I was listening to an interview on youtube today and the interviewee, Peter Joseph said something which resonated with me, which I then tweeted:
Probably should have hashtagged his name as a reference
He was talking about the challenges he receives from others based on the views of societal design which he espouses through the Zeitgeist Movement
. After a certain point in a discussion, people who are too steadfast (read: religious/zealous) in their traditional worldviews invariably get offended and uncomfortable and in the worst cases become belligerent. In any event they become irrational, clinging to outlooks and pre-conceptions which are provably mistaken. Without commenting on the views which Peter Joseph espouses which can be found here here here
, I want to comment on the broader notion of disagreement. We tend to think that there is merit to all points of view, or at least that everyone has a right to their opinion, and insofar as that means people should not be forcibly coerced to think a certain way or harassed for their views this is true. But do all points of view truly have merit? Does a racist’s hatred for someone’s skin colour have merit? Does a misogynist contribute to the discussion when he mistreats women?
And of course, were Hitler’s views defensible?
What we are left with from this simple thought experiment is a very clear picture that there are right positions and wrong positions (notice I am not saying good and evil cause there is no such thing), or at least positions which are more right or wrong than others, a continuum as it were. But if there is indeed a right-wrong continuum, why settle for being simply righter than someone like Hitler, who is very clearly wrong? That’s hardly a challenge, and with that very clear picture of what “wrong” looks like, we get comfortable in a worldview which supports our immediate comfort, not challenging ourselves and our outlooks to see if they can be refined and brought closer to the ultimate right, or at least what we know of right. We kind of just sit there content knowing that we’re not as wrong as the Paul Bernardos, Luka Magnottas, Slobodan Milosevics, etc. which are paraded in front of us so that we have a very clear image of wrong.
About 1:28 is where Tony expounds upon this point
I think this is where most people fall (fail), at least in my experience. They know (or think) they are lightyears away from murderers, drug addicts and white slave traders, so they feel that by corollary they are right without ever giving it critical thought. But do you think that with your “right” worldview you could say, win a debate against Hitler? Do you think you could argue Trotsky or Marx into a corner? And while most people in our society likely support his views on some level, could you, if tasked to, hold your end in a discussion with free-market champion, Milton Friedman? I doubt many could, yet these same people KNOW that (at least in the case of the commies and the nazis) that they are in the right.
Now what I AM NOT SAYING is that people should work on their rhetoric so they can appear smarter than the person they are discussing with. Nor am I saying that they should raise their voice in order to bolster themselves against an opponent with more clout and the support of the audience.
The truth does not need to be supplemented with force. Lies do. In fact there are books and articles about how to be a good liar but none about how to tell the truth.
The truth kinda just speaks for itself.
What I AM SAYING is that…well let me just post a recent tweet, also a quotation from Mr. Joseph:
I actually hadn’t tweeted this yesterday or the day before like I meant to so I just tweeted it now (avec le petit hashtag). Hopefully noone calls me out for fabricating evidence when needed.
If you really wanted to effectively refute Hitler, the commies or the laissez-faire capitalist types, you would have to know their failings. Instead most people would fall back on criticisms of evil, which on top of being completely irrelevant, are qualitative. After all, Hitler didn’t think he was evil. He probably genuinely hated Jews and saw them as a legit threat. And based on his eugenics program he probably had more than a passing interest in science or psuedoscience. Yet most even today with so much knowledge at our fingertips would still not have the chops to explain to Hitler why a eugenics program is retarded and furthermore why the “Juden” were not responsible for the Weimar republic and the Treaty of Versailles. Could you do it? I think I could.
However, would Hitler accept my argument? It would make sense but it would put a visible crack in his theories which is where all his power rested. In a very tangible way he would associate being proven wrong with failure and the loss of power because all of his power was predicated on mistaken assumptions. So Hitler would instead get angry, stick to illogical/provably wrong assertions, resort to name-calling, question my intellectual background, question my life experience, then tell me to go back to my Macbook and have an espresso at Starbucks with all my hippie friends.
