Friday, July 26, 2013

Attack of the Extroverts!

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.     -This saying is older than Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain. No one is sure who first said it. 

study observing introverts and extroverts has shown that introverts feel happier when they act like extroverts. Why? Professors of psychology, shockingly, can't figure that out. It's rather amusing to watch people who believe in a certain understanding of the mind struggle with a reality that does not conform to it, and in the process, reveal their stunning ignorance. In this case, a lack of understanding of personal motivation is making the shrinks look stupid. They assume that people find greater peace and satisfaction in simply acting naturally and being themselves, and somehow, this research doesn't corroborate that.

They aren't thinking economically.

It isn't simply about what's going on internally: the experiences of people in social situation, like parties or presentations, carry their own feedback, and people are certainly more outwardly-focused than these so-called experts are making them out to be. It's not simply the personal satisfaction of accomplishing a goal or getting a dopamine hit. Those things rely on the individual's ability to get what they want from the world around them.

So let's consider it through a different lens, one closer to social exchange theory than the feel-good dogmas of modern academic psychology.

The Marketable Man

Social interaction is made up of exchanges in the attention economy. Attention is the currency. Starting from here, think about the personalities involved.

The goal is simple acquisition of currency from a shallow perspective, but more deeply, it's the creation of relationships, the acquisition of information, shared identity, the establishment of community. The reward is empowerment through people, through the creation of social capital.

And a party of any kind usually comes down to a gathering of people who don't know each other all that well, but want to get into the mix. Everyone gets dressed in their coolest clothes, presenting themselves like companies issuing an IPO on the stock market.
And there's plenty of competition
They jump into an environment full of flirtations, witty rejoinders, humblebrags and low-key shit-talking. Those who are relaxed and confident, funny and attractive, they do the best. No telling what they'll look like in the morning, but hey: it's no risk, no reward when forging new speculative ventures.

The risks? You could be ignored, which means that you've wasted a little effort and been reminded that others aren't listening to you, which hits the self-esteem. Competition means that you are dealing with opportunity costs as people decide if they want to be around you or someone else. Everyone's calculations will be a little different, and the party frequently ends up divided into like-minded groups of people with things in common, a mini caste system. There is a more vivid risk, that you will be rejected or judged and that your input will end up hurting your chances of being liked, respected, listened to.

Introverts engage people carefully and selectively, whereas extroverts cast the net wide in their search for attention, playing the numbers, Roosh-style, developing the skill. And yes, extroverts get laid more, have more friends, present more effectively at work meetings, and have more connections generally.

Introverts are very conservative in their behavior, as they don't take chances and frequently expect the worst. In financial terms, they aren't doing high-risk, high-reward. They're staying alive with CD's from the bank, betting on sure things alone. They aren't constantly chatting up the pretty girl or trying to make business connections with guys up the ladder. They don't shove themselves into your face, but typically mind their business and expand their sphere cautiously. That's the result of feedback, of lessons learned: introverts, at first, do see more ways things can go wrong, are more conscientious of what they say, and calculate more, and the hesitation becomes part of their demeanor after a while.

Now, why do introverts seem to be happier when they act like extroverts? Because they DO expect the worst, and the worst rarely happens. Our culture has been pushing nonjudgmentalism for a long time now, and it's very rare for people to flat-out tell one another that they don't like them, or to shame them in some way. We are, remember, more and more a culture of niceness to the point of dishonesty or absurdity. When it comes to dealing others, we're like Thumper in Bambi: if you can't say something nice...  

The result is, when introverts do take a chance, they feel empowered. They don't need to be in love with attention to enjoy this, just like people don't have to be in love with money to enjoy having more of it. People get a kick of pleasure when things go better than expected.

That experience of better-than-expected feedback is a lot like the one I learned when I first tried out opening a small business. It looks risky from the outside, tough to pull off, and the people who get into it might seem intense, cliquish, almost like a different species. But the more you try, the more you figure out that normal people can do it if they really care, and have some drive, a decent instinct on who to trust, plus a decent idea. Both the pleasures and pains of throwing yourself out into the market have been exaggerated.

But that doesn't mean that everyone should do it.

Extroversion is Still Overrated

The thing about the commentary on the study that gets annoying is the constant references to brain biology, which constantly underrates how people are shaped by interactions. Genetics matter, but not to the point of being absolutely deterministic. And just because people are tolerant to the point of rarely being rude doesn't mean that they like everyone equally.

