Joseph Heath from ‘In Due Course:’ ‘Response To Tabarrok‘
‘To all these charges I plead guilty. Substantively, the book is actually a work of profound pessimism. The key point of chapters 6 and 7 was to show that rationality does not just come and go (or as Jonathan Kay suggested, “these things move in cycles”), but that there is actually a hazardous dynamic at work in our culture that tends to crowd out rationality. The real model for my thinking here is addictive substances, the accumulation of which is clearly directional, and the net effect of which is to create an environment more hostile to rational life-planning.’
Any thoughts are welcome.
The below paragraphs are worth the price of admission, and a ramble through the bramble:
I tend to look at much post-Enlightenment rationalism as dealing with the same stuff of human nature that the major religions have for millennia. Even very smart people I’ve known (great hardware, quick and ready acquisition of knowledge, powerful and precise memories) usually know more than everyone else about a one or two things, a little about a lot of things (albeit a wider range), and virtually nothing about most everything under the sun.
Some have been people of great and admirable character while many others, simply put, have not (with a few cranks and crackpots thrown in for good measure). Even decent men can end-up in a bad way given a few bad choices, but a man making clear arguments for well-reasoned positions in full possession of his faculties is a thing to behold. As for final judgment, this is, alas, a blog, dear reader, so I trust you have your grain of salt ready.
Now, we’ll always need smart people where it counts, in some combination of nature/nurture (natural gifts + experience + hard work + decent incentives + character) making important decisions, or as part of institutions which often have to make the hardest decisions, but I tend to look skeptically at the lone architect, the ‘best and brightest’ and skeptically at positions of power (I positively bristle when all are combined).
The lone architect often desires recognition, or at least critique, challenge, and understanding of his work, not necessarily power and/or acolytes, but it can come to that. The ‘best and brightest’ simply need to step out into the real world and see what endures (there is so much we all know that just ain’t so). Bright, decent people can easily be ground under and put into service of poorly functioning institutions, for like all of us, they want some regularity, to know their place, a paycheck, a house, kids, respect and a vacation every now and then. Power still seems to enhance what was already in a man, giving him greater scope, and so should be limited and checked often.
Perhaps it’s a good that some post-Enlightenment rationalists have gotten far enough to say: ‘I recognize that ‘liberal democracy’ is an ideal and likely ‘pure democratic representation’ as well. Man is often no good and it’s questionable how much he can be made to use his reason and the American system is falling apart.’
This is more soothing to my ears than ‘man will yet be made better when the ideas I hold and which are clearly universally true are put into practice.’
***Further afield beyond the rationalist/anti-rationalist debate, this blog remains not only skeptical, but proactive against most of those pursuing political activism upon post-Enlightenment political doctrines which advocate radical and revolutionary change.
Feel free to let me know just how much I’ve got wrong.
***Addition: I should add that I don’t necessarily believe ‘man is no good,’ but it’d be nice if more people, in lieu of championing the latest causes, were to admit that after the promises, this is what remains in their pursuit of power and advocacy in the real world. How the leaders often act, not what they say.
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