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Bouquets, brickbats, and trusting the untrustworthy May 24, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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2 comments

[TW: Abuse]

There is a distinction between trusting a person and trusting their ideas. Even the worst people can be right, even if they use the truth as a weapon. If you seek true understanding, it is worth paying attention to the criticism we receive, even if that bouquet of criticism is delivered with brickbats.

I have always been a person who is interested in self-improvement and introspective knowledge. This set of self-challenging ideals has been a large source of motivation for myself over the years, and it is not something which is likely to change. This predilection had led me to gain some fairly significant insight into not only myself, but of the people around me. The more intimate I am with them, the more I understand them. And while I’m nowhere near always right, the value here comes in that we have the ability to see where others cannot. Being even partially right where another cannot see at all is better than the myopia that would result in ignoring that perspective completely.

The knowledge gained from these perspectives can be used in ways that are loving, and ways that are not. And depending on all sorts of factors, such as our own emotional maturity, levels of selfishness and security, etc, that knowledge can be used in a myriad of ways both good and bad. If a person severely hurt, depressed, or otherwise behaviorally compromised then that understanding can become a weapon. It’s a part of being human.

And sometimes shit gets hard, and when we’re afraid and hurt what we know can become clothed in the ability to hurt other people. When this happens to me, for example, my intellectual understanding does not simply go away, it just gets loaded into a (metaphorical) gun. I’ve been hurt (let’s say), some way or another, and I know something relevant to the situation or to the person involved. And now I’m going to use that knowledge to re-direct that pain. I’m going to take that truth, wrap it in a napkin of my pain, and I’m going to show the person who hurt me how I feel.

It’s an unhealthy reaction, but it is a human one. I do not believe that this ability, propensity, and even occasional desire is unique or even rare; I think it’s part of being human, especially during difficult times in our lives. And when times get difficult, people hurt each other. And when people hurt each other, the ability to see nuance, truth, and even to recognize the truth in what people say is lost in the mire of that pain.

This is very unfortunate, and I believe that it is a mistake to ignore or distrust an idea simply because of it’s source. Skepticism asks us to seek evidence, and sometimes data comes from places that we may wish we had never gone, but it is data nonetheless. Ignoring an idea simply because the way it reached us was painful is a reactionary and emotional response, not a skeptical one.

When we dismiss a person, even the truth that they might have had for us gets thrown away as well. In my darkest moments, when I’m least certain, I might think that a person who has criticized me cruelly is completely right about me. But this is merely one side of a spectrum. Because other times, when feeling more secure, I think that that person is completely wrong, and therefore I don’t need to keep in consideration their opinion. How are these two things not the same error?

While we all can mock the words of a person we have dismissed as deplorable (and often for good reason), might it be that those words might have something to teach us, and that we are only dismissing them because those words were wrapped in pain and weaponized?

Is it possible to learn from the content of painful words, even from painful people? Can even pacifists learn from the technology of war?

Yes.

Blind Spots and Bad Drivers

No matter how self-aware I am or become, there are always aspects of myself that I cannot see, at least not well.  As I go through my life, I have built up habits which, as I “drive”through life I cannot see unless I specifically turn my attention to them. But I have to be willing to look at at them.  And sometimes it’s painful to look in that direction, because that section of my universe may have emotional associations which I prefer to avoid, ignore, or forget.

It’s quite easy to forget (or to avoid) to look in that direction, as a result. It’s much more pleasant, and easier, not to. As an actively defensive driver (and yes, this is somewhat of a metaphor as well), I will keep an eye, sometimes, on where cars are relative to me and anticipate when a car is moving into my blind spots. Thus, sometimes I know a car is there even if I am not looking. But my attention is not perfect, and so if I plan on changing lanes, I need to peek anyway.

Especially if I’m tired, hurt, or otherwise emotionally distracted. I need to build up the habit to check where I can only see when I intentionally move my attention. And sometimes I need other people, even ones I may not like, to help me see those blind spots. Because quite often the people we clash with see things within ourselves that we do not like to see, and whether or not we trust their intentions, their perspective can often see what we cannot.

But here we need to be careful, because there are people who want to manipulate, control, and influence us in a direction that is not necessarily in our favor. There are people in the world who, despite being able to see some of the problems with our behavior and may, potentially, have something to teach us, they are more focused on their own interests to actually help us. They might tell us there is something in that blind spot which is not there (they may be projecting or are directly trying to deceive us). They may not tell you there is something there because they may think it’s not a big deal or whatever. Or, they just may not see it either, and are just as blind to that spot as you are.

And such people may leave us hurt, traumatized, and possibly less trusting. In those cases, we are then subject to over-compensating and becoming too focused on our own perspectives, and then we start to change lanes without looking. Trusting our own judgment is good, but sometimes it is the judgment of others, especially those who have hurt us, which we need especially because it is painful. There is a reason certain things are painful, and sometimes it’s because some truth is painful. In order to grow, we need to look at difficult truths and be willing to make effort to understand. Growth does not come from personal avoidance and people willing to simply be content with your own parochial myopia. Love and friendship is not merely celebrating what’s important to you, what you want, and what you can see. That is much closer to submissiveness to a quasi-narcissism than to love.

Challenge v. Control

I’ve been through, in my life, many experiences where people attempted (and often succeeded) to control me. I am also guilty of, in moments of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to control other people. I don’t like doing it, at all. I don’t want to do it, either. However, it’s part of the human dynamic and the distinction between the desire to help and to control is sometimes a very fine line, one which sometimes even the person perpetrating the advice/control cannot see. Navigating such treacherous waters is difficult on all sides, and only a few people actually want to and enjoy the kind of intentional manipulation of that control.

And when a person has found themselves in the position of being controlled, manipulated, and influenced too much, the reaction is often to become less accepting of opinion, of trying to trust their own instincts, and to sometimes close themselves off to what people who have hurt them have to say. And in many cases, this is for very good reason. But I am of the (probably controversial) opinion that it is especially the people who have hurt us that have the most to teach us.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that people who are abusive and controlling are right, especially about our character. What I am saying is that often pain comes from truth, even if that truth is twisted and deformed for the purposes of that control and abuse. The affect such people often have on us is so real because a true thing has been used as a weapon.  The fact that a hammer can be used to hurt or kill does not invalidate the usefulness of the hammer in building all sorts of things.

