Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

My Dogma Ate My Homework

Posted by PintofStout on November 19, 2007

My DogmaI’ve lamented to myself in the past about being too easily swayed by anything resembling an argument.  There was a time when my beliefs and philosophies very closely reflected whatever I had read most recently.  I’ve gotten much, much better in this regard, but like bringing a car back onto the road when two tires have hit the shoulder, overcompensation is a real danger (I know this first-hand and got a nice helicopter ride to drive home any point the tree and guardrail and ditch failed to make).  Now, after reading a great post by Jeremy over at Social Memory Complex, I wonder if I haven’t jerked the wheel a little too hard in the other direction and become dogmatic and rigid in my thinking.  Sure, taking the “red pill” can make one cynical and surely put a damper on one’s general outlook, but Jeremy takes us a step further:

I think one problem libertarians tend to have is that they confuse their principles with their identity. Somebody comes to a conclusion about the world based on his experiences and reasoning, and voilla – it’s suddenly part of who he is, and he’ll defend it as fiercely as his own head. It’s something we all do and it’s abjectly human, not something to reject but rather to understand. But in libertarians and other [uber]-intellectuals it takes on a dimension or rigidity and just plain ol’ chickenshit [judgment] too often, I believe. The need to hold a consistent and principled position becomes a barrier to open-mindedness and thoroughgoingness in critical thinking. It’s as if principles become reasons to no longer challenge one’s beliefs and values.

I can’t trust the conclusions I reach through my own exploration of myself and my world unless my principles are constantly exposed to challenges. Of course we generalize about the world, because we can’t live without a certain consistency. That’s not the same thing as confusing the consistency with morality or correctness, though. Too often, libertarians take a puritanical approach to politics and claim that X is always and ever wrong – which is fine – but that therefore our personal preoccupation should be to never, ever, ever be wrong in that way, not even to consider it at all. And it becomes a vehicle for personal puffery when we get to condemn others for it (if anybody’s seen my attack posts on Right Thinking Girl you know what I mean). At some point, it becomes a dogma, obfuscating the need to think about each situation as a unique opportunity for realizing the world’s nuances through our mental matrix of conclusions and beliefs.

But more importantly, I can’t live – I can’t be the type of person who experiences reality as it truly is instead of an abstract, solipsistic utopian drama – unless I’m willing to take a chance that I may be wrong. I need to come to grips with the fact that I will make mistakes, that I [will] [misperceive] things, I will do the immoral. It will happen, and it doesn’t detract from that intrinsic identity in the slightest. I am who I am, and my life rests or falls contingent on my confidence in that identity, not on an unwavering [adherence] to a series of rules that I decided on back when I read some books.

I find myself stressing over adherence to my own philosophical outlook all the time.  It could be about whom I’m associating with, or where I work, or the kind of work I do, or any number of things.  The fact that I do not actually exist in an “abstract, solipsistic utopian drama” hardly crosses my mind as I draw a laser-straight path from my reality to my shining utopian beacon.  I can picture myself in a dense forest valley looking up at the mountain peak and walking straight towards it; colliding with every tree and falling in every hole along the way.  Such a strategy hinders my progress toward that goal more than it helps.

A while ago, I posted a short essay I had penned even earlier about distance and displacement.  The essay may add some insight into how to analyze progress toward that peak, but it still implies a straight-line strategy.  Looked at in the manner laid out in the essay, walking into the same tree over and over covers lots of ground – although it is the same ground over and over – but it gets me no closer to my goal.  Looked at from a Voluntaryist perspective, focusing on the means doesn’t imply a straight-line strategy either, but instead choosing the best way up the hill.  While focusing on simply making progress in an upward direction, the Voluntaryist may not even know there was a peak to be reached; instead they just climb and climb in the best way they know how, which probably doesn’t include falling in ditches or colliding with trees for lack of watching.

I think for the longest time I just overlooked the details of the trees and ditches and looked at things in an oversimplified manner; perhaps this is necessary when still trying to wrap my head around new concepts.  But part of growing and becoming involves keeping an open mind to be able to examine yourself and beliefs.  That means allowing for those small details in the landscape like trees and other obstacles.  I may even find myself traveling a long distance down a dead end path and having to turn around.  Even from this I can learn.

Jeremy’s essay, which I quoted from earlier, didn’t set this self-examination in motion, but it did turn on some lights so I could see where I should be going.  The entire essay is phenomenal and it’s followed by a few equally good comments.  I didn’t quote the most interesting parts, so much more awaits those who click through to read the whole thing.


2 Responses to “My Dogma Ate My Homework”

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