Saturday, June 25, 2016

not the town in Maryland

On the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay sits a small town known as Chestertown.  I visited it several times in my youth; one of my HS friends was born to parents who grew up there.  It remains a relatively quiet little town, where people are not in a hurry -- not in daily living as a matter of pace, and not toward adoption of things just because they're shiny and new.

You may have heard that the Eastern Shore is full of old crackers, but every time I've visited there I've marveled at the equal-footing interactions among Blacks and Whites alike.  This might be due to the fact that relative to someplace like Annapolis or greater Montgomery County, Chestertown is tiny, backward, and somewhat poor in median income.  It may be due to the fact that many people work in agriculture or bringing in the fish and shellfish bounty of the Bay.

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Chestertown was not named, albeit with erroneous spelling, for G.K. Chesterton.  Chestertown is not the font of Christian or Roman Catholic thinking on theology, mankind, or what it means to be human.  It's just a town on the Eastern Shore, a place where people tend to know they have more in common with each neighbor despite different last names, different skin tones, or different jobs worked.

Chesterton is a different topic.

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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.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

The quote above is from G.K. Chesterton, and the idea quoted above has come to be known as "Chesterton's Fence."

You can find all sorts of discussions of Chesterton's Fence if you do an internet search of the phrase.  One such discussion had these pithy words to say:

Smart young lawyers (and stupid older ones as well), filled with passion and vigor, want to remake the legal world to cure all the problems they see. With their zeal, they rush to tear down fences they see only as blocking their path to Utopia, oblivious as to why that fence could possibly be there. It seems so pointless to them. Knock it down!

There are fences whose utility has come and gone, that are ripe for demolition. There are fences that were built as well as they could be at the time, but can now be built better. And there are fences that better be left alone or really bad things will happen. Knowing which fence is which before doing the damage is critical.

That's from a lawyer who operates what he calls "a criminal defense blog." I didn't read elsewhere on the blog so I can't say whether I agree with his self-description of the blog.

However, I can say that I've seen such "smart young lawyers... filled with passion and vigor, want[ing] to remake the legal world to cure all the problems they see." I've also seen the "stupid older ones" who do likewise.

More importantly, I've seen the notion pushed outside law practice into socio-political discussion -- for example, when a legal ignoramus and/or layperson asserts that the role of the SCOTUS is to be a mediator of social friction and, more particularly, one who is attuned to the fad-bubble meme-du-jour in Social Justice Warrior banter.

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In my personal life I often encounter people, among whom are some of my friends, who have little shame when offering a thought that is completely unformed and untutored or unexamined.

There's nothing wrong with doing this as a conversational staple, sometimes a person needs to vent, sometimes a person needs to plant a seed for further discussion, and sometimes a person simply cannot stand moments of silence.

What is galling is when someone offers an idea with great conviction and certitude, and defends it with an appeal to authority or any other logical fallacy.

"But Huffington Post said...."

"I watched a documentary which showed...."

"Last night on Fox News, ____________ said ______________.  Can you believe that ____________ objected to ___________ on the ground that _____________ is going to happen as a result of this major decision on ___________?"

The foregoing examples are scaled in complexity, but each rests upon logical fallacy and a gullibility arising from confirmation bias.

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Chesterton's Fence prompts one to first ask why a certain notion or thing was created.

If you don't ask that question, whatever reform you undertake after clearing the landscape of the existing notion or thing, it's going to be ill-considered and may even result in a worsening of the problem.

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In the case of Brexit:

If you assume the Yes vote by the UK is horrible, did you bother investigating why the EU was formed?

Have you examined the ways in which EU membership has wreaked havoc on member nations' domestic economies?

Do you just automatically assume globalizing means social progress?

Have you ever asked yourself why you assume that?

Have you ever looked into the possibility that change is not progress, it's just change -- and change can be positive, negative or neutral?

I'd suggest trying some of these challenges yourself.  Learn a little more about what you pontificate on.  Understand the background of events and ideas and things before you assume they need to be changed.  Understand holistically how these events, ideas and things have performed/worked since they were introduced.

