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Paradigms of demarcating culture: Why skepticism of woke culture is valid July 18, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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TL;DR version:

The current trend of the “woke” left is slipping more and more into the authoritarian side of the political spectrum, is increasingly non-skeptical, and is in danger of alienating the left, in general, through it’s self-righteous behavior.  We, as progressives, need to emphasize individual skepticism and enthusiastic willingness to accept authentic criticism from people who want to be our allies, or wokeness will become just another blip in the history of cultural progress which will, in time, become as normal, dogmatic, and oppressive as any of the cultural norms it was conceived to resolve. Authoritarian, rule-based thinking is what makes an ideology oppressive. Shaming, ostracism, etc, which many radical progressives have been doing to people they perceive as “problematic,” is just another form of inquisition against heretics, and can only lead to a a world of authoritarians, Left, Right, and Center, where the Right (and possibly Center) is better at coalescing and thus will be able to win in that fight. The anti-skeptical Left is dooming itself by seeking ideological purity through fear of consequences rather than through agreement through encouraging a community capable of actual freedom of thought.

We all fuck up, because we’re human. But all too often the distinctions between “problematic” people and people in good standing in communities, exemplified here in the local Philadelphia group Polydelphia, are based more upon who you are friends with than what you actually did.

 


 

Let’s talk about keeping up with cultural progress within an increasingly toxic and fragmented world.

 

Popper, Kuhn, and the demarcation problem of cultural progress

A new sort of philosopher is emerging: I venture to baptize them with a name which is not without danger. As I figure them out – to the extent that they let themselves be figured out, for it belongs to their type to want to remain something of an enigma – these philosophers of the future may have a right, perhaps also a wrong, to be described as attempters. This name itself is finally merely an attempt and, if you will, a temptation.

–Nietzsche, BGE #42

For those of us who think of ourselves as progressives, there is a shared value of improving our lives and the world in general by finding ways to make things better. Our goals may be different, and out tactics certainly differ, but we at least share the overall goal of making things better through change, and hopefully improvement, of one kind or another. In some cases, the change is largely a reactionary table-flipping in response to the perceived dangers of the traditional culture in which we grew. In some cases it might be improving of, or slow replacement of, those traditional structures to make sure we’re doing it right. That is, even within the larger umbrella of “Progressive,” in terms of the political spectrum of the United States in particular, there is a tension between those who seek to burn it all down and those who seek to improve by tinkering with some things. And, of course, all the grey areas in between.

But these efforts exist within a cultural milieu, meaning that whatever political goals or tactics become popular must start somewhere outside of politics; they are a function of people making attempts to make sense of and to improve our understanding of the world, ourselves, or to redefine what it means to be human. People who live on the various fringes of society, whether artists or just younger people who grew up with newer information about the world, will continue to expand the logical space of what’s possible, find fault with what has been traditional, or redefine the questions through cultural criticism of all kinds.

Thus, so long as we keep learning and challenging ideas as a species, every generation will push our culture in various directions which will seem uncomfortable or merely unfamiliar to previous generations or those not close to the fringes. This is not to say that these cultural shifts don’t cycle, because they often do, but anyone paying attention now must admit that the cultural tensions, conflicts, and wars are dealing with topics which were not conceivable to the vast majority of the world just 50 years ago. And yet the logical structure of the cultural struggles seems to historically rhyme, as it does from time to time.

The biggest mind-fuck, for me, is the question of whether most fringe cultural experimentation is an analog of Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm shift, or is it one of tentative and slow excavation of the limits what it can mean to be a human in a group of humans, more like what Karl Popper had in mind (if we’re taking the analogy of the Kuhn/Popper tension to it’s limits, here).  In short, the question is whether cultural progress is (or should be) a question of completely overturning old ideas and creating new ones or whether it is a slow, deliberate, process of separating the wheat from the chaff, in terms of what’s actually true. Is it revolution, slow deliberation, or a combination thereof?

And this is a difficult puzzle (and perhaps it’s a true “problem”) because if there is a legitimate paradigm shift happening right now, the new paradigm would not only look incorrect to those outside of the know, but it would actually appear dangerous. When you hear Christian conservatives warning their followers of the dangers of (as they tend to call it) “liberalism”–that “liberals” want to destroy the traditional family–they aren’t really wrong in some cases; I, an example of who such people think of as a “liberal”, would be fine with the destruction of the traditional family structures in our culture, at least as the default or norm. But what of the distance between the radical woke left and the more cautious, moderate, incrementalists? Here we have a similar dynamic, which (if you pay attention to places like Twitter, Facebook comments, etc, you might understand) illuminates a potential stark difference in not only the goals, but whether grey areas are even possible.

And then the question becomes whether the new paradigm is “true”, and which methods or definitions we could use to determine such truth or falsity.  The very nature of a paradigm shift is one of overturning truths, making this more problematic. Of course, if one’s preferred methodology of achieving progress is not analogous to table-flipping, then one is advocating for the incrementalism of the moderates, or at least some skepticism of the validity and applicability of all of the theory behind a paradigm-shift of (for example) woke politics. Because if even any of the theory or particular conclusions of the woke are in need of skepticism or criticism, then slowing down and making sure that it is well thought out would be wisdom, not conservatism or compromising with actual NAZIs.

In short, just in case woke ain’t all right, we might need to slow down and make sure we haven’t taken a wrong turn somewhere instead of yelling about NAZIs. Yelling about “actual NAZIs,” when faced with internal criticism, is a very good example of the red herring logical fallacy. We’ll return to that issue later, but first we need to address a tangential issue.

 

Top down or bottom up?

I want to have a better understanding of whether cultural change is better effected by top-down, legal, rule-based methods or by organic bottom-up structures. In other words, does culture change and/or sustain because of rules, or because individuals make decisions which supervene upon the whole through a culture of individual decisions and relationships?

(Side note. Readers within the larger non-monogamous world may recognize a reference to the tension between hierarchy/couple privilege and anarchism/individualism here, which is part of the ideological splits within the poly world and has a similar mapping to this conversation. But that’s a whole post unto itself, and I don’t want this to become another Master’s thesis…)

You may have already guessed my answer, but rather than maintain the dramatic suspense which I’m sure you are all riveted by, I will get to the point.

Rules don’t work as a means to change. Rules are what we create after the change has started and we need to define what’s happening and need to create some boundaries for moral behavior and logic of the ideas. Along with rules come a vocabulary and some redefinition of truth or at least facts held together by some tentative theory to tie them all together. It’s very similar to science (hence the Kuhn/Popper analogy above) in that new ideas are tested and the results start to form a picture, a proto-theory, to describe it all. While it’s happening, at the cutting edge of cultural progress, we can never be too sure about how certain to be about our developing worldviews.

And yet I’m noticing a lot of woke people being disproportionately certain about the world they are in the process of creating, while admonishing and shaming those who either aren’t keeping up, disagree, or are still more tentative than those who are certain would like. And I think that the reasons they have being so confident aren’t justified, and thus their certainty, admonishments, and shaming are unwarranted consequences for not being sufficiently woke, in at least some cases. (I want to distinguish this phenomenon from those on the right claiming, for example, that feminism and the like are mental illnesses or dangerous delusions, which are not, in my opinion, valid criticisms nor interesting, philosophically. I’m talking about disagreements within people who agree with the underlying power-dynamics, but might disagree about tactics or fringe applications of the theory).

People don’t behave because a rules exists, unless there is a fear of punishment by some authority (and then in some cases, not even then, necessarily). In terms of religion, it’s the punishment of some god, either in this life, some imaginary afterlife, or potentially both. In politics, it’s state power; if you break the law, you go to jail, get ostracized, get executed, etc. In the case of relationships, you risk losing a relationship and/or trust which would be otherwise salvageable. In a community, the driver of fear is loss of reputation or even participation in the group. You behave because, if you don’t follow the rule, you’ll get smacked down. Especially if you disagree with the rule and decide to question it.

In other words, rules only work because of fear. And while fear can be a motivator, it also leads to cheating, dissent, and rebellion. And it’s extremely common. Basic game theory here, people. Loosen your rules and they will be thwarted, to the chagrin of leadership, moderators, and members alike. Ruling with an iron fist will make people afraid to rebel or be a dissident, but it requires some level of autocratic or at least top-heavy control to maintain subservience to a strict rule, and makes the community hierarchical and a self-selected binary of the decision makers and those who don’t want to stir the pot, when dissenters are ostracized or removed. When woke people take control of communities, and heretics are removed for not adhering to their ideals, the community self-selects for certain people and the group, as a whole, distances itself from people who have valuable things to add to that community due to mere disagreement and unwillingness to not rock the boat. It creates insular echo-chambers and bubbles where criticism will eventually be invisible and anathema.

This is how authoritarian regimes form, and how dictators or oligarchies come to be. Just look within the bounds of Trumpistan, and you’ll see the same thing. But if you look within certain communities on the left, you’ll see the same behavior and result; even among anti-hierarchical, anarchist-leaning groups you’ll find that there is an orthodoxy, and a few people who defend it at the loss of contrarians and critics who were problematic for the goals of the group, as it is rationalized. It’s so much easier to control because it’s much more efficient for those who seize the levers of power. That is, I don’t think that such leaders actively seek to create such orthodoxies, they are genuinely just trying to keep the group remain civil and weed out trolls and such. But sometimes telling the difference between a troll and a person bringing legit and authentic skepticism is difficult and time-consuming, and eventually personality conflicts will enter into the equation of which this person is. For the sake of simplicity, it’s easier to make rabble-rousers feel unwelcome or to remove them. Completely human and understandable, but with dire consequences for communities of all kinds in the long run.

Thus, eventually what was a cultural conversation and conflict of goals, tactics, and so forth becomes a political one, when the average person is put in charge of moderating, steering, or leading a community. And, if we aim to use politics, laws, or policies to solve our problems within communities, a strong personality who is willing to take a no-nonsense approach to a problem might be needed if we want to minimize drama and conflict. Such a person will be human, be subject to manipulation from other members (lobbying), and some of those people have specific agendas and interpersonal conflicts. And, in the end, the best lobbyists win even while such lobbyists are often guilty of the same, if not worse, behavior. This is how corruption forms, both in small communities and in governments. It’s just an accident of human behavior and how it effects group dynamics, and is rarely intentional or an actual planned conspiracy.

Take our current political climate with this president, this congress, and the continued presence of lobbyists and special interests at war for control and influence. My problem with our current cultural climate is that the tension is pushing us towards either a dictatorship by a narcissistic, inept, and corrupt millionaire (Trump and the like) influenced awful people versus a set of progressive ideas by a community who is similarly incapable of self-criticism and seems allergic to pragmatism (often for good reason, but the question is when it’s NOT a good reason to defy being practical). On the left, especially by woke elites, most criticism is handled as if it were indistinguishable from a snide comment by Infowars, Fox News, or actual Nazis. Anyone remember that argument between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck? Yeah, Ben Affleck is an idiot. Sam Harris, despite his own flaws, is correct here.

