« Don't be passionate about politics, please | Main | Rankings realism »

July 12, 2006

Comments

Andrew

But lots of people are partial to their family even if they don't even like them... a "He's a jerk but he's still my brother" kind of thing - more so I think than "he's a jerk but he's still my childhood friend." Also, people who were adopted are always looking for their birth parents/siblings/etc apparently on the grounds that "they're my flesh and blood" etc, even though they are in reality perfect strangers. I hardly know my grandparents but I still feel I owe them some respect. And lots of other similar cases... Though I guess one could say this is not rational behavior.

Frank McGahon

Though I guess one could say this is not rational behavior.

That's the key point. But as I note above, it's at least understandable in the case of close relations: parent-child or sibling (considerably less so when you get to first cousin status).

But this thing about "He's a jerk but he's my brother": A sibling is generally a more intimate relationship than a friend. Plus, you get to choose your friends and you tend not to become or remain friends with someone who turns out to be a jerk. It's a lot easier for friends to drift apart after a rift than siblings due to the other family relationships. Brothers A and B might not be able to stand the sight of each other but so long as they are sons of Father X and Mother Y or have Sisters C or D, they won't ever be totally out of each others' lives. This is also the case for divorced parents.

Jon Ihle

Can you really not think of any rational, self-interested reasons seeing a nation as a quasi-family? Post-WWII Zionism was pretty rational from the point of view of, say, a Polish Jew who returned from the camps to find squatters in his home and a neighbours either indifferent or hostile to his just claims. Voluntary or even "imaginary" relationships can be both powerful and beneficial and, therefore, perfectly rational. Perhaps this isn't what you're getting at, though.

Frank McGahon

I don't think it's exactly what I'm getting at because you've sketched out a rationale for why someone, out of self-interest, would choose to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and emigrate there. Right or wrong, that is not quite the same thing as projecting nationalist fantasies onto a bunch of strangers who happened to have born in the same jurisdiction to you and it in itself doesn't provide a rationale for creating an imaginary "quasi-family". My point is that the fellow-feeling isn't usually based on how those strangers actually are, but rather how one imagines them to be. Incidentally, the slide from the self-interest rationale to the quasi-family is how people get to the "my country right or wrong" type of patriotism that I would reject.

Jon Ihle

"My country right or wrong" is very different from "I have more in common with the people on this side of the border, including but not exclusively some common heritage, than with the people on the other side". The latter strikes me as an approximation of nation-as-family ideology. I know there are crazier versions of it, but the basic structure isn't as far out and dangerous as I think you're making it sound. I say this fully cognisant of the social construction of national identity and the self-deception required to make national distinctions in the first place. Or should I say arbitrary choices instead of self-deception?

Frank McGahon

"My country right or wrong" is very different from "I have more in common with the people on this side of the border, including but not exclusively some common heritage, than with the people on the other

Well there's a very easy slide from the latter to the former and I guess my point is that a lot of what is considered to be "in common" is imaginary, and people tend to overestimate a lot of minor distinctions between quotidian life where they live and elsewhere. There are plenty of people from all over the world with similar interests to mine and with whom I have more in common than many people living in this jurisdiction. In any case, it still doesn't really follow that one should be partial to a person with a similar background or "common heritage" any more than one should be partial to a person with a similar skin or hair colour to yours.

Jon Ihle

By common heritage I suppose I mean something like shared experience more than anything genetic. Also I mean it rather broadly.

I would caution you to be mindful of the fact that rational associations across borders have produced effects as deleterious as wacked-out nationalisms. Not trying to steer this into a conversation about nativist fascism vs. international communism, but I'm a little alarmed at how easily you are leaving out important aspects of humanity like culture and biology. in favour of a pure rationality.

Frank McGahon

but I'm a little alarmed at how easily you are leaving out important aspects of humanity like culture and biology. in favour of a pure rationality.

Huh? You have a very narrow concept of rationality if you think it excludes consideration of such "important aspects of humanity". I'm only trying to make the case that, as with the "passionate politics" argument, one shouldn't abandon reason for blind passions or mythical, mystical attachments.

The example you give of "rational associations across borders" is the precise opposite of what I intend. I'm in favour of decentralisation, devolution, federalism: Given certain universal freedoms, local decisions are better than central decisions. Too often the trend of nationalisms has been the opposite: bundling everything into one "greater" nation.

Jon Ihle

I've been a little careless in my expression. You seem to be prioritizing (in your original remarks) communities of interests over common culture, shared history and other aspects of group identity that, although they may have mythical or mystical origins ("we were all at Sinai together"), have realworld manifestations. My politics are pretty close to yours when it comes the structure of decision making, but I move the other way on questions of affiliation.

Frank McGahon

Actually, I wasn't really thinking so much of communities of interests superceding anything, but just to make the point that the type of fellow feeling which is unthinkingly assumed for fellow citizens can also exist between "non-fellow-citizens'.