Ask yourself how well Greece fared as a result of EU membership.

Ask yourself how well Ireland fared as a result of EU membership.

Ask yourself these things even if you're not Greek or Irish yourself, even if you don't have any connection back in your family tree to either nation's people.

Ask yourself why you have assumed "globalization" is best.

Keep asking.


--Chet Redweld, who cannot imagine practicing law at anything above a gutter level without using Chesterton's Fence as a strategic reminder.

39 comments:

Chet Redweld said...

Chesterton on his friend George Bernard Shaw, and why the two men debated each other frequently:

"After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby."

http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/heretics/ch4.html

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Say, Chet: two questions.

1) Are you a Roman Catholic or other kind of Christian?

2) Were your views influenced in any way by Chesterton?

I should know these things as your unofficial biographer, but I don't. Yet.

Chet Redweld said...

Good Qs, Chuck.

1) I was baptized in the RC Church, but never have practiced that faith. I went to RC educational facilities and got degrees from them. But I didn't go to those schools in order to boost my RC credentials or fill my head with RC thought.

2) They might be, but it would be highly derivative. I've never read Chesterton before today. I had a couple of teachers who referred to him, but I never investigated Chesterton before today. It's very possible that the teachers who referred to him were themselves influenced by him, and to the extent they influenced me, maybe Chesterton did influence me. But it wasn't by my own choices, actions or plans that such influence arose.

Additionally -- still on (2) here -- I've read works C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft, and it's very likely that one or both of those men have been or were influenced by Chesterton, so maybe that's another route of indirect influence.

Chet Redweld said...

"...works by C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft..."

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

You didn't fully answer (1), you only discussed RC belief.

Chet Redweld said...

Mea culpa.

I'm not a Christian.

I'm not an atheist.

I'm not an agnostic.

I'm not a Mormon.

I'm not Jewish.

I'm not a Muslim.

I'm not a Jehovah's Witness.

I'm not a Christian Scientist, 7th Day Adventist, or Scientologist.

However, I was trained in a rigorous scientific scheme in my undergraduate studies, and I should be well-positioned to worship Science to such an extent that I should become atheist or agnostic by conviction.

Nonetheless, my undergraduate science studies revealed more evidence supporting a higher power than they showed any type of intellectual, existential or spiritual superiority in an atheistic or agnostic stance. On that footing, I find people like Richard Dawkins and his "Brights" to be naive, smug, and willfully engaged in a continuous pattern of confirmation bias.

Chet Redweld said...

Also, I'm not sure how this is connected, other than it's something I stumbled across during the same web browsing that took me to the Chesterton Fence mention:

http://socialpathology.blogspot.com/2016/06/francis-on-managerial-revolution.html

Long ago, I used to read Sam Francis columns in the Moonie Paper, and wonder how he got in there with all those NeoCon apologists.

Unlike Chesterton, I've researched Francis before today, and read him before today.

And please don't any of you tumbleweeds raise the objection that Francis was a bigot. Not until you've researched what he actually said and wrote, and how he explained the position often claimed to be "bigoted" by those who don't like hearing the truth when it's offered.

Chet Redweld said...

If you're too lazy to do that researching on Francis, here's what sits beneath the "bigotry" position he offered.

Blacks and Whites are genetically different, while both still are homo sapiens.

That's what he said, but people took took it to mean that Francis thought Black folks stupider than White folks.

Projection.

It's what narcissists do.

Don't project.

a nonny mouse said...

So you're a bigot yourself, Cheat Rotwood? You think Blacks are inferior, like Charles Murray suggested in The Bell Curve?

Chet Redweld said...

Not at all.

You may want to study epidemiology, Mr/Ms Mouse.

I've known plenty of intelligent Black folks, and plenty of unintelligent White ones.

It's a little rare to see sickle cell anemia in Whites.

There's a bit of disparity in diabetes susceptibility too. Kidney problems as well.

Can't really get around those.

Except with pseudo-science marketing and fake-academic puffery, I mean.

Chet Redweld said...

