I’m really enjoying Terence Green’s ‘Philosophical Haikus’ in Philosophy Now… Bitesized chunks of wit and wisdom which make you think. This month’s is on the controversial economist Friedrich Hayek.

The full text is down below (and I’m hoping Terence and Philosophy Now will forgive me as I do recommend a subscription to what one of my favourite reads).

But the bits which got me thinking are these:

…humankind is possessed of a singular desire to control: to control our environment, to control society, to control other people (cf Nietzsche’s will-to-power). Control is hoped to be a way of ridding ourselves of uncertainty; and more than anything else, human beings are troubled by uncertainty.

This speaks to the worries and anxieties we all endlessly lock onto: the Existentialist ‘lack’, Buddhist ‘clinging’ and the endless ‘control dramas’ of interpersonal relations. We are both bored by and possessive about what we have, fear what we don’t know and worry constantly about other people and the future.

We’re all about control.. are we beyond help?

But, said Hayek, this belief [in control] is just hubris – the sort of arrogant over-confidence for which the Greek gods were always punishing people. In the absence of the gods, we’re punished by the circumstances we create.

Maybe the answer is, mentally, to bring back those Greek gods – capricious, mercurial, tempters and temptresses, spiteful and unpredictable; but ultimately (kind of) on our side.

If life was unavoidably a rollercoaster ride of being tossed about by Zeus and the others, perhaps we might enjoy it more. Let go of the illusion of control and it’s unalloyed fun when it’s going well and less painful when things go badly; it’s all in the lap of the gods.

After all, chance seems to be beating control hands down in 2020.

Amor fati as Nietzsche said.

Philosophical Haiku

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992)
by Terence Green

“Reason’s poverty,
Man’s desire to control –
This road walks the serf.”

Hayek’s reputation as an economist and political philosopher has suffered on account of his popular but vitriolic and unbalanced rant against state power, The Road to Serfdom (1944). In it he argued that even mild, well-intentioned attempts at central planning will inevitably slide towards authoritarianism. The book was appropriated by the worst zealots of neoliberalism. But there remains much wisdom in the fundamental points he returned to time and again.

The Enlightenment bequeathed to us a seemingly unshakable confidence in the capacity of human reason. Reason sets us apart from the beasts and gives us the power to shape our world after our own designs. It matters not that history is littered with the burnt-out wrecks of infallible schemes for the creation of the ideal society: we still cling to the belief that by the application of reason we can diagnose the illness and prescribe the cure for the human condition. Indeed, this belief is the very foundation of modern government. Every policy a government introduces is predicated on rational analysis, with the assumption that the policy will produce the desired effects. Along with this faith in reason, Hayek claims, humankind is possessed of a singular desire to control: to control our environment, to control society, to control other people (cf Nietzsche’s will-to-power). Control is hoped to be a way of ridding ourselves of uncertainty; and more than anything else, human beings are troubled by uncertainty. We wish to alleviate the pain of not knowing, and believe we have the ability to do so. But, said Hayek, this belief is just hubris – the sort of arrogant over-confidence for which the Greek gods were always punishing people. In the absence of the gods, we’re punished by the circumstances we create.

For Hayek in 1944 there was a broader context – of fascist and communist totalitarian regimes, that justified their murderous actions on the basis that they knew how to create the perfect society. Even if you start out with impeccably admirable intentions, any government that seeks to reshape society on the basis of some ideal blueprint will risk turning its citizens into slaves in order to realise that ideal. There cannot be a single right way to live or to organise society; and even if there were, we can never know enough or be wise enough to bring it into existence. It’s a thought worth pondering.

© Terence Green 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s