Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Like Paint...

Commenter hermanas left this little gem in the comments section of this morning's post on Yves Smith's Naked Capitalism blog:

Like paint, ideology conceals a multitude of sins. Including criminal intent.

So of course, being a painter and an inveterate purveyor of metaphor, I couldn't help but flesh this thought out.  Here's my response:

Society, then, is like a wall, “sins” are like imperfections on the wall, and ideology is the paint that supposedly covers up those “sins.”

But as any (good) painter can tell you, a coat of paint doesn’t actually hide imperfections. In fact, it can make them more apparent. If you really want a beautiful wall, you have to spend a bunch of time scraping off all the imperfections first. Good painters spend more time scraping and sanding than actually painting. Only lazy painters neglect the tedious task of preparing the surface and just slap a coat of paint on it.

So, for purposes of the metaphor, if we want to end up with a “beautiful” society, we need to first spend a lot of time scraping away imperfections, i.e. removing all the crime and corruption, the systemic fraud, the captured regulators, etc. Only after we’ve done all that can we justifiably cover the whole thing with our preferred color, i.e. ideology.

But if we get lazy and just throw the ideology on without first concerning ourselves with the pre-existing flaws in society, we just end up highlighting the flaws and actually making them worse. So if we try to throw our “efficient markets” ideology on top of a system rife with informational asymmetry and manipulation, we only end up worsening those problems.

Like paint before it’s been applied, ideologies are pure. The world, OTOH, like all surfaces, is full imperfections, contradictions and paradox. Different ideologies are like different colors of paint, each pure, each unique, and each just as valid as any other. The problem arises when, mesmerized by the beauty of our preferred ideology, entranced by its pure, perfect hue, we become over-anxious and try to apply it to society before society has been adequately “cleaned up.” The results are predictable. If you stand back a bit and squint your eyes it looks OK. But if you put your glasses on and stand a little closer it just looks like absolute crap.

All of our arguing over ideologies amounts to this: screaming at one another over which color of paint is better (which is ridiculous, since this is essentially a matter of taste), without first having addressed ourselves to scraping, sanding and stripping all the dirt and grime and detritus off the wall we intend to paint. Regardless of who wins the “color war,” the end result is going to be a shoddy looking piece of work.

No comments: