An eye for an eye makes the whole world circumspect. But, also, an eye for an eye makes the whole world cooperative, as Robert Axelrod showed with his study of tit for tat and competing strategies using iterated rounds of contests among genetic algorithms (described in his book The Evolution of Cooperation). Tit for tat beat all the alternative strategies, again and again; and as rounds of the contest were iterated, with winning strategies favored by the reproductive mechanism of the iteration, it more and more perfused the population of competing algorithms. As tit for tat increased in frequency, so did the total value generated by all competitors in each round: fewer and fewer defections occurred, and responses to defections were more and more often optimal.
That tit for tat wins the evolutionary game does not mean that its superiority is merely adventitious, an artifact of this or that sequence of random events that might have been quite different, and so generated quite a different sort of winner. On the contrary: provided the game goes on long enough, tit for tat wins every time, sooner or later, and no matter how the sequence of outcomes varies. The utile superiority of tit for tat is a truth of game theory, so that like any other mathematical truth it is from before any and all worlds, and holds true in every world. The metaphysical superiority of tit for tat, then, is the source and reason of its practical evolutionary success, and not vice versa (this is true of all perdurant evolutionary success). Tit for tat is the optimal strategy in evolutionary practice because it is the best in metaphysical fact. As metaphysically best it is the most moral policy of all (these are two ways to say the same thing).
Holiness is not hard, but the want of it.
It would be better for everyone if moral hazard were eliminated from the social order as much as possible. But it will be hard to root it out, because it is institutionalized deep in our laws. How deep? As deep as the rejection at the beginning of the 19th century of the old Mesopotamian notion of proper compensation for torts, memorialized both in the Law of Hammurabi and in the OT: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. The moment we reduced the penalties for torts from the time-honored “like for like” to financial compensation or time served, we reduced the net cost of hurting each other. Reducing the net cost of any sort of act does not generate more such acts immediately – you need agents for the mediation – but it does decrease the disinclination of agents to enact them, which they then more often proceed to do. So we are losing a lot more eyes and teeth than we might have been, had the penalties remained as they were.
What are monks good for, anyway? Why do we allocate scarce resources to their activities of prayer, liturgy, and the odd bit of gardening, or apiculture, or brewing?
We could ask the same question about priests, and about church buildings. Sure, they do lots of good and valuable work – teaching, nursing, and so forth – but their strictly religious activities would seem to be a complete waste.
But not so. People do better – are braver, more resilient, and happier in the face of life’s ineliminable vicissitudes both small and great – when they can see that their personal struggles signify in the larger struggle of good with evil for the redemption of the whole world. They do better when they can see how their small efforts to be good contribute weal to the side of the angels in the Wars of Heaven. If earthly life is throughly pointed toward some utterly transcendent and wonderful Good, then it can all be worthwhile. Otherwise, it just can’t, and is utterly vain and meaningless, so that despair is the only apposite response to life’s utter futility.
As for people, so for their families, their enterprises of all sorts, their tribes and nations. If these are formed by a shared understanding of their important roles in the wider struggle of God with his enemies, they are more likely to prosper and prevail. Otherwise, they are more likely to dwindle and fail. The demographic collapse of our merely secular society – more and more obviously nihilist – shows how irreligion plays out.
We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!
Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.
But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.
A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.
English makes it easy to refer to a whole group of things as if it were a substantial entity in its own right, whether or not it really is. It then allows us to assign such things as motives, plans, and behavior to that merely notional entity. Thus, e.g., “Baseball been very very good to me;” “The Wehrmacht has taken Paris;” “Godless Communism killed 100 million.”
It’s handy. But difficulty can ensue when we take our shorthand references to such groups as if they indicated something concretely real. The game of baseball can’t do anything, nor can the Wehrmacht, or Communism. Clemente was treated well by actual people involved in baseball, Paris was taken by German soldiers, and the victims of the Communist holocaust were destroyed by real men and women. It’s a category error to blame or credit merely notional entities. AN Whitehead called it the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. It arises when we treat ideas as if they were actual and concrete. Concrete entities do all inherit ideas from their past, embody them, and propose them to the future. But without a concrete entity to do the inheriting, embodying, and proposing, nothing happens with the ideas. Ideas don’t have themselves.
Ideas are indeed causes, to be sure; the final, formal and material causes of events are all ideas, in the final analysis. But the inputs to an event are not yet the event. Only agents can respond to the ideas that are their factors. It behooves us then to remember to assign responsibility to natural persons, rather than to movements or schools, to philosophies or merely legal persons.
It seems that whenever I start thinking about or discussing economics, I soon start going on about moral hazard. I think it tremendously important, and too little talked about or understood.
A recent short post on the facilitation of nihilism’s incipient historical suicide by prosperity and high technology was no exception. It provoked a long exchange of comments on quite a different (albeit related) topic: latter day capitalism versus distributism. As usual, I mentioned moral hazard:
If the moral hazard created by perverse policies – not of this or that administration, but often deep in the guts of the law – were purged, my guess is that … the size of the average enterprise would drop precipitously. Why? If for no other reason, there would be far less incentive to get big so as to be able to take big risks. Eliminating moral hazard means allowing people to suffer in their own bodies the risks of their actions. When the cost of a bad decision about risk on the part of your enterprise redounds immediately to your own personal situation, you are a lot more careful, a lot more circumspect. You dare less, and you want to have really good information about and control over the projects you take on, so as to control your risk. So you are less ambitious. And that means you grow much more slowly, and that your growth (all other things held equal) is healthier.
Which would result in a less volatile economy, greater average wealth, greater overall wealth, greater average prudence, and any number of other pleasant and salutary things, in the process leading society toward a distributist economic order.
In his response, regular commenter Ita Scripta Est said in passing:
And yet capitalism never quite seems to operate this way. The costs are socialized while the profits somehow always remain private.
He is exactly correct, and precisely nails the problem with latter day capitalism – and every other sublunary social order, whatsoever.
That a phenomenon seems to be wholly explicable in natural terms does not, of course, mean that it is not due to an ingress of Divine Grace. Thinking so is a common error of the naturalist bent – or rather, what it is more accurate to say, of the bent naturalist. But natural explanations do not rule out supernatural explanations. There is, indeed there can be, no conflict between natura and supernatura; natural explanations are all in the final analysis also supernatural explanations, because natura presupposes supernatura.
Behavior as such is predicated upon the orderliness of the world. The acts of organisms are avowals of confidence that the acts themselves are appropriate to the world; that they make sense in terms of the way that the world is ordered. My walk to the store is an effectual assertion that there is indeed still really a store, that my path will still take me to it, that it usually offers for sale the items I need, and so forth. Likewise for a cow heading home to her stall from the pasture. Likewise even for the phototropism of plants. Behavior is a commitment to the truth of an idea.
God is Omega in that all things achieve their final integration in him, and by him – not just at the eschaton, but always. It is by virtue of this integration that creaturely events are in the first place coordinated so as to form any coherent world. Thus the integration of the Omega is the forecondition of Creation. That’s why Omega is coterminous with Alpha.