Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Irrational? 15th April 2003.

Has anybody else had conversations like this?

IRENE: So remind me – why did we attack Iraq? To liberate the Iraqi people so they could be ruled by a foreign general? To enforce the will of the United Nations against its will? To rid the world of weapons of mass destruction (except ours)?

NIKE: Of course not. We attacked Iraq because her weapons of mass destruction posed a threat to us. It was a simple case of self-defence. All right, pre-emptive self-defence, but you can’t afford to wait to be nuked, can you?

IRENE: Not if you are going to be nuked. But why did we think we were? Iraq had no means of delivering her weapons to us, & in any case she must have known the retaliation she could expect.

NIKE: But none of that would stop her from supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, would it? That’s were the danger lay.

IRENE: But why should she have wanted to give away any of her hard-won arsenal to al Qa’eda, her sworn enemy? Wouldn’t that be rather dangerous? And wouldn’t there still be the risk that the West would guess where the weapons came from? Doesn’t such an implausible hypothesis need at least some evidence of its truth before it can be acted upon?

NIKE: Ah, but you are forgetting: the Iraqi regime was irrational. They could do anything, however mad. They were even mad enough to let themselves be attacked by America.

… Though not mad enough to use weapons of mass destruction in their own defence…

Irrationality is Nike’s trump card, but it is surely worthless. What counts as irrational? Presumably behaviour that cannot be explained in terms of an agent’s conscious reasons. But, once you accept that he is an evil so-&-so with a callous disregard for the sufferings of others, a tasteless bozo who assuages his insecurities by extorting worship from slaves, Saddam Hussein’s behaviour is in every case explicable in terms of conscious reasons. So why suppose he should ever have been irrational?

There is no good reason, but I can understand why Nike uses it as a last resort. Once Irene has shown her that Saddam had no good reason to do anything she feared, & every good reason not to do it, Nike is forced to deny, whatever the evidence to the contrary, that reasons for & against hold any sway over Saddam Hussein. Once she has done so, she can have a lot of fun. She can impute any motive whatever to Saddam, without having to justify doing so. With only a small sleight of hand, she can show any action of Saddam’s to have been irrational, simply by neglecting to explain it. And she can dismiss any reasoned argument showing that Saddam would do something different from what she says he will, on the grounds that any account that commends itself to a rational being must be an inaccurate description of Saddam’s state of mind. She can dispense with rational argument altogether.

Irrationality. What better way to navigate an irrational world?


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