Will belief trump facts?

By Chrystia Freeland
September 2, 2011

You might call it the cognitive divide — the split between an evidence-based worldview and one that is rooted in faith or ideology — and it is one of the most important fault lines in the United States today.

President Barack Obama called attention to the cognitive divide, and reminded us which side he comes down on, at the beginning of this week, when he chose the Princeton University economist Alan Krueger to lead his Council of Economic Advisers.

Krueger is a labor economist, and at first blush, that focus may seem the important part of his résumé. Unemployment, after all, is still above 9 percent, and the president has said job creation is his priority. But when you talk to the insiders about Krueger, what they emphasize is his mastery of data and his utter commitment to the truths it can be coaxed to tell.

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and a Harvard economist, described Krueger, his former student, as a “total empiricist” and a “great data monger following the data where it went.” Lawrence Katz, a fellow Harvard economist and one of the pre-eminent labor economists, enthusiastically agreed: “Alan has an open mind and lets the data speak.”

Krueger’s passion for data runs so deep that one of his major professional projects has been, as Katz put it, “to actually improve the data.” Krueger was the founding director of Princeton’s Survey Research Center. When he can’t find the data he needs to answer a particular question, he goes out and gets it.

“Alan is almost unique among leading economists in that much of his work is based on additional data he collected,” said Justin Wolfers, a professor at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Krueger’s devotion to data is a key to understanding a question that has been puzzling a lot of Americans as they reflect on the past three years, and start thinking about how they will vote in the upcoming one: What does Obama really stand for?

To his critics on the right, the president is a socialist with dangerous foreign antecedents. To his critics on the left, he is a waffler with no real point of view and a craven desire to be liked.

Krueger’s nomination points to an entirely different explanation: The president is an empiricist. He wants to do what works, not what conforms to a particular ideology or what pleases a particular constituency. His core belief is a belief in facts.

Obama the empiricist is not the man who surged from behind to win the 2008 presidential election. That candidate was the Obama of soaring rhetoric, who promised hope and change.

But the pragmatist has always been there. Writing in September 2008, several weeks before the presidential election, Cass Sunstein, who has gone on to serve in the White House, had this to say about his candidate: “Above all, Obama’s form of pragmatism is heavily empirical; he wants to know what works.” Word crunchers found that the president’s 2009 inaugural address was the first one to use the term “data” and only the second to mention “statistics.”

That cognitive approach is one reason Obama attracted so much support, especially among younger people, on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Obama is a data-driven technocrat, and so are the traders and the Internet entrepreneurs. As one insider, who is equally familiar with Wall Street and with Washington, told me: “You want your money managed by people who are responsive to evidence, who care about results and who understand that the world is an uncertain place. Obama wants to get his economic advice from the same sorts of people.”

But as the presidential campaign begins to heat up, starting with the Republican primary race, the empirical worldview that Obama embodies is taking a beating. The candidates who have made the strongest start are those with a proudly faith-based approach. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, Governor Rick Perry of Texas is the Republican front-runner. He spoke at a Christian religious rally on the eve of entering the primary contest last month and has questioned the science of evolution and climate change.

The Republican Party has its own evidence-based candidates, and they are struggling to respond to the faith-based worldview that Perry so powerfully embodies. One of them, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., is playing up his credentials as the right’s empiricist. He has said he thinks climate change is a fact and warned Republicans against becoming the “anti-science party.”

Mitt Romney, who was the front-runner before Perry blazed onto the scene, has been more ambivalent. Romney’s business background puts him squarely in the camp of the empiricists: it is hard to make millions in private equity without appreciating the power of data. But Romney knows who votes in Republican primaries, and last week he hedged his previously explicit position on climate change.

The divide between the empiricists and the believers is also the fault line between the highly educated, technologically adept super-elite and the squeezed and scared middle class. But those hoi polloi voters, who, in 2012, as they were in 2008, seem to be drawn to politicians with big ideas and strong beliefs, may also be responding to something even bigger than this cognitive divide.

We are today, as we were in 2008, living through an unprecedented crisis. The economies of the Western world are sick, and the international balance of power is shifting. To be driven by data is an admirable thing. But when you find yourself in dangerous and uncharted waters, there is no data to guide you.

 

72 comments

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I think Chrystia Freeland has identified the central issue that defines and divides political debate in this country today — religion v. science. But, have we regressed so far that we’re returning to the lunacy of the Scopes Monkey Trials?

In light of all evidence to the contrary, the anti-science party refuses to accept the legitimacy of evolution, climate change and a slew of other facts — e.g., Obama didn’t sign TARP or takeover the health insurance and auto industries, etc. — that do not conform to their world view.

I’ve been nodding my head in rabid agreement with so much of what Chrystia Freeland has been saying over the airwaves for the past 48hrs — especially remarks about the bifurcation of American society between the haves and have nots — so much so that I was motivated to post a comment here. The only squabble I have is that there is no data to guide us through these difficult economic times. Clearly, there are reams of data from the FDR, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush eras concerning the success and/or failure of gov’t intervention, stimulus, tax policies, and job creation, etc., to instruct us now. But that would require faith in data, science, and reason — a leap of faith the anti-science party seems unwilling to make.

Posted by murrayhill7 | Report as abusive

Good and well written article that draws readers and voters to deal with hope versus reality.
The US have always been a nation of quick fixes but this mega economic meltdown perpetuated by the very people, who works on data, i.e your bankers and fund managers, cannot be fixed within term of President Obama nor any next term President, unless the financial sector excesses are reined in -i.e Wall Street manufacturing these data – the whole US economic policy system is being hijacked by Wall Street with the tacit abdication of Congress.

Posted by About-Face | Report as abusive

With 43 trillion DNA codes in the human body instructing each cell what to be and how to function, you beleive in the darwinian theory of evolution. Science has passed you by. Many biogeneticist have abandoned the drawian theory. With current temperatures at the south pole of minus 85 degrees F, you believe its melting is coming soon, you have more faith than any christian.

Posted by chrispa | Report as abusive

Some times you discourage me kid, I thought the Brits did a better job at classical education than that.

The divide between the classical rationalism of the Greek and Roman philosophers and the moralistic faith based philosophy of the Judeo-Christian camp is now nearly 2,000 years old. The question of “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” had to have been asked by 225 AD because that’s when Tertullian died.

