If you’ve been following this site for a while, you may have noticed the (hopefully refreshing) lack of any sort of political content. You’re welcome, America. On a serious note, though, this is not because I don’t have any strong opinions. No, it’s a bit more complicated than that, actually. Personally, I don’t think you can change anyone’s mind politically through a discussion- and what’s more, I think it’s generally counterproductive to try. However, I think there is a trick to changing people’s minds that doesn’t involve a (questionably civil) argument, and that’s what we’re going to explore. Let’s find out why I don’t talk about politics.
The first mistake that everyone makes regarding political opinions is the belief that they’re rooted in the logical part of the brain. Unless you’ve done a great deal of research and endured a greater deal of cognitive dissonance to change your mind, it’s very likely that your political orientation is probably not completely logical. If you have even a passing familiarity with the political climate of the country, you’ll know that “not completely logical” is a phrase that would be an understatement for the majority of positions.
Now, most people will diverge here and tell you that you should combat these emotionally rooted positions with an effective argument (and look where that got Socrates- he got dead). If a more emotional argument is what you’re about, go become a politician and tell people whatever they want to hear- it works for a reason. If you haven’t left to start a SuperPAC already, you probably find that as distasteful as I do- good for you, you’re special. (Am I emotionally manipulating you now? Will you vote for me in November? Find out next time…)
The flaw with the whole “fighting fire with fire” strategy against emotional arguments is that the politics are only the fruit of the individual-in-question’s ideological tree. See, every person has a mental framework that strives towards some degree of order. This framework corresponds to the five core components of philosophy:
The first two schools of philosophy regard the individual and how one relates to the universe. Metaphysics is the foundation- this branch deals with questions about the nature of existence, being, reality, all that stuff you think of when you imagine bearded dudes in robes talking about life. Next comes Epistemology (literally “knowledge-logic”)- this is the study of how we know what we know, and what conclusions we can make about that knowledge.
After these two, we have the three schools of Value. Aesthetics, the study of Beauty, is where we decide what is good- if you like Jackson Pollock, you have shit aesthetics. Fight me about it. Next comes the two you’re probably most familiar with: Ethics- “How should I act?” and Politics- “How should we interact?”
Many people have argued for different versions of this progression, whether changing the order or changing the divisions here, but I’ll demonstrate why this one makes sense.
I’m going to examine this from a couple angles, but let’s imagine these as a (poorly rendered) five-layer cake for the time being.
Metaphysics is the base of the cake- the way the world is doesn’t change, and everything else has to be rooted in this layer. We can say that Metaphysics is the study of the Real (which we’ll say is the plate that the cake sits on). If the world is a certain way based on these metaphysics, then you and your capacity for thinking and reason is a product of the way the world is. That means that Epistemology is the second layer, because your mind exists as a tool evolved specifically for perceiving the world.
Epistemology is a bit of a special case. Because of the the way that the mind is formed in childhood (and the fact that most of this forming is done by others), we can (and probably will) end up in a position where we’re mentally distanced from reality. This can take a number of forms, from simple misapprehensions about how the world works to full-on delusions and magical thinking.
A good example of this would be a person who stays in school, goes to college, goes to graduate school, and then becomes a professor. Because their entire world has been based on the synthetic environment of assignment, grade, and reward, there is a decent chance they’ll (consciously or not) apply the idea of how their world works (simple rules, order, and fairness) to how they think the whole world works.
Overcoming these delusions, inherited or otherwise, is probably the hardest part of self-education. On top of that, it’s the most critical- even if you have a solid idea of how the world works, if you haven’t vetted yourself for error, then you can’t trust your conclusions. This idea is the basis behind MasterSelf (i.e. “Save the World– Master your Self”), and this idea will form the reason that I don’t talk about politics (I didn’t forget, I promise).
I mentioned that reality is the basis of all of our philosophy, but in fact it’s actually more accurate to use the word Truth. I’ve talked about Truth in the past, and I certainly will more in the future, but in this instance we’re going to identify Truth as the place where the external objective Reality hits the internal subjective experience. (I expanded on this idea more in my article about the Hindu concept of Sat, if you’re interested.) Because of this intersection, the Truth is what changes you in the knowing of it. If your mental framework is built on reality, then when you gain new information that changes your framework, then you, being the medium through which the information is processed, change as a result.
Aesthetics is where things start to get interesting (your mileage may vary, but if you made it this far you’ll probably agree). Whereas most people use Aesthetics as a school to talk about art history and that sort of stuff, I’m going to take a bit of a different approach.
Aesthetics is the place where your internal framework meets the external world in the form of values. However, unlike ethical/political values, these are often much more deeply ingrained, less articulated, and more resistant to change. You might be thinking that ethics and politics are hard to change, but know that where there have (allegedly) been people that have been convinced to change political positions, you probably cannot convince a dude that his lovely wife is ugly.
Attempt that one at your own peril.
Nowadays, the idea that Aesthetic judgements are rooted in biology seems to be somehow a controversial topic, but frankly, I (and science, as well) don’t give a shit. You have a genetic tendency towards the proportional and the symmetrical because those things correlate with health and increased reproductive success. Arguing against this is the same as trying to tell me that Jackson Pollock has some kind of intellectual depth- you’re wrong, and you’ve demonstrated that you have a degree of psychological impairment that is going to prohibit me from taking you seriously.
