Via positiva / Via negativa

Via positiva                        -                      Via negativa
Is                                         -                      Is not
Closed                                -                      Open

[...] reasoning has not evolved in the ways that we think it has – as a process of ratiocination that is intended independently to figure out the world. Instead, it has evolved as a social capacity – as a means to justify ourselves to others.

We want something to be so, and we use our reasoning capacity to figure out plausible seeming reasons to convince others that it should be so. However, together with our capacity to generate plausible sounding rationales, we have a decent capacity to detect when others are bullshitting us.

In combination, these mean that we are more likely to be closer to the truth when we are trying to figure out why others may be wrong, than when we are trying to figure out why we ourselves are right.

This superficially looks to resemble the ‘overcoming bias’/’not wrong’ approaches to self-improvement that are popular on the Internet. But it ends up going in a very different direction: collective processes of improvement rather than individual efforts to remedy the irremediable.

The ideal of the individual seeking to eliminate all sources of bias so that he (it is, usually, a he) can calmly consider everything from a neutral and dispassionate perspective is replaced by a Humean recognition that reason cannot readily be separated from the desires of the reasoner.

We need negative criticisms from others, since they lead us to understand weaknesses in our arguments that we are incapable of coming at ourselves, without them being pointed out to us.

we likely radically underestimate the importance of the invisible and non-individually lucrative contributions that people make to the collective benefit by improving others’ ideas.

[Henry Farrell]
'In praise of negativity'

There are many things without words, matters that we know and can act on but cannot describe directly, cannot capture in human language or within the narrow human concepts that are available to us. Almost anything around us of significance is hard to grasp linguistically - and in fact that more powerful, the more incomplete our linguistic grasp.

But if we cannot express what something is exactly, we can say something about what it is not - the indirect rather than the direct expression. The “apophatic” focuses on what cannot be said directly in words, from the Greek apophasis (saying no, or mentioning without mentioning).

The method began as an avoidance of direct description, leading to a focus on negative description, what is called in Latin via negativa, the negative way […] Via negativa does not try to express what God is - leave that to the primitive brand of contemporary thinkers and philophasters with scientistic tendencies. It just lists what God is not and proceeds by the process of elimination.

The greatest - and most robust - contribution to knowledge consists in removing what we think is wrong - subtractive epistemology […] we know a lot more what is wrong than what is right, or, phrased according to the fragile/robust classification, negative knowledge (what is wrong, what does not work) is more robust to error than positive knowledge (what is right, what works).

So knowledge grows by subtraction much more than by addition - given that what we know today might turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily.

[…] since one small observation can disprove a statement, while millions can hardly confirm it, disconfirmation is more rigorous than conformation.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p.301, 303

Related posts:


In physics, metastability is a stable state of a dynamical system other than the system's state of least energy.

A ball resting in a hollow on a slope is a simple example of metastability. If the ball is only slightly pushed, it will settle back into its hollow, but a stronger push may start the ball rolling down the slope.


You can have something that’s very fragile but stays for a very long time.

In phase transitions - between gaseous, liquid, and solid forms - there is a thing called a metastable state. The material is already at the right temperature for, say, water to start boiling, but because there is no disturbance to it, it stays in the previous transition. If you then drop a little speck into this kettle of metastable water, it will instantly start boiling.

I think societies when they become stabilised or inactive in this way, they’re in a metastable state. And they can last there for centuries. It’s very similar to a dry forest.

[Samo Burja]
Live Players w/ Samo Burja (June 18, 2020)

Related posts:

The Adjacent Possible

The concept of the adjacent possible originates from Stuart Kauffman and his work on biological evolution.

Kauffman was particularly interested in the origins of order and the mechanisms that drive self-organization. His findings are broadly applicable to any complex adaptive system, be it natural like the biosphere, or human-made like cities, the economy, or technology.

Kaufman investigates how the actual expands into the adjacent possible. The actual describes the system under investigation in its current state, with all its components and interconnections. The adjacent possible contains all the elements outside but near that system; those represent the opportunities for the current system to expand by building new connections and turning those elements into system components.

[...] expanding any realm always requires leaving its current boundaries in order to explore ‘the possibilities out there‘. But rather than chasing the most extreme or distant possibilities, successful exploration focuses on the immediate vicinity of the current boundaries: Expansion can then occur by naturally ingesting nearby possibilities, by a short stretch of the realm’s new boundaries.

Therefore, the adjacent possible is the target of successful exploration and expansion.

Innovation is no exception from that general observation. To expand the realm of what we can do, innovation explores the wellspring of novelty in the adjacent possible. This concept of the adjacent possible could therefore help us frame our evolving understanding of innovation and gain new insights.

[Ulf Ehlert]
'Exploring the adjacent possible – The origin of good ideas'

So how do you change a system which is entrained around perverse behaviour?

And this applies to culture change in organisations as much as it does to wider society change [...] From my anthro-complex perspective the following stages are necessary:

1. Map the current dispositional state of the system.  What are the attractors in play, how stable are they?

2. Within those maps identify what Kauffmann [termed] the adjacent possible, patterns of behaviour adjacent to the present but in a more desirable position.  Radical change is hard and may have unintended consequences, smaller shifts are easier to achieve.

3. If there are no adjacent possibles, or the nature of system is such that the energy cost of escape is too great, then you need to take actions that disrupt or perturb the existing attractor mechanisms to allow the adjacent possible to emerge.  Until that happens change is very difficult.

[Dave Snowden]
'The adjacent possible'

The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD [...], is best understood as the zone of the closest, most immediate psychological development of the children that includes a wide range of their emotional, cognitive, and volitional psychological processes. 

In contemporary educational research and practice, though, it is often interpreted as the distance between what a learner can do without help, and what they can do with support from someone with more knowledge or expertise ("more knowledgeable other").

The concept was introduced, but not fully developed, by psychologist Lev Vygotsky during the last three years of his life. Vygotsky argued that a child gets involved in a dialogue with the "more knowledgeable other" such as a peer or an adult and gradually, through social interaction and sense-making, develops the ability to solve problems independently and do certain tasks without help.

Following Vygotsky, some educators believe that the role of education is to give children experiences that are within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning such as skills and strategies.

'Zone of proximal development'

"I spent years trying to get my early things published,” Rosch recalls. “Journals would send them back, finding fussy little things wrong with them, and saying, ‘Everyone knows this isn’t true.’”

Why did they balk?

“If something is going to be new, it has to be exactly in the right degree of difference from what’s going on for people to say, ‘That’s interesting,’” she says. “If it’s too new, it isn’t understood.”

