If you have been following me you haven’t seen me address any current affairs. Believe me, it is not that I’m not exposed to them or that I don’t find them morbidly interesting. But what has led me, instead, to spend hours, weeks and months focusing on seemingly unrelated or outdated works of fiction and philosophy like Crime and Punishment, Beyond Good and Evil or The Road to Wigan Pier (coming soon), is my belief that there are better and worse ways to act in the war of ideas.
You have an opinion. Or, at the very least, you have biases that lead you to sympathize with a certain position. Any day you log on to the Internet you are guaranteed to encounter a number of people saying or acting out things to put that opinion into question. These encounters will fall on a kind of spectrum:
- It’s so plainly malevolent it’s enraging. It’s so idiotic it’s funny.
- The logical mistake is obvious and can be pointed out in a paragraph.
- The logical mistake isn’t that obvious, a benevolent, smart person could end up having that position. It would take me some time to formulate the arguments against this one. Maybe even some back and forth.
- It is nuanced and complex, I would have to read up on things and think a lot to be able to criticize it. Maybe it’s even beyond my ability to comprehend.
Note that this spectrum can exist among the utterances of a single person, even among the statements within a single blog post. The question is: what are you going to focus on? It’s way easier to engage with the idiotic and enraging stuff, while the things on the other end of the spectrum give us a vague, unpleasant feeling and the desire to avoid and forget them. But what this behavior achieves, is to lead our collective attention away from the conversation worth having (i.e. most likely to help us getting closer to the truth), towards the polarization we are currently seeing, and ultimately, to violence.
Truth is, we are all acting out a set of unconscious or unquestioned beliefs. If you ask yourself, repeatedly, why you do certain things, you will quickly end up in a weird realm where it’s all but clear where is up and where is down. The axioms on which we intuitively base our behaviors are shaped by hidden existential, psychological, societal, biological, and who-knows what kind of forces. And to the degree that you leave them unexamined you will be (to use a Petersonian term) a puppet of those forces. But what is it that can help you examine them? Well, reality itself, if you allow it to speak to you and don’t always take refuge in the comfort of the familiar — and, as a proxy, other people, because they see things you don’t see. But this requires you to actively engage with the things they say that make you uneasy. And this might start you off on a long journey during which all you can say is: “I don’t know, I’m figuring it out, but I need to get to the bottom of this.”
So here I am, slogging through old books, questioning my beliefs with the hope to build my world view from the ground up. Maybe I will never get there. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to say: “I don’t know. Here’s my bias, but I know it’s more complex than that.” What if there was a social media shitstorm and nobody came?