Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's a Complex World vs. Simple Rules

A commenter responding to yesterday’s entry accused me of cloaking populism in intellectual rhetoric — but did not bother to explain why this is manifestly a bad thing to do. I mean, it depends on what sort of populism it is and what sort of intellectual rhetoric, right?

I’m not merely pigheadedly demanding that the world cough up simple rules for living but rather calculating that we would benefit from promulgating rules sufficiently tidy to prevent social disaster, elite manipulation, and legal confusion — simple rules for a complex world, to quote Richard Epstein, who, as it happens, addresses the Manhattan Institute at the Harvard Club this Tuesday at 6:30 about why even a decentralization-loving libertarian should prefer federal preemption of state-by-state lawsuits and regulations against medical products deemed safe at the federal level and made to conform to federal regulations (and pointing out that he’s not an anarcho-capitalist like me doesn’t invalidate the point about simple rules being desirable in a complex world — for current purposes I could have invoked a phrase from FDR if it’d been apt, I hope we all agree).

And (as a former philosophy major) I’m certainly not opposed to learning from complex, diverse philosophies — learn from everyone and anything you can, sure — but at the end of the day, the more complex the philosophies we treat as having legally-relevant moral content, the greater the risk of “smuggling” of moral or legal rules (known to the elite but possessed of implications not noticed by the commoners) into the “meta-narrative” that supposedly explains the entire society’s legal-moral regime.

I’m happy to abandon simple labels and political-tribal affiliations if, for instance, enough people who deny the importance of simple property rules clamor for the “libertarian” label — but amidst the resultant ideational agora/ruins there will be an idea, call it what you will, that disputes should be resolved by deference to property rights and that claims to have some say over the behavior of one’s fellow humans above and beyond property claims are politically illegitimate. That’s the thing, maximally social-coordination-enhancing, by my estimation, that I’m keen to both name and promote. I think it’s already called libertarianism and that not much else is, as far as I knew from 1989 to late 2008.


One small piece of evidence, by the way, from a reader who shall remain nameless, that feminism — this month’s candidate for smuggling into that moral meta-narrative — tends toward confusion, is this site showing us “normal breasts” as a supposed strike (at least in some readers’ minds) against unrealistic and patriarchal expectations of breast size and shape. I think you’ll find most males as baffled to hear that this is a supposed blow against the patriarchy as they are when students protest the patriarchy with nudity. And any feminist who claims not to see the tension there is probably (a) fun to be around but (b) not very bright.

A comedienne captures a similar idea in this short video, “Our Bodies, Myself,” pointed out to me by the same valued, but still nameless, reader.

I don’t want the site to be all smut, though, so here’s a clever mash-up of scenes from High Noon — an all-too-common narrative of a tough man rescuing women and others by killing other men — and android-invasion sci-fi imagery, pointed out to me by artist Brian Floca, who I promise is not the guy who pointed out the previous two items.


talboito said...

I’d be happy to provide more than snark and snippets, but The Rules of Simplicity counsel otherwise.

Diana said...

mmm boobies