Stop Game Denial

Life is a game.

Since we inhabit a world of limited resour­ces, our daily lives are full of zero-sum interactions where one party walks away with a prize while ano­ther leaves the table empty-handed; games with winners and losers. If you and I want the same spouse, the game is on. If you and I want the same job, the game is on. If you want to argue against this way of seeing the world, the game is on. There is no denying it, even when you do.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

Yet, many of us frequently fall victim to what I call “game denial”: the inability to perceive, or a negligence of, the logical and behavioral rules that regulate human relations. Game denial is when you ignore or “wish away” certain uncomfortable truths regarding human relations and how reality works. Or simply when you deny the realities of life and forcefully impose your own “ought” upon what “is”.

In a subtle sense, your crime is against truth itself. And when the truth has been sacrificed for a few candy bars worth of emotional reward—people start dying as the consequences of your false assumptions begin to manifest. And from there on you are stuck with defending your lala-land from actu­ality, making things even worse.

Game denial is, to this day, ram­pant. And its victims are not nec­essarily dead; it has victims in all walks of life, all scarred by unsust­ainable and un­realistic social relations, expectations and moralistic impo­sitions of “what ought to be” upon what “actually is”. Crimes agai­nst act­uality are crimes against humanity, against all life on our planet.

Since game denial often “sounds nice”, it may be more convenient to def­end in a pub­lic debate (because you can easily take the moral high gro­und), but in actual reality, in a given con­text, it tends to have negative or other­wise unsust­ainable consequences. You pre­tend that the world works by rules which it does not.

Game denial can show up in so many ways because life is always open to interpretation and reinterpretation. And of course, there is not one “set” game in life in which “God” crowns the winners. But the fact that life has ambiguity is a mixed blessing: It means we can make more fav­orable interpretations and save our positive self-images, but it also mea­ns the leeway to deny obvious competitions and conflicting inter­ests is huge. And because there are such strong psychological forces driving us towards game denial, we all partake in it.[i]

It is difficult to overestimate just how powerful these inner pressures are. For instance, if we all of our life have felt oppressed and hurt in soft and sensitive places by norms that dictate how a “beautiful and feminine” wo­man should be, how compelling and satisfying does it not seem to make up a way to disqualify that game altogether, branding it as false, im­moral and ultimately unreal? If we are bad at sports, how good does it not feel to be rid of all anxieties about our physical inferiority by denying that game?

Game denial means to hate the game and try to eradicate it. It can take the form of liberal political correctness or, in its extreme form, crude comm­un­ism. But the game won’t go away. You can’t eradicate it with a “let’s all be friends”. What about me and that other person who wants the same spouse, but only one can get her by winning her heart? Whether or not we have friendly relations with one another, there is a game with a winner and a loser—this is true even in polyamorous relations. It is bound to happ­en everywhere in samsara (as Eastern traditions have named the worldly realm of suffering), all the time.

Recent research has revealed an evolu­tionary struggle even bet­ween the pregnant mother and her fetus—the growing child’s evolu­tion­ary interests are somewhat different from those of the mother (who may increase the chances of spreading her genes by having more children, and hence not be too drained by this particular fetus). No matter how pro­foundly symbiotic and loving a relationship, there is always an inescapable element of strug­gle. A game.

To try to eradicate the game is only a form of individual or collective repression, and it will always produce pathological results—namely opp­ress­ion. Whatever game you want to repress—like capitalism—this can only be done by activating a grosser level of game—like the game for political totalitarian power. Communist states rep­re­ssed the mechanisms of “games for profit” by playing a much crueler game for pol­itical power.

But oppression is not the worst part of game denial. Oppression can be toppled; evil reigns can end. No, the worst part is that denying the exist­ence of the game means that the game cannot be described, taught and learned. The game is hidden away, made taboo. Hence, game denial is in the service of the privileged elite, making the game less fair by serving those who already know the rules and deceiving those who do not. They’ll never know what hit them.

Let’s take some examples of prevalent game denial. This list may insult a lot of readers and offend moral convictions. Brace yourself.

  • Free immigration for all! All immigration is always good for everyone in­volved: the immigrants, the receivers, the left-behind!
    • Game denial: All societies have limits to how much immigration they can manage, and which kinds of immigration; and higher immi­g­ra­tion rates often create fiercer com­petition at the bott­om of soc­iety, hence harming its most pre­cariou­sly situated citi­­zens.
  • A Universal Basic Income that would cover a lower middle-class wage, the sooner the better! It would free all, and a creative explos­ion of solidarity would occur, and we would usher in a golden age of love and inno­vation!
    • Game denial: The labor market is a complex game of power relations and for people to sustainably per­form less-than-rewarding but cru­cial tasks (e.g. cleaning blood off hospital floors), there must be a complex system in place of penalties, hier­archies and rewards. If you wreck this system, wel­come to the Soviet Union. Stal­inism next. Or worse. (Not saying that all such initiatives are game denial, but many are.)
  • The LEFT is good, always and forever! If only the evil powers of greed were stopped, we would have high wages, safe emplo­yments, no unemployment, free immigration, high social bene­­fits!
    • Game denial: Does not compute. If you have high wages, safe employments and high taxes, then bus­iness becomes extremely inefficient, so people can’t really buy anything with their money (hello Sov­iet). If you have free immigration and social ben­efits, the system gets bogged down with costs and fosters resentments in the working loc­als, and you get ethnic violence and the rise of populist anti-immig­ration parties. And if wages are high, the immigrants won’t be able to com­pete to enter the market. The bogged-down economy fosters cli­en­t­elism. Greek eco­nomy next. Or worse.
  • Feminism! If only men were kind and polite and respected wo­men and stopped using “master suppression techni­ques” (as described by the social psychologist Berit Ås) and didn’t greedily enjoy the oppression of women by means of patriarchy, this would make soci­ety fair, women unafraid of sexual assault, work-life satisfying and int­imate relations much more functional.
    • Game denial, again: For this line of reasoning to com­pute, displays of male prestige, status and power must stop being sex­ually and emotionally alluring to women and hen­ce desirable to men. As long as these traits are found desirable (as plenty of experimental research suggests is the case: women genuinely prefer high-status, in some sen­se “dominant”, males), men can only stop usi­ng at least some str­a­t­­e­gies for social self-advan­ce­ment at their own expense. The gam­­es of everyday life are denied.
  • A wave of spirituality and “higher consciousness” will transform the world! In one way, this is very advanced and complex, in another way, very simple: a kind of perennial wisdom, that people wake up to a simple but profound message of love and acceptance!
    • Game denial: This one (or any version of “millenarianism”) is quite com­mon in more spiritually inclined people, but also, by analogy, in soc­ialists and environmentalists. Here and there, many interesting and intense spiritual movements, waves and rebirths have waxed and waned throughout history. Most of them have been fool’s gold, ending up in grievous mistakes and betrayed hopes. Some, such as Christ­ianity and the other world reli­g­­ions, have caught on long-term and led to some lasting moral trans­­forma­tions. But none of them have been unambiguously good, and none have led to any­thing as fantastic as was imagined. This is because the games of life, with winners and losers, are still there to be played, even if people become a little nicer.
  • If people turned away from the materialist competitive worldview of our age, there would be enough for everybody and people would be happy!
    • Game denial.
  • A playful, creative schooling system which emphasizes growth and joy rather than the dull reciting of facts! No discipline needed! Ever!
    • Game denial.
  • If the US just stops being imperialist/interventionist, there will be a peaceful and solidary international order instead!
    • Game denial.
  • Everyone has something unique to contribute in this new economy! There is room for everyone!
    • Game denial.
  • If only people learned about animal suffering, they would support the end of animal slavery!
    • Game denial.
  • Interfaith dialogue will bring an end to religious conflicts!
    • Game denial.
  • No military intervention is ever needed or justified!
    • Game denial.
  • All animals (humans) are created equal!
    • Game denial.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth!
    • If you mean cockroaches, you might be correct. Otherwise, go to “game denial”.

You get the picture. I suppose a lot of this sounds familiar?

It’s not al­ways easy to tell game denial apart from more legitimate forms of ideal­ism. A rule of thumb, however, is that game denial very often arr­ives in the company of her twisted little sister: moralism—being subtly (or not so subtly) jud­g­­m­ental and self-righteous.

The alliance between game denial and moralism works in cunning ways. They help each other staying in the back­gr­ound, so that neither has to come out in the light and get busted in all their obviousness. For inst­ance, in academia and critical social sci­ence, there is a pre­supp­osition of a pro-immigration, leftist econo­mics, rad­ical fem­in­ism, anti-mili­tarism, anti-disciplinary view of educa­tion and a few other taken-for-granted opin­ions.

When you go to the liberal sociological seminars, listening for inst­ance to Judith Butler’s advanced, learn­ed and very initiated talks about femin­ism, all focus is on the spec­ifics of the argument, on the mas­ter­fully craf­ted critical social theory and research. All of this creates a thick smoke­screen concealing any number of game denials. All the left-wing game denial stays in the background and limits the discussion.

There is no focus on, and no leeway to dis­cuss, all this game denial bagg­age (because it would be seen as morally wrong, and who­ever brings it up is seen as impure). The underlying moralism covers up the game den­ial. And the game denial covers up the moralism because the fact that the gam­es of life are hidden away makes the moralism appear as common sense and decency.

I’m not saying that Judith Butler’s feminism will kill a hundred million people. I’m just saying that other kinds of game denial, like communism, did and that game denial is always a harmful or at least dangerous busi­ness.

Not believing in game denial and its ubiquitous presence is in itself a form of game denial. The reason people do all the game denial is often that it is a useful tool for them to win the small struggles in every­day life: for moral worth, for admiration, for power, money, sex and stat­us—or just to avoid shaming and judgment, or to have the solemn pleasure of shaming and judging others.

Iron­ically, it is because people are always in a game that they can win by deny­ing its existence. Of course, there are other reasons, such as lack­ing intelli­gence or relevant perspectives. But the social rewards of game denial are part of it—and they should not be denied. It is as if many of the pro­gressive intellectuals are “bribed” by the social rewards they can attain by taking part in game denial. These are emotional and cognitive bribes that distort thinking processes, discourses and truth seeking.

Real kindness needs to make sense; it needs to compute. If the numbers don’t add up, they simply don’t. Hence, any kindness that does not com­pute is a disguised form of evil.

But it should also be noted that game denial is not only an intellectual form of self-deceit; there is also such a thing as embodied game denial. For those of us who have suffered from low social status during our up­bringing and may be lacking in the psychological trait assertiveness (being able to stand up for oneself, etc.), we may unconsciously be prepar­ing our bodies and minds for the impact of a social defeat. This sets our minds and bodies up for trying to win over reality by being kind or nice, a part deep inside of us keeps folding over and submitting, trying to deny that a competition or confrontation takes place.

The first victim of game denial is the truth. Its next victim is the inno­­cent child who has to suffer the consequences of your lies. Crimes against act­uality are crimes against hum­anity and all life on our planet.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. People sometimes invent little games to get around game den­ial. Why do we love sports? After all, the outcome of a football game hard­ly makes any difference in concrete reality—if a ball was in a goal net or not, how many times, or if a Ethiopian guy ran a sprint in 0.1 seconds less than an American did. The reason we love these arbitrary sets of rules is that, in this particular setting, no game denial is possible. Games are fun because they curb game denial; and that goes from chess to Ping-Pong. We are even prepared to engage in otherwise “meaningless” activities, only to get rid of the ambiguities of life in general, where anything and everything can always be reinterpreted in a million ways. Did I win the debate? Am I a good person? Is she a better person than me? Am I worthy? Did I succ­eed?

Relative Utopia

In a way, we’re living in our ancestors’ utopia. If they could have wit­nessed our lives today, they probably wouldn’t have believed their eyes: all the food you can eat, a minimum of hard manual labor, the expectation to see all your children reach adult age, and no drunken lords to abuse you—truly a paradise compared to what most of them had to put up with.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.”

We have access to a large number of conveniences that in the past would have been the envy of even kings and nobles: modern healthcare, com­fortable and speedy transportation, and safe, fresh food from all aro­und the world, even during winter.

Few of us would want to switch our pleasant modern lifestyle with that of Louis XIV 300 years ago. After all, not even the extravagant Sun King himself ever flew to the Canary Islands during his winter holiday and sat on a beach without catching malaria while enjoying his favorite show on Netflix. And we would presumably soon tire of court jesters and pheasant dinners in leaky castles anyway.

We have become accustomed to a standard of living so high not even Moses parting the Red Sea would impress us. Why wander to the land of milk and honey when we can cross the seas in comfortable jets to places with much more interesting cuisine? Jesus too would probably have need­ed to up his game if he were to make disciples out of us modern people. Turn­ing water into wine hardly competes with the marvel of a good 3D-printer.

Even in the social realm we have opportunities and privileges un­imag­inable in the past. A medieval farmer would not have believed it if he was told that his descendants would have voting rights, freedom of express­ion, property rights, police protection and the freedom to choose their reli­gion. And a 19th century factory worker would have been dumbstruck by the life-conditions of common folks today: considerably shorter work hours, vaca­tions, pensions, unemployment benefits and an abundance of cheap con­sumer goods that used to be considered luxuries. Lenin’s gran­diose pro­mise of peace, bread and land that made a generation of workers start a revol­ution is so modest and unambitious in comparison to all the things we take for granted today.

There are of course still people who struggle to make ends meet: single unemployed parents, paperless immigrants, people with mental illnesses, substance addicts, and so on. But overall, we must admit we have come very far. We may not live in a true utopia, but in comparison to the past, modern society is at least a relative utopia; truly utopian relative to what used to be.

But the word “utopia” actually means “no­where”. It goes back to the proto-modern thinker Thomas More’s book Utopia from 1516. In this mean­ing of the word, we do actually live in yesterday’s Nowhereland, in a fairytale, a tech­no­logical Shan­gri-La that in the past only could have exis­ted as fiction. Yet, as things went on, the fictional became all the more fac­tual.

As such, there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.

“modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition.”

The “Both-And” of Development

Even if the argument can be made that tradit­ional society was “better” than the modern one (as so-called “integral trad­itionalists” like Frithjof Schuon and Réné Guénon have argued: less poll­ution, more spirituality, a more enchanted sense of the world, less dest­ructive weapons, less mind­less con­sumerism and alienation, more in­dep­endence in having the skills to pro­duce what you need, more humility, etc.); this should not blind us to the circumstance that modernity largely solved all of the major prob­lems of pre-modern society. Yup, pretty much all of them.

For most of recorded history, child mortality was high, starvation com­m­on­place, slavery institutionalized, serf­dom ubiquitous, wars fre­qu­ent, violence a part of everyday life, mon­arch­ical oppression unqu­estion­ed, disease rampant, poverty the rule, literacy low, cruel norms limiting indiv­idual freedom prevailing—and so forth.

Yes, all of these miseries exist in the modern world too. In absolute num­bers, some of them are perhaps worse than ever as the world popu­lation is so much larger. On the other hand—and this is the point here—all of these problems have decreased drama­tically in relative terms. In­deed, if you look at the highly modernized, demo­cratic parts of the world, there is an appar­ent decrease in all of these problems at least by a power of ten. Look at Sweden today: How many peo­ple are starving for each one hundred who starved in the 1700s? One? Pro­bably not even that. When people are poor in the US today, they get food stamps and have to stand in line. In pre-modern times, they simply starved to death.

So modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition. Yes, even war; even if we count the world wars, the risk of being killed by another human being was statistically smaller during the 20th century than at any time before. Steven Pinker wrote an often-cited book about it in 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and then another one in 2018, Enlightenment Now. Since the millenn­ium, the number of people killed globally in violent con­flicts has been extre­mely low compared to any previous per­iod (in per capita terms).

Yet, of course, modern life is no walk in the park; it is still incredibly cruel and full of suff­ering—something that granny’s granny prob­ably would have had a hard time imagining if we went on for hours about all the awesome sauce (I imagine I’d pause for a long time to describe what I get to eat, where I have travelled and so forth).

Hence, it’s a relative utopia: It really is super-duper mega awe­some not to starve, to have modern medicine, to be able to speak and think freely, to have dominant sex with hot young men if you’re an old guy (I suppose granny might have had a problem with that part), to choose how to live your life and what to do for a living, to have internet and all kinds of abun­dance (even when un­employ­ed, you can eat well and have shelter and use many of the tech­no­logies). It really is nice.

At the same time that doesn’t mean life has become “perfect”. So to­day’s developed societies really are utopian, but only in a relative sense. This is the both-and of development. They are utopian as compared to what came before. But that doesn’t mean today’s society has no pro­blems. In fact, it has two very distinct kinds of problems:

  • Residual problems
  • New emergent properties problems

The residual problems are the percentages left here and there of the pre-modern stage of development: not all people are protected from cur­able dis­eases, some live in areas controlled by mobsters and are thereby still opp­­ressed, some slavery still goes on (30 million de facto slaves is a figure peo­ple often bring up), and some people still starve or other­wise suffer from pov­erty.

It’s true that the UN Development Goals were met in advance[i] and abject poverty is withering away as eco­nomic growth and ambi­tious, far-reaching aid programs take effect. But still, there are some resi­duals here and there, and they should cert­ainly be accou­nted for; they still define hundreds of millions of lives. They are, however, not quite the pro­ducts of modern society, as histor­ical develop­ments clear­ly indi­cate: Why else would they all be falling so sharply across the globe as the mo­dern world-system progresses? Nay, amigo, they are resid­uals, leftovers. The most modern countries have the least of these iss­ues.

The other category, which concerns us more in this context, are the pro­blems showing up as a direct result of modern society: the new emer­gent properties problems. At a bare minimum, there are three such prob­lems:

  1. ecological unsus­tainability,
  2. excess ineq­ual­ity, and
  3. alienation and stress.

Notwithstanding that these are, on an individual scale, preferable to the wars, droughts and pestilences of yore, they are still quite serious. Sustain­ability issues like climate ch­ange, ecolo­gical collapse, mass extinction—not to mention the looming threat of nuc­lear holocaust and other increas­ingly tangible doomsday scenarios (haywire AI or nanotech, biological war­fare)—can potentially cause miseries worse and more irreparable than even the black plague.

The inequalities of the world may seem bearable compared to the pov­erty of pre-modern subsistence farming, but nowadays we all live in the proxi­mity of wealth and abundance, know­ing for instance the dis­ea­ses that kill our kids in fact are curable. Such knowledge can make our rela­tive poverty even more bitter and insufferable than the harshness of pre-mod­ern life. Indeed, it is one of the most robust findings of social science that income inequality correlates with violent crime, within coun­tries and even more so between countries.[ii]

And alien­ation—a pervading sense of estrangement and exis­t­ential angst—causes young people to suffer depression and com­mit suicide to an unpre­ce­­dented degree. It causes people to live mean­ingless and empty lives ami­dst what superficially looks like freedom and abundance; lives in which we become increasingly stressed out and often exper­ience burnout.

I rem­em­ber spending seven years fending off suicidal thoughts, as a per­vasive but unspecific anxiety haunted my young adult­hood. This is not un­comm­on in devel­op­ed, modern coun­tries where the trends generally point towards rising mental health pro­blems in adolescents and young adults. These are perhaps not as acute or severe as the chall­enges that people faced before mod­er­nity, but they still remain quite serious issues.

All three of these problems are caused, in one way or another, by the dramatic expansion of our industrial productivity: sustainability because we pro­duce and consume more than our ecosystems can endure, ineq­u­a­l­ity because this wealth is distributed in a series of “scale free net­works”, where the most cen­tral positions gain a larger proportion of the wealth, and alienation becau­se of the abstractness and distance that shows up be­tween our every­day activities and their benefits for ourselves and others: Many of us lose a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. (Of cour­se, there’s a lot more to the story on each one of these, but we’re just sket­ching here to get on to the point).

We have finally created a land that flows with milk and honey; literally, vast amounts of highly nutritional substances flow from the taps of indu­stry—yet it’s making us and the planet sick. The paradise of yesterday is great, but it carries with it a number of unexpected pathologies that need to be dealt with in tomorrow’s relative utopia.

“metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved.”

Beauties Lost and New Heights Reached

Beyond the two categories—residual and new emergent properties pro­blems—we can add two more to the list of troubles of today’s society. The third cate­gory I’ve called “beau­ties lost”. It entails all the good things that were prevalent in pre-modern societies, but for different reasons dimini­shed as societies became modern.

A good example is “community”, or what the classical 19th century soc­iologist Ferd­inand Tönnies called Ge­mein­schaft (modern life, at least in its later urban­ized stages, generally offers little cozy, genuine comm­unity in which you con­tinuously relate to a wider group of family and neighbors).

As an exam­ple of Gemeinschaft lost, compare the expansion of electro­n­ically available music—mill­ions of bands, artists and orchestras avail­able online to be played with marvelous sound systems—to the fact that most of us have stopp­ed singing. In all pre-modern societies, people got togeth­er and sang, pretty often too. The individualism and per­form­ance orien­ted attitu­des of mod­ern life somehow nudge us to shut up, un­less we’re alone in the shower or partake in a formally organized choir. Music gain­ed, but singing lost.

An­other example of a beauty lost is “sim­plicity”; that life had a kind of directness and straightforwardness which all­owed a certain modest satis­fac­tion. Other such beauties lost are the “conn­ection to the soil”, appre­ciation of the small things—perhaps a well-crafted tool—or the via con­templativa of monastic life; the calm, ascetic life in service of spiritual goals. You get the picture.

These “beauties lost” have been brought up by many reactionary move­ments and romantics of all kinds (I mentioned the inte­gral trad­itionalists, for instance). But the romantic and nostalgic longing lends itself to exagg­eration—to overvaluing an imagined past, a yesteryear that never quite happened. What we should do instead is simply to acknow­ledge that all societal progression into later and “more ad­vanced” stages en­tails some beauties lost, and that there may be good reasons to figure out how some of these can be regained and reincorp­or­ated without trying to turn the clock back.[iii]

The fourth category of problems is more important. We can call it “new heights rea­ch­ed”. There are problems that are perhaps not directly cau­sed by modern life, but whose solutions only now come within reach. Only when we acquire greater capabilities can we begin to see them and direct our atten­tion towards them. In the old days, we simply didn’t have the luxury to worry about these problems; now we can. We have reached new heights and hence we can begin to tackle higher issues. The soul always wants more; it is never contented. You never get to the end; there is al­ways a new hor­izon after this one, and another.

What are these new issues then, these “new heights”? I would like to men­tion four of them.

The first “new-heights issue” is tied to alienation, but still distinct from it: the lack of meaning and fulfillment. What happens in a society where you already have food, shelter and abundance? People begin to worry that they might be squan­dering their lives; that they may not be making the best of it; that some­thing is still lacking; that life has become boring and too pre­dictable.

The second new-heights issue has to do with struggle and heroism; how can we align our own petty lives with the overarching story about hu­m­­anity, the world and even the cosmos? How can we be something else, some­thing more, than just an average Jane or Joe consumer? Now that we have relative safety and autonomy, how can we make it worth­while? Once we have achieved a comfortable villa life, there is still, lin­gering in our hearts, a visceral longing for greatness within us. How can we tran­scend ourselves; how can we serve something greater so that our lives become imbued with crisp, clear moments of intense aliveness?

The third higher issue pertains to gender equality and freedom of iden­tity: Can we be sexually emancipated, not only in the sense that we can be women with equal rights as men, but that we can be truly sexually and emo­tionally fulfilled? Can we experience erotic fulfill­ment and intimacy both at once? Can we be gay, transgender, or otherwise experi­ment with and create our sexual and gender identities? Women’s liber­ation and the other gender/sexuality issues have come within our grasp in mod­ern soci­eties, but they are not conclusively solved by it.

The fourth and last higher issue is animal rights. Of course, a big part of the problem with the abuse of animals has to do with modern phen­omena such as industrial farming. Animal suff­ering is exacerbated by modernity, even with the increased legislations for “ani­mal welfare”. There have been some pre-mod­ern examples of prin­cipled con­cern for animals in the East­ern traditions (Buddhism and Jain­ism), but even these have not quite res­embled the modern-day animal rights move­ment. In Jainism, for inst­ance, concern with animals grew from a general non-violence prin­ciple, which is not quite the same as a modern phil­osophy of “rights”. In mod­ern life, we can now create an abundance of vegan and synthetic solutions that allow us to live without animal slavery and exploi­t­ation. Hence, vega­nism becom­es a new issue within our reach.

So, sorry for tricking you into thinking we had only two categories of pro­blems under modernity. We have four, these being:

  • Residual problems (left-overs from before modernity).
  • New emergent properties problems (caused by modernity).
  • Beauties lost (qualities from earlier societies lost under modernity).
  • New heights reached (problems that simply weren’t viable to try to solve before, but now have come within our reach).

Yep, that’s it. Modern society is truly utopian, truly glorious. Except it has these four categories of problems.[iv]

Now to the point we’ve been working our way towards. We live today in what to most earlier generations could only be described as sheer uto­pia. Yet, we hardly wake up every morning to what we feel is a utopian society. It is a utopia only in a relative sense: The problems of old have all but van­ished, just as new ones have appeared—as dark clouds on the hori­zon, growing cracks in the walls, and new subtle knots within our hearts and minds.

What about metamodern society; is it a utopian project? Yes. It is una­polog­etically utopian. A society can be described as metamodern if, and only if, all of the problems of modernity have been more or less resol­ved, meaning that they have been reduced by at least a power of ten.

In other words, metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved. So that’s what we’re going for. Fucking utopia.

Fucking relative utopia, that is.

“We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever.”

New Miseries Worth Fighting For

Metamodern society can and will follow the same pattern of rela­tive uto­pia as modern society has. There will be:

  1. residuals of the mod­ern problems: still some inequality, environmental issues and alienation (whereas the pre-mod­ern residuals are redu­ced by yet another order of magn­itude);
  2. and yes, there will be new, emergent problems caused by metamodern society itself (some of which we will discuss in this book in an attempt to preempt them);
  3. and yes, some beauties of modern life will be lost along the way;
  4. and yes, new dark clouds will form on the horizon, new bold challenges to civilization that come within our grasp.

And yes, in some sense, these new problems will be pre­ferable to what we have today; but strangely, they are likely to somehow be even more ser­ious than the chall­enges of modern society.

So that’s the notion of “relative utopia” for you. We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever. More complex. Why should we expect any­thing else, when hist­ory—cultural, geological and astronomical—has thus far meant explosive increases of com­plex­ity?

It shouldn’t surprise us that future society will manage issues that today may seem insoluble, out of reach, or downright impossible. That’s what modern society did. It let steel float and fly, it saved us from disease, it conquered the moon, it brought peace—and so forth. Is it really wrong to think that future soc­iety, the one that comes after the modern, indus­trial one, could do what seems unimaginable today?

Somehow, modern life—and its relative utopia—was possible. Perhaps metamodern life can be too. A simple reason to assume this is the fact that so many intell­igent people are working so hard, in so many different ways, to solve the problems of modernity: sustainability, inequal­ity, alien­ation. Pretty much every smart and idealistic person is grappling with at least some aspect of one of these issues. It’s all over the sciences, all over policy making, in the arts, even on the market—whoever can solve these prob­lems is most cherished, most appreciated, even well-paid. Are we being pulled in some dir­ection, towards a new great attract­or point, upon which a series of attractors converge?

So I’ll say it again. We go ahead with sincere irony, pragmatic idealism, informed naiv­ety and magical realism—to entertain the potential of a rel­ative utopia.

In the end, we still live in a tragic universe; existence has us “eternally by the balls”. But there are new miseries on the horizon, miseries worth fighting for. And there is fun to be had along the way.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Even if the anthropologist from Swaziland, Jason Hickel, has done a brilliant job revealing some of the mathematical trickery it took to exaggerate the succ­ess. See: Hickel, J. 2016. The true extent of global poverty and hunger: Questioning the good news narrative of the Millennium Development Goals. Third World Quart­erly. Vol. 37: 5, pp. 749-67.

[ii]. Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., Loayza, N. 2002. Inequality and Violent Crime. Jour­nal of Law and Economics. vol. 45: 1-40.

[iii]. Note that I discuss this in detail in my other book, The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. A later “metameme” can include earlier ones via either what I call “reenact­ment”, i.e. when you

[iv]. And to be exact, there are two more cat­egories, but they are more com­plicated and need not concern us here. Just to mention them briefly the first one is transition problems from one stage of society to another—like the horrors of early industrialization. For instance, in Liverpool in 1829, at the heart of budding industrial­ization, life expect­ancy at birth was as low as 29 years; the lowest since the days of the black plague. And such painful tran­sitional periods seem to occur to this day in developing countries. Today, in 2018, people in China report considerably less happiness than they did twenty years ago, despite the fact that poverty rates have been slashed from a third to ten percent. The educated, urban population are especially de­pressed—which feeds right back into the idea about modern alienation.

See: Graham, C., Zhou, S., Zhang, J. 2017. Happiness and Health in China: The Paradox of Progress. World Development. Vol. 96, pp. 231-44.

The other such category is “loop­holes”, i.e. when the values of modern society can be set aside and the ethics of earlier stages of society de facto reign. For instance, modern society transposes (and rela­bels) slavery and serf­dom beyond its own shores under colonialism and, in our days, under the com­plex sub-contractor chains of production and distribution of major corporate transnationals. You could say that these categories are special cases of “residual problems” and “new emer­gent properties” pro­blems. I discuss these in another book titled The 6 Hidden Patterns of History.

Attractors: The Guiding Stars of History’s Winners

What is the main difference between the winners and losers of history?

Answer: Getting the attractors right.[i]

Whereas the amateur studies how the present has been shaped by the past to foresee the future, the pro studies how the future is already sha­ping the present. Many of the great change-makers in history, whether we’re talking about political figures such as Mahatma Gandhi or entrepre­neurs like Steve Jobs, seem to have had an intuitive understanding of the way the future exerts a kind of gravitational effect upon the present; that dev­elop­ments in the present in certain ways are pulled towards the unrea­li­zed potentials of the future. What happens in the present is namely just as much a result of what has been as what can become.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the opening chapter of the first part of the book; a chapter that introduces the idea of societal attractors and stresses the importance of letting them guide us if we are to change the world.

“With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.”

Gandhi saw the world was headed towards universal principles like democracy, human rights, racial equality and rule of law, which inevi­tably would render colonial rule ethically indefensible, even to the coloni­zers themselves. This enabled him to understand how India could be freed in a peaceful and democratic manner; he knew that history—the long-term att­ractors—was on his side. Similarly, because Jobs saw that digitiza­tion was the future, he realized before most others that everyone would want a personal computer.