[Daniel McNeill & Paul Freiberger]
Fuzzy Logic, p.88

On-record / Off-record

On-record                           -                      Off-record
Formal                                -                      Informal
Official                               -                      Unofficial
Narrow                               -                      Wide
Expert                                -                      Amateur
Limited                               -                      Unlimited
Solid                                   -                      Liquid
Safe                                    -                      Dangerous
Sterile                                 -                      Fertile
Centre                                 -                      Periphery

We need to understand what’s going on, and you can only understand a complex system by understanding the small particular parts of day-to-day interaction.

For humans those are the anecdotal data of the school gate, the street stories, the beer after work; not the grand narratives of workshops but the day-to-day anecdotes of people’s existence.

[Dave Snowden]
Complexity, citizen engagement in a Post-Social Media time | David Snowden | TEDxUniversityofNicosia

I know that I would not like to be held scientifically responsible for many loose spoken sentences that I have uttered in conversation with scientific colleagues.

But I also know that if another person had the task of studying my ways of thought, he would do well to study my loosely spoken words rather than my writing.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry'), p.230

On-record is the official line; it is certified. Certification gains its significance, in part at least, from reputations. And when the reputation of the speaker, or institution, is at stake, risks are less likely to be taken. Thus, certified knowledge - and on-record talk - has a certain stiffness to it. It is a museum of sorts, a place where formerly loose and lively things go to die - i.e. categorised (fit in to a wider system), viewed, and referenced.

The zone of off-record, on the other hand, is a sort of playground - a creative space where ideas and concepts are treated loosely, roughly - are tinkered with and explored. We can loosen up in off-record, and needn't act as responsibly (needn't 'act' at all). Accordingly, it can also be a dangerous space, and is not for the fainthearted.

On-record is found in books and respectable publications, in the output of venerable institutions. Off-record is found in comments sections, forums, subreddits, and informal conversations ‘around the water-cooler’ (do these still happen?). When you put a suit on you become on-record; when you discard your tie and undo your top-button you go off-record.

Identity is important in the zone of on-record; passports are thoroughly checked by border security, and you best hope you have the right credentials. Having a friend from inside write a letter of recommendation can also help with admission. Off-record is often pseudonymous or anonymous - here it is what is said that is important, not who is saying it.

The more strict are the border protocols of on-record, the more information is likely to be rebuffed. This information falls through the cracks and becomes ‘lost’ or liminal knowledge. It takes the form of bodges, hacks, and folk remedies.

The more restrictive, or ossified the zone of officialdom becomes, the more relevant off-record becomes. When on-record is corrupted (or gamed) then off-record may become a more reliable source of truth. Instead of looking to the centre, we begin to search the periphery. But there are dangers at the edges; we expose ourselves to uncertified material, outlandish theories.

On-record information comes ready-packaged - we don't need to check facts and references because we can safely assume this has been done for us. This is the whole point of on-record, after all. When handling off-record material we need to be more cautious - discernment is crucial in this zone.

Most information aspires to be on-record, but some makes a virtue of being off-record ('underground', 'edgy', 'esoteric').

Efficient / Inefficient

Efficient               -          Inefficient
Engineer              -          Artist
Specialist             -          Generalist
Narrow base        -          Wide base
Closed                 -          Open
Unconscious        -          Self-aware
Order                   -           Chaos

Complex situations/interactions cannot be standardised. Standardisation implies known territory. In complex circumstances, an abstracted/wide view is more advantageous than a concrete/narrow view.

Modern football bought efficiency at the price of character. When pundits say that the modern game is "better" what they really mean is that it is more efficient. 

A strong mechanical metaphor characterizes [process engineering] approaches. The focus is on efficiency, stripping away all superfluous functions in order to ensure repeatability and consistency.

The engineering process takes place in a specific context and once achieved, shifts in that context require the engineering design process to be repeated to some degree before efficiency can be achieved again. Radical shifts in context may make the entire approach redundant or lead to catastrophic failure.

Manufacturing plant, payment systems in a bank and the like are all closed systems that can be structured and standardized without any major issue. We can in effect define best practice. However when we apply the same techniques to systems with higher levels of ambiguity, for example customer interactions, sales processes and the like we encounter more difficulties.

[Some of these] arise from the impossibility of anticipating all possible situations and shifting context. In these cases we need a different focus, one of effectiveness in which we leave in place a degree of inefficiency to ensure that the system has adaptive capacity and can therefore rapidly evolve to meet the new circumstances. 

Examples would include apprentice schemes of knowledge transfer, maintaining mavericks or misfits, allowing people to take training in subjects with no apparent relevance to their current jobs and providing more delegated authority.

There is nothing wrong with an engineering approach; there are many things that need high degrees of order and control. However taken to excess, and it has nearly always been so taken, it sacrifices human effectiveness, innovation and curiosity on the altar of mechanical efficiency .

[Dave Snowden]
'Multi-ontology sense making: a new simplicity in decision making'

The exact opposite of redundancy is naive optimisation.

I tell everyone to avoid attending (orthodox) economics classes and say that economics will fail us and blow us up […] The reason is the following: It is largely based on notions of naive optimisation, mathematised (poorly) […] and this mathematics contributed massively to the construction of an error-prone society.

An economist would find it inefficient to maintain two lungs and two kidneys: consider the costs involved in transporting these heavy items across the savannah. Such optimisation would, eventually, kill you, after the first accident, the first “outlier.”

Also consider that if we gave Mother Nature to economists, it would dispense with individual kidneys: since we do not need them all the time, it would be more “efficient” if we sold ours and used a central kidney on a time-share basis.

Almost every major idea in conventional economics […] fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called ‘perturbation,” when you change one parameter, or take a parameter heretofore assumed by the theory to be fixed and stable, and make it random.

For instance, if a model used for risk assumes that the type of randomness under consideration is from Mediocristan, it will ignore large deviations and encourage the building of a lot of risk that ignores large deviations; accordingly, risk management will be faulty.

For another example of egregious model error, take the notion of comparative advantage […] behind the wheels of globalisation. The idea is that countries should focus, as a consultant would say, on “what they do best” (more exactly, on where they are missing the smallest number of opportunities); so one country should specialise in wine and the other in clothes, although one of them might be better at both. But do some perturbations and alternative scenarios: consider what would happen to the country specialising in wine if the price of wine fluctuated

Mother Nature does not like overspecialisation, as it limits evolution and weakens the animals.

Globalisation might give the appearance e of efficiency, but the operating leverage and the degrees of interaction between parts will cause small cracks in one spot to percolate through the entire system. The result would be like a brain experiencing an epileptic seizure from too many cells firing at the same time. Consider that our brain, a well-functioning complex system, is not “globalised,” or, at least, not naively “globalised.”

