to true medicine either.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Is that directed at me or Jaybird?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Is morality similar to science, then?

                As time goes on and we get better and better at it, our morality better reflects the truth of the universe?

                Why, the 20th Century must have been the most moral Century yet!Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                It doesn’t follow that knowing something leads someone to necessarily act in line with that. I know that eating General Tso’s will give me a raging tummy ache every time, and that I will languish on the couch regretting its terrible after effects. But still I eat it.

                So saying that their is a better understanding of morality, narrowly defined, in this century then the prior does not necessarily mean everyone will act more moral. And I don’t mean to assert that our knowledge MUST increase. We could have a nuclear holocaust and find stores of knowledge and information lost. Or certain incorrect/less correct theories could take hold, and we could get further away from a more accurate understanding.

                But looking at the long haul, since you brought 1200 B.C.E., I’d say we have made considerable progress between those two data points. It does not follow from that that we HAD to make progress, only that we did. In 4400 C.E. we might see 1200 B.C.E. as a high water mark.

                But if we agree that there are certain facts about the world, and these facts aren’t constantly changing in random ways, and that we have an understanding of a LOT of these facts that is better now than it was at previous times. It seems to follow that one COULD make progress toward a better understanding of what arrangements allow humans to BETTER flourish.

                And if these arrangements make up a circle, certain ones will fall more in the center, and others farther away, but any two or three, or infinity of them could each be equally as beneficial. So this doesn’t lead to there being ONLY one best arrangement either.

                This is all more or less from Sam Harris’ recent book, though other philosophers have previously put forth similar positions when arguing for moral realism (just so no one thinks I’m claiming this as my own invention). And please no one accuse me of some perverse scientism unless you wish to take the most absurd extreme of this line of thought.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                We’re still naming food after mass murderers, for example.

                There is stuff that was true in 4400BC that is true today.

                There is stuff that is “true” today that was not “true” then. There is stuff that was “true” then that is not “true” today.

                It seems to me that if there is an underlying moral fabric, it’s universal enough to experience without iPhones.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                The truth changes only in so far as the things themselves change. So as an organism, what is true for me to be healthy today may not have been the same thing from way back when, or way into the future.

                Similarly, there may be many true ways to be healthy, as well as many ways that truly do not lead to health.

                So morality can be time specific in so far as it is dependent upon the essence of the sentient beings to which it pertains. In addition, it can have variance without being relative.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                We may safely presume the Hittite employers did not face the ethical conundrum of whether or not to read their employees’ email.. They might have fired people for coming to work drunk.

                Is there some sort of Moral Organ which might have evolved over the last few thousand years, like Chomsky’s Language Organ? The answer is No. Our world has evolved faster than we have. It’s been tough keeping up, and the Global Warming Deniers and other unscientific rabbles are gumming up the works something terrible.

                Well, there are just shy of seven billion of us, now, busily eating up the fishies and the dodos and burning fossil fuels, just like those Neolithic cretins who cut down the beech forests and ate up all the North American horses. Soon enough, we’ll have to evolve a few new concepts of what’s Wrong and Right, but I rather doubt it. If we’ve evolved ethically, it’s mostly been in the Self-Delusion department.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Directed at Jaybird.

                There are multiple ways in which the twentieth century actually was the most moral. Violent deaths per 100,000 were way off their historical peak. Women were treated better. Fewer slaves than ever as a proportion of world population.

                We might add advances in moral philosophy, but not with any necessary causality between them and the rest.

                Foods named after mass murderers: Not just General Tso’s Chicken. Also the Napoleon, the Chicken Napoleon, the Caesar Salad. There’s a drink named after Bismarck, and the Brandy Alexander too.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Beef Wellington!

                Sadly, “William, Prince of Orange” is not enough to get us to say that The Battle of Waterloo provides us with ideas for an excellent date night.

                Hey, I’m not saying that the stuff that was true in 1200 is true today. Some of it obviously isn’t.

