no third solution

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There is No “Collective Wisdom”

June 22nd, 2007

At the Brussels Journal yesterday, George Handlery discusses the Iranian nuclear question. What he has to say, particularly early-on in his essay, is a great analogy of democracy as the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes:

We like to assume as we idealize democracy that common sense and officially accepted wisdom interrelate. Alas, this relationship can frequently be a negative one. What is generally accepted can and will often make no sense…

What is meant here by accepted wisdom? It is the gamut of assumptions made into commands by a largely self-appointed élite – celebrities, professors, reporters and the “beautiful people” – self-authorized to think in our behalf. In the debate about public affairs, common sense equals the child’s cry, “The emperor has no clothes”. In the fable, accepted wisdom is represented by the crowd that saw what it saw but still pretended to believe what it was told.

As if he were channeling Mill, who cautions that, “The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of ‘the deep slumber of a decided opinion’” Handlery makes a case for there being too much self-reinforcing “accepted wisdom,” and not enough “common sense,” and on this issue I wholeheartedly agree. Accepting the “collective wisdom” is a denial of one’s fallibility. Would that there were far less of that brand of accepted wisdom. It’s worth a read, although I’m unfortunately rather convinced that Handlery was drunk by the time he concluded it, because a few sentences are grammatical nightmares. Either that, or he ran it back-and-forth through babelfish.

So what about Iran? According to Handlery, accepted wisdom perverts Pascal’s wager; suggesting that nothing can be done, and even if it could, it wouldn’t be enough. On the contrary, common sense tells us: “Don’t do nothing!” – or to be grammatically correct, “Do something.”
I don’t know what to do, but it wouldn’t involve invasion.

Now, it’s imperative to apply the common sense/accepted wisdom test to pretty much everything you hear from any so-called authority: if you’re going to challenge the conclusion, you need to examine the premises, too. I’d suggest starting with the notion that “democracy” is something to be idealized in the first place, because common sense will prove to you that it is not – but I digress. Handlery limits this test to the policy recommendations of self-styled authorities and petty-dictators. I’d include “politicians” in that mix – collectively these people are often inventing or revealing the very problems they aim to resolve in the first place! How do we even know the problem is real? If they don’t know how to solve the problem, isn’t it possible that it’s not been properly diagnosed to begin with? And then what?

It’s hard to believe anything about international relations or foreign policy these days, so here’s a wager of my own: even if Iran isn’t a threat, she’d be portrayed as one anyways.

Because it’s not about destroying Iran, or ending despotism, or seeding democracy in backwards countries – it’s about control.




no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics