2013-07-22

Captain Ahab And The Grand Design

Over the weekend I watched a documentary on Netflix called "The Nature of Existence." It was a pretty light-and-fluffy take on "the big questions," but there were a few standout thoughts, especially from Julia Sweeny. I'm going to put her point in my own words with the caveat that she might not ultimately agree with how I've phrased it.

People invented religion because a sentient being requires the presumption of immortality in order to act in its own best interests. Think about it: if there's no point to life, then why bother? Why raise children and propagate the species? If it all becomes a blank void when our lives are over, then what would be the point?

But humans are good at cooking up logical reasons for things. So we've built whole systems of logic dedicated to the justification of existence. The possibility of a void presents such cognitive dissonance when compared to sentient consciousness, that we are forced to fill it with something. For many, that "something" is religion.

Scientists are especially crafty and logical. Their logic has served them well in discovering scientific truth. They see that things improve with a good design. All they're doing is applying that logic to politics. With a grand design, we can improve all outcomes. Just trust us, the scientists, to determine what the truth is, and we'll discover it and then build it into our working knowledge of the state.

In order to reach the opposite conclusion - in order to believe in the principle of "that government governs best which governs least" - they have to fight against the presumption that designs can be improved. It's hard for such talented people to live according to the presumption that their greatest talent is more destructive than helpful. 

Government, therefore, is the great obsession of intelligent people. The more they design it, the worse it gets, the more it needs to be redesigned. It's a vicious circle. They are Captain Ahab.