Scurvy, Scientists and Economics

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The fatal flaw in our human nature is not our mortality and all the errors inherent with that. It is, instead, our hubris or pride that prevents us from seeing us for what we truly are.

Those familiar with the Bible’s teachings will quickly identify this as the leading trait among all villains. The exact opposite of pride is humility, a trait shared by all the heroes of that book and even perfected in Christ Jesus. Oh how wonderful our lives would be if we allowed this lesson, above all others, to infect ourselves, our society, and every institution we create!

Scurvy was a disease that afflicted sailors in times past. It’s a terrible disease with tremendous suffering and eventual death. Every school-child today knows that scurvy is easily prevented with lemons. Older school children will identify Vitamin C as the single element required to eliminate the disease. Nutritionists and chemists understand how easily Vitamin C breaks down and so understand how to treat fruits and vegetables with Vitamin C to maximize its effectiveness.

Over at Idle Words, the author explains a curious phenomena with regards to scurvy and its well-known cure. Despite the fact that scurvy had been all but eliminated after its cure was definitively discovered in 1747, by the time explorers ventured south to the Antarctic, its cure had become forgotten. Children of the rich were suffering from it, as well as explorers who neglected to bring the essential cure—fresh lemons—with them.

The article is well worth the read, in particular, the bits about how human pride and hubris gradually led people away from the real cure for scurvy to one that was no cure at all. Well-meaning scientists convince themselves that they know what’s really happening, and well-meaning researchers fail to follow strict experimental guidelines. Well-meaning bureaucrats dictate policies with disastrous results, and the next thing you know, your kids are dying of a mysterious disease with no known cure—that was eliminated a hundred years earlier with fruit hanging from branches outside your child’s window.

As a scientist, I understand very well what Socrates meant when he said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” We can never know for certain anything, except that we can never know for certain.

As a believer in Christ, I understand very well what the Savior meant when he said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” There is no hope in understanding who we are or understanding what this earth and universe really is. Those things don’t give us life or understanding. Instead, we should focus on the one thing in this universe with real meaning and perfection.

I know why physicists say, “perhaps”, “maybe”, “apparently”, and even “possibly” all the time, even in answer to the most absurd questions. Physicists, who know more about the universe than any other profession, know that they know the least about the universe than anyone else.

I look at the Global Warming fiasco and I can see what the problem was. It had nothing to do with the earth warming or catastrophic climate change or carbon dioxide or evil oil companies. It had a whole lot to do with people who thought they knew something, when in reality, they knew even less than a school child would know.

In politics, government, and economics, the wisest answer is “I don’t know.” In writing government policy, the best policy is no policy. In writing taxes and regulations, the best tax and the best regulation is no tax and no regulation. We simply don’t know, and all the scientists in the world cannot change that fact.

When bureaucrats, unions, politicians, and businesses conspire to bring order and wisdom to the unwashed masses, I know that their efforts will fail. It simply doesn’t work that way. You can’t direct market forces any more than you can dictate where the rain should fall. You, who can’t even manage your own life properly, cannot hope to manage anyone else’s life any better.

As the Savior said, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

This is why I can say, definitively, that socialism, progressivism, communism, liberalism, and any other -ism that involves smart people making decisions for anyone else will always fail. It assumes what is not true—that humans are not fallible, mortal, error-prone creatures in every aspect. That is the one thing, and the only thing that I know—that we do not know, and cannot know.

After all, if we can doom our children to death by scurvy because we are following the latest scientific knowledge, we can do a whole lot worse.

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