Scientism versus Liberty
The steady but slow march toward liberty has for some time come up against the appeal of scientism. This is the idea that everything in nature behaves just like matter-in-motion. So people, too, move only when moved by stuff around – or within – them, never on their own initiative. (The only but sadly unacknowledged exception is the scientists who advocate scientism.)
No sooner did philosophers make room for the idea of self-causation, the idea that some (few) things in nature are capable of causing their own movement (have the capacity for initiative, to be first causes), social scientists vetoed it since it appeared to them to exclude the scientific method in their study of human behavior. So what took the place of initiative was mechanical motion. We do what we do because we are forced by our environment or hard wiring to do it.
In political morality and political philosophy the implications turned out to be devastating. The very thing that makes people different in the world, namely, their capacity to take the initiative, was slowly eliminated, denied. Never mind that the denying itself exhibits such initiative. That went unnoticed. Instead. the urgency to make people subject to the machinations of social science and technology lead many thinkers to declare people just complicated machines, complex billiard balls being pushed around by the cue ball (that's under the control of the technocrats, no one else).
This urgency also led to the re-empowerment of governments. They used to get their warrant for using power over us mainly from divine authority – but then science took its place. The small gain made in support of human freedom, the liberty of ordinary men and women to govern themselves, was this way quickly undermined (except, of course, for the rulers who claimed for themselves the very liberty they denied to the rest of us).
Sure, for a bit the ideas of human liberty and sovereignty triumphed but not for long. The champions of the nanny state, welfare state, fascism, socialism, communism and such all preferred it if human beings could be regarded as passive and in need of being pushed around. (Just think of the Keynesian stimulus device that is advocated as the way to make us all go to work! Never mind entrepreneurship!)
Is the philosophical base of this reductionism and scientism sound? Well, it is certainly not consistent with the belief that government officials have the capacity to get us all moving. They are people, after all, so how come they have this capacity but the rest of us don't? So then where is the problem?
Let me drag out once again one of my favorite observations from a psychologist, Professor Bannister of the UK, who noted that "... the psychologist cannot present a picture of man which patently contradicts his behavior in presenting that picture." In Borger & Cioffi/Bannister, eds., Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences (Cambridge UP, 1970), p. 417. But, unfortunately, noting this is not enough. How would we be capable of being first causes in nature, of taking the initiative and thus for doing without the prompters that statists so eagerly volunteer to be? Wouldn't that be odd?
The problem lies with the widely embraced but impoverished idea of causation. As if all causes were of the same type – mechanical, the kind witnessed on the pool table. But this makes no room for the kind of causation evident in biology, psychology, economics, ethics and politics where individual entities, in this case people, produce things and make things happen. That kind of causation is every bit as much part of the natural world as is the limited, mechanical kind.
If one remembers that things have the causal capacities their nature makes possible and then also recalls that our causal capacity is based on the kind of consciousness we have, a faculty that doesn't work automatically but needs to be put into gear by the individual person, then the mystery of sovereignty and initiative can begin to be solved.
We are indeed in need of freedom from interference so we can live our lives productively and creatively. The full story is a pretty complex one but this is the gist of it. Unless it is understood and integrated with our private and public affairs and policies, we are going to have a mismanaged society all around us.
Posted by Jeanna on 12/06/11 09:23 AM
Central planning does not allow for the individual initiative that is the subject of this article. Nor does it allow for individual choice, which is entirely obvious by the empty city at Ordos in China, the largest empty mall in the world in China, and the very large unoccupied and structurally failing office high-rises in China. China may be able to rise above some of these centrally planned stumbling blocks, but only if they quit spending their reserves on more blunders.
The US, and much of the Western developed nations, have not been allowed to have a free market for the last 100 years. To claim that the free market is failing is a false statement. The free market has been sabotaged by centrally planned money changers, who now have their sights on China.
Posted by Rod Farmer on 12/06/11 05:31 AM
Great article! Social Scientists are not scientists. A scientist is an individual in search of truth through "scientific method". A social scientist relies on "operative logic", which is not logical. A S.S. has an agenda.
