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December 28, 2004


Don Herzog: December 28, 2004

That one, too, killed tens of thousands.  That one, too, featured tsunamis that flabbergasted eyewitnesses.  But the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is now remembered mostly for sparking a debate between the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire on providence and theology.  Voltaire, bless him, found it impossible to believe this was the best of all possible worlds.

Today, we turn to seismologists, not philosophers, to illuminate the earthquake:  no one who writes for this blog is fielding any calls from The New York Times, thank you very much.  And that is a happy sign of progress.

But we do mix together scientific and political perspectives.  We don't think of an earthquake as a trial and tribulation sent by God or nature before which we can only repent for our sins or cower.  Instead, as Amartya Sen did in his pathbreaking work on famine, we ask what could and should have been handled differently, what background policies made the natural events go the way they did.  It's heartbreaking to learn, for instance, that Western scientists with advance warning couldn't alert regional governments because "it's hard to find contact information."  It's heartbreaking to think of the mix of poverty, infrastructure, communications, and the like that means that thousands more will now die of the likes of cholera.

I want to suggest that we can take up both "scientific" and "political," or "explanatory" and "critical," perspectives on all kinds of social problems, too.  (And no, I don't say this because I'm languishing by my phone waiting for that damned Times reporter to call.)  Consider teen pregnancy, urban violence, rapes, drug use and deaths from drug overdoses....  "The left" often takes up explanatory perspectives.  So for instance the proposal that we think of school shootings and other gun killings as a public health problem.  "The right" often insists on responsibility, blame, reward, punishment, and derides "the left" as spineless wimps, while "the left" cheerfully reciprocates by marveling at how callous "the right" is about the unfortunate circumstances that produce social pathologies.

But these aren't rival perspectives, at least not in any wholesale way.  They're compatible.  Think of Tony Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."  We can punish terrorists and we can think about how to reform the social contexts that produce terrorists.  There's nothing paradoxical about smashing al-Qaeda and moving against the unholy alliance of repressive Arab governments, madrassas vigorously promoting fundamentalism and violence, and so on.

Why do we act as if we have to choose one or the other?  It may sound goofy, but I suspect it's all about gender.  "The right" has a pose that is tough-minded, macho, masculine, and "the left" has one readily derided as feminine, even effeminate.  Snort at the conjecture all you like; snort at me for offering it, too, if you like beating up on academics doing armchair political psychology.  But next time you find yourself presented with what's supposed to be an either/or choice, do me a favor and think again.  One of the deep structural conflicts between left and right is just a mirage.  Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean:  a recipe for turning any roast into a happy dinner.


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» Perspective from Kalblog
Don Herzog makes the mistake of summing things up less than a week after they happened: That one, too, killed tens of thousands. That one, too, featured tsunamis that flabbergasted eyewitnesses. But the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is now remembered... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 31, 2004 4:00:28 PM

» Charity from Kalblog
One thing to remember, before condemning how much is being spent on Bush's Inaugural versus on disaster relief, is that a lot of the people working for his inaugural are people who worked on his campaign for months, and who... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 1, 2005 3:32:01 PM

» Tsunami continued from Kesher Talk
Tsunami continued. I've been adding links to the tsunami entry, especially items that may not have received wide coverage. When confronted with a savage destruction of human life - natural or manmade - Jews tend to reach for the imagery... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 4, 2005 8:42:59 PM

» Tsunami continued from Kesher Talk
Tsunami continued. I've been adding links to the tsunami entry, especially items that may not have received wide coverage. When confronted with a savage destruction of human life - natural or manmade - Jews tend to reach for the imagery... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 8, 2005 12:10:56 PM

» Tsunami continued from Kesher Talk
I've been adding links to the tsunami entry, especially items that may not have received wide coverage. When confronted with a savage destruction of human life - natural or manmade - Jews tend to reach for the imagery and... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 16, 2005 11:47:20 PM


Posted by: Michael

At the root of what Professor Herzog characterizes as a false punishment/reform dichotomy is a debate about free will and responsibility. This is the central issue for both left and right. While it is true that there is nothing paradoxical about simultaneously punishing criminals and seeking to reform the conditions that created them, by blaming the social conditions rather than the individual we lessen the individual's responsibility and would reasonably become less eager to punish him or her. Would we be as eager to take military force against terrorists if we were to discover that American foreign policy was responsible for their creation? I think most people recognize a direct moral correlation between responsibility and punishment. We do not punish those who are not responsible for their actions, such as the mentally ill. Determining responsibility is what the debate is about, not "gender." This is why the "scientific" and "political" perspectives are at odds.