Sometimes, extroverts are obnoxious. When you meet one of those people who absolutely refuses to shut the fuck up, it gets annoying.

You can only say that people enjoy being extroverted when you assume the feedback they get is positive. If you're outgoing with a group that doesn't approve, then the results likely won't make anyone feel better. There's safety and growth in being a part of the group - to a degree - but the welcome isn't guaranteed just because we say everyone should be inclusive. Today, people are less likely to call you out when you say something stupid, but they still know you've said something stupid.

The researchers tend to act like everyone treats everyone the same and the only difference is in the way the subject experiences otherwise-identical feedback. That's certainly not the case: you know that smart, funny, good-looking people get treated differently than those who are not, and while shame and insult might be more rare than a polite dismissal, we are attuned to recognize when the people we're around would prefer to be around someone else. The disapproval is subtle, but it's there. I know of marriages that have ended because of these subtleties, when all the fakery in the world won't save one from another's real opinion.

So obviously, I'm not convinced that opening up to everyone creates more happiness all the time; for the introvert acting extroverted, the yields probably drop as time goes on and the expectations change. Extroverts play social games more fluently, and they will always say they're happy. They have a lot of experience marketing themselves, and they know that it's a bad idea to present a face to the world that reflects their own anxiety or frustration. The "extroverts are happy" results of the study are from self-assessments: would you expect them to tell the truth all the time? Even to themselves?

And of course, in a society so attention hungry, those who avoid the crowds will be looked at like freaks by those who don't, which just might have something to do with the results of the study. Some extroverts will hold their tongues as they judge those who value their time alone, with their weird recalcitrance and suspiciously measured behavior, but the judgment will be there. There will probably always be an impression that those who don't talk have something to hide and are less trustworthy, or they don't have anything to say at all and are less interesting. Extroverts want everyone networking all the time, because despite the measured wrongness of the idea, they think that society is more efficient, effective, and enjoyable if you do everything in groups. Minding your business? That's for standoffish dicks.

The ideal of the extrovert, and of living in an extroverted world, is an ideal where trust can be taken for granted. It's an ideal built on openness to experience, viewing people as good and each new personality as a greener pasture. An eternal optimist will always see potential in new faces, all the upsides and none of the potential downsides.

The economic view of the situation creates two different attitudes, and these attitudes can be seen as perspectives that you can take towards market economies in general. In the optimist's view of economic exchange, human interaction is a beneficial, binding, enriching fusion into a big happy family filled with people who really want to make each other's lives better, and they have only minimal concern for whether they are giving more than they're getting out of it. The other way to look at the economy is as a competitive environment with winners and losers, risks to go along with the rewards.

There is a difference between those who look at the current global economic situation and see a coming-together of disparate cultures for mutual beneficial exchange where pointless barriers are broken, and those who see a new challenge for their culture to win, where there is a real danger of ending up becoming lost in the shuffle. You can say that both are right, but in a competitive world, the latter is closer to holding an honest assessment of the situation's dangers than the former. The optimists aren't expecting to end up on the losing end, either, and that's why they can be optimistic.

These perspectives come into play when you're meeting people, too.

But would you really want a society where every individual is out there scrambling for all the attention they can get, screaming for it, never listening and barely able to wait for their turn to speak? Do you want a society where the introverts become extroverts and add their desire for attention into an overcrowded marketplace? Isn't the competition ruthless enough? We're already halfway there, so ask yourself: does it make for a better culture?

Attention is scarce, and thus its distribution will be unequal. We will always have the wallflower and the life of the party, in relative terms. The distribution of attention that comes from these differences may not be the most efficient, or productive, or morally correct by any standard. That's why cultures have formal hierarchies and organization: because when it matters, qualifications and experience give someone's input greater value than coincidentally having a talent for attracting eyeballs.

Just because they're interesting doesn't make them the right people to pay attention to. As often as not, I'd gamble that the type of people who put more effort into making sure they are heard don't put as much effort into making sure they have something of importance to say. It's the empowerment they're after, as individuals, competing. And it's often just better to tune them out, or stay at home and drink with people you know.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Efficiency of Being a Dick

What's the difference between the relationships you have with your close friends and the relationships you have with people you barely know, who you just meet on the street everyday?

Are you nicer to friends than to strangers?

If so, I can't help but to feel a little sorry for you.

