Parable of the Weeds

Once there was a man who did not like weeds. After all, weeds are ugly, they choke out the crops which feed people and the pretty flowers that make people happy. Some of them are even poisonous. When a particularly nasty bunch of weeds overran his strawberry patch, the man said to himself "Dammit, them things gotta go."

The man was not a biologist, an ecologist, a horticulturist, or any of that green stuff. So he didn't bother tryin' to understand them nasty weeds. Nope, he was a fighter, and he liked to blow things up. So he just set up his mortar, did some calculations, took careful aim, made sure no one was around to get hurt, and lobbed a big 'ol bomb right into the middle of that weedpatch.

Well, bein' a bomb, it exploded. Bein' just little plants, the weeds exploded too, little bits of 'em flyin' all over the place. The weeds were totally destroyed, no visible trace remaining, except of course all the debris lyin' around. "Well, I sure showed them", thought the man, and he replanted the strawberry patch and put the whole thing out of his mind.

Checkin' out his fields the next week, he received a startling shock. Along with the berries, a whole buncha new weeds were coming up - centered on the same place, but over an even bigger area than before. "Goddamit", he said, "I guess I shoulda used a bigger bomb". Instead of using his mortar, this time he set charges across the whole weedy area. Buried 'em deep, wired 'em up, stood back, and blew 'em all.

The result was impressive. Bits of dirt and berry and weed exploded into the air, forming a huge plume of dust which slowly dispersed, settling over the entire farm. "Hoo boy!", he thought. "That musta got 'em!". He spent the rest of the week replanting, and basking in the glow of his victory.

The glow turned to chill, however, when he spotted the first weed right by his front door. A couple days later, it was clear that the damn things were springing up all over his property. Well, he couldn't blow up his entire land, so perhaps it was time for another tactic. He started up his 'ol junker and drove to visit a guy he kinda knew who was into all that book learnin' and loved plants - an ecologist of sorts.

Boy, when he told him the story, you shoulda seen the ecologist laugh! "What'r you laughing for? I blew them damn things up good - so they must be coming from somewhere else. Mebbe my neighbor? Underground? Mixed in with the berry seeds? Hey, why'r you still laughin'?"

The ecologist explained. It took awhile at first, but he was patient and eventually he got through to the man. Plants spread when little bits of them get moved from place to place. By blowing them up, the man had briefly destroyed them, while spreading the seeds for the next generation. Helping the weeds, not hurting them. A battle won, a war lost, he finally pointed out in terms the man understood.

"But dagnabit, I can't just let them weeds win. I can't do nothing", said the man. "Are you sure you ain't on the weeds side? After all, you're tryin' to stop me from blowin' them up!". "Just calm down", replied the ecologist. "If I was on the weeds side, I'd encourage you to keep blowing them up. After all, that's the best way to spread and create more weeds, in the long run. I don't like weeds any more than you do, fella. But I understand that fighting them can be tricky. You have to kill them without spreading the seeds - its complicated. Of course, if you aren't man enough to do things right...good, I thought you were OK. Now here's what you have to do..."

The ecologist spent hours explaining alternate tactics. In the short term, going in and pulling the weeds individually by hand - weary toil, but it prevents them from spreading. In the long-term, the key is to understand how the weeds grow and live. They flourish much more in some levels of soil salinity and pH than others, they need certain nutrients. Because weeds and crops are different, they don't like quite the same environments. By shifting to certain kinds of crops, fertilizers, and so forth, an environment can be created where weeds just weren't very fertile. The crops out-sprout 'em. The result might not be quite the crops or yield you could get in a world without weeds - but its the best that can be done in ecology we've got.

As he drove home, the man's mind struggled with how complicated it all was. Who wanted to understand them damn weeds anyway? But as he reached home and saw weeds sprouting all over his land, everywhere the plume of dust had settled, he had to admit that it was his fault. He had spread the initial group of weeds farther than they could have spread themselves. Maybe this ecology stuff was good for somethin' after all. Couldn't be worse than his method.

---

This story occured to me when reading an article by Robert Wright about how we are making the mistake of focusing on current terrorists rather than the goal of "minimize the integral of the number of terrorists over the next twenty years", or of the damage they do, or whatever. Its the typical human irrationality of seeing the visible (current terrorists) and not the invisible (potential future terrorists). Our passion for bloody justice leading (possibly) to a net increase in bloody injustice.

Additionally, Wright makes the quite frightening point that as technology gets cheaper over the next few decades, terrorists will be able to do more and more damage. This means that destroying present terrorists at the cost of creating future terrorists, even if the numbers are equal, is a net loss. We should be much more worried about future terrorists than present ones. Yet that does not at all seem to be the attitude of the USA. Unsurprising, of course, given the short-term viewpoints of politicians...but saddening as a member of the human race.

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Well, I'm not in favour of

Well, I'm not in favour of "stability" for its own sake in the Middle East because that's unfortunately what we had for most of the '90s and is nolonger acceptable. What I'm in favour of is establishing functioning states in the Middle East which are going to be relatively free and not harbor terrorists or threaten their neighbors, and that requires some political instability in the short- to medium-term in order to clean things up in the long term.

But yes, I don't think the people who use the flypaper argument realize just how much it undercuts their own case. Few things make me wince more than bad arguments being used for a cause I support.

Matt, that argument for the

Matt, that argument for the war is indeed the worst. But it's widespread. And it really cannot be used with any of the other major arguments, such as creating stability in the middle east or bringing peace to Iraq.

