The wisdom of the Ancients

Sweet Talk

Paul’s post on social change and its effects touches on an old conservative idea: that we should not abandon the accumulated wisdom of generations, the “wisdom of the Ancients”. The fact that social change can have deleterious and unequal effects seems evident. Certainly change should be assessed on its merits. But the idea that society might be the repository of any wisdom at all has always been the kind of idea that made me cock my head to the side and squint warily at my interlocutor.

The irrational meat-sacks that comprise humanity have a tendency to find patterns, even in random data. That’s called apophenia. (Every day on the internet is applied apophenia day.) We also have a tendency to privilege causative explanations. That’s the tendency that causes us to make post hoc ergo propter hoc errors (and to dribble platitudes about everything happening for a reason). We’re simply…

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