Freedom, Justice, and Competition

I frequently bemoan the fact that political debate starts at narrow issues, rather than at foundations. I’m also fairly certain that I’ve mentioned before some thoughts about the nature of human institutions and their relation to freedom and justice and the inherent competitive nature of them. I’d like to take a few moments to explore that concept a bit, because I think it is one of the fundamental pillars of how I think societies should be understood. I strongly believe that human institutions should have humanity as their primary goal and focus: we should focus our efforts to bettering ourselves and our habitat, as a whole. Secondarily, we should promote all life in our habitat. I think these tenets are held by a majority of people – it benefits each and every one of us. When we imagine utopia, unless you are Ayn Rand, you imagine a world of peace, of tranquility, of selflessness, and comfortable living. In my experience, this is almost universally the case. Therefore, in order to achieve these goals of transforming society into something more conducive to said goals, we must understand the way that societies are built and they way institutions exist and interact.

There seems to be an intersection of real positive growth in understanding of human culture in philosophy, economics, and sociology. Philosophers grow and develop new analyses of the human condition, while economists and sociologists confirm or deny or build upon those ideas. I think, then, we should do some armchair work and think about the nature of humanity as a whole, and from there, human institutions. Humans are fundamentally self-centered, seeking one’s own survival even at the expense of others. Even among those of us who might sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we often do so at least somewhat begrudgingly. We do it either because it is expected of us or we hope to receive something in return at a later date. We have laws on the books protecting one’s ability to protect oneself or one’s property even to the point of killing some trespasser. I’m not stating something we all don’t already know: foremost in our minds, at least to some extent, is the fundamental belief that you are more deserving, more important than others. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we hurt in order to guarantee that we keep our jobs, that we get the last turkey on the shelf, that we win the prize. At the fore of these behaviors is a maxim that, whether consciously or unconsciously, we hold above all else: I am worth more than you. I don’t think there is much evidence to the contrary, and the evidence required to disprove this observation seems enormous.

Human institutions are, at bottom, groups of humans working together to some end. Whether its the church, the state, or your company, each of these institutions can be understood as a collaboration of individual powers and skills to a combined purpose. That collaboration need not be voluntary to be exist, and that power need not be recognized to exist. I think this is the key observation: human institutions multiply (or at least combine) the power of numbers of individuals into one single entity, such that that entity is much more difficult to overcome by those of lesser power. In other words, a bigger company, a bigger government, a bigger labor union are all more difficult to topple compared to smaller ones. The combined effort of each individual to survive is multiplied into the behavior of the larger entity, simply based on the fact that all its members of human. The entity, then, operates in such a way that it adopts the same maxim as humans themselves: I am worth more than you.

Consequently, institutions lie, cheat, steal, and hurt in order to guarantee their survival. This behavior extends even to the members of that entity. Anyone who has been an employee of an especially unreserved corporation knows the cutthroat nature of some policies that, while harming members of the entity, fundamentally strengthen the entity’s chances of survival. We further see this in nuclear arms races, in stagnant wages, in destruction of the planet. A government is more likely to survive if it has more nuclear weapons than everyone else, a corporation is more likely to survive if it keeps wages as low as possible, and both are more likely to survive if they value productivity at the expense of the environment.

Generally speaking, this survivalist behavior is fundamentally short-sighted. We value a short-term guarantee of our survival against long-term goals beyond that. We can see this in individuals, too, and it seems to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in both cases. When we do not perceive our survival as guaranteed, we are more likely to behave rashly in order to improve our chances. Conversely, when we perceive our survival as more or less guaranteed, we are more willing to spend our time or money on pleasures or even on other people. Similarly, a human institution not guaranteed its own survival is more likely to behave more rashly.

