Tuesday, June 7, 2016

God or the Invisible Hand?

I think that in our time a new Renaissance might emerge, this time back towards the unseen, back towards God. I mean God in a descriptive sense: that bundle of nature's variables which is so entwined in complexity as to seem deterministic.

First causes and ultimate ends may be beyond the ken of human rationale, but human intuition is very familiar with the concepts of risk and hedging ultimate uncertainty. I recently made a point about Enlightenment empiricism having usurped the frame of the Overton Window: humanism is the new religion and the perfectibility of man is the ultimate end. The idea, once common, that a higher power is at work with unknowable ends, i.e. it is not for man to judge another, is at once dismissed and scorned as not adequately scientific; but, what arranges human affairs and why does order emerge when there is clearly no omniscient control over all the variables that make up human interactions? Is it the laws of man or the laws of nature?

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the self-evident truth that men are created equal, on what did he base this truth? I reckon that TJ, though not a practicing Christian, was a man of God by his abiding sense of intellectual humility. An awe of nature's mystery does not make one a slave to supernatural forces and admitting that human reason may never fully grasp the natural world we inhabit is not a declaration of scientific defeat. Adam Smith is credited with the concept of the Invisible Hand (he may have cribbed a few of his most famous ideas), but as a devout Presbyterian, was he not just injecting a description of uncertainty into his important work on economics?

I claim that humans are primarily economic rather than social. I believe that the phenomena of pricing scarce resources is a like electro-magnetism, the knowledge of which leads to a better quality of life. The first causes of electro-magnetism are poorly understood, as are those of gravity or tectonic movement or any number of ideas which we use to arrange our lives, but which lack a complete, unifying explanation. The benefits of pricing as a result of free interaction is an increase in available capital from which other humans may take the risk of creative endeavors to build even more capital. Like waves crashing against rocks over eons creating a finer grain of sand, the slow movement of free interaction and the intellectual seepage of the NAP into the collective unconscious has created an abundance that outweighs anything in the last 10,000 years.

So is it the laws of man of the laws of nature which have arranged for current state of affairs? Might there be a tangible benefit from admitting that a slow moving, unseen process is responsible for the modernity around us?


  1. Maybe the unseen process is evolution (with some fast moving accidents) and the inherent built in wisdom acquired to live in the earths environment. Today we are becoming God and that old wisdom might not save us from the overwhelming power put into the hands of a few by Science.
    Our governance systems favour the emergence of psychopaths.

    In the long run you may be right but the long run might include another bottleneck event (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck) in human evolution before we finally structure ourselves to contain (but not eliminate) violent thinkers and doers.

    1. It seems to me that humans are throwing punches in vain at a God who is beyond such simple ideas of conflict: the universe rumbles on despite our machinations here on Earth. Science has increased our manipulation of the natural environment but it tells us nothing about the ultimate ends we should be aiming at the way in the way that a culture does. In that way, I see culture as a kind of science of long-term risk management. The more cultures, the better hedged the human race is against the rumblings of the universe and its unforeseen cataclysms - I am thinking Ice Ages and meteors are the most typical cataclysm events here on the big blue marble.

      Power attracts those who wish to wield it. Large governing bodies such as the US and the EU are veritable rings of power forged in the fiery hells of Mordor. These large governing apparatuses, they tell us, will organize human affairs on our behalf - incapable as we our to arrange our own affairs. It is a problem of too many eggs in a basket for one thing and arbitrary application of force in the market for pricing scarce resources for another.

      It seems that population bottlenecks have happened several times in the last million years - the latest one appearing to be about 13,000 years ago, a meteor impact which, some argue convincingly, caused both an acute mini-Ice age and the recent temperate Holocene climate.

      Life is probably more resilient than we give it credit for, given our own preoccupation with mortality. Assuming no population bottleneck in the near future, I contend that humans of the present should try and further the low-hanging fruit of the science of culture: scale back on the centralized power which will only bring imminent collapse under the weight of bad incentives and let non-aggression and voluntary solutions organize things for awhile.