Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What’s Wrong with Inductive Reasoning?

A fiction writer named Walter Kim is guest blogging over at Andrew Sullivan’s page. So far, he’s talking sense. His first post addresses American obstinacy in the face of terrorism.

I guess I'm just weary of hearing that beating terrorism means doing what we've always done but a whole lot harder, with more firmly gritted teeth. That's what Iraq's about, it seems to me: fighting the Gulf War over again, but this time with feeling. It's like rebuilding the World Trade Center and calling it The Freedom Tower or whatever. Why not call it the Lack-of-Imagination Tower?

...I'm a fiction writer and a book critic, not a professional political journalist, and the behavior of our leaders nowadays reminds me of Captain Ahab or King Lear and doesn't prompt thoughts about issues and philosophies. I think I know megalomania when I see it, in literature and also in life, and I think I know too when a plot has swerved toward tragedy. It happens when events reveal a flaw in the basic approach of the protagonist and he reacts to the bad news by clinging to that flaw more strenuously. Aside from the Bill of Rights, which protects our very ability to change, let's change what we can as quickly as we can and see what works and what doesn't in this fight instead of going all stiff and stern. That's our advantage, after all: we can revise our doctrines and they can't.
He makes a good point. Equating change with weakness is ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s also ridiculously popular in this country. Look at the last presidential election. Bush scored big points over Kerry by painting him as wishy-washy for changing his position on the war. Being the inept candidate he was, Kerry fled in the face of Bush’s attack, trying to retroactively spin his statements about the war into a consistent message. Why not say, “Yes, I supported the war when you proposed it to Congress, when you convinced Americans that Iraq was an imminent danger. But now, new information has come to light. I’ve learned new facts. I’ve revised my opinions.” Since when is stubbornness a virtue?

Ignoring new information and blundering forward with a bullheaded game plan is a tragic mistake, not to mention a bad way to fight terrorism. Changing one's mind is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of sense.

--Matthew McCoy