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”

Status and Schoolyard 101

I’ve been meaning to revisit what I call Schoolyard 101–the principle that sometimes you do have to fight fire with fire–for a while now. Recent discussions and articles I’ve read brought this point to mind and launch this train of thought in my mind.

The discussion that provided this impetus was the idea that much of the polarization, intransigence, and complete screaming illogic we see when people cling to certain insane and contradictory positions is the result of seeking status.

It’s a simple concept, but it makes sense. You see, some people only hold certain opinions because they believe people they perceive as high-status will approve of them.

If you can’t see how this is a problem, I can’t help you.

For those obsessed with playing the status game, having the “correct” opinion provides the intellectual shorthand for actually thinking about said position.

Facts, debates, and civility are useless against folks like this (or you or me, if we also fall into this trap). What to do if you’re attacked by one of them?

Schoolyard 101: You must retaliate in kind.

Continue reading “Status and Schoolyard 101”

Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days

The logo from the Marvel comics The Inhumans

What is it about tragedy that brings out the worst in people?

I know what you’re thinking: Tragedies can also bring out the best. We have seen how America has banded together in the wake of the terrible devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose.

But then, there’s the recent Las Vegas shooting.

I’m not going to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say an incredibly evil man shot a bunch of people at a music festival, killing close to 60 and wounding hundreds of others before turning the gun on himself.

Once again, the reaction to this act of inhumanity is nearly as inhuman as the act itself.

No, you see, it wasn’t the killer who bears responsibility. It’s the NRA. It’s NRA members. It’s the Republican Party of the United States of America. It’s any lawmaker who didn’t vote to enact laws (that wouldn’t have made a difference anyway).  It’s anyone who supports the Second Amendment. It’s anybody who likes country music. It’s anybody who voted for Donald Trump. It’s Donald Trump himself (for God’s sake, the man is living rent-free in 60,000,000 people’s heads. Why does anybody let a politician control their thoughts and emotions?!).

The impulse to immediately start casting blame at people who had nothing to do with an act of violence instead of blaming the actual perpetrator is terrifyingly inhuman and evil. 

It’s sick and it’s wrong and it explains so much of what is going on in this country.

This attitude explains why there seems to be no hope of communication, no hope of reconciliation. One group of people wants the other to actually die.

How do you overcome this? How do you get over hatred, which seems to be one of the easiest, most enjoyable emotion to succumb to?

For starters, you have to imagine the other person as a human being with a soul and inherent worth. This might take a hell of a lot of imagination, but it can be done. And once it’s done, you start to extrapolate what would happen if this person were to die:

  • Do they have wife? Children? A family?.
  • Do other people enjoy spending time with them? Are other people relying on them?
  • How would other people’s lives be impacted if this person were to die?
  • What about the important people in your life? How would they be affected if you died?
  • How would you feel if someone that you cared for were murdered merely for their beliefs or opinions?

Really, it’s no different than the old cliche of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. These are really basic, human questions to act. And yet humanity seems in such short supply. Continue reading “Inhumanity Is All The Rage These Days”

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”

Living for Dying: No One Said Life Has to Make Sense

Kandili.JPG

It’s can be frustrating, can’t it? The ambition inflation of a certain generation weaned on the belief that it could do anything, be anyone, all because you were you? Both being of and dealing with this generation.

The truth is, you can do nearly whatever you want in America. But it’s not because the world owes you anything. In fact, it owes you nothing (or, as my grandfather used to put it, “The world doesn’t owe you shit.”) You have to go out and grab it.

But if you were raised in a cage of safety, affluent, and never facing any hardship, you likely don’t have that drive. It’s a strange paradox.

So your life sucks and it’s entirely your fault. What are you going to do about it?

My life doesn’t suck, but it hasn’t worked out as I planned it. This is for two reasons:

  1.  Life rarely, if ever, works out how you plan it; and
  2. I failed to go all-in on the things I should have gone all-in on.