Posted by: Michael | Dec 28, 2004 10:50:09 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Two thoughts. 1/There is no fixed amount of responsibility to share out in response to any wrong. In the Murder on the Orient Express case, we don't give the 30 passengers, say, who jointly commit the murder each 1/30 of what one murderer would get. And 2/we can think about reforming social contexts without ever tiptoeing toward "blaming" them.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Dec 28, 2004 11:33:28 PM

Posted by: Richard

There's a difference between explaining and excusing. If we understand why someone acted as they did, that doesn't make them any less responsible. It just makes us less ignorant and so better equipped to improve things for the future.

Posted by: Richard | Dec 29, 2004 12:05:32 AM

Posted by: Adrian

The worry that by studying causes we become too reluctant to punish may be psychologically accurate (even if it's based on confusion between explanation and blame--that confusion can happen on both sides). If so, it is not a reason for deliberate ignorance about causes, but a trap to beware as we try to become less ignorant about causes.

Posted by: Adrian | Dec 29, 2004 3:06:36 AM

Posted by: David Velleman

The philosophical problem of free will really isn't relevant here. We can believe (a) that people are free to choose how to respond to their circumstances, while also believing (b) that the responses they choose are influenced by the circumstances. Faced with injustice and oppression, some people turn to crime and terrorism, others to non-violent resistance and political action. The people who choose the former response are guilty of crimes and should be punished, precisely because they could and should have chosen the latter. (Or so we are entitled to assume, holding the metaphysical problem of freewill in abeyance for practical purposes.) But the fact remains that the people who wrongly choose the path of terrorism in response to injustice and oppression would have had no occasion to do so if there had been no injustice and oppression to begin with.

When we punish people, we are not assuming that they committed their crimes out of the blue, for no reason whatsoever. On the contrary, if we thought that terrorists planted bombs inexplicably, for no reason at all, we would have to regard their behavior as some sort of tic or spasm, for which they really wouldn't be responsible, after all. We hold them responsible because we think that, in planting their bombs, they were acting as human agents -- which means, they were acting for reasons. What we think, however, is that they were acting for very bad reasons, reasons that didn't really justify their actions, reasons that they were wrong to regard as justifying them.

But then we can ask ourselves whether we can avoid giving people bad reasons for committing crimes. To say that there are typical reasons for which people commit crimes is not to say that there are typical good reasons; it's to say that there are typical bad reasons -- typical moral errors that people make. (If most moral errors weren't typical, we couldn't reasonably expect people to learn not to commit them.) People are fully responsible for their moral errors, and the fact that circumstances provided the conditions for making those errors does not absolve or excuse them. But surely we care, not only about people's responsibility for their actions, but also about the beneficial or harmful consequences of those actions. And if we want to minimize the harmful consequences of crimes, then we should try to avoid giving people (bad) reasons for committing them.

Don has been very circumspect about applying his point to current events. I would be more blunt. I would say that widespread failure to appreciate the point that Don is making in this post has caused the United States to respond to the 9/11 attack in ways that are disastrously misguided. Of course we were right to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, holding them responsible for their crimes. But we have taken other actions that merely compounded the bad reasons for which people like the 9/11 terrorists commit those crimes. And pointing out that these reasons are bad reasons really doesn't alter the fact that people are going to act on them -- wrongly, culpably, but nevertheless with deadly consequences for us. To say that we should avoid giving them bad reasons to attack us is not to excuse them for doing so. It's just plain, commonsensical prudence.

Posted by: David Velleman | Dec 29, 2004 9:53:58 AM

Posted by: JeffS

Why is this issue a Left-Right question? At bottom, this seems like a pure tactical dispute: would terror be more likely reduced if we (also!) reduced the bad reasons terrorists use for justification? Such a question could be answered by getting the strategists together, doing the calculations, and keeping the ideologues at bay.

