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Perhaps We Need More Uncertainty, Maybe
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“We know where they are,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in March 2003 about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” We found nothing. Rumsfeld knew nothing. A year after the invasion, most voters believed the Bush administration had lied America into war.

At the core of that lie: certainty.

The 2002 run-up to war was marked by statements that characterized intelligence assessments as a slam dunk. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002. “These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence,” Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations in 2003.

Rumsfeld knew that if he said that Saddam probably had WMDs, it wouldn’t have been enough. Americans required absolute certainty.

Imagine if the Bushies had deployed an honest sales pitch: “Though it is impossible to know for sure, we believe there’s a significant chance that Saddam illegally possesses weapons of mass destruction. Given the downside security risk and the indisputable fact that he is a vicious despot, we want to send in ground troops in order to remove him from power.” The war would still have been wrong. But our subsequent failure to find WMDs wouldn’t have tarnished Bush’s presidency and America’s international reputation. Trust in government wouldn’t have been further eroded.

False certainty has continued to poison our politics.

Four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, 65% of Democratic voters didn’t believe he had won fairly or was legitimate; 71% of Republicans now say the same thing about President Joe Biden. What’s interesting is the declared certainty of Democrats who decry Trump Republicans’ “Big Lie.” Biden probably did win. But it’s hardly certain.

It is not popular to say so, but there is nothing unreasonable or insane or unpatriotic about questioning election results. From Samuel Tilden vs. Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 to Bush vs. Gore in 2000, many Americans have had good reason to wonder whether the winner really won. Only an omniscient deity could know for certain whether all 161 million ballots were counted correctly at all 132,556 polling places in the 2020 election.

Democracy requires faith. If evidence indicates that our faith is unwarranted, it must be fully investigated; otherwise, we must assume that official results are accurate.

The Republicans’ refusal to accept the official results is only slightly less justifiable than the Democrats’ overheated “Big Lie” meme.

“We have been far too easy on those who embrace or even simply tolerate this idea (that Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election), perhaps because it has completely taken over the Republican Party, and we still approach any question on which Republicans and Democrats disagree as though it must be given an evenhanded, both-sides treatment,” Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman wrote Jan. 6. “We have to treat those who claim Trump won in precisely the same way we do those who say the Earth is flat or that Hitler had some good ideas. They are not only deluded, they are either participating in, or at the very least directly enabling, an assault on our system of government with terrifying implications for the future. They are the United States’ enemies. And they have to be treated that way.”

Whoa. I am terrified of the slippery-slope implication that even talking about a topic is out of bounds. If mistrust of the competence and integrity of thousands of boards of elections and secretaries of state and public and private voting machines makes one a domestic enemy of the United States, what does that say about the 65% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans who doubted the results of the last two elections?

Why not just say that we think Biden won, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise? It may be easier to shout down doubters than to make a well-reasoned argument, but our laziness betrays insecurity.

Every day we make decisions based on uncertainty. The plane will probably land safely. The restaurant food probably isn’t poisoned. The dollar will probably retain most of its value. Why can’t Democrats like Waldman admit that election results are inherently uncertain? Republicans know it — at least they know it when the president is a Democrat — and Democratic arguments to the contrary of what is obviously true only serves to increase polarization and mutual mistrust.

Vaccination and masking politics are made particularly venomous by rhetorical certainty that, given that science is constantly evolving and COVID keeps unleashing new surprises, cannot be intellectually justified. Those of us who have embraced masks and vaccines (like me) ought to adopt a humbler posture: I’m not an epidemiologist. I assume that scientists know what they are doing. I’m scared of getting sick, so I’m following official guidance. Sometimes, as we know from history, official medical advice turns out to be mistaken. I’m making the best guess I can. Most of us are blindly feeling our way through this pandemic. We should say so.

We also need to express uncertainty about climate change. There is scientific consensus that Earth is warming rapidly, that human beings are responsible and that climate change represents an existential threat to humanity. I believe in the general principle. But it’s irresponsible and illogical to attribute specific incidents to climate change, considering that extreme weather existed centuries before the industrial revolution. We will never reach climate change deniers by overreaching as when the Post described late December’s Colorado wildfires as “fueled by an extreme set of atmospheric conditions, intensified by climate change, and fanned by a violent windstorm.” Why not instead say “probably intensified” or “believed to have been intensified”?

ORDER IT NOW

Those of us who believe greenhouse gases are warming the planet should argue that, while nothing is ever 100% certain, it’s a high probability — and, anyway, what’s wrong with reducing pollution? People who are certain that climate change isn’t real may be annoying, and given that the human race is at stake, perhaps dangerous. But the answer to incorrect certainty isn’t equal-and-opposite correct certainty.

It’s uncertainty.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the weekly DMZ America podcast with conservative fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis.

