Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Delights of Derivation

Think of all the things you don’t know. Sit in the middle of a room with hundreds of people, each of whom have their lives, their histories, their secrets and their common links with you. Most of the time, doing that, you would hardly think of all that meaningful information around you. You would coast on by, absorbed into your own life.

Much complexity hides behind the surfaces of everyday life. We live in two worlds: the one inside our head, and the one outside, and it’s getting those two to usefully correspond that is the challenge of our lives.

With the physical sciences, there is a point at which the correspondence can be made meaningfully precise and comprehensible. It's when you get into studies concerning human beings that the monkey wrenches of uncertainty start getting thrown into the system.

People themselves are derivations of the natural rules science does its best to approximate. From subatomic particles to the complex workings of the brain, there are many layers of order and chaos interacting ceaselessly. Then on top of that, what derives from that complex brain are individuals complex in their own right. The derivation doesn't stop there, going from individual to family to community to the whole world eventually.

We aren't always aware of this. Truth is, we sometimes deal better with things when we pay attention to our immediate surroundings, rather than trying to understand the mind-beggaring complexities of the world and lose track of what's close to us in the process. Sometimes, dealing with the realities of the world is like trying to cover a king-sized bed with a twin-sized sheet. You pull your end this way, and on the opposite side, the corner pulls loose. Only it isn't physical breadth that's lacking here, it's an intuitive picture of the world.

The world, though complex, is not random, though. There are many forces, including the similarities we all share as biological and mental creatures, that ensure that while not all the details conform, we human beings are much alike in our needs, our desires, and our priorities.

We are presented with an intractable paradox: hidden in the complexities of human experience are the seeds of both our similarities and our differences, neither extractable from the other. The added layers of culture and more local experience contributes to both the divisions and confluences of our lives.

Our response is to try and create compelling models and theories of the world that help explain this bewildering complexity (This folks, by the way, is where politics comes into the picture!). But like that twin sheet on the king-sized bed, no system can fit it all. pull at one corner to try and stretch it over the complexities of human thought and behavior, and the other corner comes loose and the exceptions start flooding over.

Can we win at all? Can we master the complexity of the world with one theory? No, not when it comes to human behavior, to human nature. We're too creative to be boxed in, too predictable in many other ways to be written off as random. We will always understand ourselves incompletely, with all the tragedies that come with that.

But within such uncertainty and such indeterminant confusion lies our occasional salvation: If there is no secret to human behavior that requires good from us, there's none that can require evil either. We can choose our course in life, not simply impale ourselves on one horn of a dilemma or another. The very slipperiness that prevents us from creating perfect order for good, also keeps us from remaining permanently in the traps of an evil system.

But first, we must break open the shell of complacent thought that blinds us to the incompleteness of our understanding. Only when we know we are ignorant do we seek to learn. Only when we seek to learn and explore our world, with the humble attitude of a beginner (what we all are, to one extent or another) are we open to more of the complexities of the world, and the riches within them.

As we argue the human complexities of politics and policy, we must not delude ourselves into believing that there are simple solutions, or that our ideologies are a perfect fit for reality. We must be willing to borrow from different philosophies in the quest for something that works, and not be too quick to refuse ideologically questionable means of solving problems when they work or to accept as fact unproven proposals of our own before they've been tested by real life.

Turning this understanding inwards, we must understand that the reasons people take certain political stances are not so simple as we or they would necessarily want to believe. We must understand that many ideas have a history, but that this history is often one of change, and of behavior perversely created by philosophies set up to oppose them. The interaction of thought, action, and result is not always a clear or straightfoward interaction.

What I think has made America as great a country as it is, is our ability to harness this complex, and sometimes chaotic nature of human society, rather than bash ourselves to pieces on it. Instead of fearing people's opinions, their religion, or their assembly as organizations and parties to the extent we legislate against them and try to hold them down, we instead save ourselves the unrest, and simply let people gather and believe what they will when they do so peacefully and lawfully. We don't have to waste the time and effort of our government to re-educate people, to displace minorities and lord ourselves over them, nor trying to smother underground movements and religions that our leadership doesn't favor. We let ourselves deal with what really matters, and allow our government to operate in synchrony, not in fearful opposition to the people. It is only the foolishness of the politicians, their vanity, and their greed for power that leads them to battle with their own citizens. Fortunately our laws, including the highest in the land, keeps these fights mostly symbolic, and ultimately ineffective.

What makes America great, is that is not a country built on the perpetuation of delusion, but the reconciliation of what we believe and what we decide, with the reality that it must face, and the fearlessness with which we confront the future, knowing that there is always a better path to be taken, and the means to do so if we are willing to try.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 16, 2006 10:57 AM
Comments
Comment #113594

Stephen

You are describing mental models. It was a hot management topic a couple years ago. I always have my interns read something on it, usually “the Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge.

I am not sure of your point, however. America works because so many people have so many ideas. They are not compatible and if you try to hard to make sense of it all you just go crazy. Our system works in practice, but not in theory. All greatness is based on contradiction.

Posted by: Jack at January 16, 2006 12:26 PM
Comment #113598

Jack-
My point is expressed early on:

Much complexity hides behind the surfaces of everyday life. We live in two worlds: the one inside our head, and the one outside, and it’s getting those two to usefully correspond that is the challenge of our lives.

The fact of the matter is, mental models are the primary currency of American society. It is these that the Market runs on, and that our government is run by. It is a mental model that convinces us that our government has authority. why does this model persist?

The fact is, having a government, having different professions, having arts and sciences have practical benefits, above and beyond the simple measures of whether something provides instant gratification or the mere ability to survive.

