The name Satoshi Kanazawa wasn’t familiar to me until I read Cosma Shalizi’s lovely needlework on the guy, but then I remembered … I have his book, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, on my shelf. It has a wonderfully provocative title, so I even skimmed a couple of chapters, which sent multiple wtf signals bouncing around in my brain — the premise of the title is the product of statistical shenanigans, and I don’t think the authors would recognize a mechanism if it advanced menacingly on them and threatened them with physical dismantlement — so I set it aside and allowed it gather dust.
Now I learn that Kanazawa has a blog, like everyone does nowadays, and he calls himself the “Scientific Fundamentalist”. I wish I could say that finally we have a target for all those people who complain about fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist scientism and fundamentalist whatever-they-hateists, but no, Kanazawa does as much violence to the word “fundamentalism” as he does to biology. He’s more like an amoral, principle-free, unconscious reactionary, which isn’t really a fundamentalist mindset. How bad is he? Well, he argues that Americans need to hate a little more.
Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.
Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running.
That’s an argument that carries reductionism well past over-simplification, beyond stupid, and deep into the territory of bug-eyed crazy. That’s not a thought experiment, it’s a right-wing masturbation fantasy. Kanazawa must be looking for a gig writing for WingNutDaily.
I have to go take a shower right now, so I’ll leave you with this most excellent rebuttal.
The above, to be sure, is somewhat ambiguous. It could be that what he’s saying is that, were Coulter president, she would have hated her new-found enemies appropriately, nuked the Middle East and thus “won” the war on terror in a day. But it could be that Kanazawa doesn’t think that would have been a good idea, it could be that he’s simply arguing hypothetically without endorsing that course of action. And yet… it really doesn’t read that way. The tone, the context, and the register all suggest to me that Kanazawa would have approved of a nuclear response to 9/11. And this, I submit, is a little extreme. Forget for the moment that killing millions of innocent people is a Bad Thing, forget that the Middle East contains a good proportion of the world’s oil, forget that America’s democratic ally Israel is in the Middle East, forget that the fall-out would do extensive damage to other parts of the world, forget that there are tens of thousands of Americans (and far more other foreigners) living in the area, forget that the environmental damage would be enormous, forget that the Middle East contains innumerable priceless cultural artifacts, forget that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims living outside the Middle East (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.), and forget that 9/11 was planned from Afghanistan, outside the Middle East. Have you forgotten all of these factors (and any others you came up with for yourself)? Good. Now it’s a good idea to nuke the entire Middle East. Now only does it make any sense whatsoever to call the hypothetical nuclear destruction of the entire Middle East a “victory” for America.