The over-optimism of Fahrenheit 911

by John Q on September 26, 2004

I finally went to see Fahrenheit 9/11. I won’t give a review as I don’t have much to add to what lots of others have already said. What struck me about the film is how much worse things have become, and how much more has come out, in the time since the film was made (I haven’t checked but the film seemed to end around the time of the Fallujah atrocities and the subsequent abortive assault).

The scene of a Christmas Eve raid by US troops on a Baghdad house, with a young student being arrested while his mother and sister screamed in terror was made even more horrifying by knowing that he would almost certainly have been taken to Abu Ghraib.

There was one scene of Japanese hostages who were subsequently freed and of Thomas Hamill, the truckdriver who escaped from his kidnappers, but this part of the film would have been a thousand times worse if it had been made today, with terrorist atrocities now occurring continuously.

And while the scenes of bombing raids and the subsequent reactions were awful, these were confined to the invasion itself. Who would have thought, even in April this year, that US bombing raids on Iraqi cities would become a daily occurrence, and that any pretence of worrying about civilian casualties would have been abandoned.

And things are only going to get worse. The second assault on Fallujah, promised for November, will finally bring into reality the worst fears that I and others held about the original invasion, with large scale street fighting and civilian casualties on a massive scale[1].

The best hope is to hold whatever elections can be held, and announce in advance that occupation forces will be withdrawn rapidly thereafter, come what may. But it’s not much of a hope.

fn1. Read this post on the Haifa street killings last week, from Barista



Ethesis 09.26.04 at 12:31 pm

Some interesting comments on the war and on war in general at:


abb1 09.26.04 at 4:43 pm

your link reminded me of this: Generation Gap By Chris Floyd.

…In-depth studies by the U.S. Army after the [Second World] war showed that between 80 percent and 85 percent of the greatest generation never fired their weapons at an exposed enemy in combat, military psychologist Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman reports in Christianity Today. Many times they had the chance, but could not bring themselves to do it. They either withheld their fire altogether or else shot into the air, to the side, anywhere but at the fellow human beings — their blood kin in biology, mind and mortality — facing them across the line. This reluctance is even more remarkable given the incessant demonization of the enemy by the top brass, especially in the Pacific, where the Japanese — soldiers and civilians — were routinely portrayed by military propaganda as simian, subhuman creatures fit only for extermination.
But far from celebrating this example of genuine glory, the military brass were horrified at the low “firing rates” and anemic “kill ratios” of U.S. soldiery. They immediately set about trying to break the next generation of recruits of their natural resistance to slaughtering their own kind. Incorporating the latest techniques for psychological manipulation, new training programs were designed to brutalize the mind and habituate soldiers to the idea of killing automatically, by reflex, without the intervention of any of those “inefficient” scruples displayed by their illustrious predecessors.

And it worked. The dehumanization process led to a steady rise in firing rates for U.S. soldiers during subsequent conflicts. In the Korean War, 55 percent were ready to pump hot lead into enemy flesh. And by the time the greatest generation’s own children took the field, in Vietnam, the willingness to slaughter was almost total: 95 percent of combat troops there fired with the intent to kill.

Today, in the quagmire of occupied Iraq, the brutalizing beat goes on. “Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, it’s like it pounds in my brain,” a U.S. soldier told the Los Angeles Times last week. Another shrugged at the sight of freshly killed bodies. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I’m a warrior.” Said a third: “We talk about killing all the time. I never used to be this way … but it’s like I can’t stop. I’m worried what I’ll be like when I get home.” A few military officials are beginning to worry, too, noting the high rates of suicide, mental damage and emotional torment among combat veterans.


Giles 09.26.04 at 4:43 pm

”Third, I stand here today as the prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed ”

Funny Allawi thinks things are getting better- but he’s just a Iraqi so what would he know!


fyreflye 09.26.04 at 4:59 pm

If Bush is re-elected he’ll pull out of Iraq after the sham elections and eventually, with no more Americans dying, the country will vanish into the back pages. If Kerry is elected and tries to withdraw he’ll be accused of “losing” Iraq. Under which possible American President would the US be more likely to wind up spending four more bloody years in Iraq?


