Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Death of Rationality

Two authors writing about two different topics seem to have converged on a common theme.

The first is David Cole in his “No Accountability for Torture” post to NYRBlog. This is a model of sound reasoning applied to teasing out the flaws behind the decision of the US Court of Appeals to dismiss José Padilla’s lawsuit against John Yoo, holding Yoo responsible for the acts of torture he had to endure. In support of his post’s title, Cole also observed:
President Obama has also resisted even the appointment of a bipartisan commission to investigate and report on our descent into torture and cruel treatment; apparently he thinks such an inquiry would be too divisive.
He seems not to have realized that this is a symptom of the same kind of problem that his analysis has uncovered.

The second author is Paul Krugman, whose article “How to End This Depression” is in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books. Krugman is also really good at giving clear accounts of the rationality behind his arguments. Unfortunately, his argument for why both the Executive and Legislative branches should be following his arguments is less sound. Confronted with the possibility that all decision making is based on partisan loyalties, his response is more than a little naïve:
Well, it shouldn’t be. Tribal allegiance should have no more to do with your views about macroeconomics than with your views on, say, the theory of evolution or climate change. The question of how the economy works should be settled on the basis of evidence, not prejudice.
This seems to overlook the fact that neither the Executive nor Legislative branches have any views about macroeconomics at all.

The bottom line is that both articles assume that problems may be resolved by rational means. This is sort of like Galileo’s decision that, because the Vatican Inquisitor understood how Aristotle’s logic worked, he would recognize the soundness in Galileo’s heliocentric reasoning and agree with Galileo. Fat chance.
Power has not just trumped rationality. It has trounced it, pulverized it to a state in which it is barely (if at all) recognizable. Until folks like Cole and Krugman recognize that power has its own rules that need not be beholden to logic, their will be voices in the wilderness, appealing to those who understand them but still useless for any practical purposes.

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