The free marketplace of ideas is the means by which a civilised society regulates and informs its actions. It does not exist or function inherently, that requires constant diligence. Consider this video part of my duty to its maintenance.
There are plenty of threats to the marketplace, and the one I’m examining is by no means the worst, but it is underexposed, and this, as with many other similar things, makes it interesting to me. A rhetorical tactic, rooted deep in the user’s psychology, intended to unduly illegitimise the target.
Any effect upon the value of a speaker in the marketplace which is not based on the pure merit of the points being made is antithetical to the market.
It’s time to put a lid on this mislabelling game - the combined sabotage of both our characters and of the integrity of the free marketplace of ideas will henceforth be either accompanied with some damn good arguments, or will be a sign of the dishonesty of its user.
Let’s start simple - if I’m wearing blue, and I tell you I’m wearing red, the primary data is available to you and you can discern that I am describing myself incorrectly. What happens if I tell you I’m thinking of the colour blue? The primary data is, in practice, unavailable to you, you will likely never know if it’s true.
It gets a bit more interesting when we go somewhere between the two, though; what if I tell you that I prefer blue clothes? There are now several ways you can assess the claim, with at least a reasonable degree of certainty: you could look at the clothes I own, count how many are blue and compare to how many are other colours. You might prefer a more time-sensitive approach, to observe when I buy clothes, which colour I tend to buy. You could even conduct some sort of test, requiring me to choose between different clothes, and see which colour I pick the most.
Or, you could note that I’m currently wearing red, and ignore everything else. Maybe even call me a liar for good measure.
Asserting that because my current clothes are red, therefore I cannot possibly prefer blue clothing, is to assert that preference must always be reflected absolutely in outcome. It’s a partial but noxious whiff of the totalitarian mindset.
But, as you can imagine, it gets far worse. Into the rabbit hole we go.
An attitude towards political alignment that focuses primarily on the political unit (like a party or an individual) or prominent political narrative that the target favours is what I refer to as tribe-based alignment. This is the attitude I have been observing so much recently which has a negative effect on the dialogue.
But I wouldn’t be making this if I just thought it had a negative effect on the dialogue - I’m not here to control how people express themselves, far from it - I’m just going to do what I’ve always found to be most effective: Describe something accurately and precisely, by which anyone listening becomes inoculated to its negative effects, and anyone doing it may be more inclined to correct themselves.
In our shirt-colour example, the attitude of calling the target a liar by recognising they were currently wearing a red shirt when they had said they preferred blue shirts is, at the least, an error of scope. Being generous, a misunderstanding of the original claim, but in most cases, a cynical tactic to smear the target as dishonest, irony be damned.
A person could even prefer blue-shirts without owning a single one. Granted, this is unlikely in practice, but worth noting to make it clear just how wrong the accuser is in this hypothetical. That extent, however, doesn’t apply with politics, since there is no lack of availability of political policies, and a person’s general leaning is not independent of their policy preferences, and so we’ll need to break out of the shirt-colour analogy.
Take this analogy instead: A person considers themselves quite strongly left-wing. They identify as a progressive, and a social democrat. There is almost no-one in the marketplace of ideas who wouldn’t refer to them as left-wing. But they are not communists, they are not stalinists, they draw certain lines in how far left they are willing to go. Now let’s imagine that the political struggle in their country was between conventional centre-right moderate-conservatives, and extreme-left socialists, who think that 1984 is less a cautionary tale, more an instruction manual. Is our example person, definitely left-wing in terms of their policies, actually right-wing if they don’t want to support the extreme-leftists, and instead begrudgingly prefer the moderate-conservatives?
Perhaps the extreme-leftists running against the moderate-conservatives would call him right-wing for this. Our example person advocates for capitalism, private property, a fair degree of personal liberty, etc., which are all considered right-wing policies by the extreme-left, and indeed, they are more iconically right-wing than left-wing, though not strongly enough to be exclusive to either side.
But by the logic I have frequently seen levelled against many in a similar situation, our example progressive social-democrat is now a right-winger.