Scott Scheule

This is not satisfactory.

"I don't think it is particularly rational to be partial to related strangers (although it is understandable from a genetic point of view why we would be in the case of a close relation - that is, parent-child) so this intended comparison fails."

What do you mean by "understandable"? And is "not particularly rational" irrational or not? Do you think it irrational to care about your mother or father over strangers, assuming you never knew them before? I gather the answer is no, since you have couched your terms cautiously ("not particularly rational" instead of "irrational" and the selection of a fourth cousin as an example instead of the more difficult case of a direct relation).

If so, something has to give. Either admit it is irrational to care more about a direct family member (an unknown one) than a stranger, or admit your theory of intimacy as justifiable preference is false or at least incomplete. If it is incomplete, and you carve out an exception for direct relations, you'll have to show why a similar exception can't be carved out for fellow citizens.

Frank McGahon

What do you mean by "understandable"?

That it is what evolutionary psychology would predict. That means it might be an "is" rather than an "ought"

Do you think it irrational to care about your mother or father over strangers, assuming you never knew them before? I gather the answer is no,

You gather wrongly. It's "understandable" in the terms I use above (even then it's understandable mainly one way: evolutionary psychology would predict one to favour a lost son, but not necessarily to favour a lost parent). That, as I note, doesn't make it "rational" per se. The key point I'm trying to get back to is that it's rational to care about people we know (and presumably like) and probably rational to uphold their interests over those of strangers, but when we get to actual strangers it's not particularly rational to favour one set of strangers' interests over another.

So I'm not trying to carve out an exception for unrelated strangers - as I said, I don't think this bias falls under "rational" - but I could sketch out a plausible method which would go like this: if one meets a related stranger, one might feel compelled (for probably irrational reasons) to prick up one's ears and take an interest in them - in doing so they become "non-strangers" and would acquire a status equivalent to one's friend at which stage being partial becomes "rational" But it wouldn't be at all rational to favour "related strangers" you had never met and were unlikely ever to meet.

Chuckles

[...its rational to care about people we know (and presumably like) and probably rational to uphold their interests over those of strangers, but when we get to actual strangers its not particularly rational to favour one set of strangers interests over another...]

I dont see this: Most of the time, our affection for the people we presumably know and like is profoundly irrational - driven by the exact same kind of mysticism that affects families. Saying, Hes a Jerk but My Brother is precisely the kind of mythical argument that nationalists of all stripes apply. Why should anyone rationally favor a jerk when costs outweigh benefits, simply because he is ones brother?
Indeed, I would aver, that the argument for familism is rational only to the extent that it frames our care for close relatives in a context which recognizes that fact that they supply profound benefits to our daily lives. In the same sense, nationalism becomes rational because caring for fellow nationals assumes a reciprocity that one cannot safely assume with aliens. Why? Because of a shared narrative - mythical, or otherwise. This is how religions function. This is how families function - based on shared narrative: We are family. He is your brother. Brothers do this and that: - Despite the fact that one has no evidence either way that X or Y are really ones parents or that Z is ones brother, familism prevails because of myth, same as Nationalism.
To the extent that one cannot assume reciprocity from fellow nationals, I would suspect, is to the same or just a little bit lower extent that one cannot expect reciprocity or benefits from ones close relatives.
I think both familism and nationalism (more or less to the same extent) are rational (in a narrow sense) derivatives from a mythical premise.

Frank McGahon

Most of the time, our affection for the people we presumably know and like is profoundly irrational - driven by the exact same kind of mysticism that affects families. Saying, Hes a Jerk but My Brother is precisely the kind of mythical argument that nationalists of all stripes apply

I disagree. I'd say the "He's a Jerk but he's my brother" notion is overstated. In reality there are plenty of close family members who loathe each other but follow the social convention of making some sort of token statement of support and there are also plenty of close relations who do feel affection but nonetheless feel more comfortable "slagging" (as we say here) each other off than making sincere declarations of love. In both of these situations a statement such as "he's a jerk but..." doesn't mean what it is taken to mean above.

The reciprocal payoff is key and the smaller the circle the better: once you get beyond a certain stage you get to prisoners dilemma style tradeoffs where defecting from reciprocal action is easier and almost becomes an imperative once you know that it is easier for others too. Which is why it makes some sort of sense to arrange in order one's allegiances in the manner of Roy Keane who apparently stated that he was a Keane first, a boy from Mayfield second, a Corkman third and only after that, an Irishman.

