Is Arguing a Waste of Time?

“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never time wasted.”

— Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

I was told earlier today that “a debate for debate’s sake is masturbation with no happy ending.” The thread in question was, (coincidentally) not just a debate for the sake of a debate, but about politics and whether “the solution is not political.” The personal implications of this are, of course, pretty dramatic, but to the opposition, pointing out that the question has not been specified is besides the point.

But this tendency and general attitude has grown in recent months, as our political geography has become more deeply and perhaps more permanently divided. With diminishing odds of persuading the other side in an argument, it is ever more tempting to ask “why bother?” Is debating really a waste of time?

Aside from the general ineffectiveness of debate in terms of persuasion, there is also the lost time and energy. We all have a limited number of fucks to give, and wasting them on strangers on the internet means less care to people and things which are perhaps more deserving of them. Instead of doing chores or spending time with family and friends, arguing — it is argued — merely allows people with no connection with you to mess with your emotions and take years off your life with the frustration, anger, and despair that excessive online interactions can often produce.

This perspective, however, aims at the wrong target, which is the source of [1] the feeling of hopelessness, [2] the excess emotional investment, and [3] the greater portion of lost time.

The tacit justification for most people in debating is to persuade the other side of the superiority of your position. Arguing, it is assumed, is important because the world would be a better place if more people believe as you do — this is the source of failure [2] (excessive emotional investment) and by extension, failure [3] (the greater portion of lost time). Since the other participants in the debate are likely coming in with the same underlying justification, the odds of success amount to zero, because neither side is willing to understand or consider the opposing view. Their only goal is to change the mind of the other side, hence failure [1] (the feeling of hopelessness).

But this view is not growth-oriented. It requires one to believe that all of your positions are already correct, that you are already smart enough, that you are already well-read and well-versed enough in your positions, and perhaps worst of all, that there is no value in becoming smarter.

Imagine, by analogy, that someone believed that the only justification for exerting their body was to physically overcome enemies. They would waste away and remain weak, until finally they actually did have to defend themselves, whereupon they would quickly lose.

Mark Rippetoe wrote in Starting Strength that being strong is intrinsically valuable, a sentiment recently echoed by Joe Rogan:

“I want my body to work better. It’s like having a race-car, and you can choose what horsepower engine it is based on how much work you put on it. That’s essentially what your body is, you can choose how much tread you have on your tires, you can choose how good the suspension is, how supple it is and how well it can maneuver…”

Someone who takes this attitude will not only become stronger for the sheer sake of being strong, and enjoy the experience of life more as a stronger, healthier person, but should the time come to defend themselves, they will have a much greater chance of success. The fact that that is not their primary goal is why their odds of success are higher.

In the same manner, debate is not fundamentally about proving the other side to be foolish and intellectually inferior. It can certainly be used to that effect, and sometimes, it is important to use it in that regard. But if we approach the activity of debate—online or in person—as first about our own mental development, then not only will we be less prone to frustration and obsession, but when the time comes where our ability to debate really counts, we will be more likely to succeed.

“…it is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.”

— Aristotle, Rhetoric

As with being strong, being intelligent and well-read can make the world a more exciting and enjoyable place to be. Appreciating artwork, literature, mechanical models and strategic plans is easier, and the colors appear more vibrant, as the educated person can see connecting threads that weave the world together into a more harmonious, more fascinating, and more awe-inspiring experience. Sure, taking the wrong ideas can make one pessimistic and depressed, but the analogy with strength-training carries on here too: one can do enormous damage to one’s body if you train incorrectly. Needless to say, that is not a reason to reject strength training, and the dangers of poorly-motivated arguments or the danger of too much wisdom are no reason to avoid debates.

Arguing is not a waste of time. Like weight-training, it is a growth-activity, and just as the capacity for great strength makes the neglect of the body a waste of life, so too does the extraordinary capacity of our minds make the neglect of their cultivation through contest and exertion wasteful, perhaps even more than with physical strength. So long as we bear in mind the correct goals, we can—and should—debate with others, online and offline, because it is better to be strong than weak, and it is better to be well-read, open-minded, and rhetorically skillful than not.