That the basic divide was bridged during the dark ages by the supremacy of the church, and debate somewhat more civil, gives me no comfort. It is an old divide, and we are not going to resolve it, so I do not see contemporary western politics (the current crisis is certainly not uniquely American) as any more disturbing than those of the past.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

What tripe this article is…this President is not fact based. He may have come to this conclusion after three years of failed policy. He governs from the epicenter of the federal goverment knows best. When he first came on scene I thought perhaps the Democrats had something. Then I read his book and his background. The man has never worked a day in his life and truly producing anything without taking money from the citizens for their own controlling programs. Goverment must truly reform itself and look at the results of the programs it has and make the determination for the monies spent does it produce a result worth the money. I am environmentalist and I believe that the goverment programs simply are trading one problem for another and that they will fail simply because of the economics are not there to driver green energy which in their own right produce environmental pollutants.

Posted by williamdafoe | Report as abusive

Keep in mind that a good higher education need not conflict with your faith or ideology. However, the lack of such education may make it much more difficult to understand and embrace science and an evidence-based worldview.

Posted by Yowser | Report as abusive

Whose data should I believe? Both the ‘empiricists’ and ‘believers’ look the same to me now: groups of bandwagon-loving people who act childishly towards each other.

The whole anti-faith/anti-science thing is totally juvenile. It’s ‘teams’ of people who just want that and nothing else – a ‘team’ to be on. In reality, they’re arguing over things that they don’t even have consistent definitions for.

Posted by ahms | Report as abusive

Belief has always trumped facts: Could ancient civilizations eat or drink gold? Can we eat or drink a $ 100.00 bill?

However, the hope and belief that someone would carry out an economic activity in our favour gave THE value to these mediums of exchange.

If we want economic growth, we must spread the medium of exchange. Credit cards did that for forty years.

Now we need the “Eternal Credit Card” where in the long run (remember Keynes)everyone accepts that payment will not be made in full; but hope will drive the economies.

Posted by yeri | Report as abusive

Wow. Liberals/Democrats are fact-based and conservatives/Republicans are belief-based. Way to go Reuters. Thanks for helping me understand that. A news source you can trust, based on just the facts.

Posted by liberalarchi | Report as abusive

These recent Reuters editorial posts are refreshing including this post.

Businesses optimize on their function and revenues based off analytics driven by good quality data.

GAO – Government Accountability Office does this function for US government. The reports of these agencies are regrettably not complied-on as it lacks the authority for related compliance and enforcement, short of which, this good work goes to waste as the recommended actions are left for the parties delivered to such as military, suppliers, contractators and other that just ignore in summary with some lip-service at best.

Bottomline, metrics, measures and monitors with well validated data, do represent absolute reference for improvements of the underlying inefficiencies but are only effective when these outcomes are married with legal compliance and consequences of non-compliance.

Analytics based accountability and legal conformance represent the next generation “self-corrective” infrastructure with its building blocks gradually falling in-place for use by a leader that is visionary and accountable by public for responsible actions.

Experience that is driven by facts and figures go beyond the belief and faith.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

It’s not “faith” it’s religion. Get yer facts straight.

Posted by PapaDisco | Report as abusive

The emprical data shows that a generation ago America, with American worksers, was the greatest manufacturing and commercial power on Earth.

Then, the largest American corporations lobbied successfully for congress to remove the American tariffs on imported goods.

Why would they do such a thing? Why would American corporations want to eliminate the very tariffs that had given them birth, and protected them in their infancy against the manufacturers of Europe, all during the 1800′s and 1900′s?

American corporations lobbied to drop the American Tariff because doing so would allow them increase profits by taking advantage of the gigantic pool of cheap labor abroad. In other words American corporations lowered their cost of labor by directing Congress to eliminate the American tariff.

Of course this would directly force down the wage rates of American workers, a simple case of supply and demand, as the empirical evidence shows so vividly.

Now, empirical evidence shows that,

1. The American tariff is so small as to be meaningless.

2. Almost every product in every store in America says “Made in China”

3. American corporate profits are at record high levels

4. The American congress is so much in the pocket of corporate America, that in Congress-speak, the very words “worker” or “labor”, which had an admirable flavor to the generation before us, now have villainous connotation.

We should urge President Obama to call for the immediate reinstatement of an American Tariff of 50% on all imported goods.

If he did so, new companies and new jobs for Americans would spring up like grass after a rain.

Here is the Wikipedia schedule by year of the American tariff:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariff

It also shows that the American tariff was first implemented by Alexander Hamilton and George Washington to protect American jobs from European competition.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

It is false hope to believe that somehow academics are more capapble of making practical decisions that will guide us out of this economy.
To put your hope in government and the academy instead of the people is a mistake. The only fix here is from the bottom up.
None of the economic downfalls in my lifetime have been predicted by economists.
I also think that to belittle people of faith with personal bigotry is foolish. Science in itself has hardly ever been the answer to peoples problems and never will be in its entirety.

Posted by Andrew150 | Report as abusive

Obama the empiricist?

Then why does he continue with pointless Keynesian stimulus when the data in the US has clearly shown it doesn’t work, and when Japan has shown us for 20 yrs before that it doesn’t work.

Why does he believe in government picking winners and losers (investing in Solyndra for example), when the data clearly shows government is a terrible investor?

Why does he insist on spending billions to try to save union jobs in outdated industries when the data clearly shows the best thing to do is to let them die and move on (Argentina vs Australia and sheep farming).

Why does he insist on tax hikes combined with stimulus when the data clearly shows tax breaks are the best way to help out the private industry (and best of all to avoid pointless stimulation altogether)

Why does he ignore the deficit when even the simplest of math calculations show that current government spending is unsustainable.

Why does he continue with two unwinnable wars when history clearly shows the effort is pointless.

If anything he completely ignores the data! Obama is an idealist and has so far done everything he can to ignore reality.

Posted by ischumacher | Report as abusive

Also, do not be so smug in your confidence in the data your empiricism produces. While Galileo was correct in his central thesis – that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, he was wrong on all of the technical details. And by the way, the Church did not forbid his teaching his theory, it forbid him teaching it as ‘fact’. And literally, in that matter, they were more correct than he was.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Faith and ideology have really messed up our world in a big way.

