Chad Perrin: SOB

20 May 2008

the causes of war

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 02:14

I’m opposed to the continued involvement of the US in this Iraq mess, in large part because the idjits in DC are doing everything exactly wrong with regard to the region. I am not, and have never been, strictly opposed to the concept of removing Saddam Hussein from power and helping to provide an improved political climate there — I’m not a big fan of genocidal sociopaths, and am not the sort of utopian pacifist that believes that trying to be nice to them will solve the problem of people who kill other people without ethical justification. I’m just opposed to the motivations and consequences of the United States’ present military involvement in Iraq — consequences that are a result of those motivations, and the policies those motivations dictate. With different motivations and policies, military action in Iraq may well have been a good thing all around.

political imbeciles

The kind of political imbeciles that stand on street corners waving signs that say “War is bad, mmkay?” — and their counterparts driving big, fat, unsafe and unpractical SUVs around with bumper stickers bearing similarly asinine legends — drive me up the wall. These are the sorts of people I wish would, if they’re going to be on “my side” of the Iraq war issue, keep their damned mouths shut. They make the rest of us look bad.

. . . and they’re probably rushing to the polls to vote for whatever Democrat ends up on the ballot, regardless of that Democrat’s actual position on military presence in Iraq. In fact, as things stood a few months ago — back when there were half a dozen notable contenders for each of the Republican and Democrat nominations — the majority of Republicans were championing Iraq plans that were no worse than those currently offered by Clinton and Obama. It’s only that centuries-long Iraq occupation plan of McCain’s that makes Clinton and Obama look good by comparison. If these people were serious about halting Iraq occupation, and paid any damned attention to what’s actually going on, they’d all be rushing to vote for some other party rather than the Democrats.

I’m drifting off-course. My main point refers to the causes of war.

So . . . there are these people with only half a brain cell devoted to matters of political import who think saying “War is bad, mmkay?” is clever and makes a good point. Their so-called political opinion is absurdly simple-minded. They clearly have no understanding of what war is, let alone what causes it, its true consequences, and what a truly pacifistic policy would really mean worldwide.

It would mean the bad guys win, naturally.

the statistics of war

I recently finished reading the book In the Country of the Blind, a science fiction novel about people using a statistical science called “cliology” to predict and manipulate the future course of history. It’s a good book (though the very end gets a little hokey) with some thought-provoking ideas presented within its pages. Its author, Michael Flynn, is a statistician, and tacked onto the end of In the Country of the Blind is an essay he wrote called An Introduction to Cliology. Within that essay is the following passage:

The number of wars that break out each year fits a statistical Poisson distribution nearly perfectly. This distribution models events of low probability but great opportunity, such as the number of industrial accidents or of calls received at a switchboard. The chilling implication is that wars break out at random — or at least as randomly as industrial accidents.

Low probability but great opportunity. In other words, he’s saying that the Poisson distribution indicates that the measured frequency is of an event that, in each individual case, probably won’t happen — but in aggregate, with all the opportunities that exist for that low probability to be realized, ends up happening very often. That’s a pretty crude translation of the terms as he used them, but it’ll do for now.

What that suggests is that war in and of itself, as an abstract concept, is not the result of some single cause. Instead, war is a state that arises under conditions that may be the consequence of a wide variety of improbable circumstances. As Flynn put it in a footnote:

each war may have causes, but war itself does not.

Translating that into plain English, and taking a little liberty with the specific implications to apply my own interpretation, this basically means that:

  1. There will always be conflict, so long as people remain individual people with free will.

  2. Conflict that does not resolve and cannot be eliminated by isolation or external pressures applied by more powerful parties will escalate.

  3. Escalation will then continue until the cost of escalation is great enough to dissuade one party or the other, or until one party or the other is rendered incapable of fighting to impose its will.

  4. The final stage of escalation is that of employing violence to impose one’s will: war.

This is, in essence, a social law of nature. It describes all contentious relationships, including that between predator and prey on the African savannas, that between oppressive government and oppressed people, and even that between players of a game of Trivial Pursuit. It is factors like one party’s investment in its preference that conflicts with that of the other party that determine whether escalation reaches the point of violence.

the nature of war

With that in mind, it must be obvious to the discerning reader how “War is bad, mmkay?” is such a simple-minded reaction to war. War is unpleasant, to be sure, but it is not always the most unpleasant option. War is, in fact, often a very preferable alternative to quiet acceptance of genocide. Is it better to sit quietly while you are killed by a homicidal maniac, or to kill the homicidal maniac, saving not only yourself but the next potential victim as well? There are those who would say it is better to accept death than to mete it out, even under such circumstances as those I describe, but my estimation of the value of that position is that it simply guarantees the “bad guy” wins.

I don’t like letting bad guys win — especially with so much at stake. When someone seeks to impose his will on others, in violation of their rights, his actions are those of a tyrant. There’s nothing wrong with resisting the will of a tyrant.

War is a state of one party’s resistance to another’s will.

A just war is the ultimate state of resistance to tyranny.


  1. Sic semper tyrannis!

    Comment by SterlingCamden — 20 May 2008 @ 05:37

  2. I agree with you, to a point.

    An ethically justified war would definitely be when a people of a nation rise up against their own tyrannical ruler. An ethically unjustified war is us being in Iraq forcibly removing a man from power (one that we installed into power in the first place).

    It may be morally reprehensible to ignore the plight of others, but when you are ignoring the plight of your own people (civil liberties being taken away at a record rate, homelessness, war on drugs, etc.) and keep funneling billions of dollars to other nations (overseas or Mexico and Central and South America), the focus should be on taking care of your own first. It might not be politically popular to stop international welfare (although I have no problem with individuals and businesses setting such programs since donating resources to them would be completely voluntary), but from a financial viewpoint, it’s the only sound thing to do.

    Also, I don’t believe “war” is limited to guns and physical violence (I’m not talking necessarily about so-called cyber-warfare), either.

    War is a state of one party’s resistance to another’s will. A just war is the ultimate state of resistance to tyranny.

    Best statement from your whole essay, as well as the only one I completely agree with (yes, I find it very hard to accept that war is “random”).

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 22 May 2008 @ 04:30

  3. War isn’t literally “random”. The “randomness” is a reference to the statistical distribution of the probability of war breaking out.

    Considering the entire essay was just support for the two sentences you quoted, and for which you stated your agreement, I suspect you don’t disagree with what I said as much as you seem to think.

    Comment by apotheon — 22 May 2008 @ 09:30

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