2013-10-08

On The Mark, Or Off?

The typically good Kevin Vallier has an interesting post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. In it, he asks whether it is possible to construct a political philosophy that is non-ideological. He gets down to business right from the initial paragraph:
Political philosophers are often critical of “ideologues.” Ideologues are, presumably, those who advocate for a series of laws and policies based on a narrow set of political principles that mangle complex moral reality and are inappropriately insensitive to counter evidence. The problem with the ideologue is that she is both irrational and intolerant, convinced of her own rectitude while simultaneously reasoning poorly about political matters and threatening to impose the conclusions of that poor reasoning on others. That’s at least part of why being an “ideologue” is problematic.
From there, Vallier proceeds to discuss possible ways to avoid ideology in political philosophy. He also asks his readers to come up with their own ideas.

My Proposed Solution
Well, at the risk of sounding thick, one easy way to create a "non-ideological" political philosophy is to simply come up with a set of algorithms designed to answer philosophical dilemmas. These can be rules that most people agree on, of course, but they certainly need not be. If the goal is to eschew ideology, then it might actually be better to come up with rules that almost no one agrees with, so that the rules themselves don't become the subject of an ideological debate.

We could, for example, design a rule for public finance that sets all tax rates at 0% on Day 1, 1% on Day 2, 2% on Day 3, and so on all the way up to a tax rate of 100% on Day 101, then start over at 0%. The more arbitrary and senseless the rule, the less room there is for debate. Granted, one could easily come up with reasons why this is a bad rule - but that's a feature, not a bug. The existence of a bad rule presupposes the question of what might be a better rule, and any such discussion is bound to be driven by the ideologies of those having it.

The best part about these sorts of rules is that they can easily be programmed into a computer system and implemented without ever having to give the matter any thought ever again. It's a classic "set it and forget it" approach to politics. Every rule, regulation, and law on the books could be repealed and replaced with something equally arbitrary, and set on some sort of rotating schedule such that all citizens bear the full brunt of the system equally.

Thus, the problem of an ideologically driven political system is solved forever.

Additional Considerations
The astute Stationary Waves reader will have noted that what I have just proposed is sort of like the ultimate rules-based framework for politics; and any time I use the word "rule" you can bet that I am contrasting the idea to its opposite on my rules versus merit spectrum/framework. As I have just mentioned, a purely arbitrary system of rules strikes me as the ideal way to avoid having to ground a political philosophy in morality or ideology. Of course, the next obvious question is: Why on Earth would anyone want to do that?

Any discussion of political philosophy is necessarily a discussion of what might be best. One has to make that assessment based on something, and that "something" is an ideology. Why outlaw murder? Because murder is immoral; or, because citizens are better off when they're not living in fear of being murdered. Thus, we outlaw murder either because we hold the ideological belief that it's wrong to kill people, or because we hold the ideological belief that the purpose of the political system is to make citizens better off. In either case, we are expressing a value judgement.

Even assuming we were able to build a cold, objective, calculating machine that could assess any situation according to only the facts and/or only the evidence, that machine's decisions would effectively have to be programmed according to some underlying principle, and that principle is an ideology. Either that, or it is the same kind of arbitrary nonsense I originally described.

Conclusion
So it should be obvious that if we remove (ideological) merit from political philosophy we end up with (arbitrary) rules. If we move away from rules, we start working our way toward assessing the merit of our actions and decisions according to some ideology. The rules-versus-merit framework is a very real one. We must generally choose between those two options in any particular case.

It's tempting during a political gridlock to suggest that politics is too driven by ideology, but the reality seems very different to me. Politicians that were truly committed to ideological principle could easily overcome gridlock by working toward their common values. It is also not fair to suggest that those who disagree with you about political philosophy are ill-committed to objective truth or fair analysis. At the end of the day, we can only really choose between arbitrary rules or ideological merit. I choose the latter.