Posted by chad2 on 12/05/11 05:52 PM
This type of thinking is complete and total maddness.
Posted by DwightJohnson on 12/05/11 04:58 PM
The top of the ladder is not held by the "lucky" few, but either by entrepreneurs who discover a need and fill it, or the plutocrats who buy government advantage. It is this last group that offends. As for the redistribution of wealth, it will come from the plutocrats when they are no longer able to control government, when there is a redistribution of power that makes their attempts to control relatively weak. Most true entrepreneurs are far from greedy, but many OWS people seem quite envious of anyone with money. And you are quite right that the plutocrats are cutting off the very foundation of their wealth when they shortsightedly bring society to ruin, and they are now doing so efficiently.
Posted by jkluttz on 12/05/11 01:59 PM
Yes, they do control money. Their fatal conceit, however, is that they can control the outcome of their specific actions. Neither they nor anyone else can violate the fundamentals of emergent systems. As the DB states, there are "no experts".
They do know that central planning brings poverty. If that's what they want, that's what they will likely get.
Posted by GWBramhall on 12/05/11 01:45 PM
Perhaps you are right that the freedom and democratization of the Internet
will foster a new era of wealth not overly confined to the lucky few at the
top of the ladder. However you lose sight of the fact that the so called
rich won't stay there for long if they are not productive. Similarly a great
percentage of today's wealthy arise from lower strata and become modern day
successes by hard work and a keen idea. It is too often thought the assorted lotteries of our times and the outrageous sports contracts of today are the only way to climb the ladder of success. That might be what the political elite want us to believe, but that does not make it true.
Posted by Ichabod on 12/05/11 01:36 PM
Those who follow Covenant Theology understand that evolution is the most basic presupposition. Man is a machine created by accident. Order has come from chaos. But that ignores the fact that each individual is unique.
Drug companies give their drugs based on a mean average and totally ignore the individual. The individual is an abstract to them. Give everyone a statin to control cholesterol is a prevalent practice today. Liptor follows Aricept as a blockbuster drug and yet neither has been shown to prolong life.
Today Perception has replaced science. Keynesianism is dead (I have noted it's death over a period of months while watching Bloomberg). So we just move on to Behavioural Finance. Now we just have to figure out how to manipulate the citizens's thought process. We also have Behavioural (outcome based) Medicine. The PHSTF (Presidential Health Services Task Force) commission is saying screening with PSA does not save lives of men and worse is even harmful. That flies in the face of years of prostate cancer deaths declining because of PSA screening and early detection. But no matter. Proceed on with Perception Management. That's the only game in town.
Posted by GWBramhall on 12/05/11 01:24 PM
I do not pretend to understand all that was written here, but this
seems to explain at least in part the envy of the OWS types and the
entitlement mentality of our present politics. No one takes blamed
for their failure, the reason is always somewhere outside. Government
steps in to arbitrate and kills any chance for progress or success on
the part of those willing to try to succeed and sometimes fail. It
is by failing that we come to eventual success as we see our mistakes
or someone else comes along and picks up the reins and carries it on
to eventual success. This is how progress is made and how it's been
done since the dawn of man. How do we think we know better now?
Posted by laceja on 12/05/11 01:08 PM
Assuming you define "technocrats" as the Anglosphere elite, they do control the flow, because they have been able to "define" money. Once enough people begin to reject their definition, they will lose that control.
Posted by jkluttz on 12/05/11 12:39 PM
"We do what we do because we are forced by our environment or hard wiring to do it."
It is fairly easy to conclude that this statement is true for most people at most times in history. In most populations there is no resistance to the flow of culture as a product of environment. Witness the American people blindly standing by as their country was bankrupted.
What doesn't follow is that technocrats can control the flow. That is the fatal conceit.
Posted by dave jr on 12/05/11 12:19 PM
Oh!, and require the same environmental standards that apply to domestic manufacturing to manufacturers who want to import. Afterall, its all the same environment, isn't it? Say 'global' warming.
