Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Projections and ideology

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-20

The comments to this post a couple of days back made me think about the difficulties of rational conversations between those of different ideologies.

Dealing with projections is a problem, and it probably stuffs up policy development more than we can afford.

I’m not talking about extrapolations of figures, but something akin to psychological projection of the opinions of the reader, reading things that aren’t there, especially when the writer is known to have a different ideology.

My post was merely an assertion about the relevance of particular indicators to a particular problem, and calling for greater use of those indicators to manage a problem.  Yet it seems those who did not hold my admittedly lefty views jumped on this, one saying it gave insight into the lefty mindset.

Asking for figures to measure policy effectiveness, especially when there is no discussion of particular political systems or powers, when there is no discussion of policy particulars (other than the use of metrics to decide when policies work or don’t), has nothing to do with ideology, merely sensible and evidence-based management.

Now, I’ve no dislike for the libertarians concerned, but I’m very happy to accept the idea (although invalidly) that measuring success or failure of policy by changes to particular metrics is something particular too lefties rather than libertarians, as this would mean that lefties would make the best managers.

It’s invalid of course.  I could name quite a few righties who are big on collecting relevant data, seeing what actually works and what doesn’t, to develop policy positions, even if those policy positions are not necessarily in line with their ideological biases.

What interested me was that non-ideological statements, apart from the assertion that the proper duty of government (without mentioning form) being the happiness and lack of misery in the citizenry, were jumped on as advocating big government.

The only time I made judgement on a particular government, was on the Victorian government, covering periods where both of the major parties were in power – indeed, the longer inaction was that of the Bracks/Brumby government rather than the deregulation/privatization mad Kennett government.

No… these libertarians (but obviously, I cannot say libertarians as a group) projected distaste for my self-proclaimed leftiness in other posts, and thus found an argument for socialist policies where none could be found.

And lefties doubtless do the same to non-ideological statements from righties.

Now, I may have simply not made any ideological statements in the post, but the to-and-fro continued, despite the second (and my first) comment included the following, explicitly denying any ideological preference in the post:

If, as Herodotos argued, the psychology of different groups is affected by geography, then the means of achieving a lack of misery will differ from one place to the next.

So, whatever keeps a low incidence of mental health disorders (and I’d imagine that if many people are chronically ill, or dying of malnutrition, or indeed, if people really valued freedom and felt too enslaved to be happy, then stress and depression in the population would rise considerably), then I’d be all for it. Why should I object if the state is run on libertarian, socialist, or indeed monarchical means, as long as people aren’t unhappy?

Why should I care HOW the cat is skinned, as long as it ends up skinned? Assuming that I’m neutral about how much pain the cat goes thru… ;-)

All I’m talking about is having lots of use of measures of the happiness of the population by as direct a set of indicators as we can get, and using those as a kpi for those in power (or even an anarchical system without no-one in power).

There is no point to debates about policy if we cannot agree that the reason we have any particular system of government, or any particular people in power, is the happiness, or at least the lack of misery, of the population.  That shouldn’t be hard to get everyone to admit to.

There is no point to debates about policy if we cannot help but project ideological distaste to non-ideological statements, such as saying "we need to measure to manage, here is a candidate metric, and if things look bad, we change direction".

Sure, we can argue about the relevance of a particular indicator, whether it can be "gamed", whether we need to fine-tune it, but if we are going to argue about the importance of finding useful indicators and using data to determine when things aren’t working and we should change policy, as a general principle, on whatever topic you like, then we may as well have a civil war, and kill everyone with a different opinion to ourselves.

The attitude of not having human outcomes as the objective, and using evidence to determine policy, is something we normally ascribed to religious nutters, like the Vatican aiming at stopping the use of condoms rather than limiting the spread of HIV.

The attitude of projecting ideology onto neutral statements or objective data, whether the propositions and statements are put forward by an ideological friend or foe, is doubtless a real phenomenon, a sin most of us will commit at least some of the time.  But I hope I’d never say "it’s a capitalist plot" if "Honest" John Howard said "the sun rises in the east" or "we can use thermometers to decide if a person needs an anti-pyretic".

I know I certainly don’t make such errors all the time, after all, I’ve even written a post agreeing with the conclusions Andrew Bolt, saying he didn’t drive his point home enough, wasn’t worried enough, even though I think Bolt is a major pustule, indeed a huge carbuncle, constantly seeping poisons into the body politic and threatening our future.

I hope I haven’t committed similar, although less obvious, sins too often.  However, I suspect that projection happens far too often in debates about what we should do on a wide range of matters, many of them important.

All of us should measure ourselves, see if we ever say "I disagree totally with where you come from, but on this particular matter, you have a point".  Indeed, it would be very useful if we all put a bit of extra effort into looking for valid points made our ideological foes.

Surely nobody should object to that… but some probably will.


One Response to “Projections and ideology”

  1. Dave, c’mon. The choice of metric was the level of depression – this is very telling and linked very much to your left-wing ideology as you linked this metric directly to government performance. No one said we shouldn’t collect data. The point is this is no way to measure the performance of government unless you are viewing it through a flavour of your particular ideology, which people like me claim has no application to the real world. So, yes, it came back to ideology but for very good reasons.

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