Conservative Curmudgeons

I don’t get many opportunities for this, so let me take them when I can. I refer, of course, to the exhilarating sensation of disagreeing with C.S. Lewis.Lewis Wisecrack

In an essay on good work, Lewis says this:

“Work nowadays must not be good. For the wearer, zip fasteners have this advantage over buttons: that, while they last, they will save him an infinitesimal amount of time and trouble. For the producer, they have a much more solid merit; they don’t remain in working order long. Bad work is the desideratum.”

That’s it. I disagree with Lewis about zippers. Well, actually it is about more than that, but hold on a sec. In the same essay, he says this:

“The only hopeful sign at the moment is the “space race” between America and Russia. Since we have got ourselves into a state where the main problem is not to provide people with what they need or like, but to keep people making things (it hardly matters what), great powers could not easily be better employed but in fabricating costly objects which they then fling overboard. It keeps money circulating and factories working, and it won’t do space much harm — or not for a long time.”

The actual subject before us is economics, and two other foundational issues related to economics. Those two other issues are what happens over time when market choices are left free and untrammeled, and then the dividends of sheer curiosity.

Manufacturers make zippers and try to sell them to diehard button users. Diehard button users can refuse to budge and thereby put the zipper guy out of business, or they can go along. If they go along with the new technology, a certain amount of beta testing is going to occur, and things should improve over time. In other words, as the years go by you should expect zippers to jam far less than they did in the 1950’s. Now in both cases, with both buttons and zippers, the end result is that your pants stay up, and the time involved in getting them on differs only by seconds.

But what about space exploration? God has made the entire universe fertile. What looked initially as simply throwing hunks of metal overboard has completely transformed our lives. Because satellites are up there now, I can, with a few clicks of a button on a remote, order Shakespeare or Gilbert & Sullivan on demand in my study. Now it is quite true that somebody else can watch mind-rot dramedies on demand also — but there is nothing new about that. Right? There has never been a time when simple Simon couldn’t go to the fair.

Also — because of those satellites — I can take my phone out of my pocket in a strange city, have it tell me where I am within a few feet, and tell me the location of the diner I am looking for. Then I can call the friend who is waiting for me there. Then I can look up a book in a library on the other side of the world while I am walking to the diner in order that we might have something to talk about.

The final lesson in both cases is that we cannot plan everything out beforehand. We have to trust God for the future, always. If we try to control the future because it makes us nervous, we will only succeed in achieving the disasters we fear. And what we call controlling the future is actually controlling people — a point Lewis makes in Abolition of Man — and thereby ruining their lives.

Grinding poverty can certainly come about through natural disasters — famines and so on — but the thing we really need to be on guard against is organized poverty, by which I mean socialism. Socialism is the drive to control the free choices of other people, in order to prevent them from doing things that seem stupid to the organizers, but which will lead to staggering wealth three generations from now.

I do not say this because Lewis was a socialist — he was far from it — but I do want to maintain that there are times when conservative curmudgeons can play into the hands of the poverty organizers.

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Katecho
Member

Not to distract from Wilson’s points, but I sometimes wonder if this generation would be enjoying things like smart phones without the government’s involvement in developing internet and satellite communications (GPS, etc). For example, many satellites are privately funded now, for commercial use, and could have been developed privately (at a slower pace), but a lot of the future’s money was spent by the government so that we could have our toys today. As Wilson has said, this is not a zero sum world, but given the mounting trillions in debt that we have consumed from the future, and from… Read more »

Capndweeb
Guest
Capndweeb

Ahhh, katecho, good point. I would respond, however, that it is not the government’s use of our tax dollars on what seems at the time far-fetched and far-flung, but the massive amounts of those tax dollars wasted in the process. It has been said that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I would contend that eyebrows should legitimately be raised when we need not one, but a half-million $937 Department of Defense hammers delivered to the location of the nail by a squadron of $1.2 billion M1A2 Abrams tanks.

Katecho
Member

I don’t just disagree with the government waste though. Even if the government was super-efficient with their education system, I would still be against it as an intrusion, in principle.

Capndweeb
Guest
Capndweeb

It’s best that I not get involved in a discussion about the government propaganda machine…errrr…schools.

ashv
Guest
ashv

The money spent on space exploration/infrastructure is pretty low compared to military expenditures and transfer payments, so this seems like needless nitpicking.