When addressing this topic, be forewarned: I approach friendships and relationships as networked connections which exist for the sake of the benefit of the subject. This might be distasteful, as terms like "network" are heavily de-sanctified illustrations of relationships that are extremely important for people. Or, you might like the idea that I have no respect for: that people can be universalist and truly treat all other people equally.

Not true. People treat each other with caution or trust in accordance with experience of those people, their relationship with them. Dunbar's number illustrates that people do not have an endless capacity for relationships. The typical mind seems capable of only maintaining relationships with about 200 people at a time. We are not built to have close, intimate relationships with everyone on Earth. We don't have the capacity, and when I talk about capacity, I mean we don't have the information capacity or the attention. Information capacity matters because humans are complex and understanding who they are requires significant amounts of memory. Attention matters because attention is the interactive connections we make to gather that information, our choices of who to notice and how much to notice them. Depth is essential, and depth takes time and focus.

So, let's structure your friendships a bit. You probably have a handful of relationships that are very close, intimate, where you know this other person as well as they know him or herself. Then there are probably a few good friends that you know well enough to be comfortable around. Then there are a mess of people you know who you are acquainted with in a straightforward, functional manner. Everyone else is essentially a stranger, although certain signals, like clothing or verbal accent, can make you comfortable in the presence of strangers as a result of displayed, shared identity. That's completely normal.

Each of these relationships represents a degree of investment. As I said, depth requires time and focus, and said time and focus are investments made of attention and information capacity on the time dimension. Your best friends and relatives are the most deeply invested in you, and vice versa. With people you just see on the street, once and only once, you just need to maintain a demeanor that defuses conflict. Those behaviors are called "manners".

And there's nothing more irritating than having a close friend who treats you with their "best manners". It means that they look at you like a stranger. It means invested time, attention, and capacity has been wasted.

Intimate Assholes

To some degree, politeness and constructive honesty are inversely related. Unless you are in the middle of a heavy game of emotional warfare, giving a friend information they don't want to hear is probably the strongest indication that you care, that you value them and want to see them succeed so strongly that you are willing to deliver short-term emotional pain for the sake of long-term benefit. 

Is your friend acting like a rude prick to people who could screw up his life? Does he dress terribly or use terminology that will make him look bad? Is he letting himself go, not using the proper level of formality and not maintaining himself when dealing with others, making him look like shit? Is alcohol consumption or drugs ruining his life? (the TV show Intervention exploits this situation for ratings) Is he giving up? Is he overconfident? Is he out of touch and delusional about what life has to offer? Does he have any problem where his subjective interpretation of what's going on is fucking up his prospects for whatever goals he gives a shit about?

You, as a friend, have the invested emotional capital to call him on it and be believed, and hopefully this person will also see what you're doing and appreciate it. This is what friends are for. The individual's awareness of what's going on is extremely fallible to flawed interpretation and misplaced attention. People in tight relationships are supposed to watch out for each other in order to defuse this.

And sometimes, that requires breaking through the ego by calling this person a fucking retard when they aren't seeing reality.

This trust is the wellspring of loyalty. We do not value each other equally, and we cannot. The most trusted are the most valuable, and the interpersonal structures that matter in our lives are the hierarchies of value that we place on one another. From family and tribe outward, they make us who we are, because they control the most relevant and reliable feedback we get from the world. When you really internalize this, you will also internalize just how ludicrous the concept of equality is when extended to our personal lives and evaluations.

Trust in Hierarchy

There is a certain kabuki theater that people play when in social circumstances beyond the intimate that most of us know very well. We nod or say hello as we pass strangers. We chat with new people who might be useful. We love our pleases and thank yous. And we can't stand to be ignored. Such are the expectations when dealing with those we don't know well, or don't know at all. Manners reduce friction when the parts are not used to lining up. 

Think about this in contrast to a group of people who know each other. Specifically, think about a group of men who know each other, where the roles and ranks have been worked out and expectations and actual behaviors DO line up.

Men, specifically men, are wired to deal with hierarchy and its rigors extremely well, because men have had important shit to do for a very long time. Efficiency is key. When legitimate orders are given, you obey. You don't question the judgment of someone who is ostensibly in charge for a good reason and is trying to lead everyone in the same direction. You certainly don't go off Vincent Vega-like and say, "A please would be nice."

