This blog has finished a stage of its life. Should anyone drop by before it is updated, these are twelve posts that give me satisfaction and reflect, I hope, the value of this pastime. Thank you for reading.

They Who Spoke and Raised Their Heads
On resistance to Cosa Nostra

Revisiting Oakeshott on Rationalism
Notes towards a sceptical conservatism

Hulme’s Anti-Humanism
Towards humility without mere misanthropy

The Many Men So Beautiful
On the Great War, poetry and human resilience

Uneasy Agnosticism
Why I doubt

Debunking “Conspiracy Theory”
In defence of parapolitical investigation

In Defence of Englishness
For a quiet patriotism

Noises From the Attic
On abuse in British care homes

Theocracy in the UK
On Islamic totalism in Great Britain

A Cat in a Bin is a Tragedy, A Million Cows
On the suffering of other creatures

This is Not an Argument
On the devastation of Iraq

Our Drug Addiction
On the misuse of antibiotics

Here is a popular meme…

Existential cat

For some reason I find the idea of inflicting existential anguish on other beings morbidly amusing. Here is another example, with a dog, and my own contribution…

MaskThank heavens we cannot actually do this.

Lord FreudThere is, it seems to me, a powerful objection to the idea, entertained by Lord Freud, that disabled people could be paid less than the minimum wage if it would encourage employers to hire them: that disabled people would be forced to take such jobs at the risk of losing their benefits.

There are doubtless other serious objections. There is, however, an inane and dishonest one: that in saying that in saying that some people are “not worth” the minimum wage he was suggesting that they have no worth as human beings. There is a difference between economic and moral worth. Economic worth is the profitability of one’s services. As a disabled person, I was economically worthless. Funnily enough, I do not think this meant that I was worthless as a human being.

Given that the implementation of this idea would inspire the worries that I mentioned in the first paragraph, perhaps I should be relieved that the backlash against Freud’s comments have ensured that it has been rejected. If one values the truth, however, one should dislike the fact that calls for his head have been premised on this misrepresentation. It is boorishness that has sad implications for our ability to discuss ideas in an open, honest fashion. It also does nothing for disabled people who would like to work and are refused employment – but flaunting one’s self-righteousness is much easier than trying to deal with the system as it is.

IrrationalitySteven Poole believes that doubters of human rationality are, well, irrational. Against the likes of Kahneman and Haidt he upholds the virtues of “public reason”, which supposedly ensure that “any one thinker can be corrected”. It is true that no mind is an island. We depend on accumulated wisdom, unusual expertise and the challenges of collaborative and disputatious thought. In acknowledging the weaknesses of the human consciousness we should acknowledge that one cannot overcome them alone.

Poole understates the magnitude of this weakness, though. He notes that it was “mere humans…who managed to put a robot on Mars”. True, and what a startling accomplishment that was, but this example obscures the fact that it was aided by a method that was far more rigorous than any of the standards by which we can judge political, ethical and often epistemological claims. Without especially controversial implications it also presented little cause for motivated reasoning. It is when questions trigger our emotional reflexes that our irrational tendencies are at their strongest.

This partly explains why we are so conflicted. We live in a society where some influential people think that climate change is a dire threat and others that it is a shame. Where some think that state redistribution is key to societies and others that the state itself is an abomination. Where some think that abortion raises no moral challenges and others that is murderous. Where some think that Gods exist and others that we are alone. We could, of course, speak about the quirks of our societies that exacerbate such disagreements but they are human products that depend on the existence of our biases. No societies have been without them.

There are, then, obstacles to enlightenment in and outside of us and understanding them is a first step to knowing how they can be overcome. It would be hubris to imagine that one can do this alone, or ever do it perfectly, but it would be arrogant to think that one has no need to try.

FutureWe have a short-sighted culture. Leftists have devoted themselves to the march of progress but are always occupied with their latest obstacle. Conservatives can be mere accountants, totting up their latest figures, struggling to achieve an annual increase in profits. Traditionalists look back in sorrowful escapism.

At the same time, the future promises to be dramatic. Whether you are troubled by climate change, pandemics, overpopulation, peak oil, antibiotic resistance, artificial intelligence, religious fanaticism or nuclear weapons, or intrigued by renewable energy, cryonics, space travel, gene therapy or luddism, what is clear is that the scale of our capacities and limitations will mean that challenges of tomorrow dwarf our current controversies in significance.

I fear that what puts attitudinally conservative men and women off future studies is the misapprehension that they are for people who are made excited by predictions for tomorrow’s world. It is not so. One does not have to like the futures one imagines. One only has to think they are liable to realised. Conservatives pride themselves on considering the world as it is but in considering a moving vehicle one has to analyse its path. This is especially true when the pace of change in our contemporary world ensures that by the time a phenomenon is discernible it is too well-established to resist with any real success.

It is no bad thing that futurism is not a ubiquitous concern. It is difficult enough to conduct rigorously that popular understanding would be hard to achieve without significant intellectual decline. But smart, serious people, and especially smart, serious people of more circumspect than utopian inclinations, might find it interesting to swim above the mass of chatter and attempt to see where the tide is carrying us.

GK ChestertonG.K. Chesterton, in his 1929 book The Thing, offered these words of caution to social reformers…

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 strikes me that there is a flaw in this prescription. One might presume the worst of whoever put up the fence: that it was a farmer, for example, with a malicious desire to keep hill-walkers from enjoying themselves. I would extend the principle of Chesterton’s fence, then, to Chesterton’s farm: one should consider the possible uses that it serves for institution around it as well as the motives of the man. Only in taking a broad perspective might notice the bull lurking at the edge of the field.

Cite your sources


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