To those who couldn’t see these attractors, home computers or the end of colonial rule appeared as distant dreams or science fiction. More­over, blindness to attractors makes it exceedingly difficult to know what exactly to do if you actually do indulge in such dreams. With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.

If you are able to discern different attractors from one another, under­standing their gravitational pull and intricate dynamics, you will be much more capable of successfully navigating the tides of historical chan­ge. The most astonishing and admirable achievements have rarely been made by those who set about to wrestle history and single­handedly ini­tiate a great change, and more often by those who knew the direction of the winds and adjusted their sails accordingly.

If you still don’t get it: Attractors make you smarter. Gandhi’s under­standing of the attractor of a democratic society and national sovereignty enabled him to “push the right buttons” at the right time so that colonial rule could be ended without firing a shot. He knew he did not have to force change to happen, but that it was more effective to gently steer the forces already in motion in a more preferable direction. By getting the attractor right, Gandhi grasped the golden opportunity that had dawned in his time: that freedom could be obtained, not by threat of physical force, but sim­ply by holding his colonial overlords to the same principles they themselves had sworn allegiance to. Brilliant. One person getting the att­ractor right may just have saved a million lives.

Jobs’ understanding of the attractor of a digitized society enabled him to see the computer as more than just a fast calculator to aid govern­ments and businesses, as most of his contemporaries did, but instead as a univer­sal tool to enable common people be more creative and empowered. He knew he didn’t have to know all the things people would use them for, just that he should make them more user-friendly—and a revolu­tion would follow. Getting it right made him filthy rich and turn­ed him into one of the most beloved public figures of our time.[ii] Quite extra­ordinary really.

“if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history”

The Spirit of the Laws Evolving

A good example of someone who identified an attractor is Montesquieu’s “separation of powers”, presented in his 1748 trea­tise The Spirit of Laws. Of course, earlier versions of this idea can be traced back to Athenian democracy, but Montesquieu gave it a more phil­oso­phically and logically coherent theory: that the legislative, execu­tive and judiciary powers (parliament, government and courts) must be sepa­rated from each other if we are to avoid tyranny and corruption. This tri­partite separation of powers still in­forms all democratic con­sti­tu­tions in the world today. Well done, my good Baron. You hit upon an attra­ctor.

But today we are dealing with a more abstract form of governance that concerns wider as well as more intimate spheres of human life. So the issue natur­ally becomes more complex: Instead of a three-part division of pow­ers, we need six dimensions; each new power being balanced by no less than five others.

Fiction—written words, sheets of paper—was all that Montesquieu’s idea of the separation of powers was to begin with; nothing really “real”. But his words came alive because, in some abstract sense, the Baron was right. His pre­vailing intuition was that power, whenever unchecked and unbalanced by other powers, is detrimental to freedom. He had no studies to show it, no empirical evidence by today’s standards. No “proof” he was correct. And yet many of us now live in societies gover­ned, at least partly, by Montesquieu’s principles. To this day his ideas draw the fine line be­tween democracy and dictator­ship—but we would probably have never known the former if we had demanded proof he was right before making his fiction reality.[iii]

Consequently, if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history, whereas you might end up as the new Gandhi or Steve Jobs.

An Attractor Is…

So what is an attractor precisely? And how is it their knowabouts can make you so smart? Let’s get more precise.

Technically speaking,

an “attractor” is a patter­n or equil­ibrium that under certain conditions is very likely to emerge and stab­ilize within a dyna­mical system, such as a society.

We went from hunter-gatherer soci­e­­ties to agriculture—in Eurasia and the pre-Columbian Americas separat­ely—because agriculture was an attractor. We electrified the world, be­cause electricity was an attractor. We all started using interconnected com­puters, be­cause digitization was an attractor. These things did not happen random­ly.

The world is a chaotic place and the future is never predetermined; but on the general level, some things are just more likely to happen than others, and some are very likely to happen. How likely one development or another is to occur is determined by the “gravitational strength” of the att­ractors. Yes, they even talk about “great attractors” also in cosmology, hen­ce the analogy of gravity or pull.[iv]

The advantages of a digitized society, for instance, are simply so great that the gravitational pull of this attractor makes it very, very likely that we would all own a computer one day once it was invented. Today we see that solar and wind power, self-driving electric cars, crypto currencies and nano-technologies act as strong attractors in a similar vein as digit­iza­tion. These are all (potential) attractor points. Getting it right can make you a bitcoin bill­ionaire or turn you into a star entrepreneur like Elon Musk.

It’s hard to reject the idea of how technological attractors play a role in shaping historical developments. Few would claim the personal com­puter was a fluke or that it is just as likely we today would still light candles rather than light bulbs.

However, when it comes to how we think and how we organize society, people tend to be more dismissive of the notion that such delicate matters are under the influence of attract­ors. We like to think it’s all a big coinci­dence that things turned out the way they did, that the future has never been set in stone; that we can decide in which direction history should unfold. “We do have a choice, don’t we?”

Yes we do. But some choices are just much more likely to be made than others. We all make choices, and we take great pains to ensure we make the right ones in order to avoid our actions being completely hap­hazard. As such (given that certain choices have proven so abu­ndantly preferable to others), wouldn’t it be fair to claim that our choices, on a collective level, tend to form certain patterns that are more likely to emerge than others; that we are destined to decide between a limited range of societal models whenever they become poss­ible?

After all, there are a million ways to organize society. Yet human soci­eties tend to be remarkably similar at any stage of historical develop­ment. We could organize society in accordance with the teachings of the Jones­town suicide cult, or Robert Nozick’s minimal state, or set out to make reality of Orwell’s big brother society, or make children the only electable candidates for government, or have all decisions made by rolling dice—the possibilities are endless. But for some reason most of today’s coun­tries have chosen and tried to organize themselves along the lines of a modern state or polity[v] with a tripartite structure of govern­ance.

Even if the courts in some cases aren’t really free and independent from those who govern, and the actions of those who govern aren’t always held acc­ountable by the governed, most such despotic regimes still pretend to abide to the principles of the rule of law and the notion that the “people” is the sovereign. Coincidence? Or just a way to avoid pissing off the demo­cratic West? Probably not. Even the communist regimes of the past claim­ed to uphold the principle of rule of law and to represent the “people”—hence the frequent use of “the people’s republic” in the name of many of the most brutal dictatorships. Even Nazi Germany clai­med the German people to be the highest sovereign. And the brutal dic­tator Gaddafi also put great efforts into explaining how he had made a spe­cial deal with the Libyan people. So even if the de facto circumstances remain a far cry from the modern template of governance, rulers still try to make it appear as though the syst­em works in accordance with demo­cratic ideals.

The fact that Montesquieu’s system, in one form or another, spread to most of the world can hardly be coincidental. And the fact that the evol­u­tion of democracy, at least in terms of its constitutional struct­ure, more or less makes a full stop at this point—can hardly be a coin­ci­dence either. You reach a plat­eau; every­one reaches some version of the same system, and then we all stay there for deca­des, even cent­uries.

Beyond all the thou­sands of unique histo­r­ical events, personalities, ten­fold increa­ses of GDP output, and con­­flicts and cultures and mark­ets and ran­dom plot twists (like tsunamis and whatnot), the same syst­em emerges with a regul­arity reveal­ing itself with crushing clarity.

Coin­cid­­ence? No. The correct answer is: attractor. The modern demo­cratic state is not the only attractor, but it is certainly one of the most compet­itive ones.

 

So what is the next attractor?

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. The word “attractor” is taken from the mathematical study of dynamical systems where it’s used to designate a set of numerical values towards which a system tends to evolve. We are here avoiding a more cumbersome discussion about what kinds of attractors there are. Since societies are very complex phenomena, we are talking of complex forms of attractors, called “strange attractors”, i.e. attractors that have a fractal structure. This term was coined by Ruelle and Takens. The most famous strange attractor is the Lorenz attractor, described already in 1963 by Edward Lorenz. These early models were made to describe meteorological phenomena.

See: Ruelle, D., Takens, F., 1971. On the nature of turbulence. Communications in Mathematical Physics. 20 (3): 167–192.

[ii]. Yes, we all know there was a dark side to Jobs, too. The point here is simply to point out the power of attractors.

[iii]. The point is not, of course, that our suggested “Montesquieu 2.0” should cancel the democratic principles of Montesquieu’s tripartite division, but to build another layer on top of them. The new insights regulate the old ones, but they don’t cancel them. Montesquieu’s division of powers still holds.

[iv]. “What Is The Great Attractor?” Universe Today. 2014-07-14.

[v]. I sometimes use the word “polity” instead of “state”.

A Neomasculist Defence of Gillette

I write this article with a heavy heart, a subtle sense of dismay. Never in the world did I imagine myself writing in the defense of a shaving brand. Sigh. Yet, here we are: stuck at gender. In the eleventh hour of existential risks and issues of unimaginable scope, we’re at junior high. We suddenly turn away from terrifying depths, wuthering heights and expanding horizons… to consider dicks and pussies and gender identity. And cheap commercials and shaving. But if that’s where we’re at, so be it.

“If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues.”

Okay, let’s go through this, but then let’s be done with it and be on to something at least vaguely dignified. If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues. Let’s go down with a *little* more dignity, shall we? Finest hour, anyone? How’s that for manhood.

The Video that Shook the World of Men

By now, my readers will know the story: the razor brand Gillette (not really a good-guy company by “politically correct” standards, charging women more for equal products, etc., owned by Swiss giant Procter & Gamble) released a video with a “progressive man” message, commenting on the #metoo movement. The ad also depicts some not-very-masculine boys and adolescents as protagonists. The ad was made by some left-leaning women in marketing. Here’s the video:

This video has been viewed and felt as highly offensive by many men and some (chiefly conservative) women. At the moment is has a million dislikes on YouTube (vs .6 million likes). A boycott was issued, folks filmed themselves throwing away Gillette products. News pundits exploded. YouTuber commentators exploded – among them Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan (or the latter rather laughed at the issue and said it was “disturbing”). There are many more. This is what I hear them saying:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.
* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.
* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.
* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.
* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

So first thing’s first. What do I feel when I watch it?

Nothing really. Neutral. Slight positive because it lifts some issues such as bullying and sexual harassment. Slight disgust at capitalist opportunism disguised as idealism. Thinking I’ve seen all of the situations in the ad and do recognize that most men in most situations do indeed not stand up and call folks out. Still it all comes out a bit silly, as commercials generally do.

“To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks.”

To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks. And I think that your reaction says more about yourselves than about the commercial. I think you are exact equivalents of the non-constructive, bitter, bitchy kinds of feminists and anti-racists whose toes are always perpetually stepped upon by one wrong word, some naked skin, one commercial or another.

I’m calling you out, guys: you’re being over-sensitive. You’re taking part in a silly hysteria.

Over-Sensitive Machos vs. Science

Let’s look at the points of critique:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.

Actually, no. It says men can be both good and bad, and that being good sometimes requires you to question yourself and to stand up against the behavior of other men. That’s the vision offered of a positive masculinity.

The fact that so many men interpret the video as an offense on all masculinity, rather reveals that they are being touchy and misunderstanding things.

* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.

Actually, yes. But so are all the other commercials telling us to be top-athlete studs and that we should shave and have thick jaws. So people basing their critique on this criterion cannot be genuine, unless they have also criticized and been offended by the former Gillette commercials.

* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.

Yes. And still, that’s how norms work. That’s sociology 101. You repeat obvious things and link them to desirable traits. Joe Rogan says that’s not how society works, and he is exactly wrong, as can and has been demonstrated in empirical science. Quote:

“We posited that media images of men influence the gender role attitudes that men express soon after exposure to the images. A total of 212 men (87% European American, 7% Asian or Asian American, 3% African American, and 3% other) viewed magazine advertisements containing images of men that varied in terms of how traditionally masculine vs. androgynous they were and whether the models were the same age or much older than the viewers. Men who had initially been less traditional espoused more traditional attitudes than any other group after exposure to traditionally masculine models, although they continued to endorse relatively nontraditional views after exposure to androgynous models. These findings suggest that nontraditional men’s gender role attitudes may be rather unstable and susceptible to momentary influences such as those found in advertising.”

And no, it’s not obvious to the world population. Quote from UN report:

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not.

And yes, changed attitudes can actually and truly reduce violence against women (as well as other violence, bullying and sexual harassment).  WHO-reports have been written about it (see p. 8).

Hence, empirical science is firmly on the side of the Gillette ad and on the opposite side of the sea of whining men. Currently at 22 million views, if you do the math, this commercial has been watched by the “world-soul” roughly one full human life-time, including sleep. And it will no doubt be watched many more lifetimes. Given the predictive suggestions of science, it may well be the case that it has already saved a truckload of girls from getting harassed, battered or raped.

* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.

Okay, so this one is a bit more serious. Should commercials tell us what to do and whom to be in the first place? Perhaps not. But if I have to choose between ones saying we should be sensitive and brave (as this one) and being athletic studs (most others), I prefer this one.

“I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’).”

* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

This was pointed out by Ben Shapiro, based on anecdotal experience and by other observers as well. Again, science says the opposite with very strong and consistent figures.

Anyway, touché guys. I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’). Which is also what happens when you go after hysterical non-productive feminism. Can’t you see that you, self-proclaimed masculists, are the mirror image of the latter? Come on boys, prove me right.

Postfeminism /// Neomasculism

What would then be a productive, healthy, masculine reaction?

Frankly – to just not care about a stupid commercial. To be man enough to work to save the world. Shaved or not.

The pathology revealed by what can only be described as the disproportionate and inappropriate public response to this ad is not, however, as most feminists will claim, misogyny. No, it runs much deeper than that.

We need a wide large-scale project of personal development on the behalf of boys and men, in order to get into step with the new economy, the new woman – and new gender identities – arriving on the world stage. What we are seeing, I believe, is an expression of how powerless men feel in this strange new wonderland. And when we feel powerless, we get stingy and over-sensitive. This pathology runs right through – and marks – the current men’s movement. Unfortunately. It’s simply not a good grade for them. We need a much better men’s movement than that. That, if anything, is what the Gillette debacle has revealed.

I am only comfortable with a postfeminist position *if* it successfully transcends and includes feminism – in particular the undeniable and empirical aspects of inequality and relations between the genders. Otherwise it isn’t real postfeminism. The proof that the folks offended by the ad weren’t true postfeminists? None of them bothered to check if the world actually *does* work according to the assumptions of this ad. Which it does. More proof? Their message is indistinguishable from that of the classical conservatives. How much is this post-anything? And how much is it simply social conservatism? Nothing wrong with it, but that’s what it is.

“I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism.”

I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism. One that doesn’t get “offended” at every corner, isn’t over-sensitive. One that lifts itself, by virtue of character and understanding, above the trench wars of the gender issues and identity politics at large. One that lands in a paradigm of emotional and sexual development.

This issue is addressed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology. Feminism and masculism need one another. They are two sides of the same equation. And several commentators have pointed out, including the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the online media channel Rebel Wisdom (edit: link was provided by commentator) that if there is “toxic masculinity”, it cannot be *all* 10 000 years of traditional masculinity, and there should logically be such a thing as “toxic femininity”. I agree. And I’m not that fond of the term, toxic masculinity, because it makes it sound like being macho would always be a bad thing.

