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SOME THOUGHTS ON PERESTROIKA AND POLITICAL SCIENCE June 2002 By Mr. Pravda I suppose I should begin by making two things clear. First, I am taking nobody's side in the so-called "Perestroika" debates, at least not here. To do so would be a no-win proposition and, given that I have been a department chair, you should appreciate that I take on no-win propositions only when handsomely compensated. Besides, if I come out against the Perestroikans, I can expect to be overrun at the next APSA meeting by an army of angry red-lapel-pin-wearing zealots describing for me, in the most qualitative of terms, my questionable parentage and anatomical deficiencies. Worse still, it would be a disorienting and possibly scarring experience to be forced to stand in the middle of an oddball alliance of unrepentant Marxists, convinced that the past twenty years have revealed nothing more than a pandemic of false consciousness; bombs-and-bullets-loving IR realists, nostalgic for the Cold War despite their own studious (pun fully intended) avoidance of military service; Albanianists who cannot fathom why the discipline's major journals are not engaged in a bidding war over their latest analysis of civil-military relations in Tirana; and dour, sherry drinking National Association of Scholars types who reckon that political science was ruined the day the first grad student at Michigan pawned his tweed blazer in order to purchase a $150 Texas Instruments calculator. On the other hand, if I express sympathy for the Perestroikans, I can expect the editorial board of Political Methodology to bolt en masse from the queue at the latest Star Wars movie and attack me as some sort of hopeless Neanderthal who fails to grasp how the entire history of political science turned on the discovery that vector autoregression is superior to ARIMA modeling for analyzing time series. "Ha, ha," they will laugh, "he probably still uses SPSS to estimate probit equations!" (At which point, they will giggle uncontrollably before returning to their debate about how the Klingons overcame the collective action problem.) Then some rational choice theorists would chime in to explain, from an entirely value-neutral perspective, that my head is currently positioned in such a way as to challenge both physics and proper hygiene. Second, since the topic will be raised below, let me explain what I mean by rationality and rational choice. I refer to rationality only in its purest form, that is, the notion that individuals will pursue outcomes that are in their material self-interest. I realize that this is a fairly narrow definition, but it is one that avoids the tautology that is often at the heart of rational choice theory. By my definition, Ken Lay is rational; Charles Manson is not. We do not have to debate motivations and preference orderings, or get stuck in the endless loop of explaining that Mother Teresa was a rational actor because she was obviously deriving some self-interested benefit from her ministry to the poor or else she wouldn't have done it because that wouldn't have been rational. Nor do we have to worry about being painted into some corner where we are forced to assert, with a straight face, that the Son of Sam killer was instrumental in his behavior because he truly believed that his utility would be furthered by following the advice of a Labrador retriever. No, the rules here are simple: a rational act enhances your income stream and an irrational act reduces it. No matter what your dog says. Now that we have dispensed with the preliminaries, let's propose a hypothetical situation. For the benefit of the Perestroikans, we will set our example in a country with a non-western language and culture, a land we will call Pollysigh; for the benefit of the rat choicers, we will describe this exercise as a two-player game. It seems that in Pollysigh there are a pair of tribes, the Quantoids and the Luddites, who are battling over control of the precious resource, apser. The Luddites are angry because the Quantoids hold a near monopoly of all the apser reserves in Pollysigh. They argue that simple fairness requires that the Quantoids allow them access to the apser mines. For their part, the Quantoids respond that the Luddites have always had access to the apser mines, but that most Luddites gave up apser mining years ago. But the Quantoids also intimate that the Luddites' picks and shovels are so weak that even if they did attempt to mine apser, most of them would fail. And, truth be told, the Quantoids rather enjoy the fact that their ample supplies of apser have enriched them and prompted various mining companies to compete with one another for their services. It makes them feel like the star athletes who used to stuff them into garbage cans during high school. So, faced with the Luddites' grievance, what would we expect the Quantoids to do? Well, if you were a rational choice theorist, you would, of course, try to conceptualize this as a prisoners' dilemma. Actually, if you were a rational choice theorist, you would try to conceptualize everything as a prisoners' dilemma, including the decision of which restaurant to eat at during your next conference (except in Chicago, where everyone picks the @#$% Berghoff, usually arriving in line fifteen minutes before I do). Faced with the Luddites' demands, the Quantoids have two choices: cooperate or defect. But cooperation really makes no sense here since the Quantoids already have everything they want. Moreover, if they cooperate, how can they be certain that the Luddites won't take advantage of this moment of weakness to re-establish