Posts Tagged scientism
The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.
In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.
Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.
Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.
This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.
Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.
If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.
Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”
As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:
Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…
…In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.
Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »
I’m currently reading Witness, an autobiographical account of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers’s flight from communism and the events that ensued thereafter.
This week at Values & Capitalism, I take a brief look at two extended quotes from the book’s introduction, each pertaining to the moral and spiritual backdrop of communism.
The first, on communism’s age-old resemblance:
Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die—to bear witness—for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.
It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision…The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.
The second, on how one might convert from such a noble, utopian approach:
Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said,’ and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’
A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.
Given that communism per se is not currently a prominent threat in the West, how might we think about Chambers’ critique of “rational faith” and his elevation of Read the rest of this entry »
Below are our most-read posts of 2011. Thank you all for your readership and support over the past year. I am truly blessed to have such a dedicated and engaging audience.
Happy New Year!
Alas, I doubt we will ever hear such questions, because it is the Christian beliefs that do not deserve merit or respect in the public square. It is the Christian beliefs that arouse skepticism for their opposition to the secularist’s religious devotion to “serious science.” It is the Christian beliefs that are actually “beliefs.” The rest is simply the facts.
Thus, in the coming election cycle, I expect we shall once again be resigned to hearing President Obama defend his secularist views on Christian turf. Once again, we will have to hear how his “personal” Christian beliefs on homosexuality and abortion don’t matter, because they are obviously subservient to a higher power.
What if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)? …The main question: Why doesn’t the church just do what the Bible says at a minimum?
…The outsourcing of charitable responsibility is nothing new, but it is unfortunate that the promotion of such an approach has become such a proud and advertised staple of the ecumenical movement.
Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system?
…If we are really going to take such beliefs seriously, these folks have relatively few options at their disposal. Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist. Sound unrealistic? You’re on to something.
[F]or me and countless others, [Ayn] Rand challenges us — even inspires us — to critique and solidify our own views on the role of the individual, the other, and, above all, God…[A]dmiring certain features of Rand does not automatically transform one into a blind, anti-altruism zombie. It does not, as Whittaker Chambers famously put it, lead to the gas chamber, even if Rand herself may have been packing her bags for precisely that.
The author of Hebrews wrote that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” In discussing Rand, let’s stop pretending that Christians are a bunch of babies. Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas.
To disconnect faith from reason, Piper argues, is to diminish one’s love for God. To ignore thinking altogether, as many cushier, more seeker-friendly elements of evangelicalism have aimed to do, is just as treacherous as subverting it, which the [Rob] Bells and the [Don] Millers of the world seem more subtly set on accomplishing…
Yet to disconnect reason from faith is to designate and commit that reason elsewhere, leading to a lack of love altogether. But this particular error is not just reserved for atheists. Indeed, the lazy, passive attitude of the aforementioned lukewarm love often indirectly leads to the committing of one’s mind to the things of this world by default. Chances are, if we are ignoring orthodoxy for orthopraxy, our praxy will end up getting pretty laxy.
Members of public-sector unions may think that parading a hollow right to specialized coercion is more dignified than complaining about lower salaries, but I find it to be a revelation of something far more sinister.
Listen up, public-sector unions: You are not the victims. You are the pampered and insulated “elite.” The longer you cling to the roots of your institutionalized privilege, the longer injustice will prevail.
[Jim] Wallis commits the basic error of attaching his limited, earthbound, top-down scheming to his bottom-up, heartfelt desires. Through this warped, debased rendering of the Scripture, all that we thought we knew about Matthew 25 suddenly becomes robbed of its most basic message and meaning…
Wallis takes Jesus’ message about people and compassion and turns it into a message about politics and pressure, dragging in all the baggage that comes with it (and there’s a lot). The rich become sinners, the Right become unrighteous, the Left become holy, and the poor become political pawns in a contorted game of God-told-me-to-tell-you-so.
Not only do Objectivists justify their ethics for different reasons than Christians, Objectivists have arguments against the reasons Christians give for their ethics…
Does this mean that Christians and Objectivists will necessarily clash? On an ethical level, definitely, but on a political level, I’m not sure. It seems that Christians with a particular political philosophy can have the same view as Objectivists on the proper function of government, even if the reasons Christians hold their views differs from the reasons Objectivists hold their views. If this is true, then on a political level, the Objectivist and the Christian would not clash.
In the case of [Rob] Bell’s defenders, many of their claims to anti-judgmentalism assume a pose that is entitled to special treatment. They (and Bell) are allowed to pose controversial questions about the nature of God’s love, while those who disagree with Bell’s arguments are scolded and chided as haters and judgers.
Both are focusing on belief systems and theological claims, but one side is claiming monopolistic authority over who can or should be able to judge the other’s system, which turns it into a discussion about people.
Rather than channel our anger and frustration toward a bunch of big shots who may or may not have wronged us, we should look upward, inward, and onward. There is a major value deficit in the world today — there always has been — and we should be constantly looking for ways to sharpen our position toward filling the void, not sit around and cat-call others to do it for us…
We are all sinners prone to vice. We must all seek our own mercy and redemption. It’s about time we turn the megaphone around and listen.
In a previous post examining the scientific pretentions of many atheists, I briefly mentioned that “in economic science, we are constantly confronted with theories and policies based around a denial, dismissal or subversion of the spiritual side of man and nature.”
F.A. Hayek would call it “scientism,” which, in The Counter-Revolution of Science, he describes as a “slavish imitation of the method and language of science” — one that improperly conflates the physical and the nonphysical. (Hayek would be unlikely to use the word “spiritual,” as I most often do.)
This week at The American, Arnold Kling explores the approach as it relates to your typical economist’s faith in macroeconomic models (and the media’s lemming-like trail behind him).
How many jobs will the latest stimulus package create? What will it do to GDP?
For answers to questions like these, the press always turns to the usual suspects: the proprietors of macroeconometric models, which are maintained by some economic consulting firms and by the Congressional Budget Office (The Federal Reserve Board also maintains a model, but the Fed tries to refrain from injecting its model into fiscal policy debates.)
I think that if the press were aware of the intellectual history and lack of scientific standing of the models, it would cease rounding up these usual suspects. Macroeconometrics stands discredited among mainstream academic economists. Applying macroeconometric models to questions of fiscal policy is the equivalent of using pre-Copernican astronomy to launch a satellite or using bleeding to treat an infection.
If you aren’t aware of the “intellectual history and scientific standing” of the models, Kling is glad to inform you, and does so with precision. His conclusion: “economists must be more forthcoming about what they can and cannot estimate.”
This means no more guarantees of “X number of jobs by year Y-thousand.” This means no more predictions of “gas at $Z per gallon” if you choose candidate W. This means no more manufactured certainty (gasp!).
Kling closes with this handle:
Imagine if somehow we knew how to launch satellites but still believed in pre-Copernican astronomy. We would have no choice but to send satellites into space using Read the rest of this entry »