Fuck nice

Men with some kind of camaraderie give each other shit and test each other all the time when the pressure is off, they haze newbs so that they will be invested in the group by paying dues, but the shallow appearance of meanness underlies real bonds, and an understanding that they're on the same team. For the over-polite individual, they are truly an individual alone and their politeness is bred of caution, fear and uncertainty. "Polite" is what you are when you might get your ass kicked at any time. Women and weak, obsequious men are polite, but men with both strength and character are simply brusque or blunt and don't take any shit. They behave in a way that communicates an expectation that they should be trusted, that they're used to authority and that, with continued trust comes a consistent reinforcing feedback that their actions, words, and judgments have value. This matters: being nice about it does not. Being nice means dancing around the issue at hand, be it social dominance or practical necessity. When these things are worked out, all that is left is to do what needs to be done. Pussies want a nice boss. Men prefer a trustworthy asshole. Men prefer a guy who's right and shows it through confidence to a guy who's nice about being wrong. If you're right, then why phrase your orders as a polite request, as if it would be sensible to decline or argue?

Just say it, man.

This dickishness is economically efficient. Time has a value, and hierarchy which can simply say "go" and expect that shit will happen like it's supposed to runs like a fucking clock. Efficiency comes from trust, understanding, shared values, and the kind of relationships where stopping to talk about the weather and ask how mom 'n them are doin' is a complete waste of time. Manners are not efficient. Manners are like a tax you have to pay in order to minimize the chances of confrontation, or better, like an insurance policy taken out on a day-to-day basis when you live on a flood plain and are particularly vulnerable to the weather. It would be better to live in a place where you know a tornado isn't coming through tomorrow and you can just do what needs to be done without paranoia.

If you want organically reactive speed and you have the self-esteem to do your job without demanding constant emotional support, then you want blunt honesty. You don't want to play the theater of niceness all the time in order to get anything done. You don't want to have to constantly concern yourself with politics. If everyone is on the same page and knows that everyone respects everyone else in their position and capacity - if there is trust - then a chain of command can function smoothly simply by having a boss give an assignment and have it carried out without sweating details. The details are the job of the underbosses. There need not be any pleases, thank yous, chatting about your kids in order to put people in a mindset to where they want to listen and be inspired to do their job. A task is understood to be important if you trust the judgment of the boss, as proper hierarchical attention distribution means that he's looking at the big picture, and dedicating his resources - his employees - to getting it done. The employee focuses on handling the mechanics of the job; the boss assigns the job because the boss' role is to figure out what needs to be done in order to achieve larger goals.

And yet, today, we would prefer there be no hierarchy, or that our understanding of leadership should look like what's on the bottom:

Now, we want to be inspired.

Of course, this is impossible. The boss can't be on the ground with you: he has other employees, too. The boss can't spend time explaining himself and personally motivating every swinging dick that handles the actual grunt work; it would completely subvert the entire concept of specialization. A boss on the ground pretending to do menial labor is a politician looking for a photo op: God help the idiot culture that comes to value such naked bullshit.

The idea behind it, of course, is that you will work harder for someone you like, that you will empathize with someone who empathizes with you. And wow, can you ever tell women are in the workplace these days. This is what a woman thinks of as "making it personal". Not men.

Getting men to accept the hierarchy requires one of two things: trust, or a sense of duty. No boss in charge of more than 200 people has the time or attention to go around gaining some deep personal trust from every one of them individually, or explaining the logical necessity of every action. That doesn't mean that a good boss won't listen to concerns from his subordinates, but even this must be a matter of his judgment. There is an opportunity cost to spending time and attention listening to someone talk, and most people, consciously or not, will be serving their own interests more than the larger body's interests if given an audience. In organizations with thousands of people, no one can afford to listen to all these issues in any kind of truly personal fashion. The boss must be the boss. There are middle managers, supervisors, and sergeants to handle the personal elements of leadership, although eventually, that will chafe too, as the powerlessness of your immediate supervisor will only remind you of the greater powerlessness you have as an individual.

So duty - an expectation based on rank with justification beyond personal interests - is the go-to drive that motivates obedience in groups larger than the 200 limit of Dunbar's number. Intimacy drives personal actions at the tribal level or lower. Duty, with a built-up sense of legitimacy, drives actions for a society at a larger level. It has taken thousands of years of conditioning, the innovations of organized religion, and the occasional use of blunt force trauma to make societies bigger than the tribe work. Napoleon was not just being an asshole when he gave the Parisians a taste of grapeshot. He saw a society disordered and broken, and fixed it with extreme prejudice. There was no time for anything else.

