Sunday, 9 August 2009

C&B: extending the range

+ First proposition: we know a lot less about the world then we think. Uncertainty is the only realistic position to take. In the midst of this chaos and confusion there are people.

1. It is certainty that moves societies forward. Groups gather with a purpose and reshape the world around them. There are some very certain people out there. They get things done. They take ideas, make them flesh through families, groups and institutions. They find money and get power. Their certainty leads them to cross the paths of other people, pursuing different paths with equal certainty.

This is the world of politics, of economics, where groups with ideas, money, backing, friends, families collide or coalesce. Just as waves on the sea gather and build only then to break apart and reform, so it is with people.

+ Second proposition: people operating in this uncertain environment sometimes are very certain indeed, and this is often works very well for them.

2. Certainty operates in a world where the only truth is uncertainty. I make a bet but I do not know if I will win. What is to stop the horse I backed from tripping over at the last fence? My certainty that it is the best horse is no guarantee of a successful passage. Certainty might often be the best strategy to adopt but it is not a crystal ball.

Much of human civilisation has developed to overcome uncertainty. Religion is a most wonderful human institution to help manage uncertainty. All those structures, all those magnificent buildings! What statements we made about our certainty in the unknowable, the ineffable. What confidence we placed in those that wanted – needed – to take away our doubts. How else were we to cope?

When we instead focused on what we could only know, we created new belief systems, new myths. Dreams of the future in a war-ravaged world. Interplanetary fantasies. Concorde. 2001. While we might not be jetting off to far-flung planets living off protein pills, our society moves on, endlessly changing, transforming.

According to Malcolm X: “the future belongs to those who plan for it today”.

+ Third proposition: the certainty of people can come from the Right -- where it overlaps with power -- or the Left. Neither seem comfortable with uncertainty, and instead prefer profitable consensus, unverifiable assertions or self-righteous accusations.

3. Plans come from all quarters. Most societies are open to ideas, but most are biased one way or the other. They lie open to some ideas more than others. Some believe in aliens but not evolution. Others prefer pixies over politics. But all are susceptible to the influence of individuals. A single person able to draw together a society’s likes and dislikes under one umbrella is a powerful force.

Telling people the bald truth is rarely popular. “I don’t know” might be honest but rarely helps lead to a conclusion. Trying to embrace all of life’s uncertainties in a single answer is often not possible. The challenge of modern life is to simplify accurately without losing sight of the complex.

There are traps and blind alleys along the way. Many people blame others for endemic human problems. A single individual, or a group of people, are not solely to blame for world poverty, for instance [as implied in Klein, The Shock Doctrine, and much of the “Radical Left]. Poverty has always been a part of human existence, as has war. These are not unique products of uniquely evil groups and individuals.

While the Left may find themselves led up the cul-de-sac named “blame”, the Right too often find themselves lured into being the intellectual cannon fodder for the wealthy. Freedom is a wonderful thing, one (literally) worth fighting for, but sometimes freedom for one is something that deprives others of their liberties.

+ Fourth proposition: in this environment the media frequently does not help people understand the world around them.

+ Fifth proposition: we have to be careful of confirmation bias - only believing the things we want to believe. Most of the western Left has now fallen into this trap.

+ Sixth proposition: it is often easier to believe in simple explanations rather than complex. We seem predisposed to believing events can usually be explained by the actions of one or two individuals ("great man theories"), rather than as part of wider processes.

+ Seventh proposition: the less we know about something, the more likely it is we will accept a over-simplistic explanation for it. (Look at how the ancients explained the occurrences in the heavens.)

+ Eighth propostion: to write a strong polemic often requires a selective reading of history.

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