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Never the Twain Shall Meet December 20, 2013

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics.
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When Kipling coined this phrase in the 19th century he was lamenting the gulf of understanding between the imperial British and their subjects on the Indian subcontinent.  It has since entered general usage meaning two things that are so different they have no opportunity to unite.

In the development and discussion of liberty there are two strains which fit this description.  There is the English school of thought born out of fits and starts developed over centuries by trial and error as first the Lords and then the common people of England fought for and gained individual liberty, personal freedom and economic opportunity.  On the other side is the French School of thought which sprang from the French Revolution.  This revolution was based upon a foundation of several generations of French thinkers who labored under the extremely autocratic divine right monarchy which held France in thrall for so long.

Our Republic sprang from the English tradition, and for most of its History has developed along the lines it defined.  Today we find our traditions and our model of governance under assault not from without but from within.  After successfully defeating the Fascist totalitarians in World War II and subsequently defeating the Soviet totalitarians in the Cold War we find ourselves face-to-face with home grown want-to-be totalitarians.  Many wonder how this can be.  How can people raised in America think so differently than Americans have thought for so long?

What we face is a clique of academics who have no real world experience and who have accepted the French as opposed to the English school of thought.  Once we explore the two this will reveal it to be what one might expect from those who have inhabited the ivory towers for their entire adult lives.

So what are the differences between the English and the French theories of Liberty?

The English theory was forged in the fires of English History.  Starting with the Magna Charta wherein the Lords forced King John to accept some limitation on his absolute power, it continued on through the slow expansion of rights and the Civil War.  Leading eventually to the emasculation of the Lords, the triumph of the House, and the primacy of its Prime Minister, the English tradition grew it was not imposed.   This process was highly empirical and unsystematic.

The French theory is the product of a slow germination at first by intellectuals and academics who labored under a repressive regime of hereditary elites ruled over by kings who claimed divine right to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to whoever they wanted.  These thinkers had no way to experiment.  They had no way to see if their ideas worked in the real world.  They thought in virtual vacuums building highways in the air to link sand castles of the mind.  Their approach was rationalistic and systematic.

The English school built upon such thinkers as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke.  The French built upon the works of such notables as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Nicolas de Condorcet, and François Quesnay.

The French rationalists believed that man was originally endowed with the intellectual and moral capacity to deliberately build society, civilization and government.  The English believe that all three are the result of an evolutionary process of trial and error.  The French believed that thinking man could devise new and better forms of governance and impose them from above.  The English believed that effective governance was a product of experience discarding that which does not work and perfecting that which does.

The English view is deeply entrenched in Christian tradition and thought.  It does not build upon anything like the natural goodness of man, natural harmony, or natural liberty the hallmarks of the French school.  They instead realized that it was informed self-interest that was the prime-mover amongst men.  However there was no illusion that the natural liberty or natural harmony of interests would direct this self-interest to provide or develop society in a manner which promoted the general good.  The English school and the works which their leading lights produced universally saw law and structure as the necessary framework within which the invisible hand could and would benefit the general society by working for the individual good.  Or as a famous American once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

It is obvious from even a cursory review of the works of the English school that they do not advocate for either anarchy in government or laissez-faire in economics.  Both of which are common charges casually tossed in the direction of American Traditionalists by the progressive elites who control our government and media.

Conversely, the French school not only advocated but coined the phrase laissez-faire, and Anarchy as a political theory was developed by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.  It is the French tradition which holds that liberty can be imposed from above and yet in a Schizophrenic fit of conscious these would-be liberators could say as Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern utilitarianism, did, “Every law is an evil for every law is an infraction of liberty.”  No matter what their theories say about the greatest good for the greatest number and their goal of a worker’s paradise these are the same people who brought us the Soviet gulag and the Cambodian killing fields.

The differences between the two schools of thought are best illustrated in their fundamental assumptions regarding the essence of human nature. The French relying on their rationalistic conscious design model hold that humans have an innate ability to think and a desire to act rationally based on their natural intelligence and basic goodness. The English believe that it is the institutions and traditions evolved over time that provide a framework which allows man to constrain his fallen nature.  They see these institutions as platforms for the launching of society into a trajectory to good while at the same time restraining the darker side of human nature from doing its worst.

These two schools of thought are as different as east and west.  Though they may at present in America travel on the same road they are heading for two completely different destinations. They may even race towards each other at a furious speed, and they may collide; however, never the twain shall meet.

Though Harry Reid may call those who oppose the endless spending anarchists, and Pelosi may call those who oppose raising the debt limit advocates of laissez-faire it is they who represent the intrusion of the French school into American politics.  It is the Progressives who march around the world trying to impose liberty and democracy on cultures that find democracy abhorrent and ungodly.  It is the Progressives who are dedicated to creating a utopia from the top down.

