Monday, January 28, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance In The UK

There is a real bit of cognotive dissonance occuring in the UK today. By that, I mean people are acting way out of character. Before addressing the specifics, understand that one of the most fundamental differences between the political right and left is the difference in how each views centralization of power and the degree to which each believes the government should intrude into the lives of the governed. I could wax uneloquent on this, or I could just quote from the far more eloquent and incisive Thomas Sowell:

[W]hat the political left, even in democratic countries, share is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.

They may not impose their presumptions wholesale, like the totalitarians, but retail in innumerable restrictions, ranging from economic and nanny state regulations to "hate speech" laws.

If no one has even one percent of all the knowledge in a society, then it is crucial that the other 99 percent of knowledge - scattered in tiny and individually unimpressive amounts among the population at large - be allowed the freedom to be used in working out mutual accommodations among the people themselves.
These innumerable mutual interactions are what bring the other 99 percent of knowledge into play - and generate new knowledge.

That is why free markets, judicial restraint, and reliance on decisions and traditions growing out of the experiences of the many - rather than the groupthink of the elite few - are so important.

Elites are all too prone to over-estimate the importance of the fact that they average more knowledge per person than the rest of the population - and under-estimate the fact that their total knowledge is so much less than that of the rest of the population.

Central planning, judicial activism, and the nanny state all presume vastly more knowledge than any elite have ever possessed.

The ignorance of people with Ph.D.s is still ignorance, the prejudices of educated elites are still prejudices, and for those with one percent of a society's knowledge to be dictating to those with the other 99 percent is still an absurdity.

Read the entire article here.

In one way, the Tory party in Britain are acting true to the form. They are running on the platform of devolving power to local governments in Britain - something the UK desperately needs. As it stands now, the British do not even elect their own local police chiefs. The degree of central government control over decision making in Britain is really quite amazing. And when it comes to the nanny state, that term is defined by modern Britain. That the Tories, who claim the mantle of conservative, should embrace devolving real power to localities makes perfect sense. But then there is the EU.

The dissonance on the conservative side comes from the inexplicable Tory support for the EU - a form of highly centralized, highly regulatory, anti-democratic government which is the penultimate leftist construct - and which will turn Britain into a mere province. Even after reading Peter Hitchens's take on Tory support for the EU, I still find it difficult to fathom. And on a related note, there is equally as much dissonance in the Tory refusal to unequivocably say that they will allow the people of Britain a referendum on the fundamental issue of whether the British government can unilaterally transfer sovereignty of the British nation to the EU. Both of these scenarios as pertain to the EU are impossibly dissonant with the concept of conservatism.

That said, there appear to be equally dissonant rumblings on the left. Earlier this month, an MP Frank Field, wrote what looked like a conservative manifesto, arguing that the left should decentralize control to a large extent. I was amazed to find that he was a member of the Labour party. He was clearly trying to neuter the appeal of the Tories, who are now ahead in the polls. But to even raise the issue is unthinkable to many on the left who ususally see the answer to all problems, including those caused by government regulation, to be more government regulation.

That said, I was amazed to find a similar appeal to Labour to consider decentralizing power on the opinion pages of The Guardian. The Guardian is a UK newspaper where you can find some of the best straight reporting of any newspaper, bar none. That is why I read it daily. The opinion pages are another matter entirely. Guardian opinions are so far left that, by comparison, the NYT editorial board look like neocons. For example, I read an opinion piece on the Guardian not too long ago bemoaning the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. Yet, there today on the editorial page is reliable leftie Martin Kettle arguing that "new Tory ideas about devolving power deserve a hearing:"

[T]he two main parties are now travelling in very different directions. Labour, according to Cameron, wants to use the digital revolution to modernise the bureaucratic state - through ID cards and the computerisation of the welfare state. The Tories, says their leader, have a radically different approach. They want to use the information revolution to liberate citizens and take them into what Oliver Letwin rather grandly calls "the post-bureaucratic age".

So is the devolution of the state, at last, the elusive great divide across which the two parties will battle for the nation's votes in 2009 or whenever the next election comes?

Cameron's speech came at the end of a seminar that was rich in interest and ideas about the evolving modern Tory attitude to the state's role. . .

Cameron and his shadow ministers today repeatedly talked about the centrality of fairness to any devolved settlement. It would be blindly partisan to pretend that there is no serious new thinking going in Tory ranks or to rubbish what Cameron and his team are saying as either irrelevant or deceitful - though I'm sure that won't stop many from doing just that.

The stubborn question that won't go away is that centralised state systems do not work as well as socialists used to think - or as some social democrats continue to hope. Devolution of power in the centralised British state has become a live issue in our politics because it appears to be the answer, or at least part of the answer, to some real failures of delivery and public satisfaction in the centralised system. It won't do to dismiss the Tory contribution to this debate - or the New Labour contribution to it either - as if it is simply some further abject moral failing by discredited political fainthearts. If only things were that simple.

All the political parties are struggling to present themselves as the party of devolution, choice and localism. They do so because our state system does not work well for the citizen. All the parties, though, have problems about doing what to replace it with - not just the Tories. The LibDems talk about devolution and believe in it - but they won't be the next government. Labour may well be the next government - but there's a gulf between what Labour says on devolution and what it believes. Moreover, Labour's record is hardly ringing proof that the man in Whitehall knows best. The Tories, though, both talk about devolution and believe in it . . . They are entitled to be taken seriously on the subject now - and entitled not to be dismissed a priori as either naive or deceitful. . . .

Read the entire article. This is left wing heresy of the highest order. This from a leftie appearing in the Guardian is cognitive dissonance so loud as to be deafening. Between that and what the Tories are doing on the EU . . . I'm just not sure which way is up any more . . .

1 comment:

Sam Duncan said...

I'm sure this goes a long way to explaining so-called "voter apathy". I've never believed it had anything to do with apathy.

Imagine you're a socialist, who voted Labour all his life. Suddenly you have a Labour government, but you aren't getting the socialism you thought you would. It's still too much socialism for my liking, but why would I vote Tory when I'll end up governed by the EU? The LibDems mill around trying to be all things to all men, and ending up as nothing to anyone. And don't get me started on the SNP and its oxymoronic policy of "independence in Europe" (ie, the EU). It's the ultimate expression of this phenomenon.

How does anyone decide who to vote for with that kind of choice?