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Yelling at Each Other Through Trees April 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

But, back to nobody being right….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What to do?

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

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

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

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

I’m not optimistic.

How the Bush years foreshadowed the Trump years February 13, 2019

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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Back in the George W. Bush years, and as a person very active in the atheist community, I took note of how the GOP and the conservative Christian world continued to be wedded. And, today, the same thing is true of Trump world, and it’s just more of the same. Well, more terrifying.

There was a time, well before my time, when the GOP was a quite different party. Remember, this party was originally the party of Lincoln, and while it certainly was never ideal (as if any group of people could be), it was a laudable party which managed to defend the Union during a crisis which almost tore the nation apart.

Although, in some senses, it did. Because here we are, a country divided, and the points of division are, in many ways, historically connected to the ones that had us shooting at each other a century and a half ago. There are reasons why a lot of Trump supporters wave the rebel flag, after all.

 

The Bush Years

I did a lot of protesting, reading, and some writing about the growing alliance between the GOP and the evangelical Christian world which became more and more obvious after September 11th, 2001. At the time, most “liberals” (the term “progressive” had not caught on yet, if I recall correctly) thought that George W. Bush was the dumbest, most embarrassing, and most damaging president America could have had. His administration was highly problematic for many reasons, but the Christians loved him.

He was one of them, after all.

Super-patriotic and conservative Christian jingoism started to appear in popular political narratives in a way that most Americans had not ever seen before. The existing culture wars ramped up to a degree that we had not seen before. We didn’t think it could get much worse. We thought that our nation was on the brink of collapse. The Christians thought it was because of the impending apocalypse, and other people foresaw endless wars which would leave America a wasteland.

We were so naïve…

Back in 2006, there was a series of events called “Battle Cry” which were run by a Christian organization called Teen Mania Ministries (which closed in 2015). They would rent out large stadiums where thousands of Christians would listen to bad Christian rock, patriotic music and images would be everywhere, and a message warning their audience about the dangers of secular media, culture, etc. And, as I observed in an article I published in a local Communist newspaper at the time, and later published at the Rational Response Squad (and which I host a copy of here), it really came across as a way for hungry Christian media to deal with its secular competition.

In other words, it was a way to control where such largely white, evangelical, suburban/rural, conservative, middle class people got their information, and to make sure it was from the Christian media, artists, etc. 

Is this starting to sound familiar?

 

Building the Base for an Alternative

I don’t have any data to support this idea, but I think that a lot of the teenagers I saw at this event (I attended the one in Philadelphia, upon invitation from the organizers), as well as their parents who drove them to it, are predominantly Trump supporters today.

Ron Luce, the organizer of these events, saw his purpose as influencing a generation. In other words, he wanted to create a generation of people who would get their information from wholesome, Christian, and patriotic sources. His book talks all about this. In other words, many evangelical leaders, associated with conservative causes and therefore the GOP, have been making a concerted effort to groom a generation or two of Americans to ignore a large segment of media sources in order to control the narrative that those people hear.

In the case of the Bush years, it was the “secular media” and it’s demonic influence on our children (“won’t somebody please think of the children!”). Ron Luce and his organizations, including these Battle Cry events of 2006 (which were only a few of many similar efforts in American culture at the time) were a way to advertise the various Christian alternatives to music, news, and other sources of entertainment and information.

From the episode of South park called “Christian Rock Hard”, we see Cartman being awful, but simultaneously demonstrating something true; a lot of Christian music is just stealing from the secular alternatives, and that Christians would figure this out and make a lot of money from it in America.

What’s worse is that their offerings were a pale alternative, blithely and badly copied in form but not in content in order to be “righteous” and godly.  Just think about how much Christian music is a lot like secular music. In the South Park episode referred to above, the plot is lampooning the fact that changing love song lyrics to say “Jesus” rather than “baby” or whetever was how Christian music worked, in many cases. But so long as the kids were listening to that, and not the devil’s music, then they might not be tempted by Satan.

The fact that the Christian marketing companies had a bunch of things to sell them and which were present at such events was, well, just convenient I guess.

Seth Andrews has talked about this as well:

 

It’s a brilliant strategy, from a marketing point of view, and it largely worked. There is a whole alternative universe which Christian kids grew up in which has a lot of parallels to the one I grew up in, but it’s isolated and insulated enough to keep the home-schooled evangelicals pretty ignorant, at least until they reach the outside world. I’ve met many of these people who grew up in said environments, even dated a couple of them after they escaped.

What this creates is a template for creating quite distinct sub-cultures, fed by very different sets of media, worldviews, and even facts.

And since those years we have seen the division of where Americans get their information widen, until we get to the last few years which will likely be known, to historians, as…

The Trump Years

You know, the age of “alternative facts.”

For decades, conservative radio, the evangelical Christian sub-culture, and many conspiracy-theory laced sources have been cultivating more rural, conservative, and largely older people to distrust the admittedly problematic corporate and mainstream sources of news and entertainment which dominated places like where I grew up.

As the internet grew, there were all sorts of weird corners for such people to gather, and as they started to coalesce, meet, and work together, some realized that there was a market here. Hence such people as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Alex Jones became household names. There is an impulse and maybe even an instinct that such people, and their messages, link onto in an unskeptical and uncritical mind.

