"The voice that contradicts itself cannot, it would seem, be the voice of God..."
“Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naively suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. In this latter case, unfortunately, there is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naively projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection.” Carl Jung, General Aspects of Dream Psychology (1916)
If objective reality may not be really known and truth is a human construct as the Constructivists have it, then it would seem that our constructs are necessarily fallible if there really is such a thing as the so-called reality that Constructivism says we cannot know if it does exist. Constructivism itself would then be a fallacious doctrine, inasmuch as what it does have to say about the objective world, again, that it cannot be known, would be fallible. Indeed, Constructivism is a kind of fallibilism: that human beings are fallible is precisely their point; hence when Constructivists are proven wrong, they can always say they told us so, therefore their errors prove them right. As a matter fact, many if not all Constructivists, although they may humbly deny it, act as if they actually know quite a bit about objective reality; otherwise they would appear to be arrant fools instead of the wise yet fallible philosophers that they really are.
We have good cause to be glad that our language is inherently ambiguous no matter how precise we try to make it, for it is healthy for a fallible human being, self-critical as he is, to contradict himself or to simply change his mind. Ruskin, the great art critic, once said that he did not feel right unless he had contradicted himself three times in any given speech. In any case, a person might want to be better than he is; indeed, that is the underlying crisis or hypocrisy of our idealistic kind and is no doubt the motive of many self-contradictions. Now if someone changes their clothes, few people would complain, but if he changes his mind, many are those who would call him a hypocrite. Of course we speak of hypocrisy loosely, for in the narrow sense a hypocrite is not one whose deeds unintentionally belie his words, but is, in effect, a deliberate liar.
Still, we expect our constructive philosophers and ideologists to be logically consistent, even though it is said that logic proves nothing true and that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. A philosopher by the name of Lawrence Pearsall Jacks spoke consistently on constructive philosophy in his 1910 book, The Alchemy of Thought. The “alchemy of thought,” he said, is the “alchemy of interpretation.” To wit, “To interpret experience is to change it…. An interpretation is a kind of alchemy which, when applied to any object, transforms its character as a thing to be understood. The object grows in and with our knowledge of it; and this growth of the object is no mechanical addition of moments… but an organic process…. The results of each stage become the raw material of the stage following it, not to be lost there nor destroyed, but to suffer a process of transubstantiation.”
Now, if philosophy is a self-confession of the Whole, call it Reality or God if you please, then a wholesome authority should not be self-contradictory, posited Professor Jacks. Yet one theory has the universe creating its own interpretation, while another has the interpretation creating the universe; that is, the world makes the man, some insist, while others insist that the man makes the world. Both versions cannot be true for the either/or thinker.
“The voice that contradicts itself cannot, it would seem, be the voice of God; the philosophy that says and unsays, that affirms and denies the same thing, is no part of Divine Revelation. This, however, is precisely what philosophy appears to do. One philosopher grounds existence on matter, another on spirit; one exhibits evolution as the progressive realization of a moral ideal, another finds evolution immoral; one proclaims unity, another treats unity as a meaningless term.”
National unity had a most salutary effect on Great Britain at the outset of the Great War against the Huns, proclaimed Mr. Jacks in his 1915 work, The Peacefulness of War: “During the last twelve months the life of Great Britain has been acquiring a unitary aim of purpose. The aim is warlike; but it has been attended by some mental peace. When war broke out we were living, as a nation, without any end or aim…. Regarded from the moral point of view, the scene was one of indescribable confusion; it was in fact moral chaos…. I believe that twelve months of war have brought to England a peace of mind such as she has not possessed for generations…. In spite of all we have suffered and have still to suffer…I am convinced that the mind is England is much calmer than it was twelve months ago…. It is nothing more or less than the peace of mind which comes to every man who, after tossing about among uncertainties and trying his hand at this and that, finds at least a mission, a cause to which he can devote himself body and soul. At last he has something to live for…. That we are spending well over a thousand million per annum in financing the war is enough to appall anybody. But it does not appall us…. Better that the nation grow poor for a cause we can honor, than grow rich for an end that is unknown.”
Therefore let us be consistent and wage war for peace, as contradictory as war and peace seems. It is as if there exists some underlying crisis within the human being, an innate hypocrisy motivating him to wage war on some presumably inimical beast without in order to achieve peace with his brothers. Wherefore his brotherly love is hate-others-based in-group love. Apparently many of us are dormant volcanoes, unaware of the forces raging underneath the placid superficies or even smiling faces. As Carl Jung revealed, in his 1912 essay, ‘New Paths in Psychology’: “We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them except possibly by a nervous breakdown. What is so difficult for the layman to grasp is the fact that in most cases the patients themselves have no suspicion whatever of the internecine war raging in their unconscious. If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.”
We are surprised that militant Professor Jacks of Oxford, who in 1935 wrote about the horrors of mechanism and prescribed liberalism as its antidote, did not mention the self-contradictory God of War and Peace in his essay on the peacefulness of war, for he was not only a professor of philosophy but was a minister as well. Carl Jung, in his 1938 paper, ‘Psychology and Religion,’ blamed such hypocrisy in man on unconscious forces: “The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.”
