Compositor B's Rants

Because some unknown guy working in a 17-century printshop should still have a platform to spout off.

Archive for August, 2010

A Lib-Con Primer?

Posted by Compositor B on August 4, 2010

If asked about my overall political/social “philosophy,” I’d answer “Libertarian-Conservative,” in which the Lib definitely comes before the Con. But is there a way to paint my “Lib-Con” philosophy with some broad brushstrokes? It seems I hold a number of contradictory, yet complementary beliefs.

  1. I’m an eternal optimist, yet firmly believe that our civilization is but a thin and hard-won veneer, under which our innate savagery lurks, constantly seeking to burst through and ruin centuries of achievement in one fell swoop.
  2. Humans are almost infinitely innovative, flexible, capable. Per the late economist Julian Simon, the human brain is the “ultimate resource.” That said, human nature is NOT infinitely malleable. There are some things hard-wired in a broad sense, although possessed to varying degrees by individuals. We possess near infinite adaptability, paired with a solid, nearly un-changing core.  
  3. I believe maximizing individual freedom is the greatest good, and believe that the spontaneous order arising from millions of people making their own choices always yields a better outcome than any centrally-planned vision of self-anointed elites. OTOH, governments are needed to maintain order and the framework for such freedom to flourish. The darkness that lies in the hearts of men needs such a framework to resist its influence. And this governmental framework must likewise be limited, insofar as governments composed of humans will be likewise vulnerable to this dark love of power.
  4. The traditions and norms handed down through the centuries reflect hard-earned wisdom, and should never be tossed lightly aside. However, times change, societies evolve, and norms and traditions must occasionally yield to this new reality. When to embrace, and when to change or even reject this distilled wisdom of the past is an eternal challenge.
  5. In a similar vein, one of our greatest struggles is sorting out the optimal posture towards change and uncertainty. The unlikely collusion of far-left and far-right on some issues can be properly understood as a collusion between those who are resistant to large-scale change and whose tolerance of uncertainty and civilization’s general acceleration is low (Virginia Postrel dubs them “stasists,” and her book “The Future and its Enemies” is worth a close read). The call to return to a supposed golden age of traditional values, or to a progressive vision of societal central planning both reflect this desire to tamp down and control acceleration, change and uncertainty in society.
  6. The collectivist and individualist impulses pull in opposite directions, yet obviously individual and societal needs must be balanced, the impulses must be made to align. The mistake, IMO, is to imagine that “society” can somehow be defined separately from the individual in the sense that a zero-sum tradeoff mindset prevails when considering policies and law. Individual and societal benefits resulting from law and policy are only truly “benefits” when they are synergistic, so that the sum total of “good” outweighs the parts. Laws and policies that merely transfer a benefit or create one at the expense of another are giving in to the pull of one of the above impulses.
  7. I believe human beings are hardwired for dogma, it’s in the genetic code. There’s a need to believe in something larger than oneself, for a faith of some sort. Religion is but one variety of faith, and IMO, Western Judeo-Christianity is the most benevolent such dogma or faith. It’s bloody history aside, its influence on the development of western civilization has been overwhelmingly positive, and in its modern incarnation, provides the best we have yet found. In the absence of such a faith, humanity turns to much bloodier and grim faiths – the cults of personality of tyrants, or the collectivist totalitarian nightmares of communism, Nazism and socialism. Worship of the state turns out to be far, far worse than any sin committed by religion as a general rule. And this is the viewpoint of an outsider; I don’t consider myself to be religious. This is there the “Lib” and Con” pieces track in opposite directions, yet arrive at the same conclusion. Conservatives, to stereotype, are very supportive of religion and are often religious themselves, seeing belief in a higher power as vital to guiding moral behavior and a communitarian spirit, and seeing in the lack of religion an inevitable spiral towards narcissism, nihilism, and societal destruction. The libertarian analysis is that the positive role religion plays in channeling the human need for dogma in the most beneficial manner, plus its role as buffer between the individual and the power-hungry state, make it a strong societal good. YMMV on this one, I understand.                      

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