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The point I was making, somewhat tongue in cheek, is that in order to work liberal democracy has to incorporate, at a quite fundamental level, some institutions that are somewhat at odds with the liberal democratic ideology of the enlightened body politic.

Constitutions and judicial review, for instance, are illiberal and elitist institutions: They permit a largely self-selected upper middle class and/or lower upper class clique to gainsay the Will of the PeopleTM. But we do not question that rule of law is necessary, nor do we question that the judicial branch - indeed most of the civil service - has to be a largely self-selected clique.

Universities represent another conflict with the liberal democratic principle of transparency and external review: If you try to subject scholarly research to external review by people who have not been trained in the subject in question, they will do stupid things that impair the functioning of said scholarly research. And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with. In this model, a functioning society is one in which every social network enacts some measure of influence upon every other social network that they share a physical territory with. Social dysfunction occurs when a network, or cluster of networks, becomes detached from the other networks that occupy the same physical territory. Examples of the latter include hoodlums, biker gangs, the City of London and assorted brownshirt movements through the ages.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 02:34:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great comment...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 03:08:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Constitutions and judicial review, for instance, are illiberal and elitist institutions"

Rawls's theory was intended to get round such apparent contradictions in liberal theory by providing a providing a rational way of deciding on the fundamental nature of society and from that deciding on institutions within it which were in accordance with the agreed basic principles.


Universities represent another conflict with the liberal democratic principle of transparency and external review: If you try to subject scholarly research to external review by people who have not been trained in the subject in question, they will do stupid things that impair the functioning of said scholarly research.

As far as Rawls's ideas are concerned, cf. the comment on Nonpartisan's related point (already cited):


As for this:


...  In the Rawlsian bizarro-world, the science is wrong because it disagrees with the overlapping consensus.  Rawls gives us no way to move beyond the practical in order to achieve the necessary.

Again, reasonableness as far as the overlapping concensus is concerned has to do with accepting a given form of government. So long as there's consensus on that issue, any belief can be based on any facts, and people can have different views on what the facts are, so of course people will disagree and the debate can shift over time.

by: Chachy  

http://openleft.com/diary/13752/obama-john-rawls-and-a-defense-of-the-unreasonable


And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

I take it this is a "tongue-in-cheek" caricature too :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 06:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rawls's theory was intended to get round such apparent contradictions in liberal theory by providing a providing a rational way of deciding on the fundamental nature of society and from that deciding on institutions within it which were in accordance with the agreed basic principles.

There are two problems with this: First, the principles of liberal democracy are inherently contradictory. Liberal democracy believes in free speech, but it also believes in protecting outgroups from harassment. Liberal democracy believes in transparency, but it also believes in autonomous civil society. Liberal democracy believes in the will of the people, but it also believes in rule of law.

If the body politic were enlightened and rational, then there would be no contradiction. But the body politic is neither, and a theory of jurisprudence that only works if the body politic is enlightened and rational fails for that reason. Adding some ad hoc clause for excluding irrational or unenlightened people, through some unexplained mechanism, does not resolve this problem. It merely artificially places it beyond the scope of the theory, in the same way that marginalist economics artificially places financial shocks beyond the scope of its enquiries.

The failure of the overlapping consensus principle in providing such a definition and mechanism follows from the fact that it assumes rational actors to be a sufficiently clear majority to ensure that the consensus excludes the irrational, rather than the rational. But if rational actors always were a clear majority on every issue, there would be no need for liberal democracy to exclude irrational actors - they would be voted down.

The second, and more practical, point is that once you put the option of revising the core institutions of society on the table, the revisions that actually happen will result from the balance of power between the groups who take the field in defence of their interests, not in any sort of rational process.

Again, if the body politic were enlightened and rational, this problem would not arise. But it isn't, so it does.

And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.
I take it this is a "tongue-in-cheek" caricature too :-)

Not at all. Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question, and the patronage networks that exist in same. And modern scholarly efforts being what they are, you will need to remain in both that culture and that patronage network if you wish to remain (regarded as) competent in the field in question.

