Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Alternative Conservatism

I have criticized the theory that history always moves left in earlier blog posts. On the other hand, I must admit many of the opinions believed in by most conservatives nowadays used to be limited to leftists. I recently realized that I've heard the same argument (yesterday's leftists were sometimes right, therefore today's leftists are always right) in another field. I am referring to the claim that yesterday's dissenters from what was thought to be scientific orthodoxy were sometimes right, therefore today's dissenters from scientific orthodoxy are always right.

Tim Minchin, in his well-known poem Storm had a response to that:

And try as hard as I like,
A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That’s been proved to work?

We can paraphrase that as follows: By definition, “Alternative Conservatism” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative conservatism” that’s been proved to work? Conservatism.

Or, to make the above clearer: By definition, “Liberalism” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “liberalism” that’s been proved to work? Conservatism.

Maybe we should start calling liberalism “alternative conservatism.”


Blogger Anomaly UK said...

The problem is what "works" means. Medicines are chosen by doctors on behalf of patients, and if they work, that means they benefit the patient. There can be problem areas where the interests of the doctor and the patient diverge, but those are the exception not the rule.

Policies are chosen by politicians, nominally (in the case of democracy) in the interests of electorates. It is far from clear what the collective interest of the electorate is - and contention about that constitutes a large part of politics - so there's no comparable framework in which to say whether a policy "works" or not. At best, a policy works for some subset of either the electorate or the politicians themselves.

8:21 AM  

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