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 312-3

A typical strategy of companies and corporations is to eliminate redundancies and degeneracies in the name of minimizing costs.

This is the major reason why almost all companies have great difficulty adapting to change, and eventually disappear. Just as biological systems pay a cost for robustness and evolvability foregoing efficiency for long-term persistence, so too should we demand this of our institutions.

[David Krakauer & Geoffrey West]
'The Damage We’re Not Attending To'

This is hint to a central problem of the world today, that of the misunderstanding of nonlinear response by those involved in creating “efficiencies” and “optimisation” of systems.

For instance, European airports and railroads are stretched, seeming overly efficient. They operate at close to maximal capacity, with minimal redundancies and idle capacity, hence acceptable costs; but a small increase in congestion, say 5 percent more planes in the sky owing to a tiny backlog, can give rise to chaos […]

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 274

[Economics] appeals to a very rigid mind. If you build everything around homoeconomicus, which is this model that clearly doesn’t represent how human beings actually are in the world, you tend to select for very rigid thinkers who have a particular penchant for finding […] lies that people tell themselves and each other. 

So famously a professor of economics suggested that no-one should give gifts because its much more efficient to give cash. 

And that’s what economists have historically liked to do […] relentlessly and unflinchingly they apply tools of utility-maximisation […] and try to turn humans into robots and make the robots maximally efficient. 

[Eric Weinstein]
‘Eric Weinstein: WTF Happened in 1971: An INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE Birthday Extravaganza 🎉 !’

The most typical example is that of Protestantism, in which simplification takes the form both of an almost complete suppression of rites, together with an attribution of predominance to morality over doctrine; and the doctrine itself becomes more and more simplified and diminished so that it is reduced to almost nothing, or at most to a few rudimentary formulas that anyone can interpret in any way that suits him. 

Moreover, Protestantism in its many forms is the only religious production of the modern spirit, and it arose at a time when that spirit had not yet come to the point of rejecting all religion, but was on the way toward doing so by virtue of the anti-traditional tendencies which are inherent in it and which really make it what it is. 

At the endpoint of this 'evolution' (as it would be called today), religion is replaced by 'religiosity', that is to say by a vague sentimentality having no real significance; it is this that is acclaimed as 'progress', and it shows clearly how all normal relations are reversed in the modern mentality, for people try to see in it a 'spiritualization' of religion, as if the ‘spirit' were a mere empty frame or an 'ideal' as nebulous as it is insignificant. 

This is what some of our contemporaries call a ‘purified religion', but it is so only insofar as it is emptied of all positive content and has no longer any connection with any reality whatsoever.

[René Guénon]
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 77-8

“I knew a man who used to lecture frequently, on subjects requiring much thought […] He told me that he would become aware of himself perhaps once or twice during the lecture, and at the end of it, as he sat down, he would find himself surprised that it was he who had given the lecture. Yet he fully remembered everything.”

This is a very good description of a man acting like a programmed machine, implementing a programme devised some time ago.

He, the programmer, is no longer needed; he can mentally absent himself. If the machine is implementing a good programme it gives a good lecture; if the programme is bad, the lecture is bad. We are all very familiar with the possibility of implementing ‘programmes', e.g. when driving a car and engaging in an interesting conversation at the same time.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.81

Unlike Bellamy, for whom military discipline implied an intricate division of labor and the efficiency provided by complete regimentation, Sorel believed that war nourished a "passionate individualism."

In the wars of the French revolution - his favorite example, next to Homeric Greece, of military life at its best - "each soldier considered himself as an individual having something of importance to do in the battle, instead of looking upon himself as simply one part of the military mechanism committed to the supreme direction of the leader."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.310

Today, thanks to the spectroscope and other tools of the analytical laboratory, they can analyze these medicinal herbs and isolate their active medical ingredient. In so doing, scientists believe that they have accounted, in a scientific way, for folk remedies - they are biologically active chemicals adulterated by a variety of other substances.

How much better, therefore, to administer a 100 percent pure drug that has been synthesized in the laboratory than an unpleasant concoction of herbs and roots. Scientific knowledge has advanced beyond the superstition of folk medicine.

Again, what is really happening is not the perfection of knowledge or the replacement of myths by objective knowledge, but really an encounter of two worldviews.

To approach medicine herbs only in terms of biologically active molecules is to see them in only one dimension. Within the dimensions of chemical analysis this may be correct, but it leaves out the other dimensions of spirit, energy, and relationship.

The nature of Native medicine lies both in the plant and the ceremony, in the way that plant was picked, the exchanges and relationships that were entered into that would lead to its use, and in the relationship between that plant and other people in the circle and the relationship to the sick person.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.120, 132-3

Related posts:

Old / New

New                         -                     Old
Top Down                -                     Bottom Up
Nurture                    -                      Nature
Constructivist           -                     Essentialist

The left is characterized by a preference for change and reform, a commitment to liberty and equality, an orientation toward progress and the future, while the right is the party of order and tradition, hierarchy, and a disposition to valorize the past.

Whether described as left vs. right, blue vs. red, or liberal vs. conservative, this basic division seems to capture a permanent divide between two fundamental human dispositions, as well as two worldviews that are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of political options.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.43


The modern political divide of the past three centuries has essentially boiled down to these two camps: whether the past is a source of wisdom or an era of horrors; whether culture and tradition were fortifications against decline or barriers to progress; whether politics was the means to preservation of imperfect decencies and virtues, or a tool of human perfectibility.

[Patrick J. Deneen]

Things that have worked for a long time are preferable - they are more likely to have reached their ergodic states. At the worst we don't know how long they'll last.

Remember that the burden of proof lies on someone disturbing a complex system, not on the person protecting the status quo.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 371

We have polluted for years, causing much damage to the environment, while the scientists currently making these complicated forecasting models were not sticking their necks out and trying to stop us from building these risks […] - these are the scientists trying to impose the solutions on us.

But the skepticism about models that I propose does not lead to the conclusions endorsed by anti-environmentalists and pro-market fundamentalists. Quite the contrary: we need to be hyper-conservationists ecologically, since we do not know what we are harming with now.

That’s the sound policy under conditions of ignorance and epistemic opacity. 

To those who say “We have no proof that we are harming nature,”  a sound response is “We have no proof that we are not harming nature, either”; the burden of proof is not on the ecological conservationist, but on someone disrupting an old system.

Furthermore we should not “try to correct” the harm done, as we may be creating another problem we do not know much about currently.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 316

So the reader can see how the ancients saw naive rationalism: by impoverishing - rather than enhancing - thought, it introduces fragility. They knew that incompleteness - half knowledge - is always dangerous.

