Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trump, Russian election meddling and solipsism

I'm going to take a quick break from the "classical conservatism" series to make some observations about Trump's continued refusal to admit fully that Putin was behind the DNC hacks and other election meddling in 2016.  He still does the "we don't really know" thing, and it was fascinating to watch his surrogates take the harder line, and reminiscent of how his surrogates tell the world that Trump accepts X, Y or Z, when Trump himself refuses to say X, Y or Z directly (insert statement on climate change, or whatever else here).  The fact that Trump still has to soft-peddle his public statements about Russia, while letting Russia tell everyone that Trump accepts Putin's denials gives us a continuing window into the bizarre relationship between Trump and his hero, Vlady, who may or may not be blackmailing Trump, but probably had agents in contact with Trump's campaign surrogates, like Michael Flynn.

So, here's where we stand.  Every intelligence agency in the US, and abroad, has concluded that Russia did it.  Putin even does the wink-wink-nudge-nudge thing about it.  We know what happened.  But, Trump still can't fully admit it, and pulls the "they got it wrong on Hussein's weapons stockpiles back in 2002 and 2003" thing as an excuse to discount Russian involvement.

Now, we know what is going on here.  First, Trump doesn't want to admit that anything happened that undercuts the legitimacy of his victory because the only thing that matters to him is that everyone thinks that he won the greatest victory in the history of victories.  The first thing he did after his inauguration was instruct his flunkies to lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, for fuck's sake!  We know what's going on here.  This is Trump's insecurity, combined with his Putin man-crush.  And maybe some sort of debt to Putin, which we shouldn't have to consider, but the idiot fired Comey for investigating something having to do with Russia, and Mueller is investigating ties between Trump's people and Russia, and obstruction of justice right now.  So, we know the deal.

This is also a bullshit argument.  Here's what happened with Iraqi weapons stockpiles.  Saddam Hussein kicked the UN weapons inspectors out of the country in 1998.  What you may not know about chemical and biological weapons, though, is that they degrade, and need to be maintained or replaced.  Hussein didn't maintain or replace them.  When he readmitted weapons inspectors, he shuffled them around in a big shell game in an attempt to look shifty-eyed, trying to convince Iran and Iraqi Shia that he had more dangerous weapons than he really had in order to deter Iranian attacks or Shia revolt, but hoping that the ambiguity would keep him safe.  The US weapons inspectors didn't find shit, and the intelligence agencies were relying on a con artist code-named "Curveball" (yes, really) who was feeding the Bush administration everything they were primed to believe.  (Go watch a movie called "Our Man in Havana," or the remake, "Tailor of Panama").  The intelligence agencies couched their reports with some caution, and the Bush administration took all that caution out in their public relations to sell the war.  The key here is the famous phrase, "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  The Bush people thought that even though they couldn't find the weapons, the weapons were there because Hussein was acting shifty.  That was why he was acting shifty.  They just didn't understand who the audience was.

Yes, "they" got it wrong.

Notice how I put "they" in quotes.  That's because Donald Trump is a fucking idiot of historic proportions.  Trump talks about "they" as though the "they" in the Iraq case is the same "they" as in the Russia case, and as though the methods have anything to do with each other.  Neither is the case.  The NSA's methods of computer analysis have nothing to do with how the CIA handled "Curveball," nor what Tenet thought of him, nor how the CIA dealt with "the absence of evidence."  It isn't the same "they," and it isn't the same method.

To treat them as the same "they," and to discount any intelligence analysis on the basis of 2002 and 2003, then, is solipsism.  Remember solipsism?  That crap that sounded deep when you were a child?  What if you are just a head floating in a jar, experiencing some fake reality?  You know, The Matrix, a dream, whatever.  You don't really know anything for sure, do you?  If it doesn't have some kick-ass fight scenes and explosions, who the fuck cares?  It ain't that deep, and hopefully you got over that crap before you could drive.  Why?  In scientific jargon, solipsism is "nonfalsifiable."  In other words, what if your claim is wrong?  Would you be able to gather evidence that it is wrong?  Solipsism is nonfalsifiable.  It is therefore worthless.

In Inception, if you are in a dream, you wake yourself up by shooting yourself in the head.  No?  Then you don't take that shit seriously, so stop wasting everyone's time with that worthless, solipsistic bullshit.  Enough of this "nobody really knows anything" crap.  And that's what Trump is doing every time he tries to weasel out of blaming Russia by invoking Iraq.  If we were looking for possible weapons stockpiles in some other country that kicked out weapons inspectors, that would be the time to invoke Iraq.  This is nothing like Iraq.  This is Trump leaning on solipsism for the sake of his own petty insecurity.

There is a difference between understanding the limits of certainty and solipsism.  If you always invoke the limits of knowledge-- like, say, to discount all science-- you are a solipsist.  Fuck off.  In academic writings, we express our confidence in our findings with specific mathematical estimates that tend to get washed out of public discourse.  Why?  Most people don't want to hear about shit like that.  Why not?  Well, numbers.  The problem is, remember that book I kept referencing during the election?  Expert Political Judgment by Philip Tetlock?  Yeah, James fuckin' Comey...  There's always the chance that weird shit can happen.  We never are 100% certain of anything.  But, if you fall back on that to discount everything, you're basically a solipsist, and I have no patience for you.  Tetlock would have just called you a "radical skeptic," but even Dom from Inception never shot himself in the head...

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