Friday, October 19, 2018

Divine Freedom or Abject Leftitude: Call It!

I want to try to bring together several threads from disparate dimensions, because... because it's what we do here. No one else wants to do it, and I can't help doing it, so here we are.

I'm thinking in particular of the relationships between freedom, ignorance, economics, and universal metaphysics.  I suppose the whole thing was sparked by reading Schuon and Hayek at the same time, two thinkers one would normally think of as being at antipodes, at least in subject matter.

All the better for our freewheeling approach!  For the more we can bring together seeming contraries -- such as mind and matter, religion and science, economics and metaphysics -- well, the closer we are to illuminating the One Cosmos beneath and above.

This line by Hayek arrested my attention yesterday, and is as good a place as any to start:  "Freedom can be preserved only by following principles and it is destroyed by following expediency."  I know what you're thinking:  but the left has no principles!  That is correct, but we'll get to the gratuitous insultainment a little later.

Why does freedom depend upon adherence to principles?  That seems contradictory, because strict adherence to a principle is a kind of foregoing of freedom, isn't it?   Well, we have to make choices -- life consists of a series of choices -- and if there are no principles beneath the choosing, then our so-called freedom is really just randomness.

Moreover, "when we decide each issue solely on what appear to be its individual merits, we always over-estimate the advantage of central direction."  Take free speech.  For conservatives, this is a principle, not an expedient.   It is not "for" anything.   Like human life, it is an inherent good.

But the left is at war with this principle, and instead wants to apply it on a case-by-case basis, which of course defeats the whole purpose.  No one will accuse the left of self-awareness, but the effort to appeal to free speech in order to defeat free speech is up there with their greatest hits -- e.g., using the legal system to destroy the rule of law, or claiming "human rights" (such as abortion) to deny them.

Again, if the future were certain, then freedom would be entirely superfluous.  "Freedom" and "unknowability" are kissing cousins, as are tyranny and omniscience.  Every modern tyranny -- from Venezuela to Obamacare -- pretends to know how to bring about a desired future by eliminating freedom, i.e., all the bad choices individuals will make.

Think about what they're actually saying:  we know how to bring about the desired future, so we are entitled to eliminate your freedom in bringing it about.  But what if the desired future can only be brought about under conditions of freedom?  Or, what if the future is always unknowable, and freedom is simply the acknowledgement of this reality?

This is why the accomplishments of a regime of freedom always surpass even the dreams -- let alone reality -- of the anti-freedom left.  Indeed, freedom brings about conditions we never even dreamed of, such as this internet we are presently enjoying.  Similarly, we can't even imagine the medical breakthroughs that will occur in the future -- unless we adopt socialized medicine and destroy the very conditions that will bring them about.

Ah, I'm just ramblin' like a libertarian, which ain't nothin' but a right-wing hippie.

I'm driving at something deeper, but haven't yet hit praydirt.  One critical point is that we will never know what might have occurred had we not tampered with freedom in order to impose some desired outcome.  For example, Social Security was un- (or at least anti-)constitutionally imposed upon us in 1935.  If we'd done the same with communication, we'd probably still have a 1930s-style telephone system.

"That freedom can be preserved only if it is treated as a supreme principle which must not be sacrificed for particular advantages was fully understood by the leading liberal thinkers of the nineteenth century" (Hayek).

But now, thanks to the aggravated logocide of the left, the very people who are devoted to the sacrifice of freedom are called "liberals."  For "if one starts unsystematically to interfere with the spontaneous order there is no practicable halting point."  Indeed, there can be no limit, because you've already destroyed the principle that would limit it.  Good work!

It's so easy to do, because it's always possible to appeal to superficial conditions in order to deny a principle.  Look at the Kavanaugh hearing:  we must deny due process because Ford is a woman, and women never lie!  Which is a lie, and not even a good one.

Such diabolical appeals aren't usually that grotesque.  Indeed, I am told that Satan himself was embarrassed by that crude display by his minions last month.  Yes, he is as opposed to constitutional principles as the most fervent leftist, but he prefers to darken the minds of sophisticated academics over arousing the passions of the mob.  That's a last resort.   Think Roe v. Wade:  a cold, clean, and calculated decision by the best and brightest, not some sweaty mob of infanticidal lunatics.  Please.

Ah, here's an appropriate point of transition from terrestrial to celestial principles of freedom:  "What I meant to argue in The Road to Serfdom" may be expressed "in more homely language" in cautioning us that "If you do not mend your principles you will go to the devil."  Nevertheless, "the 'necessities' of policy are generally the consequences of earlier measures."  One expedient denial of freedom sets up conditions for the next. And next. And next.  Ad infinitum -- the bad kind, or an inverted image of the good kind of infinitude, as we shall see presently.