This assertion can only make sense in the context of opposing tribes, with a purely one-dimensional analysis: the example person supports a right-wing political unit instead of a left-wing political unit, therefore they can more accurately be said to be on the ‘team’ of the right-wing unit than the ‘team’ of the left-wing unit; but is this helpful in assessing the individual? Is it even helpful in assessing the tribal conflict?
I suspect anyone could relate with the example person in such a case. Being called right-wing despite being left-wing in every sense that takes into account policy would seem like an attack on the fundamental honesty and character of the person, and they might not know how to formulate a response to explain why their accuser is wrong; indeed, in doing so, they may accidentally make themselves sound like a hypocrite.
Luckily, I’m here to help.
Now, to throw a bone to those who might advocate this method, yes, sometimes people lie about their political position, but in my experience, this is isolated to a few specific areas of political thought, and even there it is not the norm. Assuming that someone is acting in bad faith when they state their alignment, and constructing a response which implicitly accuses them of such, is much more likely to result in you being the dishonest party.
Besides, there’s a natural restrictive force against such deceptions - either a person will be unwilling to lie about their positions and you can uncover their true alignment without any tricks, or they will be unwilling to give you any hint of their alignment, and they either have to advocate against their real interests, or forgo the discussion altogether.
Another good point that might be made in defense of this method is that someone could be acting politically in such a way that is contrary to their actual beliefs - either for their own material advancement, or to achieve some similar deceptive goal, or perhaps even just for sport. In these cases, the question of political alignment is even more important to approach from a perspective of actual beliefs, or how will you accurately discern their deception? But such cases reach outside the realm of a dialogue about beliefs and preferences, into the world of individual power politics, and so it’s not very applicable to the topic of this video.
If your method of determining the alignment of your opponent goes any deeper than a one-dimensional analysis based purely on what colour shirt they’re wearing that day, you’re very likely acting under the other attitude...
An attitude towards political alignment that focuses primarily on the political policies, beliefs, and/or general political attitude that the target favours is what I refer to as policy-based alignment. This is the attitude I prefer, and the one I think is far more helpful to any dialogue.
To explain this, let’s look at the big-picture first, the fundamental principle behind my analysis, which should help you understand it the same way I do. I’ll explain a conceptual structure that’s at the core of my general philosophy - one that can be applied to almost anything, including politics. This philosophy is why I call myself a centrist first. If you’ve ever heard me talking about dichotomies, it’s likely I was drawing from this.
As with many of my notions, this structure is a work-in-progress, and in no way standard in general philosophy, and with no pretensions of being objectively right. I’m explaining it more to help you understand how I see this situation, to thereby better understand my explanation.
In matters of policy and/or attitude, there is one of a few patterns present to distinguish between the efficacy of the options:
There may be others, but these are the three we are interested in here. These patterns are distinct from the more general dichotomies on which I base my political philosophy, and are specifically patterns of describing the efficacy of policies.
A two-sided spectrum with the extremes on either side wherein the centre is the most generally applicable position, and context should move the needle around the centre as appropriate.
This is the pattern that applies to general politics in my opinion, and is why I am a centrist, with leanings to either side dependent upon context. As far as I know, I have never leant right overall in my policies, but there’s no reason it couldn’t happen.
A dichotomy wherein the moderate (centrist) option necessarily constitutes the least practical option, and the extremes, in their consistency, are the most practical. Sometimes, to accomplish anything, a plan must be fully consistent without any compromise. This usually applies in more simplistic matters of policy, usually with only a few dimensions to consider, rather than the practically unlimited dimensions available in general politics.
Two examples of such a pattern are the treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles, and the practical effect of foreign aid on impoverished areas of the world. More on this another time.
When sending text, e-mail is better than physical mail in practically every way. Of course, there could be complications in practice dependent on the individual circumstances, but these don’t apply in concept, and it’s the concept that I’m interested in.
Now, staged advancement isn’t as simple as just “one thing is better than another”, because nothing in the universe exists for nothing. 100 years ago, e-mail wasn’t possible, and so physical mail was the choice made in practice.
The higher stages in a staged-advancement pattern require either more support, or more specialised support. As society gradually develops to stability more and more complex systems, more and more complex applications of those systems become possible, and when those applications are superior to their current alternatives, they are adopted and even replace their alternatives. This is the case with e-mail over mail for sending text, just as with smelting and forging over chipping and tying.
