Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Be careful about the principles upon which you 'reform' - the example of slavery

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When justifying a change which is to be called a reform, it is especially important that the reason, the principles behind, the reform be carefully considered.

It is not enough to get the change through by any argument, by any means, using whatever it takes - because the world does not stop but continues to develop; and if the reform is for the wrong reasons, then these wrong reasons will (sooner or later) bend back and bite you.

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Take slavery.

Slavery was abolished on the basis that slavery was evil.

Therefore it was abolished by use of extreme force and without any consideration for the well being of the ex-slave populations after abolition - they were assumed to be better-off by definition.

More importantly, by abolishing slavery on the basis that slavery was evil, all slave holding societies in human history were then condemned as evil; which had the implication that modern society, modern people, you and me are all defined as essentially superior to everybody that lived through recorded history and up to the point of abolition.

Therefore we are not just free to discard tradition (since it is the tradition of slave holding societies) but the destruction of tradition becomes a moral imperative.

Hence modern secular Leftism; which is founded upon precisely this conviction: that destruction of the moral legacy of the past is a positive good.

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If, on the other hand, slavery had been abolished because it was often cruel, and cruelty was difficult to prevent; matters would have turned-out very differently. The principle would have been established that cruelty to slaves was bad, not slavery as such, and society would proceed on that basis - presumably by some kind of laws against cruel treatment, maybe inspections. These anti-cruelty inspections would presumably spread and become applied to other social situations than slavery.

Or if slavery might be attacked in the basis that it made the slave's Christian practice conditional upon the Master's whim - in which case there would perhaps be imposed mandatory and public Christian practices from which slaves were not exempted. These Christian worship laws would then, presumably, be applied to the population at large.

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The point is that each different reason for 'reforming' slavery will tend to continue after they have been applied to slavery; and the tougher and longer the fight to 'reform' slavery the more likely this is.

But the point applies generally. The Church of England introduced priestesses in 1992 and was narrowly prevented from introducing priestess-bishops a couple of weeks ago.

The principle upon which this major change was introduced was that 'exclusion' of women from the clergy is an evil act of repression.

Pragmatically speaking, this visceral conviction of the evil of preventing women having these 'jobs' is what drove (and drives) the 'reformers - it is the argument that apparently 'works' most effectively in terms of ramming these changes through in bureaucratic and media debate.

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The consequence of the triumph of this argument is that all previous Christians who did not have female clergy were evil and repressive - and that therefore:

1. the legacy of the Christian past and its traditions can and should be rejected; plus

2. modern 'Christians' are superior to all Christians of the past since modern 'Christians' 'include' women clergy.

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You and I might look at modern liberal Christians and seen only self-indulgent apostates; but in their own estimation they are superior to all the Fathers and Saints of Christian history - in their own estimation they are superior to the Apostle Paul, to St Augustine or St Anthony of Egypt, to anyone you like to name: St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, St Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, CS Lewis - all of 'em!

Moderns are superior because all of these old Christians were sexist, but liberal Christians are not: the argument is sexism is evil, ergo all of previous Christians are evil and inferior, every last one - and liberal Christians are better than them. 

And this consequence follows as night follows day; and leads on to further change based on the reforming principle because of the reason used to justify the 'reform' of introducing women clergy.

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Ideas matter, reasons matter, principles matter - if we get them wrong, the consequences can be chronic and catastrophic.

What 'works' pragmatically, in the short term, may lead to disaster in the long term.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason can be catastrophic; and the righter the thing, the greater the catastrophe - since the wrong principle draws force from the right action.

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Thus it is that the abolition of slavery - with slavery having been argued against as an absolute evil, and therefore naturally leading to the inference that all slave holding societies (that is all historical sedentary societies) were absolutely evil - led to the rise of secular Leftist progressivism.

At the very least, abolition fuelled secular Leftism, lent it moral zeal, and made its growth exponentially rapid: (thus far) unstoppable.

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20 comments:

  1. "If, on the other hand, slavery had been abolished because it was often cruel... The principle would be established that cruelty was bad, not slavery as such... These anti-cruelty inspections would presumably spread and become applied to other social situations than slavery.

    Or if slavery might be attacked in the basis that it made the slave's Christian practice conditional upon the Master's whim - in which case there would perhaps be imposed mandatory and public Christian practices from which slaves were not exempted. These Christian worship laws would then, presumably, be applied to the population at large."

    So what more general practices followed from the principle that slavery is evil? And what more general practices will follow from women bishops? Not ideas, but practices.

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  2. @JJ - As I said "Therefore we are not just free to discard tradition ... but the destruction of tradition becomes a moral imperative."

    So we get the moral, aesthetic and truth-inversions of political correctness; and the Antichrist phenomenon of 'Christianity-with-the-opposite-of-tradition' - in other words a reversal of the traditional + eschatology which sees history declining towards the end-times due to the accumulation of sin in the world (instead modern liberal pseudo-Christians see history as an evolutionary progress with each generation transcending and surpassing the previous generation).

