Thursday, November 6, 2008

Model of Reality vs. Reality of Model

I wrote this in response to some comments  I've read on facebook, concerning the election of Mr. Obama. These conservative friends expressed a fear over Obama's election, mostly because they said he was economically "naive" for not allowing the freemarket, free reign. Of course, the assumption being made by these individuals is that the "free market" model is reality, and Obama's approach ignores economic reality. While the latter, no doubt, has  a small grain of  truth, the commenters fail to examine the mote in their own eye. All economic models of reality are words about reality and not reality itself.

(I am deliberately writing this in the abstract. As Foucault once said, "Let the police worry if my papers are in order".)

In one of Mark Twain's lesser known stories about Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the duo find themselves loss somewhere in the midwest floating in a hot air balloon. Both Huck and Tom are intently examining a map, while looking for landmarks, trying to discover just where they are. Finally, after some time, Huck states with great certainty,

"We are in Illinois!"

"How do you know that, Huck?" responds Tom.

"Well, look down there! Everything is so green!" says Tom.

"What does that have to do with where we are?" Tom asks in confusion.

"Well, look at the map... Illinois is all green. If we were in Indiana everything would be pink."

An amusing story and we can all chuckle over Huck's naive understanding of maps; we all know that a map's purpose is simply to help us with navigation and not a detailed picture of geographic reality. Maps serve their purpose well as long as we understand what their purpose and assumptions are. As sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu has pointed out, an unsimplified geographic map would be useless since it would be the exact same size as the geography it was mapping.

As amused as we are with Huck's "naive realism", don't we all do the same thing with our own political economic "maps" of reality. We fail to critically examine our own "maps" purpose and assumptions and take it as a total picture of reality. Of course, we are very good at pointing out the problems with the political economic maps of others... we see them riddled in "unreality"

1 comment:

RM said...

It's naive for people to ridicule the policies of a man, who represents the people, before he can act upon and better explain their purpose. Furthermore, it's illogical to fear the implications of a policy that has not been completely formulated, especially when this potential policy is meant to better the general welfare of a nation.