Power and learning

Since power means being able to conform the world to your ideas, while learning consists of conforming your ideas to the world, power is the ability not to learn from your mistakes.
&#8212 Karl Deutsch

Mike O’Hare’s superb meditation on Wildavsky, Neustadt, and the Investiture Controversy (below) reminds me of my favorite aphorism from Karl Deutsch’s The Nerves of Government. I paraphrase from memory:

Since power means being able to conform the world to your ideas, while learning consists of conforming your ideas to the world, power is the ability not to learn from your mistakes.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Power and learning”

  1. This quote sounds remarkably similar to one that is very dear to this blog:
    The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

  2. It's not so much that we're learning, as that the Republicans are getting stupider and stupidly-bolder. Power and success always seem "just natural" to most who enjoy them, though it's worst in people who believe that some god (Yahweh, Mammon, the Most Holy Market) has ensured that they naturally deserve to be powerful.
    No-one who sees a system as "natural and inevitable" can really examine it; this is why minority groups create the best comedians, generally.
    No human society is "natural" or inevitable: all systems have presuppositions, and evolve contingently. People who have recently won consistently never have any selfish incentive to examine the rules; look how ossified the Democrats became in power, 'til they could be toppled by obvious clowns like Messrs Gingrich and de Lay.

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