Monday, June 27, 2011
Original caption: "Brain death. No flow."
PREVIOUSLY... God bless you guys. Your comments on Part 1 of this fisk were insipring.
The always-brilliant Guy T. carpet-truth-bombed:
Yeah, if zealous advocates of individualism forget their origins in a long ago program of government propaganda, it just might be because they ascribe those origins to the even-longer-ago program of a Jewish wiseguy who thought people should be people and not, say, doormats or despots.
Oh yeah, Him too. Him. Him. Can you tell I'm dutifully capitalizing Him?
Since he sees fit to bring "rational choice theory" into the picture, I feel obliged to bring "game theory" into the picture as well. One well-known experiment, the Prisoner's Dilemma -- and I grant that it was, at best, a very imperfect model of actual human life -- concluded that over the long term, the second best model for behavior was "tit for tat" and the best model was "tit for two tats." I.e., turn the other cheek, but stop when you run out of cheeks.
Until I run out of cheeks! Newest addition to my daily vocabulary. The applications are endless.
The usually-brilliant Diogenes threw in his two cents:
RCT sure beats all hell out of climate change for government propaganda.
HA! But the sad thing is, there's people who'd agree.
And the not-always-brilliant-but-his-batting-average-is-still-solid Eduardo finds himself converted:
I forgot to mention that I have a certain mentally unstable relative who has been saying for decades that the RAND Corporation is out to get her. I always thought she was crazy...
Let's get on with the killing. Once again, original in regular type. My brilliant-ass fisking in bold.
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Rational choice philosophy, to its credit, made clear and distinct claims in philosophy’s three main areas. Ontologically, its emphasis on individual choice required that reality present a set of discrete alternatives among which one could choose: linear “causal chains” which intersected either minimally, trivially, or not at all. Epistemologically, that same emphasis on choice required that at least the early stages of such chains be knowable with something akin to certainty, for if our choice is to be rational we need to know what we are choosing. Knowledge thus became foundationalistic and incremental.
For those readers without the patience for deliberately opaque philosophical technical jargon, I'll translate. That part about the causal chains intersecting means that, according to McCumber, rational choice theory holds that there's no such thing as unintended consequences. Not so. You might think this is the only way to justify rational choice theory, Prof, but as with every goddamn thing else on Planet Earth, you're wrong.
For once, I'll leave aside Ayn Rand for a moment. The less ambitiously comprehensive rational choice theorists, like Milton Freidman and Thomas Sowell, never conflate rationality and omniscience. Sowell has a book called Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One where he details some disasterous unintended consequences of various economic policies in history. His point is not that the future can be known perfectly by a single act of honest contemplation. His point is that unintended consequences can be dramatically minimized if you think about what the consequences of your actions might be. Which is pretty simple shit we all learned in childhood, but Sowell wants us to see that this wisdom is just as sound on the macro level.
But the real significance of rational choice philosophy lay in ethics. Rational choice theory, being a branch of economics, does not question people’s preferences; it simply studies how they seek to maximize them. Hey, you've managed to say something factually accurate! Congrats! Rational choice philosophy seems to maintain this ethical neutrality Ah, you almost had it. Maybe you can prove it? (see Hans Reichenbach’s 1951 “The Rise of Scientific Philosophy,” an unwitting masterpiece of the genre Son of a. Telling your reader to go find a book for himself is a poor substitute for providing an illuminating exerpt yourself, champ. Can't stress this enough.); but it does not. Whatever my preferences are, I have a better chance of realizing them if I possess wealth and power. Rational choice philosophy thus promulgates a clear and compelling moral imperative: increase your wealth and power! I love to break it to you: The precept of Equal Liberty effectively moots the retardo point you're trying to make. The power an individual must acquire in life is power over his own life. Even guns and lawsuits and other things designed expressly to affect the lives of others are moral when a man uses them in defense of his life against immoral uses of other lives to intrude on his own. Not a tough concept to grasp.
And only the most deranged stripe of lefty could see wealth as inherently, and obviously, immoral. Next.
Today, institutions which help individuals do that, Christ forbid, (corporations, lobbyists) are flourishing; the others (public hospitals, schools) are basically left to rot. Good old fashioned bullshit. In real life, I've seen a few crumbling schools. I've seen a lot more thriving schools with all kinds of fancy new buildings and gizmos. The only place I've ever seen a crumbling hospital is on the National Geographic channel. Lots of those in North Korea. Must be individualism run amuck over there. Business and law schools prosper; philosophy departments are threatened with closure. At first read, I thought this was the real source of all your sour grapes against the free market. But that can't be it. You're not a philosopher.
Rational choice theory came under fire after the economic crisis of 2008 by such luminaries as Paul Krugman, but remains central to economic analysis. Rational choice philosophy, by contrast, was always implausible. BAHAHAHAHA fuck you. Hegel, for one, had denied all three of its central claims in his “Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences” over a century before. In that work, as elsewhere in his writings, nature is not neatly causal, but shot through with randomness. I haven't read Hegel, but I have to assume his actual analysis wasn't quite so stupid. In the context of nature, "randomness" is only intelligable as a subjective concept. Events can seem random to us, but in reality everything has a cause. Not knowing that cause doesn't mean the cause doesn't exist. And again, Prof, your insistence on rationality's need for "neat causality" betrays your fundamental, existential cowardice. No offense.
