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Friday, July 17, 2015

Quite the paradox

Over at Instapundit Ed Driscoll concludes a post by referring to Chesterton's fence:
"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” ... (It continues)
  
It reminds me of another observation by "he who shall not be named":
First, there is the question of how our knowledge really does arise.  Most knowledge - and I confess it took me some time to recognize this - is obtained not from immediate experience or observation, but in the continuous process of sifting a learnt tradition, which requires individual recognition and following of moral traditions that are not justifiable in terms of the canons of traditional theories of rationality. The tradition is the product of a process of selection from among irrational, or, rather, `unjustified' beliefs which, without anyone's knowing or intending it, assisted the proliferation of those who followed them (with no necessary relationship to the reasons - as for example religious reasons - for which they were followed). The process of selection that shaped customs and morality could take account of more factual circumstances than individuals could perceive, and in consequence tradition is in some respects superior to, or `wiser' than, human reason (see chapter one above). This decisive insight is one that only a very critical rationalist could recognize.

Such very critical rationalists are exceedingly rare.



22 comments:

Peter said...

Chesterton is wonderful, but there is a simplistic, childlike quality to much of his witty and often hilarious anti-rationalism that bespeaks the innocence of Edwardian intellectual debates before the ideas in play were actually applied in the bloody 20th century. I don't think the typical doctrinaire rationalist would want to tear down a fence he just stumbled on so casually. He would first find a particular case where a fence really is incidental to, or symbolic of, some injustice or exploitation. Once engaged in the battle to tear down that particular fence, his rationalism (or the need to counter the reactionary response that the fence symbolizes "the wisdom of our forefathers") would lead him to ponder fences in general. Believing that a rational order can and should be imposed on an irrational existence, he would explore selective academic authority and come up with some soothing fairy tale about how peaceful, co-operative, environmentally neutral and munificent life was before some greedy sociopath put up the first fence. He might be a little hazy about whether that was inspired by religion, private property or agriculture, so he'd settle for all three. He'd author a book on the evil of fences with a split picture on the cover of a typical white picket fence in the suburbs and a starving African child. Pretty soon he'd be on the college lecture circuit wowing undergrads with his theory of how all wars, misery and ecological degradation can be connected to fences and how they should all be torn down "before it is too late". If he's really good, he'd land a consulting contract with the UN.

And do you know what the tragedy is, Howard? In response to his idiocies, we conservatives would make fools of ourselves by responding with learned arguments on why every fence everywhere is part of the plinth on which Western civilization stands.

Howard said...

Peter,

I see your point. All that I'm trying to do is encourage my progressive friends, who are often hellbent on a grand remake, to be more thoughtful incrementalists.

Clovis e Adri said...

Peter,

I think you own little to Chesterton's witticisms.

Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

I second Clovis.

Perhaps, though, Chesterton isn't quite as simplistic as he seems. Take a glaring example: Jim Crow was nothing more than a byzantine series of fences designed specifically to subjugate blacks.

Until Jim Crow's noxiousness became so apparent to so many that those fences had to come down.

Then what?

The consequences of one approach are obvious, though progressives shall forever remain in denial: top down impositions to eliminate the consequnces of Jim Crow destroyed the black family and schools, spent trillions of dollars, while yielding virtually nothing admirable.

What if, instead, the barriers came down, and we proceeded to do nothing?

Slavery and Jim Crow spanned centuries. It seems kind of foolish to expect to forcefully eliminate all the sequlae in a generation.

Harry Eagar said...

'
What if, instead, the barriers came down, and we proceeded to do nothing?'

Then nothing would have changed. Your statemetn is a perfect mirror of the do-nothing racist arguments of the '50 an '60s.

Your description of the social situatuation of black Americans is delusional.

Peter said...

Skipper, I couldn't begin to try and answer that question. You don't have to convince me of the socially corrosive results of hurling government largesse around willy-nilly in the name of perpetual redress, but I'd be wary of replacing one simplistic solution with another. A lot of conservative/libertarian economic thinking suffers from the same kind of appeal to "brute" rationalism in human motivation as what you are complaining about. There are cultural factors in play here that might be far more determinative, including the cultural dysfunctions that flow from hundreds of years of slavery and racism. Can you point to an example anywhere where a race or culture went through anything comparable and then thrived under a policy of benign neglect after the fences came down?

The sins of the fathers...etc.

Hey Skipper said...

Then nothing would have changed. Your statemetn is a perfect mirror of the do-nothing racist arguments of the '50 an '60s.

Nonsense, Harry. Pure nonsense. Gutting Jim Crow was a cause that could not possibly have gone without effects, regardless of anything else the government might have done. You have made an extraordinary claim without, as usual, any evidence.

[Peter:] Can you point to an example anywhere where a race or culture went through anything comparable and then thrived under a policy of benign neglect after the fences came down?

Ummm, no.

In fact, I'd be hard pressed to come up with another race or culture that went through anything comparable, never mind the rest of it.

So I'm left with hating what collectivism did to black society, with nothing other than a merely hopeful thought experiment.

Would the results have been worse if the US had done two things: eliminated de jure and de facto discrimination, and imposed equal per capita funding on public schools?

It's impossible to know, but I think it at least within the realm of reason that following the physicican's prime directive, "first, do no harm", could hardly have been worse.

Bret said...

Peter asks: "Can you point to an example anywhere where a race or culture went through anything comparable and then thrived under a policy of benign neglect after the fences came down?"

Comparable is in the eye of the beholder, but I consider the Baltics and Czechoslovakia after being released from the serfdom of the Soviet Union being comparable to some degree; Hong Kong after WWII comparable to some degree; the United States after independence from Britain; perhaps ancient Israel after escaping Egypt.