The Devil will often use the truth, whether for a greater lie or for the sake of power, as it is said. But we are not talking about the Devil (and even if we were, in Jewish/Christian mythology, the Devil is merely an interlocutor and questioner of God, not a psychopath or even evil), we are talking about people.  Of course, if a person is overwhelmingly using their hammer to attack rather than to build, then that person probably should not be trusted. But ignoring and invalidating everything such a person would say is akin to eliminating hammers in your life, rather than unwieldy carpenters.

Having been the receiver of a lot of criticism based upon some truth, it is hard to hear the parts that are true and to disregard the parts which are interpretation, attempts to hurt and control, and the parts which are not true. Being human, I have flaws and have made mistakes in my life. But I will not ignore or dismiss the words of critics and ideas whole-cloth, because to do so opens me up to the possibility of conflating the message with the messenger. Even an abusive person, in using abusive words and actions, may have some insight worth paying attention to (even if they don’t follow it themselves).

I don’t want anyone to be coerced, controlled, or abused, but I also don’t want people to shrink into their shells and accept only words from people who are willing to coddle them and not challenge their comfort zone. That is not love, that is how growth stagnates. There is a very difficult rope to walk on between self-absorbed obliviousness and accepting victimhood. One of the questiona I keep asking myself recently is whether one’s own obliviousness, self-absorption, and arrogance (sometimes framed as confidence or strength of will) is any better, in the long run, to being subject to the coercion and abuse from others. Either way, you are letting a limited perspective control you.

Trusting my own judgment and instincts is only in tension with, and not in contradiction to, hearing the criticisms of friends, acquaintance, or even foes. This is because even if I cannot trust a person’s intentions or motivations, sometimes I must trust their ability to see my blind spots when I can’t.

Therefore, I pay attention to criticisms, even from those I consider to be not trustworthy. I do not seek to internalize the ideas of abusive people, but to ignore their perspective seems equally problematic. The error in abusive control comes in the abuse, not necessarily the content. If abusive people could learn to find loving ways to show us what we cannot see, then nobody would need to shy away from their knowledge.

And this is as true of me as it is of anyone. My struggle is to find ways to share my perspective in ways that are not hurtful, and to understand the knowledge that even abusive people might have to teach me. I trust my judgment, but my judgment is limited. Those who can see some things that I can see, and some of those people are truly assholes, must complement what I can already see, or I risk the blindness and myopia that follows fear and mistrust.

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Moving on July 21, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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1 comment so far

The clouds are parting.

The last three nights I spent no time unable to sleep due to immense anxieties, self-doubts, or anger. For context, nearly every night over the last few months have been full of anxiety, anger, and pain keeping me up way too late, and this my not getting enough sleep. I know that this does not mean I will never have insomnia again. I know that this does not mean that I am forever out of the woods of mental health concerns. What I also know, however, is that I have dealt with the majority of the trauma that has plagued the last several months of my life, and I am finally ready to move on.

Yes, I will still have some processing to do about what to learn and how to grow, moving forward. Yes I will still have to deal with the presence of our former family as part of our local poly network, which will cause continued tension for us. But rather than drowning in the effects of those things, they will become small obstacles now, and I can try and create a newer, better, sense of self. I can re-build and re-define what this blog is and what I have to say with all of my experience as am atheist, polyamorous skeptic.

I have seen a lot, done a lot, understood a lot, and been completely vexed and overwhelmed by a lot more. What I have been through has made me stronger, wiser, and better able to see myself and the world around me. One consequence of this is I will be writing things which will contradict some older posts which exist here.

But this is not a contradiction in any personal sense. Anyone who would potentially quote something I wrote 2 years ago, compare it to what I would say now or in a month to demonstrate that I’m inconsistent, confused, or perhaps just a flip-flopper will fail to understand what growth and change means on a personal level. The person I was 2 years ago is, in many ways, not the person I am now or who I want to be. I was very angry 2 years ago, about things I didn’t even understand at that time.

Take, for example, the tag line of this blog: “criticism is not uncivil.” The idea behind this, originally, was that the truth is primary to any other concern. The idea was that if a disagreement about some fact, interpretation, etc poked its head up, rationally constructed criticism was not an inappropriate response. If you believe that a god exists, my criticism of this idea did not have to consider your emotional association to this idea, because there is a distinction between attacking an idea and attacking a person (is what I argued). And no, emotional attachments do not change the truth of a thing, but they should change how we have the conversation.

Now, if we were unemotional robots we wouldn’t have to worry about such things. The problem is that our very rational thinking itself is at least partially dependent upon not only emotion, but cognitive biases and self-justification. Our opinions, even if they happen to be opinions which would stand up to careful and empathetic scrutiny, exist in a soup of feelings, associations, rationalization, and will often have room for improvement.

So, what of that tagline? I am not sure yet. I don’t know if I want to keep it or change it. I could still keep it, and have it mean more that criticism, at least when done with consideration of all our human facets, is not uncivil. I still believe that criticism is essential for our personal and cultural growth, I just don’t accept that our criticism has to be unconcerned with our emotional realities.

Empathetic criticism is not uncivil?

Nah, I don’t like that.

In any case, the blog will indeed go on. The podcast may also continue (we did some recordings, but much of it was either lost or was not really good enough to release), but we’ll see when and how often that happens.

If you have any suggestions, thoughts, etc, please share them.

 

 

The Virtue of Selfishness: The Objectivist Ethics: a critique (part 3) April 3, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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4 comments

objectivismLast time, on Ayn Rand rationalizes selfishness….

Sorry, I’m apparently working on a TV series here.  I cannot confirm or deny whether it will air on Fox News.

In part 2, we addressed Ayn Rand’s argument that reason is important as a means to realizing our capability for pleasure, life, and giving to charity.  OK, maybe not that last one.

Today, we continue with Rand’s essay, picking up with the theme that human life is the standard of value.

The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.

In this case, the repetitive nature of this essay is helpful is useful to us, because it acts like a scene from the previous episode, in case you missed it.  Rand either assumes that her readers have the attention span of a goldfish, or she just never edited her essays very well.