 

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Transgenerational Ethics [Sample]

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming essay-book Transgenerational Ethics. Keep an eye out for it on my Amazon author page, it will be out later this summer. The whole book is more or less a critique of liberal individualism and John Rawls in particular, but this is the section that deals with his theory most explicitly:

21. Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance

This solution to the conflict between justice and equality is both intuitive and natural. The naturalness of the solution invokes a question: why was a solution necessary? What brought justice and equality into conflict in the first place?

While theories of equality and individualism long predated the 20th century, no philosopher championed the cause as successfully as John Rawls. For our purposes, he represents the strongest argument for individualistic justice.

In 1971, John Rawls published A Theory of Justice. Rawls defined Justice in relation to liberty and equality. He established this by way of a thought experiment known as the veil of ignorance.

The problem that Rawls was attempting to address was the problem of suspicion. Within a society, different people need to get along with each other with a reasonable degree of trust, and trust is predicated upon justice. In order to maintain trust between the members of society, there must be one standard of justice for all members. But different people are likely to defend different conceptions of justice, usually coinciding with what would benefit themselves. How could objective justice be determined? And who would be able to make such a determination?

In Rawls’ thought experiment, we are to imagine ourselves in “the original position,” potential players in the game of social life with knowledge of the rules but without knowledge of the station in which we will be placed. We are ignorant of which body we will be born into, within this society. In such an original position, we would be able to determine how a just society might function free from the biases of personal interest.

Rawls’ conclusion based upon this thought experiment is that the objectively just society will (1) maximize liberty for all members, and (2) only tolerate social and economic inequality to the degree that the worst off are better off than they would have been under an absolutely equal society.

22. The Failure of Ignorance

Rawls’ veil of ignorance is dependent upon an assumption that individuals could have been born as another individual. But this is clearly not the case. As has been demonstrated in sections 7 – 9, 14, and 18, individuals are the products of legacies that are intertwined with the necessary conditions with entering the society. The individualist premise of the veil of ignorance is therefore as absurd as the claim that a chicken egg might just as easily has hatched a rabbit, or a frog, or a shark, and that it was only by luck that it happened to be yet another chicken born from a chicken egg. Things could not have been otherwise, because the “I” is not separate from the body that we inherit, and neither is distinct from the legacy that we inherit as new manifestations of a transgenerational identity.

Now Rawls did not intend “the original position” to be taken as literally true. Rather, it was a thought experiment designed merely to provide a path towards objective justice. Pointing out the logical impossibility of the “original position” may therefore seem like a straw-man[1]. But this is not the case, because it is in the imagining itself that the failure takes place. The veil of ignorance is only appealing to the degree that we accept some concept of “objective good” which is necessarily grounded in our own subjective experience of the good. This subjective experience, however, is inseparable from the specialness of ourselves to ourselves. I am more important to myself than a stranger is. If I happen to be competent enough, patient enough, or willing to sacrifice enough to give myself a competitive edge over my neighbor, this will result in a social inequality that will not benefit my neighbor.

Saying that it could benefit our neighbor based on some long-term social calculus is no reply to this, because in Rawls’ second assertion about the just society—that it will only tolerate inequality to the degree that it benefits the least well-off—he necessarily establishes a default. In doing so, he removes the burden of proof from those demanding equality, who are ordinarily required to cite a particular act of injustice which disadvantaged them and places the burden firmly upon those asking permission to be different. An aggrieved party does not need to prove an injustice has been committed; the beneficiaries of inequality must prove greater social good.

This means that under Rawls’ veil of ignorance, a father’s desire to leave an inheritance for his son—the building block of life and of civilization—is not admitted by default because inheritance often results in social and economic inequalities. This inheritance must be justified, and the justification cannot be grounded in the father’s own love for his own son. Rather, it must be grounded in the benefit that his preference for his own child might have for those who are the least well-off in society.

In this way, “justice” as implemented through the veil of ignorance makes us inhuman to those closest to us. The separation of ourselves from ourselves in the thought experiment cannot be divorced from the breaking of ourselves in the real world.

And of course, it also removes the incentives and the trust necessary for establishing and retaining legacy. But even if we believed that civilization was a price we were willing to pay for equality, the bargain would still not be worth it, because such a theory would require us to give up love as well.

