Common Sense and its Progressive Alternatives
Is there such a thing as common sense, or has it been successfully eradicated by the progressive educational establishment? If it does exist, what is it, and how does it work? Is it something a person has by virtue of his personhood, or is it something only acquired through experience? And if the latter, is it through personal experience, or the collective experience of generations who have had to face the same existential conditions? And where does one acquire such collective wisdom? From the family? Culture? Education? The state?
What if the most important things not only can't be taught, but can't even be clearly articulated? Rather, they can only be lived and maybe symbolized, but not with language per se. A passage lifted from Happy Acres resonates:
"The challenge for each new generation is figuring out what’s worth keeping and what worth tinkering with. The progressive attitude is that everything is eligible not just for tinkering, but wholesale replacement. The people who lived yesterday were idiots, but we are geniuses!"
Which goes to something Schuon said on a number of occasions: that if people prior to us were such idiots, it is impossible to explain how we could be so brilliant, given the crooked timber we're built with. It's almost as if progressives posit a kind of cognitive original sin that strangled the mentality of every man until this new breed suddenly and inexplicably arrived on the scene with their immaculate and sinless intellects.
But "The conservative attitude is to assume that our parents and grandparents weren’t fools and that they did some things for good reasons." However, as alluded to above, it is possible that these reasons were never consciously thought out or articulated. Rather, perhaps "some things our forebears bequeathed us are good for no 'reason' at all."
This is consistent with Hayek, who "argued that many of our institutions and customs emerged from 'spontaneous order' -- that is, they weren’t designed on a piece of paper, they emerged, authorless, to fulfill human needs through lived experience, just as our genetic 'wisdom' is acquired through trial and error. Paths in the forest aren’t necessarily carved out on purpose. Rather they emerge over years of foot traffic."
Which reminds me of something I read in Lawrence in Arabia. It is impossible to imagine the vastness of the desert, which is essentially like a featureless ocean of sand and rocks. However, the Bedouins don't simply wander around blindly. Rather, the sandscape is dotted with the occasional well, so if we were to map the human phase space of the desert, we would actually see well worn (but invisible) paths from well to well.
Well, it's the same with the human mindscape. One of the fondest principles of progressives is that the mind is indeed a trackless desert -- a blank slate -- and therefore infinitely malleable. Absent that dubious principle, then progressive schemes cannot get off the ground, because people are going to be people, and there's not a damn thing the state can do about it.
What this really explains is why progressive schemes do get a few inches off the ground, only to promptly crash and burn. Which then requires another progressive scheme to put out the fire and clean up the mess. Repeat ad infinitum.
Continuing with the Happy Acres passage, "In the parable of the fence, Chesterton says you must know why the fence was built before you can tear it down. But Burke and Hayek get at something even deeper: what if no one built the fence?... Or what if everyone built the fence without realizing it? What if we are surrounded by fences that were never consciously built or planned but were instead the natural consequence of lived experience?"
Do you think beavers consciously think about how to defend their practice of dam building, or that spiders wonder about the environmental impact of their webs? Similarly, "So much of what makes civilization civilized is intangible, spontaneous, and mysterious. An unknowable number of our greatest laws are hidden, our greatest wisdom is authorless, and our most valuable treasures are in our hearts. This should foster enormous humility about how to out-think humanity."
I think this explains how and why the people who try to outthink humanity are always lacking in common sense, even if they are otherwise "geniuses." For example, Albert Einstein: genius at physics. Idiot at politics. Noam Chomsky: I'll take their word for it that he's a genius at linguistics, if they'll take my word for it that he's a retard at pretty much everything else.
Bion said something about the limitations of language, to the effect that we run into trouble when we try to use this device designed to negotiate the physical world to map the psychic -- let alone spiritual -- world. Obviously, in order to accomplish the latter, we will have to use language in a different way, if we can accomplish it at all.
To cite one particularly obvious example, if you want to be perfectly literal, then there can be no name, no word, for God. As soon as you confer a name, you have placed a boundary around the boundless and signified the unsignifiable. Or, you might say that God is the (implicitly) signified with no possible (explicit) signifier.
But there are many things of this nature -- even the most important things in life. I would say that there is a kind of permanent dialectic between knowledge and mystery -- (k) and O -- and that to pretend to have transcended or eliminated the latter is to drain life of all its romance, charm, and adventure. Think about this the next time you imagine you could do a better job at creating a cosmos: how to make one that is simultaneously infinitely knowable and yet infinitely mysterious?
In my opinion, this can only be because the cosmos is personal and from the hand of a person, since a person is the quintessential case of something infinitely knowable and yet utterly mysterious and "other."
You could say that we are talking literally about embodied -- or incarnated -- truth(s).
Fine observation by Eliot, also lifted from Happy Acres, about "the decline of religious sensibility." Sensibility is not sense per se, but sensation in a higher key, so to speak -- like taste in music or poetry.
So "The trouble of the modern age is not merely the inability to believe certain things about God and man which our forefathers believed, but the inability to feel towards God and man as they did. A belief in which you no longer believe is something which to some extent you can still understand; but when religious feeling disappears, the words in which men have struggled to express it become meaningless" (emphasis mine).
Thus, there are any number of things in which human beings believe because they understand them, even without being able to explain how or why. This goes back to Paul's crack about faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not (yet) seen. This "substance" is the ground of being, while the evidence is its end; or, just say origin and destiny, which is where we always are, because we are in (created and personal and meaningful) being.
When we talk about the "social issues" at the root of the culture war, the problem is that we are mostly talking about pre- or trans-articulated, embodied knowledge, or common sense. In his latest G-File, Jonah Goldberg writes of how these are also connected to
"the role and authority of the family. Arguments about abortion, gay marriage, obscenity, sex ed, etc. all connect to the family directly or indirectly. Even gun rights have a lot to do with the family, and not just because 'gun culture' is primarily learned in the home. Guns fit neatly into the conception of the autonomous family and the role of parents as primary protectors of their children."
Furthermore, "no institution transmits culture more effectively than the family. We learn language, dialect, and accents in the home.... We get most of our religion and morality at home. We learn from our parents how citizens behave in a society and what they should expect from society and government. It's important to keep in mind that while parents teach their kids by telling them things, the real learning comes from watching what parents do — or don't do. Kids are wired to emulate their parents" (emphasis mine).
Here again, we're talking about incarnated and largely unarticulated knowledge, i.e., how to "be" (not what to "know"; or, the "unthought known"). Which is in turn "why progressives of all labels have had their eye on the family. It is the state's greatest competition."
Or to paraphrase Woodrow Wilson -- now, there was an honest and honestly nasty progressive! -- said, "the primary mission of the educator is to make children as unlike their parents as possible."
Which is ultimately to make them as unlike human beings as possible. Well done.