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Joseph Ottinger's blog

In My Own Defense

I’ve been lambasted recently in a few relatively small circles for being a flaming conservative, pro-war, anti-Arab, rabid and blind Zionist, and for couching completely unreasonable conclusions in sane and justifiable arguments, and for being racist.

I disagree. I’d like to take a fairly circuitous tour through some thought processes to show why.

The discussion that started all of this was on the US action in Iraq. I am not pro-war; for one thing, it’s too uncontrollable to be respectable. For another, I’m not especially fond of the deaths of anyone, not of those I love, not the deaths of those I like, not the deaths of people I respect, not the deaths of people who I disagree with, not the deaths of people who I dislike, not the deaths of people who hate me, not the deaths of people for whom it could be said I carry hate.

However, I do think there comes a time when action has to be taken. I do not necessarily agree with all of the reasoning. I do not prefer the mode of action. I do, however, understand it: the people who chose to undertake war felt that all alternatives had been exhausted. I am not one of those people. I understand that they have resources I do not, access to information I do not have the right to access. They have different views than I do, and I assume there are two reasons: they are not me, with my biases and preferences, and they have vastly different sets of information to work with. I assume that, because their resources are much better than mine, they are reasonable people and act according to the information they have.

The assumption that they’re reasonable people covers a lot of ground. If they act unreasonably, then I have to try to figure out why. Are they truly unreasonable? That’s hard to judge, because I don’t have the same set of information they do: what appears unreasonable to me might make perfect sense given more information, much as “salt is made of two poisons” adds reasonableness (of a sort) to an assertion that we should “eat two poisons every day for better health.” Thus, I have to consider themin toto, to consider whether the unreasonableness is in character or not. If they act unreasonably in other areas – and remember, the same criteria that expects my knowledge to not encompass theirs applies to all situations – then perhaps they’re simply unreasonable. However, the criterion still applies. I think action “A” is unreasonable. However, I don’t know all there is to know about action “A”; they know far more than I do. Likewise, I think action “B” is unreasonable. However, my knowledge of “B” is far from all encompassing, so my judgment may be incorrect because my assumptions of my own superior knowledge are flawed.

That said, I don’t presume superior knowledge. I’m only myself. What I know about, I know about; what I don’t know about, I don’t pretend to know about. I’m unafraid to make conclusions based on my limited knowledge and data, and I’m likewise unafraid to admit that my conclusions are based on potentially invalid information. I tend to not make unqualified statements because of my awareness of my own humanity.

So, the war on Iraq: I would far prefer another solution. I have no direct interest in regime change in Iraq for its own sake, although what I hear about the regime in Iraq is horrible. I don’t care about Iraq’s oil for my own purposes, because I want alternate energy sources in use. I do, however, see the Iraqi government encouraging and sponsoring actions I find deplorable and criminal, and dangerous. Do I think it is the United States’ responsibility to rein in Iraq’s government? No, I do not. Do I think it’s the United Nations’ responsibility? Yes, I do, and I also think the U.N. has abdicated its authority entirely by being willing to make resolutions without being willing to enforce them, and thus the responsibility falls elsewhere. I would prefer for some other nation to do it. I also recognize that the kind of passivity that implies is deadly: someone has to be willing to shoulder the burden. The United States is willing to do so, against the tide of “public opinion” (meaning “the will of some in the United Nations”) using methods it deems fair, despite their danger. Perhaps the methodology would change, if there were more solidarity, and the U.S. certainly could have worked harder to build solidarity among the U.N. member nations, but why? France had drawn a line in the sand, saying that they would not be convinced, at all, regardless of reasoning. (It turns out that France’s version of the Maginot Line in the U.N. was almost as effective as the Maginot Line in 1941; possible use of chemical weapons was offered as a reason to support the US action. However, it’s a little late for that; if France felt that way, then they should have said so long before. Saying that you’re willing to seek a common ground and alliance if conditions are met after you’ve stated that you cannot find a common ground and alliance is a bit misled.)

