More On Doing Versus Doing Well

Partially in response to my post below, author and MIT professor Thomas Levenson has two well-written posts on the central failure of Republican leadership.

And now, to bring this back to the significance of science in public life: Science matters not just for its particular results, but for the habits of mind it trains. There are lots of differences in the detailed methods of the various scientific disciplines — but one common thread is what is often called materialism, but is really as much empiricism as anything else. That is: the ultimate value of an idea is determined by the outcome of its test against observable reality. Facts matter, in other words, and a claim of principle, even a beautiful and long-held one, cannot survive material contradiction.

Compare that with the utter contempt for reality that drips from any semi-candid exchange with a Bush official.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The problem permeates decision-making process from top to bottom. Magical thinking, the idea that nothing could be wrong as long as it is ideologically pure, helped Jim O’Beirne wreck the reconstruction of Iraq. George Deutsch, a young college “grad” (oops – he lied on his resume) with partisan credentials but no scientific background, did a respectable job of getting in the way of space science before his own nincompoopery brought him down.

Legal experience won’t help getting a job at Justice unless you have the right Party credentials, and even then the scale tips steeply towards ideological purity (see Rachel Paulouse, Monica Goodling). It isn’t hard to draw a line between the hemorrhage of career talent under Gonzales and the odd phenomenon the DoJ keeps losing terrorism cases. The government can’t get its security practices ratified by a federal court, it can’t put away terrorists and the “briefs” that leading thinkers like Addison and Yoo use to found government policy would lose a middle school debate match.

I could go on. FEMA. But you’ve put up with enough, and by now the point ought to be abundantly clear. If you won’t trust your roof to a repair service that leaves a crappy job half done then you shouldn’t trust Republicans to run the country.

I’d like to say that a candidate exists who can break the pattern, but the base doesn’t seem ready for that yet. Instead we have tired hacks competing to sell us four more years of Cheney/Bush, and a fundie whose magical thinking problems might be the worst of the lot (see Levenson’s posts above). The only candidate who legitimately promises a new approach, Ron Paul, has money but no detectable support among actual primary voters. If magical thinking is a disease then the GOP plainly needs a long recovery in clean wilderness air. If even that doesn’t help, well, not all patients can be saved.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit

38 replies
  1. 1

    There is a lot of happy talk in the media now about how “the surge is working” and “we are winning in Iraq”.
    I suspect this PR campaign is part of the “surge strategy”.
    This is one more example of creating your own reality.

  2. 2
    myiq2xu says:

    Well, it’s not an exclusively GOP problem.

    The adoring followers of one Democratic frontrunner think everyone should vote for him because of his magical persuasive powers.

    Ironically, he is seen as the one Dem candidate that appeals to conservatives.

  3. 3
    myiq2xu says:

    There is a lot of happy talk in the media now about how “the surge is working” and “we are winning in Iraq”.
    I suspect this PR campaign is part of the “surge strategy”.
    This is one more example of creating your own reality.

    Keep clapping! We must save Tinker Bell the “Surge!”

  4. 4

    Oh come Tim, Paul is one of the biggest magical thinkers in either ticket. Libertarianism doesn’t just offend people because of its anti-imperialism. Run through the planks and follow them to their logical conclusion rather than their magical ideological preset conclusions.

  5. 5

    The only candidate who legitimately promises a new approach, Ron Paul, has money but no detectable support among actual primary voters.

    Tim? I had to scan back up and make sure I wasn’t reading Michael when I read this part. Sure–Paul offers a new approach, but that’s like saying that when one group is driving a car over a cliff, the new approach is to set the car on fire.

  6. 6
    Jake says:

    The Kreate UR pwN Rllty quote is proof that another requirement for membership in Club Bush is a serious mental disorder or drug habit.

    I suspect the security detail for these whackjobs have instruction to keep them away from windows in high rise buildings. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a senior official who decides he’s immune to the laws of gravity.

