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Author Topic: The Plank Constant
Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 09:18
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Although it’s not readily apparent to me how self-knowledge automatically eradicates the hard edges in human nature, this is an interesting article: Lack of Self-Knowledge: The Greatest Source of Misery. The premise of the article is as such:

Why is it not easy? Because often a man does not want to know himself, for if he did he’d be pained by the knowledge of what he is: selfish, dishonest, delusional, envious, hypocritical, and more.

And…

The tendency to an unjustly favorable self-conception, seemingly universal, is frequently accompanied by a tendency hardly less prevalent, whereby we attribute our problems to the flaws and failings of others. Because we conceive of ourselves as being more moral, more just, and, in a word, better than we really are, we naturally blame others—especially those in positions of power and authority—for life’s evils and injustices: not recognizing when misfortune is self-caused, or the instances in which we choose to do wrong not because of any structural or external influence, but simply for the sake of our own gain or gratification. It is usually instructive to observe two people argue their respective “sides” during a dispute. In most cases, each person, whether consciously or no, will distort the actual events in order to suit his purposes. Neither will show much regard for objectivity or justice. In time, one notices that this is the normal course of things, so great, and greatly deceiving, is our self-love.

I agree with the following strong statement about “reason,” a word that has become an idol for many (especially including atheists and Progressives):

Thus reason deftly furnishes ad hoc justifications for what people want.

And although the following applies especially to the Left, I think this tends to apply across all areas politically, if not also personally:

Indeed, truth, and honesty, matter so little to us that we are able to believe, or appear to believe, conflicting ideas simultaneously.

The executives at StubbornThings, who denounce the centrality of The Daily Drama, certainly agree with the following:

As we take the easy way out—simplifying things and blaming others—many of us nurse an inclination to personal grievance, to the cheapest sort of victimization. As the news shows every day, perpetual outrage—reflecting perpetual self-absorption—characterizes our exceedingly sentimental time.

Here’s a good psychological/structural look at the impulse for socialism which denies the inherent aspects of human nature:

Many liberals, for example, believe that evil is nothing but misguided energy, the result of a wrong-headed course, bad conditioning having led to poor choices and regrettable consequences. There was a lack of outlets or opportunities, etc., etc. But once everyone’s endowment is put in the right conditions, and guided in the right direction—a project for the great big state to engineer—evil will no longer exist. Then, all people will be able to pursue happiness, and know the liberty and equality they deserve.

Here’s a good practical reason for self-knowledge and is certainly one reason our politicians tend to be so corrupt:

Certainly, however, it is easy for people to make such a simplistic assumption; after all, in their understanding of politics as it is affected by human nature, they tend not to bear in mind their own history of moral shortcomings, misdeeds and failings. They rather overlook this, and assume that politics consists of persons like themselves, “fundamentally good and decent.” People, in short, are comfortably unaware of their deep inconsistency, of the contradiction between their rosy sense of themselves and their actual conduct in the world. So, when they contemplate politics, they are suddenly shocked by the very corruption which they could have perceived in themselves, had they not habitually employed the mind’s rationalization ability, which is inexhaustible, in order not to know themselves.

This writer often makes good points without actually getting the runner to home plate, such as:

All history features evil and cruelty on every page, and yet there are many who insist on blaming the unhappiness of our condition on an external source. If, though, we were more willing to know ourselves, we should learn that within us virtue and vice are often commingled.

It’s not readily apparent how “knowing oneself” can cure any flaws in our nature. But with the virtues of humility, integrity, compassion (true compassion, not the political kind), not only can we temper those flaws but I would argue they are the lens through which such flaws can be perceived in the first place. But is something a flaw if the flaming assholes and unprincipled go-getters always grab the brass ring? What virtue is there in being a “nice guy” who finishes last? In the metaphysical context of this article, I can see none. Thus, like I said, a lot of great points here but the runner rarely gets to home plate.

Take this section:

But the more we know about ourselves and other people, the more reasonable shall our expectations be in politics and indeed all other domains. And so long as we are disciplined enough to apply the fruits of self-examination, the better we shall live.

Say it. Say “humility” or a little healthy self-doubt. Or even say that “self-esteem” ought not to be the be-all, end-all of our psychological condition, that a little suffering can be good for the soul (and very likely bring on a little humility and show the virtues of self-knowledge). Thus without some ideas to take it further, “self-knowledge” is no more useful than knowing that the moon is, on average, 238,855 miles away from earth. A fact does not automatically instill a virtue, especially if self-knowledge lays waste to the little games we play to gain material advantage. We give up something but what is put back? “Knowledge” is a nice word but it is morally neutral and certainly doesn’t suggest a course of action.

This next bit, of course, is quite true and very well said:

He is forever criticizing the next fellow and the social structure, overlooking the fact that it is ultimately the flaws of human beings in general—again, flaws that reflect the nature of the world we embody—that are behind our gravest problems, and which, if he is honest, he can find in himself.

