Saturday, October 19, 2013

Redefining Laziness

So after posting my last slapdash blog on the "conservatives hate the poor" stereotypes, a conversation the next day came up which was predominantly focused around that exact subject. Now, that blog was far from my best, but after arguing with a couple people for a while, I realized that there was definitely something important missing. I said, and I maintain, that people are generally lazy; the point of the blog was not that conservatives don't think people are lazy, but was rather that conservatives don't hold a particular stereotype about the poor being particularly lazy. Everyone is lazy in some way. The conservative, in my experience, generally thinks that the difference between the poor and the not-so-poor boils down to something different, a gut tolerance for shitty work.

But if this isn't a basic case of fundamental, innate differences between people, then what is it?

Well, after thinking about this for a couple of hours yet again, I realized that it was in my understanding of what constitutes laziness. It wasn't that I hadn't thought it through, so much as I thought it through long ago and have been writing on the assumption that laziness was well understood and readers would just know what I was saying.

But laziness is not well understood. It's actually kind of difficult to define if you go by the normal vision of a lazy person as simply someone who is inactive and prefers to stay that way. Suddenly, I had a crystalline moment where old thoughts came back and I remembered how I had thought out this concept years ago, then integrated my conclusions into my worldview, how those conclusions evolved, and eventually forgot how I had come to conclusions that made so much of a difference. But I shouldn't have done that. There's a key to my conservatism - and my Nietzschean worldview - locked in my definition of laziness, and I'm going to spell it out. If this makes enough sense that you think I've stated the obvious and you've heard it before, then I've succeeded, because I don't think it gets laid out much, if at all.

What is Laziness?

Think about it: what is laziness?

Is it a resistance to doing work? Yes. But what kind of work? ANY kind?! I think not.

A resistance to just physical work? Please. Laziness has nothing to do with physical activity. That's especially true today, when fitness buffs can obviously be slackers (Jersey Shore?) and the fat guy in the office could be the hardest worker there. The connection between laziness and physical activity is a historical artifact, coming from centuries of being expected to work in the physical sense, as farmers, miners, craft artisans. Any time you're burning calories at a higher rate than motionless idle, you're doing some kind of work, but there are plenty of lazy people who move their bodies around, so it's not the same. Nothing physical describes the economic difference between work and leisure.

A resistance to learning? To actively acquiring skills? Please. The laziest people I know are getting incredibly skilled at Grand Theft Auto 5 right now, which makes sense, given all the "work" they put in to it. 

Is it a resistance to doing pointless work? Hell no: a resistance to doing pointless work is the basis upon which economic efficiency is founded. Besides, there are Luddites out there who disdain technology because it strips them of jobs that the technology makes pointless. Many people think they need pointless work to give them value, and while we can call them lazy by some standard, they aren't lazy in the sense that they won't do it. The question is whether pointless work is actually work, as opposed to waste. 

And pointless work is waste, intuitively. So what makes work work? This "work" concept needs a better definition for laziness to have a better definition. 

Well, let's start here: Playing GTA5 isn't work because it doesn't accomplish anything that others require of us. So, for it to be considered work, must it be what others want us to do? YES. That's the definition of work: what other people want us to do.

Right here, it should be obvious that this is about power and control. Laziness is a denigrating term used to straighten up people who are not going along with society's economic expectations. Like all other moral terms, the concept is cultural, normative, and meant to affect our behavior. It's meant to get us to work, and work is social.

There are two components to this normative definition of work:

  1. Work means investment. The action of work is the action of doing something for the sake of future benefit. All work, when you think about it, is investment. When you grow crops, you grow them with the expectation that later on, you will use them for some functional application like eating them, or sell them, either of which works in your benefit AFTER the work is done. By definition, working means doing something you'd rather not do right now for the sake of assuring yourself the ability to do something you want to do in the future. So again, work means investment. 
  2. Given that humans are social creatures, work implies a social meaning. A group is not simply a band of individuals, but a gathering with loyalties, internal dynamics, a hierarchy of some kind, and a basic understanding that every part has some value. Specialization requires that every member do something, make exchanges, work as a group, and work is therefore an extremely social activity for any human being. What's important about this is that work be what other people value, not that you value, and there are very few exceptions to this. This makes work somewhat coercive: you would not be doing it unless other people made you do it, and in a market system, that sense of force comes from the activities of other people that have value for us, the things we want from others and that we coerce them to do with our economic power, our money, that we acquire.
That's work. These things run on a continuum, of course; some investment-based economic activity runs on a shorter time frame. The most obvious example is a guy with a temp job that's "work today, get paid today", which is fairly immediate in reward and requires no long-term commitment, versus a dedicated company man who starts out in a mail room earning peanuts despite their college degree. Also, while some economic activity is very personal - growing a vegetable garden, for example, does not require other people to help, or to buy your stuff - it's all got some interpersonal punch.