And the larger point is that even if Sam Harris and Bill Maher were wrong here, that doesn’t mean they are equivalent to actual islamaphobes or other right-wing bigots. There is a difference between being critical of someone who holds Affleck’s view and someone who wants to destroy all leftist ideologies. Sam Harris, and also I guess I, want to create a world where it’s still OK to have arguments and disagree, but not be considered apostates or -ists of various kinds just because we disagree with your conclusion. The attempt to legislate laws or top-heavy hierarchies of control is not creating an open, just world. Rather, it’s just another form of authoritarianism. And if the left wins this cultural fight (it seems unlikely to win the political one, partially because of this problem), then it is just another kind of orthodoxy and heresy to divide us even further, and make us more inneffectual and perpetually powerless.

But at least we can feel self-righteous.

The narrative of ‘The Right v. The Left’ is too simplistic; but insofar as it has any meaning, each facet of the current social/political/cultural divide is subject to tearing themselves apart from within. And in such an environment, it’s the one which coheres around a narrative which will survive. Right now, the narrative gaining strength is the one on the capitalist/fascist/Trump end of the spectrum, while the Left is arguing itself into oblivion over nuances so allusive and arcane that I can’t even follow the threads. But what I have seen within the many communities I have been a part of is an increasingly authoritarian tendency, creating the above-mentioned orthodoxy and the heretics that become pariahs. We can, and need to, do better.

Authoritarians, both Left and Right. But the right tends towards obedience better, so they will win that fight, unless we make some serious cultural changes within the left, now.

I’m not optimistic.

 

Political Power and the Cutting Edge of Cultural Growth

So, is politics the art of compromise and pragmatism? Isn’t all politics, especially the notion of practicality the center of realpolitik? Therefore, aren’t the fringes, including the radical “woke” left and the proto-fascist (alt-)right (among others) of our current political conversations merely a means to make any actual political movement impossible except via power struggles?

Isn’t the failure to realize that politics is not the cutting edge of cultural growth the very failure responsible for the political tribalism, factionalism, and ineffectualism of our current state? Isn’t the inability to compromise the reason we’re falling apart in an #AmericanDecline?

I’m making the point too strongly. I don’t actually believe that change and progress are impossible within the political sphere. I don’t actually think that practicality, or the willingness to compromise with one’s opponent, is the only valid move within politics. I don’t actually think that (for example) Nancy Pelosi’s incrementalism or Joe Biden’s willingness to work with segregationists in the past, as compared to the more radical efforts of the Congressional “squad,” is better or more wise. I don’t actually believe that idealism and real progress is impossible in politics.

But I do believe that no matter how much idealism and radical change exists within the purview of people in positions of political influence, it will always, by necessity, lag behind whatever cultural progress people are cutting into the vague, undefined, space of the universe that human intuition, intelligence, and imagination are charting. The more one lives in the halls of power, the more they lose track of the ideological cutting edge out there in the world, mostly because of time-management and exposure to such things makes it harder to be near that cutting edge.

Having to work within the framework of any system necessitates some level of compromise to such a system. The question then becomes to what extent one compromises. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad” compromise minimally (perhaps), and Nancy Pelosi compromises a lot more. It’s a question of quantity of compromise, not whether one will compromise. The only way to not compromise would be to become a dissident, off the grid, not intertwined with the political system at all (except, maybe, as a prisoner within it).

Total anarchy, right? For that, maybe check out this guy (who just put up the attached video, below, today about getting too woke, for a different perspective on this issue), who seems to pretty minimally interact with political power and does not advocate for doing so, and makes great videos with a very interesting point of view. But I’m not advocating for anarchy, exactly. Not at this point, in my growth as a political thinker, anyway.

To reiterate for emphasis, I believe that the more time a person spends in politics, they will necessarily lose the narrative of that charting of new ideological space. Digging into policy and whatever compromise with realpolitik, which such positions necessitate, ushers one’s attention from the cutting edge of all human experimentation. And I think that we need to keep in mind that all of this exploration of what is possible–from all the artists, cultural critics, and daring explorers of what it means to be human–is a space of testing and not yet conclusions.

Because sometimes those attempts fail, or at least need some significant reconsideration before implementation. We need a way to test these ideas in a way that will figure out if they actually work, sort of like what Adam Gopnik argues in this book recently published (and which I just started reading) about the concept of liberalism; liberalism not as a centrism, but as a methodology rather than community membership. It’s a method, not a clique.

To sum up, those who cut into the unknown fabric of logical space around our culture, language, and social mores occasionally fuck up, as all experimentation will inevitably do. We need to apply an effectual set of tools to figure out how and in what way they have fucked up, and this self-criticism needs to be built into not only the policies of the ideas but into the very culture of the people who take part within expanding our view of it. Because sometimes it takes decades or centuries for us to figure that out, thus we need to defend against creating orthodoxies or sacred laws which we’ll just have to fix in the future.

Even entrenched political, cultural, and social rules were once revolutionary, radical, ideas. As we continue to chart the expanses beyond the status quo, remember that what is radical now may one day be an oppressive status quo for some future generation. So we need to be extra skeptical and critical of what we are creating, for their sake. Wouldn’t it have been great if our fore-bearers did that better?

 

Religion as an example

Whatever the origins of religion, and it’s utility for society, it was certainly one that allowed human genius and creativity to make many wonderful and terrible things. The insight that there was a source of inspiration for moral improvement and a space to explore the meanings, origins, and goals of human life is one that, at least metaphorically, was necessary for our human development, I think.

And yet, the insights of religion, especially the notion of gods, spirits, and all the other supernatural beings, were simply incorrect ideas about the world. In addition to being wrong, they have caused as much (perhaps much more) harm than it has assisted us in our exploration of what it means to be a thing in the universe aware of itself.

Religion was both a source of creativity and growth, while simultaneously a delusion and a mistake. It is, in fact, the same mistake that the philosopher’s made in the mind of Nietzsche, who’s insight into how profound this mistake has been has been one of the most earth-shattering realizations of my own life. Here’s Nietzsche:

“To translate man back into nature; to become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that man henceforth stands before man as even today, hardened in the discipline of science, he stands before the rest of nature, with Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at him all too long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different origin!”—that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task”

We have fooled ourselves with our own genius. We, throughout history, have had revelations of both sacred and profane matters, and the light from these realizations have both blinded and led us to new horizons of human possibility. Walking into each of our sunsets, unable to see either our future nor the true source of our inspiration, leading to the error of placing gods in the place of minds reaching blindly into unknown space.

And throughout history there have been critics who stand by, willing to look the sun directly in the face and stare it down until it resolves into shapes, and have been willing to say “uh…what?”

We are in a cultural moment, historically, where there are a lot of things up for grabs. Religion and unskeptical thinking concerning the nature of reality is still dominant, in both organized and unorganized spiritual forms. Various forms and levels of economic slavery, and general manipulation of the masses by people with power, money, and influence is still as common as land and water. And millions of people affected by these realities still follow and chant in favor of the foundational political orthodoxies and cultural dogmas responsible for their position, genuinely ignorant of the underlying problem. People are overwhelmingly unskeptical, easily manipulated, and ignorant. Some people, some of them smarter, wealthier, or at least luckier get to take advantage of this for their own benefit. Nothing new, really. It’s just scarier to lots of us right now because we see Trump’s rallies continue to get more and more ridiculous and potentially dangerous, and so we are anxious, scared, and want to stop it before it’s too late.

Subsequently, some people are waking up and seeing potential ways out. People are using their intuitions, intelligence, and imaginations to find ways out of this mess, and coming up with all sorts of ideas, explanations, and worldviews to make sense of it all. We have red pills, woke, people, and Brights all over, trying to lead others out of the morass of lies and manipulation. And they all have conflicting answers.

We have been a species desperately trying to figure this out for at least 6000 years of civilization, 3000 years of philosophy, literature, and oral traditions, and decades of sharing this historical information through technology. And we’re making the same goddamn mistakes over and over again. Because even in our genius we are blinded by our own insights.

And just like with every other era, there are people standing on the side, watching it all, and saying “um….what?” from every direction.

And you know what’s worse? Those contrarians, cynics, and grouchy commentators are just as easily subject to the same fundamental software bug that all humans share, and they have ideologies of their own. So there’s no simple way to say “it’s fine, just look to the contrarians and skeptics for the truth” any more than there is a way to say “no, it’s fine, because the young people, on the cutting edge of defining what it means to be human, will figure it out.”

Nope. It’s never that simple. The kids might not be completely alright, just like we weren’t all right.

 

Skepticism and the Left

I, primarily, identify as a skeptic. This is not a community identifier, it’s a methodological one. Again, method and not tribe. That is, I use skepticism as a methodology of belief and inquiry, but don’t think of myself as a part of any skeptic community any longer. This qualifying distinction is necessary because within the atheist/skeptic community, to be called a skeptic is often associated with a group of people who, according to some others, are “problematic”. And, in many cases, they are right.

Michael Shermer, for example.

Right. So, in case you don’t know, Michael Shermer, who leans right politically and largely identifies as a Libertarian (which, in the US, is a person who is a capitalist who wants a small government and lots of personal freedom, free speech, and freedom of thought through dissent). He’s also the founder of the Skeptics Society and publishes Skeptic magazineIn addition, he’s also been accused of rape, racism, and a bunch of other things which are largely anathema to the Progressive “woke” world.  I met him once or twice, and was not especially fond of him. But I like some of the things he values, in the Venn diagram sense where I will overlap with pretty much everyone on something. Thus, while we share some values I’m not a fan of him personally. Concerning the accusations referred-to above, I’m unconvinced of the extent of PZ’s vilification. Let’s say I’m skeptical.

So, there’s a difference between being a skeptic and a Skeptic.  An unfortunate consequence of the association of skepticism with personalities such as Michael Shermer is that the word ‘skeptic’ itself is largely met with derision by some within the woke left, which has led to a lack of the practice of methodological skepticism within those circles in recent years. Perhaps incidentally, there has been a rise of practice of things such as tarot, astrology, and pagan “magick” within the left, especially among younger queer people. I have no idea if there is a causal connection between these facts, but it has always struck me as interesting and depressing for the communities I am closer to, in terms of their not valuing critical thinking and truth.

One more controversial facet of this conflict lives, I believe, within the #MeToo movement. The idea that we need to believe accusers (“believe women”) and support them is in philosophical tension with the core of skepticism, which has led to many arguments between people within the larger skeptic community and the woke world that sides with people who claim to be victims.

The issue is complicated, and I don’t want to spend too much time with it, because I don’t feel qualified to do so and because it’s largely tangential to my primary set of points, but I cannot completely gloss over the topic, either. The truth is that for decades (centuries, millennia, etc) men have gotten away with all sorts of sexual misbehavior towards women, and we exist in a time when feminists are leading the way towards a future where this can be ideally minimized and, hopefully, a cultural change can make this a bad historical memory rather than a perpetual reality.

The general goal of the feminist movement, in this regard, a very good thing and I certainly support a world where a woman (or anyone, really) feeling safe to step up and talk about their experience in an effort to identify problematic people, behavior, and social mores concerning sexuality, consent, etc is a good thing. But the tension exists precisely where we have been instructed that it is morally superior to believe women immediately, which includes to not speak in favor of any skepticism about the accusations. Because a skeptic, qua methodological skepticism, should require evidence before believing a thing. The fact that we exist in a world where a non-consensual sexual behavior can be hidden behind the wall of the lack of evidence has pushed us into a cultural moment where believing women appears to be a necessary act to protect people. I understand this perspective, and I want to believe women when they make their accusations because I understand how pervasive the problem is.

