Ending the Culture War
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~ Aristotle
I'd like to paint a picture for you of how I view the current state of the world. I'm gonna use some specific examples, but the basic idea can be form-fitted to work in other situations as well. I leave that part to you. I'm just gonna give you a framework to understand what's going on and to hopefully allow you to hold two opposing views in your head simultaneously.
Take a minute to consider a personal point of view that you hold very strongly. One that carries a lot of emotional weight behind it, whether positive or negative. Doesn't really matter what it is, just that it's something you tend to rally your forces behind and which means a lot to you, such that you'd spend a lot of time and energy and resources fervently defending it.
Let's say, for instance, you're an anti-Trumper and you think that the current President is literally a racist, sexist version of Hitler. That seems really exigent, now doesn't it?
I'm not going to tell you whether you're right or wrong about that, and for our purposes here, it doesn't matter as it's just an example. You can substitute anything in place of it to engage in this thought experiment. I will, however, accept at face value that, whatever view you take, that is your honest opinion and that you feel very strongly about it and that your feelings drive what you do, and thus are not to be cast aside lightly. They are important to understanding not just you and where you're coming from, but your place in the greater culture war.
Essentially, they matter a great deal, is what I'm saying.
I know it's often been said by some that facts don't care about your feelings. And for the most part, they're right; but the people who say stuff like that are also missing something crucially important in terms of persuasion. Do you know what it is? Any guess? No?
Alright, I'll tell you, and it'll likely be among the most woke things you've probably ever heard. Ready?
Facts may not care about your feelings, but people do.
Let me say that again, because it's important and repetition is good for persuasion. Facts may not care about your feelings ... but people do. In fact, the Persuasion Filter says they often care more about feelings than they do about facts, because feelings are a useful shorthand filter for dealing with the complexities of life. Facts may not care, but people care, and it's people we're dealing with here at the end of the day, and it's people we're trying to persuade towards our own point of view, our own way of thinking, our own view of the world that - whether it's right or wrong, we at least feel like it's right and true and correct. We like to feel that we're right and avoid feeling like we're wrong, not just because it feels good to be right and feels bad to be wrong, but because being right lets us know we're conducting ourselves in a way that coheres with reality and thus increases our chances of survival and finding real, lasting happiness.
I get that there's a difference between being right and feeling right. Ideally, you want those two things to coincide at all times, but just understand that when you challenge a person's feelings, you are challenging their entire sense of reality, and that's hard for people to deal with.
Thus, you need a more gentle approach than: "Fuck your feelings."
We are all of us human beings (for now, anyway) and we all have opinions and feelings. The Persuasion Filter informs us that most people act based on feelings 80-90% of the time in terms of big important things and then try to use reason and evidence to justified our decisions after the fact.
This is the normal, everyday experience of just about everyone and it's something intrinsically human.
Setting aside the human element in others is a good way to close people off to your way of thinking and create division in our world. No one is going to want to listen to someone if they feel that the person they're talking to is just out to dehumanize them, to twist their intentions, or to assassinate their character. If you're nothing but a basket of deplorables or a garbage human to them, for instance.
That's not very persuasive rhetoric.
Indeed, if you don't see someone as human, then it also becomes very easy to justify doing violence to them, since morality generally only applies to human beings. Someone like Wil Wheaton, for instance, appears to have no qualms about expressing an almost sadistic joy at killing Nazis in video games, using it as an outlet while lamenting he can't go do it in real life, as much as he might want to:
You might be wondering, "What's wrong with that? Nazis are obviously scum and they should eat as many bullets as we have to serve them," to which I'd say I completely agree.
Nazis should eat all the bullets, all of them.
The problem is, at least in the real world, you have cases that are pretty clear cut and dry, but you also have cases where people's personal world views get distorted and they start hallucinating, imagining they can ready people's minds. Maybe they aren't seeing things as clearly as they believe they are, and so they might hear something ordinary and innocuous, but it gets filtered through their emotions at the expense of facts, and so what they wind up hearing is, "Nazi, Nazi, Nazi," and then an otherwise innocent person eats a bullet based on a misunderstanding.
