There is that person who thinks they understand the consequences of highly complex interventions on human societies by introspection alone. Not only do they think they understand the consequences of alternative policy choices, but they’re so confident that their understanding is right and that its truth is so obvious that the only explanation for disagreement is evil intentions.
Anti-consequentialism is easy to maintain so long as you believe the consequences of your proposals are desirable, but most would fold if convinced otherwise. The real problem is convincing anyone, which involves first convincing them they don’t already know the answers, which involves getting them to disassociate with their political allies enough to think critically, which involves upending a defining feature of their identity.
The “My deontological prescriptions don’t care about your consequences” syndrome
Greta Thunberg wrote an OpEd for Project Syndicate
“After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it. We need to dismantle them all.” – Greta
There have been many, made for TV, Greta’s that have come before
(From here on, I’m disastrously abbreviating the great book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy by Thomas Sowell
Vicissitudes of life become ‘traumas, therefore they must reject incremental trade-offs and advocacy of categorical ‘solutions.
Ideological crusades of the twentieth-century rely on a moral exaltation of the “anointed”.
- Anointeds differentiate themselves from other people not by ‘knowledge’, which can therefore be challenged, but by compassion, commitment, and other such subjective factors .
- Anointeds omnicompetence is implicitly assumed. The burden of proof is not put on their vision, but on existing institutions.
- Anointeds use brute force political mobilization to organize and direct toward what the anointed define as ‘the right strategic points’. For them the resolution is an engineering problem.
- The vision of the anointed begins with entirely different premises. It is not the innate limitations of human beings, or the inherent limitations of resources, which create unhappiness but the fact that social institutions and social policies are not as wisely crafted as the anointed would have crafted them. For them what is lacking is will and power.
- They make traditions an example of the problem itself, remnants of a less enlightened age, and not as the distilled experience of millions who faced similar human vicissitudes before. Moreover, the applicability of past experience is further discounted in the vision of the anointed, because of the great changes that have taken place since ‘earlier and simpler times.’
The movements they lead, as surrogates for political and financial interests follow a usual pattern:
- CRISIS: Assertions of a great danger to the whole of society of which the masses of people are oblivious. Some situation exists, whose negative aspects the anointed propose to eliminate.
- SOLUTION: An urgent need for action to avert impending catastrophe. Policies to end the ‘crisis’ are advocated by the anointed, who say that these policies will lead to the desired beneficial result, Critics say that these policies will lead to detrimental result. The anointed dismiss these as absurd and ‘simplistic,’ if not dishonest.
- RESULTS: A need for government to drastically curtail the dangerous behavior of the many, in response to the prescient conclusions of the few. The policies are instituted and lead to detrimental result.
- RESPONSE: A disdainful dismissal of arguments to the contrary as either uninformed, irresponsible, or motivated by unworthy purposes.
With failure the initial goals are redefined after the fact to give the public the illusion of success regarding the policies put in place.
The burden of proof is put 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, [but wrongly], predicted improvement. It is then asserted that things would have been even worse, were it not for the wonderful programs that mitigated the inevitable damage from other factors.
The movements they champion must be built upon a fictitious or incomplete history, shaped and mangled to suit their narrative.
All or Nothing
Most differences that matter in real life are differences of degree….Yet a polemical tactic has developed which enables virtually any general statement, however true, to be flatly denied, simply because it is not 100 percent true in all circumstances.
All-or-nothing tactics are almost infinitely adaptable as substitutes for arguments and evidence on a wide range of issues. For example, any policy proposals to which the anointed object can be dismissed as ‘no panacea.’ Since nothing is a panacea, the characterization is always correct, regardless of the merits or demerits of the policy or its alternatives.
Conversely, when a policy promoted by the anointed turns out to create more problems than it solves (if it solves any), attempts to show how the previous situation was far better are almost certain to be dismissed on grounds that opponents are nostalgic for a ‘golden age’ which never existed in reality.
PENETRATING THE RHETORIC
1. All statements are true, if you are free to redefine their terms.
2. Any statistic can be extrapolated to the point where they show disaster.
3. A can always exceed B if not all of B is counted and/or if A is exaggerated.
4. For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert
5. Every policy is a success by sufficiently low standards and a failure by sufficiently high standards.
6. All things are the same, except for the differences, and different except for the similarities.
8. Most variables can show either an upward trend or a downward trend, depending on the base year chosen.
9. The same set of statistics can produce opposite conclusions at different levels of aggregation.
10. Improbable events are commonplace in a country with more than a quarter of a billion people.
11. You can always create a fraction by putting one variable upstairs and another variable downstairs, but that does not establish any causal relationship between them, nor does the resulting quotient have any necessary relationship to anything in the real world.
12. Many of the ‘abuses’ of today were the ‘reforms’ of yesterday.