In any case, one should expect an argument to be self-consistent, or so Professor L.P. Jacks’ one-sidedly averred in The Alchemy of Thought: “When ‘Truth’ is the subject, conformity to the theory defended is essential to the validity of the defense. Again, in the field of speculative ethics there are theories of the Moral End (one need not name them) in the construction of which the philosopher shows no sign of being himself subject to any moral end whatsoever…. The philosophy which merely legislates for its ‘other’ is worth little; that alone will stand secure which submits to be tested by its own standards…. How great the temptation to lay down a law which one violates in the very act of laying it down, few persons who climb the slippery slope of speculation can long remain unaware. Here, for example, is a system which proclaims the rule of universals, and itself remains a particular outside there sway. Here is one which places an everlasting gulf between subject and object, but in doing so bridges the gulf with its own arms, and itself is that very unity which it declared to be impossible. Here is one that teaches that man is free, on the ground that he is compelled to take that view, and therefore not free to take any other.”
Can we condemn man for his self-contradiction when it motivates his progress? Without opposition within the machine won’t budge. That he wants to be something other than he thinks he is gives him cause to invent the wheel and roll forward, therefore let him make his divisions, construe reality as he will and construct the best of all possible selves. Once upon a time, man was too naïve to make a distinction between subject and object, claimed Carl Jung in his learned 1939 treatment, ‘Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype’: “How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright day-world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious? Primitive man's perception of objects is conditioned only partly by the objective behavior of the things themselves, whereas a much greater part is often played by intra-psychic facts which are not related to the external objects except by way of projection. This is due to the simple fact that the primitive has not yet experienced that ascetic discipline of mind known to us as the critique of knowledge. To him the world is a more or less fluid phenomenon within the stream of his own fantasy, where subject and object are undifferentiated and in a state of mutual interpenetration.”
After the mind and body, or the light of reason and darkness of matter, were violently divorced (a diremption), certain philosophers yearned for worldly redemption, and crucified the culprits. Rene Descartes, who found his certainty in the thought of his existence alone, the thought of which enabled him to prove the existence of God, is the favorite scapegoat today of virtual hedonists who take comfort in the phenomenal compromise of heaven and earth, or free subject and determined object, leaving the transcendental or noumenal sphere to ascetics, if not to those self-made constructivists who would float away, perhaps into hyperspace, completely untethered from our real world if cyberspace were not its fragmentary reflection. But so-called radical constructivists are materialistic enough to at least keep their feet planted on Earth, although they deny there is any knowable substance to it. These unwittingly materialistic constructivists are frustrated idealists to boot; they are the phenomenal progeny of logical empiricists, for their matter and mind are reflexively compromised by experience. Many constructivists cannot seem to make up their minds one way or the other, but still manage to seem sure of their position by taking one side while actually standing on the middle ground.
Theoretically, a radical constructivist’s perception of the world is indirect, an hypothetical, top-down, constructive process, wherein the brain makes educated guesses based on past experience and actively constructs perceptions of reality, to be modified by further hypothesizing. Of course those perceptions are not in themselves the reality perceived; that reality, the thing-in-itself, they insist, may not be known or observed; the very concept of the thing-in-itself is nothing but a construction, or as the frustrated constructivist Immanuel Immanuel Kant said, a “heuristic fiction.” Nevertheless, objective reality evidently persists, as is made evident by the richness of sensory experience outside of the laboratory and in commonsense, wherefore nativist psychologists insist that we have an inborn or native capacity to directly perceive or intuit objective reality. Our nature being natural, we have a common subjective nature that corresponds or immediately grasps and is even part of objective reality. Some thinkers go so far to say that the human being does not make human nature; nature makes the human being; and to that extent the creature knows the creator.
The American philosopher George Soros has managed to construct a sort of reflexive compromise between the proverbial knowing subject and object known, admitting that objective reality exists, while, at the same time, confessing that the knowledge of it is shaped by the observing subject: “In dealing with nature,” he declared, “the truth is paramount. We need to understand how the forces of nature work in order to exploit nature to our advantage. Knowledge of reality is a precondition of success…. But the underlying idea that reality is independent of what people think is inappropriate when reality has thinking participants. That is the point I was trying to make with the concept of reflexivity. Thinking is part of the reality we seek to understand.”
Mr. Soros was profoundly influenced during his formative years as a philosopher by the philosopher of science most approved of by scientists today, Karl Popper. Professor Popper is sometimes referred to as a constructivist, much to the dismay of those constructivists who personally identify with their own ambiguous and abstruse models of the construction metaphor. Professors Glasersfeld is careful to distinguish his notion of constructivism from Professor Popper’s effusions, in a hairsplitting exposé entitled ‘My Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning.’ Since man is a handyman and a toolmaker for good reason, why not admit every member of the race into the construction company instead of quibbling over differences? We naturally misconstrue the top-down divine or bottom-up natural plan, but it might behoove us to belay the caviling lest our pettifogging leave us in the fog of war. But we continue to wage war, and some say that the abomination is necessary for the moral improvement of the race. War certainly changes the minds of many constructive thinkers, that a better world might be wrought providing that the destruction be creative, in a war to end all wars.
It is useful in our contradictory context to point out that Karl Popper’s excellent friend, Friedrick August von Hayek, a darling of today’s libertarians, was dead set against the popular notion of constructivism, although he apparently did an about face later on, in the 1930s, embracing what we call Mr. Popper’s moderate, synthetic constructivism – a phenomenalistic synthesis of subjectivism and objectivism. In any event, Professor Hayek’s influence one way or the other qualifies him to be one of the founding fathers of our novel Sorosianism. Professor Hayek, born in Austria in the year 1899, was a self-confident man, having been schooled in the classical liberal university tradition, which encouraged bright students to actively explore areas on their own, in marked contrast to docilely incorporating whatever regimen the educational authority would inculcate. The self-motivating method of education, once offered primarily to the best and brightest of students, became the linchpin of the democratic, “constructivist” approach to learning now popular among liberal educators. That is not to say that he was a constructivist; in fact, he vehemently opposed so-called constructivism.
