Monday, 21 June 2010

Too Difficult

How difficult is it not to know? In a previous post I referred to the willed ignorance of our politicians. This was most obvious in the parliamentary debates leading up to the Iraq War. Never was I so angry! Our elected representatives, our statesman who are paid to be informed, ignorant of even the most basic facts; reluctant to voice the most obvious arguments. How could I know more than them – no parliamentary libraries, no departments of state, no security contacts… just a simple internet connection.

I was reminded of this by a recent article:

…and most significant, is the CIA’s failure to find Saddam’s WMDs or the laboratories and factories required to build them. By the time Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN in February 2003, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that the CIA did not know where to find anything connected with WMDs in Iraq, and it knew it did not know (a fact that was being confirmed by approximately seven hundred UN inspections of some five hundred sites, including about three dozen given to the inspectors by intelligence agencies…). From that moment forward, no claim of imminent danger could be described as intellectually honest.

During that infamous parliamentary debate, which gave the British government the war approval, this was the very question I was shouting at the screen. Too arcane, too nuanced a question it would appear for our politicians.

The rest of the article is good, and shows how academics can miss the real questions by concentrating on purely technical matters; avoiding the power politics that force policy. Politics is messy, and power ugly, and therefore, as Russell says in another context, is considered unworthy of the dignity of these works.

In a different book Russell rights the balance:

…the fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.

But if you are a technician, all that matters is the technicalities, the internal mechanisms:

It is evident that Jervis loves the whole process of intelligence analysis… but he avoids the things that give the game away.

A mechanic testing his engine parts – it doesn’t matter if it’s a car or a tank. Only understand it, to make it work; that is all that counts. The rest you can leave to someone else.

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