Monday, July 11, 2016

Analysis And Detachment

     Occasionally a Gentle Reader has asked why these pieces often appear early in the day. The reasons are two. First, I get up much earlier than most people – yes, even now that I’m retired from wage employment – and in the silence of those hours the urge to write is unusually strong. Second, there’s a certain perspective that comes to me, or that I can acquire, in the hours of the very early morning: a detachment from the scene before me. That detachment makes it possible to analyze and forecast dispassionately, as if the outcome of the situation could not affect me personally.

     Detachment is essential to the professional analyst, especially in matters of war, politics, and economics. He who cannot separate his personal fortunes from the causal mechanisms he studies will forever be tempted to sway his reasoning in a direction favorable to himself. Only egoless reasoning is guaranteed to be dispassionate, and only dispassionate analysis has a chance of being accurate.

     Mind you, there are people who condemn detachment outright. They want every analyst’s emotions – preferably his most powerful ones – coupled to every issue he studies, such that he cannot separate himself from his subject. The activists of the Left are like that. Note their favorite emotional motifs and triggers, and ponder their genesis and orientation.

     Perhaps the best example of detachment in the study of a horrifying subject is the late, great Herman Kahn. Dr. Kahn’s subject, as many of you will already know, was war: specifically, nuclear war and the possible ways it might start, be fought, and conclude. The following exchange took place on the floor of the United States Senate:

     Unnamed Senator: “Ten million or a hundred million dead, what is the difference?”
     Kahn: “Ninety million, Senator.”

     The unnamed Senator was indirectly employing a key tactic of the Left: the suppression of facts to make way for horror, outrage, and grief – all as ersatz as anything else the Left offers. Kahn, in contrast, was indirectly asserting that facts matter: If ten million dead and a hundred million dead are both possible outcomes between which we might be forced to choose, we had better know a priori which we prefer and how to get to it.

     Much of the Sturm und Drang flying about in our contemporary political discourse is propelled by a lack of detachment – a lack almost openly encouraged by the luminaries of the Left.


     The word “compassion” summarizes everything that irritates me about political talk today. Those who harp upon it are saying, albeit not in so many words, “What matters isn’t what is or what causes what; it only matters how we feel about it.” It brings to mind an old, exceedingly simple puzzle in ethics:

     You’re standing on the bank of a river, minding your own business, when you see a helpless man floundering in the water below, being carried along by the current and in obvious danger of drowning. You leap in, take hold of him, and drag him to safety...at which point another helpless man comes into view, again in evident danger of drowning. You leap in again, pull him out...and the river carries a third man downstream toward you. What should you do?

     “Compassion” would have you jump into the river over and over until your strength and endurance were exhausted and could save no one else. A detached analysis would suggest that you run upstream to find out what (or who) is pitching people into the river and put a stop to it. Which course of action is likely to save more lives...including, quite possibly, your own?

     To suggest the detached course would cause the Left to brand you “uncompassionate,” perhaps even “inhuman.” People are drowning! Don’t you care? There’s no reasoning with such a person. He has implicitly rejected reasoning as applicable to the circumstances. Yet when he presents a proposal of his own, predicts a positive outcome for it, and laughs at conservative critics’ dispassionate forecasts of the opposite, he will deride their reasoning as “outmoded,” founded on “antiquated assumptions,” or “appropriate to a more savage time” than our current state of prosperity and civilization. Nor will he countenance the recall of any of his self-flattering dismissals when the conservatives' predictions prove to be more accurate than his own.


     As a study of the way our politics and all discussion of them have been perverted since World War II, Thomas Sowell’s book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy is unequaled. Dr. Sowell lays out a perfect case for the rejection of all appeals to “compassion” in the course of socio-political analysis. He does so by illuminating the schematic for the Left’s operations:

     STAGE 1: THE “CRISIS:” Some situation exists, whose negative aspects the anointed propose to eliminate. Such a situation is routinely characterized as a “crisis,” even though all human situations have negative aspects, and even though evidence is seldom asked or given to show how the situation at hand is either uniquely bad or threatening to get worse. Sometimes the situation described as a “crisis” has in fact already been getting better for years.

     STAGE 2: THE “SOLUTION:” Policies to end the “crisis” are advocated by the anointed, who say these policies will lead to beneficial result A. Critics say these policies will lead to detrimental result Z. The anointed dismiss these latter claims as absurd and “simplistic,” if not dishonest.

     STAGE 3: THE RESULTS: The policies are instituted and lead to detrimental result Z.

