November 05, 2006

The Paradigm that Will Not Die

I come back to one fundamental theme time and again, for a very simple reason. The framework within which almost everyone -- Republicans, Democrats, the mainstream press, and most others -- discusses major issues is wrong in its assumptions, it has always led and continues to lead to catastrophic and horrifying results, and yet very few people will reject it, or even seriously question it. It truly is the paradigm that will not die.

I stated the theme very briefly once before, so I repeat the earlier formulation:
When you argue within the framework and using the terms selected by your opponent, you will always lose in the end. Even if you make a stronger case about one particular issue, your opponent still wins the larger battle -- because you have permitted the underlying assumptions and the general perspective to remain unchallenged.
To see how this and similar mechanisms work, one can always consult the New York Times. Conservatives and other zombie defenders of the Bush administration prefer to view the Times as the ultimate distillation of "liberal" evil. They are incapable of seeing that, with regard to the most critical assumptions, they and the Times share the identical worldview. Conservatives and the Times certainly differ about particular policy prescriptions, but their deeper premises are the same. The Times is useful in one respect: it embodies everything that is wrong with "conventional wisdom" in as pure a form as possible.

In its lead editorial today, the Times portentously announces that, when it lists its election endorsements on Tuesday, "we will include no Republican Congressional candidates for the first time in our memory, Although Times editorials tend to agree with Democrats on national policy, we have proudly and consistently endorsed a long line of moderate Republicans, particularly for the House. Our only political loyalty is to making the two-party system as vital and responsible as possible." The banality of these politically acceptable and self-congratulatory phrases is equalled only by their vacuousness.

To be fair, the Times offers some valid reasons for this earth-shattering change. The following passage is good, and accurate:
For us, the breaking point came over the Republicans’ attempt to undermine the fundamental checks and balances that have safeguarded American democracy since its inception. The fact that the White House, House and Senate are all controlled by one party is not a threat to the balance of powers, as long as everyone understands the roles assigned to each by the Constitution. But over the past two years, the White House has made it clear that it claims sweeping powers that go well beyond any acceptable limits. Rather than doing their duty to curb these excesses, the Congressional Republicans have dedicated themselves to removing restraints on the president’s ability to do whatever he wants. To paraphrase Tom DeLay, the Republicans feel you don’t need to have oversight hearings if your party is in control of everything.

An administration convinced of its own perpetual rightness and a partisan Congress determined to deflect all criticism of the chief executive has been the recipe for what we live with today.
As I say, I have very much the same perspective on these issues. The editorial's final warning is also worth noting: "It is frightening to contemplate the new excesses [Bush] could concoct if he woke up next Wednesday and found that his party had maintained its hold on the House and Senate." That is certainly true -- but it is also true that the Democrats' performance has given no one any reason to believe they will provide a serious check on the administration with regard to the most pressing issues. This is especially true with regard to the Military Commissions Act and Iraq -- and in connection with what seems to be the inevitable attack on Iran before Bush leaves office (and that attack may come very soon, and it is an event for which the Democrats are completely unprepared). But in the desperate hope that a miracle might occur and that, as much as they appear determined to avoid offering any, the Democrats will realize that principled opposition may be necessary if even more widespread catastrophe is to be forestalled, I will nonetheless provide a short list of the most critical actions the Democrats should take if they capture the House and/or Senate. (Look for it later today or tomorrow.)

But in connection with the overall framing of certain critical questions, take a look at these two sentences from the Times editorial:
Congress, in particular the House, has failed to ask probing questions about the war in Iraq or hold the president accountable for his catastrophic bungling of the occupation. It also has allowed Mr. Bush to avoid answering any questions about whether his administration cooked the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.
Damn. Sigh. Damn, damn, damn.

First paradigm mistake: "his catastrophic bungling of the occupation." From my earlier essay, "Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm":
I repeat: the entire war and occupation are immoral. If you criticize the Bush administration on the grounds that it "bungled" the war, this leaves one, and only one, inevitable implication: if they had prosecuted the war and occupation "competently," then you would have no complaints whatsoever. That is: you think the invasion and occupation of Iraq were justified and moral. If that's what you actually think, you belong in the Bush camp. You're arguing over managerial style, and about issues that are entirely trivial.

Be clear on the ultimate result: you've given the game away completely, because you leave the moral argument for the war entirely in the hands of Bush and his supporters. They could not ask for more because, in the end, the moral agument is the most important one.
The earlier post has more on these issues. The manner in which the Times frames this issue, and the implicit premises it thus reveals, lead to the conclusion the Times (and most Democrats) refuse to acknowledge fully and openly: the only way not to have "bungled" the occupation would have been to fully embrace our role as occupiers, which would include slaughtering as many people as necessary. Is that what the Times actually wants? But they will not face this or related questions; neither will any of our politicians as I recently discussed, when I again pointed out the fatal contradiction underlying this war and occupation.

Second paradigm mistake: "whether his administration cooked the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction." I admit that the assumptions underlying this formulation are not necessarily obvious (although I've been over them a number of times). Here's the critical premise behind this approach: it assumes that major foreign policy decisions are and/or should be based on the intelligence. But this is almost never true, nor should it be. From the earlier essay:
Once again, I put the major point in bold letters all by itself:
Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.
The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin. This is the point I've made with regard to Iran repeatedly. The administration's plans are entirely clear: they intend to attack Iran. The only questions are when, and what the specific "excuse" will be.

That's why I again explained my vehement, unqualified opposition to an attack on Iran in the current circumstances -- and see this earlier essay for the longer argument. Just as I don't care whether Iraq had WMD or not, I don't care whether Iran has nuclear weapons or not -- not with regard to the decision to launch an attack. Even if Iran should have nuclear weapons -- and again, even if they are actually pursuing them, they will not have them for five to ten years or longer -- that is not a sufficient reason to go to war. Moreover, the consequences of an attack on Iran will certainly be devastating, and perhaps catastrophic -- and not least for our own security and safety.

To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now.
The Times certainly hasn't figured it out, even now. To put the point another way: of course the administration "cooked" the intelligence. The intelligence was the propaganda justification for the war, used to sell it to the American public and to the world, which is almost always how intelligence it used (I'm tempted to simply say "always," which is probably the truth) -- and the intelligence was used to justify a decision that had already been made, entirely apart from the intelligence.

And the third point from the earlier essay is thus confirmed, still one more time, by the above-quoted passage from today's Times editorial. The longer explanation can be found in the other post, but here is the one sentence summary:
The press will always transmit and amplify government propaganda, and this is especially true with regard to war propaganda.
I rest my case.

You will never change major policy decisions or their disastrous results as long as you rely on and utilize the same framework used by the war propagandists. You must blast the entire paradigm at the foundation, and then drive several very large stakes directly through its heart.

And then celebrate its long-overdue death, far into the night.

Related: The New York Times Learns Nothing -- Absolutely Nothing.