Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ideas Have Consequences

Ben Stein's complaint, expressed in this film, and the ongoing efforts of FIRE against this kind of thing, and the desire of the global warming crowd for a technocracy, all come as no surprise.

Men oppress other men. It is a result of man's natural attitude toward other men. (Christians call it original sin, but as this is often inexplicably confused, in non-Christian sources, with something about sex, I'll avoid the term in this post.)

Man in his natural state tends toward oppression because he wants what he wants, and the differing opinions and contrarian activities of other men stand in his way.

A man who, to any degree, views other men as intrinsically valuable, meriting every bit as much expression of their free wills as he does of his, will naturally be willing, to the same degree, to curtail his insistence on getting his own way in favor of other individuals being able to simultaneously get theirs. Free societies result from this stance.

But a man who lacks any reason to view other men (and the expression of their free will) as intrinsically valuable will take a different approach, striving for the maximum expression of his own will, and hoping to enlist or subdue the activity of all other men in support of his own ideas or desires. Oppressive societies are the result of this attitude. In such societies, whether Khomenist or Maoist, every man struggles for that position within the mechanism of the state which will most effectively allow him to pursue his agenda while using force to prevent any other man from interfering with his agenda. When possible, he will make himself dictator; where that is not possible, he will maneuver himself into a cadre of ruling elites (sometimes clerics, sometimes bureaucrats).

The attitude toward other men which produces oppression is the natural outgrowth of any philosophy which views man as essentially mechanistic and without free will. (For, if men are merely machines influenced by external reward/punishment stimuli, why shouldn't I alter those stimuli to nudge society in the direction of serving my own goals?)

This is not to say that persons who accept the view that men are purely mechanisms without free will will always support oppression. If they have been raised in a society which has only recently adopted the mechanistic view, then they will likely have been taught at their mother's knee to respect the free will of others, and they will continue to be influenced by this view even when their own philosophy undercuts it.

But by the third or fourth generation of a society in which men are universally viewed as mechanisms to be shoved about according to our own designs, this anachronistic view will be forgotten, and oppression will emerge, or begin to emerge. For ideas have consequences and when they are sufficiently widespread they always are reflected in the behavior of society's institutions.

Meanwhile, free societies, and such declarations as "all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with...inalienable rights" are the result of a philosophy which holds that men are more than biological machines, and that their Creator, while hoping for them to freely choose that which is good and true, values their free will so much that He will risk them choosing that which is evil and false, so long as their freedom of choice is at least partly preserved.

It is notable that not all Theistic creeds hold the view that free will is valued by God, or even exists. Certain philosophical threads in Islam are quite amenable to the man-as-machine-sans-free-will view. That Iran and Saudi Arabia are as oppressive as Mao's China is expressive of their particular philosophical approach to Theism, not of Theism per se.

And it is also true that men can sometimes make decisions which are contrary to their own philosophies, if they would only examine their philosophies closely enough to see it. For just as philosophical Materialists who view men as machines will sometimes behave morally even when their own self-interest is not thereby served, so too will Theists who view free-will as among the greatest gifts of God to humanity still sometimes use force or fraud to override the free-will of their fellow men in pursuit of their own interests.

But, again, ideas have consequences, and exceptions to the rule will ultimately have less power to shape society than the rule itself. Even a Christian culture which sometimes produces Inquisitions will eventually produce the Magna Carta, and the Declaration of Independence, as a consequence of ideas. Even a political movement undertaken with the intent of building a "worker's paradise" will produce poverty and slavery when the individual workers are viewed as mere cogs in the great socialist machine.

And even an academy founded on freedom of inquiry will forcibly silence all critics and dissenters, both the wise and the foolish, if it holds that these critics and dissenters are made purely of mud with no spark of the divine. Ideas have consequences.

So, again, Ben Stein's complaint, expressed in this film, and the ongoing efforts of FIRE against this kind of thing, and the desire of the global warming crowd for a technocracy, all come as no surprise.


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