So, you know how The Daily Show, back when it was hosted by Jon Stewart, spent years making fun of Fox News and other conservative outlets of information? You know how it lead to a spinoff of Stephen Colbert, for 9 years, mocking Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly? And you know how conservatives totally watched those shows, and subsequently became self-aware that they were being duped?

Yeah, that last part probably isn’t true. But we libtards surely got a kick out of laughing at them dupes. I wonder why they are mad at us….

And you know how it seems like people who hate trump and people who love trump seem to get their information from different universes? It’s almost like there has been a concerted, overtly-stated, effort to get conservatives who lean towards the evangelical side of the culture to learn how to ignore a large swath of sources (whether “secular” in the Bush years or “mainstream” later on) in favor of trusted, reliable, “fair and balanced” sources? Or, you know, to resent those mainstream and liberal sources for laughing at them all the time and feeling elite about it all?

It really seems as if a large segment of American culture has been groomed to be controlled and manipulated, while being told it was everyone else who was being manipulated. It’s a classic technique used by abusers of all sorts, to control the narrative and point at other people for doing what they, themselves, are doing (even if they aren’t aware they are doing so). Many of my family who are conservative consider me to be the one who is brainwashed. Perhaps you think so too. 

If you do, I don’t think you know me very well. 

And, as many of us in the atheist community used to try to argue (before we were distracted by rifts related to feminism and such), it’s the tools of religion; faith, sacredness, righteousness, etc which are at fault. Wielded by the right people, these tools are great at controlling large amounts of people, as the history of religion has taught us. And over the last few decades, conservative Christians have had a lot of practice honing their skills at utilizing marketing techniques and religion to influence politics and culture. And here we are, now, in a world where Donald Trump is considered, by many evangelicals, to be sent by God to lead us through these times. 

The Battle Cry seems to have worked. Ron Luce’s efforts seem to have come to fruition. Congratulations, I guess, but I still feel a little like crying.

I cannot prove that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between these movements during the Bush years and now, but it seems a reasonable line of argument to entertain, and it fits in so many ways. It exemplifies what is worst about the religious instincts:

  • Tribalism: in-group/out-group separation of people. (whether it be Christians/sinners or MAGAheads/”Libtard cucks”)
  • The preference for sacred or trusted sources of information while simultaneously shunning other, contradictory, sources (whether it be the Bible/secularism or Fox News etc/”lamestream media”)
  • the cult-like defense of and adoration of a central figure (whether Jesus or The Donald)
  • The lack of ACTUAL skepticism, as opposed to lip service to rationality. If you’ve ever read “sophisticated theology,” then you know what rationalization looks like, as opposed to rationality, logic, and skeptical analysis. Similarly, if you’ve ever talked to a Trump supporter use logic, you know what I mean, as well.

 

Where we are in history, right now as Americans, cannot be a surprise if we look back at the culture in which we have lived. And to the people out there who didn’t, and perhaps still don’t, see the effect that faith and religious conviction is having our culture, and how it will continue to effect our politics and history, then all I say is you are probably helping it to repeat, or at least rhyme, in the future. In other words, your respect for religious traditions in the face of their harm is fucking us over.

Please, more skepticism. Those teenagers at Battle Cry 13 years ago are now adults. And insofar as the efforts of people like Ron Luce and the many other Christian organizations who saw an opportunity to drive a wedge between people and a secular, rational, and potentially better future were successful in their efforts, we now have a significant percentage of people who unfailingly support this historical disaster.

I overhear Trump supporters often. They are not cartoonishly evil or stupid people. They are just convinced they are right, like everyone else, and are largely uninterested or unimpressed by what other sources say, because they think they already understand. This is one of the reasons when I hear anyone, especially myself, sounding self-righteous or overly certain, I’m skeptical. This is one of the reasons I am critical of even people on “my” side, because I don’t want to be part of a tribe in the same way.

I want to make sure I’m not subject to the groupthink that takes over groups, so I’m critical of people I’m allied with.

It’s easy to mock creationists, flat-Earthers, or people who believe that the reptilians control the world. But what if the people in your tribe start talking about how dangerous vaccinations are or how the new lady congresspeople are all stupid feminazi drones?

And remember, even if Trump is impeached, we still have to deal with Mike Pence. 

Let’s stop this historical rhyming, already.

 

Liberal elites and Rural White America: a failure to understand or a failure of skepticism? November 16, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Religion.
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The internet is ablaze with various opinions as to whether the lessons that the DNC, and liberal America in general, need to learn is that we don’t understand the struggles and anger of most of America or whether it’s something else entirely. I’ve been sort of moping about trying to make sense of this, and then today something snapped into place, for me.

Now, in some sense I cannot answer this question on my own. I am a life-long East coast liberal elite, and so I’m looking at this through that lens. I am (over-)educated, I’m economically comfortable, I’m a progressive, and I’m privileged as fuck. But what I can do is tease out some complicated questions which are colored by some issues with which I have ample experience and understanding.

White American Christianity, Dominionism, and lack of critical thinking skills are a huge (yuge?) part of this story, and we cannot afford to lose sight of that while ruminating about what to learn from the US election of 2016. From fake news articles spread via social media, the conspiracy theories thrown about by conservative media for decades (including Trump’s chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, who worked with Breitbart.com), to the theocratic fear spread by Christianity since the 1960’s here in America, this past election cycle was a perfect storm of un-skeptical bullshit, perpetuated by a con-man and picked up by millions of American idiots all over the country.