As an economist Friedrich von Hayek wondered why capitalism was able to coordinate the economic activities of countless individuals yet failed to work well and sometimes broke down entirely. He looked to the role of money, how it facilitates trade and stabilizes an economy by freely adjusting prices, yet destabilizes the economy during periods of hyperinflation. If only he could answer these questions squarely, he might be able to save capitalism. Alas, the left-spinning world of central planners was not yet ready for his libertarian form of salvation, and his peculiar, so-called Austrian notions were contemned and ridiculed.
he prevailing economic theories of the day, which were presumably scientific constructions, did not seem to appertain to the actual economy. Mr. Hayek concluded that those theories were pseudo-scientific pretenses, including the pivotal notion of economics, the sacred cause of stability without which there could apparently be no scientific economics, the old Invisible Hand that presently appears in mathematical disguise; to wit, equilibrium. His dear friend at the London School of Economics, Karl Popper, strongly agreed, and George Soros would eventually follow suit at the same school. It is no coincidence that the anti-positivist musings of all three philosophers have been ridiculed by economists brainwashed by scientism. Professors Hayek and Popper are more strongly condemned, naturally by liberals, because of the professors’ anti-socialist disaffection for intrusive welfare-state political economics. On the other hand, the billionaire philosopher Mr. Soros is a strong advocate for a redistributive “social justice” that would “compensate” the losers out of the winners’ take; furthermore, he supports liberal causes deemed downright diabolical by neoconservatives, wherefore several fundamentalist preachers have uncharitably cast him as the Devil incarnate.
Now what is wanted is a happily moving balance or efficacious dynamic equilibrium between the free mind and the determined body, between subjective freedom and objective order. Friedrich Hayek, like George Soros today, eschewed equilibrium theory as fallacious in one breath; yet in another breath he seemed to embrace it as necessary to having an economic science at all – the old Invisible Hand is wielded handily by neo-classical libertarians and economic anarchists, who are in need of some semblance of law. On the one hand, Professor Hayek held that welfare redistribution schemes were wrong, but on the other hand he held out a redistributive safety net for those who happen to fall through the cracks of free-market capitalism or through the fingers of the god who has the whole wide world in his hands. Suffice it to say that he was not afraid to go against the grain, and to advise people to tear down their houses and build rafts from the salvage when he saw a flood due to the high tide of communism coming. We think that attitude places Professor Hayek squarely within our loosely construe d camp, that of synthetic constructivism, despite his famous polemical monograph against constructivism, ‘The Errors of Constructivism’ (1970), to which we now gladly turn for our edification:
“The basic conception of this constructivism can perhaps be expressed in the simplest manner by the innocent sounding formula that, since man has himself created the institutions of society and civilization, he must also be able to alter them at will so as to satisfy his desires or wishes.” To clarify this concept, Hayek quotes a statement by well-known Swedish sociologist published by a German popular science journal: ‘The most important goal that sociology has set itself is to predict the future development and to shape the future, or, if one prefers to express it in that manner, to create the future of mankind.’
“This statement,” reasoned Professor Hayek, “implies that everything we have achieved by way of civilization is a purposive rational construction.” The implication is mistaken. “Man did not possess reason before civilization. The two evolved together,” as did reason and language. Nobody believes that language is a deliberate invention or conscious design of human reason. It evolved spontaneously, helped along by reason, and the same may be said of morals, laws, handicrafts, and social institutions. The dichotomy between natural and artificial is ambiguous and false in respect to social institutions: “a large part of social formations, although the result of human action, is not of human design,” hence social formations “could be described as natural or as artificial.”
The idea that we do not have conscious control over social development because it is in the inexplicable or seemingly irrational hands of nature or God was destroyed by the faith of Rene Descartes and his followers in Reason, an idol ably represented during the Enlightenment by the likes of Voltaire. Fate will be in our hands if we are reasonable, rational philosophers reasoned. Wherefore Voltaire’s famous advice: “If you want good laws, burn those you have and make yourself new ones.” Against this confidence in Reason was put the reasoning of its Scotch critics, David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, and of course Friedrich Hayek of late, that human phenomena are “the result of human action but not of human design.”
