Sunday, December 17, 2006

The problem with ideology

Meagan McCardle lists her disappointment with PIRG work as the basis for her turning from liberal to libertarian. I think that the future of libealism (as opposed to Leftism) is going to be libertarianism. The reason for this is the difference between ideology and values.
For the most part, I have always believed that all human organizations become so large and unwieldly, that they begin to destroy the very reasons for their creation, in order to continue their existence as they perceive it needs to be. One of the examples cited in her comments was unions paying sub minimum wage to protest Wal-Mart wages, which are above minimum wage already.
The only organization that I can think of which hasn't fallen into this trap is the US Army. Upon relfelction, I think that is because the Army trains to accomplish something that it hopes will never happen. So, you have an orgainzation that seems to be doing something pointless. While some may argue that because it is pointless, it should not be done, I would argue that is pollyanish at best, and extremely dangerous at worst. Pure pacifism requires surrender to anyone immoral enough to demand it and willing to employ force to accomplish it. This is a surrender of your basic values for the purpose of upholding those values. A worthy contradiction, don't you think?
But getting back to the Army. The thing that held it together was called the Army values. These were (I am sure that they have been massaged since I was in) Courage, Candor, Commitment and Excellence. Each and every soldier regardless of rank or responsibility was expected to hold each of these values and to base all of their actions on these same values. If you look at the listed values, they are all fuzzy. Any MBA would find them inadequate for Management by Objective, but their fuzziness actually made them stronger. If you were to err, you would always err on the side of the decision that was closest to the Army values as understood by the group as a whole. Technicalities were not allowed. The only thing that mattered were did you accomplish the mission, not how hard you tried, or how well you meant, just did you do the job. The reason for this is that accurate information is a life or death matter in this type of job.
When I was teaching the Leadership course in ROTC, I always used the example of a tank platoon that was crossing a river in Korea during that war. The engineeer in charge of blowing the bridge asked the lieutenant of the tanks if he was the last of the Americans. The lieutenant thinking that with all of the fighting he had been doing said "Yes I am." So the engineer blew the bridge, and when the smoke cleared, there was an American infantry unit stranded on the other side of the river.
The moral of the story is that the lieutenant conveyed false information. Not that he meant to, but that he didn't know better. If he would have said "I've been fighting them all the way here and haven't seen any other Americans," that would have been an accurate statement, but different from his being the last Americans.
Values are something that has to be spread throughout and organization. Ideology can be a basis for forming values, but ideology can also destroy values. (I am doing this for the good of the cause.) If you have good basic values, your actions will always be moral and just. If you have a good ideology, your values will fall by the wayside whenever they conflict, because ideology is more important.
I would rather people with strong values lead than strong ideology. I can trust people with values to do the right thing. I can trust people with strong ideology to do whatever is needed to propagate that ideology as they perceive it.

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