Let’s start here. Read this post by Forsetti:

On Rural America: Understanding Isn’t The Problem

No, seriously, go read the post now. I don’t have to wait for you, but this perspective is what compelled me to write today. It was this article which sparked something to snap in place in my head.

If you didn’t read the post, (because I know you most-likely didn’t) here’s the conclusion, for context:

What I understand is rural, Christian, white America is entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems, don’t trust people outside their tribe, have been force fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades, are unwilling to understand their own situations, truly believe whites are superior to all races.  No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe.  No amount of niceties is going to get them to be introspective.  No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them.  I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well.  I understand their fears are based on myths and lies.  I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to.  I understand they are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more.  I understand their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians.  I understand them.  I understand they are the problem with progress and will always be because their belief systems are constructed against it.  The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by “coastal elites” of rural, Christian, white America.  The problem is a lack of understanding why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.

Them be some strong words, and they fly in the face of the narrative which I have seen dominate the liberal blogosphere, social media, etc in the last week. You know, the idea that Hilary Clinton didn’t win because she and the rest of the DNC have failed to understand the plight, fears, and anger of the parts of America which are not the metropolitan, elite, largely-coastal parts of the United States. That if only the elite Hillary campaign could have reached out better, addressed more of the concerns that many Americans have, and stopped being so damned arrogant and dismissive then perhaps Trump’s America would not be so opposed to the messages of those of us who want an inclusive, open, and diverse culture.

And maybe Donald Trump could not have rose to the power he so very much craves, and which threatens the future of so many.

It’s a compelling story.  It strokes the introspective and self-deprecating nature of most liberals and progressives. But isn’t that the very problem? Don’t we, liberal, educated, elites who live mostly in larger towns and cities, spend too much damned time making sure we are being understanding and respectful of those who don’t see the world the way we do? Are we too introspective and self-deprecating? Aren’t we failing in the very same way we failed in the George “Dubya” Bush era?

OK, let me breathe here, for a second, and spend a few moments reflecting on that message. For me, the strongest case made for the view that we didn’t sufficiently understand Trump’s America, written by Emmett Rensin several months ago (long before the election or nomination of trump) and which has been making the rounds recently, is the following article:

The Smug Style in American Liberalism

TL;DR:

Here’s the conclusion I draw: If Donald Trump has a chance in November, it is because the knowing will dictate our strategy. Unable to countenance the real causes of their collapse, they will comfort with own impotence by shouting, “Idiots!” again and again, angrier and angrier, the handmaidens of their own destruction.

The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.

 

In other words, we, smug elites will look down upon the rural, angry, and politically powerful (we know now) people but fail to understand them. And it’s true; I do not understand their perspective very well because I’ve never lived it. But I have been arguing, for years, that the tribalism, religious ignorance, and unwillingness to look past one’s own bubble is the cause of people’s continuing religiosity (in this case, white Christian privilege), conservative attitudes about relationships (default monogamy), sexuality (hetero-normativity) and the pervasiveness of gender binary among other staples of the conservative worldview underlying Trump’s message.

I have been arguing, for years, that conservatism (especially the Alt-Right) is anchored in fear, tribalism, and lack of understanding. I’ve seen, from the point of view of a polyamorous, atheist, skeptic, that the lenses through which most of our culture sees the world are skewed and built out of a lack of understanding. So yes, I live in a sort-of bubble, but that bubble is one mostly of privilege and the comfort that comes along with that; the world I live in is safe to be abnormal and marginalization is less severe here. But I do understand that ignorance and fear exist and informs worldviews–and I know what those worldviews are because I have seen pockets of them even here, and I make a point of listening to them when they aren’t.

But do those people in conservative rural America understand my perspective? Hundreds of conversations, over my lifetime, about religion imply that the majority of our culture does not understand the nature of their own religion, let alone other religions or atheism.  Similar conversations about relationships and sexuality indicate that most people have never really questioned why they are monogamous or why they are afraid of homosexuality/bisexuality in many cases. And most of the conversations I’ve ever had imply that basic skeptical attitudes are foreign to the majority of people, everywhere.

So, is the problem a lack of understanding? Yes. But I think that the majority of the lack of understanding does not come from those of us who are elite (but yes, some of it does). I believe the lion’s share of that lack of understanding comes from the people who do not understand how their own worldview, beliefs, and anger fits into the larger set of ideas about the world. Whether ignorance, fear, or simple inability to comprehend are responsible, the simple fact is that the majority of people do not understand the arguments of the elite communities everywhere. The privilege of a good education, including the skills of skepticism and doubt, supply some people with a greater understanding of the world around us. And cosmopolitanism provides an environment for that to exist, where rural areas tend to stifle it.

Those of us able to see that Donald Trump is a con man, unprepared for his role are POTUS, and a representation of almost everything wrong with our culture were screaming, for months, how dangerous he is. And a significant number, about half of those who voted, could not understand that. Or didn’t care. Or weren’t paying sufficient attention. I’m not sure which of those is worse than the others, but they are all bad.  This was the wrong time for an establishment candidate, so people were tired of it all and either protested at the ballots or stayed home on election day. They failed to understand how bad Trump’s candidacy was. And so we will all be forced to deal with the consequences of that ignorance, apathy, or deplorablility.