That happens more often than you think:
And it happens both ways, as people say one thing, but all that gets heard is, "Commie, Commie, Commie," "Facist, Fascist, Fascist," "SJW, SJW, SJW," "Racist, Racist, Racist," "Sexist, Sexist, Sexist," or whatever it happens to be in that particular case. The one thing they all have in common is people's strong feelings are distorting the facts of what people actually think, believe, say, and do.
People don't like Trump, for instance, because (whether he actually does or not) they feel like he doesn't care about women and minorities. Likewise, many people don't like feminists because they feel like feminists don't care about men, or about women in Arabia, or something along those lines (whether they actually do or not). BLM exists because the black community feels like they don't matter to the rest of the country, whether the rest of the country actually cares about them or not.
I wrote a whole article already on how to fix stuff like that. It basically boils down to being more clear about what you want and recognizing that other people might have different priorities than you.
As cringe-worthy as his rant might have been to hear, I'm gonna cut Wil Wheaton a break, since I don't know him personally. Instead, I'll just give him the benefit of the doubt that he probably means well and doesn't like violence and wouldn't ever do that in real life, which is why he needs video games, as a way to sate that particular emotional need and his feelings of deep-seated frustration with the state of the world as he sees it. At the same time, I'll also note that he maybe isn't all that great at translating what's in his heart or his mind in a way that others can understand and accept if they're starting from a different set of propositions than him.
We all struggle with that sometimes, even your's truly.
Either way, it serves to illustrate my point that, on the one hand, strong feelings can be highly volatile and dangerous; but at the same time, they're also deeply rooted into who we are and we can't just cast them aside like they're nothing without risking dehumanizing people, dividing them into tribes, and labeling them as "the other" or else we risk conjuring that same level of violence.
That's the whole reason something like The Rubin Report is so great, because it seeks to bring people from different paths together and #HealTheDivide, and I have to say, they do a damn good job of it.
How easy would it have been for me to just dismiss Wil Wheaton out of hand and otherize him? Pretty easy, actually. But I didn't do that. I did the opposite and chose the high ground instead.
Empathy means being able to relate to how the other person feels.
It's one thing to joke about punching Nazis and throwing Commies out of helicopters, but let's be careful such rhetoric doesn't evolve past just joking. That we, the good people, adhere to non-aggression, due process, and the like, so as not to create collateral damage that falls onto others who are likewise well-meaning but who might simply not be communicating their intentions in the clearest possible way.
"What we care about, what we're passionate about, is how we connect to people ... The 'why' is where the connection is ... As far as connection goes, if people don't care about your passions, they don't care about you, because what are you, except your passions?" ~ Stefan Molyneux
So let's get back to you and your fervent beliefs. Let's say you're an anti-Trumper and you have a particular opinion about him, about #MAGA, about his supporters, his policies, and all that. Yes, I'm sure that you're sure it's more than just a matter of opinion - that it's based on facts, all the facts, all of them, so many facts, and my god, look at all this evidence to corroborate it.
I get that. Just ... set that to one side for a moment. We can come back to it another day. Just stick with me on this for now, because we can't even begin to have that conversation until we first address this other stuff about feelings and alienation.
Same thing if you're on the other side, by the way.
It doesn't really matter where you're starting from or what the particular issue is, we have to dig down to something deeper first or we'll just keep talking past each other and this cycle of insanity will continue as just another phase of the culture war.
The reason we can't even begin to have that conversation is because fervent beliefs of that nature are sort of the culmination of everything else about you all coalesced into a singular idea and a singular identity. It's deeply personal and so you feel personally attacked if anyone tries to move you even one degree from a particular position if it's something you feel that strongly about.
Identity is a very powerful tool of persuasion for this reason.