This repetitiveness, along with her stark dichotomies, straw men, and logical fallacies are trademarks of her writing.  It makes good speeches for people prone to agree with her, and I can imagine many Objectivists feeling the emotional rhythm of the repetitive nature of these essays, coming at them in waves of freedom, individual virtue, and life, but this is nothing more than affective rhetoric.  It’s no different from a good sermon or political speech, but it’s not good philosophy.

The rest of the essay is better imagined as a stump speech at a political rally, or perhaps a sermon at a revival.  A godless, selfish, pleasure-seeking revival.

Rand has laid out the groundwork of her ideas and has tantalized us enough that it’s time to get to the flesh of the ideas.  As the following commences, you might imagine the crowd becoming more animated, and perhaps hands pound lecterns with each emphasized word.

The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics—the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life—are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

RPSAren’t those things nice? I mean, sure they are!  I like when I’m reasonable, I like when I have a purpose, and self-esteem is s good thing for all of us to have.  The ability to be rational, production, and proud of my achievements are all good things.  So, what’s my problem? Why and I not excited about this Ethic which promises me all of this? How could a rational person disagree?

Here’s the rhythmic, pulsating, cheer-inducing climax (although the end would be cut out in today’s political atmosphere);

It means one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects—that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives—that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one’s knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions. It means the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., any claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, supernatural source of knowledge. It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.

[emphasis mine]

This is the kind of speech that would, for the most part, fit into an atheist convention.  The values enumerated here are good ones, generally, and I agree with most of it.  Where I start to differ is here:

It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)

I have a different use of ‘integrity,’ one which permits me to not hold onto my convictions so tightly.  While I will not change my mind merely because others wish it, I would consider the wishes and opinions of others in the potential interest of changing my convictions if the evidence or perspectives warranted such a change.  The level of stubbornness here is a little worrying, especially from a skeptical point of view (and no, I would not call Ayn Rand a skeptic).  This rigidity of conviction is quasi-religious, yes, but it is also consistent with modern Right Wing politics where loyalty, conviction, and not hesitating or changing one’s mind are often considered virtues.  I don’t think such things are necessarily virtuous.

Perhaps this level of  conviction is related to “pride.”

The virtue of Pride can best be described by the term: “moral ambitiousness.” It means that one must earn the right to hold oneself as one’s own highest value by achieving one’s own moral perfection….by never placing any concern, wish, fear or mood of the moment above the reality of one’s own self-esteem. And, above all, it means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty.

reflections_i98Because nothing is more important than you.  Your truth, your life, and your feeling of self-worth trumps everything.  You (not humanity in general, just you) are the standard by which you decide which is right.  And if anything out there conflicts with that self-esteem or value, then that thing brings with it death.  In some ways, this is not all that different from the concept of “spiritual death” within some interpretations of Christianity; Any form of altruism is a kind of “sin” which separates you from true, selfish, morality.

I know this type of thought well.  When I’m defensive, scared, and feeling insecure about myself. I paint myself into a corner with self-interest.  And I can feel the rationalization churning away as I do this, because what’s happening when I feel this way is that I’m trying to hold back the flood-gates of things that contradict my own happiness, pleasure, and dissonance with the view of myself as a virtuous and good person.

What bothers me most is that while I get this, I know many other people do not get this, and many of them genuinely think that they are not insecure, defensive, or delusional about themselves.  They just seem themselves as successful and awesome.  You know, attributes consistent with narcissism.

I, therefore, think that I have the same gut feeling as Ayn Rand is describing here in her Ethic, and I recognize it for what it is; a self-centered and inconsiderate impulse–a reaction–against the threat of the Other. It is a reaction against being potentially wrong, of being uncertain, of having to admit that maybe other considerations besides my own might be worth caring about.  It’s tempting, sometimes, to just go with what’s comfortable and easy; to allow my selfish impulses to rule my decisions, actions, and subsequent worldview created by trying to rein those actions into a coherent worldview of myself as virtuous and awesome.

Knowing and understanding other people is hard, and knowing what we want and what brings us pleasure is easier by comparison. The idea here seems to be that if we can see ourselves as virtuous, reasonable, and productive people then we can take pride in that. It’s not our job, says this Ethic, to account for the reasonableness, production, or pride of others.  That’s their job.  Anyone else who is not succeeding is doing so because they aren’t being reasonable or productive, and so their struggles are their own doing.

Happiness is the successful state of life, suffering is the warning signal of failure, of death.

This is bullshit too

This is bullshit too

That is simply not true.  This is a wonderful example of the just-world fallacy at work.  The world does not, whether by gods, fate, or karma, dish out happiness to the just or not suffering to the unjust.  This delusional belief, which is similar to the ideas behind The Secret and similar worldviews, must be confronted and slapped down as the bullshit it is.  And yet it is all too common a belief that if you work hard and are ethical (no matter the ethic), you will be rewarded.  It’s quite possible you won’t be.  It’s also possible that you will be very happy while making many people around you miserable.  It happens all the time, and it blinds the happy person from the effects of their behavior.  And if said person is predisposed to selfishness and egoism, they are even less-likely to realize it.

All too common.

More John Galt:

“Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction. … Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.”

Pure delusion.  But at least Rand is aware enough to make the following distinction:

If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy; but that which makes you happy, by some undefined emotional standard, is not necessarily the good. To take “whatever makes one happy” as a guide to action means: to be guided by nothing but one’s emotional whims.

The distinction is important, and I’m glad she made it here, otherwise she leaves herself open to the “Nietzschean egoism” she despises.  She’s not stupid; she’s just myopic, oblivious, and obtuse.
Further, she is no mere hedonist;

This is the fallacy inherent in hedonism—in any variant of ethical hedonism, personal or social, individual or collective. “Happiness” can properly be the purpose of ethics, but not the standard.

hedonismI’m also glad she makes this distinction as well, as it is also important.  Happiness, Rand argues, is great as a result but it is not the standard.  The standard is, of course, is life itself (according to Objectivism, anyway).  A happy life is just the reward for living with reason, productivity, and pride.  All bullshit, of course, but at least it’s somewhat internally coherent bullshit.

Perhaps the following is a more clear illustration of the relationship between sacrifice, conflict, and the difference between egoism and altruism.  This quote comes directly after addressing utilitarianism, wherein (according to Rand) the centrality of desire leads to situations where “men have no choice but to hate, fear and fight one another, because their desires and their interests will necessarily clash.”  Desire, says Rand, cannot be the ethical standard.

