Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Putting the judgment back into judgmentalism II

When Spot put up the first post on this theme, he didn't expect to be offering a fallen bridge as an example of the technocratic thinking, the non-humanist "expert" logic, that blind rationalist calculation that sweeps common sense so easily aside; the bridge hadn't fallen yet. But since it fell, Spot has had the chance to observe the rationalizations for why, or as John Gunyou would say, the perfection of the non-apology.

The very best rationalization is obviously the economic one. When Molnau or Pepsodent say, "We didn't screw up; the bridge had been inspected and everything was fine," there was always the risk that contrary facts would come to light—as they have—and reveal them for the fumbling dunces they are. Much better to go with King Banaian's first instinct: the black swan flying across the sky.  Or Bob Huge's sorrowful conclusion that the problem was in the stars.

Because we are so reasonable, so rational, so well, mathematical, even if a bridge falls, how could that be a screw up? By not having the common sense that God gave a goose, that's how.

When economics moved from philosophy to statistics, it lost its humanity, at least in the hands of some practitioners. Practitioners who are like the staff general, oblivious himself to the real conditions or consequences of his order, who sends his army to be mauled because the maneuver looked so rational on the map at HQ. You've all seen that in the movies, haven't you, boys and girls? It's always accompanied by dramatic and ominous music; the director is telling you that somebody is screwing up big time!

When someone in the economics department lectures about the cost benefit analysis and how the value of human life is merely another variable to be considered, the history and the philosophy departments should be piping in the ominous music.

As a "science," the discipline of economics is no more moral than, say, chemistry. Modern economics has been cut loose from its philosophic foundation, and as a simple expert system it cannot make moral and ethical judgments better than the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. If we cede those judgments to economists, we are liable to be manipulated.

There are many other instances of a tyranny of experts, of course. One of the others on prominent display is the "surge" in Iraq. Although President Bush is not tyrannized by the experts—the generals—he wants you to be, boys and girls. If we just entrust the decision to the experts, we won't have to worry about all the death and mayhem in Iraq and the ruin it has made of US foreign policy and our national honor, or accept any responsible for it. By appearing to make a third party the "Decider," Bush also deflects blame from himself.

But there are no moral dodges, boys and girls. We can't leave it to the experts, or the politicians, or even the clergy. It is up to us to make our own moral and ethical judgments and be responsible for the consequences, including our silence.

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