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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pragmatism and Disaster: Read the headlines

From an upcoming article by Dr. Tara Smith entitled The Menace of Pragmatism:
[O]f course truth exists, says [William James], but truth is not a stagnant property. Rather, an idea becomes true—“truth happens to an idea.” Truth “lives on a credit system” in his view; what a truth has going for it is that people treat it in a certain way. The true is the “expedient,” “any idea upon which we can ride.” Any idea is true so long as it is “profitable.”
And yesterday, in an analysis, by James V. DeLong, of the current financial crisis and the pending government bail-out:
[T]here are fewer villains in this tale than the news and the political campaigns would lead one to believe. Three basically good things - the securitization of consumer credit, the extension of credit down the economic ladder, and the invention of derivatives - have combined, and the resulting mix turned out to be explosive. Well, live and learn, and do better next time. But first, ensure there is a next time.
This author doesn't seem bothered by the absurdity of his own analysis, that three "basically good things" somehow led to a global economic disaster. Why? Essentially he's claiming that the world is so complex (which means: unknowable) that we just have to "live and learn." This is the philosophy of pragmatism. Accordingly, it was not absolutely right or wrong for the government to have coerced the marketplace (via Fannie Mae and the like) so that billions of dollars were invested in high-risk mortgages which have failed spectacularly. And it is not absolutely right or wrong for the government, next, to confiscate a nearly unimaginable amount of wealth from taxpayers in order to bail out the investors (which means: to pretend we still have that cake we just ate). Instead, we just need to try things, solve problems as they pop-up, and keep moving ahead as best we can.

Notice the contrast between how "reasonable" this way of thinking is supposed to be with its actual, catastrophic results.

Pragmatism is the flawed thinking method (while altruism is the content) behind the housing boom, the subsequent bust, and the Marxist-Keyensian solution in the works. Pragmatism is a fundamental part of our culture, but is so unreasonable it can only lead us from one disaster to the next. As Dr. Smith says:
While pragmatism presents itself as a tool of reason and enjoys the image of mature moderation, of common sense and practical “realism,” in truth, it is anything but realistic or practical. Pragmatism has become a highly corrosive force in people’s thinking. And insofar as it is thinking that drives actions—the actions of individuals and correlatively, the course of history—as long as a person or a nation is infected by a warped philosophical approach, genuine progress will be impossible.



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