Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Trees of Life

There are two things that are deeply destructive: 1) conservative elements that resist change (among these I would include those Marxists who object to capitalism because the change of capitalism means that new things displace old things), and 2) progressive elements that discount the past and want change for the sake of change. Both are destructive. If you want to destroy an economy and a culture, either one of these will do. Stagnation or cancer -- the result is the same: death.

Capitalism is creative destruction. That results in ever-increasing wealth as new ways to do things displace old ways. Less expensive, more efficient ways replace more expensive, less efficient ways. Entire industries have their workforces shrunk until 1-2% of the population is all that is needed for, say, agriculture (which feeds the other 98-99%) -- an industry that once took up practically everyone's time. Thus goes manufacturing as well, replaced by service and creative workers. And automation will one day replace the service people. There may soon be a day when you can check into a hotel without bothering with the hotel front desk clerk. Just find your name, sip your card, and get your keys. All that will be needed will be a manager. Don't think that will happen? How often do you bother with a bank clerk rather than go to an ATM machine?

The healthiest cultures are those that are what one may term a progressive natural classical culture. Frederick Turner proposes such in his books Natural Classicism, Beauty, The Culture of Hope, and Natural Religion. Such a culture exists in tension between the evolutionary past and classical art and the future, making it new. Progressive art is lost -- it's nothing anybody wants to experience. A conservative classicism is covering territory already covered. Natural classicism is rooted in our evolved psyches, yet bringing in the contemporary world, investigating who we are in our changing social situation. Such art stands on the edge of the known world, deeply rooted in it, while simultaneously setting out to discover strange new worlds and undiscovered countries. More, true natural classicism is also deeply cosmopolitan. Like capitalism, it finds creative inspiration in diversity.

Both a healthy economy and a healthy culture are spontaneous orders. They exhibit bottom-up emergence and order, are nudged through top-down immanent criticism (which is very, very different from top-down control or regulation), and grow naturally and healthily from their roots. They can be destroyed by either cutting off the growing stems, where the leaves are, taking in the light, or by cutting off the nourishing root.
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