However, where the line of skepticism is placed depends on who you talk to. In some cases, the false accusation problem is considered so minor that it shouldn’t even be factored in, so such people will argue that we need to believe the accusations in all cases. I’m uncomfortable with this, as are many people who hear this narrative. Where the line should be? I am not sure, but absolutism is not the answer.

And, let me be clear, I do think that false accusations are rare, but I also think that this is a false dichotomy.  I believe false accusations, as in claims of events which never occurred, happen,* which is why I think that this progressive value of believing victims is in need of some skeptical criticism. I accept the underlying reality that sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, etc are serious matters that need to be addressed with restorative justice, as opposed to transitional justice or any sort of “justice” which amounts to assumed guilt, ostracism, etc.

But then we need to deal with the fact that this false accusation/belief narrative is a binary which needs to be put aside, because that is not the real problem. The real problem is the tendency in recent years to equivocate regret, resentment, bad breakups with abuse, impossibility of consent, and predation. The reason it’s a problem is that it equivocates actual predators and mutually toxic relationships or situations where people who did very little wrong, in my view. In other words, the arguments that many people make concerning the definition of abuse and particular instances of it have not, in my mind, made their case well. I’m not convinced, in very much the same way and I’m not convinced a god exists. My disagreeing with you is not a form of enabling or giving cover (we’ll get there), because I just think you haven’t made a strong logical case. Am I supposed to pretend I agree because it will get me woke points? That’s what critics on the right call virtue signaling. The result of such equivocation is that many people who read about a situation with a lot of grey areas will apply that equivocation to the times when they read other stories about actual predators, and thus conflate them.

In short, we need to stop equivocating bad or regretted relationships with abusive ones. Because any “justice” system which equivocates (for example) any power imbalance with an inability to consent, and therefore concludes that any such power imbalance is equivalent to abuse or rape automatically, is not what I mean by the term “justice.” Both may be bad and may need to be addressed through work and so forth, but we need to be careful with our new attempts to redefine these words and rules designed to police such behavior within our communities. Such ideology and subsequent rules seem, to me, to be attempts to grow culture in a direction that is emotionally compelling, but doesn’t stand up to skeptical scrutiny in many cases. We need to be able to criticize when we see this policy-making go badly, as it sometimes does despite best efforts of people trying to do the right thing.

There are way too many people being vilified, accused, and generally made to feel unwelcome because of a combination of petty personal politics, exaggerations of actual events, and flat-out fabrications that can be fit into the letter of the law, but which would never hold up to actual scrutiny by most people. My removal from the secret Facebook group, Polydelphia, could be included as an example. Not only was I informed I was threatening people (which was the reasoning given for my removal; I most-definitely was not threatening anyone), any request for evidence of any kind was brushed off. I was treated the same way an actual predator was, with as much recourse to appeal as they would have. And I know of many other similar situations of other people both from this group and others (of which I cannot, or will not, speak publicly at this time).

There. Now I’m outed as a problematic person to everyone. It’s already become clear to me that much of the “woke” left is incapable of handling nuance or critical thinking in any effectual way, so even while I overwhelmingly agree with their worldview when it comes to systematic racism, sexism, and all the systematic problems in our world, I’m already a pariah so I won’t be heard nor taken seriously by their leadership. All because of a few bad apples playing political games, and manipulating some people who have never even spoke to me, but who have the levers of power within their local groups and have unskeptically believed what they have been told by people with bad blood against me, but with whom I have not spoken in years.

So, for those people here’s what I have to say; I’ve done a lot of awful things in my life, and hurt people. I’ve also had years of therapy, self-reflection, and growth. I like who I am, have healthy relationships, and my experiences have led me to a place in my life where I’m not only not a danger to your community, but may be a person your community needs. I have heard that you feel like your actions and opinions of me are justified, but very few of you have ever actually spoken to me, and the ones who have haven’t done so in years. So, all I can figure is you still consider me anathema because we disagree and I have challenged some of you in comments? I still haven’t learned to stay in my lane as a privileged person? Or do you actually believe I threatened people in the community? (if so, where are the screenshots? I unequivocally deny those charges). Perhaps you should look to the people who have been the most powerful lobbyists against me, and consider what I may know about them and their behavior? (cards I haven’t played because I know everyone fucks up, and I believe they are generally good people, as I am myself).

I think you need to apply some skepticism towards your decisions, your policies, and perhaps some of your friends. Because if all of our skeletons were removed from our closets, I think just about everyone would be considered problematic

And this is the thrust of my essay, here. The Left, in general and specifically those small groups I’ve seen this pattern emerge within, needs to clean their own houses. And not clean as in remove problematic people, but by taking a hard, self-critical, skeptical look at it’s values and group policies and make damned sure that your own shit makes sense before trying to self-righteously remove people, lecture to the world about moral behavior, and define social justice. Because nobody is going to listen to you if you aren’t making any goddamned sense and you allow personal enmity to drive who is problematic. Because we’re all problematic; we’re all humans who fuck up.

 

 

Transcending Woke

Personal politics doesn’t equate to truth, although that is effectively what it happening.

As a former acolyte of the extreme wokeness, I am willing to say, publicly, that many of y’all have lost your damned minds. And no, I’m not red-pilled. I’m not an MRA or an incel. I’m not a NAZI and I’m not even a centrist (I’m pretty far to the left, politically), but I simply reject some of the values and arguments popular in much of the communities on the left (including the atheist community, poly community, political organizations, and even just some friend groups) where most disagreement, especially by contrarians and skeptics is treated as heresy. Because much of the left has become authoritarian in its thinking and is drunk on their own self-righteousness and power. They have created, for themselves, a kind of proto-privilege which could, potentially, become oppressive if they win the culture wars. So no, this isn’t a white cishet male claiming I’m the victim, this is a person recognizing the same logical structure of what you want with what you are fighting against. You have emulated the enemy, and while their conclusions are worse (at least, I think so), it’s not the only dimension that matters, in terms of calculating what’s problematic.

politics

And that’s the issue. Because in the classic 4-quadrant political diagram, there is a left and a right, but there is also a top and a bottom; authoritarian and libertarian (the above mentioned “Libertarians” in the USA exist on the bottom right). And, in recent years, those on the Left have been divided by those on the upper end of the spectrum from those, like me, on the lower end.

The authoritarians have been advocating for sets of rules. A lot of groups require that the leadership must have people who are not white, cishet males, for example (Polydephia has a rule, like this). We must believe victims. We must use pronouns of people’s choice. And whether these rules are good things or not is not the issue. The issue is what happens if you violate one of these rules? What’s the punishment?

Laws and rules are impotent without a consequence, and so such rules are really about creating fear. That is, this effort of setting rules of behavior, language, and safe opinions seems to be less about building up a culture of understanding why we don’t do these things, and more about creating consequences, such as ostracism, being labeled as a heretic (“problematic”), and considered equivalent to the enemy (you know, actual NAZIs) for breaking the rules. It creates an us/them mentality where anyone who doesn’t accept the rules is a “them,” and thus, in this binary thinking, the “them” become functionally the same as the actual fucking NAZIs.

Remember; rules don’t work without fear. So, the rule that we must believe “victims” will only backfire the more we learn that some people are making shit up and other people are equivocating a power/age imbalance with sexual assault or predatory abuse. If you are not willing to have a real conversation about the important nuances, then you are simply practicing a form of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, which is a top-heavy, legalistic, rule-based system which seeks to change the world through law rather than actually working on ourselves as individuals who are willing and capable of questioning the orthodoxy. You force people to become dissidents, which then trigger the us/them responses in our brains, and expands the rifts between people rather than understand why they disagree; after all, any of us, at any time, might be wrong.

There’s no need for orthodoxy. If you’re right, then your values and arguments will survive criticism. But the woke left is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with criticism, as I have seen, personally, time and time again. Criticism makes one problematic. A relationship regretted becomes a power imbalance, and therefore abuse and possibly sexual assault. And heterodoxy makes one a threat, and subject to ostracism.

And, locally, Polydelphia has become an example of all these things. I’m sure you all have people, communities, and ideologies that fit the same bill. I’m done playing nice. Y’all aren’t woke. You’re just self-righteous. If y’all were really woke, you would be skeptical more and comfortable having your worldview challenged from within, rather than remove or isolate people with differing conclusions or who you heard stories about. I know several people who have left Polydelphia in recent years (most of them female, incidentally), in some cases with messages left behind telling the leadership that they are akin to Mean Girls (you know, like the movie about cliques), and the political games played within is a microcosm of the problem that may end the United States as a country.

Our road to becoming Gilead (the name of the country that replaces much of the USA in The Handmaid’s Tale) is being paved by people incapable of introspection and self-criticism to be willing to coalesce into a group powerful enough to defeat a community led by a corrupt, narcissistic, inept person named Donald Trump. Let me emphasize; Donald Trump will continue to win, politically, because the woke Left insists upon rules of behavior, 1984-style, backed up with consequences. This dynamic is pushing people away who think that you, defenders of the right truth, are incorrect or corrupted by personal politics. And it’s possible that they are, sometimes, right. Your self-righteousness is part of the reason we are in this place, because without it, we could coalesce into a leviathan with reality and science on our side, except that you insist upon ideological purity to a set of ideas which are so new, so cutting edge, that we can’t rationally even be sure are yet well thought out enough to be worth your certainty. Because even if you are, ultimately right (and I think you, at least generally, are right), as a person who could be wrong, you should dial back your certainty.

If Donald Trump wins again (and I think that’s likely, at this point), it will be because y’all woke motherfuckers won’t wake up to the reality that you are pushing millions of people away from your cause because you are so far up your ass that you can’t actually grow among disagreement or nuance. We can’t have revolution if the leaders of the potential revolution can’t even see their own plank in their own eyes. We need everyone to have a revolution within themselves, first. We need communities where people are able to safely be skeptical of the whole enterprise, and these mini-revolutions can create a culture of enlightened, awakened, wise people who don’t need rules to be decent people because they have worked it out for themselves why woke is right and how woke is right, rather than feel the fear of being ostracized for mistakes, disagreements, etc because they had some questions or concerns about whether and to what extent woke is right.

Criticism is not uncivil, and it should also be part of being woke. Right now, in many places, it’s not.

 

 

The false-equivalency argument, “Centrists”, and actual fucking NAZIs

I know, I know….actual fucking NAZIs, white supremacy, and systematic injustice.

I’ve heard y’all screaming about it. I get it. I agree with you. There is a significant problem with the rise of the right, of fascism, and autocracy in much of the western world, formerly the great democracies of post-WWII. There are real bigots, racists, and a lot of people are worried about their cultures and communities no-longer having the privileges they are used to. True, they frame it as a kind of reverse-racism or a threat of being erased, but what it really is is a loss of privilege.

It’s the same with religion, especially Christianity in the west, which sees itself as being under threat. Millions of Trump supporters see him as a savior, a Cyrus-like great leader who will save Western Christian culture from the hordes of secular, liberal, and family-hating nihilists who will stop at nothing to destroy their values and bring about a demonic world of ash.