You say our system works in practice but not in theory. That’s a rather simplified way of looking at it, one that misses the fine grain detail, and perhaps treats the subject a little too passively.

What I said is that we shouldn’t depend too much on theories, lock ourselves inside our heads with ideologies. The ultimate result of that is that we start accepting what is ideologically correct in the place of what’s pragmatically so. That is the Achille’s Heel of utopian thought: All theories are approximations, and theories on human behavior more approximate those that deal mainly in the physical sciences.

What our system allows is for people to think for themselves. Don’t underestimate the value of independent thought, even when its independent from your own. It is this massive parallel processing that allows the Marketplace of goods and services, and its cousin, the marketplace of ideas to function.

My system of liberal thought is not based on getting in the way of that, but instead optimizing it. By requiring companies to be open and honest about their finances, we both encourage trust in the market, and move the ideal results closer to reality by letting the reality and not the image of the company’s finances be the stronger influence on people’s decisions. Same thing with finances and conflicts of interest. Investors stand to gain more when their bankers and brokers, obligated to serve their interests, are not put in the position of maintaining the stock price of companies with bad finances, or maintaining the equity of a corporation whose bad finances should be called on the carpet.

Environmental and consumer safety issues also stand as examples of this. It’s not good for the business community to be seen as a threat to the safety and wellbeing of its customers and neighbors. The more the public can be assured in substance that this is not what’s happening, the happier people will be with business.

In the end, greatness is not in contradiction, but in the complexities that allow that seeming contradiction to work.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 16, 2006 1:52 PM
Comment #113599

Stephen

Yes. We try very hard to figure out accurate measures of performance. We devise systems to check up and keep people honest. We spend millions of dollars and years of time to understand how the systems function.

Nobody advocates dishonest behavior. We all want everyone to do the best they can and we try to create systems that will make this possible. But not matter what, shit happens. And sometimes things go wrong BECAUSE of not in spite of our best efforts.

You can try to get your mental models to correspond to reality in a practical sense, but it will always deviate.

I don’t think this is a liberal or a conservative thing. It is pragmatic. It is what they teach MBAs and what top management gets in their expensive seminars. You won’t find an argument based on politics of ideology. The dividing line here will be between those who think it is possible to understand and predict with certainty and those who know it is not.

The only ideological aspect I see is that liberals tend to have too much confidence in the efficacy of centralized planning and rule making. They don’t really work. One reason is the incomplete mental models. These models can be improved, but no one model will ever suffice for all situations. This is unpopular with those who seek to establish equality.

Posted by: Jack at January 16, 2006 2:13 PM
Comment #113600

Stephen, you make 2 assumptions. First, that generally, Americans are reflective. The second, that what made America great will continue (though this assumption was only implied).

A large minority of Americans are reflective, resulting from American education which encouraged, and still encourages, reflection as a model for knowledge and wisdom. But, the majority of Americans are not generally reflective on issues of the magnitude which you discuss. America can have hope as long as those who are reflective lead. I don’t mean necessarily lead in government, for media is a mirror upon government and when government fails, the nation need not, provided the media reflects such failures for voters to assess and use to change failed leadership.

But what if the only two paradigms for government leadership which voters have to choose from, are both intrinsically flawed. Failure by the media to reflect upon the set of choices as flawed, could in fact, allow the nation to falter.

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the only two viable choices the media reflects to the public. And if the public and the media accept that those two choices are the only ones to make, and both are so flawed as to render our future untenable, then, America is in grave danger.

There are potentially unrecoverable errors our nation can make. Unrecoverable in the sense that we become diminished in a way that prevents return to our former status. The national debt portends just such an unrecoverable error. We have seen that the Republican Party’s paradigm for leadership is ill equipped to deal with it. We have seen that the Democratic Party’s paradigm also was ill equipped.

I hear folks make rediculous claims that the debt is a non-issue. I hear folks say, when times are better we will buy back that debt. Yet, a quick scan of the present’s direction for the future shows a host of events that can likely occur which would not permit buying that debt back, and in fact would dictate increasing it, despite all the will to halt its growth. I speak of climate change and increasing frequency of Katrina type disasters. I speak of Iran and N. Korea and Pakistan creating such threats as to demand decades of tax draining war engagemnent by the United States. I speak of the increasing convergence of intensifying foreign competitive advantage during decades of growing demands upon the nations resources by the baby boom generation.

There are already signs of foreign investors shifting their investment strategies away from the U.S. toward the potentially more lucrative foreign bond and stock markets. Our nation’s ability to act proactively and nimbly has always depended upon our ability to float a national debt. But with levels this high and growing, that resource may well cease to exist in any meaningful way over the next 30 to 40 years.

But what choice is available to the voting public who reflect on such issues? And let’s be wide awake when we assess the American voting public. They are, with few exceptions, package buyers, Democrat or Republican, and not reflective leaders who would design a third choice for themselves or the nation.

You will likely drag out Clinton’s record on deficits. But, in reality, his hand on deficits was partially forced by the rhetoric of the right. And Clinton was criticised by his own party members again and again on his fiscal discipline measures. I would not accept that Clinton’s fiscal performance was reflective of Democratic ideology or paradigm.

The United States is about to fight a fiscal war on two fronts, foreign affairs and domestic quality of life. Either could be won alone, by either party. But, to fight a fiscal war on both those fronts is a future neither the Democratic or Republican Party have uttered one reflective thought or notion about.

The Republicans have given up fighting the fiscal war on the foreign front accepting the assumption that we must sacrifice all for national security, and yet, they have not the political will to rein in spending on the domestic front.

