Our Responsibility To Protect Innocence

I really want to live in a world in which most people don’t have to know about things like the #1 song in America, a song whose lyrics a number of people (who are likely at different spots on the political spectrum) rightly find horrifying.

Insofar as we can do nothing or little about an issue, it behooves us to limit our exposure to that issue. We shouldn’t constantly bathe in outrage. I understand this and yet am failing myself.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to protect others.

There are billions of people who don’t know about the latest political hypocrisy, “woke” overreach, leftist neologism, or cultural depravity with which we “tuned in” people bathe our brains each hour. Imagine the happiness of living life assuming the best about your common man and not attaching shame or fear to things as simple as sitting in a chair (now a “micro-aggression” of “manspreading” according to some).

Sadly, the innocent folks who haven’t heard about the latest outrage are a dying minority.

I shouldn’t try to bring more people – perfectly oblivious people – into the swarming vortex of “awareness” of the various gaping cracks in our culture. I shouldn’t try to make people feel badly about their fellow men. I shouldn’t take away innocence – once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Your Reputation Will Matter To Descendants You Will Never Meet

I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I learned my line of farming ancestors was interrupted by the presence of a banker. Now I mean no offense to the wonderful, hardworking, and valuable members of the banking community, but this Walpole of the 1800s threw a cog into my romantic historical conception of our family as agrarian types.

But it turns out the story was a bit more complicated than that. If I remember my historical findings aright, he was not a fat-cat – but he was a highly competent bank teller, detector of counterfeit currency, and “reputed one of the foremost of the banking officials of the city”. He lived and worked in Mobile, Alabama before returning (out of a sense of loyalty to place, I read) to Charleston, South Carolina. And, most importantly, he was “noted for his strict business integrity and his courtesy, and the community suffers great loss in his death.”

It gave me a lift to know that this man, as complicated and flawed as he must have been, was considered a decent and honorable man in his time.

Lest you argue that this is an “irrational” thing to be happy about, just consider the difference which having a dissolute father has versus having an upright one. The same difference applies with grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-greats’, and so on (though to a lesser degree). Character flows down to the present day in both nature and nurture, so it’s important for people to have things to prize about their forefathers.

All of this is a reminder that your character may one day mean a lot to some kid who decides to be curious about his family history. Live well.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Social Salvation vs. Individual Salvation

From one era to another of human history, human energies seem to be dedicated either to social salvation – think “progress” – or individual salvation – think “enlightenment” or “sanctification”. Sometimes this takes religious guises, other times more secular ones.

We live in a time that, despite its frequent pandering to individual *lusts* and frequent spastic efforts to find “enlightenment” (yoga, New Age, etc), does not really have a structure that encourages individual salvation.

The social structure trains us to want *progress* for our society – whether it’s political and moral (in the way we think about gender, race, etc) or economic (we want more stuff for more people) or technological (we want more power over our natural world). We pursue social progress whether or not that means individual improvement in virtue, heroism, etc.

On the other hand, I would be interested to know whether more traditional and hierarchical societies like those of medieval Europe, despite not having an explicit ideology of individualism, did more to encourage individuals to seek sanctification.

In the relative technological, religious, and artistic stability of more traditional societies, the individual was just about the only actor that *could* change. Time would have been viewed more circularly and less linearly, with each generation restarting the hero’s journey and finding a fleshed-out and tested set of rituals for going from stage to stage. You either progressed as a person, or you didn’t.

This is speculation, but it seems fair speculation to say that more traditional societies at least had stronger ritual support for individual transformation.

It is not speculation to say that as we have become more concerned with technological/social progress, we have managed to make it harder for individuals to become heroic, holy, fully realized beings. Yes, we wield more potential power than ever in the form of computers and data, but we also buy that power with the need for sedentary lifestyles (sitting at desks) and greater economic centralization (corporations), not to mention all the mischief that computers tend to create from pornography to internet trolling.

It probably is not the case that social progress (in the sense of linear change over time) and individual progress are opposed. I think social progress tends to come out of individual progress. But I think it’s much more important that individuals – the only beings who can *experience* change – get priority. And if that means tamping down on the rate of supposed social innovations, so be it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

In Most Conflicts of Ideas, Socratic Dialogue Beats Research

There are so many controversial issues in our world right now, and so many people who want to change the way we think, see, speak, feel, and live because of them.