But freedom.  What is it really, and where does it come from?  How is it even possible?  Is it just an accidental byproduct, some residue of complexity, or is it built into the cosmic cake?

One of my favorite lines by Paul is Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  This implies that freedom must be some kind of prolongation of the Holy Spirt, or perhaps a triproduct of the Trinity itsoph.

Now, Hayek would never make such an argument.  He was a secular son of the enlightenment, not some kind of religious wacko.  Well, in what then does he ground his most decisive and consequential principle?   In expedience?  If so, then that's ultimately no better then the left's unprincipled appeal to expedience.

I suppose we might ask:  is there an Absolute Freedom, as implied by Paul?  Or is it always accidental and relative?  And if so, relative to what?  More relativity?  In which case it just reduces to nothingness, as taught by that bedwetting, Mao-loving existentialist, Sartre.

No, freedom is very much like truth itself:  either it is a fundamental attribute of absoluteness, or this cosmos is just an airless and lightless jungle of inescapable absurdity.

But as Schuon suggests, one might as well declare it "to be absolutely true that there is nothing but the relatively true," or "say that there is no language or write that there is no writing."   Such absurdities result from "the implicit claim to be unique in escaping, as if by enchantment, from a relativity that is declared to be the only possibility."

Bottom line: if man weren't free, he could never know it.  He would be plunged into matter and enclosed in his own neurology.  And if he is free, then nothing short of freedom can account for this astonishing fact.  An animal doesn't doubt because an animal isn't free.  But you doubt because you are free to do so, and freedom and doubt are functions of truth and reality.

Error and falsehood are privative phenomena, always parasitic on truth and certainty.  Appearance is a function of reality, not vice versa.  If reality were a function of appearance, then there would be no reality, only "reality."  Then you are well and truly in the leftist hell of My Truth, AKA "truth" AKA ineradicable illusion.

Two -- and only two -- possibilities. As Anton says, you must choose:
Chigurh:  Call it.
Gas station proprietor:  Call it?
Chigurh: Yes.
GSP:  For what?
Chigurh: Just call it.
GSP:  Well, we need to know what we're calling it for here.
Chigurh: You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair.
GSP: I didn't put nothin' up.
Chigurh:  Yes you did. You've been putting it up your whole life and you just didn't know it.
Call it!   And don't pretend you have no choice.

But if you choose freedom, exactly what have you chosen?
It is the consciousness of an unlimited diversity of possibilities, and this consciousness is an aspect of Being itself.... freedom as such is an immutable essence, in which creatures may either participate or not.... 
Defined in positive terms freedom is the possibility of manifesting oneself fully or being perfectly oneself, and this possibility -- or this experience -- runs through the universe as a real, hence concrete, beatitude.... the animate universe is a being that breathes and that lives both in itself and in its innumerable individualized constituents; and deep within all this there subsists the ineffable Freedom of the Infinite.
Oh.  That would explain it.  Truth is to Absoluteness as Freedom is to Infinitude. And the left has no use for either.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Introduction to Not Knowing: Ignorance Saves

We have various intelligence agencies. But what we really need is an Federal Bureau of Ignorance, or Central Ignorance Agency.

True, our intelligence agencies are ignorant of much, and often behave stupidly, but that's not the type of ignorance we're talking about; there is negative ignorance and there is positive ignorance, and ironically, the latter may be the most important principle in maintaining our liberty.

Negative ignorance is easy to understand: for example, maybe I have a growing brain tumor, but don't know about it. Or perhaps a mugger is waiting for me around the corner. In those cases, knowledge helps.

But is ignorance ever really helpful? Yes, because it is intrinsically intertwined with our freedom. Freedom, in a certain sense, is a function of ignorance. If we always knew ahead of time what was going to happen, we wouldn't be free.

I was thinking about this last night while watching a frustrating loss by the Dodgers. Out of all the major sports, baseball is most subject to the realm of chance, AKA the unknowable unknown. In basketball, for example, the best team almost always wins, especially if the players apply themselves. But in baseball the best team will still lose roughly a third of the time, and the worst team will win a third of their games. Thus, the best skill and soundest strategy are often trumped by chance.

In fact, the very purpose of strategy is to minimize the role of chance. For example, it is generally preferable to use righthanded hitters against a lefthanded pitcher, and vice versa. However, doing so doesn't result in a sure thing. Again, the future is unknown, so our strategy is deployed in the effort to tame it somewhat.

There are a number of lines to this effect in No Country for Old Men, which is all about ignorance and luck:

Point bein', even in the contest between man and steer the issue is not certain.

Or this exchange, that shows how our rules of strategy, which are designed to reduce ignorance and tame the future, don't always work out (i.e., sometimes a righthand hitter will get a base hit off a lefthand pitcher):

Anton Chigurh: And you know what's going to happen now. You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.