Think I’m exaggerating? Then you aren’t really paying attention. Because much of the Right is cohering around a narrative. Now, their’s is a narrative much less based on reality than that of the woke Left. They are much worse at believing bullshit, usually peddled by their insular media outlets (Fox News being the moderate voice in their world). Their worldview is conspiracy theory upon lies upon paranoia, and it’s truly terrifying and absurd and represents an existential threat for millions of people, and needs to be stopped.

So, why am I not directing my rage and criticism at the Right? Well, 1) I am 2) They view me as part of the demonic/atheist (they often don’t understand the difference), secular, and perverted (they may be right, there) world they think is unreliable and dangerous, 3) they very likely aren’t even reading this and 4) because I think that the progressive left is potentially reachable and fixable before it’s too late.

See, I’m not totally cynical? A touch of optimism.

The Right and the Left are both suffering internal problems, but I’m part of the Left. I’m interested in cleaning up my own house, even if most of the people there hate, distrust, or consider me problematic. And while I don’t have the readership I used to (a couple years of inactivity and the drama from a few years ago fixed that), I have some readers, and some who are probably keeping an eye on me to make sure if I misbehave they can tell their friends that I’m still being awful (hi there, former friends! Hope you’re well….)

So no; this isn’t an argument for some moral equivalency or relativity in which I state that the values of the alt-right are just as valid as those of the radical left. Nor am I saying that the woke Left is just as bad as the proto-fascist Right, because it isn’t. But just like small injustices are still unjust, small errors are still errors. I’m not a moral relativist. To be clear, I think the woke left is largely on the right track, but I see them as too prickly and defensive to criticism, especially from a cishet white male, such as myself.

I just hope to be judged by the content of my argument.

Again, I’m not optimistic.

 

What am I saying?

I’m saying that all of the woke people fighting for social justice, historical awareness, and a better world have their hearts in the right place, but are blinded by their own ideologies to see when they are occasionally fucking up and giving ammunition to our cultural opponents and enemies. I’m saying that all those red-pilled, alt-right, or Jordan Peterson admiring people also have their hearts in the right place, but are similarly blinded by their own biases to be able to see how silly they look. And I’m also saying that the cautious, skeptical, incrementalist liberals are too far up their own asses to see that they are similarly fucked up. Literally every one of us is subject to this, without exception.

Especially me (just in case you might be wondering how narcissistic I am)

It’s not that the truth is relative, or that all is permitted because of the death of gods, but is is true that we’re merely specs of semi-sentient bits of carbon taking a ride on a big rock orbiting a ball of fire in a universe so immense we cannot conceive of it, and someday we’re going to die–we’re going to simply blink out of existence–to be replaced by trillions of future bits of semi-sentient pieces of matter all over the universe, each with their own perspective, worldview, and tribe of friends, family, and co-ideologues to exist for a little while, all signifying nothing.

The Truth exists, it’s just that none of us have it. What truths we do have are based upon biased perspectives and narratives shared among people with similar experiences, and are at best statistically defensible based upon limited evidence. We know evolution happened but we aren’t so sure that your conclusion about your ex is going to hold up to scrutiny. And yet we yell at each other over the meaning of “concentration camp” and “racism” and “patriarchy” and “freedom of speech” and on and on and on to no other effect than demonizing each other and creating safe tribes for ourselves.

Let me be really clear. You don’t know shit about the vast majority of everything. You don’t mean shit to anyone except maybe a few dozen other people who don’t mean shit to most of humanity. You’re ideas are, merely from a probabilistic point of view, probably stupid and incorrect. And you are yelling at someone else in the same goddamned predicament as you, because they got a different question wrong from the one you got wrong. That’s all the culture wars are, at bottom.

And it doesn’t matter that one side or the other may be more wrong or right, because insofar as you ignore your own shit, you will never effect change in any meaningful way by merely yelling at other bits of semi-sentient carbon. You cannot convince your enemies to side with you, excepting rare individual cases, by sticking to your narratives and orthodoxies and not trying to understand the orthodoxies of others. So, unless you are willing to wipe them out, you’re going to have to work on making yourself better and hope that in the process you inspire more people outside of your peer groups to pay attention more and dismiss you less. Ideological purity and self-righteousness just magnifies any differences between bits of semi-sentient carbon, and only hastens the coming apocalypse which we should be trying to avoid.

Your beliefs about the world, again statistically, are hung upon a thin string of hearsay, from a small segment of people who happen to cohere to your experience and community, and it’s almost certain that the vast majority of every thought you have ever had is in some way wrong, biased, and informed by other wrong and biased people.

And yet all you do is shame, ostracize, and dismiss other people making different mistakes. It’s absurd.

But sure. You heard a thing about a guy, and because it fits with a narrative which you have accepted based on cognitive and emotional factors which you barely understand or even have access to, that thing is true.

Have fun with that. Continue to spread your memetic narrative of what the world is most definitely like along with your tribe, and feel self-righteous. Refuse to challenge yourself, or listen to the problematic person who broke the orthodoxy and made some mistakes, because what has conflict and mistakes ever taught anyone? What could that person, with whom you disagree about much, possibly teach you? They are obviously wrong about that one or few things, so they can’t have any value to you, right?

And I’ll be sitting along, on the side, saying “um…what?” while you sneer at me saying “um…what?” and then we’ll all die, letting the next generation to continue the dance, for as long as our species manages not to kill all of ourselves.

But sure, you’re woke. Or sure, you aren’t one of the sheeple. Sure, you are enlightened. You know what’s real. You know what’s right. You know that throwing a milkshake is not comparable to actual violence, so fuck all them. Or you know that abortion is murder, so fuck all them. Or you know that atheism is devil-worship, so fuck all them. Or you know that men who say that it’s #notallmen misses the point so fuck that guy and possibly all men. You’re perspective is special and right, and you don’t need any more perspective at all.

Nonsense.

Last question; Why do you think that the direction you want culture to go isn’t a mistake at least in some ways, just like every worldview that every human being in all of history has promulgated?

You don’t.

And neither do I.

 

All I’m hoping for is that as we try to create a better world, we have enough humility to build into our cultures the enthusiastic willingness to prove ourselves wrong. If we, as a progressive segment of our culture, have any chance of making the world better, we better make damn-sure that we are making ourselves better individually, and include in our next culture patch the enthusiastic willingness to consider that our newer attempts to make rules, guidelines, and means towards justice are all correctable and open to criticism from grumpy contrarians, centrists, and other crotchety progressives such as myself.

The alternative is that we risk being mostly right, and mostly and perpetually powerless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*It happened to me; some Facebook friends may have received a message from a woman (no need to name her) back in February accusing me of abuse and sexual assault, but nothing of the sort ever happened with her (I can provide screencaps to show that she was, in fact, pretty awful to me when we were living in the same house).  I do not believe she is necessarily lying (that is, intentionally telling a falsehood) but I do believe she is not only capable of lying, but I think she actually might have rationalized it being right to do so in this case for political reasons related to people trying and succeeding to get me removed from the secret Facebook group Polydelphia, who trumped up charges that I was threatening people through the group (I wasn’t) within a day or two of her messaging people on my Facebook friends list. I was informed by a few female friends who received these messages, who either blocked her or responded skeptically. I subsequently blocked the woman and limited access to my friends list only to friends. I also lost some friends who unskeptically believed the claims, because that’s the “right” thing to do. I don’t blame them, nor am I surprised, because who would make that shit up? This experience has heightened my skepticism of this worldview, where previously I was on-board with believing “victims” on face value. More, similar circumstances I have become aware of has also raised my level of skepticism. I hate that this is the case, but nonetheless, here we are. I don’t want to disbelieve women who come out publicly, but now I have reason to be skeptical.

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Life and Death of the Heart July 14, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Have you ever felt like you were existing in two parallel universes, both branched out from a decision that simultaneously destroyed you and brought you home?

No?

Yeah, I guess that such a question might be better understood with some level of context.

Several weeks ago, I made a decision. The very same decision lost me a person I love very much, and gained me a relationship with someone I have had immense respect for for many years. And in my mind, I’m existing in parallel universes where my heart is both shattered and swelling with potential, where some temporal flux–perhaps the kind of thing that a Star Trek episode might be based upon–is holding some tension where either it will dissolve into constituent atoms or grow three sizes.

I think it’s both.

True growth, the kind that sticks and matters, comes through pain and loss. And where, in the traditional/monogamous world, this usually happens in series, when one orients themselves towards a nonmonogamous lifestyle, occasionally you find yourself mending a broken heart while simultaneiously falling in love.

The wisdom of giving yourself space to mourn is still present and true, but you have to do it along with the other things. You need to allow yourself to reflect and miss the lost person while making plans and talking with the person you are building a relationship with, and it’s exhausting.

The pain

I miss her, so much. There has not been a day on the last 5 or 6 weeks when I haven’t thought about her. I truly, genuinely, loved her and wanted to build a life with her. Spending time with her was magic, and I wanted it so much.

But she was not adjusting well to sharing. Also, I fucked up. My reasons for doing so were understandable and human, but it was still a fuck up that I could have avoided. In addition to all of that, I’m not sure that the result wouldn’t have come about anyway.

When I met her, there was a moment when I said to myself, genuinely, that I could possibly give up nonmonogamy for. In retrospect, it’s quite obvious that this was just extreme NRE (new relationship energy, for you n00bs), talking, and I knew, even then, that this feeling wouldn’t last, but the feeling was real in the moment .

This is something that people new to this lifestyle need to understand; feelings will fuck with your head. You need to know yourself, like really well. Because relationships (especially ones where communication is key) will expose all the shit you aren’t dealing with. And a certain amount of life-experience is required to have this.

And, I hate to say it but…being married to the same person for 10 years or so then opening up is a receipe for disaster because the confines of that type of relationship dynamic is crippling for real adult growth. This is only one dynamic of why “unicorn hunters” are missing why they are so reviled; they are stunted by a type of relationship worldview which has dominated their relationship, and can’t see something crucial.

Traditional relationships are also bubbles we live in, isolated from reality.

And this is the world from which she came, and I should know, at this point in my life, that expecting a n00b, no matter how lovely and wonderful, to adjust to the worrldview shattering world of mature nonmonogamy is expecting too much.

And so the pain is mine, two-fold; the pain of the loss of someone I still love, and the pain of knowing that I chose to put myself in that situation again.

The gain

Shara is amazing. You, dear reader, may know her by a different name if you are a part of the poly community at all.

I feel like I have been playing a game on hard mode all these years, and I now have a gaming partner who has been mastering the controls as long as I have, and now we can roam the wastelands of the world together understanding the terrain and the mechanics in a way that is a relief.

Yes, there is still work. Yes, we still have to figure out the distances between our expectations, boundaries, and fears. But we have a common language, and there’s no fear, this time, of whether she’s going to try to steal me away towards that fictitious happy ending of two people choosing each other, happily ever after.

Because there is the sexual chemistry, which happens with someone regardless of whether they want to own you or not, but then there is the mental chemistry. A polyamorous, atheist, intelligent, sexy, and absolutely lovely human who also loves me.

What else could this poly skeptic ask for?

And so I miss her. She who I will not name out of respect for her privacy. But I love Shara, and am very lucky to have that requited.

Let’s Talk about Seth Andrews and NAZIs June 25, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, this image popped up on my social media radar, today. It, of course, turned into a dumpster fire of a conversation. And, unsurprisingly, it demonstrated Seth Andrew’s point.

