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Philosophy

Why Philosophy is Important#

When doing online debate about politics, it is extremely important to have a philosophical foundation from which to draw practical conclusions. Politics is downstream from philosophy, and you could argue that it is simply the practice of applied philosophy on a societal level. While I have no formal education in philosophy, through the use of resources such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia articles, I have taken pains to construct some sort of philosophical heuristic to solve policy issues. This has allowed me to more effectively understand my own and others' arguments through the underlying philosophical values and processes at play, as well as create a consistent set of rules to abide by when evaluating various political issues.

My applied political positions always follow from my moral system. I think the world would be a better place if people reflected more on their internal, fundamental values and used those as guiding principles to establish their political values, rather than blindly following an ideologue, or using inherited positions from their parents, religion, country, or party.

A lot of political debate boils down to having some differing, fundamental position. Instead of two people arguing at a surface level about an issue, it is sometimes more useful to dive down to try and figure out what the other person actually believes at a fundamental level. A great example of this is abortion โ€” people will often debate back and forth about the legality of abortion while ignoring that they fundamentally disagree on whether or not a fetus should carry the same (or similar) moral consideration as an infant child.

My Foundational Beliefs#

I have a video where I break down how I construct my philosophical worldview, which I highly recommend watching for a fleshed-out understanding of my position. However, if you don't have the time to watch now, here is a short summary of my philosophical foundations:

  • There is no such thing as morality, however I think that ethical conversations provide us with utility insofar as they allow us to have discussions on how to solve problems in society. (This has similarities to a philosophical school of thought called Fictionalism.)
  • I solemnly believe that every human wishes to maximize their own experience. This is purposely vague, as what this means varies from person to person, but in simple terms it refers to having a maximal quality of life.
  • The best way to maximize my own experience is to help maximize others' experience as well as my own. I believe that humans have a unique capability for reciprocity, and that given this universal goal, pooling the efforts of a community of people will exponentially increase progress towards it. I (and most other people) also lose quality of life when those around me do (e.g. seeing people homeless, having friends with poor mental health, having ill family members, etc.).
  • Therefore, the best rules in a society are rules that provide the best outcomes for the greatest number of people. In philosophical jargon terms, this would make me a Rule Consequentialist.

Moral Anti-realism#

The first foundational belief listed above is that "There is no such thing as morality", for which the philosophical term is Moral Anti-realism. In general, I am not a fan of conversations about meta-ethics because I believe they generally reduce to incommensurable systems that become impossible to have a debate about. Instead, it seems that people are won over by whether such systems are intuitively satisfactory to them. I recognize, however, that to most people moral anti-realism seems like a dubious system as it is common to believe in some sort of moral truth, so it warrants a little more explanation here.

I have a firm belief that all of reality, aside from some skepticism about the nature of "the mind", is entirely physical. In other words: if something is real, it can be found in the physical world, tested for, and measured. The problem is that morality doesn't appear to fit these criteria, and instead exists purely conceptually.

As such, it is my conclusion that some moral fact-of-the-matter does not exist, and that moral statements like "Stealing is wrong" are, in a vacuum, either meaningless or wrong. It is worth noting that different schools of moral anti-realists argue whether such statements should be considered either meaningless (in the case of Non-Cognitivism) or systematically false (in the case of Error Theory). I have no firm stance on either of these, hence my use of both.

Just because I think there is no such thing as morality, however, does not imply that I think moral statements are useless. They provide an important shorthand for conversations about how I would like people to act and how I would like society to function. As mentioned in the summary, there is a school of thought related to this called Fictionalism, which roughly equates to my beliefs on this. Without getting into the weeds too much, it claims that as long as moral statements reach their proposed goal (i.e. to make people act a certain way, to create agreement about how society should function, etc.) then we can treat them as if they are truth-apt statements.