Important to remember that just because an option is less-advanced, doesn’t mean it should be belittled when its use was context-appropriate, indeed it’s perfectly understandable why physical mail was used for so long, and there are still some contexts where it makes the most sense to use it today. However, there are some instances of the staged-advancement pattern in which using a less-advanced option does actually justify belittlement, and in the realm of one’s conduct in the free marketplace of ideas, a conscientious participant should always strive to use the most-advanced applicable methods available to them.
The reason I mention these three patterns is that the choice between tribe-based alignment and policy-based alignment is, in my opinion, an instance of the staged-advancement pattern. Policy-based is superior to tribe-based, though it does require better support. What’s more, it is an instance of the pattern wherein belittlement of less-advanced choices is perfectly warranted.
To be clear: the attitude of policy-based political alignment is superior to the attitude of tribe-based political-alignment, and those who choose the tribe-based attitude do justify belittlement of their choice. You’re choosing the less-precise and less-accurate method, which coincidentally suits your needs, and also requires the least effort on your part. You’re a gluttonous tyrant ruining the kingdom he didn’t earn.
This depends on your goal.
If your goal is to win a conflict by any means, to garner favour with members of one side, and to denounce and discredit members of the other, the most practically-applicable option is an attitude of tribe-based alignment. You won’t be making the best choice in principle, just the best for your own self-advancement.
If, however, your goal is to, in any sense, pursue the truth; to be fair and reasonable with other people, to set aside pure-self-interest, essentially to partake properly in the free marketplace of ideas, then your choice must be an attitude of policy-based alignment.
This distinction comes down to what I call the ‘super-dichotomy’. The two houses woven into every choice, almost every system, every attitude, predisposition, policy, etc. I will surely talk at greater length about this another time, but for now, know that the super-dichotomy takes many forms, and one of those forms is the dichotomy of Principle and Pragmatism.
This instantiation of the super-dichotomy is but one of many, and the most basic human-applicable form I’ve been able to establish is Compassion and Strength. In politics, as in parenting, both of these qualities are important. In politics, the role of Strength is taken by the right-wing, with compassion being taken by the left-wing, while in parenting, the father embodies Strength, and the mother Compassion.
The two attitudes being discussed today can be mapped onto the super-dichotomy as follows: tribe-based is for pragmatism, policy-based is for principle. They do fit into a dichotomy, even though their pattern of efficacy is staged advancement.
As a centrist, I recognise that both pragmatism and principle are necessary, often in almost exactly equal quantities, but context can modulate this balance, so much in fact that given the right circumstances, one extreme becomes the only reasonable option, even on a balanced dichotomy efficacy pattern.
When pursuing the truth, we must act in the interest of principle as often as we possibly can. To act in the interest of pragmatism would be to put our self-interest above what is true. Of course, the words ‘principle’ and ‘pragmatism’ can be used to describe actions consistent with the opposing side, but that’s a trick of the words only, not a comprehension of the concepts in their relevant dichotomous context.
Put simply: If you are trying to win a culture war without any interest in what’s true (or indeed who should win the culture war), then you will choose an attitude of tribe-based alignment. If your primary goal is the truth, and winning the culture war is only a product of that goal, then you will choose an attitude of policy-based alignment.
The crowd who thinks they’re mocking us when they say “muh culture war”, and create new unexplored realms of cringe by attempting to act it out, do rather demonstrate ‘Sargon’s Law’ to be true.
The tribe-based attitude is a low-resolution scan, giving a far more approximate assessment of political alignment than the policy-based method.
Imagine, if you will, a line ranging from politically extreme left to extreme right. On that graph is a dot which we can say for the sake of this thought experiment is the exact actual political position of an example person.
Let’s start by using the policy-based method to assess this person’s political position. Hell, someone’s already set something up for us - there are plenty of online tests to assess yourself politically, let’s just run a few of those. After a few runs, and pretty similar results, we can narrow down the range of political position to quite a small area. Of course, we can’t expect perfection, but these tests are genuinely trying to determine exactly where that dot is. This range is certainly good enough for practical purposes, this method (in the context of this thought-experiment) appears to have proven itself.
