Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Collective guilt and drones

Bryan Caplan has thoughts on collective guilt and war here.

Collective guilt, like many other forms of collectivism, is brutal business. So what do you all think the implications of drones are for people (rightfully) concerned about collective guilt?

We've gone over collateral damage and drones on here before - but the collective guilt point is important too. Bryan's dialogue is a search for justification for burning down a village. But what if you don't have to burn down the village at all?

Speaking of drones, the Dorner case illustrates the point too (more the collateral damage point than the collective guilt point): how many people did UAVs kill? Zero. But the UAV did help track Dorner, and the only picture of him on the run that I've seen was from a UAV. How many innocent people have conventional police tactics brought under fire so far? Three.

And yet it's people who say that UAVs are a good idea that are considered monsters... hmmm....

UAV pilots do not have to make the sort of split-second decisions that make this mess likely:


  1. Sam Harris puts this issue well in End of Faith. Imagine we had perfect weapons. Would we inflict any collateral damage at all? No, none. Imagine AQ or the Taliban had perfect weapons. What would they do? I don't need to answer, do I?

    Doesn't directly justify drones but it does help keep things in perspective.

  2. Well, I see a significant value in not being constantly monitored by a Panopticon state.

    And frankly there is a lot of just flat out B.S. associated with the concept of "smart weapons." We saw this with both wars in Iraq and we're continuing to see that.

    1. I do too. But I also feel safer when my wife is on the metro late at night and there's a camera there.

      It seems odd to think the discussion always degenerates into talk of Panopticons. But maybe that's just me - we economists bristle at corner solutions and don't find them very rational (and for that reason, we don't find them very plausible).

      Can't we say "it's nice to have a UAV when we're hunting down a mass murderer but we should not be watching and keeping files on everybody". It really doesn't seem all that hard to avoid these corner solutions.

      re: "And frankly there is a lot of just flat out B.S. associated with the concept of "smart weapons." We saw this with both wars in Iraq and we're continuing to see that."

      And there is a lot of flat out B.S. associated with critics of "smart weapons".


      Is it a good idea or is it not a good idea? It seems safer for innocent civilians. It seems to get us access and results other methods don't. It seems like it's going to happen anyway so we might as well be on top of the trend. It seems like we might want to be more tactful in the use of these weapons, but it also seems like people will get used to the new reality.

      It seems like the best way to avoid the pitfalls of "flat out B.S." is for you and me to carry on a conversation sans B.S.

  3. Daniel,

    "But I also feel safer when my wife is on the metro late at night and there's a camera there."

    And as the British experience amply demonstrates the mere presence of a camera does not deter crime or criminal behavior.

    ~Can't we say "it's nice to have a UAV when we're hunting down a mass murderer but we should not be watching and keeping files on everybody". It really doesn't seem all that hard to avoid these corner solutions.~

    As the various illegal activities of state actors have shown since the passage of the Patriot Act and the like (well, of what we can discover of such - the Obama administration does a good job of dragging its heals regarding such revelations) when you give the government power to spy domestically government actors will use it in the rather ugly ways that you expect that they would (and they will never be held accountable for such - only the whistler blowers tend to get nailed).

    In sum you're an incredibly naive person.

    The difference is that the critics of smart weapons aren't operating the smart weapons.

    "It seems safer for innocent civilians."

    No it isn't safer for innocent civilians; what it allows for is the killing people who in the past would have even considered worth pursuing and thus exposes civilians who would have never been exposed to such dangers in the pre-drone era. That is the truth of the matter and nothing else. As they say, facts are stubborn things.

    1. The British have been putting cameras all over the place. Again, I'd prefer we not indulge your Panopticon fallacy. An Urban Institute study on Baltimore cameras found it did have a deterrent effect. I can't imagine it doesn't have some effect, and the point is it certainly doesn't hurt. I'm trying to get you not to think in terms of corner solutions, but you seem to be missing that point.

      re: "In sum you're an incredibly naive person."