 
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  1. meamjojo says:

    ” I assume that scientists know what they are doing. I’m scared of getting sick, so I’m following official guidance. Sometimes, as we know from history, official medical advice turns out to be mistaken. I’m making the best guess I can. Most of us are blindly feeling our way through this pandemic.”

    And that’s a major problem. Believing something you are told simply because you are too busy or too lazy to dig into the subject opens you to being mislead in many areas, as with Covid.

    Had you paid attention to the alternate media and had you a reasonable IQ, you could not have come to any other conclusion than that you were being sold a bill of goods when it came to Covid.

    Less than 1% of the people who get infected with Covid wind up in the hospital (and potentially on death’s bed). That’s LESS THAN ONE PERCENT! Does that low, low, low number mean anything to you? It should.

    But it doesn’t because you got suckered by the FUD and daily fearmongering created by the public heath agencies, the government and the MSM.

    Go look in the mirror and say “I’m an idiot!”. Then go find some of the Covid posts here and read the threads, follow the links and recognize that you took the CoVax shots and you best be watching your self for cardiac and blood clot issues.

    • Replies: @Ann Nonny Mouse
  2. roonaldo says:

    “Gee, Wally, do ya really think Rumsfeld and Cheney….and, wow!, even the President, would lie to start a war?”

    “Gosh, Beave, quit bein’ such a dope! They just made a little mistake, that’s all. Remember when you mistook Mrs. Nelson’s pet rabbit for an alligator and you beat it to death with a lead pipe? Same thing, happens all the time, even to Presidents!”

    “Gee…I don’t feel so dumb now…just think!…even a President can be as stupid as me! Thanks a lot, Wally!”

    “Sure, you bet…now put your mask back on, and don’t let mom or dad know we took ours off readin’ comic books up here…we gotta go get our shots, like the President says.”

    “Holy cow, Wally! Do ya think the President could be wrong…makin’ us get shots and all…I mean, those needles are scary…”

    “Shoot, Beave, just shut up, will ya…do ya think that guy Fauci and old Doc Evans down the street are wrong, too?…keep it up and you’ll end up like Eddie…do you wanna be like Eddie?”

    “Gee, Wally, I dunno…he’s not gettin’ the shot… and he was right about Mrs. Nelson’s rabbit not bein’ an alligator…”

    • Thanks: meamjojo
  3. @meamjojo

    If less than 1% of the people who get infected with Covid wind up in hospital, let’s all get infected! All over!

  4. PJ London says:

    The proposition that “nothing is 100% certain in all instances” may be true and I believe it to be true, is an interesting topic for an article.
    But then the actual article itself is rubbish. It is full of flat assertions that are unproven or trivial. “Given the downside security risk and the indisputable fact that he is a vicious despot,” as an example it contains two assertions 1) that there was a security risk and 2) that Saddam was vicious and a despot.
    Iraq was not a “security” risk, Saddam’s sin was that he threw Bretton-Woods out and required payment for oil in Euros. There is no evidence that he was vicious nor that he was a despot. To rally people to war, you cannot claim that the Iraqi (German, Russian) people are evil and have to be slaughtered, it is patently untrue, so you have to individualise it. Saddam (Hitler, Putin) is vicious and wants to kill others.

    “We made a monster, a devil out of Hitler. Therefore we couldn’t disavow it after the war. After all, we mobilised the masses against the devil himself. So we were forced to play our part in this diabolic scenario after the war. In no way we could have pointed out to our people that the war only was an economic preventive measure.”
    – US foreign minister James Baker (1992)

    But when a leader is honest it ridicules the agenda. “We will kill millions of Iraqis so that the oil corporations can make bigger profits.”. As Trump said “We are in Syria for the Oil.”, he wanted to withdraw and look where it got him.

    “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.”
    The Assistant Secretary of Defence for Public Affairs

    I don’t wish to dissect every sentence as it would be tedious but the article is full of such lack of logic and verity.
    Take one example.
    “Those of us who believe greenhouse gases are warming the planet should argue that, while nothing is ever 100% certain, it’s a high probability — and, anyway, what’s wrong with reducing pollution?
    What are “Greenhouse gases”? It is clearly a nonsense term.Greenhouses are wormed by trapping air and water vapour in a closed environment.
    The atmosphere does not trap any gas. The whole nonsense is that some gases retain more heat then others, CO2 slightly more than Oxygen or Nitrogen, this is not rocket science. CO2 retains much,much less heat than Methane or water vapour and forms a tiny percentage of atmospheric gases. It is a lagging result of temperature change. The higher the temperature the higher the CO2 (not the other way round). CO2 in higher concentrations is hugely beneficial to the planet, it generates and accelerates plant growth, which is why tons of it is created and fed into greenhouses to grow tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. \$750 million per year of CO2 is produced in the US alone. So a major increase in CO2 would solve the Food problem, the deforestation problem, would make the earth look much prettier and could even make all the deserts into pastures. Wouldn’t that be nice.
    “it’s a high probability” another assertion without a single iota of evidence, not merely in the statement but anywhere. What evidence there is shows that CO2 concentrations rise after the temperature increases not before. It is a consequence not a cause.
    “.. and anyway what’s wrong with reducing pollution?” What’s wrong is that it will deprive the people of numerous products that preserve and improve life. How many people will die of hypothermia because the stupid wind farms are not turning or worse are iced up? How much food will rot because the transport doesn’t work anymore? How many families will starve because the Mines are closed down?
    One gets so tired of these noisy idiots.

