If You Want to Really Do MI Disaggregation, You Can't Stop with "the Government"

David Henderson writes: "One participant mentioned that after the Japanese government (he actually said "the Japanese") bombed Pearl Harbor, it was obvious that the U.S. government (he said "we") had to go to war with Japan."

But really, if you want to be a good methodological individualist, stopping at "the government" is intolerable. Henderson should be satisfied with nothing less than naming a particular individuals in the Japanese and US governments who decided to go to war.

I don't know and am not going to look up what government departments Japan had in 1941, but certainly it was not the Parks Department that went to war, right? Or the Department of Education? Or the minister in charge of fisheries?

Hmm, I wonder why he stopped at "the government" level? I wonder...

7 comments:

  1. Sorry to step on your toes here, but I think that this is more of a case issue than a MI issue, and this is true on both counts: that of your implication, as well as that of his argument.

    Certainly, only specific individuals perform certain actions, and it is entirely acceptable to have terms for these things. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to say that the American government is formed by the Constitution, but it is not acceptable to say that the American people are formed by the Constitution. The same is true when one says that the "American government" bombed Hiroshima vs one saying that the "American people" bombed Hiroshima. No, there must be specificity in one's statements, only specific people performed these acts, thus we must differentiate between such terms.

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    1. "The same is true when one says that the "American government" bombed Hiroshima vs one saying that the "American people" bombed Hiroshima."

      Other than "Joe says so," why, exactly? Did someone in the WPA or the Department of Agriculture bomb Hiroshima? If not, why is it OK to pin the blame on them,other than "I hate the government"?

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  2. Yes, but isn't there a lie to draw somewhere? The America of today wasn't bombed, but I'm not also the "me" of several years ago. It seems like continuity is destroyed by methodological individualism.

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  3. "But really, if you want to be a good methodological individualist, stopping at "the government" is intolerable. Henderson should be satisfied with nothing less than naming a particular individuals in the Japanese and US governments who decided to go to war."

    I thought, even if a person holds MI to be the right method, that it's fine to say "America went to war" or "the American government went to war." What matters is what one means by it.

    I think you still have a valuable point, but there is a distinction between it and another. You make it sound like you want Henderson to do a load of work by naming every single individual, which simply isn't practical: being a MI does not mean you have to physically find and type out every single person's name every time.

    As Samson above points out, you have to draw a line somewhere. It's not really practical, especially for a blog post, to even point out the specific agencies involved in declaring war.

    The point of value that I think you do have is that Henderson may not realize he means what he literally states when he blames "government" for actions rather than the specific agents involved. But even if this is true and he does realize this, I don't think his behavior should necessarily change due to practical concerns.

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    1. Maybe it's paradoxically both.

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    2. "You make it sound like you want Henderson to do a load of work by naming every single individual..."

      Nope, I want him to stop objecting to "Japan attacked America."

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  4. OK, now *this* one I agree with, Gene! From my (literally) textbook discussion on MI:

    "For example, an historian might write, “In 1941 Japan attacked the united states .” strictly speaking, this is nonsense . “Japan” isn’t an individual and
    so can’t take purposeful actions (such as bombing Pearl Harbor) . Individual Japanese pilots flew planes and attacked ships belonging to the u .s . navy .
    the statement “stalin occupied east Germany” is at least sensible (since
    stalin is an individual), but it’s nonetheless misleading if interpreted literally . Really what happened is that Joseph stalin gave orders to his subordinates, who in turn relayed them to their subordinates and so on, such that
    many many soldiers chose to obey those orders..."

    (I'm not going to fix the formatting; that's how it copied from the PDF. It's the bottom of page 34 here, if anyone wants to see the broader context.)

    I'll ask David what he thinks, Gene.

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