Monday, November 05, 2018

There's Nothing Like a Principle

As you might have noticed from the sidebar, I've been delving into a lot of Hayek lately. I'd read his more popular broadsides such as The Road to Serfdom, The Fatal Conceit, and others, plus a lot of secondary literature, but never dug down into the weeds.

Of course, I have to skip over any weeds with numbers, math being hard and all. But the great majority of his works have no forbidding equations at all, just relentless logic and deadly (to the left) common sense.

He has rapidly risen to the top of the ranks of my go-to guys, which include Schuon and Dávila and not too many others. Why those three? One word: principles. The way I'm built, I just love timeless and universal principles that tie the cosmos together. Isn't this what we all want? Isn't the mind designed to know and cherish timeless principles? Yes. Which raises the question: if the mind is created to know principles, why do so many people ignore or reject them?

We'll leave aside the question of why some people are so beholden to bad principles. Like Anton:

He's a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that.

Others will violate any principle for the sake of their One Big Principle. You know, leftists. But if the principle leads them to violate all principles, is it really a principle? Shouldn't the principial world hold together like an organic tapestry?

One of the appeals of principles is their simplicity, like truth itself. Sheriff Bell:

I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it'd be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late.

That's an excellent point. You can spend your life searching for wisdom. Supposing you find it. Then you're an old man. What are you going to do with it? You can't go back and live your life with it the way it should have been lived all along.

D'oh! Isn't there a shortcut -- say, a body of wisdom you can use to guide your life, while at the same time checking it out for its veracity? You know, like taking it on faith at first, but verifying it as you go along?

We're talking about wisdom here, not mere knowledge. Wisdom is practical knowledge, ultimately of how to live. And you'd think Hayek -- a secular man -- wouldn't have much to say about that, only it turns out he's a better defender of tradition than most traditionalists: he gets not only its content but its function, which is actually the more important. Yes, the Function of Tradition. Good idea for a post.

Hayek, defender of the faith:

[O]ur morals endow us with capacities greater than our reason could do, namely the ability to adapt to conditions of which the individual mind could never be aware. It seems to me that what is called the "collective mind" of the group is nothing but the common moral tradition of its members, something different from and autonomous of the individual reasons, though of course constantly interacting with them.

Faith-Reason, or Wisdom-Learning, in a ceaseless dialectic. Why would you want to reinvent a wheel that man discovered 3,500 (pick a number) years ago and has been perfecting ever since? Good luck. You probably won't get it right, but supposing you do, By the time you figured it out it would be too late. Not just too late for you: too late for mankind, which will have destroyed itself in the meantime.

Let's take a bit of obvious wisdom from our tradition: get married and don't have children out of wedlock. Human sexuality is not animal sexuality. It is ultimately a sacred gift. And fatherhood -- a spiritual and not animal category -- is the basis of civilization.

Well, we've been systematically ignoring that wisdom for over half a century now, some communities more than others. What are the consequences?

I don't even have the time to explicate them. But notice as well that when you have jettisoned the principles, you no longer have them to illuminate and guide the psyche. Once you have plunged into relativity, you can't lift yourself out of the swamp by grasping on to some nonlocal principle. They're all gone. You killed them. Thus, if you are a feminist, there is no cure for feminism from within feminism; there is no cure for leftism within the left; there is no cure for tyranny once the Constitution means anything you want it to mean.

So now we have an abundance of mental illness, criminality, government dependency, and all-around dysfunction. What to do? I know: more leftism! Here we see the absurcularity of the left, in that it is the default solution to the problems it inevitably generates. Truly, it is the disease it purports to cure.

But it is ultimately a disease of principles, to get back to our main subject. "The rules of morality are not the conclusions of our reason." That being the case, if you have a principle to the effect that you will only adhere to what can be explicitly proved with reason, then you will thereby have plunged into -- well, not just unreasonableness, but anti-reason:

the tradition of moral rules contains adaptations to circumstances in our environment which are not accessible by individual observation or not perceptible by reason, and our morals are therefore a human equipment that is not only a creation of reason, but in some respects superior to it because it contains guides to human action which reason alone could never have discovered or justified....