Now, let’s use the tribe-based method to assess this person. Uh oh, looks like they reluctantly voted right-wing recently, but usually vote for competent left-wing parties, if any are available. Let’s run our assessment, by asking some left-wing partisans what they think. Bad news, our range this time is much further right than our person actually is, in fact, since it’s a binary one-dimensional assessment, the range covers the entire right wing without any overlap on the left-wing, and thus misses the mark completely.
Though the matter of resolution is important, it’s not my main point in this section - my main point is to show how even a more precise method could incorrectly assess someone as being on the unexpected side of the political centre-line, but the imprecise method, in the right context, has a good chance of assessing anyone who isn’t an extremist as being on the wrong side.
Now imagine if you wanted to see someone appear on the unexpected side of this line, and the context was exactly right to blag it, and, bonus, it works using a method which requires much less thought and effort! It’s little wonder this has become such a problem.
One minor aberration, almost not worth mentioning, that exists outside my system as defined so far, is when a specifically-isolated political policy preference is used to determine its proposer’s political alignment.
Arguably, since this focuses on policy, it’s part of the policy-based method, but it should be easy to tell that it’s not up to the standard expected from that method.
To call it the runt of the litter would be generous - it’s like throwing a bunch of paint at a wall, then recording the first 20 numbers that pop into your head, then asserting some conclusion about paint based on those numbers, and then calling that ‘the scientific method’.
In short, it is a bastardisation of the method it cosmetically appears to be.
The policy-based method can only assess a person’s overall position by taking into account a wide range of policies, otherwise there is simply a disconnect between the data and the conclusion, and thereby the method. Without sufficient data, you aren’t assessing the person at all, you are in fact measuring the policy itself.
To do this is to act with the same truthless motivations as the tribal method, but pushing the same turd forward covered in glitter.
A few months ago, I had a friendly chat with a youtuber called Kevin Logan, which was broadcasted. This conversation was not the first time I noticed the distinction I am exploring in this video, but it was the first time I attempted to structure it, and the first time I named both attitudes (though the names I’m using have changed slightly since).
Kevin, and a staggering number of others of a similar persuasion, seem to favour the tribe-based alignment attitude, at least in the contexts that inspired me to produce this video. This is mostly evident in conversations they have with youtuber Sargon of Akkad, whose political alignment is a matter of some controversy, as he claims he is left-wing, while many of his critics claim he is right-wing.
From my own observations, I believe Sargon is left-wing, though close to centre. I base this assertion on the aggregate of his actual political positions.
Whatever you may think of the validity of their conclusions, there are several online tests one can take to measure their political alignment, and one can learn a lot from not just the conclusions of the tests, but also the answers a person gives to the questions the tests ask.
If anyone who professes that Sargon is right wing can sit and watch him take the political tests he has taken on public record, and then turn around and tell me that he’s right-wing based on his policy preferences, I will have to judge without compunction that that person is not being honest.
No, the argument about Sargon’s secret conservatism always ignores the policies, and goes straight to the tribe-oriented preferences. My situation is similar to Sargon’s in this regard, as he and I have agreed on Brexit over Remain, Trump over Clinton, and May over Corbyn, despite those preferences being generally considered the right-wing option.
The situation with Sargon, his critics, and the political units he supports is very similar to our earlier example of the progressive social-democrat unfairly maligned by the extreme-leftists running for power, due to his pragmatic decision to support their centre-right opposition. Simply shift the positions of all three relevant parties rightwards until the person making the decision is a little left of centre, and you have the situation with Sargon.
If you agreed that our progressive social-democrat friend was unfairly maligned, then you should agree that Sargon, myself, and some others, are being unfairly maligned too.
To those who would now say: “Alright, we accept that we were basing our assertion that Sargon is right-wing on tribe, not on policy, but if his policies are mostly left-wing, why does he support right-wing units?”, I would recommend you seek out the explanations from Sargon, myself, and others about how we manage this tremendous inconsistency, the specifics are both interesting and important, but are not needed to prove my points in this video. I may explore that phenomenon in the future, but suffice to say, we made practical decisions, where only two reasonably plausible options existed, to support the option that we found least damaging… except Brexit, that was a no-brainer.