These effects should not surprise us. In Matthew Crawford’s rebuttal[2] to Rawls’ predecessor and metaphysical source—Immanuel Kant—he argues that in Kant’s attempt to preserve “free will” from the mechanistic causality of David Hume, he defined the will outside the body and separate from the material world and causality itself. In Crawford’s view, the result was an ethic that allowed for the commodification of our attention, because it was assumed as a moral principle that we were responsible for our behavior completely divorced from the reality that shaped it. But our environment does shape our behavior. By trying to save “free will,” Kant accidentally allowed us to become less free to act in our own interests, because we were given no moral claims to control over our environment, the “attentional commons” that molds us and guides us.

In the same way, who we are is an important variable in how we ought to act, and how best to achieve a just world. We forget this at our peril.

In the end, reality is its own best model.

//

[1] A “straw-man” argument is an intentionally misrepresented version of an opposing argument that is easier to refute than the real one.

[2] Crawford, Matthew B. The World beyond Your Head: on Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016.

A Case-Study in Hatred

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a debate and come away with a stronger feeling of having just wasted time than after listening to the Munk Debate on Political Correctness. The motion — “What you call political correctness, I call progress” — went largely untouched, a point that Frye repeatedly pointed out, but to no avail. Peterson made some rather lame and, in my opinion, really underpowered points about the dangers of tribalism, while his tribalistic opponents simply ignored the subject to go after Peterson personally, with a few snide asides at Trump and at white people generally (white men specifically).

But there was a useful takeaway for me.

I first heard Michael Eric Dyson several years ago in an exchange with Andrew Breitbart on the Bill Maher show. Dyson speaks in a manner that fuses colloquial pop lingo and maximally emotionally-charged language into a kind of slam poetry that manages to be simultaneously imploring and berating. Rhetorically speaking, Breitbart was simply outclassed. But being rhetorically outclassed does not make one wrong. Consider the following exchange from the Bill Maher show:

Breitbart: …Who’s afraid? I’m sorry, where is this racism coming from? I haven’t seen this.

Maher: Well the racism is coming from Rush Limbaugh

[audience applause]

Breitbart: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know what, I find that offensive, because there’s nothing in this country that is a worse accusation. It’s where, in America, if you accuse someone of racism, that person has to disprove that. It is completely un-American to call racism. You tell me what he has said that is racist.

Maher: Michael, you wanna…?

Breitbart: The man has been on the air for 21 years, 15 hours a week…

Dyson: Well, I tell you, first of all, Rush Limbaugh had a problem — he seems to have a problem with the black guys who run things. Think about it. So he was jumping on Donovan McNabb, for being a “black quarterback” because he was black, he was being celebrated, he got pushed off the air, that was Rush Limbaugh. Donovan McNabb went on to win the MVP which suggested that it was not just a figment in Rush’s imagination, that the reality is that this man really has skills. Now he’s jumping on Obama. Look, we know that…

Breitbart: I, I, look, I watched…

Maher: He’s said a lot of racist shit.

Breitbart: No he hasn’t. No he hasn’t.

Dyson: Wait, let me finish. He’s not saying “I hate negros,” specifically. What he is doing is creating an atmosphere of such profound vitriol and hatred, and I think denunciation of black people and of the ideas associated with those people who are vulnerable that yeah, there is a strong implication about blackness going on there, and if you put Rush Limbaugh in the context of the monkey appearing at the New York Post cartoon and the Barnes and Nobles…

Breitbart: He didn’t put that in…

Dyson: I didn’t say he did. I said in the context…

Breitbart: But wait, wait, wait, but didn’t put in the context…

Dyson: It’s code language.

Breitbart: No it isn’t code language. He was trying…

Dyson: It’s code language. Look, he was implying something serious about black people and a deficit about black culture, and an assault upon vulnerable people.

Notice the charge. The allegation of racism is justified by proclaiming an intentional creation of a hostile environment. This is a rhetorical ploy we’ve heard mostly used in schools and in bureaucratic work environments.

How is this claim justified? By pointing at anecdotes and choosing to interpret them as part of a larger pattern. Never mind that Breitbart points to exceptions in the pattern, such as Limbaugh’s defense of Clarence Thomas. Thomas — we are told — does not speak for all black men.

