Browsed by
Category: Culture

The Rational Argumentator’s Seventeenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Seventeenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
Gennady Stolyarov II
September 3, 2019
******************************

The seventeenth year of The Rational Argumentator’s existence has been kind to us in terms of visitation. TRA attained 1,452,542 page views between September 1, 2018, and August 31, 2019, a count exceeded only by the 1,501,473 page views from the preceding year. Altogether, cumulative lifetime visitation to The Rational Argumentator’s pages has reached 13,933,800 and will surpass 14 million soon.  During its seventeenth year, TRA published 37 features; our rate of publication has slowed once again due to the whirlwind of activity within the United States Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party (USTP), which is undergoing a turbulent primary election year and whose website published 123 features during the same time. However, our typical features during the past year have been in-depth and allow a thorough exploration of their subject matters.

We are pleased, furthermore, to have additional assistance and resources at our disposal. The work of TRA’s new Assistant Editor, Bobby Ridge, has enabled us to increase the pace of publication once again in recent months. Moreover, many of the highlights of the USTP’s efforts have been featured on TRA as well, allowing our readers to glimpse the many valuable activist initiatives that advocate technological progress and rational philosophy. My role as Chairman of the USTP, in which I am nearing the completion of my third year, has given me unprecedented opportunities to discuss technology, philosophy, and their impacts on politics to a worldwide audience. It is due to these activities that I was able to interview Ray Kurzweil on stage in September 2018 and co-host the Cyborg and Transhumanist Forum at the Nevada State Legislature in May 2019 – the first-ever official transhumanist event within a State legislature, which enabled a successful amendment to Nevada’s Assembly Bill 226 to remove the bill sponsor’s previously proposed prohibition against voluntary microchip implants. TRA has also featured two major academic papers that I was immensely pleased to get published: “The United States Transhumanist Party and the Politics of Abundance” (The Transhumanism Handbook, Springer Nature, July 2019) and “Empowering Human Musical Creation through Machines, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence” (INSAM Journal, Issue 2, July 2019). Furthermore, this has been a year of many constructive interviews, lively discussions and debates, and a successful visit to the Wellness and Longevity Seminar in Burbank, California, where I delivered my presentation, “Progress in the Politics of Abundance” and also hosted a U.S. Transhumanist Party discussion panel.

The U.S. Transhumanist Party has, in recent months, been applying lessons and models of creation which were refined within the pages of The Rational Argumentator for years. The USTP’s recent call for the development of free transhumanist symbols was a case in point. The non-monetary model of publication which TRA has employed since its founding has been readily scaled up to an entire non-monetary political organization, the USTP, whose projects are based on the skills and dedication of its volunteer Officers and members. By setting our sights high, guided by Reason and the desire for constructive improvement of the human condition, we can all work for a brighter future with greater enthusiasm and productivity – knowing that the results of our efforts will be directly available to others, indefinitely reproducible, and able to make concrete impacts upon the world. At times an extensive philosophical foundation, reinforced by continual study and deliberation, is needed to arrive at simple but powerful insights which, if applied, alter the dynamics of human behavior and set forth a new system of incentives where the desire to do good is itself prized.

The above explication of the value of non-monetary approaches is not intended, of course, to criticize monetary or capitalist systems in any way – but rather to highlight the importance of parallel and complementary systems of intellectual creation that do not rely on the kinds of rationing that scarcity of physical goods necessitates. Indeed, as more human creation has become possible in the digital realm, and as automation has made many physical processes far swifter and less expensive than previously, we are rapidly nearing a time when abundance, rather than scarcity, becomes the prevailing condition in terms of the availability of goods and concepts. The barrier to progress in those situations is the mindset that continues to cling to an assumption of pervasive scarcity when, in fact, positive-sum solutions exist which allow everyone to achieve their desired objectives and more besides.

While there remain major areas of scarcity to overcome – particularly the scarcity of time which limits us all and to transcend which it is imperative to achieve indefinite life extension – in many instances in today’s world scarcity is either artificially imposed (as in, for instance, monopolies on software or medical patents or exorbitant prices charged for access to some academic journal articles) or imagined (as in the numerous protectionist fallacies that pervade mainstream political discourse today). While it is difficult for humans to transcend the evolved mindsets which served our ancestors more effectively during epochs when scarcity was indeed ubiquitous and relegated most humans to the barest edges of survival, nonetheless the effort must be made to adapt our thinking to the material realities and technological possibilities of our time. We are not yet at the technological stage where the evolutionary baggage of fallacious thinking might be genetically engineered out of us, so, in the meantime, our best recourse is to exert a conscious effort to resist the traps and ruts of evolved conditioning and replace them with thorough, rational, intentional consideration of the evidence around us. The opportunities have never been greater to access a plethora of thought-provoking content that both trains and inspires the mind to pursue the rational approach instead of the evolved one. Will and time are the remaining ingredients needed for the rational approach to take root and flourish within the individual mind. However much time our readers are willing to spend on The Rational Argumentator’s pages, I am hopeful that all such time will incrementally cultivate elevated ways of thinking that will translate into world-improving action.

