Thursday, March 24, 2011

Passing off Partisanship as Reason

While it is hardly a new development, I nevertheless find those who try to pass off their partisanship as rational, let alone based on rational philosophical grounds, incredibly annoying. A prime example of this can be found on many of the postings at Rationally Speaking, which is in my blogroll, and which I read regularly.

Partisanship -- which I identify as the villification of the political Other for being Other -- is primitivist thinking at its worst. A partisan would be one who, for example, thought what George W. Bush did in response to the economic meltdown was "what needs to be done," while what Barack Obama did is "destroying America," even though Obama really only did what Bush did, if on a slightly larger scale that, had Bush been in office, may have been exactly what he would have done as well. Another example are those who are either defending or are remarkably silent on Obama's actions in regards to Libya, but were horrified by G.H.W. Bush's war on Iraq (let alone his son's war of revenge on Hussein in response to the assassination plot against his "daddy"), protesting the war as unjust and secretly because of the oil there (why has nobody noticed that Libya is also full of oil?). A consistent position would either praise or condemn the actions of both men for engaging in similar actions. Is it really better or worse that Bush I attacked a country for attacking Arabs in another country while Obama attacked a country for attacking Arabs in their own country? The partisan says, "yes," while the philosophically consistent says, "no." The partisan says "yes" because his tribe is always right no matter what. The philosophically consistent says "no" because the same principles are being applied no matter what party or person is involved. The former rationalize their positions; the latter use reason to form their positions.

This does not mean that everyone using reason will necessarily come to the same conclusions. In order for that to happen, each person would have to have the same disposition, experiences, knowledge, ability to see patterns and connections, etc. Nevertheless, if one is going to be philosophical rather than primitivist in thought, there are a few things one is going to have to understand.

Those who engage in primitive thinking believe that if there is order, there must be an orderer. This is not necessarily true. Just because it takes an orderer to make a watch, that does not mean that one is needed to make a living cell. They are very different kinds of order. One is in fact quite simple in nature, while the other is very complex. Ironically, there are kinds of simple orders that require an orderer, while there are truly complex orders that do not. Many make the mistake of believing that because some things need an orderer that all ordered things require one. Surely if these simple objects require an orderer, complex objects do! But this is in fact not the case. Life came about through self-organizing processes. So do cultures, economies, and the network structure of the world wide web. The presence of organizations -- simpler, created orders -- within these complex spontaneous orders does nothing to disprove the fact that the more complex orders the organizations are a part of are not self-organizing. We have different kinds of networks structures -- hierarchical vs. scale-free networks -- which emerge in organizations and spontaneous orders, respectively. The primitive thinker does not believe in spontaneous orders, but only in organizations. They thus try to impose organizational structure on spontaneous order structures, with devastating consequences.

A corrolary of this is the failure to even see order in spontaneous orders, but to insist that there is only chaos -- and, thus, we need to order it.

Thus, one is not a philosopher in the highest sense of the term if one believes in creationism or intelligent deisgn -- at any level. This sort of thinking is primitivist thinking, whether it is applied to biology and geology or to the economy and/or culture. Socialism is economic creationism; Keynesianism and other forms of economic interventionism are economic intelligent design. I make no apologies for that analogy. It is apt and precise. The various censors are, equally, cultural creationists/intelligent designers, thinking they can create a culture that is better, more artistic, more virtuous, etc. They can, of course, do none of these things.

I argue that such is unphilosophical thinking as well as primitivist because philosophy means "the love of wisdom," and the failure to recognize the complex interconnections that constitute the various spontaneous orders, both physical and social, means one is distinctly lacking in wisdom. In "The Power of Limits," Gyorgy Doczi says wisdom is seeing the world as one, unified. This is a legitimate definition of wisdom and of truth. The words truth and betrothed are related, through the Old English treowth, meaning “good faith,” which gives us the words “truth” and “troth.” To betroth is to marry, meaning truth can be seen as a betrothal of facts, the unifying or marrying of facts. “Men who love wisdom must be good inquirers into many things indeed” (Heraclitus, K. IX). Truth as wisdom is unifying. One could see wisdom as understanding the scalar nature of the world, seeing the world as a fractal whole, and knowledge as seeing the world in its constituent parts. By combining knowledge and wisdom, we get a more knowledgeable wisdom, or a wiser knowledge, that sees the world as scalar with emergent properties derived from its constituent parts. Since bringing together knowledge and wisdom creates variety in unity, it would show the world as beautiful. Knowledge alone is not enough; nor is wisdom alone. “Graspings: wholes and not wholes, convergent divergent, consonant dissonant, from all things one, and from one thing all” (Heraclitus, K. CXXIV). The unity of knowledge and wisdom is beauty.

All of this goes against primitivist thinking, which all too often gets passed off as philosophical. If you are partisan, you are not philosophical. More, you are not rational. Let us stop pretending that reason leads us toward primitivism.
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