« H2H: Not A Suicide Pact | Main | "Not a Suicide Pact": Round Two »

September 21, 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Seth Edenbaum

I've touched a nerve.
If this is the caliber of argument the man brings out in his defense, I've proved my point.
Respond to my argument or stf up.
I don't name drop for schmucks.

Kimball Corson

As a student of Prof. Posner's from over 35 years ago, there is some real truth to what Seth says about him. He got his serious efficiency orientation from the Chicago Economics Department (and his friendship with George Stigler) where I also studied as a grad student at the time. That Department had a substantial impact on Prof. Posner, this thinking and his philosophical orientation. He is pro-efficiency, pragmatic in the extreme and not much disposed toward voters, the democratic process, politics or even democracy, with all of its inherent inefficiencies for that matter. He has little patience for much matters and takes a narrower view, missing precisely the point Seth makes not by oversight but by wilful neglect and his view it is not useful or important.

Kimball Corson

I do not however, at all join in Seth's last comments about Prof Posner. They are pure ad hominum and I strongly disagree with them. They do not do his vast achievements, impressive knowlesge, kindly manner or his very fine intelligence any justice at all.

Seth Edenbaum

Kimball Carson,
Thank you. To me Posner's an ass and nothing more. You separate my argument from my abuse. I'd be happier if you joined me in both, but your response is fair.

What is needed is not an argument for the efficiency of democracy- such an argument will fail- but a defense of ineffeciency. A life of inquiry is not a life of commerce, though commerce may create new modes of inquiry. Commerce, as experience, fosters blasphemy, which is one good among others.

Our power as a state has come from our effeciency, not from our morality. Our power has become a power 'over' others. Sweden at this point has more moral authority than we do (Posner has little intererst in this). But how do we compete with the effeciency of new younger nations, those younger in the sense only of being newer to the experience of modernity? These are structural and moral questions; questions which technical expertise will not resolve. And Posner is merely a technician.

Al Qaeda is a fringe element and nothing more. Hezbollah and even Hamas are both serious and popular. Their popularity limits their extremism; this is obvious to those who pay attention. Hezbollah has been moderating over the past decade and Hamas held a unilateral ceasefire for a year. That is authority. Israel meanwhile is falling apart, while trying to maintain and defend as just a 40 year occupation.

Ask a bouncer the secret to keeping control over a crowded bar. He'll tell you: never get angry. The key is suppression, and you don't suppress violence with violence, but with calm. A 250 pound man saying "chill out" has great moral authority. But a bouncer has to be neutral, and we aren't, though we pretend to be. A friend of mine, a court officer, gives the same description of his job. Believe it or not (and you should believe it) he says the secret is for him to show respect. And the judges like him too.
Posner is confused and always has been. He can't separate his self-interest with his study of the idea of self-interest. He's like a cop who's fond of thinking of himself as "the law." And he's afraid of criminals. If he were more curious- more capable of inquiry- he'd wonder as to the roots of his opponents' anger. And he'd be able to understand why freedom of inqury- as ineffecient as it is- is so important.

If all this were the case, he'd have a better understanding of democracy.


I probably worked too hard on the last one, but I can't go back an edit comments. The point is there.

Kimball Corson


Like Posner, to some extent we all run on fear, worry and being terrorized. It is the wise soul that reflects on the roots of this opponents anger and tries to get into his opponent's head. al Queda has done an excellent job of assessing the American psyche and having us become terrorized and really put ourselves out at every turn with very little cost to al Queda. We need first to listen to ben Lauden, then we need to carefully assess the causes of Arab anger and finally we need to seriously see what we can do about those problems in a sensible way. Arabs are a presence in this world that we cannot make go away. Unfortunately, our eyes and thoughts turn inward in the face of our enemy to how we feel about the situation and what can we do to protect ourselves. This is not entirely what is needed. That Posner is a genius in some quarters does not mean he is emotionally ahead of the rest of us on this score and not subject to the same sentiments of those far less capable. If fact, some of his writings suggest this is true. Indeed, as you say understanding how self-interest operates is truly different than being preoccupied with one's own self interest.

Democracy’s inefficiencies have long troubled economists and others who really do not understand the process well. Inquiry, assessment, thought and scientific endeavor are often inherently inefficient processes, too. The reason is that efficiency considerations most readily apply to repeatable, routine, less thoughtful tasks and endeavors, but this point is not well understood by many. By his own hand, Posner has relegated himself to mechanical and technocratic concerns because he distrusts human sentiment, politics, morality and the processes I describe here. He has no patience for their inefficiencies or, better said, less regard for processes that are not well tailored to efficiency considerations. This makes for a smaller philosophical world view, one where love, empathy, consideration and the like play a much smaller role. It resembles the difference between what I call narrow analytical thinking and expansive, broad connective thinking. American high education schools us much more on the former than the latter. Typically, the first thing to go in moving toward narrow analytical thinking is thought directed to your enemy’s anger and concerns. That is the quarter of expansive, broad connective thinking. Current American foreign policy has this problem in spades. We cannot get beyond it and our own narrow self interests well enough to even see what is going on more generally in the world and understand what others want and why.

The comments to this entry are closed.