Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux

I like Stefan Molyneux. I find him a very smart, interesting, and entertaining speaker. He is a philosopher with a wide area of focus: Politics and government, culture and entertainment, philosophy and the nature of truth, economics, religion . . . it all gets discussed on Molyneux’ podcast at Freedomain Radio and on his YouTube channel.

A lot of people don’t agree, of course. They mock his catchphrase, “Not an argument,” call him “LOLyneux” for some of his more esoteric ideas like peaceful parenting (e.g., never ever spank your kids), and generally think he’s a fraud or a quack. I get the disagreeing with him about stuff, but where the fraud and quack accusations come from eludes me.

An author of many other books, Molyneux is what you could classify as a right-of-center liberal. He’s big into individual freedom and small government, and is staunchly anti-socialist, but is also pretty socially liberal nationalist who believes that every nation has the right to determine its own destiny free of foreign meddling. He’s anti-globalism and anti-war, as well as being anti-racist . . . but takes a lot heat for his views on, say, the racial distributions of certain things such as IQ.

And yet, with Molyneux, it seems like he just point out things that appear to be objective facts in order to discuss, understand, and make sense of them in order to do something good with them.

I never get the impression that Molyneux hates certain types of people.  I mean, he’s an atheist who sees all religion as a bunch of anti-rational mumbo-jumbo used to explain things in earlier times, and yet he also defends Christianity and fully recognizes its important to the development and continuing survival of Western civilization.

In short, he’s an interesting guy.

Stefan Molyneux

Which brings me to The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand. The subtitle is a little hyperbolic, but argument and debate have been some of Molyneux’s most discussed topics for a long time. In fact, the idea of “the argument” permeates everything he does.

Basically, Molyneux pushes for clear, rational, and evidence-based thinking as a means of presenting viewpoints and ways of life in the battlefield of ideas. The more evidence-based and divorced from emotion and selfish gain an argument is, the better people will be persuaded to see its truth. Similarly

On the other end of the spectrum, we have sophistry. Sophistry is Molyneux’s pet peeve. Sophistry is the facile manipulation of emotion, rhetoric without truth, designed to confuse and enrage the listener to support an anti-rational and often counterproductive position that usually benefits the sophist. And more often than not, the sophist is coming from a position of pain, projecting their own neuroses, hatreds, and hangups on the world at large as a way of lashing out at “unfairness,” “inequality,” and “injustice.”

In short, Molyneux stresses that there is an objective good–what can lead to Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) as he calls it–and that it revolves around the age-old battle between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

On this topic, I find it hard that anyone can disagree with Molyneux.

So when I heard that he was writing a book specifically about what he calls “The Argument,” I was excited.

So how does it fare? Is it the intellectual battle manual we were promised? Does it really lay out the best ways to think and reason and debate?

Not quite.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an interesting, well-written and clearly thought out book. But it doesn’t exactly deliver as promised. Continue reading “Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux”

Reset: Chapter 36: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (1)

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Nick Christakos spent Tuesday morning sitting alone in his dorm room, staring at the television. Six turned to seven, seven turned to eight, and eight turned to nine. Nothing.

Nothing.

Nick relaxed, surprised by how much his body hurt. He had clenched himself like a fist and had sweat through his t-shirt.

Nothing.

But why?

* * *

When Joe didn’t come back Sunday night, Nick had figured he had spent the night with that Gwendolyn chick. When he called her, she wouldn’t say any more except that Joe was really mad at him. No surprises there.

He checked with Jonesy and Carlos. Nothing. Same with Game and Quinn.

Amy told him he should call the cops, but Nick didn’t. He couldn’t. What would he say? That his time-traveling companion was going to stop the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States and left without so much as a hug and a kiss? They’d be right back where they started.

He even called Zack Henderson. Miracle of miracles, Zack picked up the phone. He was terse, but not rude. “He came by, yeah,” said Zack. “He was pretty steamed.” But Zack had no idea where Joe might have gone.

So Nick waited, spending his time, as usual, with Amy. Things were going great in that department. They clicked; Nick literally felt a click when he started talking to her at Zeta Zeta Nu. Love was a beautiful thing. She was the whole reason for this adventure, the Helen that launched him back in time. Now he would be happy, would maybe finally have the courage to get some help and work through his issues without resorting to hookers and blow (though those things had been fun for a time).

Joe had to be on campus. He had to. He had no car, besides. What was he going to do? Thwart the attacks himself?

Sunday night rolled around, and still no Joe. Nick waited.

When Nick sat in class on Monday, listening to Delino drone on about how Bush was single-handedly destroying the Earth, he began to worry. Amy had noticed it, insisting that they go to the police.

The jig was up. It would be too suspicious if he did nothing about his missing friend. So they went to the Hollister PD, bypassing the campus cops who tended to stick to parking violations, and reported Joe missing. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 36: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 (1)”

Book Review: The Dean Died Over Winter Break: The First Chronicle of Brother Thomas by Christopher Lansdown

If you’re into classic “whodunit?” stories, have I got a book for you. The Dean Died Over Winter Break, the newest novel by Christopher Lansdown, will wrap you up like a warm blanket. I’ll admit that this isn’t my preferred genre of novel. Maybe this makes me less-qualified to review this book; who knows? But the concept is so unique I had to give it a shot.