At this point, I think we can make some arguments about how we should structure our societies and institutions, given the aforementioned goals and observations about human nature. If we want guarantee of survival as individuals, we must guarantee methods of survival (income, food sources, etc.). If we want to guarantee survival for ourselves, we must guarantee survival for most (preferably all) people, otherwise we run the risk of being subject to the unhappy end of our selectivist policies. Moreover, our institutions must be guaranteed some form of survival. Guaranteeing individual survival seems at least hypothetically doable, but in most theories I have encountered, guaranteeing survival of institutions runs contrary to that. I’ll examine a few.

Anarcho-capitalism is absolutely fascinating, and honestly, I would love it if I thought it were at all viable. It relies on the belief (with which I agree) that humans, on an individual level, are more likely to be responsible and compassionate to others without government mediation. It tacks on free-market principles in a very neoliberal fashion, holding that capitalism holds the secret to human happiness. I reject the latter notion out of hand, because capitalism without government mediation results in different all-powerful institutions fighting for survival at the expense of individuals (i.e. feudalism).

Socialism is, I think, a step in the right direction. Varying forms hold differing methods and results, but in general, socialism promotes the ownership of the means of production collectively by the citizenry. In many cases, socialism becomes necessarily hostile to other institutions, gobbling up all sorts of functions under a single monopolistic hegemonic monster. I reject this (simplistic) form of socialism out of hand because it still harms individuals by promoting the institution at their expense.

The next few theories are actually strangely similar, in that they recognize a few of the same problems with the former theories and in that they recognize the inherent flaw in our quest for utopia. Forms of social democracy (Marxian, et al.), anarcho-syndicalism, and some forms of anarcho-communism I think learn a lot of the lessons of our economic history and attempt to account for flaws in our behaviors. I do not want to delve into any detail, but I would invite the interested reader to look through the linked articles and perhaps read some other material on the subject. The important points, though, are that these libertarian forms recognize the need to level the playing field, so to speak, of institutions against one another. Government should never exceed the power of corporations so as to usurp them, and vice versa. Corporations, similarly, should never have the power to usurp one another. Indeed, maintenance of equality among all people and institutions is what makes these theories tick. In recognizing that the survivalist instinct is an unerasable element of human nature, they instead try to effectively lock it down in a standstill. By guaranteeing that one person or institution cannot overcome another, they simultaneously guarantee individual and institutional survivability. Helpfully, social democracy and syndicalism both retain much of the sort of hierarchy in society to which we are accustomed, maintaining the roles of leader and follower many people (including myself) agree are necessary.

I ended up writing a good bit more than I originally intended to, so I will leave a short summary to tie this together and to help those who skipped some (or all) of the post. Because humans and their institutions are fundamentally selfish, we need a system of economics and government that either eliminates or ties down those selfish tendencies so that we can realize greater happiness. Left-libertarian forms of government and societal organization retain the individual freedoms we cherish while transforming institutions in such a way that they retain their productive power while significantly reducing their capacity for harm. It’s not utopia, but it’s a gigantic leap in the right direction.

Freedom, Justice, and Competition

Morality and Politics

One of the most frustrating parts about modern politics (and perhaps politics throughout history) is that it seems to me that behind the scenes, we are still duking it out over some of the oldest moral debates: is something moral because of its results (what we attribute to it), or is something moral in and of itself? In other words, do we construct moral principles or are moral principles discoverable objects of the universe?

It’s very easy to see this in political discourse. There are some certain groups of people who act purely egoistically, seeking their own personal gain and satisfaction purely, even at the expense of vast numbers of people. Think Charles and David Koch, Wall Street bankers, and a significant number of our politicians (if not all of them). There are other certain groups of people who discuss high-minded idealisms, seeking some sort of end goal in society through their political action. Think Occupy (yeah, I know), the Tea Party (yeah, I know), and all sorts of people across the spectrum who are involved in politics to effect some sort of change change in the system. I want to differentiate these two groups from the outset. The first group is purely selfish: the only change they ever seek is change which improves their own personal lot in life. They are nihilistic in the worst way. The other group, regardless of how you feel about their individual beliefs, is revolutionary. Rather than seeking to benefit only themselves, they seek to reach some end goal that they believe is morally better. It is, at least potentially, an altruistic goal.

