Agnostic In All Things

I had a short but interesting conversation with a coworker today.  This particular coworker is somewhat liberal, and semi-vocally so.  Most of my office is relatively if not outright conservative, since I work in ag, which tends towards conservatism.  When you look at the farm bills, Republicans support aid to farmers while Democrats push for food stamp aid and things of that sort, as the parties are hashing things out.  Anyway, suffice it to say that this particular coworker is something of a standout as a liberal.

We were chatting about nothing of any particular importance, and the conversation turned unexpectedly towards politics.  She despises Donald Trump, which is unsurprising, as I have met exactly zero liberals that have anything but flagrant disdain for the man in charge.  And since she is not a “good liberal,” meaning that she isn’t capable of thinking outside the politically normative binary (did I just find my Tom Woods-esque tagline?), she exhibited some preference for Hillary “Because I’m a Woman” Clinton.  There are good liberals, by the way, but they’re fewer and farther between than they used to be.

I pointed out, as I often do to gauge the cognitive dissonance of the person across from me, that Donald Trump is a great persuader, regardless of your feelings about him.  In probably 99% of these discussions, the liberal in question will blame the lack of intelligence in Trump supporters as the reason for his success.  In general, people are inclined to think of those that disagree with them as less intelligent, I think, but liberals have an especially obnoxious habit and technique when it comes to making this opinion explicit.  Conservatives seem, in my experience, to dismiss liberals more on the basis of youth, lack of job experience (which is similar), and deviant or poor lifestyle choices, which they generally construe to be the same thing due to an overall lower tolerance for offensive things.

Now, to be clear, I am not a great fan of Trump, but I don’t totally despise him, either.  I like him if for no other reason than liberals can’t stand him and have utterly no idea how to combat him, at least not at a corporate or media level.  Breaking out into hysterics certainly hasn’t done helped them.  I think Trump has been a fantastic lesson on how to be virulently hated and still succeed. 

Returning to the conversation, this person did exactly what I expected, which was to completely deny any potential intelligence on Trump’s part and denigrate those that support him.  I am personally of the opinion that it is highly unfair to cut in such wide swaths as to say, “Everyone that supports Trump is a brain-dead yokel,” and it’s also unfair to say, “All Hillary supporters are SJW shrews.”  It is also unfair to assume that all of those people are stupid.  It is undeniably true that there are untold numbers of intelligent people on both sides of the debate. I hear people lament the lack of brains in America, and having lived abroad quite a bit, I am fond of replying that no country in the world has a monopoly on assholes or idiots.  The same can be said of political groups.

I don’t consider myself to be on any side other than my own, and sometimes I think even that is debatable, since I have done things in my life that obviously did nothing to further my own self-interest.  Of course, I align most closely with anarcho-capitalism, but I ask myself at least once a week if whether or not what I believe is even real.  Of course I doubt myself.  Michael Malice put it quite well, I believe it was in his interview with Joe Rogan, but it may have been with Woods, when he said that he was pretty well sold on anarchy, but less so on capitalism.  (Now that I’ve thought about it for a moment, I think it was with Woods.)  I was quite glad to hear someone express, in clear terms, something that I had long felt but been unable to articulate.  This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in capitalism or don’t think it is the best-known economic system.  To the contrary, it is the only one I have happened upon that makes sense and seems to provide the best benefits to the greatest number of people.  But therein lies the asterisk: I remain open to new information. It is possible there is another way whose acquaintance I have yet to make.

I tell people that I am agnostic in all things.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a set of beliefs.  I consider myself an agnostic theist.  I believe that there is a God and a unifying force in the universe, but I do not pretend to totally understand it, and I am open to the idea that the material world is all there is.  I hope that this is not the case, but I am willing to accept the fact that God is, to quote Ani DiFranco, “just an idea someone put in your head.”

