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  • The “Complex” Left vs. the “Simple” Right

    Posted by Shannon Love on November 19th, 2009 (All posts by )

    Over at Hit&Run, there is a thread about how simplistic and empty Sarah Palin is compared to Obama or previous conservatives. Leaving out the fact that both Reagan and Goldwater suffered the same contempt in their time that Palin does now, it does raise the issue of whether it is important that leftists do in general produce much more complex and “sophisticated” explanations of political ideas than do conservatives.

    The major reason that non-leftists’ ideas look “simplistic” compared to leftists’ ideas is that non-leftists’ ideas are usually nothing but statements about the limits of human knowledge.

    For example, all arguments for the free market can be distilled to something like:

    No human or group of humans has a predictive model of the economy. As such we cannot predict the consequences of economic actions we take. This is especially true of large-scale actions. Therefore, the best policy in the overwhelming majority of case is to not attempt to use the coercive power of the state to try and steer the economy, because the we cannot predict the results and we are more likely to do harm than good.

    By contrast, leftist arguments are statements about the possession of knowledge by some elite group of human beings. The “complex” leftists arguments are detailed elaborations of what they think they know in each particular case.

    By analogy, it is like to two doctors arguing over how to treat an illness. The non-leftist doctor says, “Nobody knows what causes this particular illness, so any particular serious treatment is likely to do more harm than good.” The leftist doctor, however, claims to have a predictive theory about the cause of the disease and a course of treatment. It is immediately obvious that the leftist doctor will have to produce a complex and detailed argument for why he thinks he understands the cause and treatment for the disease.

    However, the leftist doctor is not automatically right just because his argument is “complex” as compared to the non-leftist doctor’s simple statement of the lack of human knowledge about the disease. Indeed, the vast majority of novel hypotheses are wrongm so in any particular case the “complex” argument is more likely to be wrong than the “simple” argument. A treatment based on a flawed hypothesis is more likely to injure the patient than help.

    (This is a real-world problem in medicine where the urge to “do something!” is almost overwhelming. Medical history is littered with counterproductive treatments used solely because neither doctors nor patients could acknowledge that no actual proven treatment existed.)

    Leftists invest huge amounts of energy building and studying complex intellectual constructions that in the end turn out to be nonsense *cough* Marxism *cough*. Leftists have caused harm at every level from economic slowdowns to megacides simply because they believed they understood things they did not and then used the power of the state to coerce other people into doing what the leftists thought best.

    In politics, it’s more important that politicians understand the limits of human knowledge, and therefore the limits of state power, than it is for them to impress all the other kids in the dorm with their encyclopedic knowledge of the leftists’ intellectual fad du jour. An uneducated politician who understands that economics is not a predictive science will make better decisions on economic matters than a genius with an Ivy League degree who thinks it is.

    Understanding our own individual and collective limits is the very core of wisdom. Palin would make a much better President than Obama merely because she lacks his overweening intellectual arrogance. She would not attempt to make decisions that are based on the premise that she can micromanage every event in the world.

    Will Rogers said, “It’s not the things we don’t know that are the problem. It’s the things we know that ain’t so.” Obama and friends are all highly intelligent, educated people who know a great many things that ain’t so.

     

    23 Responses to “The “Complex” Left vs. the “Simple” Right”

    1. Michael Kennedy Says:

      We learned a saying in residency; “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

    2. Mike H Says:

      Things can be both simple and complex simultaneously. Simplicity fundamental to the natural world, even if it manifests itself in mind boggling complex ways/

      I often find that the more educated one becomes, the more nuanced and rational an explanation for an unjustifiable position can be given. Many of the most celebrated and prominent modern thinkers (postmodernists mainly) were people of exemplary rhetorical skills but absolutely void substance. Their works are complicated beyond belief …. the complicated nature of them makes it all the easier to claim that their critics just don’t “get it” when the critics rightly point to the underlying totalitarian nature of the academics.

      Palin is not a complicated person, and that’s what I find so appealing. She may not be an intellectual powerhouse but she “gets it” on a fundamental level.

    3. Mrs. Davis Says:

      Palin may not be terribly intelligent, like Nixon or sophisticated or experienced with world leaders, either. But I trust her common sense, integrity and desire to do the right thing more than his. Which qualities would I prefer to have in a president? Hmmmm.

    4. Retardo Says:

      Leftists believe that you can fix everything by giving a few powerful leftists more power and money. That’s not simplistic? That’s painfully simplistic. The excuses and explanations are complicated, because it’s a smokescreen, and it’s got to be a good smokescreen, because most of them are fooling themselves about it.

