Incest and politics

04/03/2014 Comments Off on Incest and politics

The leader of the ACT party, Jamie Whyte, stirred up controversy last week with comments on incest. For context, it must be recalled that Dr Whyte is a former philosophy lecturer at Cambridge University. Incest is thus to him a philosophical puzzle he must solve with logic. His logic led him to suggest that adults should be allowed to do what they want, regardless.

Two angles on this. First, the incest taboo, according to anthropologists, is common in human societies. See, for example, Freud’s Totem and Taboo, or Claude Levi-Strauss’s work. What’s fascinating, though, is that the specific taboo differs across societies/cultures. Thus, as Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice put it so memorably:

As my Intro to Anthropology professor told us, it is a fact universally acknowledged that The Tribe Over There is full of lowlife degenerates who eat taboo foods, have sex with their relatives, worship false idols & use entirely too much of the common resources. All else is commentary…

Whyte goes further, and suggests that the group does not have an interest in regulating the sex behaviours of its members. This is entirely consistent with an individualistic formulation of philosophy, rights, etc.

The second angle is that any appeal to society, culture, history, or group harmony ends up sounding like any racist justification for ‘the way things are’. Anti-miscegenation laws are based on a taboo that Those People should not be mixing with These People. It isn’t right, it will create mongrels, it degrades our purity of essence, and the rest.

Now, I worry about incest taboos because of a Freudian/Lacanian concern with the return of the primal father. One of the bulwarks against an Id-driven regime, one element of the Super-ego, is an incest taboo, however constructed. In a blunt sense, I don’t stand a chance in an Id-driven world. I’d rather avoid it. I appreciate the Super-ego.

So…is there a justification for an incest taboo that doesn’t wind up sounding exactly like a racist rant? And if there isn’t, what is human society without an incest taboo?

Narratives of minor parties

10/11/2011 Comments Off on Narratives of minor parties

I’ve looked at National and Labour and the stories they tell about how the economy works. What about the minor parties?

Greens: I was struck by how technocratic they are. They take the economy as a given, and then make suggestions for how to push or pull it in the ‘right’ way. It is a partial equilibrium view, admittedly — the feedbacks and general equilibrium effects are missing. They also try to broaden the discussion: we shouldn’t look just at the market outcomes, but at the wider economic effects. To do this, we should measure the ‘right’ things. The focus on measurement signals acceptance. They aren’t trying to say that the market system failed; it isn’t a systemic critique. Instead, they are saying, ‘Look, when we measure and aim for growth, we get it. Now, let’s do the same for the things that really matter: the environment, society, families, etc.’ This is economics as the operating system for humanity.

Act: It is hard to separate Act 2011 from Hide, Brash, and classical liberalism generally. I won’t really try. Brash was on Close Up on Monday, and repeated the Taskforce 2025 prescription that NZ needs world-leading regulation. That brought to mind, ‘That government is best which governs least’. This is the reasoning behind Hide’s Regulatory Standards Bill. The underlying narrative reminds me of Rousseau: man starts in a state of nature, and then is corrupted. The economy starts off in a state of natural function, and then is corrupted by government.

Maori: Much of the party policy focuses, not surprisingly, on the tangata whenua. The party talks about how outcomes are different for Maori. A lot of the discussion is supply-side: producing more young people with education and training, making better use of the resource base, understanding Maori IP. The demand side is less visible: what skills will be demanded, or why demand for Maori-owned resources aren’t as high. The implication is that the economy works, it just doesn’t work well for Maori. They need to get in there and participate.

A different narrative, one that isn’t used, is that the market produces winners and losers. The poor and dispossessed are as integral to the system as the wealthy. Such as system is unjust, and must be replaced. Instead, the Maori party seems to say that the economy generally works, but Maori need better participation.

I may be reading this wrong, but all three of these parties seem to believe that the economy generally works well. It may need some refocusing (Greens) or relaxing of controls (Act), or we may want a bigger piece of it (Maori), but its centrality and functioning are taken as given. These narratives parallel the political fortunes. They can’t change the essential nature of the Government. Instead, they can alter its trajectory a bit towards their own goals.

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