Interestingly enough this sort of close-minded response is similar to what I get from a lot of people on Facebook when I discuss with them.* Typically I question deeply-held convictions which have little to no relevance and it basically stirs up lots of shit. When asked to rationalize obsolete perspectives it invariably ties back to their own life observations rather than scientific ones. Life observations are unreliable of course because we have been scientifically proven to see what we’re looking for.
Even when someone does manage to keep their composure and elect to refute what I am saying with logic, it is typically no more than name-dropping something/someone to do with science, pretending to agree with misinterpretations of parts of what I am saying, and then using extreme examples and figurative language to illustrate the ultimate outcome of their own bastardized perceptions of what I am saying. It can be frustrating.
Now it may sound like I think I have all the answers, but I most certainly do not, nor do I think I do. Instead I have one advantage which most people lack by choice: I hold NOTHING sacred. I question everything. There are no givens, there are no upward limits of what is possible, there is no human nature. All of these convenient assumptions and others which allow most to go on day to day in ignorance of the ultimate outcomes of their actions are up for debate. And what I find more than anything is NOT that I have the answers, but that the people who hold on to their sets of assumptions don’t.
All you have to do is ask “why?”
Why is the worst question but also the best question and if you have ever asked it to someone in authority you have probably been disappointed by the answer. This habit of unsatisfactorily answering this most important of questions is learned early on by people and carried on throughout most of their lives. And if you follow the why ladder you will find one of three outcomes 1) An answer, if they know what they are talking about. 2) “I don’t know,” if they are honest enough to admit they don’t know what they are talking about, or 3) Anger.
Now I want to reiterate that I don’t profess to have all the answers. I simply try not to hold onto a premise past its usefulness (It is bitterly ironic that in a culture of such disposability we are unwilling to repair or replace our beliefs). I think everyone should adopt this practice of critical thinking, as that is infinitely more important than what particular belief you happen to hold. But criticism must start at the self and the premises you hold and that is a hard pill to swallow. If I were to make up an itemized list of practices to embrace off the top of my head it would be something like this:
1) Question EVERYTHING! Question the motherfucking ground you stand on if need be. If you don’t know the answer to the question go learn it. If you do know it, seek different perspectives. Yes, I know 16 & Pregnant is on but this is more important
2) Find the Truth that makes you squirm. So you found an explanation? Fanstastic! And it tells you that everything is in good working order and that things are operating as they should? Well, if thats the case how do you reconcile it with crime & poverty statistics and 1 Billion+ starving people on the planet? What about your own poverty? Sure, life may seem grand when you have an iPhone 4 and 60″ plasma but could it be better? The answer is invariably yes. When you start looking at reasons why it isn’t and those reasons make you uncomfortable you are on the right track.
Note: If the answers you find in your quest for truth equate to “Pack your sunglasses cause the future is looking bright” then they probably aren’t taking a lot of things into consideration.
3) Look at the broader picture and attempt to find root causes. All too often we deal with issues in a reductive and individualistic sense. We would attempt to deal with air pollution by dealing with industrial emissions for example. First off, this negates the fact that there are other causes of air pollution and that even the emissions themselves are not causes of pollution, simply agents of the cause. The cause would likely be irresponsible industrial practices. Irresponsible industrial practices would then be relegated from cause to agent when the broader question of “what causes irresponsible industrial practices?” Similar to a “why ladder” is a “cause ladder.” Climb it til you find that squirmy truth.
The answers are simple if you are honest and reject false concepts like good and evil.
4) False dualities. There is a position beyond a and b. Far too often we get labelled by people as this or that for expressing an opinion which is contrary to what theirs is or simply for asking a question. This whole idea that “if you’re not one, you’re the other” is a detrimental oversimplification and it hinders the pursuit of truth by attaching to people a set of beliefs that they don’t necessarily hold. Also, it is a way of attacking someone with an unpopular label without refuting their argument.