Importantly, on that point, the fight-the-causes side fails to see that the other tactical view, the hell-with-causes view, if you will, is equally grounded in tactical/strategic considerations. That camp claims that adjusting policy to accommodate the reasons terrorists give is just plain bad behavior modification – rewarding, and by implication, encouraging, terrorism. They, too, would address the root causes, but perhaps more in the form of encouraging dialogue, bolstering moderates and trying to reduce the bad education that helps form the bad reasons for terrorism. To be sure, there are also moral considerations that could overlap with tactical ones (let’s not justify terrorists; vs. let’s not be the imperialists they have a right to resist, etc.). But because neither tactical option presupposes any moral view at all, why should one be associated with the Left and one the Right? (Does the fact that we can predict one’s tactical view on the basis of ideology say anything about credibility, or rationalization?)

Posted by: JeffS | Dec 29, 2004 10:49:13 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

It is one thing to say that we should not give terrorists bad reasons to attack us, quite another to say that our reasonable desire not to give them such bad reasons should prevent us from any particular course of action. We might have to recognize that the best course of action will nonetheless give them more bad reasons, just as we might have to recognize that the best course of action might nonetheless lead to a far from ideal result. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about whether the U.S. has, in general, acted properly in response to 9/11. Reasonable people might also do well to suspend judgment under the reasonable supposition that it is too early to tell whether the results will justify that course of action.

Having said that, no, there is no inherent conflict between assigning responsibility for immoral behavior and addressing the context and conditions which provide those bad reasons and taking appropriate steps to eliminate or reduce them. But the devil’s in the details, and what will seem obviously appropriate from the left may seem wildly inappropriate to the right. Where there is common ground, however, there should be no reason to reject it, least of all the Venus & Mars divide Mr. Velleman conjectures.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 29, 2004 11:59:23 AM

Posted by: noah

I believe that Gen. Pershing gave the Islamic terrorists in the Phillipines a horrific lesson and had no further problems.
Because our "evolving standards of decency" such a response is inconceivable now (so much for our "evil").

Posted by: noah | Dec 29, 2004 12:28:46 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

This is off from the philosophical point, but given "earthquakes" as the title of the post, just thought I'd point out that Amazon has an amazingly convenient way to donate to the American Red Cross for Tsunami Relief.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Dec 29, 2004 2:11:22 PM

Posted by: buck turgidson

The notion of "progress" is problematic. For most people it has nothing but positive connotations, but for me is not positive but positivist. That we turn to seismologists (apparently, belatedly) in cases of disasters, such as this one, rather than to philosophers is learned behavior--in the past, philosophers have failed to provide adequate support and explanation to reduce the possibility of such disasters, so we found someone else to give us comfort. Whether this is progress or not is a question of interpretation--the Pavlovian response is not always benefitial in the long run, so if "progress" is to be associated with positive outcomes only, learned behavior does not always lead to progress. If however, we take the positivist notion of progress as inextricable from the passage of time, we have to admit that progress can lead us astray.

However, I find the premise of the post--from both the realistic and pragmatic perspectives--unfounded. "We" appears to refer to "all human beings" or some reasonable facsimile thereof. The reality is far from it. "We" who turn to seismologists for explanations is actually a minority. The vast swamp of human existence may be sympathetic to the problem and even pay lip service to the "scientific" explanations, but, ultimately, they care little and learn little. The majority of the remainded does feel a need for a philosophical blame to assign to someone and more than a few turn to religion for explanation. Those who rely on the scientistic (not scientific) explanations of such events may still hold some vestiges of philosophical demands for blame rather than explanation.

Academic often live in isolation. They believe that they've found answers to what troubles them and scorn those outside their community for failing to heed their warnings. That is a normal course of events. However, academics can also be scorned for failing to comprehend the mindset of those outside the village--not a particularly different habit from those inhabiting other villages, real and virtual. In this case, the assumption that people do not turn to "philosophers" for explanation is completely unwarranted. And don't forget that George W Bush's "favorite philosopher" is Jesus.

Scanning the radio dial some time in the last couple of days (yesterday, I think), I accidentally tuned into the Michael Savage show. Savage is a coward and an idiot, but, mercifully, he's on vacation. The person covering for him, whose name escapes me, essentially posed the question concerning religious explanation for the cataclysmic events, such as the one that has just wiped out close to 100000 lives. Now, I know the audience of the show is skewed to begin with, but, more to the point, the audience is not of the kind that the posters on this blog would be exposed to on everyday basis. The host was actually quite hostile to the divine providence view of the event. Still, the number of callers trying to offer different versions of the tsunami being God's punishment was staggering. The explanation ranged from "infidels" (not the actual term used, but certainly matching the dictionary definition) to stupidity. Of course, had stupidity been a cause for natural disasters, most of the Bible Belt would have been a towering inferno a long time ago. The showed aired at about the same time that the estimate that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all the victims might have been children was broadcast, so at least some of the views expressed by the callers might have changed after learning this. However, the message was quite clear--the Dark Ages never left. Ignorance still rules the world, even in the most advanced, industrialized and (self-professed) civilized societies.

