Found via Simoleon Sense. This reminded me of some good advice from Charlie Munger: “Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind. You see it a lot with T.V. preachers (many have minds made of cabbage) but it can also happen with political ideology. When you’re young it’s easy to drift into loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of this ideology. It’s a big danger.”
You would think pragmatism needed no defenders. Tony Blair went to the country in 1997 declaring that New Labour was not a party of "outdated ideology. What counts is what works". Deng Xiaoping, the reformist Chinese leader who led his country from famine and chaos into a growth miracle, was fond of quoting an old Sichuan proverb: "No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat". And here's a simple dictionary definition of pragmatism: "A reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories".
What's to dislike about pragmatism? Nothing. But here's the problem: we pay lip service to the concept, but in practice we dislike pragmatism. We don't vote for genuinely pragmatic politicians. We don't invest in pragmatic businesses. The truth is that making pragmatism work requires effort, embarrassment, and compromise. We don't seem to be willing to pay what it costs.
Because the pragmatist tries to take each situation on its own merits and figure out a sensible way forward, pragmatism tends to look hesitant, messy, and prone to error. The ideologue, whether a left winger or a right winger, a corporate visionary or a pub philosopher, looks decisive in comparison. Ideology always offers a neat answer, whether through reference to Karl Marx, Milton Friedman or the latest corporate mission statement. The fact that the answer may simply be wrong is irrelevant to the dogmatist, because it needs no testing.
Related book: Adapt
Related previous post: Tim Harford on EconTalk