Friday, February 13, 2004

OK, Spell Sesquipedalian

Skepticism doesn’t appeal to me as a general philosophical stance, but as a practical matter I’m highly skeptical when it comes to the investigation of particular facts and circumstances. It isn’t just that a good defense attorney can muddy any case. The smoke and mirrors wouldn’t work if establishing what happened in particular instances were not next to impossible. One by one, things are eternally obscure; but that doesn’t imply that reliable general conclusions are impossible. That the Bush and Blair administrations promoted the war with Iraq by fraud is perfectly obvious, for example, even though it will always be possible to obfuscate the issues by pretending they have something to do with whether or not somebody uttered the word “imminent” on February 2, 2002 at 10:02 in the morning. It is likewise clear that the President received special treatment in the National Guard because of his political connections. Whether or not he got his teeth cleaned in Alabama is beside the point.

I’m not suggesting that the political foolery of the present day can be chalked up to a fault of logic. If otherwise competent people go through the charade of naming blue-ribbon commissions to determine if lead floats and fire burns, it’s because they are too complicit, too cowardly, or simply too weak to take direct political action against stupid and immoral policies. This weaseling evasion exploits a well-nigh universal folk epistemology, however, and could hardly succeed if people of normal intelligence weren’t feeble minded.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


Whoever is running the Federal Government next year will spend a lot of his time cursing his predecessor, and that will be the case even if Bush turns out to be his own successor. Like a frat pledge on the day after the toga party, he’ll spend most of his term on his hands and knees scrubbing the vomit out of the White House carpet. Bush and his people didn’t create all our problems, obviously; but there is no serious challenge to the welfare and security of the nation that he and his people have not exacerbated. Running up massive deficits, to cite just one example, is not a very promising way to prepare for the retirement of the baby boomers. And the deplorable state of public finance is only one of the many legacies Bush will bequeath: a world of nations looking for revenge for our insults, threats, and violence; a deteriorating environment; an inadequate and yet vastly expensive health care system; and an increasingly uncompetitive economy utterly addicted to liquid fuels.

Getting rid of Bush may lead to a government that isn’t actively making things worse, but ending the binge and even taking the pledge is not enough. We need to be thinking about how to manage the hangover.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


According to Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, believers faced with inconvenient facts invent extra hypotheses to explain away the discrepancy. That’s apparently what happened with the press back in 2000. Al Gore was obviously the better candidate and his ideas were far closer to what most reporters probably believed themselves. The journalists were working for corporations that very much wanted Bush elected, however, and stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from the tax cuts that would follow his victory. The pundits couldn’t very well just say, “We’ve got to do what the boss wants and, anyhow, we’re being brilliantly bribed.” Gore simply had to suffer from mysterious personality flaws or, at least, bad taste in clothes. His personal failings weren’t discovered—no surprise there since for the most part they didn’t exist. Like theorems, they were were deduced from the axiom of vanity and the axiom of self interest.