Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Comments sections are weird things. I write an entry about Iraq, and a discussion of international relations breaks out. Now that I've written an entry about international relations (prompted by a response to that first entry), a discussion of whether or not common law exists in the United States has broken out, largely prompted by Steven Den Beste's (apparent) assertion that common law has no place in the American judiciary. I've stayed out of it, but it's interesting nonetheless.

(And rereading that original post has made me wonder... where can one get a search engine for a plane-jane blogger blog? It'd be a nice addition for the site, but a google search turned up precious little.)
Feh. It seems like every time I turn around, the archive disappears again. Oh well, I'll try republishing a few times and hope it takes.

Edit: Bingo!
Sheesh... and I thought the whole thing was over. apparently not. then again, this is a much more substantial comment, and according to Steven "we're all friends now". So I'll trust him. (Important concept, that, but I'll get to that later.)

First, Stephen quoted a somewhat offhanded response in my own comments section as an encapsulation of my beliefs for International Relations and International Law. He did so because he said that I provided no links or citations to show what exactly I think of the whole business. Fair enough. So, before we begin, and so that anybody who wishes can figure out exactly what the hell I'm referring to when I say "I've addressed that", here are the permalinks in question. In reverse chronological order:

This entry is about the idea of agreements between sovereign states, the misperception that the world is a "jungle", that the United States as a member of the world community has certain responsibilities to live up to, and to Steven's theories in general.

This entry is one in a series of posts that I wrote in response to Robert Musil, germane to this discussion because it discusses sovereignty and the U.N.

This entry is largely about sovereignty and the sort of agreements that can be (and are) made between sovereign nations, the reason why invasion is "against the rules", and how power isn't enough; not nowadays.

This entry is about the question of whether American unilateralism is ever justified, even though it would call down the wrath of the international community. I'd say "sometimes, but not as often as one would think."

This entry is about Steven's arguments that American political culture is somehow superior to others- germane because it forms the basis for his belief that the United States should "go it alone".

This entry is about whether Europe will stop talking and start arming if it looks like talking is pointless. I think it'll happen, but some in the comments section disagreed. I talked about the possibility of Europe itself becoming a sovereign state, but I don't have that link here.

This entry is about the possible repercussions of American unilateralism in terms of other nations paying attention to it and making agreements with it.

This entry is about the question of sovereignty and legitimacy- why the United States pays so much attention to sovereignty, was (I believe) my first post on the Treaty of Westphalia, and the concept that "the affairs of a state remain their own unless and until they harm another state".

This entry also deals with the question of sovereignty, and cites a situation where collective security would trump imperial.

This entry is about sovereignty outside of the borders of the United States.

This entry is about the reprecussions of invading Iraq, and the creation of the "war of all against all".

And finally, This isn't mine, but Yuval Rubenstein's insights on the subject that Geoff Hill was responding to when Steven linked to him. Geoff's response to Yuval was pretty weak, in my opinion- it's surprising that Steven linked to it. Yuval made the point that international laws are conventions between countries, and the practical reality that states do tend to observe international law implies that they do have some force. Geoff complained about there being "no controlling authority", but in his own quotation of Webster calls that aspect "implied", not required. Besides, quibbling over the definition of the word "law" is pretty poor form in the first place; it's possible that there has simply been an implied redefinition of the word that hasn't been picked up by lexicographers yet.

This is the comments thread for that entry, where Yuval responds quickly and efficiently to Geoff Hill's critique. Zizka's insights on the treaty of Westphalia were also really good- he noted:

"After 1648 it was agreed that no ruler would try to forcibly impose his religion and the peoples of any other ruler. It was a peace of exhaustion, but it worked, and the religious wars were ended. After that time a body of international law developed which often worked. The fact that it often broke down too does not mean that it was nothing.

With an international consensus, belligerents were policed partly by their difficulty in getting allies when they were flouting international law. There was no overriding enforcer, but there was enforcement."

Word, dawg.

I've been told that "Brevity is the soul of wit" quite a few times in response to my fairly long responses to Den Beste's articles. Part of that is due to the simple volume of the text to be responded to (he's the only guy I know who arguably writes longer posts than I do), and partially because sometimes simple arguments require complex rebuttals. This case may be no different, but I'll try to keep it shorter in the future (it's not usually that necessary). If it's a real problem, most of what I'm saying here I've said before (which is no surprise, as Den Beste isn't arguing anything new here, either), so going over those archival links will probably eliminate the need to read the rest of this entry. With any luck, those links will actually work; at the very least they should get you to the archives links in question, and if they don't I'll see about putting dates on them to make manual navigation a little bit easier. By all means, read them if you wish, but don't feel compelled if you don't, and if they contradict in places, all I can say in my defense is that "I am large, I contain multitudes."

Heh.

Anyway, Steven has taken great pains to argue that, first, "there's no such thing as international law"; and second that those who attempt to define it as a short-form description of the body of international agreements, treaties, bodies and norms are trying to imply that there is controlling legal authority in order to check the power of the United States. On the first part, he has a point- international law isn't like the laws that states impose on their subjects/citizens, which is why I tend to use the somewhat more accurate term "International System". Still, the second assertion answers the questions raised by the first, and therefore is the more important of the two. On this, Steven merely asserted that this is so, without any shred of proof or logical justification- it was merely an ad hominem writ large. As he didn't give any reason why we should believe it except our good natures, I will still accept that as a definition for the informal concept of "international law". I know that's how I use it, so feel free to simply think of that definition when I say it. I'm not implying that it has the force of law in a sovereign nation, nor would I. (For a more comprehensive critique of this idea, go to Yuval's link above, and ignore Steven's citation of Hill- it was a weak response to a much stronger piece whose comments section annihilates the argument in question.)

One of the key concepts here is that of "Collective Security". What is that, exactly? Well, anybody remember the Musketeers? "One for all and all for one?" That's what it basically comes down to- it's kind of an alliance, but nowadays it's on a massive, massive scale between most of the countries on the planet. The U.N. is based on this idea; it's built on an agreement between all the states involved that they will abide by the rules implicit in U.N. membership (set out by the charter) and that they will act as a whole against those that decide to break those rules; usually through some sort of condemnation (through the general assembly), but sometimes by the authorization of direct action (through the Security Council). In many respects its a tradeoff- a member of the U.N. has their freedom to act limited, but does so with the knowledge that the actions of others will be limited as well.

Steven asks why the U.N. Security Council should be allowed to act "as a jury", and implies that there's no way that any member of the security council could decide impartially on any real conflict (as their interests get in the way), and could never therefore authorize military action. The latter assertion is disproven by the mere existence of the Gulf War, which was fully approved by the United Nations Security Council- and in the Security Council's authorizations of interventions in many other conflicts around the globe. The problem, though, is that Steven is putting carts before horses. The Security Council isn't quite a jury per se, nor is it a government or agent of government; it's merely a way of the entire collective entity that is the "United Nations" to decide whether or not somebody broke the security agreements that are at the heart of the idea of the U.N., or whether some sort of outside party (a non-member, a non-recognized state, or what have you) is a threat to a member of the United Nations. The key word is "security"; the chief goal of the council is to ensure the security (in other words, safety) of its members, and of the world in general. It can do so because it is the representative of "the collective"... no one nation can stand up against the rest of the planet.

Or can they?

See, Steven said that the whole point of it was to defend the weak against the strong. Indeed, that's absolutely true, and the entire basis of collective security. In some respects, it's a logical extension of the old "Balance of Power", where great powers would ally themselves to prevent any one power from becoming too strong and collectively agreed not to destroy or conquer each other, at least to the point that the losing power couldn't recover. The question that he asks is (to paraphrase) "why should the strong (in this case, the United States) care, if they have no reason to fear the United Nations?" Being an American, he doesn't see why the United States should bother; wouldn't they be better off going alone? It's an argument I hear a lot, and if the only part of the international system that existed were the United Nations, and were the United Nations only about collective security, then there might be a point there.

There is a lot more to the international system, though, and a lot more to the United Nations. The international system isn't just one, or a few, or a hundred agreements, it's millions and millions of them, embodied in treaties, international bodies (like the WTO or U.N.), agreements, and a bazillion informal norms and agreements. Steven called these "a garbage bin" that can justify anything, but by definition an norm can't be appealed to unless it really is some sort of informal standard. In any case, norms are kind of like legitimacy- they exist because people consciously or unconsciously agree that they exist. All of these agreements are based on the idea that "if you help me, I'll help you"... an iterated prisoner's dilemma, where most of the players involved have agreed not to turn over the evidence because they all know they'll be better off in the long run. Yuval noted that violations of international law were pretty rare, but didn't explain why, although the answer is simple.

See, the whole thing is built on trust- you have to be able to trust the other guy, and he has to be able to trust you.If you squeal during a prisoner's dilemma, they won't trust you not to squeal again. By breaking the agreement, you become a "free rider"; someone who is trying to gain the benefits of an agreement without having to deal with the consequences. By extension, all those who still abide by the deal are technically referred to as "suckers" (heh)- they're those who endure the consequences of an agreement without enjoying any of the benefits. Nobody ever wants to be a sucker.

