Good Old Black and White Dubya

By Mark Trodden | June 20, 2007 3:28 pm

Glenn Greenwald has a thoughtful essay in Salon (titled “A tragic legacy: How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency“), which is an excerpt from his upcoming book of the same name, in which he discusses the role that Bush’s simplistic and dogmatic worldview has played in his disastrous administration.

The article is an interesting read, and one doesn’t have to agree with everything that Greenwald says to accept the basic premise, which is that if one thinks one is the holder of an absolute truth, then the gray areas that make up most of life, and the complexity that underlies almost every important decision in the modern world, will forever be beyond you, and you are doomed to failure. While Greenwald applies this to the thought processes that led the country into the ill-conceived Iraq quagmire – that one can see people and actions as purely good or evil and hence make decisions based on that determination rather than a deep understanding of the situation – the general point applies to many other actions taken by the President.

Interestingly, this column appears on the very same day that Bush has once again vetoed a bill to promote embryonic stem cell research. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in The New York Times

“I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line,” Mr. Bush said, exercising the third veto of his presidency. At the same time, he issued an executive order intended to encourage scientific advances in regenerative medicine, a move that he said would respect “the high aims of science” without encouraging the deliberate destruction of human life.

His (Christian) morals must be the right ones. A human life is the same thing as a few cells. Although support for stem cell research is quite popular among Americans, there appears to be no room for discussion with the President about the complexities or scientific debate around these issues. Because his decisions don’t come from informed discussion; they come from ideology, which trumps reason, science, and complex debate with depressing regularity these days.

  • Will

    Who says Bush actually believes in a black-and-white world? I just figured it was good campaign talk, simple stuff that anyone can understand. Is it possible, that in the private moments with staffers and friends, he is nuanced and well-schooled in the subtleties of all factors that affect his decisions?

  • alienmist

    A very wise writer has cautioned against jumping into the “anti-bush” bandwagon.

    In one year bush will be gone and the same old problems will still be there.

    You do not have to like the guy.. I don’t.. but as scientists we should be able to rise above petty subjectivity and critically analyze the state of the world. Wars, hate, hurricanes , homelessness, inflation were there before bush and will be there after he goes.

    Flawed human nature is to blame!

    What can be done?

    I wish I knew

  • Mark Srednicki

    While I’m certainly strongly critical of Bush and his administration on any number of issues (especially their opposition to the rule of law), I think his position on stem-cell research is defensible. Certainly we all agree that murder is wrong, so the question becomes, when does human life begin? To define it as beginning at the moment of conception is perfectly reasonable both scientifically and morally. (Note that I amnot saying that this is the only possible definiton that is scientifically and morally reasonable.) I have no problem with an elected President upholding his personal moral code in executive decisions. I only wish that this President would show some semblance of a moral code in areas related to postpartum human beings …

  • BlackGriffen

    Probably not, Will. Consider his history – drunken frat boy in college turned repeat failure oil man turned two bit politician. Also consider his lack of speaking ability in general.

    No, the man is a petulant boob who divides the world in to “for me or against me.”

  • BlackGriffen

    Mark, it’s not just a question about when life begins but also about when does our legal and moral obligation to that life begin. If really you want to argue for the sanctity of life you’d probably be against animal experimentation and probably be a vegan. You know, the whole PETA crowd. Even then humans can’t survive without killing or harming something.

  • Moshe

    Yeah, way too much Bush bashing, even as he apparently comes up with a plan to fight global warming

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/addressing_climate_crisis_bush

    (this article ties together nicely the last 3 posts here…)

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    To define it as beginning at the moment of conception is perfectly reasonable both scientifically and morally.

    I disagree. Perhaps the scientific community has been too politically correct and avoided these sort of moral issues. If we are reasonable and look at all of science that is now considered to be unrefutable fact, then the conclusion that humans are ultimately just machines is unavoidable.

    There is no fundamental distinction between living and non living oganisms, other than the fact that the latter can reproduce themselves. So to say that human life starts at such and such point is just a matter of definition…

    What matters is that we don’t want to do experiments that causes suffering. But if there is no brain that can experience pain then there can be no suffering.

