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The Danger of Scientism

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Classby Robin Koerner

Science and scientism are superficially similar but epistemic opposites.

A true scientist remains doxastically open. That means that she works always on the assumption that her theory is a) false or incomplete and b) will therefore change.

The daily task of science is to identify the ways in which our current understanding is lacking. In so doing, science’s understanding of the world becomes less false.

Scientism, in contrast, is doxastically closed. That means that it identifies our best theory but then behaves as if it is a) absolute truth and b) will therefore not change.

Scientism, unlike science, has no need for data. It is deadly because it always uses the current paradigm to explain away potentially problematic observations. (E.g. the cat’s squeal isn’t telling me it’s in pain; it’s confirming that machines, including cats, have predictable responses to physical stimuli.)

Orwell’s “unthinking orthodoxy” is “political scientism.” That’s the epistemology of tyranny.

In my earlier article, I wrote about the authoritarianism of some of the “Social Justice Warrior” Left today, who would give moral privilege to groups they identity as victim groups in the name of eliminating privilege; who would eliminate the free speech of people with whom they disagree in the name of giving everyone an equal voice; who equate speech with violence to justify violence against those who speak.

Bizarre as those paradoxes clearly are, their advocates are not automatically dangerous if they are open to revising their moral or political theory in the light of falsifying data or contradictions in the theory’s application.

What makes it all dangerous is that it is allied with an a priori belief about competing views and political opponents that eliminate the possibility that any experiences or perspectives could provide data that could challenge the theory.

If potentially contradictory data can be rejected a priori on account of being explained away as the result of “fascist”, “racist”, “sexist” attitudes, for example, then the theory is inoculated against the human data against which all political theories must be tested.

The Unluckiest Political Movement

from Kevin Williams at National Review, Camino de Servidumbre

But men do not like being told that they cannot do that which they wish to do, and this is particularly true of men who have a keen interest in political power. Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage. When socialist policies produced their inevitable economic consequences, the first reaction would be to try to pass laws against the realization of those economic consequences. We saw a good deal of that in Venezuela, for instance with the imposition of currency controls when excessive social-welfare spending produced hyperinflation.

But those efforts are of course doomed to failure as well, which leads to outright political repression, scapegoating, and violence. In Venezuela, strongman Hugo Chávez, who was adored by American Democrats ranging from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to former representative Chakka Fattah and any number of Hollywood progressives, undertook to silence opposition media by insisting that they were simply fronts for moneyed elites working to undermine the work of democracy. (It will not escape your notice that our own progressives are making precisely the same argument in the matter of Citizens United, a First Amendment case considering the question of whether the government could prohibit the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) His protégé, Nicolás Maduro, has continued in the same vein.

Socialism is either the unluckiest political movement in the history of political movements, one that just happens to keep intersecting with the careers of monsters, or there is something about socialism itself that throws up monsters. There is nothing wrong with Venezuelans, and nothing unusual about them: Here at home, our own progressives dream of imprisoning people for holding unpopular political views, nationalizing key industries, and shutting down opposition media. They have black-shirted terrorists attacking people with explosives on college campuses for the crime of holding non-conforming political views. And they aren’t averse to a little old-fashioned Stalinism, either, provided there’s a degree or two of separation: Bernie Sanders, once an elector for the Socialist Workers party, remains the grumpy Muppet pin-up of the American Left.

“Socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove,” Hayek told us.

Righteous Orthodoxy

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Class by Robin Koerner

He understood that the morality of a political ideology in practice cannot be determined from its theoretical exposition – but only from the actual experiences of those who would be affected by its real-world application.

To make the point to the people he felt most needed to hear it, Orwell, a self-identified socialist, called out the arrogance of his friends on the Left who experienced themselves as so “enlightened,” to use his word, that they did not need to consider the sentiments – let alone ideas – of those who were to them clearly politically ignorant.

Orwell had a name for this kind of self-righteous certainty – and it wasn’t fascism, capitalism, or communism.  It was “orthodoxy,” which he explains in 1984, “means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” It is a state exhibited by people who already know they have the right answers – at least in the areas that matter.

There is no political system so perfect that it will not be deadly when imposed against the will of others by people sure of their own righteousness. Orwell saw that no political theory – even the egalitarian socialism that he believed to be the most moral – can prevent its adherents from being anything other than tyrants if they are committed to it in a way that is immune to the protests and experiences of other people.

In other words, tyranny is not the result of a belief in a bad political theory; it is the result of a bad belief in a political theory – and that is an entirely different thing.

Poor Winners and Worse Losers

Peggy Noonan at the WSJ,  Trump Has Been Lucky in His Enemies

That most entrenched bastion of the progressive left, America’s great universities, has been swept by . . . well, one hardly knows what to call it. “Political correctness” is too old and doesn’t do it justice. It is a hysteria—a screeching, ignorant wave of sometimes violent intolerance for free speech. It is mortifying to see those who lead great universities cower in fear of it, attempt to placate it, instead of stopping it.

When I see tapes of the protests and riots at schools like Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna and Yale, it doesn’t have the feel of something that happens in politics. It has the special brew of malice and personal instability seen in the Salem witch trials. It sent me back to rereading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Heather Mac Donald danced with the devil! Charles Murray put the needle in the poppet! As in 17th-century Salem, the accusers have no proof of anything because they don’t know, read or comprehend anything.

The cursing pols, the anathematizing abortion advocates, the screeching students—they are now the face of the progressive left.

This is what America sees now as the face of the Democratic Party. It is a party blowing itself up whose only hope is that Donald Trump blows up first.

He may not be lucky in all of his decisions or staffers, or in his own immaturities and dramas. But hand it to him a hundred days in: He’s lucky in his main foes.

HKO

As bad as Trump may be he is still preferred over the illiberal insanity that has come to identify the left. The left wins poorly and loses worse.

Progressive Disruption

SASSE and RY B

The Challenge of Our Disruptive Era by Ben Sasse at National Review

Industrialization brought a massive disruption. At the end of the Civil War, 86% of Americans still worked on the farm. By the end of World War II, 80 years later, 60% of Americans lived in cities. One of the most disruptive times in American history was the Progressive Era. And what was Progressivism? Not much more than the response of trying to remake society in an era of mass immigration, industrialization and rising cities. But it turned out not to be as disruptive as people feared, because once you got to the city, you got a new job, which you’d probably have until death or retirement. And the social capital that used to be in the village tended to be replicated in urban ethnic neighborhoods.

HKO

Progressivism redefined the principles of the Constitution to adapt to the disruption of the industrial age.  How will the principles of the Constitution be redefined (or rediscovered) to adapt to the even greater disruptive change?  How will the economic principles of capitalism adapt?