  7. 7
    magisterludi says:

    Shorter Levenson- The Reagan mythology just got pantsed. High time.

  8. 8
    D. Mason says:

    Sure—Paul offers a new approach, but that’s like saying that when one group is driving a car over a cliff, the new approach is to set the car on fire.

    Assuming your analogy is accurate and complete, isn’t being in a car set aflame preferable to one being driven off a cliff? I mean look, when you crash at the bottom of the cliff the whole thing will just explode anyway. Also, the interim between ignition and full conflagration would surely give some of us time to escape.

    I’m just sayin.

  9. 9
    Jake says:

    The only candidate who legitimately promises a new approach, Ron Paul, has money but no detectable support among actual primary voters.

    New? New is it? What is so special about “New”? We’ve seen “new” approaches to the Bill of Rights and that hasn’t worked out too well. Mandatory beet enemas for citizens over the age of 25 would be a new approach that doesn’t mean we should vote for the schmuck who makes them a platform of his campaign.

    Sheesh, kids today.

  10. 10
    jcricket says:

    Thanks for posting this Tim, I agree completely.

    While the elected Democrats may themselves also be victims of magical thinking, the anti-scientific-method thinking doesn’t infiltrate who they appoint to various non-partisan positions throughout the government. This is why Democrat-run government works, and when it doesn’t, can be fixed.

    Shunning the whole notion of empiricism means that Republican-run government, by its nature, can only be right in a “stopped clock is right twice a day” kind of way.

    Libertarianism is almost always wrong for similar reasons – they posit great grand-unifying theories (really hypotheses) and then fail to adjust when real life shows them as wrong. Although unlike the “reality creating” Republicans, Libertarians just play the never-ending game of “shift the goalposts” (usually culminates in “real libertarianism hasn’t been tried”).

  11. 11
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    Magical thinking, the idea that nothing could be wrong as long as it is ideologically pure, helped Jim O’Beirne wreck the reconstruction of Iraq. George Deutsch, a young college “grad” (oops – he lied on his resume) with partisan credentials but no scientific background, did a respectable job of getting in the way of space science before his own nincompoopery brought him down.

    This is *not* restricted to right-wing issues.

  12. 12
    Jim says:

    Apparently Tim didn’t get the message that today is trash Obama day here at Balloon Juice. How dare he inject a substantive discussion on issues.

  13. 13
    D. Mason says:

    BTW comparing libertarianism to the neo-con magical thinking is a big unfair. Libertarians have theories that range from “could reasonably work on a small scale” to “have reasonably worked on a medium scale”. Arguing that they could work for a nation the size of the United States seems silly and that’s why they come across as being guilty of magical thinking.

    The neo-cons take the adage about repeating something until it becomes true to an absurd level. They go about governing as if reality is shaped around their statement of it. And not in an especially clever way I might add, though they certainly fooled a lot of people.

    At best you can fairly say they’re both different flavors of magical thinking, one of which is quite bitter.

  14. 14
    myiq2xu says:

    Apparently Tim didn’t get the message that today is trash Obama day here at Balloon Juice. How dare he inject a substantive discussion on issues.

    Tim wanted to provide a forum for people not interested in discussing unity ponies

  15. 15
    crw says:

    Echo that Paul is just as guilty of magical thinking as other Republicans. After all, he subscribes to the Austrian School of economics – a school that rejects mathematical modeling and empirical testing of economic models in favor of logical consistency. That puts him farther off the right deep end than even Milton Friedman, who at least recognized occasionally there’s a case for government intervention in economic affairs.

  16. 16
    gypsy howell says:

    You’re overlooking the real possibility that the goal of Republicanism is to loot the Treasury for the benefit of your rich cronies. By that standard, Republicanism has been remarkably successful.

    And Ron Paul? Please. Let’s not give credence to a bunch of perpetually-adolescent Ayn Randist retards who think they’re stalwart individualists while they’re living rent-free in Mom’s basement.

