“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, August 28, 2004


LI has been trying to catch up with Daedalus. The summer issue is, apparently, full of blasts against Bush. Alas, LI hasn’t figured out how to get back door access to the issue. So we went back to Winter 2003, which we could get access to. Winter 2003 is dominated by liberal interventionism a la Michael Ignatieff. However, there were a few articles that resisted the wish fulfillment fantasy of Harvard intellectuals being showered with flowers as they rode on tanks into various liberated cities. (This is, by the way, a narrative pattern which we associate with the Cold War – but LI wonders about the order of cause and effect here. The narrative surely precedes the Cold war – in fact, it seems to be a narrative to which American intellectuals have been attached at least since the war against the “bandits” in the Phillipines at the turn of the twentieth century. There are plenty of hints of it in the Civil War. To disassociate the narrative from its object is a necessary preliminary step in the analysis of American foreign policy, in LI’s humble opinion. That America is one of the most warlike states in the modern era – which used to be a charge of lefty historians, and has been taken up as a badge of honor of righty historians -- makes it important to understand how Americans see war. We haven’t really seen any work on this that doesn’t immediately try to make a moral point – showing, perhaps, the gravitational pull of the way Americans see war. What we would like is a heuristic/pragmatic analysis jenseits the good war/bad war dichotomy.)

But HOLD YOUR HORSES, as LI’s dear old dad used to say. We are drifting away from the point of this post, as we are wont to do. Here’s the point: Daniel Dennett’s article, On failures of freedom & the fear of science, should be read by all who can get ahold of the thing. It is obviously a lure for the book he subsequently published, Freedom Evolves – and that is rather funny, in a Derridian way, since the article begins its meditation on the fear that science is somehow undermining our autonomy by meditating on those successful lures that cast into doubt the whole notion of rationality upon which autonomy is founded. At least, in the Kantian sense of the term.

Dennett has never been shy about constructing straw men, and we think his construction of Kantian autonomy is one of them – even though it points to a fault that was obvious to the Romantics, and has been obvious to anyone who reads Kant since: the dismissal of emotions from the realm of moral evaluation. A dismissal that makes one masochistic exception – the feeling of humility is accorded a place in Kant’s schema.

Dennett’s straw man, however, is less invalidating than it might be when one considers that the economic construction of rationality is founded on a very imperfect – indeed, absolutely un-empirical – notion of the relation between feeling and calculation.

Dennett, unlike most philosophers, knows how to write. He doesn’t start out with some quasi bad science fiction “thought experiment.” He starts out with Candid Camera:

“Allen Funt was one of the great psychologists of the twentieth century. His informal demonstrations on Candid Camera showed us as much about human psychology and its surprising limitations as the work of any academic psychologist. Here is one of the best (as I recall it many years later): he placed an umbrella stand in a prominent place in a department store and filled it with shiny new golf-cart handles. These were pieces of strong, gleaming stainless-steel tubing, about two-feet long, with a gentle bend in the middle, threaded at one end (to screw into a threaded socket on your golf cart) and with a handsome spherical plastic knob on the opposite end. In other words, about as useless a piece of stainless-steel tubing as you could imagine--unless you happened to own a golf cart missing its handle. He put up a sign. It didn't identify the contents but simply said: "50% off. Today only! $5.95." Some people purchased them, and, when asked why, were quite ready to volunteer one confabulated answer or another. They had no idea what the thing was, but it was a handsome thing, and such a bargain! These people were not brain-damaged or drunk; they were normal adults, our neighbors, ourselves.

We laugh nervously as we peer into the abyss that such a demonstration opens up. We may be smart, but none of us is perfect, and whereas you and I might not fall for the old golf-cart-handle trick, we know for certain that there are variations on this trick that we have fallen for, and no doubt will fall for in the future. When a psychologist demonstrates our imperfect rationality, our susceptibility to being moved in the space of reasons by something other than consciously appreciated reasons, we fear that we aren't free after all. Perhaps we're kidding ourselves. Perhaps our approximation of a perfect Kantian faculty of practical reason falls so far short that our proud self-identification as moral agents is a delusion of grandeur.”

