Patience, Young Padawan
This post is an introduction to a podcast episode I recently was a guest on; Benjamin Fincher's How to Rewrite Your Stars. Listen on Spotify or YouTube.
In Star Wars: A New Hope, a young and impulsive Luke Skywalker freshly embarking on his first space flight ever impatiently yells to the pilot, Han Solo, "why don't we just make the jump to hyperspace?!"
Han Solo, furiously working the controls of the Millenium Falcon, responds with annoyed frustration that you have to let the navigational computer complete its calculations or they might run into an asteroid field.
Though this occurred fictionally a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away that bit of wisdom has a lot of real-world application right here and now.
One hundred years ago, British philosopher G. K. Chesterton gave similar advice when he said that we shouldn't tear down a fence until we know the reason it was put up.
More recently, Canadian psychologist and philosopher Dr. Jordan Peterson has repeatedly warned that those who don't have their own houses in order shouldn't seek to change the world. Or in Star Wars terms, those not familiar with the complexities of space travel shouldn't bark insistent orders to the pilots who are.
The impulse to change the status quo is good and necessary because there are things that need changing. The impulse to keep things the same is also good and necessary because there are things that need to stay the same.
This tension between "progressive" and "conservative" temperaments is necessary for a free society.
Classic liberalism is built on the humble notion that we imperfect humans can never build a perfect world and so the best we can hope for is compromise among competing ideas.
Freedom of speech, assembly, press, conscience, etc. all lend themselves to the necessary discussion, debate, back-and-forth, and give-and-take needed to arrive at the compromises we all feel we can live with.
Citizens with progressive and conservative temperaments bring different, important perspectives to those debates.
So too are reason and the scientific method crucial tools in ferreting out the truth and discerning the best direction to go.
Furthermore, we stand on the shoulders of giants in pretty much everything we experience, so it is wise to seek to understand why the world is the way it is - or why our social institutions are the way they are before we go about seeking to change them.
In very recent years, a very illiberal mindset with a very loud voice has made the claim that the liberal order with its attendant components of equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationality, and neutral principles of constitutional law are not in fact the means for every voice to be heard and every citizen to participate, but are instead tools of oppression of the hegemonic forces of the white cisgender patriarchy.
Wokeism, as this mindset has come to be called, is a loose collection of philosophies that all stem from the same Kant-Hegel-Marx roots and include Postmodernism, Postcolonialism, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Anti-racism, Intersectionality, and Radical Feminism, among others.
It's not that they don't often call attention to legitimate issues; it's that their solutions are worse than the problems they seek to fix. Their mindset is utopian. Their approach is religious. They desire to obtain and concentrate power to reform society in their desired image, by intimidation and force.
This is reminiscent of Hobbes' Leviathan in which he wrote, "I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death."
That same mindset, according to USA Today columnist James Bovard, "produced the greatest ideological carnage in human history, killing more than a hundred million people in the last century."
This is in opposition to classic liberalism which, first of all, insists on separation of church and state, and second, recognizes the dangers of power and seeks to disperse and distribute it as widely as possible and, apart from the use of force to protect life, liberty, and property, leaves us alone to wrestle everything else out using evidence, debate, consent, and compromise.
The good and bad of western civilization and the history of the past three or four thousand years are built on a dizzying array of sophisticated ideas. We stopped widely teaching them twelve decades ago. We ignore them at our peril for as Harvard philosophy professor George Santayana famously said, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The asteroid fields are still out there.
Recently, I was invited as a guest on Benjamin Fincher's How to Rewrite Your Stars podcast to discuss these ideas in greater depth.