The Visceral Code

Examples of social decline, especially in the UK

The Visceral Code

Postby Keith » 06 Oct 2013, 07:02

For a couple of years I have been fascinated by an essay called 'The Future of Tradition' by Lee Harris. I'm not sure it is fair to ask people here to read the whole essay since it is long. The main point is that we have been involved in a culture war since the 1960s and the previous two culture wars in history - the rise of the Sophists in ancient Greece and the French Enlightenment - were both won by the advocates of doing things differently and of reason, and both wars ended in societal disaster.

I am no historian and have no idea about either of these two previous culture wars, nor whether you can blame the French Revolution and Terror on the French Enlightenment. Even so, these ideas seem to chime well with Gavin's presentiments that something bad might be coming our way.

Lee Harris's point is that you can't defend tradition with reason. As soon as you do then you have already subjugated tradition to an inferior position: if something is reasonable you don't need to defend it with tradition and if tradition isn't reasonable, you can scrap it. In both cases tradition becomes redundant.

His point is not simply that there is a certain amount of accumulated wisdom in tradition, nor that we aren't clever enough to foresee the consequences of discarding tradition. I think what he is arguing is that tradition becomes second nature to the people of a society and doing things according to tradition starts to just 'feels right'. He calls this the 'visceral code'. Once you start questioning traditions and argue that simply because something feels right this doesn't make it right, you are left only with reason as a basis for building your society. Whether you can build a good society on reason alone, as the Communists tried to do and as Sam Harris (not Lee) advocates, is questionable.

I'm sure Sam Harris would say that the Communists thought they were being reasonable when, in fact, they weren't, and I'm sure he would be right. But how can we know that our own reasonable society will be any better than what we have now? Couldn't we just leave things alone since most huge wrongs have already been righted?

Though I like many of Sam Harris's ideas, I just don't see how reason can tell us how to act. If I can get away with killing my neighbour and stealing his animals and farm, why isn't it reasonable to do so? Is it really reason that stops me from killing my neighbour or is it some visceral sense that it is simply wrong?

Anyway, I would love to hear people's opinions on this. You can find the essay 'The Future of Tradition' by Lee Harris here: http://www.hoover.org/publications/poli ... ticle/8020
Keith
 
Posts: 48
Joined: 21 Sep 2013, 12:23

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Caleb » 06 Oct 2013, 08:16

Keith: Regarding your first two paragraphs, you might want to look at the so-called reactosphere or Dark Enlightenment, particularly Mencius Moldbug's seven (?) part essay How Dawkins Got Pwned.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Mike » 06 Oct 2013, 10:15

Keith wrote:His point is not simply that there is a certain amount of accumulated wisdom in tradition, nor that we aren't clever enough to foresee the consequences of discarding tradition. I think what he is arguing is that tradition becomes second nature to the people of a society and doing things according to tradition starts to just 'feels right'. He calls this the 'visceral code'. Once you start questioning traditions and argue that simply because something feels right this doesn't make it right, you are left only with reason as a basis for building your society. Whether you can build a good society on reason alone, as the Communists tried to do and as Sam Harris (not Lee) advocates, is questionable.


There is a great deal of truth to this, in my view. It's a position that I've gradually been coming around to myself over the past ten years or so.

Essentially, you can take a similar approach to the question of reason v. tradition as the Austrian economic school does to the question of central planning v. unfettered free markets: namely, that what we consider to be a rational approach to a particular social problem, based on what we consider to be first principles and a correct calculation therefrom, is in fact a judgement based on necessarily imperfect information. Tradition, like the free market, is the result of an organic process (and is therefore, crucially, not impervious to change) which reflects input from countless human sources and a gradual sifting of the useful from the harmful. A spontaneously emerging order, in other words - one of Hayek's central ideas. And this doesn't mean that it's perfect, not by any means, but it is the best that an imperfect society has been able to muster.

The Western tradition post-Enlightenment was supple enough to give scope for the abolition of slavery, the opportunity for scientific knowledge to accumulate without the fear of religious persecution (a massively underestimated factor in the rise of the West, I think), and other genuine advances. But these were all organic changes. Given moral force by the abstract reason of the Enlightenment, of course, but not imposed from above.