While there remain plentiful challenges to overcome in the contemporary culture of lowest-common-denominator discourse, there is also much to look forward to in the transformations that both technology and rational advocacy can bring about. Amidst all the difficulties, transhumanism and techno-optimism are rising in influence, and I have experienced this first-hand. I am confident that if the majority of the current problems facing humankind can be overcome in the next several decades, then any future problems that arise will be significantly less severe than the familiar predicaments of our world today. The Rational Argumentator will remain a freely available, frequently updated resource for those who seek intellectual sustenance and inspiration to fuel the attainment of the next, greatest-yet era of our civilization.

Gennady Stolyarov II,
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel – Burbank, California – August 24, 2019

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel – Burbank, California – August 24, 2019

Johannon Ben Zion
Gennady Stolyarov II
Arin Vahanian
Charles Holsopple


On August 24, 2019, many leading transhumanists gathered in Burbank, California, to commemorate the publication of The Transhumanism Handbook. Subsequent to the seminar and book-signing event marking that occasion, the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party (USTP) held a discussion panel hosted by Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II and featuring Director of Marketing Arin Vahanian and USTP Presidential Primary candidates Johannon Ben Zion and Charles Holsopple. Subjects of conversation included assessments of the public’s receptiveness to transhumanist ideas, approaches toward spreading transhumanism, common misconceptions and challenges to overcome, as well as the upcoming Presidential primary election, for which voting will begin on September 22, 2019.

Find out more about The Transhumanism Handbook.

Join the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Those who join by September 22, 2019, will be eligible to vote in the upcoming USTP Presidential Primary.

See the USTP Platform here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov’s chapter in The Transhumanism Handbook – entitled “The United States Transhumanist Party and the Politics of Abundance” – for free here.

Advocating for the Future – Panel at RAAD Fest 2017 – Gennady Stolyarov II, Zoltan Istvan, Max More, Ben Goertzel, Natasha Vita-More

Advocating for the Future – Panel at RAAD Fest 2017 – Gennady Stolyarov II, Zoltan Istvan, Max More, Ben Goertzel, Natasha Vita-More

Gennady Stolyarov II
Zoltan Istvan
Max More
Ben Goertzel
Natasha Vita-More


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, moderated this panel discussion, entitled “Advocating for the Future”, at RAAD Fest 2017 on August 11, 2017, in San Diego, California.

Watch it on YouTube here.

From left to right, the panelists are Zoltan Istvan, Gennady Stolyarov II, Max More, Ben Goertzel, and Natasha Vita-More. With these leading transhumanist luminaries, Mr. Stolyarov discussed subjects such as what the transhumanist movement will look like in 2030, artificial intelligence and sources of existential risk, gamification and the use of games to motivate young people to create a better future, and how to persuade large numbers of people to support life-extension research with at least the same degree of enthusiasm that they display toward the fight against specific diseases.

Learn more about RAAD Fest here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form.

Watch the presentations of Gennady Stolyarov II and Zoltan Istvan from the “Advocating for the Future” panel.

Consumerism Qua Materialism: A Modern Confusion – Article by Kaiter Enless

Consumerism Qua Materialism: A Modern Confusion – Article by Kaiter Enless

Kaiter Enless
******************************

Materialism has become a rather dirty word, principally through its connection to consumerism. Indeed materialism seems to have become so thoroughly conflated with consumerism as to be wholly indistinguishable. For example, in the study, Changes In Materialism, Changes In Psychological Well-Being: Evidence For Three Longitudinal Studies & An Intervention Experiment, the authors write: “Studies 1, 2, and 3 examined how changes in materialistic aspirations related to changes in well-being, using varying time frames (12 years, 2 years, and 6 months), samples (US young adults and Icelandic adults), and measures of materialism and well-being.”

It would be mistaken to conflate a philosophy of materialism, with mere consumerism as behavioral practice. I am not here suggesting that this is what the authors of the document have done (indeed, it appears as if they are simply using ‘materialism’ as a placeholder for ‘material object; principally, those objects manufactured and distributed in modern western society’), however, at first glance, it is difficult to tell and this is the crux of the problem. When one word is conflated with another, after a sufficient period of usage the two become implicitly associated, regardless of whether they are actually interlaced in any meaningful way. Thus, when one deploys the term ‘consumerism’ one instantly thinks of ‘materialism’ and vice-versa. This, I shall argue, is wholly mistaken; however, before proceeding, let us define our terms.

Consumerism is a term which rose to prominence in the 20th Century with the advent of mass production and denotes a social order wherein goods are purchased and used (‘consumed’) in ever increasing quantities. It has a few other more technical definitions, however, this is generally the explicit meaning of the term when it is negatively deployed (and it is almost always negatively deployed, at least, as of this writing, though positive variations of the term were used, such as by J. S. Bugas who deployed the word to refer to consumer sovereignty). In this negative characterization, consumerism is keeping-up-with-the-Jones or Patrick Batemanism — normative behaviors which privilege non-noetic objects over noetic ones with the exception of the referent consumer (the individual who is consuming the non-noetic objects, who naturally does so, not because they care solely about the objects themselves, but because they gain something from the consumption of those objects).

