December 1st, 2009

eyes black and white

The Relevance of Political Reasoning

When someone rises to unilaterally denounce the involvement of one government in some conflict, or more generally the policy of any person or institution on any contested issue, that someone is precisely not staying out of the conflict, but taking sides.

As I've argued previously, mu should be the a priori answer by most honest people to most such questions, affirmations or intimidations. Before he may dare to step out of the prudent refusal to take sides that ought to be his default stance, an honest man should master basic competency and knowledge in the subject at stake.

But while pointing out this obvious requirement of intellectual honesty is sadly the only thing to reply to most appeals to action, as spread by fools who speak authoritatively of what they refuse to make any effort to know, or from crooks who try to draft you in support of their plans, there are still times when a question is worth trying to answer earnestly, and "mu" doesn't apply. Which of a limited number of alternatives should be preferred by whom? How do the costs and benefits of some policy compare over its rivals? What would or will a competent administrator do? Which of two oppressors is more deserving of being obeyed or opposed, of being supported or rebelled against? And for what reasons?

Not only are these questions in themselves not always vain, they can also have very practical consequences. And I'm not speaking just for the appointed or presumptive administrator, shareholder, investigator or otherwise scholarly specialist in an institution empowered to make policy decisions. Even the layman without any political decision power may have to make important decisions based on such analysis. For instance, he may choose when to invest in which country and when to divest from it; choose when to consider migrating (if ever) to which other country (if any); determine what is the most effective way to deploy charitable help and in which country, assuming one wants to maximize the positive effects of it; determine what conflicts are worth committing one's resources to and which should be avoided like plague; etc.

At times questions of politics can be objectively answered. And even when an objective answer would be contingent on assumptions that one is unable to confirm or infirm, or on counter-factuals posited for the sake of exercise, it is sometimes worth making the effort of developing the discipline that allows to think correctly about this class of issues. That is where it is important to develop a good narrative that can explain what's going on. Understanding conflicts and how they should be resolved is not only an important proficiency to understand past history, it's but also an essential tool to anticipate and create the future.