"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

What I want to know

Some crackpot opinions if you'll bear with me.
A tea bowl from the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, 16th century, repaired using the kintsugi technique, which involves gold powder. DADEROT/WIKIMEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN ===
Basically, pure capitalism and pure communism are well-nigh indistinguishable - both can work pretty well with responsible people in power, but not otherwise. Vast systems with complex hierarchies and powerful leaders emerge in both. Bureaucracies thrive. The differences become more symbolic than substantive. Pure capitalism and pure communism are similar not only in their result but in their deontological prespective. They start with a set of principles, and emerge with a set of rules, rules which they firmly believe to be in the best interests of humanity. But here's the problem: it's all too easy in these rule-based systems for power to be captured by irresponsible people, at which point all hell breaks loose. In practice are also fundamentally agreed in their belief that the fundamental question of human governance is economic. They simply come to diametrically opposed positions on the question of "property". Now, many would be in accord with me when I say that the truth must lie somewhere between "everything should be property" and "nothing should be property". But it seems a bit surprising and radical nowadays to say that it's the wrong question. I'm not sure many would agree with me on that score. But hear me out. I suggest that the fundamental question of human governance is not economic at all, though. It is ethical. Are the people with the most influence good people, or are they selfish fools? After all history isn't written by the rule set, it is written by the people who are most adept at influencing the system that results from those rules. "Left vs right" is simply a distraction from "right vs wrong". The answer to the ethical question, in a given polity, seems almost perfectly orthogonal to the question of economic organization or political tribe. There are "good kings" and "bad kings". Good mandarins and bad. Good commissars and bad. Good billionaires and bad. Good presidents and bad. "In what system by what means did you get to power?" Perhaps it doesn't matter. History cares whether you and those around you had empathy for the world around you after you achieved it, or not.
But also, perhaps making systems *too* rule based leaves too many opportunities for sociopaths to find loopholes. I mean, there are just some things we shouldn't put up with, whether the rules successfully accounted for them or not. ===
"Whoa, whoa, what I want to know, is are you kind?" - Robert C Hunter

2 comments:

William M. Connolley said...

In trying to frame politics in terms of the goodness of the leaders rather than the quality of the system you side with Plato against Popper, without showing awareness of either. Don't be like those who start every discussion from first principles and so go nowhere. Read the Republic and more importantly The Open Society and its Enemies.

Michael Tobis said...

William, you are often suggesting you want me to read things, without suggesting why. It's not helpful - I can't devote my reading time to your reading taste any time we have a disagreement in the hopes that I will attain a eureka moment curing me of my tiresome indifference to economic thoery. You should be able to summarise.

With regard to Popper specifically, I did find this wherein he attempts to summarise on his own. https://www.economist.com/democracy-in-america/2016/01/31/from-the-archives-the-open-society-and-its-enemies-revisited

I found it just as speculative as my own speculations, and with regard to two-party configurations, especially in the light of events subsequent to his summary, obviously inadequate. If he has authoritative arguments, they aren't evident.

On the other hand, it did go to the question I'm raising here, which is the nature of good vs bad government, and not to what I take to be your confusion, viz. the conflation of economic theory with a theory of how societies should be organised. It's entirely compatible with my position that the economic structure is not of first order importance, but rather is secondary to the capacity of a society to choose leaders of sound ethics and competence.