Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Building A Nest For The Hornets

Jonah Goldberg: exhibit A in the case against using analogies to describe foreign affairs. Or anything else.
Folks, regardless of the details of the NIE controversy can I just say that I'm not particularly troubled by the NIE's alleged finding that the Iraq war has increased terrorism. I mean, doesn't that make sense?...

But, why shouldn't we think that the Iraq war has increased terrorism in the world, or at least the risk of it? The hornet's nest analogy is apt, albeit Clichéd. We were stung -— and stung badly - well before the Iraq war. And after the multiple stings of 9/11 we decided to take the fight to nests.

If my backyard is festooned with hornet nests, I will likely be safer from a sting on any given day if I do nothing than I will be on the day or days I begin destroying them. Since when is any large, important, task required to show positive results at every stage?
Holy crap. The NIE doesn't say that any particular group of terrorists is necessarily more (or less) likely to attack us; it says that there are more terrorists! Jonah apparently begins the process of securing his backyard by taking hornet nests from his neighbors' yards and positioning them behind his house.

Maybe it would be helpful for Jonah - and other individuals who have fallen prey to the dangers of over-analogizing - if we translated some of the NIE judgments into Clichéd Analogy. For example:
Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that flying insects classified as hornets, although a small percentage of insects, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.
"Oooh, I get it! There's more hornets!!!"

Update: Oh, man. I can't believe I missed an opportunity to title a post "Hornets! Hornets!" Surely, though, Separation Sunday provides lots of other opportunities for the future...


Tommaso Sciortino said...

I usually think of this class of errors as all stemming from "metaphorical thinking". To get the proper effect, "metaphorical thinking" should be pronounced with the same intonations "gingivitis" is pronounced in toothpaste commercials.

Paul said...

The pity is that I think analogies are really helpful for thinking about a lot of things. You just have to be careful with them.