And if the frustration of any desire constitutes a sacrifice, then a man who owns an automobile and is robbed of it, is being sacrificed, but so is the man who wants or “aspires to” an automobile which the owner refuses to give him—and these two “sacrifices” have equal ethical status. If so, then man’s only choice is to rob or be robbed, to destroy or be destroyed, to sacrifice others to any desire of his own or to sacrifice himself to any desire of others; then man’s only ethical alternative is to be a sadist or a masochist.

The moral cannibalism of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another

OK, that’s interesting.  The idea seems to be that built into the very fabric of altruistic ethical philosophy implies that all desires, whether of the owner or the robber, are indistinguishable, and so equally valid.  As a result, Rand seems to argue, we are all in perpetual conflict and that only by inciting sacrifice can we avoid perpetuating this conflict.

If you believed in a Hobbesian universe where we were all brutes who will try to rob, cheat, and lie to each other for our own benefit (a quite cynical view), enforced altruism might seem a way to get society to work. But what if that was not the motivation for altruism? What if the reason we ask for consideration, compromise, etc are not because we assume humanity is in a perpetual state of conflict?

Image1It’s very possible that a sense of empathy, altruism (in the sense of the willingness and ability to sacrifice some of our desires, not Rand’s caricature), and care can be mapped onto a reasonable and logical moral framework without appealing to this view that leads to either sadism or masochism.  If that were true, then self-sacrifice would not be causally related to conflict, and so we would not have to demonize altruism.  Then, if (like Rand) we were to believe that human interactions are not inherently conflict-based, the solution does not have to be a fundamentally selfish set of values and virtues, whether Objectivist or otherwise.  The solution could also be altruism or some compromise between selfish and selfless values (as most ethical philosophy does).

Choosing selfishness, whether as Rand does via reason, purpose, and self-esteem or otherwise, would then be as valid as any oither attempt to formalize ethics, rather than being objective or the true foundation of ethics, as Rand claims.

If our being reasonable, productive, and proud lead to us being happy (because we deserve it), then why she even worried about whether we are altruistic? Or, is it that her Ethic rids the world of this conflict and the injury. Or perhaps it just ignores it by eliminating selfless acts? If conflict is not inherent to human interaction, then being altruistic is not necessarily self-immolating, and will not lead to any kind of death. It might be unnecessary, but that’s another question than it being evil. I’m having trouble making sense of all that.  So much for internal coherence, I suppose.

In any case, let’s see how Rand deals with some of the implications of being selfish on other people.

[W]hen one speaks of man’s right to exist for his own sake, for his own rational self-interest, most people assume automatically that this means his right to sacrifice others. Such an assumption is a confession of their own belief that to injure, enslave, rob or murder others is in man’s self-interest.

This is obviously a preemption of concerns about Rand’s Ethics implying that since we shouldn’t sacrifice ourselves, it means we simply sacrifice others.  It seems to imply that by doing neither type of sacrifice (of ourselves or others), we are left with neutral parties free to interact without a sense of sacrifice or conflict between them.  Nobody has to sacrifice anything! Sounds great.

But what if the very nature of refusing to give an inch of your interests (or convictions) was inherently sacrificial of not only the interests of others, but ultimately our own interests? Not because the others are moochers or trying to steal from us, but because the very nature of human interaction or communication is already inefficient and requires some level of effort (on both parts) in order to succeed.  The very nature of communication, therefore, would require self-sacrifice.

Let me try to sketch this out.

Communication-TalkCommunication is inherently difficult, but even more so the more different we are. If I am to interact with other people, especially if those people are significantly different from me (whether due to language barriers, psychological differences, temperaments, etc), then that interaction inherently requires some level of work on my part to effectively communicate my proposals, ideas, etc.  So, is this work in my interest? Not always.

When misunderstandings or conflicts do occur (and they will, even among Objectivists), the unwillingness to give up any level of self-interest for the sake of another will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to communicate the specifics of a neutral and mutually beneficial proposal, let alone where there actually is a conflict of interests.

This unwillingness blocks the possibility of understanding points of view not immediately in the Objectivist’s interest, or even ones that might be in their interest but are unknown to them.  But because an Objectivist would be unwilling to extend any “altruistic” effort to understand the interests of other people, they would never learn about the ideas connected to those alien interests.  What’s worse is that they might not even see this as a loss.  Nothing in The Objectivist Ethics would imply otherwise.

If sacrifice for the sake of others is actually evil, then perhaps understanding others might require being evil in some cases. My taking the time to try to empathize, listen, and hopefully understand the interests of others is a sacrifice on my part.  It’s a sacrifice of my time, patience, and cognitive effort to communicate with people who think differently than I.  And if I see this effort as a sacrifice, then Rand might say that putting forth that effort would be bowing to altruistic demands, and therefore not being virtuous.  And the result of this is that I cut myself off from not only potential neutral trade partners, but sets of ideas which are significantly different from my own, which will end up isolating myself from people with diverse perspectives, opinions, and worldviews.
galts-gulch-1Just like with Galt’s Gulch, Objectivism seems to want to isolate itself from the world, effectively impoverishing its access to ideas, people, and experiences which they might learn from if they were not so self-absorbed and against any sort of self-sacrifice.

 

Getting back to Rand’s argument, Rand is asserting that the non-selfish ethical systems (whether utilitarian, Kantian, or full-blown altruism) view the world as full of people ready to take advantage of others and to ask us to sacrifice ourselves as a reaction to that inherent conflict.  Rand does not assume this conflict is necessarily the case but neither do I, who she would have called an altruist, think that this is the case (no, I’m not even that cynical).

Let’s continue with the essay.

The idea that man’s self-interest can be served only by a non-sacrificial relationship with others has never occurred to those humanitarian apostles of unselfishness, who proclaim their desire to achieve the brotherhood of men.

Perhaps it has not occurred to some, but it has occurred to me, at least.  Ayn Rand has set herself up as a sort-of prophet for true ethics, but what she really is doing is demonstrating her ignorance and misunderstanding of ethical philosophy in such spectacular fashion that all I can to is stare, slack-jawed.  And yet this philosophy is revered by so many people!

