Tuesday, 19 March 2019

What counts as 'better'?

It is nearly always assumed that when two persons (or parties) are discussing what course of action would be better - they both mean the same by 'better'. This gets assumed; and then the conversation focuses on the means to achieve that end. This is pretty much how mainstream politics works.

But what if the 'better' on one side includes or concentrates on aspects that are denied or regarded as trivial or even wicked by the other? Then, all conversation from that point onwards is futile - and indeed actively misleading.

That is the current situation that the mass media call 'polarisation' of public opinion - it is a situation of different ends, rather than merely different means. It means that one course of action is going in one direction (or intending to), while the other course of action is aiming in a different - perhaps opposite - direction.

When this is at the level of materialism then that is severe enough (eg open-ended mass immigration a positive or negative thing?); but when one side focuses on spiritual goals that the other side regards as nonsensical and non-existent, deceptive or delusional... then the situation is as extreme as can be imagined.

Different sides are then so different that the is very little possibility of compromise - except by accidental overlap, with respect to minor things.

This will affect all human interaction, from small talk to formal discourse about serious matters of law and national policy.

The proper response would be to discuss these fundamental differences, and their reasons: the proper response would be to engage in metaphysical discourse.

Indeed, that is non-optional.

So, we should do it.


William Wildblood said...

Yes, and this is why a person who sees human destiny as being fulfilled only spiritually cannot converse seriously with a materialist who sees this world as determining and how we are in this world as what matters.

But the two are not equal because the materialist is quite simply wrong, and I would go further than that. In many cases he is wilfully wrong because he rejects the spiritual option not because he disbelieves in it but because he does't want to believe in it and suppresses that in his nature which might incline him towards it.

This is the problem we face today. There are so many people in the West who actively deny truth as opposed to simply not seeing it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - That would explain why fundamental discussion of assumptions has been made a taboo.

Michael Dyer said...

Paradoxically that’s why I end up getting along with Muslims in my day to day. They believe in God in the same way I believe in God (by which I mean they think He is real and takes an interest in human affairs, emphatically not doctrinally). We’re intelligible to each other in a way that I can’t match with secularists. Our disagreements are severe and serious but they feel like honest disagreements as opposed to the endless layers of bullshit you get trying to pin down a postmodernist. The disagreements with Muslims don’t even feel personal, they’re not acrimonious.

Dividualist said...

I think there is a good enough non-metaphysical answer to that. Violence has and still is such a huge problem that every solution that leads to less long-term violence is almost always better.

The problem is

1) Modern elites lying about the levels of modern violence, e.g. reporting white flight as pure prejudice as opposed to fleeing from violence

2) People forgetting to think long-term e.g. not considering how immigration can lead to violence and thus using violence to prevent it can have a lower body count in the longer run.

3) People being too optimistic about how much violence can be reduced. For example, anarchists, communists often say private property is rooted in violence. I tended to reject it because I used to believe in Lockean homesteading nonsense. Later on I adopted a Moldbuggian, military-realist view of property: humans being contentious, everything scarce is necessarily defended by violence. Scarcity implies violence. But from this angle, private property is the least amount of violence. Abolition of private property leads to gang warfare, nationalization of private property leads to civil war and brutal repression. So now I think yes, private property is rooted in violence, but this is the best we can have, every other option leads to more violence.

And probably there are a few more problems. But they are practical, not metaphysical.

There is a reason for violence-minimization being such a good method of determining what is better: a parent will take basically any other bargain if the other option is that his or her children will be killed. People risk their own lives for things, but not their kids.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - Well, I don't agree, because I am a Christian.

Your analysis is actually a type of Liberalism, hence Leftism. This is because its bottom line is materialist and hedonic - you are saying that the 'worst thing' is suffering in this world; and that policy should be organised to attain the minimum of suffering. This is standard Liberal-Left philosophical theory, as articulated by the likes of Judith Shklar or Richard Rorty.

For a Christian, there must be an attempt to include the eternal perspective; such that - although suffering is a Bad Thing, nevertheless mortal life is not, and should not be, organised to minimise suffering.