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  3. You're right that people of the past are often thought of as evil but they're sometimes thought of as stupid ("they didn't know any better")

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  4. @BB - It does happen, but it is rather implausible when some modern school teacher or middle manager calls stupid on the Apostle Paul, Augustine, Aquinas etc...

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  5. "Therefore it was abolished by use of extreme force and without any consideration for the well being of the ex-slave populations after abolition - they were assumed to be better-off by definition": that may be a fair description of the US case, but why apply it to all?

    Actually, I don't think it's even a fair description of the US - lots of antislavery believers did consider what was to become of the ex-slaves. Many wanted them shipped out - or ethnically cleansed, as we'd say nowadays.

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  6. Very good stuff.

    I wonder what we might draw from the example of that curious "reform" we had in the United States, Prohibition?

    It was indeed sold to the public on principles of increase in virtue and in moving the culture towards a more thoroughly (Protestant) Christian society.

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  7. I think it may be a feature rather than a bug. That the point of reform is to denigrate and de-legitimize tradition and history. To undermine the foundations of society.

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  8. I think the temperance movement sought to fix men using external force, but as we know it is necessary to change from within first. Total exertion of external force to a given goal tries to remove the option of free choice (though maybe only in a very specific area) and results in tyranny by men, not so much in a greater good.

    The political elites seem to be leaning towards the opinion that the only reason removing free-choice fails is because we don't have comprehensive-enough controls: once we are progressive enough and have the right technology and best means of mental manipulation we can force people to make the right choices.

    Scary thought!

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  9. Slavery was bad, but it wasn't necessarily the most bad thing at the time. We have to remember the world is fallen and we can't expect perfection. The existence of evil does not make the past more evil then the present, as the present and future will be full of evil as well.

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  10. Unnecessary and/or badly enforced prohibitions are bad means, so that even if the end sought is a "greater good" the process will fail to reach the end and will produce harmful effects. Mr. Goerlich is right to point out that only the changing of hearts is able to make good happen.

    Here is a loosely related piece of good news at David Warren's blog: a good journalist (a rare thing) reports on a saintly priest (a rarer thing still) --
    http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2012/12/05/the-wildfire-chronicles/#comment-1650

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  11. The Continental Op6 December 2012 at 01:36

    Off Topic:

    I'm reading "Not Even Trying" and finding it fascinating because it rings so true. Just like I didn't need proofs in geometry, I could see that it was true by intuition.

    I got a PhD from a highly regarded college in the US, and went into private industry instead of academia. One thing I didn't get a grip on, but intuited, which your book helped clarify for me, was that it was all so awfully boring. The reasons I had at the time, beneath of which lurked soul-killing boredom:

    1. "We do because we can, not because we should" horrified me
    2. Chasing for research grants consumed most faculty time
    3. I was not a vaunted Doctor of Philosophy but an over-promoted advanced technician fiddling with little knobs. I knew I was not a creative genius and so this was not for me.

    I took an engineering design course where the purpose was to elaborate a design process that generated good ideas, reducing the dependence on "flashes of genius" to make creative solutions to engineering problems. This was a subject of intense research in the department. It's almost a parody of what you say in the book.

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  12. @RU - It is indeed a feature for the evil strategists behind 'reform' - but the mass of pro-reformists are simply dupes: it is for them/ us that I wrote the above.

    @CO - I'm very pleased to discover the book rang-true and served a useful purpose for you - that adds-up to three people who liked it: clearly an incipient mass movement!

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  13. I agree that most of the pro-reformists are dupes as you say, but that's true of most people in any group. They just want a group to belong to. Most people don't want true liberty, its freakin' hard!

    My point is that all the reform in history has been explicitly and intentionally negative, that is to say anti-God. The reasons reformists don't elaborate their reasons is if they said, "We hate God and are doing this with the intention to undermine his message of truth and elevate ourselves," people would be revolted. Reform is just another part of the ongoing secularisation and falling away of the world. Lucifer was the first reformer.
    Positive reform is not possible, we've been kicked out of Eden and can't go back.

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  14. @Roger U -

    "Reform is just another part of the ongoing secularisation and falling away of the world. Lucifer was the first reformer."

    Yes, you are correct.

    From this perspective, the fact that 'reform' is regarded as an intrinsically positive word and concept demonstrates a highly successful moral inversion - an early example of political correctness.

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  15. My point is that all the reform in history has been explicitly and intentionally negative, that is to say anti-God.

    By "all", do you mean the protestant reformation as well?

    "Reform is just another part of the ongoing secularisation and falling away of the world. Lucifer was the first reformer."

    Yes, Lucifer could be seen that way, but we must be careful. The blanket condemnation of all reform is as dangerous as the blanket acceptance of such. Having said that, most "progress" or "reform" has been in favor of secularization, as you say. I reject the notion, however, that the Protestant reformation was a secularization-event.