Fuck.

 

The Future

But let’s not forget that there is something to take away from Emmett Rensin’s article. Our reaction cannot simply be to call them idiots, morons, ignoramuses, etc and then go about sitting in our comfortable shells, feeling superior, with our “Good Facts,” feeling smug. No, we need to organize, reach out, and at least try to improve education, filter out poor sources of news and opinion (I’m looking at you, social media), and actually do the work to raise the level of dialog in our culture.

You know, like the good parts of the skeptic/atheist movement has been trying to do for years.

The time for blame is past, and now is the time for action. If we want our dialogue to change, so that our culture can change, and so our politics can change, then we need to do a lot of hard work.

We, skeptics and atheists, have been honing these skills for a long time now. Well, some of us have (I’m looking at you MRAs; You are part of Trumps’ America). Now we need to start utilizing those tools in wider circles. We need, in our culture right now, a serious injection of skepticism, curiosity, and (perhaps most of all) empathy and patience.

Because wherever the truth is, introspection, skepticism, and communication will dig it up. Not bigotry and fear.

 

Fight Club, Mr. Robot, and why Trump is a thing November 2, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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I just watched Fight Club for the first time in many years. I forgot so much. I forgot how much I liked that movie. I forgot how much it had to say to a pre-9/11 world about the struggle between rich and poor, the anger underneath much of our culture, and the distrust of the economic elite and the distaste fir the materialistic culture of the bourgeois.

It’s right up my alley; over-the-top symbolism, cultural criticism, and still relevant. Watching some of Mr. Robot (which is clearly derivative, but also awesome), it is clear that the questions asked in this movie, also of course the book, are still pulsing through our culture.  Culture, after all, is the very heart of the worldview in which we live.

And as I was watching it, it occurred to me that this was a prediction of a Trump America.

And then I realized that I was seeing patterns where there might not be any, while feeling the pull of a deep fear compelling me to believe it.

And then I realized that was the perfect metaphor for a Trump America, and my love of all things ‘meta’ caused me to laugh at it all.

Because it’s all so terrifyingly real, and I had to laugh in order to not cry.

 

To be honest, I’m not sure what to say about it all.

Am I supposed to sympathize with the deep fear, anger, and passion of a Trumpish America? It’s close enough to my familial, economic, and geographical (in terms of the part of Philadelphia I grew up in) background to be comprehensible to me, for sure. I can understand it.

When the world is fundamentally broken, what does it matter if the ship sinks? Who cares if he’s a narcissistic bully who will throw our country into disrepute. Aren’t we already there, in some regards? Does it matter to us?

If the system is broken, and refuses to maintain the comfortable priviliege I’ve gotten used to, why try to save it?

 

What do you mean it’s not broken? What do you mean it is salvageable? What do you mean Hillary isn’t crooked? I mean, she has to be to get along within it. The only way to survive in that system is to play dirty.

 

So, why not cut out the middle man? Instead of a corrupt politician taking money from the interested elite, why not just elect the elite? At least he’s not lying to us (although he actually is). Why not just have the economic elite control it directly, and let it all fall down?  Why not hasten its fall? Why pretend to put in a shill, and just unmask the Wizard behind the curtain?

Why not stand naked to the world, so everyone can see what we are?

Trump is America.

He’s our Tyler Durden.

 

And perhaps now it’s time to wake up and realize that it was us, the whole time creating this monster, before it’s too late. Perhaps the steady, non-ideal status quo is the only choice right now. when faced with our racist, misogynistic, bully of the America we have been ignoring for far too long.

And with Stein being a terrible choice, anyway, and Gary Johnson being a Libertarian, PolySkeptic.com has no choice but to endorse Hillary Clinton this year.

Let’s hope that future choices are more ideal.

 

The Republic of The Self January 29, 2016

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal.
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tripartite

Plato’s tripartite soul/state

One of the first philosophy books I ever read, when I was around 14 or so, was Plato’s Republic. It’s a very well-known and influential book, both in the philosophical world but also in Western culture in general. The basic theme of the book is that there is a discussion, including Socrates and his interlocutors, about the nature of the human “soul”, by use of an analogy of creating a perfect “Republic.”

The concept of the “tripartite soul” was derived, in part, from this book (also the Phaedo). Plato saw us as being made up of logical, spiritual, and desirous parts, all having to work together in a hierarchical fashion in order to achieve harmony and happiness. Analogously, the state, in this case an ideal republic, should be made up of the “philosopher kings” (reason/logic), the soldiers (will/spirit), and the citizens (appetite/desire).

Plato’s psychological theory is, of course, unscientific and not used by psychology (and his political one as well, given his inability to build a successful state himself) but nonetheless this idea is embedded in much of Western thinking (for good or ill, probably more the latter). How often do we think of ourselves as having to use reason or logic to reign in our will or desires? Don’t we still see, in some ways, our leaders as a means to control our ability to make war or to give us motivation to work and not to simply eat, drink, and have sex all day?

I’ll leave that for the anarchists out there to discuss.

