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Sakmongkol ak 47

Friday, 1 August 2008

The evils of fallacious thinking

I have written on oxymoron. It is the holding of two contradicting concepts simultaneously. As an example, of this is when we speak of pompous humility. Pompous is an extreme form of snobbish behaviour which is diametrically opposite of humility.

Many many years ago, in one case, our own Karpal Singh, when criticised for being too extreme and harsh in his criticisms replied, he cannot be two extremes at the same time. ( unfortunately can’t remember the occasion).

But oxymoronic behaviour is the stuff by which politicians are made of. You know the drill, running with the hares, hunting with the hounds. In the career politician, it has become an art.

The late professor Milton Friedman has a splendid illustration of this behaviour. He wrote it in the preface of F.A.Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.

Why is it that people can hold two contradicting ideas at the same time? Is it an indication of pleasing all sides? Of playing to the gallery? Friedman states that many of those who profess the most individualistic objectives support collectivist means without recognising the contradiction.

For example, we hear of the government efforts to cultivate individual businessmen and yet provide preponderant support to GLCs. Indeed GLCs are often given monopolies over certain economic activities even though the record of GLCs have been dismal to the extreme.

In the state of Pahang, for example, a state owned economic agency known as Mentega Corporation after having failed in its core business was rewarded by being given a near monopoly over iron ore mining concessions. How do we expect the same management that failed in a previous monopoly can redeem itself in a new venture?. So, prepare for more heartaches.

Friedman continues- it is tempting to believe that social evils arise from the activities of evil men and that if only good men( like ourselves naturally) wielded power all would be well.

Well, we had a taste of that fallacious line of thinking recently. Zaid Ibrahim, the lawyer who has not extricated himself from the wrongdoing of money politics in UMNO, pursuing that moral high horse line of thinking, thought now that he, the good man, wields power, he can now do good. What did he carry out? He actually bribed the judges who were either sacked or dismissed temporarily with monetary compensation. Until today, he has been coy about the actual amount of compensation paid. I thought in Parliament you are supposed to tell everything?

I cannot resist but rephrased what professor Freidman says as to why some hypocritical people find it easy to play two roles at once, the executioner and saviour. Friedman says, that’s because;

That view requires only emotion and self praise-easy to come by and satisfying as well. To understand why people who are not given responsibility can claim to do well while those people in power are useless no gooders, requires analysis and thought, subordinating the emotions to the rational faculty. Hence people like Zaid Ibrahim and by extension Dato Seri Abdullah who was obviously happy to pay the gratuity and for that he received standing ovation, find it easier to succumb to the dictates of emotions rather than subject their minds to a rigorous analytical mode.

The same fallacy spills over to the realms of practical economics. The new form of economic collectivism in the form of conferring monopolies to state owned companies or GLCs with their demonstrated record of producing failure after failure, losses after losses, is preferred over individual enterprise with their record of producing prosperity.

The argument for all forms of collectivism or of controls, is simple if false, it is an immediate emotional argument. The argument for individual enterprise is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument.

And the emotional faculties are more developed in most men than the rational, even in those who regard themselves as intelligent.


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