Things didn’t work out as planned–who cares?

I don’t! I enjoy challenges, and life is a challenge.

When you’re 18 or 20 and you’re making plans, it’s delusional to think they’ll pan out to the letter. Unforeseen things pop up. They always do.

With the right kind of plans–that is, overarching visions and systems to achieve them, as opposed to nothing more than concrete goals–one’s younger years can be better served achieving some level of fruition later on.

If you tell yourself “I have to be X by this date,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. 

Far better to tell yourself “I shall do X every day so that I’ll put myself in the best position to achieve Y.”

This requires being comfortable with ambiguity. Many of us aren’t comfortable with this when we’re younger, but the older you get and the more you experience, the more ambiguity becomes a puzzle to figure out than a scary monster to run from.

That said, ambiguity can have its drawbacks. And yet, aside from things like career and where you live and family composition, it can seep into other areas of your life. Things like:

I’m going to dive deep here, so hold on. You have been warned. Continue reading “Living for Dying: No One Said Life Has to Make Sense”

The Three Political Phases

Yoshitomo Nara Fuckin Politics.jpg

As a part of the attempt to tie everything in life together, from time to time one needs to focus on politics.

Politics is garbage. I understand this. But it pays attention to me, so I need to pay attention to it. Politics forces me to care, because I would like to have at least a little say in what’s going on.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed my own shift in my relationship to politics, moving from the emotional end of the spectrum towards the more pragmatic. Of course, emotion still plays a part, and it’s all on a sliding scale, but I have identified three distinct phases that can be seen as milestones on this journey.

But first, let’s talk about where this touchy relationship with politics stems from. I’m not going to talk about individual issues or policies, just politics as a concept.

Emotion Über Alles

The funny thing about politics is we like to pretend that it’s some sort of dispassionate battle of ideas, where we are hashing out the best way to govern ourselves, maximizing liberty and equality for all. This is a total fallacy.

Any view of politics that posits man as a rational being is destined to fail. Politics is emotionally charged, just like everything else us humans do. Here’s an example: You can take a Democrat’s positions, ask a bunch of self-described Republicans if they agree with them without telling them where they come from, and you will get a whole bunch of them agreeing that the positions are good. But when you tell them that those are actually the talking points of some Democrat politician, they’ll say no way and turn the ideas down.

See? Emotional.

And yet eventually, you do come to a point in life where all you wants is for what works to happen. For example, look at the refugee situation in Europe. It is clear that the European Union’s immigration and border policies are not working, and in fact are actively harming life in its member countries. In fact, they’re a catastrophe, leading to a spike in terrorist attacks and sex crimes, and generally destroying social cohesion and the European way of life. And yet what are many European leaders doing? Keeping on the same course while doing nothing to stop the harm to their own citizens. It’s no wonder that the people of Europe are so fed up with their elite’s refusal to do what actually would help Europe: control their borders.

See what I mean about politics paying attention to you?

Yoshitomo Nara Life Is Always Hard Lets Move On.jpg

The same happens here in the United States too; don’t kid yourself. In addition to immigration, we have questions about taxation and regulation, foreign labor, military interventionism, healthcare, and just about everything else you can imagine. No leader likes to admit mistakes (this notwithstanding). Did George W. Bush ever admit that going to war in Iraq was maybe not his best idea? Has Barack Obama ever admitted that Obamacare, or getting involved in Libya didn’t quite work out as promised? Of course not. Admitting failure is anathema to a politician. It’s anathema to most of us, actually. Because we are not rational human beings.

From top to bottom, from the leader of the free world to the down-on-his-luck panhandler down the street, we all largely react on emotion. Which brings us to the three political phases, moving from the emotional and rigid to the more nuanced. And I’ve noticed this shift in most people my age.

Here are the political phases as I’ve identified them. Continue reading “The Three Political Phases”

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”