Saturday, February 20, 2010

Coming back as a bimbo

Living successfully requires effective thinking. We need to solve practical problems every day and that means applying our intelligence as well as the social and psychological insights and intuitions we have developed over time.

But what about value and belief systems (i.e. religions, ideologies, etc.)? Do we need to think about them or is it better just to trust our intuitions and go with what feels right or with what works for us?

I raise this issue because, though I have a ready answer, I sometimes suspect that there is a problem with it.

My answer is that our value and belief systems - since they drive our entire lives - are crucially important and that therefore they should be subject to scrutiny and discussion so that they might be purged of illusions and prejudices and errors of all kinds (as far as possible at any rate). But, interestingly, most people don't really want to go down this path.

Take bloggers and their readers. In general terms it is clear that what people want is 1)practical and special interest information; 2)news and gossip; and 3)opinion pieces on contentious issues.

With respect to the third category, it is clear that bloggers (like talk-radio hosts) who have strong and clear opinions on contentious issues are favored over those who take a more nuanced and analytical approach.

Successful communication often creates a sense of belonging, a sense of solidarity with others, as well as enhanced confidence, and so can be life- and action-enhancing.

Analysis and questioning tend to work in the opposite direction, undermining confidence and inhibiting action. This is good if the action inhibited is bad (like racially-inspired violence), but what if self-questioning just inhibits action per se? It can be self-defeating.

Consider, for example, what this analytical and self-questioning blogger is now doing. He is not only not out in the fresh air doing good or having fun - he is questioning his questioning!

A well-known female intellectual, fed up with the grave solemnity and sheer ponderousness of the world of discourse of which she was a part, once said that if she was going to be reincarnated she would like to come back as a bimbo.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Technology and the state

Technological advances can create threats to human life and health which cannot really be dealt with (or even identified) by individuals, but which must be dealt with by the state (or other high-level regulatory bodies). Obvious examples relate to nuclear hazards: weapons control and the management of waste products from the nuclear power industry. And of course many newer technologies also need to be carefully regulated to minimize risks to human health. The risks are all the greater at a time when terrorist groups are actively seeking new ways to attack Western populations.

These facts have implications for the viability of libertarian approaches to politics. Though some forms of libertarianism countenance a regulatory role for the state, the scope and style of activity involved in the sort of regulation under discussion seem incompatible with any meaningful version of pro-property libertarianism. This is - for those, like me, who are attracted to libertarian ideas - a sad truth, but it seems inescapable. Furthermore - barring catastrophe - the process of technological development is ongoing, thus necessitating yet more regulatory activity.

To accept that government has an increasingly active role to play in regulating and policing various industries and products and protecting against terrorism is not to say, however, that government overall should necessarily be expanded. Decisions need to be made on priorities and, given the current government debt crises in Europe and the US, there are serious constraints on what governments can afford. Even President Obama has started to talk tough on the need to tackle government debt.

So, as ever, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that, in our technologically advanced and advancing world, more and yet more externally imposed constraints on individual and corporate freedoms will be necessary. The good news is that, despite (warranted and unwarranted) encroachments on freedom, a global market is developing - and exerting its discipline on those leaders who wish to ensure that their respective peoples will (continue to) share in the prosperity which global trade and commerce can bring.