This morning, The Girlfriend asked a question about the Supreme Court proceedings surrounding Health Care Reform, and I felt a twinge of shame at knowing the answer. The reason is that I’ve been trying my best to avoid following news stories where the coverage depends on sifting and resifting new scraps of evidence to attempt to predict an outcome that, once it comes, will be more or less definitive. The Supreme Court is either going to overturn the individual mandate or not; they will either decide this invalidates the entire law or not. Reading the tea leaves beforehand is of absolutely no use.
One could say the same of election stories: someone will win. Maybe, in a particularly close race, there will be a recount and it will take longer to decide who wins — but inevitably, someone will be declared the winner and that will be the end of it. At that point, who will care about what one would have thought about the likely outcome given the available information three months prior to the election? What really matters is what the winner does with the power gained through the election. That is, presumably, what will determine whether we want to reelect that person — how effective or beneficial their policies have been. Yet in a short-circuit, all the coverage of policies is precisely geared toward how they might effect election outcomes.
Hence all political coverage is essentially worthless. It is a total waste of all our time. It takes place in total abstraction from actual governance and thus gives us no information on which we can base the few decisions that we are empowered to make.
The same goes for political debate, which is dominated by the use of relative terms as though they were absolute. We learn, for instance, that a given policy is “too expensive,” full stop. It’s not that it costs too much relative to the benefits it would bring, nor that it would compromise other priorities — it’s just that its price tag is above a certain hard limit (which is itself never specified). The same could be said of qualities like “efficiency.” Surely no one would prefer to be inefficient if given the choice, but efficient at what? Health insurance companies are super-efficient, for instance — at rejecting claims. Or we want to promote “economic growth,” but obviously not everyone benefits equally from economic growth. One could argue that the majority of people would benefit more from the redistribution of existing income flows, even in situations of low or negative growth.
In education, an admirable clarity reigns: we want to equip students (at least on the lower tiers of the system) with the skills employers need. Here, finally, the unexpressed referent of “efficient at what,” “necessary for what,” “too costly for whom” comes to the surface! Yet again, we might ask why we need to provide those skills for free to what are, after all, for-profit concerns. Because it will promote “economic growth”? Because then we’ll be more “globally competitive”? Again, competitive at what?
Political coverage is nothing but empty prognostication, with no indication about why we should even care about the outcome. Meanwhile, political debate is conducted via empty abstractions that are supposed to be vaguely “good.” All of it is utterly meaningless and useless. Yet I assume that basically all of us reading follow it all avidly. Why?