I want to set aside the egoists for now. As far as I’m concerned, they should have no say in the political system, because we cannot trust their actions or their words. That’s a discussion for another time, though. Let’s focus on the altruists, who I believe are the majority (numerically speaking; by definition the egoists have more money). Within this group, I believe we find the moral debate I referenced in the first paragraph. You have the top-down ethicists (deontologists) who want to enact change based on a set of principles, regardless of their consequences. On the other hand, you have the bottom-up ethicists (consequentialists) who want to enact change based on results. There have been studies that compare people that have found evidence supporting the idea that we might be naturally deontologists or consquentialists, but that’s another discussion for another time. Moreover, I think studies like that might only lend some small amount of wisdom.

I will try to cut through a lot of the less important information and get to something resembling a point. What I conclude from this observation is that even if we adjust for the fact that moneyed interests (egoists) have influenced our political debate in their favor, it seems to me that change is very difficult to enact. This is because agreement is hard to come by. Those of us who argue for results-based policy have a hard time arguing against those who believe in principled policy, simply because a lot of the time we might want results that conflict with those principles. I do think that there is a way out, though. We need to agree on a new set of principles. Behind the scenes, I think that deontologists and consequentialists are secretly envious of the other side. Sometimes we engage in the other’s tactics in order to get our larger point across. In other words, we’re not as intellectually consistent as we pretend to be. Because of this, I think there’s an opening.

What principles should we agree upon? That’s a matter of debate, but I think there’s one that we must all agree upon. I think it’s non-negotiable. I think that without this principle, we are doomed to continually repeat the cycle of oppression and revolution that has existed throughout history. We must value human life above all else. I don’t mean human life in the categorical sense. I mean each individual human life. We must seek the maximization of every individual person. From this, I believe we get certain resultant principles: people shouldn’t harm one another, people shouldn’t seek personal gain at another’s expense, people should treat each other as equals, etc. I think this satisfies both the deontologists and the consequentialists, and if we argue from these principles (and we argue honestly!), we can reach some conclusions upon which we all agree.

It’s lofty. It’s kind of ridiculous, and it will likely not happen. I think it is at least possible, though, and that hope is worth my time and effort. I want to develop these ideas quite a bit further, but I think they should be considered.

Morality and Politics

Society’s Bogeymen

I toss around terms like “cognitive dissonance” quite a bit, and I feel the need to occasionally attempt to convey exactly what sort of baggage I carry with such terms when I use them. I am fairly certain that I’ve explained it before, but I’ll explain it again: when I refer to cognitive dissonance in society, I am specifically referring to the way that people are forced to cope with the world in which they live. We go to work and school everyday, promised a better life if only we work harder. All the while we’re bombarded with gossip about celebrities and socialites, news about philandering bankers and stock traders, stories about corrupt politicians, and so on and so forth. I shouldn’t need to explain how most of these people share something in common: they are rich, and they are lazier, more selfish, and/or more dishonest than the general population.

I am generalizing to some extent, but I don’t have the time to go through and quantify each and every statistic, but the overall truth remains the same: we are told that by being good, honest, hardworking people that we can improve our lot. However, we find that those who are at the top of the ladder are often the most unjust, dishonest, lazy people of society. Though I believe people are naturally selfish, most of us are unwilling (or unable) to be so selfish that we would thoroughly compromise our values for material gain. We sometimes make small exceptions, and perhaps we do that quite a bit. It seems evident that when it comes down to it, though, most of us would not completely sell out our fellow man for our own greed.

