Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Thrill of the New

Do you thrill to the new or are you mired in the old?

Do you seek out the newest thing or do you retreat into the familiar and comfortable?

Of course, it might matter whether you are young or old. The younger you are the more of life’s experiences are new. The older you are the more you will find human experience familiar.

Cognitive psychologists are now addressing the question. They have, unfortunately, forgotten that science and ethics are not the same thing, so they seem to want to use their “science” to “prove” that it is better to be a moderate neophile than to respect tradition. In their lexicon the latter makes you a neophobe.

As might be expected, the same neuroscientists have discovered, on pseudo-scientific grounds that liberals seek out the new while conservatives are mired in the past. Thus, pretend science has discovered that normal people are liberal. What a surprise!

Speaking of surprises, there is nothing surprising about scientists skewing their research to promote leftist ideas. Today we discover that they need but indulge in sloppy thinking to achieve the same result.

Yesterday, I posted about Diederick Stapel, a master of the game of falsifying data, who was just found out and fired.

Even if we assume that the research on newness has been honestly, it also appears to have been done mindlessly.

Eric Felten suggests as much in the Wall Street Journal. I find his point well taken.

Let’s try to apply some serious thought to the question.

If you are offered a choice between a new car and an old car, you would most likely choose the new one.  Actually, people no longer even call old cars old cars. They don’t even call them used cars. Now they use the term pre-owned, exactly the term that Ebay sellers use to describe used clothing.

Of course, if you are given a choice between a brand new sweater and one that has been already worn, you will most likely prefer the new sweater.

The same would probably apply to most articles of clothing.

If you are in the market for a home and you have a choice between a new home and one that has already been lived in, you might prefer the new home because there are fewer risks: of bad plumbing, termites, mold, and faulty wiring.

In these circumstances, people prefer the new to the old because the new is presumed to be cleaner, safer, and therefore, more hygienic.

Nonetheless, neuroscientists seem to want to emphasize the notion that neophiles are better able to adapt to changing circumstances. They want us to think that neophiles are best prepared to face an uncertain future.

If young people are most apt to encounter new experiences, this does not mean that they are best prepared to face an uncertain future. Having the least experience, they will be least capable of using the wisdom gained from experience when facing a new challenge or opportunity.

If you see the world in terms of clean and dirty, there is much to say in favor of new as clean. Your survival depends on it.

People are attracted to the new because it is safer. To me, this is self-evident. If it has escaped the purview of the neuroscientists they need to take off their ideological blinders.

And yet, let’s take a second look at some of our examples.

If you are offered a choice between a new Kia and an old Ferrari, all things being equal, which would you be more likely to choose?

If you have to choose between a new house and an old house and your aesthetic prefers the older Victorian manse over the new suburban split-level, are you hopelessly retrograde if you choose the manse?

If you prefer Bach to Justin Bieber does that make you a fuddy-duddy or does it make you discerning?

Amazingly, neophile neuroscientists feel that they have to critique your or my taste in music. They see something wrong with listening to old music and watching revivals of 1950s musicals.

Perhaps they have forgotten that art is more or less timeless? Perhaps they do not know that truly great art has withstood what is called the test of time.

Besides, what if yesterday’s musicals and movies are simply better than today’s.

If you have discerning taste, does that make you a neophobe?

If you become too enthralled with the new and too afraid of being a neophobe you will end up re-inventing the wheel.

Anyone who refuses to draw instruction from the past and who refuses to build on what works will waste a considerable amount of his resources.

And then there’s another problem.

Living for the thrill of the new will aim you toward chaos. If you fail to organize your life around routines you will be facing a constant barrage of surprises. You will also become unpredictable and unreliable to friends and family.

Despite what the researchers think, the failure to have an organized life, one that is filled with meaningful routines, will make it less likely that you will be able to face a surprise effectively.

Should you bow to the evidence of experience, the evidence of what has worked, or should you ignore the past in order to try something new for the sake of trying something new? If you do not have a record of success, built on experience, you will most likely be defeated by the new.

Naturally, the researchers want to convince you that liberals are neophiles who are fearlessly looking in to the future. By their lights, liberals are willing and able to confront new challenges and to find new solutions.

Then, they declare that conservatives are mired in the past, enamored of tradition, clinging to what is familiar, and afraid to face the future.

After all, today’s liberals prefer to call themselves progressives and the term suggests a belief in progress.

Considering that most progressives support the kind of environmental activism that would, if taken to an extreme, repeal the Industrial Revolution, this seems a bit of a misnomer.

People who want to return to a pristine, natural, pre-industrial state are not progressives; they are reactionaries.

Felten examines an example offered by neophile Winifred Gallagher.

Trying to promote the virtue of neophilia Gallagher offers the example of Kate Lucas, a woman who left a job in New York to move out west and to become a ranch hand.

Felten comments: “No doubt the experience was a novel one for Ms. Lucas, but the plot line was already tired when Mickey Rooney filmed ‘Girl Crazy’ in 1943. It is a measure of the muddle that is Ms. Gallagher's book that she doesn't find anything odd about describing the lure of a rural life redolent of 19th-century America as a type of ‘neophilia.’"


n.n said...

There is a well respected adage in engineering that is particularly relevant: just because you can does not mean you should.

First, the concept of progress is ambiguous and in its nature is deceptive. Second, the concept of change is similarly ambiguous with respect to its merit. Finally, rebels with a cause and without a clue are perturbations to a system and are, more often than not, unwelcome.

This, of course, depends on the character of the system, but once it reaches a stable state, it is likely that it is worth preserving in whole, if not in detail.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
-- The Declaration of Independence

While this is not directly applicable to the topic (i.e. neophile, i.e. tradition, i.e. adaptability) in this post, it does describe a sound principle which is applicable.

I would suggest that those who reject tradition for light and transient causes, would be well advised to check their egos as they seek to compete with their predecessors and marginalize their competing interests.

It is a selective reality, where a “progressive” philosophy denigrates individual dignity, a “liberal” philosophy devalues human life, and where each promotes infantilism of its adherents, and imposes it on its resisters. It wasn't always this way. Well, it was, in degrees, but that is an unavoidable limitation imposed upon us by reality.

I think we can determine a better compromise. One that is optimally compatible with both the natural and enlightened orders. It’s not on the left. It’s not on the right. It has a decidedly conservative character.

So, is it justified to replace the car, and is it justified to replace our system of governance (or is it government)? The answer is maybe.

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Tilda Tally-ho said...

I loved the comment in the WSJ review about the supposed "rubes" that the New Yorker encountered out west!

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