Thursday, June 30, 2005

I just read a very interesting open letter to Paul Krugmann on TCS ( ), which accuses the once renowned economist of having forsaken objective argumentation in favor of cheap, emotional polemics.

TCS’ contributing editor Arnold Kling goes on to point out his systematic fault with the help of half a dozen examples of possible pro- and contra arguments on various issues from school vouchers to the Iraq War.

He contrasted two types of arguments by doing so:

The type M arguments, and the type C arguments.

Type C arguments are what we’re taught at schools and universities ( hopefully ! ):

Objective criticism of the adversary’s views, based on facts and theories, thereby focusing on the outcome, the result of a policy, its consequences ( therefore “type C(onsequneces)” )

Type M arguments, on the other hand, ignore the implications, consequences, possible or likely outcomes of the policies they criticize, but concentrate on the motivation ( type M(otivation) ) which a political agitator – person, party, corporation – might have to support or oppose a certain policy. Type M argumentation leads to personal attacks instead of attacks on the arguments of the opponent. As you can guess, that tears the level of discourse down tremendously, as facts can be proven, but motives only suspected ( even if there are strong indicators for certain motives ). What’s more, objective arguments can be countered with contradicting arguments or evidence of similar cases, or experience etc. An attack on a personal level, on the character of an individual or party cannot be countered rationally … you can ignore such attacks, which may leave the impression that you agree with the assessment. You can try to counter a smear by smearing the opponent and his party as well, but then you stoop down to his level, and every further discourse is rendered impossible – or will be reduced to exchanging swear words.

Example of a type C argument against the Iraq War:

“Saddam’s army had been rendered largely in-operational due to lack of spare parts for tanks and jets, and low morale trough-out the ranks, from the drafted men up to the officers. Therefore another attack on a neighbouring country like Iran or Kuwait would have been rather unlikely, and Saddam did not pose an imminent threat to anyone but the Iraqi people.”

While I personally supported the Iraq War, I must concede this would be an objective argument ( no wonder I just constructed it by myself – *patting myself on the shoulder* ), which might be sustained further by evidence and stats about the number of tanks operational in 1990, vs. the corresponding number of 2000 for comparison.

Of course it might as well be contradicted by evidence to the contrary, e.g. the outlawed missiles which UN weapons inspectors found in Iraq, the traces of WMD they scraped off machines at several industrial sites, etc. An objective argument can be countered by objective arguments, and if not, you know you’re wrong.

An example for a type M argument against the Iraq War would be:

“It was all about oil. George W. Bush and his cronies in the administration got ties to big oil corporations, e.g. Halliburton, and they just went in there to enrich themselves. The United States are exploiting another poor 3rd world country and stripping it off its resources. They accepted the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, and even US soldiers, to achieve their goal …”

Such a subjective line of argumentation, with unproven alleged motivations of key politicians, might be proven wrong by objective argumentation as well – such as the fact that Bush and the other members of the administration didn’t earn a dime

by going to war, ort that the war costs billions of dollars, or that the Iraqi oil is now belong to the Iraqi people, and the US has to buy it if she wants some etc.

But the temptation is high to respond in kind, and hurl similar suspicions and insults at the other party.

So using type M arguments undermines your own credibility, therefore making it impossible to bring your point across, and is at the same time deadly to an open, calm, rational debate.

Why am I writing this all ?

TCS explained it better than I could, anyway ?!

Well, I read the piece of TCS and it gave me pause to think … I am guilty of using type M arguments as well, at least partially.

You know I believe that Sharon’s motivation for coming up with the so-called “disengagement plan” was his bribery scandals, which would have costed him his seat and de facto ended his political carreer, in case he would have been properly tried for it.

That’s why I suspect he came up with a plan, which leftist politicians had long been proposing, to please the leftist judiciary establishment of Israel, and get his trial called off in exchange for implementing said plan.

I still believe that that’s the way it all came about. And I still oppose the deportation plan.

So far, so “type M”-ish … but if you read me correctly, I never made that the center point of my rejection of the deportation plan.

I just mentioned it as an illustration of the plan’s background.

My rejection of it lies grounded on type C arguments, some of which I have presented here in more or less coherent form:

We should always focus on the ends, not the means; and on the implications, not the motivations.

Consequentially, I would support the plan – despite my conviction that it is brought to us by a corrupted politician who’s trying to save his ass – if I saw more positive than negative implications for Israel in it. But that is not the case, compare my detailed post which I linked to above.

Vice versa, let’s suppose Sharon was not corrupted, and any trial would find him to be not guilty of the charges raised against him. Let’s say Sharon’s motivations were pure, and fundamentally good. Let’s say he was convinced that the deportation plan would make Israel more secure, and was a vital step towards peace, that is an end to islamist “palestinian” terror.

There would be nothing wrong with his noble motivations, but still the plan would be dead-wrong, as it would not serve as intended by his motivations. I would still oppose it with hands and feet.

This should teach us all a lesson.

History is full of examples for such lessons, which demonstrate that the best intentions can bring about mayhem and destruction ( just think of Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler shortly before WWII and the Holocaust happened – hey, the man wanted peace ! And what he got, or rather brought about through his naivitée was all-out war and genocide), whereas actions taken out of sinister motives turned out to be beneficial to mankind.

Motivations are irrelevant, worthless, often misleading and counter-productive, as are the words expressing them.

What matters is definite policies, the actions resulting from them and the practical implications of these actions – the ends, in a word. By these implications we should judge any policies and actions to be taken … incl. the deportation plan. That doesn't change the fact that Sharon ( or insert politician here ) may have a most despicable character, but our evaluation of what he proposes should not be influenced by that.


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