The Perfectibility of Man: A Seductive Fallacy

A short time ago, I coined a quick aphorism on Twitter. It’s one that, most likely, some other person has said better than I have, but nonetheless, it popped into my head:

To be human is to resist perfection. This is why any ideology based on the idea of the perfectibility of man is founded on a fallacy.

This is at the root of so many tyrannies and mass-murders in history. Some man (or group of men) gets it in his head that mankind can be improved, made better, according to some vision he has. The motives may even start out benign. Other times, the rot starts immediately. Either way, the drive for improvement quickly becomes a purity spiral. All that is impure must be destroyed. All that is imperfect must go.

What is more imperfect than man?

Eugenics, Nazism, racial supremacy… that is the sort of purity spiral most people are at least casually familiar with. But contrary to popular consciousness, it is not the only such purity spiral. When you hear a feminist complaining about man farting in her presences, calling it fart rape, you are seeing an expectation of perfection. An extension of a purity spiral. In her solipsistic worldview, all that is not-her is imperfect. All that does not follow her desire is flawed. Somebody does something she doesn’t want them to do, and they have violated her.

Someone who doesn’t have it in their heads that the universe, and their fellow man, must be perfect would probably shrug it off, or might let it pass with an unkind word or two. To the purist, the fart is so much more than a fart. It is patriarchal oppression, it is a denial of her agency, it is a legacy of privilege. Whatever. In any event, it is impure and thus it must be stopped. Yet what do you do? Ask all men to cease farting in the presence of women at all times? Impossible. Apply this to any bizarre non-issue, like manspreading, mansplaining, microaggressions, etc… Apply it to larger meta-issues that are categorically unsolvable, like income inequality and demands for fairness.

Perfection on any of them is impossible, because humans are imperfect.

Nonetheless, the SJW believes the perfection can happen, or at least a constant state of “Progress” can be sustained, like a limit approaching perfection. Mankind, you see, can be set on an upward trajectory of “Progress” constantly nearer to a state of perfection, constantly improving. It’s a core tenet, though often an unspoken one, of Progressivism. This is why, when a Progressive violates the narrative, his apology often contains the words I will try to do better. He fell off the trajectory toward human perfection – whatever that might be – and must get back on. He must catch up.

This is where the catchphrase “educate” comes from. They believe that further education, that indoctrination, training, whatever you want to call it – can cleanse the original sin, or at least diminish it, thus putting us on a progressive path toward perfection.

It’s all a fallacy. Or maybe worse, a category error. Humans resist perfection, even in the objective sense. They resist it more when the notion of perfection is purely subjective; when it is merely the whims of a few. Marxists do understand this at some level, hence the notion of Reactionaries. They know that their quest for perfection will constantly generate new enemies. They do it anyway. Understand that completely. The Marxist goes into his quest for perfection knowing full well that he will generate people whom he will have to kill. In essence, this is intentional. The impure along the way must be purged.

Technology can be said to more or less progress in a general upward trend. There are bumps and drops, of course, but generally so. And so does the knowledge of man expand along roughly the same trajectory.  But the nature of man does not evolve in the same manner. Is man today any less envious of his fellows today than a thousand years ago? Is he truly wiser, not merely more knowledgeable? Is he stronger of will? Is he less inclined toward sins of various kinds?

The nature of man does not progress along the same track as the knowledge of man. Man does not approach perfection, I hesitate to even claim he improves much at all in this respect. He does not progress in the fashion progressives truly desire. Thus all of this must be imposed on man, since he is incapable of doing it willingly. To say that this serves the desires of tyrants everywhere is an understatement.

Thus, in the end, Marxism contains the same fallacy present in Nazism, and in many other historical ideologies. Under it all is the notion that mankind can be perfected, can be purified, made better at some level. The end result of such thinking is usually the most vile and destructive forms of tyrannical evil mankind is capable of. The nature of man is difficult to improve upon, but certainly easy to corrupt.

Mankind will never be perfected, except perhaps by God himself. No other could do such a thing. Nor will it ever be made to approach perfection; made to ascend on a constant upward trajectory as our knowledge has. I am not saying improvement is impossible, mind you, but I don’t know that we can control it, or that such control can be made constant, or that reversals won’t put us right back where we started. Thus we must never assume that perfectibility is likely, or even possible.

We must start from the very beginning with the notion that mankind is a deeply flawed creature, and that this fact isn’t likely to change.

