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May 31, 2016

Assholishly Provocative (And Superiority-Signalling) Thought of the Day

A Question I Find Interesting: How Much of "Thought" Is Intellectuated, and How Much Is Merely Socialized?

That is to say, how much thought is the result of someone's own private research (in terms of reading) and thinking about that reading, and how much is actually just social/cultural acquiescence, in much the same way that a guy who moves to Texas picks up a Texan accent and appreciation for Texan BBQ?

Obviously both are always at play, but I think "philosophy and belief and thought" tends to be much more of a social construct than is widely acknowledged. After all, the paradigmatic ideal of "thought" is one man or woman pondering on his or her own at his or her desk; there is feeling of corruption or "cheating" if there is any admission that something as important as thought and belief is largely a product of socialization and group accommodation. But the fact that the reality strays so far from the idea ought not blind a truly thinking person from wondering precisely how much he's actually "thought" and how much he's actually simply accepted the group's "thinking" (to the extent group thinking is thinking at all).

This occurred to me recently when I checked Twitter for the first time in a while and saw that #NeverTrump was more than the dominant group norm -- it was the enforced group norm, with a cadre of Orthodoxy Defenders who responded to any questioning of it with the typical (dumb) means of Group Opinion Enforcement -- lame insults, drive-by demurrals, etc.

Not to say that all objections were in that category -- several people responded to my provocation with questions and challenges that warranted (and actually invited) responses, and I responded.

But much of the "response" was just the typical Twitter ideological enforcement thug crap -- dogpile dogshit.

I had an odd image. I'm not quite sure how the brain functions, but I do think that when the brain becomes urgently determined on a particular action or impulse, the neurons all tend to fire in that direction, and re-align any non-conforming neurons to similarly fire in that vector.

For example, if you stumble across a menacing figure in a dark and lonely alley, a great many of your neurons are going to be firing in the Get the hell out of here direction. While you may have other stray thoughts -- "I shouldn't judge a book by its cover," "Maybe this is my chance to discover if I am a natural, intuitive expert at karate" -- those will soon be overwhelmed by the rush of neurons singing the the Let's get out of here song.

Anyway, I had this image that Twitter -- or "social" media generally, or even more generally, mob psychology itself -- is essentially a very large ersatz hive-brain in which each speaker -- each mob unit -- participates as a neuron. Different neurons have different inclinations -- some neurons want to discuss things, some neurons remain quiet, taking in information from neurons firing around them.

But a lot of neurons are Ringleader Neurons and are fixated on the idea of beginning a Neuron Stampede in their preferred direction. (Or, because much thought is socialized -- in the direction they've been socialized by other neurons to believe is preferred.)

This is why I fucking hate Twitter, and why I hate blog comments when they mimic this We must shout down and silence all dissenting neurons.

The point of my provocation wasn't actually to be #ProTrump, though, in a contest with Hillary, I am in fact #ProTrump.

I know, for example, Moxie Mom, who I respect immensely, is #NeverTrump (or at least swings that way). I have no problem with a thinking being coming down on that side of the question.

My problem is more meta -- my problem is with the non-thinking beings.

My problem is with the people who seem to think that Thinking Can Only Damage the Righeousness and Morale of Our Cause, and seek to bully -- or at least ridiculize -- discordant voices (neurons firing in stubborny contrary manners) and either marginalize them and deligitimize them or apply social pressure to re-align them to fire in a more socially acceptable direction.

As I've observed a thousand times: Mankind is a social animal, with a deep-seeded desire to get along with his pack (or herd).

Thus, social pressures -- bullying, ridiculizing, stripping people of their respectability, claims of disloyalty, etc. -- are very effective in swaying human thought.

They ought not be, but they are.

The intellectual tradition, as I understand it anyway, is an attempt to set aside such mammalian group pressure tactics as a legitimate method of persuasion or conformization.

The intellectual tradition deems such tactics to be anti-intellectual, crude, animalistic, and -- if i can use this word -- rather gross.

