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.