  17. 17
    craigie says:

    I hope that President Obama will help us transcend the GOP by banning it. In fact, maybe we ought to take off, and nuke it from space. It’s the only way to be sure.

  18. 18
    AnotherBruce says:

    I think that you’re leaving out a key element of all this. It’s not just Republicanism that’s the problem, it’s conservatism. Conservatism has become a bankrupt (literally and figuratively) philosophy as rigid as communism used to be. The belief is that government is always wrong, the “free market” will take care of it. Taxes are always bad. The wealthy class is noble, the poor are corrupt. The United States is always right, we can’t possibly learn anything from other nations. Global warming is a myth.

    You can argue, say the merits of national health care until you’re blue in the face. You can present facts and logic all day long. But conservatives have bought into a world view that contradicts every aspect of what they view as liberalism. That is to say, they treat liberals as well as liberalism as the enemy. Facts and practicality don’t matter here, what matters is winning, winning the arguments by shouting, and winning elections by any means possible. I can see an end to this some day, but only a very bad end. Conservatives are not reasonable people. They’re insane and they’re only going to get crazier, win or lose, after the election season is over.

  19. 19
    FS says:

    When the administration states that “we create our own reality” are they talking about:
    a. the multiple-universes interpretation of quantum mechanics,
    b. the multiple-universes interpretation of string theory,
    c. the belief that George Bush is God,
    or
    d. this dope is really great, man.

  20. 20
    grumpy realist says:

    The link between Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell means he’s quite willing to paddle around in some awfully mucky waters:

    http://rightwatch.tblog.com/

    Libertarians better clean house.

  21. 21
    Rudi says:

    Seems like a interesting blog – Inverse Square Blob.

  22. 22
    JGabriel says:

    Tim F.:

    The only candidate who legitimately promises a new approach, Ron Paul, has money but no detectable support among actual primary voters.

    … And far too many uncomfortable ties to white supremacists, which is yet another kind of magical thinking.

  23. 23
    grumpy realist says:

    I”m surprised that there hasn’t been more push-back from the moderate Republicans against this type of thinking–after all, if you’re a small business owner and you tell yourself magic thinking, you’re likely to go bankrupt very soon. With economics, the link between “tell yourself erroneous things” and “get hurt” holds as well, although not as quickly as in the rapid feedback one gets in science.

    Apocryphal story I was told by a friend at MIT: back in the 1950s the USSR was very much involved with Revealed Truth. At one point when dealing with the critical mass of uranium and designing a nuclear waste dump, they came up with a number according to the “accepted” method. The scientists went: “NOOOO!” and were told sternly:”Nonsense! This is Revealed Truth, as revealed in the writings of Marx and Lenin!”

    ….shortly afterwards a part of the Urals went radioactive….

    …and the Soviets decided that nuclear physics would be *exempt* from the doctrine of Revealed Truth.

  24. 24

    There’s a lot of magical thinking these days. I stumbled across a place where people were wondering how great things would be if all the illegal aliens just up and left America. Sort of like how Germany would have been swell if the Jews disappeared.

    If everyone had wings there would never be traffic jams on the roads.

  25. 25
    jeff says:

    Ron Paul is completetely different in that he’s the only candidate who proposes to destroy America and has published fascist race-hate magazines for years. That’s different, all right.

  26. 26
    Jinchi says:

    Ron Paul, has money but no detectable support among actual primary voters

    Does anyone know whether Paul has actually spent any of that money?

  27. 27
    crw says:

    Well, he spent some of it on this little doozy stirring up the hate of brown people. Because, y’know, preventing young people from seeing America for themselves by denying them a student visa if they come from a “terrorist nation” (whatever the fuck that is) is such a wonderful, reality based idea.