Posted by dave jr on 12/05/11 12:14 PM
"It's on a clear trajectory to knock America off its perch by 2025."
China can knock the US off its perch, but it is doing it with 'dollars'. The China model is parasitic. If not, then why the currency peg? A parasite competing with its host thinking it can 'win' is idiotic. Do it using fair trade, now you have something. Can the China model stand on its own? Can the workers afford the products they build in mass quanities, enough to sustain their economy of scale?
"For those of us who love this country and believe America has every asset it needs to remain the No. 1 economic engine of the world, it is troubling that we have no plan-and substitute a demonization of government and worship of the free market at a historical moment that requires a rethinking of both those beliefs."
It is traitorous Government a who lead us here. I'm sure Government can 'fix it' real good. Eliminate all trade barriers and float the currency exchange rates, and let the games begin.
Posted by rossbcan on 12/05/11 12:09 PM
TM: "Scientism versus Liberty"
is a FALSE dichotomy:
Click to view link
"So what took the place of initiative was mechanical motion. We do what we do because we are forced by our environment or hard wiring to do it."
NOPE, again: we are defrauded by false signals and artificially defined REALITY (by coercive power, subverted education and corporate media) to BELIEVE that we have no other behavioral options tan those offered bu our FALSE perceptions of reality:
Click to view link
fact is because we live in a physical action PRECEDES consequence reality, we can CHOOSE to do anything allowed by the laws of physics. The only CHOICE of others (such as arbitrary power) is how THEY choose to react. Our initial self-volitional CHOICES CANNOT BE PREVENTED, only reacted to, after the FACT.
We Are Already Free:
Whining to authority to give you freedom is believing they have the power to control you. It is a natural right (laws of reality) to be free. We can do (choose) whatever we want to do. The only choice of others is the choice they make in response. We can be punished for our choices, but no one can prevent them unless we are incarcerated, mis-educated or crippled by fear of consequences.
so, carpe diem!
before it is totally seized by dangerously insane control freaks.
Posted by DwightJohnson on 12/05/11 11:33 AM
The inimitable Dr Gary North has been posing an interesting question for some time: why was there an explosion of progress beginning around 1800? I believe this explosion, evidenced by the surprising rate of growth that existed then (and has clearly diminished since), was due primarily to two things: 1) that technological advance becomes geometric as advancements builds on advancements, and 2) that political power was the most widely distributed among ordinary people at that moment in time, due largely to the personal freedom found in the Articles of Confederation, and to a lesser degree in the US Constitution.
The OWS movement must be credited with the observation that there has been, and continues to be, a concentration of wealth among fewer people. I believe this concentration of wealth coincides with a concurrent concentration of political power.
With the wonderful advancement in communication that we have in the internet, perhaps the time has come for us serfs to take the initiative to become free again. We will do this by reversing the trend of the concentration of power. This reversal alone can lead then to a redistribution of wealth, not by force, but by the unseen hand.
Posted by runderwo on 12/05/11 11:32 AM
China's Superior Economic Model
Click to view link
The free-market fundamentalist economic model is being thrown onto the trash heap of history.
Andy Grove, the founder and chairman of Intel, provocatively wrote in Businessweek last year that, "Our fundamental economic beliefs, which we have elevated from a conviction based on observation to an unquestioned truism, is that the free market is the best of all economic systems-the freer the better. Our generation has seen the decisive victory of free-market principles over planned economies. So we stick with this belief largely oblivious to emerging evidence that while free markets beat planned economies, there may be room for a modification that is even better."
The past few weeks have proven Mr. Grove's point, as our relations with China, and that country's impact on America's future, came to the forefront of American politics. Our inert Senate, while preparing for the super committee to fail, crossed the normally insurmountable political divide to pass legislation to address China's currency manipulation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama all weighed in with their views-ranging from warnings that China must "end unfair discrimination" (Mrs. Clinton) to complaints that the U.S. has "been played like a fiddle" (Mr. Romney) and that China needs to stop "gaming" the international system (Mr. Obama).
