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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.

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.

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

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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.

10 Years February 12, 2019

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So, this blog had it’s first post 10 years ago, today.

5 years ago, I posted a summary of the first 5 years, which included links of favorite posts from the early years. But 5 years ago I was also about to dive into some of the worst times of my life. We won’t speak of any of that, today.

I won’t provide any links to recent posts that I especially liked from the last 5 years, today. There have been some lovely posts over the last few years, and also a couple of years where I didn’t post much of anything at all. If you’re curious, feel free to peruse the tag cloud on the right side of the page. It should be not too far below this text.

I also don’t have any deep thoughts about 10 years of growth and change in myself, my life, etc. There have been all of these things, but I’m not feeling especially sentimental about any of it at the moment. In fact, the reason I even realized this was the anniversary was because while reading some posts from other sources this afternoon, I saw a mention of “Darwin Day”, and I remembered that I intentionally waited to post my first post on Darwin day, because 10 years ago I was very involved in the atheist community, for which such a day was a kind of holiday.

Man, how much has the atheist community changed in 10 years!

In short, the blog is now 10 years old. It’s readership has declined, it’s owner has grown older as well, and I no longer have additional writers adding their thoughts. I don’t think I’ll ever be as prolific a writer as I was around 7 years ago or so.

But I do carry a portable keyboard around with me in case I’m suddenly inspired, so I’ll keep jabbering. Maybe a few of you are still around to check it out.

So, happy birthday, blog!

frustrated by unrequited ideals February 4, 2019

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Do you ever get the sensation that you exist in the wrong universe?

It’s a common cultural trope that we find ourselves living in the “wrong” time, place, or family. Man, how did I miss the 1960’s, someone might say.

I’ve felt that way, but I think something else is going on here, and I think it might be related to a bunch of other relevant questions our culture is wrestling with. I think that there is a sort of pain, cognitive dissonance, or at least ennui which permeates the distance between the world we want to live in and the worlds we are faced with, and in some sense compelled to choose between.

We are thrown into the world, screaming, and then just left to figure out what the fuck is going on. And along the way, we create families, cultures, and national identities–tribes–which overlap in bizarre ways. At some point, some people, or perhaps all people to varying degrees, we start to notice gaps between the narratives. Grey areas in culture. Moderate positions between your Capulets and their Montagues.

We’re going through another cultural shift, in America right now. And in some sense, we are also teetering on the edge of a chasm that our widening narratives have created. We may not survive this next 20 years as a country of power and influence, and we’re having an ideological fight disguised as a moral one. The problem is that the several (and probably more) factions get shuffled into essentially 2 teams, and the bedfellows on each side are left to in-fight in their own particular ways, creating the illusion of a bicameral rift, when it’s really a shatterprint not unlike the damage done to a windshield when impacted with a large pebble at high speed.

Unpredictable and it weakens the surrounding substrate that allows the pattern to exist.

In other words, when the United States falls apart, the factions will no longer have a common culture in which to express itself, because there will no longer be the mechanisms of communications to express these differences.

And no matter who “wins”, the people who rise to power in such situations are usually monsters.

I weep for our future, because I can see the grey areas between our factions, and it will matter less and less who is right the worse it gets.

Stream of Consciousness January 25, 2019

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There’s something odd about white people of wealth. I perceive it as weird because I share so much in common with them, yet when I’m around them in a social setting, I feel like an ethnologist. But that’s not quite right either, because I speak the language and understand the customs. I know the rituals, the symbols of authority, and if I need to I can blend in.

Sort of.

I can pass, for sure. But I can’t take it seriously. I have that privilege.

One of the weirder aspects of being able to see your culture as if you were playing a role playing game, is that the NPCs (Non-Player Characters, for those of you not up on gamer lingo) are ever so slightly more complicated in groups, in real life. Sure, if you catch them one-on-one, they can demonstrate some nuance and humanity, but groups are weird.

Families, friends, neighborhoods, towns, cultures, and species are strange epiphenomina.