Materialism, broadly, briskly and vulgarly speaking, is a philosophical position generally characterized by substance monism, which holds that because everything which has been observed is energy and matter, it is rational to conclude everything that exists is (or is likely to be) composed of energy and matter (the same inductive reasoning is at work in expanding the theory of gravity to all places in the universe, even those wholly unobserved). As a school of thought, it has gone through numerous incarnations ranging from Democritus the atomist, to the cosmic mechanists prior to Newton, to the scientistic physicalists of the modern age (such as Hawking, Krauss and Dawkins).

More rigorous, sophisticated and logically defensible forms of ontological naturalism (sometimes referred to as ‘realism’ in contradistinction to ‘idealism’) which have been referred to as various materialisms can be found in the work of such philosophers as Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell and Jeremy Randel Koons, and the neuroscientist, Paul M. Churchland.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the ontological assertions or arguments of any variation of materialism – atomist, mechanist, Sellarsian or eliminativist – it should be clearly noted that consumerism is a descriptive set of social practices, not a holistic formal ontology. One may be a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or Daoist and still be a consumerist. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have ever lived western consumerist lifestyles within modern society have been Christians (principally Catholics and Protestants), not scientistic materialists (as is sometimes alleged); this is demonstrable simply by reference to religio-demographic composition, as most consumer societies were, from their inception, constituted by Christians who are, obviously, non-materialists (philosophically speaking). Of course, it is perfectly possible to be a stalwart materialist (in the philosophical sense) and still be a consumerist, but it is not intrinsic to the position.

Drawing a clear distinction between materialism and consumerism is important given that because consumerism has become so thoroughly disdained, referent to it likewise besmirches any materialist ontology through negative moral assignation, RATHER than through rigorous logical refutation, thus engendering an impairment, not only of the thorough-going materialist diagrams, but also of critical, logical thought itself.

Kaiter Enless is the administrator and principal author of the Logos website and literary organization.

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Sixteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 2, 2018
******************************

On August 31, 2018, The Rational Argumentator completed its sixteenth year of publication. TRA is older than Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit; it has outlasted Yahoo! Geocities, Associated Content, Helium, and most smaller online publications in philosophy, politics, and current events. Furthermore, the age of TRA now exceeds half of my lifetime to date. During this time, while the Internet and the external world shifted dramatically many times over, The Rational Argumentator strived to remain a bulwark of consistency – accepting growth in terms of improvement of infrastructure and accumulation of content, but not the tumultuous sweeping away of the old to ostensibly make room for the new. We do not look favorably upon tumultuous upheaval; the future may look radically different from the past and present, but ideally should be built in continuity with both, and with preservation of any beneficial aspects that can possibly be preserved.

The Rational Argumentator has experienced unprecedented visitation during its sixteenth year, receiving 1,501,473 total page views as compared to 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year and 1,430,226 during its twelfth year, which had the highest visitation totals until now. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation has reached 12,481,258 views. Even as TRA’s publication rate has slowed to 61 features during its sixteenth year – due to various time commitments, such as the work of the United States Transhumanist Party (which published 147 features on its website during the same timeframe) – the content of this magazine has drawn increasing interest. Readers, viewers, and listeners are gravitating toward both old and new features, as TRA generally aims to publish works of timeless relevance. The vaster our archive of content, the greater variety of works and perspectives it spans, the more issues it engages with and reflects upon – the more robust and diverse our audience becomes; the more insulated we become against the vicissitudes of the times and the fickle fluctuations of public sentiment and social-media fads.

None of the above is intended to deny or minimize the challenges faced by those seeking to articulate rational, nuanced, and sophisticated ideas on the contemporary Internet. Highly concerning changes to the consumption and availability of information have occurred over the course of this decade, including the following trends.