:furious: Problem with many

:furious:
Problem with many of the posters is that they confuse the term Terrorist.Before,our warmongers loved to use the term communism--oh yes the bad commies are about to get us--kill the kooks-all of them pests.
Why not use the term NAzies instead? I guess that is warn out. How about after wearing out terorrists,we go after outer space aliens?
Get this fools----Anglo /Americans are the terroists>I guess our flying aces over 32.0000ft drop bombs on villages and cities is OK,but a freedom fighter who packs his wagon with TNT and blasts the real USA terroists is not fair.
Here is something to relate to---a very sick sex raper confronts a young women and beats her to admission and to a plup and robs her,her father catches the creep and kills the scum.I guess our media and government would classify the father as a terrooooorist.(as Sharon would say)
What is wrong with you fools----where have you been---alot of this civilian bombing--is USA and Brits comandos and taught by our goodie pals from Israel-stupid fools!

That was suppose to be: 4)

That was suppose to be:

4) There is no proof we have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians in this war, that was a made up number.

BTW, the terrorists are getting their asses kicked. Iraq is acting like a big bug zapper. One that actually attracts terrorists and not beneficial insects. As is evidenced by their blowing up civilians.

"Iraq is acting like a big

"Iraq is acting like a big bug zapper. One that actually attracts terrorists and not beneficial insects. As is evidenced by their blowing up civilians."

I mostly support what the US has been doing in Iraq, which is why I have to call bullshit on this argument. The flypaper argument is morally vacuous because it basically says that it's better to have lots of Iraqis get killed by terrorists as long as a lot of terrorists also get killed. Iraqis are human beings, not bait.

Patri, You state: As one

Patri,

You state:

As one argument, Iraq used to be a secular country with few ties to global terrorism (although admittedly with lots of internal repression and violence towards its neighbors). Now it has tens of thousands of people (perhaps hundreds of thousands) whose relatives were killed by Americans, and lots of Americans to vent its anger on. Method, motive, and opportunity, where before it had none of the 3.

The facts don’t support your contention. 1) Iraq was a sanctuary for terrorists prior to the invasion, several infamous terrorist resided there, and Iraq provided funding for terrorists such as money for families of suicide bombers and training areas for terrorists. There were even ties with Al-Qaeda, direct and indirect despite the fact that Iraq was “secular”. 2) Pol Pot was running a “secular country” what does that matter. 3) We already had killed many Iraqis during the Gulf War. 4) There is no proof we have till hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians in this war, that was a made up number.

So they had method, motive, and opportunity before this War, despite what you claim.

"Are the attacks against

"Are the attacks against Iraqi citizens more a function of relative weakness of citizens or the relative lack of grievances toward the US?"

Both. There have basically been four main groups within the insurgency:

(1) Islamists following Zarqawi whose goal is to destabilize Iraq and eventually turn it into Taliban Afghanistan v2.0. Needless to say this is not acceptable.

(2) Former Ba'athists whose goal is to destabilize the Iraqi government and regain power. This group and the former group have pretty much merged over the past year.

(3) Sunni tribal groups who fight mainly out of paranoia of being made an underclass (or even being ethnically cleansed) now that the Kurds and the Shi'ites are in control. There's been an effort to bring this group into the political process recently.

(4) Shi'ite militias like Sadr's group and the Badr brigades. These ones have pretty much stopped fighting the occupation and started fighting amongst themselves.

The latter two groups have a strong dislike of Americans but can be bargained and reasoned with, and have mostly been brought within the political process. But the former two groups are the ones doing all the carbombing and other mass civilian casualty attacks, and are pretty much impossible to bargain with because their "grievances" are more to do with the fact that they're not in control than anything else. Those types can only be killed or captured.

Matt, I will read the

Matt, I will read the report, thanks.

"The majority of attacks within Iraq have not been against US troops simply because it tends to backfire whenever they try it. US troops are quite capable of defending themselves, but unfortunately Iraqi citizens aren’t, and consequently they’ve been bearing most of the pain. Which is another point againt your parable and should tip you off that the increases in violence don’t have a heck of a lot to do with grievences against the US."

Are the attacks against Iraqi citizens more a function of relative weakness of citizens or the relative lack of grievances toward the US? Also, remember what we are considering here: terrorists. If they only attacked troops, they wouldn't be classified the same way. They wouldn't be terrorists.

It's funny -- you guys are

It's funny -- you guys are arguing the specifics, while the thing that jumped out to me is that it is more apt to say that this relates more to the terrorists trying to blow up self-government with bombs, and simply spreading more self-government. They are the ones on the ropes (as the arguing over the specifics shows.)

Patri, "Suppose that instead

Patri,

"Suppose that instead of locking up terrorists in gitmo, we brought out a bunch of sociologists (or even better, economists) to interview all the terrorists we caught, their families etc, to try to determine the main factors driving them towards terrorism. Then see which of those we have control over, and how we can change our procedures to generate less terrorists."

Marc Sageman has done some good preliminary work in this direction as presented in Understanding Terror Networks, and you can get a feel for his work by reading his testimony to the 9/11 commission (and Razib's post on it here). Unfortunately his scope is narrow right out of the gate since he only studied international terrorists, excluding ones whose interests more local. Scott Atran has also been doing some interesting work which meshes well with Sageman's, a good sample of which is here (also another post here). I'm not sure that I agree with all of his conclusions, but this is the sort of work that does need to be done. Though there's sometimes strong temptation, we have to try to resist the allure of neat little monocausal models (e.g. "poverty creates terrorism", "US policy creates terrorism", "lack of democracy creates terrorism", etc).