And that works. We live in an era when hierarchies at work and elsewhere are supposed to be getting leveled and where the boss is trying to be one of the guys. It's an unmitigated disaster that sets the ego of every fool into overdrive and cuts down the ability of every boss, no matter how skillful or knowledgeable, to get anything done without having to be an ass-kissing politician. If the Japanese proverb is true and business is war, then Western society is setting itself up for a degree of failure it has never known before.

Excessive Manners Reflect Alienation

In a society becoming more global and less local, our understanding of justice is becoming far more depersonalized, and there is a certain price to pay in efficiency for that. Not financial efficiency, but interpersonal efficiency. Interactions between the genders, the races, old and young, rich and poor, politician and politician, and all the groups that have any cause for animosity become more and more strained as they know each other less intimately and their demonizing imaginations take over. We align official justice with our sense of empathy, the feminized position; in a society where expectations are neither clearly understood nor rational, this is all that can really exist.

The intense alienation of the modern West comes from undeveloped relationships, due to attention distribution well outside of the parochial. There are few things sadder than someone with an intense interest in world issues but no personal life. Among the things that are sadder are people who care about celebrities without knowing their neighbors or being able to count on their friends. The bigger the circle of awareness becomes for people, the more global in scope, the less intimate and, of course, the more flawed the perspective, as no one can really understand anything of these larger issues outside of what they "learn" through the media. Attention is a scarce resource.

This, among other reasons, is why democracy sucks. You don't know that asshole you just elected. You know that asshole's media image. How do you know the difference between the ones who are competent and hard-nosed, and the ones that are just assholes? Because you watched a debate and saw the look in their eyes?

The look in their eyes has been focus-grouped within an inch of its life, you dumbshit.

That delusional sense of intimacy only finds traction in a society where close relationships are lacking. Some people on the left literally do not understand the difference between localized social support systems and centralized welfare bureaucracies. They want to see America as one big happy fuckin' family. 

This attitude leads to a people who are entirely too sure of their rights in the larger world, despite their low contribution to the big picture, but who are deeply insecure in their personal lives. They know people judge them, but they don't know how. They don't know what people like or value. They don't know what the hell they're doing.

The normal, natural way of life for people is to live in a world that is environmentally insecure, that requires work, but with secure relationships. Today, that's been reversed: our relationships are insecure as we live in a world that is excessively secure. That shouldn't be surprising. As the world becomes more secure, those relationships end up with a lower value, because they are less necessary. Secure relationships are built on mutual need, and if the only needs we have are emotional, then only the ass-kissers thrive in the larger world by winning PR games, while real friendships become more and more rare. We're looking at relationships like women: our interactions exist to promote our self-esteem, to make us feel good about ourselves. That makes our relationships shallower, just like it leads to a more shallow knowledge of the self, given how little fully honest feedback we receive. This can only happen in a world where reality can be safely ignored, a world under too comprehensive a state of control.

Somewhere in here, we crossed a threshold into solipsism where we believe it to be just that the world exists to serve our emotional state, instead of being participants in a society fighting to ensure the continued survival of something more than our individual self. We lose connection to the world as a result. 

The identity of the individual relies on the parochial. You are who you are as a member of a group of people who values you, in the sense of real, instrumental value, because you DO something. If you have value just because you are a human being and all human beings have value the world over, then your bullshit alarm should be blaring right in your ear. There are over seven billion people in the world. The value of anything is reduced the more of it there is. With that many people around and no role to differentiate you, no characteristics that make you uniquely worthy of investment by others, how much value do you actually have?

Because of this, I celebrate the assholes. I celebrate real friends. I celebrate the Sancho Panzas and the disillusioned prick with Truth Tourette's. I celebrate real bosses. I celebrate the hard-nosed father, the coach who yells when you fuck up the play, the teacher who calls you out and embarrasses you to prod you into doing homework, the boss who gets right to it without asking if your needs are being met, the no-bullshit drill sergeant who will not only tell you that you're doing it wrong, but will smoke the shit out of you in order to reinforce the point. They will make you feel bad, because they assume you can do better. And in most cases, you can.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Seasteading and Independence

Happy 4th o' July, kids!

To celebrate this, our glorious American Independence Day, I'm going to talk about one of the more interesting ideas that I've become smitten with since hanging around with libertarians: seasteading. Just look at this idea porn!