A group of critics who are often referred to ironically as “anti-tribalists”, and who I’m sure in large proportion consider themselves to be anti-tribalistic, are the main, and almost only, users of this deeply tribalistic discrediting tactic against Sargon, myself, and others.
At best, the tribe-based attitude is an attempt to extrapolate a person’s aggregate policy alignment while using minimal effort and diligence. A low-resolution scan.
But that’s at best. Let’s look at why they really do it.
One of my greatest political discoveries this year has been power-politics. It’s the purely pragmatic view of a person’s movements through society, bereft of higher principles of conduct (except where directly applicable to power), focusing only on what strategies and tactics will confer the most gain.
Almost no-one should live exclusively by power-politics, there are diminishing returns at the highest-ends of effort, and the cutoff point is rather low for a normal life, but regardless, the techniques of power are very useful to know and moreover understand, even if solely to know how to defend against them.
Primarily though, the most valuable thing I gained from learning about power-politics was extremely simple - the fundamental concept on which it rests: Everyone is acting in their own self-interest, and almost everything anyone ever does is in the pursuit of greater power, influence, or value for themselves. It seems obvious, even biologically assured, but many people today don’t recognise it.
Of course, this seeking of power is very often abstracted in ways that are not only not as sinister as I’ve made them sound, but actually benevolent. One can gain power for themselves by doing something that most would refer to as ‘selfless’, an act of altruism. It is this fact that ensures the existence of altruism.
What's perhaps even more interesting is that many people act out power politics without realising they're doing it. This comes not from consciously understanding power, but by sheer force of experience. Indeed, those best at playing the game of power are those likely to be the most powerful and therefore the most likely to encounter in any setting in which power is beneficial.
Utilising power politics is, in most settings, the best way to increase the user’s total gains, but the free marketplace of ideas is a specially-distinct setting, truly a marvel of human construction, wherein power politics is not an efficacious strategy. The entire point of the marketplace is for ideas to compete based on their absolute merit, with no other considerations, and therefore, all considerations of the individual proposing them are irrelevant. This effectively nullifies all tactics one could call power-politics. This method is on the extreme ‘Principle’ end of the Principle/Pragmatism dichotomy, an end which is inadvisable in almost any other setting.
Unfortunately, that state of affairs is only the ideal, and as humans are approximate engines, our methods often slip below ideal. An idea’s merit can seem higher depending on certain qualities, consciously recognised or otherwise, of the individual proposing it, and so power-politics finds its way back into the marketplace, via rhetoric.
While the free marketplace of ideas should revolve entirely around the merit of arguments presented, in reality, about 50% of the discourse is in separating rhetoric from meritorious ideas. It is in this realm of rhetoric, of manipulation of the marketplace, and particularly when the user of such tactics doesn’t realise they are using them, that we find the motives for the attitude of tribe-based political alignment.
In my opinion, there is one primary, dominant motive for the tribe-based attitude, and several ancillary motives which may sometimes be dominant in individuals but not on the whole. We shall cover the less important/likely motives first, as I think they are mostly more obvious, and crescendo on what matters, and yet hasn’t been explored.
Of course, anyone who feels I am referring to them in this video will believe they are acting honestly, but I’m not buying it, at least not from the most prominent among you.
I’m using the terms ‘honesty’ and ‘dishonesty’ to refer not just to consciously deliberate lying, but to an unchecked attitude of disinterest in arguing in good-faith - essentially, lying through negligence. Most of the people I refer to as dishonest match this second meaning, but the vast majority of those also match the first. These are the people who convey somewhere near 100% rhetoric, often tactical, misrepresentative, etc., and near to 0% meritorious ideas.
I’m open to conceding that there are some for whom honest belief is their reason, perhaps the uninformed followers in amongst our critics, but the thought-leaders are a different matter. Even if perhaps the genesis of the idea was honest, it’s propagation now is not.
While de facto dishonest, this motive would not be maliciously dishonest. Everyone prefers simplicity, we are drawn towards it, and so to be able to divide the discourse into two well-defined houses would be preferable to many.
Those on the left who disagree with those closer to the centre would likely find it easier to comprehend the conflict if it were a simple matter of left versus right. To these, I must simply say you must approach the world with courage.