Many other people than the ancients have been involved in defending - and inviting us to respect - this different type of knowledge. First Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and political philosopher, who also countered the French Revolution for disrupting the “collected reasons of the ages.” He believed that large social variations can expose us to unseen effects and thus advocated the notion of small trial-and-error experiments (in effect, context tinkering) in social systems, coupled with respect for the complex heuristics of tradition.

Also Michael Oakeshot, the twentieth-century conservative political philosopher and philosopher of history who believed that traditions provide an aggregate of filtered collective knowledge. 

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 257-8

In Greek legend, there were two Titan brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus means “fore-thinker” while Epimetheus means “after-thinker,” equivalent to someone who falls for the retrospective distortion of fitting theories to past events in an ex post narrative manner.

Optionality is Promethean, narratives are Epimethean - one has reversible and benign mistakes, the other symbolises the gravity and irreversibility of the consequences of opening Pandora’s box.

You make forays into the future by opportunism and optionality […] It is a way - the only way - to domesticate uncertainty, to work rationally without understanding the future, while reliance on narratives is the exact opposite: one is domesticated by uncertainty, and ironically set back. You cannot look at the future by naive projection of the past.

All this does not mean that tinkering and trial and error are devoid of narrative: they are just not overly dependent on the narrative being true - the narrative is not epistemological but instrumental. For instance, religious stories might have no value as narratives, but they may get you to do something convex and antifragile you otherwise would not do, like mitigate risks.

English parents controlled children with the false narrative that if they didn’t behave or eat their dinner, Boney (Napoleon Bonaparte) or some wild animal might come and take them away. Religions often use the equivalent method to help adults get out of trouble, or avoid debt. But intellectuals tend to believe their own b***t and take their ideas too literally, and that is vastly dangerous.

Consider the role of the heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations - what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology.

Accordingly, wisdom you learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 211-13, 215

It isn't always the future that people want; they are often, as it were rather ambivalent about the Promised Land. Indeed, it isn't the future they most want, it is the past.

Psychoanalysis, like education [...] is an attempt to lure people into the future, to tempt them to grow up.

What the analyst and the teacher and the political revolutionary come up against is people's refusal to sacrifice an apparently known pleasure for an apparently unknown one. Better the devil you know, because if you know him he can't be the devil.

[Adam Phillips]
Side Effects ('Learning to Live'), p.152, 154

Societies, like animals, evolve.

The ones that survive spawn memetic descendants – for example, the success of Britan allowed it to spin off Canada, Australia, the US, et cetera. Thus, we expect societies that exist to be somewhat optimized for stability and prosperity. I think this is one of the strongest conservative arguments.

Just as a random change to a letter in the human genome will probably be deleterious rather than beneficial since humans are a complicated fine-tuned system whose genome has been pre-optimized for survival – so most changes to our cultural DNA will disrupt some institution that evolved to help Anglo-American (or whatever) society outcompete its real and hypothetical rivals.

[Scott Alexander]
'Meditations on Moloch'

Changes in the formula, if they are not to destroy the society, must be gradual, not abrupt. The formula is indispensable for holding the social structure together. A widespread skepticism about the formula will in time corrode and disintegrate the social order. 

It is perhaps for this reason, half-consciously understood, that all strong and long-lived societies have cherished their “traditions,” even when, as is usually the case, these traditions have little relation to fact, and even after they can hardly be believed literally by educated men. 

Rome, Japan, Venice, all such long-enduring states, have been very slow to change the old formulas, the time-honored ways and stories and rituals; and they have been harsh against rationalists who debunk them. 

This, after all, was the crime for which Athens put Socrates to death. From the point of view of survival, she was probably right in doing so.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p. 90

In all these writings, what interests us is not the routine polemics, the case against the abomination of mob rule and Jacobin slogans, but rather the counterrevolutionary argument in principle. This is invariably the rejection of the idea that law and the state could result from the methodical activity of individual human beings.

All important state institutions, and especially the constitutions that were altered so frequently during the French Revolution, are said to result automatically and in the course of time from prevailing circumstances and the nature of things. These institutions are the rational expression of such circumstances, and not their creator. Therefore, it would be absurd to propose to force things to conform to an abstract scheme.

The nation and society are not overnight products of doctrinaire "fabrication.” On the contrary, they are formed over long periods of time, in such a way that the individual persons involved could not survey them or even make an estimate of them.

On this point, Burke – in general phrases that are often powerfully rhetorical and emotional – stresses the growth of the national community that spans generations. De Maistre still sees the individual entirely from the perspective of the theological ideas of the classical age: in his insignificance in the presence of the transcendent providential power that governs us and in whose hands the active heroes of the Revolution appear to de Maistre as automatons.

Finally, as early as 1797, Bonald, a great systematic thinker, explains what is at stake with splendid precision: the opposition between liberal individualism and social solidarity. According to Bonald, the bearer of historical activity is not the individual person or the mass of individuals. It is instead society, which lives in history and constitutes itself according to definite laws, and which really constitutes the individual person as such.

All three - in a vehement rejection of the metaphysicians and the philosophers, Rousseau in particular - agree that the activity of the individual, based on rationalistic maxims, can create nothing. It can only delay, destroy, and abrogate the natural course of things; but it cannot produce anything of permanence.

[Carl Schmitt]
Political Romanticism, p. 110

The historical situations in which romanticism and romantics can arise are epochs in which an antiquated culture confronts a new one […] At such watersheds of world history, persons in whom feeling and imagination outweigh clear thinking, spirits of more warmth than light, always turn backward, to what is old.

From the unbelief and prose that they see gaining ground around them, they will long for the world of the old faith and ancestral customs, a world that is agreeable and rich in forms; and they will attempt to restore this world for its own sake and, wherever possible, beyond itself as well.

But as children of their time, they too are dominated more than they know by the new principle that is repugnant to them. 

That is why the old ways as they are reproduced in and through them are no longer the pure and primordial old ways. On the contrary, they are blended in many respects with what is new, and in this way they reveal the new in advance.

[David Friedrich Strauss]
Julian the Apostate: The Romantic on the Throne of the Caesars

Social facts, then, are entirely continuous with biological facts. They are part of life. This shows how misleading the metaphor of 'social construction' is if it is taken in its strong sense as meaning that we are omnipotent in inventing social practices.

Customs are not just an arbitrary product of our whim. Searle's central target is indeed the sense of artificiality and exaggerated power that this excessive constructivism suggests - the impression that it gives of human decisions taking place in a vacuum and dictating terms at will to the rest of the cosmos. He points out that human beings are not a separate entity detached from the natural world.

