Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Bad Argument Remains a Bad Argument, Even when it FEELS Right

I recently saw this page (written in Spanish, but with lots of captioned pictures that make it pretty clear what the position of the author is), and the anti-war position that it espoused. While reading through the article, I was struck with how bad the argumentation was in this article. I mean, it's titled, "Siria, la Gran Mentira y la Inminente Guerra" ("Syria, the Great Lie and Imminent War"), and so I'd expect to see something to prove that there is some "great lie" being told about Syria, followed by an argument about whether to use military force in that country or not to use military force in that country.

What the page actually shows, though, is a really good example of confirmation bias and commitment effect. Specifically, it channels an anti-US narrative (which is a rather populist narrative outside of the US, one must admit, thanks to the decades of rather muscular and militant US activity around the world) to "explain" why all the information we are getting about Syria is a lie, that the US has no moral position to speak about the morality of war crimes, that there is no such thing as "the Syrian rebels," and why the proposed US invasion of Syria is actually a plot by the Rothschilds and other world-financial organizations to control this last, hold-out nation

... and (cue the scary music) the New World Order.

I don't know where the best place would be to start addressing the crazy, but I'll start with the issue of national culpability for historic, unjustifiable military actions.

The Problem with the "Sins of Former Presidents" Argument
If a country must continue to pay for the sins of their forebears long after those forebears are voted out of office, have died, or otherwise been rendered irrelevant, then all countries will be rendered impotent. But this is not the case. Spain is no longer judged by the genocidal actions of Franco. China is not being judged by the genocidal actions of Mao, nor Russia that of Stalin. (At least not by credible people.) I'm surprised that the article didn't talk about the US's history of slavery, it's genocide of the native population, or its 18th century military imperialism. Or maybe actions that took place more than 60 years ago are - to this author - no longer relevant? Or maybe the author is saying that Obama - who was a child during the Vietnam War - is the same president as Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, even though that position is similarly ludicrous.

Just as we are not the same people as our parents and grandparents, so too are the countries of today not the countries of 40, 50, or 60 years ago. If your father did something wrong to a neighbor when he was a young man, do you inherit that wrongdoing? No. That would be ridiculous, and (apart from revenge dramas from the middle ages) not a part of what we would normally view as modern civilization.

Indeed, the only people who wish to keep the torch burning to relive, remember, and not accept that change in the world has happened over intervening decades are those people, organizations, and governments that need to sustain an "enemy at the gates" mentality in order to justify their position. Don't get me wrong: it's a useful technique, because it relies on a narrative and is maintained by carefully choosing evidence that reinforces that narrative, even if it has to simultaneously discard all evidence that doesn't fit the narrative. Such techniques ultimately become increasingly unwieldy as the narrative spins ever farther away from reality. Any attempt to render a complex situation simple by forcing it to fit into obviously false molds does not help one's argumentation, but merely proves the argument - and its proponents - to be unwilling to address the entirety of reality.

Okay, so that should explain the otherwise simple-to-understand concept of countries change over time, and therefore it is illogical to judge a current government by the actions of a government several decades in its past. There is - of course - one exception to this otherwise simple-to-understand concept: when a government actively attempts to retain the trappings of that decades-long-gone government. You know, kinda like what North Korea does with its government and espoused worldview, and kinda like what anti-American populists try to do when rewhipping that already decades-long-dead carcass of the horse that they think still represents the country.

The Problem with the "There's No Syrian Rebels" Evidence
But that's just one piece of the anti-war-couched-in-anti-US-narrative. There's also the simplistic idea that only natives of a country ought to fight in the wars of that country. Ummm... If that were the case, then the Spanish should disown all the "Brigadas Internacionales" that fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. If that were the case, then most of Latin America would need to disown many of their revolutionary heroes that fought for independence from Spain. (And the US would also have to disown the aid from the French, Spanish, Dutch, Oneida, and Mysores against the British during the Revolutionary War.) If that were the case, then we should condemn the non-French who joined the French Foreign Legion throughout the years. But we know that foreign nationals will fight in civil wars, because there is no such thing as a purely civil war. Sympathizers of one side or another will provide aid - either in the form of materiel or in the form of bodies - to the side they support. Merely pointing out what should be yet another simple-to-understand concept of foreigners often choose to insert themselves into national conflicts is not evidence of a great lie; it's evidence that the world continue to be as it has long been. Indeed, the argument about their being non-national fighters is usually the one that you hear from the government against whom the civil war is being fought, and it was the position of Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

The Problem with the Rothschilds Evidence
And then there's the WTF-level of crazy that is the invocation of the Rothschilds. The who? The Rothschilds. You know: that really rich Jewish family empire that has long been the foundation of a conspiracy theory that they control all of the world's media and financial institutions of the world and get governments to fight wars against each other? You know, that family that was the basis for that anti-Semitic drivel known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Yes, seriously, this article invokes the Rothschilds - and tangentially one of the most infamous anti-Semitic texts in history - as a foundational reason as to why the media is lying to you and why financial institutions want this war: because it's being controlled by Jews. Bleaugh. I'm not going to waste my time (or yours) in debunking the stupidity of this piece of evidence crap. I'm sorry, but this isn't evidence of a great lie, except the great lie that is being increasingly aggrandized in the writer's own head. Again ironically, citation of the Jewish conspiracies was what Franco believed.

The Problem with Citing the "New World Order"
Okay, I'm sure you're getting pretty tired of reading by now, but whenever I see the "New World Order" - or any other wildly debunked conspiracy theory - being used as evidence, I'm like, "WTF?" In short, if you want to read about why the NWO is a conspiracy theory that ought to be taken about as seriously as the existence of Cthulhu, I'll let you skim through the rather good article on the "New World Order" over at RationalWiki. Again ironically, Franco believed in a Masonic conspiracy, and - to the extent that the Masonic conspiracy is an analogue to the NWO conspiracy, this doesn't help this Spanish-language piece.

Why Agreeing with the Article Undermines the Validity of your Position
I'm not saying that I support military action in Syria. I'm saying that the argument presented here is not based on an assessment of the reality that we actually are living in. Instead, the article bases its argumentation in a specific set of narratives that are logically inconsistent, factually wrong, and disconnected with reality. The USA of the 1960s and 1970s is not the USA of today. The presence of foreign fighters in a civil war is not - by itself - evidence of a lie, The Protocols are still lies, and the reality of the NWO is only in your head. So there you have it, "Siria, la Gran Mientra" is itself a fatuous lie, based on a narrative of anti-Americanism, a naive narrative of national purity in civil wars, a "Jews control the media and the finances of the world" narrative, and "the modern-day Illuminati control the world". False. False. False. False. (I'm surprised that this guy didn't invoke lizard people.)

No matter how much one might wish these things to be true in order to force the facts to fit into these non-factual narratives, the only things that such a wild tale will sooth are the sensibilities of those who buy into these fatuous narratives. The article is, in this way, intellectually lazy and is itself in greater danger of telling "la gran mentira" due to inherent confirmation bias and the commitment effect, and if you base your anti-war position on these utterly false narratives, then you are undermining the validity of your own position.

If you're going to be against military conflict, okay, but at least find a better argument than this dross.

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