I wonder what the data shows for economic improvement based on protectionist taxes? e.g. Brazil’s high import taxes have created a thriving manufacturing industry and boosted their economy.

What does the data show as far as United States average person’s economic improvements since free trade to now?

Funny how we can suddenly turn protectionist and anti-free trade for buying drugs – when they affect the big pharma profits.

Unfortunately, Obama is neither a socialist or a waffler. He is an opportunistic political survivor. Whatever he is – his faith and strength of character do not come across.

I was one of his strongest supporters and have waned continuously with every passing day.

If Obama has a belief or plan – it is only evident in his head and he does not have the courage to lay it out or does not want to for fear of losing his financial backers. His verbal chastising (bark with no bite) appears so back-room planned and orchestrated.

America needs a massive re-emergence in faith and do-ability of what the founding fathers stood for.

Many of their fears have come to pass and there is not a strong enough or sensible enough ground roots movement to bring America back to it’s roots.

The Tea Party movement is an example of pure faith based. That kind of faith based non empirical data driven approach would quickly destroy a nation.

America’s faith and continued downfall are strongly tied to the Wall Street Papacy and War – which is guided and rewarded by global conglomerates who only answer to financial data. They do have faith the media will continue to appease the masses so as to not organize and subvert the system.

I am not faith based – just looking at the data.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

I do not expect Alan Krueger to work miracles. Contrary to Economists and their evaluations the US economy suffered a “double dip” in the time era of Asian, European markets going down taking with it the oil prices down and an immediate rise of gold prices.
No Republican or Democrat can work miracles. I do not expect the 2012 President-Elect/ Re-elected President to take us out of the recession in the short run, but I do want to see what changes were brought about to bring about the jobs and economy change. Even up by a margin or meager success. A meager success is better that no success, and also how the spending is controlled, and is the country carrying on with the necessary infrastructures (the same standards adopted for infrastructure by other advanced countries) or has that been ignored/sacrificed at the expense of other priorities.

Posted by kritik1 | Report as abusive

Until there is a better economic theory, the Keynesian Theory is the one to bank upon. You cannot go back to find Adam Smith or Malthusian theory to work in modern times. If there is a better Economic Theory to follow please let me know!
Writing books on Economics is not the same thing as creating an accurate economic theory.

Posted by kritik1 | Report as abusive

Speaking of details ARJTurgot2, where did you get your information from, the Tea Party? The Catholic Church put Galileo on the rack and began to stretch him apart limb by limb. And why? So he would recant his argument for a sun centered solar system. He did recant and the Church kept him under house arrest for the remainder of his life. This brilliant proto astro physicist was kept from his craft until he died.

Seeing as he didn’t have high powered telscopes, mass spectrometers, advanced computers, the benefit of robotics and unmaned space travel to the planets one could say his observations about the workings of the solar system were quite estute. He did however have the knowledge of Keplar and Brahe’s work based on the findings of Copernicus.

The Church’s stated reason for silencing Galileo was that his best selling book clearly demonstrated the long held view taught by the Catholic Church that the Earth and man were not at the center of the universe. The Pope viewed his book as subversive and as such undermined Papal authority by pointing the Church’s error. Privately the Pope agreed with the new theory. However, politics is politics.

Isn’t it interesting that you are wrong on all the technical details. But I’m sure Chrystia is well aware of that. Clearly she suffers fools more gladly than I.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

It’s more than a little ironic you state all this without a single piece of empirical data ;-)

Posted by ischumacher | Report as abusive

This is well written and presents the perspectives extremely well. President Obama’s craven to be liked is reminiscent of President Carter and yielding similar results.

Posted by GSH10 | Report as abusive

@murrayhill7

1 + 1 =2 is fact. Evolution and climate change are theory.

Posted by GSH10 | Report as abusive

The Catholic Church has tortured and burned so many people at the stake for heresy, over so many centuries, across so many different geographic regions of Europe, that it’s difficult, a real stretcher, to characterize it’s behavior as fair-minded.

I’m not Jewish, but I admire the Jewish Talmudic approach to life — that everything in life, even every word, every sentence of the Torah — is open to question, scientific debate and critical thinking.

Quite opposite to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I memorized as a student. In the cathechism nothing is open to question, everything an article of faith to be accepted as is.

Torquemada, of course, was the great Christian believer. A man proud of his faith in God. A man who brought such violence to those who questioned things that he thought beyond question.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

The faith v. facts dichotomy is essentialy a truism and it spans the political spectrum. The left has its own dogma that flies in the face of facts – an easy example is its attachment to extended jobless benefits, which, as Mr. Krueger’s own research shows, predictably disincentivize people from looking for work. Stereotyping Republicans as troglodytes clinging to guns and religion and Democrats as enlightened rationalists is an old self-serving canard of the caviar left. It has no merit and should not be given a platform here.

Posted by amateurediteur | Report as abusive

The following is the text of the 1616 Admonition of Galileo:
“Thursday, 25 February 1616. The Lord Cardinal Mellini notified the Reverend Fathers, the Assessor, and the Commissary of the Holy Office that the censure passed by the theologians upon the propositions of Galileo—to the effect that the Sun is the centre of the world and immovable from its place, and that the Earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion—had been reported; and His Holiness has directed the Lord Cardinal Bellarmine to summon before him the said Galileo and admonish him to abandon the said opinion; and, in case of his refusal to obey, that the Commissary is to enjoin on him, before a notary and witnesses, a command to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this opinion and doctrine and even from discussing it, and, if he do not acquiesce therein, that he is to be imprisoned.”

They were not interested in the complete factual correctness or subtleties at all. The last Pope apologized for this one too. How was the Church more correct?

I heard a couplet years ago: “Completeness is never perfect and perfection is never complete.”

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Why does everyone keeps trying to use economics to justify politics, when we all know that politicians don’t care about economists, unless they need a tool to justify a particular policy. If we consider that economics as science is supposed to have began with Adam Smith, the world certainly existed before then and the rulers knew how to make their economies successful without economists. Our political leaders know how to make the economy successful. The only thing that is lacking is political will to do the correct things. Politics today has been captured by the greedy, and unless we are able to cut the connection between greed and politics, the world economies cannot, and will not, improve. Those who own the politicians will have to part with something they cherish: money. Since at this point they refuse to do so, we will have to wait until they feel the pain of the rest of us.
There is a wonderful story about this: A man, before death, is given a tour of heaven and hell. He goes to hell first, and sees a huge table set with food. All the denizens have 6 ft. forks, and all are emaciated, practically skeletons. He is then taken to heaven, same thing, huge table set with food, everyone with a 6 ft fork. Yet everyone is fat. The difference? In heaven, the denizens are picking up the food with their 6 ft forks and feeding each other, while in hell each resident is trying to eat the food with his own fork.
Politics trumps economics every time.