So the U.S. Government, having a goal in mind in accordance with the U.N., chose to go to war. This is regrettable. It’s also based on choices built from information I do not have, and I think it’s reasonable for me to expect to never have it, because information can often lead to direct danger for the ones providing the information, and also lead to the information stream being terminated.

What’s more, even though I’m ostensibly anti-war (although I understand the effort that includes war), I disagree with the anti-war protesters. I certainly don’t find their protests invalid; I celebrate free speech, even to the point where I’m unwilling to tell those who castigate me for my views to just shut up. They have a right to their opinions, as I have a right to mine; they have a right to express their opinions just as I do. However, many of the anti-war protesters seem to be missing the concept that the other view might be valid, and they seem to care more about preventing corrective action (as the “pro-war” view holds) than they do about preventing the action that needs correction. Where are the “Saddam, free your people” placards? Where are the “Hussein, allow dissidence without fear in Iraq” posters? Where are the “Hussein, elected by 100% – because nobody else was able to run” signs?

Maybe they’re there. I haven’t seen them. I have seen little if any outrage directed towards the regime in Iraq, which is cruel by all accounts but their own. I’ve seen defenses based on poor logic: “If they had weapons of mass destruction, we would have found it, therefore they have no weapons of mass destruction.” I’m sorry; you can’t prove a negative. You can’t say, “There are no dinosaurs” while being scientifically accurate. You can only say, “We know of no living dinosaurs,” which allows for the possibility of a living group deep in the ocean, for example. In Iraq’s case, you have an active belligerent that would certainly benefit from deceiving the U.N. inspectors; we have their assertions, and an incomplete search. (The search, incidentally, was followed by, after the onset of war, their use of weapons they supposedly did not have.)

I would have preferred for a longer inspection. However, the U.N. had mandated a thorough inspection and cooperation on the part of Iraq for twelve years; Hans Blix began the recent round of inspections within the past year, delayed largely to resistance on Iraq’s part and inaction on the United Nations’. “That’s not long enough,” some say, and I agree; Iraq should have begun cooperating with the inspections long ago. The U.N. Resolution addressing this was met with more delays on Iraq’s part.

Note that I am not trying to take a stand here. I support the men and women doing their duty; I would prefer a peaceful solution, but recognize that one may not be readily available. The situation is regrettable, but my willingness to accept the situation regardless earns me a lack of consideration in many areas.

For example, I’ve been called “inauthentic” because I am willing to say that the “other side” might be right or justified, and defending their viewpoints in reasonable terms. I’m not sure I understand that, outside of a definition of slander, and it’s not as simple as it seems.

For one thing, the attacks made tend to be ad hominem. That’s all right; I’m an adult, and I understand how to respond to such things: by ignoring the attacks themselves, although I’m curious about the reasoning. If my reasoning is sound, how does that make me “inauthentic?” It means that I may have different assertions as starting points. It means I may be drawing different conclusions. However, I’m not sure how either of those makes one “inauthentic.” I understand that different starting points tend to yield different conclusions, and I’m open to the concept that I could be wrong. The most relevant attribute of those who call me inauthentic is their lack of openness: they could not be wrong. If they were, then the sky would fall and the earth would shake; there’s a lot of reality invested in their absolute rightness. However, I am “inauthentic” and “arrogant,” while admitting that I could be drawing the wrong conclusions, but that I still had the conclusions I have and being willing to take the heat for them.

The attacks also include the claim of racism. Obviously, I do not feel I’m a racist, but I recognize preferences within myself, and I’m honest about them. I am Jewish. I tend to prefer Jewish goals to non-Jewish goals, given no other information, although there are certain and clear exceptions. Here is how I see it: Let us assume you must hire one person out of two, but you are given only cards with their names. For example, the cards might have “Moshe” and “Mohammed.” That is literally all the information you receive. You do not get last names, or qualifications, or skin color, or eye color. You do not get to see the candidates: you have two cards, one with “Moshe” and one with “Mohammed.” I do not know which you would choose. I would choose “Moshe,” because “Moshe” is a Jewish name, and I’m more likely to feel an affinity for a Jew than a non-Jew. It’s fully possible that “Moshe” is someone for whom I have no affinity, the person might not be Jewish at all, and I certainly have no idea of their ethical systems; likewise, “Mohammed” might be perfectly qualified and far preferable. If I had more information about them, perhaps I’d choose “Mohammed.” I have no qualms about this.

