Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Commentary's continuing lack of self-awareness

Max Boot hasn't done me the favor of sounding like Paul Krugman for a couple of days, but lucky for me his Commentary colleague Ted Bromund is stepping up to the plate:
The Economist reports two researchers from Columbia and Cornell have been studying the personalities of individuals who, in surveys, express a willingness to personally kill one human in the hope of saving more. Their conclusion is there is “a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas . . . and personalities that were psychopathic.” TheEconomist’s conclusion, in its usual slightly tongue-in-cheek style, is utilitarianism is a “plausible framework” for producing legislation, and the best legislators are therefore psychopathic misanthropes.
 This would seem to be an indictment of governance generally—there's always a weighing of costs and benefits in decision-making, or there should be—but for Bromund it's an indictment of progressive governance. He writes: "But the problem with applying utilitarianism to legislation ... is someone has to decide which ends serve the greater good, just as the Ivy League experiments require someone to decide who lives and who dies, and just as top-down legislation in the progressive tradition requires wisdom that no single person possesses."

But to me, this psychopathic framework reminds me strongly of the decision to start a pre-emptive war. Like, say, accusing a country of possessing weapons of mass destruction and then invading or bombing that country to prevent the—entirely hypothetical—use of those weapons. In that case, a country's leaders are willing to see hundreds or thousands of people die so that many more people might be spared a horrible death. At least, I think that's the logic.

Is that psychopathic? By the standards advanced here, I'd say it is. And yet Bromund's colleagues at Commentary can reliably be counted on to cheerlead any proposed U.S. military intervention, anywhere, for nearly any reason. Our debacle in Iraq has suggested that Bromund is correct: Our leaders aren't really wise enough to balance decisions of life and death very well. Yet his magazine would almost always give our government carte blanche to make those decisions in the military arena. EPA regulations are pretty small potatoes compared to that.

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