Then you start to ruminate, meditate, or zone out while stoned (and where are the differences there?), and you start to wonder if you are actually one of the NPCs. And then, on some occasions, you are almost certain that you are.

OK, so granted; from everyone else’s point of view, you’re sort of a NPC. But what happens when you start to become aware that you are one from your own point of view as well? Not all the time. Well, actually, yeah all the time. But you’re only aware of it some of the time. Then you sort of forget.

Why is it easier (for me at least; I cannot speak for other weirdos) to build a conceptual map of groups of people but not the groups of proto-people in your head? All the potential thoughts, decisions, and other psychological phenomena are, in some metaphorical sense, fighting for control. I mean, they aren’t actually fighting, because they are not aware of each other. At least I don’t think they are….

What would it be like to be a set of patterns in the brain which were trying to compel you to eat that whole carton of ice cream? What if that set of patterns became “aware” of another set of patterns, which, in this case, is trying to compel you to take a walk and stretch your legs, this evening? Does it hate that set of brain patterns? Is it jealous? Is it in love, with a love necessarily unrequited, because they can never merge?

How many people are in your head? I’ve got a few, at least. I have a feeling they don’t tend to like each other very much. And isn’t that the weirdest way in which you have ever heard someone admit they might hate themselves?

But that’s not all that weird, right? Everyone does, sometimes, right? Perhaps the word hate is too strong; a word with so much linguistic meaning, that to invoke it usually indicative of a feeling being too strong. Way to emotion-shame, brain.

We are legion. Perhaps the royalty figured this out years ago, and have been trying to explain it to us through the “royal we” (who are definitely not amused) in a way that we have been hearing as some aristocratic arrogance which turns us off and makes us susceptible to wanting too eat the rich, behead them, or at least try to make them feel bad by talking about the realities of poverty in the world.

That got dark quicker than expected.

And that, ladies in gentlemen, is why I shouldn’t refer to myself as we; I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I’m not sure that eating the rich is the solution. I know, I know…I’m such a bad Leftist.

What does it mean to be right if a part of your mind disagrees?

Hell, what does it mean to have an opinion, if a part of your mind disagrees?

I’l have to think about that. Translation: I will let the proto-people in my head fight that one out.

How are you?

Yes, all of you.

Postcript:

I wrote this without thinking about it at all. I just let thoughts fall out of my brain, and only mildly edited for typos (I almost certainly missed one or two). New project; write even when you don’t know what to say. Let’s see what’s been shaking around in there, while doing life shit.

I’m out

Death January 15, 2019

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So, I’ve been thinking about death a lot.

Not in the sense of thinking about committing suicide, but more in the sense of the stereotypical mid-life crisis sense. As in, I’m feeling absolutely terrified about dying and simultaneously thinking about how death might be one of the ideas we literally can’t think about, and yet I am thinking about it a lot these days. Absurdity is the word of the day, folks.

As a person who rejects the reality of souls, gods, and all that nonsense and  is therefore seriously skeptical of any possibility of life, consciousness, or awareness after bodily death, I am aware that death is literally nothing. Nobody has an awareness of their own death, once it happens.

One day, whether through horrendous accident, slow sickness, or quietly in my sleep after a long, happy life, I simply will no longer be. And that, I think, is both among the more simple and more difficult to comprehend concepts.

And it’s that which I want to try to articulate today.

 

Sleep

After work yesterday, I took a nap. I was really tied, such that basic focus was difficult, and I just needed to rest for a while. Now, I’m often really good at power naps, and this particular nap lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and I awoke from it recharged, as I often do, and ready to be productive again.

But what about the nap itself? What was that like? If you’ve ever fallen asleep, and I’m assuming you have, then you have had the experience of drifting off. You are decreasingly aware of your surroundings, your body, and perception starts to dissolve and become more fluid, and as you approach sleep, there is this dreamy, non-linear, almost not real sense of reality. Then, well, nothing.

