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perversity and culture

Fri 04 January 2013 — filed under logic

So, reading, as I do, probably more paleo-conservative material than is meet or seemly, I encounter a particular form of conservative (most times religious) argument every so often. I?ve struggled mightily to pay my proper respects to the recently departed A. O. Hirschman by fitting it neatly into his perversity, futility, jeopardy framework, from The Rhetoric of Reaction. And I think it?s like a hybrid of all three, or perhaps a new species.

Most recently, I noticed it in David Masciotra?s blog post at FPR ?The Culture of Guns? What About the Culture of Narcissism?? I think it goes something like this.

There is a Problem. This Problem makes some people want to do something to solve it, ameliorate it, or mitigate it. However, it?s only because something is wrong with the Culture that some people think that the Problem can be solved. The Culture is sick, and one symptom is people going around attempting to control things by solving Problems. The Culture makes people hubristically think that every Problem has a solution, and that a solution can be imposed. In fact, another symptom of the Culture being sick is the Problem itself. The sick culture both creates the Problem and makes people think that the Problem is potentially solvable. Attempting to solve the Problem will only make the Culture sicker.

Unstated, but implied, is that what needs to happen is that the Culture needs to change. And it?s always not clear why ?the Culture is sick? isn?t a Problem and why attempting to make the Culture better isn?t the sort of thing that would actually make it worse. Here’s where you usually see a fervent wish for a “return to conservative values”. It makes me wonder why conservatives aren’t feverishly working on non-political ways to spread their value system.

In the FPR article, the problem is gun violence, but I swear I?ve seen this same sort of thing with regard to poverty, education, fatherlessness, the environment ? pretty much everything. Okay, maybe this is Hirschman?s Perversity, but it seems to be there?s two interesting features: One, a secondary layer of indirection causing the unintended consequences. The proposed solution reinforces the social factors causing the original problem. I think this opens the possibility that one could argue, ?Yes, your proposed solution actually would solve the problem as you?ve narrowly defined it, but it will also, in fact, reinforce negative aspects of our culture which will result in new, unexpected problems elsewhere or the worsening of other unaddressed problems.?

Second, the inclination to attempt to fix the problem is identified as a manifestation of the root cause of the problem. This, it seems to me, is interesting. I like the fractal design. It turns the weapon of the enemy around again.



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