Dennett’s big idea is to reconcile a robust scientific idea of the human animal, with its salts, pumps, evolutionary history, proteins, and unconscious adaptations, to the traditional idea of a self. He doesn’t consider that the idea of a self he is considering, and to some extent caricaturing, arose in the same ideological space as the project of positive science. To consider that, Dennett would have to have recourse to that most yucky of words for an analytically trained philosopher, dialectics. Instead, Dennett uses another pop figure, Tom Wolfe, to make a point about the irrationality of pushing a “traditional” view of the self into discussions of what that self, concretely and collectively, does. Dennett quotes Wolfe objecting to the mass distribution of Ritalin to cure ADD. Or is it ADH? We can never get those pseudo-disorders right. In any case, Dennett compares this to Wolfe coming out whole heartedly against glasses as corruptors of the myopic -- inhibitors of myopic grit. It should be said that Wolfe invites this criticism, for after pointing out, quite correctly, the epidemic of overprescribing, he attributes it to an ethos of irresponsibility. Wolfe has taken a minor and inconsistent property of the social phenomenon as its core and spirit -- which is typical of the ever new journalistic Wolfe. However, Dennett’s criticism of Wolfe is founded on the “scientific” case that Ritalin somehow cures a dopamine imbalance that in itself seems unphilosophically souped up:

“In his recent book Hooking Up, Tom Wolfe deplores the use of Ritalin (methylphenidate) and other methamphetamines to counteract attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. He does this without pausing to consider the mass of evidence that indicates that some children have a readily correctable--evitable--dopamine imbalance in their brains that gives them a handicap in the self-control department just as surely as myopia does:”

To accept this is to accept the idea that the explosion of ADH diagnoses is ‘scientific” – which in turn ignores scientific evidence we have in abundance about faddish diseases and diagnoses, from the vapors in the Victorian era to Attention deficit disorder in our own. In fact, it is to engage in just the kind of scientism that Larry Laudan attacked in 1981 in a much cited article entitled "A Confutation of Convergent Realism." Laudan shows, in that article, that there are many scientific consenses that we no longer believe as “scientific,” like the caloric theory of heat. The reason we don’t believe them does not have to do with their lack of success, but with their gradual lack of congruence with other parts of the evolving scientific world picture. That Dennett thinks the dopamine hypothesis – the diagnosis of ADH – is as solid as the diagnosis of myopia is a hardcore position that even ADH researchers would probably back away from – and that methabetamines “correct” it the way lenses correct myopia is a truly odd position to take. We can explain the latter – but who has explained the former? The explanations for the success of methabetamines sounds similar to stories about the success of lobotomies, or of shock therapy, of earlier period of science.

So – a little dense criticism there. Sorry. But do read the Dennett article.

Friday, August 27, 2004


LI is cautiously optimistic about the latest developments in Iraq. It has always been our position that:

a. the U.S. occupation is neither motivated by the desire for democracy nor conducive to it;
b. that the insurgents are neither motivated by the desire for democracy nor conducive to it;
c. that the mass of Iraqis are motivated to produce a state that is democratic – has separate legislative, executive and judicial branches, has elections, guarantees certain basic rights.

Our opinion was that the struggle between the U.S. and the insurgents created a command vacuum in which democracy can actually happen – that is, in which the Iraqis can take power into their own hands. However, that struggle could equally stifle Iraqi autonomy. In fact, for the last four or five months, it has looked increasingly like stifling was the name of the game. Obviously, Allawi, the U.S. puppet, looks for his leadership cues to the standard Middle Eastern tyrant model. That he can use U.S. troops to devastate his opponents – as he has done in Najaf – gives him an advantage in Iraq. But that the U.S only cooperates in operations that it finds in its own interest is as definite a constraint as a noose. It is the noose in which Allawi is strangling. Meanwhile, Sadr represents the traditional combination of mafioso and religious leader by which the Iraqi poor have managed to extract a certain grudging level of services from the Iraqi elite. The price for this -- to the poor -- is extremely high. It freezes social arrangements, frees the state from its responsibility to its citizens, and establishes a strata of violent middlemen.

