Analysis and Thinking About Unpleasant Things

Ian Welsh, in “The bloody obviousness of most good predictions“, describes how many people simply can’t bring themselves to state the obvious:

The Prof, a wonderful teacher who went by Dr. Anderson, and to whose door I once tacked a list of 15 intellectual disagreements, asked the class a simple question.
“How many of you treat men and women exactly the same? Put up your hands if you do.”
Everyone’s hands went up. Everyone except mine, that is.
She then asked how many people didn’t treat men and women the same.
I put up my hand.
I spent the next 15 minutes being villified by my classmates, called sexist and even a homophobe (I’ve never figured out how we got to homophobia.) I was livid, and by the end of it incredulous.
After the class I talked to her. First I asked if she believed that all my classmates treated men and women the same. She scoffed at the idea.

More about this in a bit, but I want to bring up something Steve Benen wrote about Republican obstructionism (italics mine):

It’s unpleasant to think about, and I really hope it’s not true, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy. After all, these same Republicans have supported deficit-financed tax-extenders before — there’s no credible reason to change course now. On the contrary, with the economy struggling to break through, the need for this package is more obvious, not less, if your goal is to actually improve economic conditions.

“Time for a discussion”? On the basis of their actions to date, how could you come to any other conclusion than an intentional attempt to sabotage the economy? Benen himself lays out yet another piece of evidence. Seriously, conservative supply-sider Bruce Bartlett and everyone to his left–which includes the entire Coalition of the Sane–argues that additional stimulus is needed and that unemployment benefits should be extended because they’re one of the best ways to stimulate the economy (this is courtesy of Mark Zandi, John McCain’s campaign economist). Yet Republicans have consistently opposed these measures.
“Time for a discussion”? How about drawing the obvious conclusion already? To the extent I’ve been successful in predicting things (like the states’ dire need for funding), it’s because I haven’t engaged in projection of what I would like to have happen (or, more accurately, I come down off the crazy branch pretty quickly, because I’m a cold-hearted bastard).
Back to Welsh:

And the smarter someone is the easier it is to convince themselves of whatever they want to believe. Being really smart means always being able to come up with a reason why you’re right….
Most of my predictions are pretty close to “virtually everyone comes to regret trying to occupy Afghanistan” or “if Obama fucks up the economy and pisses off the base, and he’s going to do both because he just fucked up the stimulus on both ideological and practical axes, Democrats won’t do well in 2010″. And most of my analysis is of the order of “people treat men and women differently.”
The sad thing is, apparently the vast majority of pundits can’t figure out either of these things. Or if they can, they’re too compromised, and too chicken-hearted, to dare say them.
Analysis isn’t complicated. It’s not even hard.
Well, it’s not hard as long as you don’t give a fuck if, like every mainstream pundit who opposed the Iraq war due to either realizing there were no WMD or because they knew it would turn into a clusterfuck, you’re ok with losing your job or being demoted, while those who get it wrong are promoted and rewarded.

While some things are technically complex, Welsh is generally right. I think what Welsh misses though, is that there really isn’t an immediate feedback between stupid analysis and bad outcomes (although even that’s no guarantee). People can hold delusional ideas because the costs of doing so are either minimal or so distant and obscured from the outcome. It’s only when confronted with the results of faulty analysis do some people reconsider their conclusions.
On a related note, this, perhaps, is the saving grace of science. In my experience, scientists are just as likely to make the ‘willful ignorance’ mistake, but there is a mechanism to confront these mistakes with data.
Needless to say, this is very different than political punditry, where there seems to be no accountability at all.

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3 Responses to Analysis and Thinking About Unpleasant Things

  1. This should be somewhere in the category: Will, duh.
    It’s not hard to remember a year ago when the Republiscum leader, Rush, was openly calling for Obama to fail and would use just about any measure to try and ensure that outcome. Do they expect that with a big win in November, they can turn things around? Short-term gains are the only focus.
    As for treating men and women equally: Ask the guys if they would use the women’s restroom if there were no repercussions? There’s a lot of difference about respecting the privacy of the same gender.

  2. yogi-one says:

    Ok, I got this one. I’m a part-time musician. Here’s the truth about getting gigs from male club-owners: if I bring the hot chick singer we get the gig. If I don’t it becomes much more iffy. I can go in there with a great press kit, clean professional recordings, and still have a sales job ahead of me.
    If I go in with the girl, it doesn’t matter. She can say stuff like “we’re just part-time, and we don’t really have any recordings yet, we just want to play and have fun in your bar.” Voila – gig in the can!
    Would I get the same gig saying those things to a club owner? Are you kidding? So that’s the reality about the guys and gals thing.
    I think something obvious was overlooked however, about whether the Republicans are deliberately trying to destroy the economy:
    No they aren’t. They are deliberately trying to destroy Obama. IF they can make the economy fail, if they can make Afghanistan fail, if they can make health-care fail, then they can blame it all on Obama because he happens to be the sitting President. That’s it, and it is obvious, and not a hard analysis to make.
    The actual failures they don’t care about. Their base, the top 1% that finances national level campaigns, won’t be affected if everyone else loses their asses in the market, gets sick and dies. Or if we fail in Afghanistan (hell, none of them will ever have to set foot in the place).
    And if it all does fail, they can campaign merely on the Democrats’ failures, the same way that the Dems campaigned on the GOP failures in ’08.
    Politics isn’t a matter of fixing anything – at all. It’s a matter of sticking the worst possible scenarios on the other party’s plate.
    OK, you can all hate me now.

  3. Joe Shelby says:

    @yogi-one: I don’t hate you, ’cause you’re absolutely right. In particular, this is reflective of the lessons of both the Reagan and Clinton years. Each came in on a recession, each didn’t have the recession resolved (like it’s that easy) by the first mid-terms and so their party lost footing in the House. Each recession was resolved by the time of the reelection campaign, and so each was re-elected, along with the House that stood against them, each side taking credit for solving the recession.
    At this point, I seriously wonder if the Republicans, having learned that lesson, are trying to sabotage the economy so much that it WON’T have recovered by 2012 just to make sure Obama is out.
    The oil spill is the great unpredicted variable in all that, of course. On the one hand, it is a further destabilizer on the economy and government expenditure, and if it isn’t fixed it continues to make Obama look bad. On the other hand, it also makes Big Oil (and their Republican supporters) look bad and cuts into public opinion on the “drill baby drill” attitude.

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