02 January 2004

Professor Bainbridge notes:

Values-based partisanship strikes me as being far more likely to result in sharp political polarization than economic issues. It's a lot easier to get emotional about, say, abortion than NAFTA. We tend to lose sight of that in the blogosphere because a disproportionately large shares of the opinion-setting bloggers have a libertarian outlook. There are few culture warriors of the right among the elite blogosphere. In the country as a whole, however, the culture wars rage unabated. As long as they do, our politics will remain pretty nasty.

"Political Polarization" (02 Jan 2004). The Perfesser is correct on this point: there is a great deal of diversity in economic philosophy at any given "values point". Whether the converse is also true is less apparent, and certainly is less intuitively reasonable.

I think what this really points out is the limitation of "enlightened economic self-interest" as a predictor or motivation for "values-based" social philosophy. A quick look at the "Rockefeller Republicans" should be sufficient here; and, conversely, the extremely conservative social values among some of our poorest citizens (such as Appalachia) suffices on the other wing. In each case, significant groupings espouse(d) social values that are at odds with their immediate economic self-interest. Were/are they, then, unenlightened? Perhaps so; but perhaps that means that "unenlightened" has nothing to do with the Enlightenment. In other words, just like so much else in the English language (recall my comments on equity from my perspective as an ESL lawyer), we're using the terms "enlighten" to mean contradictory things. "Englightened self-interest" means "aware of immediate and intermediate, and probably longer-term, behavior to maximize personal wealth." "Enlightened" in the sense of the "Enlightenment," or in "enlightened social values," however, means "aware of immediate and intermediate, and probably longer-term, behavior to maximize the social utility of individuals and groupings of which the thinker is not a member." Or something like that; the latter is roughly translated from Wittgenstein.

This is certainly sufficient as an explanation of how demographics sometimes "surprise" one. One would think, at first blush, that marital status would have little or nothing to do with the political preferences of female churchgoers. Positing that the "self" of married women is partly psychologically, partly legally, but not completely inclusive of the spouse—therefore enlarging the scope of economic self-interest and diminishing the scope of Enlightenment—seems to go a long way toward understanding this. Social factors probably indicate a lesser correlation with men, if only due to historical antecedants that have made men "more independent" (and religious doctrine in most Western religion that gives men a greater decisionmaking role).

At a more disturbing level, one might also posit that married women have a smaller conception of "us" than do single women; but that is getting into stereotypes and areas in which nobody can get funding to do anything rigorous (if it would even give a result!), so we'll just leave it there. Again, looking at the male counterpart would probably be less rewarding in an academic sense.