More tangential relevance, similar to the 2:54 pm comment's linked essay.

http://thebaffler.com/salvos/wild-things-national-parks-martin

I watch as The Gentrifiers continue trying to exclude "dangerous" wildlife from around my town, while setting up absurdly artificial restrictions to do such things as "protect elk habitat."

Example: a local ridgeline leading to taller mountains, just outside town, is "winter elk habitat" where you can't recreate from November through April.

The restriction is in place thanks to city and county regulations. The same city and county permitted a new house to be built right in the middle of this protected zone. So while recreation can't happen up there, the house's residents are free to drive their cars and trucks back and forth across the protected habitat.

Which is sure to create ecosystem/habitat effects upon those elk, and not in good ways either.

The same in Yellowstone NP -- restrictions on where you can go and how you can go there, but plenty of big modern buildings for selling junk food and tourist trinkets.

"Development" apparently has the sanction of Nature, but human recreation doesn't.

I'm fairly sure nobody can justify this hypocrisy from a biological perspective relevant to elk (or other wild creature) habitat and ecosystem needs.

I'm also fairly sure that nobody really mentions the hypocrisy because most people don't know anything about biology or its subset/superset (depends on context), ecology.

Paul Behrer said...

I dunno, Chet. Wahn Baiwee seems to think the planet's ecosystems really do have an anthropomorphized desire to have humans "developing" the natural world. Isn't he the Science Editor at the nation's leading "libertarian" journal and website?

Chet Redweld said...

Mr Bailey has more in common with Richard Dawkins than he does with Rachel Carson.

Paul Behrer said...

I already know about Dawkins. You want me to research Rachel Carson, eh Chet?

Okay. I will.

Paul Behrer said...

Two interesting points on her wikipedia entry:

Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially some environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was the book Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. * * * Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies....

and

In 2012 Silent Spring was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society for its role in the development of the modern environmental movement.

Two questions for you, Chet.

1) Why was their fierce opposition in the early 1960s to the idea of connecting man's industrial activity to the natural world in which mankind finds itself?

2) What is the American Chemical Society, and what would its crediting Carson for creating an environmental movement reflect? Is that a positive crediting, or a negative one?

Chet Redweld said...

I think you meant "there" instead of "their" up there, Pablo. But in answer to your questions:

1) Science grew more corrupted by industrial application interests during the 20th Century. For literary references to this, read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, or The Citadel, by A.J. Cronin.

As a result of that corruption, a blind eye was turned, research-curiosity-wise, to actual ecosystem effects of things mankind created in its industrial efforts.

What we now call "ecology" as a division of biology was once called "supra-organismal biology," a systemic study branch of a science which tends to break down upon individualized (i.e., genus/species) traits otherwise. Systemic study occurs when examining, for example, the human body as a functioning biological machine. It happens when looking at one-celled organisms like paramecia -- organisms which have subsystems within them, functioning together as a whole organism.

In the first half of the 20th C, human-system observation was mostly sociological in context. Politics, economics, and the more gross fields we now call sociology and/or cultural anthropology.

Research money was pushed toward commercial applications of biological science, like pharmaceuticals. Not toward, for example, the effects of using DDT for pest control, or using Agent Orange as a "defoliant" in jungles.

2) I don't know what ACS is now, but when I was in college it was the standard-bearer for academic chemistry. In my biochemistry class, we used the ACS test for our final. It was so rigorous that the highest grades among most non-Chem majors nationally, at that time, were around 65-75% of the answers being correct. That's where the As sat. I think I got something like a 47%, which was a C+ or B-, I don't recall which was my final exam letter grade. I understood my college's Chem dept to use ACS tests for all exams at Organic Chem and beyond. Don't know about p-chem, never took that one.

Chet Redweld said...

Continuing to the 2d part of your (2) here, Pablo.

If ACS still is the standard bearer, academic rigor-wise, then its 2012 designation probably reflects the literal landmark quality of Carson's focus on interrelatedness, which is a keystone to a holistic, ecosystem-effects study of our natural world.