“He’s a heretic/communist/liberal/muslim/fascist/etc!”
4B) As an unofficial side-rule don’t waste your brain following politics. I did mention that I do have lots of FB debates but they are never about politics, except if I am explaining why the political system is useless, ineffectual and insulting. Neither party is right cause they are not trained to be right. They are institutionalized entities out for self-preservation even if it means catering to the financial interests who hold their purse-strings. Those campaigns and conventions don’t buy themselves you know. For a more practical analogy, asking me what I thought about Barack Obama’s or Stephen Harper’s last proposed legislation is like asking me what I thought about Justin Bieber’s new song. Does it matter?
Seriously, politics is about as useful as a cock-flavoured lollipop. Stop getting excited and/or angry about new legislation and stop voting, you’re just letting them think they matter.
5) Rethink/Relearn what you “know” about people. The debate about so called human nature has unfortunately been reduced to another false duality, nature vs nurture. If you don’t believe in one then it must be the other. Of course the truth is more complex than this, and assumptions about man in a state of nature as a greedy,profit-maximizing, hoarder (which only serves to legitimize the current paradigm we live in btw) are completely untenable given the level of knowledge we have. I personally think this is the most important conversation to have because what we think about human beings and their nature ultimately frames our conceptions of what is possible for the world. So if we assume that man is a the aforementioned greedy, profiteering hoarder since his inception, then society would necessarily have to be, well as shitty as it is today. But is he? Go learn about it.
6) BEING PROVEN WRONG IS NOT FAILURE. This is hard and it often takes me at least a few minutes to (grudgingly) admit that I was mistaken about something. It sucks when you go and fact check something you said and realize you spoke more than what you knew when you should have said “I don’t know.” But admit when you are mistaken and move on. Remember though, unless you are a hate-monger who has mobilized millions of angry people based on your lies and rhetoric, the admission of error will probably not be your total and utter downfall. In fact, it will be liberating. Trust me on this. I have been wrong about so much and there is a certain joy that comes from laughing at how stupid you used to be because it is a measure of how far you have come.
I think that’s all I got as far as suggestions but I will share with you two quotations from Ayn Rand. Though I care nothing for her theories on economics, she had some incisive observations about right and wrong. I will share two:
“There is no such thing as a contradiction. If you find there is a contradiction, check your premises, one of them is mistaken.”
“People who argue that things are not black and white are really saying, ‘I am unwilling to be wholly right, please don’t judge me as wholly wrong.'”**
To tie things back to my original tweet, there is no logical disagreement. If there is a disagreement, someone is espousing a mistaken view, or misinterpreting a correct one. If it is a failure of communication between two parties who essentially agree then it is not a logical disagreement.
ADDENDUM 27 June 2012
On thing I forgot to mention when I wrote this post was perhaps my major stumbling which I need to work on: I must work to communicate myself more effectively. Basically its easy to explain things to people if you can get them to drop their religiously-held pre-conceived notions, but if you can’t get them to that point you might as well shout a brick wall. Whether it is my cocksure attitude, my intellectual words, or simply the people I endeavour to discuss with, I have had limited success in getting through to people. I can understand this, I often deal with people who have profited greatly from the paradigm we live in. I by comparison have not profited as much and it still took me many years to come to terms with certain realities. So if even someone like me, who really suspected something was not quote right since I was a kid, can take years to come to grips with the distortion of natural law we are living in then I can only imagine how much harder it would be for someone totally content. Still with respect to this hindrance of attachment to the current paradigm, I must work to inform others without coming off like a preachy Jeremiah who alienates people who who need to be eased into new ideas.
*Not a direct violation of Godwin’s Law
, because I could have used Friedman, Trotsky or Marx instead of Hitler and still made the same point.
**The original quotation used the terms good and evil which I have already expressed my disdain for. The substitution of right and wrong is applicable and more apt for this post.