towards a new philosophy of radical kindness
Derek Van Gorder
Here I write in the rationalist style favored by today. I do not prefer these words, but I know many of you can only be reached this way.
POLITICS IS NOT SCIENCE OR NEWS
POLITICS IS MORALS, PHILOSOPHY, AND LISTENING
AND IF THIS IS TRUE... WHAT ARE WE DOING NOW?
If you use scientific studies, statistics, news, or rational thinking based on hard evidence to try to tell your friends or others what's going on, or what political position to take... I claim you are sacrificing the long-term viability of your own political beliefs and country for short-term visibility and the promotion of anger and hatred. And nothing more. Please reconsider your actions carefully.
Always remember, science itself relies on a fundamental personal philosophy of uncertainty: you confess, as an individual scientist, you may be biased; so you trust other people to review your work, and believe that this will help generate good results over time. That's all science is-- there are no hard facts, only varying and increasing levels of certainty. Famous theories become enshrined in textbooks, but then decades later new information updates or replaces it. So never be quite so certain. The difference between 99% certain and 100% certain is crucial-- the first is possible, the second impossible.
Somewhere as we wander in a materialist world we forget this, and start to develop prejudice against ideas that are "unscientific." Always remember: if you love science, you love the scientific method. And what is the scientific method? Trust and Belief. I am not trying to convince you of my spooky metaphysics here-- I'm trying to make an important point that any decent scientist would agree with.
Imagine two interview subjects on the news, fielding political arguments. Person A includes a statistic. Person B sticks to their ideas only. Person A seems more convincing to you-- why? There is no way to determine the ultimate correctness of one or the other. How do you know the statistic is quoted correctly, and not used in a misleading way? It would take a whole scientific study in itself to determine the validity of the fact. And even then you wouldn't be sure!
The world is incredibly complex, and none of us can ever claim to know anything with certainty-- just a little bit more than we knew yesterday. We live in an age where science and rationality dominate-- extremely useful for generating technology-- but I believe it is given undue weight in political and social matters, and I fear we are about to face serious consequences of this.
No scientific study ever devised has measured what you should do in the present and future or how you should set up your society. This is a fundamentally personal, philosophical, moral choice, then perhaps a social recommendation, to be interpreted by the rest of your group. Ideas and Reason are the primary tools of this domain.
But when was the last time you saw people on the news have a cooperative, competitive discussion on Ideas and Reason? When was the last time you saw someone change their mind?
Understood as such-- it becomes clear that "those who like Science" are just another demographic to certain politicians or news producers. A certain few scientists know a lot about a certain few things-- but choosing the advice of a scientist over a religious person in a political debate doesn't make you more objective-- it makes you prejudiced, and a kind of religious ideologue yourself.
Forget about facts or quick fixes for society. Politics is about thought, and interactions with other human beings, all of which deserve to be treated with respect. We cannot shut out some groups from the discussion and not others. We need to accept that we are fallible beings, that we can have completely mistaken worldviews and beliefs, and we benefit from outside perspectives.
The best tools we have for politics, then, are moral / philosophical discussion, reason, respect for the opposition, and imagination of what the future might hold. Politics is the art of asking ourselves "we don't know everything-- so what is the right thing to do? how should we treat other people who have differing views, and what kind of society do we want?"
THE NEWS DOESN'T CARE ABOUT YOU
Anything else besides that-- political humor, breaking news, or "facts!"-- is just to get your attention to suit whoever produces the content. You're not better informed, and you're not helping anyone. It primarily makes you nervous, angry, or self-righteous and distracts you from many other valuable things in your life, including worthwhile political action.
I've worked in video production all my life, and it is easy to tell the difference between Good Content and Distraction. Good Content reflects earnest efforts of individual human beings to share their thoughts and/or learn from others. Distraction is usually made by groups of people like corporations. The purpose of Distraction is to spread and grab attention, under the guise of being informative. Distraction is what most people today think of as news. There is zero educational or informative effect of it. It plays to your demographic, hijacks your emotions to make you angry, happy, sad, etc, so as to make you more likely to revisit the source of the information.
Distraction is usually short-form, flashy, may involve humor or scare tactics. But on cable or traditional news, it will look very serious: a newscaster reading into the lens, maybe with B-roll or pictures for context. Maybe they'll have a debate, or bring a guest on or 2 for 10 minutes to offer an opinion.