"On the other hand, one might also reasonably argue that if our goal is to reduce terrorism, terrorist attacks against US troops in Iraq should count on the negative side of the balance."

The majority of attacks within Iraq have not been against US troops simply because it tends to backfire whenever they try it. US troops are quite capable of defending themselves, but unfortunately Iraqi citizens aren't, and consequently they've been bearing most of the pain. Which is another point againt your parable and should tip you off that the increases in violence don't have a heck of a lot to do with grievences against the US.

“We should maximize terrorists killed minus terrorists created, not just terrorists killed” is very simple, but I think its also obviously correct, and it doesn’t look to me like its what we are trying to do.

I agree with this in principle, I just don't think your parable accurately captures the full reality of the situation, like Mark said.

"Now [Iraq] has tens of thousands of people (perhaps hundreds of thousands) whose relatives were killed by Americans, and lots of Americans to vent its anger on."

Well, John Robb estimates the size of the insurgency at about 150K, though I think he may be overestimating, and per Anthony Cordesman's long and detailed analysis, they're a diverse group of foreign and local Islamists, former Ba'athists, and angry/paranoid Sunni tribal groups. But again, the sheer numbers of Iraqis killed by terrorists (several hundred per month) swamps the number killed by Americans, and again this seems to suggest that there's other factors motivating all of this besides resentment of the US.

"If its true, that means that terrorist attacks and widespread opposition to terrorism are correlated, right? Which means that widespread opposition to terrorism is actually evidence that terrorism has increased!"

Well I don't think it's necessarily false to suggest that the past couple of years has seen an uptick in terrorist attacks worldwide (though again, it's definitely not as dramatic Rossie cited would have you believe), I just think it's facile to suggest that US military actions over the past three years have somehow "created" more terrorists on net and that this supposed trend will necessarily continue, when the data are inconclusive at best.

Matt - I think there is

Matt - I think there is another interesting argument to make against the "terrorist incidents" number, which is that by being in Iraq we expose ourselves to more terrorist incidents. So the number of attacks might increase even though the number of terrorists has remained constant. On the other hand, one might also reasonably argue that if our goal is to reduce terrorism, terrorist attacks against US troops in Iraq should count on the negative side of the balance.

I apologize for being catty, it’s just that your whole post struck me as being risibly simplistic and at odds with reality.

No prob. It was meant to be simplistic - but I don't think its at odd with reality. The basic argument that I just commented to Constant: "We should maximize terrorists killed minus terrorists created, not just terrorists killed" is very simple, but I think its also obviously correct, and it doesn't look to me like its what we are trying to do.

As one argument, Iraq used to be a secular country with few ties to global terrorism (although admittedly with lots of internal repression and violence towards its neighbors). Now it has tens of thousands of people (perhaps hundreds of thousands) whose relatives were killed by Americans, and lots of Americans to vent its anger on. Method, motive, and opportunity, where before it had none of the 3.

Your mathematical argument is valid, but it doesn’t make the Muslim poll data irrlevent because in order for terrorism to be sustainable it requires a social millieu which approves of it. If that well of support dries up, life becomes harder for terrorist groups. The error you’re making is that you’re only accounting for one half of the picture: most casualties of terrorist attacks are Muslims, so at the margin this should also turn a lot of Muslims away from terrorism. Using a similar argument to yours, a short-run increase in the number of terrorists is also perfectly consistent with a long-term suffocation of terrorist organizations.

Now that is an interesting question. I certainly agree with your last sentence. And your point that, cetirus paribum, less widespread support definitely makes life worse for terrorism. But I'm not convinced that cetirus is paribum here.

Curiously, your argument that terrorists often kill Muslims, thus alienating them seems to run counter to your point. If its true, that means that terrorist attacks and widespread opposition to terrorism are correlated, right? Which means that widespread opposition to terrorism is actually *evidence* that terrorism has increased! But you could be right that its evidence that short-term terrorism has increased but that long-term terrorism will decrease. It would be interesting to crunch the data and see if that's true.

Were their truly any

Were their truly any strawberries in the garden in the first place?

Seems to me a better analogy is that it's the neighbors abandoned and vermin infested property that is being managed. There is an garden but also an orchard containing magical trees that magically change wildlife into rats. The orchard is unkempt with fruit falling on the ground which causing the local rat population to proliferate. Most of the rats mind their own business and eat the fruit. But the fruit is fermenting and some get drunk on it and go berserk running up telephone poles and blowing out the electricity, gnawing through the electric in the surrounding building and neighbors houses and setting them on fire.

Instead of cleaning up the fruit or chopping down the magical apple trees the man starts bombing the garden, he also puts up a chain link fence at great expense between the properties that interferes with other wildlife migrating but has little effect on the rats. The man also buys lots of birdfeed, filet mignon, and truffles. He scatters this food on the other side of the fence to keep the rats from eating the apples. He occasionally bombs rats that are behaving badly. The other rats are not happy with the drunker rats but continue eating the spoiled apples until they too go berserk.