The Democrats if they acquire majority party, from all their rhetoric, would do just the opposite of the Republicans. They would declare no restraints on restoring and maintaining quality of life issues in the face of the baby boomers retirement decades, but, would lack the political will to substantially curtail foreign affairs spending even if viable alternatives to doing so could be found. The Republicans would politically murder Democrats if they yielded on foreign affairs assertiveness and global cop paradigms and programs.

I think your first assumption that Americans are reflective in sufficient numbers as to ensure our future is potentially false. And I don’t see how our future can be other than diminished with the Republican and Democratic Party paradigms as the voter’s only choice.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 16, 2006 2:37 PM
Comment #113604

David

If there were only two choices it would be very sad indeed. But the U.S. is more than politics. Politics will always be disappointing. It is almost always zero sum. Someone wins; everyone else loses.

Posted by: Jack at January 16, 2006 2:50 PM
Comment #113612

Jack-
How do you know that regulation doesn’t work? Ask yourself if you would get facts and figures on the companies you have stock in, if these were not required by law. Ask yourself how stable the market would be if there weren’t minimum safety standards on vehicles and electronics. Ask yourself whether you could get a good signal from the local television station, or a working image on your television if the FCC didn’t regulate the whys and wherefores of how Television is distributed.

Regulation is good when it truly does regulate, when it helps to keep the market out of self-destructive behavior, when it serves to make sure that business is working in an honest and benevolent fashion. It’s best when the legislation tries to deal with the issues with their complexity in mind, and a strategy to deal with that.

David R. Remer-
I assume they’re generally not, at least not on a conscious basis, but need to become more so.

I think one mistake in looking at the political parties is believing that they are simple things. The reality of what happens when you get so many people together in the dynamics of history is much different. There is a lot of potential for change when you involve tens of millions of people in the process of forming consensus, and if even one percent of those people can be reflective, that’s millions of folks whose opinion can lead others. The sheer immensity of America’s political system ensures that at some point, there will be a sea change in how America is governed.

Sure there are unrecoverable errors, and sure there are ways in which the Democrats could become just as bad as the Republicans are now. Hell, any third party could head in that direction if it got the power, the majority. The question is, do we continue to complain about how out of our control the government, or do we decide to do something and tell others to do something? Americans have learned helplessness before their government’s corruption and incompetence, and the only thing its gotten us is more of the same.

If we want to make a difference, we first have to believe we can make a difference, and continue to think that even if things don’t go according to plan. This nation has grown too complex to be run according to tired old dualisms, much less benign neglect.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 16, 2006 4:05 PM
Comment #113616

If ALL Americans would stand togeather as one and fight for America Things would change. If Americans stand divided then America will cease to exist. 50/50 never works it must be 100% for anything to suceed.

Posted by: Dan at January 16, 2006 4:18 PM
Comment #113633

Stephen, when I look at a diverse party like the Democratic Party, what I see is a party of the least common denominator. In other words, a few issues which a large majority of the party agree to, and dissembling from there.

The Democrats believe in improving public education and saving Social Security and Medicare, and are committed to these aims almost regardless of cost, opportunity cost or taxpayer dollars. They believe that those who benefit most from the society should pay the most for it. Virtually all other issues fail to garner the support that these issues do.

When it comes to foreign policy, few Democratic voters know the names of foreign nations prior to our conflicts in them. This kind of woeful lack of concensus about the many major issues facing our nation, leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of espousing a cogent, relatively universal policy agenda upon which to lead their constituents let alone the nation.

If push came to shove forcing me to take sides, I would have to choose the Democratic Party because of their commitment to public education, a universal and common experience for all our citizens upon which common ground can be found. But, there are almost no other issues save their multinational approach to foreign affairs, that would guide me in such clear choice between the two parties.

Holding office holders accountable is the only solution I see, but, as you know, that looks like trying to push a snowball up a summer heated sand dune. Voters by large measures view the problems as belonging to everyone else’s Senators and Representatives, not their own. This phenomena, while predictable by congitive dissonance theory, (I voted for him so it can’t be his/her fault) is no less monumental in overcoming, and that is so, precisely because the Democratic Party and Republican Party spend 100’s of millions of dollars every 4 years perpetuating this cognitive dissonance.

In other words, your party and the other are the problem preventing them from enabling the solution. A unified populace centered on a practical and likely comprehensive policy to address long term solutions needed for long range and intractable problems.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 16, 2006 5:07 PM
Comment #113645

Stephen I repeat very often that the free market requires the rule of law and some regulation. What the government cannot do is manage the economy.

I run a very small office. Only 17 people report to me. But they are diverse and I really don’t understand everything they do. They have specialized skills and training I don’t. Some speak languages I don’t know. I learned a long time ago that if I want to produce optimal results, I have to manage lightly. I will get rid of people who annoy me too much, but I recognize that my staff won’t always do things the way I would have instructed, but they often do it better.

The government is in this position, except exponentially. Government officials don’t have the skills to understand the innovative parts of our economy. It can help set goals, but it just does not have the capacity to manage details. Beyond that, government will get corrupted if it has too much power. The reason I recognize that government needs to regulate business is to keep business folly and dishonesty in check. The reason I don’t want too much regulation is to keep government folly and dishonesty in check.

You talk about the complex system, but I don’t believe you draw the correct conclusion. The economy has become too complex for government to regulate in detail. It cant get the personnel it needs to do it and it cant handle the sheer amount of data. That is why socialism is old fashioned.

Let me share one more management insight I used with computer professionals. They were always messing with my systems and when I would complain they would bury me in techno jargon. I told them, “faster is better; slower is worse and no change is a waste of money, everything else is your business.” Once again, government can do the same and not more. It can set goals, but not dictate how it will be done.