So, I don’t listen to Seth’s show. I’m saturated with podcasts and also since I’ve felt like the atheist community has become largely a cesspool of infighting and absurdity (much like the local polyamorous community here in Philadelphia), I’m mostly unplugged from movement atheism. Aside from the Puzzle in a Thunderstorm people and their affiliates, especially The Scathing Atheist, I don’t listen to much atheist-oriented podcasts, anymore.

That is to say that I don’t know enough about Seth Andrews to know what his positions are, specifically. From what I do know about him (he’s a friend of friends), it seems he and I would agree on most topics. But when it comes to this post of his, I think I can say I agree with the underlying sentiment.

As a leftist, I see a lot worthy of criticizing on the left. The fact that actual NAZIs exist doesn’t erase this point.

 

Woke

I grew up attending a school back in the early 1980s, and graduated in 1996, in an educational environment which valued things such as tolerance, diversity, community, and social movements dedicated to making the world a more peaceful and just world. In those days, I didn’t know terms like “social justice” or “woke,” but those terms would have described the culture in which I grew. And, from what I can tell, those values are part of the culture of the current culture of that same school

I like those values. I still largely value the same types of things to this day. But I’m also critical of Quaker values, for a number of reasons. It’s true that in comparison with much of the rest of the world, and especially our own United States’ cultures (yes, plural), it’s pretty idyllic. But if I’m concerned with the truth and the striving for a yet greater world  and worldview, I will not ignore the relatively small imperfections just because larger ones exist.

When I read criticism, from the Right, of my own Leftist communities I see a caricature and often many outright falsehoods in such criticism. But I also see genuine misunderstanding; a failure of two framings, worldviews, and sets of values to understand one-another. In other words, I see authenticity on the Right, Center, etc when they criticize “wokeness,” even if I disagree with their criticism. It’s possible to be authentic and also be wrong.

I’m aware of the fact that I’m playing the game of life on easy mode. I’m aware that the color of my skin, my gender, my sexual preference, and many other facets of my life give me an automatic set of advantages in our society that I am able to easily ignore or shrug off. That’s what privilege is; I’m able to not be faced with certain social injustices that many other people cannot ignore nearly as easily or at all. 

I also have some aspects to my life that give me a disadvantage, though this disadvantage is significantly less likely to get me discriminated against, beaten, or killed. But I am aware of the privilege which practicing traditional relationship structures and being religious (especially Christian) provides in our culture. 

The fact that I’m aware of this, that I’m (too some extent, at least) woke is, I think, a good thing. I’m aware that the tiny amount of discomfort and annoyance I have to deal with when trying to explain what being nonmonogamous means, or why being an atheist is not “just as bad as being a fundamentalist,” is easy in comparison to being (for example), a POC trans woman. But it’s still true that the world would be a better place, that justice would be better served, for those small injustices not to exist, right?

That is, even the small injustices are still unjust.

 

Providing NAZIs with “Cover”

The image above was posted to a facebook group I belong to. And since I decided to procrastinate at work, I decided to scroll through some of the comments below it. Now, the comments were all over the map, and there were many I agreed with and many that were making Seth’s point for him. 

The accusation is that people like Seth, and his defenders (in terms of this post from which the image derived), are spending too much time being critical of the Left while not paying sufficient attention, or perhaps out-right denying, the reality and threat of actual NAZIs. 

I don’t know how many actual NAZIs there really are. And if we added the white supremacists, white nationalists, and all the other bigots in the world, I imagine that the number would be “way too many” of all of them. Mostly because any number is way too many, in my estimation. 

But can we agree, I hope, that not all of the people on the Right, and especially the Center, are NAZIs or other bigots? I’ll assume we’re in agreement there. So, then, are those same people overwhelmingly complicit with many of the goals of all those NAZIs et al? That is, are the people who exist in the gray part of the continuum between woke progressive social justice warrior and actual NAZI all providing cover for NAZIs, insofar as they disagree with any particular pertinent conclusion of the woke Leftist in question?

I mean…I don’t know. It seems to me that many of them probably aren’t. And then I’m reminded, once again, of Sam Harris.

See, Sam Harris is seen, by many on the woke Left, as providing cover for the Right, especially insofar as he is willing to have conversations with people who have all sorts of questionable political perspectives. Whether it’s Charles Murray or Ezra Klein, Sam Harris is willing to have difficult conversations with people he doesn’t necessarily agree with. And Sam Harris, being human, is going to make mistakes, have bad ideas, and disagree with you (no matter who you are).

But there is a sort of irony here, since it was Sam Harris who, for me anyway, introduced the idea of moderates providing cover for extremists. In his case, he’s talking about moderate Muslims, Jews, and Christians providing ideological and political cover for extremists within their communities. In other words, people on the Left who criticize free speech advocates, such as Sam Harris, because they provide cover for the far-Right are utilizing the very same type of argument that Sam Harris uses against the Left for defending Islam and religious belief in general.

It seems to me that we might, as a culture, need to take a closer look at the logical structure of these similar arguments to see what values we might choose to apply to them. 

 

The Relativity of “Liberal”

In our various ideologies–whether they are political, religious, etc–there will be people who exist on greater or lesser fringes or closer to some cultural center or “norms” (which, of course, shift with history). 

In politics, we have the familiar Left/Right and Libertarian/Authoritarian diagram, as below:

politics

 

This is the diagram which Seth’s meme refers to, and which largely encapsulates the various political ideologies in much of the world (though I’m sure it has it’s critics). 

For a person on, for example, the far right of this but towards the bottom, we have what we call, in the U.S., a “Libertarian.” They have tendencies towards a free market (which usually includes free expression) and allowing that market to choose who is successful and who is not. Our efforts determine our place in society, and they just want governments to generally leave them alone; lower taxes, legal drugs, smaller government. 

Looking at them from the point of view of someone from (again, for example), the upper left region of this diagram, one can obviously see where they would conflict. And they would not agree on very much, at least politically. 

But what about someone closer to the center? Where does a “classical liberal” land on this diagram? Are they near the center? A little more to the right? to the left? Above or below the horizontal line? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know Sam Harris thinks of himself as a classical liberal, and I know I share some of those values, but what this really means is Sam and I are definitely not in line with the culture of progressive wokeness.

Wait, but I thought I was woke? I thought I was progressive? I’m aware of my privilege and I want the world to keep learning and evolving into a better world, so then the question becomes to what extent are the cultures who refer to themselves as woke and progressive reflect the same values as those of liberalism. I mean, I know a lot of the woke progressives detest liberals, and this means that both the Trump-supporting MAGA hat wearing crowd and those they refer to as “libtards” often both dislike liberals, but I am not sure they are referring to the same groups of people when they use the term liberal.

For me (and, I think, Sam Harris), liberalism is about freedom of thought, speech, and determination in life. The idea is that there isn’t an overbearing cultural or social authority demanding submission to an ideology. No church, political party, or moral framework being imposed from above telling me how to live my life. I can choose to be what I want to be. That’s the gist.

To the MAGA crowd, it means a whiny snowflake artsy type with purple hair, probably a Wiccan, and probably a bunch of homos and lesbos. They are brainwashed and hopelessly naive, and most definitely won’t survive without the mommy state to protect them.

To the Progressive woke Left (which the previous crowd ironically includes within its collective term libtards, obviously derived from “retarded liberals”), “liberals” are the comfortable, entitled, and largely privileged center. They are hurting progress by being (ignorantly) politically tied to the corporate powers, and they are part of the problem. Because while the political Right, including those ubiquitous NAZIs, are the actual drivers of everything awful and bigoted, the liberals are just standing by with their Amazon Prime and brunches to be aware of the struggle against the impending fourth Reich. They are complicit.

In other words, both the Left and the Right view the center as complicit in the other’s destruction of America (or ‘Murica, depending). I mean, those are the framings, anyway. Except those framings are both dubious. 

There is a real divide in values here. And while it’s not binary, it’s definitely fractured and potentially irreconcilable. What’s worse, even if one of them were actually more rational, evidence-based, or even just plain right, the other factions would never be able to see it because of the nature of human tribalism and the subsequent demonization and enmity.

So, we’re fucked. Might as well just blow it all up. It’s all corrupt. Let’s just drain the swamp, completely. 

Oh fuck, I think I just figured out why we are here, at this political moment….

 

Where’s my MAGA hat….

And so I’ve found myself having slippery-sloped myself into the centrists’ nest, looking at the Left with distance and the beginnings of distain. I’ve become “problematic” and I’m probably providing cover for the Right and possibly for NAZIs, because I, indeed, will fight for a person’s right to say a thing even if I disagree with them. In fact, for many years part of my signature file on my personal emails is this exact phrase:

I’ll fight for a person’s right to speak so long as that person will, in return, fight to allow me to challenge their opinions as the content of their ideas merit.

This is the core of my ideological values. This is my highest goal. And I think I have found myself uncomfortable with the parts of the Left which are slipping from the libertarian left to the upper, Authoritarian, left.. So when I see memes such as the one below, I feel a pang of agreement.

classical-liberal

And then I have the thought; shit, am I an alt-right type, about to be red-pilled at any moment? Do I have to, contractually, start attending Trump rallies?

I sure hope not, because fuck those guys.

I mean, whenever I engage with people on the left, I find we have largely the same goals and beliefs, but I think we might have different values, insofar as some of the Left seem, to me, to be advocating for a kind of world where certain ideas, words, and criticisms are “problematic” and should be ostracized and possibly outlawed. And people get booted from communities for being critical or not toeing the political line. And then I just realized (or was this all a set-up?) that I’m describing how those snowflakes on the Left are so politically correct that they can’t handle any criticism and live in their little “libtard” bubble, and so I might as well go get a MAGA hat, because these questions are obviously binary and you are either with the snowflakes or you are against them.

And it is exactly here where I think the problem exists.

 

We are Gray. We stand Between the Candle and the Star…

Because these questions are not digital nor binary. We have gotten to a place in our society that there is, for some people (and they are quite vocal) a kind of purity test that one must submit to. That’s how it feels, anyway. That’s not the truth, because the reality is much more nuanced than that, but the arguments on social media are the loudest, most angry, least-nuanced people who are the ones who keep coming back. Any attempt to see the gray areas between positions are not disallowed, but they are quickly scrolled past, at best, or labeled as giving cover by those loud voices.

Because to say something like “NAZIs have the right to speak,” whether or not you add the epithet “fuck NAZIs” is allowing a genuinely awful and destructive set of ideas to exist out loud, in the world. Those woke progressives, doing the necessary fighting against actual NAZIs, will so often bridle at any criticism of them. They are doing holy work, after all. The NAZIs cannot be allowed to return to power, so there is no room for criticism of their methods or ideology, because ACTUAL FUCKING NAZIs!

But this is a cover, and I see right through it. Nobody likes criticism. I’ll bet the Inquisitors would have responded the same way, as they were battling ACTUAL HERETICS! The analogy is weak, I know, because heresy is a label for being wrong about a thing that isn’t even real, and actual NAZIs are real people doing actual harm to real people, but the structure of the defensiveness is the same

And this is where we need to be able to pay attention. Because whether we are defending our wokeness, our inquisition of heretics, or our Nazism, it is the same set of human behaviors, tribalism, and groupthink at work. That is, it’s not the content of the arguments I’m objecting to (please, keep fighting NAZIs!), but it’s the unwillingness to clean one’s own house.