The great speech of the essay has climaxed, and we head towards resolution.  At this point, we’re past the part of the great speech where the music swells and the lights flicker, and we reach the part where the crowd is hushed and the speaker drops into a lower register, almost whispering so the everyone needs to strain to hear them.  It’s now time for Objectivist pillow-talk.

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims….

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

Nobody expects, accepts, or offers any compromise.  This neutrality is a sort of marketplace of self-interested people who will trade their ideas and products in order to create a non-competitive world, or so Rand thinks.  Not competition.  Not brutish, emotional, covetous desire.

However, when this Objectivism is actually put into practice in life with other people around, it does in fact create a kind of conflict.  The conflict is there, it’s just that this philosophy encourages people to re-define any sign of this conflict as an attempt of moochers and robbers to steal from them in some way, rather than some actual injustice.

Any request or expectation of consideration looks like a demand for the Objectivist to sacrifice their convictions; to give into altruistic morality.  Any request of empathy is a demand for the Objectivist or egoist to sacrifice themselves in some way; a demand to give up what they consider to be virtues. Why should they give up anything, material or conceptual, for your sake? You should do that yourself (they think as they step on your toes, dominate a conversation, or otherwise impose themselves onto the world around them). The logical conclusion of this view of self-sacrifice makes any request of empathy or consideration look like a kind of demand or theft.

In order to operate effectively in the world, however, consideration, empathy, and some level of self-sacrifice is necessary; not merely ethically, but practically as well. Until we are able to transcend the realm of individual interests and dive into intersubjective concerns (where ethics lives), we can’t even consider what I want from, to do, etc other people. In other words, it’s not even possible to have interests related to others until I have some ethically relevant relationship with another person.  I can only do this by sacrificing my immediate interests for the sake of external reality.

But Objectivist Ethics never leaves the realm of individual interests, because it considers doing so “evil”.  Now, actual Objectivists might employ some level of empathy and consideration in their lives, but this would accidental or incidental, rather than inherent to the Ethic. That is, if the Objectivist doesn’t have an inclination towards empathy or consideration already, Objectivism does not encourage this empathy (and actually discourages it), so the Objectivist can feel fine not employing such tools, isolating themselves from people, ideas, and whole sections of cultures.

Objectivism gives us no reason to employ empathy, and even uses reason to imply that being asked to do so is a form of theft.  But without empathy of some kind, communication and understanding are not possible, leaving the non-empathetic Objectivist as indistinguishable from the “Nietzschean Egoist,” who merely does whatever they want.  If Ayn Rand ever employed any kind of empathy, she was only doing so while being a bad Objectivist.

Rand’s claims that her Ethic does not lead to the sacrifice of others is not reasonable given that the unwillingness to empathize does not, in fact, create a neutral relationship.  The difficulty of communication, understanding, etc create an imbalance; not one of tension between owner and potential robber, but simply of comprehension.  Thus, it hurts us all. This is the absurdity of calling any self-sacrifice as evil; avoiding self-sacrifice hurts us all in the long run.

Rand continues:

Only a brute or an altruist would claim that the appreciation of another person’s virtues is an act of selflessness.

Also,

a trader is a man who does not seek to be loved for his weaknesses or flaws, only for his virtues, and who does not grant his love to the weaknesses or the flaws of others, only to their virtues.

In other words, we don’t love someone despite their flaws.  We love them when they don’t have any, or at least we love them insofar as their virtues overshadow their flaws.  That may sound good to you, but I would caution you against falling into a trap of privilege here; many of us struggle with aspects of ourselves that make our virtue harder to act on.

I’m not convinced that reason, productivity, and pride are sufficient to create a person of virtue.  Is there no room for depression and its side-effects in virtue, where one might struggle with pride? What about economic factors that hold many people back from production? Are they not allowed to be loved or considered virtuous? What about a person whose reason is handicapped, at times or chronically,by either emotional disorders or simple cognitive inability? Do they get no love?

57596-49806The worry here is that a person who wants to adopt this view will either be the type of person who is blind to their own faults (narcissists, for example) or who exist in such a bubble of privilege that they are deluded into thinking that they actually earned their success and happiness without the sacrifice of others around them.   This view, therefore, is in tension with social justice insofar as economic and neuro-typical privilege (at least) is concerned.  It seeks to pump up the already privileged, stigmatize the non-privileged, and to rationalize it all as “reasonable.”

But the line between reason and whim, as I discussed previously, is but a neuron or two away and all too often we are incapable of distinguishing them, especially when privilege takes its toll on us.  I do not believe that Ayn Rand, or her followers, are any more reasonable than utilitarians, Kantians, or even those who follow the ethics of care (for example).  I think they think they’re more reasonable, but we have Dunning-Kruger for that. But, of course, knowing you are subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect requires a certain level of self-awareness, attention, and care towards others.  People prone to follow Ayn Rand have little of those qualities, in my experience.

And yet, they speak of love, human society, and the trade of knowledge and potential.  However, Rand speaks of these things as things to be earned solely, and those “moochers” and other parasites cannot live in a rational, loving, cooperating society.  It all sounds great, especially to Objectivist ears, but it’s an ideology which is startlingly ignorant of the nature of knowledge, intelligence, and the complexities of power and privilege.

But, what of government?

The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence—to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit of his own happiness. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

And while Rand does not deal with the politics of Objectivism here (the answer is Capitalism; “full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism”), I’m glad she’s for the separation of church and state, at least.

In a sort of summation, she offers this:

I have presented the barest essentials of my system, but they are sufficient to indicate in what manner the Objectivist ethics is the morality of life—as against the three major schools of ethical theory, the mystic, the social, the subjective, which have brought the world to its present state and which represent the morality of death.

And then, following some more analysis of each school of ethical theory, she says that

It is not men’s immorality that is responsible for the collapse now threatening to destroy the civilized world, but the kind of moralities men have been asked to practice.

And then she ends by quoting John Galt (AKA herself) once more.

“You have been using fear as your weapon and have been bringing death to man as his punishment for rejecting your morality. We offer him life as his reward for accepting ours.”