Individuals generally want, on a selfish level, to do what they want instead of what others want, and to make minimal commitments. Society wants people to commit, taking the long view, and to do what others want the most i.e. what is in highest demand, market-wise. Everything from pay to bond market interest rates reflects this. People will push you, even if you think your welfare is not their business, because it really is.

No society is totally individualistic, so the talk about individual responsibility has its limits. Even when one member says, "I'm not doing anything and I accept the consequences", other members of the group know what this means: later, when starving, this asshole will require other people to support him. The group will have to support him, or they will feel terrible and question whether they could trust their neighbors if they went through a rough time; rarely do humans let other humans in their group just die. So even taking care of yourself by growing your own food is social work, as it assures others that they won't have to carry your dumb ass.

Proactive Humanity

So according to the above perspective, laziness is not about physical activity at all, but about doing what you want to do, versus what others want you to do. That assumes a difference between the two, a big difference between what you feel like doing and what society needs to get done.

I resisted this conclusion in my younger years. The thing is, ever since I first took an interest in anything economic, I never assumed that people were "naturally" lazy. People could be quite motivated to do things, feeling compelled to do things, when they really cared about something, and this much was obvious. We have energy, and no one wants to just do nothing. So I thought, if people cared about each other, they should be willing to do at least some work other needed of them, so that could handle the minimum drudgery that technology hadn't figured out how to solve. However, most "work" could be based on what people wanted to do.

This occurred to me when I was about 16, and I went from there to believing that it was society referring to an activity as "work", with all the arduous connotations that word has, which made the big difference in people's views towards what could be a creative activity without the sense of burden attached. We didn't need the coercion of money, or so I thought. About this time, I sent off for literature from the CPUSA.

At the time, I took seriously the idea that people were inherently good, selfless, really wanting to work but having been misled by a system dominated by assholes.

This was the result of a certain perspective I had about pleasure. There are people who really, literally enjoy doing what they do, as in, they'd do it even if you didn't pay them. I thought this was evolution making the act of helping others pleasurable, entirely aside from the self-interested benefits it conferred. I thought that if the contribution of doing work was communicated better, people would simply want to do it.

But there's a difference between helping people selflessly and helping people because it's empowering, and it became much more clear over the years that work is enjoyable because it is empowering. Everywhere you look, the examples of people enjoying their work are actually examples of a certain type of socialization. Artists are a good example: on a higher level, what are they actually doing? They're expressing themselves. The pleasure they take from it derives from their ability to garner praise or make a heavy social impact or simply be taken seriously, a reflection of their power. The artists who create selflessly are the ones you don't know about, because they do their work on their own time and then put it away without showing anyone, expecting nothing. Work is always about acquiring value from people. Value is subjective, uncertain, and we yearn for the assurance of public appreciation in our work. The football player who scores a touchdown feels real joy and personal triumph when it happens, but that comes from social circumstances. It's a game played by people for interpersonal glory, a competitive context. They feel good because they've raised their value in the eyes of others, and they will be able to leverage it for their own benefit in the bigger scheme of things.

Such people are being empowered by their investment, and the reaction from the crowd lets them know they've invested wisely.

The obviousness of this empowerment is less direct with people who, say, work on an assembly line, sometimes so indirect that they feel their job is meaningless. But that's not true; it's meaning is just less obvious and visible, as the assembly line worker is not there at the point of sale to see the person who really likes what they helped to create. Even more abstract is the case of someone like the guy who makes gasoline or some other commodity and nears nothing but bitching about the price and how they're getting bent over. Their satisfaction can only be found imagining how much people's lives would suck if they woke up tomorrow in a gasoline-free world.

There's a bias in favor of apparent joy: important work is seen as work that gets a happy reaction. But that's a terrible, terrible indicator of what work is actually important.

And that's just as true if you don't like it, either. Do we really want to do what others want us to do? Usually not, as people are self-interested. Nor do we care as much as we think about the lives of those who create for us. Do we really sweat much thinking about the working conditions at Foxconn when we buy our iPhones? Nah, we don't really care about the suicide nets. Welcome to Human Conflict 101, the origin story, the prequel, Part One, the Oldest Testament. Those people who get lucky and really want to do their job? They probably like their life more than you, but even then, they won't want to do it every day, with pressure applied to do it a certain way, at a certain rate, day in and day out. Even people doing their dream job have their bad days. Every artist eventually sells out to survive, as only the most vapid can actually think and feel on the terms of popular culture.

