Archive for the ‘Theory’ Category

“Deliberation can help transform interests and reveal previously unrealized areas of agreement. If can sharpen participants understandings of their conflicts.”

—Jane Mansbridge

Some are alarmed at the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America; understandable, but lest not forgot the alternative to talk, violence. Taking the stand in court, an hour behind the podium fighting for policies, or moments discussing feelings about political candidates are not meant to be attractive. But so in working. It’s simply necessary. Avoiding politics, common as it is among large swaths of people in every demographic, should have the same concern as the unemployment rate; they both are a sign of health of a country. The number of political participants is just as important to a democracy as workers to the workforce, the more the better.

Let me clarify. Political participants can be anyone, be it a politician or pedestrian. As soon as you open your mouth or write to influence another person on an issue, you become is some sense a political participant. Constant arguing is inherent in democracy and participation helps define is quality. It seems what topics are at the forefront of the political agenda is the reflection of the people participating in a political arena. Political arenas are areas where politics is discussed and is both formal (political conventions, media interviews, academic policy debates, etc) and informal (blogs, discussions between family and friends, protests, etc). They are a place where influence can inhabit and exist on television and on print as well as in the living room or park bench. To varying degrees both are important, because the constituents of any society needs to figure out who gets what, when, where, and why; or in other words, politics.

Democracy is not to be taken for granted and its inherent problems should be seen as an issue of quality and control, not dysfunction. It is a well-known fact in political science people who participate in primary elections tend to be people who are from opposite sides of the political bell curve. It becomes obvious listening to and reading the rhetoric of presidential candidates in primaries, rhetoric that is extreme for many moderates. As the presidential nominations end and the mono-e-mono race for the oval office begins (aka general election), you tend to see a bit of backtracking to appeal to the broader public (Mitt Romney is a good contemporary example). But what if more moderates in America participated in primary elections? I believe that itself will profoundly change the American political system. I would argue there would be less influence of both Christian extremists on the Right and environmental extremists on the Left, among other undue influences. What people should be sick of is not politics itself, but the low quality of it.

Therefore, the reasonable course of action is for the citizenry to participate in quality and control and to not shy away from any political arena. The more participate, the more of the agenda-making process shifts from extremists views to moderate views. Instead of a few religious zealots believing there should be no Jeffersonian wall between church and state (Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter 1802), moderate religious devotees can focus what, among other things, has been important imperatives in most religious belief systems like helping the poor, the sick, the orphans, etc. Instead of a few environmental zealots believe preserving some obscure species of rodent takes precedence over any and all business opportunities, moderate eco-activists may actually be inclined to accommodate both goals.

But to get back to the quote above. If more people take part in politics, than more moderates will influence politicians and policy. My main argument is this: the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America are not from moderate voices. It is the moderate who tends to deliberate while the extremist is entrenched in their respective belief system as they are concerned with only what they think is right (you know who is an extremist when they view their truths are eternal). To agree is not a trait of extremists.

This bell curve pretty much generalizes the public, with the extreme Left and extreme Right on their respective ends while most Americans (probably most people in every country) make the middle.

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Rational Choice Theory–posits that individuals always act rationally and instrumentally, weighing potential costs and benefits as they aim to maximize their own utility (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

I don’t have to point out the flaws of this theory while experience with other people (especially drunk ones) and quick research can quickly dismiss it. What I would like to point out is this theory, more like hypothesis, is the dominant platform of both economic and political sciences.

To counter, Bryan Caplan coined the term “rational irrationality” to help explain the inconsistencies of Rational Choice Theory by branching rationality into two types:

  • Epistemic rationality – developing a belief system by honest efforts to avoid fallacious reasoning and being open to new evidence to form truths.
  • Instrumental rationality – using the most effective means to attain one’s actual goals grounded on one’s actual beliefs.
A situation where it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically rational is called rational irrationality.
           ^This situation is also known as bullshitting.

Situations that are more likely to elicit this behavior:

  1. The appeal of a belief over another.
  2. The cost of holding a fallacious or irrational belief is low. <—- This highlights the importance of integrity.

I graduated with a B.A. in Political Sciences and oftentimes I wonder if my studies was founded on other ideas from other disciplines besides economics where we get the likes of Rational Choice Theory and rational irrationality. Examples:

Evolutionary ethics: which tries to explain the biological foundations of ethics.

Sociobiology:  scientific study of the biological aspects of social behavior in animals and humans.

Social Dominance Theory: a theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies.

These are just a few ideas that can shed light on human behavior and certainly more interesting than a theory that looks very wrong on its face. It is not to say any of the three I find interesting is an adequate replacement of what Rational Choice Theory tries to cover; I am simply saying that it should be replaced. Maybe Bryan Caplan’s rational irrationality can be a temporary measure but I have the feeling a theory premised on human psychology and biology can bring us closer to a more better economic and political discipline.

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How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It <——-Click to see the lecture.

Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Although Lessig is not a theorist his argument above, I believe, should be looked into by actual democratic theorists.

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