June 22, 2022

Yoram Hazony on Conservatism & Mattias Desmet on Totalitarianism

I’ve been learning more about political theory (my own education being underserved). Yoram Hazony’s history of conservatism is pretty rich and I’m struck by some of the synchronicity between that and the James Kunstler podcast (who interviewed Mattias Desmet). 

Hazony makes the point that the discovery of the proper laws in Anglo-American history was somewhat irrational in that it leaned to some extent on the empirical history of laws for good or bad but also on the humbleness of admitting our limits, not changing laws radically even if we don’t necessarily know the rational basis for them. 

This was polar opposite of John Locke, who figured that it was all a rational exercise involving objectivity that is available to all rational men. A universal view of rights that transcended nation and peoples instead of laws that needed to be customized to a given population.  One gets the sense that Locke assumes men are machines, interchangeable widgets. 

Desmet, from the podcast, is the author of “The Psychology of Totalitarianism” and has this to say: 

Western societies usually live in a very mechanized environment which leads them to be more vulnerable to “mechanistic thinking” - a view of men in the world that believes that the entire universe is a kind of machine, a material machine, a set of molecules and atoms that all interact with each other according to the laws of mechanics and in which we believe this entire machine can be perfectly understood in a rational way.  

That view became more prominent and this style of thinking makes people stop “resonating” with the world around them. Until I was 25 years old I really believed that all the nature and facts around me behaved in a strictly logical and rational way. I couldn’t imagine that facts could be irrational. Once I dived deep into the mathematical backgrounds of systems theory I suddenly was capable of seeing that nature and the things around me are just not rational. That’s paradoxical! Systems theory showed in a strictly rational way that all complex dynamical systems and most phenomena in nature behave strictly irrational, an irrational number in mathematics. From then on I understood most of reality we can only understand by emphatically resonating with it.... Max Planck, the famous physicist said, “When it comes to atoms, language can only be used as poetry.” 

Reminds me of Walker Percy’s assertion that understanding humans as machines is a core problem of our time. 

Desmet goes on to shed light on how "science" is now a joke (hint: majoritarian religions don't fare well):  

"Every virtue that gets institutionalized in the end lapses into its opposite I think. Universities should produce truth but in the end produce appearances and lies. The police department should protect us and yet become a danger in itself. Hospitals should help us stay healthy but in the end they make us sick. The church should represent model virtue but in the end it becomes the center of perversion, if we don’t watch out. Every virtue that gets institutionalized has a tendency - not always - to lapse into its opposite. 

"I think that is what happened to Western science. Science started as a discourse of a minority through which a minority went against dogmas and prejudices that existed in society and at that moment science was represented as an openness of mind and it was very fruitful. The early scientists had the courage not to know for a moment and they received new knowledge. 

"As a result of all the wonderful achievements of science, science became the dominant discourse in Western society. And then something strange happened - every discourse that changes from a discourse of a minority into the dominant discourse loses its qualities of truth-speech. That’s so strange!   I think I understand why now: if a discourse becomes a dominant discourse, if a majority of people believes in a certain set of ideas, this set of ideas just becomes the privileged instrument to manipulate society. And that’s what happened with science, that’s how it became perverted.  In 2005 we had the replication crisis which showed that up to 85% of all academic publications are radically wrong - full of mistakes, sloppy views and methods and the result of fraud. Up to 85% the conclusions of medical studies cannot be reproduced. That is huge! 


"In my understanding, the root cause of our anxiety [in society] is situated at the level of our obsession with the rational and logical understanding itself. If you think logically, you really connect one logical idea to another and build a closed wall of logical argumentations around you and without knowing it you isolate yourself from the world. I became aware that rational understanding can never bring you in touch with the essence of life and nature around you." 

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