16-year-old me just didn't get how deep these things went, how lucky the people who enjoy their jobs are, how wrong I could be about the nature of people, and how poorly the supply that people preferred to give each other lined up with their demands of each other. Incentives, coercive incentives, are necessary. The people who provide what others want must be rewarded. They can not and will not be rewarded equally, and if it were required, then the system would collapse. Those who provide more must have more power, the link between investment and authority legitimized. The investor who's concerned with the long-term welfare of the business will take the short-term hit of being an asshole for a little while in exchange for the long-term benefit up tightening up discipline from the people he depends on. Those who can make trade-offs like this proficiently can build empires, and those who have are responsible for humanity's power.

As arrangements are made, some people will push the envelope and say no to the expectations, which could lead to reduced welfare for the rest. Most people do not abstractly blame themselves as a society for this, so they blame the power class. And so, the power class punishes people who are slacking. They are responsible for discipline. They used to just beat people's ass. Now, in the context of our free and individualistic society, the threat of getting fired acts to motivate people, the capitalists holding power and being appropriately hated for it. If you get fired, you might be able to coast on help from other people for a while, but if the support happens on personal terms, normal humans get tired of your lazy ass and tell you to get a damn job. This is how it has to be, and this is the ecosystem that gets destroyed by large-scale, impersonal charity.

These dynamics are both self-interested, and group-ish, as society is a condition of the individual's natural environment, a positive condition where the individual can acquire rest and pleasure by running on earned credit for a while. Every time we take a pleasant breather in this world, we have the activities of others - people who constrain violence, people who make things, people who entertain - to thank. Society is a system of investment, and everyone has to pay in.

Let this roll around in your head for a bit: the definition of a society is a group of people that invests in one another. Whoever doesn't do it takes themselves out of society, alienates themselves.


From what I can tell, there are two psychologies to the lazy bastard that are based on their attitude towards the expectations of the system. The first is the undisciplined slacker.

This is the person who knows what's expected of them and at least passively accepts the arrangement, but who delays or evades it when it's time to get things done. 

I know how that goes, because I am one lazy fucking fucker.
This bastard is a neat freak next to me.
I'm a born procrastinator. I put shit off, even though I know that shit needs to be done. (I'm doing it right now!) I prefer to chill out, listen to music, read, dabble in whatever, and just kind of check stuff out, especially cute girls on the interwebs. And, of course, I like to sleep in, and I mean really sleep in. Noon is too early to be up and doing things. These are my natural preferences, and they happen to coincide with the typical stereotype of a lazy person. I assume they are somewhat innate, as most of them have never been encouraged by anyone except implicitly, by example, my dad in his later years. I hated his loafishness as a kid and he still pushed me to do things, so I don't think I picked it up from him as a matter of conditioning, but rather as a matter of genetics. I've always had to fight it. The Army helped a bit.

It has its good points. I spend little time feeling overloaded, as I tend to get shit done at the last minute, so 6 days out of 7, I feel unstressed. My immune system is oxen-strong, as years ago, I tended to wash my dishes only about once a month, and my body had to deal with the unsanitary results (I've since reformed this... somewhat). Guys like me will keep being slackers, making short-term excuses and saying "I'll get to it tomorrow, don't worry" unless some problem - sickness, boredom, authority - forces us to take action and think beyond the next hour.

These people are not a threat to the order unless they are allowed to continue being slackers while everyone has to keep working. But if they manage to make work habitual, they will sometimes take their hatred of unnecessary labor into a talent for efficiency that spurs innovation and good order.

The other type is the rebellious slacker.

The rebellious slacker rejects the arrangement on the assumption that he's getting screwed. It's not that he doesn't want to work; it's that he doesn't want to work under this set of expectations, under the thumb of these assholes, with all this pressure being applied. The arrangement becomes unjust as he realizes how his feelings are less important than his performance.

Is he getting screwed? That's purely a subjective opinion, and it's inevitably a selfish one. We've been arguing about the arrangement for centuries, and equality - in metaphysical theory, in legal theory, or even in practice - has become default justice in the West because everyone wants more and nothing else can be innately justified to people. Equality is the Mexican standoff among all groups in of Western civilization: whoever flinches gets shot full of blame and moral guilt.

But for every rebel who is truly pissed off about the unfairness of the arrangement and would work hard for a better one, there are thirty rebels who simply don't want to be told what to do. They reject the authority of society over them. These people very rarely call it misanthropy, a rejection of the people, as that's a terribly unpopular thing to say. But rebels also very rarely have any real philosophical ground to stand on in rejecting the authority that runs society and enforces its value system, except the fact that everyone knows what it's like to hate being told what to do, and they empathize. So the rebel turns the idea of "the people" into whatever they want it to be, and will fight like mad to legitimize their point of view while destroying the legitimacy of the prevailing power class.