However, Aesthetics go far beyond what’s biologically attractive- why is it that fashion, architecture, art, and other things change throughout time? I would argue that Aesthetics is the unique part of philosophy because it’s acted on in two directions. The first is what we described earlier- it rises out of metaphysics and epistemology. However, I also think it’s impacted from the other direction- politics and ethics. You can see this most obviously with architecture- the more totalitarian (a political ideology) the culture is, the more the architecture seems physically oppressive. A counterpoint to this is the Art Deco architecture of America at the turn of the 20th century- it’s glorious and decadent, representing both a totally unique exaltation of the human spirit and the unfortunate excess that led to the market crash.
I’ll let you guess which is which.
The reason that I place Aesthetics centrally is because, for the practical use of the individual, we need to have something to aim for. Aesthetics is more than just the visual idea of beauty, it’s the highest aspirations of the spirit- the basis of our ideals. When we know what is truly good (the beautiful, or, more abstractly, that which agrees with reality), we can begin to construct a system of ethics.
Let’s recap: Metaphysics and Epistemology are the means by which we learn about the world and our place in it, and the act of doing this changes us by interaction with the True. Through our interactions with the True, we begin to form a concept of the Beautiful. Because our philosophy is one of Reality, we understand that Life is the basis of all values, and the Beautiful is that which aligns with Life. Having understood this, we now choose to strive towards that which is True and Beautiful- but how?
This is where we get Ethics. Philosophy, as a whole, has been moving further and further away from reality for some time, and the greatest example of this is the fact that, by and large, they’re not attempting to come up with actionable answers to the question, “How should a person live well?” We have this bizarre idea that Ethics are somehow an ideal detached from reality (because of lots of bad philosophy), but in fact, Ethics are (and should be) the tools by which you can achieve the life you seek. Well, good Ethics, anyway, but I digress.
If we understand that the world is real and we choose to live in it, then we can accept that there are certain things we have to do to continue living. Water, food, and shelter are obvious here, so to get those we’re probably going to have to work. If we’re going to work, we should try to do something good, right? Aesthetics informs all of our ethical decisions, consciously or not. If you have ideals you’re pursuing, you can probably decide whether one job is closer to your ideal than the other. If your values in life aim towards beauty, you probably won’t want to get a job as a modern artist, for example.
Ethics is too broad a subject for this article, however, so let’s start wrapping up. If we have our ideals (aesthetics) and have determined a course of action to attain them (ethics), then we run into the issue of navigating through the sea of people.
This is where politics come in.
In a perfect world, we’d have a political system that allows rational individuals the freedom to pursue their ideals, so long as the pursuit of those ideals is not at the expense of the freedom of other individuals. Makes sense, right? If you’ve been tracking the earlier bits, it probably seems obvious- and that is why I’m not concerned about politics.
This framework of the mind is, fundamentally, a progression. Politics is the last stage in a complex evolution of world observation and mental concepts that coalesce into a (hopefully) coherent worldview. The act of making the worldview coherent is called integration, which I’ll be covering in a later article.
Now, back to the entire concept of this site-
The greater purpose of this site can be summed up with the slogan, “Save the World, Master your Self.” Obviously, saving the world is something of a political problem, right? However, if you understand this progression of ideas, you can’t change political ideas without changing the framework that they sit on. You can’t hit the Politics without hitting Ethics, and those come from Aesthetics, which come from the two big ones, Epistemology and Metaphysics. Remember when I said that the Truth is what changes you? The pursuit of Self-Mastery requires one to seek the Truth (both subjective and objective), and in the process, the Self changes (or at least the individual’s understanding of their Self).
The real meat of my point is this: If you give a person the tools to learn about themselves and how the world works, and you can inspire in them the desire to pursue the True and the Beautiful as a result, there is a much higher chance of them making good ethical and political choices than if you try to convince them that party A is better than party B. Spoiler alert, they’re both trash- like Jackson Pollock. (If that link doesn’t make you question your faith in humanity, do not come back to this site.)
This is why I don’t talk about Politics- if my theory is right, I don’t have to. Interestingly enough, if you look back through time, you’ll see that the prevailing philosophy of the day usually ends up becoming a political ideology roughly 100 years later, broadly speaking. (There were about 100 year intervals between the birth of Kant, the birth of Marx, and the birth of mass death on an unprecedented scale with Communism. Imagine that.) However, rather than this being the start of 100 years of my philosophy (as much fun as that sounds), I see it more as a response to the past 100 years or so of Nihilism, which is the greatest enemy of mankind.
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to think, and he can probably teach himself to fish. Or you could teach him that the guy with the fishing business is oppressing him and that he needs to seize the rod of producti… sorry, I’ll stop.
There are a number of things I’ve touched on here that are going to require some expansion in later articles, so I’ll stop where we’re at. If the first year of MasterSelf was the attempt to define the ideal (see The Birth of the Hero), then this year is going to be the attempt to outline the philosophy as a whole. We shall see where it goes- until then, go forth seeking Truth and Beauty.