Jordan B. Peterson and Sam Harris Debate

I would like to weigh in on the recent Sam Harris and Jordan B. Peterson debate and try to offer a solution to the problem at hand. If you are not familiar with what I'm talking about, I would recommend listening to it, but here's a quick summary. On one side you have Harris who is advocating for an objective truth that sits outside any moral judgements that human beings make about it, and on the other, you have Peterson who argues that there is no truth except a moral truth, one that is contextual and darwinian, i.e. dependent upon the survival of the species.

The problem with Peterson's argument is that it takes a concept such as truth that everyone is familiar with and uses it in a way that would significantly change our relationship to it. This is not a fatal problem, but it does make it hard to talk about. It also puts one in the position of saying some pretty silly things are "true", such as the many micro examples Harris throws at him throughout the interview.

I am, however, sympathetic to the overall point that Peterson is making, and I think he can make it more effectively if he takes his argument and frames it around the word "intelligence".

Take for example a tiny multi-celled organism that can only sense light and dark. This is a form of intelligence, in that, it is a way of interacting with the world that provides it with good (true) information which it uses to survive and reproduce. If the sensor is malfunctioning and it thinks light is dark and dark is light, then the information will be bad (untrue) and it will die. 

But let's say there is a mutation and a new version of this organism springs into being. The difference is that this new organism has another sense, temperature. It can tell when things get hot or cold. It is undeniable that with two senses this new organism has a more truthful interpretation of reality than the first, but is it as intelligent? Well, that depends on how it uses the information, how it acts in the world and whether this new vision of reality is more helpful to its flourishing.

Let's say, for the sake of the example, that this new sense of temperature actually leads to the organism's destruction, that it's lured into a hot environment that's detrimental to its survival and is killed without ever having reproduced. You would be hard pressed to describe this organism as "intelligent" and I think this is precisely Peterson's argument, only he applies this to the world of ideas instead of organisms.

For instance, you can imagine two tribes of early humans, one who spends most of its time studying the environment and learning farming techniques, and the other who spends most of its time learning how to fight and pillage. This more brutish tribe comes along and kills all of the farmers and eats their crops.  In this micro-conception, biologically speaking, the brutish tribe is more intelligent, in that, their way of surviving in this particular example leads to survival. 

However, if you zoom out with a historical lens, the ways that these brutish tribes existed, the ideas and beliefs that they valued, do not end up surviving. They're small numbers and overly aggressive tactics are in the large scheme of things outmaneuvered by large scale human cooperation enhanced by a division of labor.  So while you can make a tiny example of where "intelligence" seems at odds with our conception of it, i.e. brutish tribes are more intelligent than farming tribes, you simply have to wait for history to play out to show that this strategy fails.

This framework would then let Peterson make the argument that if some visions of the world lead to our destruction, even if they more accurately describe reality, we can say that vision was more truthful, but less intelligent.  Using this framework, Harris and Peterson could agree on the word "truth" and stop having definitional arguments over its meaning and shift the debate to "intelligence" where I think the conversation could be more fruitful.


Political Apocalypse

There's much that's been made about the polarization between Democrats and Republicans, but they do share one unique similarity.  The both have growing factions in their party that believe in a dystopian apocalyptic future despite the mountain of evidence that shows the opposite.  Why?  Because they need the world to be more violent than it is, more dangerous than it is, more unintelligent than it is, in order to justify their particular paradigm shift.  Things have to be really bad in order to have a revolution, and so they paint the world as chaotic, backward and spiraling out of control.

What each vision lacks though is humility.  They both make the assumption that they understand not only what is going on, but they claim to be able to see into the future and predict what will happen in 10, 15, 20 years.  It takes humility to say, "I don't understand what's going on and I don't know what will happen," and it is with this humble gaze that we should turn to look at long term trends in measurable data.  Looking at these trends we can see that the world is getting less violent, less racist, less sexist, people are living longer, more babies are surviving pregnancy, birth rates are drastically declining which will lead to a smaller more stabilized world population, any number of harmful diseases have been extinguished, extreme poverty is being reduced, and global inequality is falling. 

