Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rational Intellect vs. Trial and Error.

Look at a hillside some time. The wilder the better (by “wild” I mean unaltered by human rationality for the last couple of decades).

Think about it. At one time there was no dirt, just rock and sand, covered by ice (if you live in latitudes above 45 degrees north) and ground by the ice down to bedrock. Eventually the ice receded, leaving bare rock exposed to the sky, and exposed to billions of organisms comprising millions of species. Each organism selfishly going about its business of surviving and multiplying, consuming things (other organisms, perhaps, or minerals, CO2, and sunlight) based on genetically derived instincts, leaving waste products and their own dead bodies.

(OK, soil blew in from more southerly latitudes; but where did that soil come from? Before life, the Earth was without soil – just rock, sand, and the dust thereof).

Some genetic variations (experiments) led to thriving populations, some led to extinction. Many led to population explosions that altered the environment followed by population collapse.

Complex order without conscious design
Eventually, by trial and error, all these selfish organisms created the complex ecosystem of interdependence and mutual benefit that we see as a lush landscape with soil, roots, insects, worms, trees, mammals, birds, grasses – an incredible diversity, richness, and effectiveness created by dumb plants and animals, all of them selfish (the only altruism is that of some higher animals towards their offspring and mates, and the collectivism of the anthill and beehive), yet all of them contributing to the well being of everything else.

All without anybody designing it. Well, without any evidence that anybody designed it – surely nobody from the Department of the Interior or the local university. If you believe in Intelligent Design, you will see God as the designer-in-chief behind it all. If you consider yourself sophisticated and enlightened, you probably don’t believe in Intelligent Design, so you have to accept the reality that the complex ecosystems on Earth were created by selfish organisms acting by trial and error.

Rational positivists will be chagrined to admit, if they are honest, that they really don’t understand how it all works. Environmentalists point out that human activities guided by rational planning rather than by experience and tradition tend to cause harm to natural ecological systems, sometimes disasters.

Ponder that hillside.

Natural ecology, si; human ecology, no!

Then consider why it is so hard for some people (including almost all politicians) to believe that humans, acting selfishly and by trial and error, could create a complex extended order of trade and mutual service that creates wealth and makes everyone better off?

Free organisms, freely pursuing their own ends, create, over thousands of generations, lush ecological systems that human rationality cannot improve. What makes Progressives (dominantly rational positivists) think a handful of them can guide the economic eco-system of human society, created by the successes and failures, habits and traditions, of millions of free people acting over hundreds of generations?

Are they that arrogant? Or do they simply want to ensure their own importance?

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