We are left to assume that someone else perhaps does speak for all black men? Perhaps that person just happens to be sitting in the interview with Maher and Breitbart… wouldn’t that be convenient!

But Dyson is not merely a talented emotional manipulator and a sophist. What he is doing is projecting, and this comes out in his debate with Jordan Peterson, whom he also accuses of being a “mean, mad white man,” which he promptly doubles down on, citing “lethal intensity and ferocity right here on this stage” and “evident vitriol with which you speak and the denial of a sense of equanimity among the combatants in an argument.”

“So I’m saying again, you’re a mean, mad white man, and the viciousness was evident.”

Cue audience applause.

That was in response to Peterson asking for a point at which everyone could agree that the political Left had gone too far.

On its face, the outrageousness of the hyperbole is almost laughable. It is a self-parody, except that he clearly means it sincerely. And the audience cheers. How can this make sense? Are they all delusional? Is everyone so stupid that they just can’t see it?

To me, this appears to be the less parsimonious explanation. The simpler, more reasonable solution is that Dyson is simply projecting.

All of his claims about indirect attacks upon blackness, about fostering a hostile environment against blacks, about using code language to harm “vulnerable people” (blacks), and about people like Peterson being mean to people “less privileged” than himself (blacks), all of these assertions perfectly describe Dyson’s treatment of white people. He’s not saying “I hate whitey,” specifically. What he is doing is creating an atmosphere of profound vitriol and hatred. He is doing so carefully and cleverly… and therefore, knowingly.

Michael Eric Dyson hates white people, and he is very effective at hating us. His aim is to attack “whiteness,” which is itself a euphemistic phrasing for weakening, diluting, and destroying whites.

The implications of this are pretty straightforward if you have read In Defense of Hatred. If you love yourself, and you find yourself subject to a willful existential threat, the appropriate thing to do, the moral thing to do, is to hate them and to hate them well.

I hate Michael Eric Dyson. It is not a passionate, burning hatred. It’s just a kind of recognition, a quiet “oh, I see, this guy is the enemy.” It’s a realization that he is “them,” and not merely a “them,” but an antagonistic and dangerous “them.” Nothing he has to say to me will be taken as sincere or honest, because his goals and my goals are mutually exclusive. Like men and lions, there can be no pacts or agreements between us; we will simply hate each other. To do otherwise is to betray your duty to love what you hold to be valuable — namely, yourself and others like yourself.

Feminine Virtue

Some thoughts from yesterday: an acquaintance was asking what makes a woman feminine. The following was my initial response, in part derived from a mirroring of Jack Donovan’s explanation of what makes a man masculine.

Masculinity is derived from what is expected of men. Biologically, men are expected to fight and to build; to establish and secure the perimeter. Masculine traits (strength, courage, competence, and loyalty) are derived from this biological purpose.

The biological purpose of females was historically to have and raise children. So it would follow that feminine traits would follow from this purpose. My thoughts on feminine virtues:

1. Beauty

Beauty signifies health and fertility. It is the counterpart to male strength.

2. Obedience

Obedience does not mean to quietly and submissively do whatever you’re told, and never speaking your mind. It means being a willing recipient of the protection provided to you. Women need protection when they are pregnant or have young children, and women who refuse the protection offered to them are poor investments for men because they are not likely to survive. It is the counterpart to male courage.

3. Compassion

Compassion is the most critical quality in raising children. It is the counterpart to male competence.

4. Faithfulness

Faithfulness is biologically necessary to justify male investment in relationship, children, and society. It is the counterpart to male honor.

After sharing these initial thoughts, my wife thought one more should be added, which was conscientiousness, as the foil and counterpart to male ingenuity. Little did she know that Donovan’s speech at the 21 convention (published just yesterday) had more or less added ingenuity (or “creativity”) to the list of male virtues. Great minds think alike, I suppose.

Conscientiousness — or “attentiveness” — is an important female virtue for obvious reasons when it comes to children, but it also serves as a direct compliment to male creativity. Great projects require a creative vision to get off the ground, but require logistical attention and conscientiousness to succeed. This last virtue makes women good mothers and good wives, and attractive to everyone.