There are two kinds of international agreements (formal and informal) and are two different reactions to one party breaking them. If you break a formal agreement, you get widespread condemnation, claims that you've "broken international law", claims of unilateralism, and in general enough bad press to sink some governments and seriously hurt others. More importantly, though, you're no longer perceived as trustworthy, so those that are involved in agreements with you will think twice about it, and may start pushing the boundaries of the various deals in order to prepare for your (in their minds inevitable) betrayal. They'll also avoid making future deals as much as possible, because that crucial element of trust is gone. They might make deals with other states they can trust, but they'll avoid the free rider. If you break an informal agreement, however, then the public condemnation and bad PR isn't really an issue (the public might not even know about it), but the question of trust remains- if both parties have informally made an agreement and one party betrays that trust, then every other agreement becomes suspect, and no new agreements will be made because the government in question can't be trusted. That's bad.

Why? Here's an example. Let's say that the United States, through the State department, had some sort of informal agreement with China about American trawlers fishing off the Chilean coast. (No idea why they'd be there, but bear with me.) There's no formal agreement, but a mutual understanding that said trawlers won't be harassed by Chilean authorities if they venture inside Chilean waters as long as the United States doesn't overfish in the region. That holds for a few years, but intense lobbying by Captain Highliner (he's an influential bastard) has led the U.S. to turn a blind eye to overfishing there. Chile notices, tells the U.S. to tell the Cap'n to lay off, the Chilean fishermen are going nuts, and the U.S. tells Chile "go screw" and fishes just close enough to international waters to duck out if the authorities come calling, and Chile doesn't have the ability to do anything about it- the deal was informal, the U.N. can't do anything about it, and the Chilean navy can't molest these U.S. boats. The fishermen are screwed, the Chilean government has a lot of unemployed mad fishermen on their hands, and Cap'n Highliner gets a new pipe.

So what does Chile do? Well, let's extend this thing.

A few years later, Chile grows a sizable piracy industry. Plants are churning out CDs and DVDs, shipments of these things are going all around the world, and those former fishermen are busily hawking Windows XP to anybody that passes by. The United States is flooded with these things, and Bill Gates wants it to STOP, but Chile doesn't have any IP laws, and the current leftist government thinks that they're a tool of global imperialism (or whatever) so it couldn't care less about arguments that they'd be good for the economy. The U.S. is losing far more potential revenue than it ever gained from fishing off the Chilean shore, and is having no luck busting the Chileans within the U.S. U.S. representatives come down, desperately wanting to stop these things, and agrees to make a deal: we tell Cap'n Highliner to lay off, and you sign on to the international IP agreements. What happens? Chile will say two words: they rhyme with "buck cough".

Why? Well, it's pretty simple- they can't trust the U.S. to its end of the deal; they know that they could sign the IP treaty and still end up with the good Cap'n back in their waters after a year and a half. If the U.S. had stuck to its earlier agreement and not caved in to domestic lobbying pressure from irate sea captains, then they could have gone down to Chile, made the deal with the Chilean government, and received fat "campaign contributions" from Bill. Instead, this ends up hurting both countries- the U.S. doesn't get its I.P. laws enforced and Chile's fishermen are still stuck hawking CDs instead of doing what they really love. And these are two agreements; as I said, there are thousands, if not millions of them. The only option the United States has is military action, which means that the United States has just gone to war for Cap'n Highliner.

Therefore Steven's long and verbose arguments about the United States "looking out for its own interests" are both right and wrong at the same time. Governments pay great attention to their interests, yes. Any government with a clue, however, will realize that their interests will be forwarded by those agreements. If the formal agreements require informal agreements then so be it- it usually ends up going both ways, as even the United States makes quiet deals at times. It's in nobody's interests for anybody to "break the deal" because there's no guarantee that there won't be some sort of agreement that they need in the future- the deal-breaker will have lost their credibility, and the sucker won't be able to make worthwhile agreements with the deal-breaker. There may be a few screwups and broken deals here and there, but that's the reason for all that public condemnation- other states will want to show that they wouldn't break that deal, and if they have in the past then they certainly wouldn't now. No state can exist outside of this system- even an economic juggernaut like the United States isn't so intrinsically valuable that everybody else couldn't get by without it, and make deals with each other if it turned out that the United States was simply untrustworthy. Besides, there are other interests besides economic and security interests- a government wants to look good, and will sign agreements in order to show its subjects (or voters) that it is a player on the international scene, that it's strong, that it respects human rights, etc. etc. etc... thus gaining increased legitimacy from those people. (This is the difference between realism and neo-realism... the former just looks at states, but the latter also looks at what happens *within* states, which is one of the reasons I'm sympathetic to it. The thirst for prestige is rooted in the conflicts over legitimacy, sovereignty, and power within any state, so any examination of that are going to be rooted in neo-realism.)

Thus, "International law", where the "controlling authority" is sovereign nations' own enlightened self interest. Whether it's "Wilsonian", "Jacksonian", or whatever, it's simply the way the world works, both between different liberal democracies and between liberal democracies and dictatorships/monarchies/social democracies/whatever-the-hell.

One more thing before I close: I'm not interested in any sort of pissing match, especially one that largely consists of Steven rewriting what he's already written and me rewriting what I've already written. The links and this post pretty much encapsulate my views on this issue, and there's not much else to say, really, without ending up in a game of dueling sources (which I'd have difficulty winning, considering that Steven usually uses popular political sources that he can link to and I'd prefer to cite journal articles where I simply can't.) If we're really "all friends here", then I'm fine with that, and hope that those who have read this little exchange have got something out of it. At the moment, however, it is over.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Edit: Bloody hell... fifty zillion visitors, and I've horribly screwed up the first entry they see. HTML *FIXED*

As somewhat of an olive branch to Steven, I'll give him this: his latest entry about the importance of logistics in WWII is pretty damned interesting.

Oddly, though, what it reminded me of (and Steven discussed the same thing in his wargaming entry) is those real time strategy games that have been relatively popular for a while now, and which have gained renewed popularity with the release of Warcraft III. The odd thing about those games is that by and large it isn't the different little units and how you use them that win the match- it's how much resources you have streaming in at any given time (the RTS version of logistics) and whether or not you can efficiently turn those resources into soldiers and tanks and acid-spitting aliens and elves and Ogre Mages and what-have-you. Even in combat resources are key- the great Starcraft player Zileas made a point of measuring one's success in combat in enemy resources destroyed (in the form of various units), not in the number of units.

Perhaps the greatest parallel, though, isn't just resources, but the safety of same. The biggest advantage of the United States both then and now is that by and large it's protected from attack; only the greatest powers can even possibly threaten its shores, and not really for very long. In some respects, it actually reminds me of a series of turn-based war games from Koei called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", where perhaps the most important resource were provinces far behind the enemy lines where you could concentrate their entire resources on productivity rather than defense, confident that there's no way that you could ever get to them. This is true in RTS games as well- I've lost (and won) a few Starcraft games based on not just how well I could gather resources, but protect those resources, and the most valuable deposits were often the most easily defensible ones. Perhaps it's true that the United States' greatest strategic assets are Canada and Mexico- simply because unlike any other country on the planet, they alone can be sure that there is practically no possibility of a land invasion. Even a perfectly united European Union could never boast something like that.
While I'm discussing Hesiod, I should mention that he did get around to writing his own response to the Den Beste article that really started this whole thing, and did a pretty good job of it; focusing on why Saddam isn't likely to nuke those around him, why either his successor will be sane or soon replaced by those who are, why there are other options besides "invade or contain", and several other valid critiques of the argument. I agree with most of what he said, with the one caveat that he believes that Saddam either has or soon will have WMD capabilities, and I'm now wondering just how much WMD capacity Saddam really has, and whether the case hasn't been conveniently overstated by those with other reasons to attack him.

Stil, that's a minor difference of opinion, and doesn't detract at all from a good rebuttal well argued.
It would appear that there are better reasons for leftist pseudo-/anonymity than I had thought. (Courtesy of Hesiod.)

For those who haven't followed the link, there has been a concerted campaign of terror by "Freepers" against Mia Lawrence, the woman who called in Jenna and Barbara Bush for underage drinking a while ago.

Here's a few choice quotes:

-Her address, date of birth, drivers license and registration information, physical description, and even birth information about her infant child have been posted on freerepublic.com, along with calls for punitive actions...

...A freerepublic.com member who uses the screen name "tracer" recommended using her private info for identity theft:

"Giving out her driver's license no. and her DOB opens her up to mucho identity theft. It also makes background checks by 'inquiring minds' a breeze..."

...Others suggest pouring bar drinks on her and making a permanent web site with her personal info. On the web site lucianne.com is posted a link to a 2001 personal bankruptcy claim filed by Lawrence, with all its unhappy detail about her finances, including many thousands of dollars in medical expenses...

..."Robomatic" speaks up:

"One thing that I personally would never do ;) is walk into Chuy's with a LARGE bottle of buturic (sp. ?) acid and begin to liberally apply it to every surface. For those fortunate enough NOT to know what it smells like, let me only say that it smells worse than a rotting corpse and typically, the smell, immediately induces vomiting. (If I remember correctly, it is non-toxic...besides the odor) I wonder how long it would take, given that Chuys would not have a SINGLE customer for days after each application, to drive them out of business?"

