Sunday, February 08, 2009


I am in awe of this. Surely this must be some sort of brilliant artistic prank? Where is Chris Morris?

Yes, that is Richard Branson

The story behind it is that he's a simulated refugee in an event held during the WEF. Many jokes are of course possible regarding the fact that the people pretending to be refugees are themselves thousands of miles from home, packed into a remote location surrounded by armed guards and dogged by grandstanding journos. If you follow the links from the post at Foreign Policy, you'll find that they have all been made.

My objection to this is that even if it helped to induce empathy in the participants, that's not enough; in fact it's more likely to play into confirmation bias by relieving them of some cognitive dissonance. And then, of course, it's back to the toolkit of pat solutions you carry with you. Pigeon religion again.

For example, consider this ruck in the comments at Abu Muqawama. I really don't get why, for some people, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict seems to be framed by rightwing nostrums from 1980s urban policy about "dependency culture"; what next, a zero tolerance drive to fix all the broken windows, vandalism obviously being a gateway drug to terrorism? But I've repeatedly seen this, almost always from Americans. And it's not just a debating point - Donald Rumsfeld thought of appointing Rudy Giuliani chief of police in Baghdad, after all, and aren't you almost disappointed not to have seen that epic cluster-fuck?

But quite a lot of people's political views are best understood by posing this question; what qualifies my opinion as serious in a given peer group? Analysing Gaza as if you were running for election in New York City circa 1987 on a law-and-order ticket is objectively insane - it makes as much sense as using one's remembered views on pay-beds in the NHS from 1978 as a guide to EU-Russia diplomacy.

And the outputs from it are as bad as you might expect; yer man is absolutely furious with me, although we appear to agree that there must be a Palestinian state and by corollary the Israelis will just have to cut their coat according to the cloth. The chief difference is that he thinks that abolishing the UN Relief and Works Agency will somehow lead to the state, rather than the other way around. Again, it's very 1980s - slash their child benefit until they become better people, dammit, because otherwise...a generation of superpredators will knifecrime the suburbs!!!

There must be a reason for it, though; a meme this strongly conserved is conserved for a reason. I'd guess it's twofold - one, this is the sort of thing a sensible conservative citizen is meant to say, two, it's a screen-statement which protects against the fact that we are, after all, discussing the creation of a Palestinian state. And just as the only way to make Richard Branson a refugee is to persecute him out of London...

But then, what kind of pat solutions and dead ideas am I carrying about?

1 comment:

Graydon said...

American conservative culture as a current political force is based on the idea of moral goodness translating into material success. (This is one of the classic Christian heresies; I don't recall the name, and I doubt anyone else outside a theological college does, either, so it's not all that useful as a label.)

In that view, persons lacking in material success lack material success for reasons independent of material factors; the core problem is moral. Coercing more moral behavior will produce material success.

So, in short, utterly magical thinking maintained in defense of not having to recognize ideas like "systemic disadvantage" and "class privilege" and stuff like that. If you can not recognize that, you can believe your material success is a pure reward for niceness and that you are unquestionably a good person, no matter what, because if you weren't a good person, you wouldn't be well-to-do, would you?

(The whole thing is an expected failure mode of a maniacal focus on sin in company with a concern for social status, which is why it keeps happening.)

If you're using quantified and systemic thinking -- if you consciously define an objective and look in quantified ways for means of achieving that objective, and use falsifiable methodology when approaching your conclusions -- you won't do this.

That's different from having unexamined assumptions, which everybody falls prey to from time to time, but there really is something exceptional going on in this one.

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