Friday, 11 January 2013

How reasonable argument, based on false premises, aids the enemy - because the enemy are not human


I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with reasonable argument based on false premises, which has the counter-productive effect of reassuring the servants of evil of their own reasonableness

Here is a typical example:

Yesterday I read an article critical of the way in which scientometric measurements are being applied by management to individual faculty in a particular London college as a job evaluation mechanism - so that academics of such-and-such a rank are required (over four years) to publish X papers per year, in journals with an impact factor of Y, and to obtain Z hundred thousand pounds of 'research funding'. Supposedly, those faculty who hit the targets keep their jobs, those who miss them will be sacked.

(The policy example is merely a routine and everyday example of utterly typical, mainstream modern management behaviour, or of political behaviour at any scale from the local to national and international.)


Now, this policy is wrong in so many ways I could write a book about it - in fact I have published numerous papers and commentaries on this subject over the years, pointing out that this is a misunderstanding of scientometric data, which is of narrow and short-term applicability, that there are undesirable (and measured) medium and consequences from this strategy - and so on.


So the policy is ineffective and inefficient, and indeed counter-productive in terms of its avowed intentions.

But that is obviously not the problem.

That would only be the problem if it could be assumed that the management were in any sense at all actually trying to solve the problem to which this policy is supposed to be a solution. But of course they are not.

Of course not!


I am not talking about the fact that management do what benefits management; that is a perennial fact of human affairs, but in the past it did not lead to the proliferation and avalanche of expensive, intrusive, inefficient and destructive policies at every level.

This is not just bureaucrats feathering their nest at the expense of others.   

The problem is that the management, the people who implement such schemes of evaluation, and who cooperate with such schemes, are evil - and to argue with them as if they were well-meaning folks who were making a slip-up they would be anxious to correct, is simply to collude in covering-up the reality of the situation.


When I say they are evil, I am not saying this in a vague or subjective way; they are evil in the exact sense that they are engaged in the active destruction of good - insofar as there is good research in a university, this kind of scheme will destroy it.

That is not a matter of opinion, it is known insofar as such things ever can be known - if you reward people for doing the wrong things in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons, and punish people for doing the best work of which they are capable in the best way they know - then you are engaged in the active destruction of good, which is the definition of evil.

A portion of these management actions are explicable in terms of incompetence rather than evil; but not most nor all, since management are indifferent and indeed wilfully blind to the evil consequences of their actions - which is itself evil.


Of course, this type of management evil is an exemplar of the banality of evil taken to ludicrous extremes. We are not talking here about brutal-faced concentration camp guards, nor ice-hearted and sadistic officials with rimless glasses; these servants of evil are mostly nice, middle aged, middle class ladies.

People, that is, who are the very epitome of 'well meaning' - but the problem is of course that they are not well meaning, they are ill-meaning.

It is so tempting to excuse them on the basis of incompetence, because of course they are grossly incompetent - but they are ineducable and uncorrectable, so to engage is merely to flatter and disguise their intractable ignorance.

It is tempting to engage with them in a way which assumes their concern. And they do feel concern, they love to feel concern. Feeling concern is precisely what enables them to serve evil with such unwavering devotion.


My point is that to engage with  people that have evil motivations as if their motivations were good is not just futile, but actively harmful, actively abetting of evil.

On the other hand, it is likely counter-productive - at least as a strategy - to be openly hostile and aggressive - unless you really are likely to win.

No, the only valid option is to refuse engagement, to say nothing, do nothing, shut up, decline to cooperate, decline to cooperate, decline to cooperate.

Make them do everything, don't give them any excuses, don't make it easy for them to represent themselves to themselves as reasonable or rational or concerned or compassionate; reveal them as using power and coercion nakedly in their unrelenting mission of destruction.


We must recognize that we are not up against bumbling incompetence, we are not dealing with people who want the same things as us - in a sense we are not really up against people at all.

We are up against wraiths.


Tom Shippey pointed out in The Road to Middle Earth that turning into a wraith - the process of wraithing - was a very modern and managerial form of evil - to lose one's self and to become insubstantial in the service of evil.

That's what modern management, media and politicians essentially are - ringwraiths. To recognize this is to know what to do.

When Frodo asked Gildor for more information on the black riders, so he could know the danger that pursued him, the elf replied: 

Is it not enough to know that they are servants of the Enemy?... Flee them! Speak no words to them! They are deadly. 

And, Strider later added:

You fear them, but you do not fear them enough...



stephens said...

@ Bruce Charlton - "No, the only valid option is to refuse engagement, to say nothing, do nothing, shut up, decline to cooperate.........
Make them do everything, don't give them any excuses, don't make it easy for them to represent themselves to themselves as reasonable or rational or concerned or compassionate; reveal them as using power and coercion nakedly in their unrelenting mission of destruction."