Different academic disciplines, therefore, should not behave as if they each owned their own private universe. Physics, literary criticism, political theory, geology and ethics should all notice that they share a world.

‘The traditional opposition that we tend to make between biology and culture is as misguided as the traditional opposition between body and mind … Culture is the form that biology takes.’

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.192-3

Echoing Giambattista Vico, an early critic of the deracinated rationalism of Descartes and Hobbes, [Wendell] Berry defends what Vico named the sensus communis.

Such “common knowledge” is the result of the practice and experience, the accumulated store of wisdom born of trials and corrections of people who have lived, suffered, and flourished in local settings. Rules and practices based on a preconceived notion of right cannot be imposed absent prudential consideration and respect toward common sense.

This is not to suggest that traditions cannot be changed or altered, but, as Burke argued, they must be given the presumptive allowance to change internally, with the understanding and assent of people who have developed lives and communities based upon those practices.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.81

For that reason a real knowledge of the past, in Brandt's words, “requires something more than knowing how people used to make candles or what kind of bed they slept in. It requires a sense of the persistence of the past: the manifold ways in which it penetrates our lives.”

This persistence, of course, is what the nostalgic attitude denies.

Nostalgia evokes the past only to bury it alive. It shares with the belief in progress, to which it is only superficially opposed, an eagerness to proclaim the death of the past and to deny history's hold over the present. Those who mourn the death of the past and those who acclaim it both take for granted that our age has outgrown its childhood. Both find it difficult to believe that history still haunts our enlightened, disillusioned maturity.

Both are governed, in their attitude toward the past, by the prevailing disbelief in ghosts.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.118

In this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we (English) are generally men of untaught feelings: that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree; and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them.

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that the stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.

Instead of “exploding general prejudices,” philosophers would "better employ their sagacity,” Burke thought, “to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them.” Prejudices guided conduct more reliably than reason, by making a "man's virtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts.”

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.129

In the conservative sociological tradition, the tenacity of custom was seen as a useful check against innovation.

For Lynd, "folkways" meant "cultural lag." Habits and "values" failed to keep pace with economic and technological change. Americans retained the mental habits of pioneers even though their habits were now governed by elaborate organisations and complicated technologies.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.427

For this reason, Brownson opposed any theory of progress that implied a rejection of past. 

Having sided in his early writings with "efforts for progress," he proceeded to take his readers "aback by telling them they must not run away from the past." The future could no more be dissociated from the past than the spirit could be dissociated from the body.

"It is idle to war against the past. No man can be a reformer who has no tradition. Divest us of all tradition, of all that we have derived from the past... and we were mere naked savages." Brownson's unwillingness to choose between reform and conservatism or to equate political radicalism with a repudiation of the past was typical of the populist tradition.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.194

History has to have a happy ending.

“Are there no calamities in history?" Brownson asked in 1843. "Nothing tragic? May we never weep over the defeated? ... Must we always desert the cause as soon as fortune forsakes it, and bind ourselves to the cause which is in the ascendant, and hurrah in the crowd that throw up their caps in honor of the conqueror?"

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.221

Related posts:

Part / Whole

Part                            -                       Whole

Juarrero points out how the quantum level - those things that "go without saying" - affects the everyday level. For the most part we can ignore it, especially within a cohesive culture in which everyone shares "the same historical background and contextual setting." 

But when humans seek to explain each other, neither comes context free. Each brings their own case history, their own biases, prejudices, etc. 

[…] absolutism of conduct can be secured only by means of an absolutism of doctrine, by means of the doctrine that good and evil traits and actions are inherently distinct from one another and that their character does not depends on the character of those who manifest and engage in them on each particular occasion.

[…] this approach creates the view that “there are actions that are good and bad in themselves,” whereas in reality, according to Nietzsche, “an action in itself is perfectly devoid of value: it depends on who performs it,” for what reason and with what effect.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 213-14

[General systems theory’s] fundamental claim is that when living things are embedded in an orderly context, properties emerge that are not present when the things exist as isolated individuals. 

Picking up where Darwin left off, systems theory continued the revival of relational or secondary properties by reminding us that context matters.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.108

[…] Zeleny (1980, 20) suggests that the lesson to be learned from the theory of autopoiesis is precisely "the lesson of holism." 

Far from being an inert epiphenomenon, the dynamics of the autopoietic whole serve as the orderly context that structures the behavioral characteristics and activities of the parts, a clear formulation of one of Bunge's (1979, 39) characteristics of a holistic point of view: the dynamics of the global level control the functioning of components at the lower level. 

The whole as whole most assuredly acts on its parts: self-cause - but not, as some would have it, qua other - one part forcefully impressing itself on another. Instead, complex adaptive systems exhibit true self-cause: parts interact to produce novel, emergent wholes; in turn, these distributed wholes as wholes regulate and constrain the parts that make them up. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.130

I propose that explaining complex systems, including human beings and their actions, must […] proceed hermeneutically, not deductively. 

In textual interpretation "the anticipation of meaning in which the whole is envisaged becomes explicit understanding in that the parts, that are determined by the whole, themselves also determine this whole" (Gadamer 1985, 259). Interpreters must move back and forth: the whole text guides the understanding of individual passages; yet the whole can be understood only by understanding the individual passages. 

This interlevel recursiveness, characteristic of hermeneutics, is thus "a continuous dialectical tacking between the most local of local detail and the most global of global structure in such a way as to bring both into view simultaneously" (Geertz 1979, 239). The interlevel tacking of the hermeneutic "circle” reproduces the self-organization of complex dynamical processes. By showing the dynamics of complex adaptive systems, hermeneutical narratives are uniquely suited as the logic of explanation of these strange-loop phenomena.

The logic of explanation of hermeneutics is therefore appropriate for explananda whose very nature is a product of that strange circle of whole and part. 

In contrast to covering laws and algorithms and deductions therefrom, that is, interpretation or hermeneutics reproduces the very logic of nature's open, adaptive dynamics. Like intentional actions, interpretations are characterized by strange-loop, interlevel relations and are, in consequence, essentially contextual and historical. Interpretations therefore explain by showing those nonlinear, interlevel processes at work. 

The threat of relativism lurking in the hermeneutic circle has often encouraged philosophers to reject it.

By drawing the explainer and the explanation into its strange loop, hermeneutics appears to forestall the possibility of any claim to truth and certainty. If we live in a dynamical universe, the novelty and creativity such complex systems display do indeed signal the end of eternal, unchanging, and universal certainty. 

