A change is as good as a rest to a dead donkey

Why change things? Without a valid motive, change becomes an irritating upheaval. Governments can get elected on the impact of the word ‘change’, creating the illusion that change is all that is required to make a better world.

Chairman Mao liked change so much, he kept having mini revolutions just to keep his hand in. For those who were the subject of his whims, change was not always such a good thing. The cultural revolution is brilliantly exposed for all its lunacy in the autobiography of Jung Chang, Wild Swans.

Absolute rulers can get bored just like the rest of us. But whereas we might move the furniture around a bit to create a new look, the despot looks upon those he/she rules as their own objects to be re-arranged.

Rousseau’s Social Contract was an attempt to save humanity from itself. Individuals were not to be trusted with their own base instincts, the state could be relied on to make impartial decisions on our behalf, knowing what’s best for us. Totalitarianism was born out of this misconception. Stripping away liberties and imposing state morality is not the unique preserve of the communists. Prohibition and McCarthyism hoodwinked the American electorate. Apartheid relied on Rousseau for its justification. The state thought it knew best how black people and white people should be organised.

Evolutionary change has no motive as such, it is merely the mechanism by which slight variation can create a survival advantage. Those who believe that humans are created with superior survival potential because of a supernatural force, might wonder what functional advantage the ear lobe or appendix is giving us. But more seriously, a viewpoint that sets humans above other species makes it morally acceptable to exploit other species without much regret. Utilitarian views such as Peter Singer’s make it rationally unacceptable to keep farming cattle if we can feed the world’s population more effectively by producing crops for human consumption and thereby avoid mass starvation.

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