I’m not siding with the male-bashing here: just asking more of the men’s reactions. This wasn’t real male-bashing and these reactions aren’t appropriate. And more of the men’s movement in general. If folks want me to do it, I will even take a break from other activities and write a short book on a new (metamodern) view of gender and sexuality: Postfeminism /// Neomasculism would be the working title.

I realize that I tease a bit in this article. But I think, frankly, that these affronted men should be able to take it. If you are furious right now, please do stop and think of why. Be honest. Feel your body. I can only make you mad if I hit your insecurities. What makes you tick so? The answer is in there. That’s a teacher better than any shaving commercial.

Hey, I’m treating you like men by telling it straight. Straight talk is not condescending if it’s true and productive. And frustrations aren’t always bad. Neither are conflicts. I say, such a neomasculist approach is indeed the best a man can get.

So, affronted party of un-Gillette-shaved machos – what have you got? 

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

 

The World’s Greatest Speech that You’ve Never Heard Of

As he climbed to the mound’s summit, he let out a long, deep, piercing howl, his face solemnly turned skyward. A serene calm came over his expression, as he gazed out across the many gathered with sad eyes. He sniffed. The crowd grew silent; only a few lonely barks and excited whimpers echoed back to him. At a distance more were amassing still. Clearly something was astir.
“We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts.”

Cited from The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches.
Held on May 4th, 2012. Greenwich, UK.

 

The Cover of Penguin Book to 20th Century Speeches .

“We have gathered here, brothers and sisters, to transcend. To transcend the boundaries of race. Since time immemorial—at least, to our best knowledge, since the last Ice Age—we have been separated, splintered, into shards. These shards we call races.

We tell ourselves and one another that this race, or that one, is superior; it stands above all others. Some individuals are of purer breed, we say; some belong to this land more than others. Some races are favored and pampered, others exploited and made to bow.

But it is not race that unites us, nor defines us. Any attempt to unite into races ultimately leads to division and estranges us from our true selves. And thus, race alone can never make us strong. We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts: that we are dogs.

Let this transcendence ring through all of us, through all races and breeds—beagle, poodle, greyhound, terrier, bulldog, dachshund, dalmatian, golden retriever, from the chihuahua to the great Dane—we have the love of all dogkind within us. That is what makes us dogs. It is universal. We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all dogs are created equal by a single divine creator, who created Dog in His image.

Let our howls chime as bells across this land, across every land and clime, until this simple message is recognized and made fully manifest: that each pup shall know that she will never be judged by the color and patterns of her fur, but only by the virtues of her character and the scent of her excrement.

This holds true for hound, pedigree and mongrel alike. Injustice must come to an end; and it will come to an end. May we be able to crouch and huddle together at bowls filled with food and water we generously share; at the bowls of brotherhood.

But, my fellow dogs, let us not stop there.”

[Pause—sad eyes gazing deeply into the distance. Stars begin to appear in the clearing skies.]

“There is an issue that lies even beyond race.

The animals.

When we reach into the simple kindness that lies at the foundation of our doggity, we know in our hearts that we have mistreated them. We have used them. We have exploited them. We have driven them from their natural habitats for the most trivial of concerns.

We use them for food, for toil, for clothes, for leashes, for shelter, for company. But how do we repay them? With slavery, death and extrajudicial punishment.

Has our divine creator granted us this right over the non-dog animals? I say non-dog animals, for we too are animals, albeit endowed with unique traits. Is this not the same mode of thought that has hitherto enabled the degradation of whole races of our fellow dogs?

It is true, as you might say, that the animals have little means to voice their concerns. Can we then know if they too have valid interests? They cannot bark, howl and whimper as we. They cannot lick, show teeth, sniff buts and wag their tails in cultured and meaningful manners. But is the fault theirs that we fail to understand them? Have we not every reason to believe, that all the lower animals, too, have emotions—if not as enriched as our own?

It can make us wonder, indeed, if dogs are not chosen and endowed with supremacy by Heaven. Can the animals truly smell as we can? They lack our snouts, it is true. Can they know the joy of playing pups, know the depth of motherhood? Can they feel the profound bond of the pack and its responsibilities? Can they be enthralled by the sublime scent and refined femininity of a bitch? Can they love? Can they dream at night and howl to the heavens?

I alone cannot answer for all the non-dog animals. We must seek the answers in them. Cows we eat and use for leather—but is there suffering in their moos and bellows? Pigs we eat, sheep, cats and birds we chase, humans we let work for us to give us food and shelter and we keep them as pets. What do we smell in each of these animals? Can we smell fear and pain in them?

Let us speak of humans specifically. In their murmurs there is little meaning to us beyond simple requests that we sit, fetch something, or reach out our paws to them. But many of us have kept humans for company and convenience, and many of us will have known affection for our own humans, as though they were part of our pack. And I have no doubt that many have felt that their humans loved them back. It may be a simpler form of love, but it is there.

Humans have sometimes been called Dog’s best friend. They are our pets. Of course, they lack the dignity to walk on four legs and perpetually lean on their hind legs as beggars. We keep them close to us, and perhaps for this reason, we treat them differently than we do other non-dog animals. But are they so different from the others? Does our little creek of solidarity with them not lead us to a river of solidarity with many other mammals; a river which in turn is strengthened until it leads into an ocean of love and compassion for all sentient beings?

We need not ask of one another to manifest this oceanic love each day. For just as doggity is created in the image of the divine, so is each of us, after all, only a dog. But can we a least extend a simple caring for the non-dog animals? We are, unlike many other animals, blessed to be omnivores; we need not feast upon the flesh and blood of the oppressed. Can we at least show them this simple courtesy? Yes, our ancestors hunted and ate flesh, but today we have more choices and better knowledge.

Yes, the animals harm and devour one another. And they fail to take even the simplest perspectives of other species. Just look at the humans; they destroy other animals without any apparent concern. Just as we are canine-centric, seeing Dog as the measure of all things, so they are anthropo-centric, believing that life and existence revolves around them.

But they are non-dog animals; what should we expect? Should we hold ourselves to the standards of cats, birds, monkeys and squirrels? Should we, as lions, who also eat flesh, kill the cubs of rival males after a divorce? Have we come no farther?

If it means anything at all to be a dog being, surely it must be that we can rise above cruelty and indifference against the animals with which we, after all, share ancestry?

If we are animals, let us not act as animals; let us for once become the good dogs we are meant to be—and show simple kindness towards the non-dog animals. Let us be able to say to ourselves: ‘Good dog! That a boy! Attagirl!’

It is our destiny to transcend the boundaries of race. And it is the destiny of dogs to transcend the boundaries of species.”

[Howls and barks fill the air, proud snouts turned skyward under the onset of a moonlit night.]

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Today’s tune, “Tearz for Animals” by CocoRosie:

Hanzi Talking about “Metamodern Values”

Hanzi Freinacht at the bar, talking about the development of values: “I want to talk about values. Let’s begin with this question: “What are good values?” How do you know if the values that you hold true to your heart are valid? How do you know if they’re efficient, if they’re true, if they correspond to the real problems out there in the world? Are some values perhaps better than others?”

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

Here’s a way of thinking about it, that I think might be fruitful. I think that some values correspond to certain societies or certain time periods. And I think that some values meet the demands of those societies and time periods – and their life conditions. Which is why they evolved in the first place. So medieval people had medieval values because they lived in medieval societies. Modern people have modern values because they live in modern societies.

Today I’d like to talk, then, about three sets of values – about three families, as it were – of different kinds of values. These three are, in order of appearance, and in order of emergence more crucially:

1. Modern values
2. Postmodern values, and
3. META modern values

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

So you’re going to have, in the modern world, a lot of people who have and express and sincerely feel modern values. And you’re going to have a minority of people – but a pretty big minority, especially in late modern or advanced modern societies – who express and live and embody postmodern values. And there is, emerging at this point, something I would like to call metamodern values. And they’re still emerging. They’re still a bit experimental, but they’re distinct from postmodern values nevertheless.

So to begin with, are some of these values better than others?

Yes and no, I would say. We can look at it individually and collectively.

Individually speaking, let’s say you go back in time, or you go to a less modern country, and you meet someone who has very traditional values. They believe in God, literally everything that’s written in the Bible or the Koran, and they’re a devout follower, and they believe that the world is 6000 years old and that gay people should be stoned to death, for instance.

Let’s call the values of this person pre-modern. Does this person have worse values than you do? Do they have more primitive values? Are they a better or worse person?

It would be difficult to argue that this person has a lower morality than you do. They still act kindly, love their family, and follows what they have been taught is right and wrong. Their interests and feelings are as important as yours.

But collectively… we would be in huge trouble if in modern societies, people have pre-modern values, the kind of values of pre-modern societies. If you have a modern society, but it is run by values akin to those of Genghis Khan, or even just the values of traditional relatively authoritarian Catholicism, you get stuff like authoritarian dictatorship, or even Nazism: aggressive foreign policies, no focus on sustainability, and so forth.

So collectively, it is very important, that we as a society have values that correspond to the realities and challenges of our present day and age. As things look today, we are leaving the industrial age, and the age of the Enlightenment behind, and we are entering a new kind of society altogether. And most of us still have modern values. Which is to say that our values are not in tune with the society that we ourselves have created.

So a large part of our inability to tackle the problems of the modern world have to do with the fact that we have perhaps not sufficiently updated our own values. We haven’t sufficiently grown as human beings to match the challenges we are faced with.

The Three Modern Challenges

Specifically, modern society faces us with three challenges, and these challenges grow as modern society progresses to its later stages. You have:

1. Sustainability. The world economy is not sustainable and is going to crash due to exponential growth on a limited planet.

2. Excessive inequalities. Even though poverty is dropping globally, we still have extreme inequalities that can hardly be justified and in some ways are growing.

3. Alienation. This includes the many subtle mental health issues that stem from modern life.

These are the problems caused by modern society, but that we as modern people find ourselves unable to tackle with modern values.

Modern Values

What, then, are modern values in the first place?

We know them more or less from the mainstream of society. These are the values of industrial civilization. They are the values of the Enlightenment.

There is a belief in science.
There is a belief in progress.
There is a belief in rationality.
Oftentimes there is a belief in the individual.
It is meritocratic, meaning everybody has to earn their position by a proven track record.

And in a way, it is kind of sincere. Modernity and modern values are married to a kind of sincerity. You ask mother nature, by the means of scientific method, and you get her to tell you the truth. And then you verify or falsify the claims of one another, so as to serve the progress and advancement of mankind – or that’s the idea.

This is pretty much what we all learn in school.

Some people thought that was the end of history. Some people thought, that’s as far as we’ll get, and from now on, humanity’s journey onward will not be into new philosophies, but only into more and more scientific and technological and progress.

But as modern society has progressed, more and more people – especially the ones that are highly educated and culturally sensitive and often, actually, according to research, the more intelligent ones – begin to question those values.

Postmodern Values

Enter postmodernism. Enter the postmodern values.

So what are those? You can find them around the counter culture of modern and Western society. All modern societies have a sizable counter culture. You have significant postmodern populations especially among the most modern societies in the world. You can find them among humanities professors, students, sociologists, critical social sciences, intellectuals of different sorts.

Instead of believing in science, postmodern people tend to be critical towards the supposed objectivity of science. They tend to be skeptical. They tend to want to pick it apart and look at power structures that drive this purportedly rational search for the truth.

The postmodernists say: “It’s not rational. It’s driven by all sorts of all too human interests, all too human relations.”

They say: “I don’t believe in progress. I don’t believe in your grand histories of the world. I just believe that there are many different histories, and these are all situated among the people who they are meaningful to. And you have to understand those people on their own premises, rather than fitting them into your own ideas of the world and where it’s going.”

There is no one big history, with one big direction, of the world.

Postmodernists don’t believe in rationality, beginning with Freud and his exploration of the irrational unconscious, and beginning with Marx and Engels and their theories about how people are blinded by ideologies in everyday life. The postmodern thinkers don’t believe there is such a thing as a rational human being. Human beings are driven by irrational drives, and a lot of times by their social surroundings, even by the structures of the language we speak – things that lie far beyond our own individual, conscious making.

Rather than the individual, then, you postmodern thinkers look at society. Even committing suicide – the most individual choice you can make, if you want to live or not – is a societal matter. In some countries, suicide rates are ten times or twenty times higher than in others, which says that we are governed by society more than we could normally imagine.

And, of course, postmodern minds tend think less of modern meritocracy and be against hierarchies. They question the hierarchies of everyday life. Why is the boss always a man, why is it always a tall person, why is it always a white guy? Why do the rich get so much political power? Why are all the Nobel prizes going to white guys, and why are they afforded by other white guys… in their fifties?

Rather than the modern sincerity, then, you get the postmodern irony. Think of The Simpsons for instance; this whole show is steeped in what could be said to be “cultural postmodernism”. They’re ironic towards pretty much everything. Everything gets an ironic beating, including the show itself.
Irony is the guiding principle of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern Values

But after you’ve been through a whole lot of postmodern irony, for a long time, and you’ve deconstructed (or “picked apart”) your own thoughts, what happens is, in the long run it gets rather dissatisfying.

In the long run, you find out, you don’t actually have anything to believe in anymore. Then you tend to fall into the traps of crude forms of nihilism and relativism, and you don’t really know the path forward. And you get stuck in all of these details, all of this turning of stones, looking at the exceptions, and the cracks, and the contrasts.

And that’s where metamodern values enter. Metamodern values bring in some hope and sincerity again. In a way they’re both modern and postmodern at the same time. That’s the metamodern value system; that you take the sincerity from modern life, together with a very healthy good dose of critical irony of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern values you cannot find in any larger numbers at this time. You have small, thin networks around the globe, writing about these things, talking about this shift, having conferences. The first academic journal is being started. The first political party with metamodern values has also been started, in Sweden and Denmark.

Metamodern values grow from populations of postmodern people. If you get enough postmodern people, sooner or later are going to turn into metamodernists.

Both progress and critique. “Both and” is a central theme in the metamodern mind. Finding the best “both ands” of life, itself becomes a metamodern value. At least you have to give both sides of the argument a fair chance.

“The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.”

Metamodern people labor to stretch their minds so as to take the best possible of both worlds: both-and, both-and – oscillation between two poles, or superposition between two potentials.

So how do you both believe in progress and not believe in it at the same time? You adopt a developmental view of human perspectives.

A core metamodern belief is the growth of people; personal inner growth of people, through stages of development. A simple example of which is actually the value systems I have presented in this talk.

Modern values show up in history at one point, they emerge, they grow in strength, they spread in the world, they take over whole political systems, and they give birth, eventually, to postmodern values. Oftentimes it is relatively privileged people within modern societies who can accept and take in and understand the postmodern values. And once the postmodern values have grown, and gone through many iterations, and eaten their own tail as it were, for a long time, they give birth to metamodern values.

And people who have metamodern values recognize this sequence. They understand, then, that there is a developmental sequence at the heart of what it means to be human.

So society develops through stages of development. And there is a direction to those stages. Human beings and our values, our psychologies, our personalities, also develop through stages of development.

Here, then, is the crucial point: If society develops ahead of us, the people, normal human beings like you and me, then we will live in a society that doesn’t match the values that we hold dear. We won’t be able to resolve the central issues of late modern global society. And we will never be able to arrive safely at the next historical stop, let’s say a postindustrial, digitized, global society.

