God of the Machine – Page 50 – Culling my readers to a manageable elite since 2002.
Sep 092002

My spirit will not haunt the mound
Above my breast,
But travel, memory-possessed,
To where my tremulous being found
Life largest, best.

My phantom-footed shape will go
When nightfall grays
Hither and thither along the ways
I and another used to know
In backward days.

And there you’ll find me, if a jot
You still should care
For me, and for my curious air;
If otherwise, then I shall not,
For you, be there.

–Thomas Hardy

Sep 082002

Time to play a little game of “let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend that people who refer to civilian proponents of a war with Iraq as “chickenhawks” — or “chickenbloggers,” in our little corner of the universe — want to make a point and not just hurl playground taunts. Let’s pretend they are actually interested in the logic of their own position. Hell, let’s go all out and pretend that Philip Shropshire is a serious person.

With me so far? Now let’s construct the actual syllogism of the “chickenblogger” argument. The minor premise (A) is simple: Dr. Weevil (or the warblogger of your choice) is a civilian who supports a war with Iraq. The conclusion (C) is simple: Said warblogger’s opinions are invalid. We just have to get from A to C. What’s our major premise?

Here’s one possibility. Only the opinions of military personnel on military matters (e.g. war with Iraq) are valid. This presents certain difficulties. As Eliot Cohen points out, the question of whether to invade Iraq is strategic, not operational. History does not indicate that soldiers are any better, or even as good, at geopolitics than civilians. And of course this would exclude not only the despised warbloggers, but also Shropshire and company themselves — throwing the bathwater out with the baby, as it were — and leave our foreign policy to be decided by a military junta. That can’t be what they have in mind.

Better try again. The only pro-war opinions that are valid are those of military personnel. This lets Shropshire keep pontificating, but it doesn’t make much sense. Does support for war require experience of war? Why should that be? Does support for flush toilets require taking a job in the sewer? Does support for eating steak require touring the slaughterhouse? This can’t be right either.

The usual answer is that only veterans have the proper “perspective.” Here’s Korean War veteran Woody Powell, the “national administrator of Veterans for Peace,” who sounds long overdue for gainful employment:

I think if they had had the sobering experience of war — they don’t even have to have been in combat, but if they had just walked around and looked at the bodies one time — they might have a little more perspective on the decisions that they are making. If they haven’t smelled the scent of napalm, if they haven’t heard the bullets going by them, they just really aren’t acquainted with what they’re dealing with in a visceral sense. They need to smell it, and it doesn’t smell good.

Powell vacillates on how much perspective is enough. Will looking at bodies suffice, or do you have to smell the napalm and hear the bullets going by as well? Most important, he neglects to tell us how this alleged perspective makes the case against war with Iraq. Apparently to the veteran, no explanation is necessary; to the civilian, none is possible. “Perspective,” in this context, means, “I have no argument.”

In fact there is no logical way to get from A to C. Every conceivable major premise is ad hominem. The arguments for and against war stand or fall on their merits, whether their proponent served in the military, has flat feet and asthma, or murdered his family with an axe. This would suffice to bury “chickenhawk” if the people who employ it wanted to argue instead of call names. Like I said, let’s pretend.

Sep 062002

The Atlantic supplies a brief and cogent explanation of the principles of public-key encryption. It seems like a miracle that two parties that have never communicated before can communicate secretly, but as Whit Diffie and Martin Hellman discovered in 1975, they can, and with a protocol simple enough to fit on a bar napkin. Now if we could only get people to use the stuff…

Sep 052002

Now this guy is a play-ah. (Note to the Credulous: no it isn’t me. I’m married and my wife, not to mention my parents, reads this site. I let the dude borrow my templates, that’s it. I swear.)

Update: He password-protected the site, which is now a sort of datebook, and now rues its creation.

Sep 052002

In the current issue of Policy, Francis “End of History” Fukuyama helpfully reminds us that:

More than ten years ago, I argued that we had reached the end of history: not that historical events would stop, but that History understood as the evolution of human societies through different forms of government had culminated in modern liberal democracy and market-oriented capitalism. It is my view that this hypothesis remains correct, despite the events since September 11: modernity, as represented by the United States and other developed democracies, will remain the dominant force in world politics, and the institutions embodying the Wests underlying principles of freedom and equality will continue to spread around the world.

This is a sort of Hegelian capitalism — the stages of history are lifted from Marx, only with the socialist paradise lopped off at the end. Now I’m all for modern liberal democracy and market-oriented capitalism, which I far prefer to the non-market-oriented kind. What I object to is Fukuyama’s Whiggish doctrine of their inevitable triumph.

Fukuyama hates that word, “inevitable.” Tough. The triumph of capitalism either is or is not inevitable. If it’s inevitable, then we’re channeling Hegel, and the usual objections to historical teleology apply. (Actual history, for instance.) But if world capitalism isn’t inevitable, if it’s just an odds-on favorite because of its big guns and excellent machine tools, then Fukuyama has nothing to be exercised about at book length. He’s just making a prediction, like my prediction that the Steelers will win the AFC Central this year because of their big linebackers and excellent receivers. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but nothing in the inner logic of football history obliges it to happen.

And apparently nothing in the inner logic of history obliges capitalism to triumph either, or so Fukuyama now says:

The struggle between Western liberal democracy and Islamo-fascism is not one between two equally viable cultural systems, both of which can master modern science and technology, create wealth and deal with the de facto diversity of the contemporary world. In all these respects, Western institutions hold all the cards and for that reason will continue to spread across the globe in the long run. But to get to the long run we must survive the short run. And unfortunately, there is no inevitability to historical progress, and few good outcomes absent leadership, courage and a determination to fight for the values that make modern democratic societies possible.

Hmm. Doesn’t a “struggle between Western liberal democracy and Islamo-fascism,” no matter how stacked in favor of the West, sound an awful lot like…history? If he wants to renounce “inevitability” at this late date, that’s fine with me. But he isn’t making deep philosophical pronouncements about the teleology of history any more. He’s just picking the Steelers.

Sep 032002

Apparently Pope Pius XII wasn’t complicit in the Holocaust after all. My historian buddy Mark Riebling has many, many details. Ordinarily I would not bestir myself over this controversy, but I make an exception because:

  • Mark’s excellent book Wedge, on the history of FBI-CIA relations, is out in paperback this fall, and I owe him a plug.
  • I manage and serve his sites.
  • The controversy is actually interesting. Pius’s reputation was destroyed by a work of fiction, The Deputy, by the German playwright and agitprop specialist Rolf Hochhuth. It portayed Pius as aloof and utterly indifferent to the Holocaust. I read The Deputy as a teenager, and being a remarkably backward teenager, I was convinced. There was one telling detail in the play, Pius constantly gargling with hydrochloric acid to keep his mouth fresh, that I think really sold me. I had to read quite a bit of actual history, twenty-five years later, to be unconvinced. This gives me a certain amount of sympathy for people who permit Oliver Stone’s movie JFK to persuade them that the CIA killed Kennedy. Well, it doesn’t really. But maybe it should.