The Daily Drama could not exist if the above were not true.

My favorite line from this entire essay is this:

For the final truth is that in politics we receive a reflection of the evil we already are.

That explains a lot. And one of the central themes of this essay (blaming others instead of looking at the plank in one’s own eye) is spot-on:

We are deep in delusion, each in his own particular way, nor can we fathom all the sources. Still, here is the starting point for a progress beyond laws and policies. What we need to do is to take an unflinching look at how our nature itself creates our problems—how we are own problem—instead of going the easy way and always blaming social structures, “power,” government, and the like. This alone is the way to manly self-reliance, which is certainly preferable to our time’s constant victimhood

We are indeed trying to get our laws and social structures to overcome something we do not acknowledge is even present. Thus the idea that “the homeless” are always virtuous, that any type of discernment regarding who gets “free stuff” is mean. The idea that people cheat and take things they don’t need or deserve is an impossible idea for those deluded by the thought of themselves as benevolent social saints. The same regarding Islam. They all must be good because to perceive otherwise would destroy the delusion of myself as the kind, tolerant, and “woke” individual of superior compassion and wisdom. This is also why the dark side (perhaps the predominant side) of homosexuality cannot be rationally acknowledged.

DeGroot does make it to home plate with this next statement:

The moral will, he learns above all, is more important than the mind, which must be answerable to the self’s honesty and discipline.

There is a component beyond, or different from, the will or just plain desire. It’s different from reason or self-interest. Without valuing the integrity of truth itself (which, I presume, is a vital feature of the moral will), then all the self-knowledge in the world is of little use in changing behavior. And how does one strengthen and exercise the moral will so that it has even a glimmer of a chance at operating effectively against the daily avalanche of deceit and delusion, especially if such things are immediately useful and/or emotionally satisfying?

The answer to that would make for a good second part to this article.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 10:03
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An interesting article, at least the excerpts you provide. And a most interesting response. You have indeed noticed (as I would expect) that the flaws he discusses are normal on the left. Indeed, reaction formation (attributing good qualities to yourself inaccurately) and projection (assigning your own faults to others, whether accurately or not, while ignoring them in yourself) are both the normal state of leftists, at least in their political arguments.

But, as you correctly point, all these problems (including groupthink , rationalization, and narcissism) can happen to anyone. This is why I always look for the (extremely rare) example of someone leftward in his thinking who can actually argue on the basis of facts and logic rather than emotion and the Party Line. They're hard to find because such people usually end up on the right.

A key component, which you at least hint at here, is that leftists believe they are morally and intellectually qualified to run everyone else's lives for them. This requires being superior in both respects, since as people who think they are benevolent sorts, they can hardly justify such unlimited power on the basis of "might makes right". Of course, this means that ANY criticism of them (even just pointing out an error) is an attack on the whole point of their being. Like Nathan Leopold, Jr., they see their superman status as requiring that they never err in any way.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 11:24
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Self-knowledge is important because a problem cannot be addressed unless one is able to articulate what the problem is.

Just as important, perhaps more so, is intellectual honesty, i.e. the ability and character to acknowledge one's short-comings and then try to do something to correct them or ameliorate them to some degree.

Frankly, I think many, maybe most, people know what SOBs they are. They just don't care enough to do anything about it.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 12:25
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I do agree with you, Timothy, that there are political implications from the type of bricks we build from. We are the clay. Our houses can’t help but be a bit bent, mixed metaphor and all. The wonder is that we can build such great things to begin with.

What I got out of this is the realization (again) that we, as a species, are completely awash in deceit, delusion, and kool-aid. (“Civility,” to a large extent, is an acknowledgment of this as we carefully acquiesce to various vanities in others so that we don’t offend — by using politeness and such. And as the delusions increase, the minefield of possible offenses grows.) Yes, one can say that the politics of the Left function as a way to group those who exhibit these traits in the most extreme and/or that the brand of politics is an ideology that relies on exaggerating and fashioning these traits. You’d get no argument from me.

But it’s that harsh essence that — whether of a Fallen nature or just a Darwinian one — we as a species are models of self-delusion. And I don’t for a moment suppose that not knowing oneself necessarily is a function of convenient pragmatism, although surely the moochers, liars, and other ne’er-do-wells of the world find it convenient to delude themselves using “reason” for ad hoc justifications. I read the other day that there is some televangelist whose video has gone viral. He’s asking for his tele-flock to furnish him with a very expensive longer-range jet so that he is less inhibited in terms of getting out the word.

This kind of thing (large or small) can cause one to despair. Not only that (as it does with me), it can put one in the mindset that, by and large, to live as a human being in human societies is to live with a never-ending deluge of crazy or slightly-crazy people.

