Wednesday 11 April 2012

Magical thinking in secular modernity


As I well remember from my own experience, moderns and progressives like to imagine that they are hard-nosed, rational, empirical. Yet magical thinking abounds.

It is abetted by the abstractions which underpin public discourse.

Clever people like to imagine that they are comfortable and competent in the world of abstractions; yet in my experience they are merely complacent and confused.


Think of 'education'. People talk a lot about the effect of education. The effect, for example, of attending college upon earnings. They gather data, study correlations...

And at the end of the day they claim that being signed up for a place called a university for three or four years enhances earnings.

The magic comes because these people really ignore, yes they do, whether the person attends college (as contrasted with working in a bar and going to parties), whether they study anything valuable - they ignore whether the place called a university is even trying to educate students and if so then in what?

Indeed, we get a situation when people really do simply sign onto the books of a college, and where the college simply lays on some random cluster of modules which they claim are academically relevant - and play around with experiments in 'delivering' these modules... and everybody imagines that somehow, something (which we can't define) called education must be going on; and everybody is terribly surprised, offended or angry when the people who have been through this 'process' seem not only to have gained nothing by it but are made worse in their general habits and exhibit a decline in useful skills.


Since there is no modern definition of education, the concept - the word - serves as a black box to obscure that 1. we do not know what is going-on - if anything - in modern schools and colleges, nor do we know whether it is good or bad. 2. we do not care what is going on. 3. Nonetheless we assume that something terribly important is going on - important enough that we sacrifice vastly to make sure that ever-more of it goes on for ever-more people.

Education is is a bogus discourse about abstract masses; but what could potentially be understood is at the level of individuals and their experience - their culture, skills, habits.

From that perspective it is clear than many, most, indeed the majority of individuals deteriorate in college, are damaged and corrupted by college.

From that perspective (of teachers in classrooms) it is clear that most of the official stuff that goes on in college, sometimes all of the stuff that goes on in college, is not even trying to do anything in particular at all.


Or 'immigration'.

This is a subject treated in a wholly magical and wishful manner.

Immigration is about getting new neighbours.

Now, is there anybody who imagines that it does not make any difference who your neighbours happen to be?

Is there anybody who would be indifferent if the new neighbour was someone who had been a gangster, torturer, professional thief. Would we expect a change of location to change them into someone indistinguishable from ourselves?

Is there anybody who would be indifferent to whether there was one new neighbour arriving, or ten or one hundred new neighbours? At some point - imprecise but definite - people cease to be new neighbours and become displacers.

Is there anyone who would be indifferent to whether the new neighbours took nothing - or whether the new neighbours in effect extracted money from your wallet to keep them in comfort (perhaps greater than your own), and to build new houses and schools (perhaps better than your own).

Yet the word, the concept, of immigration ignores these specifics - such that the abstracting intellectuals are astonished and revolted by the selfishness of anyone who tries to re-introduce reality.

Immigration is not just an abstraction, it is a compulsory abstraction - which cannot be allowed to be broken-down into specific elements. Experience and personal knowledge can be allowed to have no relevance to the concept of immigration.

In reality, it would (almost) be accurate to state that there is no such thing as 'immigration' - immigration as such is neither good nor bad - the reality is that it is (almost) entirely a matter of the characteristics (character and abilities as revealed by behaviour) of the people that are immigrating and the quantities.

The concept of immigration therefore serves almost entirely to obscure reality; and the obscuration is mandatory.



What the heck is economics, and how on earth have we come to a situation where people seriously believe that when you are in debt, the way out of debt is to borrow more and spend more?

It is obvious that the multiple layers of abstraction of economics, the treatment of complex matters in gross aggregation, combined with the vast size and inertia and specialised interdependency of modernity - that economics has become psychotic, operating in a world of fantasy; a folie a thousands of crazed colleagues.

Economics not only assumes, but it necessarily assumes that all human beings are the same - are interchangeable units.

It assumes, for example, that differences in skills are due to education. So that the way to create more skills is to have a more educated work force. If there are more people spending three or four years at a place called a college and at the end emerging with a piece of paper called a degree - then that means more skills. If there are more people called doctors, that means more skills.

But education, as we see above, is a black box - so economists have said nothing: worse, they have corrupted discourse such that the assumption is now that certificated 'skill' is an actual skill, that people called doctors are doctors (as the word used to be understood) - and it needs to be proven that a degree is worthless (rather than the common sense idea of assuming that it is worthless unless proven otherwise).

It is assumed that economic proxy measures of resources are real, even when all the incentives are to create fake resources.

It is assumed that people can have more useful stuff per head without either working harder at making useful stuff or being more efficient at making useful stuff.

If we were talking about a comprehensible sized entity - like a village - then we would realise that coercively moving more stuff around from person to person is not the same as creating more stuff.


Economics as it is, is not just nonsense, but it actually prevents people from seeing the obvious.

The link between believing, policy, implementation, and effect measurement is so loose that it is irrelevant - not just slightly irrelevant but completely irrelevant; such that apparently refuted theories like the Soviet-style Command Economy are currently and actively being re-tried on a vast scale.

If communist economics has not been refuted and discarded, then nothing ever can be refuted or ruled-out! - and economics is unconstrained.


And that is the problem with education, immigration, economics and other abstractions - they are unconstrained.

They cannot be refuted because they are made-up stuff based on nothing.

It is like debating a Freudian analyst (something I used to try and do) - the whole thing is elaborated nonsense, and there was no way into it.

Freud had just said stuff, which was then regarded as axiomatic, and the following generations built arbitrarily higgledy piggledy on top of it. Then everybody discussed the result earnestly and treated it seriously and were very grave and concerned at the idea that it might be neglected or discarded.


The magical thinking of modernity is pernicious because it chucks out the natural spontaneous transcendentalism that is intrinsic to humans - chucks out the soul, gods or God, the reality of reality and The Good (objective truth, objective virtue, objective beauty) - regards these as so much arbitrary made-up stuff, disproven, left-behind, naive, silly, embarrassing...

Then modernity makes-up new stuff, lots of new stuff, ever more and newer stuff; a truly arbitrary and unfounded set of assumptions; then extrapolates unconstrainedly from these assumptions, and then builds systems which are insufficiently systematic to cohere - and then regards the end result, this random heap of constantly-changing nonsense, as real!

So modernity regards education, immigration and economics as real; and the common sense natural way of thinking of historical humankind and the majority of the world (even now) and the views of the non-intellectuals as being childish nonsense.

Modernity disbelieves in magic, yet establishes magical thinking as the unchallengeable core of modernity.