August 12, 2009

Staley Cheats with His Wand

Justin Katz

At about minute forty-four of the podcast of Dan Yorke's interview with RISC Chairman Harry Staley, Dan poses the "magic wand" question that I'd answered in a union-busting way, and Harry answers as follows:

More than anything else, I would like to effect a change in the citizens of Rhode Island from the terrible apathy that they have. I'd like for the citizens of Rhode Island to wake up and look at what's at issue, because their lives are going down the tubes, and they don't realize it. The terrible things that are coming out of the lack of good management of our government is desperate for these people.

For reasons partially explained here, I find the notion of manipulating others' consciousness to be such dangerous territory that it's best avoided even in impossible theoreticals. Practical realities make it easy to abide by the aphorism to manipulate the world, not the soul, but whether one internalizes it makes a difference in what is considered to be acceptable. Propaganda deliberately unattached to truth, after all, is a method of attempting to bend people's will by inciting them to react to a false reality, and conservatives and other rightward reformers mustn't slip into a mentality of using ends to justify means.

Even in the abstract, if the goal is to "wake the people up," the object of the waved wand ought to be to change a policy or remove a material obstacle in such a way as to accomplish as much. This isn't merely a moral or aesthetic preference; if we can figure out what policy we would change by magic, we might find it worth attacking politically.

(Don't take this post to imply that nothing else in the interview was edifying; this is just a point that I thought might move the discussion forward by its being made.)