  • While social media have been beneficial in terms of rendering personal communication at a distance more viable, the fragmentation of social media and the movement away from the broader “open Internet” have seemingly accelerated. Instead of directly navigating and returning to websites of interest, most people now access content almost exclusively through social-media feeds. Even popular and appealing content may often become constrained within the walls of a particular social network or sub-group thereof, simply due to the “black-box” algorithms of that social network, which influence without explanation who sees what and when, and which may not be reflective of what those individuals would have preferred to see. The constantly changing nature of these algorithms renders it difficult for content creators to maintain steady connections with their audiences. If one adds to the mix the increasing and highly troubling tendency of social networks to actively police the content their members see, we may be returning to a situation where most people find their content inexplicably curated by “gatekeepers” who, in the name of objectivity and often with unconscious biases in play, often end up advancing ulterior agendas not in the users’ interests.
  • While the democratization of access to knowledge and information on the Internet has undoubtedly had numerous beneficial effects, we are also all faced with the problem of “information overload” and the need to prioritize essential bits information within an immense sea which we observe daily, hourly, and by the minute. The major drawback of this situation – in which everyone sees everything in a single feed, often curated by the aforementioned inexplicable algorithms – is the difficulty of even locating information that is more than a day old, as it typically becomes buried far down within the social-media feed. Potential counters exist to this tendency – namely, through the existence of old-fashioned, static websites which publish content that does not adjust and that is fixed to a particular URL, which could be bookmarked and visited time and again. But what proportion of the population has learned this technique of bookmarking and revisitation of older content – instead of simply focusing on the social-media feed of the moment? It is imperative to resist the short-termist tendencies that the design of contemporary social media seems to encourage, as indulging these tendencies has had deleterious impacts on attention spans in an entire epoch of human culture.
  • Undeniably, much interesting and creative content has proliferated on the Internet, with opportunities for both deliberate and serendipitous learning, discovery, and intellectual enrichment. Unfortunately, the emergence of such content has coincided with deleterious shifts in cultural norms away from the expectation of concerted, sequential focus (the only way that human minds can actually achieve at a high level) and toward incessant multi-tasking and the expectation of instantaneous response to any external stimulus, human or automated. The practice of dedicating a block of time to read an article, watch a video, or listen to an audio recording – once a commonplace behavior – has come to be a luxury for those who can wrest segments of time and space away from the whirlwind of external stimuli and impositions within which humans (irrespective of material resources or social position) are increasingly expected to spin. It is fine to engage with others and venture into digital common spaces occasionally or even frequently, but in order for such interactions to be productive, one has to have meaningful content to offer; the creation of such content necessarily requires time away from the commons and a reclamation of the concept of private, solitary focus to read, contemplate, apply, and create.
  • In an environment where the immediate, recent, and short-term-oriented content tends to attract the most attention, this amplifies the impulsive, range-of-the-moment, reactive emotional tendencies of individuals, rather than the thoughtful, long-term-oriented, constructive, rational tendencies. Accordingly, political and cultural discourse become reduced to bitter one-liners that exacerbate polarization, intentional misunderstanding of others, and toxicity of rhetoric. The social networks where this has been most salient have been those that limit the number of characters per post and prioritize quantity of posts over quality and the instantaneity of a response over its thoughtfulness. The infrastructures whose design presupposes that everyone’s expressions are of equal value have produced a reduction of discourse to the lowest common denominator, which is, indeed, quite low. Even major news outlets, where some quality selection is still practiced by the editors, have found that user comments often degenerate into a toxic morass. This is not intended to deny the value of user comments and interaction, in a properly civil and constructive context; nor is it intended to advocate any manner of censorship. Rather, this observation emphatically underscores the need for a return to long-form, static articles and longer written exchanges more generally as the desirable prevailing form of intellectual discourse. (More technologically intensive parallels to this long-form discourse would include long-form audio podcasts or video discussion panels where there is a single stream of conversation or narrative instead of a flurry of competing distractions.) Yes, this form of discourse takes more time and skill. Yes, this means that people have to form complex, coherent thoughts and express them in coherent, grammatically correct sentences. Yes, this means that fewer people will have the ability or inclination participate in that form of discourse. And yes, that may well be the point – because less of the toxicity will make its way completely through the structures which define long-form discourse – and because anyone who can competently learn the norms of long-form discourse, as they have existed throughout the centuries, will remain welcome to take part. Those who are not able or willing to participate can still benefit by spectating and, in the process, learning and developing their own skills.

The Internet was intended, by its early adopters and adherents of open Internet culture – including myself – to catalyze a new Age of Enlightenment through the free availability of information that would break down old prejudices and enable massively expanded awareness of reality and possibilities for improvement. Such a possibility remains, but humans thus far have fallen massively short of realizing it – because the will must be present to utilize constructively the abundance of available resources. Cultivating this will is no easy task; The Rational Argumentator has been pursuing it for sixteen years and will continue to do so. The effects are often subtle, indirect, long-term – more akin to the gradual drift of continents than the upward ascent of a rocket. And yet progress in technology, science, and medicine continues to occur. New art continues to be created; new treatises continue to be written. Some people do learn, and some people’s thinking does improve. There is no alternative except to continue to act in pursuit of a brighter future, and in the hope that others will pursue it as well – that, cumulatively, our efforts will be sufficient to avert the direst crises, make life incrementally safer, healthier, longer, and more comfortable, and, as a civilization, persist beyond the recent troubled times. The Rational Argumentator is a bulwark against the chaos – hopefully one among many – and hopefully many are at work constructing more bulwarks. Within the bulwarks, great creations may have room to develop and flourish – waiting for the right time, once the chaos subsides or is pacified by Reason, to emerge and beautify the world. In the meantime, enjoy all that can be found within our small bulwark, and visit it frequently to help it expand.