Posted by contrarianview | Report as abusive

It’s just back to basics. The facts are what we see everyday as we walk through life. Be frugal save for all bad conditions and you will be able to make the margin call. Frugal people have done this for generations and have survived and thrived. These are facts and they are indisputable. We need water, food, and shelter the rest is a belief, a believed perception of need. Belief is just that, speculating what will happen, what we can sell gold for tomorrow. Belief is a vain effort to predict the future by demagogues, religious leaders, economists and they will always exist. The winners don’t believe, they find the truth in the now. They act on it and they will prevail as they always have.

Posted by freedomadvocate | Report as abusive

Chrystia, I enjoyed the article. However, I would argue the private and public sectors need to start hiring before the evidence supports it. Large companies should start advertising “Bank of America style” to the American public that they are investing in America by hiring Americans and are closing foreign branches. For good measure, companies should also buy up all the Fox news “special reports” to show stories of people making millions in this economy. We should start seeing some Tea party scandals, too ;-)

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive

The American economy, for all intents and purposes, is out of business. It doesn’t exist.

Don’t believe me, just count all the people who don’t have a job or a steady job like they did in the Great Depression. Then we counted anybody who actually was out of work. We didn’t count them as we do now, only those of us who are lucky enough to have a full-time job, plus the folks getting federal unemployment checks. That’s how they come up with figure’s like 9.1% for those unemployed, saying anybody else who doesn’t work or collect unemployment, doesn’t exist.

Somehow we let our politicians change the way we represent unemployment. If we counted it up like they did in the Great Depression, adding up everybody who is out of work, the real unemployed are more like 25%. That means over 30,000,000 million Americans don’t have a steady job. That is why I say our economy is out of busines.

The pivotal question for Americans, in my opinion, is to accept the reality that the we live in a Global “cave”, if you will, that isn’t exclusive to Americans. It includes all of humankind, regardless of economic theory or form of government or political tenet or religious belief.

Americans are stuck in the 20th century idea that ours is still the only economy with which we need to concern ourselves. That’s like thinking Americans are the only reason the world’s economy is in the tank and we all know that isn’t true.

The fact that formerly American owned businesses manufacture their products and services using labor and materials from other areas of the world confirms this wrong-minded thinking. Anyone who thinks that providing lower costs goods and services with exclusively American employees and materials is living in the first cave, or garden, on the face of the Earth. This is not a Why. It’s an Is.

Good luck to us if we all don’t start thinking and acting on solutions based on the fact that all the world’s economies are the American economy.

Posted by jpl29 | Report as abusive

1) I would like to read more from Lawrence Katz on what he means when he says that A. Krueger “actually tries to improve data.” A statement like that could be understood any number of ways, none of which either conform to L. Katz’s sense or reference. Moreover, I take it Katz is not talking about improving on data used by a cookie-cutting regime; nonetheless, a fuller explanation of this quality attributed to A. Krueger would help close the gap of this particular cognitive divide. (Note: I do not dispute that A. Krueger is a vetted economist who, despite normative disagreements, is respected amongst his peers.)

2) “Krueger’s devotion to data is a key to understanding a question that has been puzzling a lot of Americans as they reflect on the past three years, and start thinking about how they will vote in the upcoming one: What does Obama really stand for?”

I just felt an outward shift in my brain. Caricature notwithstanding, it’s safe to say that I’m very skeptical of this correlation.

3) Facts and data. Facts and data. Facts and data.

I’m beginning to see a trend here.

4) “That candidate was the Obama of soaring rhetoric, who promised hope and change.”

Nailed it with “soaring rhetoric.” To be charitable, however, there are exceptionally few political officials or political candidates that do not succumb to overblown rhetoric.

5) Cass Sunstein: “Above all, Obama’s form of pragmatism is heavily empirical; he wants to know what works.”

Considering that C. Sunstein went on to work at the WH, it’s fair to categorize his assessment as “cue card rhetoric.” Despite this, is not the market economy supposed to be primarily filled with “rational consumers?” Presumably so; moreover, it stands to reason that rational consumers are heavy-handed on the empirical side of decision-making processes. And even in the absence of empirical data, a priori deductions are not untenable. Were all things heretofore known subject to strict empiricism, I would probably be herding cattle from Montana to Fort Worth, Texas this time of year. Suffice it to say economic models are not pinnacles of human achievement lacking any and all assumptions–that is, strictly empirical.

6) “The divide between the empiricists and the believers is also the fault line between the highly educated, technologically adept super-elite and the squeezed and scared middle class.”

Here’s an instructive quip from Kurt Godel that comes to mind: “All generalizations, with the possible exception of this one, are false.” Still, I think there’s merit in pointing out that there are two sides currently throwing rocks at one another from across the great cognitive divide. That part, at least, is empirical.

Posted by Kovenox | Report as abusive

While this is a good piece and I admire the expression “the cognitive divide” I have to agree with liberalarchi’s reaction, which is: DUH. It isn’t news that the left tends to demonstrate greater analytical skills and higher-order thinking, while the right…not so much. The right does have one remarkable strength, which is its ability to re-kindle the same campfire mentality of mythology and ideological narrative (e.g., the view that it’s more rational to believe God will destroy us all than to believe we might be harming to the environment; or, that we need to cut spending and increase the size of our military at the same time).

So. Again. I find myself reacting to this op-ed the way I have been reacting to others in the same vein: we get it. The problem is an obvious one. What is really absent from contemporary discourse today is the discussion of what can be done about it.

Posted by big_winner | Report as abusive

“But when you find yourself in dangerous and uncharted waters, there is no data to guide you.”

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

All this would be fine, provided that modern economics was actually a predictive science, rather than an obvious stand-in for religion. And in today’s case, a rather obvious God That Has Failed.

Posted by ErikD | Report as abusive

Facts? The author’s superficial arguments carry little force. Perhaps a rereading of something like Thomas Kuhn’s excellent book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, will help the author better understand the nature of scientific “facts”.