The scholarly investigation of the political economy provides a very distinct example, because the favoured theories are such utter garbage with precious few redeeming virtues of any kind. This makes it easy to see that theories can be maintained by patronage rather than because they accurately describe empirical reality. But you shouldn't believe for a moment that the social dynamics that make the study of the political economy so incredibly dysfunctional are not equally applicable to chemistry, physics, linguistics and any other scholarly pursuit. In other areas of study, the socially dominant paradigm just happens to be compatible with empirical reality, making it a lot harder to distinguish between theories that are supported out of social convention and theories that are supported because they are correct.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 05:21:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]

If the body politic were enlightened and rational, then there would be no contradiction. But the body politic is neither, and a theory of jurisprudence that only works if the body politic is enlightened and rational fails for that reason.

This is going round in circles. The problem is in the use of "works" - you're arguing it doesn't work in practice, but then Rawls wasn't putting forward a suggestion for actual political reform. He was well aware that the "original position" and the "veil of ignorance" were not practical proposals. What he was trying to do, within political philosophy, was to provide, through a "thought experiment",  a theory which "worked" - as philosophy:


I should not give the impression that Rawls's work (either in the books or in these essays) aims to engage concrete issues in public policy. Though the success of A Theory of Justice encouraged the normative application of philosophical argument to public affairs, that is not what Rawls has put his own energies into. Apart from the discussion of Hiroshima and one other piece on civil disobedience (from 1969), the papers in this volume are quite technical, and the books they have prefigured are works of abstract theory. For some critics, `abstract' is a term of abuse. But the hard work that needed to be done to challenge the consensus of utilitarian and other aggregative measures of social well-being did not consist simply in publicising philosophers' verdicts on bottom-line issues of policy. It was a matter of building philosophical infrastructure - formulating principles and articulating their connection to classic and contemporary theory, on topics like impartiality, rational choice, `the moral point of view', social contract, justification, universalisation and respect for persons.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n14/jeremy-waldron/the-plight-of-the-poor-in-the-midst-of-plenty


Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question, and the patronage networks that exist in same.

That IS a caricature - as with any caricature there is some truth, but it's over-simple and over-general. If true one might expect almost no change in fields, but of course there is, varying from field to field and from period to period. Of course fashion and conformity exist, but in some fields there may be quite fundamental changes and, as in Einstein's case, they may be brought about by a relative outsider. Many fields include quite divergent and changing approaches, sometimes radically so and different ones dominate in different periods, no doubt PARTLY due to fashion and conformity, especially in fields where there aren't empirical tests to help decide. Thus the "social dynamics" involved may be of the same general type in the fields you mention, but they don't play an equal role in all fields. Thus outsiders have more chance to join the debate in areas relating to political policy, than they do in theoretical physics - cf. my first quotation from from Chomsky in the diary.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:43:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake:
Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with.

This is coming close to Ludwik Fleck's ideas of "thought collectives" as discussed in Mary Douglas's How Institutions Think, Syracuse, 1986. Fleck built on Durkheim's sociological epistemology which upgraded the role of society in organizing thought and downgraded the role of the individual. Durkheim maintained that the categories of space, time and causality have a social origin:

They represent the most general relations which exist between things; surpassing all or other ideas in extension, they dominate all the details of our intellectual life. If men do not agree upon these essential ideas at any moment, if they did not have the same conceptions of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together. Thus, society could not abandon the categories to the free choice of the individual without abandoning itself....There is a minimum of logical conformity beyond which it cannot go. For this reason it uses all its authority upon its members to forestall such dissidences... -- Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, 1912

It would seem that Durkheim's insights were at least fifty years ahead of his time, except, possibly, for Fleck and the linguistics work of Benjamin Whorf. Given the highly individualistic self view of much of western society and Fleck's status as an outsider to philosophy Fleck's work The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 1935, was generally ignored until Thomas Kuhn made reference to him in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962.