All criticism must start within one’s own self and one’s own group. It must be built into the fabric of your fight. So that when @centrist_John2472 on Twitter points out that your ideology, method, etc might be irrational or problematic itself, pointing out that you are fighting actual NAZIs sort of misses the point. We need to make each other stronger and better by hearing what we and our loved ones might be doing wrong, openly and enthusiastically, or we risk calcifying orthodoxy into our communities and ideologies.

 

A Rebel is Gonna Rebel

What happens when you tell a child not to do something? What happens when a word is a “curse” word (the history of that concept is really interesting, btw) or when a certain group is anathema? When you forbid something, it becomes interesting and potentially drawing to people, especially if they are already largely dismissed or socially awkward.

Forbidding words, groups, or ideas might be done with good intention, but it will never work. It’s pragmatically not feasible, and will cause a backlash. You want to understand the alt-Right? just look at human behavior in general. Humans go where they are told they shouldn’t go, and do what they shouldn’t do. How many kinks are formed by this very notion?

That’s why Donald Trump is so loved and revered by so many people; he doesn’t give a fuck. In his case, I think it’s partially narcissism and ignorance as opposed to mere rebellion, but it’s also just classic bad boy entitled swagger. It’s a rebel without a clue nor care.

It’s as American as it gets.

So, to the Left. I’m with you. We need to grow, progress, and make the world better. But the more you make ideas taboo and define yourselves as woke (fellow movement atheists, remember how the Brights were reviled? It’s the same thing), the more you are going to be ignored. The Right will never cede to your wisdom, whether you are right or not. They are just going to be human and tell you to fuck yourself and call you a snowflake, because nobody likes being told what to do. So, enjoy being right and also enjoy watching Trump win again while the Right continues to ignore, not understand, and yet still win on the political stage.

And to the Right, you’re acting like a damned child. You’re selfish and you’re woefully ignorant of so many things. I also know that they are not likely to be reading this, so that was really for the Left as well. Because that’s what they hear from us, and it’s not going to work. If you’re ideas are correct, then argue your points. Because I think we have reality on our side. But first we need to take the self-righteous stick out of our asses. Or we will lose any chance to save the future of this society and culture. We, on the Left, need to drain our own swamp, because we know the Right has no interest in actually doing so.

I think the Right is incorrect in maintaining capitalism and the like. I think a socialist direction is better. But the more we, on the Left, slide into authoritarian thinking, the more the Right will ignore us. So yes, there are real, actual, NAZIs out there. And yes, we have actual homophobic, Christian dominionist, and greedy capitalist politicians supporting this Trump administration and raking in millions while fucking over the environment, the majority of the people, and the place of The United States in the world. 

And if they keep up their trajectory then we would not only have a Right wing capitalist society, but eventually it will become more and more authoritarian. And then we truly will be a culture of Right and Left authoritarians yelling at each other, and all the rest of us caught in the middle as the country, and the world, slowly dies. And the Left will lose this fight, almost certainly.

To everyone: stop the authoritarian dictator within yourself, first.

 

Unplanned June 15, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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*note: This was a post I intended to publish from my phone back in February. For some reason, it never posted, and the next time I posted from my phone, it went up after that with a delay which makes no sense to me. Nonetheless, it was intended to be posted.


 

 

So, I’ve decided to write more. It’s a way to keep my mind engaged during the months when I want to retreat within myself a lot. Winter sucks, and I’ve developed a way to reach towards mindfulness which is sort of a hodgepodge of methods of meditation, exercise, and creating environments to allow my creativity to stretch itself.

So, as I sit here, I have no plan for what I’m going to write about, which is the opposite of my normal routine.

Usually, an idea crystallizes in my mind, then I spend time throwing a flurry of thoughts onto some screen, then (sometimes) editing it later before publishing it. It’s safe. Because I have anxiety about writing, as I have about most things. But my project for now, and so long as it is working for me, is to write more spontaneously.

Where I am.

I’m at a favorite local spot. Local 44. No specific plans tonight. Decided not to make any. But because I would otherwise stay in and be alone, I have a beer or two and read, or wrote, and sometimes I get into conversations with people.

Being an introvert, that’s sometimes a challenge. But I like it here. Good beer, good food, interesting people. If you’re a Philly person, look for the guy writing on a portable bluetooth keyboard with his phone in from of him.

How I am

I’m…ok. This time of year is hard. Always has been. I think it is for most people. The Winter has a way to simultaneously chase you into yourself and occasionally force you to seek warmth. One must seek a personal heroes journey, in the midst of depression and it’s neighbors, to separate oneself from their caves and transform their circumstances into the potential for experience, understanding, and hopefully a step of change in the ongoing education of being alive.

Somewhere along the way, you might find something inspiring, or at least interesting, along the way which will unlock a piece of the world. Treasures are hidden out there.

Damnit. I’ve been playing too much Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I have metaphors of heroic treks through a world of magic, legend, and a lot of killing from behind.

But–an I know it’s cheesey–it’s also true, sort of. There’s a reason that myths hold sway over psychology, culture, and history. There is something compelling about a narrative, and over the millennia we have unearthed certain patterns of narrative that stick better. It’s a sort of natural selection of stories.

Didn’t I write a paper about that in grad school? Something about applying Darwinian natural selection to language games (a la Wittgentein), if I remember correctly.

That was a long time ago. Speaking of which…

10 years

This bog will soon be 10 years old. I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’ve changed so much.

So many mini-journeys in my past. So many failures, mistakes, and lessons.

Surreal June 14, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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A week ago, I was in pain. I still am.

A week ago, I embarked on a new path with a person who I have respected and looked up to for many years, and whom I am beginning to love in a new way.

These things are related. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I’m not monogamous. No shit. But being actively polyamorous–or a relationship anarchist or whatever I am–is different from merely not being monogamous. Over the last several years of my life, I’ve dated women who were not nonmonogamous, but were willing to give it a shot. In some cases, it worked out at least for a while. In others, it flamed out spectacularly. Most recently, I lost a person who was very special to me because I made the decision to invite a polyamorous person with whom I’ve had a growing relationship and flirtation to spend the weekend with me, despite the fact that the first relationship was already in jeopardy.

And, you might say that such a decision was not wise. And you are right; it wasn’t wise, and it cost me that relationship. And when I made the decision, it was a last minute, need to decide this now situation. And I hadn’t slept the night before. Excuses? Explanations? Rationalizations? Yes.

And, didn’t I know, deep down, that that would be the result? I mean, if I had really thought about it? I mean, if I had the time to think about it, maybe. Hadn’t I learned that the learning curve for previously monogamous partners is too steep to handle real life, in your face, not owning your partner nor their time?

I understand, from the point of view of the traditional set of relationship rules and expectations, that what I did was too much for her to handle. More than a few people out there would read this and be like “what a dick!” And, from their point of view, it was dickish. I feel a little like a dick, honestly. It’s hard to unlearn those cultural rules.

I understand that accepting that your lover has other lovers is a thing most people can sort of understand; we all have those carnal desires, and deciding to be ok with the people you love actually pursuing those desires, so long as you are open about it, is reachable for a lot of people. It sounds hard, but many people get it and can possibly give it a try. I understand that if most people can keep those things at a distance, it can be fine.

But my mind doesn’t live in the world of traditional relationship expectations and rules.

I understand that from the point of view of polyamorous theory from which I center myself, what I did was a little selfish and sudden, but it was a decision I should be able to make without ending a relationship in doing so. I also understand that theory and real world feelings and expectations do not often mesh. I understand that in doing so, I took a risk which I didn’t need to take. But I also knew that doing so would only be kicking the can down the road, rather than dealing with it now.

And it also meant putting off another thing I’ve wanted for some time, and so when life handed me an opportunity I took it. I don’t believe in gods nor fate, but I know that life is short and truly amazing opportunities do not come around often. If you don’t grab a hold of those rare opportunities, then you may miss them forever.

And now, I have to live with the consequences. One woman I care very deeply for, and now miss, is mad, hurt, and she’s probably gone from my life. I’m sad, and I miss her.

And yet….

And then something amazing happened.

And I don’t think I’m able, even several days removed, to comprehend what has changed, and how significant it could be.

And I feel guilty for also feeling good about what I gained in making that selfish decision. I feel guilty for taking a chance which paid off fantastically (for me). I feel bad that my heart is simultaneously aching from loss and from the pangs of a new love which has been years in the making. It’s too much.

And yet I know it was the right decision to make. And I would make it again, even if I might have handled some of the details differently.

I don’t want to go on, and the truth is I cannot anyway. The gist is I have started a new relationship with a woman who is not new to polyamory. In fact, she is one of the people who, over the years, has been an inspiration to me as well as a person whose wisdom and experience within the community has given me perspective on my own views about the nature of relationships, love, and sex.

And I’m scared. Terrified, in fact. Because new relationships are always a combination of scary and amazing, but also because she’s someone I esteem so much, in terms of her knowledge and experience, that I’m afraid I’m not good enough. Because that never goes away. Not fully.

I don’t have any philosophical point to make here. I don’t have any great lesson or insight here, because I know I’m in the middle of the storm and I’m too emotional and cluttered to make any sense of it all right now. I lost someone I really love because I was selfish, and then I spent a weekend with a woman who was everything I thought she was and more.

And it’s all been surreal.

Perhaps I’ll have more to say when I’m not in the eye of the storm, and can reflect on it with more clarity. For now, I will need to weather the double storm of loss and gain, simultaneously. I think it’s a set of feelings that many polyamorous people have experienced over the years.

Where am I? May 31, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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Since I got back from Europe 5 days ago, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, not sure where I am. It’s a quite disturbing experience, and rather than fading with each successive night, I think last night was the most intense version of the phenomenon. Here’s a brief description of what’s been happening each night in the last few nights.

I wake up, and sit up in a mostly dark room, and the surroundings look foreign and unfamiliar. I have the sensation of looking at the doorways, wall-hangings, and even the ceiling fan and having the sensation of all of it indicating that I’ve traveled to a very different place than I’m used to. And for maybe the next 30 seconds, I’m trying to remember where I am, and I just want to be home. And I’m very clearly NOT home.

Did I travel to England?

Is a thought I had one night. Another I was almost certain that I had gone back to Bruges. The only thing I was certain of, in those moments before I come back to reality, is that I’m definitely still traveling, and I’m exhausted and just want to be home, finally.

I was away from home for 2 weeks. I visited 7 cities.  I landed in Brussels, then continued onto Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Den Haag (because I cannot think of it as “The Hague” anymore), and finally Amsterdam. I was changing cities every other day or so, and so I woke up, both in the middle of the night and on each morning (excepting the 2 nights I closed out some clubs until dawn), in an unfamiliar place. And, now that I’m home, that sensation has seemed to stick to my brain, despite the fact that Kate was next to me 2 of the last 5 nights.

What’s most interesting about the experience is that moment where my brain finally understands–and accepts–that I’m back home. I’m back in the US, I’m in West Philly, and this is my apartment. What’s interesting about it is that my mind seems to fight this realization, and there is a moment of cognitive pain, not unlike cognitive dissonance, where my brain is forced to accept that this is my stuff.