The intellectual tradition champions the idea that only intellectual means -- facts, evidence, persuasions that appeal to the mind rather than the social-conformization centers of the brain -- will be used to sway opinion.

Now I'm not stupid. I realize that in terms of effectiveness, the herd-persuasion/tribal loyalty appeals are about, I don't know, twenty or thirty times more effective than the according-to-Hoyle intellectual means.

Nevertheless, I tend to become unreasonably angry when I see them at play, and especially when I see them in a position of dominance, where people are barely even pretending to be even playing on the intellectual-persuasion field at all.

As I've mentioned a thousand time, though I am (I think) naturally more inclined to the liberal side of things on many issues, I am so antagonistic to the group-think/social-pressure/tribal-loyalty signalling side of things that I broke angrily from not only that style of liberalism (which is really leftistm/progressivism) but liberalism itself, tossing out the baby with the befouled bathwater, out of pure pique.

Eh, I'm an asshole. What can I say. Assholes are eagerly on the hunt for any opportunity to tell other people "You're being assholes."

This is not any particular problem of the #NeverTrumper movement. They have no particular succeptibility to it. Indeed, the ProTrump forces were -- often are -- pretty egregious in attempting to use such "Let's Make This Viral"/astroturfing/artificial conformity creation techniques.

They drove me mad in these own comments for a while, to the point where I just began banning people by the score.

Make any argument you like, my motto goes, but I must insist it actually be an argument, and not simply an attempt to bully someone into silence or coerced agreement by heaping abuse and denigration on them.

But as I say, this is not particularly a Trump thing, or a NeveTrump thing.

It is a human thing, because human beings are in fact pack animals, social animals, to whom in-group peace is important, as is in-group respectability, as is loyalty to the group.

Humans are simultaneously animals who respond -- despite themselves -- to social pressure and dominance displays by, um, Bull Twitter Males and Comments Area Alpha Wolves, and also rational beings. The animal part, I think, exceeds the rational part (which Enlightenment deists might call the divine part) by at least an order of magnitude.

And that's okay. We are what we are. We shouldn't hate ourselves for being as the Lord made us.

Nevertheless, as with anything, it strikes me that we have our better selves and our worse selves, and while no one should curse his creation for having a worse self, one should strive to be one's better self, at least most of the time.

Every human being is more reasonable, civil, moral, virtuous, and intelligent in a one-on-one discussion than he is when he is speaking -- or howling -- as part of the pack. When one deems oneself to be speaking -- howling, hooting -- for the Pack, one not only begins resorting to more animalistic expressions (words become quite secondary to the emotional charge those words act as the mere carrier signal for) but one also begins justifying behavior one would never justify on one's own behalf.

That is, when you're acting to defend the privileges and rights of the group, one quickly finds oneself succumbing to Ends Justify the Means thinking -- I am not acting out of a selfish desire to champion myself, but out of an altruistic desire to champion a large group of beings who I am, at least temporarily, the advocate of.

Incivil behavior and anti-intellectual howls become not merely allowable, but nigh imperative -- after all, the pack is counting on you to vindicate them.

Were you just speaking for yourself, you wouldn't feel that sort of obligation to be cruel on behalf of the group, that license for incivility and, frankly, stupidity.

It is the imperative of defending the pack that justifies that.

Add into this the fact that 90% of political "communication" in the Age of Twitter is not chiefly expressive but instead chiefly performative.

It grows very hard to distinguish the things people really believe when they say them, and the things they merely say to declare loyalty to the pack.

And there's also a healthy mix of the Self Brag included in any expression. (N.B.: Including the post you are currently reading.) Just as there's always been that old question -- when you shout your devotion to God, are you really seeking to increase God's glory, or your own? (for, after all, who but a Good and Righteous Man would shout the glories of God so loudly?) -- there is a healthy amount of self-tribute going on in most political chatter.

