Author Topic: Against TFYS  (Read 2370 times)

Golden Applesauce

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Against TFYS
« on: November 05, 2012, 03:40:21 am »
The most obnoxious thing about the stereotypical modern atheist is easily his arrogance. Self-identifying as a "Bright" or "Freethinker" leaves little room for anyone else; the clear implication is that alternative positions are occupied entirely by those who are too dim or too unmotivated to think their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag of recieved wisdom. The theory goes that anyone who applies a modicum of intelligent skepticism will immediately realize that everyone else is full of shit and make their way to the One True Religion Movement of skeptical atheism. A free thinker who arrives at any other conclusion is a contradiction in terms; if they were truly willing to subject their most deeply held beliefs to critical analysis, they would have discarded them after hearing a real Freethinker's kickass explanation of how Zombie Jesus and the Sky Daddy are logically impossible.

The weird part is how a worldview that demotes all opposition to mindless sheep is accepted by the vaguely human-positive progressive left. They recognize the absurdity of demanding that people think for themselves and then arrive at a specific position, but their diagnosis of the problem is typically that the so-called "Freethinkers" are insufficiently critical of their own beliefs. If only they would continue to think for themselves after joining the local atheist collective, they would eventually progress beyond petty tribalism into a more tolerant, humanistic philosophy...

In other words, the problem with the free thought movement is that the members don't do enough thinking for themselves. The solution is therefore to think for yourself, only for real this time. Cue warning alarms.

Any strategy whose reaction to failure is to do the same thing again, but harder, is past dysfunctional and well into the self-reinforcing deathspiral zone. Dudes in trenches mowing down your infantry with machine guns? Try again with more troops. People complaining about totalitarian government? Censor the whiners. Centrally planned economy leaving millions in poverty? Get better economic planners. Lassez-faire market policies poisoning the food and water supply? Cut the regulations stifling environmentally friendly businesses.

At that point, you don't have a rational position, you have insane religious zeal. Any instance of failure can be attributed to the fetish in question being insufficiently applied. "Think For Yourself" has a "too much of a good thing" point like everything else. There are real risks with letting people do their own thinking; there's a very good chance that they'll come up with a crazy, wrong, or just plain dangerous idea. The kindergarten values of 'sharing' and 'caring' are preventing us from becoming rationally self-interested supermen. Congenital defects can be prevented by sterilizing high-risk demographics. Ecological balance can be achieved by cutting 2/3rds of the human population. A one-party state solves the problem of divisive partisan politics.

It would be absurd to deny the real benefits to "Think For Yourself". It is equally absurd to deny the risks. Blindly promoting TFY, regardless of circumstance, is simply not a sane strategy. You may be thick-skinned enough to stomach dissenting opinions. You may even be wise enough to learn from them. But to assert that thinking for oneself is always a Good, no matter what, is to assert that being murdered is acceptable provided the attack is carried out by a self-radicalized terrorist. Maximizing freedom of thought without the commensurate increase in violence requires more restrictions on behaviour, not less. This is not to say that we've necessarily hit the "too many individuals thinking too much for themselves" point. Society can probably withstand a lot more internal tension before spontaneous ideological violence overtakes everyday institutional violence. Self-radicalized terrorists have so far mostly been unhinged in one way or another to start with; we don't need to really worry until neurotypical everymen start popping. (Maybe our rallying cry should be "Think for yourself, schmuck, and take all medications as prescribed!" ?)

For everyone who isn't up for pushing creative-destructive Discord to the absolute razor's edge, though, none of this is a problem. All you have to do is Stop Encouraging People To Think For Themselves. (SEPTIT; now accepting submissions for a catchier call-to-action.) Encouraging everyone to think for themselves because you think it will create allies for you is like installing democracies in the Middle East because you think they will spontaneously elect friendly governments that provide your country with a steady supply of oil -- what you actually get is a theofascist out to ruin your day. You probably just wanted people to think less like the mainstream and more like you. In that case, telling them to think for themselves is generally counterproductive; you'd be better served having better propaganda than the other guy than by teaching anything as destructive as critical thinking.
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chimes

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2012, 04:02:51 am »
TFYS isn't a One Rule to End All Rules. It's fed and supported by other reasonable and intelligent behaviors.
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Lord Cataplanga

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2012, 04:16:22 am »
You are correct in being worried that people will think for themselves some terrible ideas.