Posted by: Jack at January 16, 2006 5:34 PM
Comment #113646

Jack, you are ignoring the staff of agencies who are supposed to be the experts who know how to get their job done.

The CIA director does not have to know how to field repair transatlantic listening devices, in order to manage the department that does. One of the problems comes with rotation of experts according political allegiance. This is a practice that, if the American voters were smart, they would put an end to.

By and large, civil servants could care less who is in office. They care about keeping their job. And keeping their job should depend upon the quality of their work, not their political party.

You assume, quite incorrectly I think, that because our government has grown inefficient in many ways, that it must be so. I would argue, that its grossest inefficiencies result from the tug o’ war between Democrats and Republicans as political parties in a game of musical chairs.

The Abramoff scandal demonstrates quite adequately why politicians, incumbents of tenure especially, love an ineffecient bureacracy. They can hide 100’s of millions if not billions of taxpayer dollars from the public inside such gross inefficiencies.

I suggest throwing incumbents out again and again until they cry UNCLE and relent to support efficient and public serving government under their auspices.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 16, 2006 5:46 PM
Comment #113649

David,

The Democrats believe in improving public education and saving Social Security and Medicare, and are committed to these aims almost regardless of cost, opportunity cost or taxpayer dollars. They believe that those who benefit most from the society should pay the most for it. Virtually all other issues fail to garner the support that these issues do.

Republicans also are committed to improving public education and saving Social Security and Medicare; however, the methodologies of how to accomplish these are extremely diverse. (Unfortunately the answer to all problems from both parties has been to spend money, we’ve been doing it for 40 years and it has not worked)

The problem is, how can two parties who despise each other so much, do anything that truly benefits the country. Neither side wants the other to have a toehold on any issue that the public may deem as popular…so the demonizing continues…

Is there a solution or will things continue to deteriorate?

(Vote them all out and vote third party is nice rhetoric, but it won’t happen)

Posted by: Discerner at January 16, 2006 5:51 PM
Comment #113654

David

I was merely giving my own example of ignorance in an area where I theoretically have the capacity to manage. How much worse for government regulation. Is there anyone in government who can understand the details of what the cutting edge technology firms are developing? If he does, he won’t stay in the government very long and it is not just the money. If you are cutting edge, you want to be doing it, not regulating it.

But what are we arguing about exactly? I recognize the government’s role in regulating. But I don’t think it has the capacity to manage. The two are very different. I don’t know why we would even want government to manage the economy.

Re skills - I would like to ask for experience of others. Please let me know if your experience is simiar to mine.

When I was in school a long time ago courses in anything that could be considered cutting edge in business or technology were taught either by old guys who had been cutting edge but were no longer or by foreigners who didn’t speak English very well. As soon as they learned enough English to be widely understood, they moved to better paying jobs in private industry. Is this still the case?

Posted by: Jack at January 16, 2006 6:04 PM
Comment #113683

Stephen,

I like the fact that you like to think about details and go beyond the simple explanation of things. The simple answer never explains the full complexity of an issue or an event. It’s usually just an approximation.

Having said that, I think most of our disagreements about regulation and capitalism as theory hinge on a miscommunication or misunderstanding as to where complexity lies and in how pragmatic choices are made. For instance…

What I said is that we shouldn’t depend too much on theories, lock ourselves inside our heads with ideologies. The ultimate result of that is that we start accepting what is ideologically correct in the place of what’s pragmatically so. That is the Achille’s Heel of utopian thought: All theories are approximations, and theories on human behavior more approximate those that deal mainly in the physical sciences.

What I would point out is that all ‘pragmatic,’ (or any solution for that matter) will be based on a theory or theories of how any action will affect an expected outcome. What’s more, the very concept of what the problem is will be based on a theory of how the problem is defined and came into existence. You cannot avoid having theories.

In fact, how you define the problem usually dictates what the solution will be.

I think ‘pragmatic’ action divorced from any ‘theory’ is no better than action based on an incorrect theory. The advantage of any theory, even in human behavior is that it can be tested. You can be wrong. And when a theory is proved wrong, then we should discard it, or the part provable to be wrong. In human behavior there are inumerable variables that can make a theory seem wrong. What works for one person does not work for another. Human beings have a variety of personality styles which make incentive a radically different matter from person to person.

The whole point of free market theory that you seem to undervalue is it’s focus on complexity as precisely the reason that individual choices should be left to individuals as much as possible and cannot be rendered moot by pragmatic choices any more than they can by ideological ones. The complexity renders decision making by fewer than all of the individuals involved irrelavant and counter productive.

No government can possibly make decsions better than the people involved. (This is excluding core issues of health, safety, and rights.)

What our system allows is for people to think for themselves. Don’t underestimate the value of independent thought, even when its independent from your own. It is this massive parallel processing that allows the Marketplace of goods and services, and its cousin, the marketplace of ideas to function.

I hear you say this and yet most liberal economic solutions do not make this a value. For instance, how is this evident in advocating Universal Healthcare for example? Or in advocating higher taxes for the express reason that there is too much inequality between rich and poor? Or calls for price controls or limitations on profits? Or a social security retirement system based on the idea that everyone must participate in because some will not make the ‘correct’ choices. Are these examples of pragmatic policy NOT based on an ideological theory?