However, the life that is offered is one infested with myopia, privilege, and an impoverishment of understanding of anything not immediately self-interested.  This is a philosophy not built upon reason, but of rationalized selfish whims.

ayn-rand-paul-ryanSmart people are really good at rationalizing their whims and making themselves think they are being reasonable.  Ayn Rand was a smart woman who found a way to not only do so for herself, but created a worldview that still resonates with millions of people.  If you look for them, you will find real places called Galt’s Gulch, and the influence of some of Rand’s ideas are still quite popular in political spheres, specifically for Rand Paul and many others within the Tea Party.

This essay demonstrates a sophomoric ethical philosophy, hardly worth serious attention except for its continuing influence.  But there is more book to go (18 chapters, in fact), so we still have a way to go.  Future posts will be shorter, as I will try not to address the same points.

I might need a day or two to recover, however.

 

 

 

An unchallenged value is not worth much; or why your values might be wrong December 11, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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4 comments

In recent weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the question of the relativity of values.  What do we value? Why do we value those things rather than other things? Might we be more content, happy, or more mature if we were to value other things? Can we change what we value? What the hell are “values”?

Today, I want to sketch out a rough analogy which may pave the road for future posts (or not, if the analogy breaks down or if it just ends up being a stupid idea).

[Also, apparently I was thinking about this last December.]

 

The Analogy of Tastes and Values

In order for our bodies to function, we need to eat food.  But the kind of food we eat, how much of it we eat, and how often we eat it will have an effect on the efficiency of that functioning, the body such a diet will maintain, and will effect our general mood and ability to accomplish various tasks.

In order for our brain to function as a contributor to our personality as part of a social landscape, it needs information.  The kind of information it receives (especially early in its development) and how (and how often) we exercise it will influence what kind of mind we have.  It will effect how we react to new or old information, what we believe about the world, and what we value.

In terms of our diet and our health, what we want to eat (both what we merely desire and what we think we should eat) is our set of tastes.

In terms of our worldview and moral inclinations, what we think and feel (both what we are inclined to and what we think we should believe and think right) is our set of values.

 

Desires and Wants

I want to make clear the distinction between what we unwillfully desire and what we want.  If I see a piece of chocolate (especially dark chocolate), I desire it.  My mind is inclined towards eating it, and it is by act of will (free or not) that I either eat it or I do not.  My set of beliefs, values, etc will be responsible for that decision.

In terms of values, there is also a difference between my unconscious, automatic reaction to information and my conscious deliberation about information with emotional content.  It is unconscious and automatic that I feel annoyance, even disgust, when seeing an obvious injustice perpetrated by someone against others (an unequal set of behaviors based upon a logical contradiction, for example; a violation of Kant’s categorical imperative as one rationalized example).  But there is a difference between that feeling of annoyance or disgust and my subsequent deliberation about that behavior.  I, for example, have a visceral feeling of annoyance, sometimes leaning on anger, at seeing some level of clutter (especially if ignored for some time).  But rather than start Hulk-smashing (which just creates more clutter) I take a deep breath and remind myself that this anger is not rational;  that I can either clean it, ask the person responsible to be aware of this emotional response I have and request they clean it, or I can distract myself with another task or activity (and hope it will be remedied in the mean time).

That is, what I desire to do when seeing clutter is to express my anger at the person responsible (a symptom of my personality disorder), but what I want to do is motivate my behavior towards healthier solutions, with the long term goal of correcting the automatic reaction to doing those more pragmatic solutions.  I do not merely bow to my destructive desires, but try and re-orient my emotional reactions to something healthier, and over time it works with diligent effort.  It has become essential and necessary for me to do this every day, and sometimes it’s easier than other times.

Similarly, what I desire is to eat salty snacks, chocolate/ peanut butter, and low fat wheat thins ( much better than the regular ones, IMO) while drinking a couple of delicious beers.  I desire sweet, salty, (low) fatty foods all the time, but what I actually eat is much more healthy and I feel better because my wants govern my desires.  They don’t repress or stifle them, but I feel that mitigating the effect of my desires is wise.

 

Authenticity

There are things that we desire and want.  There are also social structures around us, with many competing (and sometimes harmonizing) ideas about how we should behave.  Some of those ideas tell us to repress or even eliminate certain desires, because those desires are wrong.

But I think that we need to accept our desires as a given, and decide how we want to act while 1) not pretending those desires don’t exist 2) trying to find a way to express these desires in ways which do not non-consensually harm others and 3) not allowing those desires to consume our life such that we ignore what else we care about.  These guidelines can be applied to conservative religious repression of homosexuality, social stigmatization of our innate sluttiness, or even the use of drugs (including alcohol).  If you are gay, bisexual, or asexual, then you should find the ways you want to express those sexual inclinations.  If you are slut, then you should be a slut. If you like a drug, then if you can do it without it being destructive to the world around you, then do it.

In short, we need to start deciding how to behave, what to believe, and what to value by being authentic.  We cannot ignore the truth, even if we don’t like the truth.  Because in many cases, the part of us that doesn’t like the truth is a part of us that is either broken or was imposed by an exterior idea (such as conservative moral views).  We should care about what is true about our desires, and form our wants based upon those truths.

 

In Case Your Values are Wrong

If you find yourself living in such a way where you have desires which are unrealized, then you need to ask yourself why they are unrealized.  If you go to church regularly and find yourself plagued by skeptical questions in response to what a religious authority says, then you might need to seek out alternative views.  If you are in a monoamorous relationship but find yourself attracted to others, and even thinking about acting on those desires, then you might need to reconsider how you think about sex and relationships and consider some sort of nonmonogamy.  If you can’t just have a couple of drinks, are getting high every day, or even if you never tried getting high but are curious about it but have always been afraid, then you might want to reconsider your association with those things.

There are diets which are good for us, others which are not.  There are values which are good or us, and those which are not.  How do you know that your values, your emotional relationship to the world, are the best set of values for your inclinations?  And even if they are, have you considered if they are damaging to people around you? (That is, are they moral values, rather than Randian selfish values?).  Do you even care if your values affect other people in ways they don’t want? Also, if they do affect others in ways they don’t want, are their current values, with which yours currently conflict, wrong? If their values are wrong, how can you demonstrate this to them in a way that will not result in them being defensive, yelling at you, or punching you?

