Righteous Mind

Preamble

All too often, I’ll read or listen to a book and place bookmarks with the best of intents to revisit and comment. yet either never to return or to return and not recall the context and not wanting to reread to regain it. I am going to attempt to document my reaction to Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. If you’ve read some posts here, you’ll understand that I am not a moralist, so I don’t expect to like the book or agree with it. I’ve already ready the forward materials, so I’ll return to comment on that before I get too far ahead. I have done this before at university, and it is decidedly slow progress and can chase one down rabbit holes—this one, anyway.

I have a habit of abandoning books in favour of others including dropping them outright. This is one of 16 I have in progress at the moment, some commenced as many as 5 years ago. To be fair to myself, many of those books are substantially completed. I feel I got the intended message—or at least got what I wanted out of them—, and I just haven’t read the final few chapters. In some cases, the book is an anthology, and I have been slogging my way through it. A few books I’ve read before and am reabsorbing the material, so I may decide not to re-read cover to cover. I just pulled a second reading book off the list to get to 16 from 17.

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to
understand them.

— Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus, 1676

Introduction

“Can we all get along?” — Rodney King

“Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”

Born to be Righteous

I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings.

Empasis mine

Straight away, I have a contention. The human mind is not designed to do anything. It has evolved and performs functions. Perhaps, this is just a matter of semantics, but it puts me on guard. Moreover, that it does morality doesn’t evaluate the relative benefit or if it should even be done. Without going down the aforementioned rabbit hole, language is a perfect example. We use language to communicate, but language as a social mechanism may be a secondary or tertiary function. As I’ve argued—even quite recently—, this is a reason I feel that language is insufficient for the purpose of conveying abstract concepts, like for example, morals and morality.

But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.

A primary function of the brain is as a difference engine. This is what allows us to discern friend from foe, edible versus poison, and so on. Reflecting on Kahneman and Tversky, most (if not ostensibly all) of this is a heuristic system I process, which is good enough but only at a distance. Morals allow us to create in-group and out-group distinctions.

I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational.

To my first point—not only his insistence on a design metaphor, but doubling down and declaring it as not a bug or an error—, this is disconcerting. And it may be a normal human condition, but so is cancer. The appeal to nature isn’t winning me over.

Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship.

Agreed.

What Lies Ahead

Part I is about the first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense.

Haidt and I are much aligned on these points.

Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.

Not buying the ‘go with your intuitions‘ advice. Moving on.

…the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant … I developed this metaphor in my last book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

I’m not sure I am going to like this dualism, and I haven’t read The Happiness Hypothesis, so I’ll just have to see where he takes it. It seems like Haidt is a hardcore Traditionalist.

Part II is about the second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness.

This feels about right.

The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.

OK. Let’s see where this goes.

Part III is about the third principle: Morality binds and blinds.

I like this pair.

…human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.

Did he say bee? I agree with the chimp reference. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought.

A note on terminology: In the United States, the word liberal refers to progressive or left-wing politics, and I will use the word in this sense. But in Europe and elsewhere, the word liberal is truer to its original meaning—valuing liberty above all else, including in economic activities. When Europeans use the word liberal, they often mean something more like the American term libertarian, which cannot be placed easily on the left-right spectrum.10 Readers from outside the United States may want to swap in the words progressive or left-wing whenever I say liberal.)

Decent advice.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

— MATTHEW 7:3–5

I do find myself, probably too often, parroting this paragraph.

PART I

Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second

Central Metaphor: The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.

Where Does Morality Come From?

A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner. Nobody saw them do this.

A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks it and eats it.

TBD

The Origin of Morality

Quick reaction for now. Details to follow…

I’m not quite buying into Haidt’s attempt to parse the nature versus nature argument into three segments: nativism and empiricism whilst adding rationalism insomuch as rationalism is seen by many as ambiguous and not a mutually exclusive option. It feels as though he’s throwing up a rationalist strawman to take down. We’ll see where it leads

Nativism
the theory that concepts, mental capacities, and mental structures are innate rather than acquired by learning.

Empiricism
the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience.

Rationalism
the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.

Let’s pick up on this later. I knew this would take a lot longer.