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
    Isaac Asimov, Newsweek, 21 January, 1980.
    Yet these fools become the “prevailing wisdom”,
    “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.”
    Attributed to both Samuel and John Adams

    Enough ranting, return to the subject.

    The proposition that “nothing is 100% certain in all instances” may be true and I believe it to be true, is an interesting topic for an article.
    Given that as the required subject for an article, why not simply :

    “Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is an absurd one.”
    Voltaire

    • Agree: meamjojo
  5. meamjojo says:

    “If less than 1% of the people who get infected with Covid wind up in hospital, let’s all get infected! All over!”

    I’m uncertain if you’re being facetious or not. The source of this number is a Gallup blog article (below). Do YOU want to argue with Gallup? That should be fun!

    Of course, the MSM never carried this info on their news or TV coverage. I wonder why?

    Gallup Blog
    September 27, 2021
    U.S. Adults’ Estimates of COVID-19 Hospitalization Risk
    ….
    How the Public Understands Hospitalization Risk

    For both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, very few adults reported a correct answer, which is less than one percent (1%). See the discussion in the appendix for details about the correct hospitalization rates and efficacy estimates. Only 8% of U.S. adults gave correct answers for the unvaccinated population and 38% for the vaccinated population.

    Partisanship was a strong predictor of accuracy, but party accuracy varied by whether the respondent was assessing the risk of the vaccinated or unvaccinated populations.

    For unvaccinated hospitalization risk, 2% of Democrats responded correctly, compared with 16% of Republicans. In fact, 41% of Democrats replied that at least 50% of unvaccinated people have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
    ….
    https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/354938/adults-estimates-covid-hospitalization-risk.aspx

  6. BuelahMan says:

    Those of us who believe greenhouse gases are warming the planet should argue that, while nothing is ever 100% certain, it’s a high probability — and, anyway, what’s wrong with reducing pollution?

    Those of us who have followed the gloomers like you over the years understand that in EVERY case, the alarm has been unfounded and based upon lies (ozone hole, early warnings of global FREEZING, Gore and others telling us the world would drown or burn up 10, 15, and 20 years ago). The fact that all of the power players have no problem buying property near oceans dispels the urgent drowning idea.

    All of you have been full of shit for so long that no thinking person could ever believe a word out of your gullible mouths.

  7. Voltarde says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful article.

    In addition to uncertainty, there is a related factor to consider: incomplete knowledge.

    The use of asbestos in building materials is an example. It was initially heralded as a breakthrough in fire safety, and mandated by various governments in many types of buildings.

    Only later were the health hazards of asbestos understood, and the same governments who had previously required the use of asbestos in building materials mandated their removal, a risky and very expensive procedure.

  8. Four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, 65% of Democratic voters didn’t believe he had won fairly or was legitimate; 71% of Republicans now say the same thing about President Joe Biden.

    The difference is Trump was dynamic and accessible, so much so when he won crooked hillary created a lie out of whole cloth that Russians somehow rigged the election, at the same time the gay muslim kenyan declared it “impossible” to rig US elections. (Trump’s error was not immediately shutting her down by following through on his promise to investigate her many questionable activities.)

    In the lead-up to 2020, Mumbles McDiaper had all of 12 people at his covidhoax speech/rallies, 11 of whom were lickspittle democrat “journalists.” He already had brain fog and never exuded “presidential timber.”

    What makes the 2020 election suspicious is how democrooks reacted to the accusations. Every democrat talking head immediately claimed (as if coached) the election wasn’t stolen, but offered no explanations for questionable occurrences (possibly hacked voting machines, ballot harvesting, video evidence of shenanigans) in multiple states.

    If Biden had really won, democrats would say, “Count all you like, Trumpers, all 81 million votes are there.” Instead, every challenge was dismissed.

    (Theory: Recucklicans weren’t in on the steal, but when they saw a chance to be rid of Trump they went along.)

    The Republic is in dire straits either way. If 81 million stupids voted for Biden (really against Trump) that’s as bad or worse as a rigged election.

    • Agree: tyrone
  9. We need more of this.

  10. We’ve had quite enough of “scientific consensus,” thank you very much

  11. The woke fervently believe their own bullshit Ted. They will punish you for this.

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