 

Revolution v. Incremental change

“God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” (Thomas Jefferson)

(source)

Thomas Jefferson, despite his flaws, has been an inspiration to me in my life. I have a cloth-bound copy of his writings which I found in a little used books store in DC many years ago, and I read a bit from it now and then.

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

In a conversation I paid attention to among some Facebook friends yesterday about the upcoming presidential primaries (specifically concerning the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who I am supporting), a comment exposed some skepticism as to whether Sanders’ political revolution is possible or even likely. The sentiment was that political change occurs slowly, incrementally. The idea is that the “Hope and change” we progressives wanted with Obama only partially happened, but that we want more. Some people think that’s not going to happen, and we need to be patient and work within the system for change to happen slowly.

That actual revolutions are rare, usually bloody, and don’t happen in the way that Sanders’ supporters would like.

And if we look back on history, we don’t see too many successful purely political revolutions. Perhaps the recent election in Canada are an exception (I have not been following Trudeau’s moves, but I’m glad that Canada has moved in a more liberal direction), and perhaps Sanders winning the presidency would be similar in scope. However, would such a feat equal a political “revolution”? Or would it merely lead to more congressional inaction due to Sanders being unable to bring more liberal congressmen to office to help motivate the change? Would Congress be as gridlocked as it has been in the last 7 years?

Would it really change anything quickly enough to warrant calling it a “revolution”?

I don’t know.

But shouldn’t we be trying, anyway?

That’s a good question.

 

I, Plato

So, taking a queue from Plato, I was thinking about how political mechanization can be analogous to ourselves. If I were to think of myself as an analogy for a nation, although not a tripartite one (because the relationship between reason, emotion, and desire are not actually hierarchical at all, nor are they separate modules in any clean sense), is it possible for a person to have a true revolutionary change in behavior, outlook, and disposition? Sure, we can change, but can we do it overnight, over a few days, or even weeks?

Lord knows I have tried, over the years. But have I succeeded?

No, I don’t think I have. And I am unsure whether I even can. So, is it true that true change can only be incremental?

After all, some people claim to have been born again, right?

I’ve had certain moments where I felt like I had changed. But, upon further reflection, this was really a matter of emotion and mood. A few days later, a few weeks later, I was back to the same song and dance, but with more experience. That experience is key; something from that mood stuck with me, and little by little those moments of clarity, the feeling of something having changed, accumulated into slow, actual long-term change.

And what I’m concluding about this is that while the cumulative change will not happen overnight, we need the temporary, passionate, and radical thrusts towards a better nation and person in order to keep us pushing forward. Whether it is politics or person, we need the revolutionary energy to keep pushing the conversation and the insight into ourselves to keep moving in a direction we want to move.

The United States may never becomes a liberal, Democratically Socialist country like I’d like it to be, but we need people like Bernie Sanders shifting our attention in that direction, even if they cannot implement that change as a candidate or a president. Similarly, I may never be the man I wish to be, but if I don’t allow myself to feel the passion of being that moment today, and from time to time, I will settle into a comfort zone of who I am, rather than keep pushing on.

And I need my temperamental desires, my reason, and my will to work in collaboration in order to get there. I will not make my will, desire, nor my reason to submit to any of the others, but I will let each do what they do best, and allow the process to bring forth growth.

Am I a different person than I was 1, 2 or 5 years ago? Yes. But that changed happened with incremental change fueled by periodic revolutionary moments of trauma, my own mistakes, and intellectual insight. Those revolutionary moments supplied the ideological horizon I should be moving towards it, but often gave the illusion of already having reached it.

Electing Bernie Sanders will not complete the revolution, but it might be a step in the right direction. Making a wise decision about what I will do in my life won’t make me my ideal self, but it’s also a step in the right direction.

Be patient, but don’t allow patience to prevent you from pursuing passionately from time to time. Because otherwise our patience turns into complacency and comfort. When we stop trying for revolutions, be become part of the establishment; we become the conservatives of tomorrow.

 

 

Why I can’t be a conservative June 17, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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I was sitting at my desk the other day and was thinking about what conservatism means.  Ginny was at her desk, next to mine, so I bothered her by asking what she thought conservatism was, fundamentally.  I don’t remember her wording, but it seemed to agree with how I was thinking about it; an attempt to conserve the current social, political, and cultural norms.  The implication is that those who are conservative generally believe that the world, as it is, is fine.  The world is fundamentally right, and as old Pangloss said, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

Yep!

Yep!

Now, I don’t think that the primary motivation, especially consciously, of conservatives is the mere preservation of their current cultural values (or what they think of as the best values of some past golden era, perhaps).  I don’t think that conservatives generally think about it in these terms. But in many cases, especially in relation to social justice issues, conservatives seem to side with preserving a status quo, at least in the sense that they maintain traditional definitions concerning mores, values, etc.

So, the question arose for me, in context of this question, as to whether there could be a possible world where I could be comfortable calling myself a conservative.  What I mean is that given the fundamentally broken nature of our current culture, society, and political atmosphere, I cannot be a conservative now (why would I want to conserve this?), is it potentially feasible that a future world might exist that has a culture I’d want to conserve?

