Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sentimentalism, Conservatism, and Human Nature

The question is: What gives the basis for conservative values? Why not pursue a fetish as the progressive does? Well, the progressive is really a tool of a kleptocrat, but leaving that aside, can't he quixotically pursue his ideology's fulfillment as reasonably as the conservative pursues the preservation of the large set of values which he cherishes?

The progressive usually bases his views in "reason," portraying conservatism as irrational bias, prejudice, or unreflectively dogmatic tradition. In fact, there is not the slightest reason underlying progressive ideology, as the finest attempt at justifying it, that of Rawls, failed miserably. But what is the basis for conservatism?

The basis is human nature. Yet, this citation is subject to the charge of dogmatism unless it is explained in a manner which shows it to be rational. "Because that is your nature" is not good enough.

The British sentimentalist tradition of Butler and Hume provides the basis for conservatism and human nature. Human nature is a set of desires which creatures like us are liable to have, and it delimits this set as distinct from desires which we are not likely to have. It implies certain institutions, traditions, and values because it renders these practically consistent with the fulfillment of our desires, whereas others are practically inconsistent with it.

Run through a list of time-honored values in your mind. Those are values which make it likely that we will fulfill our desires, whereas the rejection of those makes it unlikely that we will fulfill them. Run through a list of desires people naturally have. Now think of ones which people are not likely to have, such as cutting chunks of their flesh out of themselves, lying in utter torpor all day every day, avoiding the learning of language, preferring not to have liberty, etc. Of course, people do sometimes desire these things in unusual circumstances as means to fulfill another desire, as in the case of surgery in which flesh must be removed in order to fulfill the desire to live. So, what I'm asking you to do is to consider non-instrumental desires. It is obvious that some are natural and others are not, where by "natural" I mean nothing more than the likelihood of human beings' harboring these desires.

Of course, there is some flexibility and variation in human nature. There is a variety of possible cultures which allow for the fulfillment of desires natural to us. Streams of culture in ancient China, India and Greece are paradigmatic examples. People have flourished in these streams. Perhaps there is a ranking of the effectiveness of each in the order of flourishing, but that is beside the point. While there may be better and worse amongst good cultures, some cultures and values are obviously bad. Bad cultures do not allow for flourishing because they do not allow for people who are liable to have the desires we are liable to have to fulfill those desires. We should also note that the boundaries of a traditional stream of values are not rigid. The variation in human nature allows for individuals within one traditional stream to imagine new possibilities within it. Yet these boundaries are not absolutely permissive, constrained as they are by human nature.

The basis, then, is as the sentimentalists showed. There is nothing that we should count as a reason for a certain action other than that one desires to do it; and if an action is most fulfilling to one's desires then it is reasonable to do this action. What would you take as evidence that an action was reasonable to do even though it was not practically consistent with your set of desires? What would you take as evidence that it was not reasonable to do even though it was so fulfilling? Nothing. Conservatism sees high moral theory as anathema, and rightly so. Most such theory is nonsense used in progressive causes. But the sort of moral theory I'm laying out here maintains precisely that we should conserve our time-honored values because it is what we prefer to do and because they are ours. This is abundantly sufficient reason and No other reason can be necessary.

This is the rational basis of conservatism. It is human nature, which is a set of desires human beings are likely to have. "Human nature" here is not a meaningless term wielded by dogmatists but an empirically discoverable set of facts about what human beings are liable to desire. The rational basis, then, of conservatism is the close coupling of what one prefers - what is practically most consistent with one's desires - and what it is rational for one to do.

Leftism, fascism, progressivism, and so forth, are enamored of little bits of human nature, such as the desire for poverty relief, in utter neglect of all the other components of our nature. The are so obviously lacking in basis that one inspects for something else underlying them, which, as I've suggested a couple of posts below is kleptocracy. They are frauds. When a man stands to gain enormous power and wealth from you by titillating you with fulfillment of one or two of your desires - for example your desire to gratify your envy - you are about to be defrauded. If you haven't the character formed in traditions conservative of a large set of values which are able to fulfill a much larger set of your desires, you will not recognize the fraud. The drug addict, the Jim Jones cult follower, the alcoholic, the sex addict, and the kleptocrat's sheep are all characters stunted in formation, liable to fetishize only a few human desires and so unable to manage the fulfillment of the many desires whose fulfillment is necessary for good lives.