Maximizing One's Experience#

In the summary of my foundational beliefs, I talk about maximizing my own experience and helping others maximize theirs. While I stated that I generally leave this vague because different people have different ways to achieve this, I often run into a problem where people assume the most naive construction of this idea possible. It is assumed, especially when words like "hedonism" and "egoism" get used, that I conceptualize a moral world to be one where everyone just does whatever they want, be it murdering, stealing, etc. because it makes them happy. It is also assumed that I make no distinction between "lower and higher" pleasures. This is obviously a ridiculous position to hold.

A thought experiment I often tell people is the following: You and four friends enter a room with five candy bars. You can either eat all of the candy bars because it would "maximize your experience," or you could share the candy equally. The naive construction of my belief would entail the former, but let's think about the consequences of this. My friends are now unhappy, they might not want to be friends with me anymore, next time they won't share with me, and really the outcome is in the long run (and potentially even immediately) I have certainly NOT maximized my experience. My friends being sad would make me sad, them not being friends with me anymore would be upsetting, you can imagine the rest.

It's clear then, when I say "maximizing experience" we have to take a more intelligent, long-term, holistic view towards what this actually means. If I start with 0 utils, and I can get 100 now or 10 every year for the rest of my life, in ten years I have already surpassed the experience maximization potential of the first option. If I do something that makes me happy at the detriment of those around me which makes my experience at the end a net negative anyway, clearly I haven't maximized my experience.

I would hope that this is straightforward and obvious to understand, however it appears to be a tripping point either due to lack of thought or bad faith on the part of many people I interact with.

Violence#

I am generally opposed to violence as I don't believe it is an effective way to accomplish political change, at least not at this point in time in the United States. That being said, I believe there are plenty of groups of people who could, at points, justify the use of violence in self-defense, even if I don't believe it would be a pragmatic or politically effective thing to do.

Defense of Property#

I believe that people have a right to defend their property insofar as three important criteria are met:

  1. You possess the property in a way that your state and community recognizes your possession.
  2. You have reasonably exhausted non-violent options to protect your property.
  3. The other person is effectively "on notice" and understands they exist in an environment where another person will protect their property.

For example, if someone wants to destroy your local business or your house, then you have a right to defend your property by all means necessary.

Many disagreements over whether or not defense of personal property is justified sometimes appear to boil down to a difference of underlying values. The value in question is whether "property can be valued over human life", or some statement to that effect. In my experience, middle-class and well-off people may underestimate the personal sacrifice and the years of time invested into obtaining a business, a car, or even something as simple as a stereo system or a school instrument. As such, they will argue that no matter the value and sacrifice associated with some property, even in the case of people living in poverty, the life of the thief always outweighs said value. This is a conclusion I take issue with.

Protesting & Rioting#

I ardently believe in a people's right to protest and I will always support the right to protest, even if I don't necessarily agree with positions being advocated for by any particular protest. For example, I would support the right of a pro-life group protesting the right to an abortion, but I wouldn't agree with the message of the pro-life group: that abortion is immoral, or should be outlawed.

Rioting is a slightly more complicated matter. When I speak about rioting, I am more precisely talking about protest that have some level of violence involved, namely that of property destruction. I do not support riots which seek to harm individuals in the United States at this point in time. I only support rioting against institutions that represent some oppressive force in society, so I generally only support rioting against public institutions, e.g. a police department, city hall, etc... It's not inconceivable that I would support a riot against a private institution, but only if that private institution was acting in an illegal manner.

MLK & Riots#

MLK is commonly cited as opposition to my position on riots, however, I believe this is due to misunderstanding selective quotes from MLK. I believe a broader understanding of his speeches reveals to us that he was opposed to violent riots throughout his life, even as he condemned the conditions bringing them about.

September 1966 talk with Mike Wallace

KING (interview): I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.

MIKE WALLACE: There's an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There's no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don't think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of "black power" is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

April 1967 speech to Stanford University.