                But there is stuff that was true then that remains true. *THAT* is the meaty stuff, if’n you ask me.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Agreed Jaybird.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                “So morality can be time specific in so far as it is dependent upon the essence of the sentient beings to which it pertains.”
                Has the ‘essence’ of man changed since the time of the ancient Greeks? Is the philosopher’s noetic search for the Whole of truth not predicated on an understanding
                of the divine nonexistent reality that actualizes the Beyond and brings into fullness the Word/Logos of John’s Gospel?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I don’t think it has Bob, I was just admitting that it could, that morality was tied to the nature of beings rather than some property of the universe.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Gach, I’m taking the position that in order for man to retain the essence of being, designed and created by God, he can not, will not, and is unable to ‘change.’ He is what he has been created to be. Intuitively, man has a sense of the ‘good.’ He is gifted with a yearning for the ‘good.’ As such he is always in a position to achieve an immortalizing (Aphtharsia), a movement toward the revelation of the love of God, given in freedom.
                That’s an apodictical statement.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Yea, unfortunately I can’t really be with you on that. Then we’re back in the lifeless stagnation of Platonic ideals that Jason was dreading earlier.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I hope not. History and society continue as a function of the pull of the ‘good’, man’s success as one searching, yearning for truth as always played out in the commingling drama of those who exist in egophanic rebellion. “Life’s like a box of chocolates, ya never know what you’re gonna get.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Society doesn’t pull us toward Good. Mostly it’s there to lock us up for Being Bad, coz that’s what people really are, way down deep, especially when they have a little power over other people, viz. Stanford Prison Experiment. Society, as a concept, is mostly advocated by the bullies and thugs with a uniform fetish.

                As for the Search for the Logos, I remain with Diogenes, in search of an honest man.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Murali says:

              “To a revision junkie like me, a paragraph like this produces an almost physical excitement. Imagine you’re a crackhead, just walking down the street looking for car windows to smash, when suddenly on the sidewalk you see an enormous rock the size of a softball. Whose is it? Who left it there? Will it fit in your pipe? Who cares? You’re on it like a wolf on a baby.”

              That’s awesome.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Hey Pat—a very, very impressive knowledge of nukes you have, sir! I sort of figured yield loads of 4-6MT would be quite hard to produce from something like a suitcase. The destructive capability of fusion bombs is almost beyond belief. That the temperature can get up to the thousands of degrees is a very, very, scary thought. Initially, it was feared, at least from the Manhattan Project autistic savants, that such a bomb could very well ignite the entire atmosphere of the earth– as in the entire planet going up in flames Is that even in the realm of possibilities?

                It was quite interesting to read your thoughts and strategies following a terrorist nuclear attack. Not sure, but it seemed the nuke option was very much on the table. I agree, it is no longer a question of if, but when. What kind of bombs and strengths of nukes would it take to reduce a country to rubble? Do you think it would be a positive and morally justifiable decision for Israel, if she were to be mortally attacked from her lovely neighbors, to strike back with a vengeance never seen in warfare? I very much liked your punishments by degrees approach. Gives the innocents a chance to escape, and also clearly identifies Allah’s Army of irredeemable patholigical, mental misfits. God, such a strange world we live in.Report

  6. Avatar Thurman Hart says:

    What are the reasons for going after Libya?
    1) We truly care about “the people” of Libya
    Hard to believe this. We’ve never cared about them before, and as the author points out, it would then need to be inferred that we now do not care about the people of Bahrain.
    2) It’s about the oil
    Libya has the largest oil reserves and the highest oil production of any country in northern Africa. Not only does Libya produce about 1500 thousand barrels of oil per day for export, but it also refines 378 thousand barrels of product per day. It is a major exporter to Italy and France (Source.
    But if it was simply about oil, then why wait until now? And why not actually go after Ghaddafi?
    3) It’s ideological.
    Libya is supposedly a socialist country. That’s a joke, though, for anyone who knows what actual socialism is. Plus, no one has really even mentioned this. Consider it background noise.
    4) It’s about Ghaddafi
    Again, if this was the reason, then why wait for now? Why not take him out with an anonymous CIA hit-squad?
    5) It’s about who is taking over
    This isn’t really public information. But I’d guess there have been some heavy investments in grounded intelligence. But that’s going to be slow and unreliable.
    6) Serbia-Syndrome
    Europe has a large population of Arab nationals and North Africans who, while not politically potent, have to be kept placated. This is doing the least we can do to accomplish that.

    Call it a combination of several factors. I don’t think any one thing explains it.Report