About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Six simple answers about Iraq

(see this morning's posting about the Six Simple Questions...)

1. We attacked Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia in part because Bush-II wanted to even the score and finish the job with Saddam Hussein on behalf of his father, and because the Bushes have been in the pockets of the Saudis for a long time.

2. There was no pre-war link between Hussen and Bin Laden.

3. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

4. Candidate Bush was against nation building, which shows that he is a flip-flopper.

5. We are not really concerned with the proliferation of WMDs. In fact, we like it, as long as we can control it and benefit from it. We just don't like certain nations to have them.

6. We are not really concerned about the spread of democracy, it just sounds good. What we care about his our own economic and political interests.

See? I told you it was pretty simple...


  1. Massimo, you hit the nail on the head, and your six questions and answers sum up what most of us think up here in Canada (course that's just my opinion).

    Regarding answer #1, here's some of the other parts. We went to war because we wanted their oil. And maybe because we have an enormous military with not much to do and Iraq was an easy target. Maybe also because we wanted to scare other nations in the Middle East and show them that the US is boss. Perhaps also because a war is good for the economy. Finally, perhaps because a war handily detracts attention from domestic issues and from the fact that this President and his administration don't seem to have a clue.

    Of course when I say 'we', I mean the US. Canada managed to stay out of this debacle (though we have our own problems, for sure).

  2. Simple answers, indeed. Also simplistic. They seemed geared toward establishing doubt about the motives of Bush, Inc. I sympathize. When he used the term, "crusade", my brain shriveled and I held my head. But how about a seventh and better question? When faced with information of a heinous situation in another country that is seeing thousands tortured and killed, whether it is a Rwanda or an Iraq, is doing nothing the only reasonable choice? War is always a sorry answer to a problem, yes, but perhaps we prefer the "do nothing" path because it keeps our hands clean so we still feel pacifistic and morally superior. But, unfortunately, in this complex, ever-entwined social world of ours, whatever choice we make, someone is going to die. Including the choice to do nothing. If the US military had gone into Rwanda, many civilians would have been killed. Ah, but of course, they did anyway.

  3. Anonymous, you are of course right about Rwanda and all the other spots in the world where intervention is needed. However, such intervention would be best done by an international body, such as the UN (properly harmed and reformed so to be effective), not by an individual country with obvious economic and political interests (why Iraq but not Rwanda?).

  4. Anonymous here again. Sorry, but I can't let that response slide. I must charge you with a heavy thinking task--one too heavy for me and I say this with all seriousness. Your response typifies all that gives academia a bad name. It begs for the criticism that academia lives in an ivory tower with all these great ideas that they throw around as solutions without ever checking any of them for their correspondence with reality. I like the idea you proffer of a strong and reformed UN taking responsibility and even action when necessary to deal with situations where the government or ruling class of a nation-state is commiting torture and genocide against its own people. Though I would point out that there is a bit of the appeal-to-authority and ad populum fallacy in this set-up (as long as a world majority of authority says it's okay, kill'em, kill'em all), and such a UN would certainly never function ideally. It also smacks a bit of having more of a concern with achieving status for ourselves as being morally inculpable than with helping those in dire need (does something need to be done? yeah, but I don't want to be the one to do it and get criticized; after all, I'm supposed to be more evolved than that--what if it goes badly and reflects back upon me?).

    Sadly, there is about as much a chance of the UN obliterating their cronyism, corruption, pandering to the rich and powerful of the world, malfeasance, and the political infighting that makes finding resolve to take a moral action rather than only self-serving political action improabable as there is of George W. falling out of bed one morning, smacking his grapefuit, and suddenly becoming science-literate. If genocide kicks up somewhere tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year, the UN is not a viable option for dealing with it. Quite possibly, neither is the US. The great difficulty I see is how to transition from a collection of nation-states (of which only one really has the ability to exercise a military intervention) to a trustworthy international organization that does not suffer the same internal abuses as every other human institution of governance. Also, how to avoid the typical decision-by-committee non-decision?

    Going after an easy target such as the mental giant that is George W. does nothing to point the way to a better solution. I'm also a bit disturbed by what appears to be a secular humanist creed. I expect moral absolutism from the Bushes of the world: a simple perspective for a simple mind. But the idea that all military action is always unsupportable (because we think all war is caused by religion rather than innate problems of the human mind and religion is our enemy?) therefore our decision is pre-determined for us and remains non-debatable, ergo there nothing left for us to do but attack any military action with any rationale (or rationalization) available hardly strikes me as the exercise of critical thought, but rather of political creed. Simplifying the grey of reality to justify never considering taking action that can only be considered a bad-but-the-least-bad response isn't much differnt than simplifying reality to justify jumping into action and insisting it is morally pure.

    It seems at times that the naive idealism of religion isn't much more naive than the idealism of secular humanism believing in the perfectability of humankind and, by corollary, any of its chosen social institutions. Religious people should have the courage to stop projecting their egos onto the icon of god. Humanists would do well to temper their desire to see themselves and the institutions they favor as possessing god-like moral superiority. We all have temporal lobes. We all have delusion to combat, even us rationalists. Stop telling me how oil and greed is behind everything bad and inferring that we rationalists are immune from such exigencies of ego. Tell me instead how to walk the fine line between being ideal-driven war mongerers and being look-the-other-way enablers of mass murder. Tell me how we become international citizens without being duped by international government as badly as we have been duped by nation-state government. What are the tools for change that will actually work in the real world and can have their implementation begin NOW? Answer the hard questions, not the easy ones.

  5. Anoymous (the one with the long post), I take it you don't really like the UN... :-) Oh well. A few comments: 1) Just because something isn't likely to happen it doesn't mean that it wouldn't be the right thing, nor does it actually mean that it will not happen. Think of how unlikely the collapse of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin wall seemed to be just a few years before they happened. 2) I never supported the idea that war must be criticized at all costs. I do subscribe to the philosophical theory of "just war," but happen to believe that the one against Iraq doesn't even come close to qualify as such. 3) Sorry if I smack of academic ivory tower (though how many of my colleagues do you know who actually maintain a public blog?), but I really think the answers in this case are very simple. The fact that the majority of Americans doesn't get it is a testimony to the level of education and critical thinking of our people, not to the difficulty of the answers.


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