Let's look at two consecutive analogies-- brought up by Michael Albert during the NATO bombing of Kosovo in March/April 1999.

Okay, after all this, with much evidence amassed in considerable quantities, some people do waver and even change their views. But, frustrating as it may be, many other bombing advocates just revert to:

"Well, I don't know, I hate war, yes, but surely bombing is better than doing nothing."

And if I don't lose all communicative self-control at this point, as you may find yourself doing as well, I reply (knowing I already have on the table all required data about U.S. policy generally, about the bombing and circumstances in this instance, etc.)...Suppose that you see someone step out of a shoe store and look across the street fifty yards down to see a big guy mugging someone smaller. There are people around the mugging, too, but they have no means to deal with it. And, watching, you notice that this fellow exiting the shoe store wants to intercede, and you see him pause a second and realize that he can't get there in time. He needs to act from a distance and quickly. He looks in his duffle bag and you can see that he finds only one thing he is willing to use, a wide angle shotgun. Aha, he can do SOMETHING. So he picks up the shotgun, aims, and fires, killing the mugger, maiming the muggee, and crippling some bystanders as well.

Do you then defend what you have seen saying, "surely it was better to act than to do nothing"?

I pause a beat, and then relentlessly sometimes likely too relentlessly for effective communication -- I point out that this isn't yet a good analogy because in fact the U.S. didn't have only the shotgun in its duffle bag, but also had diplomatic and other interventionary options that could have been pursued (such as a UN peacekeeping force), but ruled those out as contrary to its geopolitical interests despite their potential to end the violence without violent means. And more, having rejected other options the U.S. didn't pick up and shoot the shotgun out of concern for the mugee (who it hit along with the mugger and bystanders and which would have been bad enough), but because a block down from the mugging the guy with the gun--or the U.S., by analogy--owns a store with a big picture window, and he was worried that the mugger/muggee battle was going to move down that block and break that window -- so he deduced that to prevent THAT he must intervene and keep the conflict contained, and he knows that he doesn't want to use anything but his gun, and so, even at the expense of hitting everyone in the vicinity, involved or not, he fires.

That's a closer analogy, nauseating as it may be--though to make it more real, I add, we would have to also notice that the reason the guy only wants to use his gun and not other means of containing the conflict is because any other course of action (using international law, the UN, or diplomacy) would undermine his role as enforcer of the rules of the neighborhood, while using the gun preserves that role and protects his window simultaneously.

And, if that doesn't jog anything, I say okay, then think about this: imagine watching the Mafia intercede to correct serious race tensions in a high school because some of the participants are dealers so the Mafia fears that the racial conflict might spill over to disrupt their business as usual in the neighborhood, And so the mafia intervenes and puts a lid on the racial fighting, but of course it does this by treating the kids in the school as potential addicts, dealers, or targets, and by violently pacifying or employing them. Do you look at this and defend the mafia saying, well, yes, but even if the mafia is generally not out for the well being of our kids maybe in this case it was, or maybe in this case even though motivated by its own crass criminal interests it is having a positive effect as an accidental by-product? And meanwhile anyone with open eyes realizes that the kids are being enlisted to deal, are being strung out, or are being shot. And when challenged by a person seeing that, do you say "but the racial situation is horrible and we have to SOMETHING, don't we?"

  1. What is the form of the first analogy?
  2. What is the form of the second?
  3. Are they valid? If so, why?


Next Prev Home