Do you care more about the process or about getting results?

I suspect most people would say “results”. Maybe not everyone, but my feeling is that most people care about the bottom line. I could be wrong, though.

In theory, these two things should be complementary.  If you have a good process, it will generate good results. Most processes get created for the purpose of getting better results.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

Except sometimes–especially in large, bureaucratic organizations–process takes precedence over results.  This is especially true in government, because the organization doesn’t have to worry about making money. In that setting, people will start to focus on implementing new processes mindlessly–just because it gives them something to do.

If you focus only on results, on the other hand, you can sometimes get extreme cases where people are willing to do anything to get results.  This can include doing illegal things. (This is why you see cheating in highly competitive fields–anything to get an edge.)  In fact, from a certain perspective, morality is a sort of process that people follow by social or religious custom, and that some people (criminals/politicians) ignore in order to achieve results.

Bottom line: in a good organization, processes exist and are followed, but only with the goal of ensuring good results. Good organizations do not implement new processes for their own sake; but only with the intention of getting better results.

This game stunned me.  I had heard rumors that it was “more intelligent than your typical shooting game”, and that it was based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I figured “oh, great, another game trying to prove how intelligent it is by stealing from other media.”

It is influenced by Conrad,  that’s for sure.  But it’s more than that.  If you’re a fan of military action games, then you need to play this game.  It’s best if you go in knowing as little as possible about it, so if you haven’t played it but think you want to, I advise you to stop reading this now and go play it.


I’m still not sure what to think of this strange and thought-provoking article by Joel Marks, an “Ex-Moralist” who writes about his musings which led him to conclude that, as he puts it, “the entire set of moral attributions is out the window.”

I’m not trained in philosophy at all, so I can’t address this article with the kind of rigor or seriousness it deserves, but I do think it’s interesting to read about how he comes to his conclusions, unsettling as they are. It certainly makes you think. And be sure to read some of the comments; they’re also quite interesting.

Maybe I’ll post a bit more on this later.

Reports the BBC: “Scientists have shown they can change people’s moral judgements by disrupting a specific area of the brain with magnetic pulses.”

Read the article. It’s pretty interesting; however, I’m not sure if they’re modifying people’s morality so much as how they judge actions in general. And frankly, people frequently fall into the trap of judging a decision–whether morality is involved or not–based on the outcome, not the information available at the time the decision is made.

“Pilate saith unto him, ‘What is truth?’…”–John 18:38 

Most people probably believe that of the two major political parties in the United States, it is the Democrats who are more prone to relativism. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that there are more intellectuals, who are always given over to questioning traditions, in the Democratic party. The second is that many years of conservative propaganda has told everyone so.

Most of this is the work of the religious Right, though the Atheist philosophy of Ayn Rand also rejects the idea of anything other than absolute Truth, and it is certainly more widely heard in “conservative”,or–if we must use the term–“right-wing” circles. And there is some truth to all this; after all, does not the word “Conservative” itself suggest a certain intellectual and philosophical rigidity?

But, of late, there have been signs of a creeping relativism among conservatives. For example, this column from paleo-conservative writer Patrick J. Buchanan. An excerpt:

““Naked reason,” pure rationalism… ignores that vast realm of sentiments, such as patriotism and love, that reside in the terrain between thought and feeling.” 

Buchanan, admittedly, is far from one of the major players in the Republican party, having been effectively ostracized years ago. But there is altogether something very “post-modern”, as Andrew Sullivan often says, about the behavior of the conservatives of late. Recall the odd incident early this year when Rudy Giuliani and other prominent conservatives appeared to have forgotten about the 9/11 attacks.

(As Henry Leland says to Mike Thorton in Alpha Protocol: “There are only so many coincidences that can happen before they stop being coincidences.”)

Of course, one could easily explain away such things by pointing out that it is merely the inevitable result of competing–nearly warring–political parties. A strategy, nothing more. Indeed, I suspect a credible case could be made that changes in the media and the education system have produced a general increase in the relativistic outlook, and we only notice it with conservatives because they are, historically, less susceptible to it.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that strategically speaking, the Republicans are moving more and more towards a relativistic approach to reporting and analyzing every issue. Much of their criticism of Obama is based on how he makes them feel, or the image he projects.

Perhaps Lee Atwater had some part in it. (On some sites, I have seen the phrase “Perception is reality” attributed to Atwater. I doubt he originated it, but it does encapsulate his worldview.) Still, from at least Edward Bernays onward, propagandists, strategists and ad men, or whatever name, must have at least a touch of relativism to carry out their duty.

Now, I cannot stress enough that it is mostly the conservative intellectuals and strategists who seem to think this way. All the examples I gave, with the partial exception of Giuliani, were very much the behind-the-scenes tactician sort, not the leaders, and not the rank and file. I don’t think we will ever see Sarah Palin, for example, engaging in anything other than black-and-white moral reasoning. (“We win, they lose…”)

That’s part of what’s so odd about it, in fact. On the one hand we have the traditional non-relativist view of the world characterized by most of the Republican politicians, but pull away the curtain and we find men like Karl Rove–heir to Atwater–and other such strategists. Buchanan, let us not forget, was a strategist for Richard M. Nixon. (Nixon, by the way, was interested in the works of Nietzsche.) Even Dick Cheney, in his role as an adviser to Gerald Ford, famously said: “Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose.”

