Contra Mozilla

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quote of the Day: David Warren on Statistics

David Warren's Essays in Idleness blog continues to be delightful, and frankly is more really conservative than most sites which pretend to that title. Today's topic is statistics:
"My libertarian hero in this regard was Sir John Cowperthwaite KB CBE, financial secretary to Hong Kong through the 1960s, & perhaps the most significant figure in the recovery of the old Crown Colony from its condition at the end of the last World War. He pointedly refused to collect economic statistics. His reasoning was that, without numbers to play with, the “economic planners” would be at a loss. They were, & Hong Kong boomed.

But to mention him is to stray into questions of economic policy, which, like Cowperthwaite, I am against. How we live our lives is God’s business, & none of the government’s until we are reasonably suspected of a crime. Their job is to provide for our defence against rapine & massacre by foreign powers & domestic criminals, in return for modest taxes. It is an important job, from which they should not be distracted by their own alien & criminal propensities. Let it be added that Hong Kong was remarkably free of crime throughout the period in question, comparing favourably even to booming yet placid Tokyo....

The numbers lie. Each one of these people — dead, living, yet unconceived — is an immortal universe. Each is the recipient & provider of justice, before & beyond worldly trade. Each will be held to account, at the Day of Judgement, when the complete record is set before us, to our inevitable surprise; when, as it were, our whole lives flash before our eyes. It is in our personal & collective interest to bear this superlative Truth in mind, & not a phantasia of unknowable & irrelevant numerological epiphenomena."
I will add here that it is worth comparing the modern mind's fascination with statistics (and even more importantly, the ignorance of assumptions) to its equally frequent devolution into parties, classes, and its enslavement to ideology. Ideologies are based on assumptions, often broad, and equally often false. Conservatism at its best consists of conservatives, who are not so much ideologue as those who are suspicious of any ideology, in particular those ideologies which promise to cure all of mankind's ills in the here and now. In a similar vein, Christianity is the one non-"istic" or non-"ism" religion.

Sure, there is Catholicism, and there is also Protestantism--and a case might be made that both at times can be corrupted into ideologies (nor is "Eastern Orthodoxy" able to escape this by merely dropping the "ism" from its name). There is also something to the fact that while Christians are those who are "for Jesus," they are also the only party which actually draws from humanity first. Grace builds on nature, or better yet it perfects nature--which is entirely different from destroying nature. The pitfall of ideology is that it inevitably tends to either ignore or openly discount some aspect of nature: rather than working with fallen nature and helping it to rise again, ideology promises a counterfeit grace whcih ultimately works to corrupt nature further, or to destroy it.

This is even true--perhaps especially true--when ideology coopts statistics or "science" for its ends. And this is often done by first making any number of faulty assumptions about the thing being studied. The end result is often that heaven is replaced by earth, but then earth is often replaced by hell. Conservatives in general recognize that when we attempt to make the earth into a utopia through technique--be it technological, economic "planning," or political control--it is often dystopia which results. The Christian goes one step further by recognizing that there is no heaven without God, and that indeed even the earth becomes just another vestige of hell.

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