Others suggestions included going to the restaurant and tying up the tables for hours with just one beverage order, passing out flyers at colleges warning students of the "narcs" at Chuy's, and even spreading reports of salmonella poisoning and cockroach infestation.
Reverend Lovejoy: "And it goes on like this..."

I'm not afraid, Steven. But if this is correct, maybe I should be.




I'm at the center of a shitstorm.

Well, maybe not, but it seems like Den Beste's attack on pseudonymity and my defense of it have attracted a lot of attention: from Jane Galt (who, as it turns out, isn't an Objectivist after all), from Tapped (as I linked earlier), from Atrios (ditto), from Silflay Hraka, from The Comedian and, perhaps most surprisingly considering how staunch a critic I've been of him lately, from the Instapundit himself.

By and large the responses have been encouraging, although many (like Jane) have made the point that there is a built in resistance to pseudonyms because you don't know what kind of interests the writer has. It's a valid point, although several people in her comments section made the point that it really isn't that big a deal here on the Internet; I know that "back in the day" it was considered a feature, not a bug. I'm honestly a little bothered by this huge debate over not what I've said, but what I am and what I represent. I decided to make this pseudonymous largely because I wanted to get away from that sort of thing, and let the points I have made stand on their own. All I can say is that I encourage those who are visiting to look around and see if they like the site, pseudonym or no. Archives are to the left. I hope.
The bear has highlighted an issue that is getting ignored lately... a possible war between Taiwan and China. As evidence, he cites this link that quotes Chinese officials saying in no uncertain terms that a declaration of independence is a declaration of war, and the Taiwanese President saying Taiwan should "walk its own road" and declare independence. This has always been a really touchy issue, and the U.S. is usually loathe to get involved or to take sides (which is why Bush was so throroughly lambasted for taking Taiwan's side early in his presidency). Now, however, the theoretical situation that Bush was referring to when he said he "stood with Taiwan" might become real.

Sadly, however, this seems to be a growing trend, and one that worries me. China and Taiwan are one thing, but the conflict between India and Pakistan has not gone away and any instability in the Pakistani government could ignite that smouldering conflict yet again. It seems that in the wake of both the Cold War and the short post-Cold War consensus that nationality and geostrategy were unimportant in the face of the collective drive for economic growth, we're ending up with a number of conflicts either happening or on the way. Oddly enough, however, the conflicts aren't really between superpowers, but between superpowers (or at the least Great Powers) and small powers.

I wonder whether this isn't the start of a period of consolidation- whether this conflict might not signal the creation and consolidation of new power blocs around the world. Conflicts such as these might not even be attempts to consolidate actual physical geopolitical territories, but perceived power, as each of these three powers (India, the United States, and China) attempt to remove countries that exist as "thorns in their sides" and challenges to their regional power. The biggest difference with the United States is that the region in question is not North America, but the Middle East.

After all, if the U.S. does invade Iraq, the United States will essentially own a valuable chunk of real estate in the region and will no doubt start making threatening noises at the House of Saud until it falls in line. No, I don't expect any sort of invasion of Saudi Arabia... too many other countries depend on their oil to allow that kind of instability to happen, even if it is courtesy of the United States. This sort of geostrategic empire-building is against the spirit of the United Nations, of course, but more and more the United States seems to be setting itself up in opposition to not only the United Nations but the very concept of collective security in general, so much so that I wouldn't be overly surprised if the U.S. didn't decide to dissolve NATO and leave the United Nations sometime in the near-to-middling future. Indeed, if it controlled the Middle East (with Israel, its client state Iraq, and a newly chastised Saudi Arabia as its regional representatives), a valid case could be made that the United States doesn't really need collective security anymore- it would be strategically self-reliant and be able to check the power of other states by controlling a fair chunk of the oil supply.

(Come to think of it, chief among these states would be Japan... could Iraq be the first step to Japan reconstituting a real army capable of force projection?)

In any case, I'm starting to think that there's a lot more going on than this conflict between the United States and the "Islamists", and I'm more and more convinced that it won't be along the lines of Huntington's simplistic "Clash of Civilizations", but something much more traditional. This is all predicated on a successful invasion and conquest of Iraq, of course, and that's not something I assume either. Still, it's worth thinking about.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. In order to stave off the Green-supporter argument that "the Democrats are no different than the Republicans", Nathan Newman wrote an excellent defense of the Democratic party. He bases it on their actions in California, one of the key states where they actually wield unfettered power (outside of vetos by what Newman sees as a somewhat DINO governor). citing numerous examples of the Democrats acting just as progressive as you please on a variety of issues. They've done everything from HMO reform to the rights of mothers to breastfeed to tenant's rights to daily overtime pay.

To be honest, it's just a logical fallacy to say that the Dems (in their entirety) are no different than the Republicans (in their entirety), and the Greens are pretty obviously trying a "invasion from the margin" attack (where a third party takes over an increasingly large group from the margins of a party in a two-party system, until the party it's trying to eliminate is left only with moderates and eventually drops out of sight), but it's still worth proving that Democrats are Democrats.

(I think, this week, that I'm going to be a little more positive. The Den Beste battle has degenerated to sheer nonsense on his side and I'm honestly sick of the whole thing. I've been spending way too much time playing "watchblog", and regular readers are probably wondering whether I think that I'm the only progressive voice out there. A shift in focus is in order, I think, and Den Beste can go hang.)
Edit: I hadn't thought of this, but I shudder to think at what would happen were the brilliant Atrios of Eschaton were to respond to this, considering his site is even more popular and he's just as pseudonymous as I am. Then again, he's probably above it.

Second Edit: Thanks to Tapped for linking to me, even if they seem to loathe light text on a black background like cockroaches in your cheerios. One thing, though: my pseudonymous name is "Demosthenes"... the site itself is called "Shadow of the Hegemon". For an explanation of both, I have a link below to my first post, which should explain things well enough.

Third Edit: As it turns out, Atrios did comment on it. He actually brought up something I didn't, noting that "there are plenty of pseudonyms on both sides of the political spectrum. People tend to ignore the issue when Bloggers they like have pseuds, and bring it up for Bloggers they don't like. Some people have no-linking (or no perma-linking) policies for "anonymous" Bloggers, which they institute on an inconsistent basis - which is fine, it's their sites". I actually didn't know about that last part- I wasn't aware that any sites cared so much about the issue. Then again, if Atrios is right, they really don't.

(And one more thing for those who are reading my site for the first time thanks to that Tapped link: I don't, as a rule, talk about myself this much. Just in case some people thought this was some sort of JournalBlog.)


Well, now I've gone and done it. Steven Den Beste wrote what basically amounts to a screed about my anonymity, and about anonymity in general. Honestly, I hadn't expected such a thing- I knew that he wasn't overly fond of anonymity, but there were a lot of other things that he could complain about, and the question of anonymity was only one of the ideas that I responded to in that entry that Steven wrote that linked me at its end (and equated me with Warbloggerwatch.) I didn't figure he'd spend so much time and energy attacking what is honestly only a mildly important point, but there it is.

And what does he attack? Well, like many others, he knows about Orson Scott Card's books, and that the character of Demosthenes inspired my current pseudonym. I don't think he read my first entry, because it explains it pretty well. (and by the way, Steven, the reason I don't link to permalinks of my own entries is because I don't trust them to work in the first place... but it's at the bottom of the first archive link, for those who wish to read it). I think I'll quote myself here:

My name, at least for the purposes of this site, is Demosthenes. It comes from two different people: a fictional character, and a real historical figure. The real one is a Greek orator by the same name, who is considered by some to be the best orator who ever lived. Although I haven’t read that many of his speeches yet, what I’ve read I've liked. The second and more important “Demosthenes”, however, is from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”. Demosthenes is the demogogic network pseudonym of one of the main characters, Valentine Wiggin. Together with her brother Peter’s more reasonable “Locke” pseudonym, they manage to have a decisive effect on world events and world politics. They were barely teenagers.

I read this book around the same time that the public became aware of the Internet. It had a profound effect. Breathless and optimistic articles in Wired magazine proclaimed that the Internet would change political discourse forever. The Internet would bring everybody together, there would be consensus, or at least agreement on the positions of the people on either side. The cliché about “brave new worlds” was in full flower, and the possibility of a teenager changing the world by talking on the Internet seemed not just possible, but inevitable. So I took on the name “Demosthenes” to show my belief in the power of debate to change the world.


Steven argues that the books were "fantasy". Actually, they were science fiction, and one of the reasons I like science fiction is its prescience... that although it rarely predicts the future exactly, it predicts aspects of the future, enough to keep you guessing. So it was with Card's book- what fascinated me about Demosthenes and Locke wasn't so much what they accomplished, but what they represented, and how eerily they predicted that old Internet saw that "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Back when I first started using the name (and there are others), pseudonymity wasn't considered a bug, but a feature. As I said in that first entry, "times have changed, and not in the way I would have preferred." One of those changes are these attacks on pseudonymity.

