February 9, 2004

Bush Believes It -> It Must Be True

Here is the crux of why I think Bush is a dangerous president. Read this excellent article in Slate: You Can Make It With Plato : Bush's difficult relationship with reality. By William Saletan.

The more you study Bush's responses to unpleasant facts, the clearer this pattern becomes. A year and a half ago, the unpleasant facts had to do with his sale of stock in Harken Energy, a company on whose board of directors he served, shortly before the company disclosed that its books were far worse than publicly advertised. Bush dismissed all queries by noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission had declined to prosecute him. "All these questions that you're asking were looked into by the SEC," Bush shrugged. That conclusion was his measure of reality. As to the different version of reality suggested by the evidence, Bush scoffed with metaphysical certainty, "There's no 'there' there."

Saletan suggests that we have this president who values his theories over the facts which pile up in opposition because the American people were reacting to Clinton's attention to polls. It was one of the things that worried me about the Clinton years, especially after he had his scandal. What would the reaction be to this action?

I didn't realize it would be that we'd get stuck with a president who has little epistemological grounding and simply forms his own impenetrable picture of the world.

Certainly, strong beliefs are important. For example, believing that people should be able to marry the person they love, regardless o their sexual orientation is based on a belief regarding equality. But beliefs and other feelings can come up against reality, and that's the time when a leader needs to have some understanding of how we form better beliefs when our old ones become broken. I'm not asking him to become a scientist, but it wouldn't hurt to have some experience with an empirical process which allows you to change your theories. Or, giving Bush a little more credit on knowledge and a little less credit on wisdom, the willingness to change a theory based on new evidence.

I think I'd love to play poker with our president. A large part of playing poker is reading other players. I have no idea whether it would be easy or hard to read GWB. I think his weakness lies elsewhere.

When you're up against an opponent, you must "put that opponent on a hand." In other words, with limited information, you have to make an educated guess regarding what the other player is holding. You must form a hypothesis. Often, you start out thinking he has one thing, but during the betting you get evidence that your original hypothesis was wrong. At that point, it's crucial that you re-evaluate.

One of the best kind of player to play against is one who cannot drop a bad hypothesis. If he starts out believing you're a loose player, he'll play you like a loose player, even after you switch gears. If he thinks you're a rock, you're a rock forever in his eyes. And within a hand, he'll call you to the end if you started out betting weak. This is a lucrative player to have as an opponent because his moves become predictable... predictably bad. No, a much better opponent is a player who is refining his picture of you with every move you make. This steely-eyed fellow is the opposite of G.W. Bush.

But that's the guy I'd like to have as president.

Posted by James at February 9, 2004 5:38 PM
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