A place for new ideas to settle.

15 September 2014

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

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.


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.