Monday, March 6, 2017

On Hypocrisy

I wanted to take a moment for introspection.

I've been toying with the idea of writing a statement of purpose, a manifesto of sorts detailing why I'm writing, what I'm saying, and how I hope it benefits people and the world at large.

I don't think I can. At least, not without this preface. If it seems like I'm dawdling on purpose, trying to avoid saying whatever it is I'm about to say, then you're absolutely correct.

The problem with writing is that it's fundamentally narcissistic. All writing, with the possible exception of private diaries, is performative; it is meant to be read. Moreover, it's a one-way conversation — just the author talking at you, hoping and assuming his words have value.

I say all this, because I had a ready excuse for why perhaps my writing was worthwhile, or at least a germ of an idea. If I were to state it explicitly, it would be writing for the greater good, to educate, inform, and to provide a moralistic and humanist perspective.

This is, of course, hypocritical bullshit. I read a study recently that explained the process, and laid bare any pretense I could have mustered. I will quote from the abstract:
"Why do people express moral outrage? While this sentiment often stems from a perceived violation of some moral principle, we test the counter-intuitive possibility that moral outrage at third-party transgressions is sometimes a means of reducing guilt over one’s own moral failings and restoring a moral identity."
If this doesn't sum up nearly every single one of my posts to date, I'd be surprised. (Reason.com has a more detailed write-up of their findings that is not hidden behind a paywall)
Another dramatic gesture
In this case, the hypocrite is coming from inside the house.

I talk a big game about the sanctity of life, the virtues of compassion, the importance and moral weight of human existence, and other things. Unfortunately, it's all lies.

Not the moral principles themselves, as I'm pretty sure those are true, but in terms of any actual implementation. I say it, but it's clear that I don't mean it. I don't donate my time or money to charity, I don't help the less fortunate — heck, I'm not even usually kind or well-mannered. In short, I repeatedly and consistently act as if I am the only person in the world who matters. My "interest" in Effective Altruism seems purely theoretical.

Even this public flagellation reeks of false piety. Circling back to our narcissistic beginning, this is no less a demonstration of the same problem I'm moping about. I certainly don't blame any readers for giving up on this, my weakest post yet. If I wasn't actively writing it, I would have closed the tab long ago.

The only question I have at this point is: Is there a way to talk about the moral component of social issues without being a hypocrite? Is the selfish behavior inviolably baked into my/our brains? Does being thinking meat mean that we are inevitably shackled to biology, with our feelings and emotions directly regulated by chemical reactions? (this is not a new concern of mine. See: "On the Darkest Timeline: An Ode to Meat")

I can see the wall coming up, there's only so far to go on this topic; there's not a lot of subtlety to the philosophy of materialism. Issue of my personal hypocrisy aside, if our minds are intractably linked to the randomly designed meat that makes up our bodies, then that does not bode well for our future chances. If minds can even be considered to exist independent of our biological prisons (which is not at all certain), the link between them can hardly be beneficial.

Animals (of which humans are no exception) are obsessed with meeting their selfish needs: the four "F"s of biology. Very very little of what we think and do is unconnected to this. I just wish there was another way.

I don't have a pithy end-cap, a call to action, or even a real conclusion. I can't pull myself out of my own navel, and I've wasted enough of your time for one day. Try to be better, since clearly, I won't be.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. To explore the other side, why do we read, books, articles, blogs...? To build knowledge or self esteem??

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  2. Why not embrace the use of EA as tribal affiliation signifiers? It *still works* - if your tribal affiliation is that EA is good, then if you ever have money to burn you'll probably at least consider it. So since people cannot escape tribal status games *anyways*, a tribe that systematically picks effective things as sources of status is the sort of tribe you want. From that perspective, understand that you're not *unusual*; if the system is to work, it has to work by taking advantage of people feeling like you do. You are not an Impostor, you are not a lone hypocrite in a sea of earnest people; you are the sort of person that a functioning system has to be built from. So embrace the status games; your brain clearly wants it, so why not let it, and as a side effect achieve some good?

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