Thursday, November 13, 2014

We Can Land On A Comet, But We Can't Admit Gruber Was Right

Sometimes life throws you a softball. Still trending on Twitter is the unintentionally hilarious hashtag #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCant, an ode to the wonder of the human spirit and the tragedy of grave misclassifications. Here's an example of one that straddles the line between tragedy and comedy:
Rosetta and its probe Philae are very impressive engineering feats, which is to say that they've demonstrated their programmers' keen grasp of physics, chemistry, navigation, math, and sundry other deterministic disciplines. Unfortunately for anyone with a troy ounce of taste, including both myself and Mr. Burfield above, dickheads continue to achieve and maintain fame.

The fame of dickheads is not an engineering problem; it is a social problem.

Social problems arise because people have agency. They can make decisions of their own accord. And in a free society, we oblige ourselves to tolerate the banal, crass decisions of others because the alternative is the sort of totalitarianism seen in regimes like the DPRK. If you're a working class American you would no more want to be forced to attend polo matches against your will than a Rhode Island elite would enjoy being forced to go to NASCAR races unwillingly. Orwell was close, except the boot stomping on the human face forever has a Nike logo and is at the 30 yard line.

Ergo, Gruber. The other news of the day (which is hardly news) is that PPACA architect-in-arms Hans Jonathan Gruber took command of Nakatomi Plaza was caught on tape on three occasions making the uncontroversial (in the social sciences, anyway) claim that voters are stupid (or irrational, or ignorant, or mood affiliation to that effect). Tyler C comments here, B. Caplan retorts here. Me? I think both of them are right. Tyler says that Gruber broke political kayfabe, and that since he's not a career politician, he shouldn't be expected to lie continuously and adroitly. Bryan says that lying is wrong, and that since the constituency insists politics are treated as an extended morality play populated by cartoon characters, any contribution to the charnel house of deception is unethical. To me, these two opinions are not even remotely incompatible. Tyler's looking at an individual's rational response to the incentives he faces; Bryan's critiquing the entire institution, while condemning a man for taking part in it.

My unreliable utopia has no famous dickheads, no kayfabe in politics, and is probably well-suited to life on a comet in deep orbit. Until I can strap myself to the shuttle pod of Rosetta II, I'll probably have to accept my BATNA of the injustices of asset forfeiture, the militarization of police, the relentless non-stop low-grade wars abroad, the inhumane treatment of peaceful immigrants, the grotesque war on drugs, the awful criminalization of sex work, and whatever other petty tyrannies men and women in positions of political authority can muster. I suppose it could be worse. At least America hasn't gone full Venezuela.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?