But this question gets complicated really quick, which is related to two different questions:

1) Is my personality naturally contrarian?  That is, is my fundamental personality architecture such that no matter what culture I live in, I will be critical of something? If I was raised in what I would call an ideal culture, would I still feel so radical? I don’t know.  I would like to believe that I would follow the evidence, that I would only be critical where criticism is deserved.  That is my goal now, and I hope taht I’m at least close to being good about that.

But perhaps the more interesting question (especially to all of the people who are not me), is this one:

2) Is the value of freedom of criticism, of challenging the culture in which one lives, more important than conserving an ideal culture? That is, if humanity were to achieve some ideal culture, where no unnecessary (logically, that is) inequality exists and no social justice activism is necessary, then would it be more important to maintain that culture, or would it be more important to maintain the right to criticize, challenge, and question?

Because if the world is right as it is, then any challenge is simply a means to make the world not right.  And this, I believe, is how many conservative-minded people must see liberals or radicals; as acting to destroy something that isn’t broken.

This issue is related, at least in part, to The Crommunist’s recent series of posts about the culture wars, using the idea of the dueling myth hypothesis, which I summarized here.  The fundamental question is whether the world is fair or not, and the implications of those views.  I do not think the world is fair, and I think that this is because of the social constructs, derived from faulty individual cognitive and behavioral biases, which we live within.  In other words, I’m almost never a fan of traditionalism, because our history carries so many terrible traditions based on very oppressive ideas (hetero-normativity, patriarchal power structures, monogamy, etc).

I’m concerned with things such as gender equality (for an example which has been all the rage recently) because there are cultural constructs surrounding concepts of gender which are poorly conceived, and which we could make better with education and perspective.  There is a potential culture which would be much less unjust, concerning gender, than we have now and so I care to help implement those changes.

But if someone genuinely believed that the way that the majority our culture views gender (as being more or less digital; male and female and no room for gender-bending let alone actual transitioning), and that this is the right way to think about gender, then trying to change that would be an attempt to destroy a good thing–a correct thing.  From this point of view, conserving the traditional gender roles, including the many personality attributes associated with those gender roles, is defending what is “normal” or right.  And from the point of view of such a person, there is no significant philosophical difference between the rightness of those gender roles now and my hypothetical future world where an ideal social world exists that I might decide to defend.

This, I believe, exposes the fundamental flaw of what I call conservatism, and what Ian Cromwell was calling “the fairness myth.”  And yes, I know that Ian’s concept of the fairness myth does not always correspond with conservative politics (in The USA or elsewhere), but in the sense I’m using “conservative” here it overlaps quite well.  The problem is not that one is defending an idea they think is right, but in defending an idea that is entrenched in culture in such a way that they may be blind to how it is harmful.  Those who defend traditional gender roles don’t think they are causing harm (at least I hope not), because those roles seem natural, normal, and right to them.  That is the nature of mainstream ideas; they seem right to mainstream people (and often to non-mainstream people, which is another problem related to staying in closets and feeling guilty).

As you may have guessed, I think that the value of criticism, skepticism, and the ability to be contrarian (even if not for its own sake) is superior to the value of maintaining traditional ideas, even if those ideas happen to be defensible.  Thus, I do not think that the fairness myth, at least in the world I see, is a defensible myth.  I don’t think conservatism is good per se, even if it might be right on a case-by-case basis.  I cannot be a conservative in this world now, and for the sake of the possibility of my being wrong about what I might potentially try and conserve, I cannot be a conservative in any potential worlds where social justice “wins”.

I think there will always be room for critics, guardians of honesty and the pursuit of truth, and all others who seek to maintain the pursuit of ideals, rather than the defense of them.  True ideals don’t need defense, as the truth does indeed point to itself.  Thus I think that liberalism, radicalism (at least when things are very bad), and skepticism are the superior values in any culture, and thus I can never be a conservative.

Here’s a related article I wrote 2 years ago.  The Tea Party doesn’t want America to change:  I do

On privacy, and indifference to a cause June 12, 2013

Posted by Ginny in Culture and Society.
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I know as much about the current NSA/social media scandals as one can glean solely from reading people’s twitter updates and headlines of articles they post on Facebook… which is to say, very little. I know that people are mad at Google and Facebook for handing information over to the government, and people are buzzing about how intrusive and spyey the NSA is, and I’m not even 100% sure whether these are the same thing incident or two different (but similar) ones. What I know is, there’s a lot of talk about privacy and how much access government agencies should have to our personal lives. The reason I don’t know more is chiefly because I don’t care that much.

Often when someone says “I don’t care about that issue” it comes with an implied “and I think it’s silly that other people do.” This is not that kind of “I don’t care.” I’m glad people are paying attention to privacy issues, because I suspect it’s more important than my personal intuitions would have me believe. So this post is partly an invitation for people who are concerned about privacy issues to educate me, if anyone feels so moved. For the rest of this, I’m going to lay out why I’m not really bothered by the idea that the NSA or CIA or whatever could see all of my internet browsing activity, or, hell, have a camera in my house.

