Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Most Basic of Differing First Principles

Yesterday during a conversation with Chris's mother, I came to a most unexpected realization.

She rattled on about some reality show she watched that showed real ER doctors in real situations, and how disappointed she was that these doctors didn't "do" more.

Mel: "What do you mean?"
Jane: "All they do is hand off patients to other doctors in other areas."
Mel: "And? That's their job. Take care of emergencies and send patients to the specialists best able to deal with the problem."
Jane: "But I thought they were gods. I thought they could handle everything, and knew everything."
Mel: "That's impossible."
Jane: "But that's the way its supposed to be."
Mel: "No, that's the way you think it's supposed to be."
Jane: "But aren't they supposed to know everything?"
Mel: "No, they can't. It's something of a minor miracle that they know enough to help at all, and there's still huge gaps in scientific knowledge."

And that's when it hit me. She and I were coming from completely differing first principles. She wanted everything to be perfect, where sickness was "something wrong" and if only the doctors put their unlimited knowledge to the problem, they could fix it. I was coming from the first principle that shit happens, the world is chaotic, and when the doctors could do something, it was because of a combination of medical knowledge and medical progress made over thousands of years.

Then I realized Og was having the exact same problem in his anarchy discussions. In fact, Jane's position and Billy Beck's position could be summed up as

The world is perfect. People are perfect. If we could just keep from messing things up, everything would stay perfect.

If we could keep from getting sick, things would be perfect. If we just didn't mess with other people and kept our own boundaries, we wouldn't need government because everything would be perfect.

If only evil man would stop polluting the planet and save the polar bears, everything would be BACK to perfect.

This entire principle assumes that there is such a thing as "perfect".

My position, however, and Og's position could be summed up as

The world is chaotic and shit happens. Nothing is intrinsically perfect. Deal with it.

Humans are prone to sickness, and the only thing that keeps up from dying is concerted effort on our part, and the accumulation of medical progress as applied by those who have studied the work of those before them. People are flawed, and a very few people would make life hell for the vast majority without some sort of outside interference. The world is constantly changing, and adapting, and all life must change with it. All order in this world is a direct consequence of seeing what works (i.e. living and surviving), noticing what doesn't work (death) and diligently replicating what works (i.e. adaptation).

These are the most basic of first principles. One can either assume the world is perfect and everything wrong is due to destruction of the perfect, or can assume that the world is flawed to begin with everything good is due to hard work, observation, and diligence in the War Against Entropy.

Where do you stand?


Cross-posted at Mrs. Anarchangel