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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Here's a post that's been kicking around for a while, now, waiting to be written. Thanks to Wretchard for providing the context on which to hang it.

Here's the fundamental contradiction at the core of human nature:

  • Other persons can be dangerous.
  • The dangerousness of another person depends upon what he is thinking.
  • Therefore, it is crucial to know what other persons are thinking.
  • But it is impossible to know what other persons are thinking.
All the things that go to make what we call human nature are reducible, one way or another, to approximate solutions aimed at this insoluble problem.

Most persons take this a bit further:

  • It is important, not only to know what other persons are thinking, but to understand those thoughts.
  • The easiest thoughts to understand are one's own.
  • Therefore, the easiest way out of this whole mess is to require that everyone think the same things.
This is why, in all the societies of the world, the most dangerous thing anyone can do is to give his neighbors to understand, "I don't think the same way you do" on some touchous point or other. This is also why, in all those same societies, there are any number of tests for smoking out heresy, which challenges may be offered at any time, and the failure to provide immediate satisfaction is also extremely dangerous.

The first point I want to make is, all societies work this way, differing only in the specific points on which orthodoxy is required. Even those who fondly imagine themselves anarchists, supposing they could realize their dream, would still eject from their society one way or another, as unfit to live, anyone who voiced doubts about "live and let live."

These are the points on which I measure societies: Is orthodoxy required of all things? or only some? Is only one answer acceptable? or is it only that some answers are unacceptable? Are those points, on which orthodoxy is required, actually related to the problem of living together without bloodshed? or not? And do the required answers actually contribute to the solution of that problem? or not?

My second point is a response to Wretchard: This is not, like perception, something passive. And it is the result of learning, not evolution.

My last point: This gives an indication of what it is that those who style themselves professional dissidents are doing wrong. Every act they undertake is deliberately directed toward frustrating the basic requirements of the society in which they live. It is amusing, though, to note that, among themselves, they have erected a rival orthodoxy more stringent and obnoxious than anything their parent society has devised, and they enforce it upon each other with far more relish in their own vindictiveness than they would ever face from the society whose demands they flaunt.

(I have a number of these posts piled up, and some vague notion of building them together in a more-or-less orderly and coherent scheme, but I must work on them in the little time I can steal away from work and family, both of which are voracious. This is the post I had picked out for the starting point, though, so the thing is off to a decent start. Thanks, Wretchard!)

-- posted by Clayton 10/14/2004 07:25:00 PM

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