A lot of conservatives have a problem with evolution. They see a natural world with a lot of organized complexity, and they can’t conceive of that developing or operating without someone being in charge. (How can uncontrolled processes produce something as complex as an eye?) Without some kind of central control system to design and run it, things would quickly devolve into chaos.
A lot of progressives have a problem with markets. They see an economic world with a lot of organized complexity, and they can’t conceive of that developing or operating without someone being in charge. (How can uncontrolled processes produce something as complex as an iPhone?) Without some kind of central control system to design and run it, things would quickly devolve into chaos.
But many of those same conservatives have no problem believing in markets; and many of those same progressives have no problem believing in evolution. Which is fascinating, because they’re the same set of abstract processes occurring in different contexts.
Research in cognitive science shows that one of the hardest things for humans to do is take what they’ve learned in one domain, and transfer it to another domain. The apparent ability to believe fervently in evolution but not markets, or in markets but not evolution, is one of my favorite examples of this.
My other favorite example has to do with power, and who can be trusted with it. There’s no shortage of movies where the main theme is that some object that confers enormous power on the bearer has to be destroyed, because no one can be trusted to use it wisely.
So Harry Potter has to destroy the Sorcerer’s Stone. Lara Croft has to destroy the Time Triangle. Frodo Baggins has to destroy the One Ring. And in each case, every viewer knows that this is what needs to be done.
But those same people, having cheered on the destruction of power too great for anyone to be trusted with, will walk out of theaters and into voting booths, where they will proceed to hand over the same kind of power to politicians.
Mark Twain said that ‘every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction’. Eventually, ‘the people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented’.
Just as people, on the whole, seem to be unable to imagine nature without gods, or an economy without czars, they seem to be unable to imagine themselves being able to live their own lives without choosing someone whose job is to tell them how to live it.