Conservatism: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

It is of the essence of Burkean conservatism to look first, measure one’s resources, and then act with as little collateral damage as possible. Nature generally knows better than we do, and therefore should not be trifled with too radically or too rapidly. Local agents work better than giant collectives, not only because they know their local resources better but can also deploy them more efficiently. A maxim of E.R. doctors goes, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” The worst thing a doctor can do in a crisis situation is leap into action without carefully triaging and preparing. Likewise, there’s a Chinese proverb about this: “Yanking the grass up to help its growing up” (揠苗助長). Sometimes nature must run its course and the best policy is just to disincentivize the unjust conditions over the long run. But the usual “quick fix” is to divert one set of corrupt incentives to another one (e.g. how it literally pays better for many women to remain on welfare and keep having kids).

The leftist-statist impulse for “change” and “forward” progress is actually just a saccharine mask for the Nietzschean will to power driving it. “¡Sí, se puede!”, or in other words, “Power, yes; prudence, no.” Respecting the intricate local conditions that have developed over a long span of time is repellent to the statist, since his Nietzschean “overman” impulse is to “overcome” all status-quo factors precisely because they are the status quo: precisely because they are a given that threatens to overshadow his overman-ego. Meanwhile, when individuals, based on concrete, intricate, local commitments and knowledge, stand up to defend or restore their local communities, they are viewed–by leftists, of course–as “vigilantes” or opportunistic “libertarians.”

(I wrote the above, mutatis mutandis, in response to Crude’s recent post that “sometimes it’s best to do nothing” http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/2013/09/sometimes-its-best-to-do-nothing.html .)

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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