My system of liberal thought is not based on getting in the way of that, but instead optimizing it. By requiring companies to be open and honest about their finances, we both encourage trust in the market, and move the ideal results closer to reality by letting the reality and not the image of the company’s finances be the stronger influence on people’s decisions. Same thing with finances and conflicts of interest. Investors stand to gain more when their bankers and brokers, obligated to serve their interests, are not put in the position of maintaining the stock price of companies with bad finances, or maintaining the equity of a corporation whose bad finances should be called on the carpet.

Again, part of my argument has been that the liberal attempt to regulate capitalism is based on ideological theory that is demonstrably incorrect. It is regulation on this basis which I disagree, not the fact of regulation itself.

Let me reiterate something that gets lost in our arguments about this. Capitalism requires regulation in order to function. But not because capitalism is inherently destructive, dishonest, or prone to greed, monopoly, or rapaciousness, but because people are. Human nature is such that capitalism functions best under the rule of law and regulation based upon gauranteeing the maximum freedom for all indivuduals equally.

The mixture approach of socialism and capitalism in a symbiotic relationship where all the problems are defined by socialist principles and hence solved by socialist policies are inadequete. And I should think that it fails the test you put forward of ideological theory.

Environmental and consumer safety issues also stand as examples of this. It’s not good for the business community to be seen as a threat to the safety and wellbeing of its customers and neighbors. The more the public can be assured in substance that this is not what’s happening, the happier people will be with business.

In the end, greatness is not in contradiction, but in the complexities that allow that seeming contradiction to work.

In basing regulation on safety and protecting individuals from each other— such as having laws against theft, fraud, lying, these are capitalist principles rather than the reverse. Rational self interest alone would dictate it.

What I have a problem with is regulation that is based on a socialist heritage, in your words an ideological theory, that never seems to be questioned.

Posted by: esimonson at January 16, 2006 6:56 PM
Comment #113730

Stephen’s comments above took me back to my days of Political Science graduate school. As an academic field, political science is awash in politico-social-economic models and approaches and paradigms (we LOVED to use the word ‘paradigm’ as often in a report as possible!), that claimed to offer brilliant insight into the problems of politics; historic, domestic and international.

But if you are to ask a political scientist to take his brilliant paradigms and derive an actual policy recommendation to an actual political problem, you would be met with a dumb look and a shrug.

The comments above are an interesting milange of generalizations, all signifying nothing.

So you say we’re all “derivations of the natural rules science does its best to approximate eh? So who should we vote for, Democrats or Republicans? Should we leave Iraq.? Was it a mistake to have invaded? Was it inevitable that we did?

So we must break open “the shell of complacent thought that blinds us to the incompleteness of our understanding?” That’s nice. Should we put more money into education then? Or less? Are you calling for a revolution? Are you calling for anything? And what measures will you be using to gauge our “breaking open” progress?

And you say that “Instead of fearing people’s opinions, their religion, or their assembly as organizations and parties to the extent we legislate against them and try to hold them down, we instead save ourselves the unrest, and simply let people gather and believe what they will when they do so peacefully and lawfully?”

Well there ought to be some predictive value in that. Based on this premise, what can you tell us about America’s future? How will the current health, economic and foriegn policy crises play out? Will the Democrats win in 2006? 2008? 3008!!????

We commit a sin as old as communism when we assume that a world view refined with pen and paper and speculation has anything to teach us about the real world and about real people. Such ideas lose all of their relevance as soon as you are forced to leave the campus dormitories in which they are conceived.

Posted by: Mike Cooper at January 16, 2006 7:56 PM
Comment #113777

Dan-
In the real world, no nation is 100%, even those that claim that. America admits this, and instead of people killing each other trying to get that impossible degree of complete agreement, it relies on a freely gained consensus. That’s the beauty of our country.

What we need are people willing to relax a little about their ideologies and just sit down with other people and talk to them with some kind of respect. Like it or not, we’re all fallible, so their needs to be some point where coming to a better common understanding is more important than simply winning an argument.

David R. Remer-
No party large enough to govern a significant amount of the country can be as consistent as you would have us be. The difference of region, history, interests, and other factors means that New York Liberalism will be different from Houston Liberalism. The Republicans try to hide it, but they are this way as well.

Only the small parties that don’t have to reach consensus among different groups can afford to be in such complete agreement.

The illusion that the two party system presents is that the political parties are monoliths. The truth, as I’m sure people are tired of hearing me say, is more complicated, as well it should be.

As for holding politicians accountable, I think that’s a matter of going after specific people for specific things. The point to being specific is that it keeps you motivated. Encourage people to take on local candidates, and focus on those folks their votes can affect.

Don’t underestimate the power of a bunch of small, individual actions taken together, because that is the basis of our Democracy.

Jack-
My opinions aren’t so far from yours. I don’t think the government is cut out to manage anything but the generalities of a market, and that with great care.

My notion is that sometimes Government, in order to help the economy, needs to be willing to employ its power in creative ways, not merely to be effective, but also to avoid being unnecessarily intrusive. I’d say it goes under the heading of regulate smarter, not harder.

We cannot merely look at the system in reductionist terms, trying to work out its responses from the ground up, with all the complexity that comes with it. What’s need is the willingness to be creative, and if things don’t work out, the willingness to correct mistakes. No policy, light or heavy on the economy, can be judged well if its not judged by its results.

Eric-
Note that in the second paragraph of my original entry, I use the words useful correspondence to describe the link I feel would be best between the world we perceive and the one that actually exists. But it should also be noted that I consider theories dealing with such complexities to be loose constructions at best.

But what don’t put out is that all this complexity is merely a random spread of actions later in my entry. Complexity sometimes collapses into something simpler, more predictable. Human beings aren’t all that different from one another, so what we want and need isn’t always that different. Clean food and water, safe and effective drugs, television and radio reception with clear channels free of intereference, etc. The distinction between what should be regulateable and what shouldn’t be all that easy, but there are any number of cases where the necessities of how the government should act present themselves.