Because of this chaos it's not chaos just because it's complicated, pussy, we cannot know the significance of what we have done until our community tells us; and ethical life correspondingly consists, not in pursuing wealth and power, but in integrating ourselves into the right kinds of community.
This is an elegant inverse of the "overwhelm with too much stupid" strategy. It's like having so many fish in a barrel you can't decide which to shoot first. "In ancient Rome/There was a poem/About a dog/Who found two bones/He picked at one/He licked the other/He went in circles/'Til he dropped dead."
I'm not that kind of dog.
How is our community to determine the consequences of our actions? Rationality? I thought we were moving "beyond" that. Is that impossibly tangled ball of causal thread easier to decipher when you're on the receiving end of a consequence? Or maybe everyone in this community just pools their observations and from that you get a general gist of what happened and how. Out of curiosity, what's the minimum number of observers necessary to comprehend reality? Cite the accredited scientific studies that determined this number. And make sure they had the right number of scientists, or else we're back to square one, you know?
But the big ruby in the center of this crown is the last several words. At first, you must have written "integrating ourselves into our communities," but that was too evocative of the aforementioned stereotype of 50s conformity that looms so large in your consciousness. So you took pains to distance yourself from the time and place in human history you hate the most. Not just any community will suffice unto which one surrenders one's pesky independent, individualist judgement. It has to be the right kind of community. But do you see the bind you've put yourself in? How are we to determine which communities are "the right kinds"? By some means other than rational choice? Gut feeling? Dartboard? Y-shaped stick?
Critical views soon arrived in postwar America as well. By 1953, W. V. O. Quine was exposing the flaws in rational choice epistemology. Don't bore us with examples or anything. John Rawls, somewhat later, took on its sham ethical neutrality, arguing that rationality in choice includes moral constraints. The same John Rawls who wrote, in all earnestness, "Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out"? We're just about done here. The neat causality of rational choice ontology, always at odds with quantum physics, was further jumbled by the environmental crisis, exposed by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “The Silent Spring,” which revealed that the causal effects of human actions were much more complex, and so less predicable, than previously thought. True enough point about the complexity of human action, but how do you know? Logic and rationality. I know you people think it's cute to say rationality disproves rationality, but that doesn't actually work.
These efforts, however, have not so far confronted rational choice individualism as Hegel did: on its home ground, in philosophy itself. Quine’s “ontological relativity” means that at a sufficient level of generality, more than one theory fits the facts; we choose among the alternatives. I'll take Meaningless Faux-Profundity for 800, Alex. Rawls’ social philosophy relies on a free choice among possible social structures. Even Richard Rorty, the most iconoclastic of recent American philosophers, phrased his proposals, as Robert Scharff has written, in the “self-confident, post-traditional language of choice.” Terrible, isn't it. Even among the most committed egalitarians and existential impossiblists, an element of personal, individual decision making always sneaks in. How unethical. At least they all took vows of poverty. No doubt.
If philosophers cannot refrain from absolutizing choice within philosophy itself, they cannot critique it elsewhere. If they did, they could begin formulating a comprehensive alternative to rational choice philosophy — and to the blank collectivism of Cold War Stalinism — as opposed to the specific criticisms advanced so far. The result might look quite a bit like Hegel in its view that individual freedom is of value only when communally guided. You've heard of the False Dichotomy fallacy? This is False Lack of Dichotomy. False Lack of Binary, to be precise. (remember precision, John McCumber? No?) Individual freedom and individual flourishing cannot be parsed. (I know you'd pefer to work towards "societal flourishing," but society is made OF individuals. If you have a small society of, say, 9, that society cannot flourish without 9 instances of individual flourishing. Unless you're willing to settle for a simple majority of flourishing individuals. But then how can you call yourself a lover of humanity when you're indifferent to the frustration and stagnation of nearly half of society?) You take away self-determination, you start down the road to "blank collectivism." The whole "blank" part comes from, IS, the lack of individualism, and therefore the lack of individuals. What you're hoping for is akin to a middle ground betwen throwing a baseball and not throwing it, that still results in the baseball being thrown. You cannot throw a baseball without throwing it. You cannot drop it without dropping it. You cannot lose a thing without losing it. But good news: Your entire perspective on rational choice theory is a sham and a farce, so you don't have to waste the rest of your life trying to create some impossible comprimise between freedom and slavery. You're welcome!
Though it would be couched, one must hope, in clearer prose.
No way. No way you ended this rambling shambles of a piece with that sentence. Of ALL sentences. You've been fucking with us this whole time, haven't you?
Got me good, you fucker. Got me good.
Brizoni is a Senior Fellow at instapunk.com. He mixes metaphors like a boss.