THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 641, October 23, 2011
"Mercantilism and capitalism, that's what the
fight is really all aboutand always has been"
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Whether held consciously or implicitly, everyone operates from an underlying set of ideas — a philosophy — that has practical consequences. Each person's philosophic system rest upon a foundation which presumes a position about the fundamental nature of reality, and throughout human history there have been two dominant and opposing schools of thought:
The Primacy of Existence: This holds that reality is an absolute, existing independent of conscious thought, and therefore it is the function of the human mind to acquire knowledge by discovering and identifying the nature of this external reality in order to be able to then manipulate it towards productive ends — or as Francis Bacon put it, "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed."† Here, existence precedes consciousness.
The Primacy of Consciousness: This is the belief that the "reality" that is perceived with one's senses is not external and independent, but is instead actually the creation of consciousness. This view implies that knowledge is acquired through introspection and that the nature of existence can be shaped by thoughts and beliefs, or as John Lennon put it, "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination." Here, consciousness precedes existence.
Many people live their lives, failing to reflect upon this issue and stake out an explicit metaphysical stance on the nature of reality. Nevertheless, the daily choices that they make are dependent upon one or the other of these positions. Often people compartmentalize various aspects of their lives, allowing themselves to inconsistently apply one methodology to certain areas while adopting the opposite method for others. However, every choice to act still rests upon some implicit belief in reality's fundamental nature.
Those who consistently subscribe to the primacy of existence hold the scientific method inviolable, recognizing it as one of the principal tools for the exploration of the world and a means of ascertaining truth, while those who adopt a primacy of consciousness viewpoint believe that by altering the content of their mind, they can alter (or avoid) the nature of reality. For them, the scientific method is not merely useless, but utterly wrong in its approach.
Now, consider the following two examples:
These two examples dramatize the consequences of adopting different philosophies with respect to reality which is, in fact, independent of our hope, dreams, wishes, desires, or intentions. Comprehend and incorporate the laws of nature, along with the relevant facts, into one's actions, and goals are achievable. Ignore them at your peril. And while most of our personal day-to-day decisions do not rise to the level of life or death, the success or failure of the outcomes remains very much a product of those underlying premises.
The sad truth is that the primacy of consciousness world view has been adopted by a majority of people and drives actions in many areas towards sub-optimal, and sometimes extremely harmful outcomes. In the conduct of their lives, many individuals mindlessly adopt all sorts of misguided fantasies that, to any thinking person, are obviously disconnected from reality. Some read horoscopes based upon the alignment of planets at the moment of their birth and then adjust their daily activity to avoid hinted-at pitfalls or to achieve a hazily-defined positive outcome. Some pay fortune tellers to advise them about life-altering decisions that should be adopted based upon the creases in their hand, the position of tea leaves in a cup, the order of a set of playing cards, the position of falling wooden sticks, and by many other methods. Beliefs of this type, when applied consistently, result in a holistic approach towards life as embodied in the New Age movement, resting squarely upon a foundation of astrology (the Aquarian Age), and incorporating mystical aspects from many cultures. Consider the following quote:
There could be no clearer and more explicit statement demonstrating the primacy of consciousness in action. But wait, where have we heard this before? Moral Relativism? Arguments for tolerance of all systems of belief, regardless of their content? These are the very bedrock principles of "political correctness" that drive the policies of the far-left, progressive collectivists.
Now, when an individual decides to diverge from reality, they
primarily harm themselves, and possibly those with whom they directly
interact. But when the government, which implements and imposes its
actions by force upon all of its citizens, evades reality, then the
collateral damage becomes massive. So do we see evidence of the
primacy of consciousness in play on the political scene? In
Consider the devastating economic crisis that we currently face. Are these problems existential, being the inevitable consequence of specific actions that have been taken, or are our difficulties social, being merely the byproduct of our thinking? In the first case, a solution would clearly call for the abandonment of those policies causing the harm and their replacement with others based upon an awareness of the actual facts of the situation. In the latter case, all that would be required to turn the economy around would be a change in our collective mental attitude. Which view guides our politicians? Let's see.
That's quite a preoccupation with people's confidence! In fact, it is so important to the decision-making of our government officials that we have an entire organization, The Conference Board, devoted to producing the Consumer Confidence Index, a major indicator used by the Federal Reserve when setting interest rates. According to Wikipedia, "The Index is calculated each month on the basis of a household survey of consumers' opinions on current conditions and future expectations of the economy."
Over and over we hear from the media, as well as from Republicans, to Bernanke, to Obama, just how important "confidence" is, and how it is the "lack of confidence" that is keeping the economy down. The problem is not that past economic policies have failed. They all believe that it has nothing to do with business regulations that destroy the ability to plan, compete and innovate. It's not the burden of increased taxes and expanding liabilities promised by the full implementation of Obamacare that throttles business growth, nor is it the legislation that encouraged overbuilding, spending and lending in the housing market. And it's not vast entitlement incentives that encourage people to freeload rather than work. These are merely concrete issues which have no important economic impact.