their hegemony over the apser fields, which they had held for decades before the Quantoids raided the islands of Econ and Sociologia and stole the islanders' superior high-tech mining tools? In short, cooperation is not rational. The Quantoids will rebuff the Luddites' overtures, knowing that they can probably wait out this insurrection the same way they endured the rebellions that preceded it. Similarly, quantitative and formal modeling political scientists, if they are behaving rationally, should ignore the Perestroika movement, assuming that it will collapse as soon as its diverse and ideologically incompatible constituencies have to operationalize a plan of action (Perestroikans, after all, just hate to operationalize). While it is conceivable that the Perestroika movement might some day grow to the point where they have to be dealt with, there is certainly no need to move precipitously against one's own interests. Oddly, in real life, the quantitative and rat choice community responded to the Perestroikans' challenge by caving, folding their hand with a pair of aces still in the hole. They agreed to open up the APSR to more diverse methodologies and viewpoints, and included several Perestroika sympathizers among the official candidates for the APSA's governing board. They gave in faster than Al Gore, Roberto Durán, and the French army combined. And they did so knowing that each qualitative article published in the Review would, by definition, decrease the odds of a quantitative or formal piece being accepted. That is, they made a decision almost certain to reduce their utility income. How could this happen? I imagine that some will try to argue that they were simply risk-averse, attempting to avoid the slim possibility that the Perestroikans would build a new clubhouse, launch their own journal, and ultimately put the APSA-and thus the APSR-out of business (remember, these are the same folks who want you to believe that voters are motivated to go to the polls out of fear that their single uncast ballot might unravel democracy or, at the very least, elevate some clone of Josef Stalin to the presidency). But they're not fooling anyone. The real reason for this world-class cave-in can be found not in the works of Anthony Downs, but in the pages of The American Voter. Most mainstream, i.e. quantitative and formal, political scientists are, at heart, squishy liberals. That's right, the people who never tire of defending the coldly calculating self-interest of the median voter are themselves moved by appeals to fairness, rights, and equality. Let's face it, most of them are upper middle class white guys who vote Democratic. How rational is that? While their brains derive utility functions, their hearts bleed for the oppressed and downtrodden. It was, to say the least, quite a crisis of conscience for them when they came to realize that in political science, they had become The Man. Meanwhile, over on the other side of this clash of academic civilizations we find a collection of scholars who generally abhor rational choice theory. Some argue that human motivations are just too complicated to be neatly summarized by such a simplistic paradigm (postmodernists in particular distrust any theory that can be fully explained by resorting to words that already exist in the English language). Others complain that rational choice theorists ignore the impact of propaganda, mass media brainwashing, and, yes, false consciousness on human behavior. Still others decry the fact that most rat choicers, in relying on mathematical models ("c'mon, guys, we majored in political science to get away from all that stuff!"), lose touch with Real Politics, which can only be understood by spending time "in the field"; that is, embarking on exotic travels while spending other people's money. Given their rejection of rational choice theory, it should come as no surprise that the Perestroikans have joined together to-further their utility! This is a coalition of people that agrees on exactly one thing: they all want their work to appear in APSR so they can experience the career benefits (read: income and prestige) that come from publication in the discipline's top journal. Why else would the dependéncia theorist be marching hand in hand with the Reagan-worshipping international security jock? Why else would the right-wing Straussian philosopher-dare I say it?-crawl into bed with the postmodernist feminist? To think of all of them in that one room at last year's APSA meeting, one is moved to imagine the academic version of that old Coke commercial where all the world's children come together on a hilltop "to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony". It's enough to bring a tear to your eye until you remember that, in reality, these opponents of rational choice theory have bonded together in the most Downsian of alliances. So there you have it. The proponents of value-free social science are compelled by their sense of justice and fair play to hand over significant power to those who reject value-free social science. At the same time, those who argue for a more straightforwardly normative approach to the discipline make common cause with their mortal ideological enemies in order for both sides to pursue the blatantly self-interested goals of tenure, promotion, wealth, and fame. Who says that the age of irony is behind us? ********************************************************** Political Methodology E-Mail List Acting Editor: Karen J. Long <firstname.lastname@example.org> Supervising Co-Editors: Bradford S. Jones <email@example.com> Robert J. 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