Steven goes on to complain that "nobody has ever had the influence that these kids had". It shows that he hadn't really read the books much, because Peter and Valentine really didn't have as much influence and power as he seems to think- certainly not more than the President. Locke, actually, wasn't really that well known at all, and it's well established in the book that Demosthenes gained his notoriety by being a firebrand demagogue; one of the more amusing points was that Valentine knew that there were significant holes in Demosthenes' arguments, and that her father agreed with Demosthenes despite the holes. Demosthenes was well known and well respected, but didn't have nearly as much power as Steven seems to think, and certainly didn't start anything like a revolution. The key reason Demosthenes existed was so that when Locke (Peter's persona) came up with his proposal for peace, Demosthenes would be able to use what notoriety and influence as he has to endorse it, and considering that Locke and Demosthenes were bitter enemies, the proposal would gain huge credibility.

(An amusing contradiction of Steven's argument is that Locke only gained real political power and influence when he dropped the mask and because Hegemon- a position that, at the time he did it, carried little authority, power, and influence).

In any case, however, Steven is highly critical of the entire enterprise.

The idea of hoping to have "the reputation of Demosthenes grow and exist apart from my credentials in real life" is, sad to say, a bit unrealistic. Demosthenes is one voice amongst hundreds of thousands, and life just doesn't act that way. And in any case, anonymity actually impedes any progress in that direction. The nameless human behind the blog hopes that the synthetic avatar Demosthenes will take on a life of its own. It's a disturbing ambition.
This is a very curious argument for someone who actually does wield some small amount of influence in this growing medium, and who has compatriots (like Instapundit) that demonstrate it as well. Indeed, that outsize influence is one of the reasons that I've been criticizing Den Beste so heavily- he appears to be attempting to leverage a close reading of Clausewicz, a good knowledge of WWII and citation of various popular political articles into a supposedly comprehensive knowledge of political theory, political philosophy, and international relations. He makes mistakes, and I call him on them. I've been doing this because very few others have, and because his (actually well-written) arguments closely parallel those made by others in the Blogosphere, and by addressing those arguments I can make larger points. Those who have read this site regularly know that I usually use other articles as a "jumping off point" for my own thoughts on a situation, and Steven works quite well in that respect. Perhaps my greatest mistake has been to worry so much about rebutting the guy, instead of just using him as a springboard.

Anyway, back to pseudonymity.

The quotation above is followed by what is really the meat of the whole thing:

The other aspect of the argument is much more important. The human in question not only hopes that Demosthenes the avatar will become famous and respected and influential, but also that the human will never be connected with the avatar and his responsibility for the avatar will never be publicly revealed. (And now I'll go back to using "Demosthenes" to refer to the human, rather than to the avatar that human is attempting to sustain.)
And now the problem becomes clear- he accuses me of overweening ambition by deliberately misinterpreting what I said. I'll quote myself again, because the latter point was selectively interpreted and important in and of itself:

more importantly I don't want interpretation of my arguments weighed by how people perceive my beliefs and interests- I'd prefer the arguments to stand on their own, and the reputation of Demosthenes to grow and exist apart from my reputation and credentials in real life.
Steven interpreted this to say that "I want Demosthenes to become powerful and influential and famous". That is not what I meant. (I think that Steven knew that's not what I meant, and didn't care). What I was getting at was a key reason why someone chooses pseudonymity- that someone wishes to have their arguments and positions stand on their own. Most of the time when somebody says something to somebody else, what they say is filtered by the listener according to their perceived gender, age, sexuality, personality, nationality, ethnicity, and whatever else constitutes their identity. Only after all that filtering is done with does the message get through, and more often than not the real content is changed utterly by the perception of that person's interests and beliefs- as McLuhan said, "the medium is the message". This is, by far, the more important reason I chose pseudonymity- as I've said, there are people in real life who know about this blog and know that I'm the author of it. I'm not afraid of saying in real life what I say here, and I'm not one to hold my opinions back.

Why not anonymity, though? Well, Anonymity presents its own problems. If one is truly anonymous, then there is no consistent body of work and arguments that someone can refer back to when making a point or defending a point. You could be anybody, and there's no possible way of verifying that the same person who wrote the last piece is the one who wrote the current one. There is the advantage of never having to worry about what you say affecting your real life, but there's no reward for consistency and no way for people to make any connection between a work and its author. It also means that there's no punishment for screwing up, either, because the person involved can just pick a different persona and jump right back in. (Usenet featured a lot of this sort of thing by trolls and spammers who don't care about the reputation of their personae.) There's also pretty much no way of developing any sort of audience or readership, which means that your ideas get "lost in the tide"- readers have no previous history of work with which to judge whether or not they should bother with current work. THAT is what I meant by reputation, Steven, not any sort of ridiculous ambition for influence. You can see this by simply zipping on over to slashdot and checking out their "anonymous cowards", who often write insightful posts of great educational or entertainment value, but who by definition can't develop any sort of reputation for doing so- they have to fight their way past the label "anonymous" and all the other morons who have it before they can be noticed. If that even happens.

Pseudonymity addresses both of these issues. It allows for someone to exist as a consistent person, but isn't prey to that filtering mechanism. Yes, someone who develops an online persona could easily drop it and conjure up another, but they would be "starting from square one"- just like the anonymous trolls I mentioned earlier, nobody would really take them seriously, because nobody would have any reason to take them seriously. They could theoretically rebuild themselves back up, but then they're just in a situation where they need to protect their reputation again- the only difference is the name, and all the wasted time, and the necessity for proving oneself worth listening to once again.

The Blogosphere isn't the first community online, of course; there's a bunch of them, and this question of "pseudonym" vs. "anonym" vs. "real" is actually a pretty old one. For those who want to understand pseudonymity, I suggest this article about the "rape in cyberspace". You might remember it- it was that incident on LambdaMOO a while back where one person messed with the avatars of others in extremely degrading ways resembling rape, which prompted an traumatic response from the victims in question- not their pseudonyms, but the players themselves. It's a fascinating and disturbing story, but it culminates with response from the online rapist himself, saying that it was merely a "psychological device..a sequence of events with no consequence on my RL existence".

That prompted this reply:

They might have known. Stilted though its diction was, the gist of the answer was simple, and something many in the room had probably already surmised: Mr. Bungle was a psycho. Not, perhaps, in real life -- but then in real life it's possible for reasonable people to assume, as Bungle clearly did, that what transpires between word-costumed characters within the boundaries of a make-believe world is, if not mere play, then at most some kind of emotional laboratory experiment. Inside the MOO, however, such thinking marked a person as one of two basically subcompetent types. The first was the newbie, in which case the confusion was understandable, since there were few MOOers who had not, upon their first visits as anonymous "guest" characters, mistaken the place for a vast playpen in which they might act out their wildest fantasies without fear of censure. Only with time and the acquisition of a fixed character do players tend to make the critical passage from anonymity to pseudonymity, developing the concern for their character's reputation that marks the attainment of virtual adulthood. But while Mr. Bungle hadn't been around as long as most MOOers, he'd been around long enough to leave his newbie status behind, and his delusional statement therefore placed him among the second type: the sociopath.
(Bolding mine.) That is what I meant by reputation, Steven, not this sort of overwhelming ambition. Pseudonymity is different than anonymity precisely because of that reputation, and the desire to protect it. The Blogosphere isn't the only community in cyberspace to grapple with these issues, it's just the newest, and it's the the most "pseudo" community of the lot.

With that in mind, a lot of the rest of Steven's rant becomes pointless, even if it weren't already. He seems to think that I'm afraid- he goes back to the same argument over and over again that I'm afraid to commit to my own arguments, that I'm afraid to stand behind my convictions, that I'm "cowering behind an avatar". He claims that I only "reveal it to those who are sympathetic", when one of the people who does know is rather unsympathetic to my views, and I knew that when I told him. Steven continuously and pathetically puts words in my mouth and thoughts in my head that simply aren't there and does it again, and again, and again...

Steven, I'm not afraid, and never have been. I don't believe that people would instantly reject me were I to reveal my real identity, any more than I think that other anonymous bloggers like Atrios (who is far more inflammatory than I've ever been) would be worth rejecting were I to discover their real identity. It's not about fear, it's about evading those filters of interest and identity, and about the decision to let one's insights stand on their own.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole sorry business is this one part:

Demosthenes has made no attempt whatever to prove that he is entitled to wield the moral authority he presumes to, by attempting to advise us as to what we should do. If he is so certain of his position, and if he wants the rest of us to act on what he says, then why does he himself not demonstrate the courage of his own conviction and himself act on what he says? Why does he ask us all to publicly embrace his opinions when he won't do so, and ask us to accept the social consequences he is trying to avoid?

And why should anyone listen to him if he won't?
It comes down to that question of legitimacy again, doesn't it? I make no presumption as to any "moral authority" except that provided by those who listen to me. If they listen, if they agree, if they act on what I say, then I have whatever moral authority that grants me. If they don't, if they disagree, or if they ignore me, then I don't have moral authority, whether I use my real name, a pseudonym, or post anonymously. If Demosthenes-the-pseudonym gained real power for some reason (which didn't happen in the books), then that power would be given by those who read with the full knowledge that I am a pseudonym, and nothing Steven Den Beste can say would ever take that away from him. Period.

