On Chesterton’s fence

Chesterton’s fence does not necessarily mean that a social norm implies a process of deliberate engineering toward that norm in order to solve or prevent a specific problem — though sometimes it may, as with the Catholic Church’s engineering of norms against close cousin marriage.

Notes toward similar concepts to Chesterton’s fence — perhaps drawing on some level from Steve Sailer’s ideas about the British, emergence, and evolution (and golf):

1) Civilizations are rare. Why? If civilizations arise wherever the resources exist — but can this explain civilizational cycles within the same area? If civilizations arise wherever there is a great leader to unify the people and found an empire — but why did some empires collapse shortly after their founding? Korea demonstrates the importance of social technology in civilizational maintenance/flourishing; certain other areas may also, like southern Italy, but then there’s IQ as a confounding factor. (But how do those areas compare to others of similar IQs?) hbdchick makes a good case that a certain type of social norm (marriage patterns) has far-reaching effects; if there’s one, there’s likely to be others. This field isn’t well-understood at all, but its importance should be obvious, since the collapse of empires is well-attested in the historical record. And if norms play a significant role in the maintenance of civilizations, isn’t the existence of a norm in a successful civilization evidence (weak but existent) that the norm is important? (That’s a question — I don’t know, but it seems like it. There are probably statistical methods for dealing with this sort of thing, but I don’t know them.)

2) Norms can emerge organically through mass responses to obvious conditions, without deliberate engineering of the sort likely to leave easily-noticed written records.

3) Human universals or near-universals: what is the reason for their existence? There are imaginable ways of organizing society that aren’t seen in the world; is this due to pure historical chance, or? Since they exist, it’s probably a bad idea to devote resources to them without at least trying to figure out why the fence is there.

One response to “On Chesterton’s fence

  1. Pingback: On Chesterton’s fence | Reaction Times

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