Unlike modern science, however, dynamical systems theory provides an understanding of both the construction and integrity of wholes that does not dissolve their unity at that level. According to Gadamer (1985), the resolution to the circularity of hermeneutics is found in Heidegger's recognition that “the circle of the whole and the part is not dissolved in perfect understanding but on the contrary, is most fully realized"

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.223

Nineteenth-century hermeneuties failed to take into account that the explainer, as much as the phenomenon explained, is embedded in time and space. Twentieth-century students of hermeneutics, in contrast, have finally come to appreciate that interpretation is doubly historical. 

The phenomenon being explained has a history, and so must be understood within that history; but interpreters, too, are situated within history, within a tradition, which their interpretation both reflects and influences. 

This double historicity affects the pragmatics of explanation. When the subject is planetary orbits and billiard balls, that is, when interactions can be ignored, the role of interpreter recedes in importance; not so when the subject is either quantum processes or human actions. Dynamical systems have therefore brought the interpreter back into the pragmatics of explaining action (if not into the metaphysics of explanation, as quantum processes have).

In dynamical terms, the tradition in which interpreters are situated is itself an attractor. As social beings, interpreters are embedded in its dynamics. As Gadamer (1985, 216) notes, "[t]he anticipation of meaning that governs our understanding of a text is not an act of subjectivity, but proceeds from the communality that binds us to the tradition." Jurors as well as the rest of us are located within a tradition, which frames our interpretation. This fact, which even the popular media harp on, need not lead either to paralysis or to the deconstructionist's conclusion that any interpretation is as good as any other. As Umberto Eco (1990, 21) insists and our discussion of top-down constraints has shown, context constrains the range of plausible interpretations. "A text is a place where the irreducible polysemy of symbols is in fact reduced because in a text symbols are anchored in their context."

Following Eco's lead, I submit that two contexts provide an action's "literal" meaning: the historical background and contextual setting in which the action was performed, and the context established by the "small world" of the action itself. Two contexts likewise frame the meaning of a hermeneutical explanation: the historical background and contextual setting in which the interpretation is offered, and the context established by the "small world" of the interpretation itself. 

When both the explainer and the agent whose action is being explained share the same historical background and contextual setting, interpretation usually proceeds smoothly. Not so in a society whose members bring with them radically different backgrounds and perspectives. 

If explainers are as much situated in a context (a tradition) as the phenomenon they are trying to explain, bringing this background-that-goes-without-saying to the foreground is a valuable contribution to the pragmatics of explanation: it helps determine how much the explanatory context itself has contributed to the explanation. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p. 237

The individual organism [...] is not fundamental to life, but something that emerges when genes, which at the beginning of evolution were separate, warring entities, gang together in cooperative groups, as 'selfish co-operators'.

The individual organism is not exactly an illusion. It is too concrete for that. But it is a secondary, derived phenomenon, cobbled together as a consequence of the actions of fundamentally separate, even warring agents.

Perhaps the subjective ‘I’, the person that I feel myself to be, is the same kind of semi-illusion ... The subjective feeling of 'somebody in there' may be a cobbled, emergent, semi-illusion analogous to the individual body emerging in evolution from the uneasy co-operation of genes.

[Richard Dawkins]
Unweaving the Rainbow, 308-9

[…] atomistic doctrines rest on the idea that competition between separate units is the ultimate law of life.

[They] ignore the obviously equal importance of co-operation between organisms - and between the parts of organisms - at all levels. [They] therefore depend on a rather odd piece of metaphysics, namely the 'reductive' assumption that certain parts are, in some sense, always more real and significant than the whole they belong to.

What can it actually mean to suggest that the things that we directly deal with are in some sense less real than certain selected parts – or alleged parts - of them?

This mysterious point is seldom spelt out but it appears to centre on causality. The suggestion is that only these special parts are causally active. They are spontaneous, self-moving movers, while the wholes that they compose are mere passive outcomes of their activity.

Dawkins' wording here suggests that this is a historical truth - that these parts actually existed on their own before these wholes and gave rise to them. But this is not literal fact; it is a piece of symbolism. Memes, if they can be said to exist at all, certainly do so only as emergent aspects of human social life. Even their most fervent supporters have not suggested that they pre-existed as spiritual beings who originally produced that life.

'Reality' turns out to contain many different kinds of pattern at different levels. No one of these discoveries therefore should be expressed in the dramatic metaphysical language of reality and illusion.

Different ways of thinking co-exist and are appropriate on different scales. No one of them dominates or invalidates the others.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p. 4, 5, 8

The Pintupi are dominated by immediacy. Nothing seems settled unconditionally.

Thus, a man who deeply desired that a particular girl be married to him could, through intimidation, force her relatives to break a promise of bestowal to another.

A similar context-dependence may underlie their relations with outsiders.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.17

Fragile / Resilient

Fragile           -           Resilient
Optimism      -           Hope

[...] what makes a complex adaptive system resilient is its learning and transformational capabilities, not its ability to merely resist a shock.

As phrased by Folke: “[R]esilience is not only about being persistent or robust to disturbance. It is also about the opportunities that disturbance opens up in terms of recombination of evolved structures and processes, renewal of the system and emergence of new trajectories”

Resilience enables the system to cushion the effects of unforeseen disturbances by absorbing the shock and adapting to changing conditions, thus bouncing not back but forward to a more advanced level better suited for future hazards.

[Rasmus Dahlberg]
'Resilience and Complexity: Conjoining the Discourses of Two Contested Concepts', Culture Unbound, Vol. 7, p. 545, 553

Consider all the different manifestations of pressure on a system, which Taleb calls the “disorder brothers”: uncertainty, variability, imperfect knowledge, chance, chaos, volatility, disorder, entropy, time, the unknown, randomness, turmoil, stressors, error.

If something doesn’t “like” any one of these, it’s not going to like the others (and will therefore be short-lived before failure). On the other hand, if something is made stronger by these, it is antifragile—and therefore also displays the “Lindy” effect (the longer it lasts, the longer it is expected to continue lasting).

The insights are useful to check the ambitions of modern power. Should we trust a model that recommends engineering drastic change in the atmosphere, or should we defer to and protect the Earth’s proven, inscrutable systems of climactic balance? Should we tinker with DNA to design a new kind of pest-resistant crop, or should we respect the nucleic wisdom encoded in long-proven varieties?

Risk management’s “precautionary principle” can be understood as respecting essential systems that are Lindy and making sure one doesn’t interfere with whatever makes them antifragile: solve world hunger with better distribution logistics (low downside, huge upside), not by playing God with crop genes (huge possible downside).

In social life, this suggests a bias in favor of traditionalism (including respect for religion) as well as encouragement for experimenters and entrepreneurs (tinkerers, who actually try new technology, not scientists and economic “experts” who merely theorize).

