Why I’m A Pragmatist
Originally published on the National Economics Editorial.
Theory failed us.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of theory it is: economic, political, sociological — they’re all failures.
Because they’re (sometimes) illogical, other times they’re misapplied, but usually it’s because they only work in static landscapes — they don’t account for reality, which is dynamic and governed by externalities, aka black swan events (more on that later).
You think we’d have learned by now to avoid blindly following theories, and instead open our eyes and look at reality once in a while. You think we’d do what works, and don’t do what doesn’t. You think we’d be pragmatic.
Sadly for us, theories remain alluring: they look good on paper, they’re easy to work with, and they promise the world. They’re mental candy.
In this article, I’m going to tell you why placing too much faith in theories (and the charlatans that invent them) is about as dangerous as it gets,
By the end, you too will realize that the “experts” know a hell of a lot less than they think they do.
Pragmatism vs Theoreticism (Practice vs Theory): Definitions
We can understand what they mean by looking at the difference between them: if a theory doesn’t work, the pragmatist blames the theory, while the theoretician blames reality.
That may sound funny, but it’s laughably true.
Before explaining why theoreticism’s done so much damage, let’s look at what’s happened globally, with our politicians.
Intellectuals and politicians have opted to scrap practicality in favor of nonsensical theories that are overwrought with academic drivel — they’re indecipherable to the common man. This holds even when the theory is tested and it doesn’t work (think Marxism — it’s still super popular even though it doesn’t work).
Theory-driven policy has dominated politics in recent history. Everything from trade to property rights to healthcare, to social policy have been taken over by radical theory-driven thinking rather than practical policies born out and tested by history.
Basically, “experts” think they can do better than nature, and that their theories are better than reality.
This arrogance causes two problems.
- It removes common sense (and the common man) from the equation when making high level policy decisions. Political debates are held by and for the elites and highly educated. Because of this, the common man often suffers at the expense of the elites, all the while being patronizingly told that “this is the best way to do things.”
Unfortunately, the “best way” often sucks. It’s the common man that bears the burden of radical policy overhauls in the name of theory-driven thinking. The common man is the intellectuals’ test dummy.
- It provides a (seemingly) indefensible position for these pseudo-intellectuals to draw upon when questioned. “You can’t question me, I’m the expert.”
This problem is more dangerous than the first. Why?
Because it allows the elites to exercise their power, and keep growing it, by shutting down opposition via social pressure. How does this work?
By citing other intellectuals (experts), healthy debate is discouraged. After all, anyone who doesn’t agree with the experts must be some sort of an idiot right? This makes people feel stupid, because what they see (reality) doesn’t match with what’s “right” according to the experts. This convinces lots of people that they’re wrong, but too dumb to understand why.
It’s social coercion.
“Because An Expert Said So” Isn’t An Argument: Call To Authority Fallacy
Expert opinions are not indefensible.
In fact, people that cite expert opinions to win debates commit a logical fallacy (one surprisingly absent from scholastic curriculums), called the appeal to authority, or the authority bias.
The authority bias is simple: just because an expert (or authority) says it, doesn’t make it true.
The perfect example of this is when the experts disagree — they can’t both be right.
More concretely: just because someone is an expert, they aren’t absolved from needing to make a cogent argument. Often, experts forget this — especially when they’re confronted by someone who calls them on it. (SEE: Every Tucker Carlson interview of an expert).
Arguments, whether made by an expert or not, have to hold water when matched against reality.
Reality is the data. It’s the ultimate test for every theory — if an expert’s opinion doesn’t line up with reality, believe reality; screw the “expert”.
Always be weary of someone who appeals to authority instead of giving a concrete argument.
This shows that either:
- They don’t really know what the argument is. Eg. “Global warming is happening because Bill Nye said so,” “how is it happening?”, “…Bill Nye said so.”
- They can’t articulate it, and probably don’t understand the argument anyways. Eg. “Global warming is happening because Bill Nye said so,” “how do we know it’s happening?”, “…evidence.”