Chuckles

Frank, part of the point is that the social conventions that dictate familism also dictate nationalism.
In either case, the connections between the individuals are imaginary.
Yes, a nation is an imagined community - but so is a family, and this is a key part of my point.
The sentiments of benevolence we display towards our relatives are based on myths of brotherhood, family, parenthood, friendship etc. We act nice towards those close to us because of myth. In the same way, myth informs nationalism.
Why then is familism more rational than nationalism? The notion of reciprocal payoffs is itself embedded in myth - and I dont see the Prisoners dilemma here, if ones expectations from the nation are appropriately framed. Just as one expects differing expectations A from Brother X (because hes the smart one) and B from Brother Y (because hes the nice unselfish one) and C from Z (because hes the jerk), then Brother Z+1 who exists only in the nationalist prologue to the familistic myth may be burdened only with an expectation of D/2 (because hes the brother living in a far off place who I dont see often but might meet one day and hang out with for a while and chat about so and so folks that we might happen to know). No prisoners dilemma need arise if payoffs are suitably defined.
I dont see the distinction.

Frank McGahon

In either case, the connections between the individuals are imaginary.

It's pretty much my entire point that they're not. The reason it might be rational to favour one's family (or one's friends) is that one knows them fairly well and frequently interacts with them. The fact that they happen to be family members (or not, in the case of friends) is incidental. Like I point out above - there's no reason to favour a stranger who happens to be related. The type of mythical attachment you sketch out, which might be described as "clannishness" and is analogous to nationalism isn't rational, I agree. I'm making the case that it is rational to favour those who you interact with and with whom you have good reciprocal relations and it is also rational not to favour those you interact with and have bad relations. And you can be neutral (That is, take them as you find them) to everyone else.

Chuckles

Ah - then familism doesnt seem like the right thing to be positioning against nationalism.
Perhaps proximialism?
Though I must point out that even your proximialism fails to account for small countries - like Albania for instance; falling into the classic problem of induction.
Say I live in a small country - and everywhere I go, I can pretty much expect the same generous treatment from everybody - i.e. people know each others names, business etc. This would also qualify as the interactionist knowing that you have described above - which is entirely empirical in its character. By your formulation then, nationalism would be rational in this country, since by experience, a tradition of reciprocality has more or less been established from my perspective.
Your formulation seems to take into account only big countries and not small/folkish countries where interactionist knowing can be shown empirically to be uniform across board.

Frank McGahon

Say I live in a small country - and everywhere I go, I can pretty much expect the same generous treatment from everybody - i.e. people know each others names, business etc. This would also qualify as the interactionist knowing that you have described above - which is entirely empirical in its character. By your formulation then, nationalism would be rational in this country, since by experience, a tradition of reciprocality has more or less been established from my perspective.

I have in mind something far smaller than a country the size of Albania - no matter how small it is, you could go and piss off somebody the other side of the country and it's not going to bite you in the arse on your side. There's an upper limit on the number of people you will practically interact with on a regular basis (and with the internet - this discussion for example - this group isn't restricted to one location) and I have in mind that it's this regular direct interaction that's the necessary condition for "rational partiality".

Chuckles

Okay Frank - Dont wanna keep flogging this: Even with regular direct interaction you have to make assumptions about future responses and reciprocity in an inductivist sense. This is precisely how Nationalism also operates. The question is one of degree not of quasi-rigid demarcations drawn based on upper limits of interaction etc. And if empirically, "national" responses to X, Y or Z issues can be shown to be uniform across board - why then is nationalism irrational in this sense?

Frank McGahon

Even with regular direct interaction you have to make assumptions about future responses and reciprocity in an inductivist sense. This is precisely how Nationalism also operates.

I see where you're trying to go with this, but I still think the distinction stands - it's a prisoner's dilemma. Sure, in theory, an Irish person in Cork whom I've never met and will never met would favour another Irishman I've never met over the German to whom he was intending to sell his farm and through some sort of anticipation of a network of expected reciprocal action, I could conclude that it would be better to hire an Irish architect over his Polish counterpart. But in practice, he'll sell the farm to whomever pays the most amount of money and I'll hire the best person for the job.

Now, if there is some prospective for immediate payoff due to direct interaction - say the Irish architect's father was a client or potential client - it might be a different story but you'd have to benefit directly, I think, for any partiality to be rational.

Chuckles

Frank -

Your example bypasses the point. Its not about being "someone youve never met" in the strict sense.
If an Irishman and a German present themselves to the man from Cork with the exact same amount of money trying to purchase the same good - both of them being strangers to the man from Cork - would it be rational to sell to the Irishman?
You argue that proximity says certain partialties towards one's close circles are rational and partialties towards a broader nation are not.
I dont think this flies.
The bottom line is that the benefits of daily interaction sum up only to the presence of more data in the data pool. More points on the curve. - i.e. daily interaction supplies more empirical data. So you get say, better extrapolation (this is what you mean by saying "knowing them" - since one can never really claim to "know someone")
I say, so what?
A preponderance of data is not the determinant of rationality. Essentially, this is a critic of extrapolation. You are claiming that extrapolation is rational depending on how many data points you have - and I say, so where do you draw the line? It is a question of degree.
If you define the daily interactions in the context of the Prisoners Dilemma - then you must also recognize the broader "tragedy of the commons" which exists with respect to Nations and cultures and shared value systems - which again, is merely the Prisoners Dilemma writ large. So how do you justify Familism / Proximialism by PD but fail to see the case for rational Nationalism on the same ground by ToC?

