23 October 2011

Nothing To Envy

I've started to take more interest in North Korea. The reason for this is an embarrassment: I have argued that a possible route to a form of government closer to what I want to see is that a one-party state comes under the control of a single strong leader who is able to convert it into a hereditary monarchy, by concentrating power to himself so strongly that he is able to leave it to his heir. It later occurred to me that the country which has come closest to doing that is North Korea, now anticipating the succession of the third generation of the Kim dynasty.

Like I said, an embarrassment. Probably the one-party-state to hereditary monarchy thing isn't such a good idea. But I'm amusing myself by studying my own reaction to this inconvenience to my theories. It's interesting to play at being rather more attached to the theory than I really am, and look for cynical ways to rebut arguments based on the evidence of North Korea.

The most fun approach would be to argue that North Korea is actually really well governed, and the problems it is perceived to have are either falsified by the media, or are the results of steps taken against it by jealous republicans abroad.

It is the sheer ludicrousness of that argument that has induced me to look at the question at this "meta" level. North Korea is pretty much the poorest and most backward country in the entire world, while the part of Korea given a different form of government by an arbitrary line of latitute has become one of the dozen or so richest and most advanced. If North Korea had been merely bad, I might have seriously attempted a defence of its system, but as things are it is impossible to do so with a straight face. That situation makes some degree of self-examination inevitable: exactly how stupid does an argument have to be for me to reject it as I have the "North Korea is actually really well governed" line. And what does that say about me?

(This interesting point from Nathan Bashaw seems relevant).

Part of the question is how easy it is to dodge the problem. And here I can really do it. For one thing, we don't really know who has the power in North Korea — for all we can tell, Kim may be an empty figurehead entirely under the control of military and party officials. In any case, the problem in North Korea is not who is in charge, it is that it is attached to a collectivist economic system. Kim is legitimate not because he is the annointed heir of Kim Il-Sung, but because he is the carrier of the flame of communism.

That gives us another data point: North Korea does not in fact convince me that hereditary government is a bad idea. Despite the problem that everywhere else in the world has dumped NK-style collectivism, with the possible exception of Cuba, which... is ruled by the brother of the previous leader. Hmmm.

I don't think I can really draw conclusions about attachment to ideology here. But the question's still open: I'm going to keep an eye on the process of my adapting judgement to ideology and vice versa. I'm well placed to do that, because I am not in a social group united by my ideology — other than a few other bloggers. Also the fact that I've recently abandoned ideological positions I held for most of my adult life gives me an extra reserve of cynicism to draw on.


I already started with yesterday's post, where I deliberately went through the motions of drawing ideological conclusions from the undercover policing scandal.

Aretae has also been writing along these lines recently. One of his most important points is that there is no basis for anyone to be certain or even nearly certain about these difficult ideological issues. When he puts forward ideas, it's all 60% this and 70% that.

That's very sound. But is that the way anyone really sees things? The reason I'm able to take this detached approach to my royalist ideology is that I genuinely do have doubts. Again, that's probably because it's fairly new to me, and it's out beyond the lunatic fringe in the public debate.

For a comparison, take the issue of climate change. I am persuaded by the evidence, and have written here, that there is considerable room for doubt of the pronouncements of the climate science experts. I claim that the evidence tends to support the position that dangerous climate change is not happening and will not happen.

That's fine. But what I haven't said in so many words is that I have a deep inner certainty that anthropogenic global warming is all rubbish. That certainty cannot be justified by a reasoned analysis of the evidence: in no way do I have sufficient knowledge or understanding of the science to achieve such confidence in any conclusion. Where does this certainty come from?

If it is simply overconfidence, that's almost the least bad possibility. At least in that case, the direction of my conclusion is based on reason. What's more worrying is the possibility that the inner certainty is totally independent of my reason, and the reasoned conclusions I have drawn are only rationalisations of my faith.

If that's the case, where did the faith come from? I would have to have made some kind of intuitive, rather than rational, judgement on one side of a very complex issue. What is the source of that intuition? I don't know, though I could take a few guesses. Is that intuition to be trusted? In general, absolutely not. There are too many cases of people reaching opposite certainty on the basis of intuition, and there is no basis for judging one person's intuition against another.

Now maybe my intuition, unlike yours, is reliable. It does have a fairly decent track record. Also, I'm not in the habit of being certain: of all the other things I have written about on this blog, I don't think there are any that I have the same inner certainty about that I have about AGW.

3 comments:

James A. Donald said...

North Korea is a theocratic hereditary monarchy.

Elizabethan England was also a theocratic hereditary monarchy.

Observe, however, that though the official religion was protestantism, every play Shakespeare produced expressed a Roman Catholic, pagan, or atheistic POV, whereas it is unimaginable that any movie or television show in modern Britain could express a politically incorrect POV.

I think that the difference is simply that the official religion of Elizabethan England was pretty good, and the official religion of North Korea is extremely bad. Compare the Book of Common prayer with Mao Zedong Thought.

James A. Donald said...

North Korea is a hell hole because it is so far left. Supposed it was still a party state. Then party members would still be trying to out left each other, and it would be moving even further left.

Britain is a democracy, and as long as it remains a democracy, moves ever further left. When it is lefter than North Korea, let us then see how it compares.

sconzey said...

Oh my good man, I read the first few paragraphs and thought: "hah! he's making the unwarranted assumption that the Kims have real political power, aside from the ideology of communism."

You can imagine my consternation when you addressed these very points in a subsequent paragraph.

I think the difference between your confidence over global warming and your uncertainty over politics is an arbitrary distinction. Quite simply: there is a level of intellectual maturity that few ever reach, where we willingly entertain the possibility we might be wrong.

This has the effect of strengthening our resolve on matters where we are certainly correct and -- regrettably -- weakening it on matters were our correctness is less certain.

One of the major reasons the tactics of the left never work in reaction is that we reactionaries don't believe in our own views anywhere near as hard as those on the left do...