In political organization, it shows the wisdom of localism—or what Taleb calls “fractal localism,” to distinguish it from simplistic decentralization [...] Political community is healthiest when people making decisions also have the most at stake in their outcomes (“skin in the game,” the title of Taleb’s fifth book).

[Joshua P. Hochschild]
'Optionality and the Intellectual Life: In Gratitude for the Real World Risk Institute'

If progressive ideologies have dwindled down to a wistful hope against hope that things will somehow work out for the best, we need to recover a more vigorous form of hope, which trusts life without denying its tragic character or attempting to explain away tragedy as "cultural lag."

We can fully appreciate this kind of hope only now that the other kind, better described as optimism, has fully revealed itself as a higher form of wishful thinking. Progressive optimism rests, at bottom, on a denial of the natural limits on human power and freedom, and it cannot survive for very long in a world in which an awareness of those limits has become inescapable.

The disposition properly described as hope, trust, or wonder, on the other hand - three names for the same state of heart and mind - asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits. It cannot be defeated by adversity. In the troubled times to come, we will need it even more than we needed it in the past.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.530

Related posts:
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Do Not Disturb

Global / Local

Universal          -          Particular
Global               -          Local
Tepid                 -          Vivid
Many                 -          Few
Disconnected    -          Connected

In dissolving tradition, Modernity abolished every level in between the individual and the universal/global. First and foremost we are members of the global collective, united by the principles of liberal democracy (“egalitarianism, individualism, rationalism”…), but we can only be members of the global collective by forsaking any intervening identity. ‘Englishness’ detracts from ‘European’, which in turn detracts from ‘Global Citizen.’ Under liberalism each intervening identity becomes backwards and parochial compared to the all-embracing Global Citizen.

We need to be able to define levels in between Individual—Universal, but on what basis do we form these groupings? How, for instance, do you define a nation as distinct from other nations? How do you reassert a ‘national identity’ under the dissolutive influence of Globalism?

If the distinction is simply defined by the mere happenstance of location (i.e. anyone within these borders is ‘English’) then 'Englishness' simply becomes a co-ordinate, a segment of the larger whole - meaningless, in other words. There must be a binding element, a set of commonalities, that gives meaning and character to a grouping. Some have proposed ethnicity as this element.

Because liberalism acts against groupings (between Individual—Global) there can be no shared sense-making framework other than reason/science, which is abstract and universal (‘objective’, the same for everyone) rather than particular to a place or people.

Ideas are permitted within the marketplace - a superficial churning of views and interests - as long as they don’t threaten the sanctity of the liberal order (Popper’s ‘Paradox of Tolerance’). There must always be a rotation - no single idea can win. A tradition (in this context, the perseverance of a set of ideas over time) can never take root. If it doesn’t work at the universal level it is no good, hence any parochial sense-making framework is rejected out of hand. Lacking in subsidiary levels, the global scale is inherently anti-tradition.

Liberalism is a fundamentally dissolutive force. It works to dissolve any non-universal programme i.e. any tradition (because tradition is by its nature specific and exclusive).

Any attempt at an alternative sense-making framework at the global level is automatically felt as fascist or totalitarian, which points towards the need for subsidiary levels - national, local - where tradition can take root. Tradition works best at smaller scales - when imposed beyond a certain scale (‘human scale’) it becomes inappropriate. Monoculture is not in itself a bad idea, but monoculture-at-scale is.

When there are no subsidiary levels between Individual—Global then every contagious idea threatens to become a global pandemic (every idea is seen in the context of global, rather than local). Subsidiarity prevents spread, keeps things 'in their place,' and helps define a place for things.

Most of the tension resides between

1) Embedded, complexity-minded, multiscale/fractal localism (politics as an ecology/complex adaptive system), and
2) Abstract one-dimensional universalists and monoculturalism (politics as a top-down engineering project).”

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]

The tide is out, and globalism is exposed. In its place, watch for the rise of localism.

This won’t be some Jeffersonian agrarian world where we’re all threshing our own wheat, but a complex, locally–adapted system that is vibrant and resilient because it’s interconnected but not centrally controlled. 

Our current supply chain and financial system evolved by using standardization to create efficiencies. Finding “synergies” led to geometric growth of certain companies, lowering nominal costs for customers and concentrating decision-making among few. For example, four companies are now responsible for 70% of the pork production in the U.S.

The sticker price might appear lower at the grocery store, but hidden costs exist.

Think of it this way: A $4 Mr. C’s hotdog sounds like a deal, but it comes with the low-probability kicker that if a virus/terrorist/cyber-attack occurs, we might be sheltering in place for an extended period of time and our economy could go down the toilet along with millions of jobs. Now consider a locally–sourced hotdog that costs $5, $6, or even $15. Localism would likely result in higher nominal cost, but if localized decision-making, supply chains and finance prevented being shut-in at home, hoping centralized governments and corporations can avoid being overwhelmed, what is that worth?

Some things are better managed at scale, just not ALL things. By pushing most decision-making to the locally-dispersed, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “fractal localism”, we can maximize customization, adaptation, and responsiveness while still keeping those systems and institutions that are most effective across locales.

[Eric Weatherholtz]
'Localism: Retail’s Coronavirus Hangover Cure'

Things appeared to be getting better and better but our prosperity was built on credit. The things we gained came at the price of an increasingly fragile system, caused by ever-increasing imbalances.


1. The principle of subsidiarity which holds that the state should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.

2. If a complex function is carried out at a local level just as effectively as on the national level, the local level should be the one to carry out the specified function.

3. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, trade unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole.

4. But the principle of subsidiarity also allows for some decisions to be taken at regional or national (or indeed international) levels, for example in order to protect human rights or for reasons of social or economic justice.


What kind of Europe do you believe in?

It would be built on the strengths, cultures and heritage of its constituent nations. 

The fundamental principle which would guide its institutions would be that everything that can be done at family level would be entrusted to the family, everything that can be done at the local or regional or national level would be decentralized accordingly.

I believe that democracy functions properly when it is local and participatory.

[James Goldsmith]
The Trap, p. 65

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realisation, fulfilment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. 

Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. 

If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

[E.F. Schumacher]
Small is Beautiful, p. 62

In the United States, both classical and progressive liberals placed liberal nation-building at the core of its mission, particularly the transfer of political devotions from concrete localities to the abstraction of the nation.

One of the key differences between "conservatives” and “progressives” today is over whether liberalism can and should see its primary locus as the nation or the world.

Both sides share the view that liberalism is a universalist philosophy, but they differ over how best to advance that universalism. Mainstream conservatives have sought to advance liberal universalism through the vehicle of the nation, primarily through globalized economic policy and aggressively interventionist and even imperialist militarism.