Signalling Lies

These days, I figure almost everybody knows someone who is a complete idiot with his money. Somebody who, perhaps, makes a decent wage but constantly overspends in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. This is the kind of person who buys a $5000 Italian leather couch and then tells you that it’s a $5000 leather couch. It is important to him, you see, that you acknowledge his ability to spend money on overpriced couches. This is nothing new; it’s a form of status signalling that goes back to the dawn of humanity, most likely. My beads are prettier than your beads. My mud hut is bigger than yours.

The fascinating thing about it, however, is that most folks I’ve met who do this don’t actually have the money. They have car payments and furniture installment loans. They have credit card debt and student loan debt. They may have home equity loans on top of their regular mortgages. And frequently, they lack the liquid assets to cover any of these notes. Their lives are constantly stressed, for any interruption in their income stream could expose the lie of their status signalling. People would know that they were broke. That is more terrifying to such folks than losing the possessions themselves.

Even folks who do have the money often spend themselves into poverty trying to chase status. Stories of celebrities who spend their vast sums of money and wind up in crazy amounts of debt are absurdly common. But at least they had the money at some point. The status signal wasn’t entirely dishonest.

SJWs do something similar with regards to various forms of bigotry. Their goal isn’t necessarily to defeat bigotry, as some of the more honest among their number admit that it isn’t really possible to eliminate all biases in human beings in the first place. And even the most idiotic of SJWs has to know deep down that in America, we have it pretty good with regards to demographic group tolerance – or we did, anyway, before SJWs started screwing around with it again. Rather, the goal of the SJW is to signal that he is not racist/sexist/whatever.

Like the guy who shows you his expensive couch, the SJW who spouts off how much he loves Antifa, and how he goes to all the local BLM protests, is actually saying look at me I’m better than you. He’s signalling that he’s one of the enlightened, educated, and right-thinking individuals. Not like those icky poor people; not like those icky Right-Wing would-be Nazis.

It’s all about ego gratification. It’s about feeling superior, and being able to look down with disdain on the unwashed, the impure, the unrighteous. Even some who are nominally Right-Wing have fallen victim to this (see: Tom Nichols, Bill Kristol, etc…). But like the neighbor who wants you to think he’s rich, many of them aren’t. Like Joss Whedon, feminist warrior who cheated on his wife with a dozen women, they are signalling a lie. Some, like Bill Kristol, may have once been what they are signalling, but aren’t any longer. Somewhere along the way, they took the signalling to be more important than the truth.

It’s confusing the packaging for the product, confusing PR with the people behind it. It is tacitly saying that appearances are more important than realities. This is a core tenet of Social Justice Leftism. A superficial understanding leads many to believe women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. That is the appearance. Dig deeper, and the truth comes out: women make different career choices, work less hours, and tend toward lower risk tolerance. When these things are accounted for, the gap vanishes into irrelevancy. But this doesn’t matter, because the superficial appearance trumps the reality. Thus the SJW signals his acceptance of appearance over truth by constantly bleating this metric.

Underneath this ideology is a house of cards. One misstep, one accidental exposure of truth, and like the indebted man with his fancy furniture, the repo man will come and take it all away. Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch, Joss Whedon’s infidelity, or as I spoke of once before… an SJW’s obsession with getting beaten by men dressed as Nazis in a BDSM club… and it all it comes crashing down around them. Their moral preening is no more true than the yuppie’s affectation of wealth.

I often tell folks that I’m not that great of a guy. I prefer the position of Socrates on wisdom: none of us are truly wise. I prefer the Christian’s view on sinning: we all do it; we all fuck up. And I prefer a dose of humility to the obsession with social status. I don’t always achieve these lofty goals (see #2), but I’ve long believed that trying to achieve them is worth something. On the flip side of that, it’s very irritating when someone tries to signal a lie, and we all know it’s a lie.

I don’t judge my neighbor on the basis of his wealth, why should I care about that? But if he goes out of his way to lie about it, then I care about being lied to. I can’t be too harsh on a man who has committed various sexual indiscretions (provided they aren’t grossly illegal, of course – see pedo shit, rape, etc…), sex is and always will be a hangup for humanity. But if you pretend to be a moral puritan about sex, and it comes out that you are a creep, then I care about being lied to. It is a ‘cast the first stone’ situation. If you are casting stones at someone, and you are guilty of the same, you are tacking on intentional, self-centered dishonesty in addition to whatever it is you did. At least have the courtesy to be quiet about it. Better yet, go ask forgiveness from Christ.