People who argue against making our progress more widely known believe that talking about our success will somehow make us stop progressing.  They believe that if people think things are improving they will stop trying to fix what is broken, and so they deliberately go out of their way to paint the world as worse than it is in order to try and achieve some future goal they have in mind.  Typically the intentions are good.  They desire a less racist, less sexist world, but in the process eviscerate any sign of progress because they see a connection between the direness of their social project and the amount of attention and resources people will spend on it.

After Trump's speech last night, these two approaches have now merged.  They both have differing future visions of the world, but they are using the same technique in order to try and achieve them.  This approach, of intentionally leading people to believe that the world is worse off than it actually is, has been a failure.  It has not inspired people.  It has not created a movement of solidarity that unites us against common problems, rather its singular focus on what's wrong has made people feel disaffected, helpless and out of control, the perfect environment for an authoritarian like Trump to step in and reassure people that he's the man that's going to fix everything.

The left and the right's versions of the apocalypse have merged into one vision with two opposing aims.  The reaction to this should not be to pander to one or the other, or to choose sides.  It should be to more accurately, more effectively depict the reality of the situation, to puncture the illusion that each side is presenting with a stronger, more verifiable understanding of how things really are.  

It used to be common knowledge that the earth was the center of the universe.  It took someone who decided to measure the world and see if this belief was true in order for us to come to a more accurate understanding of our physical place in reality.  It is no different with trying to understand the interrelations of 319 million Americans.  We have common sense beliefs about the reality of America that are based on our personal experience, but these beliefs are often partial and inaccurate when applied to the country as a whole.  Our own experiences are important, but they are poor guides to trying to understand the larger social dynamics that we find ourselves.

In general Americans are positive about their own financial well being but are disillusioned about the larger economy.  They are generally happy with Obama and his performance as a president but believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.  They think national government is hopelessly corrupt but tend to like their local politician.  This irrationality is well documented.  We are local optimists and global pessimists, and this bias may be more about our cognitive capacity, than any political beliefs we hold.  Similar trends can be found in Norway, Japan, Poland, Russia, Denmark, Urugay, the Phillipines, Nigeria, etc.  It is not so much an American problem, as a human reasoning problem.  We are just not that good at conceptualizing on a global or national level.

This is all the more reason to question our basic assumptions as to how we see America and its future. Assumptions come fast and easy.  They take little effort and seem to make sense, but when we string them out and compare them to one another, we are left with an incomprehensible narrative, one that believes many contradictory things. Empirical data is hard work.  It does not come easy.  It comes slow, and the claims it makes are typically smaller and less satisfying than we want them to be.  They can also be confounding to our unexamined assumptions, which can be unsettling, even when the news is good.

My desire here is not to paint a better picture of reality than what actually exists.  It is to most accurately describe the one we have.  It is to have humility about what we know and what we can actually see going forward, and to embrace a vision of the world that is not steeped in left or right, or democrat or republican, but what is discernibly true.  Data doesn't reduce the world to itself.  It is a guide to the much richer complexity of human meaning.  It is not everything.  It is not the complete truth.  It is simply a small flicker of light that helps us see the edges of the world around us, and it is a world I believe we should be proud of, despite all of its problems, because it is pride in one's work, not fear and despair, that will give us the strength to continue our progress well into the future.

I Stand With...

In times of crisis, such as after mass shootings, people may find themselves expressing feelings of solidarity.  You may feel passionate about gun control, immigration or you may feel compassion for a specific group of people that has been harmed.  This may lead to a social media post that says something along the lines of, "I stand with (insert idea/group of people here)".  So what does this mean, and why do people feel the need to express this sentiment?  

Being someone who is interested in language and especially where our concepts come from, I am going to examine this idea metaphorically.  Our abstract concepts, such as "solidarity", come directly from our bodily experience.  We first need to experience "solid" before we can get to "solidarity".  Sometimes the concepts are simple and universal such as "Up is Happy/Down is Sad" but sometimes they are much more complex, comprising of multiple overlapping metaphors that form a semi-coherent system.  

The phrase "standing with" relies upon these conceptual metaphors:

Physical Solidity is Meaningful Solidity --> "That's a solid idea"
Similarity is Closeness -->  "We're not so far apart on immigration."
Relationships are Bonds --> "I feel like there's a really strong bond between us."
Determination is Standing Upright --> "We've got to stand up against the forces of evil."
Causes are Forces --> "You really pushed me into this."
Weight is Seriousness --> "Woah man.  That's heavy."
Politics is a Journey --> "We're not moving forward on gun control."