Demosthenes would, I suspect, respond to that: "Listen to the arguments, not to the arguer." But if the arguments are convincing, then why doesn't the voice who presents them act as if he believes them? If anyone should follow an advocated course of action, surely the person doing the advocating should be first.
Do I not? How would you know? For all you know, Steven, I might try to put what I say here into action every day of my life. I might be standing on a street corner preaching it to everybody in sight, stopping only to duck into an Internet cafe and write an entry here and there. Even if I didn't, though, what would it matter? It's not even that "it's the arguments, not the arguer" (although that's certainly true, and Steven has neatly fallen into a textbook ad hominem)- Steven hasn't the faintest idea whether I act as if I believe them or not, except through the entirely useless act of trying to hang their validity on any reputation I might have in real life, or the meaningless act of trying to build my real-life reputation on what I've written here. (The latter is valid, of course, but doesn't matter one whit as to whether my points deserve to be listened to or not.)

Steven, I'm not ashamed of one damned thing that I've ever written. Even the stupid stuff, even the mistakes, even the bloody spelling mistakes and HTML errors that crop up far too often for my liking. I'm proud of it, and even more proud that people think that it's worthy enough to read. I'm humbled by the knowledge that people actually come back to read the site of their own free will, and feel that what I've written is important enough to leave comments on the site and emails in my mailbox, whether I agree or disagree with them. I'm even more humbled when I realize that it's not because of my real life identity, but because they feel that what I write is worth reading, worth quoting, and worth arguing over. I'm amazed and gratified that I have as many readers as I do, and the short entry with which I celebrated my first ten thousand visitors didn't even begin to describe how awed I was that such a thing could happen, and how glad I was that I didn't try to trade on whatever authority I might have "in real life" but instead made the site live or die on its own merits.

No, Steven, the only thing I'm ashamed and embarrassed about is this entry. I know that you don't like pseudonymity- you've made that abundantly clear. I know that whatever goodwill I gained from that first "here's a guy who actually argues honestly against war in Iraq" post is long gone, and I accept that as the price of consistent criticism. But to distract your readers who come to your site expecting political, military, and theoretical insights with this sort of pablum? A long attack against someone who by your own arguments seems to be beneath your notice? I somehow doubt they come to your site expecting this sort of screed (I certainly don't), and you could have addressed the response by simply saying "I wasn't directly talking about you, Demosthenes, so stop being so bloody paranoid". Instead, however, we get mad frothing rage from someone that, for all his faults, I thought was above it. It's a pity, really, and I wouldn't have responded were the issue of pseudonymity not something that needs to be defended. I hope that I have done so adequately enough to ensure that my readers will continue to visit this space. Heck, one day I might say "to heck with it" and identify who I really am. To be honest, though, the reaction I would most hope for is a resounding shurg. To me, and hopefully to my readers, it really doesn't matter.

Oh, and one admission: Yes, I do use Rogers, and therefore live in Canada. Unless, of course, I'm spoofing.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Moving away from critiques, debate, and the definition of "deduction"...Jaquandor has featured an interesting series of short reviews of all the different Bond flicks, which culminates with this entry about the most recent of the films. They're both enjoyable and informative, and it's nice to move away from reading political blogs on occasion. By all means, go take a look.
Something that you learn quickly in debate: it's fine (for the most part) to criticize someone, but if you ever call them "just another" of something, they'll go bugnuts on you. A perfect example is Just One Minute, a blog that I had described in an earlier post as "just another me-too E.C. blog". This provoked a sarcastic (and rather silly) email from it's proprietor, Thomas Maguire, which I responded to in good faith (except to point out that I both recognized the backhandedness of it and was slightly amused.) Apparently this wasn't enough, so he sent me a final email, stating "I don't expect you to pay attention to me, as I have no doubt I won't pay attention to you". Well, except for this last post. Intrigued, I checked it out, and what did I get?

Unfortunately, not much. What we get as some sort of "rebuttal" isn't especially promising- he complains about the length of the piece, gets the name of the blog wrong (missing the reference entirely), apparently doesn't like the color scheme, and apparently hasn't the faintest clue what I meant when I was talking about satisficing. Oh, and he uses that silly call-and-response "fisking" technique- no doubt expecting it to grant him credibility.

Here's a sample:

Stephen Den Beste seems to somehow believe that deductive reasoning can never come up with the wrong answer. Don't believe me? Check it out:

[den Beste excerpt]:
Deduction is prissy; it refuses to play unless it knows it can win. It requires sufficient information of high reliability, and when that is available it yields an answer which is nearly certain."

CRASH! TINKLE! (The tinkle is breaking glass, we're not scared or anything). We are not yet through the first paragraph and the author has driven his credibility into a ditch. Let me re-cap with faux quotes: "den Beste makes an overly broad statement. Don't believe me? Here is a clearly out-of-context excerpt which clearly does contain qualifications."
See, anybody who read where I went from there would have a pretty good idea that I meant that Steven's qualifications weren't enough- that even with perfect starting information, the interpretation is a problem in-and-of itself. The same people can come up with different answers to the same problem with the same evidence, and have both end up being "proven" by the evidence at hand. In fact, the point I made later that Mcguire seems to think was some sort of self-refutation was just restating this point- that Den Beste's qualifications themselves made assumptions. Then again, this is pretty obviously not a real critique.. it's just an attempt to attack my credibility as quickly (and weakly) as possible.

He then goes on to claim that my references to Den Beste were "phony":

[den Beste excerpt]:
--Which brings me, finally, to the article which inspired this entire ridiculously long post. Much of this analysis, by everyone involved, makes a fundamental assumption that Saddam, and other leaders of Muslim and Arab nations and groups, think more or less like we do -- or that they are insane.--

Already, he has ruined his argument, before I could even touch it. Amazing trick, really, and I'm quite impressed. Mixing together "Muslim" and "Arab" is fantastically wrong for obvious reasons, but so is mixing together fundamentalist leaders and strongman dictators like Hussein."

False alarm. Den Beste is apparently near the goal-line, but we have a ways to go. Is this another phony excerpt, which Demosthenes will later debunk? It is certainly NOT clear from the excerpt that den Beste has mixed anything.
The "minuteman" has asserted that this excerpt is "phony"... that it doesn't mix them up. He does this several times, pretty much ignoring every other point I made, especially the ones that didn't involve quotation. I imagine it's because he either agrees or can't think of a proper response, but I can't exactly be sure of that. Still, I'm rather confused- even if what Den Beste wrote didn't mix the two together (which it did)... what was it about that excerpt that somehow made it "phony"? It was a full excerpt, nothing left behind or left out. If Steven were making a point of making the difference clear elsewhere in the post then I might agree with this critique, or if the use of the word "assumption" referred to the melding of the two groups as opposed to the polarity of "sane like us" vs. "insane", then that might be different. Unfortunately, even a cursory examination of his other posts makes it pretty clear that that's not the case. The only distinction he possibly makes is between Saddam and the rest, but then goes on to argue that Saddam is as irrational as the rest.. just for different reasons.

(But then again, even if these two particular sections were wrong, how exactly does that invalidate the rest of the entry? All I'd need to do is edit them slightly and the rest of it would continue on, unchecked and unanswered. Neither were really critical- both were relatively minor "set-ups" for larger points? Hence the reason I'm not fond of "fisking"- forests and trees.)

Other than those two complaints, all it seems to be is endless whining about the length of the piece. Yes, it's long. I write long entries. Deal with it. Still, to complain about such a thing when I'm responding to Steven Den Beste of all people smacks of someone searching for something, anything, with which to attack my credibility. So like I said up at the top, it's probably a good idea to watch out before calling someone "just another" of anything.

Saturday, August 10, 2002

I'm not quite sure whether this article from Steven Den Beste is supposed to be a rebuttal or not to my earlier comments. It would make sense that it's supposed to be one- it pretty obviously takes potshots at my pseudonymity, for starters. I've already explained why I stay pseudonymous, but in reality it's pretty simple- I don't want my arguments here to affect how people treat me in real life (unless I let them... some of my real life friends do know about the blog, but it's my decision), and more importantly I don't want interpretation of my arguments weighed by how people perceive my beliefs and interests- I'd prefer the arguments to stand on their own, and the reputation of Demosthenes to grow and exist apart from my reputation and credentials in real life.

(Then again, upon further examination, he seems to be setting up for something...)

The entry goes on to ass-backwardsly complains about the lack of quotation (which I usually avoid in order to stay away from mixing up forests and trees), and the indirect way in which I addressed his arguments (which were based on his invocation of some sort of higher, logical basis for his arguments, and his implication that it occupies the same place as real analysis). It also pulls out all the stops in trying to sway the audience to his side- whether it's praising their "bullshit detectors" (which in my experience are highly overrated, usually relying more on avoidance of cognitive dissonance than anything else), praising their boundless intelligence, or lauding the endless flows of information that we receive nowadays (although anybody familiar with blogs understands just how easily that information can be skewed or selectively displayed and just how useful a really good information collector/filter can truly be.) I somehow wonder why he bothers with that... why praise the audience in order to curry their favor when you can simply do so with your arguments themselves?

