Pursuit of Policy Contrary to Self-Interest

Barbara W. Tuchman

A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?

Why, to begin at the beginning, did the Trojan rulers drag that suspicious-looking wooden horse inside their walls despite every reason to suspect a Greek trick? Why did successive ministries of George III insist on coercing rather than conciliating
the American colonies though repeatedly advised by many counselors that the harm done must be greater than any possible gain? Why did Charles XII and Napoleon and successively Hitler invade Russia despite the disasters incurred by each predecessor? Why did Montezuma, master of fierce and eager armies and a city of 300,000 succumb passively to a party of several hundred alien invaders even after they had shown themselves all too obviously human beings, not gods? Why did Chiang Kai-shek refuse to heed any voice of reform or alarm until he woke up to find his country had slid from under him? Why do the oil-importing nations engage in rivalry for the available supply when a firm united front visà-vis the exporters would gain them control of the situation? Why in recent times have British trade unions in a lunatic spectacle seemed periodically bent on dragging their country toward paralysis, apparently under the impression that they are separate from the whole? Why does American business insist on “growth” when it is demonstrably using up the three basics of life on our planet—land, water and unpolluted air? (While unions and business are not strictly government in the political sense, they represent governing situations.)

Elsewhere than in government man has accomplished marvels: invented the means in our lifetime to leave the earth and voyage to the moon; in the past, harnessed wind and electricity, raised earthbound stones into soaring cathedrals, woven
silk brocades out of the spinings of a worm, constructed the instruments of music, derived motor power from steam, controlled or eliminated diseases, pushed back the North Sea and created land it its place, classified the forms of nature, penetrated the mysteries of the cosmos. “While all other sciences have advanced,” confessed our second President, John Adams, “government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years age.”

Barbara W. Tuchman
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), pp. 4-5

Handbook: Coaching

Things to Look For

  • Reflective silence: no need to keep conversations going
  • Listening: are people paying attention
  • Objectification: do people express their position without over-identification with their orientation
  • Patience: a clue to where we are following our own agenda rather than working the problem
  • Charity: a basic concern for the well-being of others that goes beyond using others for one’s own purposes
  • Obedience: working together toward a common objectivew
  • Humility: one is not all-knowing but rather a dynamic entity moving into a mysterious future
  • Dynamic: exercising one’s innate capacity to reach an unlimited desire to know
  • Living in the tension between transcended and transcending selves
  • Taking responsibility for the quality of others thinking and not just one’s own
  • Learning and mastering the common language of the group, as based in Lonergan’s transcendental method and the group’s schematic
  • Expressing an accurate understanding of the intentions and purposes behind a cosmopolis-L group
  • Obedience to authority, understood not as unquestioning but as responding to need
  • Desire to know, expressing a deep need to know, to understand, through asking questions and listening to answers
  • Fundamental insights into the twin processes of dialectical analysis and foundational discernment
  • An openness to ongoing psychic, intellectual, moral, and religious conversion
  • Signs of mutual self-mediation in practice
  • A differentiated mind, showing itself comfortable in different realms of meaning and aware of the possibilities of cross-contamination
  • Capacity for self-correction as well as gently helping others out of confusions that one has already faced
  • Knowledge expressed as personal convictions and not simply expressing the ideas of others
  • A practical knowledge and self-appropriation of Lonergan’s transcendental method
  • A practical understanding of Lonergan’s world view of emergent probability

Channels to People of Common Sense

We take a clue from Lonergan’s discussion of four patterns of experience within common sense: biological, dramatic,
aesthetic, and intellectual. Each pattern is in effect a channel between the interests of a cosmopolis-L group and practical people of common sense who may still be under the misconception that their specialized realm of meaning is the one-and-only ultimately absolute and complete form of knowing.

When it comes to making a case against common sense bias, it is necessary to draw upon their one invaluable feature: intelligent people of common sense are very sane otherwise they would not be able to do the things that they do. But how to meet them? They may not accept the world of people whose reality is grounded in the realm of interiority, nor accept the possibility that philosophical or theological issues can override their often pressing concerns in a world where the work seems never-ending.

We suggest that any cosmopolis-L work could start with one or more of Lonergan’s four basic patterns of common sense understanding. Doing so may allow us to explore our own blind spots, suggest key issues of importance in common sense cultures, and provide a framework for communicating truths when abstract theoretical arguments are not only ineffective but simply end up “proving” their very premise that common sense is the ultimate in human practicality.