Seasteading basically means creating more-or-less permanent societies in international waters, outside the direct jurisdiction of any given national government. It's colonizing the oceans. It's government, hell, it's society through the ethics of a start-up business. Libertarians are in love. So am I, for totally different reasons.

This guy here seems stricken with the idea that a society on the water would need to have infrastructure as if it was on land, because obviously, we would need to have cars, and therefore highways, to seastead. That's much better than boats. Then there's electricity: it's so incredibly difficult to run power lines out to new members of a community or withdraw them from those who are leaving. Same for internet, because wireless hasn't been invented yet.

Then there's his idea that an ocean community would wake up one day to find itself having been moved to a totally different aquatic location, because people in positions of power just do goofy shit like that all the time, especially when no one's looking. I think Mr. Lee might be mentally retarded. Either that, or, as a young child, he fell down and fractured his imagination, which never healed properly. Until it became truly massive, any seasteading community would probably look more like Venice than NYC, and thank God for that.

Other commenters have brought up a more sensible worry, at least for them: these seasteading communities would be basically akin to either manors or medieval towns, and the result of all this would be some form of neo-feudalism. I agree. I just don't think that certain ideas like lifetime indenture or pure slavery would be making a comeback, and otherwise, I don't see feudalism as an insult. Feudalism basically meant a system of authority by property instead of by democratic fiat. Fine by me!

As I've said before, I have no problem taking capitalism over democracy.

What I don't pretend about seasteading are a couple of points that libertarians seem to really be in love with that I think are absurd. One is increased economic welfare due to non-involvement by the government. The other related point is that seastead communities would be so easy to leave, the frictional costs of uprooting so low, that an almost boundlessly fluid individualism would be created.

Nope, and nope.

With the first, it depends on who you talk to. Feudalism comes to mind because anyone who is not landed - aka, anyone without a boat capable of indefinitely long-term living - would be at the mercy of those who had the infrastructure to survive. Those with said infrastructure might bring people in with work and pay, into safe arrangements (like villeins on manors). That's not always a bad way to live, but it would not be a material improvement over our current society, unless you happen to be the one in possession of the infrastructure. Voters like the easy life, and we've given it to them. It would be no easier to find on the ocean, and given the rigors of living with no arable land, no fresh water, dealing with barnacle and salt corrosion and the occasional massive storm, seasteading would certainly be more difficult.

You don't go out and live on a man-made hunk in the middle of nowhere, with no resources, because you're a utilitarian and you want your life to be easier. You go for some other reason.

For the second point, there would have to be ideological commonalities between people to get them cooperating long enough to make this work. That could easily develop, because frictional costs to leave would not be lower than they are on dry land. Probably quite the opposite, which would help to establish some hierarchical stability. The libertarian set might not like it, but if seasteaders turn out to be the kind of brats who will pull up anchor and break off their personal relationships for "greener pastures" every time they feel "oppressed" or their mutualism costs go up by 3%, then they will never be able to invest in a community and establish a damn thing, and not being able to do that would mean getting their economic and military ass handed to them on a very regular basis. The only way a seasteading community would have a chance in hell is to be economically strong, trading with other societies on beneficial terms. Any advantage of low taxes is probably offset by the complete lack of exploitable natural resources other than fish and sea salt, so you'd need a hell of a work ethic and a willingness to cooperate. If you think this happens without infrastructure, including social infrastructure, then you're a fool. If you think the government is hurting its own people in these areas now by wickedly and horridly oppressing them, then you might be a paranoid schizophrenic and you need to shut up and take the meds.

The people who are best equipped for this sort of thing are not libertarians. Getting cooperation out of libertarians in the face of political disagreement, for the sake of some greater good, usually turns out to be like herding cats, and it would take someone with all the bullshit tolerance of a drill sergeant to put them in line, defeating the purpose from their perspective. No, the people best equipped for this are A) the devout religious types, and B) men who are tired of paying for the feminist welfare state. In other words, the people who could make this work are the people who have a problem with modern liberal society in principle.

This brings to mind those sexy Puritans, with their belt buckle hats and pimp shoes.

For the faithful, no rigor is too great for the freedom to build a society according to the perceived wishes of their God. For men, we might have to pay through the nose for mail-order brides until we dominate trade with the withered husk of the landlubber societies, but we can deal with it. The prostitution business will probably explode, but it's better than the current state of things if you want respect more than comfort.