Posted by: buck turgidson | Dec 29, 2004 3:45:16 PM

Posted by: John Fischer

Because we are spending such an extraordinary amount of money in Iraq (for, in my view, at best highly questionable and dubious reasons), we are less flexible and able to help in a tragedy such as the tsunamis. What are we spending (have we spent) in Iraq? 200 billion dollars? Three hundred? What have we (thus far) pledged to help the victims of the tsunamis? 35 million. Of course, that will grow, but it is just another example of how the war in Iraq is draining our resources and making us less able to help in ways in which we should help. That is not to say that we don't have the resources to help, even given the Iraq war. But expenditures of money and other important resources, including human resources, in Iraq does have its opportunity costs.

I resist the temptation to plunge into the free will debates, fascinating as they are!!

Posted by: John Fischer | Dec 29, 2004 4:31:06 PM

Posted by: Achillea

Because we are spending such an extraordinary amount of money in Iraq (for, in my view, at best highly questionable and dubious reasons), we are less flexible and able to help in a tragedy such as the tsunamis.

There are scores of relief efforts all over the globe that we could pour billions of dollars into and aren't doing so. Many of them (and others just as 'worthy') existed before we liberated Iraq, and we weren't doing so then, either, or not throwing as much money at them as 'we could.' The hard fact of the matter is that there have always been disasters, be they natural or man-made, the relief for which will call upon however much of the national budget as we choose to apply, with more disasters left over. That will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

The difference between the money going into Iraq and that going to the tsunami-devastated region is that the former is proactive and the latter reactive. Food, water, medicine, certainly these are things needed and wonderful, but they're ameliorating the symptoms, not addressing the cause -- which brings this back to the thrust of Mr. (Professor?) Herzog's post, just with different analogies.

Ironically, in the case of Iraq (since you brought it up), it's the right which sought to identify and address the root causes of some undesirable situations -- the devastation of the Iraq marshes, the genocidal slaughter of the Kurds, the stimulation of Palestinian terrorism, the actuality or potential of WMDs in the hands of a Very Bad Person, etc. Arguments can be made for and against that identification and/or methods used to prevent more of the same, but this discussion is one of perspectives. By contrast, the left seemed chiefly devoted to dealing with the effects ('containment' being a word invoked a great deal, along with 'sanctions'). (Note -- I'm not saying the left was indifferent to the suffering involved in the original situation, or the right to that involved in changing it.)

To sum up -- a stitch in time saves nine (but then you never know what the nine would have cost). It would have been a better allotment of financial resources to have sent X dollars for a tsunami detection/warning system five years ago rather than X*Y dollars now to deal with the damage. But, if we had, no doubt there would be someone complaining at the time that because we spent those X dollars countering an 'unproven' and/or 'non-imminent' threat we didn't have the cash on hand to relieve the effects of whatever disaster happened on the previous Tuesday.

Posted by: Achillea | Dec 29, 2004 7:53:38 PM

Posted by: John Fischer

By "the root causes of some undesirable sitatuions," do you mean: "the reasons why our oil companies are not making as much as they could, or that Halliburton is not making as much as they could, or..."??

Here is the "Achillean Heel" of your argument: I actually gave only a brief post, not wishing to develop things in detail. Obviously, it would now be desirable to have enough resources to put in place reconstruction efforts and institutions that would not simply ameliorate the immediate problems, but address the longer-term problems of development and safety in that whole region. Surely, THIS would be not only the morally right thing to do, but would be in OUR long-term best interests. This in stark contrast to the money-pit that "the Right" has constructed in Iraq. (And, by the way, I would rather use the term, "Neo-Cons," as many on the Right, e.g., Pat Buchanan, are not thrilled with our expenditure of billions and billions in Iraq.)