Incidentally, in answer to your hypothetical question on another thread about slavery as a tradition, there's a simple and effective (I believe) answer: if you take a given society (Ancient Rome, let's say) at a period when slavery is normal, an essential part of the social order, and accepted as the "natural" way of things by everyone in the society with practically zero scepticism, would immediate emacipation of all slaves be the right thing to do? According to first principles, of course it would. It would also give rise to anarchy, bloodshed on a massive scale, and swift societal collapse.
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Keith » 06 Oct 2013, 13:15

Mike, I like the analogy of the free market versus central planning. I hadn't thought of it. Since I'm a big fan of Milton Friedman, who largely follows the Austrian School of von Hayek, then it was nice to think of Smith's 'invisible hand' perhaps also applying to tradition, as well as the free market.

I suppose it is hard to know what constitutes organic change and what 'centrally planned' change. Does reason always belong to the latter rather than the former? Perhaps what we are both arguing for is more gradual change, though quite how you would introduce, say, gay marriage gradually, I don't know.

Interesting idea about the Romans and their slaves. But does that mean that you have to keep the system of slavery going forever, just so as to avoid the inevitable (but temporary) bloody upheaval that would follow its abolition?
Keith
 
Posts: 48
Joined: 21 Sep 2013, 12:23

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Mike » 06 Oct 2013, 22:22

Keith wrote:Interesting idea about the Romans and their slaves. But does that mean that you have to keep the system of slavery going forever, just so as to avoid the inevitable (but temporary) bloody upheaval that would follow its abolition?


Not at all, I meant that once the general opinion in a society has shifted to the point that there is a groundswell of opposition to a long-standing tradition, that is the right time for it to change. And it may still be those in charge who sanction the change, but (in my view) usually such changes start occurring more informally throughout the society before they get, as it were, passed into law.

Gay marriage is a tricky one. The rational side of me sees no particular issue with it, but I've recently come to think that since the campaigning for it has been so incredibly shrill and frankly bullying, that indicates to me that there isn't broad support for it in society at large, since otherwise such heavy-handed methods of persuasion shouldn't be necessary. And giving in to bullying tactics, as a society, is not particularly healthy. (It's interesting, incidentally, that the very best argument in favour of gay marriage is never, ever made.)
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Elliott » 07 Oct 2013, 00:21

I don't want to steer the thread off-course, but the question of gay marriage is an interesting one, in terms of how it has played out over the last few years.

It almost seems amazing now, but just five years ago there was no clamour for gay marriage. You could actually say that you weren't pro gay marriage, quite openly and without fear of condemnation. Now if you say it, you can expect to be at best politely disagreed with, most likely treated like an amusing dinosaur, or at worst insulted. And I am convinced this has happened, not because of any "grass roots" support for the idea, but because of politicians shifting the Overton window.

That Cameron and Obama and others have occupied themselves with this issue while their countries go down the tubes is truly galling. I think they do it because it is a "safe" thing that they can achieve during their terms. It's an easy issue to sway the public on, using tried and tested liberalist techniques of emotional blackmail (ie. if you disagree with it, you're a fascist). Five years ago I'm guessing most of the public weren't for gay marriage, but the majority have been very easily shamed/guilt-tripped into submission. Politicians have invented the need, controlled the narrative, and delivered the policy they wanted to deliver and altered society in the way they wanted to alter it. It was exactly the same when the smoking bans came in; a tiny number of fervent activists were mobilised and professional lobby groups financed, and the governments implemented their desired policy apparently supported by "public opinion".

It does indeed take a lot to alter public opinion enough to justify the sacking of a tradition, but the government has plenty of our money to do it with.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Keith » 07 Oct 2013, 11:23

Mike, what is the best argument for gay marriage. I can't believe you left that statement hanging there like that! Is it so obvious that I should guess it?

Elliott, strangely enough the issue of gay marriage is not off topic. I believe Lee Harris wrote the essay partly in response to calls for gay marriage. Despite being gay himself, Harris is wholly against gay marriage. He feels that the good will of the masses, without whose work and tolerance the experiments of the intellectuals would not be possible, has been pushed far enough. Gays already have enough protection and enough equality. It simply isn't necessary to insist the public get on board with an idea that should never have been dreamed up in the first place. The whole thing is driven by the manic desire for equality in domains where it simply doesn't belong.
Keith
 
Posts: 48
Joined: 21 Sep 2013, 12:23

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Mike » 07 Oct 2013, 11:36

Keith wrote:Mike, what is the best argument for gay marriage. I can't believe you left that statement hanging there like that! Is it so obvious that I should guess it?