Now Rene Descartes is the promethean devil of total reason to neo-liberal conservatives as well as unruly freethinkers – everyone is a liberal to the extent that he wants to be liberated from something or the other, including the restraints of the opposing political parties. According to Professor Hayek, Rene Descartes taught that we can only believe what we can prove, and it follows that we are only bound by whatever we may recognize as rational and purposeful. Yet we might beg to disagree in part, and note that Descartes irrationally referred any anomalies that might come to our attention to the will of God, who designed the universe and who is therefore acquainted with the purposes we may for some reason not presently fathom. Still, Professor. Hayek, a sort of constructivist in his own right, was right to blame rational constructivism on Descartes, as can be seen by this excerpt from Descartes’ verbal constructions:
“There is seldom so much perfection in works composed of many separate parts, upon which different hands had been employed, as in those composed by a single master,” wrote Descartes. “Thus it is observable that the buildings which a single architect has planned and executed are generally more elegant and commodious that those which several have attempted to improve, by making old walls serve for purposes for which they were not originally built. Thus also, those ancient cities which, from being at first only villages, have become, in course of time, large towns, are usually but ill lain out compared with the regularly constructed towns which a professional architect has freely planned on an open plain…. In the same way I fancied that those nations which, starting from a semi-barbarous state and advancing to civilization by slow degrees, have had their laws successively determined, and, as it were, forced upon them simply by experience of the hurtfulness of particular crimes and disputes, would be this process come to be possessed of less perfect institutions than those which, from the commencement of their association as communities, have followed the appointments of some wise legislator…. It is not customary to pull down all the houses of a town with the single design of rebuilding them differently, and therefore rendering the streets more handsome; but it often happens that a private individual takes down his own with the view of erecting it anew…. It would indeed be preposterous for a private individual to think of reforming a state by fundamentally changing it throughout, and overturning it in order to set it up amended…. But as for the opinions which up to that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do better than resolved at once to sweep them wholly away, that I might afterwards be in a position to admit either others more correct, or even perhaps the same when the had undergone the scrutiny of reason…. Large bodies, if once overthrown, are with great difficulty set up again, or even kept erect when once seriously shaken, and the fall of such is always disastrous. Then if there are any imperfections in the constitutions of states…custom has without doubt materially smoothed their inconveniences…. The defects are almost always more tolerable than the change necessary for their removal…. Hence it is that I cannot in any degree approve of those restless and busy meddlers who, called neither by birth nor fortune to take part in the management of public affairs, are always yet projecting reforms…. I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own…. The single design to strip one’s self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by everyone.”
By “everyone” Descartes meant people who are too impatient for orderly thinking, people who will consequently lose their way if society is stripped of its rules, and people who are humble enough to admit that they are incompetent to the task in comparison with others, to whom they should leave the reconstruction.
Professor Hayek figured that the constructivist attitude, particularly that of totalitarian constructivism, is contrary to the factual evolution of civilization; it asserts erroneously that men have been solely guided in their actions by foresight towards a certain future; hence its imposition by way of intervention into the spontaneous, evolutionary process would surely stifle and destroy civilization. Mind you that the young Friedrich A. Hayek, like many other disaffected youths of his day, had flirted with Marxism, but when he witnessed the implementation of the grand communist plan to construct utopia, which entailed the suppression of individual liberties, he thought the evolution of a society of relatively free individuals would naturally do a much better job of developing happier lifestyles, spontaneously; that is, unhindered by the imposition of grand plans contrived by fallible human beings. We are happy to have before us the cartoon version of Mr. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which describes the grand social planning process, as he witnessed it, and warns us about the consequences:
First of all, the whole country must be mobilized and regimented to fight a war. Once the war is over, planners would like to keep their jobs and make plans for peacetime, so they promise various utopias to suit people’s needs. Unfortunately, planners cannot agree on anyone’s pet plan because “win the war” unity is gone, and citizens can’t agree either. The national planners are actually pretty nice guys, so they don’t want to force plans down people’s throats; instead, they hope for a miraculous agreement to arise. Some planners do try to sell a grand plan; they are unsuccessful in regards to that plan, but they do succeed in setting up a great propaganda machine. National confusion eventually sets in; a great speaker uses the propaganda machine to persuade gullible, ignorant people to form a protest party. In the meantime, the planners with all good intentions keep improving their plans to no avail, and the people rightly feel that the planners “can’t get things done. The strong man is given power…. In desperation, planners authorize the new party leader to hammer out a plan and force its obedience. Later they’ll dispense with him – or so they think.” So we continue along The Road to Serfdom:
“That party takes over the country…. By now, confusion is so great that obedience to the leader must be obtained at all costs. Maybe you join the party yourself to aid national unity.” The unity is forged by a “negative aim,” hostility towards a scapegoat – in Germany, the Jew. Eventually it would become suicide to oppose the leader’s plan. Forced obedience to the planned state is the cardinal virtue. “Now all freedom is gone.” Even your profession is planned: the relevant cartoon depicts a man with a saw standing before a Nazi official: “But I’m not a carpenter, I’m a plumber,” he says. Of course your wage is centrally planned as well. Your thinking is planned. The media tells you the same lies. Even your recreation is planned. Of course your discipline is planned: “If you’re fired form your job, it’s apt to be by a firing squad. What used to be an error has now become a crime against the state. Thus ends the road to serfdom!”
We are not surprised to see that the cartoon booklet was published by General Motors in Detroit. It behooves large corporations to co-opt the individual’s libertarian viewpoint for their artificial, corporate personages, as if corporations were sovereign individuals; wherefore we have corporate libertarianism to contend with, and observe that employees do not elect their leaders and must obey their orders. If individuals and small businesses complain about predatory practices, the corporate spokesman can simply say, “Let the market decide,” as if the manipulated consumers were really in charge, and raise prices when the competitors are ruined. When the corporation is public in the political sense, that is, a state, the constituted nation is sometimes considered as a sovereign individual, an anthropomorphic notion that an apologist for the German Empire eventually condemned, after the Great War, as Germany’s fatal mistake. As for business corporations, duly elected public officials and other government planners should not intervene in the conduct of their business or markets except, of course, in their favor; in other words, the government should be a big business bureau. Markets must remain free so that corporations can compete freely to exploit them; and may the best corporations, run by the best, unelected leaders, win; may they grow and merge and dominate their markets. Large corporations cannot operate on a de facto, spur-of-the-moment basis; they must plan everything out in detail; the plans must be executed, and to that end the employees must follow orders or else. According to some thinkers, the ultimate aim of this business attitude, of business is our government and government is our business, is a fascist state, meaning a right-wing authoritarian state. This business state, managed by appointed leaders or leaders selected by a controlling board of directors, highly paid leaders who adhere to the prevailing “leadership principle” propaganda, might provide well for its employees and its customers, and may accordingly be deemed a sovereign “national socialist” state, and eventually a multinational corporate state.