But that, of course, is why this hasn't happened yet. The vast, vast majority of people very strongly prefer comfort to respect, or anything else. The technologies for seasteading exist. It could have been done decades ago. But it hasn't been done, because that shit is hard. Not enough people hate the status quo enough to really make it happen and tolerate the incredible amount of work and risk necessary to really break contact. It will be hard, very hard, to make this happen.

I'm interested in it, but I don't see it as likely really soon. The Seasteading Institute is supposed to have something up and running in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay area. We'll see.

Anyway, it is Independence Day. So for all of you for whom freedom means living on easy street, take some time this 4th of July to hoist a beer to America for taking care of your fat ass. For those for whom freedom means having something of your own, the prerogative to create a new culture built on ideas that are worth taking a chance for, then start drafting your boat plans. TSI might be a good option for you. You will be in a minority, but it won't be boring. Would you really want anything else?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Secular Humanism and the Belief Problem

The term "secular humanism" has had a colorful history in law, which is appropriate given that it's America's dominant ethical perspective.

There is a formal secular humanist organization in America, and it has very few members. They act like a church, in the sense of having services and an ethos, but they don't subscribe to any Godly metaphysics.

Now, immediately forget about them. That's not who I'm talking about, and that tiny, pointless organization provides nothing but distraction on this issue. I'm talking about people who are secular humanists, not just the people who self-identify as secular humanists. Which means liberals.

And liberals are secular humanists. Just think about the terms. Do they support secular policies? Clearly. Do they subscribe to a moral view that could be considered humanist? Definitely.

Espousing effective utilitarianism, for lack of any other social goal? Check.
Occasionally getting pissed at other people's judgmentalism? Check.
Extremely excitable about the separation of church and state, even where the issue doesn't exist? Check.
Totally unconcerned about the relationship of religion to science, taking science's side when conflicts come up, saying religion must "evolve" or lose relevance? Check.
Preference for "underdog" religions, if any religion must be tolerated? Check.
Hears stuff about "be fruitful and multiply" and hates it, because something something global population is too damn high? Check.
Conflates freedom of religion with freedom FROM religion? Check.
The occasional, casual comparison between religion and military brainwashing research? Check.
Uses the term "open-minded" a lot, especially when talking positively about people like themselves? Check.
Does not actually refer to himself as a humanist, but wonders how anyone could possibly have a problem with humanism, as it's so obviously a sensible view? Check.

Lots of people hold these opinions, and don't think of their worldview as secular humanism. They think their worldview is just reasonable, the modern view, unimpeachable, everything else is based on hocus pocus. That's secular humanism. Like any successful faith, it becomes so dominant that people do not really question it. They just absorb it from their interactions with the world, and think every sensible person thinks the same way. Of course, it's a cultural phenomenon.

Their concepts bear some resemblance to what Hayek called "scientism". But scientism is somewhat different: a purely scientific view posits that people are organisms which operate as any other organism that can be studied, understood, and controlled in that context. These are the people that view the mind as the byproduct of brain functions that occasionally misfire, the kind of people who have no problem looking at a sociopath or Cluster B personality and prescribing drugs. Somehow, this point of view does not make it impossible to take human authorities who pretend to impossible wisdom seriously.

The decision not to actually call themselves secular humanists is strategic. When you define a group, you allow it to be attacked as a group, and that's the problem. The left in America knows perfectly well that, were their views to take on a name, they could be grouped up and stereotyped and pounced on, with far greater ease than they are now. They won't let themselves be labeled. This is a propaganda war. They would rather be seen as neutralists, taking no side at all, making no principled judgments at all, being pragmatically interested only in utilitarian welfare for all, above the fray. And there is no such thing when talking about matters of not just whether you go to church, but whether you see the world the same way those around you do. There is no "none of the above" position. Everyone looks at the world in SOME way, and the best term in existence that describes the ideology and worldview of modern liberals is secular humanism.

Their unwillingness to identify themselves as such is dishonest and dishonorable, and that's what I despise in them. They will not stand for anything.

The activist atheist wing of liberalism is its own set of problems. This excellent article by Jim Goad pretty much expresses my point of view.

The longer I look at the debate going on here, the more I agree with John Locke, for once: atheists are troublemakers.