Posted by wbig | Report as abusive

Individual belief in a God, in Christianity, or other religeous belief systems is personal and if the person is true to those beliefs, they will be guided and comforted through troubled times.
Having such a high degree of faith is a gift and being able to live within that belief is also a gift.
If you make science, money, politics, commerce, materialism etc the basis of your belief system you will receive no such comfort other than fleeting moments of joy at your success followed by depression caused by others greed or corruption when they succeed over you.

I find the corruption which is evident in politicians who are linked to business interests which in turn are both greedy and hypocritical in what they say and do, the root of the worlds difficulties. The dual party system in both the US and the UK give voters no real choice other than a new variety of corruption with each successive new Government.

There are fundamental human needs that should be the basis of all Government, I believe the US got close once with ‘the bill of rights’ what happened?

Posted by Tommyuk | Report as abusive

Data. Statistics. If I “took” your 2 apples and added them to my 2 apples I would then have 4 apples. You may study material transfer data, storage container production, ripeness comparisons but the basis of the matter remains a moral decision.

Posted by mdblitz | Report as abusive

“Science is hardly ever the answer to people’s problems…” I’m drilling a new well today, should I think scientifically and put down a well casing or just dig a hole and ask for divine intervention? The author certainly stirred up a tepid pool of half baked responses.

Posted by Kingsago | Report as abusive

“But when you find yourself in dangerous and uncharted waters, there is no data to guide you.”

There is data from the 20s and 30s that are relevant though that was an agrarian and manufacturing economy and today’s is largely services-oriented. Here are a few relevant points: 1) recessions and depression are caused by a lack of demand not supply so the last 4 years of supply focused remedies aren’t working—the rich just got richer while demand eroded, 2) labor programs won’t work unless huge: FDR’s program only reduced unemployment from 24% to 19%—it’s was massive WW2 spending (Keynesian) that pulled the USA out of the GD, 3) turning a surplus into a deficit in good times was anti-Keynesian and a big mistake by GE Bush—Cheney is wrong—deficits do matter when you need to borrow, 4) concentrating a societies wealth too greatly leads to demand problems—it did in the 20s and it did again in the 90s and 2000s.

Posted by advocatusdiabol | Report as abusive

Chrystia suffers from what Frederich Hayek called, “The Fatal Conceit,” namely THE BELIEF that men can glean from data the knowledge of the market to know how to make corrections for it’s betterment.

Posted by Blomix | Report as abusive

“The president is an empiricist. He wants to do what works, not what conforms to a particular ideology or what pleases a particular constituency.”
———-

Anyone who says they believe that is either blind to the last 3 years or is lying in the hopes of helping Obama get re-elected. Me thinks the author is in the latter camp.

Anybody who has been paying attention knows that the President himself has confessed a fundamental belief in redistribution of wealth philosophy. He also clings to his economic THEORY despite the filure of the last 3 years.

He is also a product of the Reverend Wright school of black theology and social justice.

These, my dear, are blatantly ideological and Obama clings to this ideology even when 3 years of failure have proven it to be what DOESN’T work.

This fantasy President you wish to foist upon the American public is exactly the opposite of who we have now. And comparing his failed policies of economic theory to evolution and global warming is as dishonest a slight-of-hand argument as anyone has made.

Fortunately Obama’s failures are plainly evident for anyone to see so your dishonest propaganda simply will not fly.

Posted by jjd1965 | Report as abusive

This is a disappointing article. The implication is whoever gathers the most data wins. There is no mention of what one does with the data relative to the economy. The bias of Keynsian economics-the larger the goverment role the better, generally speaking-remains the paradigm of the Obama administration with this appointment. Until a more business and people freindly, freedom oriented approach to economic policy is implemented, the country will remain in an economic funk. For example, how many waivers for the new health care law have been given, particularly in former Speaker of the House Pelosi’s own district? Why not a waiver for the whole country by defeating that bill? Why not end the growth of regulations for a positive business climate to enhance job growth? Fire the czars, roll back the last three years of regulations, and let business roll. We will all benefit. For an alternitive to Keynes that is data based, try the Austrian School of Economics. Plenty of info on the web.
The country can overcome the bias of this writer and the damage of the last few years. Get the goverment out of the way.

Posted by Middleearther | Report as abusive

While an analysis of the Tea Party or the conservative movement’s echo chamber would be welcome, Freeland’s faith vs. facts analysis lacks in several important areas: data, critical thought, or science history awareness.

So she’s going to criticize right-wingers for not singing the same tune as Harvard economists – no mention that the economics profession has its own arguments between New Keynesians and New classicals, and that Princeton, Harvard, etc. are all saltwater New Keynesian schools. Not to mention that a lot of right-wingers now are reading the Austrian economists, who argue for a prioristic economic science rather than empirical studies. It’s not an issue of blind, unreasoning faith – it’s an issue of what body of economics is taught as right. Freeland is either ignorant of the controversies in economics or she’s deceiving people.

She seems to think that the right-wingers live in the middle class and her educated, tech-savvy “empiricists” live in the upper class. Sorry, but right-wingers live on Twitter, too; they buy as many Macs as anybody else; they have their rich people in big houses. Freeland likes to think *her kind* live up there struggling to rule an ignorant middle class. Sorry, no – at every socioeconomic level Americans are divided along real ideas. It doesn’t work to just wonder whether other people live in reality since your ideas (you think) have the imprint of empirical certainty. You’re building models with two hundred years of data and you’re asking people to take big risks to rely on these models? There is no monopoly on faith or facts.

Posted by Jayhay | Report as abusive

Ummm OK.

Sometimes I want to slap Obama supporters because of their intellectual grandstanding in their defense of his policies. When are you going to get it? Its people who don’t understand what the hell he is actually doing that need explaining to. Articles like these which show how amazingly superior he is and how efficient his thought processes serve only to alienate him from a doubting electorate.

Religion, cognitive divide, empiricism-who cares? After we finish praising god or philosophy or whatever, we still need to eat and sleep in our homes–ultra-liberals and neo-conservatives included.