It's like the flag on top of the keep in a fortress you spent your whole life building, which you surround with the high walls of your emotions - namely, your latent sense of mistrust and guardedness, because letting the wrong people into your life without vetting them first could be the death of you. That fortress then sits atop a high mountain, which is your environment, your genes, your principles, your definitions, your premises, the circumstances under which you were born, the myriad people who've come and gone from your life, and all your many years-worth of unique experiences. All the things you didn't necessarily choose, but which chose you in one form or another. That's not to say you have no power to change at least some of those things, just that it takes a lot of extra work because it's often solid bedrock that you're trying to move.
Better to leave that in place if you don't have to mess with it, otherwise you risk your entire fort coming down around you all at once as a result, and I know you don't want that.
Now, because of how much blood, sweat, tears, time, energy, and resources went into building your castle, how much you suffered and sacrificed and slaved away over the course of many years to get where you are, how much bullshit you had to endure along the way to finally be able to plant that flag, it means a great deal to you and you are willing to fight to the death to protect it.
It's perfectly relatable to feel pride in yourself and what you've accomplished.
There is no shame in that, no matter who or what you are.
You stand regally atop the parapets of your own little castle keep, waving your flag, proclaiming loudly to the world, "Fuck you, world, this is me! This is who I am! Look what I built with the things that you gave me! What I can achieve in spite of you and all you've thrown at me! See how glorious it is and how glorious I am for having made it? Just try to come and take my flag, I dare you!"
And as well you should be proud, as life is hard and the fact you managed to survive this long and live well is something worth celebrating.
Everyone has their own personal castle, but maybe you also have a castle you share with others in sort of a joint venture that you built together. So like maybe Anita Sarkeesian and her friends have their own little hilltop castle atop Mt. Fem Freq, for instance, built upon their own personal experiences; or maybe there's just the larger castle of feminism itself that women and male allies worked hard to build and feel really good about.
Again, this is just an analogy, you can substitute your own experiences.
Either way, you clearly have this tribe of people who share your views and they all come to reside in this fortress of solidarity with you. But then you look out into the distance and you see there's not just your mountain, but lots of other mountains, each with their own little castle on top with people, just like you, who went and built their own fortresses of solidarity based on their personal experiences, their starting premises, their values, their genes, their definitions, and so forth.
Like you, they have every reason to be proud of what they built through their blood, sweat, tears, agony, and so on.
But all those mountains are really far away and you're not a mind reader. You have no way of knowing who they are or what their intentions might be. An empathetic person would understand they're not much different from you. That if you trace down far enough, you'll see all our little castles are ultimately built upon the same shared earth.
Instead, you can't hear them and they can't hear you, because you're in your fortress and they're in theirs, and there's a long distance either of you would have to travel to get to where the other person is at the moment. You can't hear their shouts of righteous pride. All you see and hear from where you are is what looks like a bunch of angry, crazy, provocative, belligerent people waving a flag in your face in a really threatening manner.
Some of them might in fact be radical belligerents, that's true. Maybe they're ethno-supremacists or radical religious extremists looking to do others real harm, in which case it's best for everyone they stay far the fuck away locked in their own little towers and not be allowed onto your mountain. That's more or less why I favor libertarian nationalism, because it lets everyone have their own space to do whatever they want without spilling over onto others. That's fine, so long as everyone agrees to stay in their corner and not bother anyone.
When the white supremacists cry, "blood and soil," for instance, that's their motto being shouted from atop their mountain fortress. Those are the principles upon which they built their preferred tribal society.
I happen to think ethno-nationalism is stupid in all its particular flavors, so I'm not part of any race-based tribe. Not just because it ultimately requires violence to displace people, which is bad enough, but even more fundamentally because I think people are happier gathered around people who think like them, rather than who look like them. Richard Spencer would probably have more in common with Thomas Sowell than Hillary Clinton. Tariq Nasheed would be just the reverse.
This is why I feel confident I could get along with someone like Anita Sarkeesian, because apart from her politics, we share a lot of the same interests and values.
Certain ideologies, however, are just innately violent and it's best we isolate and ostracize them. If they wanna form their own little insular community, that's fine. It's why we each have our little forts in the first place.
Every man's home is his castle for a reason.