In my view, Carson's work is such a landmark, and I don't say that because someone recited that fact during my u-grad Bio studies. I say it because her focus was honestly on the ecosystem, and was not tainted by a willful blind eye turned toward something merely becacuse (a) humans made it, (b) it presents a profit opportunity, and/or (c) its industrial application has some arguable benefit.

The ecosystem does not function as a human and does not have a human psyche guiding it. Because it is a system containing many, many things besides human beings, the ecosystem will reflect negative developments -- regress and/or death of organisms within -- if a human-made thing, item or product works a negative or mutagenic or deleterious effect on one or more organisms within the ecosystem.

The ecosystem does not have a natural preference toward or bias in favor of human doings.

This is what Carson's work toward and in Silent Spring is notable for showing.

Paul Behrer said...

If I play reductio ad absurdum-Man and say, "this is all due to Corporate!", have I observed anything useful?

Chet Redweld said...

Absolutely not, Pablo. Not from an ecosystem perspective, anyway. Not from a scientific perspective.

It might, however, get you social status improvement among certain cliques working within America society.

But it does nothing toward seeing the root cause of the problem.

And it does even less for improving one's understanding of systems.

Haroldd Caidagh said...

Wahn Baiwee's present perspective on science reflects that of the early 20th Century, eh Chet?

"We don't see any possible harms from this industrial application, because (a) humans made it! we're great!; (b) we're so great we not only made this thing, but we can make money as a result of making the thing, and money is what really matters!; and (c) we spray these chemicals to reduce mosquito density or the number of ugly unwanted dandelions on our lawns, so there can't possibly be any negative ripples from those applications because of fewer mosquitos and more golf-course-like lawns are the human desires/wants end result!"

Such a wise, learned, integrity-laden perspective! It's almost like he's a flat-earther.

Chet Redweld said...

Rather ironic for a futurist and technophile and progress adherent to be so retrograde.

Haroldd Caidagh said...

"We'll just destroy this planet then find another. I saw it on Star Trek, plus it must be true if Heinlein wrote about it -- he was a Libertarian!"

said Wahn Baiwee, getting most of his science cues from fiction.

Instead of being a steward of his own body, he wants to destroy it and replace the destroyed parts with biosynthetics.

Instead of being a steward of the planet, he wants to destroy it and move to another when he's immortalized through a cyber-merged no-longer-human existence.

As long as he's going to live forever, it doesn't matter how many planets are destroyed. Eventually we'll leap across the infinite expanse of the universe in the blink of an eye, just by thinking.

That's what Big Data is headed toward. Information is the key. Information, and the money you can make by turning information into "money."

It's got the depth of a fast burst sunshower's dampness on a hot summer sidewalk.

***************

Yes, I know I have an extra "d" today. That's just progress at work.

Chet Redweld said...

It's doubly ironic that when it comes to questioning whether, say, the police or the EPA are using the same admirably profit-making applications of technology and/or Big Data in an even-handed manner, Mr Bailey has no trouble seeing the hollowness, falsity, or myopia inherent in pretending a brittle thing is durable and very forward-looking.

Haroldd Caidagh said...

It's almost like he turns a blind eye toward things if there's personal gain in the bargain.

His personal gain. It's not like he could actually be a science journalist in any field of hard science, it it? He's more like a Malcolm Gladwell than a Rachel Carson, isn't he Chet?

Psy-op

instead of

Sci-ence.

Right?

Chet Redweld said...

At the core of things, he flips a coin on which one side is "socialist" and the other "capitalist".

When the S side comes up, anything offered as science is Marxism.

When the C side comes up, everything offered as science is Truth.

It's a pity he doesn't have a magic coin that gives him instant science knowledge. We don't actually live in Wachowski-land and Mr Bailey can't just upload the necessary science knowledge for the day's essay topic. A magic coin of the sort he uses to determine the positives and/or negatives in a science application would do wonders for his e-PhD studies.

Chet Redweld said...

Okay, I have to admit I was joking a little up there when I said American Chemical Society was the ACS whose tests we used in college.

The C in our test entity was Chemistry, not Chemical.

I was just inhabiting the Ronald Bailey mind when pretending the Chemical is the same as the Chemistry.