The bottom line: "the value of traditional morals as an autonomous equipment is unintelligible to those intellectuals who are committed to to a strict rationalism or positivism." Any intellectual who "denies the acceptability of beliefs founded on anything but experience and reasoning" -- or clams that all true knowledge is a narrowly construed scientific knowledge -- such a person "must reject traditional ethics as irrational" and is thereby lost in the cosmos, plunged into the amoral darkness of chaos and tenure.

They will of course see the social consequences of their ideas -- for who can miss them? -- but blame Trump, or Russia, or White Privilege, or the Patriarchy, or Corporate Greed, anything but the actual causes.

A couple days ago I saw a remarkable missive by Ms. Occluded Cortex -- a variation on the theme that those who are traumatized by the less-then-monstrous themselves become monsters:

Six days from now, we can defeat the brutal white supremacist forces of anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant nativism, and racism. We can hold accountable the cold-hearted monsters [that's you] who have repeatedly attacked our health care.

[This is] our chance to push back against white supremacist forces across our nation, against the xenophobes who are militarizing the border, against the bigots who seek to erase our transgender families, against the apologists for sexual assault and the Islamophobes who sow hate to divide us...

We can send a message to the bigots and billionaires that this country belongs to all of us.

That is what you call a mind destroyed by hatred and ignorance. How did it get that way? Ironically, she calls herself Catholic. She's also an appallingly bad writer. Prepare to wince:

Christ came to me emblazoned on the upper arm of my beloved cousin Marc. The blue-black ink danced between the bullet scars and stretch marks that graced my cousin’s upper body. Atop this crown-of-thorns depiction was a tattooed banner with the phrase “Only God Can Judge Me.”

Well. Yes and no. Although God is the ultimate judge, there is nothing in Christianity that says we should abolish the criminal justice system and allow ourselves to be ruled by thugs. Christianity is not a suicide pact. But we'll leave that to the side.

Marc -- like several men in my family -- had been caught in the webbed threads of poverty, geography and lack of opportunity during the fever pitch of 1990s mass incarceration. Baggy-pant boys like him fit the descriptions of “super-predators” and “thugs” that dominated our national discourse at the time.

Oh. I get it. He didn't make any bad choices. Probably didn't even have free will. Rather, he was passively "caught" in various webbed threads of discourse about crime and whatnot.

I'm suffocating in bullshit. Time out for some homey wisdom from Sheriff Bell:

It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.

Or this:

These old people I talk to, if you could of told em that there would be people on the streets of our Texas towns with green hair and bones in their noses speakin a language they couldnt even understand, well, they just flat out wouldnt of believed you. But what if you'd of told em it was their own grandchildren?

Hell, what if you told em these surreal folks is now runnin congress as of this Tuesday?


julie said...

Not to get caught up in a false hope, but the elections aren't over yet. Their running congress isn't a certainty, no matter how much money they spend; much depends on how much fraud can be prevented...

I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand.

Yes; the problem people tend to run into as they grow from the openness of childhood to the invincible surety of the young adult years is the belief that somehow, simple equals stupid and and probably false, or at least not worth contemplating except to sneer at.

T said...

as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler

I think that's what you both got to here, right? I'm all for simplicity.

Wouldn't "too simple" be one way of looking at the left? One principle makes for a procrustean bed.

Gagdad Bob said...

It's not just that their ideas are too simple, but that they're always at odds with one another. Because the left focuses at the opposite end of principle -- on expediency -- one idea or policy is constantly contradicting another.

Anonymous said...

I can guess which side you folks are on.

julie said...

We're on the side of the crowd who spontaneously starts signing "Amazing Grace" when somebody in the audience becomes ill and needs to be helped out.

julie said...


T said...

That's certainly true in the intersectionality mess they've created for themselves. I take it back.