This is not undisciplined slacker-ishness. These people are dedicated to the ideal of a slacker's world, and fight for it, empowering themselves by controlling the context of their society, the intoxicating experience that becomes everything they want to do. By undisciplined slacker principles, they often screw themselves by doing more work than they would have by running with the status quo. But they aren't undisciplined slackers. They're egoists. It's not a lack of energy or a lack of investment-mindedness that makes them what they are. It's an absolute refusal to do what other people want them to do. It's pure anti-social alienation.

One time in a thousand, these people take action and change things in a way that can be argued as an improvement. The rest of the time, they are simply selfish. We have seen the enemy, and it is the rebellious slacker. The undisciplined slacker shares a desire for control, a desire for the power to watch TV or sleep in without negative consequence. The rebellious slacker offers some of this power, by creating better excuses, by argumentative innovation, with disordering consequences. They are natural allies, but the undisciplined is a foot soldier. He takes his cues from the rebel.

This is what we have to watch out for. The fundamental concept of freedom is that others can't tell you what to do. How far do you think that can go?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stereotype Within a Stereotype

As we all know, conservatives hate poor people.

Obviously, there is a connection between being poor and not having a decent job. When I was a liberal, the big joke was about "boot-strappy" Repubs who thought everyone should be able to come up regardless of social injustices, their complete irrationality on the subject, and the essential hatred of the poor that they seemed to savor like a glass of fine Thunderbird. Oh yeah, and racism.

That's painting with kind of a broad brush, isn't it?

The Story from the Other Side

I've spent time with the people who are affected by these issues. I know few people, regardless of political persuasion, who think it's typically as simple as expecting the government to hand them free money; those in dire straits are fully aware that they need to work. That much is clear, although the kind of work they think they should be doing often is not. I've also known people who failed before, who fail habitually, and the pattern is quite predictable. See if you can relate:
  • You need a job.
  • You look for a good job first, pass on a couple of bad ones, until you realize that for whatever reason, most jobs you're looking at are not going to be what you've been dreaming of. So you apply for the better of the bad ones, the jobs where you might stand a chance of finding something good about it.
  • You find a job that looks like it might be tolerable.
  • You start work. It's okay for a while, maybe even enjoyable to be doing something with purpose, meeting new people, making money. You have a job, which is better than not having a job, and you can do this. There's a sort of honeymoon period where you get to know a few of your coworkers, and they're good people, and you can handle it. This lasts for maybe a month or two.
  • Despite our best efforts to change corporate management to be more sympathetic and give out more breaks and treats and compliments and generally be easygoing, tricking the worker into thinking that they earn deep respect for work that a terrapin can do, the boss remains the boss and replaceable employees remain replaceable. The boss might be the owner or manager; either way, they are invested in the continued competitive functioning of the business, and end up demanding things that seem increasingly asinine. The boss starts to push harder, and the butting of heads commences. You come home tired as hell every day, possibly angry. Your social life and your hobbies have suffered. You realize the job is boring, repetitive, annoying, and in lot of ways, a dead end. You will never be president of the company, and if you don't watch out, you might be here at sixty.
  • Eventually, you start taking shortcuts, getting irritated more easily, really hating that you have to go in every day. You draw more lines in the sand. This is you after the honeymoon, the real you. Everyone's a bit different, but if you hold the slightest self-esteem, the idea of doing this shit forever will start to grate on your imagination and make you feel like a failure. Suddenly, you're a douche to work with. You might have problems with telling people off. You might have problems with being late or absent for your shifts. People won't be able to depend on you.
  • Now the boss should theoretically have to fire you, but that's a hassle bureaucratically, so they will alternately start scheduling you for less hours. Much less. Eventually, you no longer have a job in any relevant sense. You will likely quit, sometimes spectacularly, and feel totally justified in doing so, although the money questions remain in the back of your mind. 
  • Rinse, repeat.
I have a point in laying these basic dynamics out here: conservatives understand this. We've been there. It's not that conservatives don't get tempted to tell the boss to lick balls or tell the customer to toss his own salad. We may have done it before, albeit not so much as adults with people needing us to bring home the cash. Conservatives might be less likely to take stupid risks, less likely to quit impulsively, hoping and wishing that things work out and that a bad job is a stepping stone to a good job in our personal life narratives. It's a less romantic worldview, one more bound by duty and pragmatism.

This stereotype of conservatives being made up of rich people and stupid rednecks who are incapable of "getting it", of comprehending and empathizing with the pressures and stress and trials of being an adult who just needs a break, isn't true.

People already get lots of breaks, and the conservative recognizes a point where the excuses have to stop. Adults with people relying on them must keep going, even if things suck. Justice in vocation is not a matter of good versus evil; there are jobs that satisfy so deeply that it becomes your life, and jobs that are pure, unrelenting torture. This is a continuum, almost all work falls within these boundaries, and the actual calibrating of this continuum is deeply subjective.

