I am astonished by how few Americans seem to understand the philosophical and historical trajectory that Western Civilization has been on, at large, and how it is not an error than needs amending, or an academic bias of some kind.
Let me shorthand it for you. Science and Individualism. We are going to have them both, and we’re not fucking skimping on the Individualism part. I don’t know of any other issue that would enlist me in such a war but this one. We’re not going to be China. We’re not going to suppress Individualism, and we are not going to harm individual sovereignty.
You are the highest authority on what is right or wrong, good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Truly let that sink in and, if you have any imagination or character, it may also be terrifying to contemplate the horrible consequences. To wit, you have to grant such authority to others, as well, and not use some mythical, objective moral leaderboard to track the relative righteousness of people, according to your own fears and moral disgusts. You own them. You keep them. This is how it is going to be.
Intellectual autonomy and freedom of speech are non-negotiable, get-shot-in-the-face-for-it terms for living peacefully with one another moving forward. Hope you all are cool with that, because that’s what you’re getting. Even your ideology of no prejudice (with which I agree) is still just another ideology. We agree intersubjectively, but our shared moral bias is still merely subjective. And our agreement is merely political. It will never be the case that there is an objective morality to which you just happen to be subscribed. The law won’t agree (except for “Hate Crime”, which is an abomination), and a romp through the history of Western Civilization won’t bear it out, either. The last time we subscribed to an objective morality, and its corresponding moral leaderboard, it was the Church and they were still burning people at the stake. No prince owns me, and the State is not my parent. There is no higher moral authority than me for me, and there isn’t one higher for you than you.
If you are an American, get hip to these facts. Online offerings from the likes of Yale, UCLA or MIT and more are abundant, and authoritative sources. Use them.
That’s attributed to the late Richard Rorty, an American philosopher of note from the mid-20th Century. He thought about the nature of truth a lot, and this quote is more than merely pithy, although it is that, too.
It’s not going to be good enough, anymore, depending on our friends to tell us what we can get away with. That is because, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, when we ask whether our own favored ideas are true, what we are really asking is may I still believe them? Is there any plausible line of reasoning that will allow me to hold on to my belief? Likewise, when asking whether a claim that another person has made is true, if we don’t want it to be true, then must I accept it as true? In other words, we don’t typically actually have a taste for actual proximate truth so much as we’d like to believe about ourselves, and the reason we have a blind spot about it is because we evolved to deceive ourselves, first. We don’t want to know the truth, and we don’t want to know that we don’t want to know the truth. It’s not an easy thing to get people to pay attention to, to say the least. Especially when we have evolved to not attend to it, specifically.
People have primary programming, and we only ever pretend that our social and professional roles are more than means through which to pursue that primary programming. We have little bits of narrative that we use to cover this, from legal impact, economic impact, but mostly for psycho-social and personal political reasons. When we say, “All doctors go to medical school to help people,” that is a bald-faced lie. It might feel wrong to acknowledge it, or in such binary terms, but it is the case, nevertheless, and those feelings, themselves are what I am pointing to, as well as their propriety. What about the propriety of making such a facile and patently untrue declarative? That’s not okay, objectively.
And how do these little white lies operate? They help us to tell a story about doctors, in this example, and one of many, many, completely untrue and evidentially-unsupportable hypotheses and notions that protect us from the truth, which is the thing we pay through the nose to be rid of, isn’t it? In this case, in fact students choose medicine because they think they can hack it and that the sacrifice will be rewarded with lucre and elevated social prestige. If pressed, we’d admit yes, of course, this is merely rational, and so it is.
But there is a little part of the monkey mind that believes in magic, and there is hocus pocus in the stories we tell ourselves about our healers, but also our law enforcement, state bureaucracies, and politicians, and our military, as well. Doctors are there because they want to help us. Cops are out there on the streets just to keep us safe. Joining the professional military doesn’t automatically make you government property, which can be used in the course of national security/defense, as defined for any experiment or purpose at all. Politicians are servants who sacrifice of themselves to represent your best interest in the halls of power. You getting the pattern, here? We tell these little lies, my friend, because we are insecure and cowardly, but it isn’t our fault. We are born this way.
And yet. We are also born shitting ourselves quite naturally, and yet we somehow find a way to overcome this naturalness in favor of good hygiene. Okay, we actually overcome it through the power of shame. Seems like we could attend to our natural proclivity to hide from unwanted awareness, and always go along to get along, and never truly exercise any executive judgment or understand ourselves at all. Seems like we could decide to stop using euphemisms, and pointedly so. To unblinkingly correct a peer when they say something that, apart from social currency, is a crock of shit. Seems like we could demand a higher level of cognitive hygiene, at the expense of the rather bourgeois and self-aggrandizing skills of flattery and social grace. And we will, but you know, first they ignore, then they laugh, then fight, then lose, and resent you forever.
