Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Geek Out, Tune Out, Tune Back In

Maybe it's just the fish oil* supplements talking -- Sorry, fish! I hope the wringing-out didn't do any permanent damage! -- or maybe it's just that Matt Yglesias is not a complete asshole, but I think there's something to consider in these remarks:

I think the right way to interpret the news that most Americans think the stimulus money has been wasted rather than helping them is pretty obvious. Most people don’t know a lot of macroeconomic theory, most people don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, and most people recognize that the unemployment rate is ridiculously high. Ergo, they’ve decided the money was wasted.

Joe Klein has a good piece laying out the truth but I also think it’s a textbook example of how not to talk about gaps in the public’s knowledge ...

The simple fact of the matter is that there’s only so much time in the day and everyone can only know about so many things. ...

You don’t need an economic policy that people approve of, you need an economic policy that produces results people approve of—i.e., growth and jobs.
Whether in politics, science, religion, or elsewhere, it's easy enough to wax elitist and decry ignorance. I am very receptive to the idea that Pat Q. Public has an outright moral obligation to understand, minimally, the broad outlines of the bigger questions facing the world, and I'll probably return to some emphatic variation of that theme in the post immediately following this one.

It remains true that people wildly disagree about what's interesting in life, and interest in a topic tends to correlate with knowledge of a subject -- mind you, it's a tendency, not a law. I couldn't care less about muscle cars and I skip straight past the New Yorker's coverage of dance. If a production of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet featuring Pontiac Firebirds as Montagues and Dodge Chargers as Capulets appears on the ballet scene, I hope no one will waste even a millisecond telling me about it.

It turns out it was the fish oil talking above, and you don't need to await the next post, because on further consideration, people who want to participate in a democratic republic worthy of the name should bother to familiarize themselves with the basics of the public policy before they start mewling their displeasure with it. The term non-sequitur exists to castigate the thinking that goes from, say, unemployment is unacceptably high to a freeze in federal spending is a fabulous idea, and really, it's too kind. More fitting terms include lazy, half-assed, and willfully ignorant; and as for the elected officials who indulge the laziness, insipid chickenshit seems apt enough, though spiraling fuck-up sounds good too.

We have good reason to be dismayed at the state of the economy, but now is a dangerous time to take even modest, halting steps in the direction of Hooverism.

Framing be damned. If you don't like something in the discursive frame, and yet the something happens to be true, the problem is you.

* I gather this makes me less than a complete vegetarian. I could re-frame the matter until contriving to conclude otherwise, but no, eating fish oil supplements that contain the oil wrung from actual fish makes me a less-than-complete vegetarian. So be it.


John Carter Wood said...

Well stated. I'm glad I can now watch American politics from afar and through the magic filter of the intertubes. Having to witness this close-up and raw would be too painful.

And I'm with you on the fundamental disinterest in ballet and muscle cars.

Strangely, however, if you put them together, as you imagine they might be, they become somehow fascinating.

Dale said...

JCW, OK, you got me. I admit that while I was writing that, I was thinking I would be interested in seeing a muscle car version of that ballet. In small doses. ;-)