Twofish's Blog

December 22, 2006

Director’s notes on previous article

Filed under: china, confucianism, taiwan, war — twofish @ 4:31 pm

A lot of my previous comments came out of the years that I spent arguing the Taiwan issue.  What I found was that most of those arguments involved logical, rational arguments that wasn’t convincing anyone.  Usually these arguments involved started with a self-consistent logical framework and rule and then arguing based on that rule.  The trouble is that if you came up with an answer that you didn’t like, you could reject that logical framework and come up with another one.

Ultimately, I had to think deeply about what is “real” in international relations or domestic relations, and focus on things that could be justified based on observation and empirical data rather than stuff based on logical frameworks without connection to reality.  What is “real” in international relations is “will” and “power.”  This goes back to Clausewitz.

One problem thinking in terms of “will” and “power” is that it destroys power of “rational generalists.”  If you come up with a rational theory of international law and behavior, then you can apply it to every situation without knowing that much about each situation.  However, that theory just will not describe the real world in which people are irrational, and if you want to understand the real world, you have to dig very deep to understand the details of any conflict.  I think I have a good sense of what people are willing to fight and die for in the Taiwan conflict, but this knowledge is totally useless if I were to look at Uganda, which probably has some equally complex set of parameters.

Also, I talk about the irrational, and one of the major fallacies of the twentieth century is that irrationality is bad.  This isn’t the case.  I would go through extreme pain and suffering for my wife and kids.  I wouldn’t go through anywhere near the same amount of pain and suffering for someone elses wife and kids.  This is irrational.  It is also not necessarily a bad thing.  Part of the paradoxes of the discussions of international law and international relations, is that the actors are all based on this irrational human quirk.  The same sort of “sense of belonging” that creates families also creates nations.  Confucius understood this, but most international lawyers don’t.

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