Posted by ex-fungi | Report as abusive

Faith and religion are often fallbacks for when things appear to become too complex to understand, too random to provide security, and in general very unnerving and anxiety generating. While understandable, this drift towards comforting, faith-based perceptions tends to come at the expense of not only looking rationally at problems, but even making the effort to try to understand what’s really going on. The big consequence is that this creates opportunity for exploit by amoral and unscrupulous politicians and their acquiescent enablers in the mainstream news media, as well as the rabble rousing bloggers and pundits in the “new media.” The Information Age is dead, long live the Disinformation Age.

One overall result has been this huge, growing divisive schism between “evidence based” and “faith based” perceptions on almost any given topic, regardless of — or perhaps due to — how much media “coverage” it receives. I personally have gotten use to essentially needing to develop forensics skills in order to ferret all the important details of any news item I take particular interest in. And the end result and overall picture in full context usually ends up being a wee bit different from the fuzzy — if not completely misleading — perception that would be gathered from casual TV watching or web surfing, or in discussions among friends and relatives in a social setting. You then stir all this around and bake with what a person’s faith would have him/her to believe and Voila! — virtually complete ignorance.

This is probably not a good thing, and solving it in any way will not be easy. As someone who has been fairly adept at web searching since the early DEC days of AltaVista, I can safely say the golden era of having vast information at one’s fingertips is gone and has been for a while — a casual web search now will likely produce far more disinformational sites than informational ones, especially on any hot or politically touchy topic, and you might even end up infecting your computer if you get overly curious about all those search results. Turning on the TV and watching, say, hour or two of news a day, plus tuning in for some of those Sunday morning talk shows will more than likely end up with existing knowledge being sucked away.

This is not the best time to become well-informed, but if you want to get riled up enough to post a heated comment on a online discussion thread pretty much devoid of any evidence, research, and logic, then this is the best of times.

Posted by CallMeBC | Report as abusive

To answer the author’s question:

Yes, the perpetuation of atheism is a perfect example of beliefs trumping facts. Hand in hand with Keynesian economics the worldview that all things can be reduced to a simplified equation. But hey, these lies are now being exposed as these stooges continue to try the same gimmicks, and they continue to fail.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Do your own research at Mises Institute or listen to a few episodes of Schiff Radio or any equivalent. Line up their past predictions with the present, versus the consensus of government and Ivy League economists, and see for yourself who’s right.

For those curious, I study chemical engineering and am working on my PhD. I have become absolutely convinced that most “science” is a three-ring circus in which funding agencies dictate what is and is not science, with research scientists choosing only to fall in line or lose their jobs. Free, objective inquiry in American universities is a myth.

Posted by labmike | Report as abusive

Data is important and worthwhile to develope, however, we must always think about the GIGO concept – garbage in and garbage out. “Facts” that everyone know seem to change over time as more and better data is developed. I have answered many questionaires and participated in surveys that did not ask the right questions, and so probably did not come up with the right data or conclusions.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

@ Adamsmith – Talmudic tradition may have a skeptical strain but it must be well within limits. While researching AJRTorgot2′s assertion re: Galileo I found that the geocentrist view was firmly held by Judaism, Christianity and Islam at the time. It derived from Biblical sources.

None of the major faiths has a glorious record of tolerance of dissent. Organized religions tend to teach their followers that all the other religions are wrong. They have very bottom line pecuniary motives for doing that.

It takes time for believers to adjust their parameters and when they do they frequently claim – they knew it all along and even that they invented the idea.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Unfortunately the uneducated, like GSH10, forget that the English language has many homonyms.

Although the word theory can be defined as, an explanation that has not yet been proven true, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation of empirical phenomena, made in a way consistent with scientific method,therefore verifiable.

The Theory of Evolution and Climate change are fact, some just wish to ignore the evidence to the contrary.

Posted by Andvari | Report as abusive

Faith??? Let me tell you about faith. Chicken Boy was a cell partner, of mine, psychopathic but a lovely guy. Nothing in the world could shake his believe that he was, in fact, a chicken. God knows we all tried. But in spite of his unshakable faith over a five year period, Chicken Boy never laid an egg. Not one.

Posted by riverview | Report as abusive

“The president is an empiricist. He wants to do what works, not what conforms to a particular ideology or what pleases a particular constituency. His core belief is a belief in facts.”

I believed this once, and it was the main reason i voted for him. Unfortunately, he has adopted the rhetoric of the ideological right – focusing on deficit reduction when the data are screeming for job creation. So either he is being fed bad data, or he is a very poor analyst.

Posted by dude. | Report as abusive

I was struck recently by the parallel between the story of Noah and the Great Flood to our present deniers of the planet’s water (in which our Eastern and Gulf coasts are presently wallowing, with yet another tropical storm steering an apparent direct course for the Hatteras Light). Those who say it’s all “just a theory” or even “a fraud perpetrated by liberal scientists” might shut up for a bit and have a little conversation with the Almighty similar to the one in Bill Cosby’s comedy bit:

“How long can you tread water?”

“Riiiiight!”

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive

chrispa, there are less than 30,000 genes or alleles in the human genome. It is estimated better than 90% of the genetic material in each and every cell is unused( mitochondrial dna). All of the mitochondrial dna is unused. Why do you think that is.

For those of you who view evolution as a theory you are living in the “Victorian Age”. Simply charting the new strains of virus’ and other microbes that have emerged since the time of Pasteur bears this out.

Ie., measles in canines evolved in to distemper which in turn evolved into parvo virus. Until advanced electron microscopes were developed an explanation for the origins of distemper and parvo were unclear. We now know that these virus, are all related. They are mutations ostensibly from vaccination campaigns. However some of these virus produced a mutation that allowed them to proliferate despite our best efforts to render them extinct. If one were to call these observations the hand of god or satan at work, then the religious are merely engaging in an argument of semantics at best with the empiricists.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

Will belief trump facts?

There is no need to ask this question. It can be replaced by the statement:

In America, ideology and religious dogma HAS REPLACED facts and rational thinking in all conduct of politics, policy, economics and social behavior. The American Idiot has trumped critical thinking.

It all started, slowly beginning in the 1990′s, but accelerated to dominate much of society by the 2000′s. Thus began the astounding policy errors, unfettered recklessness, upheavals and decline of the U.S.A.

Today, there is little sign of a let up of fictional or utopian thinking, especially as the economy goes sour and people gets more desperate. Even the Texas governor prays for rain as a normal conduct of executive function.