Hogan 09.26.04 at 5:02 pm

Funny Allawi thinks things are getting better- but he’s just a Iraqi so what would he know!

He clearly knows who gave him his job, and what he has to say and do to keep it.


asg 09.26.04 at 5:24 pm

What a wonderfully unfalsifiable thing to say! heh.


Dubious 09.26.04 at 5:59 pm

Abb1 —

The WWII infantryman study (one single study gave rise to this hoary myth!) about soldiers not firing their weaposn with the intent to kill that is mentioned in the quote you produce has cast into considerable doubt, or perhaps even debunked.

From Steven Pinker’s (a left-EP)
‘Blank Slate’
“In follow-up interviews, the men denied having been asked whether they had fired their weapons, let alone having claimed they hadn’t.”

Sources cited for this claim —

Bourke, J. 1999 “An intimate history of killing: Face to Face killing in 20th century warfare.”

Graves, D.E. “Naked truths for the asking: Twentieth century military historians and the battlefield narrative.” In ‘Military history and the military profession.’


MikeHickerson 09.26.04 at 6:39 pm

Funny Allawi thinks things are getting better- but he’s just a Iraqi so what would he know!

I guess you’ve conveniently forgotten Baghdad Bob was an Iraqi spokesman also.

I hate to demonize video games, but the mass slaughter for points in the childhood world of bits and bytes is preparatory for the horror of personal witness of future havoc. Seems more than adequate as a “fall back” mode for many a scarred psyche. Especially the airborne smart bomb guidance personnel. “game over, man…”


Zizka 09.26.04 at 6:41 pm

Giles — you’re a laugh and a half. “Defying the naysayers, a typical, randomly-selected Iraqi named Allawi said….”

I’d be interested to know if Allawi has a Swiss bank account, whether his family is still in Iraq, etc.


abb1 09.26.04 at 7:49 pm

I like Steven Pinker, but could you provide more info on this, please. Some links, maybe? Your post is not clear.

Floyd’s column I linked above links to this article. It cites a study by David Grossman.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an expert on the psychology of killing, retired from the U.S. Army in February. He now teaches psychology at Arkansas State University, directs the Killology Research Group in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and has written On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Little, Brown and Co., 1996). This article was adapted from a lecture he gave at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, in April.

Another article Floyd links says:

Much of the military’s research on killing and battle stress began after World War II, when studies revealed that only a small number of troops – as few as 15% – fired at their adversaries on the battlefield.

Military studies suggested that troops were unexpectedly reluctant to kill. Military training methods changed, Grossman and others say, to make killing a more automatic behavior.

You think it’s a myth, but I am afraid I need some proof.



Eric the Unread 09.26.04 at 8:12 pm

On the other hand his view of Saddam’s Iraq is still as repugnant as the day the film was released.


Giles 09.26.04 at 8:17 pm

Sure Allawi is not randomly selected but neither is Michael Moore – or for that matter virtually any selected commentator.

The point about him is that his represents a counter view to that normally articulated by the non Iraqi Media for the Non Iraqi audience. And as usual, instead of attacking his everyone goes for the man – he’s corrupt, in the pay of big bizness etc etc.


No Preference 09.26.04 at 8:57 pm

I’d be interested to know if Allawi has a Swiss bank account

I don’t know if Allawi has a Swiss bank account, but I understand that he still has a British passport.