This leaves us with the following lists of gendered virtues:

Men:

  1. Strength
  2. Courage
  3. Mastery
  4. Honor
  5. Creativity

Women:

  1. Beauty
  2. Obedience
  3. Compassion
  4. Faithfulness
  5. Attentiveness

An Open Letter to Vox Day, Regarding Dr. Jordan Peterson

Dear Vox,

I enjoy reading your work. But it is a different kind of amusement I experience than normal, reading your criticisms of Dr. Jordan Peterson. It’s not that your criticisms are inept, or even completely wrong, but they convey a misunderstanding that is tragically mirrored in the misunderstanding I see in my friends and family members to whom I try to explain your ideas.

I think the problem lies in communication style. You are, first and foremost, a dialectician. You may play the rhetorician, and you do it well, but anyone who has read both your debate books about the Existence of Gods and the Question of Free Trade after having read your rhetorical works like SJWs Always Lie and Cuckservative can see that your heart is in the syllogism. I know this based on your minimal to absent tolerance for non-syllogistic thinking, in commenters or in virtually anyone else. You literally have to convert ordinary debate into pseudo-syllogisms (the enthymeme) to find it tolerable. This is not a criticism. Your subsequent precision is one of the reasons I enjoy your work so much.

Unfortunately, it’s also a reason why you are often misunderstood, dismissed as an asshole, or as ridiculous. It may also be why you have a hard time with intellectuals (or humans generally) who are not dialecticians.

Jordan B Peterson is not a syllogistic thinker. This, too, is not a criticism, and I suspect it is why you have a difficult time taking him seriously (it is also probably why you have a hard time taking Nietzsche seriously). So I will attempt to take what I feel are your four biggest criticisms of JBP and answer them in a more direct fashion. Those four criticisms are:

  1. Jordan Peterson is an Existential Relativist
  2. Jordan Peterson is controlled opposition
  3. Jordan Peterson’s philosophy will hurt people
  4. Jordan Peterson is nuts

The quotes are not exact words, but summaries of your arguments in my own words, based on having read and listened to all of your criticisms of JBP in aggregate, as of today.

Existential relativist:

Jordan Peterson is an existential relativist. He is elaborately restructuring his reality in order to avoid emotional pain (gamma behavior), and instead of rejecting the claims of the post-modernists (that reality is unknowable, infinitely interpretable, and that each interpretation is equally valid), he is in fact accepting the claims of the post-modernists and synthesizing them with classical views.

Jordan Peterson does not reject the objectivity of existence and the world. He is actually a pretty ordinary existentialist. The claim is not that reality isn’t real, but that our measurements of reality aren’t as foundationally “true” as our experiences of reality. Peterson holds pain to be objectively true within this domain. The claim that pain is objectively real makes JBP an existential realist, because he believes that the rest of the world can be built on top of that solid foundation.

Source (5 min video).

Controlled opposition:

Jordan Peterson is being pushed by mainstream media as a “right-wing” intellectual so that he can gate-keep the Alt-Right.

Peterson never claimed to be of the right. He has sympathies for some right-wing positions (like respect for tradition as a starting place), but he has always claimed to be a classical liberal. This makes his opposition to the Alt-Right entirely normal.

But just because someone is being pushed by the mainstream doesn’t mean that they are necessarily serving their interests. When Hillary’s campaign information came out, we learned that she had donated to Trump’s primary campaign. Obviously, she had thought she could divide the candidates and hurt Cruz, thus increasing her chances of winning the general. But it didn’t turn out that way.

The mainstream outlets that are now pushing Peterson haven’t the faintest idea what it is they’re even supporting. To them, he’s just a popular guy with some edgy ideas. But he is telling people that the school system is corrupt and that the modern left is pathological. He’s telling men to be prepared to fight (source, 2 min video). It’s possible that the short-term effects of his advice will harm the Alt-Right, but because the identitarian position is the natural one for healthy and self-confident people, his practical advice for being assertive, combative, taking responsibility, and getting your own life in order will ultimately help the Alt-Right in the long-run.

He would be the worst possible choice for moderate-right controlled opposition, exempting maybe Jocko Willink or Mike Rowe.

Harmful:

Jordan Peterson’s philosophy is a bandaid on a bullet wound. By turning people’s attention from existential threats like immigration, globalism, Islam, and the progressive left, and channeling it inward to petty tasks like room-cleaning, Peterson is preparing the West for an even more horrendous war. By trying to run from the problem, he’s making it worse.

