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.

No comments:

Post a Comment