Monday, May 09, 2016

Hayek, the Fatal Conceit, and Original Sin

We begin with a pointed Dávilism: There are two kinds of men: those who believe in original sin and idiots.

Original sin is an important subject, being that it is the diagnosis for which Christianity is the cure. But the way it is conceptualized is not always helpful, at least for me. Ultimately, I suppose the important point -- in keeping with the spirit of the aphorism -- is that one believe in it (or "hear me now, believe me later," so to speak).

Let's see what the CCC says about it. "Where does evil come from?," it asks (p. 97). Well, we must "approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who is alone its conqueror." "We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin."

Well, yeah. But that sort of begs the question by advertising the cure without ever answering the question of how we got sick.

But man is sick, no doubt about it -- sick in a way that other animals are not and can never be: "Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or to give this dark reality other names would be futile."

That's an important point: we cannot rid ourselves of sin by calling it something else. And "to try to understand it," we "must first recognize the profound relationship of man to God..."

Given my enthusiasm for abstract pneumaticons, we can say that sin exists in the space between O and (•); any number of things can occur in that space, including the thing we call sin. Indeed, sin is "an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons..."

We're again dancing around the subject. How did it get here? The account of the fall in Genesis 3 "affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man."

The other day we were speaking of how myth is at the threshold of history, or in the penumbra between history and prehistory.

It seems that something occurs in that dark space between the pure light of God and the reflected light of creation (I think it helps if we speak in the present tense, because Genesis is not about things that happened once upon a time, but which happen every time).

At the origin of history is a catastrophic choice (in the sense that it diverts us down a particular path). And Genesis is quite clear on the point that it has something to do with knowledge -- or "eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

The exact nature of this tree is never spelled out, but the CCC says that it "symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust." There are certain "norms that govern the use of freedom."

Interestingly, freedom is presupposed. But freedom, in order to be free, must be situated -- like man himself -- in the "in between" space alluded to above. Deploying our trusty pneumaticons, the situation is really this: O <-> (•) <-> Ø (only in reality, that equation should be vertical instead of horizontal; the "fall" takes place in the more or less infinite space between O and Ø).

Note that to "prefer oneself to God" is to necessarily choose the descending arrow instead of the ascending one. Which is why egocentrism, which can appear relatively trivial on the surface, in actuality betrays a profound choice that is pregnant -- or stillborn, rather -- with ontological implications.

You know the rest of the official story. But this weekend I was thinking about it, and it occurred to me that Hayek would be an excellent witness for the prosecution. For although he was not a religious man, his most profound lesson touches on man's Fatal Conceit, i.e., of pretending to know what no man can know, thus plunging us into hell.

To put it another way, the most thorough expressions of hell on earth have been a direct consequence of eating from the economic tree of knowledge of good and evil -- or pretending that our good intentions will redound to good and moral results.

Looked at this way, we can see that Bernie Sanders is literally satanic. His promises certainly sound good on the surface, and I am even willing to concede that they come from a "moral" place.

Ah, but his whole program is founded on a pretense to knowledge that is strictly forbidden to man! And pretending to have this knowledge has been responsible for the most carnage in human history.

Thomas Sowell does an outstanding job of putting flesh on our pneumaticons in his classic A Conflict of Visions. He calls these two visions the Constrained and Unconstrained. Long story short, original sin, the fall of man, and eating from the wrong tree are all bound up with choosing the Unconstrained Vision.

I want to say "just read the book," then we'll talk about it. It's so rich with implications that nothing short of that will suffice. Plus I'm running out of time. But let me see if I can find some money quotes to show that I'm not completely goofy in trying to link theology and economic theory.

"In the constrained vision, any individual's own knowledge alone is grossly inadequate for social decision-making, and often even for his own personal decisions."

In short, don't eat from that tree, or untold disaster will ensue. Rather, progress is only possible because knowledge is infinitely dispersed among local agents and "even more vast numbers of those from generations past."