In Government departments like Tax Credits staff now have to stand daily by target boards and ring in daily if ill, whilst by contrast the valued "customers" may be receiving £16-18,000 or more tax/effort free and there there are massive levels of fraud due to weak checks and penalties.

Non engagement with management has always seemed the obvious answer for disaffected staff and the prime weakness for such a perverse system.
I know many of the staff feel the same, however, as soon as the mandatory meetings , problem solves etc. begin, one by one they are sucked in by the friendly face of management, "engaged" to help the system with their ideas and all is lost.
The very latest change to staff performance reviews mean there will be less emphasis on actual work done and more monitoring of "behaviours" and levels of "engagement." It is not enough to just do your work, the system wants proof that you have been incorporated and innocence is not presumed!

dearieme said...

I had an interview with such a lady once. She gawked when I said that I didn't believe in the concept of "best practice". I went on to explain that it was completely implausible that, for instance, the best way to do university teaching was the same whatever the character of the topic, the teacher or the students. I challenged her to cite any evidence for the concept. I added that, of course, I suspected that "bad practice" existed and that it might be better to find out what that was and Stamp It Out.

You'll see that I was indulging in sharp practice: since there's not much point telling a bureaucrat to make herself redundant, it seemed wiser to me to suggest to her a new job description that might engage her is less harmful activities. Was I wrong, O Master?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Far be it for me to judge...

Perhaps this bought some time; and it certainly sound like fun. But the question is (as Thomas Sowell stated): what happened next?

My sense is that (as Nietzsche said) when it comes to bureaucracies, what does not kill them makes them stronger. When confronted by non-fatal resistance bureucrats delight in making strategies which subvert or by-pass that type of resistance.

Or so it seems to me.

CorkyAgain said...

The policy you describe is yet another example of substituting quantitative measurement for qualitative judgment.

In many cases, when they're not simply being lazy, the reason management does this is to defend itself against charges that its hiring/firing/promoting practices violate the laws against discriminination. A measurement is more easily defended in court than a qualitative and possibly biased judgment.

In many other cases, such policies are insisted upon by the employees' labor union, and for much the same reason: to avoid giving the decision-maker any kind of wiggle-room. Everything must be done strictly by the book!

It's what you get in an overly-litigious, lawyer-dominated society. Social interactions of all kinds become mechanical application of rules.

That this is considered a rational approach is yet another symptom of the modern confusion of rationality and algorithmics. There's no room left for insight, good taste, etc., because those are things not everyone is capable of -- and that's a sin against equality!

Ben Nye said...

Dr. Charlton,

In a similar thought (at least I think), I have been reflecting on the nature of "Ad hominem" in argumentation.

Ad homenim seems to be a common accusation in many of our modern discussions. So for example: (taken from wikipedia) "The Mayoral candidate's proposal about zoning is ridiculous. He was caught cheating on his taxes in 2003." This is taken to be a standard example of Ad homenim. The example is proposed to be false because it fails to address the proposal for zoning in a way that engages the specific issue.

My problem with this line of thinking is that it undermines common sense. It is a very reasonable (and good) thing to be skeptical of a mayor who was caught cheating on his taxes. It seems to be one of the most reasonable things to assume; it is based in natural law.

The accusation "Ad hominem" has become a tool of moderns that deny truth and goodness. It is based on the premise that a man's morality and professional actions are, in the whole, independent. But any fool with common sense knows this to be false. Ad hominem then becomes a defense against those with bad motivations.

I'm not proposing the removal of "Ad hominem" from our vocabularies, rather a clarification of its usage. It only seems useful when two people argue over an issue but share the same core principles, i.e. both are Christians.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BN - I agree. At present the Left use ad hominem arguments all the time - and the mainstream Right try to refrain; but in this the Left are more correct than the Right. If the Christian Right used ad hominem reasoning, they might see matters more clearly - because the Left is generally weaker in terms of virtue and character.

Another example is in terms of means and ends. The Left is impatient of procedure but wants to implement its policies whatever it takes. The mainstream Right is hung up on procedural issues - often losing sight of the fact that procedures are only justified if they (usually) lead to good outcomes. The Right should be clearer about what outcome it wants, and less fussy over procedural issues.

James Higham said...

I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with reasonable argument based on false premises, which has the counter-productive effect of reassuring the servants of evil of their own reasonableness

Absolutely, Bruce. I just finished wasting my time reading a Guardian article chock full of stats and at the end, realized something was wrong. It took quite some time - time I could have spent productively, in discovering the stats were wonky in the first place.

A little different to your focus here but the same principle. It is their technique, particularly on climate change.