On top of the aspect of dishonesty, it’s also insulting and patronizing. We know the signals are a lie. For the man bragging about his wealth, look… we can do math. For the man bragging about his sexual purity, we know you’re full of shit, we’re human beings too, you know. We know how it is with sexual desire. For the man declaring himself wise, an expert in all things, we know it’s all bullshit. We see when you are caught in lies and mistakes. In other words, we aren’t fooled, and by continuing on with your status signals, you’re only fooling yourself. Even your fellow signalers know, deep down, that you are lying. They merely enable your lies so that you may, quid pro quo, enable theirs.

Ultimately, the signals won’t work. Even if you fool us for a little while, sooner or later we’ll find out.

I don’t think any human can remove all signalling from himself; some of it is undoubtedly unconscious. And sometimes a signal can be true: Donald Trump’s ostentatious wealth is actually true in his case. But better to err on the safe side when it comes to signalling. Best not to do it. If you must, be very sure it’s not covering a lie.

The Trap of Perfection

Stepping away from the blatantly political for a time has already proven healthy. This morning, an aphorism entered my brain which, in turn, inspired a whole lot of thinking.

Some people demand absolute perfection of all others, but possess no desire for self-improvement.

I’m sure someone else has said similar at some point in time, but nonetheless the thought was inspiring for its completeness. When discussing politics with most people, exceptions are often brought to the table as if they somehow disprove the original assertion. For instance, one might say that a free market solution to healthcare is wrong, because one individual in certain extenuating circumstances might receive inferior care. The imperfection is then championed, weaponized empathy is applied to it, and soon the media talking heads ponder why Republicans want to push granny off a cliff.

Forget the political side of this for a moment and focus on what the real underlying message is. This is imperfect, says the academic, and since it is imperfect it must be discarded.

This same brand of thinking is what leads to excessive legal wrangling over minute issues of grammar. Second amendment opponents will drive themselves into conniption fits over the position of a comma. The point, the spirit of the law, sails right over their heads. They are consumed by a search for perfection, for an absolute set of principles that governs all human interaction without the slightest deviation.

In other words, they demand perfection from all others, while celebrating their own victimhood and eschewing self-improvement.

Those of us with a modicum of sense have long made peace with the fact that anything involving humans is going to lack perfection. The presence of perfection in anything short of the divine is, in fact, prima facie evidence of error. It cannot be perfect, thus either someone is mistaken, or is deceiving you. Demands for perfection should be scoffed at. One may as well demand flying pink unicorns, for all the good it will do.

In this way, academics and media talking heads are prone to treating people as some kind of scientific experiment. The Scientific Method provides us with a situation where a counter-example is proof of error. If, for instance, I were to dispute the claim that, in a vacuum a feather would fall at the same speed as a hammer, one counter-example would prove me wrong. Both were brought to the moon as a sort of amusing demonstration, of course:

With humans, however, it does not work this way. And this is a key problem with the way academics are prone to thinking. If a counter-example is found to disfavored public policy, wrongthink, or politically incorrect thought, that example is deemed sufficient to disprove the theory. If one person suffers because, say, Obamacare is repealed, then it is proof that Obamacare was good, and free market healthcare is bad.

I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, but humans are not feathers and hammers. Conduct your experiment with another set of humans, and you may get an entirely different set of results. These people are committing a category error long before their favored political positions are even properly formed.

The thing to note about folks who think this way is that they rarely reflect inward. They are quick to criticize the imperfections of others, but are loathe to look at themselves under a similar microscope. This is how you can get folks who complain about greedy capitalists, and yet are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, stealing money for themselves. You would think that someone obsessed with perfection would start with himself, but alas, it is rarely so.

Human perfection is impossible, short of divine intervention. And whatever else academics might believe, they are certainly not gods. Hell, even the Greek gods had less personal problems than they do.

Discovering Truth

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is that people can reason themselves in and out of pretty much anything. Evidence can be provided for just about any assertion, no matter how ludicrous, and debunking it can lead to an endless rabbit hole of argument and counter-argument that never resolves much of anything. You can test this by googling just about any idiotic idea, and mountains of “evidence” will be found to support it.

So how does a man determine what is true, or at least more likely to be true?

Scott Adams has an excellent method for sifting through bullshit quickly and efficiently. He provides a list of common methods of discovering the truth:

  1. Personal Experience
  2. Experience of People You Know
  3. Experts
  4. Scientific Studies
  5. Common Sense
  6. Pattern Recognition

Note that each one of these methods contain serious problems if used alone. For instance, personal experience can be narrow and subject to confirmation bias. Experts may lie to you, or be a member of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Intellectual Yet Idiot class. Scientific studies can be twisted, or could be outright fabrications. Common sense, which I actually liken to basic logical consistency, can be wrong on the basis of flawed assumptions.