The word "solidarity" originated around 1829 from the French word "solidarite" which means "a communion of interests and responsibilities."  It was derived from the word "solide" which corresponds to the english word "solid".  (  The word "solidarity" itself is a metaphor.  Think of a solid, a liquid and a gas.  What differentiates them is the distance between particles, i.e. the particles of a solid are more stable, uniform and closer together.  On the macro level the same idea can be experienced with the legs of a table.  Imagine a table with a few disparate randomly placed legs, and then imagine a table with lots of closer together uniformly spaced legs.  One is obviously more solid than the other.

This "solidness" can be mapped onto meaningful realities such as the idea of group cohesion where a solid group of people is ideologically more stable, uniform and closer together.  People who are more ideological similar are conceptualized as being "closer" to one another, and people who share opposing beliefs are conceptualized as being "further away" thus Distance is Similarity.  You get enough people who are close to one another and, much like particles or legs of a table, you stat getting a more substantial object.  (Note: Distance can also be conceptualized as Intimacy, so when we say we are close to someone, we do not necessarily mean we are similar to them, but are more intimate.)

As people move close together, the bonds that unite them may become stronger. (Bonds are Relationships)  Imagine a group of people physically spaced long distances apart, each connected by a rope that stretches from one person to the next.  Now imagine a group of people who are uniformly close together.  The bonds are shorter and stronger.  This group can be considered "solid" since they can withstand resistance without falling apart.  They can not be pushed around as easily.  

Since we conceptualize Causes as Forces, opposing ideologies "push against" one another.  Here we replace the individual people connected by ropes with ideas, connected in a similar way, in service of forming a much larger Ideology.  A solid ideology, just like a solid group of people, has strength because its uniform density permeates throughout.  It has "impact" because when it strikes the opposing less stable ideology, it causes damage.  An ideology that is "hollow", that doesn't have anything inside of it, that has disparate poorly connected ideas, more easily falls apart when it finally meets an opposing argument.  It can even "destroy the argument" with its "hard hitting impact".

Similarly when we are going to "stand with" someone or something,  we are implying that we are going to try and help the stability of a particular idea/group in relation to the opposing forces that we see pushing against it.  We do this because we conceptualize Life as a Journey, where it has a beginning (birth), a middle (middle age) and an end (death).  Politics can also be a journey, where we see legislation also having a beginning (the formation of a bill), a middle (the debating of a bill) and an end (the bill becoming law).  

If we take the issue of "gun control" we imagine that it needs to go somewhere, i.e, it needs to get to the end of its journey (becoming law).  There are "opposing forces" that are keeping it from "moving forward", that are "slowing its progress".  These opposing forces can start destroying the object if there is not enough solidity in the group.  They can also start pushing it "backward" or "off course". If the group is ideologically "far apart", individuals are much easier to push around then if the group is a solid object.  

"Standing up" is the human equivalent of resisting the force of gravity, i.e. a force that is pushing on us.  We stand, as opposed to sitting, because standing takes effort (Determination/Will).  We conceptualize morality as "upright" as well as "a firm backbone" because we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have the ability to resist the outside forces that swirl around us, i.e the ability for personal choice.  Likewise being a "spineless push over" shows an inability to "stand up" for oneself.  "A flake" is someone who is blown around by the elements indiscriminately.  They do not have the solidity to withstand force.  Instead they are picked up and carried off by the slightest breeze.

We express solidarity online to one another possibly as a way to show group cohesion, as a way of saying, "This thing I believe in.  It's a solid object.  It is serious (weighty).  It can withstand the forces pushing against it.  With our collective effort we will move it forward on its journey, until eventually, we will reach our goal."

Why did this happen?

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history just occurred in Orlando, and the question that everyone is searching for is "What caused this to happen?"  Before hardly any information is known people are already starting to construct their narratives.  So what do we know?  It was at a gay night club.  The shooter was muslim.  There was an assault rifle and a handgun .  50 people died. Another 53 were injured.  When searching for a reason as to why this occurred we could immediately jump to: Islamic extremism, lack of gun control, mental illness, homophobia, etc.  With such few elements to work with it's quite easy to create whatever intuitive narrative we want because there are so few facts to get in our way.

