Sunday, July 30, 2006

Honesty and Intellectual Integrity: Reynolds vs. Marshall

As someone who is always looking for examples of deception and intellectual recklessness, I sought to investigate the story behind the headline "Dishonesty" over at Crooks and Liars. I wanted to know who was being dishonest this time.

The headline concerned an exchange between Glen Reynolds at Instapundit and Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo. Marshall argued that establishing a democracy in Iraq may require inflicting as much harm on the people of Iraq that the allies inflicted on Germany and Japan during World War II. Reynolds responded by saying that Marshall was expressing a "worry that we were not killing enough Iraqis."

I have no interest in this specific dispute between Reynolds and Marshall. I do, however, think that we are suffering as a society – suffering in the sense of people being left sick and dying – because of a lack of respect for truth and intellectual integrity that we could use to help avoid these problems. I wish to make examples of Reynolds and Marshall – Reynolds as an example of a person who is dishonest and insulting, and Marshall as an example of somebody who is intellectually reckless – to illustrate types of behavior we could use a lot less of.

At worst, Reynolds’ comment is a lie. At best, he knowingly bore false witness against Marshall – if there is any difference between that and lying. Either way, Reynolds demonstrated that demonizing Marshall the person was more important to him than honestly presenting and refuting Marshall’s thesis (which I will do for him).

Reynold’s Lie

The phrase, "X worries that P" is typically understood to mean, "X desires that not-P".

If it were the case that I am worried that my neighbor has cancer, this implies that I desire that my neighbor not have cancer. In other words, a person reading such a claim about me would be justified in assuming that my neighbor having cancer would be a state of affairs that would thwart one or more of my desires. If his having cancer would thwart many and/or strong desires desires of mine, the correct phrase to use would be, "Alonzo is terribly worried that his neighbor has cancer."

Let us assume for a moment that I dislike my neighbor. He is an obnoxious person who cranks his stereo up loud late at night, mows his lawn every Saturday at 5:00 am, and keeps a dozen dogs penned up in his back yard. If this were the case, it would not be accurate to say, "Alonzo is worried that his neighbor has cancer." It may be accurate to say, "Alonzo hopes that his neighbor has cancer." This phrase implies that the state of affairs being described (my neighbor has cancer) would be desire-fulfilling, rather than desire-thwarting.

If it were the case that I was indifferent towards the state in which my neighbor has cancer -- I do not care for him and I do not care about him -- then it would not be appropriate to use any value-laden (desire-inferring) phrase in describing my state. Only belief-state claims are appropriate. These would be claims like, "Alonzo suspects that his neighbor has cancer," or "Alonzo understands that his neighbor has cancer."

Reynolds used the phrase, "worries that P" as in “worries that we are not killing enough Iraqis”. In doing this he was knowingly (and perhaps intentionally) implying – and inviting his readers to imply that Marshall had a mental state of "desires that not-P" (desires that we kill more Iraqis). If true, this would make Marshall a moral monster. Of course, this is what Reynolds wanted – to “bear false witness” against Marshall as a moral monster.

Reynolds claims that he has proof of this and cites an article that Marshall wrote. He claims that this is a plain interpretation of Marshall's text. We must look at Marshall's article to discover if this is true.

So, we go to Marshall's article in which he looked at the popular comparisons between the Allied successes in building a democratic state in West Germany and Japan after World War II, and the quest to build a pro-American democratic state in Iraq after Persian Gulf War II. Reynolds suggested that a nation-building project might not succeed because the pounding that we would give to Iraq was not severe enough to generate the type of social pliability that Germany and Japan had.

Reynolds cast this as "a worry that we have not killed enough Iraqis." However, Marshall stated repeatedly that he hopes that we do not go on a mission to kill more Iraqis. I do not see any reason to doubt that Marshall was interested in making it the case that we kill no Iraqis and that we leave the situation alone -- so that we can avoid making a bad situation much worse.