Amazingly enough, it doesn't end there. It seems to accuse me of ad hominem attacks, which is not quite the case- it is if anything ad argumentum... I'm attacking the validity of his arguments, not the man himself. (How could I attack him? I don't know him.) It implies that those with a mathematical education are somehow better equipped to make political arguments than those with liberal educations, because of their greater (?) familiarity with logic. (All it suggests to me is ignorance of the field, but anyway...)

Finally, though, it comes out into the open, crying out that his methods "[leave] me open for mockery by those who disagree with me, but that's the price I pay for trying to play fair with you." (He linked to myself and warbloggerwatch in that sentence). Cunning little trick, that- it manages to equate me with the hated warbloggerwatch, set me against his readers (who he is just "trying to play fair with"), imply that I'm not being fair to him (bolstered by the link to Warblogger watch), claim that my post was mockery instead of debunking and rebuttal (also bolstered by the WBW link), and imply that my critique was some sort of cheap insult session. Most damningly, by linking at the end of the entire entry, he has successfully set me up as being the embodiment all the sins described in this entry, and ensures that his readers will link to me and read my rebuttal only after they have been primed to read it in the worst possible light.

(Of course, he follows it up with a cry of sainted victimhood, proclaiming that "[t]he stains of their rotten tomatoes on my clothing are a badge of honor. One can be judged not only by one's enemies, but by how those enemies behave. If this is what they're reduced to, then I must be winning." This barely needs commentary- a vague sense of embarrassment on his behalf is all I can muster)

For someone who trusts his readers, Steven, you've done a damned good job of conditioning them to read my response exactly the way that you want them to. All I can say in response is that I link at the top of my entries, and don't care whether you're really Steven Den Beste, engineer, or a hobo that sneaks into an internet cafe when nobody's looking and slams out posts on the sly. I, as "Demosthenes the pseudonym" and his creator, couldn't care less.
So this is why I've never been linked on Tapped!

They complain:
On a side note, visiting LiquidList (his site) reminded us of some friendly advice we wanted to offer on blog design. Many bloggers, including some of our favorites, choose to use "reverse" colors; that is, a dark background with light letters instead of the reverse. (They include Demosthenes and Matthew Yglesias.) Tapped is sure we are not alone when we say we find this format visually irritating even when the content is intellectually stimulating. Our suggestion: Flip your colors, or offer an option to view in the negative the way Andrew Sullivan does. Please! Eye exams cost money!
Personally, I'm rather fond of the template, and Pejman seems to get by with it without too much trouble. I might switch it in the future, but I don't want to screw around with another template when Blogger is being so ornery. (Maybe if I switched to MT or Blogger Pro, but I'm not quite there yet.)

Here's hoping the content intrigues Tapped enough to make up for the "visual irritation". And for those visiting from Tapped and who want to read my response to Steven Den Beste's theories, check out the entry directly below this one. This I wrote in minutes... that took a whole morning.
Edit: Some people have complained that I haven't given enough credit to Den Beste- that his description of deduction was technically accurate. That definition, as quoted below, is that "It requires sufficient information of high reliability, and when that is available it yields an answer which is nearly certain". The former qualification is indeed true- it does require "sufficient information of high reliability" to yield an answer. The problem, however, is that it can yield multiple valid answers. This doesn't leave deductive reasoning unusable, even in the social sciences, but it does mean that one must watch out for these multiplicities of valid answers that are proven by the evidence at hand. This is what satisficing is: satisficing is when somebody "proves" one hypothesis (even when using deduction), but it's actually only one of many valid ones consistent with the evidence at hand. It also doesn't necessarily require mathematics, although mathematics certainly make the process easier. After all, the deductive chain "All men die/Socrates is a man/therefore Socrates will die" is valid whether it's described that way or as "A=D,B=A, therefore B=D (Well, actually, I guess a fully accurate mathematical description of that chain would involve sets, but you get the point.)

So: Den Beste's qualifications are valid, but don't go far enough. Satisfied?


Steven Den Beste seems to somehow believe that deductive reasoning can never come up with the wrong answer. Don't believe me? Check it out:

Deduction is prissy; it refuses to play unless it knows it can win. It requires sufficient information of high reliability, and when that is available it yields an answer which is nearly certain.
This would be true... if it weren't for the simple fact that it's extremely difficult to tell whether a) you have all the possible hypotheses, b) that your methodology for eliminating options is unimpeachably sound, c) the evidence is both accurate and means what you think it means and d) whether your evidence only supports one of them. One of the reasons I've made a point of dealing with the concept of satisficing (which is picking an answer not because it is *the* right answer, but that it's one of a series of "right" answers that you pick because it's the preferred answer) is to deal with this notion of unquestionable rightness in deduction, but how on earth could an engineer make this sort of elementary mistake? Well, perhaps because deductive reasoning's errors lie in mistakes made by the deducer, not in random chance... a lot of non-scientists who admire the scientific process get it into their heads that the human component is negligable, especially if that admiration is the basis of some sort of moral or ethical system. That's hardly true, of course, especially in the social sciences- but people still make that mistake.

To be fair, he does later acknowledge such a thing: "The real world doesn't cooperate with deduction. It's necessary to take chances, to make guesses, to work with inadequate information and information of doubtful validity." The problem is that people will deduce anyway and, in fact, they need to, in order to apply theoretical knowledge to the real world.

See, induction is normally used in the social sciences to generate theory- you observe phenomena and create a theory based on those observations, usually situating it within one of the broad explanatory paradigms in the field. If you manage to successfully demonstrate the validity of that theory, however, the whole reason it's useful is so that one can deduce with it- to take the general (the theory) and with it understand the specific (the situation at hand). It's not perfect, and definitely bears some methodological analysis before you use it, but the application of theory is a valid tool for understanding events... both past events, and future ones.

"Future events", you say? How is that possible? Well, that's the job of the analyst- to figure out what's going to happen, instead of explaining what's already happened (that's the job of the historian). Steven goes into some depth as to the nature of analysis, saying:

And if it is not possible to always be right even about normal events, where the only limitations are inadequate access to information, then how much more difficult must it be in military intelligence, where you're trying to determine the intentions and capabilities and plans of a determined enemy who is doing his best to fool you?
Actually, Stephen, I wouldn't say it's difficult per se, so much as precise. Well, my analysis knowledge comes from the recommended methods for CIA analysts, not military analysts, but the basic concept is the same: you develop as many possible hypotheses as you can (usually using the resources of as many people as you can nail down) and then find evidence that eliminates these hypotheses until you get down to the one hypothesis that is accurate. You aren't proving hypotheses, you're trying to disprove them- that way, you don't have to worry about evidence that supports several conclusions (which leads to satisficing) because that isn't what you're using it for, and you can't satisfice elimination. Since satisficing is incredibly dangerous in real-world analysis, this is really the only proper way to do it (and the fact that people don't is one of your bigger analysis problems right now.)

You use a mixture of three different techniques to do so:

1) Situational analysis. Basically you look at the situation as it stands, all the evidence that you have, and use that to look ahead and see what is likely to happen. The advantage is that there's no way you can mix up what you think is going on and what is actually going on, because they're one and the same (assuming your intel is accurate); the disadvantage is that it's incredibly time consuming and doesn't allow you to use any sort of theoretical or comparative tool to understand what's going on or what to do.

2) Historical comparisons. You compare the situation going on right now with a well-understood and similar situation that has happened in the past- what you know of what happened is used to explain what's going on. It's really useful for finding parallels and trends, but there's no theory working here and there's a huge danger in creating equivalencies that aren't there. Steven does this a lot in relation to WWII- since he knows WWII so well and thinks of diplomacy and statecraft in fairly strict military terms, it's an ideal comparison for him... although for the rest of us, the problem is that what's going on right now isn't precisely equivalent, and WWII is a dubious comparison at best.

3) Lastly, you have the application of theory... this is where you take some sort of theoretical model and apply it to the situation at hand so as to recognize what's going on. Popular with academics (whose lives revolve around the creation and application of theory), and provided that the theory works and can be applied to the specific situation, it's pretty damned useful. The problem, of course, is that any specific situation will only fit theory to a certain degree, and recognition of that degree is absolutely vital to successfully applying theory- you have to fit the theory to the situation, not the other way around. Steven tends to use Clausewicz for this- I don't see much application of political theory aside from this, and while Steven applies his own theories, this isn't a very valid way of doing analysis- other people spend their lives making theories and others reconfirming them. There's little reason to simply apply your own (poorly proven) theories when there are much better, more comprehensive and better proven theories ones out there. (Hence the reason Paul Krugman is always railing about pseudo-economists who have their own half-baked economic theories that demonstrate only ignorance of the theoretical field that really exists.)

All three are useful, but all three have their faults.

