So in my last post, I tried to offer up a generalized version of the cockamamie narrative-making machinery of my mind – basically, I think of people trying to advance the interests of the “good guys” whilst minimizing those the “bad guys.” Whatever that means.

It occurred to me later that any reader would almost have to conclude that I’ve got a screw lose – almost nobody actually thinks in terms of “good guys and bad guys.” Russ Roberts (to return to the example I used) doesn’t think Keynesians are bad people – or, rather, he wouldn’t say that anyways.  He just claims to have a disagreement with Keynesian economics.

The trouble for me is that I’ve heard the “no, no – everyone’s had it wrong all along – but I’ve got the answer…” argument too many goddamn times. If Keynes was really wrong, he would have been disproved, and that would be that. But that’s just not how it went down. Most of the time, a clear, concise presentation of evidence and analysis doesn’t do shit for people, if they even care in the first place.

For example, I feel quite sure that large-scale, sustained public investment in mass transportation systems in North America and around the world would substantially improve the lives of a broad majority of people while reducing waste and pollution. But even if I had a report showing conclusions like that it wouldn’t matter, because some other organization would surely put out a competing report full of counter claims. The answer to the societal question of “what should we do?” almost always comes back to: nothing.

A good deal of the time, it seems to me, the “bad guys” are whoever has come along to propose doing something – or, worse still, have succeeded in accomplishing something, and thereby disrupting some established equilibrium.

There’s an old phrase, “don’t get mad. Get even.” A lot of the time, I think this is what US politics is about. Everyone is out there trying to defend their particular equilibrium from whatever perceived threat. It occurred to me once, years ago, that when people talk about change, they almost always mean someone else. People want some kind of stable world with a carefully constrained set of choices. And a lot of the time this runs into a problem when undesirable things happen, like death. I often worry that what people mean by “health care” is “a magic solution to death.” Doctors are supposed to be bio-engineers who fix whatever problem might arise with the body. If a patient dies, the doctor has failed. But everybody dies. Within the US healthcare system, one of the major problems (I think) is that there are not infinite resources to commit to finding solutions to the problem of death, diesease, discomfort, and so on. People get angry because insurance companies say “no” to things – but ultimately, somebody has to make those calls. And its easy to say “Aha! If only the doctor had had more resources, whoever it is would have lived!”

Within the context of political debates in the US, this often takes the form of the need for “balance.” Sometimes, it’s a “both sides” argument. But what those sorts of things come down to is that its impossible to say anything actionable. And, for me, what this always comes back to is the sense that progress is oppression. What that means for me is that 1) the primary challenge in doing anything is not the doing of the thing, but rather overcoming the inertia opposed to it; and 2) within the idea of any event is it’s negativity, it’s non-existance.


Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at breslinfarms.com

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