I think the reason discordians encourage people to think for themselves is not that we want more people to think like us. We know perfectly well that there is a real risk of universal ideological clusterfuck this century, and that will definitely make life more difficult for everyone (be they mainstream, reactionaries, fundamentalists, whatever).

However, I think the extra difficulty will not be evenly distributed. We can probably withstand environments much more batshit crazy than our direct memetic competitors (The Machine, the Free Thinkers), and that's why we are (or rather, I am) trying to accelerate the ideological eschaton.

Golden Applesauce

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2012, 04:38:07 am »
You are correct in being worried that people will think for themselves some terrible ideas.

I think the reason discordians encourage people to think for themselves is not that we want more people to think like us. We know perfectly well that there is a real risk of universal ideological clusterfuck this century, and that will definitely make life more difficult for everyone (be they mainstream, reactionaries, fundamentalists, whatever).

However, I think the extra difficulty will not be evenly distributed. We can probably withstand environments much more batshit crazy than our direct memetic competitors (The Machine, the Free Thinkers), and that's why we are (or rather, I am) trying to accelerate the ideological eschaton.

There's two ways to take that last sentence. The way I read it first (and probably not what you meant) is that as a highly educated white person, I'm unlikely to be offed by someone who Thinks For Himself and decides that a race war is coming and preemtive strike is best strike... which would make Discordianism yet another crazy religion that only works for sheltered white cis-dudes. Not trying to put words in your mouth; I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant.

The other reading is that Discordians & allies are just better at critical thinking than everyone else (which would demand a big CITATION NEEDED), so pulling out all the supports so everyone has to default to MANUAL helps them over others somehow. Even if that were true - and it seems equivalent to passing out hand grenades to everyone in a bar fight on the basis that your friends are more shrapnel-proof then the other guys - The Machine doesn't just fall over if there isn't some minimum level of consensus reality. If anything, The Machine thrives on Batshit Times, because that's when it's members are most willing to sic the riot squad on anything insufficiently photogenic.
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Lord Cataplanga

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2012, 05:38:52 am »
If anything, The Machine thrives on Batshit Times, because that's when it's members are most willing to sic the riot squad on anything insufficiently photogenic.

Reactionaries can become a very big problem in the weird times. Somehow I hadn't realized that until I read your post, so thanks for pointing it out.

However, I have to say that your plan to stop encouraging people to think for themselves causes me the same feeling of uneasiness that your first interpretation of my previous post caused you. Like discordianism is a religion that can only work for well-educated upper middle class people. Hey, maybe that's true, regardless of how I feel about it.

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2012, 06:06:58 am »
I think that maybe a big implied but unstated element of "Think For Yourself" involves critical thinking. Critical thinking examines sources for credibility and ideas for plausibility; it isn't enough to merely think for oneself, but also important to know when to agree with someone else who has more or better quality information.
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Lord Cataplanga

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2012, 07:53:36 am »
I think that maybe a big implied but unstated element of "Think For Yourself" involves critical thinking. Critical thinking examines sources for credibility and ideas for plausibility; it isn't enough to merely think for oneself, but also important to know when to agree with someone else who has more or better quality information.

I think the problem with Think for Yourself is that it's too self-centered. Like you say, other people are often better informed than you, and you should listen to them.

Perhaps we should encourage people to Think more, period. Unfortunately, "thinking more" sounds like hard work, and it doesn't make you feel like a very special snowflake the way "think for yourself" does.

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2012, 10:53:52 am »
I think that maybe a big implied but unstated element of "Think For Yourself" involves critical thinking. Critical thinking examines sources for credibility and ideas for plausibility; it isn't enough to merely think for oneself, but also important to know when to agree with someone else who has more or better quality information.