Now General Motors is not doing so well, but General Electric, for whom neoconservative Ronald Reagan was the stellar free-market spokesman, is doing quite well. However that may be, Mr. Hayek’s 1970 ‘The Errors of Constructivism’ favors the bottom-up, evolutionary concept of human development, which largely proceeds according to unspoken rules, over top-down, conscious central planning: “What I want to show is that men are in their conduct never guided exclusively by the understanding of the causal connection between particular known means and certain desired ends, but also by rules of conduct of which they are rarely aware, which they certainly have not invented.” In other words, “the success of rational striving is largely due to the observant of values, whose role in our society ought to be carefully distinguished from that of deliberately pursued goals. I can only briefly mention the further fact, that success of the individual in the achievement of his immediate aim depends, not only on his conscious insight into causal connections, but also in a high degree on his ability to act according to rules, which he may be unable to express in words, but which we can only describe by formulating rules. All our skills, from command of language to the mastery of handicrafts or games – actions which we know how to perform without being able to state how we do it – are instance of this.” These actions, he said, “prevail because the manner of action of those who are success is to imitate.”
The rules of the game, he continues, make a group of actors more effective because they provide a social order, not to achieve a preconceived end for everyone, but to provide for the “selection” of “superiority” whereby “less efficient groups are replaced by more efficient ones.” Let the best men and women win, then. As for “values,” they usually do not instruct us to do something, but rather tell us what we ought not to do. They are the taboos in respect to the sanctity of private property and private contracts derided as superstitions by the constructivists. It is more important for “organisms” to somehow know what they must not do in order to survive, than to know what they must do to achieve particular goals.
So man is not only a purposive “animal,” he is a “rule-following animal.” Constructivists would have us follow only rules deliberately introduced in statements, to the exclusion of unstated rules that are nevertheless observed, and rules that provide latitude of action because they are only approximately stated in words. But we need a great deal of latitude for spontaneous evolution, so that successful modes of conduct can be “passed on from generation to general” by virtue of a “process of selection” that leads to the prevalence of a “more efficient order for the whole group, because such groups will prevail over others.”
Moreover, “quite clearly, certain combinations of such rules of individual conduct may produce a superior kind of order, which will enable some groups to expand at the expense of others.” The “knowledge of the world” and much derided “wisdom of our ancestors” that is passed down through the generations is not “so much a knowledge of cause and effect as it is unspoken rules of conduct adapted to the environment.” And, “Like scientific theories, they are preserved by proving themselves useful, but, in contrast to scientific theories, by a proof which no man needs to know, because the proof manifests itself in the resilience and progressive expansion of the order of society which it makes possible.” Furthermore, “men developed these rules without really understand their functions.” The “purpose of laws is to bring about an abstract order manifesting itself in a great variety of particular circumstances one cannot know in their entirety. Man could not invent such an order for which the result is unforeseen, so all he could do was to improve upon it piecemeal by adjusting himself to it; he was never free to arbitrarily lay down any new rule he liked.”
We may disagree, for our errors prove that we have laid down many arbitrary rules; yes, to be severely disappointed in many cases, but in other cases we have been delighted with the results. Our practical truths are proven true by experience. In any event our successful constructions must somehow comply in part with a reality that is external to and independent of our free will.
Mr. Hayek’s allegedly libertarian, allegedly anti-constructivist, evolutionary attitude displayed in ‘The Errors of Constructivism’ appears to be the very antithesis of human liberty, a liberty that may not be realized in random adjustments to the current status quo nor in the brute struggle for survival where brawn outstrips brains and makes might right, the dead-ended evolutionary determinism advanced by self-styled Social Darwinists, whose pseudo-Darwinism conveniently justifies whatever they might be able to get away with. But to be fair to Mr. Hayek, he paid his respects to human reason, especially when critically employed to avoid enslavement by human institutions. Evolution need not wind up in Totalitaria with the perfection of competitive capitalism in fascist monopoly, or with the cooperative state capitalism of communism, or with the withering of the state into anarcho-communism, but may progress towards some other utopia hitherto unimagined, say, simply living productive and peaceful lives cultivating our gardens, so to speak. And, as previously noted, we think he became a moderate or synthetic constructivist himself.
It appears that progressive creative-destruction paves the way to Utopia; or is it Dystopia? Who can say where the continuous radical revolution within the conservative devolution, that is, within the progression-to-freedom and regression-to-slavery continuum, shall end, when so many grand constructive plans for peace have ended in ruins? Some thinkers believe we should set aside our grand plans, make adjustments here and there to reduce the misery, and let evolution do its work. It appears that our buildings are getting in the way of evolution. Perhaps it would behoove us to tear them down and use what we can salvage to build boats to go along with the flow of the great flood. That is the Way, so why fight it? Still, a romantic hero, small in stature, but of noble bearing notwithstanding his humble origins, might appear on a great white steed, to enlist hordes of poor wights to fight the awful tide.