Even when they don't go berserk from the apples they become mean drunks. Becoming intolerant of any other wildlife that desecrates the apples, by even touching one. The "peaceful" rats are often found buring their fellow rats up to their waists in the dirt and stoning them to death. If a rat stops eating the apples he can change back into his original form or any form he wishes. It's as simple as that. However whenever a rat does this the other rats pile on top of him an gnaw him to death. There were non-magical apple trees in the garden at one time but the rats have gnawed the bark off of them so that they cannot produce apples. They prevent any other animals from restoring these trees. Any rat caught importing non-magical apple seeds is killed.

The man mistakenly believes that the magic apple trees are a source of good so he starts fertilizing them in the hopes he doesn't have to spend so much on Filet Mignon and truffles. He sees that the rats are transporting the seeds of the magic apple onto his side of the fence and is happy because he has his own orchard that has born good fruit that he got by leaving volunteer seedlings grow into majestic trees.

In the past the man had searched the neighbors yard and at great expense had found a large underground vault of cheese. He made agreements with the neighbor to tell where the cheese was and provide his expertise, techonology and equipment for some share of the extracted cheese. The neighbor agreed to these terms but after all the equipment was up an running rats on the property killed the neighbor and "nationalized" all the cheese and backed out of all agreements, keeping even the mans equipment for themselves. The rats then started fertilzing the magic apple trees with the cheeze, and using cheeze revenues to export the spoiled apples that the tree produced.

At first the rats being produced by the magic apples did small amounts of damage to the man. One day the killed his fiance, Robert F. Kennedy. They were constantly getting into his model airplanes and causing them to crash. Several times they took hostages of the mans friends. Then they started to get more bold because of a lack of action on the mans part. They started to blow up the mans buildings.

Then the rats went too far. They blew up one of the guest buildings killing 3000 of the mans friends. There were pieces of magic apple strewn all around the building. The man picked an apple up and saw a piece of paper sticking out. In fact he saw that all the apples had such notes, each one different. They were like some kind of fortune cookie. He pulled out the note. It was a note in with writing some strange rat writing on it. He didn't realize it but the note said "Kill the unrats".

I could go on but whats the point. You can make up these little analogies read anyway you want. The point is stop praising the magic apple trees. It's the trees that need to go. The trees need to be exposed as the frauds they are, so the rats can meet their potential of becoming truly peaceful wildlife.

I think the logic of the

I think the logic of the story is a bit stilted -- who "blows up" weeds anyway? Perhaps a better analogy (if you could make it work) would be those who insist on the perfect lawn, every few years using Roundup to kill the whole thing off, then start all over again -- to destroy the evil weeds you wipe the slate clean.

In our attempt to eliminate terrorism and thereby create a peaceful civilization, we blast away at the niduses of terrorism, accepting that collateral damage of the harmless nearby is "the price of freedom." Well, if that were such a good idea we should be lobbing rockets into crack houses, and if a few neighbors are killed, that's the price of a drug-free community.

What's it like to live in place where you take turns being shot at by terrorists, your own police force, and the US military?

The problem of terrorism is

The problem of terrorism is somewhat different. Sure, you have a lot of opinions flying around, a lot of people saying, “if they had only followed my plan, things would have worked out so much better.” That’s not the same thing as really having a solution. Looking above at the parable I fail to notice mention of any actual solution that is supposedly being ignored.

Sure, but that only weakens my suggestion if the sources of terrorism are not only unknown, but unknowable, and I really doubt they are. Suppose that instead of locking up terrorists in gitmo, we brought out a bunch of sociologists (or even better, economists) to interview all the terrorists we caught, their families etc, to try to determine the main factors driving them towards terrorism. Then see which of those we have control over, and how we can change our procedures to generate less terrorists.

I see it as importantly different to try to maximize "terrorists killed minus terrorists created", rather than "terrorists killed". And it seems like an obviously more correct maximand. Just because we don't know how to maximize it doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to.

Rossie, The article you link

Rossie,

The article you link to is based on the NCTC's report which is available here (PDF). It's not a bad piece of work (and a definite improvement over what came before it), but as usual there's some vital context being dropped in the news article:

1) The reported increase in terrorist incidents is largely due to a change in methodology than anything else. In the past, this report was handled by the State department (the NCTC having only been created recently), and there were immense problems with their methodology which were leading to significant underreporting. The current methodlogy gives a more accurate picture than the previous reports did, but having this reported in the press as a massive increase was extremely misleading.

2) If you actually bother to parse the numbers in the report itself, about 3/4 of the actual reported attacks happened in Kashmir and Iraq, which should surprise no-one. There's a good post which presents several possible ways of slicing and dicing the data here. Bottom line is that the data are ambiguous. This report is a good start, but more work is needed to get a better picture.

Patri,

I apologize for being catty, it's just that your whole post struck me as being risibly simplistic and at odds with reality. Mark's more nuanced post after yours makes the point better than I could be bothered to have done (shame on me).

Your mathematical argument is valid, but it doesn't make the Muslim poll data irrlevent because in order for terrorism to be sustainable it requires a social millieu which approves of it. If that well of support dries up, life becomes harder for terrorist groups. The error you're making is that you're only accounting for one half of the picture: most casualties of terrorist attacks are Muslims, so at the margin this should also turn a lot of Muslims away from terrorism. Using a similar argument to yours, a short-run increase in the number of terrorists is also perfectly consistent with a long-term suffocation of terrorist organizations.

So much for the analogy

So much for the analogy between weeds and terrorists. If you can trust the expert on weeds, but you can't trust the expert on terrorists, that's a pretty damn serious dis-analogy.