    And if we do have a brain but no biological life (an intelligent machine), then that object can experience suffering. So, it would be morally wrong to simulate a human brain that is experiencing pain, because that simulation would give rise to a conscious entity that really experiences that pain.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    alienmist – I don’t know what writer you’re referring to, but if his/her reasons for “not jumping on the anti-bush bandwagon” are the ones you gave, I most certainly don’t concur with the “wise” description. I also don’t think this post is about jumping on a bandwagon – I’ve detested the decisions this guy makes since day 1.

    Hi Mark. It is possible that Bush’s position is defensible, but not by him. A smart, rational person – you maybe – could make a very persuasive case. I actually doubt I’d buy it, but I acknowledge the possibility. However, the leader of this country bases his decision, whether I agree with the ultimate decision or not, on ideology, not on the kind of process I, and I suspect you, think are necessary.

    His arbitrary decision is likely to affect the lives of millions, and deserves a more nuanced, informed, and reasonable consideration than our theocratic leader is prepared to devote to it.

    As to

    I only wish that this President would show some semblance of a moral code in areas related to postpartum human beings …

    – I couldn’t agree more.

  • Jason Dick

    I’m sorry, but there is no rational defense against people who would stop stem cell research. None whatsoever.

    You see, stem cell research involves the destruction of blastocysts. Blastocysts are clumps of 70-100 undifferentiated cells. We cause vastly more pain when we swat a fly than when we destroy a blastocyst. There is simply no rational argument to be had for the protection of clumps of 70-100 cells, whether human or no, particularly when allowing the research will allow for dramatically new cures for a variety of disorders from which real people are suffering today.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Count Iblis: How can any “machine” experience qualitative states, like any honest person would admit as characteristic of “pain”? It just doesn’t “compute” so to speak… Then again, the modal realists have pointed out that there is no clear logical definition of substantive existence, of the sort distinguishing logically possible worlds that are expressed as “material worlds” from those which are not… Maybe there is a connection, between real stuff and real feelings? A common thread of hard givenness which structural talk cannot encompass?

  • drunk

    That Bush is a black-white born-again dogmatic fundamentalist Christian unfit for political power is established. What is debatable is how stupid he is. He is stupid enough to apply his own religious thoughts and mandated a major public policy on scientific research. He is the only world leader to do so. He belongs to the 15th century. Funny part is, how come a 15th century mind does not have even a basic understanding of Iran/Iraq? Answer: self-righteous moral delusion of biblical proportions. A real life Not Even Wrong. What a tragedy to kick off the 21th century for America.

  • ElQuantumTaco

    Look I’ve heard this line G-d know how many times and I’m sick of it. “The world isnt black and white y’know, there are some gray areas”. Its almost always a dodge for having a real argument:

    A: I think abortion is wrong, because fetuses have moral status as people or sufficiently advanced potential people and killing people is wrong.
    B: You can’t just say abortion is wrong, the world isnt black and white, y’know, there are some gray areas.

    Notice how B attempts to argue against A without every actually addressing any of A’s points or any points at all for that matter, much as how Mark viciously derides Bush for his stem cell decision without ever actually arguing why its wrong.

    This would be mere intellectual laziness if it wasnt for the for the fact that the idea of “shades of grey” is wrong. The moral landscape is most definitely black and white. A moral idea tells us, at root, whether or not we should do something. “You should not kick people for your pleasure”. “You should give charity as you can”.

    “You should abort fetuses for the greater benefit”. “You should not abort fetuses”. The phrase “You somewhat should abort” or “you 32.5% should abort” is utterly and apparently meaningless. Moral ideas are inherently boolean because we must choose from a set of actions (or non-action) by definition. To discuss moral “shades of grey” is to extend your representaiton of the moral landscpae in a meaningless fashion.

    One can ask the usual questions about how one arrives at these moral judgements. You decrie Bush’s reliance on “idealogy”. Where do you think your ideas come from? Here are some guesses: The bible, Protestant theology, Kant, your parents, selfish rationalization -ideologies or accident. Or perhaps your beliefs sprang spontaneously? Don’t be proud of that! You base your ideas on some random musings of unknown provenance?

    You want morality to come from “science” and “reason”? Forget that this has been a philosophical dead-end for three centuries, discarded on general grounds. Show me the scientific result here, give me the citation on the paper that pinpoints from where a fetus or infant is considered a moral person.

