So the great question–the master question that has the potential to undermine all others–needs to be asked. It was a ground-shattering question when posed by Nietzsche, but we have the benefit of nearly two centuries of philosophical and scientific advancement; surely those years haven’t been wasted by pseudo-intellectuals who grasped the enormity of Nietzsche’s thoughts and then discarded them, right?
Of course, this is precisely what the average person has done, and even those who sit between the great and mundane minds have carelessly avoided the question, and it remains assumed in nearly all schools of thought (with the obvious exception being modern liberalism, which is itself so nihilistic that it goes the opposite direction and asserts that emotions are more valuable than reason–except, interestingly, when reason can be used to “substantiate” their emotions by an emotional metric–more on this endless circling of reason and emotion later) that reason is preferred to emotion, that knowledge is preferred to belief, and that evidence is preferred to imagination.
Even this doesn’t take in the full breadth of the ultimate question, however, because it begins with the assumption that knowledge and belief are distinctly different things. In the past, I’ve been guilty of making this assumption, too, and attempted to begin another work with an in-depth explanation of what that difference is. I found that it was necessary, in order to justify citing a difference, to make assumptions that may or may not be valid, and for which their validity cannot be determined. I wrote:
From here, all we can do is ask whether what we perceive is actually real, and that isn’t only an unimportant question but also one that can’t be answered definitively. It’s as useless a question as “Why did the chicken cross the road?” It’s unimportant because what a person perceives is real to the person who perceives it; it has real effects, however minor and however indirect. My lack of respect for extreme skepticism and solipsism stems from the refusal to acknowledge the human element and the assertion that the experiences of sentient beings account for nothing.
This philosophical debate has raged for quite some time, and we don’t appear to be any closer to “solving it” than we were three centuries ago; nor will we ever be. Of the attempts to prove the existence of an objective reality, Moore’s is perhaps the best known. I think it admirable that Moore attempted to prove there is an external reality, but (and without making any comparisons of him and myself) I think this is the wrong path to take. It’s no good to try to prove fallacious a person who would stare at an object and postulate that it is only there by perception and not through an actual physical existence [emphasis added].
In short, I attempted to ignore the question, because it was uncomfortable. It did not challenge merely everything that I believed, but the very basis of those beliefs, threatening to pull my entire worldview out from under me. Instead, I sought to cling to false certainty, discarding the entire idea in just a few paragraphs, rather than face it directly. Instead of asking whether belief and knowledge were actually indistinct, I chose to assert it baldly, and found myself unable to defend that position–so I merely asserted it again and waved away the question out of cowardice. The notion that knowledge was based on reliable evidence and sound reason was a pacifier, the underlying edict of my religion that I dared not challenge, because I considered myself to be striving toward truth, steadily eroding and erasing things that I found to be false; accepting that there was no such thing as “truth” undermined all of that work.
Yet the difference between a theist and an atheist is mostly quantitative. It is commonly said that the theist has no evidence for the existence of a deity beyond the claim itself and agreement with others who have made the claim. While this is true, it rests on the assumption that the theist’s emotional position is less valuable than the atheist’s empirical*. The entire idea is built from the value system that already prefers reason to emotion, and which has no rational justification (only emotional) for doing so. For example, the wannabe philosopher at the YouTube channel “Science, Philosophy, and Theology” stated that there is no way to use reason to validate reason. He’s a fool who plays a philosopher on the Internet, and is quite obviously wrong. Mitch Stokes, I believe, is his name.
There’s no way to objectively demonstrate that we should value reason, but whether we value the result or not, reason is the metric by which reason is judged. Reason is judged primarily in practical terms: reason is valuable because the plane stays in the sky, and the plane stays in the sky because of the methods of reason.
The philosophical question is whether there is any rational reason to care whether the plane stays in the sky. That we should care that this means people don’t regularly die in plane crashes is an emotional position, as is the idea that air travel is useful. The fitting of the word “care” is not by accident–“caring” is an emotional thing. It is our emotions that determine what we “care” about and what we don’t.