Posted by: John Fischer | Dec 29, 2004 8:38:26 PM

Posted by: Terrier

I would point out that the person who brought up the "responsibility" issue was actually playing into Don Herzog's point about it being a gender issue. Males want to see black and white solutions and seek answers to problems and women just want to talk about a problem so they will feel better - this may be the only thing I've learned from my almost 20 years of marriage but it helps keep me out of the doghouse.

I have to laugh when I hear talk of "responsibility" because invariably the people who bring it up don't want to actually accept any themselves - they just want to see it handed out to those they think deserve it. In my religion repsonsibilty is so important that it is actually taught that everything (every single thing) that happens to you is your responsibility. Get hit by a train? Don't stand in the way. Get stabbed by a mugger? Don't be there to be stabbed or if you are - make something good come from it.

To me, that is the next step we need to take. Instead of blame or reasoning - lets deal with our problems completely. W. H. Auden once said, and I paraphrase, "The only problem left is bigotry (not liking someone for reasons other than their actions,) everything else can be solved by a slide rule."

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 30, 2004 11:07:03 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Apropos of Mr. Herzog’s approving quote of Tony Blair, it might give some of the lefties pause to know that Ann Coulter recently stated she “would campaign for Blair for U.S. president.” It seems that, even without Bill Clinton, politics makes strange bedfellows.

Whimsy aside, I want to address Mr. Herzog’s gender dichotomy (which I earlier incorrectly attributed to Mr. Velleman.) He states, and I agree, that it is a false dichotomy; but he seems to be suggesting this is a problem for and about the right: that the right, intentionally or not, caricatures itself and the left in respectively approvingly masculine and disparagingly feminine terms. I suppose Schwarzenegger’s “girly-man” quip would be Exhibit #1.

There is truth to this; truth also to the counter-charge that the left too often tosses off disparaging terms like “macho” and “insensitive” to be beyond reproach here. Even so, claiming that “it’s all about gender” seems to me quite a reach and this may be more of a problem for and about the left than the right.

For one thing, voting patterns are not overwhelmingly skewed by gender. For example, well over 40% of all voting women voted for Bush in 2004, if I recall correctly. One might argue that, ceteris paribus, they preferred his particular ‘masculine’ image, policies, and such over Kerry’s comparatively ‘feminine’ image, etc.; but certainly not that they see themselves in general as preferring the masculine to the feminine perspective, even in matters of elective politics. If anything, I think a more accurate appraisal is that large numbers of women together with a majority of men came to believe that the left has moved too far in its embrace of the virtues of the ‘feminine’ perspective and have voted against it accordingly.

Here’s my point. Politics is reactive. If one party moves too far a field from the views and beliefs of the electorate, its opposition will capitalize on that vulnerability. Most voters appreciate, in varying degrees, both the ‘feminine’ and the ‘masculine’ perspective, and to that extent Mr. Herzog’s observation is on the money. But the leftward (‘feminine’?) shift in the Democratic Party since the 1960s and the concomitant rise in power of the Republican Party suggest that it is the left, not the right, that needs to work harder to renounce the false dichotomy and reaffirm some of those ‘masculine’ values.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 30, 2004 12:47:25 PM

Posted by: Terrier

D.A. Ridgely: normally, I can make out what you mean - your last post was perplexing to me. Herzog was wondering whether we could be adults and go beyond these gender-defined stances and your post seems (if it makes any sense at all - and I'm sure you will correct me) to be saying that now that the "he-man woman-haters club" is ascendant liberals should adopt that stance if they want to be taken seriously. Which on the face of it is ridiculous AND completely misses the point Don Herzog was trying to make, which is (as I read it) that we ALL need to be OPEN to SOLUTIONS and not obsessed with POSES. Strike all the he-man poses you want to, the house is still burning.

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 30, 2004 2:58:05 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely


If all Mr. Herzog said was that people should be reasonable, it would be unreasonable to disagree. (You will note that in an earlier post I agreed that both sides should cooperate wherever they find common ground.)

