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Joined: 02 Sep 2006
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Location: Southern Alberta

PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 2:06 am    Post subject: "These Things I Believe" Reply with quote

From one of my very favorite blogs, Atomic Nerds. The author, LabRat, graciously granted permission to post this in it's entirety.


You can’t make people happy by law. If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago “Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world’s music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don’t have to die of dental abcesses and you don’t have to do what the squire tells you” they’d think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say ‘yes’.

— Terry Pratchett

I don’t really call myself much of anything firm when it comes to politics and ideology, at least not without a lot of hemming and hawing and mealy-mouthed qualifiers. I’m a conservative- but socially liberal in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of other “conservatives” that make my hide want to twitch right off. I’m a libertarian, but I want some controls and limits anyway because I think pure libertarianism contains just as many in the ways of crippling ideological flaws as pure Marxism does. I’m a minarchist, but put me in the same room with an anarchist and we’ll rip each others’ fool heads off*- and when you get right down to it I’m not exactly sure where the lines should be drawn for that -archy. At all.

So, I don’t have an ideology so much as I have a number of guidelines. Here are a few of them.

Any system that depends upon people becoming better people en masse, no matter what motivation is offered- spiritual, material, or political- is doomed to failure. More or less instantly, in fact. If it depends on EVERYBODY being better, no exceptions, then it’s not only going to fail, it’s going to go up in flames overnight.

Even if you do, in fact, know what’s good for someone better than they do, if they’re not your minor child you have no right to enforce this upon them in any way unless their poor conduct is putting you in direct danger.

People do not act altruistically at all times. People do not act rationally at all times. People do not act morally at all times. People do not act independently at all times. If your vision depends on them doing so even most of the time, your idea is in trouble.

There is no such thing as freedom without responsibility, or responsibility without freedom. You must take them both together or not at all, and if you think you can get away with it otherwise, someone has sold you an illusion and the bill will be coming due shortly. There is only one natural right: to do as you will. There is only one natural duty: to accept the consequences. The rest of society is a negotiation from this starting point, from contract law right on up to the death penalty.

People are more than animals, and yet animals still. Any system which ignores this truism is doomed to see people fulfill it to the most blatant and grotesque degree.

Likewise, any system that treats people like animals and nothing more has a very nasty series of surprises coming to it.

No idea, no matter how good, survives contact with reality intact. If one good blow will cause it to shatter, it wasn’t a good idea.

Some people will be philosophical in the face of extremity. There is also a reason why such a minority of people are philsophical to any degree at all. Don’t expect philosophical from people in extremis, be pleasantly surprised by it.

People have a hard ceiling on their ability to understand and manage complexity. No matter how smart and rational the people you put in charge are, and how many of them there are, once the system exceeds a certain size they will be incapable of controlling it, only succumbing to the illusion that being in control of the resultant bureaucracy is the same thing. This applies to traffic, economies, religions, and many other systems.

There is no more tragic misapprehension than “we are wiser now”. Assume at all times we are no wiser than we were in the Pleistocene, even if we are more advanced in knowledge. Knowledge is cumulative, the wisdom that comes from experience is not. This is why historical lessons must be relearned generationally. Never assume that that stops with yours.

You are NOT capable of fully controlling the behavior or reactions of another person. If your plan depends on this and nothing else, your plan is entirely dependent on luck. This also applies to crowds, nations, and any other unit of humanity, up to and including significant others.

Stereotypes and labels and prejudices don’t exist because society is rotten, they exist because it’s part of how we cope cognitively with a complex world that often demands decisions based on little or no information. If you think you can or have rid yourself of them, you have merely rid yourself of self-knowledge.

Children may be innocent, but innocence does not imply harmlessness. Rather the opposite. Remember that innocence is the opposite of knowledge. It is not something to be treasured in and of itself.

Children do not receive a visit from the Judgment Fairy on their eighteenth birthday- they rely on their parents for that, and they had better well have as much of it as they can possibly gather before they become adults. Remember that when contemplating when to broach the subjects of firearms, sex, alcohol, or anything else deemed “adult”. When the law deems them so is too late.

Life is inherently unfair and absolutely jam-packed with disproportionate consequences for minor bad decisions. There are more of these aspects that are immune to engineering than aren’t. Treat any and all proposals to engineer the parities of life with great skepticism.

Lack of education can turn a person with great innate intelligence into an idiot, but extra education cannot make a great mind of a person with little of it, any more than twenty years of music school can make a great musician out of the tone-deaf and arrhythmic.

All people are basically the same under the skin by dint of being humans. This only goes so far- merely because someone else can speak your language does NOT mean they think like you, and it is the height of dangerous arrogance to assume as much. Fish have no word for water, and you are probably unaware of most of your assumptions that stem from your culture rather than your biology or specific rearing. Likewise, any assumption that all members of another cultural context think and behave in the same ways is equally mistaken. If you can’t get six randomly chosen people on your home street to agree on pizza toppings, assume that similar diversity and disagreement exists in other cultures, scaling in degree with the degree of importance of the issue.

Freedom for other people invariably and inevitably means discomfort for you- physical, emotional, and moral.

Your causes and ideals are just that- yours. You do not have the right to force other people to work to achieve them, and you do not have the ability to force them to care.

*Unless it’s civilization’s most civil one, of course. Perhaps strong words over tea, but I doubt it.

ETA: ARRRGH. Well, I don’t seem to have stolen anything else from Marko aside from the title and the format. It was unintentional- apparently when I read it ages ago it lodged a seed of “what a good idea for a post”… Thanks to Blunt Object for catching that for me.

Original post here: LINK

Joined: 03 Sep 2006
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Location: Saskatoon Saskatchewan

PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 12:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The messy part, the thing no one really likes, is that to get freedom for yourself, you have to grant it to everyone else. Any restriction you want for those other people applies to you too. And some of them are going to want restrictions, and to do things that you definitely are not going to like.
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"These Things I Believe"

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