Nicomachean Ethics

Someone will have to try very hard to convince me that the classical Greek philosophers were not strictly satirists. I believe I’ve commented on Plato in the past. I try to be well-rounded and not just cherry-pick material that supports my worldview—even though that competes for my available time and creates opportunity costs.

Listen on Spotify

This time, I decided to pick up Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. If there is anything I needed to read to drive another nail into the coffin of Virtue ethics, this does the trick.

Nails in a coffin

Reading Classical philosophical texts feels like reading the Bible or any other religious works. It feels like it is only meant for disciples. It’s just choir preaching. If one agrees with the foundational position, it all works. Otherwise, it all falls apart.

I am not going to deconstruct the text. That would quite literally take several posts. What I want to point out is that within the frame he attempts to establish, his position is entirely heuristic. In this case, if one believes in virtue and honour and how these may or may not connect to happiness, then this is right up your street in much the same way as a Christian knows that s/he will be forgiven because Jesus loves them.

In some ways, it feels that the philosophy underlying Western Civilisation is more insidious than Abrahamic religions. They act in a similar way, attempting to convey an underpinning that simply doesn’t exist. Both are aspirational, but they claim to be foundational.

Like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics comes across (to me) as mental masturbation—some free-association thought experiment. I’m about 60 per cent through and tempted to quit, but on some level, I want to be able to defend that I have read it. Like the Bible, the I Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Qur’an, and other such canon, I want to have read the source material and not just references to it.

So, I’ll take one for the team and see whatever gems I can find.

First page of a 1566 edition of the Nicomachean Ethics in Greek and Latin

UPDATE: I’ve finished the book. It doesn’t get any better. He drifts off into politics as he sets up his sequel. My biggest criticism is that he casts his elitist worldview as reality based on assertions based solely on his opinions and appeals to tradition and authority. Read this if only to understand where certain people derive this moralistic, virtue-laden worldview. I was surprised by the foreshadowing of Descartes’ Cogito—though given how that further led to popularise Dualism, I’m not saying that’s a good thing.

Seven Types of Atheism

Some geezer, John Gray, wrote a book having this title. It was, let us say, ‘suggested’ that I watch it in video format—over an hour-long at that. I decided to search for a summary instead.

It’s not particularly up my street. The bloke who suggested the vid posted a statement:

Atheism is a narcissistic apostasy; the adoration of the things humans do & make; the worship of the golden calves of science & technology.

When I responded thusly « This quip reduced and conflates, almost creating a strawman. I suppose some atheists might be narcissists, though I don’t see that they would significantly differ from a sample of the general population. I’m guessing the second clause is intended to connect from the first, which is to claim that an atheist is a human who chooses STEM over gods as if there are no other alternatives, which creates a false dichotomy. But to treat atheism as some monolith is to treat all religions as ostensibly identical », his response was

What is atheism?.

To which I replied, « Atheism is the absence of belief in gods (or supernatural beings, if that’s a more generalisable concept). »

well, that is not enlightening at all. Explain atheism clearly.

That is all there is to it. There are different reasons why people are atheists, but that’s the definition. Etymologically, ‘theism’ is ‘belief in a deity or deities’. Atheism, applying the Greek prefix ‘a-‘, is the negative state of ‘theism, so the absence of ‘belief in a deity or deities’.

Atheism is not science. A large number of scientists believe in God. They see no contradiction between God and science, in fact they find the order behind everything reinforces their belief.

And so here the conversation, as it was, went off the rails. At no point did I invoke science. And then he promotes the John Gray video.

Interview with John Gray on Does God Exist

And we’ve been there before.

  1. New Atheism: the debate between science and religion was a result of confusing myths with theories. Religion is no more a primitive type of science than is art or poetry; scientific inquiry answers a demand for an explanation; the practice of religion expresses a need for meaning.
  2. Secular Humanism: a hollowed-out version of the Christian belief in salvation in history; the widespread belief that humans are gradually improving is the central article of faith of modern humanism
  3. Science-Religion: Gray reflects on the twentieth century’s strange faith in science – a faith that produced the false equation of evolution with progress and the racist ideologies that infect our social arrangements and political institutions
  4. Political Religion: Modern political ideologies are de facto religions; the belief that we live in a secular age is an illusion
  5. God-hatred: absorbed by the problem of evil; suffering, if inevitable, is at least infused with moral significance
  6. The Unsentimental Atheisms of George Santayana and Joseph Conrad: Santayana dismisses any idea that civilization is improving; everything in this world is a progress towards death. Conrad wrote that man is a wicked animal; his wickedness has to be organized; society is essentially criminal – otherwise, it would not exist
  7. Mystical Atheism: Schopenhauer was deeply and articulately antagonistic to religion in general; he rejects the notion that history has any metaphysical meaning, or that human beings are somehow advancing