Is the man raging about Principles really talking about those principles, or is his major goal in talking about principles to convince the hearer that he is the sort of man deeply interested in Principles?

There's really no one who is ever completely talking about principles, nor completely aggrandizing himself -- there's always a mix of things going on. I think that most people reading this right now can agree that Anti-Semitism is the Socialism of Fools. (And we can probably agree with William F. Buckle's (IIRC) caveat to that claim - while Anti-Semitism is the Socialism of Fools, Socialism is also the Socialism of Fools.)

And that's certainly a true thing (I think). And when I say that, I mean it.

But I also can't help but mean something else when I say it: People who disagree with this are fools, and I'm smarter than any idiot currently disagreeing.

So there's a mix of things going on in any political utterance, both a declaration of the sacredness of principles, and implicitly -- unavoidably -- a very strong suggestion about the sacredness of the being so unselfish as to declare his devotion to principles.

But I think that, while conceding that self-aggrandizement is an unavoidable (and desirable, to be honest) part of any aggrandizement of some larger purpose, people really ought to at least keep it covert and subliminal, to the extent possible.

It should not become so obnoxious and overt that the subtext of "I'm better" becomes the main text.

As Adam Carolla observed, it's like many have collectively decided that we no longer need to be particularly subtle in our self-promotion and that it's now just "Game On for Narcissists."

Anyway, to sum up:

1. Social media is anti-social media. It's a medium of "sick burns" and dogpiling and narcissistic performance art. The smartest person in the world -- such as, if I'm being honest, myself -- becomes orders of magnitude more stupid when "debating" on social media.

It ought to be limited.

I think I had a pretty good discussion with Ben Shapiro. Because it didn't happen on social media; we weren't playing to similarly-minded thugs on the playground.

Well, we probably both were -- but the people we were playing to, or the parts of those people we were playing to, were reasonable people, or their reasonable sides -- we were exhibiting our reasonableness and civility and ergo parading our virtue.

But I would say that it's no terrible thing to parade civility and reasonableness around like virtues from time to time.

2. People telling other people to shut up, or people attempting to humiliate people into silence, should be told to shut up, and should be themselves humiliated into silence, so the rest of us can have an actual exchange of ideas without their mouth-breathing poop-flinging chest-beating Dominance Displays.

3. No one should forget that everyone is human. We should recognize our own human vanities and cruelties in ourselves, and we should recognize the human capacity to be hurt or to be made to feel excluded in others.

4. People need to think more and take longer to respond. They should react less, and react less quickly. #HotTakes are for the stupid and insecure. #CoolTakes are better.

5. People need to stop signalling which tribe they belong to. By this point, with everyone babbling, hooting, and howling online for years and years and years, we all know damn well which tribes we align with. There's really no need to further advertise one's tribal loyalty. It's as obvious as someone's height and weight.

6. People knock contrarianism too damn much. Contrarianism, sure, is often lodged as a performative, look-at-me thing. (For example -- Look at Me Now!!!!)

But without contrarians, you get smug conformity, and worse yet, smug conformity enforcement officers.

The moment you have something resembling a Received Wisdom, you will have self-appointed Inquisitors sniffing out any heretical rejection of that Received Wisdom. (I'm a believer in Jung's archetypes -- I think this archetype, the Priest archetype, will always exist, particularly in politics, which is just Religion By Other Means.)

People should be more contrarian just to make sure the conformity being created is being created honestly -- with all of the demerits of that conformity examined and acknowledged -- and especially to prevent the odious rise of the conformity enforcement officers, a group of intellectually useless people involved in the creation of zero ideas but the suppression of quite a number of them.

7. Anything worth saying is worth spending more than 140 characters on saying. If you find your contribution to the public debate seems to occur in 140 character bursts, you might want to consider starting a blog, where you can post more thought-out essays, or you might want to consider shutting the fuck up.

For the good of all.

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posted by Ace at 03:37 PM

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