Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Values and Effectiveness

Here Henry asks the question:
Why do liberals that oppose racial profiling have to come up with contrived explanations of how racial profiling will actually negatively affect counter-terrorism? One of them on the show (can't remember the name) came up with something about how we need to build good relations with the Muslim community so we can get intelligence from them later. Vaguely plausible, but that's not really why anyone thinks that we shouldn't racially profile. If you think we shouldn't racially profile it's because you think it's wrong. And it is wrong, for sure. There's no need to hide that moral judgement behind some utilitarian front.
The broader question is a version of the pundit's fallacy (that which is right is popular): why do people insist that that which is right in terms of values is the most effective solution? People want their deontology to be endorsed by consequentalists.

This may be a uniquely American rhetorical move. Since we fancy ourselves pragmatists, if you can couch a values-claim in the language of effectiveness, then you are more likely to reach more people: people may disagree about values but who can object when you say this or that is sure to work or not? (I wrote about this two level thing in terms of civility here). Perhaps in another country you wouldn't find that rheotorical move in political debate? Or maybe we aren't so different. But I never thought to ask that question when in France, and I didn't try to follow politics in Senegal.

The appeal of wonkery is the ability to pronounce on what works and what doesn't. But at a certain point you have to move beyond appeals to effectiveness for, after all, it's effective in accomplishing something, and you need to debate what that something is and what trade-offs you're willing to make in accomplishing that something.


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