      Only if you think I'm saying everything will be perfect and everyone will always be well behaved - which I obviously haven't said.

      Men are not angels, LSB.

      But I can play this game too. Police can violate liberty too, so forget not having cameras - let's not have any police. But why stop there? Private actors acting in self-defense can overstep their bounds and violate liberty too. So let's abolish private property. In fact human life in general has been known to violate the liberty of other human life. Let's just eliminate all humans from the planet. It's the only way to be sure.

      You don't advocate this. Clearly you're an incredibly naive person. Don't you know that human beings have shown a tendency to violate each others liberty?

      This gets really old LSB.

      Let's please get out of corner-solution mode. Please?

      re: "That is the truth of the matter and nothing else. As they say, facts are stubborn things."

      I've gone through the data that Glenn Greenwald advocates on this and I can't come up with any other solution than that it's safer for civilians. If you want to look at the facts (not just making assertions) and share an alternative perspective you are welcome to.

    2. Daniel,

      You really need to stop interacting with low information comments, such as those from LSB.

      Cameras may not have much impact on crime, yet, but we have only started. As cameras get better, as we get more of them, as we create systems, with drones that swarm and are "armed" with various technologies, almost all of which will be non-lethal, technology is going to end "street" violence.

      For example, we have not yet deployed software that monitors movement and voice

      A. Hamilton

  4. Anyway, the best way to counter this sort of effort to make legible the private activities of the citizenry is for citizens to own drones of their own to watch the state in action. We already catch so many abuses by state actors (particularly police) with smart phone cameras, imagine what the constant vigilance of a civilian owned drone could do.

  5. I'm not particularly interested in the analysis of the Urban Institute or any other think tank that is heavily dependent on government money.

    I am fine with getting rid of "the police"; the vast majority of police like personnel in the U.S. are already private in nature.

    Glenn's analysis is correct; lots of civilians die in our efforts to get at minor people who would not have been considered worth the effort prior to the advent of drone warfare. When police forces start to weaponize drones you're going to a similiar effect domestically.

    1. If you're going to insinuate impropriety you better have evidence or an argument, buddy.

      Don't hide behind a pseudonym and just cast aspersions because you are too lazy or too poorly equipped to actually string together an argument.

      What exactly are your concerns about the study. I haven't read it myself, but I know the quality of researchers in that center. So I am open - if you've got an argument let's hear it. If you don't, you should know what an idiot you sound like saying things like that.

    2. Show me the data. Please. Stop just claiming things. I have presented data on here before (just use the search function) using Glenn's sources that show (1.) lower civilian casualty rates and (2.) lower absolute numbers of civilian casualties. If you have a different understanding, show me the data.

      Yes, there are Peltzman effects we can talk about. But if you want me to take you seriously on this you need to demonstrate to me that those Peltzman effects dominate. All the data I've looked at, using sources that Glenn provides, suggests that they don't.

  6. I believe I made my point about the rise of government sponsored think tanks generally. It really isn't an issue of impropriety.

  7. Something tells me the surveillance aspect has nothing to do with most people's objection. That said objections to the technology specifically always remind me of early 20th Century worries about Bombers. Not that they were entirely wrong, Bombers were a horrible destructive force, but it didn't lower the barrier to using force except in wild mismatches in strength.

    Which is to say its not Drones which lets the US strike these regions, despite their symbolic significance to people, but the massive war state and the diplomatic arm twisting (Yemen and Pakistan both basically give this the green light in private while protesting it in public) that comes with that.

  8. Warren,

    Well, any objection to drones will have as a background issues like the American warfare state, the rampant overcriminalization in the U.S., the drug war, etc. It isn't just drones themselves that are a problem; they are a symptom of a a much larger problem. But you attack the symptoms where you can make the greatest impact.

    Then again, this entire debate has an Alice in Wonderland aspect to it exactly because the executive branch feels that it is above scrutiny and the sunlight of public exposure on this and so many other issues:


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