Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Angina Monologue 27

December 30th, 2015 by Vader

Christmas seems to bring out the child in all of us.

So perhaps it should not have surprised me to find His Majesty playing with Tinker toys this morning.

Don’t be daft, Lord Vader. Surely you have enough scientific training to recognize a molecular model kit.

This particular molecular model is part of a quartz crystal. Amazing things, crystals. They are the most common example of order arising spontaneously in the natural world. Each crystal consists of a unit cell, endessly repeated at the points of a Bravais lattice, producing the long-range order characteristics of true solids. Perhaps I should be less astonished that some of the weak-minded attribute all manner of mystical powers to well-crystallized solids.

You’ve been to Santa Fe again.

I can’t seem to help myself. It’s a long trip, but the sense of smug superiority I feel when surrounded by rich fools who simultaneously believe in New Age mysticism and modern progressivism makes the trip worth it.

And these progressives, in turn, get a warm feeling of moral superiority when they see visitors who look like Republicans. Win-win!

I am not, of course, a Republican, except in the narrow sense that I have registered to vote in Republican primaries, as a choice of the lesser evil.

I’ve been hearing a lot more of that since Trump became the front runner.

As excellent a reason as any.

This business of order arising spontaneously fascinates me. Other examples include organic evolution and the formation of pretty much everything from small planets to the fabric of galaxy clusters. More interesting still is the claim that social order can arise spontaneously, without the need for a powerful central government.

There must be social order, after all. Anarchy is perhaps the only thing worse than tyranny.

Spoken like a true tyrant.

My reputation in that regard is badly exaggerated. Do recall that slavery was greatly reduced under my rule, while small-scale entrepreneurship in such industries as gas mining benefited from what might be called benign neglect. Or, at least, until organized crime moved in, and it became necessary for you to leave a garrison. Organized crime, under the alias “secret combinations”, is identified as the bane of decent society in your chosen mythology, is it not?

His Majesty is of course not a believer, but I am occasionally surprised by his knowledge of Mormon doctrine.

It matters little whether one calls it the mob, or gangs, or organized crime, or tangs, or terrorist cells. “Secret combinations” is actually a pretty good description of the phenomenon, so I will shamelessly borrow it.¬† I wonder if the author of the Book of Mormon — whoever you believe him to be — meant to make the point that secret combinations are particularly detrimental to a spontaneous political order. I believe the criticisms one occasionally hears of my political record¬† ignore the fact that I was seeking to put an end to secret combinations. (The claim that I was myself behind these combinations is of course just another Hollywood libel.)

It seems to me that society can be organized in one of three ways.

The first and oldest is the spontaneous organization of increasingly large groups of humans along tribal lines. The tribal organization of early humans did not arise from any central plan; it was simply the extension of the family to increasingly large communities. The kind of law that arises in such communities is solidly rooted in the sentiments of its members, reflects long experience, and practically worships precedents. It is, in fact, rather like the English common law, albeit at an earlier stage of development. The social organization itself, to a surprising extent, is voluntary.

The problem with early tribal societies is that they were bloody. There was internecine conflict which some anthropologists believe accounted for the deaths of upwards of 3% of the entire population each year.

No Golden Age?

Pfffth. Rousseau was intellectually an ass, as well as a fairly repulsive human being.

The second form of government arose as a conscious attempt to tame the excesses of the first. This was central government based on the state rather than the tribe. It claimed legitimacy from its sacral nature: Religion and state were one and the same. The rise of the state was successful in significantly reducing tribal conflict and increasing human prosperity and happiness.

But, just as the emergence of the first living cells was followed almost at once by the emergence of the first viruses, the third form of government appeared. This is government by secret combination. And perhaps “government” is not quite the right word; secret combinations are more of an antigovernment, by which I mean an imitation government in direct competition with legitimate government. I am not myself convinced that secret combinations can long exist other than as a parasite on a legitimate central government. If the central government collapses, the society reverts to tribalism rather than being taken over by the combinations.

