You call that proof?

Jason's previous post about Matthew Ygelias stakes out an interesting (but fundamentally flawed) view of epistemology.

A post of Donald Braman's articulates why one's worldview dictates what conclusions are drawn from facts.

A little editing will hopefully make the illustration even more clear.

Americans not only prize different principles, they view the world as working in fundamentally different ways...using [any] emotionally laden illustration of just how good or bad [the Army is] at protecting or harming people is certain to not make headway in the [Iraq war] debate.

Because people conform their understandings of the way the world works to their deepest cultural commitments
, claims [of reduced sectarian violence] clearly supporting one side of the debate strike opponents as profoundly deceptive and disingenuous because to them the opposite inference is just as obviously supported by the same facts.

Opposing parties come away from this sort of debate not just believing that their opponents prize different values (say autonomy, martial prowess and individual self-reliance v. collective responsibility, pacifism and reliance on the state for protection, for example), but that the other side is decidedly deluded or untrustworthy when it comes to the facts.

And the less trustworthy or more deluded the opponents in this debate believe each other to be, the less willing they are to make even reasonable concessions for fear that if they give an inch, they'll be taken for a mile.

As a result, those claiming that [conditions in Basra] "prove" something are having the paradoxical effect of hardening their opposition and further polarizing the debate. And that's a shame because it decreases that chance that reasonable, moderate measures will prevail. |Concurring Opinions|(emphasis added)
Jason's mistake is that he has spent too much time studying science, logic, and music where facts are relatively immutable. In politics and history, facts are slippery things that mean vastly different things to different people.

Donald Braman was talking about gun control in the quote above, not warfare... but the positions people take on the Iraq war and on gun control are influenced by the same set of unspoken assumptions.

Hawks have an unspoken assumption that superior firepower will eventually crush the spirit of the resistance. These people believe that the US could have won in Vietnam if only the politicians hadn't tied the military's hands. Total unmitigated ruthlessness is what wins wars. These people contend that to win in Iraq, we merely need to kill every man, woman and child who opposes us. If that means eliminating 90% of their population... well, that strategy worked for us well in the Indian wars.

Those who want to withdraw have an unspoken assumption that everything the military does simply alienates the civilian population more and no amount of firepower will prevail in this struggle.

Facts are analyzed through people's view of the world, their lens. This doesn't mean that we cannot engage with people using facts and reason. But it does mean that in order to really change a person's opinion, you must engage them not just with facts but with internal inconsistencies in their worldview as revealed by "facts" they are willing to acknowledge as true (even if you believe them to be total falsehoods).

Thus arguing about the effect of surge with hawks is not fruitful, you need to engage war proponents on their entire constellation of militaristic views.

Proponents of the doctrine counter-insurgency (such as General David Petraeus) understand that no amount of guns and bombs can win the war without political progress. Political progress is the key metric, failure to make political progress renders the military situation meaningless.

I think explaining counter-insurgency to the Hawks has a better chance of getting them to change their worldview, but arguing about "facts" in isolation will not get through their ideological defenses.

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