Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tired Of Magic Bullets

There are people who believe if we can only secure property rights fin troubled countries, all will eventually come 'round. We have certainly seen that since the evaporation of the Iron Curtain, the rule of law, at minimum, must be added to property rights. I wonder if there is much guarantee that we won't find some third thing that needs to be put in place.

There are people who believe that if America can just "get back" to God, then all will eventually come 'round. Perhaps so, because this getting back seems rather vague, or at least, varies from person to person. They all believe the scriptures guarantee this, but I am unpersuaded by their proofs. Further, I have already seen a frightfully sincere and humble church slowly sink under the waves. If the entire American citizenry has to exceed that standard to guarantee God's earthly blessing on the nation, we may as well say that the thing will never occur.

If we can take over/back the cultural institutions...if we can elect the right people...if we weren't so obsessed with stuff...if we all ate more Scottish black bread...

We gravitate to simple, linear solutions because it gives us the sense that we can do something, that events are not completely out of our control.
"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule." J.R.R. Tolkien


Texan99 said...

That's how I look at it. Do the work God puts in front of you. Don't worry about extending your perfect system to the world on the point of a sword.

Erin said...

Interesting thoughts. And much more insightful than the alternate interpretation of the title: griping about mini blenders.

jaed said...

(snickering at the mini blenders)

There are magic bullets and there are generally helpful (if simple) principles of action. I draw a distinction:

- "If we successfully complete X, then forevermore everything will be butterflies and unicorns." This is a trap in two ways: it's seldom as easy as one X to do, and doing X and then going back to sleep will not end well.

- "When in doubt, doing something in X direction will improve things." Very different (as you can see), and in both ways. I think acknowledging the ongoing nature of the task is even more important than acknowledging the necessary incompleteness of a single simple action.

Also, I'm not sure your specific example works. "Secure property rights" is not a simple thing; among other things, it presupposes the rule of law, the very "extra thing" you mention. Secure property rights presuppose some other things as well (absence of war, the ability to tell the governance apart from an armed gang, a certain stability). If someone is fool enough to think that writing down deeds on a piece of paper is the same as securing property rights, they're not likely to do much good, but there are far worse approaches to social justice than asking yourself at each step, "Does this measure help secure property rights for all?"

Assistant Village Idiot said...

jaed, that is an excellent reframe, that the simple statements must necessarily include many other things to be true, and thus are reasonable. A nation "getting back to God," for example, though it is often used as an oversimplification, and is somewhat ambiguous, nonetheless includes enough behind it that would have to occur for people to even suggest that it is happening that it has value.

Sure, these are bumperstickers. But so long as they are recognised as such, have some value.

Ymar said...

Life before death, journey before destination, strength before weakness.