Reason is valuable according to the criteria of those who prefer the plane to stay in the sky, because reason is why the plane stays in the sky. But caring about this is justified not by reason, but by emotion. Our search for a reasonable, rather than emotional, justification for concerning ourselves with the reliability of the plane will yield nothing. What we’re really discussing is not reason or rational ways to justify reason; we’re discussing value systems, and those systems that value reason against those that don’t. It’s a sad day when a self-described philosopher overlooks such a glaring fact.
Is there any non-emotional reason that we should value reason? Of course not. Value systems are derived wholesale from emotion, which I’ve seen put many anarchists in the unenviable position of attempting to provide a scientific and rational basis for their allegiance to the NAP. Such a basis doesn’t exist, because they are merely looking for justification of emotions and value systems. One would expect them to know better, but, like everyone else, they’ve succumbed to the dangerous mentality that *their* value system is the One True Value System, and thus they end up looking for justification of this pretense of absolute certainty. Since they cannot directly force their value system onto others (as their value system rejects force), they insidiously search for other methods of surreptitiously forcing it onto others; rather than using force, they attempt to strong-arm people with what they say is “reason,” and almost coercively imply that any “reasonable” person will agree with their One True Value System. It’s a modern way of saying “If you don’t believe in my deity, then you are a heretic.”
I like rock music, but I could provide no rational justification for it, and neither would I be expected to. Yet every value system is a collection of likes and dislikes, which is fine until misguided people attempt to provide “rational” justification for their preferences. I value non-aggression because I like peace and dislike aggression, but there is no rational justification for this.
Obviously, I can no more put forward a rational justification for not wanting you to be attacked than I can put forward for not wanting to listen to Garth Brooks. I can put forward plenty of emotional reasons, but none that are rational–except, of course, that it is only rational that I would value my own emotions and emotional state.
I don’t want you hurt because such would fill me with negative emotions, which I don’t prefer for emotional reasons. It is only rational that I do things that don’t negatively affect me. But it only makes sense for emotional reasons.
While they may have different methods, reason and emotion cannot be truly separated–each one supports the other, or they both fall. Reason’s validity can be demonstrated, but whether its validity is any reason to value it is an emotional assessment.
As I said, many stoop to pseudoscience and weak, half-hearted attempts to objectively demonstrate the value of their value system. These people can usually be beaten back until they say that it’s in an organism’s best long-term interests to be peaceful, which is fine, but there’s still no objective reason that we should presume it’s good for an organism to survive and prosper.
At this point, they invariably fall to doublethink and cognitive dissonance–or, worse, begin simply rephrasing their value systems in the hope that they might stumble upon the magical wording they makes it the One True Value System. They generally become frustrated at their own ineptitude and misattribute their agitation to the person who asked them the question, rather than grow angry with themselves for being unable to answer.
The simple truth (independent of any perspective) is that we just don’t know what methodologies and value systems might lead to a better world, nor can we find any two people who fully agree what a “better world” would look like.
My version of a world not only bears little resemblance to the world we have, but it is impossible, even in theory, to convert our world into that one. I’ve spent decades fleshing out the details of what I’d consider a better world–it contains dragons, magic, elves, and other things. It is a harsh world, as is ours, but in its struggles it provides room for what at least feels to its inhabitants like free will.
In more practical terms, my better world is one of liberty, where the state has been thoroughly defeated and left in the historical halls alongside the gladiatorial arena and the rotary telephone. It is a world where, motivated by self-interest and evolutionary tendencies, individuals act however they will, and reap what consequences follow. It’s a world where the gambler is not protected from the risk of losses while pocketing winnings, a world where the productive are not robbed at gunpoint to be forced to provide sustenance to the parasitic masters, and a world where people refuse freely their own limitations, assumptions, and ignorance.
In fact, there is no better way to learn a person’s value system than to request a comprehensive explanation of what they imagine to be a better world. The American Democrat “progressive” might say that their better world is one where there is no racism, where equality reigns, where socialism has eliminated the rich, and where globalism has defeated the nationalism that had already conquered individualism.
To me, such a world is a nightmarish land of oppression and tyranny; it is something I’d never strive for and would adamantly resist. Although perhaps not all of our values are opposed, our most precious values certainly are–a reasonable conclusion, given that a person will list their most important criteria first.