In his 1935 work Fleck wrote:

Cognition is the most socially-conditioned activity of man, and knowledge is the paramount social creation. The very structure of language presents a compelling philosophy characteristic of that community, and even a single word can represent a complex theory....every epistemological theory is trivial that does not take the sociological dependence of all cognition into account in a fundamental and detailed manner.

The foreword Kuhn wrote to the 1979 translation of The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact reveals that he is not comfortable with the implications of Fleck's work:

...for me these cluster, as they did on first reading, around the notion of a thought collective...I find the notion intrinsically misleading and a source of recurrent tension in Fleck's text. Put briefly, a thought collective  seems to function as an individual mind writ large because many people possess it (or are possessed by it). To explain its apparent ligislative authority, Fleck therefore repeatedly resorts to terms borrowed from discourse about individuals. (-- English Translation U. of Chicago Press, 1979)

Mary Douglas then states the reason, which is the reigning, unquestioned presumption:

In sum, thinking and feeling are for individual persons. However, can a social group think or feel: This is the central, repugnant paradox. Kuhn appreciates in Fleck's book a number of separate insights, but not Fleck's main argument. By rejecting it, Kuhn is sharing discomfort with many lliberals. John Rawls' philosophy of justice is founded on outright individualism; in his view society is not "an organic whole with a life of its own distinct from and superior to that of all its members in their relations with one another" (Rawls, 1971, p. 264)

It is true that there are now several movements of ideas in the direction to which Fleck was urgently pointing. For instance, we can deal more easily with the uncomfortable terms. The translators considered and rejected several alternatives for denkkollectiv sicj as
school of thought" or "cognitive community" Before they adopted the literal translation "thought collective." But now the term "world" has acquired the right sense. Thought world (including distinguishable theology worlds, anthropology worlds, and science worlds) in place of thought collective would be faithful to Fleck's essential idea, while linking it appropriately to Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman, 1978) and to Howard Becker's  Art Worlds (Becker 1982). Fleck's subject was scientific discovery, Becker's is artistic creativity, and Goodman's is cognition in general

That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable, if not easily malleable. It is also the reason which I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate. It also was the foundational premise for my old sig line: If sanity be culturally normative, then, by the norms of this culture, I claim insanity.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable

On the contrary. There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable. If you exit your apartment by the window on the twenty-second floor, you are not going to make it to work that day. This is not a social convention, it is an empirical reality.

On the other hand, there is also a reality of social convention, which is malleable. That we construct buildings with windows from which it is theoretically possible to exit is a social convention - in this day and age, no law of nature prevents us from constructing perfectly habitable buildings with no windows at all.

One challenge for a political reformer is to recognise which of the laws governing his reality are of the former kind, and which are of the latter kind. If he fails to do so, he risks wasting much of his time arguing for the repeal of the laws of nature. The social convention is not a reliable guide to this distinction, because the social convention is apt to mistake strong institutions for laws of nature. The conventional wisdom considers you just as much a crackpot when you inform it that there is no causal relationship between taxes and sovereign outlays as it does when you inform it that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is false.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 05:33:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable.

Agreed. I unintentionally left out the word "perceptual" from my intended phrase "perceptual reality". In the face of creationists and flat earthers I doubt you would deny that people can perceive and have perceived the underlying reality differently. But, to most, perception is reality. It is exactly the response of conventional wisdom to such concepts as taxes and global warming that I am proposing to change -- not the underlying physics.

For those aspects of our reality that are not tied tightly to genuine laws of physics or nature, or which are tied to non-functional or poorly functioning undestandings of these laws the phrase "Nothing is but that thinking makes it so" truly applies and just thinking differently could change things.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 10:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate.

Yes, well, the "individualistic" Rawls did spend his professional life discussing issues to do with a just society, specifically one not based on individualistic considerations (hence the use of the "original position" and "veil of ignorance") and notions like "overlapping consensus".

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:50:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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