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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Sacrifice, Meaning, and the Spontaneous Orders

There is much to think through in the divisions among the spontaneous orders I have proposed -- and it helps when you find someone making similar divisions, and discussing the differences among them. For example, in Epic, Frederick Turner observes that "sacrifice is the meaning of meaning. What this implies is that the death of sacrifice is the death of meaning." From this he then goes on to observe that
Fact is bonded to theory in science by the costly and sacrificial work of experiment. Price is bonded to utility in economics by the hard knocks of the marketplace. Good intentions are welded to actions by the sacrificial submission of the donor to the real needs and wants of the recipient. Lofty artistic conceptions are realized as beauty in paint or words or stone or sound by the exacting and even agonizing ordeal of learning and exercising the craft. When the pain of the commutative process is denied, the bond is broken.

And when the bond breaks, it leads usually to some catastrophic bubble or inflationary explosion either in the realm of the signifier, or of the signified, or both. Science goes wrong when theory and data get separated—what follows is a proliferation of meaningless data-gathering or an arms-race of empty theorizing, or both. When morality goes wrong we get either brutal expediency (unprincipled action), or hypocrisy (principles not being matched by actions). When law goes wrong we get excuses for bad behavior or cruel legalism. When religion goes wrong we get idolatry or puritanical iconoclasm: too many things chasing too few few ideas, or too many ideas chasing too few things. When philosophy goes wrong we get know-nothingism or sophism. When our economy goes wrong we get hedonistic materialism or the fantastical escalation and inflation of utterly immaterial derivatives and complex but bloodless financial instruments. When art goes wrong we get a philistine welter of empty prettiness or an arid desert of conceptualism. (217-218)
 Turner mentions both the health and illness of different orders -- the health of the scientific order, the philanthropic order, and the artistic orders; the illness of the scientific order, the moral order, the legal order, the philosophical order, the economic order, and the artistic orders.Turner also observes here that our bonds -- which are necessary for spontaneous orders to exist -- are necessarily commutative. To get what one wants, one has to give up something one has. This makes even mutual exchange a kind of sacrifice. Yes, it is something of less value for something of more value, but just because something is valued less, that hardly means it is not valued. Turner observes that when this understanding breaks down, the orders they create break down. We get unhealthy versions. We need to understand spontaneous orders in their fullness, in the kinds of bonds that can emerge, and which in turn affect the kind of order which emerges.

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