Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flu Season

Here are some of the viral memes we have to be wary of now that the winds have shifted:

Obama is recycling people from the Clinton era into his own new administration. This isn't change.

This is just yet another tired old attack upon Hillary. She remains very well-respected globally. She herself would make a fine U.S. president. The problem as I see it it that there is no political position high enough for her, so Secretary of State will have to do for now.

America is a center-right country.

Well, no. Not when people are asked about issues. Ranging from the Iraq war (we want out) to healthcare (we want single-payer universal coverage) to Social Security (young people support it) Americans consistently poll to the left side of the political spectrum, even though many self-identify as "conservatives."

And then there are the recent election results.

Of course, these are just the newly-identified strains. Other memes continue to circle the planet, mutating as they go. As long as there are hosts to be infected, perhaps they will never go away completely.

We are all familiar with these: Unfettered capitalism is the best economic system (so long as taxpayers provide it with profits and pay off its losses,) America is a "Christian nation" (there aren't any really,) the mainstream media is predominantly liberal so we cannot have a revival of The Fairness Doctrine because then it would have to be even more liberal... or whatever.

So it goes.

I have long wished that economists would subject their work to scientific and rational analysis. Instead of that, the discipline (for lack of a better word) seems to be mired in cold-war assumptions fashioned more to oppose an old and non-existent Soviet ideology than to actually tell us about how the world works.

Consumer sovereignity, the invisible hand, enlightened self-interest, the "laws" of supply-and-demand; all those sound like very nice ideas, and such as that they are. But just because somebody thinks up a nice idea, and then thousands of other people fashion themselves careers out of reinforcing those same ideas and often making a good living doing so; well, those ideas could still be bunk. Crap. Shinola. Perhaps best described as bullshit.

So modern American economics, at least the kind that filters its way out of the academic world and splashes noisily out into popularly-consumed media, tends not to be science. It's rather some sort of faith or ideology, unhinged from the real world around it. Yet it takes hold and infects that world. It is like Vonnegut's Ice-Nine in the way its viral notions freeze just about all debate that challenges conventional economic wisdom.

"Ice-Nine" is the fictional substance whose leitmotif courses through the novel Cat's Crad;e by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a kind of water crystal that instantly freezes any other water molecule it contacts. Those would in turn freeze others, on and on.

Vonnegut had once described an interchange he had at a party long ago. A scientist there ruminated on the idea of Ice-Nine for a long while, then said to Vonnegut "it's impossible."

Just like the benevolent invisible hand of the so-called Free Market. It's impossible. It doesn't even exist. It's just an idea. It doesn't really work as described. Yet we are sickened by its societal effects. It's an ideological influenza.

Remember to eat well, get your flu shot, drink lots of fluids, prepare yourself with knowledge by reading up, and wash your hands, both literally and figuratively.


Marc said...

"There is always an easy solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong."

The general population is hooked on easy answers to complex and/or difficult problems. For the most part, the crucial (and boring) details that are relevant have been filtered out by those who report or announce the problem and/or solution. Therefore, rational discussion based on all the facts is improbable, and the result is a distorted perception of the issue at hand, with an equally distorted perception of how the solution can/will work.

Ruth said...

Economics has evolved, though, from a pseudoscience to ideology, when it comes to the Free Market mantra. That the theory has been proven horribly wrong doesn't change the warped minds in the occupied White House. The only way to save the economy is to get them OUT.

may said...

i seriously am tired of washing my hands. both literally, and figuratively.