I can't speak for Patri, but

I can't speak for Patri, but I think the point is that merely killing terrorists won't solve the problem, not that there's some expert who knows how exactly to solve the terrorist problem.

No, that's actually a bad

No, that's actually a bad idea. They have different interests than Americans.

Israel has a seige mentality. There's no reason for the US to have that mentality. American concerns tend to be humanitarian, global strategic, and ideological. Israel concerns are with survival and regional prominence.

The problem I see with the

The problem I see with the parable - it's a good parable, and it probably applies well to many situations, but that doesn't mean it applies all that well here - is that while we really do have a lot of good knowledge about how to eradicate weeds, we don't have such good knowledge about how to reduce terrorism. The parable, I remind you, is unrealistic because ordinary people know perfectly well how to eradicate weeds. They can learn this in books, from other people, even in the local hardware store where product containers patiently explain how to use said product to eradicate weeds. They can hire professionals and frequently do.

The problem of terrorism is somewhat different. Sure, you have a lot of opinions flying around, a lot of people saying, "if they had only followed my plan, things would have worked out so much better." That's not the same thing as really having a solution. Looking above at the parable I fail to notice mention of any actual solution that is supposedly being ignored.

Exactly what plan should we follow? OK, so the US is foolish. Let us, then, see tremendously wise things other countries are doing. What about the Spanish plan? The Spaniards have rather deep historical ties with Islam, so they may know a thing or to. What they did was to give the terrorists exactly what they wanted. Is that the tremendously sophisticated plan that the US is failing to follow?

There is one country in all the world with I think the maximal experience of terrorism and therefore the maximal expertise, or very close to: Israel. The parable suggests that we should listen to the experts. OK, then, I propose the following: let us put our military at the disposal of the Israelis. Let's let the Israelis decide where we go, what we blow up, and so forth. Sound good?

The eensy weensy flaw in the

The eensy weensy flaw in the parable here seems to be that its totally false. Support for terrorism is down within Muslim countries, not up. But dont let the facts get in the way of a good story.

And don't let logic get in the way of a snarky comment.

Having support for terrorism among the general population go down is perfectly consistent with having the number of terrorists increase, since the latter number is a function of the number of people at one extrema, not the average viewpoint.

For example, suppose we kill 3 innocent people per terrorist. And on average, for each innocent person we kill, there is a 50% chance that one of their many friends and relatives, the one who is most unbalanced or religiously zealous, becomes a terrorist. Now we are producing 1.5 terrorists per terrorist killed, due to reactions among a tiny minority of the population. The majority could well be moving in the opposite direction.

Now, I freely admit to not knowing whether we produce more or less than 1 new terrorist per terrorist killed. But I do know that your piece of evidence is not particularly relevant.

Not totally false, Matt,

Not totally false, Matt, just half the story.

There are times when you need fast eradication of weeds so you can get access to an area and work it. You just need to make sure you work the area to your benefit and the detriment of the weeds before they sprout again. Patri sort of makes the point here that we should discount future weed growth realistically, and not choose a single extreme.

In fact, I think the ecologically careful weed eradication analogy fits (85% or higher) the way the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being fought. The coalition is using more surgical strikes, more information management, and more nation building in these wars than have been used in any other armed conflicts I know of (though IANA military historian, and may be corrected). The relative US support of religious Shiite Muslims at the expense of secular Sunnis must seem bizzare to anyone trying to understand or portray the conflict as "the Great Satan destroying Islam". US strategy can be easier explained as an attempt to transition the area to a freer, more productive region.

I am by no means a fan of wars, the current US administration, or the socialist trends of the current US government. But you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Decisions need to be made with the information and tools at hand, and not postponed until the world is as you wish it to be. When you look at the past, you need to accept the imperfections of the knowledge and tools of the time. When you look to the future, you should develop ever better knowledge and tools.

Instead of weeds, another analogy could be made to the use of antibiotics. Overused, they lead to bacterial resistance and increase the chances of infection. Never used, and infection can also run rampant. But if you understand bacterial infections in general, and the role of antibiotics in controlling them, they become one tool of many in your arsenal.

I think the moral of Patri's fable is, "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed".

Nice red herring. The

Nice red herring. The parable isn't about the garden's support for weeds, it's about the presence of weeds.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0428/dailyUpdate.html

<-- terrorism acts up in 2004

The eensy weensy flaw in the

The eensy weensy flaw in the parable here seems to be that it's totally false. Support for terrorism is down within Muslim countries, not up.

But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Matt, The Iraqis were being

Matt,

The Iraqis were being killed in larger numbers under Saddam so it's a win-win situation despite your moralizing about the equivalence of Iraqi lives to our own.

Besides I don't do my moral equations the way you do. The lives of my family are more important to me than the lives of your family. That's just the way it is. That says nothing about the issue of legal standing, just my preferences. If your siblings were a bunch of red neck bombers I would prefer it if they blew up your neighborhood than mine. I wouldn't feel the least bit of angst over it either.

BTW, that was just an example. I might actually prefer your family to mine if I got to know them. However I can not say the same for Islamic culture. I think it is far inferior to what we have here. That being a part of who they are I value them less.

