Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Insanely Powerful Intellect of Paul Krugman

Almost no time this morning...

Speaking of infinite variables, complex systems, nonlinear behavior, and human freedom, there is a relevant essay by Isaiah Berlin called The Concept of Scientific History. I haven't actually finished it, but he begins with a discussion of past attempts to treat history as a natural science, an enterprise which can succeed neither in practice nor in principle. Why is that?

Well, history deals with what we call "facts," but there are no historical laws from which these facts can be deduced, nor any strict inductive method for putting them together.

It seems that imagination is required at both ends, both in identifying and in synthesizing the historical facts into "history." But we all know that imagination easily veers into fantasy, or hordes of tenured revisionists would be out of business.

It is as if there is a kind of rupture in epistemology above physics and biology. Physics, of course, is the paradigmatic science, in that it advances not just by observation but by deductions which extend the reach of its powerful and coherent system. The whole existentialada is governed by a few laws with staggering implications.

But no one can do this with history except for Marxists and other progressives. Paul Krugman, for example, has it all figured out. As with physics, he has a powerful logico-deductive system that provides immediate answers to any historo-political question. In fact, Krugman's system is insanely powerful.

For example, why do conservatives believe what they believe? Because they -- we -- are racist. Political science is so easy, even a Nobel laureate can do it!

Krugman begins with the principle of racism, from which "facts" on the ground are then deduced. Unlike a sane person, he does not begin with the facts, i.e., with any actual racist. Indeed, he even says "there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist," but that doesn't matter. There was also no evidence of, say, the theory of relativity. Rather, it was initially deduced and only observed some two decades later.

Krugman implies that Charles Murray is a racist for simply writing of the well documented differences in IQ among different racial groups. If Murray is a racist, then so too is his own employer (two newspapers in one!). Which, in all fairness -- the leftist kind -- makes Krugman a vile racist as well. Hey, he makes the rules.

Krugman acknowledges that he is working from deduction in claiming that "race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics."

Or in other words, any time Krugman is confronted with an idea he doesn't understand, he submits it to his logico-deductive racial system, which promptly and dispassionately announces "Mystery solved." Simple as. Like Chris Matthews, minus the spittle.

By the way, it is not Krugman who is being simplistic and reductionist. Rather, it is those of us with different ideas. His system assures him that people with different policy preferences only hold them because racism is "all that [they've] got." We are intellectually and spiritually impoverished, not Krugman.

History is complex and change is hard. Is it any wonder that progressives such as Krugman cling so bitterly to simplicity, stasis, and slander? That's pretty much all they've got.

****

UPDATE:

Kind of like Obama, who constantly confuses "the ideas in his head with reality. It is not clear if he knows the difference." True, but at least he's in good company with fellow Nobelists such as Krugman, Carter, Arafat, and Gore.

Nevertheless, "ultimately, fantasy must yield to reality, falsehood to truth, superstition to science" (the Derb).

13 Comments:

Blogger Van Harvey said...

Heh, awesome title. On to the post....

3/19/2014 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"It seems that imagination is required at both ends, both in identifying and in synthesizing the historical facts into "history." "

Which unfortunately deals with two things that most terrify leftists (and, interestingly, fundamentalists too) - Free Will, capital 'R' Reason, and actual Imagination (as opposed to simple Shock and Ah!). And Krugman deals with that, as they all do, by imposing his deterministic, input-this->output-that view of human nudgure.

How do you understand human beings? By what's in their environment, of course.

How do you change human beings behavior? By altering what's in their environment, of course.

I's so easy, any psychopath can do it! And with the obligatory amount of condescension too - 'What, you don't understand 1+1=2 (except in economics)?! You must be anti-science!'

It's embarrassing the amount of problems they're able to cause... it's like lions being pinned by pillbugs.

3/19/2014 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or in other words, any time Krugman is confronted with an idea he doesn't understand, he submits it to his logico-deductive racial system, which promptly and dispassionately announces "Mystery solved."

When all you have is a race card to identify your ideological enemies, anyone who disagrees with you must therefore be a racist...

3/19/2014 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Well, history deals with what we call "facts," but there are no historical laws from which these facts can be deduced, nor any strict inductive method for putting them together.

Maybe it's just the relative lack of caffeine today, but I keep stumbling over this concept. Is it possible to dumb it down?

3/19/2014 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'd like to finish the article before I opine. My preluminary opinion is that Everything is a fact. But identifying a "historical fact" requires an irreducible act of judgment. No system can do it for you, nor is there any pre-existing paradigm one can plug the facts into, as in, say, natural selection vis-a-vis biological facts

3/19/2014 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Let's say you have a historical theory that no real man wears a wig. From this you deduce that the Founders didn't wear wigs.

Which isn't dissimilar to the Whig theory of history, which interprets historical facts in light of a theory of stages. This causes some facts to be ignored or explained away, others to be crammed into the theory.

3/19/2014 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Okay - if I'm getting it, then the people who study history through the lens of feminist studies or queer studies would fall into this category, as they hypothesize for instance that Lincoln (or any other significant political figure) was actually gay, or that every historical civilization was built on the oppression of women.

3/19/2014 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Exactly. It's called "historicism."

3/19/2014 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I guess my issue is that I don't necessarily agree that there aren't any laws from which history - and thus, in extremely broad strokes, the future - may be deduced. In hindsight, it's pretty clear how big civilizations tend to fall - and thus obvious to anyone paying attention that our own is perilously close to doing the same.

Or more recently, it was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention how things would go for the US with an Obama presidency. And it's not hard to see that a weak America has destabilized the world to such a degree that our former enemies, whom we had naively believed to be as in love with the idea of peace as we tend to be, are preparing to unleash a great deal of mayhem, which we are unlikely to be able to stop until the next presidential election - and even then, unless we are attacked on our own soil, it's very questionable.

3/19/2014 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I would say that even if there is a more or less uniform pattern of civilizational decline, this would not mean there is a law governing it, analogous to, say, the law of gravity.

Likewise, to predict that Obama's presidency would be a failure is not to say that a historical law necessitated it; rather, mostly just laws of economics and constants of human nature such as weakness being provocative to nogoodniks.

3/19/2014 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Julie said "I guess my issue is that I don't necessarily agree that there aren't any laws from which history - and thus, in extremely broad strokes, the future - may be deduced."

I think you've got to differentiate between Laws and Principles.

If laws are meant in the physical sciences sense, which enables precise calculations and conclusions such as 'this beam will fracture when 10 lbs or more of force is exerted upon it', then no, History has no laws.

On the other hand there are principles of human nature, and so of human history, which, if disregarded - as leftism does - will cause a society to fracture. However, as that society is made up of individuals, each of which has free will and makes choices based upon their own judgment, saying when exactly each will respond to 'leftist input A' in a manner that will cause society to finally fracture - that isn't possible to calculate.

There are most definitely Principles of Human Nature, and because of which we are able to have the concept Ethics, and so of political Laws... but... like Americans & English being two peoples separated by a common language - we've got to be careful to keep the context in mind when using such words.

3/19/2014 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Very odd that George Soros claims to be a disciple of Popper, when the whole tradition he pours his money into is precisely what Popper railed against: the closed societies of leftist historicism.

3/19/2014 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

That's helpful. Thanks, to both of you. Sorry if it was a dumb question, I feel like I'm missing half my brain cells today.

3/19/2014 03:18:00 PM  

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