BTW: I think both familism and nationalism are irrational.

Frank McGahon

The bottom line is that the benefits of daily interaction sum up only to the presence of more data in the data pool

There's more to it than data - you can't enforce (tacit) agreements with people you will never see again. I'm making an uncontroversial claim that it would be rational for people who will see and can count on the benefits of any reciprocal action to engage in reciprocal action. This is intended to explain why it might be rational to favour close family members and friends and/or people with whom you have direct interactions with. I say "might" because famillarity runs both ways. If familiarity breeded contempt, it might be rational to be partial against the contempt-worthy.

BTW: I think both familism and nationalism are irrational.

Well ceteris paribus, yes, I guess my point is that ceteris ain't paribus when it comes to people with whom you have direct interaction (more information and capability to enforce agreements).

Chuckles

[...you can't enforce (tacit) agreements with people you will never see again...]

If its tacit, then it all the more expands into the larger nation. This "enforcement" of tacit contracts is after all the basis of social contract theory. In fact, it is mainly because one can enforce tacit contracts with people who one will never see again through cultural and institutional proxies that nationalism, by way of your argument is rational.
Furthermore, within ones own close circle, the enforcement of tacit agreements is reliable only to the extent that there are proxies: i.e. if your friend messes up, folks in the circle will be told and his reputation declines. There is a third party proxy at work. Within nations and shared value systems, the media, gossips, law enforcement, etc all act as proxies to enforce tacit agreements. If your friend stood to lose only *your* business and fellowship by being a jerk - well, who cares! There are others!

[...more information and capability to enforce agreements...]

Like I have mentioned: the more data angle just doesnt fly - and the capability to enforce agreements is always by way of proxy (unless you are preparing to kill someone, which wouldnt amount to contract enforcement, etc). The demarcations you are trying to introduce are very shaky here and depending on where one draws the line, ceteris is very much paribus.

Frank McGahon

If its tacit, then it all the more expands into the larger nation.

This is the step I don't see. The ability to police and enforce such conventions diminishes drastically the wider the circle. I'm not so much arguing for a logical distinction as a practical limit.

In fact, it is mainly because one can enforce tacit contracts with people who one will never see again through cultural and institutional proxies that nationalism, by way of your argument is rational.

But, arguendo, if we're willing to go as far as the nation, why stop there? Aren't there social conventions which cross national boundaries? For example: If I'm in a shop in Dundalk, Cork, London, Rome, Budapest, Florida or New York I'm going to join the queue for the till and not barge in front. I've sketched out a few examples of the type of direct payoffs which might make it "rational" to favour (or "unfavour") people about whom we know plenty (and by "plenty" I mean information relating to that individual, not some sort of statistical average*) and are in a position to enforce agreements. When you get past that practical limit, it's hard to see where the useful distinction is between nationals and non-nationals. I've about as much information about a Corkman as I do a Londoner, (perhaps even a little less) and I'm no more capable of enforcing any implied reciprocal agreement in either case.

and the capability to enforce agreements is always by way of proxy

I don't see why this is relevant. The capability to enforce agreements relies on such agreement being important enough to be of interest to the circle of people who connect the two parties to that agreement. It's either a Dundalk Democrat story or an Irish Times story.

* this isn't really to do with induction - I don't care about the chain of information so much as the actual information. If I say I know who person X is it means I know a series of facts about him. For a given person Y (say, down in Cork) I don't know anything at all about her specifically, All I can say is that a certain set of propositions about her are statistically likely.

Chuckles

Frank -

1.) Do you deny that there are payoffs from nationalism?

2.) Do you deny that the regularity of these payoffs is non-trivial?

3.) If you answered "No" to 1&2 - then why is nationalism irrational?

The point I am trying to make is that once the myth of a Nation is in place, and you get folks to adopt believe and attitude of partialty towards fellow nationals - then, perpetuating that system by way of your argument is very, very, rational!
All that counts is the payoff. It doesnt matter where it is coming from, what kind it is, etc. All that matters is that is provides utility. Once you approach a certain maxima of certainty with regards to payoffs, then action towards the payoff is rational, no?
Are there or are there not payoffs from Nationalism?
I think we might be arguing past each other here...I just find it hard to understand why Nationalism is irrational if provides payoffs with a fair amount of certainty.
Do you I read you correctly as arguing that Nationalism does not in fact provide payoffs?

The comments to this entry are closed.

March 2008

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Blog powered by Typepad