Political Theodicy

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Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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38 Responses

  1. Avatar trizzlor says:

    The assumption that we know what The Good Is and the assumption that We Have The Power To Enact The Good… leaving us only with how much *WILL* we have or how much we *CARE*.

    (bold mine).

    In other words, every policy issue has some degree of uncertainty to it. Your tack seems to be that the mere presence of uncertainty indicates that the policy is *actually* based on team membership or condescension or whatever. To me, such an interpretation does not appear axiomatic (pithier: citation needed).Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      (pithier: citation needed).

      Citation provided:
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1933-1592.2006.tb00491.x/abstract

      I can’t provide a non-gated version. Unless you guys no how to upload pdfsReport

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Well, the paragraph that begins with that sentence follows (ungramattically, perhaps) a sentence that ends with a colon in the previous paragraph.

      When you look at how the Green Lantern theory and the Care Bear theory overlap, it’s in one very particular way:

      I don’t have a citation for my take on how the GL theory and the CB theory overlap unless it’s the essay itself.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        You might want to try digging around in Hayek for his treatment of the anthropomorphic fallacy. It’s in The Counterrevolution of Science, I believe.

        The gist is that we often believe there is an agency behind emergent phenomena. The failures of foreign policy or social welfare programs are (I’d say) usually emergent phenomena, and prescribing greater willpower (or greater empathy) is obviously an anthropomorphic response to the situation.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        My comment was specifically in regard to the “leaving us only with” contention. If you’re saying that this is the only way they overlap then I’ve misread you. But I’m understanding this as a broader argument that policy supported by an assumption that we know what the good is (and what policy isn’t?) is policy that depends exclusively on caring and/or will.

        Otherwise, I think there’s a perfectly natural human tendency to blame failure on amorphous outside forces.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Well, there’s also space for dealing with the existence of a Satan figure. Since we are on the side of good, those who oppose us and our policies (which we know are good) are evil… and they’re fighting us.

          So there’s also that, I guess.Report

  2. Avatar DarrenG says:

    Good essay.

    My initial reaction also goes somewhat to trizzlor’s point, in that I think a useful third leg to add to the Green Lantern/Care Bear stool is the Underpants Gnomes’ Business Plan.

    A common failing in both of the patterns you discuss is a lack of clear vision for how to get to the desired end state from the current state (or in the case of armchair-quarterbacking historic events like Vietnam or Rwanda, a lack of vision for how to achieve the desired end state from the point where everything went wrong).Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      I don’t know that a lack of clear vision is the problem. We lack clear vision on a lot of things and muddle through.

      The inertia is the problem.

      * There is a problem! (Is there? Why yes, there is!)
      * Something must be done!
      * Let’s try this! This will solve the problem! (Okay, well, not sure, but I don’t have a better idea…)

      The dynamic is broken is at step 2. If the problem is not solvable in the current problem space with the current set of solutions available in the current solution space, you’ve jumped down the rabbit hole at the very beginning. Once you start doing something, it’s hard to stop.Report

  3. Avatar James K says:

    I wonder if this is why so many people want to get the partisanship out of politics? Becasue they fail to realise that the point of ideology is to frame your views on what good actually is.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      The point of a political liberal philosophy is that no substantive conception of the good is needed.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        This seems wrong (i.e. Rawls) but I may be completely both misunderstanding and missing the point.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          I may have stated it too roughly. The point of Rawls’s project in Political Liberalism and after is that a free-standing conception of Justice is possible. The point of a free-standing conception is that it should be acceptable to anyone who holds any reasonable comprehensive views*. The reason we can have a free-standing view which makes non-trivial claims is that such claims derive from the very logic of the concept of justice.

          * Not all comprehensive views are compatible with Justice as fairness. If Justice as fairness makes non-trivial claims, then there are some claims arising from comprehensive views which are not compatible with it. But any such claim would by contradicting JaF contradict the very logic of justice. Such comprehensive views are stipulatively termed unreasonable.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’ve always thought people want to get the partisanship out of politics because they forget what politics is for (and that they’re able to forget or never learn that lesson is itself a towering testament to the strength of our politics).Report

  4. Avatar kenB says:

    Here’s some sample dialogue that I think goes to the same point (or at least a point in the same neighborhood):

    Repub: Fighting this war will achieve desirable geopolitical goal X
    Dem: I don’t think you’re fully accounting for the costs and risks of your proposal
    Repub: Why do you hate America, you treasonous bastard?

    Dem: This government program will alleviate suffering for X group of people
    Repub: I don’t think you’re fully accounting for the costs and risks of your proposal
    Dem: Why don’t you care about poor/brown people, you selfish/racist bastard?Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Just as a side comment, I had heard the Green Latern analogy before but didn’t realize Yglesias is the first one tha popularized it.

    Curiously, though, I find his oft-repeated notions of what the Fed could and should be doing in a zero-bound monetary environment to be guilty of this same fallacy. (though there’s also some underpants gnomism a la DarrenG with this policy perscription). I also found this recent post rather Green Lanternish as well.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This is tangental, but I even hate the use of the CARE thing when it is used coming from the other direction.

    I think that CARE has become synonymous with “I don’t have nearly enough votes yet, but I’m working on it!” As in, “The voters care passionately about freedom, and are demanding we discontinue Medicare.”Report

  7. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    At it’s core, isn’t this really about:

    Why doesn’t everyone think like I do, believe what I believe, want to fix the things I want to fix, et al?