The most materially successful people are the greedy, yet we ourselves are not willing to compromise so thoroughly. How do we reconcile this? As much as we parrot the ideals of democracy, I think each person is largely aware that our votes change little in our society. We might donate to certain causes, we might volunteer our time, some of us even attend protests and rallies. Even then, we effect so little change that it can be demoralizing. All the while, in order to survive, we have to participate in this same system that rewards callous greed. We have jobs, some of us have nice cars, some of us take the bus. The struggle remains largely the same, though: we work for those people at the top, and they give us some percentage of the revenue we help to generate. Sometimes that percentage is more fair than others. Our very survival depends on holding up the same system that I think we all know is corrupt. This is the very essence of cognitive dissonance: we simultaneously love and hate ourselves and our livelihoods and the society in which we live.

The simple solution is to create bogeymen. We blame sexism or racism or homophobia or war or illegal immigration or the tech industry or some vague idea of social oppression. While certainly there are individual examples of oppression (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.), the idea that modern society is inherently oppressive against these certain minority groups seems detached from the reality. (Granted, LGBTQQIAAP rights certainly are behind the legal standard of equality that other groups experience.) In other words, we take the traditional ideas of oppression (patriarchy, et al.) and apply it to the modern era in order to create an intellectual problem that can be sorted through. If we can blame society’s problems on patriarchy, we can change the system without getting rid of it! The same example rings true, I think, in other iterations of social justice. When we can identify a bogeyman that affects only some group of people, then the system seems salvageable. It seems possible that we can create this scapegoat and then the problem will be solved.

Yet this is a stellar example of using an emotional coping mechanism that is passive. We comfort ourselves by creating an internal paradigm where there is some battle being waged by men versus women, or whites versus minorities, and so on. The reality is that people are inherently selfish. Yes, there are racists; yes, there are sexists; yes, there are prejudiced people who simply hold wrongheaded, stereotyping views. The reality seems to be that people are insecure. The more insecure a person is, the more selfish he or she is likely to be. If I don’t know how I will get my next meal, I’m much more likely to do something bad to you in order to guarantee that I’ll eat tonight. The more chaotic the system is, the less predictable it is. The less predictable it is, the less security we have. Therefore, the more chaotic the system, the less secure we are. We live in a society where our jobs, our retirements, our homes, and so on cannot be guaranteed. It is chaotic and unpredictable, and we therefore are more likely to be greedy and selfish towards one another. That seems fully apparent to me.

Using these passive coping mechanisms only serve to perpetuate the system that seems to be spiraling into further chaos and unpredictability. It seems to me that the best way, if not the only way we can counteract this is to throw off our bogeymen and to be a little kinder towards one another. Live moderately, and show people that you can be trusted. If we learn to voluntarily trust one another, we might not yet be slaves to greed. We ought to stop blaming each other and find an active solution. We ought to show compassion and altruism, because it seems to me that there is no other way that we can thwart our descent. I think that by showing compassion as opposed to self-centered egoism that there is some progress to be made yet. Perhaps the only way we can redress our cognitive dissonance with society is to quell our own greed and selfishness by fostering trust and security.

Society’s Bogeymen

Why I Can’t Trust the State

I’m taking a quick break from coding to write briefly about some thoughts I have had buzzing throughout my mind the last several days. I have made it at least implicitly clear in my writing and in my tweets that I believe there is good evidence to think that a significant portion of human thought is based on connotation and that without an equally significant effort in analysis, that connotation will rule our thoughts. I am quite certain that we cannot escape that. (Or, at least, I usually can’t.) I may write more on that specific idea at another time, but please keep it in mind as you read on.

I frequently relabel my different beliefs because they are rather fluid. I am always changing my political beliefs, specifically, because humans and the societies they create are so vastly complex. I find it an egregious error of pride for someone to claim that they have all the answers in politics (e.g. politicians). I am moderately certain that I have been following some sort of an illustratable trajectory, though, so I will try to explain that pithily. From my upbringing onward, I have made pit-stops in neoconservatism, neoliberalism, modern liberalism (of the FDR variety), and lately I have been reanalyzing my ideas. As I learn more about the institutions of society, I become increasingly aware of how language is used and how connotation is used against people. Those with knowledge (who are generally identical to those with power and money) are able to sway the public mind with mostly-truths (denotatively) that have totally different meanings to the rest of us. The fact that this is even a possibility is troubling, and it is therefore incumbent upon those of us without knowledge to be highly skeptical of what a person with knowledge in power (i.e. someone who has something to gain from manipulation of the truth) might say.