I actually don't like the way this war is being fought. I don't think the US can afford to pay to clean up every Islamic cultural mess around the world. I don't think the "democracy" in Iraq is going to work out. It think it is a big waste of our resources. I think a strategy that puts a much bigger burden on the people who are at the same time the perpetrators and victims of this insane philosphy is more likely to succeed. Although, frankly, I believe I am completely out of my depth on this issue. I for one thought things would be going much worse than they are in Iraq. I do find it objectionable to be wasting our lives and resources on these ingrates, who would kill us for our beliefs if they had the power. I don't think Islam and freedom are compatible.

Regards,
Brian

All of this nit-picking

All of this nit-picking about a parable- not to claim it's in the same literary class, but isn't it a bit like complaining about Animal Farm being unrealistic because animals can't talk? Parables simplify to make a point. If James Thurber were alive today... he'd regard this as a very proper-gander. Nice job.

A moral philosophy that

A moral philosophy that believes the consequences of starting wars in other countries don't matter because the victims aren't us isn't very compatible with freedom either.

I don't buy your argument that more people were dying from violence before Hussein was removed than after. The quality of life argument may be true, but I don't think scores of Iraqis were being killed every day before the invasion. I'm sure Matt will correct me if I'm wrong...

David, We didn't start the

David,

We didn't start the war. Saddam did when he invaded Kuwait. He didn't live up to the requirements of the cease fire. Furthermore, he was playing with terrorists. Which is fully sufficent cause for war. There isn't any reason we couldn't invade other countries which have initiated agression against us via their support of terrorists. We don't only because we don't think it is worth it, yet.

If we had initiated the war then so much the worse for that "fact" and not my moral beliefs. If that were the case there would be NO justification for the deaths of any Iraqis, even incidental ones. I never said you could start wars just because the victims aren't us. That was your frankly, idiotic, conclusion.

That I don't value your garage as much as mine does not imply I have a right to trespass. I don't know where you derived that. That doesn't mean however you can store explosives in your garage next to my property and not expect me to want redress. If my attempts at redress result in the bomb squad destroying your garage and your explosives I won't feel the least bit of angst about it either.

I just gave some facts that even you practice hypocritically if you take certain actions. Are you living in a straw hut and sending most of your income to feed the poor in Africa? If not then you value yourself and family more than Africans. Why aren't you sending them your money? If you pay your taxes then according to your logic you are in small part responsible for every death in Iraq. There are many actions you can take to stop this and I bet you are not doing anything significant. If you value the lives of Iraqis above your fellow countrymen then why you over there defending the Iraqis?

As for the common Iraqis. Forcing people to live with the consequences of their own philosophies isn't in any way intrusive. If they are going to have a society with a culture that breeds terrorism then they should bear the consequences. If they don't want terrorist blowing them up then they should not tolerate their own clergy advocating the murder of non-muslims in their mosques, government rallies screaming "Death to America" and the like. Besides, I don't have a responsiblity to keep other Muslims from killing each other. They have a responsibility to provide for their own self defense and they have been doing a lousy job of it.

People who don't act in their own self defense not only harm themselves but act as a resource for evil people to sustain their attacks against others who are defending themselves.

Think again about the death rates under Saddam. Saddam was reasponsible for starting two wars, gassing Kurds, putting down uprisings, invading Kuwait. He's responsible for every death in those incidents because he initiated agression. We did not initiate agression in the case of this war. His initiations of agression resulted in millions of deaths. How long was he in power, maybe 30 years. So divide one million by 30 for a rough estimate of the death rate under Saddam.

I don't remember the exact numbers but if you only look at two incidents the 1988 killing of 180,000 Kurds, and the 1991 killing of 240,000 Shia, then divide by 30 you get 14,000 annually. That's far beyond the rate at which civilans are dying in Iraq now. Nor are the terrorist going to keep it up for 30 years.

Even under proposed "libertarian" voluntary fire department systems when an uninsured person requires help from the fire department the have to pay for it. Even in the case where they did not ask for help. If their house is on fire they cannot refuse help, precisely because it endangers others. Similarly, if you have a problem with rats, pollution or disease on your property. If it threatens others they have a right to correct the problem. Similarly, when a entire country cannot prevent the ascention of a tyrant who threatens others (even it is against their will), they will need to pay some price for the efforts of others to get out of their mess. We don't have to help but if their situation endangers us we have a right to get involved and be compensated for our efforts.

The situation in the Islamic world is worse than that. Not only are they running a fire trap but they believe they have the right, no an Allah commanded quest, to turn the rest of the world into a similar fire trap. Furthermore they blame outsiders for the state of disrepair they keep their fire trap in. Then start fires not only in on their own property and the property of others.

Without using any analogies. Saddams government in no way met the kind of non-agression principles that would shield him from others taking action. Anyone, anywhere in the world, had the right to stop Saddam's evil behavior. It doesn't matter if there were other bastards in Iraq that supported him. Even if it were 90% of the population.

So on the issue of the invasion. Bush could have done it even if Saddam never attacked Kuwait and it still would not have been an initiation of agression. Bush is not executing the war in any way to suggest that he had merely used Saddams behavior as an excuse to steal and enslave the Iraqis the same way Saddam did. In fact, he is bending so far the other direction that Americans have a right to complain about all the money being funneled from us to them.

We argue the justifications

We argue the justifications for war as if we have a choice in the matter. You acknowledged this choice by referring to an invasion on an earlier post. Why distort the issue by claiming that wars are not the responsibilities of certain participants? A lack of choice is certainly not a premise to the discussion. Action by warring parties is just that: action. It cannot be wished away as merely an impulse.