So the postmodern critique asks too much of people. It asks of the modern mind to be somebody it is not. It doesn’t see the developmental perspective, that most people do not have postmodern values because they simply cannot. They simply cannot meet the inner demands that this value system requires.

How, then, do we resolve the central issues of modern society? Here’s what I believe.

Only if people grow past the modern values can we create a sustainable world.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we create an equal and fair economy.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we fill the hole in the soul that modern society leaves in so many.

Postmodern critique goes some way, but it does not offer us this path to growth. Metamodern values are all about putting that inner growth at the heart and center of how we design society.

That is our utopia: a society designed to help each of us to grow as a human being. From the inside out. So that we can match the complexities of the world.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

How I View the World

In this series of essays I would like to be more personal and offer the reader a view into myself. I will present a simple philosophy of life, how Hanzi views the world and my own place in it. It is, then, a kind of applied life philosophy or phronesis, an attempt at describing what I feel is practical wisdom. I suppose you could say that this project is a form of self-help literature, except the format doesn’t give “you” any advice. Each essay brings up one main point, but they are interconnected—also with other ideas I have presented.

“The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent”.

So basically there is this vast mystery of existence that is always-already directly present, a horizon of direct experience, and stuff arises within it: objects appear, there are senses which seem to reflect some aspects of these objects from some angles, and there are feelings and thoughts and ideas and suppositions about these occurrences or events. There is a large flow of perceptions and they are not indifferent; they all feel like something, they all matter. This ever-present horizon of experience is truly vast; if I were to name everything present, from what is felt on the tip of my tongue, to the complexities of the background sounds to the enormity of visual experience, to things lingering in the outskirts of my mind, this would be a task worthy of Sisyphus.

But if the totality of experience must always elude me, as it is infinitely larger than my ability to delineate its parts and direct attention towards them, I can at least use very broad strokes to review its territory. Within this field of being, I can count at least three categories, three worlds at different remove. There is 1st person reality, 2nd person reality and 3rd person reality.

1st person reality

1st person reality is the pure being of reality itself. Nothing is ever outside of 1st person reality. All people I have ever known, all the words they have taught me, all the sensory perceptions, all the feelings, all the discoveries about what was hidden from my view (when I learn new insights about the world or even about my own unconscious motives); it all always comes up within the field of experience. Even if I may postulate that there is a world beyond this field of experience, I can, by definition, never travel beyond it. In this sense, I am the universe: I am all that arises. What I conventionally name “Hanzi” and refer to as “myself” is a loose and complexly interrelated set of categories within this field of experience, and the boundaries of these categories shift. Some things that appeared not to be Hanzi turn out to be—and vice versa. And even if I can see that the experiencing of the world seems to be tied to this—rather handsome—object called Hanzi, I must still admit that fundamentally, it is just a category (or complex set of categories) within the wider field of experience.

One of the objects that arise within this vast field (with no outer edges) is something that I have learned to call “will”. It is a powerful and elusive entity and it seems to steer some of the flows of events, but not others. It can lift a right hand, or tap keys on a keyboard, but it cannot change the weather. What I conventionally conceive of as an “I” or refer to as “Hanzi” seems to be structured around this elusive entity, the only “causal” phenomenon within the entire field of experience: the only phenomenon that seems to be able to cause other events to occur. The will seems to have the capacity to be expanded; I can sometimes volitionally soothe anger, sometimes not. The volition itself seems to be governed by other forces, some of which I can in turn affect and change. Hence, “I, Hanzi” seem to be structured around an awake participatory aspect of a larger process that is not in itself structured around Hanzi.

The existence of will means that all things that arise are non-indifferent. I don’t want pain and suffering; some things are unpleasant and some pleasant. I seem to want the pleasant sensations and things. But not only do I steer some movable aspects of the world (my body) towards pleasantness (drinking water, resting) and away from unpleasantness (quenching thirst, not being exhausted); the will participates in all-that-arises. It hardly leaves anything alone: I saw the blue skies today, and I saw that it was good; something stirred at a subtle but profoundly present level in other parts of my awareness, and these subtle sensations are somehow inherently good. I see a lily, and I like it. I cannot quite say why I like something, but sometimes I learn things about the mind, or the world, or things about myself, that seem to explain part of what may “cause” my perception of something to be “good”. My will is there; it participates by imbuing all of experience with at least some vague aspect of non-indifference.

2nd person reality

Within this vast field of experience there are some select few nexuses of objects, of categories of properties, that seem to have whole separate oceans of subjective experience. I cannot know for sure, and sometimes I can mistake something that seemed alive and awake—like a wax doll—for a person or a non-human animal.

But if I am correct, I am not alone in this world; there are other realities of non-indifferent emergence of vast horizons of phenomena. Some parts, some small subcategories of my entire world, look back at me and glimmer of other worlds. Consciousness is looking back at consciousness. I am become two. There is a second person.

I am speaking, of course, of you. You that I know, you that I don’t know, you without whom I would be entirely lost, you whom I love, you that I am afraid of, you who I wish to reach, you who I, ultimately, live for.

As far back as I remember, I have always known you; you are all that matters to me. You have always been there. Nothing is more imbued with my will than you. When I die, you will still be there. Some of you die, disappear. I miss you. Some of you live on after me. Some of you I left when you needed me because I couldn’t handle you and you made me unhappy. Some of you are bad to me. Some of you are unbelievably good to me. Some of you subtly betray me, some of you reach out through darkness and confusion. Some of you are my friends, and sometimes I feel you misunderstand me.

But I gather that I, the continuous flow-of-events that is Hanzi, must in embryonic, fetal and neonatal stages not have know of you. I must have glossed over making the differentiation within the greater field of experience, that another ocean of consciousness was looking back at me. But once I had made that discovery, I have been with you with every breath. I truly am nothing without you.

Not all of you have eyes. Some of you are words on screens, in letters, in books, in music, in architecture. Some of you are non-human animals. But, metaphorically speaking, your eyes looking back into me is all that ever has mattered and ever will.

You are somehow a higher reality than a world of “just me”. And yet, for all I know, you are just a hypothesis. In this sense, I must remain a religious creature; I must live by the faith in you. I must interact with you and learn more of these words from you, and I must shape you, and I must resist you and I must be with you.

3rd person reality

Some of the things that arise seem to be seen also by you; I can tell by your reactions. Hence, I have a subjective realm that, in the last instance, seems entirely inaccessible to you and you have an unfathomable world forever beyond my reach—the entirety of 1st person experience—and then there seem to be some categories of things that both you and I can see and respond to. The world of objects. Of things.

It’s true then, as Kant noted, that we cannot know the thing-in-itself, only a reflection within ourselves, based upon our senses and our perspective. But we can help one another to triangulate more and more things about reality and its objects.

When I met you—yes You—I learned that in your reflection is the source of truth about the nature of all things that are forever beyond my direct reach. Through you, and in my meeting with you—and the multiplicity of you, of (metaphorical) eyes looking back at me, of eyes also looking at the cosmos—a whole world is constructed beyond my senses. A world that I then inhabit and imagine before myself and after my death.

This world grows as you teach me about it and as I observe it and test my observations with you. I dive into it, and I dive deeper, and everything is torn apart and rebuilt a thousand times. And it grows and it expands beyond all fathomable boundaries—the sheer vastness of physical space, the counter-intuitive but elegant order of the physical universe, knowledge about the mind, knowledge about physiology, about myself being an object within the world, about systems and ecologies and histories and languages, about science, about metaphysics, about perspectives—and about fundamental categories of existence that allow me to write these words.

Thus, 3rd person reality is a creative and created category within my field of experience as I meet you. I sometimes dive so deeply into this constructed world of reflections, triangulation and ideas that I think that it is the most fundamental one: it does, undeniably, contain the Hanzi object from which I seem to be peering out, as it does contain You. It is even the case that I seem to be able to explain properties of my own will by understanding things about objective reality. Objects explain me: “I probably said that because I was tired and angry” and so on.

And yet, I am not an object described in 3rd person; I am prior to any such object. And neither are You. You are something more transcendental, primary and holy than any other object that I can describe through the meeting with you. First there is “isness” or “suchness” or “being”—and then there is You, and when I meet you, “I” am also born and the journey of the self through self-understandings begins—and then there is “it”, the objective reality that we discover in the intersubjective realm. It is not harder than counting to three.

Some inescapable consequences

Hence, nowhere within 2nd or 3rd person reality do I find the will. I can infer that the will, non-indifference, should exist within your inner ocean of experience, imbuing everything that arises in your subjective universe. But such an inference of the existence of will is not the same as the direct participatory experience of will itself. Your will can be shaped by 3rd person explanations, same as mine, but I can never directly access it, never directly cause events to occur through it.

In other words, for all practical purposes, my will is the only causal participatory category in existence. I can will my hand to move, and I can walk over and lift your hand with mine, or use symbolic language to ask you to raise it, but I cannot ultimately will you to will anything. I can will to try to affect your will, or read a book about affecting you, or even to will you to affect me; but I cannot will anything into being beyond my own inner horizon.

In the last instance, this has the consequence that I alone have the full responsibility for all of reality, including you. It is tempting to elevate this into a general, universal rule that applies to “all of us”—“you have the responsibility for all of your reality and I have the responsibility for the entirety of mine”; but that would be missing the point. I really am alone here. Even if I postulate this or that rule that I have come up with, and you don’t get it or don’t buy it, it still boils down to my responsibility to communicate it to you and to make sure it makes sense in the first place. Fundamentally, I cannot blame you for not agreeing to what I think is correct. There is a logical, casual reason for why you don’t agree, and my job is to find out why, or at least to find a way of handling our difference.

There is really no escape from this complete responsibility and hence I am ultimately even responsible for all of your treatment of me. If you are good to me, if you despise me, if you would harm me, or harm anybody else, these are simply the facts of the matter. Only somewhere within my own field of experience is the will and thus the potential to affect reality. Even if there is a long chain of interactions through which we affect one another, the only the parts of this chain that appear to my inner experience are the ones that seem to have the true, direct causal quality. I have all of the responsibility, not by fairness or by duty—but by logic and definition. If you react to me, fairly or unfairly, I cannot call God to tell on you; I need to figure out how to respond productively so as to affect your future behaviors. I am responsible for what you think of me, for how you see me, for the emotions I awaken in you, and for how you act towards me.

If all blame of you is in fact a misunderstanding on my part, I am left with a message of universal love (for you) and corresponding universal acceptance (of the facts of reality, including those facts that pertain to the loose categories of “you” and “me”).

Because I exist only in the now and the will can be exercised only within the ever-present field of experience, the past “I” is also an object. Hence, I have no choice to accept it. The conclusion is hence universal love, non-judgement and self-acceptance.

“[…] my will is the only causal participatory category in existence”.

That being said, blame or other upset feelings can still be a means of affecting myself to affect you, and these feelings can be useful. There is a subtle distinction here: one category of fundamental hatred, in which I hate the imagined category of your metaphysical free will that I see as harming me or just not doing what I want – and one category of blame that is recognized as a regulatory surface phenomenon inherent to our social relations. The latter is okay, the former is a misunderstanding and leads me to chase a ghost.

So I have thus exorcised all evil from the world, at least all other evil than my own. Because your will is by definition not part of 1st person reality, it cannot be viewed as directly causal, and hence it cannot be viewed as a viable subject of metaphysically warranted hatred. (This, by the way, largely resolves the conflict between free will proponents such as the materialist and determinist Daniel Dennett and free will opponents like Sam Harris. Free will exists, but only in 1st person reality. The paradox is that it both contains objective reality and is contained by the latter.)

It thus means that “the truth” is love and acceptance, and that judgement and unacceptance are mistakes I have made—but which I accept and don’t judge.

Another conclusion has to do with God

On the one hand God is dead: if the only free will that exists, does so in 1st person reality, there is no reason to try to bargain with 3rd person reality. Nobody is home. I’m just talking to myself. God by definition must be dead, because it is a category within 3rd person reality. God, in this sense, is a bad habit of my mind to try to force my own 1st person perspective upon the unknowable 3rd person world of objects. Because of the tenacity of this habit (feeling “special”, “chosen”, “enchanted” and so on) I must kill God again and again. There is, of course, nothing special about the object Hanzi or the narratives or memories I may have thereof. My habit of injecting such specialness into reality is my 1st person reality colonizing and violating 3rd person reality.

On the other hand, I must submit to God, because in the last instance even my own will is always-already layered in something infinitely larger than myself. Hence, I am always only a thin slice of a totality that I cannot see the beginning or end of, and hence I cannot in any way be the most important or special part of existence. I must have faith in something beyond my 1st person reality, something infinitely larger.

The only reasonable response to the infinite and to the enormity of existence is submission; I must seek to grasp at least some of this enormity and try to see at least some comprehensible values that are larger than myself, and I must submit my free will to what is good, even if I cannot know what the ultimate source of that goodness may be.

This is a further step along the path of secularization. We used to think that there was “someone” out there, someone to hear our prayers. We bargained with 3rd person reality. A part of us wanted to steer it, when we can only ever submit to it, except through the causal power of our will. But that secularization is incomplete: it leaves islands of God, in the 2nd person, everywhere in the world around us. But these are also ultimately beyond my will and my direct reality. When I believed in You as a source of good or evil, as a will, I was mistaken. I now must take the full responsibility for the universe, including for you—by logical necessity.

So God is both dead and my will is always-already submitted to God. Both of these things are simultaneously true. And I have the full responsibility for all that arises. And I love you. And I must seek the truth, and that is only possible together with you, and in your eyes the dead God looks back at me.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

 

Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia – A Marathon of Academic Incompetence

  • REASONED CRITICISM OF JORDAN PETERSON AND CAMILLE PAGLIA
  • HANZI GOES THROUGH THEIR 1h:40m LONG YOUTUBE TALK ABOUT FEMINISM AND POSTMODERNISM, BEGINNING TO END
  • TOTAL PARTY KILL
  • MONEY BACK GUARANTEE
  • MERCY LEVEL SET TO: 0.00%

Prologue

So when the Prophet was asked about what the most sacred of struggles is, he responded that a word of truth in the face of an unjust ruler is the highest form of Jihad (Musnad Aḥmad 18449)

Ladies and gentlemen, somebody needs to speak out against the emperor. He is naked. And so is the empress.

And another prophet, the one we call Jacques Lacan, pointed out that the street bum madman who thinks he is emperor isn’t necessarily any more mad than the emperor who thinks he’s emperor. The only difference is that other people share the latter’s belief.

If you’re a follower and worshipper of Jordan Peterson on his anti-postmodern anti-feminism, shared by Camille Paglia, you have been worshipping a false god, an idol. You have been sold a golden bull. But Moses is here to cast it into the fire.

Gifted but Highly Over-rated

In my opinion, nobody is more over-valued than the great internet phenomenon Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor. As a psychologist and university teacher he is pretty good, even great. As a political commentator and interpreter of our time, he is simply not. Camille Paglia, who joins him for this talk, is also talented and interesting, but ultimately a poor and unreliable guide to understanding culture, politics and society of today.

So here’s the talk I want to comment upon, where JP and CP discuss for about 1h 40m. They talk mostly about postmodernism, social justice warriors, political correctness, feminism and university life.

Here is the talk in text if you don’t have the time to watch the video.

I’ll comment and show you they’re wrong about most things they are saying – including almost all of their central arguments. Some good stuff is in there, but most of it is just plain wrong, incoherent, and very poorly argued.

