Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time Horizons: A Rebuttal

Seine, a commenter over at A&J, has been railing against FLG's theory that liberals are more focused on the short-term and conservatives the long run. As FLG said before, it's a relative not an absolute thing, but he won't get into a full scale explanation here.

His/Her contention is that liberals and conservatives do not differ in the amount of weight that the future costs and benefits should have, but rather differ in their hierarchy of values. Now, in some sense, this kind of proves FLG's point. A liberal is saying that liberals and conservatives differ upon the sets of principles the hold right now, but FLG feels that is kind of a intellectual trick of an argument.

Anyway, Matt Zeitlin, a junior? at Northwestern and also a liberal FLG happens to admire, linked to this essay on AfroCentrism. There are a few excerpts that seem to support FLG's theory about time horizons.

Radical white intellectuals, who otherwise had no more use for a black epic history than a white one, found the black version useful as a weapon against "Eurocentrism," which as a result of the Vietnam War, they held in utter contempt.

So, the use of a historical narrative was seen by white intellectuals as useful only as a tool for present circumstances. Indeed, they had little use for epic historical narratives of any stripe because, FLG asserts, it constrains them in their present actions. Also, they did this with presumably little regard toward the long-term consequences of their tacit support of the narrative.

Social development, but its nature, is ambivalent, characterized by a sense of exchange, of gaining and losing. Afrocentrism, in its conservatism, is opposed to this ambivalence and to this sense of exchange.

Afrocentrism, as a historical narrative, i.e. long time horizons, is inherently conservative. Conservatives, looking over long time horizons, are more apt to reach conclusions about the absolute or objective value and worth of things. This renders ambivalence about gaining and losing problematic because often something older, and therefore generally presumed to be more valuable, is being exchange for something newer and assume to be less valuable.

Matt himself offers this quotation:
Today, Afrocentrism is not a mature political movement but rather a cultural style and a moral stance. There is a deep, almost lyrical poignancy in the fantasy of the Afrocentrist, as there is in the white Southerner’s What would I have been had I not lost the war? The Afrocentrist is devoted to his ancestry and his blood, fixated on the set of traditions that define his nobility, preoccupied with an imagined lost way of life. What drives the Afrocentrist and the white Southerner is not the expression of a group self-interest but concern with pride and honor. One group’s myth is built on the surfeit of honor and pride, the other on the total absence of them.

Like the white Southerner, the Afrocentrist is in revolt against liberalism itself, against the idea of individual liberty[...]this is what the Afrocentrist wishes to retrieve, a place for himself in his own community…Afrocentrism is a historiography of decline, like the mythic epic of the South.

Emphasis is FLG's. FLG assumes that Gerald Early means the Afrocentrist is in revolt against liberalism primarily because Afrocentrism sharply constrains identity by racial characteristics. But one cannot ignore that there is a huge historical constraint.

When you begin to look over long time horizons, both to the past and to the future, one cannot help but become constrained in the present. Tradition transmits values. Values undermine the "ambivalence" vis-a-vis the exchange of social change.

Perhaps, as Seine argues, the person's set of values then leads naturally to how one values the long- versus short-term. Perhaps somebody who wants to remake the present world naturally discounts the past because it constrains them in ways they find frustrating. Likewise, perhaps they also devalue the future, again relative to conservatives not entirely, for similar reasons.

However, FLG thinks the causality runs the opposite direction. FLG believes that very scientific and empirical disposed people, as many liberals are, tend to devalue quickly when moving away from the present. The future is uncertain, the present condition isn't. It can be empirically verified.

Again, I'll return to the current economic condition. Everybody has a level of concern about the present level of unemployment, .i.e. the short run, and also the fiscal deficits, better known as the long-term. Liberals value the present costs of unemployment more than the future costs of deficits and conservatives are generally the opposite. This isn't to say that both sides don't tell stories that cover both the short and the long run.

Liberals say that the present unemployment, if unresolved, will have long run social and economic costs. Moreover, doing something in the short run will kick start the economy and help lessen the pressure on the finances.

Conservatives say that stimulus will increase the long run deficits, but also in regards to the short-run, it won't work as effectively as proponents state. Some go so far as to say that it won't work at all.

But in each case the real driver, not the broader narrative, is the time horizon FLG's theory indicates. Liberals aren't primarily concerned about the long run social costs. They're concerned about the people out of work trying to make ends meet right now.

Likewise, conservatives are more concerned about the long run fiscal problem. The details of the multiplier, unless they could be certain it was way larger than 1, is irrelevant to them.

Finally, and FLG is repeating himself, this isn't some sort of accusation that liberals are evil or stupid. FLG cares both about the present unemployment and deficits and debt. A reasonable person can disagree with how much to value the present and the future without necessarily being a bleeding-heart, heartless, or stupid. In fact, this FLG came to this theory only after trying to figure out why a bunch of people whom FLG knew weren't stupid were coming to what he believed to be stupid conclusions. Once he boiled it down to how one values the short versus long run it was understandable.

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