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Enlightened Conservatism


Understanding Enlightened Conservatism


Perhaps the most difficult issue in life is to gain and maintain a perspective that gives an objective evaluation of how to succeed in life while, at the same time, allowing us to be satisfied and happy with the time that we spend on earth. As we realize that the earth is but a speck in the size of the universe and that the very limited life span each of us enjoys is but a second in the eras of time, we gain an appreciation of the vastness of the world and the physical laws that regulate our existence. Simultaneously, we have an appreciation that in the last 4,000 years of well-recorded history of man, though incredibly small in the eons of the universe’s existence, we have made tremendous strides to conquer physical barriers and to move the concept of civilization forward. Our greatest challenge of the future will not be the growth of knowledge. It compounds like a penny (one cent, two cents, four cents, eight cents, sixteen cents, thirty-two cents, sixty-four cents). But wisdom, the ability to use that knowledge constructively, may be in increasingly short supply. The very complexity of new technology lends incredible levels of complication to understanding issues and seeing the derivative relationships that eventually occur. The convenience of instant information reduces the need for patterned thought to aid memory. This tremendously impacts the time-developed cultures that have been a codification of how civilization has advanced. While people often seek the right answers, even understanding the right questions has become extremely difficult.

Rene Descartes, the French thinker who many consider the father of modern philosophy, used the equivalent of a scientific method as he sought truth through the use of reason alone. He conceptualized ideas and believed that there were two kinds of true ideas. Clear ideas could be distinguished from others and distinct ideas had parts that could be distinguished from each other. The purpose of a philosopher was to analyze these complex ideas and translate them into simpler ones. He distinguished between ideas of the mind and ideas that came from worldly experience, which he felt could not be as thoughtfully clarified. Nonetheless, he began a process of thought.

In the physical world man has used reason and the scientific method to build two great theories. One, the Theory of Relativity, deals with the vast expanse of the universe. The other, the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, deals with the smallest of particles. Both have rules that operate clearly within their realms. But we still seek the understanding of how they actually fit together since there are inconsistencies that show there is knowledge we lack. In the metaphysical realm of worldly ideas it is far more complicated because the world not only has few distinct rules, but has developed with many different cultures codifying historical practices, cultural values, and influences of geography. Just as we have many different languages, we have the lingering effects of our location and our origin. The technology of science brings the world much closer together and gives us the power to build an atom bomb. However, the question is whether we have the wisdom to know how to use that same power constructively, and how we, as the six billion residents of a common planet, find ways to understand each other and define the common denominators by which civilization can advance.

When I first wrote The New Legacy, the set of thoughts that were included were termed enlightened conservatism by Tim Richardson, the editor of the Quorum Report. Fifteen years later as The Language of Conscience and The New Legacy were being translated into Chinese that phrase became increasingly important because of the need to identify a process of thought in dealing with a concept. The romance languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, and English have a Latin derivation and thereby are easily translated word for word. The languages of the East, however, use a different set of symbols that translate concepts rather than words. To accurately translate presented concepts you have to understand much more about the individual writing and much more about the ideas, as a whole. It is very difficult to take just pieces of thought and convey them without having an overview, a perspective of what I was trying to achieve and how the process fit together. Such a process needs to be named to be understood and codified. So I went back to the concept of enlightened conservatism. Originally, it was chosen because it perhaps more defined a perspective of political philosophy. But in the more modern presentation it represents the balance between two competing forces – enlightenment, which reflects not only the tremendous increase in education, opportunity, and technology within the world, but also the impacts of globalization and inter-reaction – and the second concept of culture, which represents the traditional values that have been codified often with good reasons over generations. Each has a significant momentum of its own, and it is inevitable that they clash when the speed of technology creates such uncertainty in the world that it pulls people closer to those values that they understand.

You can analyze a situation from two directions. You can look from the bottom up or you can look from the top down. If you have analyzed it properly you should end up with the same answer just as the approach in math can be used to prove an answer. The codification of the values and beliefs in The New Legacy are really expanded in significant detail in The Language of Conscience as it looks more at the relationships between different areas of life. Refining perspective to fit reality by matching the bottom up analysis with the top down analysis of perspective becomes the common theme. In my life I have had many opportunities, but also a number of hard choices. When my father died, I came back to a small town to the family business. Having had a 4.0 at the University of Texas Business School and being a Chancellor at the University of Texas Law School, I had a variety of other offers and over the years through various partnerships or investments have seen a great number of potential opportunities. However, leaving Brenham was never a consideration. It was a town where my wife Kitty and I could raise our family with a set of values and perspectives that gave a satisfaction to life. The material benefits of success have a great magnetism. But does an extra two houses or bigger yacht replace the satisfaction that can come from spending time with family, helping homeless kids or seeing that they are insured? It all depends on one’s perspective. You can organize your life toward many different ends. How happy and satisfied you tend to be depends on that perspective of life.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tze saw many of the evils of highly intense competition centuries ago. In the corporate scandals of today where greed has replaced self-interest we see them greatly exemplified. I seriously question whether a life totally dedicated to little but political acclaim or vast wealth is as satisfying as one that has the time to appreciate life unless the success is used to accomplish more than personal ends. My father was always concerned with not how many people knew his name, but more with what the people who did know his name thought of it. This is not to say that ambition of achievement is at all wrong, but the key is the motivation behind your efforts. Are they for you alone or are they for the good of society. That concept of motivation comes down to a choice between two distinct reasons for efforts. One is conscience where you look to what you can do for others beyond just yourself. It is a concern for family, for society, and for the future. Convenience, the second reason, is much more focused upon the immediate self-interest and benefit that is personally achieved. These are both present in each of us, and since we are far from perfect, each has its success in our choices. But what we can focus upon is to give dominance to one over the other. The dominance of conscience over convenience is the definition of good character and is implemented by individual personal responsibility. If you begin with that perspective from the bottom, work your way through life, and keep true to the choice, then when you reach the final stages, there is satisfaction with a life well lived. This was a concept of Aristotle and of Christ. It was a concept of Confucius and many others. If you have been driven by convenience you may have acquired much, but often the satisfaction is never present because you are driven to still acquire more, and only a few ever reach the number one level.

Tieman H. Dippel, Jr.
August 2002
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