He also offered a conjecture about gender with which I agreed in part and disagreed in part. I didn’t say the “he-man woman-haters club” is ascendant; you did. I said the Republican Party had risen in power and argued that it had managed to do so in part because the public perceived that the Democratic Party had gone too far in denying whatever good qualities are encompassed by the ‘masculine’ side of the gender dichotomy, whether it is a false dichotomy or not. I therefore suggested that perhaps posing (theirs, yours or mine) is not so much the problem as is the failure of the left to recognize why it is that such posing, if that is what it is, seems to work better for the right than for the left.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 30, 2004 4:19:29 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

My thanks, kind of, if I'm feeling spinelessly generous, to D.A. Ridgely for getting me to hunt down the Ann Coulter column endorsing Blair. The same column includes this charmer: "Liberals are clueless, amoral sexual degenerates, communists and pacifists...." Oh, and a plug to buy this.

I'd like to think she's just laughing all the way to the bank, but it's always hard to be sure in these matters.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Dec 30, 2004 4:25:49 PM

Posted by: Terrier

D.A. Ridgely: went right by me that all you were commenting on was the success or failure of a political strategy and not the actual argument that Don Herzog was making.

As for Coulter - someone somewhere around here said they thought this blog was a failure because droves of liberals were not here denouncing Michael Moore and I must confess that I have never been personally satisfied by this blog either because I have not noticed gaggles of conservatives and libertarians here obsequiously denouncing Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 30, 2004 5:55:49 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Herzog:

My pleasure. Think of it as encouragement to do more opposition research! And besides, what's wrong with the Ann Coulter action figure doll? They make great holiday stocking stuffers!


So what should I do? Honk my disapproval of Coulter? Okay: HONK! She can be funny, though. So can Moore. It's hard to take anyone seriously who takes either of them seriously. Alas, it takes all kinds.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 30, 2004 7:49:25 PM

Posted by: Steven Horwitz

Why should libertarians have to "disown" Ann Coulter? She's not "one of us" - not even an extreme version. Conservatives might have to have their Sister Souljah moment with mean old Ann, but why libertarians? Find me one libertarian bone in her conservative body, then we'll talk.

Oh yeah, for the record, she's neither smart nor funny in my book. She and Michael Moore (and Bill O'Reilly for you populist-centrist types) can all disappear from sight as far as I'm concerned.

And further for the record, there are self-proclaimed libertarians/classical liberal extremists who I would, and have, gladly "denounce," but I'm not giving them any more publicity than they already have at the moment.

God I hate being lumped with conservatives, especially Coulter.

Posted by: Steven Horwitz | Dec 30, 2004 8:31:00 PM

Posted by: frankly0

The post misses a very important point: which side, the left or the right, is more willing to look at facts instead of gut reactions or speculation in order to solve problems?

Even granting the old cliche that the Dems are the Mommy Party and the Reps are the Daddy Party, and that each has a tendency to err in predictable directions, there remains the question of who, in the end, is more willing to take into account countervailing evidence as it arises.

I'm afraid that the Daddy Party is like the stereotype guy who refuses to ask for directions when he's completely lost.

It's hard otherwise to explain the stubborn commitment to the rightness of a war that appears to every sane person to be a tragedy or a fiasco. It's hard otherwise to understand the remarkable statement by senior Bush advisors that they do not think of themselves as being reality-based, or interested in analysis of situations. It's hard otherwise to account for the extraoridinary number of Bush supporters who believe factually wrong things about Iraq, such as that WMD really were found in Iraq.

Aren't all of these people just guys who don't know where the hell they are, but think that just by continuing to blunder around they're going to figure something out?

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 30, 2004 10:10:36 PM

Posted by: Terrier

Steven Horwitz - I apologize for implying that you are a conservative. Does that mean you guys will wise up and stop running with the imperialist dog pack? Most lackeys of that pack that I know say to me at least once, "you have a lot of libertarian ideas - so why do you call yourself a liberal?" I always reply that I know what a libertarian is and they only think they are libertarian. They all give lip-service to that lip-service but they are all just lap dogs sucking the public spout - Radical Republics.

D.A. Ridgely - can you really compare Moore and Coulter? I'll admit to laughing with Moore without the least bit of concern over whether he was lying through his teeth or not but at least he was telling me an entertaining story - Coulter is nothing but vitriol with nary a speck of wit. So, if it makes anyone sleep better I denounce the lies of Michael Moore (whatever they were or will be) though they pale in comparison to the SERIOUS (the kind that result in death) lies of the current administration.

