Monday, October 13, 2008

Presto Change O.

Change change change and more flippin' change. Everyone is allegedly hoping for CHANGE. Fascinating. Supposedly CHANGE cannot possibly fail to make things BETTER. This peculiar attitude must rank near the top in the logical fallacy category. The simple fact is that change, in any form, in any forum, animal vegetable, mineral or political, is almost always for the worse. As a firm supporter of the fact of animal and plant evolution I am aware that for every mutation that results in improved environmental fitness there are countless ones that have the opposite result of making an entity either less fit or just plain dead. Thus is it so with all other change.

As in evolution our daily experience illustrates that very darn few changes indeed are for the better. Our pay gets cut--change. Our nicely running vehicle breaks--change. Healthy one day sick the next--change. From sunny day to hailstorm--change. Newly paved street to potholed nightmare--change. A thriving business unaccountably fails--change. On any given day, week, year many things in our lives change and how many can we honestly say are inarguably for the better?

There is no need to despair in the face of this pessimistic reality. It has been said that the difference between a pessimist and an optimist is that a pessimist is occasionally pleasantly surprised whereas an optimist is almost continually dissapointed. Islands of productive healthy change, rare in a sea of failed alteration, are piquantly enjoyed by the pessimist.

Science is perhaps the most pessimistic discipline as well it should be. Change in scientic theory requires substantial evidence that current models are incorrect or incomplete along with demonstratable repeatability of experimental results. This contrasts with an emotional willy-nilly leaping about the political spectrum in search of some sort of change that will improve things not because of proven illustratable improvement but merely because of current dissatisfactions. This situation is far worse than scientific inquiry because our change seeking behavior is inevitably tied to our preconceptions of what is "right" without regard to anything regarding efficacy or repeatable results. Then too the public mind, abetted by political demogogery, easily confuses correlation with causation. For instance much blather is about currently asserting Capitalism has failed us with little contemplation of the possibility that we have failed Capitalism.

It is certainly true that political philosophies, not to mention all other sorts of philosophy, are not remotely as amenable to anything like the certainties of repeatable scientific experiment. Even there disciplines such as quantum theory and cosmology have some uncomfortable reliances on "constants", essentially fudge factors, which have extreme difficulty in being explained in any terms but "that's just how the universe is constructed". The true nature of these constants await discovery only in the future and indeed the "reason" for some of these constants may never be discovered. But usuable they are in predicting the behavior of physical systems both unimaginably small and brain cloggingly huge.

We quest in vain for political constants. We quest semmingly in vain for "truth". Modern deconstructionist thought in fact sometimes denies that there is any objective truth at all and that even the gross physical world displays certain attributes only because we have been indoctrinated to think they do by some dominant, and usually oppressive, world view or other. Here's an undeniable truth. If I whack a deconstructionist academic over the head with a baseball bat hard enough his thesis that macroscopic physical phenomena are purely socially constructed will be demonstrated to be irremediably false and he will embark on a new and possibly less rewarding career of pushing up daisies.

Political truths, baseball bats notwithstanding, are infinitely slipperier and they frequently are not, virtually never really, required to be bolstered by empirical evidence. Case in point. Free markets (Capitalism) in the industrialized countries have resulted in comforts and riches far beyond the dreams of ancient avarice. Redistributive economic systems have uniformly resulted in impoverishment and want in various worker's "paradises" but they are evergreenly trotted out as hoped for exemplars of "economic justice". Centralized economic planning has proven time and again to be death to an economy but despite its perfect record of failure it seems to be relentlessly attractive to those who view the fact that there are people who make more money than others as nothing less than a hideous stain on civilization. If efficacy can be used to describe economic systems that have a 100% failure rate then the word loses all meaning. Free markets have without exception been successful in any relevant economic metric and that more than fits the definition of repeatable results.

Our political "heads" are much more resilient to abuse than that prof's real noggin therefore an endless number of metaphorical baseball bats are usually insufficient to the task of seeking political "truth". Here's another truth. Very few of us eat up much time thinking about any of this and consequently we respond viscerally rather than intellectually. This sounds like a lamentable condition but since the deepest most analytical "enlightened" thinking can easily fling one headlong into a philosophical hall of mirrors its utility in finding the truth is scarcely an improvement on the visceral "gut" reaction. Because one concave gut has a PhD. attached and another convex gut has been caused by too much beer does not mean any particular legitimacy may be conferred on the concave version. Or at least it does not appear to confer such legitimacy although it certainly confers a feeling of innate superiority on the advanced degree holder but although they might well be able to grok Derrida they may well not be able to accomplish something as declasse' as changing a flat tire or replacing a fuel pump. No for that task you need to engage a manifestly inferior semi-literate high-school dropout covered in grime and possessing the despised "common" knowledge of what makes your transport module tick.

What is truly comical is a member of the self-appointed elite purporting to speak for the "working" man, to coo in solidarity with his "oppressed" brothers in the faceless factories and dissolute neighborhoods, and to stand with them in defiance of their cruel overlords, i.e. Big Business. As Chico Marx put it, "That'sa some a funny joke huh boss?" Such attitudes result in perplexed perorations about the unwashed being unwilling to vote purely on their naked economic self-interests such as "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Turns out what the matter is of course, nothing. Or at least nothing more the matter than with any other regional assemblage of people just trying to get on with life even though that life might be suffering under the supposedly crushing burden of being unexamined.

These folks do not like change. They are stolid and relatively ungiven to metaphorical flights of fancy or endless philosophical navel-gazing. Good thing too. You would not want people who are literally growing and baking your daily bread to be so mentally self-indulgent that the staff of life suffers major QC problems. These folks may, to the dismay of their presumed intellectual betters, vote their guts and hearts but the results are in no wise demonstrably inferior to any other method of parsing the political/economic landscape. To them change is presumed bad until laboriously proven otherwise. To them change must be thoroughly subjected to moral, spiritual, and yes economic scrutiny before any contrary messianic bangwagons are jumped on.

In the environmental field the left is generally approving of the "precautionary principle" wherein new scientific explorations and subsequent product deployments must be subjected to rigorous and exhaustive research before implementation so as to do no harm to the "planet". Why then does this same principle of precaution not obtain in the political realm? Don't know. Do know that progressives see this principle in service to the environment as laudably proper whilst they see the same principle at work in people's naturally suspicious political natures as risibly dunderheaded or downright evil.

So you're dissatified and want change? Well what kind, what flavor, what version, what different way? What is it about the economic "changes" touted by the Dems that leads one to believe that they will in any sense result in a betterment of the situation than the Reps., or anyone else's for that matter? There is zero reliable evidence that change, any change, Dem. or Rep., will have anything other than than the usual whacking great load of unintended consequences inevitably accompanying any major governmental futzing about with economic forces. The Great Depression resolutely resisted a dizzying decade long blizzard of change emanating from Roosevelt and his "Brain Trust", in fact may have been prolonged by it, so why in their hubris do the economic advisors of either the One or the Maverick think they can "change" things for the better? Add that enormous factor to the countless interpretations of just what in fact might be better and the case for doing little or nothing at all becomes strongest of all.


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