Instead, they know that the real problem is that people don't believe that everything is just fine. If the public would just change its stinkin' thinkin' and stop worrying about underwater mortgages, outstanding debt, lack of savings, evaporating retirement funds, and future job prospects, then they could get back to the business of carefree spending and the economy would be back on the tracks! Why? Because our politicians know exactly what the New Agers know, that reality is nothing more than the notion that we each hold of it. If we can only come to believe that good times are just around the corner, then reality will conform to those desires and there will be no need for government to back down from any of it's wonderful totalitarian programs and policies. So look no further in an attempt to understand why, after two failed rounds of stimulus, Obama doesn't hesitate to propose a third. What's important is that he wants you to know that he's got your back, so cheer up. Please!
Yes, people and businesses are indeed very uncertain about the
future, and that uncertainty is having a profound effect upon their
actions. However, it is not their "state of mind" that is
creating the woes we all face — just the opposite. It is an
awareness of the very real problems we face that is justifiably
creating our uncertainty. Our economic and social problems are the
direct result of very specific actions which have, and continue to be
implemented by interventionist politicians in their attempt to
centrally plan not only our economy, but every other aspect of our
lives. And until those policies are reversed, no manipulation of the
public's mind is going to have any effect on the predictable and
inevitable consequences of those policies. There's no escaping it.
Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed, and Greece is the poster
child for this inescapable fact.
If there is one thing that our politicians do accurately understand, it is that after generations of indoctrination in our public school system, the ability for critical thinking has been significantly eroded in a large percentage of the population. As a consequence, they do not worry that their own lack of knowledge, their own inability to reason critically, or their many contradictions, failed promises and the bad consequences resulting from their acts will have much lasting impact on a culture possessing an extremely short attention span. The public can effectively be treated as though it were a child.
Today, most voters are unable or unwilling to parse what politicians say in order to tease apart the salient facts from the fluff — a task requiring far too much time and energy. And the general level of illiteracy in history, geography, science, logic and current events insures that most people are incapable of assembling for themselves an accurate understanding of any reasonably complex issue, leaving them open to having that void filled with prepackaged conclusions supplied by others.
Politicians and the media also know that most people react badly if they feel that they are being brainwashed or forced to accept someone elses opinions or analysis. However, the public does like to be entertained, and this has led to a transformation away from what was once the simple presentation of facts and positions (news), to the telling of stories which contain an implied conclusion that is received more through osmosis than by conscious thought. Obama clearly understands the power of this approach.
But not everyone is as disturbed by this as Noonan. Take, for example this comment by Ezra Klein while discussing Obama's State of the Union speech:
For Klein, what makes Obama's speech a success has nothing to do with it's actual content, which must be depreciated to the level of pointless facts. What is important is its storytelling, and the emotional impressions that it conveys to the public. Is Obama actually a good and able president based upon the record of his administration? Irrelevant. What's important is that he make the public feel that he is. And here we have another example of the primacy of consciousness in action. There is no objective truth regarding anything, including the very nature of of the man himself! All that matters for Obama is what his perception is in the eyes of others. When Obama faces an adoring crowd, he basks in the glory and radiates a sense of content condescension as he senses his own greatness. But as has been reported on numerous occasions, when challenged, his self-image evaporates, revealing the nasty reality that lies within.
Others on the left understand how critically important the story is for maintaining their particular notion of reality. If the public forms another image in their head, then the jig is up. Here is Maureen Dowd expressing those concerns:
And here is Jason Horowitz, discussing the Obama administration's handling of the BP oil spill, and pointing out that the emperor really is missing his clothes:
Despite their best intentions to the contrary, that pesky old
reality continues to rear its head, dashing the ship of consciousness
on the shoals of the primacy of existence.
Today's politics is just one good story after another, and when you wrap them all together with a pretty bow, what you end up with is the narrative that Dowd mentioned above. Here is what one reporter has to say about the Obama narrative:
Now that's funny! Much like the health care bill that Nancy Pelosi informed us we would have to pass before we could find out what was in it, Carol is just sure that Obama has a core philosophy, but his narrative is unfortunately too complex to let us discover exactly what it might be. Wait, I though that the whole purpose of the narrative was to feed simplified stories to the public in place of the complicated facts that were beyond our comprehension. Instead, this once domesticated narrative has broken free from its corral and returned to the wild. Giddy up!
The concept of the narrative has now trickled down to the masses — a tool to be used by even self anointed "working-class" Wall Street protesters such as Jesse LaGreca, who was recently interviews on the Sunday panel discussion show, Roundtable.
But seriously, exactly what narrative? LaGreca doesn't have the faintest idea. So, let's turn to the man in the street and see what sort of story he has to tell:
And here we have reached the end of the line, to witness the narrative of the primacy of consciousness in all its glory. Fully detached from the last vestiges of reality, the mind soars towards new heights and new possibilities, fueled only by those two magic phrases, "It's what I want" and "That's what I think."
Reality, I command thee
to bend to my will!
Today, on many fronts we are engaged in an epic battle for our future. At the most fundamental level, it is a fight for the metaphysical underpinning of our most precious resource — our minds. The outcome of this struggle will determine whether we survive as a civilized culture to pursue the glory represented by the Citicorp Tower, or are relegated to suffering the Challenger's fate. Choose you side and then fight for your future as if your life depends upon it — because it does!
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