Chesterton Fences are for The Other Guy.

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it” – GK Chesterton.

Chestertons Fence is a bad argument..even in the opinion of those who occasionally use it. You can tell, because no one uses it when there is any better argument available. After all it doesn’t give a reason why some X was wrong or right;. Instead, it just suggests that there was a reason and a function and purpose for it at some point in time… because no one ever does anything without good reason, right?…and that the function persists…because, circumstances never change, right?

It is very hard to imagine someone conceding to a Chestertons’s Fence that affects them, personally.
“Stop doing that”. “Why?” “For a reason which has long been forgotten”

I encountered the Chesterton Fence, although not under that name, in an article by Melanie Phillips. Her topic was homosexuality. After noting that some of her best friends…yes, really…argued that homosexuality must be bad, because that is the teaching of the ancients. In true CF fashion, nothing specifically wrong about it is mentioned. Would she stop doing something, or change her lifestyle, if someone told her “X is wrong. I can’t say how, but it’s that’s what the traditional teachings hold”, Actually, that is not idle speculation. I don’t usually go in for ad hominem , but this one is relevant. Phillips is a childless career woman. According to some traditional teachings, that’s a no-no. She’s on the wrong side of a fence a few inches from the one that she’s on the right side of.

It perhaps isn’t impossible to be a consistent, non hypocritical user of Chestertons Fence…but you would need be a very serious and consistent reactionary…well to the right of Ms Phillips.

“Christian, n.: one who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.” – Ambrose Bierce, the Devils Dictionary.


Charisma versus Competence:Styles of Politician, Polity, and Voter.

Problem: the president doesn’t know your name.

People tend to  follow the charisma/influence/coalition model because it makes sense in tribes, or other Dunbar number grouping,  where everyone knows each other.

However, it does not scale up. Larger polities are run technocratically and bureaucratically by people largely unknown to the public, who implement plans and programmes. Policy does matter at that scale, because the choice policy is the choice of plan.

Dunbar number tribes don’t build intercontinental railroads or public cool systems. Their leaders specialise in crisis management. Our  instinctive, System I judgements about who is a charismatic leader are probably well tuned to selecting good crisis managers.

Misapplying the charismatic model to advanced states results in a succession of politicians who charm but disappoint, because their technocratic skills aren’t in line with their charisma.

However, advanced states aren’t insulated from crisis.  Wartime andpeacetime leaders should be selected by difference criteria.

There are difference kinds of leaders, different kinds of social groupings to be led, and different kinds of voters. The charisma-orientated gut-instinct voters are the despair of the policy wonks, forever rejecting the well laid plans of such-and-such a politician because they judge their eyes  to be too close-set. But the wonks aren’t always right because character matters in a crisis.

Neoreaction versus History; or Monoculture and Robustness.

NRs  seem to think that monocultures lead to robustess due to lack of internal dissent. This isn’t even true about internal dissent, since there can be disagreement about details amimg those who e on basics. And it doesn’t begin to cover robustness again external threats. The basic problem facing any polityiws that you don’t know what is going to happen next. A hammer based monoculture is not going to be robust, because not every problem is they are to encounter will be a nail. .NRs are intent on recreating a syndrome known to have led to the downfall of many ancient societies. For instance, the Easter Islanders, whose solution to every problem was “build another statue”.

The Libertarians Drop Out .. Into What?

It’s in the immediate interest of healthy single people with earning  potential to opt out of societies where they are required to pay a high proportion of their earnings to support families and the elderly. Whether you have the right to is not quite the question. The question is what you would be opting into. You cant stay where you are physically, because you would be free riding on infrastructure you’re refusing to pay for.

Moreover, you can’t  move to Tir naNog, the land of the forever young, because biology is against you. A biologically self sustaining society will have babies and oldsters who need looking after.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be biologically self sustaining. It could have babies constant influx of young adults; they could save for their own retirements, and then be looked after by hirelings out of their own funds. They would have to be celibate, or at least in reproductive, of course.