Peterson is not saying “don’t fix the world.”

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The reason people joke about groaning when their parents tell them to clean their room but feeling empowered when Jordan Peterson tells them is that Jordan Peterson is presenting the act of cleaning your room as a tool. His claim is that for many people, the world is full of problems, and it is easy to feel helpless before them. If you feel powerless, start small. Clean your room. By taking control of your immediate surroundings, you gain power. This power is not zero sum; if you can clean your room, then you begin to work on fixing your family. If you can fix your family, maybe you can improve your industry. If you can fix your industry, then maybe you can try to save your nation. Without the initial feeling of power, the plight of the nation itself would feel hopeless.

Nuts:

Jordan Peterson has insane dreams that normal people don’t have. He is chronically depressed, and probably got into psychology to figure out what’s wrong with himself. So his philosophy isn’t designed for healthy people; it’s a reconstructed reality for unhealthy people. Healthy people shouldn’t follow it, and unhealthy people who wish to get better shouldn’t follow it.

Jordan Peterson is clearly not a psychologically normal person. But you are wrong to assume that (a) mentally abnormal people cannot create art or ideas that are valuable to healthy people and (b) that most of the valuable contributions to human civilization are the result of psychologically healthy people. Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caeser, and Paul of Tarsus all had epilepsy. John Nash was schizophrenic. Nikola Tesla, Thomas Aquinas, and Soren Kierkegaard were all psychologically abnormal, even weird, by any meaningful metric. These challenges not only did not hinder their work, but may even have been helpful.

Peterson is what you might call a broken person. But the world is full of broken, sinful people, and someone needs to help them. To abandon them as beyond help is to reject the truth of Jesus’ claim that redemption is available to all (not given, but available). Peterson’s own brokenness gives him not only the experience, but the communication ability to speak to other broken people, and to help them heal. That’s what clinical psychiatrists do, and Peterson appears to have a track record of success within that professional domain.

//

My defense of Peterson here is not an absolute defense. Jordan  Peterson did wade into waters that he was not ready to swim in. The Jewish IQ matter was one. Condemning the Alt-Right for committing the sin of pride is another, which I myself criticized him for.

But what you are smelling is not sulfur. It’s just a different philosophical framework — existentialism — which is neither Peterson’s own invention, nor is it incompatible with Christianity. He is following in the path of Heideggar, Kierkegaard, and Campbell, who were themselves following in the footsteps of Heraclitus, Augustine, and Plato. When examined in light of these thinkers, Peterson’s philosophy is not even particularly interesting (which is not to say that it is not valuable); only his manner of presentation is.

I would never dream of telling you to lay off Peterson, first because Peterson should be criticized, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do it better than you; second, because I know you won’t stop just because I ask you nicely. But perhaps you can be more precise and selective in your criticism. Rejecting the existentialism of Heidegger as not merely wrong, but as existential relativism is not a serious position.

Sincerely,

C.B. Robertson

Culture vs. Law, or Why I Was Right About Trump

Back in January of 2016, I said that I would be voting for Trump for one reason, and that was for the preservation of the culture of free speech.

To his credit, I underestimated just how good of a president he would be. I didn’t expect his navigation of Korean peace talks, the beginning of a border wall and immigration restrictions, his absolute destruction of the mainstream media, his generally strong resistance to the NeoCons and Globalists in the establishment “deep state,” and I certainly didn’t expect him to make such remarkable strides in such a short time. Nevertheless, I hold that the most important success — perhaps the only success that matters — is Trump’s heralding in of a new culture of freedom of speech. In light of Kanye West’s recent coming out as a free-thinker, none other than Scott Adams has come out in support of this view, calling the new era we are experiencing a “Golden Age” for free expression.

A relevant question: why does a culture of free speech matter if we have the First Amendment? If the law already protects an institution, why does preserving cultural support matter?

I present to you exhibit A: the formerly United Kingdom of Londonistan.

Londonistan was once known for, and shaped by, the institution of Common Law. The Common Law is the origin of “the freedom of speech” (meaning the prohibition against prior restraint), and the Common Law arose from a particularly English culture.

