Aug 072006

One problem with blogging is that anyone can read your archives and see what an idiot you were. I will spare you the trouble.

  • I used to be a race skeptic. Eventually a cursory reading of Cavalli-Sforza convinced me how wrong I was. The History and Geography of Human Genes is a careful and scholarly demonstration of what everyone already knows: that humans once wandered the earth in small tribes, that these tribes had distinctive genetic profiles, and that they tended to breed together, increasing their differences from other tribes, which are still plainly visible today. (In a few wealthy places miscegenation has begun to attenuate this process, but Dinesh D’Souza’s wishful thinking notwithstanding, it will not be reversed for a long, long time.) The fact that we cannot say how many races there are does not render the concept invalid; it has fuzzy boundaries, like many concepts. If you need a definition, Steve Sailer’s “an extended family that inbreeds to some extent” covers the territory just fine.

    All of this is doubly embarrassing because I was perfectly willing to treat race as a valid category when it suited my purposes.

  • Deep Throat was “obviously” a composite. Obviously. Good thinking there Cool Breeze.
  • Animal rights. I got in a lather here and here about how moral agency distinguishes humans, who have rights, from animals, who don’t. I must have understood “moral agency” then; I don’t now. Agency and rights, I now believe, are constructs. They come in handy, to be sure. We need good alpha approximations to adjudicate claims that would otherwise be too messy. I still think rights are a fine idea, but I won’t get all ontological about them the way I once did.
  • The war. This is the big one. On the one hand, I write: “Human beings are good at estimating first-order consequences, notoriously poor with second order, and the third order is like the third bottle of wine: all bets are off.” On the other hand, I support a long-term, insanely complicated geopolitical strategy to democratize the Middle East, which entails foreseeing third- and further-order consequences up the wazoo. The U.S. government has not done very well at it. Surprise! But what was I thinking?

    I was thinking, first, that Saddam Hussein was a really bad guy. Knocking over the occasional tinhorn despot, if only to keep the rest of them on their toes, has a superficial appeal. When your target despot rules a slapped-together country encompassing three perpetually warring ethnic groups, any two of which can agree only on the necessity of annihilating the third, then it may not be such a hot idea. Should I have seen what was coming? No. Should I have seen that I could not see? Damn straight.

    There was also a certain haste to blame America in the anti-war arguments that bothered me. I have no desire to discourage self-criticism, least of all in this post. But even Jim Henley, who among the long-time opponents of the war most closely resembles a responsible adult, has not exactly emphasized the horrors of a culture that treats suicide bombers like rock stars and stones homosexuals to death. These very horrors, ironically, undercut the case of the warbloggers, who harp on them. Surely the least likely people to successfully impose your political ideas on are those whose core values are utterly alien to your own. You end up just killing them instead.

    I can also go along only partway with the classically libertarian “health of the state” argument. Yes, “the Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons.” And yes, war is the health of the state. But the man who said that was a pacifist, and only a pacifist could regard it as dispositive. War in Iraq? Health of the state. World War II? Health of the state — as anyone who has tried to rent an apartment in New York City can tell you. Civil War? Health of the state for sure. Should we not have fought them on that account?

    Of course the current Administration has seen the state flourish. It has attempted to arrogate to itself the power to suspend habeas corpus for U.S. citizens (Padilla) and to deny the presumption of innocence to the accused (Hamdi), with only feeble objections from the judiciary. It has decreed a “War on Terror,” which is in effect a permanent war. Health of the state is one thing, and permanent police-state powers are something else.

    The anti-war people were right, and I was wrong, and I hope my caveats do not sound too churlish.

Update: Will Wilkinson comments.