Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The American Disease (or just another reason why I don't read NRO that often) -  

Victor Davis Hanson's latest piece in National Review Online argues that, loosely, leftist elitists are out of touch with the situation on the ground in both Afghanistan and Iraq. That they (and by extension I suppose all of us) should be highly approving of this administrations military effort and quit their ceasless carping. Unpacking the multiple reasons why this piece is just bizarre would take most of the evening (and the world of iron oxide surface chemistry awaits me) but I just want to concentrate on one section I found particularly bizarre...

...We don’t need Osama bin Laden’s preschool jabbering about “the weak horse” to be worried about the causes of this Western disease: thousands of the richest, most leisured people in the history of civilization have become self-absorbed, ungracious, and completely divorced from the natural world — the age-old horrific realities of dearth, plague, hunger, rapine, or conquest....Neither (Paul Krugman nor a French lawyer Hanson saw on TV) knows what it is like to be in a village gassed by Saddam Hussein or how hard it is to go across the world to Tikrit and chain such a monster.

This section (representative of the article as a whole) is just wrong in two ways.

1. The juevenile way. I'm guessing (at least according to the various biographies available online) that Hanson has absolutely no experience with death, plague, hunger, rapine, conquest or what it is like to be in a village gassed by Saddam Hussein. Any issue taken with Paul Krugman for not having experienced these things is an issue Hanson should have with himself. To imply otherwise just isn't true.

2. The adult way. The truth is that even if we haven't actually experienced all of these things we should be able to speak meaningfully about them (e.g. I speak meaningfully about atoms all the time in my professional life (as do millions of scientists) but none of us have ever experienced them). Even if Hanson thinks removing Hussein and the Taliban from power was a good thing this does not absolve Hanson from the reponsibility of addressing process critiques (e.g. we're doing it the wrong way, we're doing it in a way that will ultimately lead to undesirable outcomes). To allow partisan invective as a substitute for argument, to allow hysteria to overcome rationality, is reprehensible. If this is what Hanson teaches his students I'm glad I was educated elsewhere.

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