Grown-ups know the game. At about two months in to a daily-grind job, that's when character has to show. You either have to find a way to use your off-time productively to find something better, or you get used to where you are. Keep showing up, make friends, get used to it. Even the latter option is not the end of the world. You can get comfortable, and maybe accept the reality that most humans have had to accept:

Work sucks. They would not pay you to come in if they could get someone to do it for free.

But you can embrace a life where you work to live, instead of living to work. No one lives to work at Arby's, but you can eat and pay rent even on that wage. It would be massively unfair if those who stomach this were treated equally to those that won't. Being too merciful about this basic expectation causes problems: The days of people valuing work enough to stay for long periods and build seniority are over, keeping wages down and giving rise to credentialism. The system should not devalue the good fortune of getting a steady job that pays your bills. It cannot turn support for those who quit into an entitlement; there has to be a threat of some kind. There's a logic here.

Second-Order Stereotyping

Liberals don't look at conservative thought as having any sophistication. What you might notice about this is that to explain the lack of support for policies which benefit the poor and unemployed, liberals have created a narrative about conservatives which demeans them. This narrative relies on the conservatives holding their own false stereotypes (poor people are lazy and deserve it), and explaining why anyone would have such a stereotype by stereotyping the stereotypers (they really just hate minorities). Liberals think of themselves as the people fighting against stereotypes, but the general presence of the stereotype within a stereotype, like Russian matroshka dolls, runs mad among them.

They love their snarky little cut-downs. You might have heard these things before:

They say that those who seem to have a problem with gay people are actually repressed homosexuals themselves.

They say that people who don't want the rich to be taxed want to become rich themselves one day and are operating under an especially stupid form of self-interest.

They say that if you have a problem with affirmative action or if you own a gun, then you're afraid of black people. If you spend time learning to use that gun, then you're a Solid Snake wannabe who's aching to start a fight, and without that gun, you're still very much afraid of black people.

They say those who subscribe to religions which promote severe discipline are people who have some kind of mental disorder that keeps them from being happy.

They say that conservatives simply hate women, or are afraid of them, or just need to get laid, or all of these at the same time.

Actually, ask around, and you might find that most conservatives weren't hugged enough as children. The spankings probably fucked 'em up. Something something abuse... Or maybe it's just in their genes. Meanwhile, whoever the conservatives stand against becomes almost saint-like.

This is stereotyping assumed to be so rampant that it creates second-order effects. We all know that the anti-discrimination legislation was passed with full knowledge that Americans were so heavily programmed to look down on everyone not white, male, rich, straight, and Christian that they were incapable of thought. Accepting that view is just part of the propaganda war that comes with living in a democratic society.

The liberal stereotypes usually focus on emotions, as liberals over-value emotions: if the conservative doesn't support their positions - which is to say, positions that move society more towards an individualist egalitarian vision that cares about people's emotions more - then it's because of fear or hate. The only better buzzword is ignorance, which appeals to the ego of anyone who wants to feel like a well-informed part of the solution. If it marginalizes arguments from the other side by putting images of dysfunctional people in the heads of the public, then they will support it. Like every other political and ideological side ever, they push the notion that what they believe is common sense truth while the other side is a big, steaming plate of hot garbage that could only have been created by subhumans looking to justify what Jim Goad calls "gleeful assholery".

But let's call this what it is, and I don't just mean calling out the propaganda war aspect or the childishness of liberal utopianism. The basis for the denigrating nature of these comments is the idea that stereotyping is always bad. But is that actually the case?

Since I stereotype with abandon on this here blog, you might have figured out that I answer NO to this question. Stereotyping is the mind organizing its environment by classifying discrete units into like groups and noticing patterns of behavior, which also just happens to be the basis upon which all knowledge is formed. Most of the time, our stereotypes exist because we accurately see things. We see that douchebags wear super-deep V-necks, that you can tell a vapid skank by the tramp stamp, hooker shoes, and tanning bed overload. There are exceptions to all these rules, but you won't go broke gambling on these appearances lining up with reality. Stereotypes are an inevitable consequences of people having an openly shared sense of identity, and being part of any group acts as a check on behavior because it motivates people to stay out of trouble and not look stupid, even people who don't have anything to lose personally. If you've ever represented any group anywhere, you understand this. Making your family, friends, alma mater, company, church, or anyone you care about look like shit is deeply dishonorable.

We hate stereotypes because we are supposed to be culturally individualist first, and that individualism translates into a deep suspicion and loathing of the idea that people can be typecast. You shouldn't even think about it: the signals given off by appearances should always be ignored. But we observe our world, and so long as we do, we make these kinds of assessments.