This is reflected in the choices of good parents to sacrifice the comfort and convenience of their children in hope of enhancing their long term well-being - but the long term may never come; and in general the sacrifice is definite while the benefit may not happen - so by this theory no suffering ever can be justified.

Furthermore, in the ages of faith, and even nowadays in the religious parts of the world, there are many example of parents sacrificing their chidlren's well being and even life for religious goals. This may be (perhaps usually is) mistaken in specific instances - but it shows that this is quite 'natural to humans'.

For example, in tribal societies, the coming of age ceremonies often cause intense suffering, even death - yet most parents insist on their chidlren participating.

In other words, I think your assumption ("every solution that leads to less long-term violence is almost always better.") is mistaken - both as an empirical observation and as an ethical ideal. Indeed, I believe this assumption is the main positive reason for totalitarianism.

Dividualist said...

Sorry, I cannot accept the notion that all materialism is necessarily leftist and only transcendence counts as rightist. In NRx circles we made this compromise: God of Nature or Nature. At any rate, order is rightist and chaos is leftist. So what you can claim is that the Christian Right is a subset of the Right, the subset that focuses on transcendent order. But there are other kinds of order. Yes, you can claim that the order that is not divinely inspired cannot stand, but you cannot claim there were honest rightists still trying that. Basically I think Sulla types. Charles Maurras types, who wanted to restore a Catholic monarchy but he was himself atheist for decades, only converted later. And similarly there was and is a Christian Left that tends towards chaos: all kinds of crazy super-protestantism, gnosticism, and so on. There is an overlap between Christianity and order, yes. But you cannot claim the whole of the order-oriented side of politics i.e. the Right.

Suffering is different from violence and you as a Christian should now it better than me. Violence is a moral evil, has a moral dimension that suffering in itself doesn't (incidentally, I just had a painful tooth extraction an hour ago, the memory of suffering is still fresh and I don't see any kind of moral judgement going on about it anywhere in my mind).

This makes your examples rather invalid. Not maximizing well-being, accepting or even imposing suffering is entirely different from violence, because of the moral dimension. This
painful tooth extraction, I suppose, would have worked as a (rather low-key) torture for extracting information, but it wasn't torture, it was medical help to a patient. The difference is obvious, both practically and morally. A painful coming of age ritual or making a kid become a monk is intended to increase their well-being, socially or spiritually, not to harm them. On the other hand, when the totalitarian regime shoots someone in the neck, they might claim they have altruistic motivations towards the working class or something, but they obviously don't have it towards that person, that it is obviously harm, violence, not some kind of a tough love.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Div - Well, as I said, I don't accept the coherence of a secular 'Right'. I spent a fair bit of my mini-book Thought Prison explaining my reasons (which I think I originally derived from reading Nihilism by Euugene Rose, later Fr Seraphim Rose). I amplified this in the book Addicted to Distraction.

In a nutshell, any ideology that aims at optimising worldly gratification (of any kind) is Left - because it shares that goal, and the differences are merely diagreements of the best means to that end. The only alternative (i.e. the only real 'Right') is to organise society in light of transcendental, religious, 'not of this world' goals.

(So no all religions are 'Right' - e.g. Zen Buddhism is a this-worldly, hence Leftist, religion.)

I concluded this mainly in light of the way that the Left has changed over the past 200 plus years. I began as a very keen Leftist, and had a strong interest in the history of the ideas - and it became clear that Leftism was an open-ended project, continually evolving; and defined by opposition rather than a political aim; justified by psychology (or inferred psychology) rather than by any other goal.

At root, Leftism is a rejection of the religious perspective, a rejection of the idea that this life is (in any way) a preparation for eternity, a rejection of the reality of the immaterial. This has been so successful that most Christians have absorbed it, and it holds the realm of public discourse unopposed.

wrt suffering and violence - there is a distinction of intent, and intent is primary and defining. But the intent must be inferred; and cannot be settled 'objectively'. Indeed, much of public discourse consists of arguments about intent.

So intent is a metaphysical assumption, standing outside of public discourse and emorical research - or else directly known by spiritual means unrecognised by modernity.