Tuesday, October 13, 2015

There Is No 'Intentions Vs. Results': Debunking the Conservative Cliche of 'Liberal Intentions Vs. Conservative Results'

Stuart K. Hayashi

I reject the conservative cliche that says, "Liberals only care about good intentions; they don't care about getting good results." This is false and it reflects the Platonic mind-matter dichotomy in conservatives. It pits the mind (“intentions”) against body/matter (“results”), as if they can be separated in the long run.

As one man on Twitter put it to Ashe Schow, “results are for Republicans, intentions are for Democrats.”

More verbose, Bob Funk writes in the Wall Street Journal,

Too many policy makers evaluate new interventions -- labor rules, wage laws, environmental regulations -- only by what they hope to accomplish. They do not consider the consequences, the unintended effects, and the trouble that their policies will cause for employers and workers, especially when the burdens are placed one on top of another [emphases added].
But recognizing the unity of mind and body means recognizing that an honest intention is about nothing more than remaining committed to achieving the explicitly desired result. The extent to which someone ignores the results of his methods in a project is the extent to which he is disingenuous about intending to make a success of that project. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s, claiming that the intention was to reduce poverty. After more than 40 years of these programs, we see they have largely failed to reduce poverty. Many apologists for the welfare state acknowledge this failure, but they claim it is simply because the programs do not go far enough -- more tax money needs to be spent on such programs, and such programs should be expanded in complexity. 

And then conservatives issue their cliche, "See? Liberals are lofty idealists who care about intentions to help but are too naive to care when the results are poor. By contrast, we hard-nosed conservatives look to results, because we're so realistic!" 

 I reject this notion. Moreover, the degree to which anyone actually believe this assessment is the degree to which this person is not being realistic. Being realistic entails that one recognize that there isn't a disconnect between results and intention. 

If I say that I I intend to achieve result Y, that means that my priority is achieving a good result, result Y. Suppose I say, "My intention is to build a house that lasts -- the house lasting for decades is the desired result." I plan to go about this through Procedure C -- a haphazard procedure. I merely go through the motions of building the house. When I need a contractor, I hire the first one I come across, without examining the alternatives with respect to price or quality; nor do I look at the reviews of different contractors online. A year after the house is built, it collapses, because it is so shoddy. Then I shrug and say, "The results were poor, but it was nevertheless my sincere intention to build a house that lasts. I will try to rebuild the house. But instead of adopting new methods -- Procedure D -- to build the house, I will do everything exactly the same, Procedure C. My sincere intention is still to build a house that lasts for decades.” 

Would you judge that intention to be sincere? No, you would say that if I am, at most, half-hearted about achieving the desired result, then I am not honest about achieving the desired result being my intention. My saying that I want to build a strong house that lasts for decades is "all talk"; what I do in practice is what tells you whether my stated goal is my honest intention. 

The same logic applies to the welfare state. Advocates of the welfare state claimed in the 1960s that they wanted to achieve result Y, the eradication of poverty. They would go about it through Procedure C -- their welfare programs. More than forty years later, they have not achieved result Y. Someone honest about intending to achieve result Y would say, "Procedure C clearly isn't the means to achieve result Y. Therefore, let us try something new, Procedure D." Procedure D would simply be allowing the poor more freedom to lift themselves out poverty, not with the welfare programs that have failed. Instead, after more than four decades, apologists for the welfare state stick to Procedure C. When we judge people by their actions more than by what they say, we see that sticking to Procedure C is therefore a higher priority to these politicians and activists than is achieving result Y

But if Procedure C clearly won't achieve result Y, then there isn't an honest intention to achieve result Y -- there isn't an honest intention to reduce poverty. 

 And yet conservatives issue the cliche that advocates of the welfare state "honestly intend to reduce poverty; their problem is that they don't look to the results." For me to believe that, I would have to believe that somehow intent and result are not connected. But they are. By definition, sincerely intending to achieve result Y means one cares about results -- without concern for results, there is no honest intention. 

One might reply that advocates of the welfare state do sincerely hope that Procedure C  -- welfare programs -- alleviate poverty, but it is just that they are too blinkered and set in their ways to consider evidence that Procedure C has failed.  According to that argument, the intentions are sincere and welfare statists remain committed to Procedure C on account of errors in thinking and psychology. Should we concede that argument, though, that still would not bring coherence to the cliche "They care about intentions but not results."  Were this a matter of political leftists wanting to eliminate poverty but not having the evidence resonate with them so strongly, then their fault would not be that attaining practical results is of no interest to them.  The connection between results and honest intent would remain inextricable.

 Let's say that for ten years I go through Procedure C to attain result Y, and I fail repeatedly.  Upon consideration of the evidence, I switch to Procedure D and attain result Y at last.  In such a case, you could plausibly judge that even in the entire duration wherein I opted for Procedure C, I was indeed honest in intending to bring about result Y.  But if I remain beholden to Procedure C for forty years amid such horrid failures to induce result Y, it is sheer implausibility for others to entertain the notion that I mainly intended for result Y to come to fruition.

If you don't care to change your methods to achieve the stated desired result, then you do not honestly intend to achieve the stated desired result.

If you don’t care about results, then you don’t care about intentions.