We certainly detect a romantic or Roman pleading in Professor Hayek’s anti-constructive evolutionism. It might be best for man, if only he could, to throw off his fine clothes and return to his natural, brutal state, to squat in a cave with his commune, or alone under a tree. But man at large does not want to become a communist or an anarchist, so he might as well take up the pretense of democratic-republicanism and be a noble Greek or Roman to the best of his abilities, a relatively free, self-made man in marked contrast to the enslaved masses, a man all too often famous instead of infamous for his barbarous tendencies when imposing empire – religion is the worship of absolute power, and Caesar is an ambiguous god, admired more for his cruelty than mercy. The root-word of ‘noble’ means “known’ – a nobleman was a known man. A few protesting Catholics would have rid their culture of everything Roman along with the Church, but then it would not have been their culture anymore, and then where would they be, without a context? Still, leading lights protested against the classical education that prevailed, insisting that the continued admiration of its noble ideals, which were posed as constructive but were at bottom bellicose, would lead, as Thomas Hobbes and Benjamin Constant opined, to continuous revolution or war, or on the other hand, as Frederic Bastiat insisted, to Platonic communism.
The Greeks and Romans simply were not what they were supposed to be. “Representative government…was totally unknown to the free nations of antiquity,” Benjamin Constant stated in ‘The Liberty of Ancients Compared to Moderns’. The Romans had only feeble traces of the modern representative system, he claimed. “The ancients, as Condorcet says, had no notion of individual rights. Men were, so to speak, machines.” War was the means to prosperity, and commerce was “simply a tribute paid to the strength of the possessor by the aspirant to possession.” Existence was secured by the price of war. “A man who was always the stronger would never conceive the idea of commerce.” The growing strength of others induced him to resort to commerce, which appears to be a kind of mutual bribery. “Hence it follows that an age must come in which commerce replaces war. We have reached this age.”
Frederic Bastiat objected at length to classical education in his essay ‘Academic Degrees and Socialism’. “Give a man the power to confer academic degrees and, while leaving anyone free to teach, education will be, in fact, servitude,” he complained. “Classical studies…have perverted the judgment and morality of the country. Alas, the very soul of France, whose language is Romantic after all, was penetrated by Roman ideas. How could the Roman slave masters say, “Every man belongs to himself?” As for the much admired Roman patriotism, it entailed the “hatred of foreigners, the destruction of civilization, the shifting of all progress, the scourging of the world with fire and sword, the chaining of women, children, and old men to triumphal chariots –this was glory, this was virtue. It was to these atrocities that the marble of the sculptors and the songs of poets were dedicated.”
Frederic Bastiat pointed out that certain champions of classical education admired the most barbarous institutions, recommending even Plato’s communist state. Gainful employment was servile, unworthy of a free man, who should occupy himself with politics and war. Plato would have punished free citizens who engaged in business. Only slaves did the productive work, leaving the citizen free to concentrate on liberty. It was only with the corruption of democracy that artisans become citizens. Bastiat takes Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose admiration for Roman institutions is well known, to task for his ambiguities, noting that the socialist Louis Blanc remarked that his works “were on the table of the Committee of Public Safety. His paradoxes, which his own age took for literary extravagances, soon came to be regarded in the public assemblies of the nation as dogmatic truths as incisive as a sword.” Rousseau’s construction, The Social Contract, places the need for cooperation, as witnessed by the social contract with its legal creation of property, at the foundation of evil. But if the contract were dissolved, as it has been from time to time, the relevant civilization would be destroyed. So wise legislation would then be needed, to which the blind multitude of men are incapable, hence a lawgiver, an extraordinary man, must dare to reinvent the machine for which men are raw material. Since the blind multitude cannot see the truth embodied in the law, the “decrees of sublime reason,” said Rousseau, “which is above the reach of the common herd, are imputed to the immortal gods, so as to win by divine authority the support of those whom human wisdom could not move.”
Here we go again: the machine. The most fanatically fundamental anti-constructivists might say that everything man makes is artificial or constructed, and therefore evil, because he is enslaved by his constructions instead of freed by them, hence civilization itself is an evil. Now that we have been freed by modern science, we no longer need a classical, that is to say, a liberal education, whose focus is on liberty and its arts. Still, we notice that those best acquainted with the Trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts, still rule. But let us continue with the contradictions of constructivism, to see where this Sorosian essay (“trial”) is randomly evolving if to any place at all but constructive con-fusion.
Let us not suppose, after we peruse Professor Hayek’s pro-evolutionism, contra-constructivism monologue, that certifiable constructivists must disavow the theory of evolution. Quite to the contrary: Professor Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism embraces its own construction of Darwinism: “The basic principle of radical constructivist epistemology coincides with that of the theory of evolution,” he declared. Apparently Charles Darwin was a latent constructivist, since he was not a cause-and-effect man, and as a constructivist he did not have to confess to true knowledge of objective reality. According to Professor Glasersfeld, perhaps the foremost professed constructivist of our day, radical constructivism does not accept the “naïve commonsense perspective” that the “elements that form this complex environment belong to a real world of unquestionable objects.”