Gennady Stolyarov II,
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

David Kelley’s Three Greatest Hits – Article by Edward Hudgins

 The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
October 28, 2017
******************************

David Kelley is retiring from The Atlas Society, which he founded in 1990 under the name of The Institute for Objectivist Studies. But I can’t imagine David with an “emeritus” moniker retiring from the world of ideas that he has helped to shape.

I was at the founding event in New York City that February nearly three decades ago. I spoke at Summer Seminars and attended one-day New York events in the 1990s, and I had the privilege of working for many years with David at the Atlas Society. Knowing The Atlas Society and David as I do, I offer my own picks for his three greatest intellectual hits.

First, in The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, he explained that Objectivism is an open philosophy—indeed, that to be “open” is what separates a philosophy from a dogma. Objectivism originated with Ayn Rand, is defined by certain principles, but has its own logic and implications that might even be at odds with some of Rand’s own thoughts. The philosophy is open to revision and new discoveries. One implication of David’s understanding—and of the virtue of independence—is that individuals must come to the truth through their own minds and their own paths. David, therefore, rejected the practice of too many Objectivists of labeling those who disagreed with some or much of the philosophy as “evil.” In many cases they are simply mistaken. He rejected the practice of refusing even to speak with individuals who called themselves “libertarians,” arguing that the only way to change someone’s mind is to address that mind. David saved Objectivism from becoming a marginalized cult.

Second, David advanced Objectivism by showing that “benevolence” is one of the cardinal virtues of the philosophy. He argued that the logic of the ideas that constitute the philosophy leads to the conclusion that it should take its place among other virtues like rationality, productivity, pride, integrity, honesty, independence, and justice. His book Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence is an intellectual gem that has yet to be fully mined for the value it can offer to those who want to create a world as it can be and should be, a world in which humans can flourish.

Third, David identified three world views in conflict in today’s culture. The Enlightenment ushered in modernity, which values reason, with its products of science and technology; individuals, with their rights to pursue their own happiness; liberty, with governments limited to its protection; and dynamic free markets, with their opportunities for all to prosper. Opposing modernity, David sees premodernists, who emphasize the values of faith, tradition, social stability, and hierarchy. He also sees postmodernists, whom he describes as “vociferous foes of reason, attempting to undermine and expunge the very concepts of truth, objectivity, logic, and fact.” They see these and all values as “social constructs”—all except their own left-wing dogmas and their desire to use force to bend all to their soul-destroying whims. Those wanting to understand the values battle in our culture in order to win it for civilization must have David’s essay “The Party of Modernity” in their hands and its ideas in their minds.

David Kelley created The Atlas Society to further develop and promote Objectivism, the philosophy he loves. As he steps back from the day-to-day responsibilities of his position, I know he’ll devote more time to pursuing the ideas that give him so much joy and the rest of us so much enlightenment.

Dr. Edward Hudgins is the research director for The Heartland Institute. He can be contacted here.

In conjunction with other department directors, Hudgins sets the organization’s research agenda and priorities; works with in-house and outside scholars to produce policy studies, policy briefs, and books; contributes his own research; and works with Heartland staff to promote Heartland’s work.

Before joining Heartland, Hudgins was the director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, which promotes the philosophy of reason, freedom, and individualism developed by Ayn Rand in works like Atlas Shrugged.  His latest Atlas Society book was The Republican Party’s Civil War: Will Freedom Win?

While at The Atlas Society, Hudgins developed a “Human Achievement” project to promote the synergy between the values and optimism of entrepreneurial achievers working on exponential technologies and the values of friends of freedom.

Prior to this, Hudgins was the director of regulatory studies and editor of Regulation magazine at the Cato Institute. There, he produced two books on Postal Service privatization, a book titled Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, and a book titled Space: The Free-Market Frontier.

The Source of America’s Division: Not What We’ve Thought? – Article by Annie Holmquist

The Source of America’s Division: Not What We’ve Thought? – Article by Annie Holmquist

The New Renaissance Hat
Annie Holmquist
October 27, 2017
******************************

Pundits today are fond of saying that Americans are divided because of a broad slate of reasons, race and gender being two primary ones.

But according to a new Pew survey, these reasons may not be dividing America nearly as much as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, it appears that political party may hold a good share of the blame on that front. As Pew explains, the differences between Republicans and Democrats on various hot-button issues have widened from 15 points to 36 points in the last two decades. By contrast, division due to race, religion, age, and gender has remained fairly stable, a fact shown in the chart below:

This is rather surprising, particularly since it runs counter to the narrative given out in the news media.

But it shouldn’t be surprising to students of history, for America’s foremost founder once gave a very sharp warning regarding this issue.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington cautioned Americans against forming factions and giving way to the party spirit. The reason he gave this caution was due to the negative effects which the partisan spirit kindles in society:

“[I]t serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

I’m not sure about you, but if ill-founded jealousies, false alarms, intensified animosity, riot, and insurrection don’t sound like what America is experiencing today, I’m not sure what does.