Sistani has ambiguously represented c. Ambiguity is so inscribed into his survival program that he has had a hard time letting it go. But the march from Basra to Najaf shows that he just might be the kind of Iraqi leader we’ve been longing for. At least it shows that he realizes Allawi is on a crash course with the popular will. That Americans think that nightly news showing young Iraqi men being ground into hamburger by American firepower will spontaneously light a fire of admiration for the Yankees in the Iraqi soul is further evidence of the American delusion that Iraq is located in some other part of the world, and inhabited solely by Rotarians and G.O.P. activists.

The NYT’s story about the end of the battle of Najaf drips with the embedded’s melancholic realization that Americans won’t have a chance to kick the maximum amount of ass. And so the war decays, day by day. Here’s how the NYT article ends:

“Since American troops toppled the Hussein government 16 months ago, Ayatollah Sistani has been careful to maintain an equivocal position on American military actions, usually condemning any use of force, by the Americans or the rebels. That left open the possibility that in Najaf, he could distance himself from the Americans by condemning the damage inflicted on the Old City by American bombs and tanks, and even leave Mr. Sadr free to claim that he acted all along to defend the shrine against American attacks.
One of the last American actions before the cease-fire went into effect involved the use of a 2,000-pound, laser-guided bomb to strike a hotel about 130 yards from the shrine's southwest wall, in an area known to American commanders as "motel row."”
The reporters (Filkins and Burns) just loved that last parting shot.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Back in November of 03 – about 500 American, and God knows how many Iraqi deaths ago – it became apparent enough that the occupation was being botched that the ardent pro-war party started throwing around analogies. The one that was particularly beloved was to Germany. Somehow, you don’t hear a lot of comparisons of occupied Germany to occupied Iraq nowadays. Even the rabidly gullible have given that analogy up. At the time (Nov. 13), LI wrote:

There’s a pernicious meme that emerged at the end of the �hostilities� in Iraq. The meme was that occupying Iraq would be much like occupying Germany or Japan at the end of World War II. Now, the elements of the likeness, here, were broadly two: The U.S. invaded another country. The U.S. occupied that country. This is about as far as we could go with that analogy. Not only is this a different country, with a very different history. Not only did the occupation of Germany and Japan take place in the face of the Soviet Union’s own occupation of what became East Germany, and of Eastern Europe. But the U.S. of that time was a much different place, too. It was coming out of a Great Depression and the incredible mounting of a war effort that overshadowed anything the U.S. government had ever done before. Etc.”

Our problem with the analogy was both with the logical form of it – as guides to the future, analogies from the past have to be examined pretty skeptically – and with the content of it – Iraq was like neither Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. We noted that the differences – for instance, in the scale of destruction visited upon Germany and Japan, in contrast to that visited upon Iraq – pretty much vitiated the extrapolations we could make from the former occupations.

We are happy to note that an article in the Summer issue of International Security bears out our point. “Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail,” by David M. Edelstein, presents a study of occupations that begins, well, as if Edelstein were reading LI:
“When Gen. Eric Shinseki, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, testified in February 2003 that an occupation of Iraq would require "something on the order of several hundred thousand troops," officials within George W. Bush's administration promptly disagreed.1 Within two days, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, "It's not logical to me that it would take as many forces following the conflict as it would to win the war"; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz characterized Shinseki's estimate as "wildly off the mark."2 More than a year after the occupation of Iraq began, the debate continues over the requirements and prospects for long-term success.3 History, however, does not bode well for this occupation. Despite the relatively successful military occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II, careful examination indicates that unusual geopolitical circumstances were the keys to success in those two cases, and historically military occupations fail more often than they succeed.”

Edelstein took a data set of twenty four military occupations. These included US occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but also extended to the allied occupation of France in 1815. Edelstein has developed a taxonomy of occupations with which we are not concerned. He scotches the common idea that length alone creates successful occupations – one of Niall Ferguson’s standard arguments. The key grafs are as follows:

“The crux of my argument is that military occupations usually succeed only if they are lengthy, but lengthy occupations elicit nationalist reactions that impede success. Further, lengthy occupation produces anxiety in impatient occupying powers that would rather withdraw than stay. To succeed, therefore, occupiers must both maintain their own interest in a long occupation and convince an occupied population to accept extended control by a foreign power. More often than not, occupiers either fail to achieve those goals, or they achieve them only at a high cost.

