My one and only rant on current events (for the time being)

... or how the human brain is wired. Beware we'll be hearing from David Brooks, Frank Rich, William Gibson (Thomas Kuhn), and a preview of a Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers discussion.

So I'm reading David Brooks in today's NYTimes, and it's the same old thing ... he's trapped in a different universe it seems. Apparently America (and Israel) are all powerful. They can do anything and whatever they want:

Lebanon is a chance to show that the death cult is not invincible.

To its enormous credit, the Bush administration has kept its focus on that core reality, and it has developed a strategy to reverse the momentum: let Israel weaken Hezbollah, then build an international force to help create a better Lebanon.

Sound the alarms, get yer missiles ready, we'll solve all the world's problems! After all we are the righteous. And just like in Starwars and many other American mythologies, the good guys always win.

The U.S. is right to resist the calls for a quick-fix cease-fire. But when you step back, you see once again the power of ideas. The terrorists are more unified by their ideas than we in the civilized world are unified by ours.

Let me translate that for you: "My ideas are powerful. The good guys aren't winning, because all you fuddy-duddies don't share my ideas. Step in line and we can change reality."

He's so wedded to his ideas that he can't see reality for what it is. And the greatest paradox of all: we're in this situation because of this stupid neoconservative paradigm!

Frank Rich in today's NYTimes:

Certainly there has been no shortage of retrofitted explanations for the war in the three-plus years since the administration's initial casus belli, to fend off Saddam's mushroom clouds and vanquish Al Qaeda, proved to be frauds. We've been told that the war would promote democracy in the Arab world. And make the region safer for Israel. And secure the flow of cheap oil. If any of these justifications retained any credibility, they have been obliterated by Crisis in the Middle East. The new war is a grueling daily object lesson in just how much the American blunders in Iraq have undermined the one robust democracy that already existed in the region, Israel, while emboldening terrorists and strengthening the hand of Iran.

We invade Iraq, (on the cheep) to seed democracy (cuz' everyone loves freedom). Result: chaos. Iraq is a breading ground for EVEN MORE terrorists. Iran now has more control over events there than we do. And the US army is tied up in a catch 22; damned if we stay, damned if we leave. Yes that is the real result - a catch 22. We've no good options left. THAT IS REALITY.

But despite all this David Brooks chants: stay the course! We're idealists! Stand for your ideas! (and the tooth fairy is my best friend!) "Democracy" (the way we want it) or bust!
So why, why, why do they see the world in this frame of reference?

It's how the human brain is wired.

First let's hear Gibson's take on what is happening (in response to a comment by Digby) :

'I'm not sure I really get why the US and Israel haven't yet come to terms with the fact that this fourth generation war cannot be won with classic military action. I suspect it is the neocon influence which, throughout many decades, never gave a passing thought to terrorism or assymetrical warfare. They have been stuck in a cold war mindset (a mindset that was wrong about the cold war too) and have consistently seen the world through the prism of rogue totalitarian states. This is why, in spite of the fact that everything is going to hell in a handbasket in a hundred different ways, they persist in focusing on Iran (formerly Iraq) and ignoring all the moving parts that make their aggressive plans to "confront" these regimes simpleminded and doomed to failure.'


Myself, I keep going back to my no doubt sloppy and imperfect understanding of Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. If the theory of "fourth generation war" is viewed as a new paradigm (and it seems to me to meet the criteria) then this is more than a failure of perception on the part of neoconservatives.


This would explain, it seems to me, the apparently literal impossibility of explaining the fundamentally counterproductive nature of the United State's invasion of Iraq, or of what's currently going on in Lebanon, to those who disagree. Or, literally, vice versa. If you're behind the curve on the paradigm shift, if I'm reading Kuhn at all correctly, you're literally incapable of getting it. Or vice versa. "It is simply not possible, according to Kuhn, to construct an impartial language that can be used to perform a neutral comparison between conflicting paradigms, because the very terms used belong within the paradigm and are therefore different in different paradigms."

The bad news is that the policy-makers of the United States and Israel apparently (still) don't get the new paradigm, and the bad news is that Hezbollah (et al, and by their very nature) do. Though that's only bad (or double-plus-ungood) if you accept, as I do, that the new paradigm allows for a more effective understanding of reality. So if you still like to pause to appreciate the action of phlogiston when you strike a match, you may well be okay with current events. So many, God help us, evidently are.

I've heard that Kuhn fiercely lamented the application of SSR to anything other than the structure of scientific revolutions, but that's how it usually is, when the street finds its own uses for things.

