A place for new ideas to settle.

15 September 2014

Obnoxiousness, objective reality, and finding one's own untruth

I.
 
I'm slogging my way through Nick Land's summary of the Dark Enlightenment (a.k.a. Neoreaction) as research for a presentation to the Western Libertarians, and I come across this interesting tidbit in an otherwise headache-inducing discussion of race human biodiversity race:
The history is damning. ‘Sociables’ have always had it in for the obnoxious, often declining to marry or do business with them, excluding them from group activities and political office, labeling them with slurs, ostracizing and avoiding them. ‘Obnoxiousness’ has been stigmatized and stereotyped in extremely negative terms, to such an extent that many of the obnoxious have sought out more sensitive labels, such as ‘socially-challenged’, or ‘differently socially abled’. Not uncommonly, people have been verbally or even physically assaulted for no other reason than their radical obnoxiousness. Most tragically of all, due to their complete inability to get on with one another, the obnoxious have never been able to politically mobilize against the structural social oppression they face, or to enter into coalitions with their natural allies, such as cynics, debunkers, contrarians, and Tourette Syndrome sufferers. Obnoxiousness has yet to be liberated, although it’s probable that the Internet will ‘help’ …
It's somewhat amusing to entertain the idea that "sociability" has something to do with denying objective reality in favor of a consensus, and that accepting objective reality has something to do with being obnoxious. Funny if true, but as counter evidence I give essentially the entire history of the radical Left—a group prone to schism at the slightest disagreement. Then again, leftists often seem pretty damn obnoxious, and often pride themselves on being so. Maybe the neoreactionaries are on to something there.

Here Land seems to be using a dinner-party model of social interaction. Certainly in all "polite" interaction we mutually and tacitly agree to suspend certain observational powers and deny certain realities: Steven Pinker gives some interesting examples of this with respect to language. And certainly upper-class society is seen as doing this to a greater degree than everyone else—maybe it's true, maybe it isn't.

But (and I defer to Pinker, since he studies language use for a living) this seems to be a hardwired human tendency, so that raises an interesting question: can a higher tendency for sociability be hijacked in service to some foreign belief—say, a postmodernist denial of objectivity? Again, I don't know that it should be true—political extremism has little to do with epistemology—but it's probably worth investigating. More broadly, it would be part of a program to determine which aspects of human nature are vulnerable to attack, as it were, by virulent memes.

II.

Put another way, it would be interesting find out if there are human experiences that are less universal than we think they are. How many ways are we actually deluding ourselves and believing everyone else, conforming to a social truth that ignores the objective truth that this just isn't true for you? It's funny; people—well, a certain sort of person—seem actively interested in "finding one's own truth," but nobody considers the complement: finding one's own untruth. It's a far better exercise in rationality, and in fact extremely difficult, because of the massive cognitive pressure to conform.

Coming to grips with untruth has helped me define my stance towards religion, for example. I am not a believer and never was: I don't know what religion feels like from the inside. Any analogy I can draw—from fiction, or sublime experiences in nature, for example—doesn't go all the way because I know that it's not "God." That is, I know I don't think about these experiences in the way that religious people talk about religious experiences.

And maybe it's actually the same. I know that religious people extol the virtues of God's creation when they achieve the summit of a mountain: is that motivating sensation appreciably different than what I would feel, or is it just in the interpretation? How much and how often do religious people just learn to attach different names to the same experience? (And not just religions: other groups like Sasquatch hunters or conspiracy theorists also count.) How much is all of this just a different facet of the way all human acculturation works?

Now go. Find your untruths.

12 September 2014

The 7 Strangest Feminist Ideas

[Note: This is a parody of a recent Alternet/Salon piece called "The 7 strangest libertarian ideas," which was silly enough to warrant a mirror-satirization. Try to decide before section II whether I'm super committed to the implied ideology or not.]

I.

Few movements in the United States today harbor stranger political ideas than the self-proclaimed feminists. The Tumblr school of feminism is at least as far outside the mainstream on the left as, say, a rather doctrinaire old-school form of anti-Masonism on the right. The difference is this: The mainstream media isn’t telling us that we’re in the middle of a “Anti-Masonic moment.” Anti-Masonic politicians aren’t being touted as serious presidential contenders. And all the media chatter we’re hearing about a “Feminist moment” ignores the very harsh, extreme and sometimes downright ugly ideas that are being disseminated under that banner.

It’s great to have allies like MoveTheFuckOverBro working alongside other Americans to defend our civil rights, restrain the GOP and reduce the social conservatives' grip on domestic policy. It’s possible to admire their political courage in these areas while at the same time recognize that we may not care for the environment they inhabit.