The fact is, we’ve been told that this unrest is the fault of inequities which persist in our country. But is the unrest in effect the fault of our intensified loyalty to political party, which often indicates an unwillingness to listen to opposing viewpoints and ideas?

If so, we need to be careful about continuing to foster such attitudes, for as Washington also notes in his Farewell Address, the intensified party spirit only leads to misery under a despotic government and a dictatorial, self-serving leader.

If we want to avoid such a state, do we need to stop placing the blame for our current woes on race, class, and gender, and instead re-examine our partisan loyalties?

[Image Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

This post, “The Source of America’s Division: Not What We’ve Thought? “,was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Annie Holmquist.

Annie Holmquist is a senior writer with Intellectual Takeout. In her role, she assists with website content production and social media messaging.

Annie received a B.A. in Biblical Studies from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. She also brings 20+ years of experience as a music educator and a volunteer teacher – particularly with inner city children – to the table in her research and writing.

In her spare time Annie enjoys the outdoors, gardening, reading, and events with family and friends.

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies – Article by Sean Malone

The New Renaissance Hat
Sean Malone
September 10, 2017
******************************
Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds.

“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”

This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.

For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.

He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.

Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.

Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.

Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.

As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.

And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.

Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.

Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.

And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.

Punching Doesn’t Work

But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.

And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:

When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?

Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.

In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.

The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.

We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.

People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.

Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.

And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfires and pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.

Principles of Persuasion

The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’s approach.

In the psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, he describes what he calls the “Principles of Persuasion.”

One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…

Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.

It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering.  One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge – or a shortcut – to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.

You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”

In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.

Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.

In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.

Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.

And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.

Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.

Making Friends From Enemies

There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.

Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.

It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.

But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.

Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.

“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.

Sean Malone is the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The Rational Argumentator’s Fifteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The Rational Argumentator’s Fifteenth Anniversary Manifesto

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 31, 2017
******************************

As of today The Rational Argumentator has been in publication continuously for fifteen years – half of my lifetime to date. The more time passes, the more the value of continuity is reinforced for me, and so I hope that these fifteen years have only been an auspicious beginning for The Rational Argumentator. TRA shall continually endeavor to improve and expand in new directions, but always by building upon the old and by remaining rooted in a core identity – the championing of the principles of Reason, Rights, and Progress – the ideas that made Western civilization great. These ideals will hopefully be applied to forge a new global, universal human (and transhuman) civilization which we – all reasonable and decent people who wish to join this effort – can assemble by picking up the pieces of the wreckage of our unfortunate, downward-spiraling moment in history.

We live today in what Robert Heinlein prognosticated in his science fiction as the “Crazy Years”, which he described as exhibiting “Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions” – gradual deterioration that became quite sudden and cataclysmic in 2016 and 2017. The climate of contemporary societies and political systems, particularly that of the United States, evokes William Butler Yeats’s famous lines:

  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The deterioration cannot be attributed to any particular individual or even faction (these are, at most, symptoms), but rather to the fraying general fabric of contemporary Western, particularly American, life. Those who have regularly read the pages of The Rational Argumentator will not be surprised at my view that the deterioration is primarily due to the abandonment of upward aspiration both within mainstream culture and among various subcultures – a rejection of 18th-century Enlightenment meliorism and an embrace of postmodern aimlessness. To reverse this tendency, now, more than ever, it is essential to emphasize the importance of rational inquiry, civil discourse, and the mindset of building a civilization – as opposed to militant subjectivism (where a person considers his or her feelings to be unquestioned dogma – and woe to those who challenge them!), coarse crudity in manners, riotousness, and the mindset of “tearing down the system” in a futile attempt to start from scratch. We cannot and must not start over – for the primitive state of humankind is far worse than our admittedly deeply imperfect morass of institutions and norms. But we can – and we must – repair and build upon the achievements of the past, combining them with new technologies and insights to forge the next great era of our civilization, a project I outline briefly in a two-party video series, “The Great Transhumanist Game”.

Amid the turmoil, I was pleased to see that The Rational Argumentator has gained notice and achieved significant increases in its visitation, receiving 1,087,149 total page views during its fifteenth year, as compared to 823,968 page views the year prior. Cumulative lifetime TRA visitation stands at 10,979,785 page views, and I am confident that the 11-million mark will be exceeded in September 2017. Perhaps more readers are seeking an antidote to the Crazy Years. Reason is that antidote, and these pages provide it in abundance.

During its fifteenth year, TRA published 140 features. While this was a lower rate of publication than the 208 to 314 features published per year in the preceding five years, TRA has at the same time become allied with the United States Transhumanist Party, of which I became Chairman in November 2016. The U.S. Transhumanist Party website has been brimming with new content, contributed by a wide variety of forward-thinking minds, and I am proud that this young but steadily growing organization has published 105 features during my tenure as Chairman thus far. I am also proud of the cadre of volunteer Officers that the U.S. Transhumanist Party has assembled – a team of dedicated advocates for the future, which will hopefully greatly expand with time and become the core of a movement that will transform and redirect society and culture back toward the ideals of reason and amelioration.