I’m going to use a somewhat mean method to get my message across here: machine-gunning a recorded talk with text. I realize that this isn’t 100% fair, and it can come across as overly antagonistic or even caustic. They get to talk and I get to think and write before I comment.

But since these thinkers have gained great influence, becoming some of the most dominant intellectual voices on the internet, they should be able to take it. If they want, they are free to respond in text with clarifications or counter-arguments, as can others who might want to rush to their defense.

My Main Point

So before we go, here’s my claim in four points:

  • Both JP and CP misdiagnose the current social justice and postmodern movements, describing the key insights and social dynamics of these incorrectly.
  • Both fail to take the perspectives from which these social, cultural, and political currents emerge, and thus they also fail to present solutions to very real problems. In effect, they deny very real problems.
  • Both fall into the exact same traps that they accuse their adversaries of: collective blame, essentialism – and here and there you can even find clear cases of misogyny, exactly corresponding to the bitter, antagonistic feminism they try to critique. There is essentially good feminism (smart, balanced, science-based) and bad feminism (antagonistic, bitter, sloppy, male-bashing), just as there is good anti-feminism (seeing men’s interests, looking at things more psychologically, checking facts) and bad anti-feminism (antagonistic, bitter, sloppy, female-bashing). JP and CP represent bad anti-feminism. They think that if you just remove the evil and inexplicable abomination of postmodern neomarxist politically correct feminism, all will be well.
  • Both make clearly false and incoherent statements, many times, and in general – which shows that the high claims to intellectual authority of these two figures should not be taken seriously. In some cases, they reveal outrageous incompetence. At the risk of being tedious, I’ve gone through many of their mistakes, 47 to be precise. This is because I have been asked to be specific about my refusal to share in the choir of praise.

One thing I do like about JP is that he urges people – and men in particular – to toughen up and speak their truth, clearly and directly. A sound advice.

A pro-JP friend, who I told about some of the arguments I’m going to present, actually asked me to have some mercy and not criticize without also lifting Peterson’s strong points. And of course, there are strong points. I have positively referenced JP in this earlier post, where I bash some of the sicknesses of political correctness and feminism.

But if JP and CP are flat out wrong about most of what they’re saying, should I refrain from pointing it out, in order to protect the frailty of their message? No. That’s not how this works. Their stuff should be robust enough to survive a critical listening. If it’s not, it’s not.

When someone is on the wrong side of the truth, when someone is deep into falsehood and distortion, as Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia manifestly are, the truth can show no mercy.

Here’s my truth about Peterson.

Alright, are you ready?

Marathon of Academic Incompetence

Let’s start here: poorly concealed misogyny. Listen through the whole talk and count the negative statements about women as a collective, and the negative statements about men. The results are staggering and terrifying – and this can hardly be a coincidence. There are many more negative statements about women.

Now, I’ll go through the talk in sequence. It’s going to be a marathon, so keep up. The reason it’s long is simply that they make so many mistakes. Just saying, I had to skip about half of my objections just to keep the text from swelling.

In the first part, they make mistakes, but it’s more about pomo (postmodernism) and the universities than about gender issues. If you want the juiciest stuff, where they talk more gender and reveal their misogyny, you can scroll down to Part 2 two directly.

Part 1.

  1. Paglia, 4-6 min. She tells us that a “foreign French import” of poststructuralist thinking came into American campuses, and that this had nothing to do with the “authentic” 1960’s revolution, which was closer to the movement known as “New Age”. “Careerists” became the poststructuralist university professors.
    1. If the original movement didn’t last, there may be a reason for it. If it devolved into New Age madness, maybe it wasn’t such a good legacy. And if the ideas first expressed by French intellectuals caught on among the post-war generations, it probably was because these ideas resonated with the social and cultural currents of the 1960s and beyond.
    2. Argument of authority, and false inference: if pomo is not 1960’s revolution, and the latter is good, then the former must be bad.
    3. This is also a “bad-guy theory” about a foreign invader, not a sociological explanation.
    4. Besides, it’s simply incorrect; there are many real connections, in Europe especially, between e.g. Foucault and the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Wiki: “Lectures began at the university in January 1969, and straight away its students and staff, including Foucault, were involved in occupations and clashes with police, resulting in arrests. In February, Foucault gave a speech denouncing police provocation to protesters at the Latin Quarter of the Mutualité”. Eribon 1991, p. 201 and 206.
    5. She says: “It was elitist, not progressive” – These are not opposites. False inference.
    6. So: false authority, false inference, false facts. Low quality stuff.
  2. Paglia: 9:20-10:00. She tells us that because she teaches at art schools, she knows that not all of cognitive reality is linguistically mediated as the postmodernists claim, for instance ceramics isn’t, it’s more bodily and visceral. This is used as an argument against the postmodern position that language is fundamental to human activity and understanding.
    1. If you look at the new research presented in Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made, you see that “concept formation” is more primary and neurologically generalized than formerly assumed. In other words, even deep inside our brains, even at level of emotions and sensations, we are linguistic creatures. True story, empirically speaking.
    2. She needs to read up.
  3. (Some due credit: Paglia is right about “the end of oppositional art”. And about bureaucratization of academia. And about fragmentation of teaching, to some extent. These are commonly held positions, which I also share.)
  4. Peterson: 15-16 min. He suggests that pomo is a radical relativism and interpretationalism and the only thing that is real to pomos (postmoderns) is power. He wonders what the connection between pomo and neomarxism really is, given that pomo is relativist and neomarxism has some rather absolute values.
    1. Roughly correct, but a bit of a strawman. Pomo is not really about relativism, but about the fact that all knowledge shows up in a context, and that you may uncover hidden or implicit structures to that knowledge. The structure of the knowledge claim tends to follower cruder rules that have to do more with power relations than what is presented at surface level.
    2. By the way, the connection he is looking for between pomo and neomarxism, and which Paglia fails to provide, is that both are moral-critical projects which speak to a fairness-seeking mind: one looks at cultural injustices and inequalities, the other at economic ones. To the pomos, the point is that we should be suspicious of modernist narratives and if we demask and criticize them, there may be new emancipations – cultural, economic or both.
    3. Paglia goes on to say these people are poorly educated, but obviously these are the folks with degrees in history and anthropology, and these people are often very well read. I dare you to try me on this one: we can find many very well educated academic pomos.
  5. Paglia: 21:00. She claims that one must understand neoclassicism and classical theory in order to write about Western society (which she says Foucault didn’t).
    1. No argument is made for why this is the case. There are always a thousand categories of knowledge that can be claimed as “necessary”.
    2. So this is Bildung snobbism, which would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that this is her own main charge against the pomos.
    3. Also, it would exclude her interlocutor, Jordan Peterson, who isn’t so big on neoclassicism – correct me if I’m wrong.
  6. Peterson: 21:30-22:30. He tells us that psychology is science-based and thus protected from the madness of pomo and neomarxism, which makes no quality distinctions.
    1. It should be noted that sociological, critical, and analytical understanding are not simply reducible to scientific methods. These categories involve critical re-evaluations of everyday life, social ontology, and so forth. They have a spiritual or existential undercurrent.
    2. Hence, he is measuring a distinct social category by the standards of another field. The sociological imagination includes some deeply counter-intuitive understandings that are easy to grasp conceptually, but difficult to follow in practice.
  7. Peterson: 24:30. He tells us he learned from Robert Zapolsky (the Stanford primatologist and behavioral biologist) that zebras are black and white, mainly using camouflage stripes to hide in the herd, not hiding in grass (being visible from miles away). He means that pomos are like these zebras; they hide in the herd from lions like himself.
    1. He fails to point out that lions, the main predator of zebras, are colorblind, which makes the example less relevant. Lions cannot see the difference between the whiteness of the zebras and the pale grass.
    2. Also, he gets the pomo logic exactly wrong: pomo is about trying to claim uniqueness, to stand out, which is one of the main reasons why it’s linked to narcissism. To quote the über proto-pomo of all time, Rousseau: “I may be no better, but at least I am different.”
  8. Paglia: 27:40. She says that you shouldn’t do French Lacan in English, because English doesn’t need it, it being a richer language than French.
    1. Contradicts her former (manifestly incorrect) statement that language doesn’t need to structure the contents of experience.
    2. English doesn’t need to look at its underlying structures and assumptions? Why ever not?
  9. Paglia: 28:00. She says that the US universities should be more like the British departments and that separate departments are “totalitarian”.
    1. Totalitarianism means something else. She’s making some inference here she needs to clarify. Sloppy.
    2. British faculties are also pomo and PC (politically correct), so her proposed solution does not solve her supposed problem.
  10. Peterson: 32:00. He says he doesn’t understand the hatred from which pomo critique stems and why they just want to “demolish” patriarchy, etc.
    1. This isn’t hard to answer. It’s from experienced racism, sexism, social degradation, unfairly stacked games, and other developmental cluster-fucks that wound people, hold people back, and create resentment. In their experience, pomo critique offers a tool for resistance and self-empowerment.
    2. The fact that he doesn’t understand this shows that he fails to see the fundamental source of social movements, described in so many social theorists, notably Jürgen Habermas.
    3. He also fails to understand the positive “punk” current to this culture, how these ideas and perspectives soothe aching hearts and give hope and a sense of strength, meaning, and rebellion to the people who feel society is too harsh and unfair.
    4. As I argue in The Listening Society, people often tend towards simplistic bad-guy models to channel our resentment if we’re not sufficiently cognitively complex, and if we lack access to sufficiently correct explanatory mental models of the injustices. So hurt feelings, plus insufficient cognitive stage, plus flattened or over-simplified theories explain the pomo critique and its pathologies.
    5. Hence, he misreads the social forces in play, which causes him to misdiagnose the pomo critique of society, its genesis, and its pathologies.
    6. The PC leftwing pomos are indirect followers of Rousseau; they believe that if life isn’t good, it’s because there is something that stops people from the natural state of being good: capitalism, patriarchy, etc. which is why they want to tear these structures down.
    7. On a side note, I agree with him that resentment is a bad place to start if you want to change the world for the better, or to know the truth for that matter. But to counter resentment, you must understand what causes it and keeps it going, and offer other options. Simply telling the resenting party to stop being wounded doesn’t help. Evidently.
  11. Peterson: 33:30. He tells us there is no sense of bad motherhood and no sense of good fatherhood in today’s society (referring to generalized, abstracted archetypes), which means that we’re stuck with overprotective institutions.
    1. Google the phrase – in quotation marks – “nanny state”. You get lots of hits. Read the wiki article if you like.
    2. Google a corresponding popular term for bad fatherhood on a political level, one used all the time.
    3. What? Why aren’t you doing it? How come you cannot find a term like that?
    4. Because he’s plain wrong: the current dominant discourse is one against the nanny state (the bad mother in his own theory of archetypes), not against the paternalistic, strict society.
    5. He also claims that this explains why boys do poorly in school, but the line of reasoning is very unclear. A more down-to-earth explanation may be that boys on average have a harder time sitting still and concentrating.
    6. Sloppy reasoning. Incorrect inference.
  12. Paglia: 35:50. She thinks there’s no cure for the culture’s ills, except if men start demanding respect as men.
    1. Unclear what this means in practical terms. Maybe it means something clever, but we’re not let in on it.
    2. She’s being a poor sociologist here: saying that a collective group’s (“men”) ascribed agency (which is fictional) can be transposed to the illness of “culture”, and that they can salvage it. This is collective messianism, nothing more.
    3. This is an exact inversion of the bad kind of feminism. This is bad anti-feminism.
  13. Peterson: 36:15. He and others have shown that pomo PC values correspond with both femininity (high agreeableness), negative emotions, and personality disorders, and goes on to note that women with harmful relations to men may dislike all masculinity because they can’t distinguish between its positive and negative types.
    1. Yes, feminism is often a trojan horse for good old bitterness.
    2. But then again, he fails to point out that the majority of PC is explained by high agreeableness and higher social concern, also being linked to higher stages of personal development and post-conventional moral development.
    3. He wants to pin an “evil essence” to pomo, but fails to see that it’s a broad phenomenon where many different psychological mechanisms are gathered under one banner.
    4. There are other bodies of research which show unflattering traits in other collective categories of people as well. The folks who are authoritarian have higher level of psychopathy and sadism, meat eaters have lower empathy, people of the Christian faith (like Peterson) have lower IQ (even if he happens to have a high IQ). Suddenly, a few negative traits in feminist social justice warriors don’t seem so spectacular in comparison.

Part 2.

And then they start to talk more about women and gender – this will be the main focus of the comments from here on. There’s lots of other preposterous stuff going on, but let’s skip past most of it for the sake of brevity. After all, you get the picture from Part 1.

