24 June 2005

What are we getting for our sacrifices in Iraq?

First let's be clear. The insurgency in Iraq is killing more Iraqis and fewer Americans. Despite this, polls now indicate that a majority of Americans want to get out of Iraq. The insurgent leaders take note of our media and know our poll results. They now know what they have always thought: what counts in defeating the fledgling Iraqi democracy is the number of bombs they set off. Even if they mostly kill Iraqis and alienate the Iraqi people, the bombings weaken the will of America to do what it takes to support the new government. If the insurgents just keep bombing, the Americans will simply give up and go away.

What happens then? Unlike Vietnam, there is no army ready to invade Iraq the way the North Vietnamese Regular Army invaded South Vietnam after the Americans abandoned it, and refused even to supply the South Vietnamese Army with the spare parts they needed to keep their weapons working. Or is there? Iran is investing in Iraq, supplying funds and clergy to set up schools in the Shi'ite areas. Perhaps Iran has designs on Iraq. Or perhaps the insurgents hope to bring back the Baathists (Saddam Hussein's party, which blended Nazi ideology with pan-Arabism).

Either way, if Americans walk away from the Iraqi democracy before it can stand on its own, Americans will have nullified the sacrifices of American troops and their families, and betrayed the Iraqi people yet again. And instead of a democratic Iraq as the nucleus of an Islamic Enlightenment whose ideas and ideology could defeat the Global Salafist Jihad, we will have another failed state providing the Jihad with a new base of operations.

Americans will also have given up a valuable distraction. You see, if Iraq is dividing our forces in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), it is also dividing the forces of the terrorists. All those jihaddicts in Iraq are not in Afghanistan. Further, all the press about Iraq "sucks the oxygen" out of stories on Afghanistan. Whatever the jihaddicts do in Afghanistan gets no traction in the West because of Iraq. Essentially, Iraq is providing the cover Afghanistan needs as it transitions to a post-war state.

So, whether or not we moved with too much or too little haste in deposing Saddam, I think we should stay our course and leave Iraq when the Iraqi people, through their government, tell us to go, and not a moment sooner.

Because, Iraq or no Iraq, we are going to be confronting global Islamist insurgency until the insurgency burns itself out. I'd rather we do it in Iraq than in America and Europe (which is acting in its own self-interest by freeloading off the American effort in Iraq). And I'd rather that those who do not want to oppose it with violence oppose it with nonviolence instead of appeasing it or just giving in.

23 June 2005

Intellectual Warfare: Mathematics is Culturally Relative

Diane Ravitch has an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (June 20, p A14) entitled "Ethnomathematics." She specifically cites a new college textbook for Education majors, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers which as she puts it "shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged." Ethnomathematics is based on the principle that students will learn better if they are taught math in the way it was developed by their ancestral culture. [Does this mean that students of mixed ethnicity must do each lesson more than once? Must Italian kids use Roman Numerals to do long division?]

First let me say that pure mathematics is a language, which if you stick to its grammatical rules, guarantees that the statements you generate are true. You can generate falsehoods by making mistakes in the application of mathematics to real world problems, but that is applied mathematics. Pure mathematics guarantees truth because it only talks about itself.

In that respect, it is a closed system, whose structure is independent of the cultural and historical processes by which it was discovered. In other words, contrary to some multiculturalists, mathematics is not the property of Western Civilization, nor is it linked with the values of oppressors. It simply is. Whether you like it or not.

Pure mathematics serves only one cause: Truth. That is to say, mathematics is the only opportunity that humans have to encounter Absolute Truth by means of unaided reason. Mathematical statements are true, because, within the confines of mathematics, you can prove them to be true. There is a corollary to this: the only reason to do mathematics is to get the right answer!

As such, I think mathematics has a positive moral value: One can experience the limits of human will and knowledge by encountering and exploring mathematics. But those who relentlessly politicize everything including mathematics, don't want to encounter limits to their will. Ultimately they are attempting to demolish the chief obstacle to their will by deconstructing the concept of Absolute Truth itself.