Secret combinations seem to arise quite spontaneously, just like tribal government; little boys like to form secret clubs, which are harmless enough in themselves, but lead to societal disaster if the boys fail to outgrow them. This, incidentally, is the best argument in favor of the Boy Scouts, and the most trenchant criticism of the Order of the Arrow. But secret combinations are not a form of tribal government. Their ties are not along family lines; in fact, an important characteristic of secret combinations is that they abandon all ties of kinship. Remember Cain and Abel in your own mythology.

If you wanted to invoke my mythology, you should have reached a different conclusion: Secret combinations arose well before central government, as a threat to the original tribal organization of society. And it is the rise of secret combinations that led to internecine warfare in tribal society, not the tribal society itself.

Now that’s an interesting thought. I’m skeptical, but it makes an interesting alternate narrative.

This narrative implies that central government arose as a response to secret combinations, and not the other way around. And it strikes me as a case of fighting fire with fire — meeting the threat of the violent, non-tribal organization of secret combinations with an organization that was also non-tribal and claimed its own monopoly on violence.

An interesting question occurs to me. Just how far can the tribal organization be extended? Does the spontaneous, voluntary organization of human society have a natural ceiling?

At the time of the Founders, it was believed, with considerable historical evidence, that large democracies were inherently unstable. The Founders therefore carefully avoided making the United States a large democracy; they made it a federal republic instead, and made clear the distinction between a republic and a democracy — previously somewhat vague. The people do not rule in the United States; that would be mob rule. The government is created by the people, and answerable to the people, but it is distinct from the people.

This has not always worked out well; for example, there was some unpleasantness around 1860 that left a mark. But for the most part, the experiment succeeded brilliantly. It demonstrated that a largely spontaneous, voluntary organization of society — now dignified by the term laissez-faire, since everything sounds more dignified in French — might not have any natural ceiling after all.

I didn’t think you cared for the French.

I don’t, but I love caustic sarcasm.

The history of the 20th Century was largely a struggle over two visions of government. The first is the totalitarian vision of government, which is a modern version of sacral central government with an ideology in place of a religion.

It is important to understand what we mean by an ideology. It is an intellectual version of religion, though not necessarily theistic in character. This in turn makes it important to understand what is meant by an intellectual.

An intellectual is a person who seeks to make a living by dealing in ideas. This requires intelligence, but not that much, and it is a mistake to confuse an intellectual with an intelligent person. Many intelligent people are not intellectuals, and some intellectuals are not that intelligent. Furthermore, there is nothing particularly ennobling about dealing in ideas; as with all vocations, the honor is in pursuing the vocation skillfully and to righteous ends. Quite a few intellectuals pursue their vocation to evil ends.

One of the most important activities of intellectuals is articulating knowledge. Now, if the study of economics teaches us anything, it is the importance of inarticulate knowledge. Intellectuals do us a great service when they study inarticulate knowledge and convert it into articulate knowledge. Unfortunately, intellectuals are peculiarly susceptible to humbug, perhaps because correct articulation of inarticulate knowledge is hard, requiring actual genius; and it is much easier to simply articulate “knowledge” out of nowhere. This humbug is enormously harmful to society.

One of the worst kinds of humbug is ideology, which is the articulation of political “knowledge” out of nowhere. It stands in contrast with Burkean conservatism, as articulated (heh) so well by Russell Kirk, which is the rejection of ideology in favor of seeking to value and understand the inarticulate knowledge embodied in custom, tradition, and the common law.

Traditional religion is a rich depositary of inarticulate knowledge; it is no surprise that humbug intellectuals generally reject it in favor of ideology. But they substitute a religion of their own, full of articulation and devoid of much knowledge, and unconstrained by a belief in any actual higher Power (except History, a god created in their own image that is remarkably pliant in their hands.)

This leads, almost inevitably, to totalitarian government.

