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More adventurous than the average bear

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Thursday, May 03, 2018

Chesterton's Fence

Daniel Jordan:

"There is a wisdom to cleaning your room before tackling the ills of the world.

But I can think of another way to learn the hard lesson.

Buy a junk car, but one that actually works. Take the whole thing apart piece by piece.

Next challenge, put the car back together and make sure it works as good as it did before you took it apart.

You will learn that is is incredibly easy to deconstruct things, but very difficult by comparison to make things work as good as it did before you started mucking about. People as a rule are very good at tearing things apart, we are woefully bad at making complex things work that are beyond our understanding.

Cars are, for all of their complexity, remarkably simple compared to societies.

Maybe people that work in the trades aren't as simple minded as you think, and they are wiser than you know. There is this elitism among certain academic types that permeates through society and looks down at the working class. The kind of elitism that smugly believes that it knows better, but contains none of the humility to admit its faults and gaps in knowledge or wisdom.

I do not trust post modern, deconstructionist types. It takes almost no intellectual prowess to point ones finger at the ills of the world and label things as flawed or imperfect, like the junky car that our society is. Flawed, but running. I remember when I was 14. We all do. The people who can only attack the civilization we have as evil and flawed but give zero credit to the enormous steps we have taken and the monumental human achievements of our past and present have thrown objectivity out the window. Such people if given any power would have no clue what to do with it and would predictably only make things worse despite any claims of good intentions."


Or, as GK Chesterton put it:

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunaties who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. We might even say that he is seeing things in a nightmare."

--- The Drift from Domesticity

(quoted as: "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.")
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