Highly educated radical constructivists believe that knowledge is constructed instead of found; to what extent if any that knowledge reflects ontological reality or someone’s metaphysical logic of being as such is impossible know and irrelevant in any event. Those of us who enjoy the commonsense perspective, that there is a real world of unquestionable objects, like the desk that Professor Glasersfeld admits he cannot walk through yet can still explain away as sense data, are naïve; to wit, lacking the sophistication and knowledge of the academic world. He admits that his radical perspective is frightening to those who find security in the belief that there is an independent world out there. “Superficial or emotionally distracted readers of the constructivist literature have frequently interpreted this stance as a denial of reality.” He does not really deny the objective reality that he cannot really know; he simply fits into it, giving thanks along the way to the theory of evolution. “I have tried to show that the notion of correspondence or match between knowledge and reality, a notion that is indispensable for realism, cannot possibly be derived from, let alone substituted for, the evolutionary notion of "fit."
“Our knowledge can never be interpreted as a picture or representation of that real world, but only as a key that unlocks possible paths for us…. A key fits if it opens the lock. The fit describes a capacity of the key, not of the lock. Thanks to professional burglars, we know only too well that there are many keys that are shaped quite differently from ours but nevertheless unlock our doors. The metaphor is crude, but it serves quite well to bring into relief the difference I want to explicate. From the radical constructivist point of view, all of us – scientists, philosophers, laymen, school children, animals, indeed any kind of living organism – face our environment as the burglar faces a lock that he has to unlock in order to get at the loot. This is the sense in which the word "fit" applies to Darwin's and neo-Darwinist theories of evolution.”
So it seems that reality does take a bow in the theory of evolution. And it is only fitting that our knowledge of its locks are fallible, for life then progresses indefinitely, as we crack one safe after another, never fully satisfied with the quality of the gems found within. Thank God, although evolution progresses at random, for a reality to adapt to; or rather for a reality that randomly adapts us to it, correcting our ‘mistakes’ along the way. Mind you that when a constructivist is confronted with the absurdity of a denial of reality, he may claim that he is not talking about that reality, but about “ontic” reality, the metaphysical Being.
“People have spoken of ‘adaptation’ and, in doing so, a colossal misunderstanding was generated,” Professor Glasersfeld is pleased to point out our great mistake. “If we take seriously the evolutionary way of thinking, it could never be organisms or ideas that adapt to reality, but it is always reality which, by limiting what is possible, inexorably annihilates what is not fit to live. In phylogenesis, as in the history of ideas, "natural selection" does not in any positive sense select the fittest, the sturdiest, the best, or the true st, but it functions negatively, in that it simply lets go under whatever does not pass the test. The comparison is, of course, stretched a little too far. In nature, a lack of fitness is invariably fatal; philosophers, however, rarely die of their inadequate ideas. In the history of ideas it is not a question of survival, but of "Truth". If we keep that in mind, the theory of evolution can serve as a powerful analogy: the relation between viable biological structures and their environment is, indeed, the same as the relation between viable cognitive structures and the experiential world of the thinking subject.”
Our good professor borrows heavily from the cognitive constructions of the great constructivist, Jean Piaget. Mr. Piaget did not write off objective reality and conclude that anything goes or is at least is possible, as does popular constructivism. He concluded from his studies of children that information about objective reality is not simply passively assimilated by the child; if the information does not match the child’s current scheme of things, the child will feel uncomfortable and may be motivated to make an adjustment to accommodate it. That is, the child will normally attempt to actively accommodate its scheme to the discordant information. New knowledge is accommodated constructively only when the child is confronted with experience that may not be assimilated into prior knowledge. To rectify the discord or cognitive disequilibrium, an accommodation must be made for the new experience, wherefore prior knowledge is reconstituted and cognitive equilibrium reestablished.
We imply from Mr. Piaget’s evolutionary verbal constructions that the child’s accommodation is an adaptation to objective reality; the adaptation is actively made by the child, and several manners of adaptation might allow the child to establish a new working hypothesis to try out on the world. Its successful responses, although many tests shall fail, will hopefully be sufficient for survival in the real world. That is not to say that the little experimental scientist’s mental scheme corresponds to objective reality, as if it were a representation of the world: "For me,” Mr. Piaget wrote, “it's quite the contrary of a copy of the world: it's a reconstitution of reality by the concepts of the subject who, progressively and with all kinds of experimental probes, approaches the object without ever attaining it in itself." We further note that the cause that motivates the adaptation of the subject is apparently in the object confronted. The phrase ‘active accommodation’ may suggest that the child accommodates freely and independently, but that it must accommodate implies that it is in part determined by external factors. Successful adaptations are ultimately determined by the encounter with constraints of the world, in which one must live or die; constraints that of course include the limits of the human being who fits in by virtue of its innate will to live. Thus it is said that we should know our limits, and that we may discover them in the world.
Although Professor Glassersfeld identifies with Jean Piaget, to distinguish himself he must not entirely agree with him: “For Piaget, organization is always the result of a necessary interaction between conscious intelligence and environment, and because he considers himself primarily a philosopher of biology, he characterizes that interaction as ‘adaptation’. With that, too, I agree - but after what was said…about the process of evolutionary selection, it should be clear that the adaptive fit must never be interpreted as a correspondence or homomorphism. With regard to the basic question, how cognitive structures or knowledge might be related to an ontological world beyond our experience, Piaget's position is somewhat ambiguous. Frequently, one has the impression that, in spite of his massive contributions to constructivism, he still has a hankering for metaphysical realism. In that, of course, he is not alone. Donald Campbell, who has provided an excellent survey of proponents of ‘evolutionary epistemology’ since Darwin, writes: ‘The controversial issue is the conceptual inclusion of the real world, defining the problem of knowledge as the fit of data and theory to that real world.’ In his conclusion he then declares that the evolutionary epistemology, which he and Karl Popper represent, ‘is fully compatible with an advocacy of the goals of realism and objectivity in science.’ But the theory of which he provided an extremely lucid exposition, points in the opposite direction…. I have tried to show that the notion of correspondence or match between knowledge and reality, a notion that is indispensable for realism, cannot possibly be derived from, let alone substituted for, the evolutionary notion of ‘fit’.”