The only way to interpret Marshall’s comment as a wish to kill and maim so many Iraqis is if we included the assumption that Marshall wished for us to invade Iraq and attempt to change its government – in which case he would have to wish for these death as a means to that end. However, since Marshall did not desire the end of war with Iraq, it is a lie to represent him as somebody who desired the means to that end.

Marshall’s Intellectual Recklessness

There is room to fault Marhall's article. It provides a good instance of intellectual recklessness. Marshall's wrongdoing is compounded by the fact that he has a PhD in History and, as such, should have a better understanding and appreciation of the types of evidence required to try to derive some sort of historical law.

Marshall's argument basically looks at two and only two instances in history -- Germany and Japan in World War II. From them he seeks to derive a historical law (pummeling a nation into submission is a necessary prerequisite to establishing a pro-Western democratic state), and from this he seeks to make a prediction (that the Bush Administration will fail to establish a pro-Western Democracy in Iraq). The fact is, based on this type of evidence, even if Marshall could claim to be right, this no more proves his point than an astrologer's correct prediction proves the validity of astrology. Whether his conclusion was right or wrong, he clearly lacked the evidence to back up his thesis.

There is an almost inexhaustible list of alternative explanations for the success of remaking Japanese and German society.

In Japan, for example, their God surrendered to us. The Japanese emperor was like a deity to them -- a deity who got onto the radio and said, "We are going to submit to the Allies." I suspect that the situation in Iraq would be substantially different if we could find Allah and get him to say, "I, Allah, command all of those who worship me to surrender to the Americans and to accept their rule over us."

In Germany, for example, the German people had to deal with the Holocaust. During the war most of the German people did not celebrate the Holocaust. They denied its existence until the Allied made it impossible for them to do so any more. We were capable of shaming the entire nation because the entire nation served as an accomplice to a horrendous moral crime. Perhaps things would be different in Iraq if we could shame the Iraqi people. (Given their behavior in recent years, this might even be possible, if they had any type of moral conscience remaining.)

More importantly, why did Marshal only look at Germany and Japan?

Marshal used a contrivance to limit the data for his thesis to these two data points. In the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, many conservatives used Germany and Japan as their examples of how it is possible to convert a totalitarian government into a peaceful pro-American democracy. These countries also served as an example of the benefits that America might expect from taking on this project. Marshal, in responding to this argument, ended up focusing on the examples without looking at the broader argument behind them.

Using these two examples as his only data points, Marshal reached the conclusion that the project, “…may require a mauling of the civilian population that we are rightly unwilling to undertake.”

May require?

Based on only two data points?

Come, now. Can we not think of examples of states that adopted democratic institutions without having their civilian populations mauled in this way? America itself is an example. The only thing that England needed to do to inspire us to throw off monarchy in favor of democracy was levy a few taxes and other restrictions – all of which were far short of “mauling the civilian population.” Many of the European monarchies fell without such a mauling. We can include in our examples the fall of the former Soviet Union, the liberation of Eastern Europe, and Hong Kong. Apparently, even China is heading in that direction.

These examples give some evidence for an alternative thesis – that people are born with a natural love of freedom that they will pursue whenever the impediments of freedom can be removed.

Marshall attempted to encounter this by saying, “If we look at only two of the dozens of cases that support this thesis and forget about all the rest, then there may be another explanation for these events. That explanation says that we should expect to be able to establish democracy in Iraq only if we bomb the population into oblivion.”

This argument is as valid as saying, “If we look at the stock market from 2001 through 2003, we can draw the conclusion that it may be the case that the stock market can only go down, and those who invest in stocks in any year are destined for poverty.” Or, to use another example, it is like saying, “global temperatures went down from 1940 to 1970; therefore global warming theory is a hoax.”

It turns out that those who argued that people of Iraq will be naturally fond of freedom, will welcome us as liberators and cheerfully set up a free and democratic society were, in fact, mistaken. They neglected centuries of history that included 9/11 that said that people are naturally disposed to kill each other over religious differences and to enslave themselves to any person who claims to speak with the voice of God.

