Good Philosophy, Bad Philosophy

Tomorrow’s events:

  • Live Journaling w/ Peter Limberg. Daily @ 8:00 AM ET. Patreon event. 90 mins.

  • The Glass Bead Game w/ The Metabeaders. Every Saturday @ 4:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 120 mins.

Newly posted events:

  • Canceling Comedians While the World Burns w/ Ben Burgis. June 7th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here.

  • Weird Metta w/ Tasshin Fogleman. June 9th, 10th, and 11th @ 7:30 PM ET. RSVP here.

  • Doomer Optimism: A Small Farm Future w/ Chris Smaje. June 17th @ 12:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.

  • Doomer Optimism: International Small Farm Agroecology w/ Vandana Shiva. July 8th @ 10:00 AM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.

An event to (maybe) get excited about:

  • Health Index: A Hypothetical Index to Assess the Health of a Society w/ Daniel Schmachtenberger. June 2nd @ 6:00 PM ET. Patreon event. 60 mins.

Daniel Schmachtenberger returns to The Stoa to discuss a hypothetical index to assess the health of a society. This will be followed by another event on June 9th, where Daniel will discuss the psychological pitfalls of engaging with x-risks and civilization redesign.

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May 28th, 2021

I started this obscure intellectual discussion group with Alexander Bard back in October 2018, and we called it the Intellectual Deep Web. I originally saw this phrase mentioned in an excellent article by Andrew Sweeny, where he criticized the Intellectual Dark Web, which was the memetic tribe that was all the rage back in 2018.

I was the one who suggested the name for the group, and later regretted the name, as it seems super obvious and lame to me now, and not indicative of the strange and cool conversations happening on this forum. I recently suggested to Bard we rename it, and like a boss he said:

Hahaha, nope, don't change its name. Because if you do then you will soon have to change it again. And I would hate you and me becoming slaves of something as banal as fashion.

The original idea of the Intellectual Deep Web was this: gather a bunch of original autodidact thinkers who—similar to the thinkers in the Intellectual Dark Web—do not capitulate to woke memetic extortionism, but unlike them, they do not get stuck on this recursive hero's journey dunking on social justice warriors ad infinitum.

I am no fan of the cancel-happy “nebulous woke egregore” that has infected the Blue Church and the culture writ large, but I think one can reasonably disagree with the totalizing narrative it presents, without getting into a propositional firefight in the spectacle. I also think one can agree with and boost the signal of any of the coherent arguments and legitimate concerns it may have.

People in the Intellectual Dark Web, and the anti-woke industrial complex that has emerged from it, view this woke thing as a civilization-level existential threat. The idea is that a “postmodern neomarxism” which comes from woke types will lead to society-wide nihilism. This is what Dave Chapman refers to as the “nihilistic apocalypse,” which he describes as: the supposed catastrophe that would occur if nihilist views became widespread.

Chapman explains what some hold as the dangers of this nihilism apocalypse:

Nihilism, if widely adopted, leads to a world of total license, in which the masses naturally follow their basest instincts and engage in the worst sort of depravity. The dangerous idea that there are no absolute moral rules gradually spreads from the decadent intelligentsia to the coarse lower classes, who then lose all respect for authority, indulge in their natural promiscuity, breed like rabbits, play vile music, worship blood-drinking demons, casually commit rape and murder, tear down all institutions, destroy Western civilization, and let loose a wave of anarchy and violence that precipitates a thousand-year Dark Age.

He does not really think this nihilistic apocalypse is a thing though:

Social breakdown is not impossible, and nihilistic ideas are indeed harmful to social cohesion. However, the apocalyptic worst-case fantasy is unrealistic. It’s highly exaggerated, precisely because eternalism is also unrealistic. Only extreme threats justify extreme solutions—and eternalism is extreme.

Peter Boghossian, who is firmly on the anti-woke side of things, thinks differently, as he recently declared the following on the Rubin Report:

I am waging full-scale ideological warfare against the enemies of Western Civilization. I am taking no prisoners. I have very large-scale projects coming for the enemies of reason, science, and rationality.

Perhaps a nihilistic apocalypse will occur if an unchecked nebulous woke egregore spreads throughout the noosphere, or perhaps the Empire and the associated Blue Church will continue to co-opt this egregore further, to weaponize it towards a “long night” scenario. Or maybe it will be used to protect the myth of “capitalist realism,” which is Mark Fisher’s term to describe a “widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”

This is what the late Michael Brooks, who visited The Stoa shortly before he passed away last year, called Woke Neoliberalism, which is the weaponization of woke shibboleths to protect the neoliberal agenda. My view might be a tad more unusual here than all of the above, as I am open to the notion that this woke versus anti-woke battlefront of the culture war, which strikes me as culture wide trauma-bonding, needs to play itself out.

Whatever the case, The Stoa, and places like the Intellectual Deep Web, are not interested in engaging in this culture war stuff. Like our rationalist friend Eliezer Yudkowsky states, “politics is the mind-killer,” and this definitely applies to the culture war as well. While emergent thought cannot emerge while culture warring, I do think good philosophy can emerge during a culture war.

