Monday, December 23, 2002

CalPundit on the question of questioning motives:
HUMAN MOTIVATION....I think Matt Yglesias is seriously wrong when he says this:
It just doesn't matter why Bush does what Bush does or Frist does what Frist does or Matt does what Matt does. What matters is what we do and whether those are good or bad things.
Trying to deduce people's real motivations is absolutely central to all human activity. We talk about it, we think about it, we argue about it, and we make most of our decisons based on it. We fight or follow people based on our assessment of what they really think. We applaud or denigrate the exact same actions depending on whether we think they were made for the right reasons. Motivation is the key to everything. Actions come in a poor second.
Allow me to be the synthesis to Cal and Matt's thesis/anti-thesis by saying that both are right and both are wrong. Matt is right that, ultimately, what people do is more important then why they do what they do. However, Cal is right that you cannot ignore the question of motive in deciphering people's actions, especially when it comes to the question of what you can trust them to do in the future. Bush makes a lot of noise about caring and compassion and being a good person. But his actions often contradict what he says. His actions give us a better clue as to his motivations and thus a better clue as to what he will do in the future. The lessons learned: never take him at his word and always assume that he will do whatever is most politicially expedient for himself since, after all, it is all about him (that is his motivation). My take on this is that, while questioning motives is often an interesting excercise in understanding human nature, it can often get in the way of discussions about what is really going on. The establishment media is especially guilty of this offense. They spend so much time talking about why a particular politician, especially a democrat, does something ("what kind of political advantage is Gore/Clinton/'Daschle/Lott/Bush/blah/blah/blah trying to gain by this action") that they miss the story on just what it is they are doing and how it effects real people. For modern journalism, the question of Why has supplanted the questions of Who, What, Where, When and How. As The Daily Howler so aptly demonstrates, the supremacy of Why has lead to a journalism characterized more by psychological analysis then the investigation of the impact of specific actions on the welfare of the nation. This allows lazy journalists to reign supreme in the pundit field: whoever can come up with the most witty explanation for Why some politician did something will get the most calls from TV show bookers. It is why Maureen Dowd can win a Pulitzer and Gene Lyons and Joe Conason are consigned to backwater publications. I am as curious as anyone as to Why someone does a particular thing. But, in the immediate, the question of Why someone is running my nation into ruin and disgrace pales in comparison to the fact that they are doing it at all.

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