Disclaimer 1: This summary list is copy-pasted from the linked source and edited ever so slightly to fit here.

Disclaimer 2: Neither did I watch the video nor read his book, so the summary might be off-kilter.

Still, I offer my reaction/reflection.

Firstly, this comes off not as an attack on atheism; rather, it’s an attack more particularly on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers, predominantly Scientists—as in those who practice Scientism religiously.

Secondly, this limited attack garners the same critique as I give Dawkins’ God Delusion. I liked this book, but whereas Gray limits his attack on a thin slice of atheists—despite offering up 7 flavours—, Dawkins limits his attack to Christians; perhaps, some Abrahamic denominations. This is a particular God and particular disciples.

I address these in turn.

  1. New Atheism: I agree that Scientism simply switched faith from God to Science or it deified Science, whichever vantage you prefer. This ilk simply swapped God for Naturalism. These are the same lot who offer up ‘Self-evident truths’ and Natural Law. Please. I agree with neither.
  2. Secular Humanism: Whilst admittedly secular, I am not quite a Humanist and decidedly not a Secular Humanist™. Here, I disagree with the underlying teleological notion of both.
  3. Science-Religion: The only nod I am willing to give to science is the evidence-based, falsifiability over faith, but much of science is still faith-based. It just operates from a different metanarrative. Again, Scientism is no one’s friend.
  4. Political Religion: I agree that this is as much a scourge as organised religion. By now, one might notice a trend—a healthy does of whataboutism: We can’t suck because we’re no different to this other thing that you might be attached to. Except they are all bollox through and through. Political ideology is religion without the blatant metaphysical nod—though it is still there beneath the surface.
  5. God-hatred: Even having not read the book, this makes no sense whatsoever. How can one hate what one doesn’t believe exists? I suppose I could hate unicorns, faeries, and Harry Potter, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. The summary suggests that it’s more about an obsession with evil, but I don’t have enough context to respond meaningfully. Do atheists actually believe in evil? I don’t. And, except idiomatically, I don’t personally know of others who do. Feels like a red herring.
  6. Unsentimental Atheisms: Satayana refutes the Secular Humanists. I’m buying what he’s selling. Conrad is taking a spin on evil but opting to label it wicked—a bit of a drama llama. I’m not buying it.
  7. Mystical Atheism: I like Schopenhauer—probably because he’s such an underdog. He did glean a bit from Buddhist philosophy. So have I. But Buddhism ranges from the secular to the sacred. I don’t tend to stray too far from the secular. I fully agree that history has no metaphysical meaning and human beings are not objectively advancing.

If anything, this is one of the longer posts I’ve made in a while. Thanks to the Copy-Paste Gods. Allahu Akbar, Oh Mighty. In the end, Santayana and Schopenhauer notwithstanding, I am still left with a why not neither.

FSM

Moral Tribes

Aside from the political realm, in my quest to gain more perspective on Anarchism in 2022, I am interested in behavioural aspects of the human condition. It seems to me that political constructs as dynamic systems are inherently unstable. Whilst I am predisposed to Anarchy versus the alternatives to which I’ve been exposed, it too is fraught will deficiencies. The question is which system has the fewest deficiencies at any given time. More on this later.

On my journey, I’ve come across Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene, a book recommended in Behave by Robert Sapolsky—perhaps my favourite non-fiction book of the trailing decade, which is also to say my favourite book over this period. Professor Greene summarises his concepts on YouTube.

But

Of course, there’s a but. Joshua Greene seems to come from the same mould as Stephen Pinker. Two Pollyanna defenders of the Enlightenment and Humanism. As such, they are Moderns in the pejorative sense. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. They both buy into the Classical Western narrative.

