The Perfect Formula

by Brad Nelson   4/19/14

In dealing with the subject of Objectivism, and in reading a little (by coincidence) about Christian Science, it occurred to me that probably the worst development of the 20th century was the field of psychology.

And it’s not that skilled counselors can’t help people out of their bad habits. Occasionally they do (and very often they take your money and do no harm, at best). The problem with modern psychology is that it has reduced man to thinking of himself as a problem to be solved.

And there are many problems in life to be solved. And problem-solving skills are greatly beneficial to us. But if I’ve learned anything from all my own musings and personal struggles over the years it is that we are not beings to be “figured out.” Our job is not to find the right and perfect formula. The search for the perfect doctrine or philosophy, although individual principles are often of use, is ultimately more harm than help.

To some extent, the art of living is learning to live with ourselves rather than trying to perfect every little thing. It’s learning to live in a world where what happens isn’t necessarily prone to analysis and thus correction. We are not problems to be solved. We are not a complex of phobias and neuroses looking to be untangled and defused. And I think that in thinking like this, we can turn our life into a living hell, for the backdrop to all this is, once again, the expectation of utopia.

Any philosophy or religion has the potential to smother a mind in the minutia of ritualistic thinking, where we think of ourselves, our world, and even our God, as a puzzle to be solved. This is the approach of Christian Science, for example, where the idea is that if you are sick it is because your thinking is out of whack with God, who is perfect and thus without corruption or disease. And so if you just somehow purify your thinking, you’ll be healed. Does that not sound like a living hell, to live with such angst-filled strivings so that if you catch a cold it’s because you failed to live up to the perfection of God?

And it’s not that there isn’t a healthful benefit to positive thinking, to being cheerful instead of depressed. There clearly is. But that kind of thinking reduces all of life, and its great mysteries, to a mere method, a formula — and leaves little to no room for the redemptive aspects of suffering. It exercises and over-exercises the “rational” aspect of us to the detriment of all others, especially including the creative and spiritual aspects.

And this is also the fault of Objectivism and libertarianism. I think both camps think they have a formula for all of life, if we would only adhere to the rules. As I’ve noted, conservatism, at best, is only a general guideline. It’s much like a carpenter learning a bit of mathematics so that he can measure twice and cut once. Its about learning the equivalent of the basics of gravity so that whatever you build will not fall down. But conservatism doesn’t tell you precisely what kind of building you should build or how many stories it should have.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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2 Responses to The Perfect Formula

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    To use terminology I’ve used elsewhere, conservatism is long-term pragmatism. We have some general guidelines, but ultimately our approach to public problems is to find out what works (at a price that isn’t excessive). This can involve working with people who disagree with us, provided they too are more concerned with what works than with ideological dogma or partisan advantage. (The error of the Beltway Bandits is that they fail to make that distinction. Very few liberals are pragmatic as opposed to ideologically dogmatic, and very few Democrats are pragmatic as opposed to intensely partisan.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      One of the problems, Timothy, with the idea of pragmatism is that it generally has two meanings. Here are the two, and only two, definitions given by my dictionary on my Mac:

      1 a pragmatic attitude or policy : ideology was tempered with pragmatism.
      2 Philosophy an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

      The first is the John McCain type where you give up believing in anything because, 1) You don’t particularly believe strongly in anything in the first place except your own short-term gain and, 2) It’s more important to be seen to go along to get along, a disease the Left doesn’t have. This kind of “pragmatism” is used as a political weapon by the Left and hailed (and hurled) toward weak and spineless Republicans lest actually standing for one’s principles be called “divisive.” Line up everyone at NRO and ask put them on a lie detector and see if this is the kind of pragmatism they accept or reject, and that would clear the place of the dead-wood RINOs in a heartbeat.

      The second is what I would call the kind of pragmatism that I would associate with conservatism. For instance, if we presume that raising the minimum wage actually hurts people (by eliminating jobs), and if the point is to help people, then we are against raising the minimum wage (or, really, even having one). If the evidence was otherwise, we would have to revise our ideas. Unlike the Left or other ideologies, getting drunk on our own kool-aid — and staying drunk at any and all costs — is not one of our principles.

      Of course, the real world is full of all kinds of demagogues who will sell out their own nation and culture to get a vote. And these parasites are legion right now in both parties.

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