Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thinking about Politics

This is in response to one of my friends and colleagues with whom I am engaged in a discussion, suspended now, the purpose of which is to clarify my refusal to discuss on his terms or in his language.

You, quite reasonably it would appear, want 'answers' in the form of 'policies' that will address or 'solve' 'problems' of which you see a lot, even a 'myriad.' I now dismiss 'policies' as, by and large, (a) relatively useless and (b) as tools for control. I try not to think of phenomena as 'problems' because if I do than I have to look for 'solutions'. For me, this is delusional and, ultimately, leads 'nowhere' [it is a 'utopian' mindset literally].

Some simple examples: (1) Say crime is a 'problem.' OK. Solution? More police. Soon, we will have a 'police problem.' Or consider an alternative 'solution,' viz., prisons. Soon, we will have a 'prison problem.' (2) Say that poverty is a 'problem.' Solution? Welfare. Well, soon, we will have a 'welfare problem.' What to do now? OK, let's 'reform welfare.' Soon, we will have a 'poverty problem,' again.

Does this mean we do nothing about crime or poverty? Not at all. It means though that in approaching these phenomena we approach them as road engineers think about pot holes: Fill them in but don't expect that you will ever reach a point where you don't have to fill in pot holes. Or, to put it in a way that struck me as interesting, suppose there is a certain amount of good and evil in the world and that there is no way increase the amount of good or reduce the amount of evil. Sure, we humans can move them around, reduce the amount of evil in, say, the economy but that evil just moves somewhere else. The police and those who study crime have noticed something like this happens with crime: "Fight crime" in one neighborhood and, yes, the amount of crime there goes down. But that crime resurfaces in another neighborhood. Or we know that young drivers have more accidents than older drivers so some recommend raising the driving age, say, from 16 to 18. Guess what? Now, as has been shown statistically, the 18 year olds have more accidents than they did previously.

One result of the policy mindset is that when policies don't "Work", policy makers tend to up the ante, that is, endorse increasingly severe or radical alternatives in order to "solve" a "problem." "Hey, we are bombing them and they are not surrendering. Well, let's bomb them some more with bigger bombs or even with nuclear weapons." That will "work" of course, but then we will have a bomb problem, as we have discovered and are reminded all the time [e.g., now with Iran].

So, if you want to talk about policies, that is fine with me but I don't have a lot interest in doing that. If making policy is seen as being "practical" rather than "theoretical," then I have to say that theory seems to have more value than practice, at least as far as I can see. Or perhaps I should say that we need to find a different way of "being" in the world than the way we are now, because the way we are now does not, and maybe even cannot, work.

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