Quibbling Over Fine Technical Points

The masses have never thirsted after truth.-Gustave Le Bon

My ex-colleague Miss Michelle (Shiphony Pavithran Suri) often used to say: “You are so rational. But, people are not very rational. If you go on like this, you will face problems everywhere.” I first thought: “So, I shouldn’t be rational because other people are not rational. This makes a lot of sense to me.”

And then she said, “But, you are not as rational as you think.” It would take me many months to fully understand the broader implications of what she had said. It meant:

“My ideas might be sound, but that kind of  a thing does not fly here. We live in a society of loonies. If I appeal to their rationality, or ask them to rationally explain their actions and beliefs, it is worse than a waste of time—because the penalty is cruel.”

But, by the time I understood this, I had become a victim of her and the other people around me. This does not mean that she is smarter than me. This just means that though her IQ is low, being one among those people, she knew what works with them.

This is by no means a new concept. There were many thinkers who had pretty sound explanations of this, like the great social psychologist Gustave Le Bon:

“Logical minds, accustomed to being convinced by a chain of somewhat close reasoning, cannot avoid having recourse to this mode of persuasion when addressing crowds, and the inability of their arguments always surprises them.”

Anti-capitalistic intellectuals have long been arguing that capitalism is not really practical. Libertarians tend to think that this is just another construct of these anti-intellectual people—just another variant of the false dichotomy between theory and practice.

But, I think there is more than a grain of truth in what they say, though in an entirely different sense. But it would not make anti-capitalists look good, just like the fact that Michelle was right will not make her look good. Given human nature, the prospects for liberty are quite dim. Sensible men have always known it , but intellectuals are yet to seriously approach their work from this angle:

People are just a bunch of rigid, narrow-minded, hyper-sensitive, shallow, superficial, petty, worthless idiots.

Most political-minded intellectuals are bent on convincing the masses of the superiority of their political ideal, when this is often not the issue at all.

When people debate politics, I have never felt that they are quibbling over fine technical points. If the debate was over fine technical points, two intelligent men who are debating an issue can raise their technical objections. Then they can see where they disagree and why, and then proceed to resolve the conflict.The fact that sound ideas rarely convince people is enough proof that they are quibbling over something else, and that it matters so much to them.

Every irrational idea is a socially acceptable justification for the petty insecurities of little people. This is true of the personal conflicts between people too. There is an actual reason, and then there is a socially acceptable reason that they would openly state.

I see a tendency among libertarian intellectuals to debate how we should express our disagreement with the status quo without offending people——Whether they should be less angry, or more humble to reach out to people. Or whether they should dilute their positions. All this is a sign that they are not really serious about their work. This is simply not how good writing is done.  If it makes good art, offending people is totally worth it.

If intellectuals really love their work, they would have approached their work with an entirely different motive:

What I write should be great art. Every passage should be an extraordinary reading experience.

This, of course, means that they should have genuine love for the work they do—a deep respect for the craft of writing. There should be less focus on fine technical arguments, and more focus on the society and human pettiness. Much of what we see is about that. It is a fraud to evade it.

The work of Ayn Rand and H. L. Mencken is great art because they had internalized these facts, and stated it in a totally uncompromising manner.


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