Where I practice writing (because I sorely need to).

More About Governance

I have previously written that we find law, politics, and governance more generally at one of the intersections between the objective and subjective disciplines. With a cynicism forged by the hammer blows disappointment and on the anvil of unpleasant experience and honed against the stone of melancholy history books, I suggested that it was perhaps for the best that most attempts at fully rationalizing governance have been ignored (because most of the implemented rationalizations were horrifying spectacles).

Better,  I held, to “muddle through.” I should amplify here: the objective disciplines have much to offer us by way of advice in dealing with the problems of governance. However, the governed are not rational. We cannot derive “laws of motion” for their actions, motivations, or grievances. Predicting with mathematical certainty the trajectory of a life is not possible. We may (and should) seek to create general models to inform changes in policy, but must always in the end remain in contact with observed behavior. This is a fundamentally conservative position: implicit in our admission that the specifics of behavior are unpredictable is an admission that we are imperfect and that perfection is unattainable.

That we can never reach some imagined perfect state ought not to bother us much–there’s simply too much to do that we can do. This is a fundamentally liberal position: our contention that we can “do” something, and that there is something that needs “doing” and that there is a “we” that ought to concern ourselves with the doing and the thing is loaded down with assumptions at least somewhat in tension with the admission that pure mathematical certainty of the effects of government action is possible. Moreover, it invites consideration of an additional complication: oughts.

In what way can we properly delineate the appropriate set of government concerns? The appropriate set of government actions? These are questions with both practical and ethical content–and despite their great utility, models don’t “do” ethics. We see that governance lives in the intersection between the objective and the subjective in multiple ways.

What, then, is left to us aside from “muddling through?” A protocol where problems are identified and solutions attempted based on considered advice, all within some legitimate framework is necessary. Appropriate deference to reality is the linchpin: without it, the cart comes unhitched from the horse and disaster ensues. In our present circumstances we can see the precursors of disaster: the United States has (more-or-less) historically functioned by deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.  Generally the governed had some ability to adequately agree on the facts of a situation. Both those pillars are currently being undermined, intentionally, by the ostensibly “conservative” citizens of the country, while the putatively “liberal” citizenry have adopted the functional worldview of the previous conservatives!

Where does the danger come in? Well, the “liberal” coalition may soon adopt the de-legitimizing tactics (this has happened before, and with good reason, but never to the extent currently on display). If that happens, look for fracture to occur: the pillars will not stand.


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