‘Conservative’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think

With this post, I reclaim ‘Conservative’ from all of the political fads and parties that have appropriated it over the years.

My version of ‘Conservative’ is a hard focus on the propagation and thriving of my genetic line, my family and people like me, especially ones I grew up with. I want my descendants to do very well in the genetics race. I strongly believe my culture makes that more likely, so
I want my culture propagated along with my genetics. Further, emotional hardass that I am, I refuse to give anyone else, any other genetic or cultural background than mine, anything more than what is necessary to most probably benefit me, my family and my descendants. That is, I will strive to be out for #1, me and mine, at all times. In this very strict view of my interests, other people are only meaningful with respect to what they can do for me and mine.

As a superior human, I resolve to use the very best modern knowledge and ancient wisdom in pursuing those aims for the sole success of me and mine. I will strive to use the best understanding of philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, genetics, medicine, religion, law, logic and reasoning, a wide selection of points of view and other mental
tools, … That focus on understanding in context has been wisdom since the first writing, and very insightful people have been writing ever since about the best values for people to adopt and the best ways for people to think and act to achieve their human ends. Modern science and fields of psychology have added a continual attention to improving all of the understandings and mental tools used by our minds, and avoiding propaganda’s influence.

Most importantly, I will evaluate all of that in the the empirical light of my own experience in life. Those experiences, some vicarious through stories, are part of my culture, and I depend on them to guide my actions in furthering my interests, to be Conservative of my family, community and culture. Part of that empirical knowledge is the realization that our culture over-emphasizes the verbal, that many people get great happiness from things that cannot be expressed.

The world around me imposes constraints on how I can achieve those goals with highest probability and lowest risk.

First, external reality is complicated. A large part of our interesting environments are composed of systems and subsystems and most effects can have many causes, some unknown. To achieve goals in environment where the past does not reliably predict the future requires very careful thinking and focus on as solid a version of reality as we can manage. As individuals, we must use the best epistemology, understanding we can’t predict the future from the past, understanding that our mental models are maps, not that reality, that maps and reality may not share properties or operations.  That complexity requires big populations if we are to use it effectively in improving our civilization.

Second, many of the entities in our surroundings have agency, they are also acting in what they believe to be their own interests. Some of those entities are individual people, some are organizations of people, we expect that in our future more and more will be organizations of automated actions. The people, at least, are needed for civilization.  Their actions will affect us.

Given all that, what should I value, what strategies can I use, what is wisdom?  My understandings are :

First, I have to play positive sum games exclusively. History has no examples of civilizations that failed while doing that*, many of the reverse. Playing positive-sum games well requires that I be part of a culture that values reality, honesty, square dealings in all things. Honesty and valuing reality as the only meaningful basis of discussion do not allow any of the standard fallacies of thought. The better everyone thinks, the higher-level can be our positive sum games, the higher the rate of generating value, the greater the civilization.

Second, I have to be as nice a guy as possible because I and mine will depend on people and communities around us. Why create enemies?  Trading partners and allies have much better ROI than enemies.

Third, stable communities are necessary for lowest cost and risk in everything, so spending resources to make them is Conservative of me and mine. Societies of generous and caring individuals do well relative to those of lesser virtues : they have less social wastage, therefore a higher proportion of people generating value, and so a higher possible level of civilization. Not only money is required, also personal involvement, personal contact, whatever kind of leadership you can provide. That involvement is the only alternative to rule by experts and the rise of another top-down Status Quo.  It is the cost of faster progress via distributed systems.

Fourth, a stable community is dynamically stable, not statically stable.  Change is part of life, adjusting to change is part of life. Our cultures evolve.  Our economies evolve.  As individuals and groups, we evolve.   Stasis cannot be a political, economic or social goal.

My definition of ‘Conservative’ is ‘makes ever-higher civilization inevitable’.  That requires embracing change.

Wise, cautious, conserving strategy of my family and culture is synonymous with conserving the average human’s ability to pursue their own happiness.

‘Pursue their own happiness’ is short-hand for ‘provide an environment in which people can satisfy their ageless human values’, the very thing we Conservatives believe are so slighted in the modern world.

Conservative must be a method for solving problems wisely and avoiding catastrophe, not an ideology. It is bias to the animal-ape psychology, comfort and social order that is likely more important than we know and inexpressible in language. Conservative includes a concern that modern life is not suited for humans as evolved animals. It is a social technology, a set of mental tools for dealing with such problems, a checklist, an understanding of how people work in groups and how to effectively use them in groups. Conservatives are engineers of systems constructed of and operated by very fallible individual people joining together to accomplish tasks. Our systems need to work reliably, to detect error early, to evolve in many frequent small errors rather than the too-often and far too large cataclysms they now produce.

In a fast-changing environment, evolve or be lost.  If you wish to preserve the best of your culture, you must continuously try new elements from others, likely modified by your own ideas.  We modify our culture with every new thought.  We are in the role of the selective breeder, culling the worst of our ideas, crossing the rest with interesting strains, continuously trying out new combinations to find desirable futures.

However slowly or quickly your environment is changing, winning is out-evolving your competition. Conservatives embrace all of the values that make that possible, except for valuing change.

*As an honestly honest member of the Honest Party, I must admit that no civilization has managed to pursue only positive sum games.  This is an extrapolation from the fact that those who manage the most such with the most people are consistent winners.

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