And as usual, instead of attacking his everyone goes for the man

Sorry I don’t have a link, but I believe Allawi has claimed that Saddam was directly connected to Sept 11, and if he hadn’t been removed he would still be in Baghdad plotting similar acts. I don’t know what evidence Dr Allawi presented to support his statement, but at this point his credibility is low indeed as far as I’m concerned.


ruralsaturday 09.26.04 at 9:39 pm

It needs to be continuously emphasized that “Fallujah” is not a football team, as in “US forces pounded Fallujah today”.
It’s a small city filled with men, women, and children.
Even the use of terms like “civilians” and “citizens” is misleading, as it puts the perspective in military terms, as though “we” are part of the military.
This media-bestowed enlistment program, that makes passive observation seem like active participation, leads directly to the dehumanized twitch-athletes currently killing innocent Iraqis in order to “liberate” them.
These are people, and the nominal reason for their dying is their own liberation; which is insane logic if it’s seriously offered, but it isn’t – it’s a mask for the true motives behind all this, which have nothing to do with the welfare of Iraq, or of the United States for that matter.
No more than the “defeat” of the Soviet Union had anything to do with the welfare of the people of its member nations.


kevin donoghue 09.26.04 at 9:46 pm

One reason why debate about the Iraq war is a dialogue of the deaf is that pro-war people are often appealing to principles which anti-war people do not accept, and vice versa. For example, the “pretence of worrying about civilian casualties” is a matter of casuistry – for many people, the morality of actions which result in harm to the innocent depends on the intentions of the actors. For people who reason like that, the actual outcome of an attack is not relevant.

Meanwhile, back in the real world (where war doesn’t have much to do with morality), is it really likely that the “assault on Fallujah, promised for November” will actually take place? It seems to me that this story is intended for American consumption – in particular, for the macho crowd who need to be reassured that Bush hasn’t gone soft. Once he is safely [re]elected it will be Allawi’s turn to call the shots. From his point of view, surely it makes more sense to stir up trouble in Shiite cities? (Of course Muqtada al-Sadr is quite capable of stirring up trouble unprovoked.) Any Iraqi support Allawi has seems more likely to come from Sunnis. It would be better for him to make elections in Shiite areas an impossibility.

I am assuming that Allawi cares more for power than he does for democracy. It would be a pleasant surprise to be proven wrong about that.


abb1 09.26.04 at 10:00 pm

are you mixing up your Sunnies with your Shiites or it’s it me who’s confused?


kevin donoghue 09.26.04 at 10:49 pm


I have been known to be confused, but for what it’s worth, my understanding of the situation is this: Allawi’s party, the Iraqi National Accord, seems to have a Sunni following, insofar as it has any following at all. Since many of the members are ex-Baathists they can hardly be very devout Sunnis (maybe they are born-again Sunnis). Anyway I can’t believe they have many Shiite supporters. Sistani seem to be afraid that any elections will be a fix, tailored to minimise Shiite influence. Unless Allawi is a very self-effacing sort of guy, which doesn’t seem likely, Sistani is right.

The population of Fallujah seems to consist of unreconstructed Baathists, Sunni jihadists, smugglers and sundry other head-bangers; but not many Shiites.

It seems to me that if Iyad Allawi were to contact Niccolo Machiavelli using the services of a suitable spirit medium, the advice would be to neutralise the Shiites and leave the Fallujans to stew in their own juice until his hold on power is more secure, since they are not really a threat to him.


John Quiggin 09.26.04 at 10:59 pm

But, equally if the US President (Kerry or Bush) were channeling Machiavelli, he would do everything possible to throw the election to Sistani-oriented Shi’ites who would demand an early end to the occupation.


abb1 09.26.04 at 11:51 pm

But Allawi is a Shiite. He fell out of love with Baath in 1978 when he had to play dead when, supposedly, he was attacked by a man with an axe in England. He was an exile working against the Baathists ever since, that’s since 1978, that’s for 26 years.

I can’t imagine his 26-year-old Baathists past would give him any advantage in dealing with the today’s Baathists – other than his familiarity with the methods, of course. Using axes, making sure the guy you axed is really dead – these sorts of things.


John Isbell 09.27.04 at 12:09 am

Are you saying that Iraqis have been dying since we invaded? I think we should be told!
In an awful moment this weekend, as they lifted a tiny child out from under the rubble of a US airstrike, the elderly person next to me speculated that the toddler was American. Toddlers saved from rubble are.


