Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004  

The May Defense

Global warming is either happening or it isn't. One of these is true. What's false is that it may be happening. "May" is a construction we use to indicate our own lack of certainty, not the ambiguity of global warming. We use "may" because, unlike gravity, it is not a proven law of science. Yet whether science can prove global warming or not is of little concern to the temperature of the air. It remains serenely unaffected by our uncertainty.

Confronted with a question like global warming, we have the small advantage of knowing that the possibilities are limited, and we even know what the choices are: it's happening or it's not. You'd think, armed with this incontrovertable truth, that we'd agree to either address the phenomenon or not. We know what the possibilities are, and we know the arguments in favor of each. Pick one and move on, right?

Unfortunately, in the age of Bush, we take the one course of action we know is wrong: we put our money on "may," ascribing our own uncertainty to the situation itself. Global warming? All signs point to yes, but it "may" not be happening. So let's improve CAFE standards marginally. Let's keep some pollution laws intact, but dispose of others.

To address the terror threat, let's have a color-coded warning system that will alert us to the confidence of the "may." Green = terror threat may not be much of a worry; red = terror threat may be a really big fat worry. There's nothing to do in any case, but at least we can talk about the level of our uncertainty, as if the threat itself only partially exists.

The economy may be bad. If so, tax cuts are the solution. On the other hand, it may also be improving. In that case, tax cuts are the solution. They may also create jobs. They may stimulate consumer purchases, which may jump-start industrial production. (Unless jobs have been shipped overseas, in which case industrial production doesn't much help us. Although you never know--it may.)

Now we're witnessing the White House address the charges of Richard Clarke, its own head of counter-terrorism. Clarke alleges that the White House didn't take adequate precautions to prevent the 9/11 attacks; after they happened, he asserts the administration used them as an excuse to invade Iraq which, he says, they knew had no connection to 9/11. To these charges, will we see rebuttals? We will not. Instead, we've seen a magnificent display of the "may" defense. Clarke may have been disgruntled. He may not have been in the loop. He may be saying these things just to promote his book. He may be working for John Kerry. He may be a Clintonite.

Global warming is either happening or it's not. George Bush either lied about Iraq so he could invade or he did not. We may not know the answer, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. And that may be the White House's biggest problem of all.

posted by Jeff | 9:22 AM |
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