    In a nutshell: we are imperfect and act like it. Constantly.

    Less Nutshellier: how do you surgically remove assumptions from the human race?Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      So far the only strategy that has worked with any sort of repeatable success is to kill off exceedingly large numbers of people.

      I don’t recommend it, though.Report

  8. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “When you look at how the Green Lantern theory and the Care Bear theory overlap…”

    First off, there is no “theory” involved in either case. These are cute little strawpersons erected by individuals who are themselves advancing a political “theodicy”, namely, that possibilities are limited and only properly understood by a class of individuals including, oh, let’s say, Matt Yglesias and Julian Sanchez. If they actually have a coherent theory to advance then it won’t be found in blog posts invoking cartoon characters, but as long as we’re doing that may I call these people proponents of the Job Chapter 38 Theory?

    Second, the task of citizens is to advocate for their preferred policy outcomes. Sometimes they resort to cliched, emotional appeals, sometimes they don’t. If you ask me we don’t need any more Yglesiases, Sanchezes, Lemieuxs, or Coles tilting at the strawperson citizenry while pretending that they never do the same things themselves.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Do you think we could get rid of these strawpersons if we had the will to do so? If we cared enough?Report

      • Avatar Steve S. says:

        The task of citizens is to advocate for their preferred policy outcomes.Report

        • Avatar GT says:

          “The task of citizens is to advocate for their preferred policy outcomes” is deliberately incomplete – it stops just before the point where everyone who doesn’t agree with the opinion that carries the day, is forced to pay for its implementation.

          Because without force and fraud (and the implied threat of death in the event of continued non-compliance) the State has no mechanism for implementing the ‘preferred policy outcomes’.

          Also, given that the plans of mice and men gang aft agly (so sayeth The Poet Burns), it seems to me that advocating ‘policy outcomes’ introduces additional uncertainty compared with advocating outcomes point – for the simple reason that nothing is more certain than the fact that seeking a specific set of outcomes through government policy, necessarily entails some other set of unforeseen (and usually undesirable) concomitants to policy.

          If you set up a system that has vast pots of mandatorily-collected loot lying about, you will attract vermin: nothing is more certain than that. And having a system where some set of people get – in exchange for fooling some of the people, some of the time – the power to decide on where the pelf is spent? Well, that will attract sociopathic megalomaniacs.

          The only solution – the ONLY solution – is for there to not exist any mechanism by which people can wield political power: the moment you permit it (even with ‘checks and balances’) you set in train a process that winds up with scumbags like Scalia and Yoo and Bybee parsing those checks and balances into oblivion.Report

  9. Avatar greginak says:

    JS has somewhat of a point about the CB. However there is also a giant honking way in which he is wrong, it all depends on how you frame the question. Do we have the knowledge to end drug addiction: no. Do we know how to expand Head Start programs: yup, more money makes more programs. Do we know how to make everybody healthy no: mostly no although we do have some good tips, but it is up to the individual to follow them. Do we know how to give more people health insurance and all the attendant benefits that come from having health insurance: yeah that would also be pretty damn easy. Medicaid/Medicare/ SCHIP for all.

    The hard about the whole “caring” thing is, after having many many conversations with all sorts of people, is that some people really don’t give a shit if other people live in grinding poverty or die. Some really don’t. Most people don’t have the time to get to know someone well enough to know if they care but just have odd thoughts about what to do or just don’t give a shit.

    I’m a bit to rushed for time now to come up with the Libertarian corollary to the GL and CB ideas. I’m sure it has something to do with chanting FREEDOM like Ron Paul as the answer to every issue.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The hard about the whole “caring” thing is, after having many many conversations with all sorts of people, is that some people really don’t give a shit if other people live in grinding poverty or die. Some really don’t. Most people don’t have the time to get to know someone well enough to know if they care but just have odd thoughts about what to do or just don’t give a shit.

      I cannot improve upon this paragraph.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      The hard about the whole “caring” thing is, after having many many conversations with all sorts of people, is that some people really don’t give a shit if other people live in grinding poverty or die. Some really don’t.

      I would go so far as to say the vast majority. Most people on the political left care just enough to demand that the government raise taxes on other people in order to fund anti-poverty programs, but while there’s no rigorous definition of “giving a shit,” I don’t think that cuts it.Report

  10. Avatar Hume says:

    “If *we* see a moral problem before *us*, it’s pretty much incumbent on *us* to try to solve it.”

    What are the assumptions that lie behind these types of appeals in politics? (I am not asserting that you are making a political claim, but a universal moral claim). I think there are similar taken-for-granted assumptions in such assertions as “the People ought to rule.” What assumptions are made, e.g., in declaring “the People,” “we,” “us”? It seems to me that we need a normatively meaningful conception of “we” before anyone can assert that “we” ought to/have an obligation to do something (as opposed to “them” doing it). Similarly, I believe a normatively meaningful conception of “the People” is required before one can say “the People ought to rule.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I think that if I were to rephrase that part, I’d do it like this:

      “If any one of us sees a moral problem, it’s pretty much incumbent upon that individual to try to solve it.”

      It wasn’t “we” in the collective sense of “we, as a society” but the plural of individuals.

      Which may be a cop-out in its own right.Report