      Anyhow. There’s another point, about all this “simplicity” vs “complexity” nonsense: It’s garbage. Why measure the “complexity” of somebody’s ideas at all? Who cares? What matters is whether they’re right. The Standard Model of physics is a good theory, but not because it’s complicated. It’s a good theory because it has predictive value. You could easily whomp up an even more complicated theory which was absolutely dead wrong. Al Gore and Amanda Marcotte would choose to believe the more complicated of the two, because they are not capable of evaluating either theory on its merits as science, and so they are left piddling around measuring silly and irrelevant proxies like “complexity”.

      Lefties love to talk about irrelevant crap like that, mostly in terms of themselves: How “complex” or “creative” they and their ideas are, how their writers have a more elegant prose style than ours do, how they live in more exciting and fashionable neighborhoods with better restaurants, they dress better, they’ve got more musicians and artists, and blah blah blah.

      Having recourse to reality, we don’t need recourse to that crap. We don’t have to hypothesize that literary taste maybe correlates with good sense about economics, because we can actually measure the effects of different economic policies instead.

      We can and we do, but they’d rather prove that markets don’t work by accusing Fox News of being vulgar. In fact, Fox News is vulgar, but that fact tells us very little about economics.

      These clowns are fundamentally not just unserious, but antiserious. It’s been said before, but we’re talking about how things work in the real world, and they’re talking about how much they want to feel good about themselves and the group they belong to. “Truth”, to paraphrase Barbie, “is hard!” Communal self-affirmation is much easier. Feels better, too, at least until the bill arrives.

    5. david foster Says:

      Malcolm Gladwell cited a study in which experts (psychologists, in this case) were given varying amounts of information. The more information they were given, the more confident they became in their assessments–but the objective accuracy of their judgments did not actually improve.

      http://photoncourier.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_photoncourier_archive.html#112645692359183379

      OTOH, I’m a little less impressed with Gladwell since I found out about the “Igon Values”…

      http://whohastimeforthis.blogspot.com/2009/11/gladwells-igon-value-problem.html

    6. tehag Says:

      “Palin may not be terribly intelligent”

      Which is an excellent reason to vote for her. After the depredations of FDR’s brain trust, JKF’s and LBJ’s best and brightest, and Bush’s and Obama’s Harvard and Yale grads, I’d support a Constitutional amendment to ban anyone with a better than a high school education from elective or appointive office.

    7. J. Scott Says:

      Tehag, I’m still interesting in your post on Obama either losing in 2012 or resigning—what are your thoughts? I ask, because I was thinking something similar.

    8. bgates Says:

      What evidence is there that Barack “Cinco de Quatro”, “I don’t know how to say that in Austrian”, “Memorial Day is to honor veterans, and I see some of them right now” Obama either educated or intelligent?

    9. boldface Says:

      Shannon, there is another element to the lefty complexity: the old saying about baffling them with bullshit. Righty thinking proceeds from established institutions (not straitjacketed by them but proceeding from them), so much of the righty reaction to situations is based in the first instance on common sense. The lefty reaction is based on rejecting the status quo, which means common sense is a much smaller piece of their overall reasoning. That requires elaborate justifications for their theories (mainly to mask the power grab).

    10. Marty Says:

      I think free marketers just figure the market can sort out the details, so they can take a fairly simple position of reduce market imperfections and then stand back. Any gross problems can be dealt with directly, without jiggering teh whole system.

      Leftists try to duplicate in law and regulation everything the market might do, but better, and so they have to get incredibly detailed and complex. And if they acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, there really is no logical end to stacking the complexities, because the solution to one problem always creates others.

      Neither approach is right in all circumstances, but the free-market one is better in the vast majority.

    11. Marty Says:

      Plus, so much of what the left wants to do is dishonest (i.e., they know they would never succeed, politically, in implementing their goals, so they have to lie about it), which adds to the complexity of their proposals… trying to accomplish X while appearing to do something else.

      Health care, cap-and-trade and card check are the big current examples

    12. yeem Says:

      ms. palin isn’t really simplistic. she is as arrogant in obama in her belief that she needs no information, including traditional/classic/old information. ‘yew cain’t tell me nuthin!’ is also arrogance, after all.

      the two are quite alike, just with their very similar psychological profiles tailored to very different audiences.

      the vehemenence with which people insist there is a difference between them in narcissism rather illustrates that.

    13. sol vason Says:

      Liberals study philosophy. Conservatives study history. Liberals see no possible benefit from studying the mistakes of others. Conservatives believe one can learn from failure. Liberals believe that if they are faithful to their philosophy then failure occurs only through betrayal. Conservatives argue that plans should be based on experience and that failure arises from incompetance.

      Conservatives industrialized our civilization and eliminated poverty, famine, and plagues. Liberals have fought them every step of the way. Now liberals are set to reverse all that conservatives have accomplished.