Now imagine having to wait a year before we formulate a reasonable cohesive story that answered this question of what caused the shooting.  Imagine the ambiguity of not knowing lasting an entire year and when people talked about it at work or online, they would shrug their shoulders and say, "I just don't have enough information to really know what caused that man to shoot those people."  It seems almost impossible, because the need for a cohesive narrative is so strong.  We want answers and we don't want to have to wait through the slow process of gathering information.  We want them now.

Is this a terrible thing?  No. I think it's probably an evolutionary adaptive behavior that's developed for a good reason.  In the face of life threatening events, even when it's not immediately threatening to us, we want to act quickly and decisively. We can't wait to find out the whole story.  We go with what we know.  It's also pleasurable "to understand" as opposed to have to live with the anxiety of uncertainty.  The avoidance of anxiety/uncertainty coupled with the adaptive pressure to formulate quick responses to dangerous situations makes this process of generating causal narratives quick and easy.  It just comes natural.   

We have an emotional reaction to the event which springs directly from our personal history.  We take the little information we are given and then mold it to fit what we already know.  If you are concerned about the growing influence of Islamic Extremism, then a muslim name may be all you need to start formulating your narrative.  If you are an advocate for LGBT rights, then homophobic forces may be at work.  If you are a psychologist, you might be more inclined to see the person as mentally unstable.  (Note: This is not to say that these hunches have to be inaccurate.  In this case, the gunmen did have a muslim name, and does appear to be connected to Islamic Extremism.  He most likely is homophobic, and is also mentally unstable.  All of these hunches are probably correct.  In and of themselves though, they are extremely partial.)

Imagine someone walks up to you, and pushes you over.  What would you say caused your fall?  The simple answer would be "the person who pushed me," but that's not satisfying because what you really want to know is "why did they push me?".  Later you learn the person is racist against whatever race you happen to be.  Now what is the cause of your falling to the ground?  You could say that the person's beliefs are what caused you to fall down.  The ideas pushed you, the person being an instrument of those ideas, just as the hand is the instrument of the person.  Or you could say that racism pushed you.   It wasn't the person at all but vast social forces that the person isn't even aware of that caused this to happen.  

In the Orlando shooting, all of the possible forces that could be operating are not yet known, but it's quite easy to name some that could have an effect.  Homophobia, Easy Access to Guns, Islamic Extremism and Mental Illness can all be conceptualized as forces that caused the gunman to commit this crime.  This of course is a metaphor (Causes are Forces). We don't actually think Homophobia is a force out in the world like the wind is a force, but we conceptualize it this way because it makes sense to link the two.  

Think of the shooter standing in an open field.  All of the casual forces are pushing against him, like giant gusts of wind.  Which force is the strongest?  Is it homophobia?  Is that what "pushed" him to do it?  Or is it Radical Islam?  Forces aren't the only elements in this equation though, because we also metaphorically conceptualize "will power" as the ability to resist these forces.  That's why we talk about someone having a "strong moral backbone" as opposed to someone who is "spineless" or a "push-over".  One of them can stand and resist the forces swirling around them.  The other cannot.   

The power of the forces, and our ability to resist them, is important because it affects how we assign blame.  If a particularly strong gust of wind comes along and picks the gunman up in the air and throws him into another person, the wind is possibly to blame.  If forces are conceptualized as overpowering an individual, we tend to blame the force itself.  If the individual is perceived to be in control and only affected by these forces then we tend to blame the individual.  Is it the gunman pulling the trigger or is it the force of Islamic Extremism?  Is it the gunman pulling the trigger or is it the force of Homophobia?  

In mass shootings there is a deep desire to want to know "why", and so we look for notes, we look toward the person's own words as the best possible information to alleviate our suffering of not knowing.  Often we are left without this information, but even when we do know, we can still question whether what they describe is what really motivates them.  A person who says the reason they killed is because their talking dog told them to, is not a trusted source of information, and many people, especially ones who kill, should not be trusted to describe the truth of their situation, though their description does give us a wealth of information, i.e. someone who listens to a talking dog is obviously mentally ill.

