The Non-Partisan Movement We Need: Anti-Authoritarianism

Political/ideological debates have a lot of moving parts, and there are a lot of timely issues to address. Given the marginal impact of anything we do in this sphere (e.g. voting, sharing a blog post on Twitter, or being a solitary voter in a vast sea of the entire 6200 people in this country), it’s only natural that we have to economize on information and argument and that results. We can’t help but deplete the intellectual commons.

What are some low cost ways to improve the quality?

  1. Value Intellectual humility.
  2. Devalue the sort of behavior that makes things worse.

It bears repeating: value intellectual humility. It’s not easy. I’m as drawn the confident claims as you are. I’ve got a lot of smart people in my bubble and when they boldly declare something, I tend to believe them. But the “I honestly don’t know” posts deserve more attention and are less likely to get it. Let’s adjust in that direction. I’ll try to write more about things I don’t know about in the future (although I don’t know what that’s going to look like).

It’s a statistical impossibility that, of all of the people burned at the stake for heresy or witchcraft or whatever, nobody deserved some punishment received in an unfair process. Don’t get me wrong, witch hunts are a bad thing in general, but we can’t discount them as entirely (maybe just 99.9%) unjustified. But cancel culture is, like good old fashioned witch hunts is doing a lot of harm to the intellectual commons. I’m they catch more bad guys than 17th century Puritans, but lets not leave cancellations up to Twitter mobs. Particularly when it comes to cancelling ideas.

Bad ideas don’t need to be cancelled. They need to be crushed under good ideas.

Far be it from me to peddle unreplicated psychological research (confirmation bias alert!), but I tend to believe that there’s something to the claim that the extreme poles of the ideological landscape exhibit some unsettling traits: narrow-mindedness, authoritarianism, and apparently Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

“Narcissistic psychopath” is not a label I’d like to see bandied about because it’s just too close to ad hominum. But “authoritarian” is a term I’d like to see more widely used as a pejorative, regardless of the position taken by would be authoritarians.

Let’s quit with the shouting, cancelling, flag waving, and blindly taking reactionary positions. Invite debate, and invite holding people accountable. But letting Twitter be the last word is as absurd as letting Helen Lovejoy-esque moral scolding decide how things should be.

But then again, maybe I’m wrong.

4 thoughts on “The Non-Partisan Movement We Need: Anti-Authoritarianism

  1. I think I’m still new to this idea/movement of cancel culture. But from what I have gathered already, it becomes circular reasoning to do what the worst of what cancel culture seems to do; knee-jerk reaction with the intent to shame/boycott/cancel the target in question without providing any substantive counter-argument. Let’s be careful not to try to cancel cancel culture. I don’t think that could ever work.

    What does seem promising about cancel culture is that more and more average people, particularly younger people, are inhabiting the intellectual commons. Generally speaking, I think that’s a great thing! Make spaces usually inhabited by more privileged and classist folk (and I count myself one of them as my degree in political science was free) available to the people who need it the most.

    The best and worst of cancel culture reflects what a democracy is supposed to do. It’s possibly the beginning of what some may call delibrative democracy. That’s exciting!

    In essense, cancel culture has always existed. But today, more people are able to participate in cancel culture and it seems that the people who already inhabit the intellectual commons are not used to those demographics paticipating and it intimidates them.

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