    (I’m surprised I missed it! Surely, such a paper must have been published in Nature! The morality-o-meter alone should win a Nobel and a half!)

    Or you want “informed discussion” and “complex debate”. Forget about how that actually gets us to make a better or new moral judgement. (One blind person can’t understand what red looks like but one hundred can?). You seriously think there hasn’t been plenty of discussion and even informed discussion of abortion in America? Have you noticed how all of that discussion has not produced a consensus or apparent truth?

    And you dismiss his “idealogy”, but hasn’t Christian theology absorbed some of the brightest intellects of Europe for 15 centuries! Why there is probably ten times more “complex debate” going into his position than their is in most of your peers’.

    Or you can say that there is no way to make moral judgements. I think that would make you a nihlists. I’m guessing you’re not.

    Lets put a point on this rambling. What, Mark, justifies your condemnation of infanticide that the Ancient Greeks and Chinese and most of human history accepted. When you condemn it to them, what do you say when they accuse of seeing in “black and white”? Why does your defence not apply to Bush’s condemnation of abortion?

    -El Quantum Taco

    [Miscellany:
    Of course, there is the possibility that we can't say whether something is right or wrong. we have no moral judgemnt to make. This is not a "shade a grey", it is a bad thing (in some sense).In the event we are presented with the situation in which we have to make an action relying on that judgement, we would have to choose randomly. Indecision is not in and of itself an argument against someone who does have a position, although the arguments that make us indecisive may be. Similar points hold if we consider our judgements to be contigent or fallible or what have you.

    I don't support Bush's decision or Bush.

    Now there are cases in which we are actually talking about many distinct moral judgements and making one judgement on all of them, such as:
    A: Killing people is bad
    B: Well thats oversimplifying things usually killing is wrong, but sometimes like self-defense its okay.
    This does not change the fact that the individual judgements are boolean.

    Over simplifying the physical landscape on the other hand is immoral when it leads to immoral results.

    The argument of the article you link to doesnt actually bear on your discussion or abortion. Greenwald claims (unconvincingly) that Bush believes he the Avator of the Good and hence " the ends justify the means" for all his acts by definition.]

  • Solipsist

    You see, stem cell research involves the destruction of blastocysts. Blastocysts are clumps of 70-100 undifferentiated cells. We cause vastly more pain when we swat a fly than when we destroy a blastocyst. There is simply no rational argument to be had for the protection of clumps of 70-100 cells, whether human or no, particularly when allowing the research will allow for dramatically new cures for a variety of disorders from which real people are suffering today.

    I’ve never seen a fly turn into a human being (well yes actually, in a stupid movie aptly called “The Fly”).

    Define “real” people. How “real” are you ? It seems to me your being real or not is “just a matter of definition”.

  • Jason Dick

    Solipsist: So what? We cannot rationally use potential as a means to grant moral status. If we did, then the failure to make use of every sperm and every egg possible would also be murder. In fact, failing to have sex right now would be murder.

    And yes, it is a matter of definition. Upon what stage of human development should we grant moral status? No matter what choice we make, it will be completely arbitrary. Any definition that would fail to grant moral status until some time after birth could not occur, due to our own built-in moral code (humans, due to the way the moral centers of our brains are built, believe it is a horrible thing to kill babies). There are rational arguments to be had to make it as late as birth, or as early as when the brain first develops.

    But there is no rational argument to be had to grant moral status upon a blastocyst. A blastocyst has no brain cells. Heck, it doesn’t even have any nerve cells. No suffering whatsoever can be imparted upon such an organism, due to its very nature. This organism has no hopes, has no dreams. And, in the case for blastocysts produced for stem cell research, it never even had the potential to have these things: these blastocysts are harvested specifically for the purpose of stem cell research, and were never intended to become people in the first place. Today we have a large number (I believe it’s in the hundreds of thousands, though I could be wrong) of blastocysts that are in cold storage, waiting for the money for research to begin. They will never become human beings, but the deaths of these little embryos could well save the lives and reduce the suffering of many people who are suffering today, and many more who will be suffering in the futures.

