[ExI] Costs of the Roads Not Taken

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Jul 27 23:05:42 UTC 2007

Samantha writes

>> I can hardly think of anything that at this point seems more a waste
>> of my time than debating the merits of the Iraq war, and so I won't.
>> Here I'm only  replying because of nature of your over-the-top
>> response, which is of psychological interest.
> Typical.  Your post is not of "psychological interest"?  Psychologizing 
> posters is truly "over the top" and a total waste of time.

I cannot apologize for being interested in the psychology of why
we adopt and cling to the various positions that we do, sorry.
Perhaps you are uncharitably interpreting what I meant by 
"of psychological interest".  Perhaps not.

>  I spoke to your seeming refusal to reach any conclusions and rather, imho, 
> dishonest insinuation about the Iraq War that fly in the face of what we 
> have seen. 

Please.  :-)   Dishonest?   Must we resort to such accusations?

Firstly, please calmly consider that not even in mathematics (!) is
every position falsifiable.  That may come as a surprise, and it's
true that many people would consider mathematical hypotheses
not capable of falsification to be over in some other realm, say
philosophy, rather than pure mathematics. But of course, others
do disagree.  (E.g., is the continuum hypothesis falsifiable?  We
tend to think not, but some mathematical platonists demur, even
if only a bit.)

Scientific hypotheses *tend* to be falsifiable, though the tendency
is considerably weakened compared to mathematics. (I apologize
if this seeming digression offends you, or causes anxiety or discomfort.)
But as we know from history, many scientific hypotheses were
"falsified" all right, but their adherants did not entirely concede the
point. They had various excuses (or, from their point of view, 

But politics?  I hope that you really don't think that a political hypothesis,
e.g., the French Revolution was justified (or did more good than harm),
or the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies was justified (or was a
logical move), can ever be falsified.  They cannot be.  For no matter 
what happens, the most that can ever be said---and then, probably not
by everyone---is that certain awkwardnesses infect one position or
another. Economics is another case. Most economists believe that the
idea of a minumum wage conferring benefit on a society has been

So I'm just reminding you of the most that you can expect from a
political or philosophical discussion.

Were the situation in Iraq to begin to develop favorably to the army's
purpose, or even if the entire effort ended quite successfully (which 
I concede is a long shot), there is no way that you would admit that
it was probably a good idea---whatever happened, you'd have other
explanations.  It's just the way it is.  So, same for me. 

If GNP goes up when some economist has given solid reasons why
it will go down, do you think that he recants his reasons?  No, he
will point to extenuation circumstances.  Is anything ever settled?
At one point Julian Simon and Paul Erlich bet $1000 on whether 
the price of minerals would go up or down. Of course, each of them
supposed that his adversary---upon being shown wrong---would
have the support of his hypotheses thereby weakened.  But of 
course Paul Erlich, when he paid off the bet, still believed in what
he had been saying all along.  There were merely extenuating 
circumstances that caused him to lose in this particular case, and
that his general conjectures that the human race was soon to run
out of these imporant materials was correct.  It's always like this,
and I hope that you don't expect more.

>> I was *merely* attacking the implied notion that one can
>> evaluate costs simply, without taking into consideration the
>> "roads not taken". 
> No you were not merely doing that.  You were drawing a parallel
> by your choice of examples.  That parallel does not have merit.
> I do not believe it was innocent.

Well, it was innocent. Yes, it was extreme, and yes, it wasn't a very
good parallel, but what I was attempting in all sincereity to
do was to rebut a *principle* (i.e., if I recall correctly, that
one cannot merely allude to the financial burden of a course
of action independent of an investigation of the costs of 
alternatives---as the subject line of this post attests).

>> But I do not
>> mean at all to debate the likelihood of that---I simply am
>> affirming that these are---of course---what went or is going
>> though the minds of those who favored the invasion.
> And what of these purported reasons?  Do they hold water and explain 
> anything or not? 

Well, that is exactly what I want to avoid getting into.  Sorry, I just
don't have time for it, and besides, its pretty fruitless (although sometimes
quite entertaining).

>>> What a pile of horse manure.  Do you actually believe anything you write 

> This is utter empty speculation.

Okay, so you're not the only one who can making alarming

>> This kind of bigotry usually comes from hanging out with and
> Bigotry?  What?

Consult the dictionary if you must.  I mean it in the sense of adopting
a position so strongly and with so little conception of possible error
that one becomes actually shrill and not just a little narrow-minded.
> I have watched you float ideas over and over again that don't hold water 
> on much of any examination.  Why do you do that?

Translation:  you really don't agree with me on a large variety of
issues.  There are many thoughtful people who happen to agree
with me on these issues and who do not agree with you. Thus
your characterizations are ungenerous, to say the least.  I want
to ask what good they do, besides allowing you to vent. 


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