In truth, our value systems are virtually identical. The actual difference is that the American progressive is deeply confused and is so fixated on particular words that the essences of what those words represent are lost. Of course I advocate equality of all people; this is why I’m an anarchist. If there is a state, then there can never be equality, as one group, no matter how benign or mischievous it is, will enjoy power and prestige allowed to no one who is not part of that select group. However they might want to escape this, if a person is told by others that they cannot do something (particularly when the action doesn’t involve force, violence, or coercion), there is inequality, as the person decreeing what behavior is acceptable obviously has authority over the person whose actions are being restricted.
Whether they are ignorant, confused, or deliberately disingenuous isn’t important, but clearly what they desire–however much they might call it “equality”–is authority and control, things which are antithetical to equality. Even if it’s true that they merely want to use this authority to force everyone else to “be equal to one another,” they will still sit apart and above “everyone else,” as the ones with the authority. It’s not “equality” they desire but a two-tier hierarchy, where there are the rulers and the subjects, and the subjects are all considered equal to one another in the eyes of the rulers–they just aren’t equal to the rulers. And though these deluded fools would insist that they desire “equality,” we have to free our mind from the words and instead deal with the concepts, and if one person has authority over another, however that authority is used and to whatever end it is applied, then there is not equality. They can certainly call this authority-driven two-tier hierarchy whatever they like, but just because they call this social dichotomy “equality” doesn’t make it so–the concept of equality is directly at odds with what they advocate, but they call it “equality” nonetheless. This allows them to easily dupe people who lack the intellectual rigor to question whether the word used represents the concept associated, much as the U.S. “Patriot Act” is antithetical to patriotism.
The most extreme of the nihilist positions (there’s a good deal of variation in western society, ranging from modern liberalism to solipsism) is the one that suggests there is no external, objective reality, and that it is merely the product of our senses. Yet our senses are the product of our organs, which are part of that perceived reality. As long as we reject the notion that a thing cannot be its own cause (we can even except a deity from this statement), it’s a logical absurdity to say that our senses create reality that created our organs which created our senses that create reality that created our organs… So regardless of our limitations of perception, and that we must experience the world subjectively and with senses known to be unreliable, it must be concluded that there must already be there something to perceive.
It is the very nature of values that they are based on emotional feelings rather than empirical data, a statement that must become obvious to those who reflect on it. “Science”–which, for the sake of not being repetitious, I’ll use interchangeably with “rationality” and “reasonableness”–prescribes no values to things. It is neither good nor bad that electromagnetic energy is quantized; it simply is. Assuming there is truth to global warming, science does not suggest that this is a good or bad thing.
Right now I find myself arguing on Quora with someone who is attempting to “change my mind” through emotional appeals (by her own admission), knowing full well that I reject emotional appeals in favor of my valuation of reason; meanwhile, she attempts to put forward a rational justification for her valuation of emotion, and criticizes me as a hypocrite for not having a rational justification for my valuation of reason. Arguing with people like that is so difficult because, like I expressed at the beginning of this article, they have all the pieces; they simply will not turn their ideology against itself. Like the anarchists who suggest that they are Heralds of the One True Value System because they have the elusive rational justification for the NAP that even I’ve attempted to find, while they simultaneously admit that all values are subjective. They simply won’t apply that “all values are subjective” to their idea that “one should value non-violence,” just as the person on Quora won’t apply the idea that values are emotional to her own values. Like the anarchists, she professes to be the Herald of the One True Value System, though her highest value is the emotional sensibilities of others rather than non-aggression.
I’m not even certain of why I write these types of articles. What is the point? What am I trying to accomplish, and why should I care whether it’s accomplished or not? I think the point is to remind us all how little we actually know, and how dependent upon assumptions all of our value systems are, especially since we mask our assumptions and subjective experiences as objective certainties. Yet we aren’t certain of anything. We should all check our egos and remind ourselves that our beliefs–whatever they are, whether one believes we should value the NAP, whether one believes gender is binary, or whether one believes that violence is sometimes acceptable.
* Making the assumption that the atheist’s position is empirically sound, but it doesn’t matter one way or another.