What’s more important; standing for the right values knowing that they might actually be ultimately wrong, even if they are better relative to other value sets) or respecting all potential values (even the obviously wrong ones)?  Assuredness or accommodation? (some might call it “temerity or tolerance?”, but that’s simply the other side of the coin).

I don’t have an answer to that question which everyone will accept, or even one that convinces myself all the time.  My inclinations, my desires, often tell me to stand convicted to what I value, because those values are best. But what I want is to actually have the best values, which requires a certain level of uncertainty and skepticism.  I must perpetually challenge my values the way I challenge my beliefs, and thus my certainty about my values is proportional to the amount of beating those values take from challenges both external and internal.  An unchallenged value is not worth much, yet an unchallenged value is worth everything to its owner.

That is, we should be skeptical not only about facts, but also values.  I, along with people such as Hilary Putnam and (seemingly) Sam Harris, think that the qualitative distinction between facts and values is dubious.  Therefore, I also think that the common moral distinction made in our culture between criticizing a person’s facts and criticizing their values is dubious.  I do think that criticizing a person’s values is a harder task to do well, especially if we care about their likely defensive reactions, but it is not an invalid criticism.   There is no logical contradiction to pointing out that values can be wrong, at least in the sense of not matching up with reality and what might provide optimal well-being, emotional maturity, and authenticity.  People are too often attached to their values (as well as their facts), and this should not be accommodated.

In a similar way that what we want to eat (in terms of our health) is something that is subject to criticism, what we value (in terms of being a fully realized and authentic person) is subject to potential criticism.  If you tell me that I cannot tell you what to value, I will nod in agreement with the fact that I cannot force values on you, but that I can tell you that your values may be wrong.

 

 

Truthiness of religion December 9, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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3 comments

New atheists.  That is what we are called by some.  I find the label somewhat misguided, but I understand why it is applied.

Many people are not used to hearing about atheism, challenges to faith, etc. It is new to them.  They may know atheists, and likely do not know that those people are atheists, but they may know that they don’t attend a church or participate in any faith.  Many people, atheists included (but don’t call them that!) prefer a reverential approach to their believing neighbors.  They don’t bring it up because they don’t really care or they find it distasteful.

And so when they see us, the “new atheists,”TM they view our criticism and challenges as overly aggressive in our tone and approach.  They view these aggressive tactics as hurting our cause in society by pushing people away rather than trying to be their friends.  I don’t see evidence for this harm.  I see theists becoming defensive because they are not used to the criticism.  I see their coddled status being taken away, and they don’t like it.

Too bad.

Why shouldn’t we be critical? Religion does cause harm.  Faith, belief without or in spite of evidence to the contrary, is largely responsible for the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific fervor that exists in various cultures, particularly our own American culture.

But those faitheists and accomodationists will continue to claim that religion is good in many ways and that we are being too harsh in denouncing religion wholesale.  I agree.  I think that there are aspects of religion and religious culture that are good.  Religion can be good; it helps people in need, supplies hope, and it provides a basis for teaching morality. Or at least one kind of morality or another.

Yes, religion can do these things, but I see no reason why only religion of faith can do these things.  A religion of faith? Why add that qualifier, you may ask.  Well, first of all not all religious people necessarily have faith, depending on your definition of faith.  Further, not all people that have faith necessarily have a religion.  Religion is…well, religion is complicated.  I will not try to define this term here, but I want to address it in a tangential way.

The Religious Instinct

There are sets of emotions, behaviors, and dispositions that tend towards ‘religious’ behavior.  It can include rituals, music, states of mind, etc.  But this is an expression of a more general psychological disposition that we all, or at least the vast majority of us, share.  It is expressed through music, poetry, the fine arts, and perhaps even philosophy.  It is an expression of those experiences internal to each of us that feels like it is coming from somewhere…else.

It is sublime, beautiful, and it has its own subtle rules and constraints that we can apprehend in rarer states of mind.  When one is enthralled in an ecstatic moment, there is a kind of flowing of emotion, meaning, and beauty that seems to transcend us.  It doesn’t actually transcend us, but it gives the sensation of transcendence.

As a writer, I know this well.  There are time when, in writing, I find myself almost transported and feel as if the words are coming through me, as if I were but a conduit for some ideas.  I understand the concept of inspiration.  I know why people think that God works through them because I feel that experience myself.

So, why am I an atheist then?

What I look like while inspired

Well, because when I’m in that state of mind, I’m being creative.  I’m using natural tools of my brain to create, understand, and communicate.  I am not being methodical, careful, nor remotely scientific.  That is, I am not concerned with what is true in these moments, even if at some of these moments I may get the delusional idea that there is more truth there than in cold, rational, analysis.

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty?

There is a sense where the moments of beauty and poetry that overcome me seem to reveal a kind of truth.  It feels as if the universe has opened up to me and given me a slice of something that my rational mind was unable to find.  And sometimes, upon further reflection, I find that it may have found a bit of truth before unseen.  But that is the important part of that; upon further reflection.

Because how many times have ideas or thoughts from inspiration turned out to be duds? Most of the time, some if the time? Always? I suppose it depends.  But it is upon sober, rational reflection that we will find whether or not the moment of inspiration has given us gold.  The reason is that there is a difference in approach.  The moments of beauty, sublimity, and transcendence are the result of our brain doing what it does, not as it can be trained to do.

And I’m glad that this part of our minds exist because it is from these ecstasies and sublimities that we create.  Not discover, elucidate, or comprehend, but create.

The aspects of our minds that find revelation,  communicate with the spirits, or attain a slice of heaven are the same parts that write novels, create sculpture, and write poetry.  In this mode of thought there is a freedom of form, expression, and a lack of criticism.  Yes, that’s it; a lack of criticism!

Not that we can’t look at two creations and judge one or the other more or less beautiful (or at least argue about why we think one is more beautiful), but that one looked on its own not criticized in relation to the world, generally.  It is not pointed at and said that the thing does not appear to be like anything else that is real.  A sculpture of a dragon is not looked at and scolded for not representing a real animal.  A poet is not criticized for not representing a real conversation or speech.  A theologian is not criticized for not representing the universe as it really is.  That’s not the point, right?

Well, if you talk to Karen Armstrong, you may get such a response.  But the fact is that theologians, most of them anyway, do claim that they are describing reality. They are not merely creating, they claim.  They are talking about not only truth, but Truth.