  • Solipsist

    “due to our own built-in moral code (humans, due to the way the moral centers of our brains are built, believe it is a horrible thing to kill babies)”

    you’re joking, right ? Human history is rife with examples of infanticide and filicide (not to mention homicide). Some around here really do seem convinced humans are “programmed machines”. And the universe is a gigantic clock no doubt. Get out of the 18th century plz. Laplace is dead and buried.

    “the deaths of these little embryos could well save the lives and reduce the suffering of many people who are suffering today, and many more who will be suffering in the futures.”

    Too bad those embryos couldn’t develop into suffering people who could then make use of embryos who …

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    ElQuantumTaco. You seem to have lost focus in your ranting. This post isn’t about abortion – it is about stem cell research. Also, I don’t recall my ground-breaking post on the morality of infanticide through the ages, but I’ll keep looking for it.

    The question of what a blastocyte is (is it a human being or a clump of cells, or something inbetween) and our stance towards it is a complicated question that humans need to discuss and make some decision about. Ideology is not an appropriate or helpful component of such discussions.

    Your discussion of morals as binary is entirely beside the point. The decisions we make as to what is allowed or reasonable often do result in a rule that is a clear line. However, the process by which we arrive at such results is not through the blind application of dogma, but by looking at a given situation on its merits. Given any particular ideology, this proces will sometimes result in decisions that align with it, and sometimes not.

  • Jason Dick

    Solipsist: No, I’m not joking. Of course there are examples in human history of infanticide and filicide. There are also examples in human history of all sorts of other crimes which we would normally be very much against (murder, rape, theft, fraud). These examples are nothing more than examples of various ways in which our own built-in morality can be subverted by one manner of belief or another, or how some people are bound to do things the rest of society consider to be immoral, due to genetic traits or poor upbringing.

    As for the second part of your response, do you actually have a point? Because you have, in no way, impacted my claim that there is no rational defense to be made for those that would ban stem cell research on moral grounds. Remember, for it to be a rational defense, it must be self-consistent. Thus you would have to ensure that your criteria for defining a blastocyst as a human worthy of the right to life would have to exclude sperm and eggs, as well as tumors (whether benign or malignant). Furthermore, you must demonstrate why this definition is better than some other definition of what constitutes a human worthy of the right to life.

  • Jay

    To add another perspective here as to why Bush is “wrong” on this issue I think we should look back at the actual bill. From what I’ve read it seems that the bill would open up funding for stem cell reserachers to study human embryos that are to be destroyed. So instead of wasting the embryo the bill would have opened up funding for research to them.

    Bush is saying that he won’t destroy an embryo for scientific purpsoes that could help human life by destroying human life. However, he seems willing to destroy them for absolutely no reason at all. So if his definition of wrong is destroying any human embryo, simply allowing human embryos to be stored for any amount of time runs the risk of them not being used. This in turn leads to the destruction of said embryos, which he is against.

    Even if you take the stance that there is absolute right and wrong, what moral leg is the president standing on here? Is one form of destruction preferable to another? I think this issue perfectly illustrates the narrow mindedness that Mark was alluding to which results from taking such a black and white view of the world. Like it or not he’s allowing the destruction of human embryos, but by using a little cognitive dissonance he simply ignores that fact.

  • jw

    One can ask the usual questions about how one arrives at these moral judgements. You decrie Bush’s reliance on “idealogy”. Where do you think your ideas come from? Here are some guesses: The bible, Protestant theology, Kant, your parents, selfish rationalization -ideologies or accident.

    We all make moral decisions in roughly the same way–using our inherent moral sense. It’s true that this moral sense can be trained in various ways, in much the way that our inherent language sense is trained in the language of our culture. However, this moral sense is also what we use to judge our cultural moral influences, and is what causes us to reject most of the stupid and/or horrifying morals from scriptures, such as human sacrifice (Jephthah’s daughter) or genocide (Numbers 31.)

    p.s.: It’s interesting how religiously biased your list of influences is, omitting three of the largest sources of our culture, our Greco-Roman and Germanic heritages, and the Enlightenment philosophers.

  • Solipsist

    “you would have to ensure that your criteria for defining a blastocyst as a human worthy of the right to life would have to exclude sperm and eggs, as well as tumors (whether benign or malignant).”

    Jason Dick: a sperm or an egg or a seed or whatever does not and will not ever develop into a human being, not even “potentially”. If you’re so keen on equating a blastocyst with a sperm or an egg you might just as wel equate it to the chair you’re (probably) sitting on – that won’t develop into much either.