So why am I going on about this? Because Stephen has written an exceptionally long article that purports to take down the arguments of myself and Hesiod- the one that I linked to above. One of the arguments he made throughout is that he's working from "inductive reasoning" that "..part of induction is to decide not just what the chance is that a given conclusion is wrong, but also what the consequences are for a false positive or a false negative, and decide based on that which way to err." This is good as far as it goes, but shows that Stephen is going about analysis precisely the wrong way... he's attempting to prove a pre-existing conclusion, instead of taking all the possible hypotheses and using the evidence to figure out which one is valid.

Now, part of my problem with Steven's response is that for such a long response, it's actually pretty short... he only quotes me directly once, and only on the question of whether or not Saddam has WMDs. (He does use what I've said as an adjunct to one of Hesiod's arguments.) So already he has implied no contradiction with anything else I've written, and the critiques I've written of his reasoning extend far, far beyond whether Saddam has WMDs, through the question of International law, all the way down to the way that Steven engages in analysis himself, which is rife with satisficing and poor use of the three techniques I mentioned above. (He's obviously not aware of them- not surprising, as although he's someone interested in politics, statecraft, and warcraft, he's not exactly a professional and is probably unaware of just how dangerous his satisficing is for real analysis.) Throughout the entire argument, he defends his arguments based on the idea that they support his conclusions... but as I've shown above, that's meaningless, because they could support other conclusions as well, and as long as they do it's faulty analysis. By considering the question of satisficing and these three ideas of analysis, one can discover how each of his arguments in turn is fatally flawed.

-he says that his argument that Iraq has WMDs "is based on induction and might be wrong", but that it doesn't matter because he might be wrong and he might be right, and there are reports that hint that he's right. He believes that we might as well operate as if we know that WMDs are in operation there, and make analysis as if there are weapons there. This is an example of satisficing- he's already come to his conclusion, and is looking for things to prove it's true. He admits that all the evidence he cites might not be accurate but that it leans towards his analysis of the situation... but because they don't eliminate the hypothesis that "Iraq doesn't have weapons, but would really like to have them", To proceed from that reasoning is fatally flawed- you haven't really eliminated anything.

-He misreads the situation as it exists, partially by trying to set up neat little contradictions like this one:

There are really only two ways to acquire real proof: invade the place and look around without the Iraqi government impeding us in any way, or wait until a weapon goes off somewhere. Given that we're trying to decide whether to invade, and trying to prevent such a detonation, we must act before proof exists.
This is exceptionally faulty reasoning, because there are lots of questions begging. First, are there only two ways? Why? Why not three or four, and is it really a good idea to limit the hypotheses artificially right off the bat, like he's doing here? (Again, could lead to satisficing.) Is invasion of Iraq the only way of looking around without the Iraqis impeding? Considering my observation that Iraq is afraid of the U.S. using inspectors as plants, it's not a given conclusion that invasion is the only way to get unfettered access. It's not a given conclusion anyway... it's just an assumption, used to build up a chain of reasoning. You can't do that with assumptions... not in analysis, not without recognizing that it is an assumption. (Seems like Steven does this a lot.) The other question begging is whether or not that weapon will be detonated, which is surely not a proven fact in the slightest. He's engaging in faulty situational analysis here- he has to be, because there's no historical precedent that I can easily think of, and he's not applying any theory, that's for damned sure. That's fine so far as it goes, but he's not looking at the whole situation. Even if he weren't engaging in rampant satisficing that undermines his whole chain of reasoning, this sort of argument leaves any situational analysis fatally flawed.

-He misrepresents the costs of the invasion... which is surprising, because for someone who was planning on refuting my arguments he pretty much ignored a fundamental aspect of them. He said "if we're incorrectly pessimistic, it means we'll fight a war that probably wasn't necessary. That's certainly very bad for whatever nation we attack, but the cost to us of such an outcome is much lower than the effects of having one of our cities nuked." First, this isn't remotely proven, and is certainly questionable when one extends the definition of "us". "Us" as in "the United States" isn't proven, because we will have showed that the United States has no regard for international treaties and bodies, even fundamental and ancient ones like the Treaty of Westphalia. A nuked city is a very bad thing, but the breakdown of the international system may be far worse. (Or it may not, but Steven isn't even considering the point, which weakens his analysis.) If you extend the "us" to those outside the United States, then the problems of invasion become far greater, because Saddam may decide to curry the favor of a radical nation he plans to secretly escape to by using his chemical and biological weapons (assuming they exist, and Steven does) against Israel; the "us" that is Israel is therefore much worse off (nukes are bad, but there's a reason the others are called "WMDs" too). If you extend "us" to the planet, then the precedent of the United States ignoring the U.N. security council because it feels threatened by "immanent attack" means that there won't be a country on the planet that doesn't use the same excuse for preemptive attack on a weaker (but theoretically dangerous) neighbour, and assuming the U.S. doesn't care about the situation, that weaker nation is pretty much screwed. The United States would have set the stage for a true Hobbesian state of nature on the international scene, something that international law is supposed to mitigate. This might not be the case, but Steven didn't even consider it, making his analysis fatally flawed.

-his argument that Iraq kicked out the inspectors because "they were too close to finding the truth, irrespective of whether or not the Americans were using them to spy or not" is another faulty argument, preceding from an unproven assumption. First he asserts that the WMDs exist... although that's a fine one to make when making a point, when coming to a conclusion it's weak. He said that he'll proceed from that, and I don't accept it. A more important point that he doesn't address, though, is the order of importance that he places the two arguments in- saying that the first priority was to protect the WMDs, and the second to prevent the U.S. of spying. He deliberately portrays the second as an "excuse", not a "reason", but that's not an assumption he's entitled to make, as it's the very sort of argument that he uses to attack the International Criminal Court on behalf of the United States! He argues that the ICC would be "used by foreign officials to 'get' the US"; others argue that "the U.S. doesn't want to be prosecuted for all the ethically dubious things it's done in the past". Both may be right, and he acknowledges that, but in the latter situation, he reverses the "reason" and the "excuse" for no better reason than the identity of the country involved! Fine for him, an American... less so for a reader in the third world, where American realpolitik might have turned their country into a living hell for a decade or more and that has a definite interest in seeing, say, Henry Kissinger brought before the ICC and tried for war crimes. After all, if Iraq doesn't have WMDs, then the entire basis of his ordering becomes useless, and he has already acknowledged that that possibility exists. The evidence supports multiple conclusions (Iraq doesn't have WMD and is paranoid about spying, Iraq does have WMD and is paranoid about spying, Iraq does have WMD and isn't paranoid about spying but doesn't want them found), and Steven has arbitrarily chosen a conclusion based on evidence that only eliminates one possibility: that Iraq doesn't have WMDs, and doesn't care if its spied on. His analysis, then, is fatally flawed.

-he pulls a silly little side-issue into the fray, which is whether some think "the US is the problem, not Iraq". He attacks those who think that the U.S. is "too powerful, too large, too rich, too greedy... we do too much, own too many weapons, consume too much, and because of that we unbalance the world". First, he's using a simplistic cartoonish version of that argument to try to dismiss it, but that much is obvious- there's less strawmen in a Wizard of Oz audition line. The problem with this line of argument, though, is that even if they do, so what? The U.S. invading Iraq is a problem... the question is whether the U.S. has any legitimate basis for doing so. If they're criticizing the invasion based on those grounds, then deal with that, but I know I'm not, I know Hesiod isn't, and frankly the question of whether the U.S. is extraordinarily powerful is entirely beside the point except in that it's a valid data point to consider when one considers the ramifications of unilateral American action and what it would mean for collective security. It's not the only one to consider, but it's valid. Remove the "too"s inserted in there and there's nothing objectionable there... the U.S. is large, is rich, is powerful, and is greedy (how one reacts to that depends on whether or not you consider greed wrong or not). It does do a lot, it does have a lot of weapons, it does consume more than most, and there are probably ramifications to all of this. Unfortunately, it's besides the point, and any attempt to defend his arguments based on this sort of ad hominem nonsense shows more of their weakness than anything else. This isn't even an analysis error- it's just pointless red-baiting.

-Finally, he pulls out the old gambit: that "they don't think like we do", and therefore we should invade Iraq. He doesn't like that I and Hesiod use the word "insane" to describe how he thinks of Hussein, but that's because he's ascribing fundamentally insane beliefs and actions to Hussein, in that they're meaninglessly self-destructive. Hussein is not self-destructive- he's no fundamentalist, and probably doesn't even care about Islam that much except as a tool. In fact, he makes a huge, unbelievably huge error that would get most analysts fired: he takes unlikes and turns them into likes.

Which brings me, finally, to the article which inspired this entire ridiculously long post. Much of this analysis, by everyone involved, makes a fundamental assumption that Saddam, and other leaders of Muslim and Arab nations and groups, think more or less like we do -- or that they are insane.
Already, he has ruined his argument, before I could even touch it. Amazing trick, really, and I'm quite impressed. Mixing together "Muslim" and "Arab" is fantastically wrong for obvious reasons, but so is mixing together fundamentalist leaders and strongman dictators like Hussein. The entire reason Hussein has been in power as long as he has is because he isn't some kind of Islamic extremist- that's why he was a U.S. ally before the Gulf War and why he was backed by the U.S. during the Iran/Iraq war. Arguments that apply to Hussein don't apply to Al Qaeda and vice versa. At all.

