Posts Tagged ‘Social Theory’

Bloodless Moralism – First Things Magazine

August 25, 2015

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/02/bloodless-moralism

Helen Andrews writes an interesting article about moral decisions in First Things magazine.  It essentially is a treatise on the current method of justifying moral decisions on the political and social theory level using statistics and heresy, and contrasts it with how the same decisions are made on the personal level. It implies that over-reliance on the statistical method can lead to absurdity. I agree. Here are some of my favorite quotes from it:

“We are hesitant, almost to the point of paralysis, about making moral claims on moral grounds.”

“During the Depression, the problems that government sought to address had mostly been brought to its attention by cries from below, expressed by people who could see the problem with their own eyes. From Kennedy’s presidency onward, bureaucrats armed with national statistics—then a fairly new phenomenon, not coincidentally—began searching their data for problems to solve, whether popular demand for such solutions existed or not.”

“When professionals put such zest and seriousness into persuading people that they have a problem that can be solved, several things can go wrong. It may be that the targets of their attentions have a problem that cannot be solved. It may be that they do not have a problem at all. Or it may be that they do have a problem and it can be solved, but it would be better for them in the meantime to be able to appreciate, relish, draw from, or find the richness in their problem instead of simply deprecating it. The professionals’ response to each of these three possibilities ends in false hope, false despair, or false resentment for the sufferers, yet ever greater self-satisfaction for their would-be saviors.”

“If the governor of New York were to promise to abolish stupidity within ten years, anyone hearing him would think, “Physician, heal thyself.”

“Membership in the lower class, for example, has never been a picnic, but it used to be something that a person could draw from and take pride in. Described in the terms that politics permits us to use today, as “socioeconomic disadvantage” (or worse, “lack of privilege”), it sounds like nothing more than a list of things to complain of.”

“During the Cold War, especially its early stages, the books written in defense of the Soviet model fairly bristled with statistics. Wisely, the West’s more effective defenders did not attempt to refute tractor-production figures from the Ukraine with tractor-production figures from Moline, Illinois. They made more fundamental points, like the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics in a police state, or the conclusiveness with which even accurate statistics are trumped by the brute fact of mass starvation.”

At a more Kirkian level of abstraction, there were such simple observations as: Our people are free, yours are not; we produce poetry, you produce propaganda; our cities are beautiful, yours are hideous. The equivalent arguments in the modern context might be (1) no amount of creative accounting will convince a sane person that you have made a money-saver out of a vast new entitlement like Obamacare; (2) no study could ever refute the fact that character is both a cause and a casualty of government-subsidized poverty; and (3) I will listen to econometricians as soon as you show me one that can write with more fluency than a high school sophomore.”

“…they have an idealized picture of the sciences as a self-policing community of disinterested truth-seekers with laboratories and databases and state-of-the-art modeling programs.”