It appears that we all have a hankering for metaphysical realism despite our yearning to construct our own world as we see fit, and that the will to remake the world as we see it, to be constructivists, is not as contrary to metaphysical realism as Professor Glasersfeld would make it, for it is, in a word, idealism. We have seen elsewhere that the Radical Constructivism of Professor Glasersfeld is not as radical as one might suppose, because he does refer to a reality that we cannot know but must somehow fit in to, thus is the construction project of the general contractor compromised by the objective world. We ordinarily think of radicalism as taking an extreme view, hence we would probably presume, at least until we became acquainted with Professor Glasersfeld’s opinions, that a radical constructivist is an arrant solipsist; that is, one who believes that only his self exists, and who exists only because he thinks he exists. Even if he doubted his existence there would be a doubting self, therefore the self must somehow exist as far as he is concerned; after all, he made it, did he not? The idea of reality, the subjective reality that is the only reality really known, would be merely an artifice, a figment of the constructive imagination. That is scary indeed to believers who cling to things, thinking their perceptions have a sound basis in reality, that they have some sort of ground to stand on, the unknown thing-in-itself, whether it be material nature or immaterial spirit or the synthetic redemption of the divorce of body from mind, perhaps projected as the three-in-one god.
We might construe that perspective on life as a joke on whosoever constructed it, a tragicomedy, as it were, since matters fall far short of the ideal construct of the frustrated idealist who virtually wills himself into existence and never finally or eternally exists, for he is never quite fit enough to obtain the ideal objective of human evolution, to live happily forever. It would seem that our constructivist who has faith in evolution is an idealist in disguise. Since the constraints of reality encountered by evolutionary constructivists who fit into reality one way or another are presumable unknown but thru the intermediary senses, and since the object of that knowledge is not the reality itself but rather an idea or mental state somehow produced by sensation or a perceptive mental operation on sense data, said constructivists are in effect idealists themselves; their notions of reality are just as metaphysical, so to speak after physics classes, as those idealists who call themselves realists because they believe only their ideals are real.
The radical constructivist, who is really a synthetic constructivist, would no doubt deny most of the above to distinguish himself. He is a frustrated scientist, a scientist who can never know what reality is let alone why it is; he is doomed to describing its operations; one day, perhaps, thanks to the countless shoulders he stands on, he will come up with one formula for everything. As for Everyman, he is no longer an arrogant little god or tyrant, the reigning cause of his effects. No, he is a humble little scientist, conducting one experiment after another to unlock the secrets of the universe:
“The experiential world, be it that of everyday life or of the laboratory, constitutes the testing ground for our ideas (cognitive structures),” Professor Glasersfeld averred. “That applies to the very first regularities the infant establishes in its barely differentiated experience, it applies to the rules with whose help adults try to manage their common sense world, and it applies to the hypotheses, the theories, and the so-called "natural laws" that scientists formulate in their endeavor to glean lasting stability and order from the widest possible range of experiences.”
Still, we may never know the world, given the structural limitation of being human: “The structure of behavior of living organisms can never serve as a basis for conclusions concerning an "objective" world, i.e., a world as it might be prior to experience. The reason for this, according to the theory of evolution, is that there is no causal link between that world and the survival capacity of biological structures or behaviors. As Gregory Bateson has stressed, Darwin's theory is based on the principle of constraints, not on the principle of cause and effect.”
Now, then, where has the evolution of this experimental essay on constructive contradiction taken us? What conclusions may we draw? What dogma might we with confidence lay down? We are inclined to come half way and even farther in agreement with the constructivists, for the more we object to their copyrighted nonsense, the more agreeable we find it. After all, we are all constructivists in one way or another. All this academic blather about constructivism is soon forgotten; it does little to persuade us to act in one way or another; a constant reading of Maxwell Maltz’ Psycho-Cybernetics might have a more constructive effect on our behavior. We shall never be in complete agreement with the constructivists or anti-constructivists, no matter clearly and coherently they make their arguments. We do not believe the truth is socially constructed nor do we believe that any one social contract can suit us all, so we would remain as tolerant as the constructive relativists say they are, perhaps by placing our blind faith in Nothing, for Nothing is perfect, and we are fallible. On the other hand, we worry that our tolerance and confusion may indicate that we are living, as Professor Jacks said of Britain, “as a nation, without any end or aim…. Regarded from the moral point of view, the scene was one of indescribable confusion; it was in fact moral chaos.” People were relatively prosperous before the Great War; cosmopolitans met to formally abolish war, claiming that the long-expected age of commerce had finally replaced it. Behind the pacific scenes, generals studied the same old war plans, and the world soon went to war on a colossal scale. The enthusiasm was short-lived. Our present confusion in aimless albeit ‘rational’ production and consumption may once again evolve into temporary unity through the peace of war for the moral improvement of the race. We shall speculate elsewhere on whether or not social constructs such as George Soros’ Open Society Institute can forestall that kind of progress.