Fools’ Money (2): Counter Argument

Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever, if but a man.

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan

And yet…

And yet our reason itself points out how often it’s failed us – how often we’ve valued rubbish or discounted what turned out to be priceless.

Burke* and Borg remind us that we’ve walked into an unending conversation at a late hour, and we can’t understand it all.

Burke,** Hayek, and Oobi warn against unseen consequences and the unwitting removal of keystones in complex systems, and Chesterton exhorts us to pay special attention to the fences we don’t understand.

We need to weigh what we hear (counters, not money), but there’s a sense in which not smart enough to decide who or what to listen to. We’re unreliable authorities questioning unreliable authorities.

To whom shall we go?

“Trust no one” doesn’t take us very far.

It will help to think of authorities as “people who have proved trustworthy in the past,” rather than as monolithic stumbling blocks to be torn down and thrown aside.*** Their ideas may not be right – but it may be that we just don’t understand them, or understand their consequences in the complex systems we inhabit. Someone with a good track record deserves not freedom from doubt, but a fair share of its benefit.

And there’s something to be said for the simple fact that they’ve survived.

All of which is to say, paraphrasing Hobbes, that you should show a little respect for the authorities, and for your elders and betters.

***This was presumably how our not-entirely-stupid predecessors saw them when they referred to them as authorities. Who goes around setting up monolithic stumbling blocks anyway?

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