As an example, consider the advertising industry. An advertiser is either part of a company or is hired by a company that has a product or service to sell. In order to sell the product, the advertiser should appeal to the potential buyer somehow. They are in a position of knowledge, and therefore power, because they know the details of the product or service (both positive and negative). We are therefore hesitant to trust advertisers. We read reviews from people who have nothing to gain from our purchase of that product. We want independent verification. We are naturally and understandably skeptical, as we should be.

With these thoughts in mind, I firmly believe that we, humans existing in a society, should be highly skeptical of the words spoken and written by those in the upper echelons of our societies. When you examine the backgrounds of the people in power, you find a vast number of qualities in common among those people. Let me give you some adjectives: lawyer, millionaire, Ivy League, the list goes on. The specifics, while troubling, are not the point. The point is that our State is only barely indistinguishable from something rather oligarchical or plutocratic. (I wouldn’t say aristocratic – the cool kids club here isn’t only open to those born to wealth.) As a body primarily consisting of lawyers (skills in language), as a body primarily consisting of people with similar backgrounds (therefore, often similar goals), I believe we have good reason to be extremely skeptical of the State (specifically the United States “federal” government).

I do not believe I need to explain why we ought to be skeptical of those who are moneyed. People who are vastly wealthy often became that way by some form of exploitation. (Does the CEO of a company really do hundreds of times more work than the other people in the company? I don’t think so.)

The conclusion I think that is fair to draw from these thoughts is that authority is something about which we should be explicitly skeptical. If we can endeavor to reduce subservience to authority and instead pursue what I think is fair to call real freedom, I think our societies can truly become something quite enviable. Encouragingly, I think a lot of the tech industry is based on some of this sort of thought. As an example, Mark Zuckerberg may have made out with a lot of wealth, but his employees get significant restricted shares in Facebook as part of employment. In that way, Facebook, to a tiny degree, becomes partially their own, and they become less subservient. A more interesting case would be Mondragon.

To summarize, then, be skeptical of those in power. Remember that power corrupts, and that it corrupts absolutely. Remember that if we are all truly created equal, then we have equal freedom. With equal freedom, I think that happiness and the power of innovation can soar to heights unknown to previous civilizations.

Why I Can’t Trust the State

Political theatre

I’m borrowing a term that, admittedly, is entirely non-clever and unoriginal for what I’d like to discuss here. The political theatre is probably an unfamiliar term for the majority of people, but I find that there really isn’t anything that’s a better explanation of the way that our modern system operates. However, I mean this a little more deeply than is probably to be expected.

When we talk about the political theatre, usually we use the term just to describe all the things that go along in politics, similarly to when we use the term “the sports arena.” However, that is entirely not the case here, and that is why I am somewhat reluctant to even use it. Politics simply is a theatre. It is an entertainment show, nothing more. It should occur to most people that most of politics seems to be focused on highly polarizing or highly emotional issues. It is not even simply this – political types attempt to focus and proliferate the passion that is associated with different issues in a way that amplifies the negative effects from the strife. For instance, Republicans and Democrats in the United States have been arguing over abortion for decades. The fact that politicians focus solely on this issue so often (think about how Republicans and Democrats get famous – it’s over issues like this [see Wendy Davis for example]) only illustrates the point further that there is an incentive for this obsession: an easy wedge issue for campaigns, and a distraction. These are two things that any politician is more than happy to have.