As for the differences in taxes, I’d say its more about higher taxes putting less of a dent in the spending ability of a richer person than a poorer. Taxing richer folks more doesn’t change their spending habits unless they’re already overspending themselves.

As for Social Security, it is an insurance program. How would you like it if somebody took your life insurance program and frittered it away on a bad investment? We trade high returns for dependability, much like bond owners do.

As for socialism, you can see I’m not that much of a socialist. I’d rather regulate the healthcare and insurance industries so that they are compelled to do what people pay them to do, than see them nationalized, and have the government making decision for doctors, the way the corporate managers are doing now.

Socialist ideas need not remain socialist, but can be adapted, like any other ideas. We just have to keep the rest of what we’re doing in mind, and be willing to chunk the mistakes and move on.

Mike Cooper-
We’re complex creatures. If you don’t respect that, then you might not think to take chances, as your political consultants tell you they know exactly how to play it safe on your way to victory. We live in a climate of extreme political determinism, under the impression that these politicians running things are in control, and we can do little about it.

Stop right where you are, and consider the world around you. Different people could draw different conclusions from everything you see around you. A person lighting you in a video or film might have to consider the glow of the monitor in his exposure. An ergonomics expert might start thinking of what kind of keyboard you type at, what kind of chair you’re in. An interior decorator might consider the shape and style of your desk, a computer geek the resolution and refresh rate of the screen you’re looking at.

This is the space of information good policy is made within, not the stupefied state of simply staring at the world around you and seeing only the random and the routine. So much about politics today is about trite ideas and cliched positions. It’s dry old shit people did in fact work out on paper years ago, stuff people thought out in a different time, a different nation than the one we now live in.

Moreover, its the stuff of an age where people thought you could determine a person’s behavior from birth to death arbitarily, B.F. Skinner saying that if you gave him a child to raise, he could ensure through conditioning what the kid would grow up to be.

The illusion is that anybody has that kind of power, that anybody can predict next year, much less five or ten years ago. Most good study in politics is about experience, and understanding it. Predictability is at best a limited possibility.

But that’s hardly to be mourned. You forsee what you can and work on the rest as you go along. Quit trying to predetermine the indeterminate, and start trying things and observing the results.

My points on other subjects fill whole pages worth of discussions and entries elsewhere on this site. This entry is about therelationship between the complexities of the real world, and the interpretations and approaches we take to it.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 16, 2006 11:13 PM
Comment #113826

Stephen,

The distinction between what should be regulateable and what shouldn’t be all that easy, but there are any number of cases where the necessities of how the government should act present themselves.

This is an interesting observation: “…the necessities of how the government should act present themselves.”

Am I to conclude from this that, in your view, we should not have any particular ideological theory from which to formulate ideas about what the government should regulate, and that instead these ideas will just, “present themselves”?

That is not consistent with having a logical reason for doing anything. What you are advocating then is either that you don’t want to admit that you are using an ideological framework, or you want to convince yourself, for whatever reason, that you are giving all realms of thought equal treatment and don’t want to admit you are using one framework over any other, or you are actually advocating total moral and philosophical relativity, in which case all things are equal and no particular theory is correct or incorrect— all are equally true.

Somehow, your opposition to one ideological theory leads me to believe you do have a favored ideological framework from which, ‘how the government should act just presents itself’. It’s odd to me why anyone would want to go through all the trouble of appearing to be impartial and relying only on logic only in the end to come up with the same answers as if you had said that your viewpoint was liberal.

Or perhaps I misunderstood.

I think what you may have missed in all of this reflective ‘delight in derivation’ is that how you frame the problem defines the solution. If you do not frame the problem, can you find a correct solution except through chance?

Either you have an ideological framework from which to decipher the world around you or you don’t. If part of your ideological framework is that you consciously avoid having one, how accurate are your predictions and solutions going to be?

I notice that you did eventually admit that my previous premise is true:

Socialism does mark the history of the Democratic party. There’s no use denying that. But parties are more than just blobs of protoplasm, one part indistinguishable from the next, and ideas are often little different, especially when they’ve evolved over time.

So you are saying that the Democratic Party still imbibes socialist ideas, but they are evolved socialist ideas?

How far has socialism evolved then? Is it socialism anymore if it no longer has any aspect of what previously defined it? If it still has the same aspects of what defined it as socialism before, then we can say it is still socialism, can we not?

As for socialism, you can see I’m not that much of a socialist. I’d rather regulate the healthcare and insurance industries so that they are compelled to do what people pay them to do, than see them nationalized, and have the government making decision for doctors, the way the corporate managers are doing now.

Socialist ideas need not remain socialist, but can be adapted, like any other ideas. We just have to keep the rest of what we’re doing in mind, and be willing to chunk the mistakes and move on.

But if it’s necessary for the government to compete with businesses in the insurance business, as with social security, then why not healthcare? If it works so well for retirement insurance why not other areas too? What’s more important than your health after all?

What I’m looking for, and what you fear to give, is some standard of when government should and should not take over an industry. Or if you prefer should and should not control private industry— where government’s right to regulate ends and individuals rights begin. Do you have any standard?

Posted by: esimonson at January 17, 2006 1:17 AM
Comment #113871

Stephen,

We’re on same page, regarding the importance of experience in developing political intelligence and insight, as well as the illusion that the social sciences can ever have the same predictive powers as the hard sciences. I challenged you to that because all to many of my former associates claim and continue to claim that it does (or will), and your ideas sounded eerily familiar to many of theirs.

