Answering the Oil Fool

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Proverbs 26:4-5 (ESV):

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

I blogged about one aspect of this tension not long ago. Sometimes it really isn't a good idea to answer the fool according to his folly. It's not good to be like the fool. That's why when Paul starts to drip with sarcasm as II Corinthians goes on, and he keeps addressing the foolish arguments of the triumphalists on their own terms, he keeps saying that he's speaking like a fool. Yet sometimes it's best to address the fool according to his folly, as Paul very much does in II Corinthians. Sometimes the point can be made another way, but making it on the terms of the fool provides the emotional and rhetorical strategy necessary for the fool to see the point.

Joe Carter takes the second road in addressing the issues Bush's war for oil, and he does it well. This argument was never based on anything more than a suspicion on the part of those determined for Bush to be evil, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the suspicion on which it's based is pretty far from Bush's real motivations. Whatever you say about just cause (on which I happen to think a good defense can be made), the charges that Bush fails on right intention don't seem very likely. I wasn't as confident of that at the beginning, but I was willing to trust the president. That trust has been vindicated.

10 Comments

Hmmmm...Joe Carter seems to have done a fairly good job at knocking down a straw man. Opponents of the war who have thought about the issues at all have not accused Bush of waging war for cheap oil (though many, far too many, who haven't thought about the issues have indeed done so). Such opponents accused Bush of waging war so that a large portion of America's energy supply would not be controlled by a brutal dictator. (This accusation is not so easily bumper-stickerized.) While opponents of the war think that such energy independence from brutal dictators is a good thing, it most likely did not merit a war to gain it.

It's not a straw man. Joe never claimed that this reason was the primary motivation for the more thought-out opposition to the war. Therefore it's setting up a straw man of him to claim that he's knocking down a straw man.

You admit that far too many have done exactly what he's responding to. How is that knocking down a straw man, then? Those are the people he's complaining about. If Joe had claimed that saying this would automatically show that the war was just, then it would be a poor argument, but he never claims that. As I said in the post, this issue is about right intention and doesn't say anything about just cause (which I think was more clear than right intention from the beginning but didn't defend in this post).

If Joe had claimed that saying this would automatically show that the war was just, then it would be a poor argument, but he never claims that. As I said in the post, this issue is about right intention and doesn't say anything about just cause

Sorry, I didn't make that distinction, though I should have. That's what I get for commenting in the middle of the night.

However, one thing that neither Joe's post, nor your own post does is make clear what Bush's right intention actually was. Is the one I set forth the true intention? Becuase that one is arguable in terms of "rightness". There are far better intentions for war.

By right intention, I mean that the just cause that can theoretically be gathered for the war is the actual motivation of those who initiated it and are carrying it out. Some people were claiming that it didn't matter if there was a just cause if Bush's real motivation was about oil. Thus this response just takes it back to the issue of just cause, which I think a good argument can be made for and have made that case at least in rough outline here.

Therefore it's setting up a straw man of him to claim that he's knocking down a straw man.

You admit that far too many have done exactly what he's responding to. How is that knocking down a straw man, then?

When I sit down and think about it, I really do think that it is still a straw man. Consider the following:

Many people falsely attribute Lamarkian Evolution teachings to the name of Darwinian Evolution. (I.e. when they use the name Dawinism, they are actually thinking of Lamarkianism.) Some of these people include Fundamentalist Christians. Said Fundamentalists then proceed to attack "Darwinsim" (which is actually Lamarkianism), and are able to do so with some degree of success.

Darwinian evolutionists then protest that the Fundamentalists are knocking down a straw man and that they don't believe what the Fundamentalists are disproving.

Fundamentalists respond that many people do indeed believe the misattributed "Darwinism" even if the Darwinists themselves do not. Therefore, isn't it OK for them to attack Darwinism? This strongly parallels your question of "How is that knocking down a straw man, then?"

And, hopefully, you can now see my answer of how it is indeed knocking down a strawman.

[Your points on intention and just cause are, of course, not the issue of debate in this particular comment and are well taken.]

