Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Moron

OK, OK, let's get the introductory stuff out of the way:  The original quote was attributed to Archilochus:  "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."  Isaiah Berlin used the aphorism to write a really really famous essay on Tolstoy's theory of history.  Very, very deep, I'm sure.

Haven't read it.

But I like the nice, shallow, viral form of the meme, which classifies people (for our purposes we'll define "people" as "people who like to think about policy and politics") into those that have an agile, eclectic method of thinking, considering each topic or issue for itself (foxes), and those that attempt to make sense of things by synthesizing all topics/issues into a form that can be made sense of via one overarching organizing principle (hedgehogs).

I'm a hedgehog.

The rap on hedgehogs is that they have a tendency to warp the facts to fit their hedgehogesque principle.  Sort of a variation on, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  A fair criticism.  I try to avoid it through a sort of meta-hedgehogism:  Maybe I don't know what the underlying organizing principle is, so if I run across facts that don't make sense in its context, then maybe I need to re-examine my principle du jour.

Now, my best guess at the organizing principle so far is that the beauty of the universe is a result from a deep, pervading tendency for stuff of all types to self-organize as it attempts to interact with, and ultimately acquire, resources.  This is what accounts for the ratio of hydrogen to helium in the universe, and the formation of stars and planetary systems, and the origin and evolution of life, and human societies and economies.  It's what makes the world just so goddamn beautiful.

Dragging this into its political/economic form, I hold as an article of faith that lots of independent agents acting almost randomly will paradoxically produce goods and services vastly more efficiently than a few agents thinking deep thoughts and then telling everybody else what to do and how to organize it so it'll be really nifty.

I really, really, really like free markets.

Which brings me to the Republicans. 

When you're a hedgehog libertarian (are there any non-hedgehog libertarians?) and you're faced with a choice between a party that believes in the free market and one filled with policy wonks that "want to get things done", the choice is pretty obvious.  You'll forgive your party of choice its religious oddities.  You'll wish that it understood that the same free market they so extol works with the same underlying mechanism as the evolution that think is just a theory that hasn't been proven.  You'll reluctantly acknowledge that lots of folks use "the free market" as a convenient stalking horse for their own brand of rent-seeking.  You'll try to ignore the fact that some of your fellow travelers comprise a large group that can perhaps best be described as "The Toothless."  And you'll try not to alienate the guys on the other side because a lot of them are very clever and they're fun to sit next to at dinner parties.

You'll do all of these things and you'll vote for a Republican because it slightly heightens the probability that the market will be a little bit freer, which gives all of those millions of agents out there acting almost randomly a bit more chance to generate something of startling value and/or extraordinary beauty.

But they're making it so hard this year.

I'm not sure that Mitt Romney can pass a Turing Test, but he will undoubtedly lean toward a freer market--a freer everything--than Barack Obama will.  Yes, he comes equipped with legions of pilot fish that will wish to loot and plunder, and we'll have to watch them pretty closely to make sure they don't leave with the good silverware.  But the guy seems to be able to manage anything, except perhaps his own presidential campaign.

But...  contraception?  Really?  Sure, sure, religious freedom, less coercion by the feds, yup, all good.  So why can't you pivot and talk about the real issues?  Are you all public relations idiots?  How hard is it to yell "freedom!" over and over at the top of your lungs?  And why are there so many Republicans attracted to the shiny objects?

Then you have a Republican presidential candidate who decides to assail his main competitor--in public, mind you--by denigrating his--wait, let me get the quote right: " background of buying and selling companies at the investment firm Bain Capital, saying Sunday afternoon that the work was comparable to 'rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.'"  Is this man out of his mind?  Does he want a free market, or does he just want to make sure that if he can't win, nobody else can either?

Or, how 'bout the other Republican presidential candidate, who is heavily into establishing sharp contrasts?  So he decides to say--again, this is out loud, in public--that we don't want "...someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have..."

Morons.  Not foxes.  Not hedgehogs.  Morons.

So the question is, do you take a gamble on the foxes, understanding that foxiness and self organization are not the best of friends, or do you stick with the morons, and hope that they really understand the One Big Thing that they know?

I'm still holding out for the One Big Thing, but I can see the tipping point from where I stand.

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