The decision-maker and analyst paradox
7th July 2013
Those who decide do not analyse. Those who analyse do not decide. Today’s paradox is before everyone’s eyes: responsibility. Indeed, decision makers are not accountable for the quality of the decision they take, while analysts are not responsible for their opinions.
No one cares how good or bad an outcome is, as long as someone analyses and someone else decides. This is why we enjoy claiming that Plato’s Republic is a Utopia, a fantasy Never-Land. He lived in a parliamentary democracy, regularly renewed by elections. His book, The Republic, reveals his concern of his everyday worries, not only of his philosophical aspirations.
If we replace the term king with decision maker and philosopher with analyst, his Republic (book 5, 473) reads like a punch in the stomach in passages such as these (in bold are the replaced words):
But say it I will, even if, to keep the figure, it is likely to wash us away on billows of laughter and scorn. Listen.” “I am all attention,” he said.
“Unless,” said I, “either analysts become decision makers in our states or those whom we now call our decision makers and rulers take to the pursuit of analysis seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, decision and analysis, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either. (adapted translation)
Corruption and decline, for Plato, are defined by the separation of analysis and decision.
Plato is an ancient author, but his ideas are new and permeate our language. The term ‘government’ comes from ‘governor’ itself from Latin gubernator, which is an old transliteration of κυβερνήτης (kybernetes) [which gives us also cybernetic] which indicates the person who steers a ship. The governor is technically the helmsman. In ancient Egyptian thought it was the Sun God (Horus) who steered the dead pharaoh in the afterlife (according to the Amduat) [hmy ]. It was Plato (pace Alceus) who gave real meaning to the ‘governor’ not as the ruler of a ship but of a political establishment, in his Republic (Book 6, 488a–489d). There he points out that the captain, the gubernator, is rather aloof and abstract, while the sailors want to overthrow him since they want to decide without his training and understanding. The ship of state is an image which points out how every part of society needs to respect and collaborate with the other, lest the ship sink.
Analysis and decision need to be combined, as Plato indicates in the ship of state (government) as well as his idea of the philosopher kings, which are decision makers who think before they act. The paradox is: think, before you act, and assume responsibility.