But doesn’t that “nothing” only take shape, and actually become something, after the fact? I mean, upon reflection, I can try to pierce the timelessness of the lack of consciousness that was the time I was not aware (or, at least, not forming memories I can now retain), but all I can do is sort of bracket it and place a label of “nothing” or “lack of awareness” upon it. It becomes something upon reflection, so it’s not even nothing, right?

It’s not completely undifferent, conceptually, from trying to imagine what it was like before the universe existed,  north of the north pole, beyond infinity, or any concept which tries to point towards a barrier which, by definition, is impenetrable.

And so the question becomes this; was I alive during those times I don’t remember, while sleeping? Do I die every time I sleep? Do I die every moment, and the next a new person exists, momentarily, simply to then die a moment later handing off the shell of processes, parts, and perceptions in which it lives ever so briefly?

How many Shauns have existed?

 

And now, for the obligatory Star Trek reference

There’s a philosophical question which has taken many forms over the centuries, but which is perhaps best exemplified by the transporter problem as it is often referred to. It’s also related to, in the history of philosophy, as the problem of the ship of Theseus. Google it, because philosophy is cool and people will be impressed with this reference at parties.

So, Commander William Riker of the USS Enterprise (NCC 1701-D, to be precise) has to beam down to the surface of some planet to do some thing or other, because Riker is awesome and he knows how to handle shit. He steps onto the transporter pad, Scotty (sorry, more likely some random ensign or maybe Miles O’Brian) beams him down to the planet.

The transporter does something like the following; it scans every particle in the body of Riker, says damn that man is sexy, then in some way stores all of that information, transforms his molecular pattern into some form of energy, then transmits that energy to a spot on the surface of the planet below and then reassembles the energy into exactly (hopefully) the Riker that stepped onto that pad.

In other words, it kills Riker and makes a copy on the planet below. Right? Sure sure, the thing on the planet looks like Riker, talks like Riker, and probably fucks like Riker, but is it the same person? The body was vaporized by some computer, then the same computer made a copy of Riker as he was right before he was vaporized. Sounds nice for Riker 2.0, but what about the original Riker? Well, he’s no longer aware, or around, to care. So, it”s fine, right?

How different is this from me before my nap and me after my nap?

Before the nap, I have my predilections, memories, etc, but is it functionally any different than being faxed to some planet somewhere (preferably Risa)? And, if so, then why would this kind of death scary? I won’t be aware of it, and then I pass the torch to some twin of mine who gets to go on doing things, at least until their next nap or transporter suicide.

What terrifies me, in the wee hours of the morning, or moments of existential dread while sitting at my desk, is the fact that one of those deaths won’t have a copy of me to remember it. And no matter how irrational this is, it scares me in a way I’m unable to articulate. 

So, let’s try to articulate it.

 

Finality

But death, as we usually think about it, is quite different in comparison to being transported or an epic post-work nap. Because not only will the me stop perceiving, buy there’s no copy. There’s no more versions of me to keep interacting with the world, writing overly cynical and depressing blog posts, and also no me to reflect upon the nothing or fuzziness of transport to label as part of the continuation of “me.”

Because if it is the case that I die at every nap or transporter trip, at least with those, so far, another copy of me gets to wipe of my brow and be glad to “still” be alive. And if I contemplate the possibility that, as I step onto the transporter pad, I’m about to die, but it’s fine because “I” will only bracket the nothingness of that death as a memory after the fact and go about my day. My day.

And this is where those who don’t view the transporter problem as a death step up and remind me that all that matters is that you keep going on. All you are is the pattern, so even if, in some way which we cannot pierce epistemologically, we die whenever we fall asleep, transport, etc, functionally we continue in any way that has any continuing meaning. So it doesn’t matter. 

For them, William Riker stays alive throughout all his transporter adventures (and, to make this all more complicated, in one case another Riker actually gets created and another, separate, person is created who we remember as Thomas Riker), and the only death to be concerned with is the final one. You know, the real one.

