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Chicagophile
  > > e-Bulletin: 06/14/02


LETTERS
Protesting post hoc, propter hoc


Bradford Lyttle, AM'51, wrote to say that "...the belief that military force can be such a rationally controlled instrument of change is unscientific," and that "[t]he destruction of the World Trade Center towers occurred because all of the physical and psychological conditions for their destruction existed."

It is facile and wrong to claim inevitability for an event that has already occurred by pointing out that the prerequisite conditions for such an event "existed." The preconditions always exist for any event that occurs! That's the easy part. The hard part is knowing which one of the infinite possibilities consistent with those preconditions will in fact occur-beforehand.

Writers like Lyttle merely commit a seemingly sophisticated version of the oldest (and most generic) of all logic errors, Post hoc, propter hoc-i.e., if A is observed after B, then B caused A. Using the words scientific, probability, mathematical analysis, stochastic analysis in no way reduces this error, though they try to obscure it.

How is it that the specific catastrophes that the purported stochastic analysis of nuclear deterrence (no reference cited) is claimed to show have failed to materialize for 57 years as nuclear power and bombs proliferated? No catastrophic accidents with nuclear weapons; no terrorist nuclear attacks; no nuclear war.

Could it be that there are conditions and powers that stochastic analysis cannot measure or include? Things like human intention, human will, human communication, and human cooperation? Not to mention principles?

Inevitability is both the weakest of truths and among the most powerful of debilitators. It has been used by numerous religions, including communism, to undercut the goals, principles, and activities of their opponents while justifying their own. That Lyttle's goals and principles may be laudable cannot excuse the logical and semantic errors he adduces to convince us to adopt them. Indeed, those errors add to my doubt of his claim that there exists an "...understanding of how nonviolent, nonmilitary means of achieving security, social and economic justice, and humanitarian social change can be made effective."

This doubt intensifies as I view the fact that even a small minority of the world's population, far less than 1 percent, can easily wreak havoc on the rest of us if military means of defense are denigrated, reduced, or foresworn.

I suggest Matthew Jacobson, AB'96, wrote you the more realistic view (paraphrased): there will always be crime between nations just as there will always be crime within nations, and I would add, for many identical reasons.

The existence of an effective military is essential; and so is effective civilian control of that military. That control has worked, in America, far more often than it has failed. Should we be vigilant? Yes.

Should we seek nonviolent, noncoercive means toward social and economic "justice" and humanitarian "social change"? Absolutely. Is social or military catastrophe inevitable? Absolutely not.

Jeffrey E. Levinger
San Francisco


 

 

 


  JUNE 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 5


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The End of Consulting?
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Campus of the Big Ideas
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You Go Girl!


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