8 thoughts on “The Candlestick and the Two Hags

  1. JimmyGiro

    I think Dalrymple’s conclusion is right, in that the human condition needs the capacity for both radical and conservative thinking.

    If our thinking nature evolved, as our physical nature, then it would follow that we need radicalism to be the ‘mutations’ that aid the changes necessary of evolution; and we would also need conservatism to be the ‘DNA’ that remembers the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ as expressed in surviving ‘traditions’.

    The corollary would be to imagine the extremes of both: too much radicalism leads to the mutation of mutations both good and bad, so the system would not survive due to lack of discriminating efficacy; and too much conservatism would lead to fossilisation.

    1. JimmyGiro

      And of course:

      “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.” [Edmund Burke: Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792).]

    2. Jaxon

      I’m not so sure about that. According to Iain McGilchrist in The Master And His Emissary, or at least my interpretation, and thinking of our thinking nature evolving in consort with our physical nature, it would appear that the dramatic division, and substantial physiological differences, between the hemispheres of the brain do indeed shed a lot of light on what has here been thought of in terms of… Dialectic? Between radical and conservative or conservative and liberal. (I know, long sentence)

      McGilchrist would almost certainly ascribe the potential for what you call mutation to the Right hemisphere (predominantly, never mind absolutes). The RH hemisphere deals preferentially (in humans, and birds and mammals generally) with new information, the novel and, more importantly the possible. The LH deals more with what it is certain about; a narrow, local, focal attention, as opposed to the more global synthetic disposition of the RH.

      Of course this will sound absurd, but bear in mind each hemisphere is capable of sustaining consciousness alone; and can exhibit considerable conflict of wills… Inter-manual conflict in split brain patients for instance.

      But I’m also pretty sure he’d ascribe what you refer to as the ‘DNA’ primarily to the RH. Empathy tends to be strongly lateralised to the RH as does the capacity for humour, episodic memory, metaphor, the ability to perceive the flow of time and depth in perception. Numerous conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, Fregolli and (I forget…) syndromes have been rather consistently associated with RH damage (relying on the LH).

      Cutting a long story shorter, whilst the analytical, focal, categorising specialisations of the LH are crucial it is also seat of dangerous optimism and denial, although McGilchrist doesn’t say so explicitly, almost certainly the ‘Leftist Mentality’ that Colin lists, identifies, on the Theodore Dalrymple website are of a LH predominant disposition. What I write probably comes across as LH predominant psychobabble… But there you go… Read the book

      1. Jaxon

        Hi Clinton, not sure but if you’re referring to what I wrote then thanks… Wasn’t sure it would make much sense. If you were referring to JimmyGiro’s more succinct, and perhaps more relevant, comment then of course that’s also fine I suppose. I’m just wary ‘radicalism’ per se, I suppose.

        I guess TD is acknowledging the need for a kind of good cop/bad cop dynamic in society, and I agree with that but I don’t think it need entail ‘Left’ liberalism… can’t have lefties patting themselves on the back… not sure if that was in any way J Giro’s intention.

        1. JimmyGiro

          As you mention Iain McGilchrist, I recall he advocates the taijitu symbol for ‘yin-yang’, as a metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between the different styles of thinking of each hemisphere; especially the feature that each permeates the other to some extent.

          And if we think even more generally of what nature achieves, could we invoke the natural law of equilibrium for all stable outcomes. Further, there is a requirement that equilibrium is stabilised by negative feedback; which would also fit the metaphor of the taijitu. So in the tradition of the ‘black box’ hypothesis, we could conclude that radicalism and conservatism are the yin-yang of dynamic stability; for when the political environment changes, it will be to the advantage of one, and therefore the disadvantage of the other. Hence human nature, true to its ‘evolved’ style, will cussedly oppose the perturbations, until a new equilibrium is achieved in the new environment. The black box doesn’t require any mechanistic description, just defined by its function alone; like the laws of thermodynamics, universally true, whilst being mechanistically blind.

          1. Jaxon

            Well thank you for your interesting reply.
            Yes you a correct that McGilchrist did indeed say something to that effect, invoking the Yin-yang symbol, concept. I wasn’t so sure about that.
            In so far as the hemisphere dynamic, if you will, being symbiotic – well it’s an asymmetrical affair – Master (RH) emissary (LH), maybe something like the relationship between the tarantula and the little frog. But I’m sure you gathered as much.

            McGilchrist also speaks of biological systems seeking homeostasis and uses the example of the… mechanistic thermostat (though the autonomic nervous system, I suppose, is the equivalent), negative and positive feedback… He compares positive feed back to alcoholism and compulsive behaviour such as gambling; supposedly lesions in the frontolimbic systems, usually in the RH, are associated with addictive behaviour.

            People supposedly have a hemispheric preference depending on the activity at hand, this is known as ‘hemispheric utilisation bias’ and ‘characteristic perceptual asymmetry’. You won’t be surprised to know that I think the more LH biased a person is the more parasitic they are on civilisation. Civilisation being the environment in question, that obviously includes ecology, I think I’m probably more concerned about bio diversity, soil and fresh water etc than a lot of people who consider themselves conservative; TD actually used the Guinea Worm as an example of biodiversity. Yes environmental(ism) can be tedious and misguided but I thought that was a bit of a cheap shot; never mind, it was kind of funny also.

            Anyway regarding civilisation, Burke said “‘Men are qualified for *civil* liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…” I don’t know about the exactness of the matter but perhaps we would agree that ‘moral chains’ are rather important

            “[Civilisation] cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate [LH] minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

            Their passions, if gone unchecked give rise to the totalitarian state.

            Speaking of the Age Of Wonder, Richard Holmes in his book, of that title, devotes a chapter (at least) to Mungo Park. According to which it would appear Mungo was a man of exemplary character; as with Captain Cook, who features in the same book, hardly what I would refer to as radical but paragons of progress. However when it came to the second expedition to Africa Mungo was to be accompanied by a small army under the command of a Capt John Martyn (a man of very problematic character). This was a regrettable compromise as far as Mungo was concerned but it was judged expedient no least because the radical upstarts on the continent (that Burke warned about) upped the ante in matters geo-political. Of course the second expedition went horribly pear-shaped.

            Basically radicals and left liberals more generally are a pain in the neck, they’re parasitic and their risk taking is irresponsible… But I concede that maybe, just maybe, we need them (the tendency, I suppose, as I can by no means claim to be entirely innocent of the evil) in a similar way that Swinburne claims evil is ultimately to our advantage so long as we recognise it for what it is.


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