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January 12, 2010

A Few Good Essays on Conservatism

I have been remiss about getting these links up, and I apologize. David Foster addresses the nature of conservative and liberal philosophy by analogy. I thought the second story conveyed a particularly apt view of human nature: we tend to underestimate the complexities that shaped tried-and-true, if imperfect, solutions and minimize or ignore the potential consequences of adopting new ones:

You have inherited a chemical plant which makes a valuable and vitally-needed product. It is a vast facility, covering many acres: kind of a spooky place, too, with steam jets and gas flares everywhere. The plant has grown up over time, and the piping and wiring diagrams, if they ever existed, have long since been lost.

The plant’s chemical process has been developed by trial-and-error, and is not well understood. It is controlled by hundreds of set-point knobs adjusting various temperatures, pressure, and rates of flow. The plant operators, most of them with years of experience, have been able to make some changes in the plant’s efficiency by making slight occasional adjustments to the set points. They do this very carefully: several times in the past, adjustments which proved to be unwise have resulted in explosions, destroying equipment, shutting down the plant, and even sometimes injuring and killing people. Some of these failed adjustments were based on mathematical process models which said that they should have worked out just fine.

Two of your executives come to see you with a proposal. One is a chemical engineer, the other an MBA. They have a new, very elaborate process model in which they have very high confidence, and a proposal for optimizing the plant based on this model. If you will just give approval for all the setpoints to be simultaneously reset to new values, then the plant will increase its production by 75%–as verified by the chemical engineer’s process model–and will make you lots and lots of money–as verified by the MBA’s spreadsheets.

This is how conservatives tend to think about liberals–implementing major social change based on untested theories and with no fallback when things don’t work out as planned.

I think this is what makes it so hard to sell "standing athwart of history, yelling "Stop!" - it's always easier to identify the negative aspects of a known solution than those of an untried solution. Plus, it's new and shiny!

Gregory frames his conservatism thusly:

The Christian framework, in my case, was arrived at through reason. Now, God chooses many ways to initially hit someone over the head with the truth - in my case, He used my thinking. In other instances, He uses dreams, visions, even implants convictions. It matters little - the end result is that eventually, we put our faith in Jesus. And we start using our heads, our hearts and our bodies to live for Him.

What are the implications? Why would conservatism work hand in hand with Christianity so nicely?

1. Mankind is innately sinful; hence, in a world that has abandoned Judeo-Christian values, it is best to appeal to enlightened self-interest. Hello, free markets!

2. God is a personal God, and He demands personal commitment from His children. Hence, no letting the 'government' handle charity - this is meant to be our work, done in private enterprise.

3. Jesus said to render Caesar's stuff to Caesar, and God's stuff to God - creating the very first separation of Church and State. This was true during Israelite times, too, after Saul became King. But it wasn't 'Church' then. :)

4. God created us in His image, hence human life is of great value because God values us. Therefore, death is a very serious issue, to be used as a form of punishment and deterrence only when absolutely necessary.

5. We march inexorably towards the end of history, but we do not know when that will be. Hence, we should continue to be watchful, alert and vigilant, ever-ready for whatever may come. This is a very short distance to having strong and well-trained, well-educated military, and disaster preparedness.

Lots of food for thought there. Finally, Gunny Pink writes eloquently about a conservatism founded in freedom, but tempered by personal responsibility:

... how do I understand conservatism?

I think it is about personal responsibility. I know that is a big umbrella to start out with, however, I must go back to the understanding that the God who created this world, universe, and all living creatures, thought it pertinent to bestow on us, human critters, free will. We have the ability to do what we want to, but we also have an "owner's manual" that tells us what happens when we choose to live a certain way.

The human heart cries out for freedom. All across the history of mankind, we find those in bondage, crying out to be free. And all across this history, we find those whose whole purpose in life appears to be enslaving others, and having power over them to refuse them any opportunity to exercise their free will.

Involved in my idea of being free, is the ability to earn and hold private property. I grew up in the forties and fifties. I well remember watching "Victory at Sea" at the local theater, and watching the news items that showed how people over in Europe lived. I read the Declaration of Independence, and learn that the people most instrumental in beginning this country, left Europe to get away from onerous taxation, and overbearing government. I grew up with the story of Robin Hood...not the Robbing Hood we have today, of the government taxing every aspect of our lives, but the Robin Hood, who battled the oppressive government of the day, to take back what rightfully belonged to the people.

If I missed your essay, please forgive me. I've been distracted lately. If you let me know, I'll correct the omission.

I'd like to thank everyone who participated in the discussion or wrote an essay. I've said it many times before, but I learn far more from you all than you ever get from my poor posts.

Posted by Cassandra at January 12, 2010 01:51 PM

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Thanks for the link, Cass.

Also, I sent you an email a couple of days ago...which I mention because it seems increasingly common for emails to be eaten by hungry spam filters.

Posted by: david foster at January 12, 2010 05:33 PM

Thanks for telling me. I've been deluged with mail lately so I probably just missed it but I'll check my spam filter!

Posted by: Cassandra at January 12, 2010 06:22 PM

You should have some email from me, too, but not from the past week...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 12, 2010 06:57 PM

This is how conservatives tend to think about liberals–implementing major social change based on untested theories and with no fallback when things don’t work out as planned.

Foster's example is the perfect example for the push to "combat Global Warming."

The AGWers have produced complex computer models that predict dire results regardless of changes in data input, that can't replicate past observances, that can't account for the absence of phenomena that *should* be present, and that can't explain why current observations don't match the model.

And then insist that the simulation, not what you actually see, is real.

According to the computer model, the US is basking in moderate temperatures, rather than being colder than parts of Ant-farkin'-arctica...

Posted by: BillT at January 13, 2010 01:10 AM

I wouldn't call my contribution an essay, but then, it elicited no response anyway.

Ah, well...

Posted by: camojack at January 13, 2010 01:32 AM

1. Mankind is innately sinful; hence, in a world that has abandoned Judeo-Christian values, it is best to appeal to enlightened self-interest. Hello, free markets!

This has, since my joining the set of believers, always been a vital part of my support for free markets. I know many people who say that communism makes sense "in theory" but not "in practice." When I was a non-Christian free market supporter, I thought that statement mostly accurate. It is dead wrong.

It is dead wrong because Marx thought that selfishness was learned, and that in his Marxist utopia, the govt could unlearn the people from selfishness. He was wrong about human nature, thus his theory never made sense in "theory." You cannot have a "good theory" that is built upon a first assumption that is so wrong.

Keynes argued that people acted in their self interest and in competition with others, and that if money was not available for them to pursue they would pursue power, which would lead more often to violence and war. His argument, as I best recall now, was not focused on religion. But I think he was right anyway.

Once you put the Christian world view on it (fallen man), it makes perfect sense. People in large groups cannot live in a utopian selfless society (10 hippies on a farm, or a few dozen followers immediately after the death of the savior as described in Acts - sure; but not an entire state of people). Thus, allowing the inheritely sinful (Christians and non-Christians-the lack of prevelant Judeo-Christian values really doesn't matter-the naure of man is the same) to pursue their greed through a free market system with rule of law is much preferable to a govt system that messes up supply and demand for political reasons and gives us in every known example more misery, less wealth, more war and less freedom.

Posted by: KJ at January 18, 2010 01:12 PM