Wednesday, November 02, 2011

FSSO 2011

This weekend I presented a paper, "The Theater of Tensions," at the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders. It was a fantastic conference, with a wide variety of ideas and world views -- it was a broad swathe of classical/traditional liberal thinking. The people were great -- it is nice to be able to have discussions with people with whom one disagrees where the level of respect nevertheless remains high. This doesn't mean that there weren't heated arguments, or that there weren't misunderstandings of positions or arguments, but even if someone unfairly misattributed an argument against, say, socialized medicine, as an argument for the current system, such misattributions were quickly and clearly settled, and thus the real argument was able to take place. (This is something we all do: we meet someone who is against X; we know people who are against X and for Y; therefore we assume that new person is for Y, even though it is possible to be against both X and Y.)

Respect. It was observed at the conference that respect is an ur-value, underlying rights. We respect our friends. We respect our family (in healthy families, anyway). We extend respect to strangers -- and in so doing, extend rights to them. We have moved from a species that killed strangers to one that traded with strangers, and thus extended respect to him. Respect was central at the conference, both topically (unstated and, later, stated) and in our disagreements. Sadly, we see less and less of this in civic society -- if you disagree with me, you aren't just wrong, but evil! (and I of course could never be wrong!). One should be able to get into even a heated discussion of ideas, and at the end of the day, shake hands, wish each other well, and be happy to see each other next time around. But of course, this also requires people to be more interested in learning what the truth really is rather than in being seen by everyone as right, whether you are in fact right or not. And that is one of the advantages of such a conference, where everyone there was a scientist first, and an ideologue second (though sometimes a close second). We were there to try to understand spontaneous orders better, and to try to understand whether they are in fact better for humans to live in than other social systems. Such questions are of course going to raise questions and result in heated debate (such as whether or not spontaneous orders were "natural," and if not, why we were "advocating" them). Naturally, our arguments resulted in some convergence, divergence, greater certainty, and greater uncertainty. Which is as it should be. If you don't come back from a conference without all of those things happening, it wasn't very valuable for you.
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