Yes I couldn't agree more. And it's not only Gibson, from a piece by Thom Shanker in today's NYTimes:

Pound for pound and pounding for pounding, the Israeli military is one of the world's finest. But Hezbollah, with the discipline and ferocity of its fighters and ability to field advanced weaponry, has taken Israel by surprise.

Now that surprise has rocketed back to Washington and across the American military.

United States officials worry that they're not prepared, either, for Hezbollah's style of warfare -- a kind that pits finders against hiders and favors the hiders.


The United States and Israel have each fought conventional armies of nation-states and shadowy terror organizations. But Hezbollah, with the sophistication of a national army (it almost sank an Israeli warship with a cruise missile) and the lethal invisibility of a guerrilla army, is a hybrid. Old labels, and old planning, do not apply. Certainly its style of 21st-century combat is known -- on paper. The style even has its own labels, including network warfare, or net war, and fourth-generation warfare, although many in the military don't care for such titles. But the battlefields of south Lebanon prove that it is here, and sooner than expected. And the American national security establishment is struggling to adapt.


"We are in a world today where we have a non-state actor using all the tools of weaponry," from drone aircraft to rockets to computer hacking, said P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in the impact of new technologies on national security. "That's what this new 21st-century warfare is going to look like. We have now entered an era where non-states or quasi-states do a lot better militarily than states do.'' He added, "I don't think we have answers yet for what to do."

From a second article by John Kifner:

The very clear winner, for the moment at least, was Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. (Unless, of course, Israel succeeds in its efforts to assassinate him.) As the only Arab leader seen to have defeated the Israelis -- on the basis of their withdrawal in 2000 from an 18-year occupation -- he already enjoyed wide respect. Now, with Hezbollah standing firm and inflicting casualties, he has become a folk hero across the Muslim world, apparently uniting Sunnis and Shiites.


Yoel Marcus, a columnist for Haaretz who had earlier acidly asked if this was the same army that had defeated all of the Arab forces in just six days, ended the week writing: "It is unthinkable to walk away from the battlefield with the depressing sense that out of all the wars Israel has ever fought, only Hezbollah, a mere band of terrorists, was able to bombard the Israeli home front with thousands of missiles and get off scot free.


"I think this is a loser," said Augustus Richard Norton, an expert on the Shia of Lebanon who teaches at Boston University. "Time is working against us, not with us. The options stink."

Vali R. Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, said that "the reason it's an impasse is that there is a lot riding on it for the U.S. and Israel." He added: "It potentially puts into question the entire rationale of whether overwhelming military force can shape the region. The bar for victory for the U.S. and Israel is growing every day and for Hezbollah it is lowering every day."

Is this really happening? Could it be that nations with large armies no longer hold a monopoly in military strength? Ever since World War II the effectiveness of Guerrilla Warfare has increased. With improved technology (contrary to conventional wisdom) the little guy has had more and more the upper hand. Gone are the days when one country could have a global empire based on military might (these days, the US can barely take over a single country). But to think that smaller nations can defend themselves is not quite right ... the problem was never Sadam's regime but small organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Quaeda or the dozen anti-American forces in Iraq. These forces gain support of civilians who have contempt for greater forces that the local population sees as being the real threats (puppet regimes, dictators like Sadam, and in this case the US and Israel). Again from the John Kifner article:

"Most critically, we have to get better at -- it's such a cliché -- winning hearts and minds," said a military officer working on counterinsurgency issues. "That is influencing neutral populations toward supporting us and not supporting our terrorist and insurgent enemies."

But those in charge, can't see reality for what it is. But what can you expect from an administration that is at war with "the reality based community". And this is how wedded the neocons and the administration is to their favorite ideas, they not only ignore other opinions, or other world views (or paradigms) but they actively fight them. They're not only saying "you are wrong" but actually hostile to their existence.

They are trapped in one paradigm. And in a sense we're all trapped in our current paradigm. But when we insist and refuse to shift, we can become blind to what is obvious. But paradigms are not bad. This is how the mind works, we need paradigms to understand the world around us. But often if we are not careful, the paradigms we choose are self serving. Our (political/religious/way-of-life) is the (best/most-powerful/righteous). We insist and insist. And the human mind is prone to this class of paradigms. It's also called hubris. But there may be other mechanisms in the human brain that may reinforce this line of thought. Self deceit. A perfect way to fend off criticism (and to veer yourself from looking at other paradigms). This topic is discussed by Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers and will be (is?) available in the September issue of SEED.