But still, I think there is an aspect of the difficultly of “knowing oneself” that does not have to do with convenient deceit. I think there is an aspect of it that is like trying to see the back of your head. And as it is in such a circumstance, we need a mirror to get a better view of ourselves. That mirror can come in many guises such as defeat, humiliation, shame, or physical injury which can be so traumatic that it breaks through our usually comforting shield.

But a bit of a shield is surely necessary. I love that quote from Conrad: “every age is fed on illusions, lest men should renounce life early and the human race come to an end.”

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 12:41
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A superb example of the use of logic to justify evil, which I think has come up here before, is T'Pring's logic at the end of the (original) Star Trek episode "Amok Time" as to why she chose Kirk to challenge Spock instead of her lover, Stonn.

That televangelist reminds me of Oral Roberts a few decades back saying God had told him that his fans had to cough up $7 million or God would call Roberts back (which the televangelist, at least, should have welcomed, but I think we've had that discussion here before, too). I did a short piece wondering who was actually speaking with him, suggesting a rather different spiritual source (my inspiration in how it might have occurred was Son of Sam).

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 14:21
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T’Pring was a splendid example of “reason” not being synonymous with “moral.” One hears all the time from the Brights and other Gold Children of the Progressive Enlightenment about how all would be well if we just lived by “reason” instead of “superstition.” They should watch more Star Trek.

This may not be the exact article I read about televangelist Jesse Duplantis, but it’s the story. The first paragraph is pretty rich:

If Jesus were to descend from heaven and physically set foot on 21st-century Earth, prosperity gospel televangelist Jesse Duplantis told his followers, the Redeemer would probably take a pass on riding on the back of a donkey: “He’d be on an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world.”

For what it’s worth, I think Jesus walked nearly everywhere he went. The donkey into Jerusalem I think was about fulfilling prophesy.

Whatever the case may be, this is the topic of The Plank Constant, and I don’t see much difference in regards to Glenn Beck (or other conserva-vangelists) having private jets. I’m still in shock over Rush Limbaugh blowing a million dollars to have Elton John at his wedding. That’s obscene on many levels.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 15:05
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The basic problem with relying on reason is: What assumptions are you making? One of my professors (CS 548, as I recall) gave a demonstration of this. He did a chart with 4 computer companies and hypothetical values for a certain investment, depending on whether or not the government intervenes in the market (i.e., goes after IBM, which was then utterly dominant). He then showed how each company could be best depending on your assumptions and approach to the investment. I recall 3 of them: averaging out the results and selecting the best; selecting the one with the biggest minimum (minimax, which reduces risk), and selecting the one with the largest maximum.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 18:46
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I think “reason” is as squishy and ambiguous of a term as “climate change.” It’s a word front-loaded with all kinds of assumptions (following your reasonable example) not only about objective elements but particularly subjective ones.

One might say “reason” in a way that means “Adheres to my values.” And although we can discuss values, virtues, ideas, and beliefs, and use reason (logic, including facts) to evaluate them, at the end of the day “reason” is almost completely value-neutral. (It’s a method, not an end goal or policy.) One could certainly argue, as I would, that regardless of one’s subjective preferences, using facts and logic, rather than lies and distortion, is certainly a value-positive thing. But pure “reason” does not contain within it the answer as to whether we should allow abortion or not.

One might give reasons for such-and-such a policy. But “reason,” as commonly used by those on the Left or libertarian right means “A superior ethical system devoid of superstition or religion — that is, smart people who think like us.” Unstated is that usually what is “reasonable” are a bunch of left wing positions. Their “reason” is not reason but trickery, mere rhetorical subterfuge.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 19:23
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Reason, if properly used (i.e., based on facts and logic), is like the scientific method -- a very useful method for seeking truth. In fact, reason and the scientific method are very similar, since reason is necessary for the scientific method to work. They don't always work because some situations (such as trying to figure out how the universe began or how it will end) are beyond their reach. But in situations amenable to them, they represent our best means of figuring out the truth.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Plank Constant
on: June 12, 2018, 21:17
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A very reasonable analysis, Timothy.

My general schtick is to state the obvious: We’re human beings, not robots. We don’t typically navigate life treating everything like a mathematical formula to be solved. Life is an art, not a science, although many tasks we do require (or certainly benefit from) the precision of a more scientific method.

However, it is clear that in order to grow as human beings that the art of living must include significant quantities of reflection and restraint. We must figuratively shower from time to time. Life can easily pull us to the lowest common denominator (or worse) unless we put in an effort to be something more.

Self-knowledge (or just a general awareness of human nature as opposed to basting in pleasing delusions) is a part of that. With a humungous market of products catering to our every whim — and thus turning us all into whim-wimps — this is at heart about valuing something other than the whims and having a will to do something about it. This won’t come easy or be automatic. And this is obviously a deeply “Why am I here?” religious question.

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