My apologies, I was actually in a hurry to do something else at the time and left that post looking a bit enigmatic. ;-)

To my mind, the best argument for it is simply that, like heterosexual marriage, it would provide a powerful, silent incentive for couples who are going through a rough time to stick it out, in the hope that even if the thrill of love has died off somewhat, the value of companionship and a shared history can make up for that in the long run. And in the long run this can be beneficial, ot put it mildly.

I'm convinced of this because of recent experiences in my own life. In the last three years, three friends of mine, all in their sixties, all gay, all living on their own after giving up on long-term relationships, and all profoundly lonely as a result, have all died suddenly. All three probably would not have died had help been summoned immediately (two of the three weren't discovered until days afterwards). Now the thought occurred to me on all three occasions: if they had been able to marry their partners, would this have provided enough of a spur for them to work through the bad times in the hope of a future growing old together and supporting each other? I don't know the answer to that one, but I suspect that the mere status of marriage might have made some difference.

And why is this argument never made? Because it underscores the value of marriage as an institution, which is something the left has sought to undermine for a very long time. So the rhetoric is instead all about "equality, rights, non-discrimination", which misses the point in my view.
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Keith » 07 Oct 2013, 14:00

Nice idea. Also interesting was your view that liberals are doing their utmost to enable gays to marry while at the same time undermining the relevance of marriage as an institution.

You may be right that the status of being married might possibly have tipped the scales in favour of one of your three friends deciding to try to make a go of things with his partner. I have also always chalked that up as one of the pros of marriage, without ever really believing it would apply to me. There is nothing better than sharing the same space as someone you are getting on with and nothing worse than sharing that same space with someone you are constantly arguing with or who gets on your nerves. I'm not a great fan of the idea of 'working at' a marriage. It makes it sound a little too much like going down a mine for 16 hours a day.
Keith
 
Posts: 48
Joined: 21 Sep 2013, 12:23

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Yessica » 08 Oct 2013, 07:11

Keith wrote:There is nothing better than sharing the same space as someone you are getting on with and nothing worse than sharing that same space with someone you are constantly arguing with or who gets on your nerves.


Keith,

on the one hand I agree with that. On the other hand: don't you think that if two people constantly quarrel is very much in their own hands / a choice?

I'm not a great fan of the idea of 'working at' a marriage. It makes it sound a little too much like going down a mine for 16 hours a day.


Are you married?

While I would never tell people to stay in a marriage that is hell I think that most marriages need a little working on from time to time. With that I mean compromise, trying to learn more about your partner and why he acts the way he or she does, acepting that he or she is not a prince or princess of a fairytale but a human being including shortcomings and imperfections.

In my very limited experience people who think you do not need to work on a marriage are the ones that are a) not married or b) divorced after two years.

Then of course there may be a few happy people who have a marriage that picture perfect that they never ever need to work on it. One really has to comment them on that... but I do not think it works like this for most people. That is an unrealistic expectation to my mind.
Yessica
 
Posts: 426
Joined: 22 Mar 2013, 17:11

Re: The Visceral Code

Postby Keith » 08 Oct 2013, 11:24

Yessica, I think constant quarrelling points to something more serious that is wrong in the relationship. In my very limited experience, I can put up with almost any nonsense if I like the person enough but the smallest thing will irritate me if I have gone off that person. Thus quarrelling is no more in our own hands than is the ability to love someone you don't love. As I said, I believe quarrelling is a symptom of a larger problem, not the problem itself.

You're absolutely right, I'm not married. Since I have no desire 'to work at a marriage' then it would be remiss of me to enter into a marriage too lightly. I would rather be alone than work at a relationship. However, I know that some people feel differently. However, neither do I want a fairytale marriage, with my wife and I running hand in hand and barefoot across some south Asian beach at sunset, or sipping brandy by candlelight in some overpriced restaurant while gazing into each other's eyes. No, I want an unassuming life, with an unassuming woman, but a woman I don't have to force myself not to quarrel with.
Keith
 
Posts: 48
Joined: 21 Sep 2013, 12:23


Return to Social Decay

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron

User Menu

Login Form

This site costs £100 per year to run and makes no money.

If you would like to make a small contribution to help pay for the web hosting, you can do so here.

Who is online

In total there is 1 user online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 1 guest (based on users active over the past 5 minutes)
Most users ever online was 175 on 12 Jan 2015, 18:23

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest
Copyright © Western Defence. All Rights Reserved.