Res Publica at Republic of Dogs has posted an excellent response to new-generation narcissism which, among other excellent points, pounds at one of my favorite memes (or perhaps anti-memes):

And here we meet Straw Man #2: Ideology vs. Pragmatism! This is perhaps the biggest and steamiest load of hork that has ever spurted up from the dyspeptic GI tract of the so-called New Democrats, only to be endlessly swirled around in the collective mouth of the Democratic Party like a fine wine, only with chunks.

There hasnâ??t been much seriously theoretical or idiological thinking in general circulation in our party for decades. Most Democrats, including progressives, are deeply pragmatic, but thereâ??s pragmatism and then thereâ??s pragmatism. Kos, it seems, thinks that political pragmatism consists of advocating whatever policy sounds pretty darn good to folks. I would argue that the better form of political pragmatism, the one that actually represents the larger Pragmatist tradition in American political philosophy, consists of advocating policies that we have good reason to believe will work, and then present our fellow citizens with reasonable arguments to persuade them to support our proposed policies. But I guess I should just save that talk for Old School Activist back at the commune.

I donâ??t think the arguments that have been made against vouchers are particularly ideological. While it was adequately funded, Americaâ??s system of public schools transformed the social landscape. Universal public education encouraged social mobility and helped to expand and stabilize the American middle class. Last time I checked, Democrats supported opportunities for upward class mobility, and believed that a stable middle class helps democracy thrive. To allow conservatives to under-fund the public schools of poor children and then rush in to deliver the systemâ??s death-blow with their cockamamie privatizations and voucher schemes isnâ??t pragmatic. Itâ??s just dumb. Itâ??s a purely ideological decision that universal public education for effective citizenship isnâ??t important, and that the state should provide poor schools for poor people or leave the matter up to Jesus & Friends. It is, in short, an obvious example of the thinking of blow-dried neo-liberals who have drunk deeply at the ideological wells of the new capitalism — ” the kind of people who use words like â??proactivenessâ?.

This is exactly the same point I’ve been trying to make for years, seemingly to no avail. Political/economic ideology represents a strategy to achieve pragmatic ends. I don’t choose a so-called liberal ideology or social policy because it’s more beautiful or more “right” in some mushy abstract way; I choose it because I believe it leads to better practical results. Call it true enlightened self-interest, based on knowledge of game theory and chaos/complexity theory and good old-fashioned economics (the kind that’s actually based in reality instead of attempting to impose its own dogma on reality). Many people just don’t understand those kinds of things, so they fall into the various conceptual traps based on ignorance of how things work (and people behave) in the real world — a category that includes both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism. Maybe Schelling’s Nobel prize for his work on cooperation will help with that, but I don’t hold out much hope; he’s not the first to receive a Nobel for work in this area, but too many still seem to understand competition about ten times better than cooperation and value it a hundred times more. As Res Publica points out, the distinction between ideology and pragmatism is bogus. It’s usually made as part of an attempt by those on the right to frame those on the left as starry-eyed dreamers unconnected to reality. For the “new left” to accept the right’s caricature amounts to betrayal of their own putative cause. Instead, we should point out that the flip side of being a starry-eyed dreamer is being a short-sighted groveler too absorbed in the pursuit of narrow self-interest to notice the disaster looming. I’d rather be Jonathan Livingston Seagull than a vaguely possum-shaped piece of hamburger and fur on the highway. Does that sound pragmatic to you? Idealism is a good thing, as is intellectualism. They both serve pragmatic goals better than blind faith in an internally inconsistent dogma unconnected to empirical reality.