This I Believe

April 03, 2014

Multiple Pages
This I Believe

Back in the dear old 1950s, when Western Civilization reached its zenith, Edward R. Murrow ran a regular radio spot titled This I Believe, to which persons both eminent and obscure contributed brief spoken essays on the title topic. You can hear Murrow’s original introduction to the series on YouTube.

The series fired off a micro-genre of books and broadcast programs on the same pattern. This micro-genre resurfaced most recently on National Public Radio, with a subsequent series of books.

Murrow’s show may also have inspired the pop song I Believe, written soon afterward. The cover version by an Irish group, The Bachelors, seemed to play continuously on British radio and TV in the early 1960s, interrupted only by the weather reports.

I thought I’d have a go at this theme, as much for my own benefit as for readers’ (no offense). Writing is an excellent way to clarify your own thoughts. So … What do I believe in?

“That we know anything at all about the structure of atoms, the history of life, or the size of the universe, is astounding—a mystery.”

The individual person.  The strangeness, the quirkiness, the infinite variety even of normal human persons seems very wonderful to me.  I am strongly hostile to attempts to make us uniform.  Let a hundred flowers bloom.

Liberty.  With all the missteps and false trails, with all the frustrations and sorrows, nothing is sweeter than finding your own way through adult life, free of coercion, with no one but yourself to blame for the negatives. That’s the precondition for human flourishing.

Liberty of course comes in different flavors. Historian David Hackett Fischer identifies four liberty traditions just in the U.S.A.: ordered liberty (Puritans), hegemonic liberty (Virginia), reciprocal liberty (Quakers), and natural liberty (the frontier). Mine’s a natural.

Private life.  For some people the public sphere is where the satisfactions are, and private life comes second. Think of Meryl Streep’s marriage falling apart in The Devil Wears Prada.  I’ve known some of this type, and history shows many.

I’m the opposite type.  Ninety-five percent of my happiness comes from family and friends.  News stories like this one make me shudder with horror.

Population genetics.  Throughout the history of our species, most humans have mated with neighboring humans. The result is a patchwork of local, mostly-inbred populations, each with a distinctive statistical profile on genetically-influenced traits. That includes traits of behavior, intelligence, and personality.

To say “I believe in population genetics” is a bit like saying “I believe in arithmetic.” Of course this is the case! And of course the differences are statistical, with much overlap and many mutts.

The nation-state.  World government seems to me a stupidly preposterous idea, a recipe for tyranny. Most of what globalist organizations do is evil. I’ll make a few exceptions for things like the WHO, but they’d add up to no more than a small fraction of the total. Most globalism is anti-human.

A modestly sized, fairly compact region under a single political system offers the best opportunity for human flourishing as I’ve described it above.  And while modest size, geographic compactness, and political unity are necessary, I don’t believe they are sufficient.  Yes, I believe in …

The ethno-state.  Close runner-up to “world government” in the preposterosity stakes is the “proposition nation.” There never has been any such thing, nor could there be.

If a nation is to hold together, the great majority of its people need to be bonded by ethnic kinship—shared history, a shared outlook. One’s outlook arises from one’s brain, which is a product of evolution—including, we now know, historically recent evolution.

Because ethnies overlap on most traits, a particular Turk may become a good German—see the first item above. However, since we can’t tell in advance whether he will or not, a wise nation severely restricts settlement from foreign ethnies and vigorously deports those who prove incompatible.

A big ethnic minority with a different outlook spells national discord.

Civilization.  I can’t ever remember finding the Noble Savage idea plausible. It’s always seemed obvious to me that savages are dirty, ignorant, and cruel. I’m very glad indeed to live in a time and place with libraries, hospitals, universities, concert halls, and police forces.

The Noble Savage idea is not merely silly, it’s pernicious. It underlies poisonous cults like Marxism. When I get a time machine, my first trip will be to go back and strangle Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his cradle.

Culture.  I’m not by nature very receptive to art and music of the high, serious kind. I have to work hard to see their satisfactions. When I see them, though, I want more, and revere the geniuses who gave us such beauty.

All praise, too, to those lesser geniuses with the gift for guiding dullards like me toward aesthetic pleasure: Clark and Greenberg, for example.

Nature.  I mean the natural world of things and creatures. This is a polite way of saying I don’t believe in the supernatural. If you find consolation in gods, spirits, miracles, and an afterlife, I sincerely wish you joy of them. I just don’t feel the need.

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other half,” said Jane Austen, and it’s the same with consolations.

The nearest I can honestly get to belief in the supernatural is belief in …

Limits to understanding.  All I know or can know is packed up somehow into three pounds of meat inside my skull: into an organ evolved to seek feeding and mating opportunities, and to cooperate with others for group survival.

That we know anything at all about the structure of atoms, the history of life, or the size of the universe, is astounding—a mystery.

The existence of subjective awareness is another. I hope to be a tad wiser about that after attending the Tucson consciousness conference later this month. I’ll be reporting on it for The American Spectator.

So many mysteries! Some we shall solve, and file the solutions away in those three pounds of meat. Some, I feel sure—I believe—we can’t, and never shall, solve. 


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