Self deception is a deeply seeded component to the human mind. It fuels hubris. And it was probably selected for in humans (and in other social animals). You see it is very advantageous in certain instances to deny certain unpleasant facts. It helps build confidence. It motivates (we're the righteous ones!). It makes us happier. This idea is echoed in Daniel Gilbert's book that I've referred too so often. But in the modern world, with so many important decisions made by so few individuals, we must be weary of this tendency.

How to escape? How to not become a David Brooks? It comes through an understanding of how the human mind operates. Not right or left wing ideology. The problem is this over-reliance on one's own favorite ideology. That's the problem. Only when one realizes that humans have a tendency to act this way, can one attempt to understand alternative viewpoints, alternative paradigms, alternative ways of assessing the situation.


More like this

The most successful armies learn from their adversaries. There is no doubt Hezbollah is an enemy of public health. We'd say the same of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but it's Hezbollah which has more to teach public health. Here's what we're getting at. The New York Times has an excellent story…
Today's New York TImes features two op-eds essential to clear thinking about the situation in Gaza. The first comes from journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. He paints a grim picture of the enemy Israel faces. It is a useful corrective to those who think Hamas is a leigitmate negotiating partner…
The recent war in Gaza, coupled with the rejection of Israel-critic Charles Freeman for an intelligence post in the Obama administration, has led to a renewed round of hand-wringing over America's relationship with Israel. Let's kick things off with this delightful article from today's New York… know everything is fubar. I'll save the author for the end: No sooner had Hezbollah taken the two Israeli soldiers hostage [Mad Biologist: Eight soldiers were also killed] than Israel unleashed an air war -- on Lebanon. The Beirut airport was bombed, its fuel storage tanks set ablaze. The…

That's all very nice, BUT:
I've always thought that it's not enough to criticize, you must then offer alternatives.
It's not enough to say there are alternative viewpoints, paradigms, assessments. You now need to be concrete.
What action does that imply?
For example, as a starting point, to give you something to criticize: I think that Israel should continue to give warning to all the residents of south Lebanon that that area is going to be destroyed, annihilated, leveled in one week - get out now. And in one week they should carpet bomb it, destroy everything that is there, flatten all the hills where Hezbollah is hiding. Make it totaly uninhabitable
OK. Now tell me that that is silly, unthinkable, unworkable, unhumanitarian, whatever, but give me an alternative.


Well, take my post not as a political diatribe, but as an example of how individuals (here the neocons) can be trapped in one mode of thinking. Trapped. They are stuck in a paradigm and they are clueless. Their world is so warped ...

And what they want to do next will make things only worse. They choose exactly the worst decision. Beyond negotiation, I don't know that there is a good outcome. Many of the cards are in Iran's hand. In fact the neocon's policy gave them all the cards. And there is not much that the US can do (at least without the help of Russia and China, the later probably being just pleased about this fact.) You can only play with the cards that are delt, and right now the US just gave away all its cards.


I have an alternative, based on the old Hee-Haw routine of a patient coming in to tell Doctor Archie Campbell, "Doctor, doctor, my arm hurts when I do this."

Doctor Archie Campbell would reply, "Then don't do that!"

So, my alternative is:

Don't do that.


As far as Israel goes, I personally think that what happens to them is their business and none of ours. If I had any decision power I'd take American intervention into the conflict right off of the table unless there comes to be a clear and present danger to our own security or legitimate interests (that is, our's, not Israel's). And if I was able to get more leway I'd pull all military and most other aid from them.

Once that happens, Israel will figure out that it has to make compromises to maintain it's own peace and security.

Too bad you didn't quote other parts of Frank Rich's column, what he said was spot on.

By Acme Scientist (not verified) on 31 Jul 2006 #permalink

Yeah, Frank Rich's Sunday OpEd is always a must read. And yes I echo a lot of what he wrote. For example:

The sad truth is that the war's architects always cared more about their own grandiose political and ideological ambitions than they did about the Iraqis, and they communicated that indifference from the start to Iraqis and Americans alike. The legacy of that attitude is that the American public cannot be rallied to the Iraqi cause today, as the war reaches its treacherous endgame.


As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn't care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. "There's some little part of my brain that simply doesn't understand how the most powerful country on earth just can't get electricity back in Baghdad," said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

The simple answer is that the war planners didn't care enough to provide the number of troops needed to secure the country so that reconstruction could proceed. The coalition authority isolated in its Green Zone bubble didn�t care enough to police the cronyism and corruption that squandered billions of dollars on abandoned projects.

Here was their chance to build a good PR in the Middle East. REBUILD IRAQ ... but it didn't fit their "paradigm". Get rid of Sadama, get the oil running, get the free market going and cut loose. But a free market needs GOVERNANCE - and the GOP (and neocons) don't believe in domestic governance.