When you begin to think about it, politics in America (and across the world) has been so dramatized and personalized that now we experience something new – a rising class of elites that is directly pitted against the “little people.” This rising class of elites possesses a significant amount of control straight from the hands of the public because they are elected to act on wedge issues – issues which will never go away as long as these politicians want to hold sway over the public. While we argue about social problems, the politicians continue to get rich and make their friends rich. I have a lot of trouble believing that income inequality in the United States and other Western nations exists for much reason beyond this corruption. The fact that rich folks often pay less in effective taxes than the rest only goes to show that the focus of politicians is not on governing – it’s on wealth.

Insofar as getting out of a hole like this is concerned, I don’t know if there is much a person can do for now. The only way for a few ultra-powerful elites to be toppled is for a vast majority to oppose them. For now, most people would rather play right into their hands. Even now, the elites seize on the income inequality issue and attempt to make little band-aids to fix the “problem” (minimum wage, etc.), when the problem they see is merely a symptom of the pathogen they have injected and inflamed in our society – absolute corruption and greed in the face of all reason and compassion for other human beings. We have a serious problem, and it’s primarily a problem of information. Don’t get caught into the left-right dichotomy that has been set up for us – because it is not truly about left versus right. It has not been for a long time.

Political theatre

Fixing our Definition of Freedom

It has seemed fashionable in America for quite some time to point to freedom as our guiding principle and liberty as a be-all-end-all for what we should seek to achieve. I think this is truly a good thing. I consider myself to be a libertarian in this sense, and I think that the United States has a history that is immersed in this principle of attempting to maximize potential freedom for its entire people (while, admittedly, exterminating, enslaving, and indenturing various “other” peoples). I want to highlight the fact that freedom is a vague word, and the Ayn Rand “conservatives” of today have hijacked the term for their own usage.

I find it instructive to at least briefly go over political history and the classical meanings of words. “Liberal,” in the classic sense, is a word that actually describes more accurately the beliefs of the modern day Ayn Rand conservative. I specify the Ayn Rand variety because I think there is a huge gap between them and a group which I think melds much better: moderates and neoconservatives. This Ayn Rand variety of classical liberalism typically adheres to an originalist interpretation of the Constitution and champions the cause of freedom most loudly. The freedom they speak of, though, is very anti-intellectual. I would argue, in fact, that it is a form of doublespeak which is truly very anti-freedom as well.

Meditate on that word for a moment. Freedom. What do we mean when we say that word? I personally like to envision broad horizons, the removal of chains, the open spirit, and a requirement of discipline for success. While a classical liberal (which I now use as synonymous for “Ayn Rand conservative”) might agree with this picture on a shallow level, but I would argue that they directly oppose that view. Freedom to the classical liberal is much more narrow and, if I may be so bold, is an immoral view directly opposed to the true meaning of the concept of freedom. Freedom, to the classical liberal, is very specifically the removal of power from those who do not have money (money is viewed as the equivalent of success, intelligence, and deserved power) to those who do have money. Therefore, governmental institutions are illegitimate in most of their pursuits, because they must take money from those who should rightfully have power. In other words, the “invisible hand” of the free market should guide the economy and government of a society, because those with more money are taken to be more deserving of power and more likely to use it properly.

I hope that explanation is explained well enough, as I could easily write a book on this subject. I find it extremely interesting. To make it simple, I will say that classical liberals believe that short-term, or absolute, freedom is the best application of the concept of freedom. My freedom to do as I please with what I own is more important than my ability to exercise that freedom at any point in time. A proper libertarian view is, I think, much more sophisticated and a more moral view of how to run a society. It is also easier to explain. Quite simply, the libertarian view is that of consequentialist freedom, rather than the absolute freedom, should be the benchmark for laws and societal norms.

