Battlepanda: Inclusionism vs. Exceptionism


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Inclusionism vs. Exceptionism

One of my favorite things about blogging is when several good writers independently converge on the same theme at slightly different angles. I've been having an interesting conversation over at Lawrence's about what Rick Perlstein calls "strategy of psychological innocence" for conservatives. How, Lawrence wonders, can so many conservatives think of themselves as the good guys after they have committed so many famous crimes? To quote Perlstein:
As the Internet's smartest liberal blogger, Digby, puts it, tongue only partially in cheek: "'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals."

Tom Charles Huston often signed his memos to Richard Nixon "Cato the Younger," after the statesman of the late Roman Republic famous for both his stubborn inflexibility and incorruptibility.

What does it mean that the member of Nixon's staff who was closest to the conservative movement, who was best-versed in its literature and its habits, was not merely the most ruthless malefactor on Richard Nixon's staff but the one most convinced he was acting on principle?
And now, what serenpidity, Shakespeare's Sister, blogging at the Political Animal, and the Lance Mannion post she links to, continues the conversation. Lance quips that 'if Jesus were around today and a woman taken in adultery ran to him for protection and he said to the crowd, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone, forty-six Republican adulterers would bean her with rocks," while Shakepeare's Sis ponders whether this psychology of innocent is made possible by the "born again" philosophy -- when you
are born again, your slate is wiped clean. Once you forgive yourself, you are once again worthy to condemn others for the same sins.

So what are we saying here? That conservatives are frequently hypocrites? The truth is more complex and interesting than that. I would posit that the very uncompromising moral clarity the conservatives are so proud of in their philosophy makes hypocrites out of them more often than not. As I said over at Lawrence's "When you have a worldview in which everything is either black and white, it must be really difficult to find a fault in yourself without coming to the conclusion that you are all bad. And since nobody ever want to believe that they are all bad, it is far easier to believe that they are all good despite their actions. Witness Ronald Reagan's incredulity when confronted with evidence of his own wrongdoing in the Iran Contra scandal: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."

Because real life is messy, exception-making is necessary to hold together the kind of strict, uncompromising conservative viewpoint.

Lawrence replies:
And the opposite of that is trying to find a model broad enough to explain all exceptions as part of an underlying rule. In science, in computer theory, in the law, we find these two approaches competing.

Among computer programmers (I know from personal experience) these two different mind sets lead to holy wars on big projects - one side says keep the core code small and fast and efficient, and then make exceptions for unusual situations the code might face. The other group says, no, find a method that is abstract enough that all the possible exceptions can be handled with the same code that handles the core problems that your code is suppose to solve. The second approach is more elegant but demands more processing time from the computer. Because computing power has grown cheaper over the last 50 years, the trend has been steadily favorable to the second group. The first approach, described above, is faster than the second, unless the number of exceptions builds up to the point where they become a major processing task on the computer.

Hmm. A lot to think about there.