You see, our two detectives are friars from the Franciscan Brothers of Investigation. That’s right, two members of a Franciscan orders–friars and not monks, as explained in the book–named Brother Thomas and Brother Francis, are tasked by their order to investigate the murder of the unloved Dean of Yalevard college in upstate New York. With the help of grad student Sonia Figueroa and their friend and sometimes co-detective Michael Chesterton, our Brothers try to crack the seemingly perfect crime.

And oh yeah: it’s their first murder case.

Christopher Landsdown

The Dean Died Over Winter Break is infused with a healthy dose of Catholic theology and philosophy, as you could imagine, written by one with extensive knowledge of both.

And boy is this book full of philosophy! In fact, nearly every character speaks with a near encyclopedic knowledge of philosophical schools of thought. If you enjoy lengthy digressions into ontological disputes, the nature of sin, and even bits of world history, then this is the book for you. Oh yeah, there’s the murder-solving stuff to, but I get the feeling that Christopher had a lot of fun with these discussions.

And that brings me to my main critique of The Dean Died Over Winter Break. I felt that the murder mystery aspect, which was arguably the most well-done part of the book, faded a bit in the background. Seriously, the sleuthing and clue-gathering and interviewing were fantastic . . . but seemed pushed aside in favor of the lengthy intellectual debates. I wanted more mystery stuff, especially since Christopher’s characters are likable, and he threw in enough credible misdirections and red herrings to really catch the reader off-guard.

And when the Brothers do crack the case, it makes perfect sense, which is a badge of honor for any murder mystery worth its salt.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Dean Died Over Winter Break: The First Chronicle of Brother Thomas by Christopher Lansdown”

Reset: Chapter 34: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (3)

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The dream was shocking. Audacious. Like it had come from the devil himself, designed to scare the foolish mortal to death in his sleep.

He was on an airplane, sitting with the other passengers, frightened but docile. He heard the shouts, the chanting–“Allahu Akbar!” and the ululating cries of victory. Some laughter, but mostly screams. The woman next to him started to talk; her mouth moved but Joe only heard sounds like drums emanating from her blurred face.

And then out of the window he could see, growing bigger, the North Tower, the plane drawn to it like it had gravity, inviting the impact the way a catcher calls the winning pitch. Put ‘er there, buddy boy. He can’t hit the ones that come in hard and fast.

Hard and fast . . .

He awoke before impact, jerking upright and gasping the way he thought only happened in movies. The buzzing in his brain began anew, the telltale sign of that cognitive dissonance born of the impossible. Something else that should be impossible was the woman in the bed next to him. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 34: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (3)”

Reset: Chapter 33: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (2)

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Her voice came crackling over the loudspeaker in an angry snarl. “Who’s this?”

“Hi Gwen,” said Joe into the intercom next to the door. “It’s Joe. Can you let me in?”

“Joe! Are you alright?”

Joe sniffed noisily and gave his nose a swipe with his arm. “Yeah. No. I don’t know.”

“Okay, stay right there. I’m coming down now.”

Joe nodded, as if Gwendolyn could see him through the speaker. But that technology was at least a decade away.

He glanced at his watch, groaning at the late hour. He shouldn’t have woken her up. He should have gone back to his own dorm room and into his own bed like a responsible adult, keeping his worries to himself. But he couldn’t stand the thought of Nick. And Joe knew he wasn’t a responsible adult. Not anymore.

When Gwendolyn opened the door, Joe marveled at how good she looked given the time of night. Dressed in a Navy blue pajama set with furry moccasin slippers on her feet and her hair piled haphazardly on top of her head, she still appeared controlled, beautiful. She was also wearing glasses, big thick ones that would be all the rage among young women in another ten years.

Joe hurried through the open door to spare both Gwendolyn and himself from the chilly wind. The door shut behind him with a soft whump. “Are you sure you’re alright?” said Gwendolyn, “what’s going on?”

Joe sniffed again, corralling some errant snot. He looked around the lobby of Parsons, empty but still too public. “Can we talk in your room? Continue reading Reset: Chapter 33: Sunday, September 9, 2001 (2)”

Reset: Chapter 28: Saturday, September 8, 2001 (1)

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What Joe and Nick had come up with, what they had to report to their team, was that their best bet was to board the planes themselves.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and Joe, as the de facto leader, didn’t feel good about asking a bunch of young men to risk their lives combating dangerous terrorists. But with so much at stake he had to swallow his misgivings and do what needed to be done. He wasn’t forcing anybody to do this, after all.

“Not like you haven’t faced awful situations before,” Nick had said as they prepared to turn in for the night.

“Like what?”

Through a huge yawn, Nick said: “Your divorce.”