Its been done before: it’s called a monastery.

Politicians are More Consistent.


, ,

Instrumentlal rationality and epistemic rationality aren’t the same. Epistemic rationality seeks to maxmise knowledge, truth and consistency. Instrumental rationality seeks to maximise efficiemcy, gain and personal utility.

One area they come apart is signalling, the implicit and explicit ways we tell others what kind of person we are.  The instrumentally rational way is to signal is to maximise your utility by sending out  agreeable signals to whichever individual or group you need something from. This Vicar-of-Bray style behaviour will lead to your making highly inconsistent statements in the limit. If you want to signal sincerity, you will need to believe them too.So you will end up with inconsistent beliefs. So,IR+signalling is inconsistent with ER.


However, all this assumes you won’t be found out. If you are scrutinised, in different siutations, by someone who cares about consistency, the benefit of inconsistent signalling vanishes.And noone is scrutinsed more than a politician in a healthy democracy. People read reports of politicians contradicting themselves and being inconsistent, and infer that politicians are unusually hypocritical. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence The ordinary persons hypocrisy is not publicised becausd the ordinary person does not have reporters following them round.

The ordinary person typically moves in a number of fairly disjoimt circles — the workplace, family, same-sex friends and so on — signaling different loyalties to each. The existence of Chinese walls is even humorously acknowledged: “what happens in X stays in X”. reaches a peak when communicating with completely unconnected individuals and groups. My go-to example is a telesales operative Iwho would ring various people during the crude of a day and agree with every word they said. Her customers were of course unknown to each other and in no position to compare notes,.

Drones and Reference Classes

I seem to have ended up on the conservative side of a debate in my old age.

Liberals tended oppose the use of drones ,automated killing machines. They do so because they see them as a morally inferior alternative to a fair trial. Which they would
be if all other things were equal. But all other things are not equal.

If someone’s gone to ground in a foreign country, and US surrounded .by a personal militia, and an outer ring of civilians, how doyiu arrest them and bring them to trial without holding a stating battle between your forces, and their, with a co miserable risk to any civilians?

Drone strikes look bad compared to civilian justice, but civilian justice isn’t a reasonable alternative where they are typical used.

Compared to typical military assaults .on the ground, they .look good. They are not quite an ideal surgical strike with .no collateral damage, but
they are closest approximation we ha’ve.

Myopia Makes Politicians Seem Worse ThanThey Are.

The job of a politician is to allocate resources between many competing interests.
Since there are limited resources, most people will have you wait for their particular problem to be fixed. (Resources tend to be scant because voters don’t like paying to much tax) If a thousand people need their drains fixed, the first ten or so might get them fixed on day one, the last ten or so will have to wait for weeks or months.

People don’t like generally notice politics when things are proceeding as normal. They notice when there is a specific problem. That specific problem is the only issue to them. They have an ants eye view. If they are number 875 on the drain fixing list,that is an intolerable delay to them. But, from the eagles eye view, someone has to be numbers 875.

University Sackings: a Modest Proposal.

Whilst I disagree with the Moldbuggers about almost everything,the have bit of a point about academic institutions sacking professors for being too illiberal.

However restoring the monarchy (or whatever) as solution seems over engineered to me.

My modest proposal consists mainly of changing some names. Our implicit standard model is that there ks a core of mainstream u universities, which teach the Truth in an objectI’ve and unbiased way, and a periphery of institutions that have an agenda…the catholic and Baptist universities,and so on. I propose that we start calling the mainstream institutions Liberal Secular University of So and So. Since no one has much problem with a Catholic university sacking a theologian who converts to Mormonism , why would they have a problems with the Liberal Secular University of Springfield sacking a professor who converts to sci entific racism? Which they do already. So what changes mainly the name.

Maybe we should all stop pretemding we don’t have agendas.