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The meeting of the morally repugnant and logically repugnant can be sublime…or not.

The Year in Repugnant Ideas | Freakonomics Radio.

I am one of the dabblers in social science and economics who really liked Freakonomics as a way of getting people — in my case, my students — to think off-kilter and get new insights. Stephen Levitt, the economist of the pair, is well known for proposing that the reason crime is down is that over time, legalized abortions reduced the number of criminals. That’s not a proposal for mandatory abortions; it is an observation that can be argued both qualitatively and quantitatively. Levitt’s frustration with the scarcity of organ donators, especially for kidneys, despite a reasonably good supply is based on his belief that there are inadequate incentives for donations. What should be the going price for a kidney? The cited Israeli approach — giving living donors preference if they ever need a donor — is fascinating; on one level, a quid pro quo guarantee.

The idea that economists look at things without a slant based on their beliefs is interesting. I spent the better part of a year in college debating the issue of value judgments in social science. Personally, I think that value judgments drive most things in social science, which is why social science is to science what supply side economics is to economics…a confused pastiche. The economists who are truly great — Smith, Malthus, Schumpeter, Galbraith, and yeah, Krugman — don’t hide their beliefs and value judgments.

In a related approach, Paul Krugman has come up with a new concept to understand our somewhat screwy world these days; we are ruled today by Geloiocracy, the rule of the ridiculous. In an earlier entry on his blog, Krugman is looking for the right word. He has a couple of examples, including the Republicans’ new economic leader — Paul Ryan — who is another Ayn Rand type. Krugman uses a quote worthy of PJ O’Rourke or Christopher Hitchens from Kung Fu Monkey to put that in perspective.

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Although Greenspan has backed off from his confession of philosophical inadequacy after the subprime disaster, I find it fascinating that the John Boehner’s of the world are turning back to the crap that got them where we are now..

Perhaps the greatest example of a Geloiocratic pronouncement of the past ten years that became an operating principle in government was Tom Delay’s “The most important thing to do in war is to lower taxes…” Morally confused, intellectually bankrupt, repugnant to reason (IF Socrates is a Man, Elephants are Carnivores!) and stupid. Go Team. USA USA USA. Say what? The most important thing to do during a war is to win it and have something left after you’ve won it. That’s fairly obvious — but, if you combine Geloiocracy with repugnant ideas you come up with crap like that.

I think the Freakonomics guys are right in that just because an idea makes you queasy doesn’t mean it can’t have merit. If nothing else, a really bad idea can possibly provoke some good ones. I knew a Jesuit named Shea at the Catholic West Point who delighted in saying that evolution was an absurdity because it was “repugnant to reason.” I don’t know if Father John Shea actually believed that or not, but by pushing that idea he provoked generations of Holy Cross pre-meds to actually think about it.
If an idea is morally or ethically repugnant — Swift’s discussion of the virtues of the Irish as cattle comes to mind — it can provoke thought. But, if an idea is repugnant to reason — or, just fucking stupid! — and can be shown to be so, it’s harmful.

If we allow ourselves to be ruled by the ridiculous, then we deserve whatever happens to us. Or, as Krugman comments, “Future historians will giggle at our expense.”

View the original article at Veterans Today

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