A large part of it is privilege. As a white American-born woman, I am probably in the least vulnerable demographic for coming under unwarranted suspicion about… nearly anything. (Being suspected of troublemaking and rulebreaking is one area where males in our society have it worse than females, starting all the way back in preschool.) Apart from a speeding ticket or two (and assuming I don’t get raped), I can basically assume that the law will be kind to me. I recognize that’s not an assumption that most people can make. Furthermore, I don’t have any secrets, at least not of the kind that would be of any interest to a government. I’m not a political radical, I don’t generally partake of illegal substances, and all of my scandalous activities and beliefs are out on the internet for anyone to see. (Speaking of which, I and the rest of the Polyskeptic compound are putting on our second burlesque show! You should come see it if you’re in or near Philly.) I can’t imagine what the government could find out about me through monitoring my internet usage that they couldn’t find out just by reading my blog. (And yes, I recognize that being able to be public about burlesque and polyamory and atheism and being a sexologist is also a mark of privilege.)

My feeling of invulnerability could change when I have a child. Although it’s not common, there are poly families who have children taken away from them because of their lifestyle, even if there is no abuse or neglect going on. That’s something that will always be a niggling worry in my mind, once there are children about. But it’s still not going to raise a personal privacy concern, because I’ll still be open and public about my lifestyle. That’s a choice I made, based on principle and facilitated by privilege, and so I have very little to fear from a search of my private activity online. If the US is ever taken over by fascists (and no, it hasn’t happened yet, whatever you might say) who persecute atheism or non-monogamy, my family will be in deep trouble. I’m okay with that.

But my relative indifference about privacy has another root, weirder and more personal. Never, since I was a child, have I been able to really believe in privacy for myself. Maybe because I grew up believing in a God who was always watching, but I’ve always felt the same level of embarrassment in doing something privately that I would feel if there was someone to see. Up until I turned 20 or so, I pretty much avoided doing things in private that I wouldn’t be okay with someone else seeing, and even since then, it’s always a struggle with that irrational self-consciousness. (As you can imagine, this hampered my sexual growth considerably as a teenager.) So I find it hard to relate when people describe being creeped out or disturbed by the idea of someone spying on them.

All of this is to say: because of my assorted privileges, values, and weird mental quirks, I’m not bothered by governmental privacy invasions. But I’m not going to go around telling other people not to be bothered by it, because I realize that my privileges, values, and weird mental quirks are far from universal. I mostly wanted to write this to explore my own feelings, like, “Huh, lots of people whose opinions I generally respect are bothered by this, but I’m not at all; I wonder why.” But coming to the end, it occurs to me that I’m also writing a template for how I’d like to see other people respond in a similar position. If lots of people whose opinions you generally respect are bothered by something and you’re not, maybe take a look at the personal factors that give rise to your indifference. Doesn’t mean you have to become an activist: this is the first and probably the last I’ll write about privacy issues, because I have many other causes to put my efforts behind. But maybe take a stab at recognizing how the landscape could look very different to someone else, and avoid getting in their way.

Where philosophical differences turn into meta-debates about personalities January 18, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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This, ladies and gentlemen, will be a rant of sorts.  I’m not happy with humanity today, and it’s my own damned fault for reading blogs!

So, I’m a feminist of a specific kind.  I have evolving but ideologically-leaning views about the relationship between gender, history, and culture.  I think there are things that we should be focused on as a society to improve the world related to those feminist ideas.  I think that we need to become familiar with concepts which will be consciousness-raising and will shift our perspectives on how to behave.

The details of what specific kind of feminist I am, what ideologies I prefer, and what changes in perspectives we should work towards are almost not worth explaining, because all I have to say is that I read Freethought Blogs and Skepchick and I agree with them more often than not.  I think Greta Christina is an excellent advocate for both atheism and feminism.  I think Rebecca Watson had something to teach me in talking about a guy in an elevator.  I miss Jen McCreight’s contributions to the conversation.  I have learned lots about race and privilege from Ian Cromwell.  I think PZ Myers is witty, intelligent, and sometimes wrong (actually, he’s mostly right there).

So, now you know where I stand right?

Here’s the thing.  If you read any blogs who have a dog in this fight  (you know, the fight about the role of feminism, if any, in the atheist/skeptic community) then you will either think that Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, etc are generally right and are fighting for a worthy cause within the community or you will think they are bullies (FtBullies, if you would) who have a view based upon “garbage feminist scholarship” and who are creating a division in the community with their, well, bullying and such.  Some, such as my good friend Staks, have given up reading any FtB posts at all.  I think he’s missing out on a lot by doing so, and I’m not sure if he will change his mind.

It has gotten so bad that I am not even sure what the philosophical differences are, most of the time.  Most of the posts I see now are not substantive philosophical critiques of a point of view, they are an attack on the other side.  This has become a polarized, party-line division, much like what exists in politics.

And this is no surprise to me.  Tribal mentalities exist in all communities, so the fact that this happens in the atheist community is to be expected.  I would like skeptics to be better, but I’m too cynical to really believe that will happen even among those who should, ideally, know better.  Humans are emotional and irrational (which they then rationalize, in most cases), so all I can do is be both frustrated and amused at it all.

Take this post by Maria Maltseva called A World Without Dogma.  it starts off OK, but then you immediately see that PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Richard Carrier are all Marxist feminists who may endanger us with their terrible Marxist ways.  I really thought I had run into a Republican blog by accident, for a moment there.

The arguments there are straw men.  There is no attempt to take seriously the problem of how to address feminism as a skeptic (and yes, I know there are people who do take this issue seriously from some of them I also read), but rather the point is to show how untrustworthy, unskeptical, and how bad the other side is.

