Posts Tagged ‘Julian Sanchez’

Connecting the Dots on Epistemic Closure

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The epistemic closure debate has been raging around the internets these past few weeks — and it has generated some extremely sharp commentary among liberals who pay attention to conservatives and conservatives who have been drummed out of the “conservative movement.” Slate now even offers to test your web browser history to see how epistemically closed you are. Here’s some of the more insightful comments I’ve found:

Ezra Klein:

“Epistemic closure,” Julian Sanchez writes, is the toxic result of “confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of multimedia conservative outlets to constitute a complete media counterculture, plus an overbroad ideological justification for treating mainstream output as intrinsically suspect.” It is, in other words, the conditions necessary for a political movement to fool itself into believing whatever’s convenient. And, Sanchez says, it’s one of the serious problems facing the conservative movement right now.

Jonathan Bernstein:

[T]he real test of whether conservative (and Republican) decision-makers really believe the nonsense rhetoric that they often use will be Sarah Palin, 2012.  For there can be no question but that a lot of Republican pols act as if they are fully captured by what Andrew Spung calls the “screamosphere” — thus the endless repetition of factually incorrect assertions, such as the “10/6”  and “16K” claims about health care reform.  But of course pols of all stripes — not to mention propogandists such as those on talk radio — have never been known for being especially careful about facts.

Bruce Bartlett:

After about half an hour I decided to start asking people what they thought of the article. Every single one gave me the same identical answer: I don’t read the New York Times. Moreover, the answers were all delivered in a tone that suggested I was either stupid for asking or that I thought they were stupid for thinking they read the Times.

I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. After all, the people I was questioning weren’t activists from the heartland, but people who worked on Capitol Hill, at federal agencies, in think tanks and so on. They represented the intelligentsia of the conservative movement. Even if they felt they had no need for the information content of the nation’s best newspaper, one would have thought they would at least need to know what their enemies were thinking.

Matt Yglesias:

Just as conservative legislative politics isn’t really about free markets conservative judicial politics isn’t really about restraint. The rhetoric is just rhetoric, and the reality is that conservative politics is about conservatism—about entrenching the power and influence of the dominant economic and sociocultural groups.

Jonathan Chait:

Michael Brendan Dougherty writes:

[T]he Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum. Send the conservative activists into the streets to vent their anger. Let Obama feel the brunt of it. And if the GOP shows a modicum of contrition, the runaways will come home. …

The Tea Party movement creates the conditions in which the activist base of the GOP can feel like it is part of the game again. They can forget Bush-era betrayals, swallow their doubts, and vote Republican this November. The next Reagan is coming, the next Contract With America will work, the next Republican nominee will be one of us. All it takes is for someone to appreciate the anger—and it doesn’t matter that she supported the bailouts that enraged them or the candidate who forsook their ideas and support.

Former GOP staffer Scott Gallupo comments, “I don’t deny the Tea Partyers’ sincerity. But anyone who doesn’t see the reality of the Dougherty scenario is simply being painfully naive.” [my emphasis]

Jonathan Bernstein:

The accusation isn’t that conservatives all reach the same conclusions about everything, nor is it that conservatives are excessively politically correct, nor is it that conservatives demand strict adherence to a set of ideas if one is to remain a conservative in good standing.  It’s rather about information, and what counts as evidence about the real world.  Sanchez’s point is that if one only gets information from a narrow set of sources that feed back into each other but do not engage beyond themselves, that one will have a closed mind (not his phrase, by the way) regardless of what one does with that information.

Ross Douthat:

It’s precisely because American conservatism represents a motley assortment of political tendencies united primarily by their opposition to liberalism that conservatives are often too quick to put their (legitimate, important and worth-debating) differences aside in the quest to slay the liberal dragon. After all, slaying liberalism is why they got together in the first place! And it’s precisely this motley, inconsistent quality, too, that encourages activists and pundits alike to stick to their single issue or issues and defer to the movement consensus on everything else. So pro-lifers handle abortion, Grover Norquist handles taxes, the neoconservatives handle foreign policy and the Competitive Enterprise Institute handles environmental regulations and nobody stops to consider if the whole constellation of policy ideas still makes sense, or matches up the electorate’s concerns, or suits the challenges of the moment. This unity-in-opposition was a great strength for the right for a long, long time, but it’s made conservatism much more brittle and less adaptable than it needs to be right now.