The whole ‘holy’ mess the county now experience is just a matter of dogmatic beliefs hitting the wall of facts.

Posted by TomKi | Report as abusive

One man’s data is another man’s religion.

How can you trust data that is so often manipulated with the intent to disguise important points? And upon which trillions of dollars of wealth held by the most powerful individuals and institutions on this planet? If you are rational, you cannot.

Unfortunately, neither politics nor economics is a simple dichotomy. And all the players on the stage work for the same, hidden side.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

@ GSH10

Actually 1 + 1 = 2 is not a fact, its truth. Mathematics are not factual, math is only a model we use to explain the Universe. (thats why you cant use Euclidian Geometry to accurately describe the orbit of Mercury around the Sun or the Moon around the Earth).
Whats 1 + .99999 continuing? its 2.

You’re right about Evolution though, its a theory, just like the theory of Gravity. When a scientist uses the word theory she means something quite different than when a creationist says it.

Posted by vintintin | Report as abusive

Thank you Chrystia Freeland for another insightful and provocative editorial. One thing missing here is any discussion on confidence. This is where empiricists and faith-ers intersect. It is also the element that makes economics more an art than a science.

As at least one poster pointed out, both camps have the same data but come to different conclusions. But no matter what your policy of choice is, improving consumer sentiment is paramount. Obama seems poised to respond to that need. He has postponed expensive EPA regulations and is working with the chamber of commerce to stimulate hiring. With stimulus money having run out with little effect and tax and interest rates at historical lows, removing government barriers is the next logical step.

The Tea Party’s demand for fiscal restraint while not raising taxes on the wealthy would be disastrous. This is truly a faith based initiative that is not founded on any empirical data. Not only would it put downward pressure on consumption and employment as most economists would tell you, but it would sour the mood of those who rely on the Government to do what it has traditionally done: educate, protect, and invest in our infrastructure.

So oddly, the failure of empiricists has been that they have relied too heavily on the macroeconomic data alone. And while the faith based policy advocates have not interpreted the data well, the empiricists have not been able to improve the mood of the people they are supposed to serve. Hopefully for the country, that is about to change.

Posted by LEEDAP | Report as abusive

Oh please… don’t tell me you are so stupid as to believe that someone looking only at the data will only come up with the truth…

Statistics have always been the favorite weapon of someone trying to manipulate the public. If I wanted to scare people from flying I would say that walking a tight rope is safer than flying in an airplane… The statement is true and can be supported by the numbers but so what? I could also say its safer to fly than to drive in a car… Also true…

Being a master at manipulating data is probably the worst choice you could make right now…. I’m sure if someone wanted to they could find numbers to make you think government spending was good, higher taxes were great and executing white people would be the best thing ever… The truth is we’ve seen people before that were master at manipulating data – fortunately after WWII they were put on trial and hanged… do we really need another Joseph Goebbels or Leni Riefenstahl?

Posted by Yirmin | Report as abusive

This is the same argument that was used in the old t estimate, where the Israeli boy interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh…..He used old flood records to give his revelation….Was it from God or just man using what God gave him to work with…Namely, his brain….It seems today, we think of God as a mythical figure who has super powers we do not possess, when the truth is we do have it…it is our brain.

Posted by tudognight | Report as abusive

The US feels like it is a divided country. The president passed an unprecidented healthcare law that feels fairly European. Then we have a mid-term election that puts a fresh new wave of ultra-conseratives in office.

I realize the country has had larger divisive issues in the past, slavery being the most significant. However, I keep picturing a joke map I saw of the US after the 2000 elections. It depicted the east and west coast as part of Canada, while the middle section of the US was renamed “Jesusland”.

The US generally tends toward divided government, and with Democrats and particularly Republicans becoming more ideologically extreme, it would seem that we are doomed to worse and worse gridlock in Washington. It took a world war to bail us out of the economic crisis of the 1930′s. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that this time.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive

If you’re too lazy to fathom, you can always take the easy way out and believe. The subsequent problem is that debates with the religious rarely satisfy, which is made clear by looking at the influence of tea party believers on the political discussion: it becomes a shouting match without middle ground.

Posted by Lambick | Report as abusive

Speaking of just the facts, sad that Christia Freeland is actually so ignorant of them. In closing her essay she says, “The divide between the empiricists and the believers is also the fault line between the highly educated, technologically adept super-elite and the squeezed and scared middle class.” So she suggests that higher education is assiciated with an empirical world view. Well this may be true as far as wester Academia and politics goes, but on the broader scale, it fails to be true. Top sociologist of religion, Rodeny Stark, (who is known for his use of hard data) has demonstrated that statistically religious faith based participation goes up as education increases. In fact he has shown statistically that women who are raised in a faith tradition attain both higher education and higher job success. Check your hard data Chrystia. See “What Americans Really Believe” by Rodney Stark (Baylor University Press).

Posted by TMurphy | Report as abusive

“The divide between the empiricists and the believers is also the fault line between the highly educated, technologically adept super-elite and the squeezed and scared middle class.”

I’m trying to get my head around that statement. I’m a scared, squeezed middle class citizen – definitely not super-elite, fairly technologically adept, holding a Bachelor’s degree and am not religious at all. Oh, and I’m a working-full-time part-owner in a small “green” business in an historically red-voting state. Where do I fall in the author’s statement?

I agree with the author, but think the divide is far more simple than she’s brave enough to write: It’s between the open-minded and the over-religious Christians.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

The fault seems to be with those who refuse to accept the empirical data on which the Christian faith is based. If the historical or proto-historical events depicted in the Bible have no historicity, the Christian faith is meaningless. Therefore, while I agree with the author that the president’s empirical approach is appropriate, sweeping other data aside undermines the force of her argument.

Posted by timinvator | Report as abusive

Science is ONLY as good as all the factors it takes into consideration. Science is constantly changing and going back on itself. Data has been manipulated for personal gain in self interests forever. How do you put your faith in that? On the flipside for us that have tried and succeeded in just making a relationship with God, we have seen our lives transformed in ways we had no hand in. I say try science out and try actually building a relationship with God and see for yourself.. Or just sit in your computer chair and continue to judge… Whatever works for ya.