That law follows from culture should be obvious to us, from a purely mechanical perspective. How are do laws become codified, after all, if they are not first proposed and passed by a legislative body, a democratic initiative? Even the decree of a King or the verdict of a judge requires indirect support from the people. A King is allowed to live and to rule only if he remains within the confines of his people’s cultural world. History is, first and foremost, a library cataloging the violent and painful deaths of kings who failed in this regard, to remind future kings of their place. And judges are chosen from within a tradition by electors representing the interests of the people. They are more akin to avatars of their native legal tradition than they are distinct and independent humans.

England — or more precisely, London, which rules the rest of England — has experienced a dramatic shift in its demographics. White Natives (English/Scottish/Welsh/North Irish) now make up only 44.9% of the capital’s population. The dramatic changes in demographics have led to a similar shift in culture, which in turn, have led to a dramatic shift in law.

What sorts of legal changes would we expect to happen in an increasingly multicultural society? We could expect social trust to diminish, which would necessitate laws aimed at reducing inter-group tension. Perhaps laws against “hate speech,” particularly against members of other groups… and wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what they’ve gotten. They’ve gotten so much of it, in fact, that The Spectator is now saying that free speech is dead in Britain.

It’s a terrifyingly hard point to contest. And speech is one object of British insanity.

There are plenty of others.

Law is downstream from culture. Culture is downstream from demographics. There’s certainly some interplay there; culture and law can change demographics, and law can even change culture. But generally speaking, this seems to be how things play out.

Now what has Trump done?

Trump has done exactly what I said he would do:

He led by example in rejecting the establishment and saying what he thought, regardless of the threats, denouncements, and defamation of the would-be “influencers” of conventional metapolitics.

Now we’ve got Kanye speaking out with dragon energy against those trying to tell him what he is and isn’t allowed to think (or else)… because there’s always an (or else) behind the seemingly benevolent calls to decency and empathy, which are usually cloaked attempts to keep certain words or ideas off the table.

That’s the cultural threat to free speech, by the way. It doesn’t matter if it’s legally protected. If your desire to say what you think leads to financial stress, career endangerment, and social ostracism, on top of proactive deplatforming efforts that deny your functional ability to speak anyhow, then the laws won’t help. In such an environment, they probably won’t have long in the books anyhow.

Trump has spear-headed a campaign for a culture of free speech that we badly needed. It was the one reason I supported him, and I am as proud as ever that I did so. The fight isn’t over yet, of course, but it now seems that the battle is not only winnable, but that we appear to be winning.

How to continue the winning?

Have dragon energy, of course.

Dragon energy

Have thumos. Have balls. Speak from the heart, and say what you think, and do so openly (not anonymously) and respectfully. Don’t be cowed by people who tell you to fret for your job and to fret for your appearance, to “consider the consequences of your actions.” They’re just afraid of conflict. Fuck them, and fuck their paralytic questions, which they’d never ask if you were to say equally contentious statements but on a track they agree with. Say what you think is true, and say what you think is false. Say when you think others might be wrong, and say when you think others are full of shit. Perhaps most importantly, say when you think you may have been wrong. Help create the culture of free speech that can resolve our disagreements and disputes through debate, negotiation, compromise, and reconciliation. The law is good, but it isn’t sufficient.

If we are bold enough in our speech, and lucky enough on everything else, we just might be able to avoid the real war that’s looming.

I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s possible.

On Names

Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name! I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

— Arthur Miller, The Crucible

The sixth amendment to the Constitution guarantees an accused person the right to face their accuser. This is known as the “confrontation clause,” and in practice, it means that people at least have a right to know who is accusing them, even if they never end up facing them per se. But this concept enshrined in our national founding document was not invented on American soil. Indeed, it is possible the idea predates even the civilizations of Europe, extending back to the age of Mesopotamia.

The preservation of justice in a society is threatened by what is known as the “tragedy of the commons,” the tendency of individuals to free-ride on collective property because it is economically advantageous to do so. There are a number of ways that different societies attempt to deal with this, but among the most common and effective is to give members of that society a stake in the commons. That one’s children may inherit the use of collective property alone may be enough for some people to reject free-riding and abusing the commons for personal gain. What is critical, of course, is that the members of the society be made to have skin in the game.