I’m not an expert on COVID, not an expert on climate change, not an expert on China, not an expert on interracial and intersex relations, etc. I have my ideas and strong beliefs, sure. And yes, I should try to learn as much as is practicable about the issues that matter. But I must also realize that it would take a lifetime to gain the full data picture on any of these issues. And I also realize that any attempts at data gathering are especially colored now by strong bias, censorship (political or otherwise), hatred, and fear.

What’s a thinker to do? Maybe a cautious agnosticism is justified, but the vehement ideologies now held by most people won’t really allow for aloofness, particularly on issues with consequences for political freedom. If you wish to check anti-freedom ideologies,, you’re going to have to do some challenging.

But if it’s not realistic to expect the average person to dig into history and scientific studies in a rigorous way, what is the right approach?

In my experience, a Socratic dialogue style works best. Ask good questions, See what facts (or evidence thereof) your opponent puts forward. Unless you have opposing evidence, don’t worry so much about hurriedly Googling some confirmation of your own side. Accept their evidence. But question their premises or conclusions.

It is far more efficient to deal with identifying the errors in logic than the errors in fact (though correcting all kinds of errors are important). Logic works by a series of first principles that everyone can learn and no one can evade. Contradictions, fallacies, false equivalencies, and other errors in thinking are much easier to dislodge than disputes over evidence (often evidence can be ambiguous).

The other benefit to accepting your opponent’s evidence – conditionally, at least – is to make the truth-seeking process a bit less combative. Combative discussions rarely lead to a change in shared understanding. Try to listen and look for truth in the other person’s statements, then dismantle the bad connections of logic. If there are errors of fact, those can be fixed next.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Your New Ideology Probably Won’t Make You Better

“There’s no cure for being a cunt.” – Bronn, Game of Thrones

It’s no new insight to say that the loudest proponents of virtuous utopia often lack virtue themselves. I only want to confess to the same sin.

I have changed my mind on many things at least a couple of times (per thing) by now, and at 24 I’m bound to change it again. And each time I have changed my mind and my position, I have soon enough looked back on my previous beliefs with scorn and disgust. Worse still, I have looked back on my former fellow believers with scorn and disgust, too.

In each of these times, the content of my beliefs may change dramatically, but the content of my character changes little – at least insofar as pride is concerned. I may have “the right ideas” but I am an ass about it. My ass behavior is usually limited to internal narrative and thoughts – I’m rarely rude out loud – but it still shows a corruption in me.

Repetition of this mistake in the course of changing my beliefs may show how little virtue I have, or at least how susceptible I am to this weakness in human nature. But it does have one positive effect: with each time, I become a little more transparent to myself, and the “throwing under the bus” seems a little more treacherous and unjustly proud.

With any luck, this will make me more careful, more humble, and more skeptical, which in a world of ideologies are virtues to seek.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Continuity Is Power

Once upon a time, the nation-state and the joint-stock corporation were new and small. The Church, the family, the tribe, the town, the land (kept by farmers), the wilds, and even small businesses (craftsmen) – in short, the things of humanity – were far older.

While this was true, these institutions were more powerful than the state or the corporation. But what remains of these old institutions now?

They have been weakened by a philosophy of newness which insists that people (this an insight from a recent listening to Wendell Berry) leave the family farm, renounce the tribe, live hundreds of miles from their families, forsake the family business. This is considered normal (“small town kid goes to big city”, “man charts his own way” etc.) and even encouraged as part of “chasing dreams” and “pursuing progress.” The old institutions rely on transmission from generation to generation, and if every generation leaves (even if it comes back in old age), what will keep them?

The irony is that the people who leave these human institutions in search of “freedom” go to work for corporations and the state, which seem to be the only entities gaining in resilience and continuity these days. The people staffing these institutions come and go, but in real terms these institutions continue gathering strength.

Continuity is power. Whatever lasts the longest holds the largest sway over the human mind.

Maybe the only reason they are dominating is that we are leaving the other human institutions. Maybe if we returned to “staying” and serving we wouldn’t have to serve the new empires.

We’ve only been a few generations without continuity. It’s still possible to imagine going back, and it’s still possible to return and cling to the communities and institutions and places that make us different, singular, and free. But we have to do it while the memory of a different way of living is still with us.

Open This Content