Liberals believe that the nationstate must eventually be superseded by global governance, best represented today by the European Union.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.xix

A core ambition of liberalism is the liberation of such appetites from the artificial constraints of culture either to liberate them entirely as a condition of our freedom, or, where they require constraint, to place them under the uniform and homogenized governance of promulgated law rather than the inconstant impositions and vagaries of diverse cultures.

From the outset, proponents of liberalism understood that cultural constraints over expression and pursuit of appetite were obstacles to the realization of a society premised upon unleashing erstwhile vices (such as greed) as engines of economic dynamism, and that state power might be required to overturn cultural institutions responsible for containing such appetites.

Today, with the success of the liberal project in the economic sphere, the powers of the liberal state are increasingly focused on dislocating those remaining cultural institutions that were responsible for governance of consumer and sexual appetite-purportedly in the name of freedom and equality, but above all in a comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of liberal liberty.

Only constraints approved by the liberal state itself can finally be acceptable. The assumption is that legitimate limits upon liberty can arise only from the authority of the consent-based liberal state.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.69

Community begins with the family but extends outward to incorporate an appropriate locus of the common good. For [Wendell] Berry, the common good can be achieved only in small, local settings.

These dimensions cannot be precisely drawn, but Berry seems to endorse the town as the basic locus of commonweal, and the region mainly in the economic and not interpersonal realm. He is not hostile toward a conception of national or even international common good, but he recognizes that the greater scope of these larger units tends toward abstraction, which comes always at the expense of the flourishing of real human lives.

Larger units than the locality or the region can flourish in the proper sense only when their constitutive parts flourish.

Modern liberalism, by contrast, insists on the priority of the largest unit over the smallest, and seeks everywhere to impose a homogenous standard on a world of particularity and diversity. One sees this tendency everywhere in modern liberal society, from education to court decisions that nationalize sexual morality, from economic standardisation to minute and exacting regulatory regimes.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.80-1

[Tocqueville] stressed that it was the nearness and immediacy of the township that made its citizens more likely to care and take an active interest not only in their own fates but in the shared fates of their fellow citizens.

By contrast, he noted a striking lack of attentiveness to more distant political centers of power, including both state and an even more distant federal government, where only a few ambitious men might govern but which otherwise was of little concern to the active citizens within the township.

Tocqueville would have regarded a citizenry that was oblivious to local self-governance, but which instead directed all its attention and energy to the machinations of a distant national power, not as the culmination of democracy but as its betrayal.

Tocqueville argued that self-rule was the result of practice and habituation, and the absence of such self-rule would bring not the flourishing of freedom but reduction to servitude to distant rulers. Democracy, in his view, was defined not by rights to voting either exercised or eschewed but by the ongoing discussion and disputation and practices of self-rule in particular places with familiar people over a long period of time.

Today's liberals who call for encouraging democratic participation through more extensive forms of civic education focused on national politics neglect the extent to which their cure is the source of the ills they would redress.

It remains unthinkable that redress of civic indifference would require efforts to severely limit the power of the central state in favor of real opportunities for local self-rule. But those who readily display evidence of civic indifference or ignorance as evidence either for the need to limit or educate the citizenry unavoidably do so in the deeper commitment to strengthening the identification of politics with the actions of the liberal state, and by so doing, ensure the further degradation of citizenship.

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.176-7

Globalist vs Internationalist

Globalist - no intermediate levels, a free flow of information between states that essentially turns the world into one large market. All cultures are dissolved in favour of the One True Culture (‘Globohomo’). Nothing between Individual—Global; no tariffs, protectionist policies, or local currencies and cultures.

Globalism is imperialist. It wants a single idea to become universal, a global monoculture.

Internationalist - a recognition of the need for coordination at the global level (a need for a global level), combined with subsidiary levels that allow multiple unique identities to emerge and that provide circuit-breakers between Individual—Global.

Internationalism is anti-imperialist - it does not want any single idea to scale up and take over. Local monocultures over global monoculture. No global pandemics.

Although he held out the hope that "the Great Society may become the Great Community," Dewey knew that it could "never possess all the qualities which mark a local community.” “In its deepest and richest sense a community must always remain a matter of face-to-face intercourse.... Vital and thorough attachments are bred only in the intimacy of an intercourse which is of necessity restricted in range."

What Dewey could not explain was just how loyalty and responsibility would thrive in a world dominated by large-scale production and mass communications. 

He took for granted the "disintegration of the family, church and neighborhood." What was to fill the resulting “void”? Dewey did not say. "It is outside the scope of our discussion,” he wrote, "to look into the prospect of the reconstruction of face-to-face communities.” His commitment to the idea of progress prevented him from pursuing the point.

In a 1916 essay on progress, he argued that although the replacement of a "static" social structure by a "dynamic or readily changing social structure" did not guarantee progress, it created the preconditions of progress - of "constructive intelligence" and "constructive social engineering." In any case, there was "no way to 'restrain' or turn back the industrial revolution and its consequences.”

Under these circumstances, it was impossible to defend his belief in the possibility of a "return movement ... into the local homes of mankind.” Since nothing in Dewey's social philosophy justified any such hope, the subjects of work and loyalty had to be relegated to the margins of his work, as, increasingly, they were relegated to the margins of the liberal tradition as a whole.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.368

Like the romantic sociologists, social democrats insisted that individuals had no being apart from society. They too regretted the decline of "community," but they relied on the state, not on small intermediate groups or voluntary associations, to restore a sense of connection.

When Lynd asked whether it was possible to "build urban people into vital communities," the grammatical structure of his sentence revealed more than he may have intended. People were the objects, not the subjects, of "community," as he understood it.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.427

Syndicalists and guild socialists, as we have seen, believed that small-scale proprietorship conferred moral independence, self-respect, and responsibility. 

They did not seek to restore proprietorship as such, but they never lost sight of the virtues associated with it. They envisioned a society of small workshops, in which effective control over production remained at the local level.

Syndicalism (like populism) fell outside the broad consensus in favour of progress, centralisation, and distributive democracy. It undercut the Marxist claim to offer a radical alternative to the capitalist regimentation of the workplace. It forced Marxists to justify their program on grounds of superior efficiency, on the increasingly implausible grounds that only a socialist state could assure prosperity for all, or on vague appeals to the progress of the human race.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.335

Today scientists are beginning to study the remarkable farming methods practiced by Indigenous peoples in the Americas. Their aim is to discover techniques that could be transferred to the Third World and employed by ecologically minded farmers in the West.

But this should be done in a cautious and watchful way, for Indigenous science was developed by people living in a particular landscape.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.306-7

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