Finally, a problem that occurs after events such as this is to decide how to use these events to further our own future visions of the world.  If we imagine a world without guns, one where fewer people are killed, this event may give our argument "more weight".  Arguments with more weight have a "larger impact" on "pushing" us towards where we would like to go.  This utilitarian approach, that horrific events can be used in this way, bothers some people who see the appropriate response as grieving, without wanting to "use it" for a means to an end.  

This brief essay is of course doing just that.  I have a particular issue that I'm trying to communicate, that people jump to conclusions about the causation of events and overly simplify them, and I've used an event that resulted in the deaths of 50 people as a reason to make this point, as I hope it may possibly help this problem I've focused on.  How much force do I give this essay?  Very little.  Do I think it diminishes the humanity of the 50 people that were killed?  No.  What I do hope is for people to have a humbleness about their ability to come up with a singular reason for why events occur, and to be aware that their emotional intuitive reaction is likely skewing their narrative toward something that fits into what they already know.  I'm not interested in blaming or making people feel bad about their responses.  Just be open to rethinking and re-contextualizing your narrative as more information becomes available, and be humble. Remember as human beings, we only really know so much.

Deeper, Shallower, Higher, Lower

The Metaphors of Vipassana

We are not usually conscious of our heart beating or the pulse in our stomach or how our small intestine feels. Typically we only become aware of these sensations when they cause us pleasure or pain, or when they become intensified such as after we go for a run.  Part of the practice of Vipassana is to bring conscious attention to subtler bodily sensations.  "How does my stomach feel when I'm not eating?  How is my heart beating when it's not pounding in my chest?"  By sitting for long periods of time and paying attention to these more mundane sensations, we can accomplish two tasks at once.  

First we realize that our bodily sensations are directly connected to our more meaningful emotional states.  When we become angry specific things happen in the body.  We scrunch our face.  We generate heat and tension.  Our chest tightens.  When we become more conscious of the physicality of our emotional states, we gain a little more control when they occur.  So if we start to get angry, instead of getting lost in the abstract idea of our anger, we focus on what is going on in the body.  We may not know how to stop being angry, but we do know how to relax our face.  

Secondly, as we search the body, as we watch ourselves react to these pleasurable and painful sensations, we become aware of our reactions.  When we experience pleasure, we desire to keep experiencing it and to experience more of it.  When we experience pain, we desire to lessen it or to avoid it completely. Physically this makes a lot of sense.  If we touch a hot stove we want some incentive (pain) to make us stop.  Mentally though we take a physical pain, such as a sore throat, and instead of experiencing only the pain of a slightly irritated dry esophagus, we multiply our suffering by extrapolating all sorts of painful meaningful experiences as well.  "I'm going to be sick!  Now I won't be able to go out tonight!  My plans are ruined!"  In the world of meaning, instead of moving our hand away from the stove, we have the ability to grasp it even tighter, and for longer periods of time.

In the continued observance of our ability to multiply our suffering, we become more conscious of these processes, and with continued concentration, we have the ability to reach a more equanimous state of being, one which does not get pushed and pulled as easily by our associative grasping for meaning.  

The physical experience of what I've described and the experiential looking and realizations that occur because of it are often described as "going deeper".  It makes sense, in that, we think of ourselves as containers for meaning, such as a ceramic vessel.  We have an outside layer that is perceived as protective, obvious, shallow, and surface.  It can thicken, harden, soften, become more permeable, depending on how much information it lets in to the deeper more meaningful realm which is hidden inside.  When we talk about "going deeper" in the spiritual sense, we are participating in this conception.  We are penetrating into the unconscious, the hidden part of ourselves that we don't see, peering into the vessel, digging into the hard shallow surface of the exterior and entering into the depths of the unknown. 

Another way to look at this is in a more traditional hierarchy that is composed of higher order states of complexity that transcend and include one another.  For instance, at the most basic level we are made up of physical stuff, atoms and quarks, vibrating and bouncing around.  Within the physical there is a smaller realm of biological matter that has transcended and included the previous, and still, there is a smaller realm that transcends and includes biology, in that, there has emerged beings capable of abstract thought. 