Daniel Larison:

The dispiriting part of all this is that hating liberals more than loving liberty is hardly a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, it has defined a large part of postwar conservative politics all along. As Prof. Lukacs wrote in his “The Problem of American Conservatism” 26 years ago: “Many American conservatives, alas, gave ample evidence that they were just conservative enough to hate liberals but not enough to love liberty.” What we have seen over the last ten years is a tendency to make loathing for liberals the thing that truly matters, and usually liberty becomes important to most conservatives only when it is useful to berate liberals. To the extent that liberals have defended constitutional liberties against anti-terrorist government intrusions, it is the latter that most conservatives have embraced. It is not just that loathing for liberals exceeds love of liberty, which might be true for members of all kinds of ideological movements, but that love of liberty becomes almost entirely contingent on whether or not it can be marshaled in opposition to liberals.

Barack Obama:

If you’re someone who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in awhile. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. So too is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people.

Ressentiment Redux

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Julian Sanchez:

But national-level political communities really are communities now, in a fairly robust sense. Between dedicated cable and radio channels and the Internet, you really can live in them in a pretty literal and immersive way… What’s really pernicious about a politics of ressentiment is that it cuts that tether—it enables a political identity that’s generated and defined by political conflict itself…

Part of the problem is that politics is no longer seen as a narrow tool for addressing some well-defined set of problems, but a kind of all-purpose machine for the satisfaction of human desires…

We don’t need to do some kind of probing psychoanalysis, because this stuff isn’t subtext; it’s text.  Remember Palin’s infamous “death panels” post? It wasn’t just a claim that the government would deny care; the fear was that this was Obama’s “death panels” getting to decide how worthy you are. Liberals treated it as a generic argument about “rationing,” but by its own terms it was an argument about being judged. Conservatives’ favorite photo of Obama has him with his nose in the air looking down on the hoi polloi, testifying to his purported arrogance. Then the outrage over a strained reading of an Obama remark about “putting lipstick on a pig”: He’s calling Sarah (and therefore you!) a pig! The message is pretty insistent: They think they’re better than you. It’s not, again, that I’m asking why people hold certain policy views and concluding that it’s really about this kind of cultural resentment. I’m asking why the political coalition organized around this set of views is putting so much emphasis on this frame, and whether it isn’t ultimately a bad idea to.

Glenn Greenwald and the Politics of Ressentiment

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Reading Julian Sanchez’s quite intelligent piece on the politics of ressentiment and how they underpin Sarah Palin’s popularity among the Republican base, I realized why certain passages that I had highlighted but not had the space to go after in my most recent piece on Greenwald had bothered me so much.  Sanchez discuses the philosophical/psychological concept of ressentiment. Wikipedia defines it as:

[A] sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

One of the symptoms of ressentiment is to justify and perhaps even determine one’s moral positions by way of rejecting one’s enemies moral positions. In other words: Sarah Palin is hated by liberals so she must be great. My opponents on a bunch of issues believe in the right to bear arms, so I don’t. &tc.

This is how Greenwald began his piece “just asking questions” à la that other Glenn about the opinions people had of Obama’s Nobel prize acceptance speech:

Why are the Bush-following conservatives who ran the country for the last eight years and whose foreign policy ideas are supposedly so discredited  — including some of the nation’s hardest-core neocons — finding so much to cheer in the so-called Obama Doctrine?

And from there Greenwald goes on, exploiting the politics of ressentiment in order to justify his increasing hysterics about Obama, as his rant rises in volume:

Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices.  Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same.  To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance.  When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday:  a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.

If you read the piece, it seems an extended exercise in exploiting the politics of ressentiment to avoid actual argumentation. And you’ll know this politics of ressentiment running throughout Greenwald’s work, though often more subtly than this glaring example.

The Lessons of Torture in World War II

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

When I first started this blog, I told the story of two different interrogations at the beginning of Bush’s War on Terror – one using traditional methods which yielded actionable intelligence; and one using “enhanced” techniques which yielded false information. Now – in the past few weeks with Obama referencing Winston Churchill in defense of his administration’s anti-torture stance, a battle has broken out over torture in World War II. Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly engaged in a skirmish earlier this week – but at the same time, two academics have written pieces about the broader historical context – both of which purport to demonstrate how torture helped the Allies win the war. 

