[FoRK] Consistency and Policy (not a flame)
jbone at place.org
jbone at place.org
Thu Feb 26 11:03:13 PST 2004
So a few thoughts on consistency and policy --- with an eye toward
what's wrong with our metapolicy.
Greg is constantly critiquing my critiques of various Bush policies.
He seems to draw the conclusion that there mere fact that I find
something noteworthy either betrays a lack of knowledge of the
historical context on my part *or* some kind of willful, partisan
inconsistency on my part. Neither, I think, is true --- and on some
sober reflection (and a choice to regard Greg's critiques as serious
and worthy of consideration rather than trivial ad hominem) it occurs
to me that there's an interesting point to be had.
Greg - as with much of the political mainstream - seems to place a high
value on historical consistency in the continuation of any given
policy. While that's good as far as it goes, I think it ignores a real
problem in the way we make and maintain policy --- and this leads to
First: policies are partitioned in an odd way. Generally, they are
not situational --- they are vertical, they are "stovepiped."
(Consider policy re: e.g. Egypt. Or Israel.) These stovepipes are
maintained in such a way as to remain historically consistent ---
largely despite any changing circumstances or context. This premium on
historical consistency sacrifices contemporary, concurrent consistency:
we treat similar situations differently depending on long, perhaps
currently irrelevant historical context.
Problems with this: (1) it leads to "unfair" contemporary actions in
the strictest literal sense. This was the point of my quip re: Haiti,
Mexico. This type of disparity is the root, I believe, both of the
growing anti-Americanism we see today as well as the increasingly
volatile global political situation (as other countries employ the same
kind of metapolicy.) (2) It means that the situation at any point in
time is HIGHLY path dependent. (3) As a function of (2), it leads to
suboptimal game-theoretic performance at the geopolitical level;
strict tit-for-tat would be better.
Interestingly, we're not internally consistent at the metapolicy level,
either. We're (wisely, I believe) playing tit-for-tat with Libya
today. Would that we employed that wisdom more widely.
Net-net, Greg: my position on a lot of these things is neither
historically ignorant nor generically inconsistent. It's just that I
apparently have a different take than you on the relative importance of
concurrent consistency vs. historical consistency of policies. To your
credit, though, Greg, your criticism of my POV on many of these things
as reflecting an "attention deficit" is spot on --- and that deficit is
INTENTIONAL. As with game theory, this is a *strength* rather than a
weakness. Transactions, not baggage. Tit-for-tat. Lugging around all
that "state" doesn't lead to any better decisions or outcomes ---
rather, usually the reverse.
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