Wednesday 13 April 2011

Politics as religion

Some politicians pride themselves on never flip-flopping, or otherwise changing their position. This is an extreme form of politics, but we have a perfectly good term for a set of beliefs that one holds without, or in the face of, evidence: a religion.

Successful religions tend to have beliefs that aren't susceptible to checking against evidence (reincarnation, salvation) and precepts for the faithful that have long term social value (honesty, kindness, fidelity.)

Unsuccessful religions tend to have beliefs that are easily found to be false (creationism, global warming denial, supply side economics) and sociopathic precepts (draconian punishment for minor crimes, torture for political prisoners, tax cuts for the rich, hunger and death for the poor.)

While successful religions have often formed the backbone of long lived cultures, religion is a really bad form of government, at least if you think that a government should deal with the events it faces. So a politician who prides him or herself on never ever changing has basically self-identified as incompetent.

This is not a new problem. One of my favorite examples is Hiram Johnson, who after saddling California with the disasters of initiative and referendum spent decades in the Senate as a rigid isolationist, fighting all attempts to prepare for WW II. Dunno if he'd come around by the time he died in August 1945.

So here are two quotes about the merits of flexibility:

"Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate - but not yet!" -Augustine
"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" -Keynes

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