Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is A One Percent Justification Meme Spreading?

By Gary Berg-Cross

In The One Percent Doctrine Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind discussed the Bush Administration hunt for terrorists after 9/11 and its conflation with a justification for attacking Iraq. The title comes from VP Cheney’s position that:

“ If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.”

With the war drums beating for an attack on Iran some, like Robert Parry (Consortium News) see an early Return of Cheney's One Percent Doctrine:

But it should be clear what the game is. Israeli hardliners and American neocons want a return to former Vice President Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine….. That is, if there is even a one percent chance that a terrorist attack might be launched against the United States, it must be treated as a certainty, thus justifying any preemptive military action that U.S. officials deem warranted.

That was the mad-hatter policy that governed the U.S. run-up to the Iraq War, when even the most dubious - and dishonest - claims by self-interested Iraqi exiles and their neocon friends were treated as requiring a bloody invasion of a country then at peace…

One % positions and their murky data provide weak justification for war but seem enough for people predisposed to hawkish positions. As Suskind himself argues t not every 1% hypothesis gets treated enough to get what Cheney calls “a response”. Besides being some broad rationalization of an angry, militant response the One Percent idea also has as an aspect of confirmatory bias that I’ve previously discussed. This means we can actually ignore data that doesn’t fit our hypothesis. Analysis leading to other conclusions is “undesired.”

In practice I believe that many people operate on something like a 1% approach and do it dynamically. That is, they may only require a small hint of something being possible to confirm it in their mind. Then over time on top of a 1% possibility we strengthen our belief by using a fraction of new evidence and selected analysis. One winds up with a .1 or .01% doctrine or principle.

This is the type of thing, I believe, one sees in layman beliefs and debates over climate change. Barely half the U.S. public thinks carbon pollution could warm Earth. It’s just too complex and as noted in The Psychology of Climate Change Denial:

Even as the science of global warming gets stronger, fewer Americans believe it’s real. In some ways, it’s nearly as jarring a disconnect as enduring disbelief in evolution or carbon dating…Our response to disturbing information is very complex. We negotiate it. We don’t just take it in and respond in a rational way.”

On one side there is an enormous aggregate of evidence and analysis such as in an IPCC report ranging from weather statistics and extremes, atmospheric measurements, climate history, glacier melting, changes in animal migration, arctic melting, rising sea level, stronger floods and droughts, the spread of tropical diseases and the decline of sensitive species. Against this a non-believer cites one little piece of evidence from how scientists discuss analysis in emails! It’s more of a .1% principle than even a 1%.

This has some relation to defining characteristic of true believers like VP Chaney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum who seem to be spreading the meme for a low evidence belief. They have disdain for serious analysis and believe instead in a narrow view of reality that is emotionally backed by a cohesive group of fervent believers. You hear them in some Republican debates howling support for 1% claims such as a war on Religion or how Fannie and Freddie caused the real estate bubble. disturbing. Believing and understanding otherwise is something they don’t want to think about. So what they do in political debate is what they do in daily life - create a bubble world where the 99% possibilities are not present or accepted. Keep uncomfortable ideas at a distance is likely to lead to a serious problem 99% of the time or so.

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