    Many Catholics say it was so, yet they express dis-satisfaction with Vatican 2. Most interesting.

    What BGC said, the fact that 'reform' is regarded as an intrinsically positive word is important.

    I do not believe the word is either intrinsically positive or negative. The word and the action are both amoral.

    Institutions decay and become corrupt.

    One could look at Jesus Christ Himself as a "reformer", although I prefer to think of him as a restorative influence versus a reforming one. Man had strayed with the practice of true religion. It wasn't that Judaism had become completely obsolete (I am completely sidestepping the replacement of the atonement/sacrifice subject, which I think we can agree on largely), rather it was because that era's Judaism had become a perversion of what it started out as.

    Anyway. Some thoughts.

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  16. @"I do not believe the word is either intrinsically positive or negative. The word and the action are both amoral."

    Amoral is immoral.

    One of my insights (!) of the past three years has been that there is no neutrality, all terms are valenced.

    BUt terms change; what was once positive becomes corrupted and negative. There is no doubt that the term reform is routinely used to justify bad changes (sometimes obviously destructively motivated changes, as in the health service).

    there is no alternative but to regard 'reform' as a negative term - along with equality, democracy, freedom etc.

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    As for the Protestant Reformation - well, I think most people would agree that it would be better if it had not happened; in the sense that it would have been better if it was not necessary in the first place (if the church had not become so corrupted), and if the Roman Catholic Church had responded to Luther by reforming itself swiftly (rather than delaying until the counter-Reformation period).

    All schism is bad, but the situation can be such that non-schism is even worse.

    That situation probably arose and passed in the Church of England some decades ago - the failure to schism (real Christians against 'liberalism') means that a very high percentage of the priesthood is now corrupt, and rescue from transformation into an Anti-christian organization now *seems* impossible.

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  17. @ Amoral is immoral.

    Agreed 100%. There is no neutrality.

    What I should have said was that "reform" is both a word and an action, not a sentient being capable of moral distinctions, and therefore moral and immoral acts. Much like a wrench is "amoral", or the act of turning one is, in itself "amoral". I can turn a wrench for a moral purpose (to fix a machine I need to feed my family), or for an immoral one (to shut off flow to a fire suppression system just before setting a building on fire).

    @ ...and if the Roman Catholic Church had responded to Luther by reforming itself swiftly....

    Do you see what I mean? In the above sentence, you used "reforming" in a positive way.

    The entire schism was regrettable, both in the sense that it was a schism and in the sense that it ever took place. Yet were I faced with the ultimate and absolute choice of separation or conformity to evil, I'm going with separation.

    The point is, when something is corrupted, some sort of "reformation"/"restoration" is necessary.

    I guess this is somewhat beside the point of the original article (the principles upon which "reforms" are made), which I very much agree with.

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  18. @AP - My point is that in modern public discourse there are those who lie and mislead with special weasel words; and those who oppose them typically argue that these words should be used accurately, carefully, in a precise and contextual fashion etc etc.

    THE LEFT SHOUTS XXXX!

    And the reactionaries who oppose them say in reply... well perhaps xx is good, or maybe even X, in certain circumstances; but we must acknowledge that even something good like X can, when taken too far lead to more problems than...

    Zzzzzzzz.....

    Guess who prevails?

    I'm afraid there is no option - if reactionaries are serious - than to adopt a policy of simple rejection; because policy is dichotomous, humans are dichotomous.

    Just as euphemism serves the Left, so does does complexity and indeed any form of unclarity or indirectness.

    If this is too much for intellectuals to swallow (as I suspect it is) then intellectuals will simply be playing glass bead games. For the secular Right that may be a viable strategy; but for Christians that is not an option. We simply must communicate clearly and concisely (when the chips are down, face to face or person to person, when we have a chance to make a difference).

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  19. @AP

    "By "all", do you mean the protestant reformation as well?"

    Yes.
    "One could look at Jesus Christ Himself as a "reformer", although I prefer to think of him as a restorative influence versus a reforming one."

    My personal feelings, as a protestant, are that schism is bad and splits the body of Christ. Better to fight it out for generations. Keep in mind that Luther's reformation has spawned 30000 denominations! Split after split. Its no big deal, now, to run off and start your own church if you disagree with the one you attend. I googled churches within 5 miles of my house, there are about 40. Churches should be community centers where the community, the people, gather to worship, the Liturgy-work of the people. How can you have a Christian country if the Christians don't get to know each other.
    As the Son of God, Jesus Christ has the authority over the Church to make changes. When things got to bad, He fixed it in a way that unifies. When we have disagreements, we split apart. That said, unity will not happen until the End of Days, in my opinion.

    @bgc
    "Just as euphemism serves the Left, so does does complexity and indeed any form of unclarity or indirectness. "

    I have had this thought, recently, too. I had it more specifically towards government and politics, but you have made me see it in a broader context. The "right" is simple and direct, the "left" obfuscates and misdirects.





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