Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jun/10

25

The value of obnoxious

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From the comments:

As to the question of obnoxiousness, of course it’s obnoxious, which is to say nothing more than ‘polite society considers it obnoxious’, and for quite the same reason as it’s considered obnoxious to point out that life is wholly meaningless, ends with finality and that anyone who can of free conscious murder a stranger (and get away with it) for a hundred dollars but doesn’t do so is a fool with no mind of his own.

These are anti-social truths and therefore rude to mention in public. This isn’t to say that I don’t love you for saying them….

There are myths, and there are myths. I do for example think that ‘free will’ simply understood is a myth. In fact, people of many persuasions, whether they be religious or irreligious, also concur on this point. But prattling on about this is fruitless, and there’s a strong consensus that there are no returns on discussing the issue outside of narrow circles of highly intelligent and philosophically oriented sets. Arguments about ethics, and ‘rationality,’ and mental states require some subtly and a threshold of self-aware sentience which most of the human race is unfortunately incapable of.


I think foreign policy is different. This is not some deep existential issue, and nor is dispute without potential fruit. There is no overwhelming consensus about why, or if, we should support Israel, or oppose Israel, or not give much thought to the conflict between the Jewish state and the Arabs who claim it as their own. Yes, there are good and solid majorities in the United States and Europe, which fall in opposing campus. But there is still a fair amount of dispute where getting to the root of the difference of opinion may be a socially useful strategy.

My own attitudes toward American foreign policy are determined primarily by American interests (more precisely, my weak opinions are informed by my rather thin base of facts, which I input into a rough intuitive cost/benefit calculation which is calibrated by my own norms). Others argue that idealism drives their preferences in this domain; e.g., abstractions like democracy or liberty. As an empirical matter I think this idealism is just a rhetorical game in most cases (with the pro and anti-Israel sides engaging in a bidding war where many of the principals don’t even value the underlying currency of human rights nearly as much as the prices on the table would imply). In the interests of honesty, and not wasting time in signalling dynamics, I do attempt to get to the root of the matter by asking obnoxious questions if an opinion from my direction is demanded (the nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict are such that the principals either do not believe that you are uninterested, or, express anger and disgust if you admit a lack of interest).

There are certainly broad swaths of life where disputation and critical rationalism are overrated. I would never engage the typical dullard on the street as to the feasibility of a compatibilist position on free will. There is no game there to be had. On the other hand the dullard may have some inchoate stances on policy issues, and even maintain a marginal grasp on the various moving parts so that one can engage in the game of critical rationalism. Our tax dollars and time are on the line after all.

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6 comments

  • jb · June 25, 2010 at 7:46 am

    The thing about free will that I find really amusing is that it totally doesn’t matter whether it exists or not, because no consequences follow from it. There is nothing about the world that would change depending on whether free will does or does not exist. It’s an empty question.

    Consequences do follow from whether or not a person believes in free will, but that’s not the same thing. A person who believes in free will might take certain actions based on certain moral arguments. But he will take precisely the same actions, based on the same arguments, whether free will actually exists or not! In one case his actions are freely chosen, in the other case they are predetermined, but either way they are the same actions, so who cares? The question no longer even makes sense to me.

  • Le Mur · June 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    “…life is wholly meaningless…”

    Mebbe “meaningful” is meaningless.

    The thing about free will that I find really amusing is that it totally doesn’t matter whether it exists or not, because no consequences follow from it.

    I was thinking that it didn’t matter because people can’t consistently and clearly define it, much less determine whether it exists.

    (the nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict are such that the principals either do not believe that you are uninterested, or, express anger and disgust if you admit a lack of interest).

    I have a hard time not seeing it as equivalent to a bunch of ants fighting other over something that I couldn’t care less about – though ants fighting over, say, a dead bird makes more sense than primates fighting over myths, even if the myths are just a mechanism to hide their true goals, e.g. land for genes. Seeing it as the latter makes it seems more primitive but less ridiculous.

  • Miles · June 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    > Arguments about ethics, and ‘rationality,’ and mental states require some subtly and a threshold of self-aware sentience which most of the human race is unfortunately incapable of.

    I’ve never tried to deny elitism, but even this elitist finds the statement jarring.

    In my (not inconsiderable) experience, most of the human race may, indeed, be unpracticed at such exercises, but they are not in fact incapable of them.

  • Author comment by David Hume · June 27, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    i don’t have experience. but you’ve promoted me to try. in the next few weeks i’ll approach people without university educations and see where it goes. it’s been a long time since i talked to such.

  • jdxji · June 29, 2010 at 9:44 am

    THAT’S pretty jarring. My own experience is quite the opposite, it’s rare that I speak with people who are intelligent and/or educated but I certainly do so often enough.

    I like your perspective though as I tend to suffer from the dissonance of speaking with supposed “equals” and finding them to be essentially animals with whom I need to feign some puppetic persona in order to converse.

    So while I envy your social world I also can’t quite believe how apparently cloistered you are (but I still want in).

  • Chuck · July 3, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    “a threshold of self-aware sentience which most of the human race is unfortunately incapable of.”

    They’re probably more capable than most in our larger mammalian race.

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