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It got very nasty over there at SOLO. (Comments are in reverse order, newest first, so scroll down and click "last" if you want to read from the start.)

It's usually the case that there's one guy who is as slimy as they come, wants to be the alpha male, and continually tries to cover his malice with pleas for civility and, in this case "benevolence". If you want the details, go read the thread, I told him all about it, and there's no need to repeat it here.

As nasty as it got, I was always alert for rational argument - it's the reason I do things like this, not to convince the slimeballs, but to find the ones who can rise above it. I was rewarded in that as well.

What they don't know about me, and, to be honest, I gave them little explicit reason to believe it, is that I am sometimes convinced by these arguments. But you'd think that lawyer-boy over there would be familiar with the adversarial approach to finding truth, as it is the basis for his profession.

I used to be involved in a forum that was frequently got very close to these levels of vitriol, but my participation went on for years. I was wet behind the ears then, in the art of internet argument, and made some mistakes, but I think I did pretty well overall.

There was one case where an argument very much like the one at SOLO raged for, I don't know, it must have been weeks, and on the very same subject, minarchy vs anarchy. Except I was then on the minarchy side.

There was one guy, Eric something, I have no idea who he is anymore, who I went around with over and over again. It got heated, but I do recall that it stayed rational and largely impersonal. One day, in the kind of frustration I fully understand now, he told me that he was done with me, that I was beyond the reach of rational argument.

I responded with something like the following: "That's too bad, because you were two, at most three posts from convincing me. But that's OK, I can do the rest on my own. " And I did. I was convinced.

Except that I wasn't, at least not as fully as I thought I was at the moment. For years, I went back and forth over the fence from minarchist to anarchist, without settling on a satisfying reason to decide one or the other was clearly correct.

I was OK with that, these things take time, and it wasn't like I had to make a life-or-death decision based on it any time soon. Meanwhile, I had spent a lot of time pondering, arguing, and studying objectivism and related philosophies, as well as figuring some stuff out on my own.

One day I sat down with pen and paper, and collected the various pieces I had put together. I started with "Reality exists, consciousness exists, and A is A", which I still believe to be the fundamental basis of all philosophy. But I did something more, something Rand never did, and, really, no philosopher in the history of mankind has done, at least to my own satisfaction. I defined consciousness.

"That which can conceptually place itself in alternative future contexts and weigh the outcomes against its values"

The definition might not mean much to you, nor its importance (which includes the core of an argument for how consciousness can evolve from non-conscious matter, a significant historical stumbling block). There's a lot of philosophical mass resting on those few words. I also had to define "context" and "value", and more, which I did, but won't bore you with the details of right now. There's also corollaries about conceptually placing itself in actual and alternative past contexts, but that too is beyond the scope here, and not really necessary to my point.

The point is that I had created a philosophy that, while technically new and unique (as far as I know), is really just built on the shoulders of giants, one horribly stunted giant in particular, Ayn Rand. And in this new framework, one thing became obvious: government itself is an utter contradiction of basic principles, principles deeper than the non-initiation of force.

Add in a little network theory from computer science, and spontaneous order theory (such as natural selection or free markets), and it also became apparent that man is capable of effective self-governance, so long as he cannot isolate himself from the consequences of his actions - and that a network, rather than a hierarchy, is the means by which all can be held to those consequences even when substantial parts of that network fail to do so, and when no part of the network has the intention to do so.

So, with the zeal of a zealot, (the one accusation I faced at SOLO that has a kernel of truth to it, and tacitly admitted so in a way I'm sure was far too subtle for the particular lightweight intellect that made it), I proceeded to make sure everybody who wanted to listen, and some who didn't, were aware that from now on self-governance is known for a fact to be the only viable means for social and political organization.

I ran up against an interesting phenomenon. The smarter someone is, the harder it is - in general, not always - to get them to see it. Now, that would normally be a giant red flag that there was something wrong with the theory. But there was a pattern to their objections. The more intelligent someone is, the more likely he has actually worked out a lot of their philosophy explicitly. With these people, I would run up against some premise that they held firmly to, with good reason, that seemed to contradict my conclusions. Except it didn't. It only contradicted a conclusion they had heard over and over again (being intellectually curious, thoughtful, and well-read people), that sounded like mine but wasn't.

The difficulty here is that my conclusions depend heavily on what I refer to as meta-context. It's hard enough to get people to understand context, but it can be done. I can explain meta-context to intelligent people as well, but it takes a lot of time and patience, on both sides, and then a hefty commitment of time and energy to actually argue within it. If context is like the physics of motion and acceleration, meta context is like the physics of relativistic space-time, black holes, and quantum mechanics. By the time I get their attention well enough to get that time, they've already evaluated and rejected my conclusions.

So I'm faced with a dilemma. Either figure out a way to reach intelligent people in a way that breaks the usual cycle of presenting conclusions in order to get their attention, with the result that the conclusions short-circuit the argument I really wanted to make in the first place - or start working on unintelligent people. The latter leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, so I have a lot more work to do.

I'm just gonna have to write a book, dammit.


Just a note, I do try to keep in mind, whenever I get to pondering this stuff, the possibility that I might just be batshit crazy. 'Cause, you know, I'd be the last to know. But if I am, it turns out to be a pretty pleasant experience overall. You might try it some time. Everyone needs a hobby.

Posted by kylben at Wednesday, October 08, 2008 06:52 PM

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