Dubious 09.27.04 at 12:16 am

The references cited are books. You can find them at Amazon. There’s a third reference I didn’t list:

Spiller, R.J. “S.L.A Marshall and the ratio of fire.” RUSI Journal, 133.

So, on that side, we’ve got a nationally known MIT Chaired Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker, who can actually produce at least three bibliographically citable references.

Warning: Snarkiness Ahead

On the other side, we have Mr. Grossman (not a Ph.D. but rather the holder of a Masters of Education). At — not .org — we find the Killology Research Group, which does not appear to be a scholarly outfit with ties to prestigious Arkansas State where Mr. Grossman teaches, but looks rather more like a consultancy that sells books (On Amazon, he seems to have written his own review for ‘Stop Teaching Kids to Kill’), videos, and motivational speaking on violence prevention to schools. A possible conflict of interest.

It’s not all bad though, he also writes science fiction novels apparently, though I’ve never heard of them.

I know which side I find more credible.


kevin donoghue 09.27.04 at 12:38 am

“But, equally if the US President (Kerry or Bush) were channeling Machiavelli, he would do everything possible to throw the election to Sistani-oriented Shi’ites who would demand an early end to the occupation.”

If Bush had Machiavelli to advise him he wouldn’t have created this mess. He ignored several of the Master’s precepts: never rely on the tales of exiles; never pay for the support of allies; don’t attack someone who has conceded your main demands; always finish your first adversary before you engage another.

(Small wonder that poor Seymour Hersh is willing to settle for Kissinger at this stage:

But despite all his blunders, it is possible that Bush has an objective in mind: to install Allawi as a long-term ruler in the face of Shiite opposition. Allawi can probably get the support of Sunnis by playing on their fear of Shiite domination. Similarly he can win the Kurds by giving them substantial autonomy. Of course it means risking a full-scale Shiite uprising. But the prize is huge: Iraq becomes an American colony in all but name and Iran is practically at America’s mercy. This is not the sort of thing I like to see Americans doing, but not many great powers have turned down chances like this.

Allowing the Shiites to win power through the ballot-box would be less risky, and easier to justify, legally and morally. Sadly, those considerations might strike Team Bush as wimpish librul notions – the sort of thing Kerry would worry about.


I don’t think Allawi has many Shiite followers, whatever his personal faith. If he had, he would hardly have supported the attack on Najaf, even allowing for the fact that the locals don’t like al-Sadr. My understanding is that what support his party has comes from secular Sunnis and his prospects in a fair election are poor.


bob mcmanus 09.27.04 at 1:10 am

“is it really likely that the “assault on Fallujah, promised for November” will actually take place?”

I believe it will, and the current air campaign is the typical “softening the target.” People on blogs like Tacitus with actual military connections believe it will. It may possibly happen before the election. If Kerry wins, it may happen with an unrestrained ferocity, in order to increase Kerry’s problems after inauguration( not that Kerry will ever take the oath).

I can’t speak to what all the reasons why it will happen, but it will happen.


dsquared 09.27.04 at 1:33 am

So, on that side, we’ve got a nationally known MIT Chaired Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker, who can actually produce at least three bibliographically citable references.

I have no horse in this race, but Pinker can produce lots of references to support that assertions made in “The Blank Slate” about Margaret Mead, and they’re still not true.


Brian Weatherson 09.27.04 at 2:28 am

And the reference to ‘The Blank Slate’ as a ‘left-EP’ book make me think it’s a reference to a mythical book. If that’s what passes for the left in Dubious’s eyes, I’d hate to see what the right looks like.


John Isbell 09.27.04 at 3:10 am

Any dark horse the WH might be backing for the Iraqi elections seems pretty dark at present, and meanwhile they’re promoting Alllawi. My money’s on him, and I’d even say they’re now committed enough that him losing will make the WH lose face (if Bush is in there, that is).


