Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Rhetoric of Rejection

Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy

About 20 years ago Albert Hirschman wrote a small, but since well known, book "The Rhetoric of Reaction" about how conservatives think and argue. The bunnies will discover that this perfectly describes how are blogging compatriots and politicians reject science. Hirschman's concern was that democracy requires opposing views, but also interchange among those holding those views. "How did they get to be that way?" is a sure sign that an honest dialogue has vanished.

The Rhetoric of Reaction is structured about rejection of progress in politics, progress in the sense of a widening citizenship and active participation, particularly in the American and French Revolution and the development of democratic nation states since. While political progress is arbitrary the increased understanding provided by science is definitionally progress unless there are some fans of ignorance out there. Thus, it is not surprising that Hirschman's taxonomy fits the arguments made by those who reject science, specifically climate science, modern biology, modern medicine and more.

The bunnies can look forward to examples, indeed, Eli would encourage them to provide their own, but here he only wants to paraphrase Hirschman's theses

  • Perversity is claiming that any purposive action to improve something only exacerbates the condition one wishes to remedy
  • Futility is holding that attempts at transformation will be unavailing and will simply fail to make a dent
  • Jeopardy argues that the cost of the proposed change is too high and endangers some previous valued accomplishment.
As everybunny knows these are the standard operating procedures of rejection, but as Hirschman himself writes, fans of progress have to be vigilant not to fall into symmetric traps. What is amazing is how these three theses clearly identify rejection.


Stephen said...

This is why it's puzzling when conservatives wring their hands and complain about scientists/universities having a "progressive" bias. Of course science has a progressive bias; the very definition of conservatism puts it at odds with the scientific method!

Yet, at the same time, scientific institutions are very conservative (definitionally, not politically). Thus we have the paradox of individual scientists being progressive, while scientific institutions are conservative.

susan said...

Until scientists grasp that the verbal martial artists creating false propaganda are manipulating the means of science itself to deceive, they will continue to believe that truth will prevail. They are using the honesty of science as a weakness; lies are much easier, because they require no hard work, only a fundamentally rotten core. You need a different lever to pry the lies loose from the truth they mirror. Substance is hard; imitation is easy.

Anonymous said...

It is all a big game to the modern conservative. It is not about being right or wrong, but about winning. And they are winning.

Pity; in the end humanity will be the looser.

Little Mouse

Anonymous said...

All three of perversity, futility, and jeopardy are covered by the neoconservative's cliche: "unintended consequences". How often those of us down-under, in Australia, have heard the native neocon's mating cry of "unintended consequences". In South Australia they are a spectacular sight, perched upon years' old wind-turbines, squawking "unintended consequences" to all and sundry, passers-by, whilst attempting to remain perfectly still lest they disturb the wind beneath their feet...

Donald Oats

Lars Karlsson said...

Donald Oats: "Unintended consequences".
A concise description of how human activities affect the climate!
Oh, the irony.

Brian Schmidt said...

Practitioners of the above include Scalia, saying the solution to a collective action problem is to stop people from doing anything about it...

And Tim Blair, for the same:

I think the Breakthrough types go on about how energy efficiency encourages waste, but don't have a link.

Arun said...

The Hirschman book has a chapter on how not to argue in a democracy. Unfortunately, that chapter is not shown in; nor is the book available in my local public library. Anything useful in that chapter?