Even stranger is the experience of almost watching the surrounding of my bedroom almost visually transform into my stuff. It’s not that they literally change shape, but the realization of where I am shifts the emotional content of the items in a way that is, in some cognitive sense, indistinguishable from actually changing their shape and color. Perception and recognition are embedded in a foundation of emotion, and if you don’t believe, deep down, that this is home, then it won’t look like home.

And this makes me even more aware of how much belief and emotion effects perception and cognition.

And it makes me even less certain that we 1) choose our beliefs and 2) can change our worldviews simply with rationality and logic. Because in that moment, right before I accept where I am, the room is foreign. I am NOT at home. I’m in some weird AirBNB or hotel somewhere and I’m far away from home and I’m a little scared. And my mind fights the evidence to the contrary, even when it is as plain and overt as evidence can possibly be.

Imagine how hard it would be if I refused to, or could not, look at the evidence? How could I change my mind?

[insert argument about how people refuse to be skeptical and seek out alternative information, and how this is bad and we’re all screwed. Feel self-righteous]

There is obviously some residual emotion left over from my trip. Because while I enjoy traveling, and am glad I went to see all those places, I had moments while away of painfully missing home, and having the sensation, especially at night, of feeling lost, alone, and very much wanting to be in my own bed.

It’s somewhat ironic that when I actually returned to that bed, I then have the experience of that bed feeling not like home at all.

I’m tempted to try and concoct or fabricate some deeper meaning to all of this, as if there were some profound personal revelation of feeling lost everywhere, making my home equally wherever I am, but I think that’s evidence of a brain trying to find pattern and intent where there is none. I think it’s simpler and less interesting than that. I think that our brains try to predict the world, and for 2 weeks it got used to predicting being far from home, and it’s going to take a few more nights for it to settle back into the routine of being home.

And yet the sensation of a deeper, existential, and philosophical lesson is fighting to remain in the spotlight of consciousness, and I more deeply understand the workings of the spiritual or religious sense of mind; it’s a sensation that insists upon itself, in the face of evidence.  Despite the fact that its more like a waking dream-state where the monsters and fantasies of the sleeping mind slip into reality which cannot permit them, we still won’t look directly at reality and see it for what it is.

The vacation is over, I am home, and I have to go to work in a few hours.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Open thy eyes and let escape a dreamscape.

To wake, entranced to seem

Open thy mind and the world will let itself

 

 

 

 

 

 

work in progress May 24, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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imagine paradise.

What images come to mind, immediately?

Is it Spring? Fall? Is the concept of season meaningless?

Think about the world you would create, if you had the ability. Maybe Thanos gives you his glove, and you can snap any universe into being. Or maybe you would just make one world, continent, or square kilometer just as you would want it.

Perhaps it would be empty, excepting yourself. Perhaps it’s full of family, friends, loved ones, and perhaps some friendly animals. Then again, perhaps it would be full of potential friends (strangers), each more alluring than the last.

The exercise is not to find out what actual, objective, paradise would be like. That’s probably a futile effort, anyway. The exercise is to show you that whatever your paradise is, eventually it will be hell.

Have you ever been a believer in a religion which preaches the promise of heaven? It’s not relevant if the same preaching includes a hell, because it’s the promise of heaven that I’m interested in, here.

Have you considered shopping around, and trying to find the religion with the best heaven? Sounds prudent. The alternative–avoiding the worst hell–is a similarly futile endeavor. It’s futile because if you accept something as a story you’ll “believe” in, or at least live within, whether in some metaphorical sense or with some regard for rigorous orthodoxy or orthopraxy (hey, your kinks are ok, I suppose), in the end you have not even considered the question, most likely, of whether truth matters to you.

I mean actual truth. Not your truth. But let’s not get distracted by that, already. I know…it’s not in fashion today, to consider truth. Trends, as they are.

Ok, so you’ve found your designer religion, with its bellini sunday brunches or Friday night whippings or even both simultaneously (like I said, your kinks are yours), and you are comfortable, occasionally gazing into a passing thought about the heavenly reality that you either look forward to or are emulating in real time. Hey, whatever paradise is for you. I can’t decide that.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sure that any paradise, whether we are talking about an afterlife, whether eternal or not, a set of ideals, or even a code of laws (logic included?), is ever going to be sufficient or necessary at all levels of scale, both in terms of space and time.

What I mean by that is that I don’t think that any ideal world, values, or laws are worth sacrificing ourselves to. I’ve never seen a religion, political philosophy, or code of ethics that always worked, in all situations.

So, I’ve given up on ideals.

Everything is a work in progress, and the targets are temporary stops, at most, along the way.

Remember: heaven is a place, where nothing ever happens. The world is a place where everything happens, but we keep missing so much of it because we’re so distracted by a blur of heavens everywhere.

Focus on the living Force, my friends.

In Nederlands May 20, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Half way through my trip. I just arrived in Rotterdam, after a long last night in Ghent, Belgium. I stayed with some new friends who showed me around a city I had barely known anything about, but in which I had a tremendous amount of fun and enjoyed far more than the other three cities I visited in Belgium. Bottom line; if you visit Belgium, go to Ghent. It’s lovely, less touristy than Bruges (which is also lovely), and if you like a night life, it’s pretty amazing.

Belgium is a lovely country with nice people. Cosmopolitan and international. Excellent beer and it’s very easy to get around. But last night I arrived in Rotterdam and checked into a lovely hostel (truly the way to stay, especially in Europe). Almost immediately, I befriend 3 travellers from Toronto and England, and we play cards, drink wine and beer, and talk about Game of Thrones.

Finding common cultural connections is the best way, I have found, to circumvent the social anxieties which haunts my mind, and it is a good thing when we can find those who share the lust for life and experience. It is, after all, why I travel. Those who travel find, in the willingness to not concern oneself with destinations, a companion which can be the best of friends and also the bringer of chaos.

And chaos, not unlike Folly, is perhaps under-appreciated. Especially by myself.

Brief note; yes, I am in Rotterdam. And yes, I did re-read some of of Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly this morning. and yes, Erasmus lived here in Rotterdam. And yes, those things, in concert, suggest not a coincidence. I regret nothing. Let me have my folly.

But back to chaos. (Or, perhaps, are the repeated tangents germaine to the theme here?)

Chaos has cast a shadow behind me for most of my life. Ironically, it was the anxious yearning for order that cast it. A shadow with such darkness and with such crisp lines of contrast to the terrain behind me can only indicate a close and brilliant distraction before me, perhaps blinding me.

Beautiful, like an angel–a Vorlon indeed–its manipulated sense of deification and desire for obedience is the call of a self-righteousness that , I believe, one should shed if one seeks any sort of wisdom. And I’ve known this for many years. That is, I have understood it, but I don’t think until quite recently did I breathe it, and feel it, and feel humbled by the illusion of understanding.

Perhaps all understanding is illusion? Is that too stark? Is the contrast cast by this image, this fire sun outside my personal Platonic cave, too black and white? Too binary? Not enough grey-highlighted detail?

It doesn’t matter. All that matters, at this moment, is that I remember that time is fleeting, and all of this is for nothing, ultimately. And that while this reality is not preferable, it is also not a reason to cast such a bright light upon it all.

Shadows are inevitable and necessary, but perhaps we should not keep any of our sources of light and folly so close that we create such deep, abysmal, shadows.

And remember the admonishment (or was it encouragement?) that Nietzsche left us; Staring into the abyss will invite the attention of the abyss.

Now, if only we could point that beam of certainty and ordered light into that abyss. The problem is that we are in our own way, too often. So move yourself out of the way and allow your lights to illuminate your shadows.

I’ll be home in less than a week.

Maybe I will leave some of myself back here, and only bring home that which serves the happiness of those I love, including myself. I should have less shadows following me, mostly because I’ll stop allowing other people’s lights (and their subsequent shadows) to land on my skin.

Not letting anyone cast any shade on me.

Yelling at Each Other Through Trees April 18, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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Last night, in a conversation over a couple of beers, an analogy just sort of spontaneously emerged from my brain and spilled out of my mouth.

We are all walking a path of life, each carving a path through a dense forest, and yelling at each other through trees.

Yes, many of us travel in packs, with a few trailblazers hacking away at the brush in front of them with machetes of varying quality and sharpness, defining the cultural path for those behind them. And some, behind them, will wander off into the forest around them, perhaps bumping into other cultural paths, but in general the world is a network of paths being blazed through a forest, leaving the separated groups in the position to yell at each other through trees in order to try and figure out what is going on, where we are, and if there is anywhere to go better than this.

We are a tribalistic species. I’ve written about this all too often over the years. We truly, and literally, don’t understand each other much of the time. A dominant narrative metaphor for the lack of understanding frames this problem in terms of us not sharing a common set of facts, anymore. The political Right, especially those supporting Donald Trump, have a different set of facts than, say, the progressives on the political Left, and neither understands each other.

Now, it’s quite likely that one of those political tribes is closer to “the truth” than others. You may guess which camp I think is closer to such a truth based upon my previous commentary, but the larger issue here is that none of the various political cultures who are contributing to the inter-cultural conversations are likely to be right, in any objective sense.

Wait….”right”? Do I mean in the sense of having facts that cohere to a skeptical methodology which sifts between those ideas supported by evidence from those that do not? Or do we mean right in terms of values?

I’ve written about the false dichotomy between facts and values in the past (see here and here, for example), but I’ll summarize that I don’t think that they are really all that different. We can have wrong values, in the same way we can have wrong facts.  With facts, the question is evidence. With values, the question is whether our values support human well-being, fairness, and transparency.

Of course, the larger issue is meta-ethics and such, which is a thorny mess I don’t want to deal with right now. The bottom line, for me, is that if you aren’t concerned with well-being, truth, fairness, etc, then I’m not sure you are interested in being a good person. Why should you care about those things? I’m not interested in playing those sorts of games with people who aren’t. They aren’t acting in good faith, I believe. They are interested in power, control, and manipulation. Those values are not values worth respecting. If you disagree, I will fight you.

 

But, back to nobody being right….

The problem is that we conflate being more right than someone else with being right in general. I believe that I’m right that there isn’t a god, or more specifically that sets of ideologies such as Christianity or Islam are not real. If I’m talking with someone who believes that Jesus is real, Heaven is real, Hell is real (and I’m going to it), and I believe I am right in not thinking those things are real, I’m not (ideally) claiming that I’m right in the sense that what I actively hold to be true is correct, but rather that I’m right concerning the specific question of whether their religious beliefs are rational or real.

I want to paint this distinction, because I think it’s lost all-too-often in such conversations. In the atheist community, some debaters and thinkers have tried to make it clear that their atheism is merely a “no” to the question “do you believe in god?” In other words, it’s a lack of belief. But, based upon my many such conversations, it often seems that my interlocutor is hearing something else; not merely that “I don’t believe you” but also “my worldview is actually correct, not yours.” Those are quite different claims.

Now, I, of course, do believe my worldview is correct. This is true by definition. If I didn’t believe it, it wouldn’t be my worldview. But it’s a different claim to say “I don’t believe you” and “My worldview is right.”