You presented Iraq as a "bug-zapper," which is presumably a reason for the war or a smug hindsight. In either case, I argue that this, justified by the belief that innocents destroyed by this effect are worth less than us, is not compatible with freedom.

In no way am I talking about self-defense, innaction, or anything related to your examples. It doesn't matter how you value the lives of others, as long as you don't exterminate them. You don't have any positive obligations whatsoever, but you do have an important negative obligation: don't kill people unless you have a damn good reason. And that brings us back to justifications for war, which can in no way include the "bug-zapper" justification and still be considered compatible with freedom.

As for the number of Iraqis killed, those were insurrection-related killings which happened more than 10 years before the invasion. I'm not justifying anything and I'm not making a broader point, I'm just saying that daily life is probably more hazardous today than it was 4 years ago in terms of mortality. And related to that, I think non-marginal arguments for war are silly. The notion that we have some resevoir of wars that we can fight at any given time in the future is questionable. What's a reasonable window for retaliation for a real grievance? I don't know, but a decade is ridiculous.

David, "You acknowledged

David,

"You acknowledged this choice by referring to an invasion on an earlier post."

Oh, please. We "invaded" France on D-Day. Apparently the word "invade" doesn't mean what you want it to. I admitted to nothing by using the word invade.

"Why distort the issue by claiming that wars are not the responsibilities of certain participants?"

I have no idea what you mean by this. I haven't distorted anything so I don't know what you are referring to.

"A lack of choice is certainly not a premise to the discussion. Action by warring parties is just that: action. It cannot be wished away as merely an impulse."

You presented Iraq as a “bug-zapper,” which is presumably a reason for the war or a smug hindsight."
Wrong it is neither. That's a "smug" assumption on your part.

In either case, I argue that this, justified by the belief that innocents destroyed by this effect are worth less than us, is not compatible with freedom.

Since it isn't a “justification” you can't argue that, now can you. No body is making the argument that we should use innocent Iraqi civilians as bait, nor is anyone happy that innocent Iraqi's are dying. In fact the bug zapper/flypaper theory does not require even the existence of Iraqi civilians. The fact that the terrorists are blowing up civilians only certifies that they are terrorists, it wasn't any goal on the part of the US.

Just because I attacked one part of Matt’s comment does not mean I agree with the rest of it. I know of no one making the "flypaper" theory that is feeling "smug" about innocent civilians being killed or believing they were the bait. In fact if anything it's our solders that are "the bait", although that isn’t true either.

Read my comment again, nothing about it implies that “bug zapping” is a justification, goal, or that Iraqi’s were bait. My comment was merely an observation that may be contradictory of his “weed theory”. We are kicking the weeds asses.

"In no way am I talking about self-defense, innaction, or anything related to your examples."

That's ok the people talking about Iraq acting like a bug zapper are in no way talking about the things you seem to think they are.

"It doesn’t matter how you value the lives of others, as long as you don’t exterminate them."
Exactly. You and Matt are aware that it's terrorists killing the civilians, aren't you? They are the ones targeting civilians, not us. I'll ask it again because both of you act like somehow we force terrorists to make the choices they do. Do you think we are responsible for terrorists murdering innocent civilians? Do you?

"You don’t have any positive obligations whatsoever, but you do have an important negative obligation: don’t kill people unless you have a damn good reason."

There you go again. This is what really gets me pissed off, people moralizing at me who don't even know how to assess responsibility for crimes. The only persons responsible for the civilians killed by terrorists are terrorists.

Now if the terrorist (and insurgents) would be man enough to stop hiding behind civilians and move onto the battlefield then we could deal with them with the minimum of incidental civilian causalities. No, instead they decide to hide in not only their own but in our civilian populations. Not only that but they are acting on behalf of and with support of foreign governments, like Syria, Iran, etc. That is an act of war, and any time we please we can go after them. It’s up to us whether it is worth the costs. They have already started a war by blowing us up. Saddam was harboring terrorists and that in and of itself was sufficient moral justification for going after him.

"And that brings us back to justifications for war, which can in no way include the “bug-zapper” justification and still be considered compatible with freedom.

Point to where I ever said that it was a justification. You are reading what you want into what I write. I wrote nothing of the sort. You do understand the point of this stupid parable don't you, that we are creating "the terrorists"? Fact is, we are killing the terrorists, not creating them. It's the "innocent Muslims" who create them by teaching their children the ideology of Islam and spread lies about non-believers. When some actually take the words of the Koran seriously and start murdering innocents the blame lies with those inciting to Murder, and the Koran is an incitement to murder. The Koran teaches to kill most non-Muslims (and enslave the remaining) and to kill Muslim "collaborators". You teach your kids that and of course you’re going to have problems. They may be innocent in terms of actual crimes but they are complicit in the intellectual errors that result in those crimes. Muslims living under Islamic regimes can no more complain about the results of their ideology than communists living under communists regimes can complain about shortages and pogroms.

"As for the number of Iraqis killed, those were insurrection-related killings which happened more than 10 years before the invasion.

So what?

I’m not justifying anything and I’m not making a broader point,

Oh, I see there is no 'what'.

I’m just saying that daily life is probably more hazardous today than it was 4 years ago in terms of mortality.

No, kidding. The whole point of the terrorism, to make "useful idiots" come to that conclusion. What kind of a pawn are you? The idea of terrorism is you kill people till you get your way. If all the useful fools would shut their traps or blame the terrorists for the situation then it wouldn't work now would it. Stop giving them positive reinforcement.

