Conservatism is like a mountain peak rising above the clouds. The light glints on it and we realize, surrounded by the ruins of the delusions of our fellow citizens, that conservatism gives us an option to certain failure. But we do not yet understand it.
As a non-ideological viewpoint, Conservatism needs a different form of study to be understood. Liberalism and ideology reward the memorization of talking points and arguments; conservatism requires an understanding more like biology or mechanics. Liberalism teaches thoughts, conservatism teaches how something works.
Conservatism will always suffer a disadvantage to liberalism because liberalism is at its core a very simple ideal. Despite people my whole life telling me how “complex” liberalism is, I find no complexity in it. It is the idea of egalitarianism and the mechanisms required to make that happen, and to make it appear as if it should happen. It is more a study in salesmanship than ideas.
On the other hand, conservatism is like that mountain peak. You already know the shape of the mountain upon having glimpsed the peak, because the peak recapitulates the shape of the mountain. A mountain is a natural phenomenon and thus cannot be understood in isolation, however, because it is interconnected with all else in the way of the organic. Thus a background in the philosophy surrounding the mountain is needed, while the mountain itself is grasped immediately.
As part of that philosophical background, this blog periodically attacks the — wait, are you asleep? wake up please — less tangible and immediate topics. Sitting through theory about how reality is put together may not be your bag, and that’s understandable, but it’s useful for putting conservatism into context. Some of our favorite targets are the thing-in-itself, the many notions of materialism, deconstruction and rationalism. Today we attack the latter.
This definition of rationalism perhaps works the best:
a view that reason and experience rather than the nonrational are the fundamental criteria in the solution of problems
Reason and experience will answer everything, we are told. And yet those things are ill defined. Who benefits from vague definitions? Those who want to manipulate them. In this case, “reason” has come to mean a prototypical force for deconstruction. It is yet another way of projecting human needs upon the world.
For example, reason tends to phrase questions in discrete and or binary ways. Is the house red, yes or no? In reality, the house is painted a shade of red, which means the whole thing isn’t red. It has degrees of red on the areas that are painted. It may even have some walls that are another color.
This becomes important when we reach questions such as “free will.” Do we have free will? That’s a yes/no question when really we should be talking about degrees of choice. Some people can make wider ranges of choice than others. They do not need perfect free will, only the ability to pick better over worse.
Rationalism encourages this kind of deconstruction, but also urges us to use justification. When asked for the reasons why we do things, we are forced to put our actions into reason form. This requires a justification, or an explanation relying on values the audience recognizes already. It does not actually explain why we think we did what we did, only how we use social logic to explain why we should have or could have.
Most people can’t handle even a fraction of this, and it’s cut short here, because it is both abstract and assaults one of the underlying notions to our society. It’s sensible to believe logic can help us. However, “reason” is “human reason,” or a projection of human needs onto the data, when we should do it the other way around and adapt as humans to what the data indicates is true.