A Plague of Free Thinkers

Ever since a certain music superstar of a certain chromatic disposition tweeted out his approval of the a similarly melanated individual’s cognitive workings–a person who happens to occupy a different spot on the political spectrum than most of her co-colorists–“free thinker” has been bandied about by a whole lot of people to describe themselves.

It’s an utterly meaningless term that is so smarmy and self-righteous it makes me want to puke.

Everybody on Earth think’s they’re a free thinker. Every one. Unless you are literally under some form of mind control (for example, under threat of physical violence or imprisonment or other harsh penalties for not expressing certain viewpoints), all of us think we arrived at our viewpoints based on thinking freely about all available options, looking at things from every side’s perspective, being open-minded, and so on.

The only problem is that it’s all nonsense. We have a plague of “free thinkers.”

People have biases. People have trouble overcoming biases. People are often not even aware of their biases. People also almost to a man think that they’re smarter than the average person, or even the above-average person, on every topic imaginable–call it Dunning-Kruger if you must, but I like the term illusory superiority.

I ask you again, then, what makes your thinking freer than that other guy’s thinking?

More often than not, the measure of the other guy’s status and ability as a free thinker is how well the other guy’s conclusions match with your own. If that proverbial other guy agrees with you, then wow! You’ve found another free thinker! But if their conclusions don’t align with yours, then I guess they’re just an unthinking, brainwashed buffoon. There can’t be any other explanation, right?

If you can’t see the problem with this line of thinking, then you are a part of the problem.

This line of thinking is what demagogues and propagandists of all stripes and persuasions use to build and condition their little armies–and sometimes their big armies–into believing that they are utterly right about everything and the other guy is utterly devoid of humanity. And when you have a scapegoat who’s not even human, the only sane, rational, and good answer is to completely stomp them out.

If you’ve ever wondered what can drive somebody to get really violent over a difference of political opinion, well, here’s part of the answer.

Being right feels good. This explains the asinine “We’re on the right side of history!” argument political terrorists use to punish those who disagree, because they’re obviously on the wrong side of history, and wrong is bad and needs to be exterminated.

The answer isn’t to be full of constant self-doubt and hold nothing ever to be true. This is a different kind of plague, one that we see writ large in the majority of modern European societies. They have questioned everything about themselves to the point of bottomless self-loathing; they don’t even believe their own societies should exist anymore, and are acting accordingly.

And let me tell you, I’m sure all of them think they’re the freest of free thinkers who ever freely thought.

And they’re right. They can probably explain to you how they reached their conclusions.

This, I think, is the distinction between “free thinkers” and “not free thinkers”–if you insist on using this terminology. Not whether the person agrees with you, but whether you can actually explain how you reached a conclusion and why.

Continue reading “A Plague of Free Thinkers”

Electing Gods: Politics and Identity in the Aftermath of 2016

Sadly, I was wrong. One person died before the polls even closed. And I was right about the rioting, though I’d be more than happy to have been wrong about that.

I’m not here to gloat or to point fingers. The guy I voted for best the other person. Okay. Can we get on with life now?

Remember: This is not a political blog. There’s PLENTY of that out there elsewhere, believe me. 

But politics is interesting because of how it relates to two things I find fascinating: Human nature and God. 

Politics and Human Nature

As I recently discussed with my friend Lloyd of Business and Bullets, human beings, for whatever reasons, evolved to like people on their group, or tribe, and dislike those out of it:

This is plain to see in politics. We like our political tribe to the exclusion of others, or even to fact. And we’re all guilty of this. All of us. 

What separates us is our various levels of self-awareness and or desire to mitigate this tendency when necessary. 

As I discussed in my post “Everybody Must Be Right“:

…I can only conclude that there are only two types of people:

  1. Those who have some objective standard against which they measure their behavior in reality.
  2. Those who think that they create their own objective standard.

Why does this matter?

If the only standard is what you feel is right at the time, you will rationalize whatever you feel to be right, and to hell with anybody that gets in your way.

Nothing is concrete, and who are you to say that anyone’s morality is better than anybody else’s?
This amounts to giving in to human nature, something that civilization tries to prevent us from doing. 

Being relativistic or feelings-centric is actually an intense form of self-worship: We become our own god. And you know what they say about gods: they are jealous and they are angry…

If you worship yourself and you are your own god, then there is quite literally nothing that will ever make you change your mind. If there is no such thing as objective truth, then whatever you feel is reality. 

You will never change your mind, because your worth as a human being will be inexteicably linked with your feelings.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Doesn’t this help explain why we see such violent reactions–tears, literally shaking–as the result of the loss of one’s preferred political candidate?

I know politics have huge implications and that elections matter, but these reactions are more akin to learning that your nation lost a war rather than the person you voted for lost an election

It’s irrational, but then again, aren’t we all?

So politics becomes bound up with identity. This leads nicely into our next topic of discussion. 

Politics and God (or the Absence Thereof)

I’ve already advocated that people not be afraid to discuss politics and religion, when appropriate, with family and friends. But this discussion goes a little deeper as to why politics replaces religion for many. 

That’s right: The state is God to a lot of people. Even those who are not self-professed atheists and who might even be practicing members of a church. 

I’ve identified three worldviews, two of which can be grouped together and one which is clearly distinct. 

  1. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the Divine.
  2. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the Self.
  3. Those who believe that cleansing or mitigating the stain on human nature can only be achieved by the State. 

Those in categories 1 and 2 share many commonalities, the main one being that control over base impulses and passions is an individual effort

Whether through the grace of God or ones own will, mastery comes from within. One becomes a master of themselves. And every master needs a slave, don’t they? The slave becomes one’s passions.

The big difference here is that the religious ask God to help carry them those extra few inches, while the others, who may be also be religious but are typically not, believe that they can do it themselves. 

This leads us to group 3: Statists. This will explain why I personally am not a fan of expansive, intrusive, activist government.

By what we’ve already discussed, I think you can see where I’m going with this.  Continue reading “Electing Gods: Politics and Identity in the Aftermath of 2016”