For each of those examples, there are many where things didn't go so well, but there's no inherent reason that southern (and other) blacks, freed from Jim Crow laws, couldn't have thrived.

Peter said...

Tricky word, inherent.

Bret said...

Inherently one of my favorites for that very reason.

Harry Eagar said...

'Would the results have been worse if the US had done two things: eliminated de jure and de facto discrimination'

Well, since it didn't eliminate de facto discrimination, you are piling fantasy on delusion.

You might want to read up on a man named Leander Perez.

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] 'Would the results have been worse if the US had done two things: eliminated de jure and de facto discrimination'

Sorry, I don't know what the heck I was thinking -- clearly "de facto" is delusional in that sentence.

So, re-read it as Would the results have been worse if the US had done just one thing: eliminated de jure discrimination.

To which I would add two other things: cast the very idea of HUD into the burning pits of hell (granted that kind of comes along with stopping at eliminating de jure discrimination), and requiring equal per capita school funding (e.g., making school funding statewide and indepedent of local property taxes.)

After all, it is delusional to eliminate centuries of de facto discrimination by legislative fiat. You know, kind of exactly how hoping that civil society would emerge in Iraq simply because Saddam got yanked off his throne.

erp said...

Exactly right Skipper. Things were turning round, even though people who weren't around in those days refuse to believe it. The media could have done more by good entertaining TV shows and movies with blacks families doing ordinary family stuff and black actors in action films, etc. "I, Spy" opened a lot of eyes because it was just two guys, not a white guy and a black guy ...

but lefties think they know better and instead of letting things happen in an orderly manner, forced integration in a way guaranteed to fail in every single way possible to imagine.

The results are all around us to see.

De facto! Post Obama, blacks have been programmed to view themselves as helpless victims incapable of making a move to help themselves, their families, their neighbors or their communities.

Disgusting.

Look in the mirror Harry. You and your cohort made it happen. This is what you have wrought.

Harry Eagar said...

Leander Perez, Prince Georges County and this:


Civilities and Civil Rights : Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom Reprint Edition
by William H. Chafe,

which is about how the 'nice' people responded to de jure civil rights. erp is, as always, wrong.

erp said...

Harry, I don't know or care who Leander Perez is or what you're talking about, but I do know in our case, a couple of months after we moved to a Connecticut suburb in 1963, the head of the local Democratic party sold his house next door to us for several times its worth to a local black businessman. Everyone went crazy and a neighborhood meeting was held.

My husband, an imposing guy, got up and said before we get started, let me just say, we're not going anywhere. A lot of others started clapping and then somebody else got up and said, meeting over and everyone went home.

We moved to Vermont 15 years later and the neighborhood was pretty much the same as when we arrived.

PS: Our next door neighbor was the most conservative guy I've ever met.

The shape our country is in is on your head Harry. Own it.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] Civilities and Civil Rights : Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom Reprint Edition
by William H. Chafe


This must come as a surprise to you, but name dropping does not actually constitute an argument.

Harry Eagar said...

erp, I am totally unsurprised that you don't know or care who Perez was. You have shown a complete lack of knowledge of or concern about the history of the country you live in.

But this could be said: People who don't know who Leander Perez was have no business commenting on race relations.

Skipper, some ideas cannot be summarized in a paragraph or even a wiki article. The ideas exist, nevertheless, at least as long as anyone takes an interest in them. Some people demonstrate a remarkable indifference.

Hey Skipper said...

Skipper, some ideas cannot be summarized in a paragraph or even a wiki article.

Harry, as is your wont, you haven't even gone so short a distance as that.

So, please, stop the empty name dropping and make a fricking argument for a change: at least summarize, with citations, what Chafe said.

Because, after all, I have personal experience of your faux-authoratative references blowing off your own foot at the hip.

Harry Eagar said...

erp, I won't applaud your husband's successful effort to rally the neighborhood bigots to keep out black people, except for that one token who was, naturally, sufficiently Oreo.

I did admire my friend Don and his sisters. After the blockbusters -- naturally you fail to grasp how your disgusting anecdote shoots holes in your claim that everything was evolving toward inclusion -- came to his neighborhood all the other whites fled. They stayed.

While not socialists, they did have a good pedigree: their grandfather was Norman Thomas's running mate in 1912.

erp said...

... Oreos? Really Harry, even for you that's blatantly racist and that meeting took place before we met the new neighbors and hadn't had a chance as yet to rate their oreo-ness.

In your world, it's better to let a stable neighborhood break up into racial hatreds than take a stand for American values and let others who are like-minded stand with you?

I'll give you this Harry, you can still surprise me with the extent of your rabid hate.

Hey Skipper said...

[Harry:] erp, I am totally unsurprised that you don't know or care who Perez was. You have shown a complete lack of knowledge of or concern about the history of the country you live in.

Given your unbroken track record of name-dropping in place of an actual argument, and the irrelvance of those names, I am not the least surprised erp reject your reference, sans link, out of hand. I would have save myself a great deal of time over the last several months had I done the same.

... except for that one token who was, naturally, sufficiently Oreo.

That, Harry, is even more obnoxious than the rest of that comment: it is blatantly racist, and, without any evidence, attributes to erp that which she never said -- "... your claim that everything was evolving toward inclusion ..."

I can't find anywhere where erp even hinted at such a thing.

I have asked you before, and will do so again: do not tell us what someone else has said, quote them directly. Doing so will prevent you coming across as comprehension impaired.

erp said...

... Skipper I actually did say that post WW2 we were evolving toward an acceptance of others different from ourselves as an outcome of the war effort.

Inclusion is not a word I like because to me it denotes social engineering which has been a total fiasco in the past and will continue to do so as every inch of the U.S. has been been plotted (pun intended) to include welfare housing.