Saturday, August 04, 2012

Designers of perfect systems for imperfect people always seem to give themselves the benefit of the doubt.

Chris Bertram is a self-serving, status-seeking moralist.
January 2012
First, I’m sympathetic I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere). I suspect this generalizes to many people in professional jobs: we couldn’t achieve the kinds of things we want to in our careers on those kinds of hours. This isn’t necessarily a problem, so long as there isn’t compulsion. Some (many) people have shitty jobs with low intrinsic rewards: removing the burden of work for them would be an unqualified good thing. Second, it is all very well Juliet Schor telling us to transition to a low hours/lower consumption economy. I’m cool with consuming less. The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages and bank loans to pay (in part) for the consumption we’ve already had. Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away. Third, there was distressingly little discussion of the politics of this. Whatever the real social and economic benefits, the French 35-hour week wasn’t a political success (perhaps because it was watered-down) and Sarkozy was able to campaign effectively on behalf of the “France qui se lève tôt”. Some kind of post-mortem on this experience would have been helpful, albeit that it took place in a different, pre-crisis, environment.
August 2012
Hi there liberal rule-of-law fetishists!

Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to mention something that’s been bothering me. This idea that we all order our affairs under a system of predictable rules sounds very nice, but I do wonder whether it’s compatible with some of the other things that you seem to be signed up for. Some of you, I know, are worried about this so-called 1 per cent, and even about the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent: the people who own lots of stuff. Not only do they own lots of stuff, but they own the kind of stuff that is useful if you want to own even more stuff. That’s how it goes. And, of course, they also have the means to bring about a favourable “regulatory environment”, so that they get to hold onto that stuff.

The rule of law is the rule of common language not the rule of grammar.
"Lawyers... are the rule of law." Joe Jamail
The first is short. Watch both.

Lawyers, not judges, not philosophy professors. Lawyers argue in public over the meanings of words. The argument is primary not the given result. A street-ball game without a referee functions under the rule of laws held in common by the players, but the laws themselves are less important than the attitude of the players towards each other and the game.  Players argue calls until questions are resolved or the argument gets in the way of the game. The rule of law fails if the game falls apart no more than that.  There are no pedants in street-ball.

School teachers when they were kids used to look out the window at their classmates in the schoolyard. They always wanted to grow up to be refs. Referee, judge, priest, pedant. Pay attention the back and forth between Jamail and the man who introduces him. The man's a schmuck, and Jamail looks a little abashed.

Quoting Jack Balkin:
My view of the Supreme Court is sort of like the husband in the French farce," Balkin says. "He's always the last to know.
Society is not the state. The state is a product. The refs don't make the game.

Reading Balkin and Levinson's article on law and the humanities [PDF], mentioned earlier. It's not good enough.
The arts help you along the process of separating simple preferences from moral ones; the danger is never in enjoying fictions, but in enjoying only one. Joe Jamail is a very rich tradesman, but he's only a tradesman. He's humble compared to Bertram, and he knows more of what he is; Bertram has only his own fantasies. You don't have to buy into everything he says to see Jamail as a member of a society that Bertram sees himself above. And you don't have to disagree with everything Bertram says to recognize that his assumptions are the proximate cause of his absolute mediocrity as a human being. See also his old friend

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