Dubious 09.27.04 at 3:37 am

Brian —

What is your definition of leftism such that evolutionary psychology cannot be consistent with it? Or vice versa?

Are you jousting against a straw man of EP as genetic determinism?


Brian Zimmerman 09.27.04 at 3:58 am

I liked Grossman’s book On Killing, because it offers a pleasantly optimistic view of human nature. (He it’s human nature to hate killing people.) Unfortunately, The foundation for Grossman’s work is the work of S.L.A. Marshall, and Marshall just made shit up.

(Samuel Marshall came up with the middle initials “L.A.” during his time as a sportswriter before WWII. That way he could use the byline SLAM! If only that were his only foray into ficiton.)

Grossman offers some other justification for his theories, but as far as I know he’s never treated the S.L.A. Marshall data with the scepticism it so richly deserves. Because of that, I have a hard time trusting any of the other evidence that Grossman says he has.


David M 09.27.04 at 5:27 am

For more on Allawi’s background, see this Ken Layne post:


Brian Weatherson 09.27.04 at 6:36 am

I don’t use words like ‘leftism’ because I’ve got no idea what they mean. (Is it the disjunction of all the views held by people on the left, the conjunction of all those views, something in between? I’ve got no idea, and frankly the vast bulk of uses of the term I’ve seen have been in arguments that relied on equivocating between some of the possible meanings.) But being part of the left in any measure I’d think includes _not_ bashing what you call ‘feminism’ and especially not bashing it by taking the most extreme strawmanny version and acting like it were in any way typical.


Keith Ellis 09.27.04 at 7:03 am

Whatever Brian says, the CT folks are as a group, and for the usual academic and cultural reasons, deeply hostile to Pinker and EP in general. Don’t expect unbiased discourse on this subject. Just accept that a large swath of the left is absolutely certain that EP and everyone associated with it are a facade behind which hides a reactionary, fascist political impulse. It’s all bad science, it’s the cultural heir to the eugenics movement, etc. etc. This is gospel, it is indisputable. Don’t try to dispute it. Pinker is a villain. This is one of the front lines of the science wars, emotions run high.


John Quiggin 09.27.04 at 7:03 am

I posted some thoughts about Pinker here.

I can’t imagine any interpretation of the term ‘left’ that would embrace The Blank Slate (unless you mean ‘to the left of other supporters of EP’, and even then I’d be doubtful.) As Brian says, it’s an attack on feminism and other views generally associated with the left, relying heavily on dubious rhetorical tricks.


John Quiggin 09.27.04 at 7:54 am

Keith, I’m reacting to Pinker on his merits, or lack of them. I’m not reflexively hostile to EP.
For example, I quite like the Cosmides-Tooby idea of the mind as a collection of gadgets, and Pinker’s previous books weren’t too bad.

But The Blank Slate is a polemic, and not a good one.


abb1 09.27.04 at 8:08 am

I haven’t read The Blank Slate; I’m just an IT guy. So what exactly is so controversial here? Isn’t it obvious that normal people have natural aversion to killing other people? I don’t care if it’s because of EP or indoctrination or whatever – but it seems kinda obvious. Isn’t it also a fact that military training aims to overcome aversion by various means? What exactly is being disputed?


Jack 09.27.04 at 9:20 am

abb1, there was an excellent UK documentay on just this issue not long ago. Persuading people to kill seems to be remarkably difficult.


Alex Fradera 09.27.04 at 12:56 pm

dsquared can you expand on the Mead stuff? I’m trying to get together an essay on the polemic nature of the blank slate (especially the chapter on Politics), and my limited expertise makes it hard to get a handle on everything the book covers. fwiw I think about half the book is a valuable effort to disabuse critics of human behaviour science of the idea that it is intrinsically evil and loaded, and then the other half pouring a whole different kind of crap back in. And this from a guy who spent his undergrad years a paid up fan of the human nativist school of EP, so none of your sarc, ellis.


