Asymmetric Delusions and Pragmatism
Sometimes I joke that to conservatives, the solution to every problem is to cut taxes; to liberals, the solution to every problem is to eat local. Of course, purported panaceas on both the left and right are snake oil, even if peddled by true believers.
So, the other day I picked on my own tribe: foodies. To be frank, I have a love-hate relationship with the movement. It has thin and oftentimes paranoid underpinnings. But while a lot of things advocated by the movement are illogical or scientifically baseless (like the dangers of GMOs), the movement also strikes me as mostly harmless, and sometimes even beneficial. There are some important and disastrous exceptions, like the movement to kill golden rice, which could save the lives of millions and save millions more from blindness.
But for the most part, the movement to "eat local," and all it's offspring, doesn't strike me as particularly harmful. Here in Hawai'i there are delusional ideas that we ought to stop importing food and go back to the traditional ways of living off taro. Obviously this isn't going to happen. Even though they banned GMOs on some of our islands, exceptions were made for key crops actually grown. Still, the movement does seem to be strong enough to help protect cultural heritage, an important public good. It also cultivates a food culture that breeds great restaurants and fresh local produce. After all, wasn't the whole movement inspired by my former Berkeley neighbor, restaurant extraordinaire, Alice Waters? (I never met her, but lived two doors down, in an in-law studio during grad school) The movement isn't going to save the planet or feed the world, but it sure makes my privileged little world a lot nicer and a little healthier.
What about delusions on the right? Front and center would be climate change denialism. Not far behind would be anti-Keynesianism, or the austerity movement. As Paul Krugman reminds us every day, quite persuasively in my view, these delusions have hardly been harmless. And in contrast to foodies, the radical right has a whole lot of power, controlling both houses of Congress and rich backing by Wall Street, the Koch brothers and friends.
So, while reasoning and herd behavior on both extremes seems equally delusional at times, the delusional right strikes me as more destructive and much more powerful.
But then, speaking honestly, I identify more with the left than the right. So am I being too soft on the lefties? I don't think so, but feel free to weigh in. I think the lefty culture tends to be a bit more introspective by nature than the right. The right doesn't tend to tease their own quite like I did the other day, not without swift excommunication. And I think lefties, by their nature, are a little bit more susceptible to evidence and persuasion. They also, by nature, possess visceral independence and eschew the party line. Maybe that's what I was doing the other day.
Given the real political asymmetry here, I do feel a little guilty for picking on foodies. But not too much. I don't really want to go out and do a lot of research on the topic of food waste to prove how silly this stuff is, or to prove that while GMOs can have some undesirable side effects they aren't Frankenfoods. For the most part this is a fight that isn't worth fighting. I figure it's better to focus on the things that really do matter.
But I figured it was worth a blog post, because I think we all do better when we eschew our innate tendency toward tribalism, try to figure out what's really going on, and find the most pragmatic solutions to real problems.