“If you’re not with us your against us”

by endlesspsych


“If your not with us your against us” or variants of the false dilemma informal fallacy have been used throughout history to various ends. Whenever someone wants to imply that there is a limited number of options, commonly two, when in fact there are a slew of options, it can be found. Biblically Jesus is reported as saying

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

and on the De facto side of atheism Lenin (that’s Vladimir Ilyich Lenin not John Lennon before anyone starts singing I am the Walrus…)

“”It is with absolute frankness that we speak of this struggle of the proletariat; each man must choose between joining our side or the other side.”.

To explore another dichotomy (Fascism/Communism) Bennito Mussolini was known to declare

“O con noi o contro di noi”

which translates, roughly, as “You’re either with us or against us.”

Or if you prefer your examples with added geek in the climax of the film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker says to Obi-Wan Kenobi,

“If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”

To which Obi Wan responds

“only a Sith deals in absolutes”.

Well Obi Wan I’m afraid it looks like there are a lot more Sith out there then anyone ever thought!

The world is full of such implied dichotomies: True/False, Good/Evil, Mind/Body, Relativist/Realist, Left wing/Right wing(/Broken wing), Conservative/Progressive, Capitalist/Communist… All of which generally employed as some sort of mechanism for encouraging in-group cohesion and solidarity at the expense of an out-group. For Marx the enemies were the bourgeois and capital, for McCarthy it was the red under the bed. For conservatives it is the eroding of “traditional values” and for progressives it is conservatives clinging to those same values.

The employment of the false dilemma fallacy is general in the support of an ethereal idea. Ethereal idea is a term that, as far as I am aware, has been coined by Kathleen Turner in her excellent (although perhaps a bit of a manifesto for moderation towards the end) book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought control (However Badsciencers may wince when they see the references to our old chum Baroness Greenfield…). Ethereal ideas, to quote Turner, are ideas that are

“so ambiguous that they are often interpreted very differently by different individuals”

this suits the purpose of ideologues as

“This ambiguity makes them hard to challenge with rational debate”.

Hmmm… perhaps I should have included Homoeopathy/Allopathy or medicine/complimentary and alternative therapy on my list of dichotomies as for some, completely unknown reason, that last statement rings very, very true when I think of them… Ethereal ideas are value laden and encourage a sense of superiority in their followers, Turner makes the case that it is ethereal ideas, not religion/economics/whatever that causes conflict and that ethereal ideas can arise from any branch of human endeavour. Even Science where pet theories and axiomatic assumptions can form the basis of thinking. Although I feel her argument of the Scientist using science as an excuse to argue from authority as ultimately unconvincing I do tend to agree that science is perhaps let off the hook when it comes to confirming ethereal ideas, although I’d tend to say that this is perhaps more to do with people taking advantage of science to their own ends (in a damned lies and statistics kind of way) more then an issue with science itself. Then again, given I consider myself a scientist (thousands wouldn’t given I work in psychology – fascists…) I would say that wouldn’t I?

Stalin said

“Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”

it is my contention that, as Lenin said

“A lie told often enough becomes truth”

and that indeed this is the case. The lie in this case is perhaps more an omission, what I believe Stalin leaves out of his statement is the danger of allowing members of your own in-group ideas. Not entirely restricting freedom of thought, although by using Stalin quotations the comparisons with Orwellian thought police seem somewhat unavoidable now, but simply ensuring that you can always see your in-group label the enemy as the enemy. Which if you think about it is no mean feat when one of the main “ethereal ideas” behind both communism (at one end of the scale) and globalisation (at the other end of the scale) is uniting everyone under one system of, if not thought (Naomi Kleins “the shock doctrine” makes the case that free market neo-conservatism should be considered an ethereal idea in a similar vein to Communism and it’s various permutations.) then defiantly, economics.

Surprisingly enough with all the potentially glamorous subjects mentioned above, some of which I know a fair bit about mind/body for example, the psychology of good and evil being fascinating (and it will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post) and the potential opportunity to lay in the Daily Heil under the pretence of exploring the Conservative/Progressive dichotomy it is economics I want to discuss in this post. As I am not an economist, I’m a psychologist dammit!, you can probably take it as read that this is, in essence, an opinion piece.