As this was happening, I was part of a U.S.-China dialogue-a trip organized by the China-United States Exchange Foundation and the Center for American Progress-with high-ranking Chinese government officials, both past and present. For me, the tension resulting from the chorus of American criticism paled in significance compared to reading the emerging outline of China's 12th five-year plan. The aims: a 7% annual economic growth rate; a $640 billion investment in renewable energy; construction of six million homes; and expanding next-generation IT, clean-energy vehicles, biotechnology, high-end manufacturing and environmental protection-all while promoting social equity and rural development.
Some Americans are drawing lessons from this. Last month, the China Daily quoted Orville Schell, who directs the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, as saying: "I think we have come to realize the ability to plan is exactly what is missing in America." The article also noted that Robert Engle, who won a Nobel Prize in 2003 for economics, has said that while China is making five-year plans for the next generation, Americans are planning only for the next election.
The world has been made "flat" by the technological miracles of Andy Grove, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. This has forced all institutions to confront what is clearly the third economic revolution in world history. The Agricultural Revolution was a roughly 3,000-year transition, the Industrial Revolution lasted 300 years, and this technology-led Global Revolution will take only 30-odd years. No single generation has witnessed so much change in a single lifetime.
The current debates about China's currency, the trade imbalance, our debt and China's excessive use of pirated American intellectual property are evidence that the Global Revolution-coupled with Deng Xiaoping's government-led, growth-oriented reforms-has created the planet's second-largest economy. It's on a clear trajectory to knock America off its perch by 2025.
As Andy Grove so presciently articulated in the July 1, 2010, issue of Businessweek, the economies of China, Singapore, Germany, Brazil and India have demonstrated "that a plan for job creation must be the number-one objective of state economic policy; and that the government must play a strategic role in setting the priorities and arraying the forces of organization necessary to achieve this goal."
The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model-so successful in the 20th century-is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century. In an era when countries need to become economic teams, Team USA's results-a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1%-are pathetic.
This should motivate leaders to rethink, rather than double down on an empirically failing free-market extremism. As painful and humbling as it may be, America needs to do what a once-dominant business or sports team would do when the tide turns: study the ingredients of its competitors' success.
While we debate, Team China rolls on. Our delegation witnessed China's people-oriented development in Chongqing, a city of 32 million in Western China, which is led by an aggressive and popular Communist Party leader-Bo Xilai. A skyline of cranes are building roughly 1.5 million square feet of usable floor space daily-including, our delegation was told, 700,000 units of public housing annually.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government can boast that it has established in Western China an economic zone for cloud computing and automotive and aerospace production resulting in 12.5% annual growth and 49% growth in annual tax revenue, with wages rising more than 10% a year.
For those of us who love this country and believe America has every asset it needs to remain the No. 1 economic engine of the world, it is troubling that we have no plan-and substitute a demonization of government and worship of the free market at a historical moment that requires a rethinking of both those beliefs.
America needs to embrace a plan for growth and innovation, with a streamlined government as a partner with the private sector. Economic revolutions require institutions to change and maybe make history, because if they stick to the status quo they soon become history. Our great country, which sparked and wants to lead this global revolution, needs a forward looking, long-term economic plan.
The imperative for change is simple. As Andy Grove pointed out: "If we want to remain a leading economy, we change on our own, or change will continue to be forced upon us."
Posted by dave jr on 12/05/11 10:23 AM
"There are no experts. Anyone who tells you that there are isn't telling the truth ... "
I agree, yet they are everywhere.
Posted by dave jr on 12/05/11 08:58 AM
"They used to get their warrant for using power over us mainly from divine authority - but then science took its place."
This is good. There has to be a percieved superiority to rule. Now we get the authority of 'experts'.
Reply from The Daily Bell
There are no experts. Anyone who tells you that there are isn't telling the truth ...