Those of us who already live this way live outside of the protective bubbles of corporations that have HR departments. Those who live inside those bubbles are forced, through fear of political reprisal, to conform to intellectual solidarity. The only thing worth fighting for is your freedom, and your freedom is your executive judgment, period. You are the final authority in the whole world over what is good and bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. No one else on the planet has any more authority than you over what you believe about those things. You may just to defer to “what ever my peers believe” or what have you, but you had to do the deferring, since it is you who is the authority over yourself. That’s the truth that the HR department and the political bubble desperately needs you to forget. Those who live inside those corporate bubbles traded their freedom for money and/or status within their peer group. Just like Winston did in 1984, all they way up until he didn’t. No one wants the truth, and no one wants their freedom. And no one wants to know they don’t want the truth and don’t want their freedom. It’s a hard sell.
I heard one of those clips of a listener-patron who needs folks to know they have contributed, and then listened to them wax sycophantic; gushing about how NPR has no bias whatsoever in their coverage of the news or anything else, for that matter. Now, I am a house painter who is also an active autodidact, and I happen to know that you cannot graduate from a school of journalism without having learned about the inevitability of bias in reporting and editing. No journalist who is competent in their own professional domain knowledge will ever claim that their reporting has no bias in it, unless they are dishonest. So, to then choose this falsehood and select it for on-air circulation, again, is either a function of incompetence or dishonesty. Take your pick. It doesn’t really matter, since either way it looks bad. (I’m using journalism and reporting interchangeably, here.)
The point is that the truth is nothing to be afraid of. I would respect NPR more if its representative outlets reflected a more diverse intellectual environment. They want to have it both ways. Realpolitik says it is the case that the NPR base would pull the plug on their ass if they failed to tow the Party line. This is political realism. This is psychological realism. If NPR or any other purveyor of opinion or news wants me to respect them as “expert” or “honest”, then they start by acknowledging it all up front and wrestling through the implications openly. To the degree they could never comply, I could never be the person for whom their news is crafted. They may be “national”, but they don’t represent me and aren’t talking to me.
Look, that article is just a subset of the larger problem of abstraction sickness. When abstractions become not only the cudgels of power that they have evolved to be for us to do battle with other people, but also alienated things with their own authority apart from the will of their host, then they are problematic. Try telling people who make $100k and better a year on PHP-based systems that PHP is horrifyingly bad. Try telling the people who use and find what they seek in said systems that they are stupid for being satisfied. No, it’s the know-it-all CS student who is great at abstract thought and ignorant about his own mind and its foibles in the face of alienated abstractions who puts first things like having all the tools he’s read about associated with this or that paradigm of programming. The person who is focused on solving real problems in any domain apart from computer science is not going to share the same priorities. As the house painter who taught himself how to program using PHP (yeah, I said “program”), I have seen and written sloppy code that just happened to work well enough for my purpose. But then I fucked around and taught myself C++ and OOP and functional programming, too, and I am telling you, for sure, it is the personal insecurity of programmers who have made it through a CS education and have put in the hours using C++ who want to preserve “programming clout” to their own group/self.
As one who, walking in the twilight gloom,
Hears round about him voices as it darkens,
And seeing not the forms from which they come,
Pauses from time to time, and turns and hearkens;
So walking here in twilight, O my friends!
I hear your voices, softened by the distance,
And pause, and turn to listen, as each sends
His words of friendship, comfort, and assistance.
If any thought of mine, or sung or told,
Has ever given delight or consolation,
Ye have repaid me back a thousand-fold,
By every friendly sign and salutation.
Thanks for the sympathies that ye have shown!
Thanks for each kindly word, each silent token,
That teaches me, when seeming most alone,
Friends are around us, though no word be spoken.
Kind messages, that pass from land to land;
Kind letters, that betray the heart’s deep history,
In which we feel the pressure of a hand,–
One touch of fire,–and all the rest is mystery!
The pleasant books, that silently among
Our household treasures take familiar places,
And are to us as if a living tongue
Spice from the printed leaves or pictured faces!
Perhaps on earth I never shall behold,
With eye of sense, your outward form and semblance;
Therefore to me ye never will grow old,
But live forever young in my remembrance!
Never grow old, nor change, nor pass away!
Your gentle voices will flow on forever,
When life grows bare and tarnished with decay,
As through a leafless landscape flows a river.
Not chance of birth or place has made us friends,
Being oftentimes of different tongues and nations,
But the endeavor for the selfsame ends,
With the same hopes, and fears, and aspirations.
Therefore I hope to join your seaside walk,
Saddened, and mostly silent, with emotion;
Not interrupting with intrusive talk
The grand, majestic symphonies of ocean.
Therefore I hope, as no unwelcome guest,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
At your warm fireside, when the lamps are lighted,
To have my place reserved among the rest,
Nor stand as one unsought and uninvited!
From low to high doth dissolution climb,William Wordsworth
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime,
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.