17 April 2015

Things both arbitrary and necessary

The other day I ran into this quotation from Chesterton:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

It called to mind some discussions I had with some colleagues back in the day when I knew people to whom I could refer as 'colleagues".  At the time we were usually discussing feminist issues when I raised my point, but really we could be speaking of anything.  Someone would point out that different cultures came up with different answers and institutions regarding the two sexes.  Because of this fact, they concluded that the institutions surrounding the two sexes were arbitrary.  I would reply: yes, it may be true that they are seemingly arbitrary.  However, while each culture created institutions different from other cultures in response to the difference of the sexes, there is no such thing as a culture which did not respond to it at all. In my opinion, the institutions were therefore arbitrary, yet necessary.

I got called a lot of names back then for expressing this opinion.  I, not seeing any point in banging my head against walls, or perhaps I was too much of a coward, eventually gave up expressing my opinions.  It was something of a revelation.  meeting with colleagues was supposed to be an opportunity to hear differing opinions, perhaps reform our own opinion in the light of something we had not thought of before- iron sharpening iron.  But that was not the case. That was a twilight era.  We were post modernist, therefore post logical, post common sense, post thought.  I was arguing that there was such a thing as an underlying reality.  They argued that there was no underlying reality at all.  And thus, when time came to start reforms, they went their merry way, reforming everything without understanding that there was a 'why' or a reality behind every single thing they sought to reform. As a result, their reforms could lead to nothing but chaos.

What Chesterton and I are both getting at, is that there is reason and there are reasons, and that we need to recognize reality before we set about changing it.  Reality will always reassert itself in the end, and ignoring that will always lead to chaos.

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