What interested me in Greene’s work was the conflict management aspect. I don’t believe in inherent morality, but I do believe in constructed morality, perhaps better known as ethics. I believe that these are self-serving, whereby self represents any entity at some point or limited expanse of time. They never derive from some neutral place without benefiting some at the expense of others.

The axe I have to grid with Greene in Moral Tribes is his belief in facile notions such as loyalty and some sense of definitive goodness and badness. These things, he believes are instinctual. If we can tap into them and manipulate those with broken instincts—or marginalise them—, all will be milk and honey—or wine and roses. Take your pick.

Deep Pragmatism

Greene is effectively a utilitarian as descended from Jeremy Betham and John Stuart Mill, and he views pragmatism as a sort of panacea. Although I operate as a pragmatist as a fallback position from my more existential nihilistic core, I don’t feel that his recharacterising utilitarianism as Deep Pragmatism™ is a viable solution. Presuming that one could actually dimensionalise a society in a manner to measure this utility is a fool’s errand at the start. And, as I’ve gathered from other sources, he not only believes that there is a best morality, and he’s found it—because of course he has. In my book this is a red flag—a flaming red flag signalling a rubbish claim. In some circles, they’d straight up call it bollox.

Given this foundation, I am not sure how much more I’ll be able to maintain my interest. But for now, I’m not optimistic that he’s relying on anything more than hoping to convert ises from oughts with his magic Modern wand. I’ll give it as least a few more pages, but I won’t promise not to skim through to the end.

Should the Criminal Justice System Be Abolished?

Much of jurisprudence is based on logic founded on faulty premises of regurgitated theological concepts shrouded in naturalistic theory and pseudoscience. This is not about the defund the police social trend of 2020. This is to say that the justice system is smoke and mirrors writ large. It’s ostensibly built on anachronistic concepts such as volition, evil, soul, blame, and forgiveness that should be tossed into the dustbin of history along with phrenology, humours, and will.

The titleof this post is taken from Robert Spapolsky’s proposed chapter concept for Behave, published in 2017, where until now, it’s languished on my Want to Read list, having entered via the vector of my interest in behavioural economics. Chapter 16 was eventually published with the title of Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will.

I’ve been writing for years about the nonesensical attachment to these notions, so it gives me comfort in solidarity to discover others who share, at least to some degree my perspective, knowing, of course, that this doesn’t make this perspective any more correct.

To be fair, I’ve held a low opinion of so-called justice (and government) systems pretty much since I was taught about them almost 50 years ago. In the US, much teaching is really propagandising about how fair these systems are and how peers and reasonable persons concepts make is superior. In my mind, those were the being failings. Later, when I hopped onto my language insufficiency bandwagon, it only fell apart more. Kafka’s The Trial represents the internal workings of most justice systems than the logic and reason of propogated but proponants.

Stopping here. Much to do. I recommend reading Behave. If you’ve read it, I’d love to see what you thought about it.

Why the world does not exist

Markus Gabriel was brought to my attention, and I immediately thought of Lance at The Dog Walks.

In essence, part of his argument touches on the insufficiency of language, but his key rationale for this claim is anchored arount Kant and set theory. He published a book by the same name on this topic in 2015. This TedX talk is from 2013. I haven’t read it and am unlikely to do so in the near term, but it might be interesting if it expands upon the notion presented here.

Democracy in America

In the furtherance of my critique of Democracy, I’ve gone back to re-read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, an original critique, though with much promise at the time.

In the introductory chapter, de Tocqueville notes the tradeoffs democracy makes. Essentially, he recognises the mediocrity, but he senses it’s somehow worth it. I break up his paragraphs and italicise for emphasis.

I admit that, in a democratic State thus constituted, society will not be stationary; but the impulses of the social body may be regulated and directed forwards;

Here de Tocqueville presumes the metanarrative of progress and all it entails.

if there be less splendor than in the halls of an aristocracy, the contrast of misery will be less frequent also;

The middle class served this purpose, but this benefit is being eroded as the acquisitive classes have learnt how to game the system and pillage the public coffers.

the pleasures of enjoyment may be less excessive, but those of comfort will be more general;

Here he considers the masses, but he fails to distinguish them from the aristocracy, now manifest as the 1%.

the sciences may be less perfectly cultivated, but ignorance will be less common;

Literacy may be elevated under this system, perhaps owing as much to the needs of Capitalism than of Democracy. In the US, the pair are inextricable.

