Friday, May 21, 2004


Greetings Friends,

Despite the fact that I have had some health problems recently and I am still convalescing at the moment yet I find it necessary to drag myself out of bed to write these lines because of the general feeling of alarm at recent events and to air some views which I believe to be important to bring to your attention.

I remember from long ago, when there was widespread dissemination and consumption of Marxist and communist propaganda and literature in these parts, that one of the aberrations and accusations which the various factions of these movements used to employ in their polemics against each other was the sin of “empiricism”.

For engineers and scientists this term does not sound bad, since the very foundation of modern science is experiment and the laboratory. However, in politics the term has different meaning, at least in the way that the old Marxists understood it. For them “Empiricism” meant trial and error without solid theory and strategic thinking behind it. Indeed even in science, experiment is always designed to confirm or disprove some preconceived theory, and may lead to modifications, reformulations, or total change in those theories. In other words, there should exist between theory and practice a so-called “dialectical” relationship, to use Marxist jargon (loathsome as that may sound to many of my friends). The “Dialectics” of Hegel that exerted so much influence on the old Marxists conceived of the engine of change and evolution as being a triangle whose bottom two corners are “thesis” and “antithesis” and the top apex the “synthesis”. In other words every action or situation (thesis) spawns the seeds of its “negation” or opposite reaction (for every action there is reaction) “the antithesis”. The result of the interaction or conflict between these two opposites creates a new situation or reality, which is of higher order than the two original propositions: “the synthesis”.

As “educated” people we should not be afraid to learn wisdom from any source, even if we dislike the labels and names. There is truth and validity in this kind of thinking. Success and progress requires theory and strategy, which is based on an intellectual construction in an effort to understand the “laws” governing situations and phenomena whether these are physical or social or whatever. Our practice then will be governed by our theory, and in the light of actual results on the ground, the theory may evolve and be proven or disproved. The extent of our success or otherwise has a lot to do with the profundity, depth and correctness of our understanding and an intellectual grasp of the situation sufficiently comprehensive to take account of all the complexities of reality. The moral of all this is that mere “trial and error” if not coupled with theory and sound strategic schematization and direction can be futile and costly and may indeed lead to disaster and failure, and that is the sin of “empiricism” in politics.

Now, the men in charge of the CPA in Iraq are hardworking dedicated civil servants. They are patriots and we have no doubt about their good intentions regarding the success of the effort. But what is the objective? And why do we think it is worthy of our support and encouragement? The answers to these last two questions are not very difficult. I have indeed strived to explain that in my many posts ever since starting this blog. Simply stated the goal is as President Bush has frequently defined, it is a noble and just cause and very much in the interest of both the American and western people as it is in our interest as Iraqis, and for the entire region (if the people had any intelligence or sense to realize that). Unfortunately and very reluctantly, however, I must state that the CPA administration here in Iraq has been guilty of this sin of “Empiricism” that we talked about above, which has greatly contributed to the present difficulties. How that is so, will be the subject of the next post “Inshallah”. My objective, as you might have guessed, is not negative criticism but an attempt to learn from mistakes and to contribute a little towards avoiding present and future errors that seem very likely in these critical times.


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