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All Hands On Deck

February 25, 2009

In this Lenten season I’m going to try to reduce the amount of polemic in my writing. Just cuz. I often enjoy reading polemics, especially if I agree with them, but I’m not adverse to reading or receiving them either. The downside is they don’t tend to advance dialogue.

I’m in a strange place where I’ve given up on dialogue but feel an even greater urge to encourage and model dialogue. We’ll see how long that sentiment lasts, but I think I’ve come to some sort of acceptance stage where some dead weight of feelings can be left in the past. Anyway, I’m going to try it for 40 days and see what I come up with. Won’t you join me? Remember it’s a process not a promise!


Towards this end, I once again offer up today’s post be Richard Fernandez: Avoiding the End of the World. Largely a response to yesterday’s David Brooks column– also must reading, it amplifies and expands on Brooks’ theme of mistrusting total solutions, especially in today’s circumstances. Fernandez:

Brooks’ view is not inconsistent with the idea that the world economic and political system is facing a comprehensive crisis. It is a not a denial of the necessity of overhauling the way we do business. It is not an argument for piecemeal responses, nor for the exclusion of a government role in managing affairs. However, it is a skeptical view of the possibility that poorly understood complex systems can be successfully managed by rigid timetables and points of view.

I ponder alot about how complex systems fail. What we are seeing now is a failure of many systems at once, and until we understand what happened, we will not be able to survive, much less attempt to change the tide. More likely, once we understand what is happening, we will realize that the tide cannot be changed but that we must change with it.

In that sense, Obama’s campaign message was wonderfully suited to the times, even before the financial markets fell apart. But there’s a problem: Obama’s agenda has not changed in response- at least that I can tell. Unless you think simply accelerating and amplifying is a change. The goal remains: tax the rich and feed the poor. Which sound great until you realize that there is no more pie being made at the factory because the factory owner was getting too rich. A fight then looms over the remaining pie, a pie doled out by the government.

One of the reasons government has a hard time managing complex systems is that politics treats events largely like linear systems. Politics interprets events in the context of its mythology.  But if politics is in the best of times the art of lying to ourselves in the broad day, politics in crisis is the vice of lying to ourselves while we are falling off a cliff. And when fables meet a changing environment disaster is often the result. The second difficulty is that government is a ponderous, elephantine beast. Bureaucracies are nearly always behind the curve. Part of the requirement is to get ahead of the problem and cut out those parts of governance which contributed to the problem. But what to do when government is already part of the equation; when only government has the legitimacy to do some of things which need doing? It’s like hoping a patient who shot himself can successfully self operate to remove the bullet. Nevertheless, government can maximize its chances of helping or at least minimize its penchant for hurting by observing a few simple rules.

I’ll encourage you to click over and read the whole thing. Comment here on this one if you like. I’m not optimistic about that happening though. I once pressed Mr. Asghar about what he thought about The Belmont Club, which I think is a paragon of dispassionate discourse, he replied that it was OK but simply “more of the same”. Which is a valid POV, but when one asks that you keep it civil and decries the level of discourse when you don’t and then simply dismisses the work one eagerly wants to discuss that meets the requirements of civility and low polemic quotient, you can only conclude that the invitation to discuss was never that serious in the first place.

I am deeply suspicious of Obama’s pledge to be “post-partisan”. Yet his stated desire to do “what works” I think resonates with a lot of Americans, myself included. His over eagerness to throw out “failed ideologies of the past” or whatever formulation he’s using I think is an attempt to further impede the freedom of market capitalism, especially anything that will advance the power of Democrats. Which is his right. But if one reads the previous post, and the discussion over at Tigerhawk, (not to mention the market reaction) I think you can begin to see a case that Obama is trying to throw too much out all at once, as well as dismiss his critics without really understanding them or countering them with anything other than his enormous political power. The President has said “We cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing all of them.” When you don’t understand them how can you address them?

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