Thus, for the upcoming year, I pose an ambitious task for The Rational Argumentator and its readers. Let us make sure that Yeats’s words remain a warning rather than the ever-present reality. The center must hold, and we must ensure that it holds. Each of us can participate in this project. We must become the center upon which human civilization depends for its survival, continuity, and growth. Through both great endeavors and small, routine maintenance tasks; through creation of elevated and noble works, as well as everyday kindnesses to the people in our lives; through the rhetoric that inspires great aspirations and the decorum that conveys respect and uplifts our sentiments into the realm of good will – we must be the agents of cultural transformation – a New Renaissance, a Re-Enlightenment, indeed, a Recivilization to follow the Crazy Years. One of my most inspired moments of the past year has been seeing the finished painting of the City of New Antideath, which I commissioned from artist Ekaterinya Vladinakova. I invite you to gaze upon this colossal cityscape to gain glimpses at an era where all of our major aims – the return of reason as the paradigm for life, the attainment of indefinite longevity, the liberation of humankind from privation and conflict – have been attained. May it inspire you to go forth and take the many necessary incremental steps toward such a world.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
July 27, 2017
******************************

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education on April 22, 2017.

It’s become routine. An outside lecturer like Charles Murray or FEE’s own Lawrence Reed is invited to lecture on campus, just to give a different perspective than students might be hearing in the classroom. It seems like the way academia is supposed to work: many ideas are presented as a contribution to a rich education and the student is given the tools to make up his or her own mind.

But instead of a fair hearing, the invited lecturer is met with protests and gets shouted down. Aggressive and belligerent students accuse the speaker of every manner of evil. It’s not even about providing an intellectual challenge. No one minds that. The protesters want to stop the speaker from saying anything. They intimidate, threaten, scream, shout, and drive the guest from campus. The victors claim that the campus has been made safe again.

Outsiders look at the attacks on visiting lecturers on campus and wonder why. What could be the harm in hearing an alternative point of view? Isn’t that the point of a university, and a higher education generally? Aren’t students supposed to be trusted with discernment enough to be exposed to a broad range of ideas?

None of it makes much sense, unless you understand a bizarre ideology that has exercised a massive influence in academia since the rise of the New Left in the late 1960s. In the old days, people associated the Left with an ethos akin to the ACLU today: the right to speak, publish, and associate. The turn that took place with the New Left actually flipped whatever remaining attachment that the Left had with freedom.

Blinded by Ideology

There was one major influence here: Herbert Marcuse, the father of the New Left and perhaps the most influential Marxist of the last half century, and his most famous essay from 1965: Repressive Toleration. It is here that you find the template for an upside-down view of freedom held by so many students today. In this essay, Marcuse explains that free speech and toleration are illusions so long as society has yet to conform to the Marxian ideal. So long as that is true, in fact, free speech must be suppressed and toleration itself must not be tolerated.

In some ways, this essay is a blueprint not only for an oppressive campus life dominated by left-wing hegemony; it also offers a rationale for the totalitarian state itself. But in order to understand where he is coming from, and why those under his influence can be so controlling and even terrifying toward basic standards of civility, you need to know the background of his thought.

Marcuse was born in 1898, one year before F.A. Hayek, whose life and ideas serve as a foil for the Frankfurt School that Marcuse represented. And like Mises, Marcuse was driven out of of his home by the Nazis and spent time in Geneva before coming to the United States as an emigre. Unlike Hayek and Mises, Marcuse was a dedicated Marxist, and a main influence in the extension of Marxist economic theory to cover a broader range of philosophical topics.

Both Marx and Marcuse were successors in the long tradition of left-Hegelian thought that opposed every aspect of the rise of laissez-faire commercial life in the 19th century. The Hegelian view was that what we call freedom for average people was a social mask for a meta-narrative of history that was grim and dreadful. Impersonal forces in history were at work creating struggles, clashes, and wars between large-scale social aggregates. The free market (and freedom generally) might look like harmony but it is an illusion to cover a terrible exploitation that the workers and peasants might not directly perceive but could be discerned by enlightened intellectuals.

The goal of history, in this view, is to realize some grand conclusive stage in which the social order ceases to be a messy place of marginal improvements in living standards and instead resembles some utopia as defined by intellectuals. The trick for this point of view is finding the necessary path from here to there.

Recall the strange way in which Marx’s view that the state must “wither away” became an ideological cover for the realization of the total state itself. It’s all about the transition. Yes, Marx said, the state will go away forever, but only once the new socialist man had been created and the reactionary forces keeping scientific socialism at bay were entirely expropriated (or exterminated).

Suppress Freedom to Gain It

As a dedicated Marxist (and left-Hegelian generally), Marcuse believed that the same was true for other bourgeois institutions like free speech, free press, and toleration. Yes, he shared the goal that we need all those things. “Tolerance is an end in itself,” he says with some promise that he could make some sense. “The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society.”

