Wednesday, January 3, 2007
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Do hawks have a psychological edge?
In the January/February issue of Foreign Policy, Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon make a very provocative argument -- as a species, humans are too damn hawkish:
National leaders get all sorts of advice in times of tension and conflict. But often the competing counsel can be broken down into two basic categories. On one side are the hawks: They tend to favor coercive action, are more willing to use military force, and are more likely to doubt the value of offering concessions. When they look at adversaries overseas, they often see unremittingly hostile regimes who only understand the language of force. On the other side are the doves, skeptical about the usefulness of force and more inclined to contemplate political solutions. Where hawks see little in their adversaries but hostility, doves often point to subtle openings for dialogue.Foreign Policy also invited Matthew Continetti and Matthew Yglesias to comment on the piece. Yglesias is enthusiastic about the finding, and goes even further:
Kahneman and Renshon actually end up being unduly generous to the hawkish point of view. Sometimes, of course, war is necessary. But since there are two sides to every conflict, hawks won’t always be right. Even in a case where an American president is rightly listening to his hawkish advisors (George H.W. Bush in the first Gulf War, say, or Bill Clinton over Kosovo), a foreign leader (Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic) is making a serious miscalculation in listening to his hawkish advisors.Continetti is less sanguine:
[W]hy do only the fundamental attribution errors of hawks lead to “pernicious” effects? Doves share the same bias; it just works in different ways. If hawks treat hostile behavior at face value when they shouldn’t, so too do doves treat docility. Those who championed the 1973 accords ending the Vietnam War saw them as a chance for the United States to leave Vietnam while preserving the sovereignty of the south. But to North Vietnamese eyes, the cease-fire was merely an opportunity to consolidate their forces for the final seizure of the south, which happened a mere two years later.I love this article -- in fact, it's going in my Statecraft course for this semester!!
However, I love it in part because it's simultaneously clear, provocative, and way overblown as a hypothesis. That is to say, even if one acknowledges the individual-level cognitive biases discussed in the piece, it's a stretch to then conclude that foreign policies are more belligerent than they should be because of hawk bias.
If I have more time today, I'll try to fill out these cryptic points, but for now, here are my issues with the argument:
*Yes, this applies with almost equal force to Republicans, but Yglesias is defending the thesis here, so I'm using his side as an example.
posted by Dan on 01.03.07 at 11:20 AM
Well, the first thought that came to mind as I read the above was that similar research exists on political advertising; i.e. negative ads are more effective than positive ads because people are hardwired to monitor the environment for threats and dangers. It's a survival instinct.
So, the findings don't surprise me and I tend to agree with them.
It does indeed beg the question of why the human species isnt constantly at war. I think there is truth to it, but on the other hand inertia is also a massive component to human psychology, and grows in power as the size of groups grows. Starting wars is relatively hard, but then so is stopping them sometimes.
And what of dove psychology? How does one explain appeasementism, which also appears to be a universal trait? Submission to the alpha male?posted by: Mark Buehner on 01.03.07 at 11:20 AM [permalink]
In short, most decisions to go to war have been mistakes.
...in the wars that were fought in the last 100 or so years, it seems that the party that initiated hostilities was usually the party that was ultimately defeated.
Insofar as the party that initiated hostilities did so in the belief that it would be the ultimate victor, yes, the decision to go to war was clearly a mistake.posted by: rosignol on 01.03.07 at 11:20 AM [permalink]
Drawing on a perceived dove/hawk dichotomy is useful for making a point but artificial all the same.
That wars are often if not always the result of 'cognitive' mistakes is hardly news and really does not change anything.
Yglesias' points are idiotic. How can you talk about decision to go to war, especially in cases of WWI and WWII, as being 'wrong' when so much history contributed to the possible inevitability of those events? Hitler just didn't invent the Third Reich out of mid air by making some 'bad' decisions.
That people are attracted to ostensibly strong, clear, forceful [simple] opinions as opposed to
That the upshot of the article seems to be that when it comes to making decisions fraught with danger and peril we should be cautious and skeptical of motives - again, hardly earth shattering revelation there.
And yet people keep ignoring advice - and that's one fact there's no getting around.posted by: cull tech on 01.03.07 at 11:20 AM [permalink]
Another problem with this thesis is that it completely ignores the dynamic nature of the game being played out in the run up to war. The policy makers on one side will have to assume that their opponent is a hawk; that is, belligerent, overly optimistic and likely to misjudge any peaceful overture as weakness. In that situation, even doves are likely to conclude that they need a preliminary show of force to overcome the other side's foolish hawkishness.posted by: David Cohen on 01.03.07 at 11:20 AM [permalink]
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