Topic: Political Theory
The Meme of the Month.
If Descartes were alive today these neoconservative guys would kick that evil French fellow in the shins and beat the snot out of him, in moral outrage, or just for the fun of it.
In the magazine Sunday I had that item on logic - The Limitations of Empiricism in Politics with the subheading "Try this little investigation of how the need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business." That's here.
What I was getting at was simple. Building on an item by Tim Noah in Slate the current anti-empiricist line of attacking problems became clear to me.
Someone studies something and their conclusion suggests your war may be whole lot more expensive and messy than you'd like? You don't want to know. It would be unpatriotic to know such things, or at least it would be so negative to think that way. A positive attitude works wonders? Maybe. The second example was what if someone has financial facts that would mean you'd lose the vote because the damned Medicare bill is too expensive? Let that someone know if any member of congress asks him for the numbers, and he tells them the truth, he'll get fired. The third example, the EPA one, was what if the proposed regulation of something toxic might cost your political contributors a bundle? Make sure the science isn't done - forbid any studies on the matter. All this happened with the current administration.
Their implicit position? Facts? Who needs them? Ignore them as "defeatist." Or make sure they never get out. Or make sure they're never developed at all.
And I commented that although I've always been kind of fond of empiricism it is clear that I am living in the wrong century.
So Tim Noah got me revved up. And he seems to have started a meme.
A meme? You will find the term defined at Tech Target:
This current meme - that the neoconservative ideologues who control what George Bush thinks, says and does (and are the ones who are really running the country) loathe the Enlightenment tradition of empiricism - seems to be the current "meme of the month." These neoconservative fellows would, if Descartes were alive today, kick that evil French fellow in the shins and beat the snot out of him in moral outrage, or just for the fun of it.
Well, that's the general idea.
It's not just Tim Noah and me. This meme is spreading. To the Washington Post now!
See The Professionals' Revolt
Harold Meyerson, Wednesday, March 24, 2004; Page A21
Meyerson reviews how it seems odd that no one has actually thanked Richard Clarke, whose book Against All Enemies is causing such stir. Well, Clarke bluntly says Bush and his team ignored the real threats to the country and waged a foolish war to take over Iraq for some greater good. Clarke had been doing his Cassandra thing for years, screaming about al Qaida and how they were coming to get us. Well, perhaps he thinks of himself more as some sort of heroic Paul Revere rather than that flaky Cassandra woman. But the problem is, really, he was right.
And no one listened. And they screwed things up. And no one even turned to him and said, "Gosh, Dick, I guess you were right. Thank you for being so on the ball."
Well, that expectation is a ridiculous misreading of how the current crew in power deals with disagreement. Ask the French. Ask Hans Blix.
Anyway, Meyerson does a number on this idea that the guy might be worthy of some acknowledgement - and then launches into the meme of the month:
The meme point here is that the "common indictment that these critics are leveling at the administration is that it is impervious to facts."
Is this playing fast and loose with the basic facts enough to put the election of George Bush to another four-year term in peril? Probably not.
We, as a people, don't much care for facts. What determines the outcome of an election where we give one guy power and send the other guy packing? There's image, and likeability, and that illusive quality of being the right guy to run things because you don't seem any smarter at all than the average fellow.
What did Adlai Steven say when he was about to lose in his last run for the presidency? Someone asked him if it pleased him that the "thinking people of America" were all going to vote for him. His reply was quite honest and straightforward - "No, I'd rather have the majority."
Sigh. Anyway, keep an eye out for this meme. It's amusing.