  1. Peterson: 39:10. He says he feels helpless because he cannot hit women, or implicitly threaten to hit them.
    1. Yes, really, this is what your hero says. Go listen to it again a few times and let it sink in. And then go get yourself a new hero, if you still need one.
    2. But to get at his underlying argument, that physical threats between men temper discourse and makes it flow more naturally, this is a completely incorrect claim. If it were the case, then discourse would be most functional where violence is most present, like in criminal gangs.
  2. Peterson: 39:30. He says it’s the responsibility of the collective category “women” to tell off their “crazy harpy sisters”. These purportedly undermine the masculinity of culture, which “really is fatal”.
    1. Doesn’t make sense to give collective responsibility to broad categories.
    2. How exactly is “the masculinity of culture” undermined? Are there any ways to measure this variable and can he show this is happening?
    3. Fatal? That’s a pretty strong claim, on pretty weak basis. Aren’t we owed a better explanation? After all, the modern hypermasculine cultures, like Nazi Germany or ISIS, seem pretty short-lived.
    4. Peterson sounds like… a fanatic – of the kind he accuses pomos of being.
  3. Paglia: 40:15. She says that the fall of masculinity leads to the decline of Western culture.
    1. Are there other cultures that are doing much better? By what measures exactly? It is clear that this is vague and empty speculation. She mentions ISIS but I don’t think she means it as a positive example in this regard.
  4. Paglia: 43:40. She says women of today are unhappier because of lacking traditional roles.
    1. In statistical terms, this isn’t true. Men and women are both happier today than before, even if the increase is bigger in men.
    2. It goes for a developmental axis as well, more modern countries having happier women.
    3. More gender-equal countries have happier women. Japan and Korea’s keeping of traditional gender roles under modern circumstances have proven extremely detrimental to mental health, gender relations, and family relations.
    4. She may still be right that women are unhappy about this part of their lives, but she owes us better evidence, or at least better reasoning.
    5. We shouldn’t do guilt-by-association, but it should be pointed out that her argument is identical to that of Nazis. That doesn’t make her a Nazi; it just means she reasons like one on this topic, which might make us think twice about where following this line of reasoning might lead us. See here for (almost) identical structure of argument, an essay called “Women and National Socialism“.
  5. Peterson: 46:20. He says that gender differences, according to research, are maximized in the Scandinavian countries, where equality has progressed the farthest.
    1. So basically, he just killed their whole argument that PC gender equality means that masculinity is undermined. The most feminist countries get more masculine guys and more feminine women, who are freed from oppressive norms.
    2. Seriously, he just ignored the fact that his and Paglia’s main argument against feminism is wrong.
    3. Also, he should point out that men and women in Scandinavian countries are also more androgynous in their expressions and demeanors; it’s just the character traits that diverge.
    4. Also, he should point out that the increased gender gaps have to do primarily with statistical measures of which jobs people choose, and that Scandinavian countries are full of initiatives for women engineers and tech startups, which is very good for the economy.
  6. (Due credit: The thing Peterson says about male and female dominance hierarchies and the differences between them is true and important.)
  7. Paglia: 49:00. She says she likes a TV show where women have toxic arguments and guys settle the matter with a good fistfight and then they’re friends.
    1. No, physical violence creates toxic, pathological, and sad relationships between men.
    2. She was probably never in a fistfight, which is likely why she references what she saw on TV. I was in a lot of fistfights when I was a kid and I saw a lot of them and I can tell you that 99% of them happen when bigger guys pick on smaller or younger ones, or when robbers smack people in the head to grab their cell phone and wallet.
    3. And then there’s night-life violence, in which very drunk, very hurt people get in pathetic and sad situations and have to be dragged off by security guards. I’ve studied police interactions in nightclubs, and all I can say is that violence isn’t very pretty and only rarely catharsis-inducing.
    4. If a grown man actually hits another seriously, the risks of severe injuries or even death are very tangible. Her violence romance is deluded. And it is, unfortunately, another clear link to Nazism.
    5. Besides, this is an overtly misogynous and sexist remark. It says she prefers guys to girls.
  8. Peterson: 49:35. He says that girls are mean bullies because they go after the reputation of the victim, as happened to his daughter.
    1. First of all, most bullying among guys follows a similar pattern: teasing, freeze-out, etc.
    2. Secondly, he implies that he would have preferred a physical male bullying treatment of his daughter, to the “annoying” female one.
    3. I’m not saying he prefers his daughter to be hit with fists and physically abused. I’m just saying he might not have thought this through.
    4. And here he joins Paglia in overt misogyny.
  9. Paglia: 50:40. She says that men tease one another and this toughens them, so they don’t take things so seriously, whereas women are over-sensitive.
    1. Might be true to some extent, but again, a generalized, loaded, misogynist remark.
    2. Fails to point out that men tease each other less if they have healthier relations. Insecure 13-year-olds tease the most and pretend they think it’s fun, as do gang members. Mature, well-developed, functioning guys tease only a tad, and only in sensitive, good-spirited ways. And they apologize if anything is taken the wrong way.
    3. She clearly has a false, romanticized view of male ball-busting. Most of it is insecure and insincere.
  10. Paglia: 52:10. She says that everybody should be better educated and learn about the Stone Age, etc., in which case we’d come closer to her conclusions.
    1. First of all: People with in-depth knowledge about our Paleolithic ancestors, historians, archaeologists, anthropologist etc., generally don’t share her ideas.
    2. Secondly: We should always be suspicious when someone says that everybody should learn something. Why this particular thing, instead of say physics, complexity, self-knowledge, social intelligence, mindfulness, or basic computer programming?
    3. Of course, this is a game played by many or even most academics. If the particular knowledge they possess is what constitutes the definition of “education”, this means that they are also the “most educated” person, and thus that everyone should learn from them, and thus that they are at the top of the hierarchy. I’ve seen too much such academic bullshit.
    4. But if she wants to make an argument that “everyone” must learn something, she needs a very strong, generalizable argument, and a falsifiable theory for why this is the case. Otherwise, she’s just saying that if people read what she read they would think more like she does (tautological), effectively telling the world to be more like herself.
    5. … the pathology of which is self-evident: it’s narcissistic to force one’s own truth down everybody’s throats. Another claim for power.
  11. Paglia & Peterson: 54:20-55:50. She says that we should appreciate the development that has happened throughout history, and the sacrifices made by men. Peterson joins her and says men’s sacrifices made progress possible and that we have a great society.
    1. This is classical conservatism. Nothing wrong with that, but it should be called for what it is.
    2. If she wanted to balance the argument out, she might also have mentioned the other side of the argument, the radical side; that there is no logically conceivable reason to believe that today’s society cannot be improved upon.
    3. But she doesn’t.
    4. Peterson fails to mention that women make many sacrifices corresponding to those of men. He goes on to restate the classical conservative argument: the unlikely wonder of society not falling apart.
    5. It’s simply an invalid argument that we should stop making further changes to our society, which has been characterized by constant change, out of fear that it will fall apart. Historically, societies have more often collapsed from the reluctance to change than the opposite.
  12. Paglia: 56:15. She says our culture is falling apart because a strength or spirit has been lost.
    1. First of all, this is poor social science: Talking about spirit or strength without reference to the exact societal mechanisms, discourses, or any other observable factors to affect human behaviors, leaves us with nothing but invisible free-floating ghosts that can neither be verified nor falsified.
    2. Secondly, this is just more classical conservatism. Compare to fin de siècle, the “spirit” around the late 1800s, where writers such as Oswald Spengler inspired the far right.
    3. This flow of classical conservatism goes on for a while on both sides…
    4. Let’s call these two what they are; classical conservatives. Clever ones, updated ones, but still.
  13. Peterson: 01:01:55. He says that most people who were abused as children don’t spread the abuse to their children. This proves, he says, that patriarchy doesn’t exist, because if it did it would spread exponentially until all people were abused by bad fathers and men.
    1. Basic logics fail. His conclusion doesn’t in any way follow from his stated facts.
    2. I also think “patriarchy” is a pretty weak theory, but his reasoning doesn’t touch upon it at all. No one has claimed that child abuse and patriarchy are synonymous.
    3. And even if patriarchy was reducible to child abuse, which no one has ever claimed to my knowledge, his line of reasoning is entirely illogical. Just because child abuse isn’t inherited in most cases, this doesn’t mean that new child abuse can’t show up for other reasons and thus be reproduced.
    4. The fact that child abuse has declined is of course due to the many social and cultural advances of society, and not an inherent tendency for it do peter out – in which case it should have petered out when humans had already been around for over 15 000 years at the onset of the Neolithic Age.
    5. I think he just managed a triple non-sequitur, which may be a record in academic incompetence. He made an argument that doesn’t compute, about a topic that doesn’t relate to what he’s trying to prove, through an analogy that doesn’t hold.
    6. Not sloppy. This is incompetent. Painfully, inexcusably incompetent.
  14. Paglia: 01:02:50. She says that it’s important to examine the transfer from the traditional extended family structure to the modern nuclear family. She thinks Freud is a good place to start.
    1. No, no. This is a common Marxist mainstream cliché, but it has been more or less disproven for decades.
    2. Historians like Peter Laslett and Alan MacFarlane have proven that the nuclear family – a mother, father and child(ren) in a “simple house,” as Laslett put it – was the dominant arrangement in England stretching back to the thirteenth century.
    3. It’s not a grave mistake, if it weren’t for her own insistence on historical knowledge and her claim that the transition from collective household to nuclear family is so central.
    4. In addition, the sociologist Birgitte Berger has argued in her 2002 book that the nuclear family is actually psychologically superior for the development of children, turning a lot of the Freudian critique on its head.
  15. Paglia: 01:03:55. She says that contemporary therapeutic psychology doesn’t talk enough about childhood, as psychoanalysts used to back in the good old days.
    1. She fails to point out that talk therapy has dramatically increased its evidence-based effectiveness since people stopped talking about their childhoods and began focusing on the here and now.
    2. Therapeutic psychology of today is also more science-based and effective than during the mid-20th This is largely because Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other related therapies don’t over-complicate things and focus on what can be done here and now. They are also easier to learn, repeat, and make reliable tests upon.
    3. If some issue is deeper and you need to talk about your childhood, that’s a large investment in time and energy. It’s smarter not to make that investment into a default, but to calibrate when to talk about childhood and when not to.
    4. … and why doesn’t Peterson point out this obvious mistake, seeing as this is his field of expertise?
  16. Paglia: 01:04:35. She says that it’s taboo today to ask about how childhood experiences may play a part in causing homosexuality.
    1. It is widely accepted praxis within the sciences to investigate the ways that sexuality may be formed by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors.
  17. Peterson & Paglia: 01:05:30. He says that he opposed a legislation which said you had to call transgender people by their preferred pronoun, which he thinks is “compelled speech”. Paglia thinks that is “absolutely Orwellian”.
    1. We have many other forms of “compelled speech” that JP does not oppose. For instance, we’re not allowed to call one another bitch, nigger, “it”, and legally we’re not allowed to tell somebody to commit murder. And we can be compelled to speak when asked about our earnings by the tax authorities.
    2. Besides, we are still allowed to say what we want about the gender pronoun if we don’t like it. We just need to respect transgender persons’ wishes, or refrain from talking to them in pronouns, opting for using their name, etc. So it’s not actually compelled speech. That’s just his exaggerated misnomer.
    3. If asking people to show common courtesy and mildly penalize failure to do so is “absolutely Orwellian” to Paglia, I don’t think she has read George Orwell’s 1984.
    4. Will they mind if we call Peterson a girl and Paglia a boy?
  18. Paglia: 01:05:55. She says that her own writing of a book was “the greatest sex change in history” and that this justifies that there should be no regulations on uses of the English language. True story, that’s what she says. Go back and listen.
    1. No, that wasn’t the biggest sex change in history.
    2. She means that because it meant so much to her to use the English language in her book, she thinks it is “evil” for someone to tell her how to use it.
    3. She fails to point out that nobody would stop her from writing her book however she wants, using the beauty of the English language (with as many “okaaay?s” as she likes), but that she’s simply expected to show common courtesy.
    4. What about grammar; grammar does tell her how to use language? Does she hate that too?
    5. What about all the language academies in other countries, institutions regulating spelling and grammar, are all of these “pure evil” and their populations stuck in purely evil and Orwellian states?
    6. Let’s be clear: Peterson and Paglia find reasons to feel terribly affronted, but it simply doesn’t make sense and they have nothing to be upset about, and they are hysterically focusing on details. Sounds a lot like… bad feminism. Except this is bad anti-feminism.
    7. Paglia’s statement is an affront not only to the very real struggle of transgender people, but also to the legacy of George Orwell. Which is just sad, for a literature professor who claims to defend the English heritage and being transgender.
  19. Peterson: 01:07:30. He says that having older parents with more resources makes people spoiled, which is psychologically harmful.
    1. This may be true in part, but the research consensus is that having parents with more resources is better in so many ways.
    2. So all in all, even if he’s right about something in part, he is still wrong overall.
  20. Paglia: 01:09:15. She says that it’s the upper middle class who institute hyper-sensitivity and inject it into universities.
    1. Working class people aren’t as sensitive? She probably doesn’t hang out very much with working class folks. I grew up working-class, without a dad who was college professor by the time he was 35 (which is her idea of a working-class background, her own). Two of my brothers were so hurt in life they both died early from drinking and smoking. People are always in minor family feuds, always conflicts about who did or didn’t do what, who owes who, who was insulted, etc.
    2. Such family feuds between neighbors and cousins simply aren’t as prevalent in the “yoga bourgeoise” (you know, folks who are rich and meditate and have higher class) where people are sometimes annoyingly sensitive towards one another, yes, but more socially apt and functional, and thus in a much less emotionally precarious position.
    3. Working class are just bourgeois waiting to be born. Bourgeois are just upper middle class waiting to be born. So the increased sensitivity she describes is simply what dialectically emerges as people have more of their wants and needs met.
    4. A smarter way ahead is to deal with this sensitivity, rather than to mock people for it and say it isn’t allowed (and to deny it in ourselves), as Paglia does.
  21. (Intermezzo: they say smart and good things about child development).
  22. Peterson: 01:13:30. He says that women are bitter about the role they have in modern life and jumps to remembering that many cultures have had bride abduction as part of the marriage ritual.
    1. Bride abduction still goes on in some places, like Kyrgyzstan, watch this short Vice documentary.
    2. It leads to women killing themselves in misery. It’s a huge problem over there.
    3. If Peterson is to suggest women secretly long for this, that “this fundamental feminine role is being denied to them” he might have to sharpen his argument.
  23. Paglia: 1:15:00. She argues for “the freedom to risk rape”.
    1. This shows a basic lack of understanding of rights and liberties. There are negative freedoms (freedom from) and positive freedoms (freedom to). The freedom to risk rape isn’t a concept that makes sense.
    2. You can be free from rape, and free from excessive control – but freedom to be raped, now that’s Orwell’s 1984 (“Freedom is slavery”).
  24. Paglia: 01:17:00. She argues that men hunt women and want sex, which she says women do not understand.
    1. Misogynistic comment that says women are stupid. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t understand what she’s saying.
    2. I think she means to say that it’s difficult for women to take the male perspective, as men are simply more immediate and visual in their sexuality.
  25. Paglia: 01:19:00. Paglia says American society has a chaos in the sexual realm.
      1. Meanwhile, rape statistics have slumped, and a very large portion of the women who are raped are students, which says that the counter-measures with on-campus support mechanisms of universities – which Paglia is against – may be effective after all. This is in an era where many more of the occurring rapes are reported as taboos are lessened, so the fall of sexual violence is actually much greater than the fall in statistics.
      2. She’s wrong.

    A country comparison of rape and sexual assault rate trends, per 100000 people, 2003 - 2011, United Nations.png
    By M Tracy HunterOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