  28. 28
    Beej says:

    AnotherBruce,

    Your analysis of the conservative “movement” is correct, but you need to take it farther. All this has been taught and re-taught through talk radio, repitition by every conservative candidate for any office at all, Faux Noise, blogs, and magazines. They preach a remarkably consistent, remarkably easy to assimilate message: “Taxes are bad. Government is bad. The free market solves all, etc.” Voters buy this claptrap because it is easy to understand, readily available, it doesn’t require them to think, and it is comforting. Don’t underestimate the appeal of that last factor. Comfort, for many people, consists of having all the answers. Poof! Magical thinking.

  29. 29
    Wilfred says:

    It isn’t hard to draw a line between the hemorrhage of career talent under Gonzales and the odd phenomenon the DoJ keeps losing terrorism cases.

    Maybe the accused were innocent, no? Seems you’ve got some ideological purity issues of your own to suss out, Tim

  30. 30
    maxbaer (not the original) says:

    If magical thinking is a disease then the GOP plainly needs a long recovery in clean wilderness air. If even that doesn’t help, well, not all patients can be saved.

    Yes, euthanasia might be the best course. And Delay and Frist aren’t around to introduce bogus legislation to save it. And besides, Bush is busy taking victory laps in the Middle East.

  31. 31
    Tim F. says:

    Maybe the accused were innocent, no?

    If the accused were innocent then a shitty lawyer brought them to trial. My point remains.

  32. 32
    ChristieS says:

    Tim? I had to scan back up and make sure I wasn’t reading Michael when I read this part. Sure—Paul offers a new approach, but that’s like saying that when one group is driving a car over a cliff, the new approach is to set the car on fire.

    ROFLMAO…POTD!

  33. 33
    Gus says:

    I remember well reading the create our own reality quote when it came out, and I see it referenced all the time, but I hadn’t read it in its entirety for a couple years. God, the arrogance of that statement is breathtaking. Thank god those fuckers got taken down a peg.

  34. 34
    mostest says:

    craigie Says:

    I hope that President Obama will help us transcend the GOP by banning it. In fact, maybe we ought to take off, and nuke it from space. It’s the only way to be sure.

    I love that movie!

  35. 35
    Thursday says:

    As part of “creating the reality”, redefining the word “fascism” in a 400+ book counts, yes?

  36. 36
    Nancy Irving says:

    In what sense is Paul “legitimate,” Tim?

  37. 37

    […] The absolutist kneejerk ideology that wrecked every aspect of Iraq is just part of Republican disease. It’s the basic reason why thinking conservatives like this blog’s proprietor won’t think of voting for even seemingly reasonable Republicans like John McCain. One “reasonable” guy won’t change the fact that the party is still deeply ill. Maybe an old-fashioned bleeding plus some fresh wilderness air will bring the patient back. Maybe even that won’t clean out DeLay corrupticons, Malkinite authoritarians and the slobbering neocon torture fetishists and it’s time to start shopping around for hospice care. Either it’s gratifying to see large majorities recognizing that political power is no more in the patient’s best interest than America’s. […]

  38. 38

    […] Same old story, one small difference. Instead of screwing the country the Republicans fucked themselves this time. Snort. If the GOP was a roofing contractor nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near them. […]

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Same old story, one small difference. Instead of screwing the country the Republicans fucked themselves this time. Snort. If the GOP was a roofing contractor nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near them. […]

  2. […] The absolutist kneejerk ideology that wrecked every aspect of Iraq is just part of Republican disease. It’s the basic reason why thinking conservatives like this blog’s proprietor won’t think of voting for even seemingly reasonable Republicans like John McCain. One “reasonable” guy won’t change the fact that the party is still deeply ill. Maybe an old-fashioned bleeding plus some fresh wilderness air will bring the patient back. Maybe even that won’t clean out DeLay corrupticons, Malkinite authoritarians and the slobbering neocon torture fetishists and it’s time to start shopping around for hospice care. Either it’s gratifying to see large majorities recognizing that political power is no more in the patient’s best interest than America’s. […]

Comments are closed.