Saturday, 6 October 2012

Conservatism, Philosophy, Economics, and the Meaning of Life

A friend of mine in our Aristotle reading group accused me of being a conservative the other day.

“What do you mean?” I said.

And he said for him the world was divided into conservatives and progressives.

“What if you consider yourself a moderate?” I said.

“Then you’re just confused,” he said, adding that conservatives generally think things are okay the way they are while progressives think things needs changing.

“What if you think some things need changing while others are okay the way they are?” I said, and he modified his position to say of course everyone thinks that …

So there are no conservatives or radicals, I said, and he said No, it’s a question of emphasis.

I thought about that.  I guess on the whole I think life is pretty good in Canada, so perhaps that makes me a conservative, by my friend’s definition, though I don’t hold with much of what passes for conservative thinking today: I’m against capital punishment and for gun control, I don’t like American intervention in foreign countries (of course, there are some Pat Buchanan-type conservatives who don’t like that either).  I have little interest in economic issues, the deficit, whatever … which perhaps disqualifies me from being either a radical or a conservative.  Perhaps I am just confused.

Or perhaps my friend’s categories need reshaping.

There was a time when I was interested in economic issues, back in my radical days when I believed the Marxist theories about economic forces being the key to everything and thus, aiming for consistency, decided I should study some economics, particularly Marxist economics, meaning that, at the age of 17 I sat down and read volume one of Das Kapital.

(The local library in my well-to-do suburb may even have my name down still on the card for their copy of Marx’s classic, since I didn’t have the capital to spend on purchasing a copy and kept on borrowing theirs.)

Anyway, that was a boring summer.  To all you 17-year-olds out there who might be tempted to do this: don’t spend a summer reading about surplus value and the labour theory of whatever …

Why are radicals so angry, by the way?  They posit a better world (or at least that’s what the Left wanted in my day), but to get there they mainly want to yell at people.

I was never very good at yelling at people, though I dutifully attended a few demonstrations in the day, but shouting slogans, I mean, really, it was a bit too much groupthink.

So the groupthink and the economics, along with reading The God that Failed and realizing that the Marxist theory of history didn’t accord with the facts, made me abandon the follies of my youth …

I was speaking to a young lady of my acquaintance recently, who told me she was thinking of studying economics.  I instinctively grimaced, which upset her.  “Is it better to study history and just learn a bunch of dates?” she said.  Studying economics can explain human interactions, she added.

That gave me pause.  I’m interested in humans.  Maybe I should give economics a chance.

But I wonder.  I am studying philosophy this year, hoping to understand the meaning of life or at least the meaning of philosophy.  It promises to explain some very basic things, but maybe I’d rather not study basic things.  If the economy is like the furnace driving everything in society, that’s all very well, but who wants to study furnaces?

Maybe I should go back to studying history, learn a few more dates.  Though the most interesting course I’ve taken lately was in Chinese philosophy.  That Confucius, he was a cool dude.

No comments:

Post a Comment