When the general assessments don't work, there are problems. Racism, in particular, has been a problem here. No matter what the IQ stats say, and no matter how screwed up black culture looks, there are unarguably decent and intelligent black people who get screwed on any first impression because they get tarred by the same brush as others who share their skin color. Trying to solve this by continuing to lump blacks together in rhetoric and policy holds drawbacks, but at least the problem was clear, considering America's philosophy of individualism.

But individualism didn't always mean that you couldn't think, and the race issue kicked off a whole host of "reject all stereotypes" thinking that is past its expiration date and needs to be rethought. There are times when you can make some generalizations. People who are a part of voluntary groups who develop a reputations shouldn't complain so long as they have the prerogative to leave. Getting criticized for the company you voluntarily keep is not stupid, as your voluntary actions mean something. Homosexuality, for anyone who values the idea of passing on their family line, will never be equal to heterosexuality for obvious practical reasons. For women who don't like the gender roles, the positives that come with specialization of the sexes need to be given very serious consideration before the old ways get abandoned. This is the most obviously necessary case where pure individualism needs to be abandoned.

Actually, for any society to function, pure individualism needs to be abandoned. Expectations need to exist. Conditioning needs to be done. You are a part of a system with incentives that have been worked out. No one wants to be the asshole telling the kids to get back to work and pack the gears, but driving people to fall into social roles through real, effective and affecting consequences is a good long-run strategy for keeping life from sucking any more than it has to. The world is not a playground, and this view is not the result of stereotyping or bigotry. It's the result of seeing reality, all of it, including the parts that don't look so nice. Someone has to do it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Truth and Neutrality

"What if God were not exactly truth, and if this could be proved? And if he were instead the vanity, the desire for power, the ambitions, the fear, and the enraptured and terrified folly of mankind?"                          -Nietzsche

There is physical truth, the lab-experiment-verified principles of the way the world physically works, which I will not question here. What I'm going against is the existence of truth in values. There was no 'subjective revolution' in society, and cultural attitudes still have not dampened the idea that 'the truth will set us free'. But the bulk of understanding of the mind has made our perspective of it more and more mechanistic while undermining even the possibility of metaphysical discovery. In order to not see this, one must be determined not to look; we can change moods and behaviors with drugs, we can boil the interpretation of our experiences down to brain regions and relate the functioning of the brain to a computer. There's a reason atheists dominate intellectual circles today. With more information comes a more secular worldview.

As a matter of the principles of reality, this is not a new idea; it's just a statement differentiating positive and normative. David Hume stated the "fact-value problem" two hundred and fifty years ago, saying, "You can't derive an ought from an is." Despite a lot of trying, particularly from partisan economists and sophomoric philosophers, this point has never been convincingly disproved. Suddenly, morality need not be real in any metaphysical sense, just popular, and from there, it was a fairly straight road to postmodernism.

Two hundred years before that, Spinoza argued for pantheism through logical discourse on the nature of God. This is quite possibly the most rebellious act in the history of Western Philosophy; the entire idea of God as a basis for morality vanished when everything became a reflection of God's will. God could no longer be used as a normative moral anchor.

Subjectivism has a terrible reputation; religious philosophers probably gain their greatest current traction when they play on the fears of those who need to see morality and existence as being concrete, comprehensible, and purposeful. Subjectivism leads to conflict and does not dictate a resolution, so accepting it and having values anyway is akin to building your house on sand.

But by any scientific standpoint, values ARE subjective, based on mental programming which can be quite faulty and not at all the same as describing objective fact. Two people can describe a brutal murder as being factually the same. They can agree on the angle of the microphone stand as it slammed into Ke$ha's skull, and the look of gleeful malevolence on my face. They might notice certain things about the physical reality differently, because their eyes are drawn towards different elements of the scene. But in how the incident is evaluated, however, its overarching normative meaning, the stories need not actually be conflicting in content to have wildly different value interpretations. If you hate Ke$ha, you might see this act as good, of positive value. If you like Ke$ha, or if you're one of those sad deontologists who think that all violence is bad, you'll be horrified.

What if the search for depth and the belief in the possibility of metaphysically important knowledge and value is, itself, another product of the human desire for empowerment? Could we accept it, no matter how well proven? Modern philosophers will tell you that they have given up metaphysics, but they have not. The unwillingness to look in the dark nooks and crannies, at what traditional morality would call "evil", for answers to questions speaks to either their primitive superstition or their belief in something beyond the material world. Goodness, as it were, proves illogical in every materialistic context. Logic, as it were, must remain indebted to something irrational to come to the desired conclusions of those who use it.