Many people will scoff at a cheap YouTube conspiracy video, but not notice the same level of bias in "traditional news" whose only interest is to get you riled up.
Find Good Content wherever you can.
It is easy to spot: any long-form, serious discussion or lecture. Bonus points if it's two people who disagree but remain respectful. You want it to be at least 1 hour+ long. Listen carefully to the whole thing, then make up your own mind how you feel about it. Ideally write down a summary of your own personal takeaways.
The great thing about YouTube is not all the new content being made-- it is the vast amount of archival material available to those who know how to dig up and look for it. I have watched hours upon hours of long-form discussions from all across the spectrum of political thought-- liberals, conservatives, socialists, free-marketeers, libertarians, politicians, journalists, authors, artists, historians, ordinary citizens, military leaders, police chiefs, revolutionaries, activists....
It's not long before you realize a pretty simple truth:
Everyone has something to say.
No one says it perfectly. Because no one is perfect. But everyone has concerns, everyone has good points, everyone has things they care about. Nobody ever wins any debate completely-- it is an exchange of ideas, and it's up to the audience to decide whose ideas sound better for the task at hand. "Useful truth" only emerges when many people do the very best they possibly can to interpret and learn from each other.
If you are interested in politics, if you vote, if you plan political action, it's your duty as a citizen to embrace that complexity of the world and of people. You can't rely on anyone else to tell you what to believe. You need to think hard on it yourself and seek it out.
If you're not interested in that level of work, that's perfectly acceptable. But I respectfully ask that you refrain from politics or sharing news on facebook. I believe you are doing more harm than good-- far more than you know.
I strongly believe that failing to admit you might be wrong in itself constitutes a fundamentally immoral worldview. It shows that you embrace ignorance, that you embrace a closed, fixed, repressed version of yourself, that keeps you from growing. You are not only closed to other people's ideas, missing out on valuable information-- you are easily duped by someone who knows how to manipulate you. It is fair to claim that anytime someone convinces themselves they know everything, the whole world trends a little bit more towards violence.
All this to say. Please take a moment in your life to reflect on yourself and your loved ones; you don't desperately need to share any shocking news to your friends; it only makes people disagree and hate each other, who would otherwise be surprised to find they have a lot in common if they sit down and talk to each other. Whether you are Left or Right, I believe we should all stop using buzz-words, ideological terminology, and science to "fight the opposition." Rather, offer to sit down and talk with them.
VIOLENCE ONLY BRINGS MORE VIOLENCE
Violent or angry political activity is counter-productive; it makes the opposition angrier, and disappoints the more reasonable on your side. Everywhere in politics, seek kindness and respect, among each other and against opponents.
Even if you face violent enemies-- non-violent resistance is the best way to show to others that your cause is righteous. Even shouting or yelling during a protest I suggest is counter-productive-- better to seem happy and celebratory, or silent to show commitment to your idea. People notice this. People change their minds.
By changing someone's mind, you secure your good idea into the future. By "winning" in an election or a violent struggle, all you do is temporarily dominate politically with any random idea. Laws and democratic elections are important for maintaining government; but they are not how society is changed or improved. That occurs only by the exchange and influence of ideas.
There is only one method of political action that I believe has a solid and healthy history behind it: strong, careful moral language that the vast majority of people who read it cannot find fault with, or reasonable, calm philosophical debate between people who take each other seriously.
THE BIG PICTURE
There are no easy ideological answers. Knowledge is hard, it takes hard work, and you can only achieve it by first admitting "I don't know." Right now everyone rationally agrees that the world is in trouble, but no one is doing anything about it. Is that rational? When asked what the source of the problems are, most are content to then blame "capitalism," "racists," or "Leftists."
These are excuses for you to keep doing nothing. They are also categories of people pre-made by others for you to Hate.
If you are tired of excuses, I hope you will take my advice into consideration. My own philosophical interpretation of what's happening aside, I have become convinced that kindness and non-violence are citizens' best tools in the days ahead, no matter what your political affiliations are. I hope you can agree with me on that. If you do not agree-- email me, I would like to set up a phone call or meeting to convince you. All individuals on earth are important to me right now.
There are no experts or facts you can trust to give you the truth. And shouting someone down doesn't prove anything. You just need to do your best to be a decent human being.
Please don't let me down. The world is counting on all of you.