A Fool’s Paradise


John Wright


As of this writing on 9/26/2002, there is much discussion about President Bush’s hawkish stance and administration plans for invading Iraq. I happened to see a hyperlink on the Microsoft Network home page that asked the question, "Should we attack Iraq?" I clicked on it and found myself at the website of a publication environment called "The Fray" and it is a forum/bulletin board/chat room for various topics. On this occasion, one Michael Kinsley wrote an article, "Ours Not To Reason Why," denouncing deceptive administration plans and tactics regarding Iraq. Numerous readers responded with a great variety of negativity about Kinsley’s position and only a few supported his position.

I thought about posting a message to that bulletin board/chat room and first read most of the participant replies per The Fray recommendation. The idea is that responses should be sequential as arguments develop for or against the original writer’s (Kinsley’s) article.

The more I read, the more concerned I became with the pathetic, pea-brain responses of the participants. It didn’t matter whose side they were on … in 98% of the responses the levels of intelligence and knowledge of the responders was so evidently poor that I found myself exiting the site rather than demean myself by participating in a no-win mud-slinging fools contest. On reflection, I realized that any communication from me to those participants would have to take the form of teaching them about their abysmal general ignorance, severely limited knowledge of the specific topics, and inability to think objectively and take positions consistent with their level of knowledge.

One of the first tasks of professors in good liberal arts colleges and universities is to take incoming freshmen and tear apart most of their biases and prejudicial beliefs that they "learned" while growing up. The idea is that de-programming the student is a prerequisite to teaching the student to think objectively and to perform broad research before coming to any comparative analysis of researched information or subsequent conclusions about any subject. Alas, almost all USA citizens as well as citizens of other countries do not experience the above process at any time in their lives, and one result is the pathetic output/reader comments I reviewed.

What a depressing event! The old story about three blind men trying to describe an elephant based on where each touched the elephant is about as close an analogy as I can produce at this moment. My challenge now is to ask questions of all respondents that will mitigate the unfounded strengths of their beliefs, in the hope that they will try to learn and try to think objectively before running their yaps. If you cannot bridge the gap between all sides of an argument, you have no business running your yap.

Let me start with the truism that no one can think deeply about or speak intelligently about any subject outside the range of their experience. We may learn from the experiences of others by watching and by reading, but one thing we cannot do is divine truth from a vacuum or a disguised political agenda. It follows that the strength of our opinions on any subject should be proportional to our actual knowledge and experience.

Thus it is that individuals who assume knowledge they have accepted on faith is not knowledge at all, nor is the sum of their personal life experience in any subject a sufficient basis for forming general conclusions. Hence, personal experience is not a valid philosophical argument, unless the argument happens serendipitously, to be both factually true in all aspects and provable by all other individuals. Even then, an intelligent person will note that the quality of their knowledge and their conclusions is subject to change as new information is discovered. Absent hard, provable facts, any suggestion of knowledge is found to be simply theory.

Let us proceed to look at any apparent research of truth from two directions. First, there are those things that we can and do discover directly or through the reliably repeatable work of others. Second, there are those things, which by their absence infer potential fallacy of any promoted facts or truth. You can see that easily in the world of advertising. When was the last time you heard an advertiser openly warn you about the limitations and deficiencies of a product or a contract?

Some examples are also found in The Fray discussion. Note that no Arabs in general or Iraqis in particular participated to justify their positions. That should raise a red flag immediately in any discussion that purports to be objective and complete. Next, consider that no one addressed the subject of how things got to be so bad in our relations with Iraq and other middle-eastern countries. Is it not reasonable to look backwards to identify why many middle-eastern people despise us? Could it be that religion has little to do with their attitudes and is simply a rallying point for their cooperative efforts? Is it possible that we have a direct responsibility for their negativity based on our history of virtually stealing their oil prior to 1975? Might it be that we are the aggressors who use underhanded tactics continuously to force those nations to do our bidding?

I noticed something very special missing from all the chat room comments, specifically, not one person spoke to the question of downstream consequences, other than the weak-minded military guys who think only of "kicking ass" in the present tense, ostensibly on behalf of our future children. But at what cost? Are you ready to knee-jerk your way to a Dresden or Nagasaki type bombing environment? Have you thought about the future impact on the USA in terms of both our enemies and our presumed current allies?

Our chosen behavior will have long range consequences with our presumed allies as well as with our enemies. It takes but one event where any country denies sovereignty to another for all other countries to see and fear the true intent of the aggressor. Thus, a pre-emptive move on our part to remove Saddam Hussein and any nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction that may exist in Iraq is, quite bluntly, robbing them of the same initiatives we reserve for our defense. Is not our massive defensive capability what we are now proposing to use for offensive purposes? You might further ask yourself, are we big enough to ignore world opinion as we proceed into the future? What is the one valid lesson history provides us about individual aggressors in a world of strong nations?

In the court of world opinion, we are about to cross the line from peacemakers to warmongers. That was not true in our pursuit of the Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan as we obviously were attacked first. Such is not the case with Iraq. Direct invasion now will put our enemies on the moral high ground, and then they can feel free to poison our water or detonate bombs in our country. Are you prepared for those consequences? Do you believe that we will be more effective than Israel in preventing suicide bombings?

Thus, the things that are not considered become the basis for our downfall, as has been true throughout world history. I certainly noted the absence of that consideration in chat room comments.

Now lets move on to the topic of breadth of knowledge. As I examined the defined reasons for each contributor’s position, I picked up on the factual reality of what most used as the basis for their conclusions. I also noted the extreme narrowness of their "fact filled" environment. One can, as it turns out, crab their way into a very small intellectual space from which to defend their primary argument and ignore the rest of the universe of facts. This behavior is anti-knowledge and is not respectable. Yet, how many people do you know who will reserve comment when they know they might be missing key information? Assumption of all relevant knowledge is the most arrogant position of all. It is found both in the world of the very powerful and in the world of the very ignorant.

My parting thought is that the combination of power and ignorance is what we have to fear most from our presumed leaders. The chat room fools wield no power so the damage they can do is small. Such is not the case with our "leaders." Welcome to paradise.