Here, de Tocqueville is spot on. I won’t defend science or progress, but if this is a goal, the post-truth era is testament to the need for cultivation. Science is like investing: there is a compounding effect. Failing to progress effects downstream advancements, not linearly, but geometrically.

the impetuosity of the feelings will be repressed, and the habits of the nation softened;

there will be more vices and fewer crimes.

Interesting point, but I won’t linger; vices are morality plays, and crimes are tautological—though I suppose he is hinting that the demos will consider fewer situations to qualify as crimes, and so they’ll be relinquished to the realm of vices.

In the absence of enthusiasm and of an ardent faith, great sacrifices may be obtained from the members of a commonwealth by an appeal to their understandings and their experience;

each individual will feel the same necessity for uniting with his fellow-citizens to protect his own weakness; and as he knows that if they are to assist he must coöperate, he will readily perceive that his personal interest is identified with the interest of the community.

The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong

Alexis de Tocqueville

The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant, less glorious, and perhaps less strong;

Indeed.

but the majority of the citizens will enjoy a greater degree of prosperity, and the people will remain quiet, not because it despairs of amelioration, but because it is conscious of the advantages of its condition.

Tocqueville gets partial credit for this insight.

If all the consequences of this state of things were not good or useful, society would at least have appropriated all such as were useful and good;

Tocqueville misses the mark a bit here, tripping himself up on a somewhat Utilitarian—if not Pollyanna—worldview.

and having once and for ever renounced the social advantages of aristocracy, mankind would enter into possession of all the benefits which democracy can afford.

But here it may be asked what we have adopted in the place of those institutions, those ideas, and those customs of our forefathers which we have abandoned.

The spell of royalty is broken, but it has not been succeeded by the majesty of the laws;

the people has learned to despise all authority, but fear now extorts a larger tribute of obedience than that which was formerly paid by reverence and by love.

Here de Tocqueville appears to suggest a citizenry that fears rather than reveres its government in classic Machiavellian splendour.

I perceive that we have destroyed those independent beings which were able to cope with tyranny single-handed;

the weakness of the whole community has therefore succeeded that influence of a small body of citizens, which, if it was sometimes oppressive, was often conservative.

the Government that has inherited the privileges of which families, corporations, and individuals have been deprived

Alexis de Tocqueville

but it is the Government that has inherited the privileges of which families, corporations, and individuals have been deprived;

Ever the Madisonian, de Tocqueville shows concern of the consolidation of power.

the weakness of the whole community has therefore succeeded that influence of a small body of citizens, which, if it was sometimes oppressive, was often conservative.

The division of property has lessened the distance which separated the rich from the poor;

Although there was more egality…

but it would seem that the nearer they draw to each other, the greater is their mutual hatred, and the more vehement the envy and the dread with which they resist each other’s claims to power;

…and Tocqueville was prescient here—, the enmity of the haves of the moneyed classes crashes full-force into the have nots as the fabric of separation becomes more and more threadbare, as with Samhain this weekend.

the notion of Right is alike insensible to both classes, and Force affords to both the only argument for the present, and the only guarantee for the future.

The poor man retains the prejudices of his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues;

he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science which controls it, and his egotism is no less blind than his devotedness was formerly.

If society is tranquil, it is not because it relies upon its strength and its well-being, but because it knows its weakness and its infirmities;

a single effort may cost it its life;

everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure;

Alexis de Tocqueville

everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure;

the desires, the regret, the sorrows, and the joys of the time produce nothing that is visible or permanent, like the passions of old men which terminate in impotence.

Irrationality

I’ve not read nearly at a pace as I’ve done in prior years, and I’ve got a million excuses. I did recently start and stop Quine’s Pursuit of Truth, but I’ve just picked up Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason.

EDIT: I’ve since finished this book and posted a review on Goodreads.

As a former behavioural economist, it’s good to see the expansion of the position that the Enlightenment brought the Western world an Age of Reason, but it failed to see how little capacity most humans have for reason even regarding mundane affairs.