So a good bullshit filter is taking the list as a whole. A lie will not pass all 6 items. Neither is it likely to even pass a majority of them. Studies and experts may, for instance, tell you that Islam is a religion of peace. But common sense, pattern recognition, and the experiences of people you know would tend to counter the assertion. Where one contradicts another, resolution must be made.  If your experience and the experiences of people you know contradict the experts, who do you trust? In that case, I look for a motivation for the expert to lie (like, say, grant money for Climate Change researchers). If I find a blatant conflict of interest, I will usually dismiss the expert opinion on the basis of the other evidence. If I don’t, perhaps I need to reevaluate why my experiences and those of folks I know are different. Maybe there is another factor at work.

Some time ago, I explained that Francis once changed my mind in a big way on an important issue. At the time, I considered mortgage debt to be generally good. After all, experts claimed that it was good debt, studies showed that holders of mortgage debt did better than their fellows, and common sense generally appeared to favor home ownership (I later understood that it didn’t, per se). The experiences of people I knew were good, and I recognized the pattern that homeowners were generally better off than their fellows. Everything lined up for this, right?

Except it didn’t. My personal experience went south in a hurry. And in 2008, the experiences of people I knew turned sour as well. And when I went back and thought about it a little more, even common sense (in line with what Francis originally wrote) suggested that being exceedingly careful with debt was the wiser course. The experts, of course, changed their tune pretty quick, for a while. But one of the things which turned me off to media talking heads and anointed experts was precisely how quickly they turned, backpedaled, and pretended their earlier assertions had never even existed. After that debacle, I’ve been a lot more skeptical of their class.

Point is, when I reran the assertion through the bullshit filter, I became convinced that Francis was right, and I had been wrong.

But you must be very careful with the tool. Some time ago, I had a self-admitted Marxist attempt to convince me that the red states were economically backward, and that the quasi-Socialist policies of the blue states had created economic gains relative to their backward right-wing brethren. He cited some experts that were criticizing Kansas, and some others who were criticizing the South.

Interestingly enough, I am a well-traveled man, at least with respect to the lower 48 states. Having just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, the evidence of my own eyes immediately contradicted the Marxist’s assertions. Most of Philly was terrible. Outside the downtown core, it looked like a bomb went off. Hiroshima probably looked more attractive after it was nuked. And even in the urban core, the sidewalks smelled like piss, there were cops on every corner, and the black panthers were demonstrating right across from City Hall, in an effort to get an Islamic terrorist freed.

The evidence of my own eyes did not show me a fountain of prosperity for Philadelphia. Nor have my travels to other northern cities shown me likewise. Now, one might say that Miami and Atlanta are bad too, and that perhaps this is a trait of big cities, not something unique to the blue states. But even the worst areas of Atlanta and Miami were better than most of Philadelphia. It was that bad.

Nor, I should note, do my friends who live in Chicago and Detroit say any better about those places. Oh sure, each has a limousine liberal urban core. But outside of that, they are all cesspits. And I lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that it is nearly as bad as Philly. No, the blue states don’t get to claim economic superiority, regardless of what GDP numbers say. There is something terribly wrong with blue state cities. And if some red state cities have a similar disease, it certainly isn’t anywhere near as bad.

So the experts can make their claims all day long. I’m not buying it, no matter how well they present their case.

Folks these days put too much stock in some items of the bullshit filter, and not enough stock in others. Where personal experience contradicts the experts, where common sense and pattern recognition contradict the studies, a resolution must be made. Most people would have you rely on the experts and the studies more heavily. But over time, I’ve come to favor personal experience at least as much.

Winston said it properly in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.

To this day, this remains one of my most frequent citations. Buried in this is a central truth about many ideologies that have been peddled throughout history: they assert the primacy of another’s view over the evidence of your eyes and ears. Once trained to dismiss this, a man might be made to spout any kind of absurdity.

Leftists often assert that the Rightist has a closed mind. But it is the Left that commands us to ignore what we see and hear, and to spout only pre-approved views, without question or critique. Their notion of an open mind is actually a controlled mind. Skip the bullshit filter, believe what you are told, obey.

No thanks. I’ll run everything through the bullshit filter, thank you very much.

A Divine Fate

So much of political thought boils down to a very ancient question, one that was never satisfactorily resolved: does man possess free will? Does fate exist? And if it exists, can it be altered?

We talk of concepts like the inevitable progression of history, and the primacy of the poll numbers, and changing demographics, as if such things are fate. “The numbers don’t lie,” we say.