Dealing with an angry woman who had the law on her side wasn’t pleasant, but it didn’t quite approach the level of murderous religious fanatics. And no matter what he thought about Sandra, she was still the mother of his child. Or she will be. He hoped.

Women were on Joe’s mind as his head hit his pillow. He had a few emails from Gwendolyn wondering where he was and whether he was alright, as well as one terse voice message: “Hi Joe. It’s Gwen. Just wondering where you were. I thought we were going to have lunch today. Please call me when you get this. Okay, bye.”

He didn’t know why the message had bothered him; it wasn’t like they were dating, and he owed her nothing. Sure, it was a little clingy, but she seemed more concerned than anything. He probably shouldn’t leave her hanging, but missing opportunities was his thing, after all.

But their predicament was also a huge opportunity. If they could change external events, it stood to reason that Joe could change himself.

Sleep came as he thought about the impossibility of their task. Nick had found over a dozen flight training schools in Florida, but wasn’t able to find out who the students were. Even if he could have, the plan would require that they flag everybody with an Arabic name, something which would narrow down the field but would likely leave them with too many leads and not enough time.

“We’d have no way of knowing which ones were Saudis either,” Joe had said.

“They weren’t all Saudis though, were they?” said Nick, his hands over his face. “The Saudis funded them, right? Isn’t that what they said?”

“Who the hell knows,” said Joe.

“They were from Egypt or Syria or something . . . Lebanon?”

“What’s the difference,” Joe groaned. At least they had figured out where three of the planes had left from, two from Boston and one from Newark, the one that eventually hits the Pentagon eluding them. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but as Zack said, it seemed to be the least-bad. And if successful, they would be heroes, as long as they weren’t “disappeared” for somehow having insider knowledge of the attacks.

Joe stretched his arms over his head, feeling his breastbone pop with satisfaction. Insane. They were flush with the insanity of youth. Perhaps Joe had fallen on the stoop outside of his old house that morning and was lying on the sidewalk with his brains leaking onto the pavement, and this last week and a half was nothing more than the fever dreams of a dying man. Sometimes that made more sense than being thrown back in time with the rest of the silent, unknowing universe.

Chapter 27                                               Table of Contents                                             Chapter 29

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Reset: Chapter 26: Friday, September 7, 2001 (1)

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“You’ve had a day. Has anything about this started ringing any bells? Anything at all?”

To Joe’s dismay, everyone shook their heads. Deflated, he slumped further back, resting his head against the wall behind him.

“To be fair, I can’t even remember last night,” said Jonesy, who had run straight back to his room once the fracas with Steve Carter and his friends had begun. He sat on the couch next to Quinn, slouched down with his chin resting on his chest.

“You don’t count,” said Nick as he paced in a small circle. Zack and Game, sitting in their desk chairs, followed his nervous motion with their eyes. “Maybe only things that are about to happen resonate.” He pointed at Carlos, sitting next to Joe on one bed. “Like, maybe Joe resonated with you because you were about to meet him anyway.”

Carlos shrugged. “Could be.”

“I still think this is really cool,” said Jonesy. He was holding a can of Mountain Dew which he sipped from periodically with a loud slurp.

“Kind of,” said Quinn. “But it’s also pretty weird.”

“So I’ve thought of some plans,” said Zack. “I don’t know about you guys, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything else at all today.”

“I hear you,” said Joe. His day was a blur. He returned to Delino’s class with Nick, but they sat in the back with their heads down, no jokes and no participation. His English class was much the same. Afterwards, he skipped his appointment with his advisor to change classes without giving her notice; he felt bad about it, but not so bad that he lost focus of the three-thousand people soon to die.

“I still don’t see why we don’t just call the government,” said Jonesy. “I mean, we might get arrested or whatever, but we’d save everybody.”

“We’ve gone over that,” said Joe, “I think we need to stop them in the act.”

“So they can’t regroup,” said Zack, nodding. “Which brings me to my two best ideas. Number one, we get on the planes and fight the hijackers. If they do it like you say, with box cutters and the element of surprise, enough of us will be able to stop them from even getting in the cockpit.”

“And there’s the rub,” said Joe. “‘Enough of us.’”

“What if we get some other guys?” said Zack. “Big dudes from the team–”

“No,” said Nick. “No, no, no. We can’t tell anybody else. This has already gotten pretty ridiculous.”

“Let the man finish,” said Game.

Zack raised a hand. “There’s, what, nineteen of these guys? Twenty? If we only have one or two of us per plane, our chances are much worse.”

“Element of surprise,” said Quinn. “Joe said one of the planes was brought down in the countryside somewhere.”

“Pennsylvania,” said Joe.

Quinn nodded. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to get out of this alive.”

Zack nodded. “Same here. Which brings me to idea number two: we stop them before they get on the planes.”

Joe snapped his fingers and pointed at Zack. “You took the words out of my mouth. That’s the only viable way to do this, isn’t it? Get all flights grounded.”

“Easier said than done, right?” said Jonesy, slurping more soda. “I love a challenge.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 26: Friday, September 7, 2001 (1)”