However, Marshall did not confront them on this issue. Marshall used a different argument – one that involved cherry-picking the data based on a contrivance to extrapolate a conclusion that had almost no external validity so that he could dream up an unfounded and unsupported criticism of the war against Iraq.

For purposes of this blog entry, that is the issue that is important. We have, in this dispute, two combatants, neither of which are worthy of support. One is a lying hate-monger who seeks to impugn Marshall's character by bearing false witness against him rather than confront Marshall's claim with intellectual integrity and honesty. The other is intellectually reckless in that he does not seem to care if there is any actual evidence for his conclusion – contrived evidence works just fine.

I would like to see people try for something better. I would also like to see readers demand something better from those who they read. A dose of public pressure for arguments of higher quality could not help but make this a better society for everybody.

2 comments:

Austin Cline said...

In Germany, for example, the German people had to deal with the Holocaust. During the war most of the German people did not celebrate the Holocaust. They denied its existence until the Allied made it impossible for them to do so any more. We were capable of shaming the entire nation because the entire nation served as an accomplice to a horrendous moral crime.

I think you may be over-estimating the degree of guilt people felt early on. In Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, edited by Robert P. Ericksen, Susannah Heschel, the editors write:

In the first years after the war, German churches were unable to muster even a strong condemnation of the murder of the Jews, much less an expression of responsibility for its horrors. ... Even a generally admired figure such as Theophil Wurm, Bishop of W├╝rttemberg, illustrates the problem. In a January 1949 letter to lay church members meeting at Darmstadt to formulate a declaration about the Holocaust, he wrote: “Can anyone in Germany speak about the Jewish question without mentioning how Jewish literature sinned against the German people through its mockery of all that is holy, since the days of Heinrich Heine? Or of the suffering endured in numerous regions by German farmers at the hands of Jewish money-lenders? And if one wants today to speak out against antisemitism, can one remain silent on the misfortune caused by the Occupying Forces, who have given power to emigre Jews, so that they might give expression to their understandable feelings of rage?” Not surprisingly, given the tone of Wurm’s advice, the Darmstadt Declaration ultimately blamed the Holocaust on the Jews’ refusal to become Christians. [more here]

Austin Cline said...

Marshall's argument basically looks at two and only two instances in history -- Germany and Japan in World War II.

If those who argued that America could build a democracy in Iraq did so on the basis of exactly those examples (and I'm pretty sure they did), isn't it reasonable for Marshall to use those same examples in a counter-argument? Marashall writes "The debate over whether this is feasible has focused mainly on America’s successful efforts to rebuild Japan and Germany after World War II." The emphasis is added by me: I think he's referencing the terms of debate already established by others. You can fairly argue that he could make a better argument by extending the terms of debate, but I'm not sure that it's fair to call it "intellectually reckless" to stick with them or that you can accuse him of "cherry picking" data when he's only use the data "cherry picked" by those he's arguing against.

From them he seeks to derive a historical law (pummeling a nation into submission is a necessary prerequisite to establishing a pro-Western democratic state)...

If I'm right and he is simply making a closer examination of the examples used by pro-occupation pundits, then I think that this criticism is wrong. He's not describing a historical law, but describing how much more complicated things are than the pro-occupation pundits have portrayed things. Granted, things might be even more complicated than he describes, but he only needs to show that they are too complicated for the arguments thus far made.

Can we not think of examples of states that adopted democratic institutions without having their civilian populations mauled in this way?

Sure, but since we are seeking analogies then we should seek the closest analogies possible. This would, at a bare minimum, require a non-democratic state (dictatorial, authoritarian) with few or no democratic traditions that is invaded by a democratic state and transformed into a democracy. It need not be America that does the invading, though that would help the analogy. A democracy arising out of a non-democracy on the basis of internal forces and political movements that desire democracy strike me as much too different to base a comparison upon. Of course, if there had been a strong pro-democracy movement in Iraq and then America invaded to support it, such comparisons would work a bit better.