Likewise, another test: two cards, one with “Michael” and one with “Gabriel.” Which do you choose? Why? I choose “Michael,” because that is my brother’s name. There is no other criterion I have.

Yet another test: black man, or white man? I choose the one for whom I’m more likely to have affinity given no other information.

This is basic human psychology; one prefers more affinity to less affinity. One also prefers benefit to bane. It’s not racist of me to choose “Moshe” over “Mohammed,” given the level of information on the cards; racism would be me choosing “Moshe, the unqualified but Jewish” over “Mohammed, the qualified but Gentile.”

Likewise, my stance on Israel and Palestine is related to my Jewishness. I feel affinity for Israel vibrantly, because I have seen pictures of my family from 1936, since eradicated by the Nazis; yes, I take those who advocate destruction of Jews personally, and those who advocate destruction of Israel advocate the deaths of Jews. I am Jewish. One cannot say, “We hate the Jews,” without including me in that statement. Expecting me to be dispassionate about that is inadmirable. I can support Israel’s right to exist without supporting every action Israel takes. I can likewise detest Palestine’s actions in supporting suicide bombers without hating Palestinians. I can detest Palestine’s declared wish to destroy Israel while respecting Palestine’s right to exist as well. I can support Israel while wishing Israel would stop supporting additional settlements on land allocated to Palestine, and while fervently hoping a peace can be forged between the two states. I can also prefer one between the two, because of the policies of the given states. This is not racism; this is reason. Others may (and do) disagree. I do not expect people to agree with me; I put forth my understanding, and my conclusions are my own.

Lastly, I’ve been accused of being a “drone.” Another ad hominem attack, this implies that I’m drawing my conclusions from others. If that’s the criterion, then it might be true: I’m definitely not witnessing the situations first-hand. I am not in Iraq. I am not in Palestine. I am not in the U.N. meetings. I am far removed from these places, so my information is very much filtered. I try to see as much information as I can, but I’m limited by time; therefore, I try to choose sources that I think are reliable to the best of my ability. I’m aware that these sources can be and often are flawed. (CNN comes to mind.) I’m also aware that there are two sides to every story, and I try to see things from the all sides to see if I consider them to be “more valid” than my original position. Therefore, I definitely accept information through filters. That’s why I try to be careful to describe my reasoning before my conclusion, because the reasoning is likely to be more easily corrected than the conclusions are, and the causals might serve as better guides than conclusions anyway. “XYZ is evil” is far less relevant than “XYZ murders people for misspelling transitory verbs in foreign tongues, and will kill the brothers of women who do not accept advances,” because the first part is a conclusion, while the second part leads to that conclusion, unless you consider such behavior as not being evil. I would think that explaining causals would be far less “dronelike” than simply deciding that a view was unpopular, despite being reasoned, and therefore deciding that those who hold that view were drones. Applying peer pressure does not make a conclusion valid. If eight people pressure one person into saying, “a box of rocks is as light as a similarly-sized box of feathers,” that doesn’t make it true. Even if the person gives up and agrees with the assertion, it’s still false. Likewise, if the one person says that a box of rocks is as light as a box of feathers, and the eight disagree, the eight countering the assertion with “You’re just wrong,” as opposed to explaining density, the eight aren’t likely to convince the one to their way of thinking.

Please accept my apologies for the length and breadth of this essay. I’ve tried to limit it in some ways, because I’m aware that I think in terms of interrelationships, which makes linear thought and discourse very difficult for me.

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