    14. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I think the comparison of Palin and Obama, while presented as criticism of her, is actually not far from the truth. Both have self confidence and both are inexperienced. However, as others have pointed out, the left needs complexity to try to design systems that will do everything the free market does by what we could call distributed computing. She did pretty well on the oil and gas issues in Alaska. I suspect she would de pretty well with good advisors. If anyone wants to see what sort of people Obama has surrounded himself with, a look at Holder’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee might be instructive.

      There is an amusing video today at Ann Althouse’s blog. It’s an hour but interesting to see Michelle Goldberg try to explain her attraction to Obama and why she is still enthusiastic. It was worth an hour to watch it. Sort of revealing although I doubt Ms Goldberg realized it.

    15. bgates Says:

      she is as arrogant in obama in her belief that she needs no information

      I could say the same thing about you, Yeem. I wouldn’t be able to provide any support for that claim, but that didn’t stop you, did it?

    16. Alan K. Henderson Says:

      What gets me about the infatuation with experts is that nonexperts make the rules. I’m talking about Congress – members are rank amateurs regarding most of the stuff they vote on. How many professional climatologists are in Congress? How many economists? How many members of the Senate Banking Committee have ever been trained for or employed by the banking industry? How many Congressindividuals have extensive training in foreign social and political cultures? Howe many from agribusiness? How many have military or police experience? How many are doctors? Accountants? Civil engineers?

    17. John Jay Says:

      Michael Kennedy’ “I suspect she would do pretty well with good advisors.”

      I don’t. She had the best from McCain’s team trying to groom her for prime time and she couldn’t tell Katy Couric what she liked to read for Pete’s sake, to say nothing of not making any effort to learn anything about foreign policy. Her book and pronouncements further demonstrate that Yeem is right – the woman doesn’t think she needs to learn anything.

      Population-wise, Alaska is about one third as important as Brooklyn. Beyond that, she did one thing she promised to do, but has, through her inattention, let the corruption back in the state. She could not and did not follow through with her duties.

      The difference between her and Obama is that Obama went to schools that emphasize getting the forms and vocabulary right – the Ivy league still has some standards, after all. Obama thinks he doesn’t need to learn anything because he thinks he already knows it all (I think it was David Foster who linked to the piece about Obama not listening to others in his brief foray into the private world). Palin doesn’t listen to others because people keep telling her she’s a fresh breath of air being an outsider and that she should stay untainted. Sometimes ignorance lets you go do something others thought was impossible, but most of the time it just makes you ineffective. Even mavericks should know why the fence was put up before they knock it down.

      Seriously, if one of us had to hire someone with her academic credentials (it’s not that going to the schools she did is that bad, it’s the number of institutions in that plural “schools”), poor preparation for the VP job interview, and demonstrated lack of follow through in her previous job, would we hire her? No.

      The Left regularly accuses the Right of stupidity. They were wrong with Reagan, they are wrong a lot of the time. But this time? This time the stopped clock is right on time. The woman is a moron.

    18. Phil Fraering Says:

      Seriously, if one of us had to hire someone with her academic credentials (it’s not that going to the schools she did is that bad, it’s the number of institutions in that plural “schools”), poor preparation for the VP job interview, and demonstrated lack of follow through in her previous job, would we hire her? No.

      SO… will we ever see enough of O’s transcripts to find out why he left Occidental and what he did at Columbia?

      (Oh, and for what it’s worth… most potential employers, when looking at someone over thirty, are far more interested in their recent work record rather than their academic transcript from when they were twenty. Zero was a college professor with a rather disturbing lack of academic publications for today’s publish-or-perish atmosphere).

    19. Phil Fraering Says:

      Population-wise, Alaska is about one third as important as Brooklyn. Beyond that, she did one thing she promised to do, but has, through her inattention, let the corruption back in the state. She could not and did not follow through with her duties.

      Funny thing is, even with that 1/3 of the population of Brooklyn Alaska manages to provide a significant fraction of domestic energy and fossil fuel production. What does Brooklyn manage to do in this regard? Send another couple legislators to Congress to vote for buying it from hostile countries overseas instead, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Most of which is profit to the governments of those countries.

    20. Phil Fraering Says:

      I think we need some dumb-as-a-post-stupidity that will let us make something for ourselves rather than all this goddamn intelligence that’s made us dependent on hostile foreign governments for vital strategic resources.

    21. yeem Says:

      we need ron freaking paul as president is what we need, but that is just a beautiful fantasy and shall never come true.

    22. Alan K. Henderson Says:

      Yeem, here’s a bumper sticker idea that hits on Paul’s great strength (fiscal policy) and his great weakness (isolationism):

      Ron Paul 2012 – For A Strong Economy And Strong Terrorists

    23. Jim Rose Says:

      Shannon…don’t forget Reagan’s famous quote:

      “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”