I can see why he'd confuse the two. One's about the subject area in academics, the other is about the commercial application of what the subject area's knowledge can teach. He doesn't know much about the former but he's thought an awful lot about, and probably made some money on, the latter.

Paul Behrer said...

This is the kind of thing where engineers get tripped up, isn't it Chet?

All their science is focused on application, not the knowledge itself and the continual questioning of what is assumed to be the case.

The engineer imagines him/herself the author of progress.

As such, xe is clearly The Omniscient One when it comes to pure science, especially the branches of which xe never studied past what was required to graduate from high/prep school.

Chet Redweld said...

You can almost see the dots lining up to form a message.

Forgive me for being a little sardonic here -- but it's almost like their naivete is known to them, and that's why they project omniscience in an area of ignorance. And why not do that? It's an extra-narcissistic period in the history of a narcissistic culture! I'm just here swimming with my fellow fishes!

Paul Behrer said...

Chet, if someone who was an M.E. came up to you and said,

"Hey Mr Redweld, I hear you sometimes do complex construction and mechanical product liability litigation. Would you consider using me as an expert witness sometime? I have a B.S.M.E."

what would you use that person for, assuming you're satisfied with the legitimacy of the claim to having a degree in M.E. and assuming he shows a half-decent sense of what his expertise actually consists of?

Chet Redweld said...

If the person had chops?

Mechanical design expertise.

Mechanical fabrication expertise.

And maybe post-fab operation expertise, if he or she could show me his/her aptitude extended beyond design and fabrication.

I certainly wouldn't consider him/her an informed person on matters of biology, physics or chemistry, let alone an expert for litigation purposes, in any of those fields.

For those fields, I'd get an actual scientist.

Paul Behrer said...

How about an economist?

In what setting would you use an economist as an expert?

Chet Redweld said...

None that I can think of, but that's on a more limited background than the entire field of civil litigation.

Maybe if I was asked to defend a securities seller against claims that a given investment vehicle was sold on fraudulent premises or sales pitches?

That's not really science. It's phrenology.

There's a reason I didn't work in that field.

H.M. Lohmann said...

Hey Chet, I've been chewing on this:

Ask yourself how well Greece fared as a result of EU membership.

Ask yourself how well Ireland fared as a result of EU membership.

Ask yourself these things even if you're not Greek or Irish yourself, even if you don't have any connection back in your family tree to either nation's people.

Ask yourself why you have assumed "globalization" is best.

Keep asking.


So, what are the dominant religions in Greece and Ireland?

Harold Caidagh said...

What is not the dominant religion in each country is a much better question, Hy.

Paul Behrer said...

Yeah why can't those Greeks and Irish be more like Israelis? Why don't they develop a spyware-spytech-miltech-biowarfare-spookyRx industrial base and start making money like a good Israeli? Then they too could just shoot "enemies" holding pebble "weapons" or run over innocents with tanks or simply raze people's houses or dwellings if they don't meet your aesthetic standards or their occupants don't follow every minor whim you hold dear. They could sell all their blood-sucking, dehumanizing "technology" to other countries. Why don't they do that? Why don't they capitalize on terror, fear, and instability like a good Israeli? Why don't they lie, cheat, steal?

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Because they're "reactionary."

Duh.

Harold Caidagh said...

Why don't they develop a spyware-spytech-miltech-biowarfare-spookyRx industrial base and start making money like a good Israeli?

Because Uncle Shmuel doesn't send them billions each year like he does to Israel?

Paul Behrer said...

Imagine if Greek- and Irish-American people were whiny egocentric pussies like the Jews.

"Please Uncle Shmuel, our people will be wiped off the map if you don't send our economy more money and more US Govt contracts that let us make absurd profits!"

If 5% of the US Populace is Jewish, but 95% of US Govt foreign aid goes to Israel, is that well-balanced? Tolerant? Promoting Diversity? Progressive?

Chet Redweld said...

It is rather obviously imbalanced.

And Hy asks a good question. Does the EU promote religious neutrality? Does it promote a particular religion? Does it denigrate any religions? Does it say publicly something on these points, while privately doing differently?