    Admittedly, a blastocyst outside the womb won’t get very far either, but neither would a 6 month old embryo, and neither would you if someone threw you in a vacuum chamber (or in outer space).

    I do not oppose stem cell research. I oppose those who think they can divide humanity in those who are allowed to live and those who are not. There is a very good reason why Germany isn’t too keen on using embryos, you know …

  • Traums

    Well, I would point out that moral conscience was a product of natural selection of symbiotic instincts among and within social species (plz don’t start that evolution debate again; it’s not the right thread).

    I recall that standard question that demonstrates the change in perspective with age/experience in humans, where a scenario involving some poor bloke who couldn’t afford certain medication had to steal it to save his daughter’s life- is presented and kids of different age groups are asked to rate his actions.
    The younger ones would rate it as wrong coz’ it’s “morally bad to steal”. But we would value the larger motive.

    Our brains by design sympathize with the deer fallen prey to a Lion, or a bee being eaten by a Mantis (are Mantises carnivores?). But the bee is obluvious to the unnecessary pain it caused by stinging a kid who fetched the ball from under the hive. All it wished was to protect the queen (an evolutionary instinct).

    I would go so far as to say morality is absolute enough for me and some alein evolved under a different natural selection process to agree upon. It just works (here and for now) as far as self-preservation is concerned (a la selfish gene). What most people mean by “grey area” is probably the multitude of larger motives difficult for most to conceive without a thourough understanding of the works.
    And as for taking a stand: I’m for stem cell research.

  • Traums

    Oh,and why is the world against cloning humans? A cell with potential to become something larger (symbolically) is denied the realization. Now the “cognition torch” will change hands ^_^

  • NoJoy

    There is a very good reason why Germany isn’t too keen on using embryos, you know…

    Godwin’s law in action. :)

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    p.s.: It’s interesting how religiously biased your list of influences is, omitting three of the largest sources of our culture, our Greco-Roman and Germanic heritages, and the Enlightenment philosophers.

    Don’t forget, “natural human intuition”… because there are a number of more-centralized atheists who don’t buy into the meaningless, purposeless, random, chaotic nihilistic bullshit hype, that the reactionary left has enthusiastically adopted in spite of much evidence to the contrary.

    Or is that what an “Enlightenment philosopher” is?

  • Nate

    At what point did this conversation (which I refer to in the abstract sense; the conversation this nation is in about ‘what is human’) devolve into merely a debate over whether an arbitrarily defined action is ‘right’?

    If I pull a trigger, is that wrong? I would argue that, in and of itself; no. It’s just a trigger. Wait! Is it attached to a gun? Well, that makes me uneasy, but pulling it is still not a problem – the gun has no defined ammunition in it. Lets say it does, though – now is it wrong? Well, we’re definitely treading into dangerous water here because it’s just a short hop to having someone in front of the barrel, and we know that killing someone is wrong.

    Why do we know that? Because it’s a consequence we’ve learned to avoid in the past – killing (generally) creates more problems than it solves. Murder is bad. But if murder is bad, does it therefore stand to reason that pulling a trigger is bad?

    Only in the situation in which the chain of events would lead to murder.

    My point is this; what we should be discussing is what consequences we want to avoid. Bush is clearly attempting to avoid a consequence wherein blastocysts are harvested willy-nilly without regard to their humanity for the use in science. This no doubt springs from the same idea that using a human for science, without regard for that human, is wrong. No one wants to be arbitrarily vivisected. Many people object to Bush making this decision because he fails to make reasonable decisions in other arenas; for instance, he opposes birth control.

    Why is that unreasonable? Because many people see the natural consequence to that is overpopulation, reduced living standards for all, and in the extreme cases starvation and war – more death. We know death to be bad, especially at scale. If a person thinks that these things are reasonable, we are justified in thinking them perhaps not well qualified to make other decisions. Regardless of personal nuance, understanding and intelligence, Bush’s policies have been consistently without nuance, understanding or intelligence.

