On Rationalism

City Road Travel Tourism
Standard

Before I worked in London, I always used to hear about ‘the elite’, those who worked in London, leaned somewhat to the left, and seemed to hell bent on doing something to upset the rest of the country, whether that be remoaning or trying to put the kibosh on some grand scheme or other.

“It’s the bloody elite,” the cry would go up. “Always trying to ruin things.”

I wondered who these people were and why they would be so different to people outside of the M25. Since I’ve been working in London these past two years, I’ve discovered them and realised a few things.

Firstly, they are for the most part normal humans with normal daily problems like families and shopping and housing to deal with. So far, so dull. But I would hear them talking, and find them reading the Guardian website, and it made me wonder why these people from diverse backgrounds all thought the same. And then, after much pondering, it hit me. Rationalism.

Rationalism is the great enemy of freedom, and it’s ever so easy to fall into the rationalistic way of thinking. Just surround yourself with intelligent, intellectual types and a sort of hive mind grows. And it seems to have long been endemic in London.

Intelligent and intellectual people like to think that they know things. Aristotle’s wise words of wisdom are rarely found in London. There is an opinion and an answer for everything. And they are, more often than not, very good, intelligent answers. But not always well informed or even correct.

These people consider themselves liberals, but the problem is that they’ve gone down the wrong path. If a true liberal is one who puts liberty as the highest value in society, then you have to accept a certain amount of uncertainty in life, and understand that we do not have all the answers as individuals, and never will. This runs counter to the intellectual agenda of ‘knowing best’.

Rationalism has snuck in and embedded itself into our culture, thanks to the likes of the great thinkers of the past few centuries – Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein etc. (even though I suspect they noth themselves would be the first to admit they don’t know it all – but perception is everything) and so where we find a high percentage of the intelligent population all gathered together in one place, so rationalism has festered. It’s there in our universities too for the same reasons.

People have taken the facts as they see them and formed their opinions, not understanding (or be willing to admit) that the information they have is a tiny fraction of all the information out there needed to really form a valid opinion (if one could ever be properly formed).

I’m not saying everyone who works in London thinks this way, but I do see a lot of it. And most of these people do seem, underneath it all, a little muddled (not that they’d admit that) as I don’t think true liberalism can truly square with rationalism.

It’s The Law!

Scales Yellow Weigh Justice Tool
Standard

Continuing on from my brief excursion into Liberty on Saturday, there’s one further fundamental that I think is all important for a sensible, modern society; the Rule of Law.

Bizarrely, this is something that I’ve always understood as important, but yet only recently twigged that it was in fact the Rule of Law. For some unknown reason, what I thought was the Rule of Law, was in fact something completely different.

So, for my own sanity, if no-one else’s, the Rule of Law is simply the concept that all people are equal in the eyes of the law. No-one is above the law, or too important to not be tried if they are accused of wrongdoing, even if they are the one’s who uphold the laws themselves. All shall be treated the same, thus saving us from despotism, absolutism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism.

I do worry that in recent years, certain people have weakened this concept in the UK, but generally I don’t think we’re in too bad a place. I feel that social media and poor reporting sometimes make it feel like some people are ‘getting away with it’, but I think there would be an awful hue and cry from the judiciary if this were the case, and I’ve not seen that yet.

On Liberty

Cyber Security Anonymous Technology
Standard

I suppose, before I get too far into this, I had better define what I understand liberty to mean. There are many types of liberty, some truer than others (mental, spiritual, political etc.), but for the purposes of this blog, I shall stick to the simple negative freedom of not being coerced by another person.

Following on from that, I adhere to the libertarian principle that this freedom from coercion is intimately linked to each person enjoying the positive right to a private domain (house, flat, accommodation etc.) within which he or she is protected from people who would not wish them well. This private domain is fundamental to modern life. It follows a fairly conservative line, I know, but it’s what I believe to be the bedrock of a free society.

Freedom from coercion is important for many reasons, not only fundamentally does it tie in with bigger concepts such as the extended order and how a free society operates, but it also resonates on a personal level. It means that a person is ‘stress free’ and so able to function properly on a day to day basis. Obviously, there are many other things in life that can cause stress, but in my experience, coercion of any kind, whether it be bullying by individuals or organised at a state level, can be one of the most stressful things a person can experience.

As we’ll see later, stress causes things to go wrong on all sorts of ways. Remove stress and we as humans can operate better, both individually and as part of a wider community.

How We Become We

Thought Brain Mind Idea Psychology
Standard

I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook at the moment which is so full of big ideas I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again and again in the coming months and years. It’s called ‘The Neurobiology of We’ by Dr Daniel J. Siegel M.D.

It’s more like a series of lectures in which he builds up a coherent argument based around relationships, the mind and the brain and how the three interact. He starts with exploring how memories are formed before moving on to look at how our character traits develop as children. This he uses as a foundation to explore what emotions are (and they are more complicated than you’d think) before topping it off with the most sensible and meaningful exploration of mindfulness I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

I’ll be exploring a lot of the ideas in coming posts, but if you have an Audible account, it’s well worth checking out (although stick with it as it starts quite slowly; I almost wrote him off as a bit of a hippy before the serious science kicked in).

I’m still processing a lot of the ideas and trying to tie it in with my fledgling theories of society and liberty based on my readings of Hayek (in particular) and von Mises, but the links are definitely there. It’s a shame there’s no book version (that I’m aware of). Two key concepts that have really got my mind whirring are maximising complexity (which comes out of chaos theory) and his ideas of coherence and integration.