Some day, hopefully decades from now, I’m going to lose consciousness and never have it return. I won’t be able to reflect upon that. I won’t be able to reflect upon that. I just won’t be, anymore. The same is true for you, and every living thing that has any level of consciousness. Even if we find a way to stop aging, cure all disease, etc, there will be a time when eventually all conscious things will die, even if they die with the end of the universe itself.

And I have no basis in experience to contemplate that. And recently, it’s haunting me. But, it’s not a Hell I”m afraid of. It’s not the fact that I’ll look back after I’m dead and regret things. It’s the finality of it. All of my experience is a memory of what either happened some days, years, or milliseconds ago, and one time there will not be that memory. There will be no prediction, reflection, or even boredom. It will just be over.

I’m staring into the abyss, and despite what Nietzsche said, there will be a time when it won’t stare back any longer. I’m terrified of the moment when the dark, terrifying abyss gazes elsewhere forever. I’m terrified of no longer being able to be terrified.

 

Inspiration?

Now, most of my life, when I would think about this, it would motivate me. Go out and live. Fuck convention and cultural norms, because they are just games we play, worldviews we are chained to, and mentalities which are not worth spending too much time bogged down in. Enjoy this life as much as possible, because one day it will be gone, it won’t matter, and you might, towards the end, look back in regret at missed opportunities while you are still able to regret.

Yes…I’ve thought about that since I was around 13 or so. Does that elucidate me a bit more?

Perhaps. But more recently, another edge to this realization has crept into my thoughts, and I meditate on the question of the finality of death only to perpetually be faced with an impenetrable wall. 

I become aware that I won’t be able to see how people react to my death. I won’t see those who love me grieving any more than I’ll see my enemies raising a glass to my demise. 

All of my experience comes from being alive and remembering something, or simply being aware of my own mind and the world around me. And the analogy of sleep is impotent here, because sleep, from the point of view of the sleeper, is defined by its being bounded by awareness on each end. Death can best be described as oblivion. An eternity of not being aware.

So why is that scary?

Is it because I don’t want it to happen? Yes. But it’s more than that. And I recognize that at some point, ideally when I’m much older, I may welcome oblivion. But I’m not there, at this time. Now, on top of compelling me to gather experiences of the world and enjoy it, it’s adding a true existential dread that, while I read about it from various philosophers, thinkers, etc, I was not intimately surrounded by in previous years.

I think there is something inherently terrifying about not being able to conceive of a thing you know will happen to you. From one point of view, knowing that I won’t be aware of it means I won’t be potentially suffering, so it’s not suffering I’m afraid of, here. And while I am afraid of dying painfully, it’s not that either. 

The image that comes to mind is the feeling of consciousness drift away, and screaming, somewhere in my fading mind, to not go. I don’t want to go. Please let me stay, is what it says, aware that nobody is listening. The desire to cling to life, and feeling it going away forever, screaming being replaced by silence, and then nothing forever, to be eulogized by those that remain to face their own subsequent oblivion.

I think it’s a fear of loss of autonomy, in some strange way, because the fear feels more like how I feel when I’m being controlled, manipulated, or compelled by another power than like falling asleep. It’s the inability to resist it which makes it the ultimate unpleasantness.

And yet I don’t think free will is real. I know I’m not in control of much of what and who I am, and I’ve known that for a long time. But with much of that, wherein I do have some control, I have at least a fight. With the fight against bad government, laws, or other people’s attempts to control me and the world around me, there’s the possibility of victory. In the fight with death, the inevitable loss is the ultimate nihilism. 

And all I can do, in the meantime, is not think about it, because thinking about it only means I’m not living now, but rather living within the fear that takes so much away from life. And yet I know that these thoughts will persist, even if only occasionally, until the finality of death finally makes it impossible.

It’s almost funny. No, it actually is funny. It might be the funniest thing I have ever conceived of. And yet I’m not laughing. I think I will need to learn how to laugh at death, while I’m still alive.