John Quiggin 09.27.04 at 1:47 pm

“I haven’t read The Blank Slate; I’m just an IT guy. So what exactly is so controversial here? Isn’t it obvious that normal people have natural aversion to killing other people? ”

Among many other things, Pinker is concerned to deny this, at least as far as males are concerned.

Alex, you might find my review of some use


abb1 09.27.04 at 2:23 pm

Well, again, I haven’t read The Blank Slate, but it sounds like what denies is that aversion to killing is hardwired into our brains. True, it sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s not the same as denying that this aversion exists – simply it may not be hardwired.

It could be a result of indoctrination. We all know that it does exist in most people. In fact, most people – well, at least most people I know – would strongly prefer to avoid killing even an animal.


Alex Fradera 09.27.04 at 3:02 pm

thanks, duly logged for later perusal. the pinker thing is a bit of a personal bugbear for me, but its going to take me a while yet to make a compelling case out of my issues.


Adi 09.27.04 at 3:07 pm

it still strikes me as very old-skool colonial when a man who is not even a citizen of a country is appointed head of a country by an invading force, and the oppressed country is supposed to sit back and take it, while the resistance is termed insurgency/terrorism. However, the military excesses of the invading forces such as falluja, city bombings, abu ghraib etc
are spun as actions of freedom-loving people and/or liberators.

pretty soon we will be hearing about the tight bombing patterns!!

where is this going to end?


Keith Ellis 09.27.04 at 3:53 pm

I’m committing the same error as those I’m critizing, always a bad thing, but the motivation for the pique of my comment is that I’ve noticed that it has become almost doctrine among segments of the left to characterize all of EP and everyone associated with it as an insidious, regressive, and dangerous pseudo-science.

There are broad, sneering swipes at EP in posts and comments here at CT all the time.

I haven’t read “The Blank Slate”, but from what I’ve heard of it, I agree with it. There’s a broad coalition of groups that have a deep, vested interest in the idea of the mind as a blank slate, programmed by culture. There’s been quite a few well-intentioned but destructive social policies that have been implemented as a result, and there’s a lot of bad science and academic reasearch being defended and conducted that takes the “blank slate” as axiomatic.

As a 40-year-old lifelong American liberal “intellectual”, I held to this view for a very long time. But while I’m still hostile to social policy/moral arguments from biological determinism, I can’t deny that there’s too much scientific evidence in the last thirty years that a whole lotta stuff is hardwired into our brains. I think it’s counter-productive to achieving the goals of the left to waste energy denying this.


BruceR 09.27.04 at 4:06 pm

Lt. Col. Grossman (he was in the military when he wrote On Killing, give the guy his props) is a secondary-source popularizer. On Killing is really no more than a military college text. The real question is the veracity of Grossman’s source, historian S.L.A. Marshall, who, even if a proven serial exaggerator, cannot be dispensed with simply by saying he “made shit up.”

Marshall, who everyone agrees knew soldiers, was trying to add academic rigour post facto to his own intuitive insights about combat. His World War Two work is suspect; but later Marshallite “ratio of fire” studies that followed, in Korea and Vietnam, seem to have more validity (showing American infantry ratio of fire climbing from 55 per cent to 75 per cent between the two wars). A paper title got it about right about the man: “Marshall: right for the wrong reasons.”

In the end, there seems little doubt Marshall did more close-after-the-fight interviewing of groups of American soldiers before, or probably since (even his detractors concede he interviewed at least a hundred infantry companies in WW2 himself, and read many other interviews conducted by his staff). His theories were hardly half-baked.

You run into the same problem looking back at Marshall as you do with Freud, or Mead, or dozens of others… how does one now weight the seminal work in any academic field, before the establishment of more rigorous standards? Throwing out anything written before 1950 (1960? 1970?) would seem unfortunate.


Steve 09.27.04 at 10:32 pm

Who would have thought, even in April this year, that US bombing raids on Iraqi cities would become a daily occurrence, and that any pretence of worrying about civilian casualties would have been abandoned.