I think we remain as odds however on the relative importance of experiences in understanding politics and society. Consider what you wrote above:

“Different people could draw different conclusions from everything you see around you. A person lighting you in a video or film might have to consider the glow of the monitor in his exposure. An ergonomics expert might start thinking of what kind of keyboard you type at, what kind of chair you’re in. An interior decorator might consider the shape and style of your desk, a computer geek the resolution and refresh rate of the screen you’re looking at.”

This is incorrect. In watching a video, your typical ergonomics expert will not start thinking of the keyboard, nor a typical computer geek the resolution of the monitor. This is typical rational speculation, which an academic often engages in. Marx drew the same kinds of conclusions though on a grander scale.

Any media marketing expert however, those who get paid to be right about such things would tell you you are way off track. “Watching a video” is as close to a common experience as it gets.

I’m not judging your ideas simply because you are wrong on this fact. I am using it to illustrate the fact that those who must put their ideas to practice DAILY, always come closer to an understanding of the human experience than those who merely contemplate bigger and bigger theories based on one-way research. Though we typical judge careers like marketing harshly for their crass commercialism, the fact is such people have far more insight the human experience then our social scientist and philosophers.

When you say:

“My points on other subjects fill whole pages worth of discussions and entries elsewhere on this site. This entry is about therelationship between the complexities of the real world, and the interpretations and approaches we take to it.”

… I think you hit direcly upon the key difference in what we are each saying. You seem to feel it useful to discuss specific political events and issues AND then to sometimes step back and consider that the “bigger picture”. I absolutely do not!

It is precisely because of the complexities you recognize that the generalizations your draw from your larger picture (“large” being itself a generalization!) are useless. And to me, usefulness is the sole measure of an political or social idea’s power. Lacking the objectivity or the controlled environments of the hard sciences, it is the only possible measure.

Consider, if your final conclusions are not predictive, and cannot, or will not provide concrete policy recommendations, how CAN you ever measure their validity one way of the other? How can you know how right you are or how close you’ve come? Reality is the acid test of all analyses and all philosophies. Abstaining from this test even for a single thought, a single academic report, a SINGLE BLOG, relegates you at best to the realm of such self-evident tripe as “We are complex creatures”.

By the way, when I have strong opinions, I tend to push them hard. Please don’t take any of my criticisms personally. They are not intended that way.

Posted by: Mike Cooper at January 17, 2006 4:27 AM
Comment #113992

Eric-
To begin, your first quotation takes out the parts of the paragraph that deal with what I consider the presented necessities to be. With food, drugs and supplements, we see the need to maintain standards of purity and safety- no E. Coli with my fries, please. With radio and television, the absence of regulation would mean you couldn’t pick up crap, as users of the same frequence would get at cross purposes.

That, I would think, would be among the logical reasons to regulate: to protect public health and to make sure people use a public resource in an effective, non-destructive way.

I have not convinced myself that I lack a point of view! Nor have I convinced myself that I’m giving all realms of thought equal time. To be an intelligent human being is to guarantee that one has a point of view. The difference between a close-minded person and an open-minded person, is the willingness to go beyond the comfortable criteria of what you already believe, and examine both the idea, and the theory you use to critique it. You use the facts to measure both, and if the other person’s interpretation is better, you either modify your own, or you trade one theory for the other. If the other theory or idea is found wanting, you can move on.

This, of course, is ideal, and we don’t always have time to work things out this way. But a good idea typically has a decent shelf-life, so most of the time its useful just to have moments of clarity and insight. One should aim not to get in the way of these when they do happen, and not to sit on the realization when it does occur.

As for framing the problem, I find that the problem frames itself. The issue is refining one’s idea of the problem, trying to build those useful correspondences between our theories and reality. We pay attention to the fact, and the reliability of them. We don’t take things for granted.

I’m not a big fan of rigid ideologies. That seems to me more folks trying to be right all the time, than folks actually managing the feat. I prefer theoretical frameworks, observations about patterns. Of course that sometimes means a little bit of ideology, but I really have that much faith in all encompassing political models of the world. I’m a Democrat in many ways because the Democratic party seems more friendly to looking outside ideology for solutions to problems. You might not believe that, but I do.

As for socialism, the big picture of America, despite the New Deal Programs that still survive, is one of a capitalist nation with a market economy. Just because some ideas here and there have their origins in socialism, doesn’t mean that they make the system socialist, or their advocates, if the balance of other things they advocate go along capitalist lines. It’s up to the person involved to decide where they stand.

I stand on the ground that the government should have programs in place to help those who can’t help themselves, or who need a hand up. These are things that don’t always have a high profit margin, so I take the position that Government should help where it’s feasible. Disability, old age, indigent care. Things like that. In other areas, like Healthcare and insurance, there is money to be earned, and as we have seen, people willing to earn it. That said, they’re often trying to get it in ways where they’re not earning it, replacing decisions that should be medical with business decisions that harm the patient and make the healthcare more inefficient. In the case of insurance, providers are often doing everything they can not to pay, even though that’s the entire purpose of insurance- you pay in with the mind that on some future occasion you’ll be able to cover your expenses when bad things happen. Is it too much to ask that they do what we pay them to do? Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a scam of an entire industry against gullible consumers.

My standard is ability. Where the market can and does work, government leaves things alone. Where the market doesn’t really do much, Government can step in. Where the market can do good work, but needs straightening out, the interaction of both towards better ends is what I advocate.