The biological pattern has to do with who we are as a species and an organism operating within such a species. So reproduction, regular food supplies, clothing and shelter, not to mention male/female differentiations, are all aspects of common sense that could use a cosmopolis-L capacity for distinguishing between positions and counter-positions.

The arts and artists are invaluable, for they can explore issues of being and belonging, of beauty and harmony, of structure and order, that demand from those who are involved a sense of awe and mystery. Nonverbal communication can rise to the fore, taking into account friendships and love, as well as malevolence and indifference (hate is not the opposite of love). A sense of mystery and awe is an essential feature of human life.

The dramatic arts capture the essence of the dramatic patterns of our lives through novels, theatre, or film. People love a good story, as long as its not moralizing, for they create their own lives as an act of dramatic creation. The intellectual pattern of experience is one that draws all those who simply wish to know. When conceived as a potential of human living, when all other needs are satisfied, it becomes a powerful tool for expanding into a fully differentiated mind.

Many do not grasp what is right in the palm of their hand.

— Heraclitus

Things to Keep in Mind: Lonergan on Conversion

Intellectual conversion is a radical clarification and, consequently, the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity, and human knowledge. The myth is that knowing is like looking, that objectivity is seeing what is there to be seen and not seeing what is not there, and that the real is what is out there now to be looked at. Now this myth overlooks the distinction between the world of immediacy, say, the world of the infant and, on the other hand, the world mediated by meaning. . . .

Moral conversion changes the criterion of one’s decisions and choices from satisfactions to values. As children or minors we are persuaded, cajoled, ordered, compelled to do what is right. As our knowledge of human reality increases, as our responses to human values are strengthened and refined, our mentors more and more leave us to ourselves so that our freedom may exercise its ever advancing thrust toward authenticity. So we move to the existential moment what we discover for ourselves that our choosing affects ourselves no less than the chosen or rejected objects, and that it is up to each of us to decide form himself what he is to make of himself . . .

Religious conversion is being grasped by ultimate concern. It is other-worldly falling in love. It is total and permanent self surrender without conditions, qualifications, reservations. But it is such a surrender, not as an act, but as a dynamic state that is prior to and principle of subsequent acts. It is revealed in retrospect as an under-tow of existential consciousness, as a fated acceptance of a vocation to holiness, as perhaps an increasing simplicity and passivity in prayer. It is interpreted differently in the context of different religious traditions (Method, pp. 238-241).

To be a Coach

. . . one must know the game inside and out, with a developed standard of excellence that comes from observing and analyzing many different teams in many different contexts. Add to this a set of evaluative and diagnostic skills that identify accurately and realistically symptoms that can be used to correctly identify root causes as well as the steps that need to be taken to bring
out the most of the team.

The “game” is a Lonerganian cosmopolis project. The objective is three-fold: to lay bare any scotosis that cuts us off from necessary experiences/insights/judgments; to cleanse the logosphere from the long term effects of common sense bias, especially those distortions due to the rationalizations of power seeking individuals and groups; and engage people of great common sense in an effort to appeal to their deep levels of sanity at a cultural level.

Evaluative and diagnostic tools are grounded in Lonergan’s transcendental method, as laid out in the Lonerganian cosmopolis schematic. These need to become part of you as a coach, for you stand as a model for the game they are to play. And expertise is required into how groups actually function, especially in the area of group encounters leading to conversion events, e.g., the notion of mutual self-mediation. A sensitivity to an evolving structure of a group’s world-mediated-by-meaning as well as the tools and techniques is needed to control the development of such meaning. So too is the capacity to objectify this emergent world to participants in an act of group self-appropriation.

Mentors help individuals to actualize their potential to become part of such a team; coaches help teams to maximize their potential for cosmopolisL work; but it is the team leader that actually brings it all together. Each has their own specialized skills and training specific to their role; each works with the others to make it happen. But the real cosmopolisL work is done by the team members, the ones that actually have to carry the ball against an opposing team. And in the dialectics of metaphysics, there is always an opposing team.

Welcome to the Pons Asinorum

There is no easy fix

Entering Lonergan's Novum Organon

Facing the Reality of a Lack of Moral Courage

Joyous Insurgency & the Long Game?

A Strategy for People Celebrating Life