Have you ever stopped to consider that literally half of the population has less than average intelligence?

Some guy

Fundamental attribution bias is clearly at play, as the authors of these Enlightenment works were high-intellect individuals. I respect greatly the likes of Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and their near contemporaries, but the world they envisaged was based on an invalid premise.

In the realm of governance, one might try to argue that Plato was trying to address this in his admonishment of democracy in favour of The Republic, but he, too, was incorrect, essentially not seeing principle-agent problems as well as predicating a system on the notion of virtue—naive, to say the least.

I’ve been tremendously busy in my day job, so I haven’t been able to contribute here as much as I’d like, but I’ve taken time to jot down this.

Stephen Hicks’ Strawman

I’ve been reading and listening to Conservative Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism. He’s made it free on YouTube and as PDF. It’s important to note that the book is a decent read, but Hicks makes little attempt to remain in a neutral voice. It’s clear that he is critical of it, so his explaining is not to articulate to the generally interested; rather, it’s to impose his worldview on the topic matter. Read or listen, but keep this in mind. If you lean Conservative, you’ll eye-roll in unison with him; if you lean to the Left, the eye-rolls will have a different significance, as he mows down one strawman after another.

In this clip (bookmarked from the full audiobook), he attempts to make the case that postmodernists—which is as motley a crew as a group of atheists—eschew the notion of rationality for the comfort of feelings. Sure, I suppose some postmodernists do make this argument, but it is hardly a universal position. Taking myself as an example, I have no illusion that most people can register let alone understand their feelings.

I recall being in a corporate-sponsored (human resource-sponsored) interpersonal communications class where the instructor made the claim that one should defend your position by invoking feelings:

  • Your loud voice frightened me.
  • I feel sad when you shout at me.
  • I feel anxious when…

My reaction then is about the same as it is as I write: Whilst I may not understand what the other person may be feeling, there is little reason for me to believe that this person has identified and named this feeling. There is also little reason to presume this person is conveying to me a correctly-interpreted feeling in lieu of a more hyperbolic version for maximum effect. Moreover, some people seem to be offended by pretty much anything. And there’s one thing I’ve learnt along the way:

A person looking to be offended is pretty much guaranteed to be offended.

So, absent context, I have no reason to take this person at their word. Call me a curmudgeon, if you please.

Like Jordan Peterson, a personality who promotes Hicks, standing up and knocking down strawmen seems to be their raisons d’être, but this is sloppy philosophy and lacks the integrity these people claim to admire. In any case, forewarned is forearmed. Caveat emptor.

EDIT: The more I read of Hicks, the less I like it. He misunderstands or at least misrepresents postmodernism in a big way. I am not sure whether it is intentional or through ignorance, but a certain expected academic neutrality is absent to the brink of malpractice.

Here is a fuller critique of Hicks’ misrepresentation of Postmodernism.

Why it’s so difficult to unify modern politics

“The organization we call modern republicanism is based on multiple values and principles that conflict. We can identify at least five basic values of most modern republican political theories:

  1. popular self-governance by the political community
  2. individual liberties from government and social interference
  3. equality
  4. communal or national preservation, and
  5. economic and material modernization

“All of these matter; none can be ignored. But these values conflict. If you consistently emphasise or choose one over the other or pull on that thread, you move toward an exclusive political view of one kind or another.

“For example, if you emphasise self-governance over all other values and are willing to trade the others for more of it, you become a civic republican or a populist or a participatory democrat.

“If it’s individual liberties and rights, you value above everything else, a Libertarian, a neo-liberal, or a Natural Rights theorist.

“If it’s social equality, you become a progressive or social democrat or even a socialist.

“If it’s material progress above all, then you are probably an ethical utilitarian, believing the politic’s aim is to enhance general happiness.

“If it’s preservation of the forms of community life, then you’re a conservative.”

This is excerpted from the first chapter an excellent Great Courses lecture series by Lawrence Cahoon, The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas. (This PDF course guide provides a summary view.) It’s an interesting dimensionalisation of the problem with trying to reconcile politics into some unified theory, as it becomes necessary to optimise across these dimensions, some of which are polar opposites to other goals in a zero-sum relationship.

This series is available on Amazon as well as at Audible at good prices.