Monday, 23 June 2008

Motive 3

Following my earlier post on motive, and its sequel, which questioned the importance placed on motive by many of the anti-war point of view, here is something that may explain the persistence of the motive argument.

Grant McCracken notes the frequent uses of phrases such as "I am deeply troubled" or "I am deeply saddened" in political debate, particularly in the Democratic Party. He writes:

In our culture at the present moment, claims to emotion are proof of good intentions, and a certain purity of motive.  We are more trustworthy when in the throes of an emotional event.  Speaking from the heart is a good thing.  And when we say we are "deeply saddened," dude, we are so deeply trustworthy that a political party would be entirely wrong not to embrace what we have to say.

He goes on to look at this in relation to arguments by sociologist Viviana Zelizer on our culture's distinction between matters of commerce and matters of intimacy. He concludes:

I wonder if the parties are not separating in a kind of continental drift with this as their impulse.  It is does parse quite neatly.  Democrats are the party of feeling. They care about the world.  They feel its pain.  Republicans, by contrast, are hard hearted bastards who don't or can't care.  All that matters to them is commerce. 

But strategically, isn't this a problem?   Can the Democrats afford to take this position?  It is all very well to claim the emotional domain, but does this leave them open to the charge that they can feel the issues but not manage them?  In the final hour, American voters, those swing voters in the middle, they don't care so much about charisma and the promise of change, as they do about trust.  Being the party of feeling how can it not indeed feel good.  It looks like the side of virtue. ( And for all I know, it is the side of virtue.)  But strategically, it is an expensive place to be.  It lays claim to authenticity but sacrifices, perhaps, the claim to competence on which every election finally depends.

It seems to me that the near-obsession with motive regarding the invasion of Iraq, and earlier wars too, is an example of this problem of being overly concerned with whether leaders' hearts are in the right place, rather than with focusing on actions and their consequences. The cultural aversion to mixing commerce and matters of intimacy described in Grant McCracken's post also relates to the unwillingness of many to consider the possibility that actions with selfish motives may have wider positive results.

Read the whole thing here.

Earlier related posts: Motive, Motive 2, Re-fighting World War Two

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