  26. Paglia & Peterson: 01h 19-21 min. They talk about consent and emphasize the responsibility of women to understand that men may want to rape them.
    1. This of course puts the responsibility of men’s actions on women’s shoulders.
    2. In a fair society, wouldn’t it make more sense to put the responsibility of one’s own actions on each person?
    3. Here, they are mixing up sociology and behavioral science with ideas about personal responsibility. It’s true that we cannot have poor social institutions and then say that “it’s up to the individual” to not make mistakes. So we cannot put the sociological issue of sexual violence on the shoulders of an individual young man; we have to figure out ways to make it less prevalent in society at large. But Peterson and Paglia are taking the burden off the man’s shoulder and putting it on the woman’s: “the right to risk being raped”.
    4. The recent #metoo social media campaign and its massive response around the world serves to underscore that women have too often carried the responsibility for the actions of men and for their transgressions.
  27. Paglia: 01:21:50. She want to stop all interference of universities into what students do with one another. That, she adds, is “fascism of the worst kind”.
    1. It should be pointed out that Peterson and Paglia both viewed comparisons between themselves and fascism as unacceptable, and that Peterson said that he would physically threaten any male who said such things about him.
    2. Apparently, they don’t hold themselves to the same standards.
    3. Besides, having a system for investigating sexual misconduct is “fascism of the worst kind”? I guess mass-murdering people of differing opinion gets second place?
  28. Peterson agrees to this phrasing, “fascism of the worst kind” specifically, arguing that it is a new kind of fascism.
    1. From dictionary definition of fascism: “Fascism /ˈfæʃɪzəm/ is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and control of industry and commerce that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.”
    2. Neofascism, from dictionary: “Neofascism is the practice of university administrations to offer supportive structures for the psychological and social wellbeing and health of their students, such as investigations in cases of sexual violence or misconduct, as well as working against excessive partying at fraternity clubs by means of information, counselling, and giving condoms.”
    3. I’m not going to tell you which one of these two I made up. You will have to guess.
  29. Peterson: 1:23:00. He wonders how anyone could be naive enough to create parallel “legal systems” at the universities, because it obviously wouldn’t work.
    1. Social work, it works the same way.
    2. Psychiatric care, it works the same way.
    3. Union rights, it works the same way.
    4. Civil society committees, it works the same way.
    5. In churches and major corporations, it works the same way.
    6. Just saying.
    7. On a more serious note, when Peterson repeatedly returns to claiming that present-day society is “naïve”, he aims to critique what I have earlier called “game denial”, which is a core feature of classical conservative sentiments.
    8. Both he and Paglia fail to make the analytical synthesis and offer a path towards “game change”, hence they end up de facto defending the status quo of women being sexually abused. They go against “game denial” but end up in the position of “game acceptance”, which means to implicitly defend injustice.
    9. The correct answer is to refute “game denial” as well as “game acceptance” and to offer paths towards transformations of everyday life, taking the perspectives of all parties seriously.
    10. We hear very little such alternatives.
  30. Peterson: 1:23:25. He says the legal system is awesome because it evolved over a long time.
    1. There are many things that evolved over a long time that aren’t very good.
    2. The legal system is one of them. The way it deals with sexual violence is catastrophic, and it is a too heavy weight system for these matters, dealing in too binary terms.
    3. That’s why sexual misconduct is being transposed to other realms than the strictly legal one.
    4. You can read this article on how the justice system fails rape victims, if you like.
  31. Paglia: 1:24:10. She says that it’s taboo to say that women should be responsible for their own choices.
    1. Implying, then, choices that lead up to someone else raping them.
    2. Implying, then, that she wants women to be responsible for the choices of male rapists.
    3. It doesn’t make sense.
  32. Paglia & Peterson: 1:24:10. They agree that the refusal to hold women responsible for risking being raped is “such a betrayal of authentic feminism”.
    1. I disagree.
    2. The right to being raped is not authentic feminism.
  33. Paglia & Peterson: 1:25:00. They argue against verbal consent because sex is not a verbal thing.
    1. Would it be so bad if people talked a little more about it? Might avoid some misunderstandings.
    2. If people have verbal consent – more of the kind in the BDSM community, which is hardly known for lacking spice – then the responsibility is shared more equally.
    3. With a light-weight consent policy, you are still free to have sex with someone without asking, but then you risk that they will flip out and raise charges. So you have responsibility for your own sexual actions, not those of another.
    4. Can Peterson and Paglia offer another venue for legal protection for rape victims? Do they at all recognize the fact that the vast majority of all rape cases are never dealt with, the victims never vindicated?
  34. Peterson: 01:32:00. He says that, for feminists, the patriarchy is evil and so is traditional motherhood, which leaves women only with the professional role, which then is patriarchy, just run by women.
    1. Reveals lack of basic understanding of feminism.
    2. The idea with “patriarchy” is that women become the bitches of guys in different aspects of life and thus less free to live their life as they want.
    3. Patriarchy in this sense doesn’t have anything to do with guys being bad, just with the persistence of norms, habits, and prejudices that no longer make sense in modern society.
    4. Almost no feminists argue that women should run society, only that they should have a more equal share in its power.
  • Paglia: 01:34:15. She argues that the West is like ancient Rome, which she claims fell to bureaucratic control and multiculturalism.
    1. The Roman Empire fell because of its inability to sustain bureaucratic control. Imperial overstretch, poor fiscal policies, military challengers, growing inequalities in a largely socially unsustainable system, and long-standing ecological crises brought the Roman Empire to its knees – not too much bureaucratic control or the fact that the Roman Empire consisted of different ethnicities (as was the case in all of the large agrarian empires of the time).
    2. This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for her bragging and insistence upon historical understanding as mandatory. Apparently, she miserably fails at it herself.
  • Peterson: 01:39:30. He says that victimization of groups may cause them to commit genocide. This is said in the context that pomo PC culture creates new venues of victimization and blaming.
    1. He fails to point out that pomo culture also creates venues for expressing shame, resentment, and frustrations in non-violent ways, allowing for cultural struggle to take the place of violent struggle.
    2. Does he really mean to say that the places in the world that have most ethnic conflicts also have the most pomo feminists? I think the opposite case can be made rather easily.
  • On the closing note Paglia calls out: “We agreed on everything! I knew it!”
    1. They may have nodded and agreed, but this shows only lacking rigor. Upon closer inspection, they don’t agree on everything.

And that, my friend, closes this marathon of harrowing academic incompetence. All in all, these were 47 points pf critique, a handful of which would have shot dead an academic discussion of normal standards. (13 + 37 points, but three were interludes with due credits).

Forty-seven points of severe, fundamental faults. That’s either incompetence, dishonesty or the tunnel vision of the fanatic. You decide which one, or which combination of the three.

If you’re one of the many people who have been unable to see through the thin veneer, unable to see these people for what they are – standard conservatives, misogynists, hysterical anti-feminists – this means that your critical thinking has also been curtailed.

So do the right thing and say a painful goodbye to your YouTube father figure, Jordan Peterson. He told you to speak the truth. But he doesn’t tell you the truth, not even close. And neither does Paglia.

By the way, the correct answer to their question, what comes next, after this wave of pomo?

It’s that you accept good feminism, make sure none of it is driven by blame or hatred, and then add another layer to it: masculinism. Then you proceed with a both-and perspective. And you use developmental psychology to get at the core of the issues, reducing the gender antagonism in society, as discussed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology.

The core failure of the intellectual projects of Peterson and Paglia comes from a lack of understanding of developmental sociology. They have both failed to see the simple and fundamental progression: from traditional, to modern, to postmodern, to metamodern.

None of these positions (modern, pomo, etc.) are perfect. They all have pathologies and sicknesses of their own. Pomo has sicknesses. But Peterson and Paglia think that pomo itself is a sickness. To them, if people just “stop doing it”, stop being pomo, everything is going to be fine. But that’s not going to happen, as society developmentally generates a huge onslaught of pomo in late modernity. You can’t tell someone to stop being at a certain developmental stage.

So basically, Peterson and Paglia offer us no path ahead.

What’s next? Metamodernism is next.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Wisdom Is Overrated

At the time of writing, there is a growing emphasis on “wisdom” within acad­emia and elsewhere, where people are arguing for the promotion of the term and its importance in society. A lot of this stuff is interesting and prom­ising. The best source of information at the time of writing is the website Evidence Based Wisdom, which is run by the mathematician Cha­r­les Cassidy. Among the proponents of wisdom you can find philosophers, theolog­ians, psych­ologists, sociologists, educational scientists, mindfulness inst­ruc­tors, business leaders and quite a few spiritually inclined authors – often employ­ing terms such as “trans­form­ational learning” and “self-leader­­ship”. The adult develop­ment research­ers tend to shout with the best of them (my own teacher Michael Commons being an exception to this rule). Within these settings, wisdom has been defined in many different ways – the three most prominent definitions perhaps being the so-called Berlin Wis­dom Paradigm, the Balance Theory of Wisdom and the Three-Dimen­sional Wisdom Scale.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter on wisdom called “Wisdom Troubles”; a chapter that discusses some of the fallacies related to the hyped and relatively overrated notion of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

”Belief in ‘wisdom’ is the belief that there is a variable that is always good, and the more of it, the better. Has there ever been such a variable? Not in the world I live in, at least.”

Wisdom is always defined as something entirely beneficial and unprob­lem­atic. It is argued by more people than I could name, that “wisdom” is what humanity needs to solve its multifaceted crisis. Given all the em­phasis that I have put on discussing adult development (and the existential aspects thereof) in my book The Listening Society, I might be expected to enthusiast­ically supp­ort this trend. Yet, over the years, I have increasingly taken a skep­tical position.

The reason for this skepticism is rather simple: I have yet to see a cred­ible attempt to “operationalize” the concept; to make it workable. If wis­dom is such a serious matter, how come all its proponents only ever come up with vague and indirect ways of seeing it and measuring it? And what exactly is it that wisdom “does” – exactly how does it solve all manner of problems and “wicked issues”? People say that “higher consciousness” is necessary for humanity to solve the great problems we are facing. What exactly is it that people with all this wisdom and “higher consciousness” can do, that others cannot? These questions have been answered, but not quite convincingly.

The proponents of wisdom are certainly on to something. Surely, it makes sense to say that higher consciousness is what humanity needs. As I see it, what the wisdom people are scenting is the importance of seeing inner dimen­sions of people and society and the possibility of an active and deliberate dev­el­op­ment of these.

But the problem is that the wisdom people haven’t done their analytical homework. In other words, the researchers of this field – and other pro­po­nents – haven’t figured out exactly what they’re talking about. And the result is anything but productive. I should say, anything but “wise”.

Do you think I am exaggerating and being unfair? Andreas Fischer, a psychology professor at Heidelberg University, recently published a paper in The International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, titled “Wis­dom – The Answer to All the Questions Really Worth Asking.” As far as I can tell, the title is not ironically meant, and it’s not very different from others in the field. This is a scholar who has read through many of the different def­initions in ancient teachers and modern researchers alike; he is perfectly up-to-date. His paper is well-written and quite interesting – as are many others in the field – but does its very title not underscore that people take wisdom to be a magic bullet?

Fischer’s own suggestion is to see wisdom as fundamental and general insights about how to live a good life. But this definition more or less just says that wisdom is good, and lack of wisdom is bad. Fischer brings up some universally occurring insights in wisdom teach­ers, such as treating others well, going beyond materialism and selfish­ness, the importance of being good­hearted rather than successful, and so forth. He also shows that there is research supporting such claims (that following these guidelines tends to lead to happiness and mental health). Such advice can be useful, but it takes little account of people’s different developmental cap­abilities and personalities, let alone what society they live in and how this wisdom can ever evolve and change. How come so few of the classical wisdom teachers taught us about sustainability (with some North American excep­tions) or animal rights (with some Eastern exceptions)?

Making arguments for “wisdom” and “higher consciousness” without know­­­ing exactly what you are talking about can easily get out of hand. The researchers all try to be specific. But the problem persists – because it has to do with the concept of wisdom itself. It’s just not a very high-quality variable, simply because it is taken to be unambiguously good. My mentor Michael Commons (the creator of the Model of Hierarchical complexity, read this post if you want an introduction) would have said: “It’s a crap variable”.

Our search for the wise person easily becomes a search for the perfect person. Should it then surprise us that most people considered “wise” tend to be semi-mythic figures such as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-Tze or Con­fuc­ius? The real people always run up against their equally real limitations.

Belief in “wisdom” is the belief that there is a variable that is always good, and the more of it, the better. Has there ever been such a variable? Not in the world I live in, at least. Where I come from, many variables always work together to create patterns and equilibriums. Too much of one single variable always has downsides.

So the proponents of wisdom are in fact defending a project that must by necess­ity be a fantasy. If they can’t say in which context this wisdom is good and when it is not, it’s just not a real variable. And if they can’t say how wisdom grows, through which mechanisms, and how it works, and what its limitations are, it is apparently an imagined magic bullet. It is fond hopes and dreams, not much more.

”Wisdom, after all, is most often just taken to mean: ‘you folks should be more like me’. This way, wisdom is simply the speaker’s received wisdom.”

Of Wisdom and Wise-Guys

The proponents of wisdom fail to differentiate between pretty much all of the dimensions I’ve explored in The Listening Society: cognitive com­plexity, IQ, symbolic code, subjective state, existential depth (and the light­ness or dark­ness of that depth), mental health and having a well-integrated person­ality, Eriksonian life phases – the list goes on. Especially, people tend to have an irresistible urge for blending in those Eriksonian life pha­ses, which messes up their theories.

For certain, people who study wisdom generally have several com­ponents in their models (being both smart, patient, humble, emotionally stable, and so forth – see for instance Stephen Hall’s 2010 book Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience), but in turn all of these variables tend to be taken as unambiguously good and there is no serious con­sider­ation of what happens when people develop in one such variable but not another.

Without analytical distinctions it becomes quite difficult to know what you are talking about. Try this out:

  • Is Nelly, a low-complexity (MHC stage 10 Abstract), great-depth, low-state, old and exper­ienced, psychologically stable person who has “inst­all­­ed” the symbol-stage E Modern, “wise” or not?
  • Is Eckhart Tolle wise (a New Age wisdom teacher with high state and great depth) or is he plain stupid (believing that flowers are “enlight­­en­ed plants” and that a wave of New Age mindlessness will save humanity from im­pend­ing destruction and that he is leading the fray by giving often lousy therapeutic advice to people who actually need psychiatric care)? Does he have “high consciousness”?
  • Or how about the great ruler of northern India in the 3rd century BCE, Asho­ka? After times of conquest and war, he turned to Budd­hism and pacifism. In his great compassion he decided, among other things, to let all his prisoners out for fresh air once a year.

In these examples, the answer depends on how wisdom is defined. Which brings us to the third problem. With sloppy variables, no reliable measure­­ments and no stringent definitions (even if the researchers do attempt to be stringent), the field is wide open for people to have just about anything in mind when they talk about “wisdom”. And people always seem to assume that they themselves possess wisdom, and that people who they don’t like don’t. The wisdom movement goes: “Yeah man! You like wisdom too? Me too! Let’s do it, y’all!”

Think about it. The concept of wisdom becomes a projection screen, upon which we can project pretty, wishful images. We can paint anything that feels good onto this “super-duper-variable”. The problem is that it would break down into a giant slugfest of disappointment and conflict if operationalized in society: people would have to start arguing about who is wise, really, and why, and what that means. And a lot of people would force a lot of low quality “wisdom” down other people’s throats. Or sell it to them by means of expensive consulting and motivational speeches. Wisdom, after all, is most often just taken to mean: “you folks should be more like me”. This way, wisdom is simply the speaker’s received wisdom.

So here’s my take on a narrower, stricter, definition. Wisdom is great depth, plain and simple. Nothing more, nothing less. So, the way I use the term, wisdom has to do with things like spirituality and transcendence but not really with being smart or “proficient at living a good life”. With this defin­ition the answer is: yes, Eckhart Tolle is wise. To a highly com­plex but low-depth thinker like Richard Dawkins, Eckhart Tolle simply appears to be a fraud; to his enthused followership, he appears to be a sage. The truth is, quite simply, he has high state, great depth and relativ­ely low complexity.

The first example person, Nelly (great depth, low state, low complex­ity), is also wise, even if she lives in a darker subjective world than Eckhart Tolle. They are both wise, but perhaps not very clever. What can I say?

With this stricter definition, the rural Mongol shaman, for instance, can be viewed as wiser than an average modern person. The same goes for the Tibetan nun. With the definition I propose, they can be called “wiser” simply by virtue of having greater depth. We are being specific about what we mean. And a psych­ologically healthy, complex thinker, who is of old age and at peace with herself is not wise, unless she also has great depth – even if the clichés hold that she “should” be wise.

All this lets wisdom be specific, measurable, and just one piece in the puzzle (rather than being a universal fix-it-all). What we might lose by mak­ing the term more narrow, we regain manifold by clarifying what we are actually talking about.

We might try another definition if you like, a more inclusive one: wisdom is the combination of mental health, high complexity and great depth. This might let Ashoka qualify as wise (assuming that he, as a succ­essful ruler, was also a complex thinker). With this definition, people can be “wise” regardless of which symbolic code they have (so you can have a wise person in ancient India, even if he’s hardly progressive by modern standards). With this defin­ition it becomes more difficult to answer the question of who is wise, but strictly speaking neither Nelly nor Eckart Tolle would be categorized as such. Ashoka might.

The devil isn’t just in the details. He’s in the definitions. And, most of all, he’s in the analytical distinctions: in the ability to tell one thing apart from another. To not mix things up. So before you preach the gospel of wisdom, please consult the devil. It would be wise.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.