I am similarly agnostic about anarcho-capitalism.  I am emotionally invested in it, as an ideology, but I am open to the possibility that I am wrong.  Just because something makes sense to my tiny mind does not make it essentially true.  And I am, if nothing else, in search of the truth.  As it turns out, the search for truth is at once a lonely one and one that may leave a person forever wanting.  “I am like the blue rose…”

Because of my own professed agnosticism, I balk internally when people are so set on their interpretation of the world as being the only correct one.  It stuns me that people are not willing to entertain the idea that what works for some may not work for others, and that what some people want is repugnant to another slice of the population.  It is wild to me that someone that generally adheres to post-modernist ideals (dystopian ideals, but ideals nevertheless) can be so quick to dismiss someone else’s set of morals as inherently incorrect. 

I’m about to lay out a theory that even some an-caps don’t agree on: Morality is 100% subjective. Ethics are 100% objective.  Let me repeat that.  Morals are subjective; ethics are objective.  Allow me to illustrate.

Let’s say that your neighbor has a dog penned up in his backyard with no shade.  It is 105 degrees outside, and the dog has no water.  The neighbor has gone on vacation and left the dog to die.  You elect to break off the lock and release the dog in order to feed it and give it water.  (For the sake of the exercise, let’s say there is no Humane Society in your community, although the same set of rules would still apply to them.)  You have violated the person’s property rights by destroying a portion of lock and pen to free the dog.  This is not debatable, as the pen is not your property.  Whether or not this is ethically correct is cut and dried; the property was not yours to damage.  However, the morality is debatable.  Most people would say that you have some obligation to save a creature that is suffering unnecessarily.  Others would say that it is not your place to intervene.  Whether or not you agree with either position is somewhat irrelevant to the exercise.  The point that I seek to make is that not everyone will view the situation in the same moral terms.  Something can be ethically wrong but morally “right.”  How communities handle the above scenario has the potential to vary widely.

Something else to bear in mind is that there are certain morals that have provably better outcomes.  For example, I do not care if someone does a lot of drugs and has promiscuous sex.  It is no business of mine.  However, I maintain that a sober life with fewer partners will lead to better outcomes for the vast majority of the population. One could view this as making a particular set of morals more desirable while not necessarily making them universally right.  Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide what morals best suit his/her life.  In short, one size does not fit all.

For this reason, I find it intellectually lazy for anyone of any political stripe to become so enamored with their own worldview that they refuse to ever entertain for an instant the idea that maybe these other people aren’t crazy.  Perhaps it is a rational choice for someone near retirement age to vote Trump because he promises to protect Social Security.  Perhaps an asylum seeker views Hillary as his/her best chance to remain in the US long-term.  Whether or not you and I agree with them being able to have what they want doesn’t change that being a rational choice for them with the information they have available.  I may have an alternate interpretation because my learning and political leaning inclines me to view things differently, but that is irrelevant to the other person.  We all make do with what we have. 

We all have beliefs.  Whether or not those beliefs serve us and the world at large is another story, but we all have beliefs.  To the best of my ability, I try to base my beliefs out of truth.  Note that I do not say facts.  Facts and truth are not the same thing, as anyone that has studied statistics can readily tell you.

The truth of the matter is that I have far more respect for those people, right or left, that are willing to admit that their beliefs benefit them in some way.  My beliefs benefit me because they encourage me in my pursuit of knowledge and truth, which appears to be my ultimate goal in life, with money being a semi-close second.  Some people value security.  Others value the good feelings that altruism brings them.  To the last one, I urge some caution, for when people tell you that they do something because “it’s the right thing” or “it’s the compassionate thing,” most often they are being disingenuous with themselves. 

I will come back to this same theme in later posts, I’m sure, but I can tell you for absolute certain that there is rarely honor in saving someone else, especially if you’re trying to save them from themselves.  One of the greatest lessons an individual can learn is that we can only save ourselves.  Do not chase the blue rose. You will not find her, and you could not save her, if you did.  This is the greatest truth I have discovered in my own life.  My most noble virtue will appear when I save myself. 

…I think.