Wittgenstein seemed prepared to accept a certain level of this about language and thought. Following in the footsteps of Nietzsche's On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense, Wittgenstein annihilated the assumption that language and truth have some deep, intimate relationship. Language, particularly, is tremendously important in the shaping of the mind (there's purpose to those "word games" posts I put up), but Wittgenstein still seemed to think that the mad and futile grasp for meaning was, to the degree that anything had meaning, a neutral act. Wittgenstein never seemed to be a Nietzschean; he never thought of all existing for power.

But it is. Creating the operating currency and context for information yields tremendous influence. Knowledge is power, and defining the ideas that make up knowledge is absolute power. There is no neutrality here.

The Nietzschean way of viewing language is one where exchange between people is a form of empowerment, in the same way that market interactions empower people. It's frequently if not normally unequal, and the underlying motivations of many conversations have everything to do with establishing a control over other people's perspectives.

I'm reminded of this every time I take a college course. If you ask a professor, most classes you take in college are predominantly neutral, with only a touch of understandable bias from the instructor coming through. They have to say this because they know their fellow professors are biased in some way, and while sometimes they disapprove, they want the same liberty to have an opinion. Tenure holds value because professors can say what they want to say, and this is academic freedom. The student hardly finds anything but a single perspective in most cases.

Bias goes beyond delivery; in liberal arts classes particularly, the delivery of the material is secondary. The content of the material is where the real bias is. Remember, the modern world is beholden to the dynamics of the attention economy. By selecting readings and choosing the focus of the class, any given professor ignores truckloads of other material in the field that he or she could have covered, but chose not to. Political balance might be valued in some particularly neutralist schools, but balance is not neutrality. No one will present material that insinuates, say, something positive about Hitler. As a history major, I can tell you without reservation that any history course, even a survey course with a standardized syllabus, solidly reflects the values of the instructor or organizer, not even touching the actual commentary in the class; if someone teaching a class about medieval France chooses to focus on peasant life instead of court life, this says more about their perspective than it does about France. It has to be this way, too: you can't tell a student everything about France over the course of centuries in one lifetime. There's no obvious way to decide what matters, except in historically rare outlier events that absolutely demand attention, and this is why historiography creates such vehement arguments. Frankly, it's no better in economics. About the only place to find something close to values-neutral instruction is in the hard sciences or very technical fields, and those must be sharply specialized.

The Jesuits understood that the power of a teacher is in the hold they get over the pupil's mind.

Having said this, don't bother arguing about it. Arguing is the most obvious case where conversation is all about power.

Confrontation in Conversation

For most people, a pleasant conversation is an agreeable conversation, in the literal sense: you agree with what's being said. These sorts of conversations reinforce what we already know, or simply pass along new information that we have no preconceived notions on.

But for confrontational conversation, there are two types: argument and debate.

Argument happens between two people where an audience is not the point. You're trying to convince the opposition of something he has some cause to not believe, which is a form of identity assault. Debate is what happens when you're just going through motions with the intention on swaying the people watching.

The tactics are different. Arguments can be full-on war, verbal brutality, although this usually doesn't result in much more than shutting up the opposition. That's a short-sighted way to fight, for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. Debates, meanwhile, require finesse to win, because you have to be likable and relatable to pull in an audience. Both are competitive, but in the case of a one-on-one, your purpose is more nakedly antagonistic. With debates, you must look more like you're interested in "the truth", as investigating by opening yourself up to criticism. You have to promote a notion of yourself and your position as desirable, far more than promoting it as logical.

Both debate and argument are confrontational, but debate operates on more of a "market" mechanism. You are selling your ideas, convincing others of their value. As markets tend to do, this helps boil them down to effective size and refine them into something usable and high-impact, as no one becomes convinced by watery, unfocused presentation. The idea market makes thought more efficient, then, and this is reflected in language.

I have my own problems with this, I know, but after long exposure to academia, argument is more like war to me than sales. I've been trained to over-argue rather than under-argue for fear of missing points and leaving entire avenues open to approach. I might not inspire anyone, but my arguments are much more airtight than most of what everyone else is doing. I've had to loosen up to write online, as everything I publish would be book-length if I felt a greater need to be unassailable.


Of course, objective truth-seeking is not the goal. In this entire understanding of human conversation, truth-seeking is never the goal. And how can it be? What truth would we be talking about here? Divide up the types of conversation again: you have agreeable conversation in which there is no disagreement, then there's argument, and there's debate. The first does not challenge, the latter two challenge for the sake of winning and not for finding truth. Where would truth come in to a subjective disagreement?

Conversation, argument, debate, are all about one thing: the domination of a point of view.

You share a perspective, or you don't. People who agree share a perspective. Those who don't just don't, and you can't have that, given that the bastard might run around spreading his bullshit over your "truth". So it has to be resolved, and suddenly, you are in a fight and words are your weapons, the swords that clash and take apart the enemy perspective, limb from limb.