It is pointless to counter by saying that the same is true of Democrats. Of course it is. Carville, Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel and the rest are all doubtless cut from the same cloth. But the Democrats as a whole are already supposed to be the party of relativists, to hear the Republicans tell it, and they’re kind of correct. Nothing reveals this more than the fact that Democrats in general will tend to attack Republicans for being too absolutist. Whereas, the Republicans pride themselves on seeing through the moral haziness in which the liberal intellectuals lose themselves by understanding the absolute, God-given differences between True and False, Right and Wrong.

Let me, as Obama would say, be clear:  the majority of the Republican party believes in a rigid, absolutist, traditional Christian morality–or wants to, anyway.  But many of their strategists are willing to do almost anything to achieve victory, and are more than happy to bend the truth in order to get what they want. And they are fairly open about it.

In short, their strategists appear to be using moral and factual relativism in order to justify the rank-and-file and their leaders behaving like moral and factual absolutists.

All comments are welcome, and disagreement is encouraged. 

The Eclectic Iconoclast has a very good post about Libertarianism that I highly recommend. This post started out as a comment I was going to make on it, but it got too long.

EI writes that Libertarians “elevate the rights inherent in property ownership above and ahead of the rights of individuals.” I take issue with this. Most Libertarians certainly do allow that you can’t just kill people for trespassing, for example. The reason they object to government intervention to say, tell white business owners that they have to let black people into their stores is simply as a matter of the precedent it sets. If the state can intervene against a person’s right to control their property in the interest of letting another person occupy that property, it means the government it means, in broad outlines, that the government may violate a person’s rights when it determines that it is in the service of the greater good.

Now, of course, this is a basic function of government. As EI points out, most Libertarians acknowledge this. Everyone would agree that the government can violate someone’s right to move about the country freely if that someone has, for example, murdered a bunch of people. Nevertheless, Libertarians are uneasy with this idea. They certainly would say the government should intervene to stop the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan, but should they intervene to say that “you must serve all customers, regardless of race, at your restaurant”?

I freely admit that the ultimate effect of the libertarian policy is to say that in this case, we value the proprietors right over the potential customers right, but this is not actually the Libertarian objective. The Libertarian objective is to minimize government intervention. Why? Because it can lead to giving the government too much power, and that can be dangerous.

The Libertarian logic is basically that government is either (and sometimes both) evil and totalitarian, or at best inefficient, incompetent, and corrupt. Therefore, you want it to have as little power as possible.

Now, the Iconoclast does make a compelling argument that the Libertarians are, in fact, wrong in their view of the role of government. I am unsure about this aspect of the issue myself–on the one hand, I think the government is inefficient and corrupt, but on the other hand, I don’t know that the private market is really any better.

Kurt Schlichter at Big Hollywood asks how people who support Polanski can be for arresting the Pope:

 “I don’t know what the Pope did or didn’t do – that’s for the police to deal with, along with the Catholic Church and even God Himself. The chips will fall where they may. But I know what Roman Polanski did, because he confessed to it and then ran away. And no matter how wonderful and transcendent an artist he is supposed to be – I think he’s generally a hack – the same standard applies to him that applies to everyone else.”  

Schlichter also criticizes Christopher Hitchens for his plot to arrest the Pope. (Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to point out that Hitchens himself is firmly in the anti-Polanski camp.)

However, Schlichter is right in that this provides a fascinating test of where people stand in the so-called “Culture War”. Many leftist types want Polanski to go free, and favor punishing the Pope. And indeed, this is hypocrisy. But it also reveals much about how each side thinks. Let’s compare the two men’s crimes:

–Polanski drugged and raped a child while they were both under the influence of alcohol. When a Judge reneged on his sentence, he panicked and fled the country.

–The Pope is head of an institution that has, apparently for a very long time, been covering for its child-raping members. The present Pope himself has apparently personally signed off on these cover-ups. It’s important to point out, however, that this is technically irrelevant. Even if he hadn’t, it’s his responsibility as head of the organization.

Polanski’s crimes are those of an individual against a society–an institution. Though he clearly harmed an individual, that individual subsequently forgave him. But, as those who want to punish Polanski correctly note, her forgiveness does not matter. The point of punishing him is to uphold the law, to protect society as a whole from such criminals.

The Pope’s crimes are those of an institution against individuals. Therefore, the people who are pro-Polanski and anti-Pope are, by and large, hedonists and anarchists. The people who are pro-Pope and anti-Polanski are rigorous authoritarians.

My position is that both Polanski and the Pope have committed serious crimes, and both ought to be punished for them. Those on the Right, of course, are loath to admit that an Establishment is corrupt; those on the Left are seemingly in total denial that their anti-Establishment artist actually committed a horrible crime.