The judicial redefinition of marriage is about as profound an example of the unconstrained vision as one could conceive. For as long as man has been man, it is been his settled opinion that male and female are oriented to each other, and make no sense outside that ontological complementarity. But all it took was a single man in robes to reach out to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and send us on a downward course.

Not the first time a Kennedy has left the road and plunged into dark waters.

"Knowledge is thus the social experience of the many, as embodied in behavior, sentiments, and habits, rather than the specially articulated reason of the few, however talented or gifted those few might be" (Sowell).

But the unconstrained leader assumes "an authority which [can] safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it' (Adam Smith, ibid.).

Obama has the folly. And the presumption. And the authority.

The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man... refuses to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the power of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would thus become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. --F.A. Hayek


julie said...

Yes, to the whole thing.

In particular: Long story short, original sin, the fall of man, and eating from the wrong tree are all bound up with choosing the Unconstrained Vision.

This idea is found not only in Genesis, but sprinkled throughout the Bible. Another particular example that comes to mind is at the end of the Exodus (found in the last chapters of Deuteronomy), upon finally reaching the promised land. After no shortage of examples of the chosen people choosing death over life, just to hammer the point home a little further - indeed, really leaving no room for misunderstanding, they were given once again the choice between "life and good, death and evil" (Deuteronomy 30:15) The curse, of course, is entirely self-inflicted.

Van Harvey said...

"Note that to "prefer oneself to God" is to necessarily choose the descending arrow instead of the ascending one. Which is why egocentrism, which can appear relatively trivial on the surface, in actuality betrays a profound choice that is pregnant -- or stillborn, rather -- with ontological implications."

Yep. 'I think, therefore I am', begins a process that eventually leads to Soph abortion. Whereas 'Because It IS, I can learn that I Am', begins the process to becoming an 'I-AMphibian'.

Van Harvey said...

"Thomas Sowell does an outstanding job of putting flesh on our pneumaticons in his classic A Conflict of Visions."

Two opposable thumbs up on that!

mushroom said...

The first line does sum it up.

H. Higgins said...

If you're good and do what you're told, you'll sleep in a proper bedroom, have lots to eat, money to buy chocolates and take rides in taxis. But if you are naughty and idle you'll sleep in the kitchen amongst the black beetles and be walloped by Mrs. Pearce with a broomstick.

At the end of six months, you shall be taken to Buckingham Palace in a carriage, beautifully dressed. If the king finds out that you are not a lady the police will take you to the Tower of London where your head will be cut off as a warning to other presumptuous flower girls. But if you are not found out, you shall have a present of seven and six to start life with as a lady in a shop. If you refuse this offer you will be the most ungrateful, wicked girl and the angels will weep for you!

Eliza said...

Just you wait.

Van Harvey said...

Alfred Doolittle said "It aint the lecturing I mind. I'll lecture them blue in the face, I will, and not turn a hair. It's making a gentleman of me that I object to. Who asked him to make a gentleman of me? I was happy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everybody for money when I wanted it, same as I touched you, Henry Higgins. Now I am worried; tied neck and heels; and everybody touches me for money. It's a fine thing for you, says my solicitor. Is it? says I. You mean it's a good thing for you, I says. When I was a poor man and had a solicitor once when they found a pram in the dust cart, he got me off, and got shut of me and got me shut of him as quick as he could. Same with the doctors: used to shove me out of the hospital before I could hardly stand on my legs, and nothing to pay. Now they finds out that I'm not a healthy man and cant live unless they looks after me twice a day. In the house I'm not let do a hand's turn for myself: somebody else must do it and touch me for it.

A year ago I hadn't a relative in the world except two or three that wouldn't speak to me. Now I've fifty, and not a decent week's wages among the lot of them. I have to live for others and not for myself: thats middle class morality."

Yes, just you wait.

Joan of Argghh! said...

I washed me face an' hands I did...

julie said...

Ha - come to think of it, her reaction to having a bath is pretty much of a piece with the average secular man's reaction to the idea of Baptism, the main difference being that anyone who wants to retain his stench won't be forced into the water...