Thursday 6 October 2011

Explaining some Charlton catch-phrases


1. Things need to get worse before they can get better

2. People are not-even-trying

3. Humans are simple, dichotomous creatures

4. Repentance must come first

These refer mainly to social and political matters - and especially to plans and schemes for reform.


1. Things need to get worse before they can get better, because otherwise they already would be better.

This means that things can get better only via getting worse - and that is the reason why it has not already been done.

What stops people doing what needs to be done, is that improvement can come only in the long run while problems arrive immediately.

What needs to be done causes problems for sure whereas its benefits are more remote and conjectural.


2. It certainly will not happen when people are not even trying to make it happen.

Good things don't happen by accident.

They don't necessarily happen when people are trying to make them happen - but they certainly don't happen unless people are trying to make them happen.

If the mass of people are mostly trying to do one thing, it is unlikely that they will consistently achieve another, quite different, thing.

If you want to achieve something, then that is what you should aim to achieve.


3. Humans are simple, dichotomous creatures. This means that in practice, policies can only be simple, dichotomous.

This means that complex solutions are always wrong.

And effective solutions are always crude.

(And until there is a simple and crude solution, there cannot be an effective solution.)

Therefore, there are always significant disadvantages to any effective solution.

Therefore you need to decide what is most important. You may get this; but only at a cost.


4. Repentance must come first.

Politics and management is only serious when it begins with repentance: with a confession of what they did wrong and a resolve to avoid this fault in future.

Our society is only serious about the things it openly repents (which is why we are in so much trouble, i.e. because of the choice of things we repent).

When things are going down, nothing effective will be done about it until there is a clear repentance and repudiation of that which led to the decline.


In public policy, therefore, You cannot do good by stealth.

You must shout from the rooftops, and repeatedly, what was done wrong, that the wrong has been repented, what are the new priorities. Then shout the crude and simple solution, including the inevitable and expected costs and nature of opposition. And then do it.

The inevitable costs must be borne, the inevitable opposition must be overcome.

The process is not sophisticated nor nuanced - it is crude and conflictual - and it will be vilified by the intellectual elite.


To which I would add:

5. Inertia means that things get worse slower than you fear; but also that adverse trends are harder to reverse than you hope.



dearieme said...

In my judgement, conservatives are very astute at seeing the way things are changing (especially, of course, when they are changing for the worse) but are routinely prone to overestimating the speed of the change. That last point is rather a paradox, don't you think?

Bruce Charlton said...

I'm afraid I don't see the paradox - it seems rather natural that if your basic stance is that you do not want change (I'm assuming that this is what is meant by conservative), then the magnitude of any change is likely to be over-estimated - change is likely to be seen as qualitative rather than quantitative.

(Which is, indeed, a more natural and spontaneous way for humans to regard change. the attitude of, say, an engineer - with a mathematical and quantitative concept of change - is both unusual and unnatural {the product of specialized training, of a type which only a minority could accomplish} in a broad historical and global context.)

The Crow said...

Inertia is the most puzzling phenomenon. I can never quite take its effects into account.
It was easy to foresee the ongoing dissolution of civilization, as far back as the early 1970s, yet it remains continually astonishing that this event can persist in its slow-motion unfolding, in the way it does.
Easy to see it coming.
Impossible to reverse it once it starts.
I feel like a teflon-coated electron, zipping around in viscous goo, trying to communicate in ultrasonic bursts to dim-witted, glacially-slow humanoids that have no ears.

I often wonder what it is like, to be "normal".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - that's it.

It isn't so much that it is (in theory) impossible to reverse, more that it is impossible to imagine actually (in practice) being done what would need to be done to reverse it.

It would require something like this:

3.So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.

4.And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

5.So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

6.For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

7.And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

8.But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

9.Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

10.And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

The Crow said...

And Lo: was it The Lord that saw fit to punish them not, or was it they, themselves, being The Lord, in their return to righteousness, that punished them not, themselves?
For blessed, were they, themselves, that turning their backs on their sins, thus survived the span of hardships they had brought upon themselves...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - Um, yes - it *was* the Lord; not themselves...

The Crow said...

I have to say, Bruce, you are - at least - consistent.
I would love to discuss these things with you, but I realize, having discussed such things with various Christians, that it would be an exercise doomed to fail.
But let me ask you this:
God, being perfect, would necessarily create perfect manifestations, no?
Those manifestations, would, being created by perfection, themselves be perfect? Or capable of being perfect?
Is not the supplied free will, a means of choosing perfection over imperfection?
Would not choosing perfection be inherently possible, and desirable?
Would perfection be actually natural?
So why is it that Christians see striving for perfection as heretical, and setting-up a competition with God?
Such a scenario seems absurd, to me.
That attempting to perform to design specification, would be sinful...

I hold that we are, each, capable of everything Jesus tried to explain to us we were capable of. And that it is our very faith in being imperfect that results in - ah - the result.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - Christianity is not something that can be worked out by any individual, based on observation and reason: that leads to paganism. Christianity is a revealed religion; and vital elements are given. These (once understood) are either accepted, in which case you are a Christian; or rejected, in which case you are not.

The most important is that Jesus was the Son of God and is Lord (obviously, it is vital to know what this means);

other revelations concern original sin and salvation; and that there are forces of evil in the world - so the world, nature, instinct, what is - all these are not wholly or intrinsically good.

Therefore for Christians the world is not perfect, therefore doing what is natural is not perfect; therefore being happy (fulfilled, contented, blissful) is not the proper aim of life; instead the proper aim of life is directed beyond this world.

I would say that the main aim of a Christian life is to change perspective from this worldly to next worldly; the highest state being that of a Saint who lives with his 'head in Heaven and his feet on the earth'.

The Crow said...

Thanks Bruce. I see.
The Christian aim is to miss this life, in its entirety, in order to use it to prepare for the next.
I'd never seen it spelt out in quite that way, before, but I had certainly suspected as much.
Hardly surprising that atheists feel the way they do, is it?
Lucky me, to occupy the centre ground. Free will, in the raw.
Sorry if I led you off-topic, but it was - for me, anyway - illuminating.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - Yes, it is strange how the Christian message strikes modern man in comparison with how it struck ancient pagans or Jews - to whom it seemed the most incredible good news.

All the ancients needed to know was that Christianity was true and its superiority to what went before was obvious and needed no argument.

The difference is that the ancient world knew they were sinful intrinsically, modern man believes he is innocent intrinsically.

Nowadays, the Christian message strikes people like someone trying to make them miserable to 'bring them down' - to constrain their own personal world building.

It is a big problem for Christian apologists, and CS Lewis pronounced himself stumped by it. Me too.

The only way-in is via alienation; but if a person is happy or distracted then that is no answer either.

As I commented before, it is remarkable how peace and prosperity have been the most potent weapons against Christianity - when it was always assumed that war and hunger were the big challenge to Christian belief ('the problem of pain').

The modern attitude is essentially that if I am - here and now - not-actively-miserable (maybe even feeling pleasant) - then Christianity is nothing more than an attack on my positive feelings. The (utilitarian) belief is that people who are feeling OK have 'a right' to be left alone with their contentment - especially as this state is so fragile (and implicitly because there is nothing better to be hoped for).

I felt this very strongly myself: Christianity seemed to be trying to create the problem (sin) which it them claimed to solve...

Perhaps I should re-write CSL's The Problem of Pain as The (bigger) Problem of Pain-less-ness...