I have not observed even the vaguest pretense of concern about Iraqi civilian casualties from the mainstream media in the US–not before the invasion, not during it, and not since.


dsquared 09.27.04 at 11:39 pm

Alex: I think that there are a few references on Butterflies & Wheels to the Mead/Freeman controversy. Pinker simply reiterates all of Freeman’s assertions uncritically.

Val Dusek‘s essay on the subject says almost all of what needs to be said.


dsquared 09.27.04 at 11:46 pm

the CT folks are as a group, and for the usual academic and cultural reasons, deeply hostile to Pinker and EP in general (emphasis added)

Keith: Surely you mean that we’re hostile to Pinker because we think that being hostile to Pinker increases our chances of reproduction? :-)

I’ll happily go along with a sensible “evolutionary psychology” explanation of something as long as it doesn’t a) say things about genes that aren’t true, b) posit cultural norms of the mid 20th century USA as universals of human nature, c) look like a thin rationalisation for looking away from a difficult social problem or d) bash feminism in a really mindless manner. But such things are surprisingly thin on the ground (I’m told that Matt Ridley’s latest book is pretty good).

A lot of the reason why pop-EP is so bad is that it tends to stem from Richard Dawkins, and it’s now looking increasingly the case that Dawkins backed the wrong horse in the “Darwin Wars”.


Dubious 09.27.04 at 11:55 pm

I don’t want to come off as some sort of raving Pinker fanboy. Characterizing his book as a polemic is accurate, I think. And consequently, he often omits the many qualifiers he should have, especially given the ‘Just So Story’ nature of evolutionary explanations.

That said:

On feminism, Pinker is careful to differentiation between liberal/Rawlsian equality-of-rights equity feminism which he supports and radical/Marxist equivalence-of-the sexes gender feminism which he does not.

If people want to argue that the latter is the One True Path of Feminism, there’s little fruitful room for discussion. If people cannot see that equity feminism is a moral position which is independent of empirical facts about possible differences in average characteristics between the sexes, I would wonder why they thought a statement of fact implies moral conclusions without further moral postulates.

On violence, I think Pinker would argue that people generally have inhibitions on killing those in their in-group, but not so much on killing outsiders. He argues that the way around this is to get people to stop thinking of those of different race/ethnicity/religion as outsiders rather than denying that people think that way.

To proclaim that people are naturally non-violent may be a very pleasant thing to think. But if we are really concerned reducing violence, we should entertain the idea that people aren’t that nice, and so get used to the idea that we’ll have to work that much harder (much like we have to work hard to stay on diets) to ‘swim upstream’ against potentially violent inherent tendencies.

People willfully misunderstand EP as saying that if people have an inherent tendency to do A, that:
A) All people do A all the time, with no possibility for doing otherwise
B) Social influences play zero role in people’s likelihood of doing A
C) A is ‘natural’ in the moral sense, that we should not be morally outraged when people do A.

None of these follow any more than saying that if someone has a family history of (genetic predisposition for) heart disease, then he is certain to die of heart disease, that enviromental forces cannot increase or decrease the risk of heart disease, or that heart disease is ‘natural’ and shouldn’t be treated.


John Quiggin 09.28.04 at 12:21 am

Pinker doesn’t help dispel misunderstandings of EP by his rhetorical strategy which is to defend a very moderate version of EP against its most extreme critics, then talk as if he has proved a strong version of EP and refuted all criticism of it. This is par for the course in the nature-nurture polemical war, which is why so little progress is made.


Dubious 09.28.04 at 12:37 am

John Quiggin —

Yes, he’s guilty of some rhetorical sleight of hand. I don’t think I’d agree that he pretends he has proven strong-EP to be true, but I think your review makes many accurate points.

But the target he’s jousting against isn’t entirely made of straw. From my experiences in academia, there really are large sub-sections (perhaps even the majority) of Sociology and Anthropology depts that think that way.