(Heck, this sort of thing is usually an imperfect fit at best- Steven's trying to use theoretical analysis here, and doing a pretty poor job of it, making bloody elementary mistakes.)

Much of the rest of his article deals with Al Qaeda and their philosophy. Unfortunately, I have no problem with the war with Al Qaeda. So that's pretty much a wash. That's the real war that should be prosecuted, and which Iraq is a dangerous distraction from.

Later on he makes the distinction (which really doesn't help that much; he shouldn't have made the error in the first place) between Al Qaeda and Hussein, but once again is trying to pull together whatever he can to fit a pre-determined conclusion- that Hussein is indeed like Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, it could also mean "the evidence implies that they're similar", which does not eliminate the possibility that the evidence implies many different things, that other evidence implies that they're dissimilar that he isn't including, etc. etc. etc. Again, satisficing.

The argument he uses is a familiar one- Iraq has nukes, it might leak them to terrorists, and therefore they're dangerous. Hesiod annihilated this argument by simply asking "what if Saddam realizes that they might decide to use them on Saddam as well?" Steven didn't deal with this point except to say that Saddam would do it anyway as long as "there remains a higher chance of them getting us instead of him", which ignores the reality of "maximin"- they idea where people will reduce the penalty of a bad call instead of the reward for a good call, and which Saddam would definitely think about were his own ass and country to be on the line. Hesiod's point remains uncontradicted, and certainly valid. Steven gussies this basic theory up with a lot of utterly unsubstantiated assumptions and theories with little basis in reality, but it remains contradicted by Hesiod's basic objection, which Steven can't honestly answer, because he doesn't understand the varying interests here. (He seems to have a problem with that.) It's woefully inadequate analysis.

I mean, let's look at the risk/reward here for the action of "giving terrorists a Bomb".

Possible rewards:
-United States gets nuked. Somewhat likely, although not so much as you'd think.
-nuking of United States brings down U.S. Less likely- requires both that U.S. is successfully nuked and that it really hurts U.S.
-nuking of United States pulls U.S. out of region. Even less likely- requires that U.S. is successfully nuked, and that there's an effect, and that the U.S. doesn't go seeking revenge.
-U.S. pullout allows for pulling together of "Arab empire". Utterly unlikely.. requires all the previous data points, plus successful conquest of region, plus no other power arising to take place of U.S.

Possible risks:
-U.S. is not nuked (bomb is wasted, but possibility of getting caught still exists.)
-U.S. believes that Iraq is responsible, retaliates. (Very likely- in fact, difficult to deal with unless Iraq can somehow implicate someone else, which is unlikely)
-Terrorists attack Iraq instead (more likely- it's an easier target with little western support, and if Baghdad gets nuked Saddam is utterly screwed)
-U.S. is nuked, doesn't believe that Iraq is responsible, but becomes even more interested in region (as he's a U.S. opponent, that would be a risk, not a reward for him.)
-Israel is nuked instead (doesn't mean much to Saddam, and the U.S. will definitely become more interested in the region, which is a net minus for Saddam. He's also possibly implicated, which means that U.S. nukes him)

Sorry, Steven, but the top group doesn't justify the bottom group in the slightest. Even if Saddam had this dream, nobody can stay top dog for as long as he has without being able to unconsciously or consciously make this sort of analysis- if he does either, he'll realize that it's more trouble than it's worth. This also applies to conventional attacks- if he conventionally attacks any country in the region, he'll get thrust out- and if he uses nukes to defend his holdings, he'll get nuked in retaliation by the U.S. So that won't work either-it isn't even MAD, just AD- assured destruction. The only reason he could really have for having nukes is so that he could use them if he had nothing left to lose- to defend his current borders against invasion. And the only legitimate reason we have for invasion is, well, that he has WMDs. It's a circular argument, and very poor analysis. It's the application of theory, but application of theory that only he actually ascribes to instead of theory within the field itself. To apply untested and unproven theory is a fundamental error (even if mixing up likes and unlikes weren't), and leaves his arguments fatally flawed.

Ok, so what's the point of this long article? That Steven makes bad arguments? Well, kind of, but there's a specific reason- he talks about analysis without seeming to really understand it. He satisfices constantly, and doesn't seem to understand that other hypotheses both exist and are supported by the evidence he brings forth, or at the least aren't eliminated by the evidence he brings forth. Each of his arguments is fundamentally flawed in different ways, but all betray the dread form of satisficing... picking the most desirable among multiple possible conclusions. I'm not saying he's intellectually dishonest, but that his form of reasoning is (as I've repeated) fatally flawed. It's pretty common, actually- part of the reason the CIA recommends that its analysts adopt the forms of analysis I mentioned earlier is that they too have the same kinds of problems, and it really hurts their analysis. The fact that it is relatively common, however, doesn't change the fact that it's near-useless.

Honestly, I'm somewhat disappointed. I was expecting a grand debate on the concepts of international law and I.R. theory, on how that applies to Iraq, on the nature of the War on Terrorism, and everything else that I've critiqued Steven on for what must be going on a month now. I was actually a little nervous, because I had thought that he had this going for a while, and that I'd be crushed like a bug between the hammer of logic and the anvil of evidence. Instead, I got a weak chain of satisficing and faulty analysis, less notable for its persuasiveness than as an instructional tool for explaining the difference between good analysis and bad.

I've spent my morning rebutting this, and I have to say that I've seen better arguments in my own comments threads- I doubt Hesiod will even bother, considering how far superior his arguments are to anything I've read and responded to today. I also have no doubt that more people will read Steven's argument than my response, because he's more widely read than I am, is permalinked on more pages, and is reconfirming the beliefs of many E.C. bloggers out there, who will be far more likely to wade through a poorly-argued entry that supports their own prejudices than one that uses the flaws of said entry to make a point about analysis. Still, it needs to be said, and with any luck it will inspire some to more rigorous analysis in the future.

Lord knows, if this is the best that's out there, we need it.
I think I'll pull an Atrios here, because this comment from Michelle killed me:

Channel the shade of Diogenes? Please. I'm sure he'll actually just roll three d8s and adjust the position of his leaden legions in the sandpit that he's converted into his theatre of war-planning.

There. Now Ken Layne can't complain about the lack of funny on the site.

Friday, August 09, 2002

It would appear that I'm not alone in (perhaps) being up to Den Beste's challenge: Hesiod just wrote a well-argued and well-written response to Den Beste's (somewhat repetitive) justifications for the invasion of Iraq, including a perfect example of Saddam's rationality that I had actually forgotten:

First, we have a test case for how Saddam will react when threatened with massive retaliation for use of weapons of amss detsruction against an opopnent who can follow through: the Gulf War. James Baker explicitly warned Saddam. And Saddam didn't use his arsenal of chemical weapons against our troops, or even Israel. Why? Because he is rational, the threat was credible, and his survival was not on the line.

Moreover, Saddam has not used such weapons against any other opponent since the Gulf War.

And, we know for certain taht he WILL use such weapons. He used them to gas the Kurds. And he used them in his prolonged and bloody war with Iran. Ironically, Saddam's improving relationship with Iran proves that he is a rational actor who will do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means cozying up with a formerly mortal enemy.

Den Beste then, after agreeing that Saddam is a rational actor, goes off the deep end with this portion of his argument.
Props to Hesiod- I had totally forgotten about that part of the Gulf War, but it's about the best evidence that Saddam can be deterred that I've seen so far.

So it would appear that even without critiques based on theory (and the theoretical ones are damning enough), what evidence we have shows that the case for unilateral invasion is weak indeed. Does that mean that the U.S. won't invade? Maybe not, but it will ensure that there's no way that the U.S. can spin it to its advantage, and that pretty much the rest of the free world will remain resolute in their condemnation of the invasion.

And the Republicans were worried about Clinton losing his moral authority. If it invades Iraq, it looks more and more like the U.S. will only derive respect and authority from the point of a gun. Pity, that- despite what Den Beste seems to think, we had finally moved a little ways away from that. Oh well.

Edit: Damn, I missed this part, and it's great too:

Den Beste does not explain why Saddam would simply hand over a nuclear device to Ilamic radical terrorists, who could, at some point, just as easily decide that Iraq qould be a better place if it were run by, say, some radical Wahabi mullah? He'd have to exercise some degree of control over the operation, or risk them being used against himself. And that risk is not trivial. And the more control he exercised, the more of his fingerprints would be all over the operation. He cannot risk that his plans would be upset by, say, a Saudi or Jordanian intelligence mole in the terrorist camp would tip off the United States.
.

It's convenient to forget that Iraq is not beloved by the Islamic theocrats, but Hesiod makes an excellent point here- Iraq is a target too, and one that doesn't have much support in the West. Saddam would be jeopardizing his own regime by handing WMDs off to terrorists.. and nobody thinks he'd ever do that. Without that threat, why invade Iraq?