15 September 2004

More on Artistotle's Drinking Habits

I'm afraid that I have to disagree with the Perfesser on encroaching "fascism" claims. The difficulty is that he assumed without a warrant that one instance cited would be acceptable to those of us on the left, while the other would not, and therefore that those of us on the left "contribute nothing useful to the debate." I may be a leftist; but I'm no Stalinist. Neither the Patriot Act (etc.) in the US nor Putin's consolidation of authority from slightly more-fairly elected regional governments to himself in Russia is acceptable. I speak up a little bit louder about the Bush Administration's follies because I can. There is a far more realistic chance that anything I say, as a US citizen, about the Bush Administration's purported "rush toward fascism" will make a difference to the debate, if not necessarily to the policies themselves, than will anything I say about Putin's "rush toward dictatorship." (Note that both of the examples cited by the Perfesser are Americans, too.)

In other words, two different instances in which one gets overt attention and the other does not are not necessarily "opposites." That this particular logical flaw pervades American political debate is, perhaps, more telling than anything else. As a general rule—probably an unconscious attempt to acknowledge "majority v. minority"—we tend to reduce all policy arguments to a contest between two, and only two, alternatives. The world is not that simple. Perhaps our two-party system is, but the world is not. Consider, for example, the ongoing controversy over SarbOx (to name something near and dear to the Perfesser, and justifiably so). The debate quickly crystallized to "SarbOx or the status quo," instead of "Determine the best means—regulatory or otherwise—to prevent future director-approved accounting scandals." Thus, scrapping the GAAP and GAAS, and rebuilding accounting and auditing standards from ground zero instead of for the sake of consistency with late-nineteenth-century practices—to name only one potential possibility—never really entered the debate. Neither SarbOx nor the status quo is acceptable; but that kind of position is lost in binary reasoning.

Some of this may come from the American tendency to avoid even considering revolutionary changes in governmental or commercial contexts. There is certainly something to be said for predictability; however, predictability is properly a factor (and a significant one) in considering the merits of policy and practice alternatives, not the default condition. The irony that our nation has evolved to this after beginning two-hundred-odd years ago with one of the most revolutionary forms and practices of government seen to that time is a bit disturbing. Although I often disagree with Jefferson—remember, he and his party pushed through the Alien and Sedition Act—I think he was right to praise "a little revolution, now and then"—at least for consideration.