When Kevin Drum and Jeb Bush agree about something, one of two grossly implausible events must have occurred: either Kevin is wrong or Jeb is right. Since Jebâ€™s wrong-headedness is more reliable than even Kevinâ€™s good sense, a devout Bayesian in this situation will start out suspecting that Kevin has made one of his rare mistakes.
Some time ago â€“ sorry, real life has been interfering with my blogging â€“ the New York Times asked what seemed like a remarkably silly question: â€œIf you could go back and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?â€
Answers: 42% Yes, 30% No, 28% Not sure.
The Huffington Post picked this up and asked it of JEB! by email. Bush (sensibly) ducked it until he was asked on camera, at which point he emitted a characteristically inarticulate grunt of affirmation. â€œHell yeah, I would! You gotta step up, man.â€
Kevin was more thoughtful but equally decisive:Â â€œI’m not an especially bloodthirsty guy, but hell yes, I’d do it. Sure, maybe World War II would happen anyway, though that’s hardly inevitable. Maybe the Holocaust too. But even a reasonable chance of stopping either one of them would be well worth the life of a baby who would otherwise grow up to be a monster. What am I missing here? I wouldn’t even hesitate.â€
Iâ€™m pleased to report another success for the Rev. Mr. Bayes. In my judgment (which I would be glad to pronounce ex cathedra if someone would just build me a cathedral) both Bush and Drum are obviously and catastrophically wrong.
Forget about time-travel paradoxes, forget about the risk that something even worse would happen, and assume that your powers of foresight are perfect. You still shouldnâ€™t kill Baby Hitler, for the simple reason that the Baby Hitler youâ€™d be killing wouldnâ€™t have done anything wrong, and intentionally killing innocent people is wrong, the same way torture and slavery are wrong. End of discussion.
Logically, of course, the Right-to-Life crowd should be up in arms about Bushâ€™s expressed willing to intentionally take innocent life. And logically, of course, Bush himself couldnâ€™t really hold his expressed position on abortion and also his expressed opinion about baby-killing. But, of course, logic has nothing to do with it.