Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Laws of the Internet: Sowell's Rule

One of the recurrent themes found on the internet within movement conservatism is a comparison of the issue of the moment to the events of 1938 - that one moment when perhaps Hitler's plans could have been stopped and world war two prevented. 

The same is also true with regard to 1914. What if, somehow, the leaders of the democracies of the North Atlantic possessed perfect knowledge about the consequences of am apparently isolated event in the Baltics.  Perhaps in that event, these nations could have collaborated in a dramatic way to prevent the first world war. 

If only something could have been done at the time of peril, these calamities needn't have happened. This type of comparison to modern events happens all the time of the wingnet.

The Fallacy goes like this: things don't seem too far out of control now, but things also seemed to be under control in 1914 and 1938 and then all hell broke loose.  Consequently we better take some dramatic action now or hell could break loose just as it did in 1914 and. or 1938. Life as we know it could suddenly come collapsing down just like it did back then. That's why we must create and lead a coalition of the willing to defeat Saddam Hussein immediately or to bomb this county or that country. The list is inexhaustible. 

For one rigid right wing ideologue, Hoover Institute's Thomas Sowell, every year since there has been an internet has seemed pretty much to be like 1938 or 1914.  Maybe that's an exaggeration, but not by much.

So why to these right wingers do it so often? One reason could be fear, as the conservatives base has been shown to react more strongly to rhetoric based on appeals to fear.  However, Daniel Larison (probably) has a better answer:
What tells us even more about a person’s foreign policy assumptions is how often he falls back on historical analogies and how varied those analogies are. For instance, when a neoconservative or hawk invokes 1938 in response to every single crisis or major event overseas, that mostly tells us that he probably has a very superficial grasp on the particulars of current events. If everything can be reduced to a comparison to the Munich conference and its aftermath, there is no need to make the effort to understand the present-day crisis on its own terms. It also suggests that the person making this comparison is more concerned to score ideological points rather than he is interested in offering relevant analysis. By the same token, citing 1914 as a cautionary tale is potentially just as misleading. While there are tensions between major powers, there is much less danger of a a war between them today than there was a hundred years ago. Invoking the start of WWI can be just as lazy and reflexive as shouting, “Munich!” We should always want our government to be careful “about extending treaty commitments to client states,” and we should always want it to exercise caution and not overreact to foreign crises, but most of the “lessons” they draw from 1914 don’t need the example of 1914 to make sense to us.
Basically, the 1938 /1914 fallacy is crutch to lean on when one is not interesting in thinking about the complexities that exist today.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Understanding the Wingnet: The Benghazi Conspiracy Explained

Phrase of the Day: The Benghazi Conspiracy Theory

During an attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, died in the hours that followed. At the height of 2012 presidential campaign, GOP insiders decided to use the attack as a political tactic against the incumbent president during the campaign by insinuating lack of competence, dishonesty and malfeasance on the part of the Obama Administration.

Though there was not evidence supporting these allegations, rank and file republicans gave party insiders the benefit of the doubt and took the allegations to be true. Thereafter fueled by Conservative Media, conspiracy theories took hold of the party as party members attempted to piece together facts into a narrative that would besmirch the Obama Administration.

Initially, the GOP charged the Obama Administration of whitewashing a terrorist attack, these allegations morphed into even more outlandish claims of a stand-down of military aid to the besieged facility, claims that the CIA was using Benghazi for running guns to Syrian Rebels and even that the attack was allowed to happen in order to murder the US Ambassador.

As the 2012 election ended in defeat for the GOP, Party Insiders kept the allegations alive as a ploy to be used against a potential 2016 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton who was the Secretary of State during the attack. As a result, disinformation about the Benghazi consulate attack has been routinely disseminated through conservative media such as Fox News with such disinformation expected to continue on in effect for the duration of the 2016 presidential campaign  - if Hillary Clinton runs as a candidate for the democratic party.

Despite having been dispelled by 7 different investigations, the Benghazi Conspiracy continues to hold the attention of the hard right in America due to three basic components. First. There was an actual attack on a consulate and due to the "Fog of War" the sequence of events was not immediately apparent.

Next insiders within the GOP decided to use the attack on the consulate as tool to reinforce previously held views within the GOP base about the Obama Administration's approach to Islamic Terrorism.

And finally, understanding what caused the consulate attack and the events surrounding the attack required reliance upon "Elites" as the ordinary person lacks the capability and knowledge to make a determination on his/her own.  This reliance on Elites and in particular reliance upon partisan or dishonest Elites makes the ordinary individual particularly susceptible to disinformation and manipulation.  In the parlance of the right wing media, rank and file republicans were "Gruberized" or deliberately manipulated by GOP Elites in order to achieve a larger objective - defeating the incumbent party and returning to power.

Link to House Intelligence Committee Benghazi Investigation Report.