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”

Cultural Traps, Part III

Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.

In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations. 

Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue. 

Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.

Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.  

…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty. 

Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die. 

…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion. 

This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.

Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club. 

If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.  

Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.

Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.

Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.

This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part III”

Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life

I make fun of the legal profession a lot here, because let’s face it, it’s so easy.

In fact, I have a hypothesis about lawyers you that I’ll expand upon in a future post, but I’ll share it with you now. It’s called the LAWYERS RUIN EVERYTHING HYPOTHESIS OF CURRENT EVENTS, and it goes like this:

If something in American society seems so stupid, so counter-intuitive, so messed-up, and so unfair, the chances are incredibly high that at some point in time, lawyers were involved in making the decision.

Lessons from The Law

But I have not come to bury the legal profession, but to praise it.

That’s right! There are actually certain lessons one learns in law school and in the legal profession that can be transferred to your everyday life. Now, they’re not quite as bad-ass as Ed Latimore’s “Important Lessons From Fighting You Can Apply To Your Life,” but that’s why Ed’s Ed and I’m me.

While I don’t litigate anymore, trial practice taught me some skills that have helped me in all areas of my life.

So without further ado, here are Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life: Continue reading “Nine Lessons from the Law You Can Apply to Your Life”