N.B. Keep in mind while reading these stories that the justification for using torture that American proponents utilize is that it is an essential intelligence tool that is necessary to produce actionable intelligence quickly.

Julian Sanchez told the first story about how torture helped win “the Good War.” The Japanese tortured an American airman in the immediate aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki trying to get information about this bomb program. The airman “confessed” that America had hundreds of atom bombs ready to drop on Japanese cities. In turns out, the airman knew nothing of the program – and America has just used the only one left in it’s stock. It’s unclear what effect this information had – but this false information gleaned from torture had to have had an effect on Japan’s leadership as they debated whether or not to surrender. Sanchez doesn’t lay out the lesson – but based on his presentation, it is clear: Torture produces false information.

Andrew Roberts, who claims to be an historian, tells a different story in The Daily Beast. He starts out explaining what the lessons he wants to convey is –  the “crucial truth” about torture during World War II that he makes clear will support the right-wing defense of torture. Roberts writes:

When troops need information about enemy capabilities and intentions—and they usually need it fast—moral and ethical conventions…have repeatedly been ignored in the bid to save lives.

So far, a relatively uncontroversial reading of history. But the next sentence is a doozy:

In the conflict generally regarded today as the most ethical in history, World War II, enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies…[my emphases]

Google records 0 instances of anyone calling World War II the most ethical anything in history. For good reason – first, Roberts entirely mis-states what he means to say – that the Allies conduct in World War II was the most ethical in history; secondly, from the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the interment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans there are quite a few barbaric acts associated with the Allies in the war. What Roberts should know – as an historian – is that World War II is widely regarded as a “good war” – one of the few – not because our conduct was exemplary – but because the war was against evil forces that left no choice but for the Allies to violently oppose them. Roberts only uses this as a throwaway phrase – more important is his second point – that “enhanced interrogation techniques were regularly used by the Allies.” 

Roberts spends the rest of his piece not backing up this assertion – except by innuendo. The story Roberts chooses to tell is of Operation Fortitude – Britain’s program that used German intelligence agents to feed misinformation to keep the bulk of the German army away from Normandy on D-Day. But in terms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” being used on these agents, he literally offers no proof. This is the closest he gets:

If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they’re being profoundly naïve.

Once again – a Google search for “Operation Fortitude” and torture yielded no results backing up Roberts’s history. Roberts himself cites not sources or records or accounts – and for what it’s worthy, torture is hardly the traditional method of turning a double agent. 

What you find instead are accounts that explicitly reject Roberts’s innuendo. Colonel Robin “Tin-Eye” Stephens who ran the interrogation center that turned these German spies into double agents for the same Operation Fortitude banned violence saying:

Never strike a man. It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment.

Stephens was manipulative – and held the threat of lawful execution over the German spies’ heads – but he understood that it was idiotic to torture them for information. Roberts gives no source for his rejection of the historical facts – but instead accuses those who accept them of being “profoundly naïve.”

Still – even if we are to grant Roberts his premise – that these agents were recruited as doubles by means of torture – his story still wouldn’t demonstrate that torture was “regularly used by the Allies” or capable of getting accurate “information about enemy capabilities and intentions.”

The story Roberts tells – if anything – undermines the idea of torture as an interrogation tool. Time and again – even in Roberts telling – history demonstrates that torture is an exceptionally effective tool to break an individual, to get them to confess to something regardless of it’s truth. Unfortunately, it is substantially documented that our intelligence agencies adopted a program of torture without knowing it’s history. What is almost inexplicable is how an historian such as Roberts can today still try to justify this program when the history of the methods used has been dragged out into the open.

(more…)

Homo Blogicus, Pup, Pakistan, Torture, Marijuana, and the Revenge of Geography

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’m going to start creating a list of best reads for the week every Friday – picking between 5 and 10 articles or blog posts that are well worth reading in their entirety.

  1. Christopher Buckley writes a very personal essay for the New York Times, adapted from his soon to be published memoir, about growing up as the son of the famous Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley (“Pup” and “Mum”). Truly moving, surprising, honest and earnest. An excerpt:

    I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in “Moby-Dick” lodged in my mind long ago: “The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” at deathbeds of loved ones.

    Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

    It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement. But it needed to be said. She would never have asked for forgiveness herself, even in extremis. She was far too proud. Only once or twice, when she had been truly awful, did she apologize. Generally, she was defiant — almost magnificently so — when her demons slipped their leash. My wise wife, Lucy, has a rule: don’t go to bed angry. Now, watching Mum go to bed for the last time, I didn’t want any anger left between us, so out came the unrehearsed words.

  2. Stephen Walt, blogging for FP, asks Three Questions About Pakistan. He quotes David Kilcullen explaining:

    We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now.

    He cites a Timur Kuran and Suisanne Lohmann for providing a construct for understanding why such collapses as Pakistan’s possible one are hard to predict:

    [R]evolutionary upheavals (and state collapse) are hard to predict because individual political preferences are a form of private information and the citizenry’s willingness to abandon the government and/or join the rebels depends a lot on their subjective estimate of the costs and risks of each choice. If enough people become convinced the rebels will win, they will stop supporting the government and may even switch sides, thereby create a self-reinforcing snowball of revolutionary momentum. Similar dynamics may determine whether the armed forces hang together or gradually disintegrate. As we saw in Iran in 1979 or in Eastern Europe in 1989, seemingly impregnable authoritarian governments sometimes come unglued quite quickly. At other times, however, apparently fragile regimes manage to stagger on for decades, because key institutions hold and the revolutionary bandwagon never gains sufficient momentum.

  3. Evgeny Morozov, also blogging for FP, suggests that “promoting democracy via the internet is often not a good idea.”

    I simply refuse to believe in the universality of this new human type of Homo Blogicus – the cosmopolitan and forward-looking blogger that regularly looks at us from the cover pages of the New York Times or the Guardian. The proliferation of online nationalism, the growing use of cyber-attacks to silence down opponents, the overall polarization of internet discussions predicted by Cass Sunstein et al, make me extremely suspicious of any talk about the emergence of some new archetype of an inherently democratic and cosmopolitan internet user.

    As much as I’d like to believe that internet decreases homophily and pushes us to discover and respect new and different viewpoints, I am yet to see any tangible evidence that this is actually happening – and particularly in the context of authoritarian states, where media and public spheres are set up in ways that are fundamentally different from those of democracies.

  4. Julian Sanchez blogs reflectively about “our special horror over torture” – especially as related to aerial bombing. He concludes:

    Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on. In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus. And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted. It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.

  5. Jim Manzi is equally reflective in his piece written “Against Waterboarding” for the American Scene and published at the National Review’s Corner as well:

    What should a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, do if faced with a situation in which he or she is confident that a disaster will occur that can only be avoided by waterboarding a captured combatant? Do it, and then surrender to the authorities and plead guilty to the offense. It is then the duty of the society to punish the offender in accordance with the law. We would rightly respect the perpetrator while we punish him. Does this seem like an inhuman standard? Maybe, but then again, I don’t want anybody unprepared for enormous personal sacrifice waterboarding people in my name.

    But consider, not a theoretical scenario of repeated nuclear strikes on the United States, or a tactical “ticking time bomb” scenario, but the real situation we face as a nation. We have suffered several thousand casualties from 9/11 through today. Suppose we had a 9/11-level attack with 3,000 casualties per year every year. Each person reading this would face a probability of death from this source of about 0.001% each year. A Republic demands courage — not foolhardy and unsustainable “principle at all costs,” but reasoned courage — from its citizens. The American response should be to find some other solution to this problem if the casualty rate is unacceptable. To demand that the government “keep us safe” by doing things out of our sight that we have refused to do in much more serious situations so that we can avoid such a risk is weak and pathetic. It is the demand of spoiled children, or the cosseted residents of the imperial city. In the actual situation we face, to demand that our government waterboard detainees in dark cells is cowardice.

  6. Robert Kaplan writes about the “Revenge of Geography” for Foreign Policy. The summary of the article:

    People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict.

  7. Time magazine has a piece written by Maia Szalavitz on drug decriminalization in Portugal which is also worth checking out. Excerpt:

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.