I think the problem with Think for Yourself is that it's too self-centered. Like you say, other people are often better informed than you, and you should listen to them.

Perhaps we should encourage people to Think more, period. Unfortunately, "thinking more" sounds like hard work, and it doesn't make you feel like a very special snowflake the way "think for yourself" does.

When people say "think for yourself" it often feels like they're giving an instruction to the Other People. I fall into the same trap of doing this, but I do try to remind myself that its my job to think for myself, and other people will be ready to do the same when they're ready.
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Mesozoic Mister Nigel

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2012, 11:51:46 am »
I think a lot of this is kind of wankified nitpicking based on the ways people can misinterpret "Think For Yourself" if they try hard enough. Sure, people can interpret it to mean they should go in a contrarian direction just to avoid agreeing with other people's thinking, but a reaction against someone else's thinking is not really thinking for oneself. "Think for yourself" is pretty straightforward; it exhorts the listener, simply, to not blindly obey nor to seek a guru to follow, but to engage thought and make informed decisions based not on simple directives but on what they find, after consideration, to be true. It's not inherently selfish nor inherently altruistic. Thinking for yourself is not rejecting the input of other people; it is simply not allowing other people to do your thinking for you.

“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”



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Bebek Sincap Ratatosk

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2012, 01:35:20 pm »
Besides, TFY,S! isn't exactly the same thing as modern skepticism. Thinking for yourself may or may not arrive at the same (or even a "true") conclusion. TFY,S! doesn't require Aristotelian logic, arriving at a "God does/does not exist". As long as its really the individual actually thinking for themselves, God, no god, the nine legged Jesus, Eris, Roger's Great Bowel could all be legitimate possibilities.

Question everything means question everything... and once you question observation by humans, then science can appear as 'maybe' as anything else.

Well... maybe.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #10 on: November 05, 2012, 01:38:34 pm »
When most people say TFYS, they really mean Think Like Me.

I don't.  I want stupid people to think their stupid thoughts for themselves, too.  I like the idea of people running around using their brains with no instruction or even adult supervision.

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #11 on: November 05, 2012, 03:47:34 pm »
yeah, the OP runs into an immediate problem when it seems to assume that TFYS is an attempt to make the world a better place. :lulz:

I'm with Roger. I just want everyone to bring their own brand of crazy and/or stupid to the table.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2012, 03:50:30 pm by East Coast Hustle »
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2012, 03:48:44 pm »
yeah, the OP runs into an immediate problem when it assumes we're interested in making the world a better place. :lulz:

This.

I just want the world to be weird.  I DON'T want everyone running around thinking clearly.
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Golden Applesauce

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2012, 01:33:16 am »
I think that maybe a big implied but unstated element of "Think For Yourself" involves critical thinking. Critical thinking examines sources for credibility and ideas for plausibility; it isn't enough to merely think for oneself, but also important to know when to agree with someone else who has more or better quality information.


I think a lot of this is kind of wankified nitpicking based on the ways people can misinterpret "Think For Yourself" if they try hard enough. Sure, people can interpret it to mean they should go in a contrarian direction just to avoid agreeing with other people's thinking, but a reaction against someone else's thinking is not really thinking for oneself. "Think for yourself" is pretty straightforward; it exhorts the listener, simply, to not blindly obey nor to seek a guru to follow, but to engage thought and make informed decisions based not on simple directives but on what they find, after consideration, to be true. It's not inherently selfish nor inherently altruistic. Thinking for yourself is not rejecting the input of other people; it is simply not allowing other people to do your thinking for you.

Both excellent points, Nigel, and I agree with you - that's exactly what real Thinking For Yourself looks like. In particular, thinking for yourself without critical thinking isn't really thinking at all.

Like Rat, though, I find that thinking for yourself is not proof against coming to sophomoric conclusions. You can do all the right analysis, and still end up wrong. Thinking for yourself is an extremely important component of being less wrong, but it's not the only thing.