Among the more important kinds of commons–in conjunction with infrastructure and the environment–is social trust. Defined by PEW as a “belief in the honesty, integrity, and reliability of others,” social trust is a critical, necessary building block for civilization. Civilization requires some stability, and if other people cannot be trusted to act in a predictable (just) manner, then why should you be a chump and let others take advantage of you?

The right to face one’s accuser is perhaps the most critical infusion of skin into the commons game, where social trust is concerned. It creates accountability and incentives which encourage moral behavior and punish immoral behavior.

Now we have the internet, and everything has become a lot more complicated.

The internet represents an intersection of three different rights: freedom of speech, facing one’s accuser, and being left alone. If our rights to privacy and to speak freely are respected, then other people’s right to face their accuser will be lost, should we choose to slander and malign them. If we are held accountable, then our right to be left alone is threatened, should anyone accuse us of slander, or even causing harm. Should restrictions to preempt such predicaments be put into place, then the freedom of speech is imperiled.

This intersection existed, of course, prior to the world-wide web. The general solution was that a degree of each of these freedoms was given up so as to preserve as much as possible of all three. We can say almost anything, can be mostly left alone, and will at least get the chance to know who our accuser is, even if we cannot interrogate them in court.

What the internet has done, however, is throw off the balance. It has introduced the real possibility of anonymity.

Historically, people could try to be anonymous by putting on a mask, by lying about their name and origin, or perhaps by using proxies and servants. But masks are clearly visible (you know you’re dealing with someone whose identity is hidden), lies can, in principle, be discovered and punctured, and servants can be traced back to their masters. Towns were small enough — even cities were small enough — that what went around did come back around.

Now true, real, powerful anonymity is possible. This anonymity has two sources: first, the  People can spread self-serving lies (“fake news”), even allegations, without having their reputational skin in the game.

Part of the use of anonymity is defensive in nature. The fact that these attacks are a possibility is reason enough not to put our own name out there for evaluation and possible attack without reprisal. Having your name known is, in most cases, an intimate and vulnerable state.

Our name can be known by many other people that we don’t know, of course–if we are famous. Even here, the widespread knowledge of our name represents fame or infamy. In a word, honor.

Having honor is caring about what others think of you, specifically of others within your honor group. Honor is, first and foremost, an enforcement mechanism against the tragedy of the commons (a man is not honorable if he takes advantage of his friends, and treason is the deepest depth of dishonor). But it is also something we can be proud of when we act honorably. To a great extent, we measure a man by how honorable he is. And when honorable men are admired, honor itself is reinforced.

This means that the prevalence of online anonymity is not just a threat to social trust and to our right to face our accuser, but to the very heart of what is valued in being men. Our name is a part of our identity, a linguistic association that has been gradually, symbiotically cultivated around our history and our nature. It would be overstating the case to say that the anonymity of the internet and the dishonorable behavior it encourages threatens our very identities as individuals, but it does threaten to erode something special and something important about who we are, which makes us respectable and admirable as individuals, and which makes civilization possible.

We face two spirals: one downward, and one upward.

The former is a path of safety, achieved through hiddenness, anonymity, dishonorable conduct, and a win-lose world of dyscivic cat-fighting. This world is dystopian in its pettiness; a world where it is a casually accepted, grimly amusing fact that someone can have their lives and reputations destroyed for “racism” or “sexual harassment,” arising from anonymous sources, and where real victims are increasingly, cynically, disbelieved. It is a ghost-world, where nothing is solid, no one is “real,” and the experience of attempting to make friends is a global extension of the “Seattle freeze” (by necessity).

The second path is a path of openness, of sincerity, and of honesty — of honor. This path will encourage others to emulate you, because people cannot help but admire courageous, authentic people. But this path does take courage, because it incurs real risk. People do lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their families, and even their lives, for the sake of their name.

In the end, we’re all going to die, and our names will likely be forgotten anyways. Still, it should not be thought of as an easy choice: name or life; honor or security. Our culture has defaulted to security, arising from the all-encompassing logic of liability (cover your ass). But this is not a sustainable path if civilization is to be preserved. The only way that will happen is if we begin to care more about our honor than our safety.