Katecho
Member

I don’t disagree that it is small in comparison to other massive government intrusions, but the same principle is at work, and it is in the same category with those intrusions. The thing that is disturbing is how easily we all become compromised by it to some degree. Who is going to avoid the fruit of all this government spending? Can it even be avoided? Sometimes it is good to be aware of how systemic the problem has become. Hopefully this will make us self-aware as we seek to change it.

ashv
Guest
ashv

I don’t agree that this is a problem at all. Get rid of spending on things that actively promote vice (welfare to the undeserving poor, military spending on globalist ambition, schools for Americanist indoctrination) and public-works projects like this would be affordable.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Although I think that the government providing a basic minimal education level to all students is an important function, I agree with everything else you said.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Education is a priestly function. State-funded education will teach the state’s chosen religion. So, be careful what you ask for.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

Jonathan, I’m still wanting to respond to you on other points, but in the meantime I’ll share this: “A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the… Read more »

gerv
Guest
gerv

Not to distract from your points, but neither your ability to order Gilbert and Sullivan on demand, nor the ability to call your friend, or to look up the book, depends on satellites. Satellite data is slow and expensive; wired data (probably what you have at home) is fast and cheap, and mobile tower base station data is relatively fast and relatively cheap. I agree that you need satellites for GPS, and that putting them up there has been a darned good thing. And satellites do provide internet and phone access (albeit with a long lag) to some very remote… Read more »

Jane
Member

I live in a small metro area of about 200,000, with probably 4 million people in a 100 mile radius (since we’re located between 3 much larger cities all within 120 miles.)

There are significant parts of this county that still have only satellite Internet. If Moscow follows a similar pattern, there may well be people as little as 10 miles outside the city limits who have satellite Internet as their only option.

It’s not just Brazil. That’s just a point of reference, not an argument for or against any larger point.

Ilíon
Member

Mr Wilson,

Please forgive me if —
1) this has already been brought to your attention, or,
2) the effect is intentional;

BUT, a recent change to this blog — I presume a new comment system — is making the site all-but-impossible (*) to browse. For the past week or so, when I come to Blog & Mablog, a black semi-opaique “filter” covers the webpage, making it impossible to open individual posts to read your words of wisdom that are “below the fold”.

(*) How, then, did I get into this item? I’ll never tell!

wisdumb
Guest
wisdumb

Do you have a Mac? Our Mac has this too, but my PC is OK…

Ilíon
Member

It has been doing this on both my work PC and my personal PC … but it stopped doing it after I made that post. OR, perhaps I delude myself that I was able to get around it to make that post and whatever it was had stopped at the same time thought I was getting around it.

Nathan Smith
Member

I had this problem temporarily quite recently. But it seems to have resolved itself.

On a PC.

Jennifer Alwine Miller
Member

I, too, had this problem just last week with my home PC. I finally messed with my settings for accepting cookies. After that, it worked fine. I’m not the tech-savvy type, so maybe there’s no connection, but my problem is solved now.

ashv
Guest
ashv

If we’re going to discuss economics and zippers, I feel compelled to relate this anecdote: http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=4364

Which makes an interesting point about the desires of customers and producers, just in a rather different direction from where Lewis was going.

Bro. Steve
Guest
Bro. Steve

The zipper tab on the jacket I’m wearing HAS the little bumps on them. Just so you know.

ashv
Guest
ashv

Socialism is the drive to control the free choices of other people, in
order to prevent them from doing things that seem stupid to the
organizers[…]

Seems to me that the problem is not “controlling the free choices of other people”, but lack of wisdom in doing so. The king bears the sword precisely to control the “free choices of other people” — communism just does so in ways profoundly in opposition to reality.

Jane
Member

“In order to…” is significant here. Not in order to bear the sword, but in order to prevent people from doing things that seem stupid to those in power.

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Lewis dislikes shoddy merchandise and planned obsolescence. Who doesn’t? The guy who wants to sell you the next big thing. But we like the next big thing once they work the bugs out. I have a drawer full of old next big things.

Luke Pride
Guest

” I refer, of course, to the exhilarating sensation of disagreeing with C.S. Lewis”
Somehow I doubt this is a rare sensation. Fine author though he was, it’s a common sensation for me.

Katecho
Member
ashv
Guest
ashv

It’s been done at least three times already.

Consistorian
Guest

G.K. Chesterton had his own curmudgeon moments involving inventions. I’m reminded of all the uses of his ‘Universal Stick’ in the second chapter to ‘What’s Wrong with the World.’ And yet, Pastor Wilson’s smart phone reverses that trend, bringing together in one small platform a superfluity of solutions.

Nathan Smith
Member

I would just point out that most famines are caused by or heavily contributed to by wars, which are often the result of big governments doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

In both the amount of funding required and the negative effect that results, you’ve hit upon pretty much the biggest thing “governments shouldn’t be doing”.

Tom©
Guest
Tom©

Actually, Lewis called it right if you consider the amount of money and mind power devoted to the idea of colonizing Mars. “Global warming” is part and parcel to the abolition of man.

Wendell Dávila Helms
Guest
Wendell Dávila Helms

It strikes me as quite the cheap shot to jump from cautious use of whatever technology and consumer products we’re offered to inferring that socialism is the only way to exercise caution. And, ironically, the failure to exercise individual responsibility is precisely what’s getting us to socialism: as Wendell Berry said, “It is certain, I think, that the best government is the one that governs least. But there is a much-neglected corollary: the best citizen is the one who least needs governing. The answer to big government is not private freedom, but private responsibility.” And two more quotes in a… Read more »

sdaley973187
Member
sdaley973187

It seems to me that you could reproduce this article in relation to the Brexit debate.