Using this conception, the practice of Vispassana is not about going deeper, finding a truer, more authentic self.  It is taking our ability for self reflection and using it to explore the connections between the meaningful and the biological realm.  It seeks to root us in our body, as it is our tendency to believe that we are somehow separate from the physical blood, bone and flesh that make us up.  Vispassana offers physical experiential insight into where our meaning originates, and in doing so presents us with the reality of our existence at a more rudimentary level.  We search for our anger internally and instead of finding a deeper more complex interior reality, we find tension in our muscles, heat and pain; shallower, more basic experiences.

Embodied Cognition is also interested in the relationship of how our world of meaning relates to the biological realm.  The conclusions so far within the field have been that our concepts are derived from the physical body, are mostly unconscious and highly metaphoric.  

"She's a warm person.  I feel very close to her."  
"She's a cold person.  I don't feel close to her at all."
"She's really hot."

These sentences use the unconscious metaphors Affection is Warmth, Intimacy is Distance and Heat is Desire.  All of these concepts are derived from being a physical body moving through space.  When we are physically close to another person we generate warmth.  When we move further away from them that warmth disappears. When we are having sex with someone we generate quite a lot of warmth, and thus desire becomes attached to this more intense heat.  All three take the physical sensations of the body and use them to extrapolate a more meaningful experience.  

Vipassana tries to teach us the connections between the meaningful and the physical through first hand experiential knowledge.  We experience these connections in realtime and see for ourselves what exists and what does not. What exactly are the physical sensations that occur when you become angry?  When you closely observe them, when you peer into the depths of who you are, instead of finding deeper and deeper layers of a truer and truer self, you will find nothing but biological functions that produce warmth, coldness, itchiness, pulsations, dryness, moistness, tingling and if you hone your concentration long enough, you will be able to feel the subtle wave-like sensations that permeate your body.  

Embodied cognition intellectually picks apart our conceptual system and shows us the same thing.  Our most deeply held concepts are nothing more than re-appropriated physical experiences, such as when we describe intimacy as warmth. The conclusion should not be "This is all we are" that because there is a more basic, more rooted experience (the body) that this is somehow truer than our meaningful experiences.  Rather we should use it for what it is, an anchor to tether our mind's ability to disembody.  In this sense these two parallel practices, Embodied Cognition and Vispassana, are completely compatible and incredibly reinforcing when pursued concurrently.  

This is why that I would recommend that any serious Vipassana mediator pursue at least a cursory study of Embodied Cognition (as well as Conceptual Metaphor Theory) as it will only help reinforce the practice they are actively pursuing, and likewise, any scientist who has an interest in the conceptual systems of the mind, should familiarize themselves with Vipassana as it will give them first hand knowledge to see how their specific mind works, and to be able to more closely examine the biological experiences of what it feels like when "meaning" occurs from (not "in") the body.

Ideological Housekeeping

Recently on social media I've found myself in the position of arguing against liberal points of view.  This has been perplexing, not just for me, but for my friends as well.  I have always considered myself liberal, and yet, recent manifestations of liberalism's beliefs, are not ones that I share.  Some of my friends have even come up and asked whether I was somehow slowly turning conservative.  Because of this I think it's necessary, personally as well as socially, to parse through what "conservative" and "liberal" actually mean, and try to get to the bottom of what's going on here.

Historically being a liberal has meant wanting to work towards a system that values both freedom and equality. Liberalism has been most effective in accomplishing these goal in the waves of rights movements that have swept over society reshaping it in important and profound ways.  Women's rights, children's rights, black rights, animals rights, queer rights are projects that are yet to be finished, but have none the less, made huge strides in the last century.

Conservatives are more focused on a deference to the institutions of the past as well as a healthy skepticism for the unintended consequences of changing those systems.  They have succeeded in that they pull us back from some of the wilder ideas that might have sounded fun and enticing at the time but have proven disastrous in implementation. Romanticism and Communism come to mind.

Metaphorically you can think of liberalism as expansive in that, it envisions a better future where there is more freedom and equality for everyone.  It wants to push out from the existing structures and explore the far reaches of what we can become, and conversely, you can think of conservatism as the necessary constriction on this idealism, reigning it in from going too far.

With these definitions in mind, we are all in some respects conservative, in that we believe there are social structures that need to be defended.  There are things that we don't want messed with, such as the abolition of slavery.  And we are all liberals when we look at society and see improvements that can be made, and imagine a better system that gives people more freedom and equality.