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 31, 2004 9:45:24 AM

Posted by: Steve Horwitz


What makes you think *I* run with the "imperialist dog pack?" I've never voted Republican in my life. I oppose the War in Iraq. I opposed the Gulf War. I don't believe in "nation building." I'm pro same-sex marriage. I'm pro-choice. I'm as hard-core on the First Amendment as you'll find. I even think it's better to say "Happy Holidays" than "Merry Christmas!"

And which public spout is it that I'm sucking? I teach at a private university. Everything you seem to think you know about libertarians doesn't seem to apply to me, and I've been one for 25 years. Which one of us do you think is likely mistaken?

Finally, I prefer to be called a liberal than a conservative. As Don Herzog pointed out in an earlier post on L2R: a conversation between libertarians and liberals would be much more interesting than one between liberals and conservatives. I like to think of myself as a liberal who believes that markets, and the more unhampered the better, and civil society do a better job serving liberal ends than does the state.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Dec 31, 2004 3:59:03 PM

Posted by: Terrier

Steven Horwitz - if you'll note from the text of my post I was speaking of those who call themselves libertarian but who are actually Radical Republics. If you are an actual libertarian I was not referring to you. I can well understand that a true libertarian could never support the current administration.

Posted by: Terrier | Dec 31, 2004 4:30:26 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

Um, er, my dear Steve, I think what I said is that liberals and libertarians have a family disagreement, unlike liberals and conservatives.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Dec 31, 2004 4:57:49 PM

Posted by: mynym

"It may sound goofy, but I suspect it's all about gender. "The right" has a pose that is tough-minded, macho, masculine, and "the left" has one readily derided as feminine, even effeminate."

Hey, that which has the power to create human life has always seemed a good starting place in trying to understanding it.

I've said this in various ways before. You can assemble some evidence for it. A few things, Leftists want their mommy Nature, the Right likes father God. The Left has an urge to merge, the Right wants separation. In America, there is the indiscriminate decadence of the Left, vs. principled discrimination of the Right. The Left focuses on the existential/immanent, the Right on the essential/transcendent. The Left hates the soldier and a masculine ethos there. Guns, well with those a man provides for and protects his family. The Left will hate them and begin to treat the animate like the inaminate and vice versa in irrational ways. Guns are more like a symbol to them.

And so on and on....the handedness that makes for the terms is also interesting. The Left will blur the lines and the words to paint a picture, the Right will draw the line. For art, like morality, consists of drawing the lines. But the Leftist is more the bohemian artist. They seldom actually know what they are talking about but they can paint you a picture of it.

"Since childhood, I have been enchanted by the fact and the symbolism of the right hand and the left ... The right is order and lawfulness, le droit. Its beauties are those of geometry and taut implication. Reaching for knowledge with the right hand is science... And should we say that reaching for knowledge with the left hand is art?"
(Jerome S. Bruner, On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand 2 (1979))

Hmmm, I can't find things I've written about this. But here is a satire.
the Left and the Right.

I wrote this for some Greens a while ago:

"We love mommy Earth and everything of the Yin. We must protect her from humans!" The Malthusian solution is to kill more humans by abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Greens, "We hate everything of the Yang like a father God. So we blame crime on guns, injustice on wealth and generally just blame anything that men do to provide for and protect their family/nation. Then we do whatever we can to eliminate the Yang/masculine in general." If you want to touch a nerve among such, criticize effeminacy. Then watch them run in their lil' circles. If you want to get along with them, uplift mommy Earth, bring down the big meanie Father God and emphasize things like nuture, tolerance and love. For the tolerance of it all!

Note though, that the term descriptive of fatherlessness: "bastard" is typically used an insult associated with crime, vice or perversion with reason. As in, a dirty rotten bastard, big fat bastard, etc....

Ultimately Leftist decadence can lead to the worst of the Left and the Right, as in the Netherlands in which Leftists suddenly become more nationalistic Rightists in response to Islamism. This response tends to combine the worst of all these patterns. It is like the National Socialists, note the elements of both the Left/Socialism and the Right/Nationalism combined in National Socialism. This comes out of a decadent culture, for the worst of all worlds.

Something like it will probably happen to the American Republic one day, just as it did to the Weimar Republic. But who knows, with the checks and balances the Left may not be able to win and the Right may not be able to either. This filter can make for the best of these patterns to things. In my opinion, the Left has overcome the balancing of the Founders through the judiciary just as Jefferson predicted.