Either way, whatever that person’s saying is probably worthless, and you should try to find someone else to argue with (perhaps try the “expert” they appealed to).
When confronted with an argument, Bill Nye avoids providing facts, and instead says that he’s right because (smarter) people agree with him. Classic Nye.
Another related, but slightly different fallacious thought process used by pseudo-intellectuals is credentialism.
This is the idea that if you have PhD (or other often meaningless accolade) you can say any malarkey or gobbledygook you want, and people should believe it.
Sadly, people often cite these opinions in good faith to justify their stupid assertions.
It makes sense that academics appeal to credentialism. It’s a great way to consolidate power — if you write off every argument you don’t like because the author doesn’t have the “necessary credentials”, you win without a fight (SEE: Ben Shapiro’s take).
The intellectual elite manipulate the political left using credentialism via appeals to authority. How?
First they convince the left to buy into credentialism. Once bought (wholesale, might I add), they arm the left with shorthand expert opinions to cite. This shuts down debates before anybody exposes the arguments’ holes.
The left has an interesting relationship with intellectual elite. Intellectuals (read: shills) want power and control. Conveniently, the left wants to be controlled (though they may not realize it).
This creates a symbiotic relationship where the intellectuals tell the left what to think, and the left defends those ideas with vitriol. The intellectual elites use the left to push their agenda by making what they say, and think, gospel.
They invent a metaphorical machine, then arm the left with the weapons to rage against it.
As a side note, this is why the mainstream media is, at this point, just a sounding board for the left and an echo chamber of leftist ideologies force-fed to the public. These ideologies originate from the elite.
Luckily, there are people out there who don’t buy the appeal to authority and spit in the face of people who use it during arguments. And this population is growing.
The intellectual elites’ greatest fear is someone who is either aware of the appeal to authority fallacy, or doesn’t care about authorities.
This person is: the pragmatist.
Pragmatists: The New Soldiers of Fortune
Pragmatists put fact before theory. They put experience before intellect. They derive their world view not from abstract thought but from what they see and know.
They dare to question experts because their theories don’t match reality.
The pragmatist thinks before accepting. He reflects. Does it make sense? Does it flow logically from what came before? Does it reflect reality?
The author of this piece is an unabashed pragmatist. My mantra can be boiled down to this: if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and it looks like a duck, it’s a duck. And it’s definitely not a chicken — even if an ornithologist says it is.
Now, to be fair, there are a few people that enter academia (the intellectuals’ homeland: Mordor) trying to combat them from within. They play by the intellectuals’ rules, get the approved credentials, and then go toe-to-toe (or expert-to-expert) with the intellectuals.
These people are few and far between, and they either entered academia experienced with reality, or aware of the biases they actively needed to fight against. However, unless they explicitly tell you, an academic intellectual is likely a theoreticist, not a pragmatist.
Karl Marx is the classic example of a man who put his theory before reality. The same goes for all of his followers, from Lenin to Bernie Sanders.
Theoreticist: The New Fascists
The new fascists are theoreticists — the political left.
They try to shut down dissenters, and change the world to fit their utopian ideal. They derive their policies and actions from liberalism (and increasingly Marxism).
Liberalism is a theory. Liberals try and make reality match their theory instead of the other way around.
The opposite of this is conservatism. Conservatives are (generally) pragmatic. They look at what works, what has worked, and how to improve upon it. Conservative theories (insofar as there are theories) must match reality. They do what works, whether or not they can explain why.
In short, conservatism (the right) is pragmatic, while liberalism & Marxism (the left) is idealistic, theoretical.
Recently, a nasty, radical sub-sect of liberal ideology has taken over and become the dominant force on the political left. This sect draws their beliefs from three premises: cultural relativism, nihilism, and unwavering equality.
Pragmatists have a way of dealing with these premises.