These terms aren't just the broad ideological stances that I've described, but as you get into the nuts and bolts of specific issues, they start to mix with other claims of reality that don't necessarily have much to do with the definitions I've laid out. 

For instance on the liberal side we have: 

- Believing GMO's are evil
- Believing capitalism/business/modernity is evil
- Believing white people are evil
- Believing that there are no cognitive differences between men and women
- Believing that people in positions of power should be called out on on cultural appropriation and their privilege.
- Believing that people need to be protected from ideas that make them uncomfortable
- Believing that world events can be reduced to, and thus explained by, power dynamics, racism, sexism, etc.

On the conservative side we have:

- Xenophobia
- Anti-science
- Over emphasis on gender norms and their defining qualities
- Radical religious belief
- Lack of understanding of businesses responsibility to deal with externalities
- Radical nationalism
- Lack of compassion for people considered "other"

I consider myself liberal, in that, I believe in the continued work of the rights movements that have historically been successful.  I am economically liberal because I believe in the need to redistribute wealth so as to decrease inequality. But I also consider myself conservative in that I have a healthy skepticism about our ability to enact social change and be able to understand the effects it will have on our future.  These are complex systems we are dealing with and I don't think we have adequately formed a good enough picture of human behavior to be able to create systems that push us in the directions we intend to go.  

What I propose (and in some respects this is already happening) is that both sides take care of some internal housekeeping that is causing quite a bit of confusion.

For instance, a number of conservatives are using an outmoded religious text, the bible, as their grounding rationale to restrict liberalism.  I am not asking people to abandon their faith, their belief in God, or their religion.  What I think is critical though is that conservatives understand they can not make reasonable political arguments in contemporary society with a religious book that was written in a time when slavery was still the norm.  You will lose with this approach, and you will continue to lose until you change.  Conservatives must ask themselves, "What is the best way to combat the ill conceived expansiveness of the liberal ideal?" and the answer they should come to is...empirical data. 

Do not turn to the bible if you want to refute the idea that there are no cognitive differences between the sexes.  Turn to evolution.  You will make a much better argument, and you will make one that you can win.  Empirical data has all but eviscerated the romantic ideals of Rousseau.  It challenges our gut reactions about GMO's.  It paints a more flattering picture of capitalism's effects on the world and it casts doubt on the claim that everything is culturally constructed.   And in the light of a complex empirically grounded view of causality, simplistic explanations of racism, sexism and other power dynamics will fail in their ability to explain what is actually going on.

Likewise, liberalism has its own demons to expel.  In its healthy form it wrestles with its conflicting desires of freedom and equality.  In its unhealthy form, one of these goals has completely dominated the other. In today's liberalism the entire emphasis is on equality.   Not only is it dangerously unbalanced, but it has quarantined itself in a self described safe space where in a fit of righteous indignation it has refused to debate any of the reasonable points that conservatives have made.  If Liberalism is to get back to a healthy state, it must learn how to take criticism and not simply call people who disagree with its views racist and sexist.  Because contemporary liberalism has sequestered itself away (and because conservatism grounded in religious doctrine is an intellectually outmoded opponent) liberalism has developed some unchecked, rather strange notions of reality that have become mixed up with the idea of making things "equal".  

If these changes were to happen, if conservatives, instead of trying to constrict liberal goals with religious doctrine, where to turn to scientific evidence, they would not only be doing themselves a great service, but would be doing liberalism a great service as well.  Conservatism would act as a necessary filter that would weed out the misshapen ideas that have blossomed in an environment of like-minded liberals, unable to see the faults of their own insular reality.  And if liberals could put down their righteous indignation and actually listen to the opposing point of view, the balance could be restored to this once great vision of a more free and equal future.  

Going forward, we should resist the urge to make these terms, liberal and conservative, the unintelligent forms that they can undoubtedly manifest.  It is too easy and it accomplishes nothing to point to the lowest common denominator on either side. Instead, we should value the opposition for the counterbalance that it brings.  We shouldn't seek to reduce the necessary conflict that erupts between ideas, rather we should find strategies that use the energy that's generated when they collide more effectively and to better purposes.  

So how do I define myself?  Am I a liberal or a conservative?  I am neither.  I am someone who is interested in a clearer picture of reality, and I am committed to using personal observation, empirical data, and rational thought to see where that leads.