There’s another reason to challenge feminists on the extreme nature of their ideology: A number of them seem determined to drive competing ideas out of the free market for ideas—which isn’t very egalitarian of them. There has been a concerted effort to marginalize mainstream values and ideas about everything from men's rights to the role of white people in life. So by all means, let’s have an open debate. Let’s make sure that all ideas, no matter how unusual they may seem, are welcome for debate and consideration. But let’s not allow any political movement to become a Trojan horse, one which is allowed to have a "moment" without ever telling us what it really represents.

Obviously, not every self-proclaimed feminist believes these ideas, but feminism is a space which nurtures them. Can the progressive movement really succeed by embracing this space? Why does the mainstream media treat feminist ideas as somehow more legitimate than, say, the egalitarian principles which guide Great Britain or Sweden?

Here are seven of modern feminism's strangest and most extreme notions, as curated by me, because five seconds' Google search is good enough, so there.

1. All penis-in-vagina sex is rape.

All penis-in-vagina sex is rape.

2. Men must agree with everything a woman says.

Men must agree with everything a woman says.

3. We should eliminate the idea that sex has anything to do with biology.

We should eliminate the idea that sex has anything to do with biology.

4. White "people" aren't really people and don't deserve dignity.

White

5. Maleness is vile.
Maleness is vile.

6. Men have never produced anything useful, only patriarchy, destruction, and sexual violence.

Men have never produced anything useful, only patriarchy, destruction, and sexual violence.

(Emphasis mine.)

7. The sexes should be separate but unequal.

The sexes should be separate but unequal.

II.


Okay, that was all very silly. And while I have critiqued and/or stared bewildered at the Internet-feminist social-justice movement before, I'm not an idiot; I'm not going to claim that everyone self-identifying as a feminist will agree with stuff like "women have invented everything, men just stole it" or "men don't get to have opinions" or "penis-in-vagina sex is always rape, consent be damned." Not even most self-identifying feminists will agree, I'd wager.

But by that same token, you'd be surprised at how many self-identifying libertarians don't agree with Rand Paul, or Murray Rothbard, or Peter Thiel. There's plenty of self-criticism on the libertarian end, and as I came to realize a while ago, libertarianism in America comes in two very distinct flavors, though this isn't obvious from the outside.

Salon's committing some serious hypocrisy here, by portraying "libertarianism" as a single thing as exemplified by some of its noncentral members—while the Pauls, Rothbard, and Rand are highly influential, libertarians are increasingly diverse in viewpoint. On the other hand, Salon publishes multitudes of internet-feminist ragebait articles and often scoffs at any criticism of Internet-feminism. If I were actually notable, I'd imagine many people who nodded along through the libertarian-ideas article would angrily accuse me of setting up straw feminists to attack. They'd be right, of course: I didn't feel like doing the research to find prominent feminist activists who say silly things, though they do exist.

But label fatigue is setting in, and "feminism" is being pulled into the light-suckingly-black hole that is screeching no-reals-only-feels Internet "activism." Where the worst offenders aren't the ones who arrogantly assert that "feminism isn't about equality" but the ones who condescendingly pull out the dictionary definition of "belief in equality of the sexes" as a shield against criticism, but then go back to silliness like saying it isn't statutory rape if the underage victim is male.

And by "silly" I mean "disgusting and reprehensible," but words are mutable things, are they not?

The point, after all of this, is that bad arguments are worse than no arguments. I absolutely hate it when I see a good cause defended poorly, or a bad cause attacked stupidly. Especially on the Internet, which is forever and ever.

In politics, it has been said, arguments are soldiers, but then bad arguments are traitors. Never let a Benedict-Arnold statement pass your lips or your keyboard, lest it be screencapped and posted to some blog you hate as proof that yes, the Enemy (that'd be you) really is that stupid!

NEW WORLD ORDER: Changes, additions, and roadmaps.

Greetings. Here's how things are changing.

My new Squarespace site is up, but will be updated slowly. Please go check it out, it's very nice.

This blog will stay a blog. Not that I don't love my shiny new Squarespace, but I think it's best to leave that as a more polished, "professional" site with serious business and all that. In particular, comments will be activated here and not there.

Feeds are different now. I have three different streams of content: essays, fiction, and blog posts. Keep in mind that blog posts are going to be a mishmash of all sorts of stuff now, whereas essays and fiction are just that.

Blog posts are now http://feeds.feedburner.com/stephenmeansme-blog

Essays are now http://feeds.feedburner.com/stephenmeansme-essays

Fiction is now (complete the pattern) http://feeds.feedburner.com/stephenmeansme-fiction

If you want everything in one convenient RSS-y package, that would be http://feeds.feedburner.com/stephenmeansme-all

Unfortunately, that means those of you who subscribed to the Comfortable Disease RSS feed have to re-subscribe to the new blog feed. Sorry y'all.

Comments are Disqus. You don't have to make an account to post, but it'd be nice. It's all a lot better than Google+ comments or the default Blogger comments, though.

That's all. Here's to a more prolific future for this blog. Unemployment and unenschoolment should have their benefits.