    What is the consequence of using blastocysts already slated for destruction? First, scientific progress. Second, a feeling that is coupled with that that they are somehow an ‘asset’ and not a ‘human’. Which is probably true, but debatable. What we’re really worried about, with that feeling, is that other more human things will lose their humanity. But here’s the rub; we can either choose to act on this thing that is not human, that will be destroyed, or we can wallow in what will one day be looked back on as a dark age. If we can reasonably say that the consequence is not inherently immoral, we can reasonably say that the action is moral. There are no immoral consequences here, only some icky feelings.

  • http://evolutionarydesign.blogspot.com/ island

    Why do we know that? Because it’s a consequence we’ve learned to avoid in the past – killing (generally) creates more problems than it solves.

    uh huh… try killing-off the human race and see what the ecobalance that we **contributing members** arose from and **belong to** does to stop you.

    Speaking of, detatched human arrogance.

  • Philip

    Bush said, “I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line.” Blastocysts and abortion aside, shouldn’t part of this discussion concern W’s curious sense of morality?

    Torture is ok; the preemptive invasion of another country is good; gutting our Constitution is justifiable; and on and on and on. Why would anyone with the brains of a gerbil listen to Bush tell us about right and wrong?

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    The stem-cell issue is just one drop in a gigantic bucket of ethical issues that the Bush administration/neocons will be facing in the near future. Hang on, suck in some air, get ready for the wind on your face. We have a wild ride ahead of us! :-)

  • Nate

    “uh huh… try killing-off the human race and see what the ecobalance that we **contributing members** arose from and **belong to** does to stop you.”

    I’m not sure I get the gist of your point.

    I will say this; I don’t particularly see a reason to view the problem from anything but a human perspective. We aren’t here to make the planet livable for dinosaurs, or for bunny rabbits, but for ourselves. Yes, this is detached, arrogant, selfish and humanist, but it is, essentially, the metric by which we will be judging regardless.

    It is curious you use the term ‘ecobalance’, as though there is a static balance into which we once fit and do no longer. I don’t really believe this to be true; at least, one cannot expect to grow as a race without changing the balance. Hopefully for the better; but that is the crux of the problem.

  • http://sharpsand.net joseph duemer

    What failure? Bush is rich, powerful, coddled & will retire to Crawford leaving the rest of us to clean up the destruction he has left in his path. But he’s not a failure. He is the great American success story. He is the very embodiment of the Manachian American myth.

  • Morgan

    The accusation of black-and-white vision is simply a bad argumentative move. It’s both question begging and ad hominen.

  • Jason Dick

    Solipsist: You have, once again, defeated your own position. The fact that an embryo will develop into a human being means it is not one. The claim that it has a right to life that supersedes all other good that embryo could do is a completely baseless one. Particularly when the embryos in question’s sole purpose for existence is stem cell research.

    Any objective stance on the benefit/harm done to individual persons or humanity as a whole as a result of stem cell research can only conclude that stem cell research is a good and proper thing to do.

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Mark, you say that Bush’s “… decisions don’t come from informed discussion; they come from ideology, which trumps reason, science, and complex debate with depressing regularity these days …”.

    I fear that his decision-making may be worse than that, i.e., based on:

    1 – money, which trumps everything else;

    2 – if money is a neutral factor, then follow Rove’s counting of numbers in voting blocks.

    Maybe there is no big-money pharmaceutical lobby for stem-cell research (as long as the drug companies get lots of money for “scientific advances in regenerative medicine”),
    so
    2-Rove vote counting controls, and
    Rove’s counting of Christian fundmentalist block votes, and Rove’s counting of pro-stem-cell voters as being relatively soft on that issue, dictates Bush’s position.

    Therefore, Bush’s position is in fact reason-based (as set out above),
    with
    science indeed being considered irrelevant and “complex debate” being obsolete in today’s sound-bite-news USA with respect to almost all voters.

    For an example where 1-money controls, you need look no further than Iraq and Iran.

    If Iraq has 100 billion barrells of oil, and if oil is in the $50 to $100 per barrel range, then the prize is $5 to $10 trillion dollars.
    If the cost of occupation is $200 billion per year, and if a 10-year occupation is needed to pump out the oil, the cost of the prize is $2 trillion.

    If Iran is the primary source of instability in occupation of Iraq, then attacking Iran to get rid of that source of instability may be necessary to win the prize, and even if the attack costs the USA $1 trillion or so, the prize is still so big that it is worth the effort (particularly if the USA can thereby seize Iranian oil in the amount of several tens of billions of barrels).