"The meaning of words is the soul of the law." ~ Legal Maxim
Belligerents like that definitely exist, but the vast majority of people are not like that. More often than not, they're just well-meaning people who are misunderstood and can't communicate clearly their values and intentions to you because there's this vast chasm.
A great divide, you might say.
Maybe, as they're waving their own flags, shouting from atop their castles, you just barely catch the part about "fuck you" or "come and take it," but you missed the bit in the middle where they declared, "this is who I am," and "this is what I am capable of," which you also feel about yourself.
Maybe they use certain words in a different way than you do, almost as if you're speaking two different languages. So like postmordernist indentiarians use "racism" in a way that's different from the way everyone else does. The former include power as a condition, whereas the latter don't.
Just realizing that clears up a lot of confusion, now doesn't it?
In his book, The Art of the Argument, Stefan Molyneux points out that most disagreements come down to a mere difference in the definitions people use. That if we can just agree on the meanings of words and how we apply them, a great many disputes would resolve themselves almost automatically.
"Capitalism" is another word like that.
Again, this is a two-way street, so you as an anti-Trumper look out towards MAGA Mountain and see what look like a bunch of people who don't give a shit about you, who just wanna harass you, speaking in some crazy coded language that sounds completely foreign to anything you understand. You want them to stay way the fuck over there, and they look back and see you and see the same and want you to stay way the fuck where you are; and wouldn't it be great if we could all do that without ever having to be bothered by the other person?
The problem is, the way our system is set up, we're already involved in each other's business.
We're all reluctant soldiers in a culture war that started hundreds of years ago, by people who are all dead now, of which this is just the latest skirmish. Every once in a while, we send out our forces to go and fight, to attack the enemy's castle, to try and take their hill, because we've been conditioned to believe that's the way it's always been and always will be until one side or the other is defeated:
We tend to treat all the other castles like the handful of truly belligerent castles, because most of us aren't generally equipped to deal in nuance, and the world outside our walls, away from the tribe, is a dark and dangerous place.
Few enough have the courage to tread into unknown territory.
Every once in a while, you might get some enlightened soul to come along and say, "This is stupid. Let's just go over there and talk to them and see if we can't work things out." But because none of us are mind-readers and we're all conditioned by our own emotions and those of our tribe towards defending the castle, we automatically tend to assume that anyone we don't recognize who approaches our mountain must be a hostile invader from that "other" tribe over there. And because we've successfully dehumanized them in many cases, we don't stop to question their motives or their intentions, we just attack them reflexively on sight and drive them back, further inuring both sides into their aggressive positions.
This is what happened with things like Gamer Gate, for instance.
A few progressive developers and critics on ... let's call it Diversity Mountain. A few people on Diversity Mountain looked out from their high tower, out across the valley towards the distant Gaming Mountain, and thought to themselves, "Ya know, there seems to be a huge monoculture over there. Why don't we send an envoy over to share with them our own culture? I think they'd really like that a lot." So down they went into the valley and up Gaming Mountain, but the gamers there freaked out and were like, "Oh my god! We're being invaded! To arms, to arms!"
Now, you might think that's silly until you consider that a few people from Gaming Mountain tried to do the same thing. They sent their own envoys of critics to send a message of, "No thank you, we're good here, just please leave us alone," and the people back on Diversity Mountain saw that and were like, "Oh my god! Not only did they attack our diplomats, they're sending their own army of trolls to lay siege to our castle! Quick, rally the troops!"
If you've ever been to a house that has dogs, you've probably experienced this before, wherein even if you've been there a thousand times - sometimes even if it's your own house and you're just coming home - the dogs will immediately start barking their heads off at this seemingly strange new person who just arrived. Dogs don't have a sense of time. They live in the moment and rely on their instincts and behavioral conditioning, which inform them to treat anything they don't immediately recognize as being potentially hostile. Is it a predator? Don't know. Could be. Best act like it is until we learn more about them and their intentions, lest they catch us by surprise and we all die from a lack of caution.
We know that strategy works, because dogs survive and thrive.
