Sunday, February 11, 2007

Infidel753 Responds

Infidel753 responds to this morning's post (see the comments on the post). For convenience, I'll simply respond point by point.

My assessment of the risk... is based on... a subject I have studied exhaustively for several years and know very well... I do claim far greater knowledge than someone who is not a specialist in the field would have.[1]
Infidel753 is entitled to assess the risk any way he pleases, rational, irrational or arbitrary. He would be, hypothetically speaking, perfectly entitled under the doctrine of free speech to advocate bombing Iran just because he doesn't like the name of the country, or just because he likes bombing people in general.

However, any rational audience should simply dismiss his vague claims to the authority of expertise and demand actual arguments, including an evaluation of arguments contrary to his position and reasons why his evaluation should prevail over those counter-arguments.

Even the most eminent, credentialed scientist in the world is still expected to show her data and make her argument explicit enough to be subject to detailed criticism.

Infidel753 can, perhaps be forgiven on this point. Much as I sincerely do not wish to accept this interpretation, I'm becoming more persuaded that his fundamental moral point is that any threat to Israel, however remote, hypothetical or far-fetched, justifies the killing of any number of Iranians. And, of course, it does not take much of an argument--indeed no argument at all--to justify the notion that Iran does present a remote, hypothetical and far-fetched threat to Israel.

The nature of the real world is that we constantly need to make decisions on the basis of, not absolute certainty, but the best information we have.
I agree completely. I have made this point myself several times. What I want to know is, how confident does he need to be to justify action? Infidel753 has repeatedly indicated his threshold of certainty is extremely low, requiring "guarantees" in the face of "any scenario".

I don't believe that action and inaction should be judged differently.
I'm surprised that a man of Infidel753's obvious intelligence should make such a ridiculous assertion. Action and inaction are fundamentally dissimilar; of course we must treat them differently. I simply cannot find any charitable interpretation to rescue Infidel753 here.

Action is always singular: I can perform only one action. Inaction, however, is infinite; by taking any action--even standing still--I'm not taking an infinite number of alternative actions.

Is Infidel753 just as responsible for his inaction on the Pakistan/India situation as I might be for my "inaction" on the Iran/Israel situation? Is he just as responsible for his inaction in preventing the murder of Leonard P. Scruggs last Thursday as is the murderer himself? Am I required to positively justify my refusal to kill my next door neighbor--indeed each and every one of my neighbors--in the same sense that I would be required to justify actually killing him?

This is not to say that inaction cannot be judged, even negatively. One does, of course, have a moral obligation to throw a life preserver to a drowning man (truly hard-core Libertarians might object to even this standard). But the notion that there is no difference at all between the moral status of action and inaction is utterly absurd. The burden of justification is always on action, and this burden can--in practice--be met and often is.

No, I don't believe that it ever makes sense to judge actions (or inactions) independently of their consequences. The act of pointing a gun at a person and pulling the trigger cannot be judged independently of the foreseeable effect which the bullet will have when it hits the person.
This is obviously specious reasoning, or Infidel753 is being unaccountably obtuse about the ordinary idiomatic use of the English language. Sigh.

Let me put it his way. What is his judgment of this particular consequence: the killing of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Iranian human beings? Is this outcome--in and of itself--at all bad?

Only then can we consider what possible alternative, known at what level of confidence and by what methodology, would justify this outcome.

Update (22 Feb 07): Fixed link to Infidel753's comment.

[1] I have elided, as the ellipses indicate, Infidel753's unsubstantiated assertions from this comment.


  1. I'm quite confident that any unbiased reader who looks at both my actual comment and this response to it will have no difficulty seeing who is taking the more reasonable position. So I'm content to leave this discussion as it stands.

    Over and out.

  2. That's what the internet is all about: Making all the arguments visible and allowing each reader to evaluate them directly.

  3. I am perfectly willing to concede that war, including pre-emptive war, is sometimes necessary. I am further willing to support action to keep a vibrant democracy like Israel's afloat. I find Infidel's presentation of the case, both on his website and here, for an airstrike woefully inadequate.


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