Perhaps you have already been able to guess my political stance by the mention of Naomi Klein above. In an attempt to clarify things, and hopefully avoid any incidents of the fundamental attribution error!, I consider myself to be a “Progressive Social Liberal with economically Socialist leanings” or at least I do today, or I think that’s an appropriate means to describe my political stance. Or mibbes it’s just how I want to be viewed? Perhaps it would be more succinct just to say that if someone were to call me a “wishy washy liberal type” I wouldn’t be offended… As I have already stated I am not an economist I suppose I will have to add the caveat that I’ll happily receive corrections based on evidence that my stance is wrong or incorrect on the matter of economics. I would prefer anyone who disagrees with me ideologically to do so politely and also to back up their points with examples and explanations rather then rhetoric and insults. I would expect nothing less then people pointing out if I appear to employ a “do as I say not as I do” in any of the following (which I suspect is unavoidable – it is an opinion piece after all…)

As near as I can tell there were three major economic systems from which to choose from over the last century; Free Market Capitalism, Communism and Keynesian economics. Of course this is likely a simplification but I will hold the above to be “correct” for the purposes of this post. Now say what you like about Niall Ferguson (counterfactual historian, imperialist and colonialist poster boy, whatever) I think his TV show (and presumably the book on which it’s based) the ascent of money made a very good point. In that history (political and social) is inexorably entwined with economics. As such I think you can, if not explain, gain an understanding of 20th Centaury history by understanding how these three economic systems competed against each other and why the free market world we live in today is rediscovering Keynesian ideas… Keynesian economics argue that private sector decisions sometimes lead to inefficient macroeconomic outcomes, which is something anyone who has been on the East Coast line may well be able to draw parallels with!. As such it advocates active policy responses by the public sector, including monetary policy actions by the central bank and fiscal policy actions by the government to stabilize output over the business cycle. In short regulation – the anathema of Free Market ideologues.

I would argue that the survival of economies based on Keynesian ideas were due to Keynesian economics being framed as the moderate option between free market radicalism and Communism and that the fall of Keynesian economics is directly related to the fall of Communism. When Communism fell I believe followers of the Chicago School were able to present themselves, not as radical reformers, but as “the only game in town”. They could see why Keynesian economics would be needed when there was the threat of a country turning to Communism but without Communism Keynesian economics became the enemy, Keynesian economics would lead to Communism… Thus with Communism defeated as an ideology there was no need for a ‘moderate’ economic option as I interpret it not only did Keynesian economics become the new villain in economic systems but somehow the Free Market radicalism of the Chicago school managed to cast itself not as an extreme but as moderate. After all economics is boring, it’s just number crunching, shares and price indexes yeah? Well yes, I suppose the bare bones of economics is pretty much fundamentally boring, its consequences aren’t however and for that reason I think it’s important to remember that even subjects that appear dull can host passionate and idealistic battles over theory. (If you doubt me read some of the papers written advocating the use of meta-analysis and questioning if the technique is actually of any use. Passion and idealism not being something I’d ever even dreamed of as possible in statistics can be found in some places…) However Keynesian economics, is to my mind, the moderate option. Just because Communism has “failed” doesn’t mean the ideal has vanished, that state ownership and total distribution of wealth as ideas have vanished into thin air. Far from it, as any “Capitalism isn’t working” poster will tell you the ideals of Marxism haven’t gone quietly into the night. Thus it seems as if we are stuck with a dichotomy again Chicago School Free Market/Marxist Communist state ownership… But this is just the impression on the surface, no one appears to be shouting about it, perhaps because to shout about a moderate, centrist position seems odd?, Keynesian economics, in one form or another, is making a small comeback…

Due to the credit crunch high level policy makers in the world’s modern economies have shown a renewed interest in implementing economic solutions in accordance with the recommendations of Keynesian economics—such as fiscal stimulus and far-reaching government intervention. As someone who still has, perhaps an irrational, distrust of Thatcherism or Reaganomics I welcome this. Furthermore allowing for my limited knowledge of economic theory I kinda hope John Maynard Keynes rules the roost know rather then Milton Friedman or Karl Marx… A victory for moderate economic theory and a meeting of socialism and capitalism rather then the ethereal absolutism of the two extremes.