Right on! And yet, he says, “Such a society does not yet exist; progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence and suppression on a global scale.” Every exercise of freedom as it exists is loaded and dominated by existing elites, who skew the debate to favor their position. It’s not a level playing field because social inequities are so prevalent as to be decisive in all outcomes.

As with Marx, in other words, we’ve got a problem in the transition. The masses of people are being deluded by anti-Marxian practices by governments and power elites, practices which have unleashed every manner of horror: neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression, racist exploitation, police state oppression, and the domination of society by forces of power.

You know the litany of evils, of course. But the more you read, the more you realize that the real problem according to Marcuse comes down to one word: capitalism. So long as that survives, the masses will be lacking in proper discernment to see and know what is true. In this case, toleration will only provide opportunities for the perpetuation of evil. “Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

If we allow free speech and give a platform to non-Marxist ideas, the great Hegelian moment when we reach the end of history will continue to elude us.

For this reason, we need to adopt full-scale repression – at least until the end of history arrives. As Marcuse wrote:

They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior – thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.

And to the degree to which freedom of thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the interest of deadly ‘deterrents’, of abnormal human endurance under inhuman conditions, etc.

Wait just a minute here. Did you catch that? Marcuse says that if you oppose policies like social security or Obamacare, you should be denied the freedom of speech and assembly. You should be shut up and beat up. The path toward true freedom is through massive real-world oppression. If you have the wrong views, you have no rights.

The entire essay is born of frustration that the Marxists have not yet won, that they continue to have to make a case for their perspective in the face of tremendous opposition. Given that he and his friends are part of a priesthood of truth, shouldn’t they just be declared the winners and contrary views suppressed?

In other words, it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty, oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.

What about freedom and stuff? We’ll get there, but first all opponents of how Marcuse defined freedom must be eliminated. In other words, this is not real freedom. It is a big excuse for suppression, despotism, and the total state.

Or as Marcuse said with characteristic bluntness, we must push the “cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion.” We must, he said, be “militantly intolerant.”

Who Rules?

Now, the question is: who should be in charge of deciding “the distinction between liberating and repressive, human and inhuman teachings and practices.” The answer is readily at hand: properly enlightened intellectuals like Marcuse and his friends, who must be put in charge of the regime managing the transition. As he puts it, a decider should be “in the maturity of his faculties as a human being.”

It is they who should speak and be charged with putting down contrary views. To Marcuse, it is no different from how society tries to control juvenile delinquents. They don’t have rights and freedoms. Neither should unenlightened adults persist in the failure to be Marxists like him.

Here we have a classic demonstration of the power of dogma. It can distort the world around you to the point that black becomes white, up is down, and slavery is freedom.

It reminds me of the time that Leon Trotsky visited the New York subway and noticed that there were machines dispensing gum. He concluded that gum was a capitalist plot to keep the jaws of the workers moving so that they would not perceive their status as slaves having their surplus value stolen by capitalist exploiters.

And yet: sometimes gum is just gum.

So you wonder: where are these attacks on free speech coming from? They are coming from the academy where this stuff is taught to students of sociology, politics, and literature, from day one. It doesn’t mean that people are literally reading Marcuse or even that their professors have done so. Philosophy works this way. Bad ideas are like termites: you can’t entirely see them, and suddenly the whole house falls in.

Astute readers will notice a strange parallel between the ideas of Marcuse and those of the alt-right that imagines that violating the rights of people who disagree is the way to make progress toward real freedom. The model for the alt-right is the world of Pinochet: dissidents must be thrown out of helicopters.

Indeed, there is not much substantial difference between the Nazi politics of Carl Schmitt and the Marxist politics of Herbert Marcuse. They both exist within the same Hegelian ideological bubble, operating as mirror images of each other. One gives rise to the other in alternating sequences of action and reaction. Two sides of the same coin.

Each wants to suppress the other, which is why the complaints of alt-rightists are so disingenuous. They complain about having their free-speech rights violated, but they aspire to do exactly the same to their own enemies.

And, incidentally, censorship is like socialism: it works in theory but not in practice. Suppressing ideas subsidizes the demand for the very idea being put down. You can’t control the human mind by controlling speech alone.

What about Real Freedom?

As you read through this material, the question keeps coming back to you. What about actual freedom right now? What about actual speech right now? Not freedom and speech toward a specific goal, a spelled-out end of history scenario, but rather just real freedom and speech, right now. And what about commercial freedom itself, which has done more to improve the lives of regular people more than any imagined end-state of history as cobbled together by intellectual elites.

Exploring this left and right Hegelian literature makes you appreciate the absolute genius of the old liberal creed, and the handful of great intellectuals who upheld it through the 20th century against these dangerous and illiberal ideologies. Only in this literature will you discover the great truth that freedom right now, right where we are in this stage of history, is the only social goal truly worth fighting for.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.