Extreme Nurturists need debunking, just as Extreme Naturists do.


John Quiggin 09.28.04 at 2:52 am

“Extreme Nurturists need debunking, just as Extreme Naturists do”

I’m happy to agree with that


dsquared 09.28.04 at 2:54 am

dubious: I think that the target is 100% straw. I can’t find a single straight example in Pinker (for example, Margaret Mead certainly didn’t believe the strong position that Pinker claims she did). Which particular sociologists and/or anthropologists are you thinking about?


dsquared 09.28.04 at 5:54 am

dubious: I think that the target is 100% straw. I can’t find a single straight example in Pinker (for example, Margaret Mead certainly didn’t believe the strong position that Pinker claims she did). Which particular sociologists and/or anthropologists are you thinking about?


Dan Hardie 09.28.04 at 10:02 pm

‘So, on that side, we’ve got a nationally known MIT Chaired Professor of Psychology, Steven Pinker, who can actually produce at least three bibliographically citable references.’ Given that one of those references is Bourke’s ‘Intimate History of Killing’ that is hardly a strong support for the claim. Bourke’s book has a great many flaws, one of which is that its ‘methodology’, if it can be called that, is pretty much entirely anecdotal. Sifting through WW2 letters and memoirs, Bourke is able to prove to cite dozens of men saying they were rather good at killing in close combat and that some were prepared to admit enjoying it. Given that the major combatants conscripted tens of millions of men throughout the war, and sent varying but high percentages into battle, the fact that a few dozen testimonies exist saying ‘I really enjoyed killing people’ does not function as evidence that ‘all or a majority of men can enjoy killing people’. Bourke asserts that it does, but she spares herself the hard work of calculating how typical these enthusiastic killers were, and she doesn’t even bother citing any evidence indicating that a great many soldiers found killing and fighting frightening and unnatural. A few hours in the archives of the War Office Department of Tactical Investigation would have done the job, but Bourke was frankly either too lazy or too dishonest to look for evidence contrary to her thesis.

Yes, I know Bourke won the Wolfson prize- Galsworthy won the Nobel prize, and I’m not about to call him a better writer than, say, Joyce. Bourke’s silly and poorly thought-out book was, as Niall Ferguson noted in the Spectator, just ‘warnography’ which titillated the reader with a poorly-based assertion that men are indeed just heart-of-darkness savages. Bourke’s stock has since fallen dramatically since she published ‘The Second World War. A people’s history’ which not even her dimmest apologists can defend.

Brucer- I’d be grateful if you’d post or send me the reference for that article about Marshall.


mark 09.29.04 at 4:27 am

Trust in your leaders, follow the path of great Americans and PASS on Kerry as he can’t lead, or even articulate his thoughts in a capacity beyond a parrot.

Living in an eminance front is no way to go through your lives this is not an endorsement for Bush but a plea not to compound the problems we have in the Middle East and Iraq, wake up, let him(Bush) finish what he started it won’t be the best way but better than Kerry can muster and faster.


Terry Karney 09.30.04 at 1:39 am

I can’t say for all, I can say for the studies Grossman refers to… the self reporting in after action questioning shows a higher rate of fire than was shown in WW2.

Inferrentially, the amount of ammunition (even accounting for a greater rate of fire, which is not proven, esp. in light of both the Army and the Marine Corps doctrines of semi-automatic fire) also implies a higher rate of firing.

What S.L.A. Marshall, and Grossman never addressed was the question of context. If I have no pressing sense of a buddy being in danger (and one can be in a firefight, and be tolerably safe) and no sense of personal danger, then one may elect to refrain from exposure.

So it’s possible the 15-20 percent who were pulling the trigger changed. That a certain percentage, has no qualms, that a certain percentage has qualms which cannot be overcome, and the rest have conditional values for when they will shoot at people.

As Audie Murphy said, when asked why he had been so valiant…, “they were shooting my friends.”


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