"And related to that, I think non-marginal arguments for war are silly.
You are going to have to be specific. I don't know what your referrent is nor what concept you wish to capture but this phrase.

The notion that we have some resevoir of wars that we can fight at any given time in the future is questionable.

It’s not a “resevor” of wars. It’s a list of governments taking hostile action against us and sheltering people who have committed acts of war against us.

As an example Iran has been instigating their people with “Kill America” and “American Satan” for decades. They are currently , they are threatening our allies, there have been discussions by clergy (in effect the government) in Iran about how nuclear war wouldn’t be so bad for them since they don’t need technology, they are working on nukes, threatening us, and the terrorist they are harboring belong to groups that have investigated nuke terror.

As another example, North Korea has been blackmailing us, violating treaties, shipping missile technology to hostile countries and the like.

It is the responsibility of the people in those countries to understand the danger their leaders are putting them in. If they don’t have a say they better think about overthrowing their government before they get into a war. If they don’t get a handle on the situation then we have the moral authority to protect ourselves. We will try not to harm them but it just isn’t in our ability to guarantee their safety if their own leaders choose to use them as shields or warriors.

What’s a reasonable window for retaliation for a real grievance? I don’t know, but a decade is ridiculous.
The invasion wasn't retaliatory. The goal was to remove Saddam from power, not punish Iraq. Saddam was shooting at our planes almost continuously during the ceasefire, had thrown out inspectors, was harboring terrorists, and was doing many other things. I guess you just never paid attention to what was going on. Are you one of those who thought WMD was the only justification? It wasn’t. You want a time limit? So what do you think the statute of limitations for genocide should be? I don't think there should be one.

Besides, I'm sick of arguing against what you think I'm saying instead of what I am saying. I said we were in a cease-fire which means technically we were still at war. Saddam violated that cease-fire. So we didn't "start it".

Brian M, Please stop

Brian M,
Please stop insulting other posters. When you start calling your opponents "useful idiots", "pawn", "fools", "idiotic", "hypocritically", etc, it's a good sign you're too emotionally invested in the argument.

LOL! Saying "it pisses me

LOL! Saying "it pisses me off" is a better metric of emotional commitment, don't you think?

Besides, your commenters and even posters are constantly calling people "fools", even "fucking fools". You have a anonomous commenter, Geo Archer, in this very thread who called all the other commenters "fools" twice and the didn't seem to bother you. Heck, Don Lloyd just put up a post titled "The Speaker" in which he calls Hastert a fool. Scott Scheule says "You're an idiot".

Are you the moderator? Do you have a posting policy on not using four letter words like "fool" and "pawn". Isn't that a little pussified for a political blog? You know what they say about discussing religion and politics don't you? I'd say your expectations are just a little off.

I don't know if I believe that however since you allow posts on goat fucking.

Why are you so worried about me insulting them. Don't you think Geo Archer's post was insulting. How about Matts calling my observation "Bullshit" and then putting words in my mouth which he then labeled "morally vacuous". It was also intellectually insulting since it is impossible to use civilians as bait in the first place. How exactly do you do that? Do you stake them to the ground and wait in a duck blind? Why on earth would he project such stupid thinking on someone else other than to insult them? The same with David Rossie, he projected some pretty stupid assumptions about me into his responses.

Actually what I'm thinking is that you disagree with me and can't actually put up an argument. So you thought you'd try to discredit what I was saying by claiming my beliefs came from "emotional commitment" instead of rational consideration. What's the matter too lazy to make an argument?

Here's what I said, it included argumentation and not just name calling, and I stand by it:

I’m just saying that daily life is probably more hazardous today than it was 4 years ago in terms of mortality.

No, kidding. The whole point of the terrorism, to make “useful idiots” come to that conclusion. What kind of a pawn are you? The idea of terrorism is you kill people till you get your way. If all the useful fools would shut their traps or blame the terrorists for the situation then it wouldn’t work now would it. Stop giving them positive reinforcement.

I hope that guy doesn't have kids. They'd be throwing temper tantrums all the time to get their way and he would knuckle under. Why? Because when he does so it's more peaceful. That's being a pawn. Sure things were peaceful after Saddam slaughter hundreds of thousands who tried to throw of his tyranny. So what. That's the whole point of terror, it's extortion.

There are deaths in Iraq now, not because of our efforts but despite them. We are building schools, roads, power plants, etc. It is vitally important to the terrorists that we not succeed because it shows them for what they are, and we for what we are. Failure is not only important for them but for others morally bankrupt groups like the leftist, and even the French cleptocrats. You know the ones that were taking all the dole from Saddam.

I don't think this strategy is going to work, because frankly I don't think Muslims want our help. It is insulting to them. We are their niggers and getting help from us is an insult. If you think that is overly powerful then try reading the Koran sometime, or reading about their treatment on non-Muslims, not the fluff history, the real stuff. It puts the KKK to shame.

Now I could be wrong, they might become grateful, and as I've said it is going better than I expected. But looking at all the blood we have spilt for France and seeing their current attitude I'm not all that optimistic.

As I was saying...

As I was saying...

My point was rather simple,

My point was rather simple, and if you disagree with it or think I'm falsely projecting your positions then just say so. It's easier to answer you when you have a clear point. Spare the distracting tirades.

And for all you know Jonathan could agree with you...