Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back in the saddle

I've been meaning to get back around to answering the responses I got to the Feeling of Reason post.  One is easy to read, and the other ... well ... let's just be generous and say that multidevice RSS comment integration is not what it could be; the good Herr Dr. is surely even now slumped over a bagel perusing this post on his phone, which means that I will have to serve as relay.

At any rate, the point they are making is not that different.  Basically, we all agree that it is good and important to call politicians out on their blatant lies or misrepresentations of the facts.  We also all agree that it's a good idea to couple this with a rhetorical strategy to elicit interest in the issues that are being lied about in the hopes of tuning people into these issues and pushing the political process in the direction we'd like to see it go.  I am assuming, though, that nobody is arguing that we should ourselves bend the truth via this appeal in the same way that we saw it bent (broken) under Bush.  The idea then appears to be that if we state the facts in an appealing way that everyone can understand, but that we really do state the facts, somehow the people will flock to our side and politicians will be forced to do just the sort of things we think would be a good idea.  The idea also appears to be that this is not simply what we would like to see happen, or what we will try to make happen, but that it is in some sense what should happen, because it is the correct and rational thing to want.  If we didn't believe something like this, we would have no reason to find the NYT article quote about the Bushies creating their own reality so scary, we would simply concede that they won the last round and try to seize the reins of power and blithely create a new reality of our own. 

It's really this last sentiment that I'm arguing against.  It's fine to appeal to people's sense of reason. It's also fine to convince them of what we think is reasonable by appealing to their other emotions.  But let's admit that the feeling of reason is just one feeling amongst many others.  It doesn't sit inherently above other political considerations judging them, nor does it guide our own individual thinking like this (which Gerd Gigerenzer did a nice job of explaining in this thing I read recently). Appealing to people's sense of reason in an op-ed and "having a more rational politics" are not the same thing; the first just throws another emotion into the rhetorical mix, while the second semi-mystically asks that this be one-emotion-to-rule-them-all without simultaneously asking about the process by which all this ruling is supposed to happen.

So jump up to the next level -- we can try to build a machine that would be more "rational" by advocating for campaign finance reform.  Some type of election reform could produce a more direct reflection of people's explicitly political decisions (ie. votes) rather than proceeding, as it currently does, by concentrating political power in the hands of the companies they purchase things from (ie. their non-explicitly-political decisions) and forcing the political process through the extra intermediary step of these companies having to buy politicians who then buy votes with snazzy jingles -- but, this would not make the system more rational in anything but an arbitrary sense.  Politics would still be about "making up" the reality we live in.  It would simply change the way the wires are hooked up and the way political reality is fabricated.  I think we should make these changes, but not because they are more "rational".  Even at this higher level I'm not falling back on asking for more rationality in politics (whatever that would be and whyever you would want it).  I want a different poltical process not because it is inherently better, but because I think the outcomes of this algorithm will suit us better.

Naturally, you can appeal to people's sense of reason on a particular issue (as the original op-eds did), at the same time as you mention that the deeper problem we're having is that our political system is currently constructed so that this feeling almost never has much impact on most decisions.  What I'm faulting these guys for is not, every so often, focusing a bit on the latter, and pointing out that even if their pleas for a rational debate about healthcare are answered this time around, it will be just one decision is a million and there will be no mechanism in place to make decisions on this basis the next time.

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