It's completely irrational and driven by pure emotion out of a territorial desire to protect the members of the pack against the unknown or the unfamiliar, which is ultimately a good thing, but in practice it can sometimes create problems as well.
Usually, if the dog is well-trained, it won't attack on sight, but will instead just make a lot of noise and take an aggressive stance. It's only once the owner (or some other ranking human within the pack's dominance hierarchy) finally calms the dog down that they begin to feel comfortable with the presence of whomever this stranger is. What the owner is doing in that case, is not reasoning with the dog, but addressing its deep-seated emotional concerns. Placating their feelings.
And then, more often than not, once the dog learns you're not a threat, they will be more than happy to let you into their own tribe, knowing that you are not against them.
In terms of our evolutionary biology, we are hard-wired to be wary of predators, though what we consider predatory behavior is largely a product of our environment. Jordan Peterson phrased it as people's values determine their perception. Scott Adams phrased it as we're seeing two movies on one screen. Stefan Molyneux talks about it as r/K selection.
American Sniper frames it as being sheep dogs in a world of wolves:
Either way, the problem of the culture war boils down to essentially a biological and cognitive-behavioral phenomenon that is a major foundation of the Persuasion Filter.
If you wanna know why there's such a divide in the first place, it's because we've built our castles in different places upon different values and experiences because we're different human beings. The person who's pro-X and the person who's anti-X have many different values (at a superficial level), based in large part upon all manner of things, right down to the genetic level of their individual personality traits. In many ways, we are fundamentally different people living in the same place despite being incompatible. We can't easily leave either, which is why we then go built tribal partitions based around identity or ideology and retreat to our little castles.
To some extent, that's necessary and useful, and so long as everyone has a place they can go to be left alone and leave others alone, all is well. I've often referred to the idea of nations as being like giant safe spaces for that very reason, and you've probably heard the saying, "Every man's home is his castle." It's why cultural enclaves exist as well.
Again, that's useful to find a niche, but we also live among and interact with people who are different, so we need a way to reach across the chasm and deal with that. The way to overcome these differences without devolving into a Marxist dichotomy or predator-prey relationship is to recall that, at a deeper level, we're all resting on the same solid ground of core human values.
Pacing and leading is one technique you can use to prove that's true, putting yourself in the other person's shoes.
"The best indicator of future behavior is relevant past behavior" ~ Stefan Molyneux
It should come as no surprise that, if you're constantly feuding with someone all the time, that their guard will always be up around you, even if you approach them with the best of intentions. After all, deception and false flags are standard fair in war. You can't just walk up to the person you've been screaming at, unannounced, and just expect them to give you a hug. People didn't evolve that way, and those who did often got weeded out of the gene pool rather quickly for being too trusting in the presence of potential predators.
Sargon of Akkad made an attempt at visiting the other side's fort when he went to VidCon.
After years of fending off what he believed to be wave upon wave of invaders from Diversity Mountain, and after shouting and screaming at Mt. Fem Freq, he finally decided, "Ya know wha? This is stupid, let me just come down from my ivory tower, go over there, and talk to them like civilized people." So he and a band of his fellows did just that and, predictably, were met with hostility as soon as they showed up outside the castle walls, because they forgot to take into account the fact that there was still a war going on, that the "opposition" would remember their past actions, and how their own present actions might be received.
All of this anger, hostility, and metaphorical bloodshed stems from simple misperception. That's literally all the culture war is, is an on-going conflict of misunderstanding.
Do you wanna know why it seems like certain people have to shout and scream and raise hue and cry just to feel like they're being heard? It's because we can't send a clear message otherwise. And even then, that message gets lost in translation half the time. It's because we're all up in our own little ivory towers of tribalism shouting across a vast chasm to a group of people too far away to hear us clearly and all they see is a scary looking bunch of angry, energetic people. So what we need to do is have the courage, the trust, the empathy, the fortitude, the humility, and the willingness to journey outside our own walls - our own protective bubbles - into potentially dangerous territory and speak to our perceived adversaries as if they were human beings who had built something worthwhile of their own atop their own mountains just like we did:
This quote right here is the key to everything. Learn to internalize it and live it.
