Thursday, March 24, 2011

Libya, Iraq, and Epistemic Due Process

Our discussion of the moral merits of military action in Libya versus Iraq has brought us to the issue of due process. The moral difference between the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and the current attacks in Libya, I have held, does not deny that Saddam Hussein was as bad a person as Miramar Ghadafy.

I have put the difference on whether the attackers followed principles of due process.

So, why is this so important?

Because humans are notorious for blowing past evidence and reason to get to the conclusion that they like. When that conclusion involves the use of violence, we have many and strong reason to put barriers in front of the use of violence that recognizes the most common sources of error – a moral requirement to subject those beliefs to a system of due process.

I have heard a few speak as if this disposition to ignore evidence and reason is a theist fault and that atheists are superior in that they have learned to overcome this failing.

Yet, the more scientific among us recognize that this is absurd. As a matter of fact, much of the progress we have seen in science is grounded on the fact that scientists admit and respect the fact that individual scientists cannot be trusted to be rational or impartial. Because of these human faults, scientific culture is one that DEMANDS that scientists use a type of “scientific due process” in its investigations – specifically to counter these tendencies that afflict all people, including scientists.

Double-blind experiments, control groups, replicatability, peer review, all of these aspects of scientific research can be lumped together under this concept of "scientific due process." All of them recognize and seek to counter the fact that humans - even scientists - are notorious in their tendency to see what they want to see and cherry-pick evidence to support a desired conclusion.

The use of due process has nothing to do with whether a conclusion is true or false. A scientist’s theory may be correct or incorrect regardless of whether it has been subject to scientific due process. Its use has to do with whether moral agents have reason to adopt that proposition. In adopting a belief, has the responsible agent employed those safeguards that, while imperfect, at least reduce the possibility that he has ignored reason and evidence?

This is particularly true when the belief involves the use of violence.

One way to reduce this possibility of self-serving error is to present one's evidence and reasoning to an impartial third party who has no particular reason to accept one proposition to another. Because the jurist does not have a stake in the conclusion, the jurist has less of an irrational tug that would tempt her to ignore reason and evidence. If this impartial third party can be convinced we are right, we may be more confident that our reasoning is sound and our conclusions are actually justified.

The main reason we employ a right to trial by a jury of the people in this country is, again, in recognition that, where the government is a party in a case, a government judge has an inherent conflict of interest.

Now, to return to the difference between the invasion of Iraq and attacks in Libya. I hold that Bush is to be condemned for the invasion of Iraq mostly because of his contempt for the principles and institutions of “due process”.

The Bush Administration found itself incapable of convincing third parties that it had a good case against Saddam Hussein regarding weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it didn't have a good case, as events would soon show.

Instead, it had a will to believe that caused it to twist and distort evidence and reason to support a desired conclusion. Evidence and testimony was examined in the light of the conclusions the administration wanted to believe – or, at least, wanted others to believe. If the evidence supported the desired conclusion, it was deemed trustworthy. If not, it was deemed unreliable.

Yet, third parties saw through this irrationality and lack of evidence. The Bush Administration was not able to convince the United Nations. Procedural due process reached the conclusion, "You do not have a good enough case."

Instead of respecting the moral requirements of procedural due process, the Bush Administration ignored those principles and attacked Iraq anyway. In doing so, they taught the world to hold the doctrines of procedural due process in contempt, and that people and nations may act with violence whenever they are certain in their own gut that they are right.

This is not the only area where the Bush Administration’s arrogant presumption of infallibility caused it to base its evaluation on the evidence on the basis of support for its conclusions. In the area of global warming and other environmental issues, it demanded that scientific papers be rewritten, judging as “sound science” that research that supported desired conclusions and rejecting science as “unsound” on the basis of failing to support desired conclusions.

I have further commented that many members of the Bush Administration as well as the bulk of its most vocal supporters belonged to a culture that demanded this form of epistemic negligence – a culture that took the Bible as literally true, and judged all science and reasoning based on the degree to which it supported their interpretations of scripture.

Which, again, is an attitude towards truth that is virtually certain to bring about death and suffering that can otherwise be avoided where people subject their belief to a more reliable system of “due process”.

4 comments:

Bradley said...

You make some good points, but I would like to add a few of my own.

First, I doubt that the possession of weapons of mass destruction should be seen as a legitimate cause for war.

The second point I would like to make is that although the U.N. Security Council approved of some form of military intervention, they didn't assert that any country had a moral obligation to take military action. We aren't required to participate in every action that the U.N. says is acceptable.

As a third thing I would like to point out is that there is a further constraint on due process that the current administration has ignored along with many other administrations in the recent past. Congress has been given the authority to declare war. When the president ignores this principle, we place the country at greater risk of military involvement that fails to serve the interests of U.S. citizens.

Finally I will give the reasons why I am tentatively opposed to this action. It will place U.S. citizens in danger without contributing to our national security. No matter how well intentioned a military action is, it will always result in death. This death will cause some people to be angry at America. While it is true that many people argue that we should sometimes take risks to help others, I suspect that if that is what we are trying to do there are far more efficient ways of helping people. I don't see the world community expressing a strong preference for military action on the part of the U.S. Perhaps they're on to something.

The Heathen Republican said...

I'm not sure how you can justify describing Bush as having contempt for due process. Are you unaware of the 14 months of working through the U.N. before the 2003 invasion? Or the multiple U.N. resolutions condemning Saddam? Obviously, members were convinced enough to vote for the final resolution authorizing use of force.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Heathen Republican

Obviously, members were convinced enough to vote for the final resolution authorizing use of force.

There is no UN resolution authorizing the use of force in the case of Iraq.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Bradley said...

First, I doubt that the possession of weapons of mass destruction should be seen as a legitimate cause for war.

That is absolutely true. Otherwise, every country in the world is justified in going to war against the United States.


The second point I would like to make is that although the U.N. Security Council approved of some form of military intervention, they didn't assert that any country had a moral obligation to take military action. We aren't required to participate in every action that the U.N. says is acceptable.

True, but irrelevant. I have not argued for an obligation to take military action because the United Nations said it is permitted. I argued for an obligation to protect innocent people - where the due-process requirement for the use of violence has been met through a UN resolution.


As a third thing I would like to point out is that there is a further constraint on due process that the current administration has ignored along with many other administrations in the recent past. Congress has been given the authority to declare war. When the president ignores this principle, we place the country at greater risk of military involvement that fails to serve the interests of U.S. citizens.

Yep. This is another subject I need to address.

One thing at a time.