Thursday, July 14, 2005

Technocracy

Blogger James Kalb has an interesting essay published in The New Pantagruel, a webzine that looks like it is gaining steam. If you like this essay you may also want to check out Wesley J. Smith on bioethicists: Harsh Medicine. Here are a few bits from Kalb's provocative essay:
The difficulty is that when preferences clash, the liberal demand for equal treatment means in the end that the dispute has to be resolved by someone other than the parties, and the resolution has to pass itself off as something that isn’t a substantive decision. Anything else would be oppressive, since it would allow one party’s preferences to suppress another’s. That squeamishness about power makes normal political life impossible. A political issue, by definition, involves a conflict of preferences. Liberalism must therefore (at least ideally) depoliticize all serious political issues and determine them by an allegedly neutral process. It needs to rule by denying that power is being exercised, claiming in effect to be a system of power that rejects and opposes power. ... The claim that such people and the norms they enforce are neutral is, of course, absurd. Liberals plainly have a theory of what is good, a vision of what human relations should be, and the will to back their views by force and insist they be followed throughout human life so that everyone has to live in their kind of society whether he likes it or not. The ostensible neutrality of liberalism disguises a practical dictatorship of intrusive functionaries and money. The taxes, regulations, and re-education programs that feature so prominently in advanced liberal society wouldn’t be needed if liberal governments were neutral. While liberals claim to be on the side of the little guy, the claim is evidently false. They often oppose particular tyrannies, but the opposition is part of an effort to abolish local power in the interests of universal power. Respectable institutions and well-placed people are regularly liberal, while those who reject liberalism are tagged as ignorant, provincial and lower class. Can it really be true that in liberal society the well-placed and powerful become selfless while provincials and outsiders become oppressive? ... liberalism is intimately linked to a modern secular and scientific understanding of rationality that emphasizes observation and measurement. Since values can’t be directly observed or measured, liberalism treats them as subjective feelings projected on morally neutral facts. As a result, respect for them becomes simply a matter of respect for the feelings of those holding them. Equal respect for persons is thought to require equal respect for values, and the basis of morality becomes giving people equally what they want. Liberalism is thus a rather direct moral implementation of the operative philosophical outlook of our time, positivist scientism – the belief that the methods of the modern natural sciences define rationality and what’s real. ... Technocracy thus promotes the liberal moral outlook. The reverse is also true: liberal morality serves technocracy by rooting out everything at odds with its dominant institutions. A technically rationalized process strives for clarity and perfection through standardization. Differences must be as few, well-defined and technically manageable as possible. When applied to society such demands mean that the particularities of history, place, and human relationship must be deprived of significance.
That desire to flatten differences can be seen, for example, in the criticism leveled at Canada's first past the post electoral system, in which candidates are elected by the vote in a local riding. There is pressure building to move to another sort of system - a 'more rational' system, in which 'no votes are wasted' and 'every vote counts.' For myself, I don't see how your vote 'counts' for anything in a system in which a riding is too large and has numerous MPs. In such a system I think our ability to hold the technocrats to account will be weaker, along with our sense of self, place, and worth. It seems to me the alienation from the halls of power will increase if we should ever go down that road.

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