Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Politics of Faith and Instinct

There has been some discussion of the article Without a Doubt by Ron Suskind on the role of faith vs facts in the Bush presidency. The article is shallow, predictable and based on pseudo-psychology - faith - rather than fact. But the New York Times is campaigning against Bush and all is fair in love and politics.

I was struck by how intelligent these comments from a Bush aide are -
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Facts do not lead to solutions. It's a similar argument to that of the Naturalistic Fallacy. Solutions involve moral judgments. No solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict can come just from a consideration of the historical facts. A solution requires the consideration of the moral issues - what is just?

The other important point the aide made was that the act of involvement changes reality. Reality, that is political and social reality, is not fixed.

The essential problem is that after any consideration of the facts a decision on a course of action has to be made. Since we can never consider all of the infinite aspects of reality that decision must eventually come down to a judgment call.

The importance of the non-rational side of decision making, i.e. faith and instinct, is discussed in this Panda's Thumb piece:

Social Darwinism and “The Political Brain”
Dick Armey, the former House majority leader has famously (or infamously) remarked that liberals are not very bright (Johnson, 2004). The claim is as arrogant as it is wrong: neither faction has a monopoly on intelligence. The difference is in the gut.

Steven Johnson, in “The Political Brain,” notes that people become Republicans or Democrats before they learn what those parties stand for. He argues that people with like outlooks congregate and that party affiliation initially results from whom you hang around with rather than from dispassionate consideration of the issues.

Johnson notes further that you cannot make a so-called rational decision without emotional involvement, and that is what I want to amplify on here.


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