     STAGE 4: THE RESPONSE: Those who attribute detrimental result Z to the policies instituted are dismissed as “simplistic” for ignoring the “complexities” involved, as “many factors” went into determining the outcome. The burden of proof is placed on the critics to demonstrate to a certainty that these policies alone were the only possible cause of the worsening that occurred. No burden of proof whatever is put on those who had so confidently predicted improvement. Indeed, it is often asserted that things would have been even worse, if not for the wonderful programs that mitigated the inevitable damage from other factors.

     A few additional observations will help to clarify my point:

  1. Stage 1: The assertions of a “crisis” are nearly always predicated on an emotional appeal. Some are ill-fed, ill dressed, ill-sheltered, or the like. The need for “compassion” for those who suffer is thus raised to the level of a political imperative that supersedes all other considerations.
  2. Stage 2: The “solutions” tend to treat symptoms rather than causal mechanisms. Oftentimes the causal mechanisms are inherent in the nature of Man and cannot be countered. The only possible remedies involve megadeaths. Ironically, it will be the anointed – the Left – who argue that they’re trying to address the “root causes” of the “crisis.”
  3. Stage 3: The detrimental results are often marked by the reversal of a positive trend in human affairs. In other words, the results suggest that the “solution” to the “crisis” has countervailed a process that was already ameliorating the negative aspects of the situation.
  4. Stage 4: All criticism of the analysis presented in a priori support of the “solution” is shouted down as “insensitive,” “unfeeling,” or “uncompassionate.” It’s also derided as pointless political posturing of the “We told you so” variety, even if the criticism was offered before the “solution” was implemented.

     Detached reasoning is thus anathematized by the Left. The very practice of evidence-gathering and dispassionate analysis is condemned as unworthy of us. Indeed, that the critics might well have the better emotional case – i.e., that their policy preferences (which might well have amounted to “Nobody knows what’s going on here, so leave well enough alone”) caused less suffering – is never, ever addressed.

     Sowell presents the above schematic in Chapter 2 (“The Pattern”). The succeeding chapters illustrate the process in operation, including the many forms of self-exculpation practiced by the Left in the wake of the disasters their policies precipitate.


     The late Milton Friedman once said that it’s commonplace for the Left to award itself laurels on the grounds of its superior compassion, whereas if equal credit for humane concerns were granted to the Right, the emotional arguments would “cancel out,” such that policy proposals could be addressed on their merits alone. Note that this is something the Left never, ever does. Indeed, while flailing among the shards and flinders from some supposedly compassionate Leftist policy, Leftist spokesmen have often accused the Right of deliberately sabotaging the policy at issue, thus shifting the focus of a posteriori discussion onto motives rather than mechanisms.

     This is not an assertion that conservative policy proposals are always founded on dispassionate reasoning well supported by the available evidence. Conservative policies founded on emotion – e.g., on the necessity of “sending a message” – are equally often wildly off base; consider the disastrous “War on Drugs” as a prime example. It’s merely a brief for detachment: the separation of one’s preferences and emotions from one’s reasoning in all situations where third parties will be affected by the consequences.

     The defining characteristic of government is that it’s the only institution granted the privilege of coercing others without penalty. What it does in the name of “law” and “justice,” would be felonious if done by others. Therefore, to allow its masters to evade the consequences of their decisions is to compound one felony – the warping of human lives and depletion of our wallets their policies require – with another, as these very special felons get away scot-free behind a shield of “sovereign immunity.”

     But that, too, requires detachment: the ability to separate actions and their consequences from averred intentions. That, too, is something the Left will never allow.

5 comments:

  1. My detachment is precisely why I come to the conclusion that war is the only activity which can affect western civilization's situation quickly enough to prevent the wholesale collapse into a dark age of tyranny and death. Unfortunately, war will bring death, and may end in tyranny. However, if it is accomplished before everyone who knows what civilization is lies dead in the grave, there is a possibility that the outcome would be better than doing nothing. A small possibility.

    I have received much opprobrium for my view, though I like the conclusion no more than my detractors do. I can observe and project trends, and honestly don't see any other future. Trump will be killed or trivialized, education will continue to disappear, the public will continue to underestimate the severity of the crisis, and barbarians will keep attacking wherever they can (just wait until they have Europe's nuclear weapons, boy won't that be fun). The problem is worldwide. In a century, we will be living as we did at least three centuries ago, and anyone who remembers how to make an LED will be killed for it.

    It is time to build monasteries to retain records and go underground, ala A Canticle for Leibowitz.

    I wish I thought there was some other path.