TFYS isn't a One Rule to End All Rules. It's fed and supported by other reasonable and intelligent behaviors.

All I disagree with is the notion that enough TFYS the solution to any problem. Here's another component: taboo and socialization.
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Golden Applesauce

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Re: Against TFYS
« Reply #14 on: November 06, 2012, 01:34:21 am »
It's telling that we teach our children "no biting", "no stealing", and "no lying" before we teach them critical thought. There's an element of selfish paternalism there; it's easier for teachers to preside over well-behaved children than it is to wrangle smart alecks. (The biological factor - humans grow sharp teeth well before their brain can handle serious thinking - is also present, but is insufficient to explain everything.) As a society, we value critical thinking in detectives, doctors, researchers, and literary critics, but for the important stuff - how we interact with each other, what resources are fair game, where you may place your penis / what may be placed in your vagina - we fall back on social pressure, institutional indoctrination, and propaganda. Most human decision making happens at the emotional or instinctive levels; we make sure that our neighbors have the Right Values because it's just too risky to let them decide for themselves - however critically - if there is a moral imperative to protect (your) socially-constructed property rights. Even the most liberal campuses have variations on "No Means No" campaigns. They don't have seminars where they invite students to dissect all sides of the issue with a critical eye, they bring in the big guns of Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, Shame, and Authority because rape is too fucking important to screw around with. Any dean who decided to hold "Rape: Teach the Controversy" sessions instead would be pressured out of office, and rightly so, even if his justification was that the truth has nothing to fear from analysis and that anything less was condescending to his students. That's extremely optimistic, and either puts a lot of confidence in the ability of critically-thinking students to come to his own conclusions at the end (the "when I say think for yourself I mean think like me" approach) or is dangerously cavalier about his charges ending up with the Wrong Values on their own (implying that the dean is willing to be wrong on this issue).

This is the value of taboo: it gives you a firm grounding from which you can explore without messing up something important. My (Catholic) high-school teachers used to use the euphemism "life-giving" to describe religions and cultures that, while not necessarily Christian, fulfilled the basic criteria and were therefore tolerable. You could critically examine any faith you liked, provided that it respected and encouraged growth into your fullness as a rational, emotional, social, and spiritual being. On the other hand, any religion that tries to isolate you from your family or encourages mutilation and suicide is a dangerous cult and can be dismissed out of hand, without bothering to examine the specifics of its doctrine. With those boundaries in place, you can explore as much as you want without having to worry about doing something irreversible. Freedom within strict boundaries, which TGRR is going to argue eloquently is not freedom at all, but if those boundaries weren't there the options would have been Catholicism or ostracization.

Here's a more concrete example: anybody remember the then-Harvard President saying stuff about innate gender differences explaining gender ratios in high academia back in 2005? The full transcript, in which he says a number of very ignorant things, was released eventually, but the immediate media coverage and fallout was mostly based on rememberings of his argument that boys have a higher variance in intelligence than girls. This does not mean that boys are smarter than girls, but it would imply that the top .1% (and the bottom .1%) is disproportionately male. It's well documented that boys have substantially higher rates of autism and other kinds of retardation; it's not completely insane to suggest a similar gender bias at the opposite end of the spectrum. There were some who wanted to have a serious public discussion about his theory, and those who argued that academic freedom includes the freedom to be wrong on emotional issues, but the majority came down on the side that so public of a figure at such a respected institution could not be allowed to be critical of a central tenet of equality. An honest public discussion about the neurological and statistical basis for the Aptitude Variance Hypothesis (or lack thereof) detracts from the important issue of gender equality in academia. I'm arguing that the mainstream feminist response - which mostly attempted to stifle that discourse with blanket accusations of sexism, calls for his resignation, and more SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP than you can fit in a letter to the editor - was not entirely wrong, even if it was a little intellectually dishonest and paternalistic. The importance of everybody understanding that they are not allowed to think that men are smarter than women outweighs the risk of potentially undermining that message with the uncertain investigation into the goopy mess that is developmental neurobiology.
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