Being able to call a close-to-centre-leftist a right-winger would be an advantage for a left-wing partisan if they believe that individual is more bad than good, as they can use that individual to damage the reputation of the right-wing in general. The same may of course be true in reverse.
Certainly there are some who act purely on spite, and some who act purely in the desire to ruin their opponents’ reputations, regardless of their ideas. I don’t think this is sufficient to explain the pervasion of the phenomenon that we see, but I think this motive is nestled in amongst the others in a large number of critics.
This is the motive I believe to be the most generally dominant in this context, at least when taking into account the level of influence of those making the accusation.
As far as I can tell, there are three types of tribalist: First, the leaders, second the followers, and third, the inquisitors. The inquisitors are usually nestled in among the leaders in terms of the dominance hierarchy, but make regular excursions among the followers, to perform their function: maintaining cohesion.
Despite the dystopian descriptions I am using, social cohesion is by no means a bad thing, but it can quite easily grow pathological.
The primary method by which the inquisitors maintain social cohesion is by measuring individuals against a number of tenets, which can be described as the ideology of the tribe. Clearly, the ideology of the radical left is not the same as the ideology of the moderate left, and so there would be a mismatch in the eyes of any inquisitors from the radical left.
But, it’s about more than just protecting one’s tribe - it’s a deeper psychological motive: The propagators of the ideology don’t like the idea that someone they disagree with on issues and in contexts they have come to care deeply about regards themselves as aligned in such a way that is closer to their monolith than their enemy’s monolith. It undermines their conception of the left as their tribe, and introduces nuance, a commonly-despised phenomenon among tribalists.
For those trying to ensure their ‘side’ wins, (an ancient process driven more by biology than rationality), in this case, left-wing partisans who seek to suppress the right-wing, the notion of corruption in their ‘side’ is psychologically unbearable, even if they aren’t aware of any part of this process.
But there’s even more to it than that: this phenomenon appears to be far more prevalent when the tribe in question perceives itself to be losing. In such a situation, you may be able to understand why they would attempt to ‘purge the weak’.
So, we’re looking at a dozen crewmen on a sinking ship, demanding that crewmembers of ships of a similar hull design sink their own ship, and join one that’s part of a supposed enemy fleet, and the crewmen on the sinking ship do this because they want their sinking ship to become the flagship of their own world-dominating fleet.
It’s a peak in the mountain range of human lunacy - a cul-de-sac of psychological phenomena that results in humans acting not only against their own interests, but against all reason.
I consider myself a centrist first, and a moderate left-winger second. Sargon of Akkad, as I interpret it, considers himself a classical liberal by prescription, and a social liberal by description, and finds these two positions to be compatible. We are both left-wing to the best of our knowledge, and have identified as such for a long time, though neither of us are hostile to the right-wing.
We cannot, of course, know precisely where the centre line is, but if the problem was as simple as discerning where it is, we could have a useful dialogue, maybe even break some ground. The problem, however, is a great distance removed from a simple matter of subjective definitions. The attitude of tribe-based alignment is not even some phantom you have to wear my trademark shades to perceive... they admit that they are assigning labels to people based on factors I would describe as tribal.
The ‘tribal’ accusation is one both sides in this particular conflict are constantly trying to avoid, and, to different degrees, constantly trying to cast upon the other side, but, if I do say so myself, I think this video’s instance of such is unassailable. If I’m right, what I’m about to say is practically assured. The tribal mindset, though beneficial in certain contexts, can, when emphasised, lead to the worst of large-scale human acts. I have the distinct impression that the vast majority of those in the opposing side of this conflict, and some in my own, are just one throne away from unbridled totalitarian tyranny.
Great Leader Kevin “Potato Famine” Logan sends his regards, comrade.
In this video, despite possible appearances to the contrary, I have not been criticising the conclusion some people reach that Sargon and I are right-wing - that may be a whole different video; I also haven’t been addressing their criticisms on how we treat the right-wing, including our occasional support for right-wing political units and perspectives. Instead, I have been criticising the method by which they reached those conclusions. It may be that if they chose to use a better method, such as that outlined in this video, they’d arrive, honestly, at the same conclusion they have now.
Hell, maybe I am a touch to the right of the centre-line, I haven’t checked recently... but neither have any of you.