    The risk of attacking Iran is that Iran may have been supplied by Russia and China (rivals of the USA with respect to mid-east oil) with missiles capable of sinking USA navy ships and damaging USA ground bases in the area.

    If Iran does mount a significant counter-attack, then the issue arises as to how far the USA is willing to escalate towards WWIII.

    All this stuff may come to a head during the summer of 2007, but the level of USA political debate about the situation is (in my opinion) at an abysmally low level.

    Tony Smith

    PS – Please note that the above reason-based picture of Bush-type decision-making considers human life and suffering to be irrelevant (particularly if most of the dead and miserable are not USA voters, or can be marginalized in the minds of the majority of voters as being volunteer soldiers from social groups distinct from those of that majority).
    Also,
    I am not advocating the above as what I would do if I were ruler, but I do recognize that it is in fact rational and reason-based, even if it may not be good or desirable.

    PPS – It is interesting that Terrence McKenna’s timewave predicts some sort of major event around 24 August 2007,
    and
    that the last previous major event it predicted was 4 November 2003 which was the time at which Iraqi opposition to USA occupation began using weapons capable of shooting down USA helicopters.
    The one before that was around 9/11.
    All these events were after McKenna’s death in April 2000.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Certainly we all agree that murder is wrong, so the question becomes, when does human life begin?

    That is not the question. Tumors in cancer patients are human, and are alive. Therefore, tumors are human life. Is it therefore murder to excise and dispose of a tumor?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I don’t really see where you get either of those Morgan.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    #10 Neil B,

    I like to think of this in the following way (I guess this is similar to what Modal Realists say…). The neural network in your head executes a program. That program defines a virtual world in which the things you experience are real objective events.

    I’ve discussed this a bit on my blog…

  • Nate

    Iblis (and possibly Neil),

    It might be worth checking out this TED talk.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    Nate, thanks!

  • http://quantumfieldtheory.org nigel

    If Iraq has 100 billion barrels of oil, and if oil is in the $50 to $100 per barrel range, then the prize is $5 to $10 trillion dollars.

    If the cost of occupation is $200 billion per year, and if a 10-year occupation is needed to pump out the oil, the cost of the prize is $2 trillion. – Tony Smith

    That’s cynical! America of course isn’t stealing the oil, it does pay for it. On the other hand, it is clearly fighting wars in countries where not fighting them would increase the instability of oil prices. Lots of dictatorships run by blood-thirsty tyrants in certain countries have escaped Saddam’s fate. On the other hand, Iraq did do some fairly horrific things in the 80s under Saddam, such as making and using mustard gas and three types of nerve gas on the Iranians and the Kurds. It’s really a pity that Iraq wasn’t sorted out after the First Gulf War when it invaded Kuwait. It was 9/11 that sealed Saddam’s fate: Iraq seemed simply too dangerous. By the time politicians do decide to go to war with the Iranians, they’ll have a good supply of atomic weapons and missile systems. If Iran could produce small atomic weapons for covert or terrorist attacks by ships or aircraft, it would be unthinkable to risk a conflict, which would be worse than Vietnam in political consequences.

    The risk of attacking Iran is that Iran may have been supplied by Russia and China (rivals of the USA with respect to mid-east oil) with missiles capable of sinking USA navy ships and damaging USA ground bases in the area.

    If Iran does mount a significant counter-attack, then the issue arises as to how far the USA is willing to escalate towards WWIII.

    Who will Russia and China side with? Does that depend on the economic consequences? (i.e. how much money their leaders are willing to invest in such a war, and whether they will profit from trade after the war). President Putin announced that he was re-targetting his missiles on Europe because of the ABM radar system being installed in the Czech Republic. Last year Moscow spies used Po-210 to murder Litvinenko in London (contaminating many others who were in the restaurant at the same time, and probably reducing their lifespan).

    All this stuff may come to a head during the summer of 2007, but the level of USA political debate about the situation is (in my opinion) at an abysmally low level.

    Maybe voters don’t really love to hear it discussed (a political hot potato). The consensus behind the ‘Doomsday Clock’ suggests no imminent danger.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »