Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Humean rulers

The first time it struck me that the governing class in this country had embraced Hume's account of cause and effect was in the runup to the Iraq invasion. The military testified, out of their experience, that the occupation of a country the size of Iraq would certainly take 400 + thousand soldiers, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. This was immediately dismissed by the pro-war side, who had only contempt for the idea of cause and effect contained in this narrative. For them, cause and effect were simply constructed by custom, and thus infinitely subject to spin. Thus they set about designing and implementing an action (the cause) and pretended that no effect would occur - rather, we would find that Iraqis loved being invaded, that they would gladly pay us for the privilege of being invaded (which was, literally, what Wolfowitz told Congress) and that we could withdraw within three or four months. As these things didn't come to pass (along with many other things that didn't come to pass - flying horses, dancing sugarplumbs, and Santa Claus coming down the chimney), the elite decided the best policy was drift and obscure - drift along in the hope that something would happen, and obscure what was really happening.

The Murder of the Gulf of Mexico has the same structure. A progressive chattering class has let its mind drift to other things, hoping - for no good reason except the repetition of this by spokesmen in the news - that BP, which had caused the accident with no contingency plan, would whip one up in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, that the Obama administration simply let BP lie about the extent of the flow into the Gulf was part of the m.o. of - we can do nothing! A curious stance. In a world of hundreds of oil companies, many with deepsea experience, and with resources that allow us to buy up a trillion dollars of dirty 'securities' from the banks, we suddenly have neither a navy nor any other reserve of experience to call upon except that of BP, our hero.

The startling thing was that the same people who are ardent political junkies seemed to blank out the consequences of the spill. Cause, here, would simply lead to some spinnable opportunities. So we don't measure the outflow for 35 days, and even now have what is surely a lowball estimate - we don't call in the boats we have on hand and investigate the plumes blooming beneath the Gulf, one of which is spreading Mobile-ward - and we don't envision the effect of this, politically, when, say, Mobile doesn't have any uncontaminated fresh water. After all, cause can be followed, it appears, by anything - maybe Deepwater Horizon will start spewing out Hope you Can Believe in stickers.

I call this Humean, but probably one could analyse this better from the point of view of Piagetian child psychology. Our elites display the intellectual grasp of four year olds, since, after all, they spend their time immersed in atmospheres of entitlement and infantilization. It is interesting to watch the rot.

But sad for the Gulf.


Duncan said...

It's the helplessness as well - childlike not just as cause and effect incomprehension, but sitting at the side and waiting for the grown ups to do stuff. The idea that government should keep its filthy hands off our criminal enterprises has been internalised, seemingly, among the liberal ruling elite, as the belief that government literally has no power in these areas. Obama expresses frustration and resolve, and I'm not clear if it even occurs to him that he can actually do stuff. It's like these people feel it's not their job; they're embarrassed by government, unless it's doing the Lord's work of enabling corporate dominance. Incredible cravenness. Yuck.

Ed said...

It has occurred to me that Obama is trying to run his presidential administration exactly as the framers of the Constitution intended it to be run. Its pretty clear that the framers thought government policy would be driven by the states, and at the federal level by Congress, and the President would just co-ordinate a handful of executive departments (six!) and be available to command the (small) army during wars.

If Obama is really trying to do that, other than giving no hint during his campaign he would try that, 2009 is a really bad time to try this experiment.