This is related to stealing the culture of course, and culture heisters are not culture warriors, hence we've got to go about this in surprising ways, and nothing offers a better surprise than doing philosophy. I am very reticent about identifying myself as a philosopher though, especially publicly, but on a recent philosophy walk I did ask myself the following question:

Am I a philosopher?

There are a few things going on with this reticence. It feels like there would be a corny pretentiousness for me to self-identify as a philosopher. I know non-academic guys like Brian Johnson self-identify as one. I like Brian’s work, but he strikes me more like a self-help junkie rather than a philosopher. That being said, he does seem like he is living the good life way more than I am, so perhaps I should listen to more of his stuff.

Alexander Bard, another person who does not come from a traditional academic philosophy background, self-identifies as a philosopher. He is a legit genius though, and I really respect his non-traditional route: a Swedish pop-star who got fuck-you money, then dedicated his life to philosophy.

I first connected with Bard after he read my memetic tribe white paper back in 2018, and he told me something at the end of our first conversation together that not only surprised me, but unexpectedly gave me a delighted high: 

Peter, you will be a great philosopher. 

When I was taking philosophy at University, I totally wanted to be a philosopher, and when I totally want to do something, I want to do that something in a great way. Academic philosophy disappointed me though, and the spirit of philosophy left me, until Andrew Taggart found his way into my life.

There is definitely a philosophical imposter syndrome going on with me. I only have a bachelor's degree, and I have not read a lot of the core texts in philosophy. My g factor is good enough, but I am not some super intelligent genius like a lot of my friends are, and I am definitely not the most verbally intelligent person either, as I am a champ at stumbling all over my words.

There is also something else holding me back here though, and that is the status dynamics at play that are associated with academic philosophy. There is this popular humour subreddit called Bad Philosophy, where academic philosophers dunk on people they see as doing philosophy poorly, such as Ayn Rand, Jordan Peterson, and Sam Harris.

They point out the philosophical overconfidence that these people have, and perhaps there is resentment bubbling up there as well, because the people they are dunking on are popular. There is something else going on here, an academic philosopher elitism perhaps, along with an understandable protectiveness that academic philosophers have towards the meme of philosophy.

All of this is to say, I am not called to publicly call myself a philosopher, but that still does not answer the question I posed before: am I a philosopher? 

What the fuck is a philosopher anyway? No definite definition exists. I just googled “philosopher” and clicked on the Wikipedia page for the word, and it defines a philosopher as …

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. 

Okay. That was not helpful, but it begs the question: what is philosophy? I double-clicked on the word philosophy, and the hyperlink led me to its Wikipedia page. I actually like the definition here …

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions ...

So to combine the two definitions, and to add some practicality to them, perhaps we can define a philosopher as such: 

A philosopher is someone who asks general and fundamental questions, and attempts to live out their answers.

Given this definition, I am for sure a philosopher, or at least I have the spirit of one, as the question I am living right now, along with its provisional answers, is definitely one of the most general and fundamental:

How do I fucking live my life?

There is something slightly empowering about my owning the word philosopher, at the same time I am not sure it is the wisest move to market myself or the activities here at The Stoa as “doing philosophy,” even if there is coherency on a definitional level.

In the memetic tribe white paper, we had a speculative proposal section on how to address the culture war, and one of the proposals was titled “Disrupting and Emancipating Philosophy.” We leaned on the work of Ivan Illich for this proposal, and stated the following:

Due to technological innovation, industries are being disrupted the world-over, from the sharing economy to AI developments. We suggest that it is time for philosophy to endure similar disruptions. In Disabling Professions, Ivan Illich argues that professionalization can have a damaging effect on society, as expert culture induces knowledge-distance, blindness, and reliance on experts by non-experts. While Illich’s focus was the medical establishment, this also applies to philosophy, which has been inaccessible to most non-professionals for decades. This has in turn led to a sense of philosophy’s irrelevance amongst non-academics.

We continued, dropping one of my favorite aphorisms from R.J. Hollingdale …

Our hope is that with these and other disruptions to the philosophical status quo, people will gain the tools to think critically and avoid being drawn into convenient and prepackaged worldviews. Philosophy could be a guard against the pressure to join an existing memetic tribe. R.J. Hollingdale’s aphorism may come to fruition: “If we thought more for ourselves we would have very many more bad books and very many more good ones.”

Heaven yeah. We've got to risk writing bad books, bad blogs, and bad journal entries. We have to risk doing bad philosophy as well. Instead of fearing a label used by academic philosophers dunking on non-academic philosophers, this label can be owned, as something endearing, and even noble. 

Besides, it gestures towards more of a “growth mindset” anyway, because one must do bad philosophy before they can do good philosophy. So fuck it then, I am a philosopher, and perhaps I am currently doing bad philosophy. I sense the world would be better off with more people doing bad philosophy, especially if they are doing it from a good place.

Yeah, this seems right, and if we are going to risk doing anything badly during the meta-crisis, it might as well be philosophy.

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