But where do these truths come from? Revelation, communion with a deity, book (which ultimately go back to revelation or some claimed historical event), etc.  They come from the mind, and many of them from ancient minds not trained in the meticulous rational skills which would be necessary to analyze these experiences.

When theologians tackle these issues, whether today or the ancient theologians that dealt with these religious beliefs, they only apply rational thinking to keep the stories internally consistent while forgetting that the person who first experienced the idea was as fallible as you or I in determining truth from these internal experiences of ecstacy and transcendence.

Method

If we want to discover what is real, we need to be meticulous.  We need to check assumptions, use empirical methods, and try to devise a way to prove our idea wrong.  And so long as we cannot prove it wrong and the evidence supports the idea, then we provisionally hold our hypothesis as true.  The longer it withstands scrutiny, the more it becomes a theory.  Not just some guess or inspiration, but an idea that stands up against attempts to knock it down.  In other words, we need to use the scientific method.

Does this sound like what poets do? How about novelists? How about theologians? ‘Well, of course not,’ they will say.  ‘These things are not subject to empirical study.’  Really? Why not? ‘Well, it takes away from the beauty; science cannot explain beauty.’

Perhaps not.  Or perhaps it can.  That is not what is at issue.  What is at issue is that our minds are capable of different kinds of thought.  Some of our mental capabilities provide for us this ‘religious instinct’ that we are all familiar with to some extent.  But this instinct is part of our creativity, and is only tangentially helpful in a pursuit of truth. Our creative powers may, occasionally, provide us with insights into a new way of thinking about a problem, but once we have the idea we must switch to using our learned critical skills on to test the idea.   We cannot just dream and create answers to real world problems, we have to criticize them.

Our creative powers which provide us with the transcendent experiences, sublime emotions, and inspiring ideas are a great tool for the creative process, but not for attaining truth.  If we want to know what is real, we need to be critical, meticulous. and scientific.

Religion claims to have truth; it claims it knows something about what is real.  By being critical of those claims and the methods by which those claims are attained, atheists (‘new’ or not) are not being disrespectful.  Anyone who claims to have the truth and who subsequently calls criticism of their methods or conclusions disrespectful is either insecure about their position or does not understand how to think critically.

In many cases, it is both.

So yes, the parts of our mind that religion uses; the creative, transcendent, and sublime aspects of us that supply us with beauty, love, and all of those wonderful things are great.  So, if that is all that religion is, then there is not much of an argument.  That is, if the vague and meaningless God of theologians like Karen Armstrong is all that religion provides–a thing that need not even exist to be important–then religion is simply a nice story with which I can have little quarrel.

But if religion also deals with what is true, at least in the same use of ‘true’ as we mean when we say something is real, then criticism is warranted.  I may find many aspects of religious practices to be beautiful, but I don’t think they are true.  And that is what is at issue.  If those artistic expressions that come from creative people–mythology, morality stories, and the like–are not intended to be literally true, then they are just stories we can enjoy on their own merit.  But this is not the case.  Christianity, Islam, etc are believed to be actually true and real, not just stories.

Anything that is proposed as the truth in society of culture is open for criticism.  To actually step forward and do so is the responsibility of a citizen who cares about the truth, reality, etc.  To postulate a story about the universe as true and then remove it from the realm of critical analysis, or to not at least try to validate it oneself while having faith in it is not strength nor reverent behavior, but weakness.

Allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by stories birthed in the ecstatic moments of artistic creativity and then to claim it to be true is not clear thinking.  We need to train ourselves to be better thinkers and to accept criticism or to get used to feeling disrespected.

Respect is not warranted when art is presented as truth.  The truth, as the Vorlons say, points to itself.  It does not need us to create it.

Growth: the result of challenged insecurities and fears February 18, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

The longer we go in not challenging ourselves and others, the longer we will continue to live in a world that will crawling towards progress.

We are weak, insecure, fearful, and habitual people. I speak primarily of Americans, because that’s the culture I live in, but I think it is true everywhere to some extent. We are afraid of challenging the mythological assumptions of the world around us. Most believe that faith is good, monogamy is the default, and that success is more important than integrity. We believe these things because the structure of the culture that dominates the world is populated by people that were taught these things and perpetuate these things. Thus, in some perverted sense, they are practically true because they are tradition.

But what is the basis for these beliefs? How many times have I heard that to not believe in something, to simply believe that the world in blind processes without the faith in a god, some paradise, or at least some ultimate meaning, then life is not worth living. Fucking bullshit.

People believe such things because they have never challenged themselves to actually think about this seriously. People are emotionally attached to their beliefs, and so their is a kind of pain when some fact, idea, etc comes to mind that contradicts their worldview. More common is the cognitive dissonance that arises in people who accept contradictory ideas.

Then there are the insecure, lazy, and ignorant hypocrites of the world;

Sunday Christians (those that really are only god-fearing at church, and otherwise don’t give a rats ass except when they meet an atheist). You have never really challenged yourself to figure out what you might really believe if you looked at the claims of your religion. You rely on the support group of the others around you (many of which are using you for the same thing), and have probably never even read your holy book.

Monogamous couples who cheat. You know very well that you want more people in your life sexually, and most even still love their spouses. Yet when you are asked what is wrong with polyamory you say it’s wrong, unnatural, or “not for me.” When you say it’s not for you, you mean its not for your partner, or that you don’t have the guts to open yourself up to the jealousy and insecurity that come with thinking about sharing yourself and your loved ones. Yes, there are some people who just make poor choices and really aren’t into being poly, but I think that a lot more of you out there are just scared, insecure, and fearful of the concept of you not being enough for someone else.

The worst part is that we don’t talk about these things. Religion and politics. Ok, sex too, at least insofar as challenging the fantasy of the soul-mate or the “one for me” mythology; the things that we are not supposed to talk about. Bullshit. The only reason that is true is because when we do, we expose the insecurities and fears of those that refuse to challenge themselves. We tell ourselves that we do it out of respect, but respect for what; Insecurity and fear?

Stop allowing your fears, as well as the fears of those around you, from preventing these discussions. Challenging the worldviews of people we disagree with (hopefully after honestly considering your own position), is how we can help our culture grow out of this insecure and fear-ridden infancy.

Grow up, and help the world around you grow up.