In other words a donkey may call an elephant an ass but that doesn’t make it one.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens


Liberty Makes Ignorance Necessary December 13, 2013

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics.
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If we knew everything in the past and the future there would be little need for freedom.  If we could accurately know all that preceded our fleeting moment upon life’s stage, if we could know all the consequences of our present desires, and if we could know what we would desire in the future we could then chart a course to perfection without any detours and so freedom of action would be unnecessary and central-planning would make sense.

Freedom would not only be unnecessary it would be very inconvenient.  One free agent on this express to perfection would be the fly in the ointment and the monkey wrench in the gears. That one free person would rage against the machines, and would inevitably make an unforeseen choice and all the perfection would silently slip away.

In order to have the freedom to succeed there must also be freedom to fail.  We all need the freedom to act upon circumstances that we don’t fully understand to attain goals whose consequences we can’t fully appreciate.  Without this there is no freedom.  We can pretend as the progressive advocates of central-planning do that we can accurately predict the consequence of every action; however this is contrary to our real-world experience.

The reason failure is so prevalent is due to the fact that every individual is operating with imperfect knowledge of what is best or of what will eventually yield the best outcome that we must allow people the freedom to act upon their ignorance.  In this way the independent and competitive choices of many individuals will eventually lead through trial and error to the development of the best.  Since so many times the best emerges through accidental or unforeseen results of actions taken without complete knowledge of what the outcome would be we must leave room for accidents often guided by ignorance so that knowledge can grow.

It is an incontrovertible fact that as the fund of human knowledge grows the percentage that any one person can effectively know becomes smaller.  In other words, as general knowledge increases individual ignorance also increases.  Add to this the constantly increasing complexity of our civilization and it becomes obvious that people must be allowed to act upon the knowledge they possess without regard to the vast amount of knowledge they do not possess.  Otherwise no advancement would be possible, and we would live in a static society doomed to eventual demise.

It is this freedom to act in ignorance of all the consequences of their actions that allows the space for individual innovation.  The greater the freedom of individuals to interpret the world according to their imperfect knowledge and to organize their efforts based upon their understanding of the world as they see it the greater the opportunity for the accidents which make up the majority of progress.  If we take away the freedom to act upon our imperfect knowledge, if we take away the freedom to fail we will also take away the engine of progress and condemn ourselves to a stagnant world of limited possibilities.

As one person tries something another may build upon their result whether it succeeds or fails.  The ability to learn from and build upon the experience of others is the seedbed of innovation and the font of discovery.  It is our ignorance of all but a small fragment of reality that causes probability and chance to play such a large portion in our activities.  It is within this realm of probability and chance that the future grows.

This applies to social as well as technical fields.  The favorable accidents which become the building blocks of a vibrant, successful society do not just happen.  They are the result of someone taking a risk, doing something that hasn’t been tried before without the complete knowledge of what the result will be.  They include the chance of failure as well as of success and often the success achieved is not the desired end result of the action when it was initiated.  Freedom increases the opportunity for risk and opens the door to possibility.

When we look at the vast amount of knowledge that makes up the common store of information in the modern age and then look at the miniscule percentage that any one person could possibly gain, retain and understand we see that the difference between what the wisest knows and what the least wise knows is comparatively insignificant.  Everyone is operating based upon imperfect knowledge and the acceptance of grand assumptions.

To tell you the truth I am not really sure how electricity works.  Yet most of my life and lifestyle is predicated on the availability and use of electricity.  Most people have no idea how the economy works yet we all base our lives upon the fact that it does.  If we refused to act in areas where we had less than perfect knowledge we would do nothing.  One of the big differences between an advocate of liberty and an advocate of central-planning is that those who see liberty as man’s natural state understand that no one person or group is wise enough to make all the decisions for everyone.  Central planners by definition believe they are wise enough to do so.

The case for liberty made by such Enlightenment thinkers as John Milton and John Locke provided the philosophical foundation for the Framers as they wrote our Constitution.  They based their arguments for liberty on the realization that human ignorance and our need to act in the face of ignorance is a basic component of reality.

Every application of the tenants of Liberty reflect our need to give these actions based upon ignorance the widest possible scope to interface with chance and probability not certainty.  Certainty is unattainable in this life outside of a cultural straightjacket that restricts choice and eliminates the freedom to fail.  Such a society will be stagnant, stunted and doomed.  Without the freedom to fail on an individual basis and then fall forward from that failure a society has short-circuited the conveyor belt of individual success and charted the course to eventual systemic failure. The former USSR was a text book example of this scenario.

If we wish to avoid the trash heap of History we must be wise enough to learn that though acting upon ignorance may increase the odds of failure if we try to eliminate failure so that everyone gets a trophy and everyone succeeds we have consigned ourselves to the dead end that always awaits anyone or any society that believes perfection is attainable on this earth.

