August 29, 2010

Inertial navigation....

Hale Adams wrote in a comment to my neo-Gnosticism post...

...I think this ties in neatly with my periodic rants on "political Taylorism". Taylorism, as properly applied to the production of goods, resulted in such astounding success that we no longer truly want for any material thing.

Being as how it's hard to argue with success, Taylor's principles have been applied improperly to other realms of human activity. I've ranted about its application to politics and society— it's what we call "Progressivism"— but it shows up in religious matters as well, as the "neo-gnosticism" in your post. Rather than stick with the tried-and-true Judeo-Christian beliefs about human nature, too many people go with new-fangled ideas promoted by "experts"...
"applied improperly to other realms of human activity"

You are exactly right. And we see the same thing in many other areas. We constantly hear that "science" or "research" or "experts" or "psychology" tell us things about how to live. But how we are to know with certainty whether we can trust them? That's never explained.

More broadly, this is all part of the problem of inertial navigation. Which is, you can't navigate inertially unless you can occasionally refer to fixed landmarks outside your own system. Apollo missions could not depend on their own instruments and computers alone to get them to the moon or back. The astronauts took sightings on stars, with sextants, and made course corrections. Today's ships and planes get fixes from satellites, and adjust course accordingly. (When I was young they still used sextants. And the satellites must themselves be calibrated by reference to the stars, or to fixed points on Earth.)

Taylorism is proper to use for something like industrial production, because we can stand outside and measure and criticize the results, and because the goal is pretty much defined. (One of my own heroes, Peter Drucker, pointed out some of the flaws of managing people purely by efficiency. The ugly labor relations of the US auto industry are an example, and one that has led to very inefficient results.)

But if we are adjusting ourselves, guiding ourselves, then how do we stand outside and judge the results? And make course corrections? We can't, unless we have some sort of fixed reference points outside ourselves to navigate by.

"Neo-Gnosticism is the philosophy that invites you to search deep inside yourself and discover some exciting things by which you must then live." Same problem. If you are using yourself as a guideline, how can you measure the results? You are your own measuring instrument, and you are changing yourself.

Humans have never come up with a long-term solution except various forms of transcendent religious faith. All other attempts have failed. Marxism tried to use "laws of history" as fixed points. Taylorism/Pragmatism/Progressivism uses efficiency, or "what just works." But that just begs the question of how we decide that efficiency is what matters. Or what guidelines to use to judge "what works."

"The wisdom of our forefathers" has always been a good stopgap, but it breaks down over the long run once people become self-conscious about it, and start to try to pin down exactly what that wisdom is. That's the dilemma of non-religious conservatism—you still need guidelines for what exactly should be conserved! Conservatism itself cannot give an answer.

And even if by some magical revelation one knew for sure that efficiency, or the Federalist Papers, or "the greatest good for the greatest number," or Liberty should be our guide in politics and society, there remains the deeper problem that the results are being measured by the very people and societies you are tinkering with! It's like the lab rats running the experiment on themselves and then saying what it means.

Every non-religious thought-system is in deep philosophical trouble. (That doesn't mean that the religious ones are true; that's a different question.) DEEP TROUBLE! WAKE UP! And none of them want to think about it, which is why I don't have vast numbers of people avidly reading this blog.   ;-)

If there is something in your life you don't want to think about, then you are living in fear! You are skating on thin ice. And if there's even one thing you don't want to think about, then you can't be confident about anything. Why? Because you can't know the extent of the problem-area....... unless you think about it!

And this is at the core of the problem of nihilism I keep nattering about. My theory is that until recently most people in the Western world retained many habits left over from Judaism and Christianity, even though formal religious faith has been in decline for centuries. Therefore they felt like they had solid ground under their feet, and were much less fearful. Those habits have now mostly worn off, and many people have no belief in anything greater or truer than themselves. And so people are acting very strangely, because on some deep level they know that they are in trouble...

As unbelievers deny Revelation more decisively, as they put their denial into more consistent practice, it will become the more evident what it really means to be a Christian. At the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies. He must learn to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through Him; he will have to learn to experience what this honestly means. Nietzsche had already warned us that the non-Christian of the modern world had no realization of what it truly meant to be without Christ. The last decades [this was written in the 1950's] have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades were only the beginning...
   — Romano Guardini, from The End of the Modern World
Posted by John Weidner at August 29, 2010 9:51 AM
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