Three factors, however, can make a successful occupation possible. The first factor is a recognition by the occupied population of the need for occupation. Thus, occupation is more likely to succeed in societies that have been decimated by war and require help in rebuilding. The second factor is the perception by the occupying power and the occupied population of a common threat to the occupied territory. If the survival of the occupied country is threatened, then the occupying power will want to protect a country that it has already invested resources in and considers geopolitically significant, and the occupied population will value the protection offered to it. The third factor involves credibility. Occupation is likely to generate less opposition when the occupying power makes a credible guarantee that it will withdraw and return control to an indigenous government in a timely manner. When these three conditions are present, occupying powers will face less resistance both in the occupied territory and at home; they will be given more time to accomplish their occupation goals, and, therefore, will be more likely to succeed. Absent these three conditions, occupying powers will face the dilemma of either evacuating prematurely and increasing the probability that later reintervention will be necessary or sustaining the occupation at an unacceptable cost.

My conclusions with regard to the contemporary occupation of Iraq are not sanguine. Whereas war-weary Germans and Japanese recognized the need for an occupation to help them rebuild, a significant portion of the Iraqi people have never welcomed the U.S.-led occupation as necessary. Further, the common analogy between the occupations of Germany and Japan and the occupation of Iraq usually undervalues the central role that the Soviet threat played in allowing those occupations to succeed.”

We don’t imagine the New Crusaders are going to read Edelstein’s piece – they have moved on to other equally dodgy arguments. But for those who are actually concerned about the Iraq war, it really is essential reading.

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While NYC prepares for an occupation, Paris celebrates a liberation. A neat, although somewhat spurious, antithesis. LI is home from NYC, and our impression is that the Republican convention really should have been held, as Tom DeLay suggested, on cruise boats outside of Manhattan. DeLay’s suggestion was prompted, apparently, by his belief that New York City isn’t in America. Also, isn’t the Republican Party about yachting before everything? Alas, it appears that DeLay’s party is locked into various landlubber’s contracts forcing them to celebrate the most incompetent administration since Harding’s in various suspiciously smelly venues physically connected to Satan's lair.

Paris, at the moment, is more concerned with the Liberation that happened in 1944. In the Independent today there is an article about one aspect of the celebration. The French government is encouraging volunteers to dance down the streets of Paris. But not boogey – not that “rocknroll mayonnaise.” Alex Duval Smith was embedded with one group of potential lindyhoppers who were being groomed by a government sponsored dance instructor.

"Five, six, seven, eight..." The counting of my impatient dance teacher, Michael Casajus, is still ringing in my ears. "Girls and boys, I will have none of this rock'n'roll mayonnaise," he shouted as he restarted the Glenn Miller track, hoping desperately for some improvement in our dance steps.The trouble was that Casajus is a professional dancer, hired by the City of Paris to knock the dancing shoes of 1,000 Parisians into shape for the celebrations tomorrow of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the French capital. His pupils, myself included, mostly saw the class at the Gymnase Saint-Merri, opposite the Pompidou Centre, as an opportunity for some free fun courtesy of the French taxpayer.”

I am hoping to hear more from this from LI’s correspondent in Paris, LI’s friend M. The Liberation festival will end in a ball. Here’s another graf from the article:

“The preparations for the Liberation commemorations - which include poetry in the Metro and photographic poster displays in the streets - have successfully brought together Parisians of all ages. The volunteer dancers - who were mainly recruited through adverts in newspapers - are expected to dress in period clothes that they have been encouraged to make - or alter for the occasion - at a sewing workshop in the 4th-arrondissement town hall. There have also been sessions in 1940s hairstyling, and even one called "dying your legs with tea".

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg should have thought about something similar – issuing, for instance, gray or pea green uniforms, with CSA sewed onto them, to commemorate the true spirit of the GOP at the moment – the party of Jeff Davis, Strom Thurmond, and Gone with the Wind. The note should be Richmond, Virginia, circa 1862.