For it isn’t failing that marks a failure it is the refusal to rise from failure and move on to success.  We learn by failing.  We achieve by using our freedom to fail as a launching pad for success.  We fail because of our ignorance.  We succeed because of our failures.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens




You Didn’t Build That December 5, 2013

Posted by Dr. Robert Owens in Politics.
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We can’t know what we don’t know however we can know that we don’t know or as Socrates taught us the recognition of our ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.

The society and civilization in which any human lives and operates is like water to a fish.  Something they move around in, something they need to survive, it is also something they don’t even notice.  If we wish to understand the world in which we live we need to realize that the civilization which serves as our support and framework is based upon vast amounts of knowledge those who fill its ranks give no thought to whatsoever.

It is also necessary to understand that civilization isn’t something consciously created by man.  Civilizations build up over time by humans interacting with and attempting to modify their surroundings.  As such our civilizations are more accretions than structures.

What our civilization is today is no more the conscious product of some master plan than the course of a river.  Life flows into the channels of least resistance and is moved by forces that act upon it.  We can no more predict what our civilization will look like in a few generations than one of our 17th century ancestors could have described the lives we live today.

What will be invented tomorrow that will change the future in ways we could never imagine?  Thirty years ago in 1983 who would have thought we would all walk around with minicomputers we call cell phones?  Or that there would be hundreds of television stations?  Or a worldwide internet that can cross-pollenate thought at the speed of light?  What may be around the next corner is anyone’s guess.  One thing is for sure, thirty years from now we will live in ways we never imagined today.

This is the foundational problem that undergirds and eliminates the possibility of success from any of the utopian central-planning schemes that litter History and of the ones we are trying today.  The planners cannot take the place of masses of people living, innovating and creating.  No one person or group can substitute their decisions for the independent decisions of everyone else without short circuiting the system and causing civilization to stall out.  No one is as smart as everyone.

If two minds are better than one how much better are 100,000 or 1 million or billions?  Over and over those who think they and they alone are intelligent, far seeing or inspired enough to shape the future have grabbed the reins of power and tried to impose their vision on the world around them.  Sooner or later reality comes along and teaches them that it just won’t work.  We have people trying to guide trillion dollar economies who know nothing of economics, and people trying to guide History who know nothing of History.  We are surrounded by political savants who know how to get elected and not much else.  Some even have the hubris to list running a campaign as a life skill that qualifies them to run the lives of everyone around them.

What is even more bizarre than this is that people believe them and vote them into office based on such sketchy experience and vague promises as hope and change.  Then when the Rube Goldberg plans they devise fall apart and everyone is worse off than before the savants say, “You just didn’t give us enough power to accomplish the task. What we need now is more of the same.”  Time after time civilizations have fallen for this siren song of perfection.   And time after time civilizations have fallen because they did.

Why does this destructive desire to trade freedom for the promise of utopia always fail?   Because it’s based on the erroneous idea that humanity created civilization and therefore it is possible to alter its institutions, operations, and mechanisms whenever and however we please.

This assertion would be valid only if we had created civilization deliberately with full knowledge of what we were doing while we were doing it.  In a way it is true that humanity has made its civilization in that it was not brought here by some aliens who placed us in it like animals in the artificial habitat of a zoo.  Civilization is the product of the combined actions of hundreds of generations living their lives, making choices, succeeding and failing, rising and falling.  This however, does not mean civilization is the conscious product of human design or that any one individual or group can completely comprehend all of its functions or what is required for its continued existence.

The very idea that humanity sprang from the earth with a mind able to conceive civilization and then proceeded to systematically create it does not fit the anthropological or historical record.  Our minds themselves are the product of the constant adjustments we make as we attempt to adapt to our surroundings.

Is it nature or nurture is an age old debate.

The reality is that it is both.   Our minds are what they are, unbelievably intricate bio-computers able to think in symbolic terms and extrapolate beyond what is known to what is imagined.  They are the wonder upon which civilization is built; however they did not design and then initiate civilization.  If they were, all we would have to do to reach a higher plane of civilization is imagine it and then make it happen.  The fact that civilization has advanced by fits and starts shows that some things work and some things don’t.  It is the constant adjustment that moves us forward.

Believing the lie that man is the measure of all things is the trap the utopians fall into: that man in and of himself has the capacity to control History.  It seems so enticing and yet it never works because that isn’t how civilizations grow.  They grow by the friction between our present conditions and our dreams.  They grow by the incessant revision of what is into what we want it to be.  Our current experience shapes our course deviations in so many ways that cannot be foretold leading in a zigzag fashion from the present to the future.

The weathermen who have a hard time accurately predicting what the weather will be like five days from now seem ever ready to tell us what it will be like five hundred years from now.  The economic forecasters who are surprised every month by what the economy did last month have no problem making absolute statements about how actions today will guide our multifaceted economy for years in the future.

Man knows not his time and we cannot know the future. In other words we can’t know what we don’t know.  About the best we can do is know that we don’t know.

Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion.  He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2013 Robert R. Owens drrobertowens@hotmail.com  Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens



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