The alternative is laissez-faire government, whose sole legitimate purpose is to put down secret combinations and enforce a minimal rule of law under which spontaneous, voluntary social order can prosper. This does not necessarily mean a small government; a laissez-faire government compelled to fight Hitler, such as the United States approximated in 1941, may of necessity become very large — for the duration of the emergency. Then it emulates Cincinnatus and George Washington and dismantles itself. This actually happened, more or less, in the late 1940s, and it had much to do with the postwar boom in America. England chose the other path, and was still under rationing clear into the 1950s. To be fair, British industry had suffered significantly under wartime bombardment, as had the British merchant marine; but the British moral collapse after the war was less economic than political.

Regardless. A laissez-faire government is limited, which is not necessarily the same as small, though there is certainly a positive correlation. A laissez-faire government may enforce a regulatory structure; must, in fact, enforce a regulatory structure. But it is not a regulatory structure based on central planning; it is a structure based on putting down fraud and internalizing external costs, in order to create a level field for voluntary human industry.

Alas, the 20th century struggle ended with only a partial victory for laissez-faire. Which is now well on the way to being extinguished in the United States, to thunderous applause. Like Peter doubting when he saw the boisterous wind and waves, and beginning to sink, we are doubting the ability of society to spontaneously and voluntarily organize itself on a large scale as we face some interesting challenges in the 21st century. We are losing faith, and sinking.

That sounds remarkably like religious talk, Your Majesty.

I worship no one but myself. That helps me keep clear of a great many intellectual conceits.

His Majesty fumed at his molecular model, which showed little evidence of long-range order; then focused his attention on his computer screen. It would appear that quartz has a remarkably complicated crystal structure for such a simple compound, and His Majesty was having some difficulty building up the structure correctly. It might have something to do with the fact that the oxygen dihedral in quartz is 144 degrees, but he purchased oxygen models with a 120 degree dihedral.

And I was left to ponder on how, for all his clear vision, His Majesty remains in thrall to the greatest intellectual conceit of all.



Comments (6)
Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: , , ,
December 30th, 2015 15:53:03

December 30, 2015

May his tinker toys–or molecular models–thrive.

An interesting model of warfare at the tribal stage is that its precipitated by young men, mostly against the will of their elders. I don’t have enough evidence to validate the model generally. But it seems to hold true at least on the American frontier, which, in the absence of much of a central government, was often effectively just a tribal area on both sides. The young men would be ticked that settlers were settling, would be angry with their elders who already had status in the tribe and didn’t see a need to jeopardize it, so the young men would go commit an atrocity. The more atrocious the better, really, because if its atrocious enough the rest of the tribe has to worry that even handing you over to the English for punishment isn’t going to be enough to stop them from retaliating. So the young men present the tribe with the choice of turning over their kith and kin to be killed by foreigners, with no guarantee that peace will come from it, or to embrace the war. The result was often war. Jacob Hamblin ran into this dynamic with the Navajo. The established chiefs would be for peacemaking and keeping agreements, but the young men would group together and try to disrupt things.

On the idea that central governments arose in response to secret combinations–I’m reminded of the concept of the “stationary bandit.” Government is arguably a somewhat safer version of the same menace its meant to oppose. It’s smallpox vaccination the old-fashioned way.

December 31, 2015

I have been reading Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, an absolutely fascinating (and depressing) read. He makes the same point: It was the young men of Europe who rushed off eagerly to World War I, while their seniors wrung their hands with worry.

Pecos Bill
December 31, 2015

I’m recollectin’ what Mr. Madison and his amigos were purty durn worked up over the hazard of political fractions. I reckon a political fraction is purty much a secret combinashun with a P.R. agent.

December 31, 2015

Not quite, Mr. Bill. A secret combination may an extreme form of political faction, but political factions that are at least nominally law-abiding and above board are probably both unavoidable and capable of being domesticated.

December 31, 2015

A gospel scholar once told me that an essential element of secret combination, the evil kind, is murder. Specifically, murder to get gain.

Note the body count around Bill Clinton and JFK.

January 1, 2016

Closely related is the commoditization of human life. I have not studied it in depth, but I suspect the rise of slavery was connected with the rise of secret combinations.

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