Posted by: mynym | Dec 31, 2004 5:07:00 PM

Posted by: mynym

"So for instance the proposal that we think of school shootings and other gun killings as a public health problem."

This is ridiculous. This supposed nurturing of the totalitarian State. Everything is a public health problem. Does the individual have their own health that they make decisions on? No, you are public property and a part of the public health.

The ultimate medicalization,
(The Nazi Doctors; Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, By Robert Lifton)

Uh oh, you said that bringing up the Nazis should be banned. Well, it is an important book.

Posted by: mynym | Dec 31, 2004 5:19:53 PM

Posted by: Steven Horwitz

Fair enough Don. Sometimes my memory is conveniently selective! But the accurate version of what you said is even more relevant to the post in question, I think.

Happy new year all.

Posted by: Steven Horwitz | Dec 31, 2004 9:42:00 PM

Posted by: David Velleman

Returning to Don's opening paragraph about how we interpret natural disasters: David Brooks wrote a truly ridiculous column on the topic, which is well dissected by Brad DeLong.

Posted by: David Velleman | Jan 2, 2005 2:21:17 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

Hmm...following the links it seems to me that while this may not be one of Brooks' better columns, I mostly come away from the exchange remembering why I'd rather read Brooks than DeLong.

The first part of Brooks' piece seems to make points quite similar to Don's post - we don't look for supernatural explanations anymore. DeLong claims that Brooks is confused about this; I don't read Brooks that way.
The disaster is a reminder that Nature can be harsh. Not profound, but certainly a point often missed by the more romantic enviros.
The last para can be read as suggesting equivalence for the dead and those unable to fathom the catastrophe...I think that's an uncharitable overreading, but he could have been clearer.
Print lacks tone of voice, but if I were to pick one of the two pieces as sneering, it would be DeLong's.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 2, 2005 5:32:00 PM

Posted by: David Velleman

Arts and Letter Daily links to articles on this theme in The Guardian, The Calcutta Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Wall Street Journal

Posted by: David Velleman | Jan 2, 2005 7:31:52 PM

Posted by: Jim Hu

Oh dear...I was blissfully unaware of Arts and Letters Daily...now I feel even more hopelessly behind in my reading.

Off topic, but this book review that is linked to from Arts and Letters may help put what happens in the comments sections in perspective.

As for the theological problems raised by the tsunami, I'll have to leave it to the believers to struggle with those.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jan 2, 2005 8:04:23 PM

Posted by: JeffS

David Brooks is trying to say that the Tsuname reminds us: contrary to religious and naturalistic romance, we -- human beings -- do not really matter much to the universe. It shrugs and 100,000 die. And this is cause for despair, pause, humility, sadness. It is similar to a theme Thomas Nagel raises in an essay called "The Absurd" (Mortal Questions), echoing David Wiggins and Albert Camus( the myth). De Long somehow got the Times column wrong -- thinking (incredibly) that Brooks is just onto his usual garbage, defending religion and attacking atheism, when, in a rare move, Brooks is actually taking on the fundamentalists he usually defends. Their spin is ridiculous, he says. We should appreciate, I think, rather than (mis)read prejudicially.

Posted by: JeffS | Jan 2, 2005 11:52:50 PM

Posted by: Jeff Licquia

Of course, that will grow, but it is just another example of how the war in Iraq is draining our resources and making us less able to help in ways in which we should help.

Just thought it prudent to point out that this proposition may be factually incorrect. In sum, it may not be legally possible for the President to commit more funds than those already committed before Congress convenes again on the 20th, as only Congress has the power to appropriate money. The $35 million amounts to previously allocated disaster-relief money.

Now, one can ask whether the $35 million will be enough until the 20th, and therefore whether Bush should have called for an emergency session of Congress. One can also ask whether Congress will find reserves from which to draw more relief from. But arguing from the current expenditures to limits on government resources is, I think, premature.

Posted by: Jeff Licquia | Jan 3, 2005 4:47:22 PM

Posted by: David Velleman

Here is a long post on religious interpretations of the earthquake, by philosopher Brian Weatherson.

Posted by: David Velleman | Jan 6, 2005 3:01:59 PM

Posted by: Paul Torek

A belated three cheers to Don Herzog and his "AND". False dichotomies are amazingly common - maybe it's the drive for simple explanations gone berserk.

Posted by: Paul Torek | Jan 24, 2005 10:24:19 PM

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