Cultural Relativism (All Cultures Are Created Equal)
The pragmatist looks at Western culture and compares it to those of the East. He sees that much of the East subjugates women, harms minorities, oppresses dissenters, and is fraught with crime.
The pragmatist also looks at history, and realizes that the West is much more advanced when it comes to science, art, and everything in between. In contrast, some cultures didn’t even invent writing, or wheels.
The pragmatist concludes that not only are not all cultures equal, but the West is best.
The pragmatist remembers reading about nihilism. He remembers reading about the meaninglessness of life, and how nothing matters.
He realizes that by this logic, nothing really matters. He also knows that his life and his family are subjectively meaningful to him, no nihilism doesn’t really work (unless you desperately need a Xanax).
Nihilism represents the opinion of someone without skin in the game. The pragmatist never trusts someone without skin in the game.
Finally, the pragmatist tackles the lefts’ idea of unwavering equality.
This sounds pleasing at first. Equality for everyone, no matter what the circumstance. You would have to be a heartless fool to not want equality for everyone.
No. In fact it’s the opposite.
Unwavering equality ignores reality. The only place where everyone can be equal, no matter the circumstance, is in the mind of the leftist.
The left does a bait and switch. They see inequality of outcome, and infer inequity (they assume the system’s rigged, not that people are different). They rage out, and then try to impose inequality in opportunity (affirmative action and other such nonsense) to force and equal outcome. It becomes a sick social experiment — how badly do you have to cripple one group in society before the rest catch up?
Of course, helping the downtrodden isn’t a worthwhile task unless it comes at the expense of the successful. These are bitter people.
The pragmatist realizes that equal opportunity is fair, not equal outcome. They realize that outcome is not a good proxy for opportunity.
This is important to recognize because not all inequality results from inequity. Not all inequality is because someone is oppressed or disadvantaged.
The pragmatist looks at the world around him: not everyone works as hard. Not everyone cares as much. Not everyone wants as much.
These three things completely shut down the idea that perfect equality can ever exist. Because of this, perfect equality necessitates inequity. And since the left strives for unwavering equality, they also strive for inequity.
If they truly strive for unwavering equality, and their equality necessitates inequity, then they will never stop fighting against something. There will always be inequity in their world.
This is exactly why you see the left target a new class of “victims” every few years. They need new “pets”, they need something to screech about. They will never stop fighting against something — discontent is their ideology.
Intellectuals (and the left) miss these rejections because they generally suffer from the causal reductionism fallacy.
They reduce an outcome down to having one cause. They ignore other causes of the same thing and fight against the one thing they want to (or are told to) change. They blame racism, sexism, and something-phobia for everything.
For example, they blame systemic racism for all differences in income, crime statistics, even the rates of divorce.
Reality doesn’t agree. But the left doesn’t care.
They ignore cries from conservatives that say to become successful in America you have to do three things: finish high school, get a job, and not have children before you’re married.
None of these things have anything to do with race, gender, gay rights, systematic injustice, and other such nonsense screamed by the left — these are all just theories, that no longer have basis in reality.
Why All This Matters
Pragmatism protects against bad arguments that on their face sound good.
This is important when bad arguments, from bad theories, are used to make bad policies, that have bad outcomes (for good people).
If something sounds good (but it’s actually stupid), and is used to make bad policy, while other countries are making good policy based off of facts and reality, then the theory-driven country is at a distinct disadvantage. They’re the canary in the coal mine.
This is ultimately why pragmatism is important.
Pragmatists don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They don’t endorse radical changes just because they might sound nice. Radical changes always leave something out that should’ve probably been left in. This causes problems. Sometimes catastrophic and nation ending ones.
We now live in a time where radical changes could not only end our nations, but end humanity entirely. With the world as it is, some theories are just not worth trying.
To protect ourselves, and stop the power divesting from the champions of humanitarianism and advancement (the West), we need to be pragmatic.
Our enemies sure are, and they’re winning.
Stop the bleeding that the theoreticists started. Reject the advocates for radical change that base their worldview on abstraction.