Let me briefly explain what I mean by consequentialist freedom. As many of us understand, consequentialism is the popular moral philosophy stating that an action should be judged as moral, amoral, or immoral based on its consequences rather than an absolute standard. This system allows for me to decide that despite the law and moral norm that I should not kill a person, I may kill an intruder who is threatening my family in order to save my life and theirs. Absolutist morality would forbid all killing regardless of the circumstances or the consequences. Similarly, consequentialist freedom would take into account the practical implications of a law or policy rather than its strict rhetorical meaning. In other words, does a law, as far as best estimates show, improve a given person’s freedom to do as she wishes with her life? Does this law negatively impact another person’s ability to do as he wishes with his life? Does a poor person gain more freedom than a rich person loses with a given poverty program? Does this policy increase the level of “springboard equality”? (I use “springboard equality” as a term to describe the fact that some people, by definition, are less likely to become successful simply because their “springboard” was lower on the success scale due to poverty or other circumstances.)

Let me summarize. The modern day classical liberal (think Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and the folks who agree with them) believes that absolutist freedom is more valid than consequentialist freedom. They believe that freedom should be judged in a theoretical sense (if I had money, I could accomplish a wider number of tasks). Consequentialist freedom, the view of many progressives and more traditional libertarians, is the tradition of viewing freedom as a practical measure. My freedom to accomplish a task should be defined by whether or not I can actually accomplish that task in reality, not whether I could if I had money. Consequentialist freedom, therefore, is the most moral, most intellectual, and best benchmark for how we should proceed forward as a society. The debate ought to be how to accomplish that, and it is a valid debate to have. We cannot progress as a people if we continue to allow the debate to be over selfish, backwards absolutism over a more thoughtful, reasonable, and moral approach to improving our world.

Fixing our Definition of Freedom

An idea on straw men

It is a well-understood psychological principle that humans tend to attribute blame in a very lopsided manner. If you trip over a rock, you are clumsy. If I trip over that same rock, I merely made a mistake. I contend that we attribute an entire pattern of behaviors based on a single action to others, while we excuse our own actions as being entirely individual circumstances.

Why is this even important? I’ve noticed in reading, listening to, and watching various debates and cases made for and against various moral, religious, philosophical, and political ideas and intuitions that people tend to take singular behaviors and statements (x said y, therefore she thinks z) and therefore create a straw man that is not actually perceived to be a straw man. I have noticed that so much of our philosophical and political discourse in modern times is based entirely on knocking down these straw men instead of actually discussing pragmatically and generously the issue at hand.

One of the problems that causes me the most grievance when discussing important matters such as these is that we tend to cherrypick problems with our opponent’s arguments instead of being philosophically generous. To state this another way, in order to actually solve problems, we need to cease being so beholden to our own ideas, which often are not even ideas which originated from our own minds, that we are unable to see another person’s perspective. So often we will be more interested in winning the argument than winning the big picture. We see our opponents as being morally repugnant, when in reality they often merely diverted to a different direction in their logic at some point. Instead of attributing decent intentions to our opponents, we paint them in a light that prevents us from actually getting to the bottom of the problem and finding a solution.

Let me use abortion as an example. This debate is actually one of the few in America which I think there are genuine disagreements about. Some people prioritize the life of a fetus over other priorities, while others do the opposite. However, instead of even attempting to understand the point of view of those on the opposite side, most of us are content to throw insults at the other and develop our own echo chamber so that we feel vindicated. I think there genuinely is a way for us to come to an agreement on this issue. Perhaps it involves compromise. The point is, though, that we cannot come to an agreement if we generalize all anti-abortion advocates as wacky right-wing fundies and all pro-choice advocates as callous baby killers, we will never stop fighting. We will never come to a conclusion. There will never be satisfaction.

To wrap things up, we need to be aware of our tendencies. We need to be aware of our individual psychologies and personalities. We cannot operate in a modern technological society if we are unable to be aware of our shortcomings both as individuals and a species. This is one of the reasons I think psychology should be a mandatory class in high school. We have to learn about ourselves to better understand how to interpret evidence and come to pragmatic conclusions – and how to understand each others and compromise. There’s no other way.

An idea on straw men