Men, in particular, approach argument and debate like an honorable fight. They get into it wanting tovalidly and respectably change your mind. They do not get into it for the purpose of destroying someone emotionally... unlike some other genders we will not discuss.

They want to sharpen the definitions of their words and use them to make precise, waste-free cuts against the enemy that brings about greater and greater understanding with each slice. They want to do so without cruelty, as eventually, their competitor may need to become their friend, in case of further attack. They need their respect. The arguments establish an implicit hierarchy, and a hierarchy does not function well within a context of absolute brutality. Productively winning an argument or debate is about bringing people on board.

Language binds by relaying ideas. When you win the war of defining words, then your words reflect ideas that establish the framework by which others think. The language is the legacy we pass down, the infrastructure of thought, and its resiliency depends on the relevance of its words in the long term. To have sharp, well-honed definitions to your words gives them longer-term, perpetual ability to cut through existence and define it down to the dimensions the wordsmith sees fit. A sharp sword is good for living, not just for fighting. 

But the problem with all this is that in a fight, the sharpest sword is not the most effective sword.
You want a BIG sword

A big sword, no matter how dull, can batter you to death if you get pinned down, if you try fighting with honor against the honorless. What that type of sword has to have is weight, emotional weight, a "taking it personally" heaviness that, so long as the fighters are part of something, so long as they have any code or character, will always be there. If you believe things about yourself, then even when no one is watching, you can be beaten to death by your own convictions. Everyone with any kind of observational awareness knows that emotions are more powerful than cold logic and no perspective ever gets anywhere without emotional appeal built in. David Hume established that idea, too.

This is not an honorable fight. An honorable fight features two who decide to legitimately find out who is strongest, and a debate or argument which is aimed at really focusing the definitions of words and finding the consistency in values, at sharpening everyone's swords, embodies this type of honor. Competitive honor means the world, especially to men. It is everything that empowers civilization.

An honorable, winning argument is the most recognizable thing in the world. An honorable, winning argument makes sense.

In contrast, an honorless, emotional fight just means winning. There's no sense of illumination when one perspective is pushed onto another, like being pushed through a door. There's no cohesive and logically consistent worldview presented. An emotional fight is like dropping an A-bomb or assassinating a king. While it may occasionally be necessary to survive, no one wants to do it and it cannot become a way of life or a tradition if you ever want to see a culture capable of trust. It's what happens when you need the enemy to simply die. There is no respect, no assumption that the end of the fight means a rectification of relations and later cooperation. It's fighting against an enemy without humanity. If you do this, you'd best kill the enemy fast and kill him twice, because if they come back, they will know your tricks, disregard honor, and want you thoroughly dead, just like you did to them. You're fucked.

Some people fail to understand this consistently. These people hate any form of coercion, so fighting of any kind is evil to them. They don't want a society built on strength, so they think that unless it's worth fighting no-holds-barred, a survival situation, then there's no point to fighting at all. Might as well just be nice. This, of course, is bullshit; you're basically saying, "there's nothing in the world worth fighting for." For those with any convictions, it can't work that way. They care, so they fight. It matters to them.

The temptation to lie and cheat, right up to the point of doing something dishonorable, is extreme, because who would believe the loser who's making excuses? So in an argument, you might need a ref, an empowered ref that can enforce rules conducive to honor and a goal-centered game, an agent of the system's hierarchical powers. In a debate, the audience should be the ref, but audiences are usually just the general public and these are not intelligent people, so even in debates, we need a ref.

And the ref has a code taken from the hierarchy. Honor references what the culture values as the context of the argument. Honor means acceptable according to certain principles that limit the individual for the sake of bigger concerns than the individual. A good referee says, "Stick to the rules, guys", and supposedly does not favor any one side over the other. This is usually what's meant by "neutrality". But it's not neutral. It's holding the sanctity of the game itself over any personal preference for one side or the other. It's favoring the existing system of values by which the rules establish themselves over some upstart code of unproven value that's being pushed by people who would benefit from it.

Specifically excluded from this view is the notion that the ref should be trying to even things out for the sake of "better competition" all the time; would you want to watch a game where any team that got ahead suddenly started getting fouls called constantly, while the losing team could do whatever the hell it wanted, so long as it was losing? Every good ref says, "may the best man win" and in an argument, that's the person who makes sense according to the prevailing cultural context. Every good ref is a conservative. Every good rule is conservative.

Without the cultural context, there's no sense to be made. Every idea you've heard is a take-off of some old idea, and they're perpetually being recycled for the sake of someone's agenda. There can never be values-neutrality; it would mean nihilism and no one will fight for nothingness. Every debate or argument you hear operates within the context of a language and culture; the universality of morality is actually a universality of self-interested emotion and by no means does it always come to the same conclusions.

There is no neutrality to be found here. And there cannot be.