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  2. "The very practice of evidence-gathering and dispassionate analysis is condemned as unworthy of us. Indeed, that the critics might well have the better emotional case – i.e., that their policy preferences (which might well have amounted to “Nobody knows what’s going on here, so leave well enough alone”) caused less suffering – is never, ever addressed. "

    Aw c'mon, Fran. Don't you remember the report of the bipartisan investigation into the causes of the high cost of healthcare that they based the Affordable Care Act on? You know, the one that analyzed how much of the rising cost was due to problems with health insurance itself, how much attributable to malpractice insurance, how much from pharmaceuticals, medical devices, etc, etc. And then it looked into the root causes of those increasing costs and discussed the pros and cons of things like tort reform. It also assessed the cost of offering a new welfare entitlement for pre-existing conditions. It even addressed the effect on any new legisltion of the rational market-based decisions of millions of young and healthy people if their insurance costs grew too high. It also concluded that some of the increase in the cost of medicine must be inevitable due to diminishing returns on improving the health of of people in one of the healthiest nations versus the marginal costs of the newest, most advanced or high tech medicines, treatments, or devices.

    You remember that report, don't you?

    Yeah, ... me too.

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  3. Malatrope,
    It's funny you should write that comment today, as I had a very similar thought just this afternoon.

    I am worried.

    I realized this afternoon that what I had thought was the worst case scenario for the future of this country might have an even more pathetic and tragic alternative.

    What I had seen as the worst case, and what I still see as the most likely outcome, is a simple continuance of our incremental slide into communism and tyranny. I imagine this will come with little serious rebuff, rebellion, or tumult, and with meek compliance and obedience on the part of the people at large who no longer know, or care much, about silly idealistic things like "liberty" or "rights". In effect, Orwell's 1984 will become near-reality, and the American people will be the "proles" that Winston Smith desperately sought hope from in that novel.

    The alternative I thought of today was this:

    What if we threw a rebellion and people actually showed up? [or, for the benefit of "those who watch", the oligarchical power-mongers agree to peacefully deport themselves to Vanuatu] (Yes, I am that paranoid)

    What if, after turmoil and chaos and bloody war (or not) "we" won? What then?

    Then, a collection of powerful personalities will anoint themselves with authority to ... oh, I don't know ... let's say ... draft a new Constitution for a New Republic.

    That's it. That's my new fear.

    That somehow, against all odds, the forces of oppression are banished and free men of good will are left to decide their own fates. And they immediately fuck it all up with a profound ignorance and distorted understanding of what America's Founding Fathers all intuitively grokked in common.

    Can you imagine a draft New Constitution? I picture a thousand page listing of various laws, mostly unrelated to one another, right off the bat. Either that, or the original U.S. Constitution and BoR so that we can see how fast we can rip it to shreds this time around.

    I am cynical and pessimistic, it's true. I have lost faith in the American people, generally. Oh, there are plenty of exceptions. But the odds of those exceptions getting seats at a new Constitutional Convention (in the miraculous event that such a thing could occur in the first place) is slim and none, ... and Slim has taken to wearing dresses, make-up, and falsies and now goes by the name "Penny" (it's short for Penelope!).

    You see, broadly speaking, I know the American people. I know how they're educated. I know how they get their news. I see how they're entertained. I see how they vote, and why. I watch and read and see and hear what they think. I know what they know. I see their ignorance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Be9f7Ovgg
    (that video is hardly singular, but it's pretty representative)

    I see their complacency. I see what they think of as important, and what unimportant. In other words, I've lived here my whole life. I know people ... American people. I have friends; family; coworkers; bosses; employees; acquaintances; strangers. They're not bad people, but they don't know and don't care to know anything about oppression or freedom; history; justice; rights; the Constitution; so on. They're normal, and the "normalcy bias" is strong with them. They likes them panems and them circenses, and as long as they got 'em that's all they need to know.

    My new fear is that even if we win, we lose.

    Sorry to unload my doom and gloom here. It's Malatrope's fault. He encouraged me.

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  4. Anonymous (whichever one went last):

    You laid out exactly how even if we win we can lose. In fact, that is precisely how Communists manipulate violent revolutions in order to come out on top, by making sure they are present in the end game to pick up the pieces. What if the ones you would deport to Vanuatu are themselves being used as convenient scapegoats? Are the pieces on the chessboard aware of those who manipulate them into fighting?

    That said, only by seeing all these potential traps do we stand a chance – and we do stand a chance!

    All hope is lost (for a time, anyway) when there are none of us left who see these outcomes as pitfalls to avoid. Then the long, agonizing learning process starts again. And again. And again.

    PS, "Malatrope" does have one meaning as "Bearer of Bad Memes", of several possible interpretations ;-)

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  5. This piece is a perfect description of Obamacare.

    ReplyDelete

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