But do they? Can they?

There is a quote from the movie Gattaca (an excellent film, by the way), that touches on this.

“No one exceeds their potential, it simply means that we didn’t accurately gauge their potential in the first place.”

Is human potential measurable in any real sense to begin with? Can we quantify it? And if not, why can’t we?

One of the appeals of religion is that it tries to answer this question, where the numbers fail to explain it. Most religions look at the soul as a piece of the divine, as something supernatural, tied to this world, perhaps, through the human form, but not of this world, and thus not bound by its rules. Not measurable. The numbers cannot comment on the divine.

And in that, they create an out. An exit, as it were, from the idea that everything is fate, that everything was meant to happen according to natural laws of the universe. A part of man is not part of this universe, and thus not bound by its rules. And it is precisely this part that can defy fate.

Faust & Sterility

I’m a weird mood today. Too much time in front of the computer fried the brain, maybe. So pardon me, this’ll be odd, even by my standards.

If you know the story of Faust, you might understand the analogy of the Faustian man, one who is bent on attaining rational knowledge at any cost, even that of his own soul.

Modernity is, in some ways, a sort of Faustian bargain. Rational thought has granted us tremendous powers over nature as a species. But, like Faust, have we sold our souls in order to achieve this?

One of my frequent criticisms of Socialism is its prioritization of rationality above all, as if humans were rational beings, and that a collective of humans would thus, likewise, be rational. Frequently, I find this is not the case. Human beings do not act in such a way as to make a thing like Socialism work.

It may be that a farmer must farm, so that many may eat. This is rational. But perhaps he doesn’t like farming. Perhaps he is not motivated to farm. Perhaps he doesn’t like parting with his crops. Many reasons may circulate in his cranium as to why he simply doesn’t want to do it. Capitalism is agnostic about this. If the farmer doesn’t want to farm, he goes bankrupt and loses the farm. Another comes to replace him. But Socialism must punish the person. There is no mechanism in place to automatically cut him off. And to punish him, you must breed resentment in him. Enough resentment from enough people, and your regime falls apart. Or you could just kill him for being uncooperative. That, of course, carries its own set of problems, both moral and practical.

Our leaders are invariably Faustians when it comes to humanity. They have it in their heads that humans can be manipulated in the same fashion as one might build a computer, or an automobile. That they might be steered toward a correct, and fully rational, materialist position.

This is, ironically, irrational. As all available evidence suggests humanity will stubbornly refuse this, regardless of whether or not the idea is wise.

But the Faustian nature of our Academics and Politicians creates a stubbornness in them, too. It is their nature to keep trying, regardless of the myriad failures the attempts continue to produce, because humanity must be made to behave according to rational laws.

Oddly enough, the principles they desire can, and frequently do, work in small enough groups. A family can be quasi-Socialist in its internal affairs. A village of Amish folks can be likewise. So it is even more insidious. Why, they ask, aren’t these ideas working on a large scale, when they are so beautifully perfect on a small scale?

Humans are well adapted to small groups. They will, over time, naturally gravitate toward a balanced use of their talents and abilities. And their compatriots will be generally supportive and reasonable. But this is because, in small groups, a man can know another at a deep, almost spiritual level.

Modernity has deprived us of knowing others at this level, often times. And without that knowledge, the system that works so well on a small scale utterly breaks down on a larger scale. But as Faust sold his soul to the Devil, for he knew and cared little for it, our leaders don’t account for the soul, or the spirit. It is religious mumbo-jumbo to them, the idle fancy of sky wizard priests and men in funny robes and hats. They can’t see it, they can’t account for it in the laws of nature, and so it is dismissed as if it weren’t even there.

Deprived of this variable in their calculations, they are surprised to discover that the equation doesn’t balance out. The two sides are not equal.

Artificial sterility is a sort of byproduct of this. How many folks truly pour their heart and soul into their work anymore? So everything is perfectly calculated, precise, and rational, but contains no spirit, or essence. So many people these days complain about feeling empty. Perhaps this is where the feeling originates.

Either way, humans are not well-equipped to handle things in the modern world, with its tremendous volume of people. The largest cities of antiquity would be dwarfed by a smallish one today. And all of our leaders think they are Hari Seldons, one step from developing the Psychohistory that will finally give rational meaning to human existence.

Me? I think human stubbornness is a reflection of our souls, our spirits, and regardless of where that soul comes from, or how it comes to be, humanity will always resist the Faustian bargain at some level. All else in the natural world might be made to serve man, wholly and completely, except his fellow man.

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