Carson Wells: You go to hell.

Anton Chigurh: [Chuckles] Alright. Let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

But some people are ignorant of their ignorance:

Wendell: You think this boy Moss has got any notion of the sorts of sons of bitches that're huntin' him?

Ed Tom Bell: I don't know, he ought to. He's seen the same things I've seen, and it's certainly made an impression on me.

How little we really know:

Poolside Woman: Oh... that's who you keep looking out the window for?

Llewelyn Moss: Half...

Poolside Woman: What else then...?

Llewelyn Moss: Just looking for what's coming...

Poolside Woman: Yeah... But no one ever sees that coming...

This one is particularly relevant; I don't remember it in the film, but it's in the book:

You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

Or this:

People complain about the bad things that happen to em that they don't deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things.

Another good one from the book, which certainly goes to our central topic, which is the role of government in eliminating ignorance and attempting to control the future:

It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people can't be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.

Which immediately suggests an important electoral strategy of the left: if you want to justify the largest and most intrusive government possible, you'll need to create a lot of ungovernable people. A Blue Wave of them, as it were. No borders. No standards. A demographic invasion from below, as in California. This is a subject to which we will no doubt return.

In fact, this whole preface is by way of returning to the subject of Law, Legislation, and Liberty, which is so full of important insights that I'm having difficulty wrapping my mind around it. Maybe an amazon reviewer can sort it out for us.

the social order is produced by a complex array of institutions and behavioral norms, which have evolved and endure because they work. The Fatal Conceit of modern planners is to presume that the social order could be easily rearranged; but in fact the rationality of human planners is far more limited than the evolutionary ‘wisdom' that inheres in the complex rules of the free society.

This is helpful -- it's not just me:

Hayek wrote and published Law, Legislation, and Liberty on and off over a timespan of approximately 15 years, which were in part interrupted by ill health. Hayek admits that the result is at times repetitive and lacking in organization.

There are plenty of flashes of that true rhetorical brilliance characteristic of Hayek that can make his writings such a feast to the ear and mind. On the downside, however, these rhetorical gems are hidden in a large volume of pages that at times do indeed seem tedious, repetitive, and unorganized...

I suppose the ultimate insight is that rules are not -- and cannot be -- about guaranteeing outcomes, because that will undermine the very conditions of freedom and affluence. As in Venezuela, the state can guarantee a certain outcome only by eroding the conditions that make the outcome possible. But this is what the left does, every time. The first and last temptation of the left is denial of ignorance.

Hayek finds the philosophical base of totalitarian thought in the belief that "we can create the welfare with law, if we arrange it logically." That's why he calls every kind of totalitarian thought "constructive cartesian rationalism," because they all want to reform the whole world to realize their specific outcome...

By which he means that the world is not simple and linear, but complex and nonlinear. Treating a complex system as a simple one will generate disorder and bring about unintended consequences. For example, you can "raise taxes" on the simplistic assumption that the economy is a linear system. But doing so changes incentives and alters behavior throughout the system.

I have a number of notes to myself, for example, "The purpose of rules is to help us deal with the problem of not knowing what we cannot know." Or, "the essential problem is how to create a system in which we benefit from knowledge we do not possess, i.e., from our ignorance; or, how to utilize knowledge we don't have."

It calls to mind the famous essay about how no one knows how to make a pencil. Nevertheless, there are plenty of pencils for everyone. Think about it: if everyone who needed a pencil had to know how to make one, there would be very few pencils. Thus -- orthoparadox ahead -- it is specifically our ignorance that results in such an abundance of writing implements.

Contrast this with the Soviet Union, which would have attempted to predict ahead of time how many pencils are necessary, and marshal all the knowledge and resources necessary to manufacture them, inevitably resulting in too many or too few pencils due to a misallocation of resources. In this case, knowledge kills. Ignorance saves. Literally, if we're dealing with medicine and not just pencils.

Another note to myself: "funny how the left rejects intelligent design in biology but accepts it in economics."

All other animals consist of a repertoire of knowledge, so to speak. They know what they know (instinctively), and not only can they not fail to know it, they have no access to the much wider world of the Unknown. In other words, they don't know anything about ignorance, with the result that the are "sealed in knowledge" while being sealed from the ignorance that would free them.

Conversely, what really characterizes man -- even more than knowledge -- is our permanent state of ignorance. Ignorance is the prior condition of curiosity, wonder, and learning. And there is no end to it. If there were, then we would be as enclosed as any other animal, and thereby lose contact with the Absolute-Infinite that transcends us, and through which we "grow" by assimilating its substance.


--Intelligence does not consist in finding solutions, but in not losing sight of the problems.

--Politics is not the art of imposing the best solutions, but of blocking the worst.

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