Friday Afternoon Confessional: the fallacy of conservatism
This is the fallacy:
“If this tradition was good for the parents then it will be good for the kids as well.”
There’s not a lot more to conservatism and – as much hatred this fallacy deserves – it is also by far the best conservatism has to offer. Because, at least, it looks like it might make sense as some kid of a default rule. “Why change something that isn’t broken?”, is the most offered conservative response to, well, anything. And it should give pause (including the middle and all that) because what we share is valuable because it is what binds us. It should not be changed just because somebody feels like it, that’s dictatorial. The fact is that change is the one tradition that binds every single culture together. So, in conserving, conservatism degenerates so quickly in dictatorial behavior precisely because conservatism strives to abolish the very change that makes us uniquely capable to cope with the unexpected. It’s no coincidence that the outer edges of conservatism are plagued with convictions such as creationism. As it isn’t coincidence that the outer edges of revolutionary progressives are plagued with totalitarians. And that the next generations of those revolutionary people quickly converge to conserve (showing how evolutionarily stable conservatism is).
So I confess to not merely hating conservatism.
Still, it is a fallacy so let’s inspect in some detail the fallacy of conservative conflation:
- traditions have never been good for all parents, they typically aren’t even good for most parents, to survive as tradition they merely have to have been mostly good to those parents whose opinion dominates public opinion,
- even in the latter case ‘good for’ needs a qualification because, more often than not, the tradition itself may have been really obnoxious to even this small subset of parents but still correlated to them dominating public opinion,
- in fact, given that the ruling part of society typically will be couched in a very uniform set of traditions, any of those would be highly correlated to them being part of the ruling class,
- the ‘good for’ turn of phrase can then be understood in a tradition of correlating starting conditions with success i.e. the basic fallacy of aristocracy (and as a matter of fact, meritocracy is just a thinly disguised version of aristocracy), and,
- the over-all fallacy can then be understood as the self-fulfilling (and more importantly self-sustaining) prophecy it is: pick a set of people with better starting conditions and they will conserve all of it as tradition.
The question might still be how come all of the other parents go in for this and the answer is twofold. On the one hand, there’s some level of predictability in the sense that if (e.g. by hard work, education, …) their kids conform to certain conditions they do have this chance of ‘moving up’. This is the carrot of meritocracy. On the other hand, there are always some people who are worse off enough to be really really strange. They have starting conditions that are systematically correlated to the worst outcomes. A fear of dropping to such a level is enough to be happy you are ‘at least’ not in that bad a condition. This is the stick of excommunication.
The combination of the two live very well with xenophobia and competition between states or clashes between cultures. The status quo of us being able to look down at them whilst they can look down at us stabilizes both the ‘us’ and ‘they’ system.
No, the practice of excommunication did not die centuries ago. In some sense we’ve just perfected it by taking exclusion of others as the short-cut foundation of building communities.
But none of this changes anything to the fact that language, our biggest tradition, is what binds us (even across languages, the way we use language binds us) and that we need to respect what binds us (and cannot expect anybody to give up their traditions just like that, because we don’t like them or because they don’t make sense to us or – whatever makes us feel better). Our ability to adapt and to learn, to change and to transform is fully predicated on all those things that bind us because they allow us to adapt and change in a way that has global meaning; that, in fact, can become part of a new tradition, one that includes more and more people & removes erratic differences in starting conditions and expands what counts as success.
This started out as a Tuesday Hatred, moved to a Friday Afternoon Confessional to almost land as Sunday Quought about how the fallacy of conservatism can be reversed into a theorem of evolutionary progress:
“If it will be good for the kids then this tradition will emerge as good for the parents as well.”
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