Your case involves attributing a name to the view being attacked. Mine doesn't. I invented one (oil fool). Joe also doesn't give the view a name, because he's doing satire and acting as if he himself believes it. So I'm not sure your analogy holds.

The fact is that I see bumper stickers and signs about the war and hear and read comments about it at least a few times a month now (and was a few times a week a year ago and a few a day during the major combat). This isn't some view that no one holds.

This isn't some view that no one holds.

I have explicitly said as much, and my analogy says so too.

Your case involves attributing a name to the view being attacked. Mine doesn't.

Given the original posts and your reference to bumper stickers, etc. one is forced to conclude that you are talking about the "No War For Oil" crowd.

My point is that the slogan "No War for Oil" is broad enough to cover two groups [just as "evolutionist" is a broad enough term to cover both Lamarkianists and Darwinists], the "No War in order to get cheap oil" group [Lamarkians in my analogy], and the "No War in order to determine who controls oil (or perhaps more accurately, who will no longer be in control *cough*Saddam*cough* of oil)" group [Darwinists in my analogy].

While there are certainly "Lamarkian" No War for Oilists, they are the group that hasn't thought anything through. Successfully attacking the easily disproved "Lamarkian" position in no way addresses the more substantial arguments that the "Darwinist" No War for Oilist has. Which is pretty much the definition of "straw man".

Is my case clear now?

I'm still trying to get clear on the argument here. So there are the two views you're comparing:

1. Bush went to war to get cheap oil.
2. Bush went to war to prevent Saddam Hussein from controlling oil.

Compare that to what defenders of the war say:

3. Bush went to war for at least the following reasons: a. The truce declared after the first Gulf War was conditional on a UN resolution that Saddam Hussein seemed intent to keep violating, and the UN demonstrated corruption in their relations with Saddam Hussein and an inability to enforce that resolution.
b. Intelligence at the time, whether at times exaggerated or not, showed that Saddam Hussein had WMD programs, large stockpiles of which haven't been found all in one place, but enough evidence has shown he had ongoing programs and existing samples in some quantity with the prospects of making significant progress in short order. Combine this with the threats he had made and the clear connections between members of his administration and terrorist groups who also have threatened the United States, and there is a defense concern.
c. Liberating the people of Iraq from a vicious dictator is a worthwhile goal for their own sake, but opening up the oil supply to the free world in a way that wouldn't happen with Saddam in charge might be beneficial to the world at large.

Given that the good consequences argument is only part of the justification (3c), with two other components from different grounds (3a and 3b), and that the consequences for the world as a whole are secondary to the consequences for the Iraqi people, this interpretation of Bush's motives is quite far removed from either 1 or 2 above. Even if you read 2 charitably, it's only a component of 3c. Most of the reasons Joe gives to undermine 1 seem to me to count just as much against 2.

Am I just misunderstanding your argument?

Am I just misunderstanding your argument?

Yes. My objections were never to your justification of the war. Joe's original post, and yours as well were an attack on the "No War for Oil" position. I attacked your attack, not your position. Your position may well be completely correct, but this particular attack on the "No War for Oil" position still remains a straw man attack.

See my post on "Straw Men".

I trust that you can make the parallels now? The only way this isn't a straw man attack is if Joe really only meant to attack the Carols--the ones who really didn't think it through. Your comment about bumber stickers makes it clear that it was a broader attack upon a group which includes a much more serious and thoughful component.

Yes, I understand all that. It wasn't clear until the comment before your latest one (this would the June 15, 12:11 pm one) that you were reading "No war for oil!" in those two ways (1 and 2 in my last comment). That was the first thing I didn't understand.

That led to a second thing I didn't understand, which I still don't understand,and that's why you think Joe's post was directed at view 2 but really only addressing view 1. It's clear to me that he only attacks view 1 in the post, but he seems explicitly attacking only view 1. If he pretended to attack view 2 but really only said anything about view 1, I could see why you'd call it a straw man. It just seems to me to be making fun of those who hold view 1. That's why I don't think it's a straw man.

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