Posted by Staplehawk | Report as abusive

It appears that Christia Freeland “believes” her data. I use the word carefully, because belief is a human characteristic that cannot be denied. People who don’t have religious beliefs have beliefs in something – maybe “data”, maybe “the good of mankind”, whatever. But this doesn’t mean the “belief” is right (or wrong). Only the outcome of that belief validates it. I don’t see the outcomes of the past three years validating anything. For those who think it was the 2008 elections that are holding the economy back, what about the Obama/Democratic super majority for two years? They had plenty of time to turn the economy around. They applied their beliefs (big government, big spending, social programs, regardless of cost), and only accomplished getting the country further in debt.

Posted by stevedebi | Report as abusive

Amen. And most economists are in the “faith” category. The notion that we can borrow our way to prosperity is laughable, but that is precisely what we hear from Paul Krugman, Larry Summers and Nouriel Roubini. My New York Italian wife looked at me over dinner and asked: How can we have stimulus when we’ve got no money?” How indeed.

Posted by rcwhalen | Report as abusive

Unbelievable to me that in this day in age an author would say something so ignorant. To name one approach “cognitive” and “empirical” and say the “other” view is based on faith or religion is so ignorant. Seriously? People of faith, whatever their faith, are unable to have an empirical worldview? Are you soooooo blind that you think it has to be one or the other? Are you really that foolish?

Come on, people, wake up. Don’t be one of those stupid people who stands on one side of an imaginary aisle and drinks the kool-aid. How offensive and shallow do you have to be to say “But as the presidential campaign begins to heat up, starting with the Republican primary race, the empirical worldview that Obama embodies is taking a beating?”

Right, way to go! It’s either Republican or it’s empirical. That’s right… all republicans believe in a zero-evidence-all-faith view of the world. Wow…you’re AMAZINGLY blind. And all democrats and the President have a reason-based view of the world. How can you be so ignorant?

Posted by ReasonableFaith | Report as abusive

What a great article! Well written, informative and balanced. Is this why more and more Americans are turning away from faith-based solutions….even though they are only a small, victimized minority?

Posted by dbarrs | Report as abusive

I think that looking only at data or past data can lead you to only look at the wrong way you went, because you may never get back to place where you started to go wrong. Looking at data means, like running a car into the ditch, that you know what the ditch looks like, how much water is there, and how deep it is. Getting out of the ditch requires vision, thought, searching for resources, and first of all, admitting that you were amiss in running into the ditch. You can’t get out of a ditch by blaming other drivers, the road, the car, or the government who built the road. Sometimes you also have to admit you need help and that you alone cannot likely take credit for the towtruck that pulls you out.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

What everyone here, including the author is either denying or totally missing is there are those of us who know that religion and science CAN and DO mesh, and BOTH are based on fact. It’s not an either/or situation. You CAN be a “empiricist” AND a “believer” at the same time. There are many of us out here. (She also disregards the fact that not it’s just the “elite,” but many of the “middle class” actually are “highly educated” and “technically adept” and by denying this she is insulting an entire “class” of people.)

To say that the problem with the world today is that religion has replaced facts is beyond ridiculous. Religion has been around since the beginning, and it’s actually more likely that the problems we are facing are actaully a result of our turning AWAY from that religion, because many in this day have taken on the EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF attitude, which goes totally against the fundamentals of most religions.

My grandparents came to “the new world” from an oppressed land, excited at the prospect of WORKING HARD to create new lives for themselves. They learned that by taking RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES and WORKING HARD they could reach whatever heights they wanted to. This mentality has been replaced in the past few decades by one where people expect their government to take care of them and plan their every move from birth to death. THIS is what is creating the problems, not religion or denying facts.

Another FACT is that everything Obama has “tried” not only goes against common sense, but it also all plays into condoning a government ruled society. Our nation “worked” and prospered and was stronger when we DIDN’T have so much government oppression. This is a proven FACT.
Wouldn’t it be a bit more intelligent, instead of basing things on predictions and manipulating numbers, to try to make a president look good and be accepted (Bill Clinton anyone?) to instead return to the ideology of something that has been PROVEN to work?

I know where I’ll place my bets, and it won’t be with Obama and his “highly educated” number manipulators.

Posted by boardwalkcat | Report as abusive

Drawing a distinction between the President Obama of 2008 as any different then the ‘empiricist’ of today is way more provocative then need be.

Obama using a rhetoric of belief, as was done in 2008, can surely be aligned with a strategy based on empiricism: at the time, the American people, especially the GenerationY proponents, needed to be spoken to in a way that appealed to beliefs and emotions. Not to assume anything disingenuous, but certainly strategic.

Posted by MissKendraV | Report as abusive

The term “ideology” serves to obscure whether someone’s principles of politics or economics are well supported by history (and theory) and simply involves indicting principles one doesn’t consider sound. For President Obama the right ideology, then, is John Maynard Keynes’ idea that creating artificial, government driven demand for work projects is a sound approach to public policy. For his critics the right ideology is that such infusion of phony money is far worse a “cure” than the disease it aims to remedy.
So both ides are ideologically driven and Obama’s are ideological principles no less than are the principles of those who find his views unsound. So what then does it add to call them “ideological”?

There was a time, a century or so ago, when many intellectuals (e.g., Marx) used “ideology” to impugn the honesty of someone’s ideas, implying with the use of that term that the ideas were mere rationalizations, invented, consciously or subconsciously, so as to give them the appearance of seriousness. Just as a rationalization is a corrupted reason, so ideology is corrupted philosophy, or so it was widely believed.

But this view about ideology was founded on a very complicated and highly dubious philosophy, worked out by the likes of Hegel and Marx, so it soon fell into disrepute. After a while “ideology” came to mean, instead, “simplified philosophy” and lost its critical bite apart from that. Since most of us lack the time and patience to always lay out our full case for the positions we hold, nearly all of us are mainly ideologically driven. Our principles, too, are ideological ones, be they those of Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan, since those in public office simply have no time and opportunity to develop the foundations of their thinking. Some choose to buttress this with claims to being pragmatic or flexible, as if these didn’t involve elaborate theoretical foundations in order to given them solid footing.

So it looks like “ideology” is a term of derision that has lost its conceptual foundations and now is used merely to express one’s plain dislike of certain ideas. They are ideological principles if one doesn’t approve of them but genuine–empirically supported–principles if one does. Maybe calling attention to this fact will in time stop the pointless use of the term.

Posted by tibikem | Report as abusive