I have a question for such people. When Truth is overthrown, and all is relative, what limits will you respect when you are in power, and to what will you appeal when you are out of power?

Keep mathematics pure and simple, and emphasize that in mathematics at least, there is right and wrong. Teach ways to achieve social justice in Civics class, please. And in that forum, teach ways in which social justice advocates have depended on mathematical truth. Because seeking Justice without regard for Truth leads to Tyranny.

10 June 2005

Psychological Warfare II: God and Country are not Values

I have been told of a book on methods of psychotherapy in which the subject of values was discussed at length. Here is the list of Values Domains from the book:

  1. Primary love relationship

  2. Children/family

  3. Friendships

  4. Work/career

  5. Community

  6. Personal growth/development

  7. Environment/planet

  8. Play/recreation

Now, no such list can include everything, but one can quibble about whether it includes the most important things. The things that make us who we are. One wonders how the values of, say, Pat Tillman might fit into this scheme.

Apparently the authors consider religion and spirituality to be subsumed under personal growth and development. As if spirituality were an option like reading a book, or learning to play piano.

I have learned from VCBC's Forum thread on "God = Nature" that putting Spirituality under Personal Growth may be misleading. Maybe it should go under Environment. Or maybe, it should replace Environment, so that psychotherapists could explore their own feelings about the absence of one of their core value domains. Because for many people the Environment is the transcendent value that they substitute for the spirituality that they have rejected, or of which they are simply ignorant.

Ah, but what about "Country?" Perhaps that could be included under Community, but Community is usually understood to be one's neighborhood, or maybe one's town. Maybe it also includes one's voluntary associations. I think "Country" was left out because many psychologists think that nationalism of any kind is a negative value. Nationalism and religion just cause wars. Never mind that the Enlightenment that spawned the liberal democracies that defend individual rights with national power originally sprang from Protestant Christianity.

I wonder how they would handle a client with the Pat Tillman's values. I suppose they would struggle with counter-transferrence issues of antipathy toward religion and nationalism, and try to cure the client of both.

Imagine that. Values for psychotherapists with no room for God or Country. All I can say is that if your Boy Scout or Girl Scout has behavioral problems, choose his or her therapist very carefully.

04 June 2005

Psychological Warfare: Defining Conservatism as Mental Illness

Here is part of the text of a bulk mailing from a Society of Psychoanalytic Psychologists advertising a Scientific Meeting:

In a culture based on male domination, and in which most things feminine tend to be devalued (even if they are secretly envied and, at times, fetishistically worhiped by men), the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman.

The adult male imperative to be unlike females, to repudiate maternal caretaking (or anything that resembles it), and enact the most hypertrophic caricatures of phallic masculinity is just as powerful in politics as it is in personal life.

... femiphobia -- the male fear of the feminine -- operates unconsiously in some men to influence their choice of candidates, their stands on a variety of political issues, and their attraction to fundamentalist world views and practices.

The mailing further mentions books like The Wimp Factor (Beacon Press, 2004), and, Taken In: American Gullibility and the Reagan Mythos, (Life Sciences Press, 1990), both of which "bring the irrational in politics into sharper relief."

Well, now we know. If you've ever voted Republican, it's because you're not rational. You've got a complex about the sufficiency of your dick.

This is an example of psychologists abusing their discipline to define as diseased those who do not share their political/philosophical orthodoxy. It smacks of the way in which psychologists in Soviet Russia confined dissidents to mental hospitals. I could be wrong, but I think their liberal orthodoxy may be every bit as dogmatic and uncompromising as some of the conservatism and fundamentalism they (and I) deplore.

In any event, I reject attempts to politicize any quest for truth, be it scientific or religious, as morally wrong.

But if you're in the business, and this is your cup of tea, you can get continuing education credits for this sort of thing.