Because while I do believe my worldview is right, the fact is that none of us has a completely defined, seamless, systematic worldview which covers all possible questions. We don’t carry around a systematically air-tight philosophical theory of the world which can answer all possible questions. We have loosely knitted ideas based off a set of methodologies, and they might not even be logically consistent with each other.

If you ask me about what I think about the Christian concept of sin or what the soul is supposed to be, I can come up with an answer. How I do so is based upon how I organize and coalesce information. I may have a few quick and easy answers (sin is a concept which essentializes us and causes guilt, for example) or even sound bites to pull out of memory (the impermanence of the soul is akin to a flame, waiting to be extinguished ), but worldviews are generated in real time, perpetuated by the way my brain has formed itself through experience, and always subject to change with new experience.

In an analogous way, a political movement, made up of people of related worldviews, is neither right nor systematically defined. The current progressive leftist movement is, in my view, superior to that of the alt-right in terms of both facts and values, but there are processes in the Left which are as flawed as anything in the right. In the absence of an alt-Right to compare it to, the left would be a set of ideas in need of both criticism and improvement. But so long as the alt-Right exists, they are the lesser of evils with a large margin of point-differential, so they have my support until a better movement comes along.

None of the teams are worthy of worship or unquestioned reverence. We need to stop being so attached to groups, parties, and especially our own in-groups (this is my major criticism of hard-core Democrats, right now; loyalty to party over social improvement). I’ve seen too many groups become subject to tribalism, cliquishness, and corruption to even trust any group, no matter how well-intentioned its people are. My recent interactions with the secret Facebook group, Polydelphia, is a prime example of how a group with good intentions can become corrupted and internally ruined by people who think they are doing the right thing.

 

What to do?

I don’t know. I’m not optimistic. Talking to people from vastly different worldviews was always hard, but it’s much harder right now because of the demonization, cultural bubbles, and enmity which has been created by well-intentioned (in many cases, anyway) social media outlets and meta-narratives which cannot parse fringe movements nor their criticisms (neither can those fringes understand each-other).

But we are trying to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest terrain by yelling through trees at each other. And so far the best ways we have found to do such things is to pull ourselves out of ourselves, to transcend and elevate ourselves above the hacking and slashing. Skepticism, science, and any other methods we can use to minimize bias (both individual and group biases) is the only means we have found, thus far. Seeking ecumenical similarities in religious traditions (for example) as a means to unite us is nothing more than people comparing their paths through the forest, and is unable to transcend the question.

Only by attempting to prove ourselves wrong, through skepticism, can we hope to transcend the forest, or at least draw an accurate map.

So long as we continue to abandon skepticism and the answers it supplies–and both the Left and the Right are doing so–the further way we get from the truth, collectively.

I’m not optimistic.

Fuck all the things, especially ourselves March 6, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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You know what? fuck the Republican party. You know what they did, what they are doing, and what they are likely to keep doing. Fuck them.

Going forward, we need to find a Democrat who can defeat Trump. That’s what matters.

Right?

I mean, sort of. But that’s too simple, and it misses the point of something important. let’s build the argument.

 

The Democrats are the home team, right now.

Aside from the few months I was a Democrat in order to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary back in 2016, I’ve always been an Independent. I have no political party. I doubt I ever will have one for more time than it might take to vote in a primary.

Right now, I like the Democratic party much more than I like the Republican party. It’s an easy choice to make. That is, if I had to back one of them I would not hesitate to support the DNC in this moment in history.* The attempts of the House of Representatives to find some justice and the truth in their investigations into the doings of people around Donald Trump related to obstruction of justice, corruption, bribery, hush money, and potential cooperation with Russian attempts to alter the public opinions and actions around the 2016 elections is something we should stand behind.

But, did you notice the heading of this section? Yeah, see I’m clever like that and I intentionally wanted to invoke that process in your brain that cheers for the home team and boos when the other team scores. I wanted to get the circuits of tribalism flowing in your head, because some of you read that paragraph above and you were like “fuck yes!” and some of you, maybe, were more like “fake news!” Maybe a few of you were like ‘dude, I totally saw what you were doing and am not impressed with your bashing the point over my head with that over-sized cartoon sledgehammer.’

And you’re right, keen observer of my overtly obvious point.

And yet, still, I’m compelled. I do believe that Donald Trump is, in objective fact, corrupt and criminally guilty. In addition to his ample personality flaws, he’s also done illegal things and should not be in a position of power. He surrounds himself with cons, liars, and ethically dubious people who do his bidding to enrich themselves. That narrative is, to some extent, just the truth. If you disagree, well I think you are just factually wrong.

So, the democrats are the good team, then, right?

No. That’s a false dichotomy. Yes, I also know that this point was obvious from the start.

 

Your friends are great. Fuck your friends.

It’s nice to have friends. They have your back when things get tough. They give you advice that you need from time to time, and are good fun on occasion, as well. We need friends. We need people we trust in our lives.

And aren’t you glad you cut some people out of your life? You know, the people who were assholes that time? The people who you used to like, but now they are evil?

It’s sort of bizarre how easy it is for a person to be your friend, having your back and giving you advice or feedback, to being not a friend and suddenly they are not available for either. There is a strange cognitive switch that sort of goes off in some of these situations, and over time you may even wonder how you could have been, at one time, friends with this person.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this cognitive phenomenon, and I’m fascinated by it. It has made me reconsider many things about the nature of friendship and the alienation of being mad at/hurt by someone. And this has had a major effect on how I view the concepts of trauma and desires for “justice” or whatever.

I don’t want to dwell on that and that’s not the point of this post, directly. I also don’t have any solid conclusions, but I do have a lot of skepticism about the various narratives about such things which I know will rub many people the wrong way. And the implications of this skepticism is already alienating me from people who are, in some sense, allies.

But, to go back to the point of this post, which is about politics overtly with the minor tangentially relevant analogy of all things related to people, groups, and cultures, I’m of the opinion that I don’t care to support the democratic party. I’m of the opinion that supporting individual candidates, who may or may not be members of that party, is more important than supporting the party itself.

So…

 

Fuck the Democratic party

This is the nuance that I am seeing which some people I know don’t seem to see. Yes, the Democrats in congress are playing an important political and historical role, right now, by initiating certain investigations and by (hopefully) shifting the party to the left and being more inclusive of people who have, traditionally and historically, had less of a political voice.

But fuck the party

You know why? Because every time a group of people comes together to work on something as a group, shit gets done. But, also, when people start to identify with that group, the almost necessary product of such an association is to out-group the people who don’t. That is where tribalism starts.

There is a story going around about Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat, for president, and as an Independent, for his senate seat. And democrats are losing their shit over this. I don’t see the problem.

No, Bernie Sanders isn’t a loyal member of your team. He doesn’t identify as a Democrat. He sees running as a Democrat to be useful for him, in terms of running, and you’re mad because he’s not supporting the party at large. Well, why the hell should he? Why should anybody have to demonstrate loyalty to a party? Why is loyalty to a party a good thing? Notice the nuance between working with a party to get shit done and loyalty and identity with such a group.

If you cared about having a good candidate, with good ideas, who can possibly do good things for the country as a whole, then why would that person have to be a member of one of your parties? Why the fuck is that a good thing?

Fuck your stupid party.

 

Fuck Bernie Sanders

Actually, I like Bernie Sanders. He was the first (and, so far only) political candidate whose campaign I gave money to. If he were nominated, I’d be happy. I don’t necessarily think he’s the best candidate for the upcoming election, and I might prefer someone else, but I’m Ok with him and would support him.

But fuck Bernie Sanders. And fuck his loyal followers, especially.

Are you confused yet?

Ok, let me see if I can clarify

 

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him

Everyone who knows me is aware that I’m not a big fan of religion in general. Christianity is a plague upon the world. Islam is a silly yet dangerous thing. Judaism is problematic for so many reasons. Hinduism and its various sub-religions are silly, especially as it’s sold in the West as a bunch of platitudes and stretching. And Buddhists are threatening to (and sometimes actually are) killing Muslims. Pretty much all religion is problematic, either overwhelmingly so or merely in part.

But we need to keep in mind that religion overlaps with philosophy, in many respects. The Bible has some wonderful literature (I like Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms and Proverbs, for example). The Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita are all largely lovely. There are even parts of the Koran which are poetic and lovely. And Buddhism has many pearls of wisdom worth paying attention to. Not to mention the Dao de Jing, which is overwhelmingly impressive and absolutely worth reading.

But one thing that keeps coming back to mind, for me, is the heading for this section. Another formulation is this Buddhist koan:

“If you meet the Buddha, kill him.”– Linji

This koan is a mind-puzzle for you to ponder, as I believe it has many interpretations and many uses. In this case I think what it might point to is the problem of deifying or idolizing certain people, groups, or ideas. I think that it has relevance to how we look at our heroes as well as our enemies.

If you are not a Trumpster, you might see Donald Trump as the idol of all that is wrong with people and the world in general.  Let’s be real for a second though, ok? He’s just a spoiled, immensely privileged, and largely clueless man who probably didn’t really want his position anyway, and has no idea what to do and has been doing illegal and immoral things for decades, hidden behind his celebrity, which he would have probably gotten away with if he weren’t president.

He’s not the devil, the antichrist, or even a criminal master villain. He’s a very flawed human being surrounded by leeches and fixers who have been pulled out of the swamp and into the light, and they are now drying up in the hot exposure of the sun. Instead of draining the swamp, he’s dragged many of his hangers-on out of the swamp and put them on the dry land above for us all to see.

Sure, politics has always been corrupt and slimy, but perhaps not until now (at least in the U.S.) had the lower swamp scum been in this position, and the nakedness of the sliminess is both a relief and a shock to us because we are used to it being better attired.

But it makes me wonder whether part of the phenomena which is this moment is history is that we do not kill our Buddhas when we meet them. In other words, we aren’t willing to tell our heroes, revered institutions, and even our culture to go fuck itself, often enough.

We are too attached to the things we identify with.

 

Self criticism is the beginning of destroying tribalism

What do you love? What do you value? What do you hate? What is your identity?

When we identify with a person, group, culture, nation, etc, we start to project ourselves onto those things. And as those things are challenged, questioned, or not taken seriously, it’s as if we are being attacked ourselves. This is about as universal as a human experience as anything I can think of.

It’s well past time to enthusiastically consent to being challenged, questioned, and not taken seriously. It’s time to tell ourselves and our identities to fuck off and die already. Not literally, of course. But it is time to take ourselves, our values, and especially the groups we identify with way less seriously.

Every friend group, every facebook group, every subculture experiences drama and in-fighting. Rifts occur, people are ostracized, and enmities form and eventually calcify to become the structure of the group itself. It becomes the identity of the group and its members.

Activists within the DNC really don’t tend to like Bernie Sanders right now. And Bernie supporters are really mad at the DNC. Both sets of people have reasons to be mad. They aren’t incorrect. That isn’t the issue. The issue is that they are taking it personally and therefore unable to transcend the fray and see it as if they were an outsider.  What we need is a political and cultural version of the Outsider Test for Faith.

Not enough of us have killed our Buddha, upon meeting them. We have not told ourselves to fuck off.

And until we are all willing to tell ourselves to fuck off, we’re fucking ourselves, collectively.

 


*Also, fuck the Green party, the Libertarian party, and all the other parties. Fuck all the things.