[FoRK] Aaron, seriously

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Fri Feb 12 07:31:28 PST 2010


One other bit re:  Aaron...

Your argument is actually a pretty weak strawman:  I haven't claimed that government is unequivocally bad, or that *our* government is unequivocally bad, etc.  So setting aside the ridiculous defensiveness of the "if you don't like it, move" BS, you're arguing against something I haven't said.

Can government do good, i.e. act to improve overall social outcomes?  Of course;  in fact I often make a concerted effort to point out where I see the specific possibilities for this.  The converse is equally true:  it can also, quite clearly, harm outcomes.  [cryptography.  ahem....]  I'm not even interested in coming up with some net valuation or judgment of our, or any particular government.  I'm interested in exploring (discussing, as fairly and frankly as possible) the opportunities, constraints, tendencies, mechanisms, etc. by which government (as an expression of some social choice function) influences social outcomes --- in order to understand how to encourage the positives and discourage the negatives.

The knee-jerk defensiveness and apologia of government usually comes from those who have a bias *for* whatever group, political bias, meme, etc. is in power.  During the Clinton years, it was usually the then-uncritical "left" that  displayed this sort of defensiveness (and nb., aside, despite broad criticism of government as a whole during Clinton's tenure, I was actually a big Clinton fan and feel him to have been the best president we've had during my lifetime);  during the Bush II years, the "right" got defensive and jerky;  and now we're back to the "left."  Whatever personal preferences we might each have, I wish more people could step back from them and have a legitimate, constructively critical, and non-apologetic examination of both specific situations and actions and, even more, *the system itself.*  Only by doing that, and by having free and open conversations that actually seek to embrace valuable  generalizations and truths about things can we begin to understand how to improve upon what we have, however good it may be.

Spending time patting ourselves on the back for all that we do well is silly and unproductive.  Only by digging in, hard, on the things that we *don't* do well --- and, perhaps, looking at those things for which there are systematic obstacles that make doing them well difficult or impossible, i.e. systematic constraints, limitations, and characteristics --- can progress be made in our social organization, choice and decision processes, and mechanisms of "governance."  And it is just that systematic examination that is critically missing in our public discourse today;  which is peculiar given that this is precisely what *defined* the public discourse from the early days of our form of government.  That's unfortunate, because these days we have much better tools for conducting (and discussing / collaborating on) that very systematic analysis.

(Conversely, the fatalistic / nihilistic / disillusioned point of view that cannot conceive of any possible improvements or means of getting there is equally unproductive, though certainly --- depressingly --- less "silly."  Rather unfortunate that exactly that point of view may be even more damaging than the uncritical point of view, as it tends towards self-fulfilling prophesy.)

Furthermore, frequent reexamination of our assumptions about government --- indeed, even the frequent questioning and reexamination of our understanding of its very *nature*, of the intrinsic and essential and ever-evolving relationships of the individual to other individuals, to society as a whole and to its non-individual / collective parts --- is in order;  we have better tools for understanding all the time:  analytical, analogical, and historical.  This process is never without value when conducted with honesty, integrity, and whatever degree of objectivity can be mustered.

In any case, that's the hallmark of a "free and open" society:  a vigorous debate about system itself in order to allow it to improve, coupled with mutability of the system itself responsive to such critical examination.

You do, I assume, prefer free and open societies, don't you Aaron?

Then please have the courage of your convictions and don't offer knee-jerk defensiveness designed to discourage such, mmmkay?


jb





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