Monday, March 24, 2008

A Megan mea culpa?

That's unpossible.
Which is to say it didn't happen. She decided to visit the topic of Slate's "Why did we get it wrong?" series, but not in the way you'd expect. This is not Megan saying why she got it wrong, maybe finding a chance to apologize for the 2x4 crack about people who understood the situation better than she did. Instead, it's all depersonalized, as if the people who got the war wrong are bacteria specimens being studied with a microscope. But the underlying idea is clear; just because she was wrong doesn't mean she can't still lecture about the topic. Y'know, like Cheney.

The universe being a complicated place, you can usually tell multiple stories from the same pieces of evidence. We learn by gambling on what we think the best answer is, and seeing how it turns out. Most of us know that we have learned more about the world, and ourselves, from failing than from success. Success can be accidental; failure is definite. Failure tells us exactly what doesn't work.
Megan failed so the rest of us can succeed, don't you see? Just think, maybe her public support for the war gave someone else the necessary impetus to doubt it.
And "success can be accidental".....
Those of us who were not fooled and were empirically correct were just lucky. Yglesias, probably not coincidentally, struck a similar tone in his otherwise early and respectable mea culpa.
I will now admit, I was wrong. Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn't going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. "Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he's going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfullness" sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent.
The dirty fucking hippies were right, but at least he wasn't one of them. And they weren't that right, just less wrong. Granted, that piece is from 4 years ago, but Yglesias seems still not to have learned us DFHs have a bit more on the ball than... he does.
But back to Megan, and one of the greatest category mistakes I've ever seen.
Failure tells us more than success because success is usually a matter of a whole system. And as development economists have proven over and over and over again, those complex webs of interactions are impossible to tease apart into one or two concrete actions. Things can fail, on the other hand, at a single point. And even when they fail in multiple ways, those ways are usually more obvious than the emergent interactions that produced a success.
Failure is better than success, you dead Iraqis, you. And economic success or failure is identical with success or failure in every other context. If you made more mistakes in your thinking you'd know that, too. Plus, then your thinking would be worth studying, because why would we want to know why someone was right when we can understand why someone was wrong. Can't you learn more from someone telling you the sky is orange than from someone who says blue? No? Well, you're just not willing to be wrong enough to learn. Hmph.
Think I'm being unfair to Megan?
At the decision point where we decided to go into Iraq, there were two hypotheses we could have tested:

1) Something terrible will happen if we leave Saddam in power 2) We can depose Saddam and leave the world a better place

We chose to test hypothesis number two. So far, it looks like a dud.

Since it failed, the more interesting question is not what did you get right, but what did you get wrong. The people who were right can (and will) rewrite their memories of what they believed to show themselves in the most attractive light; they will come to honestly believe that they were more prescient than they were. This is not some attack on people who were against the war: I was wrong, they were right. But everyone does this with almost everything--indeed, not rewriting memory in this way is so rare that there's a clinical term for it. We call it "major depression". They will also quite possibly simply be wrong about how they got it right; correct analysis often operates at a subconscious as well as a conscious level.
I.... good god. Every time I think I'm being unfair to Megan, she comes back with something like this. Let's read the underlying context of that passage, shall we? If Megan were to accept how wrong she was, she'd have to face "major depression", which would prevent her from finding ways to try to fault people for getting the most important (non-environmental) issue of the last few decades right. And I'm just deluding myself that I sat there watching Powell's presentation and asked myself "this is it?", or that I never once fell for the claim that Iraq had a damn thing to do with 9/11 or was the least bit of a threat both because it was well established Bush wanted to invade prior to the election and because experts on the topic were loudly screaming in public that there were no WMD. That's a happy fiction I've created for myself.
The people who failed will also do this. But unlike the people who were right, there is a central fact stopping them from flattering themselves too much: things are blowing up in Iraq and people are dying. Thus they will have to look for some coherent explanation.

To be sure, many of those explanations are wan and self-serving--"I trusted too much." But others of them aren't. And the honest ones are vastly more interesting than listening to a parade of people say "Well, obviously, I'm a genius, and also, not mean."
And there you have it. It's MEAN to have been right about the fucking war. It wasn't mean to wish harm by 2x4 on those who were right about the fucking war, because they were being mean. Be polite, support mindless slaughter.
In the end, it's on the DFHs to learn proper manners, not on those who supported a huge and obvious mistake to try to learn something from the folk who were right the whole fucking time.
Fuck you, Megan. You know what's worse than being mean? Supporting the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands. Your continued kneejerk attachment to the lowest possible Iraqi death figures isn't one of those pathological tics helping to protect you from the depression you should feel for your past choices, is it? You are a loathsome person, Megan.


Read the comments. Roughly half are from people disputing the notion that the invasion of Iraq was a failure. This is Megan's audience. High quality people all around.

Update II:

Since I'm being self-righteous, let me make one thing clear. I don't think I'm a genius because I wasn't fooled about Iraq. People I'm very fond of were fooled, because they were still suffering from emotional trauma post-9/11 and because they hadn't been paying too much attention to politics prior to that point, or because they were of an earlier generation who didn't understand the degree to which the Bush Admin would openly lie. I don't expect or demand abject apologies, ultimately it's between the person and their conscience. But when someone who was wrong addresses the topic, they better have the courage and class to admit not simply that they were wrong, but that there were good reasons for those of us who got it right to have done so. Yglesias explicitly tried to tar all who opposed the war as anti-war, which, while literally true, implies we were all dedicated pacifists, as opposed to informed realists (in the non-polisci jargon sense) who were against that war. Megan seems to be trying to operate under this same general delusion, and acts as if there were no good and legitimate reasons to have opposed the war in the first goddamn place. There were, and accepting this needs to be part of admitting you were wrong about the war. I don't demand you join me in DFHland, but I do demand you admit we had a point, and listen to us more seriously. We were right, for the right reasons.


Anonymous said...

Never mind the stupidity of the politics, the half-hearted admission that she was wrong, etc. Somewhere out there, there is an editor, and apparently a number of Atlantic readers, who think this pile of rubbish is actually professional-grade analysis.

brad said...

Pffft. Like Megan has an editor. The Atlantic seems to have the same structure as the NRO; give someone the title of Editor, but don't even bother to proofread the copy before putting it up. Actually, that's not true. The NRO, in my limited experience with it, has far fewer typos than Megan's work.

NutellaonToast said...

Oh my God. I could only read like 3 of the comments before I started getting nauseated.

I hate people.

Anonymous said...

Megan is old news... the Atlantic, of the Britney Cover, is beyond rescue. Why not turn your collective wit and wisdom to a cause not beyond hope, the New York Times. Fire Bill Kristol.

Btw, you have to love her piece on the Yankees. It neatly expressed her multifaceted stupidity; craptastic writing, lack of research, it was almost a work of genius.

rickm said...

Greetings from Indianapolis,

Great job brad.

Anyone else catch the catfight between thoreau (of Unqualified Offerings, whom I like) and anonymouse? It was goliath vs a retarded david.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Does that mean the retard won?

Now she's got a longer post up about how vewy, vewy wong she was about da war, but at this point, I can't take it any more. Her writing is so shitty, I'll stick to humorous mockings in small doses on this site. After the Britney cover, I'm completely finished with the Atlantic. And Megan. They deserve each other.

jayinbmore said...

I believe this sort of writing was described best by a phrase spoken by Bubbles on "The Wire". Megan is "equivocating like a motherfucker".