Let me say as I've always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I'm still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

1967 lecture "Nonviolence and Social Change"

Many people believe that the urban Negro is too angry and too sophisticated to be nonviolent. Those same people dismiss the nonviolent marches in the South and try to describe them as processions of pious, elderly ladies. The fact is that in all the marches we have organized some men of very violent tendencies have been involved. It was routine for us to collect hundreds of knives from our own ranks before the demonstrations, in case of momentary weakness. And in Chicago last year we saw some of the most violent individuals accepting nonviolent discipline. Day after day during those Chicago marches I walked in our lines and I never saw anyone retaliate with violence. There were lots of provocations, not only the screaming white hoodlums lining the sidewalks, but also groups of Negro militants talking about guerrilla warfare. We had some gang leaders and members marching with us. I remember walking with the Blackstone Rangers while bottles were flying from the sidelines, and I saw their noses being broken and blood flowing from their wounds; and I saw them continue and not retaliate, not one of them, with violence. I am convinced that even very violent temperaments can be channeled through nonviolent discipline, if the movement is moving, if they can act constructively and express through an effective channel their very legitimate anger.

March 1968 speech at Grosse Pointe High School, "The Other America"

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I'm absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

Public vs Private Humor#

I enjoy all types of comedy, even if it's dark or offensive. Regardless of how I feel, there is a wide chasm between the types of humor that I enjoy privately and the types of humor I believe are responsibly enjoyed publicly. I believe that public figures have to be more careful when engaging with potentially problematic types of humor because one cannot control the audience that may engage with particular types of humor. As public figures, we should avoid empowering groups of people who have ideologies rooted in values contradicting our own, even in speech/actions where we do not intend to do so but it still has that effect.

An example of a type of "edgy joke" might be the way I engage with a close friend relating to gender/sexuality/race. It might be an "inside joke" in private where my friend and I have cleared with each other that it's okay to joke about certain topics (e.g., my friend joking about me being Cuban, me joking about them being black, etc.). If we were to engage in these types of humor publicly without a large number of disclaimers, it's entirely possible that people could take these jokes the wrong way and engage with them problematically, e.g. "I heard Destiny make fun of xyz for being gay, now I'm going to make fun of other gay people because it was funny!"

Because of certain people obsessively trying to get "optics victories" over me, this entire argument becomes reframed by them as "Destiny wants to say the n-word in private." I don't regularly use any hateful language in private, especially because I just don't know many jokes involving hateful language. However, that's not to say that that there aren't any examples of such jokes.

Incest#

"Incest" as a topic has been explored quite extensively on my stream as a way to illustrate the concept of "moral dumbfounding", i.e. you have a feeling that something is immoral or "wrong," but find you're unable to explain exactly why you feel that way. It seems hard, when pressed, to explain exactly why an incestuous relationship is wrong without appealing to other arguments that aren't intrinsic to these kinds of relationships. For example: parent/child (these are wrong due to power differences or underage parties, not necessarily the fact that they are incestuous), or situations involving reproduction (these may be "wrong" due to the potential for offspring with increased risk of birth defects being created, though this could have logical implications for other kinds of eugenics).

I've used this topic several times on stream to see if someone is capable of actually engaging with the topic, though it generally devolves into people screaming at me while claiming I want "fathers fucking daughters" or something similarly absurd. It is a useful measure of someone's ability to engage with arguments in good faith, question their own worldview, and engage with the logic of ethical matters. While I usually frame the argument from a position of moral neutrality, I have previously made clear that I am not in favour of incestual relationships and provided what I believe to be logical arguments for this.

Child Pornography#

I do not support child pornography and I ardently argue against all forms of adult-child sexual relationships (pedophilia).

During a longer discussion I had arguing in favor of age-of-consent laws with Amos Yee, there is a small section where Amos Yee questioned whether child pornography could ever be used in a positive manner. I'd been made familiar with some research indicating it was possible that this could be the case ( 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 ), though there would obviously be significant hurdles doing this in an ethical manner. It would be essential to ensure that no new pornography abusing minors would be created and that anything being used as part of any therapy was obtained in an ethical manner, though it's hard to imagine how this would even be possible.

In entertaining this scenario, many who argue against me online are quick to claim that I "advocate for ethical child pornography" or some other reductive statement, though none of these claims are true.