You can bring up the first amendment if you like, but it really doesn't say much about interactions between people. It limits the government... and just the government. The first amendment gives people peace of mind when it comes to the government taking action against them for their beliefs. But that's it. It doesn't imply overwhelming public secularism, and any investigation into the intent of the founders will make that clear. If a community has a dominant religion, then it's allowed to have it, and those who disagree are protected from having the local government jail them or charge them with a crime for not believing. That's all. If you try to extend the principle out to mean that all religious practice should be kept out of the public sphere, then you have to understand that the public sphere comes into existence any time people interact anywhere except on their private property, meaning in most of their day to day interactions. Were "freedom of religion" to be enforced here, meaning no one "pushing their religion on others", then it means that religion is not free but effectively outlawed and talking about belief is on its way to becoming taboo. Atheists win. Of course, they know this.

The real issue for these atheists, these secular humanists, is not avoiding the formal establishment of religion but in altering the religious marketplace. Religions with high subscription have an innate advantage over religions that are smaller, and also over non-religion. The secular humanists want government to play the same role with religion that they want it to play with business: anti-monopoly, promoting the highest possible level of choice, forms of regulation. Any form of social influence from religion is to be squashed, which nullifies the positive, binding effects of religion. That is explicitly what the founders did not want government doing: interfering with the religious marketplace. Hegemony, or lack thereof, is not the government's business from this perspective, but in the modern world, where government provides structures like schooling, the issue becomes much more difficult because of the tremendous degree of interference the government plays in people's lives.

The separation of church and state, for the modern atheist, means an outward hostility towards religion as a civil matter, and as a public choice, from the government and through the government to the populace. Now, if you view atheism as just another choice of beliefs in the maisma, then it's gained a degree of power that IS a violation of the separation of church and state. An economist might call this "regulatory capture": the simpler term is "corruption".

But that may be going too far as to their intention. They aren't looking to monopolize atheism. What's more likely is an attitude towards Christianity specifically which places it in the same vein of consumer goods. They don't want to get rid of it exactly, just de-institutionalize it. Christianity has been a social institution for centuries here, which in the way of a powerful corporation, should mean influence but not by government fiat, rather through the aggregated choices of individuals. A Christian society may not establish religion in the same way the English government did with the Anglican church, but if the religion describes a worldview, then the beliefs will show themselves in the behavior of the people, including through the vote. That's what the atheists want gone, and they've already succeeded to a great degree.

There are secular humanists who go to church on Sunday and call themselves Christian in conversations or questionnaires. They go to church, but don't view church as what it says it is, a belief system; they view it like a club. They do not see it as being truth in a way which morally demands that they defend its position in the world. They do not promote it, which makes their "faith" something less than a faith. It's merely a preference, at most a symbolic element for their otherwise rationalist, secularist modern worldview. A true Christian is morally obligated by their worldview to spread the Word; when you see how archaic this position is, you might realize how much ground Christianity has lost since at least the 1960's, and really, since the Protestant Reformation half a millenium ago. Evangelizing for religion, just about any religion, is currently looked down upon by cultural tastemakers. Evangelizing for no faith at all is perfectly acceptable.

I'm not a Christian. Even if I really wanted to be, I couldn't; my mind simply will not take the metaphysics seriously. I've been tempted to call this the rational viewpoint, but really, it's just my subjective viewpoint and it's a product of living in the society I live in. For those genuinely interested in open-mindedness, start here: it's all shakier than you think it is, the certainty of the modern world, the control we think we have over it, the comfort with which we think we get how things work... Dig in a bit, and realize that we know very little, and our way of life is not only unproven, but continually causing problems.

Are you sure you know what you know? Are you sure that the secular humanist way, where God is relegated to the role of a product on the shelves, is really an improvement? Or does the lack of a shared worldview beyond the consumerist have a hand in the alienation and constant inability to agree on anything that our current society is dealing with now?

A question that occurred to me came from reading the law history of secular humanism at the top of the page, and seeing the case where the Bible may be studied for its "literary and historical" qualities in public schools. Since Christians view this book as sacred, the question should be asked: does this constitute harm to the faith, to take a sacred text and analyze it or read it without affirming or even mentioning its possible sacredness? In other words, would a young Christian who study the Bible in school as simply a book end up with a perspective that undermines the high value placed on that book by his faith? This is one of those areas where the inherent conflict between religion and secularism seems very bright to me. If you have a view on this, email me or comment.