Mike Cooper-
You misinterpret me. My example wasn’t watching a video, it was you at your keyboard, with different people taking different angles through the context of things there. And yes, it’s speculation, but unreasonable? No. It’s simply my demonstration of how much hidden meaning can be found around us.

I do not dispute that experience can shape thoughts, and refine them. What I would tell you though, is that the choice to learn something, to understand something, many times comes at the price of learning or doing something else.

Steven Spielberg is a brilliant filmmaker, but I wouldn’t want him trying metallurgy. That metallurgist is probably good at mixing the different chemicals and metals, but the best movie he’s ever done is probably a birthday party video for his kids with tons of gratuitous zooms and shakycam manuevers. Of course, that’s a simplification of the real world, but my point is, the human experience as each person experiences is just one part of a greater space of possible human experiences. Now, actually doing things does indeed fill out what might otherwise be abstract thought, but your mistake is in believing that there is this prototypical experience that requires that you forgo reflective thought.

We should consider the bigger picture, if for no other reason that it comes back to bite us in the ass on a regular basis. The people who started this current war probably thought they were doing right by roadblocking other points of view. Unfortunately for them, much of what they blocked on ideological grounds was actually good thinking and analysis, with the result that their plans went badly awry.

You talk of predictive value. Truth is, few ideas have real predictive value when we’re dealing with the humanities. We can forsee particular trends, but the closer we look, the more human factors begin to unravel our predictions

I think it’s more about best efforts, about doing your best to see what’s out there, and make what predictions you do make on the best evidence you can get. Too much about politics today is about the pretense of one party or the other being able to determine things. I want to get past that flawed sensibility.

If that means I generalize, it’s only because I believe there is plenty of evidence to support my view. The implications of it, in what we do out there, are what’s testable.

I think I wrote something a while back with a quote from that Anthony Hopkins movie, The Edge. He related that when people die in the wilderness, they die of shame. They ask themselves how they could have gotten into this situation, instead of doing the one thing that could have saved their lives: thinking.

My call is to break out of our insufficient ideologies, and the self-pity their failure inevitably productes, and start really thinking. And this is not thinking just for thought’s sake, any more than the thinking done in the wilderness is supposed to be, but instead thinking done to understand the inevitable complexities around us, and how to navigate them. It’s also understanding that you can’t just think for a little bit, then rest on your laurels ever after.

I know that it seems self-evident that we are complex creatures, but often we treat each other as if we’re much simpler than that, and declare certain roads of inquiry or persuasion closed as a result. We fail to observe others and their complexities, and thereby fail to take the opportunities that they could present. I’ve read too many entries and too many comments whose subject has been that the other side, or some other power was beyond the powers of persuasion, beyond reason, beyond compromise, and I just sought here, among other things, to try and crack open that shell of willful ignorance.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 17, 2006 10:58 AM
Comment #114031

Steven,

My apologizes for misreading you analogy. You will notice from my timestamp, I wrote that at 3AM. :)

When you say “We should consider the bigger picture, if for no other reason that it comes back to bite us in the ass on a regular basis.”

I think we’re defining “big picture” differently. Perhaps we’re more in agreement than I assumed. Certainly when we look at a particular political event we need to examine the full context in which it occurred. If Bush had paid attention to this “big picture” he may indeed have avoided more than a few errors.

Instead I believe Bush was focused on a different “big picture,” that of ideology. Consider ideologies. They are belief systems created by people who have examined “big pictures” and have claimed to identify patterns of human behavior and ultimately human destiny. Once established ideologies are then resistant to change, even in the face of conflicting evidence. Small conflicts are dimissed as irrelevent, large conflicts are dismissed as exceptions. Astrology works exactly the same way.

THIS is the big picture that I am condemning. And it is, in my opinion, the inevitable result of our attempts to broaden our focus beyond the what, when and why of actual events. Some would day the benefits of seeing the “big picture” justify the danger of misinterpretation and ultimately misguided action. I see no evidence of that.

Any conclusions drawn in this manner consistently fail the “usefulness” test I elaborated above. And that is still my open challenge to you. What does it actually mean to “break out of our insufficient ideologies”, and how will we know when we’ve done it? What actions will we take to “crack willfull ignorance”? What or who will actually ‘crack’? Actions are the best illustration of our thoughts; what recent actions illustrate our “insufficient thinking” and what new actions will prove our thinking to be sufficient?

A timely illustration of my point would be Martin Luther King Jr. I think we can all agree that he gave his life “cracking ignorance” and “breaking out of insufficient ideologies”. But these are only the conclusions that we draw from his life after the fact. In life, MLK’s focus was narrow, and grounded firmly in a bitter reality. His actions were based on events as they were occurring, and his goals were solid and measurable. As a result he accomplished what many far more educated “big picture” black intellectuals of his time failed even to attempt.



Posted by: Mike Cooper at January 17, 2006 12:10 PM
Comment #114132

Mike Cooper-
What I mean is that we choose to step outside of our main pet theories, and see whether other explanations, other ideas might be more true than the one we hold.

When I speak of the big picture, I mean the real “big picture”. Ideologies can often be both useful and sometimes deceptive in that they offer an organized, simplified replacement for the confusing real-life version. Our theories serve as labor saving devices that take advantage of the fact that the complex world often collapses into simplifiable patterns.

But of course, as I’ve been saying, all theories are approximations, theories about human behavior even more so. In dealing with human behavior, we need to be willing to put aside our convenient, simplified theories on how people should act, or will act, and simply observe and learn what’s really going on, and perhaps come up with a better, more accurate analysis of what’s going on. We also need to be prepared to be wrong, and to figure out the ways in which things might unfold if we are wrong.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 17, 2006 6:33 PM
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