Yes, I know it doesn't help that there are a few bad actors on all sides. A few self-interested agents provocateur who get off on causing trouble. Who stir the shit and revel in the mayhem. Despite what you might think, they don't just exist on one side, but they exist on all sides (at least within tribes of a certain size). Their actions, combined with the prevailing culture of misperception, is what keeps this going and fans the flames of war.
What I call the media-political complex is what keeps us fighting.
I know a lot of you are tired of this war, tired of constantly fighting all the time. You just wanna live in peace and be happy. Maybe chill out, watch some Netflix, play video games, go to a sporting event. Whatever turns your crank. But you feel you can't because you're caught up in this stupid war of bullshit that you didn't start, didn't ask to be part of, but still feel at an existential level that you are compelled to be a part of.
I'm here to tell you that you don't have to fight if you don't want to. There is a better way.
By now, some of you are probably starting to recognize that talking it out with the enemy is a necessity and the only way we're ever going to find peace. That there's a profound need to rehumanize your opposition if you ever hope to get them to rehumanize you as well. Indeed, it's the only war real wars ever ended either is that the fighting stopped for long enough for there to be civil discussion.
Yes, even with the Nazis.
Recall that, historically, the Axis Powers ultimately surrendered to the West and signed armistices that are still in effect to this day. As bad as you think your opposition might be, I promise you, it'll be a lot easier to talk it out with them than it was having to negotiate with the Axis Powers. Obviously, there was an exigent and violent conflict that had to be put down first, but what ultimately kept the peace thereafter was discourse, and it may well have been that such conflict could have been avoided in the first place through better discourse and humanization. Hitler flunked out of art school. Imagine if he'd gotten in, how different history and the world might have been?
I'm not going to tell you what the terms of your negotiations should be. That's up to you to decide what you want from your adversaries and what, if anything, you're willing to give them in exchange. I'm just letting you know the only way this war is going to end is if you sit down across a table from them (or a screen) and hash it out with words like two people who see each other as fellow humans. That's the only way this culture war ends.
So, do you want to go home to your loved ones and finally know what peace feels like, or do you wanna keep fighting? You're the only one who can make that decision. I can't make it for you.
I don't know about you, but I'm personally ready to give peace a chance.
I'm sure most of you probably really wanna settle things in a civil way, you just don't see how it's possible. You're probably wondering how exactly to go about achieving this utopian goal of peace talks, when it seems to you, the people in the other castle just aren't interested in hearing what you have to say, so why bother. Right?
Well, I've found a way.
I'm not gonna share it with you just yet. I'll leave that for a future post. But know that a way forward does exist if you want it. I'll leave you to think about what it is. Do you have any ideas?
I'll give you a hint, just because I'm nice like that. 38D
You know you can't stay on your mountain or you'll never be heard. You don't necessarily feel comfortable just opening the doors and inviting people into your fort, because the wrong people might come in and hurt you. And you know you can't just go to the other mountain or you'll get attacked because you haven't come properly equipped to pace your opponents. You don't yet have their shared experience (what the mountain represents) to the point where they feel they can trust you to be in disagreement with them, yet still not be against them at a character level.
That leaves only one option.
What's the one place you can go to in this analogy that's neither on your side nor on their side. Where you don't have standing to defend and they don't have standing to defend because it's truly neutral territory? Where the two of you stand as perfect equals, on par with one another, seeing eye to eye, at a deeper level?
Have you figured it out yet? No?
Well, when you figure it out, that's where you'll find me, sitting there peacefully, legs crossed, smiling, just patiently waiting for others to notice my persistent presence that has people scratching their heads. It makes them at once uncomfortable, but not afraid, because I'm clearly doing something outside their experience, but I'm also not doing anything scary or threatening either. I'm just giving them the space and time they need to feel comfortable enough to approach me on their own, at their own pace, and thus satisfy their curiosity.
Then, and only then, once their fears are allayed, can we begin to talk.