And yes, some at Freethought Blogs do the same thing, and I will admit that I am less annoyed when I agree with the one doing the mocking than when I disagree, even though I also do get annoyed, occasionally, by some I agree with (especially Amanda Marcotte, who I agree with more often than not but I find her writing to be abrasive, so I don’t generally read her stuff anymore, except in rare cases).

—-

So, let’s spell it out; there are people on both sides of this issue being snarky, using mockery, and who dislike each other greatly.  I want to see people who are able to see that snark and let it roll off of them.  I don’t want the emotion, passion, and even humor to go away, I want it to be waved off and for us to be able to actually have a substantive discussion about things like feminism without it turning into politics as usual. I want people to be able to hear mockery, snark, etc and let it roll off them and pay attention to the message, but often there is little actual message to sink one’s teeth into.

Yes, some people I will talk to will be wrong (painfully wrong), but can’t we drop the meta-debate? Can’t we stop talking about elevatorgate and talk about the philosophical disagreements which underlie why elevatorgate was such a big deal? Can’t we address privilege, safe spaces, and the concerns that men have all while we recognize that understanding the perspective of others is part of the process of making it all better for all of us?

I know I’m biased, but I think that is precisely what people such as Greta Christina have been doing.  I want a world where the complaints that men have with our culture are solved. I want a world where the complaints that women have about our culture are solved.  I want a world where tribalism and petty interpersonal squabbling don’t dominate philosophical debate.  Mostly what I see now is that PZ Myers and Thunderf00t don’t like each other anymore, Rebecca Watson is (supposedly) an ugly bitch, and my view of feminism is a totalitarian dictatorship in the making.

I want to put aside petty interpersonal squabbles, platitudes, and deal with real issues.  But I won’t get what I want;  the battle-lines will be drawn more vividly and I will be forced to be a combatant even if I try and avoid perpetuating the divisions.  And the effect of this is that I will inevitably become further removed from any real dialogue between people on different sides of this issue.  I will have less exposure to views different from mine, despite my desire to understand their point of view, because the conversation will become meta-, rather than substantive.

I can try to keep it away from here, but the simple fact is that I do think that one side of this debate is mostly right.  It’s just like PZ Myers said some time back, compromise with crazy is half-way to crazy town.  I think that FtB, despite some of their poor behavior from time to time, is mostly right, and I find Maria Maltseva mostly wrong, but still worth listening to in case something good comes through.

Not saying so would be inauthentic, so I will be placed on one side of the battle lines, and when I take a step across to try and understand, I will be shot at because I’m perceived to be wearing the uniform of the person seen as the leader on my “side.”

It’s absurd.  I’m interested in the truth, if such a thing exists, and I will hope that these stupid squabbles evaporate into a truly skeptical conversation.

 

American Politics, old and new. January 6, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Here is a quote from John Ferling’s Adams vs. Jefferson, page 153-154:

The Federalists also fixated on Jefferson’s religious beliefs, maligning him as an atheist.  This was grounded on what Jefferson had written in Notes on the State of Virginia, drafted in 1782 and first published in the United States in 1788.  Jefferson had lauded the Virginia Declaration of rights of 1776, which provided for religious toleration, but, wishing to go further—he hoped for a law that would separate church and state—Jefferson had dilated on the “rights of conscience,” about which individuals were “answerable [only] to…our God” and never to the state. He then added  that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket or breaks my leg.” These two sentences were reprinted endlessly in Federalist newspapers as proof of Jefferson’s impiety.  In addition, Federalist scribes cautioned that Jefferson viewed the clergy as “curses in a country.” Primarily, however, they depicted him as a “howling atheist” and “infidel.”  Filled with contempt for Christ, Jefferson supposedly embodied iniquities that would bring on the moral decline of the United States.  In New England people were told to hide their Bibles should Jefferson be elected, and the warning went out that his election would call down God’s vengeance on the United States.Though more from the pulpit than the press, lurid tales were told of bizarre worship services at Monticello at which Jefferson supposedly prayed to the Goddess of Reason and offered up dogs on a sacrificial altar.  One Federalist newspaper advised its readers to vote for “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT or impiously declare for JEFFERSON–AND NO GOD.”

How many current cultural tropes did you notice there?

Thomas Jefferson, never self-identified as an atheist, as far as I know.  The conflation of religious tolerance and freedom with repression felt by the dominant religion was as real then as it is now.  We are not dealing with anything new, in talking about this religious privilege and the association with separation of church and state with impiety and even lack of patriotism.

There are simply some people, whether in 1800 or 2013, who simply cannot see that asking for religious neutrality from our government is a good idea.  Those that declare the United States to be a Christian nation have the precedence of idiots from the 18th century who did not grasp the importance of said separation then, and who wanted a Christian president rather than a supposedly godless president.  And those who see the legal foundations of the United States as secular, as its founding documents state, have the precedence of people like Jefferson and Madison on their side.  It’s not simply that we were a secular nation and people forgot, it’s that some people simply could not grasp it at the time, and that tradition seems to have run parallel to the actual law and history.

In short, there are always idiots in society, and it may be the case that they will never go away.  One of the weaknesses of democracy is that those idiots also get to vote, and thus we have Michel Bachmann and Rick Perry.

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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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.