When I was a young man, I was heavily invested appearing intelligent and sophisticated. I was also invested in actually being intelligent and understanding the world around me, but a good deal of my intelligent conversation was for effect. I wanted other people to regard me as intelligent. I don’t think I started out that way, though.
The first topic I remember getting passionate about was astronomy. I was probably 8 years old and I was completely in love with the enormous scale of the universe. I loved looking at pictures of stars and planets and nebulas. I had a great deal of fun trying to conceptualize the size of the earth relative to the sun. I watched any science documentaries I could find in the library. (We had like 13 channels on the TV and I usually didn’t get to pick out what we’d bring home from the video rental store).
In late middle school and early high school, while I was starting to really develop my own identity outside my family, I discovered politics. We never really talked about religion or politics or sex or drugs or anything exciting in my house growing up.
The most political thing I remember, prior to this time, was the cartoon show Captain Planet, which made it very clear to me that the great conflict in the world is between the environmental forces for good against the evil corporations hellbent on pouring as much glowing green ooze into the rainforest as possible.
I decided, after talking to my older brother, that I was a communist because communism is all about making sure that every poor child and sick elderly person can have their own unicorns. I read foreign policy journals, subscribed to Democracy Now! and would engage in debates with my peers about how George Bush was a bad president. I told a girl once that she shouldn’t consider herself a conservative because it what it really translates to is being stuck in the past, and being a progressive means you want civilization to progress into the future.
I am ashamed to say that I canvassed for signatures on behalf of John Kerry in the 2004 elections. All of my political, economic and ethical understanding was mostly just for effect. I didn’t actually have any idea what the hell I was talking about. I wanted to appear cultured, intelligent and moral.
I am much wiser now, and have been very fortunate to learn from people much smarter than myself. But pretentiousness really fucking irritates me. I can forgive a high school student for the dumb shit that comes out of their mouths, but adults don’t really have an excuse. If they are full of shit, that’s on them.
Conclusions v Principles
Having a population of people who were taught what to think and not how to think makes it really fucking difficult sometimes to have a reasonable conversation about anything they or anyone they know might have a guilty conscience about. If their mother works at the Post Office and you argue that the Post Office should not have a monopoly on everything mail (save for a portion of parcel delivery), then for most people, they stop being able to add two and two; they go full retard.
Many of these people see other special people as the truth. They don’t evaluate propositions according to a standard but rather form an allegiance with somebody they regard as superior to them and just adopt the same conclusions they do.
I live in an area with a lot of new age enlightened beings walking around exuding humble rays of the beloved’s loving warmth and grace. Their guru tells them that there is only the present moment, and anything that assumes that time extends forward and backward is illusory and naive. Then their guru tells them that this is all a dream, and so it is. Somebody in particular says it, and it becomes true in that moment.
I am a huge fan of the philosopher Stefan Molyneux. His whole schtick is about giving people the tools to come to their own conclusions, not to just take his word on anything. I am very passionate about the topics talked about on his show, and I participate in online groups revolving around the show, but fundamentally, my excitement has almost nothing to do with the man at all. I think he’s very charming, funny and likeable, but he could be dysfunctional, an alcoholic, whatever, and it wouldn’t really matter to me.
What I’m passionate about is the enormous scale of philosophy, it’s application, it’s world shaping importance, it being the all-discipline. I feel the same enthusiasm I felt when I was 8 when I discovered astronomy. I didn’t really care about Carl Sagan or Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was a kid, and in the same way, I’m not tuning into Freedomain Radio for Stefan and what new conclusions he’s come to.
It’s not about memorizing conclusions. It’s about understanding principles and having a good methodology. People who use the former approach are doomed to be tripped up by any amount of nuance, mistaking conclusions for actual understanding. It’s like the kid who fails his math class because he’s memorized the practice test problems, unable to apply the same answers to the slightly altered questions on the final test.
I engage the community around Freedomain Radio because I get to talk about philosophy with people who will understand its relevancy and its importance. There are, however, more than a few people who don’t understand that it’s not the conclusions that are important. They will watch or listen to one of the shows and they will only remember or process what conclusion Stefan came to, without considering the methodology, the principles, how he came to that conclusion.
That would be bad enough, but what these people do is one of two things. They will vaguely suggest, like a passive aggressive dick, that anyone who disagrees is an idiot, without doing any of the work of actually explaining anything because they can’t (they only processed the conclusions and are not doing philosophy). They are the idiots, and worse than that: hypocrites who’ve missed the entire point of the show. Or what they will do is reject Stefan, the man himself, on the grounds that he’s not a real anarchist or philosopher or whatever, entirely on the basis that he arrived at one conclusion and not another.
Usually these people engage in the most irritating form of concern trolling. They will ignorantly claim things like “Stef has changed; he loves the cops now”, “he wants Donald Trump to be president”, “he wants to control immigration between nation states, gah!”
The implication is that he’s completely compromised on his principles and is a hypocrite. But it’s blatant psychological projection because it is them who has completely failed to process the actual arguments advanced in the videos in question. They are the hypocrites not acting on principle. They only see conclusions, maybe because they aren’t very intelligent, or maybe they have someone they want to win the favor of who can only process conclusions, I don’t know.
My buddy Joel Patterson puts it like this: it’s as if some people have no object constancy. Babies before a certain age don’t understand that a ball still exists even if it has rolled underneath a blanket and out of sight. And likewise, these people having heard Stefan argue that threatening violence as an enforcer for the state is as immoral as it would be anyone else, but as soon as he defends a particular cop who was charged at by a very large, raging and heavily drugged man intent on murdering the cop, their capacity to experience nuance goes completely out the window. “He’s not a real anarchist! Aargh!”.
That kind of pretentiousness pisses me off. I don’t want to be associated with these morons. I don’t want people to think that this is how anarchists act, or that this represents Freedomain Radio.
If you’ve ever done any of these things, it doesn’t mean I hate you or anything like that. That would again be to miss the principle. It’s not about any particular people or any particular example. What I want you to understand is that you run into problems when you focus on conclusions and not the principles people reason their way up from.
And it’s a matter of degrees. Sometimes it’s a more or less honest mistake, and other times, it’s contemptible and crazy-making bullshittery.
A principle is that part of what is talked about that can be extracted and applied in different situations. There is a difference between the question “what would you like for dinner tonight?” and the question “what should my eating habits be?”
Whether or not Syrians should be taken in as refugees into Germany, or whether Donald Trump won the Republican debate, or whether George Zimmerman was innocent, is not the point. Conclusions to these kinds of questions are not what philosophy is.
Forget about the conclusions. Forget about the what. It’s the how that matters. Life is not public school, you aren’t getting a grade on your answer to these questions.
Original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obD__CI_I2k