I have a public service message for everyone.
A decade ago, I reached the hundredth page of Google on my obsession du jour. A profound realization dawned on me at that moment: you are guaranteed to find someone or something on the internet to confirm any preconceived notion. Before that, I learned early on in my adult life that when something perfectly demonstrates any set of biases, it’s likely too good to be true. When something is simultaneously super obscure and verifies every prejudice or belief you’ve probably built your identity around, it should really flash alarm bells.
I often hear people relate earnestly about how they did a ton of research to arrive at their conclusions. I’ve noticed quite regularly that it doesn’t really matter what the conclusion is or how outlandish it may be. There’s always an undeniable body of material proving it. Curious, I’ve done my own research into this strange phenomenon. I’ve concluded that the answer is relatively simple: many people don’t actually understand what research means. They mistake merely reading words and believing them as research. However, such an endeavor is not even close to an investigation.
Research, by both professionals and amateurs alike, is much more than simply reading some persuasive essay and then parroting its argument. It involves taking a body of evidence/material and, at the minimum, running it through a battery of inquiries. Questions such as “Is this verifiable or factual?” or “What is the motivation for publishing this?” and even “What are they trying to get me to believe?” You might even ask, “Who are they influenced by?” or “Where are they getting their data?” and even “What biases, or matters of faith, do these institutions possess?”
Suppose you read a voluminous amount of material, gullibly gulping down every morsel because it strengthens your (potentially neurotic) world view. In that case, you can’t call it research. You’re not only lying to us, but you’re also lying to yourself.
To me, these types of skeptical mechanisms are automatic and second-nature. Still, to many, they are only applied when it comes to something they already dislike or don’t believe. To people who seem to suffer under this practice, for it inevitably leads to collapse, this message is for you. I can only offer my humble opinion, and it is far from complete.
A Total Disservice
You are doing yourself, and honestly everyone else, a total disservice. You must at least periodically challenge your firmly held beliefs, convictions, and world view. If you don’t, there are natural consequences. For one, you’ll never know if you’re wrong, and without that knowledge, you’ll never know if what you’re doing is good or evil. Secondly, if this skepticism is never exercised, you will forever remain in the cage of your own prejudices, mistaking them for your identity, and never grow.
Suppose someone has a cognitive-emotional disorder that pushes them to act in destructive ways. Do we encourage them to embrace it because that’s who they are, or do we hope that they’ll learn, grow, get help, and let go? As babies and children, we challenge our suppositions and test our limits on a near-constant basis. As a result, we learn languages, motor-control, social norms, how to take care of ourselves, and more on a reasonably rapid timeline. Then, mysteriously, many of us stop. Or do we?
So many of us as adults naturally clamor for meaning and purpose in our lives. Technology has transformed our social landscape, pulling many of us further apart, and the material seems increasingly important. Understandably, many find such a spiritual pursuit increasingly challenging. People are so desperate to transcend the woes of their lives emotionally and spiritually, to feel love, community, and value, that they hand themselves over to any snake oil salesman promising them that very thing.
The Conspiracy Of The Real
At every period in time, in every corner of the world, some will take advantage of this quest for self-empowerment, offering tools against loneliness in exchange for fear. Whether it is a Pope, a priest, a guru, an esoteric, a cult leader, a political party, a church, a company, an influencer, a brand, or a conspiracy theorist, they all ask for three things: your belief, your faith, and your allegiance. In exchange, they’ll tell you what you want to hear, never really challenging you, all while making sure that you will continue to want to consume. Authors like David Icke or Bashar, entities like QAnon, politico-cult leaders like the Dalai Lama or Trump, pundits like Jordan Peterson or Rachel Maddow, YouTubers like Onision or Sargon of Akkad, and countless more just want your money, your influence, and most importantly, your allegiance to their cause.
These producers of bullshit sell you spun intellectual drivel every day to systematically heighten your fear and anxiety, and in turn your dependence on their feel-good message that somehow proves you’re right, you’re good, you’re moral, you’re special. Are you really so infantile and powerless as a person that you have to find your happiness in the approval of others, particularly people you probably don’t even know? So forgetful and absent-minded that you have to be reminded daily of what you believe and know or else? So fearful that you might possibly be wrong, that you must listen constantly and defend your “truth,” in the face of any and all evidence?
If those questions aren’t enough deterrent from your daily allegiance, then I implore you to ponder something else. If you are one to believe in far-reaching and completely unfounded terrifying claims, such as lizard people controlling the world through a secret cabal that meets inside the moon… how is that working for you? Has it improved your life in any significantly practical way? Is there anything you can actually do about those alleged child-molesting adrenochrome junkie world leaders? (One man tried to, and stormed a Pizza Hut with a gun… he’s in jail now.) Suppose the answer to either of these questions is no. What’s the freakin’ wisdom in worrying about it and constantly horrifying yourself in their study?
Lastly, ask yourself, and be completely honest. “Do I consume and believe these things because they make me feel special or superior to the average person/everyone else?” If the answer is yes, you have already failed at attaining the wisdom you apparently so desperately seek.
What If I Told You…
If what someone has to say doesn’t challenge you whatsoever, or make you think, then you’re listening to the wrong person. Come on, you’re an adult. You know what you believe. Do you really need a cheer-leading squad? If you really want to grow, expand your consciousness, and become more enlightened, stop listening to the same reassuring bullshit and parroting it over and over.
It’s high time you bust out of these matrices with which these charlatans so masterfully entrap you. You are a seeker, and you want to know the truth, don’t you? The truth is, by exercising critical thinking, your own independent rationality, and challenging your own beliefs, you can strive towards knowledge rather than bias. You will get much farther than any of these pseudo-intellectuals even dream. Take some time to expose yourself to the “other side,” to read opposing viewpoints, to pick through your favorite treatise with a fine-tooth comb; you’ll be the better for it.
The Three Pillars of Insecurity
But Asher, you might be saying, how do people end up in those rabbit holes in the first place? There is a cause, a reason, that such rabbit hole psychotic cliques and echo chambers have come about.
From my observations, it’s borne from a cascading chain of events. The first weak link is that many aren’t taught to value critical thinking in any way, both by their school and parents. Here is an example: in one year, I witnessed so many young children in the school system denied opportunities to make decisions. They were deprived of having to exercise their judgment in any way lest they hurt “their future potential.” (This was code for societal and parental expectations.) If you never experience the power of your own thought, you won’t value it.
The second weak link is indirect. American society has long mistaken blind altruism for benevolence. Put simply, as long as an action is for others, it is somehow magically good. If the step is for your own gain, it is mysteriously wrong. This subverts virtue and morality, putting its standards and measure in the hands of an undefinable entity that is forever “not you.” How are intelligent and rational beings supposed to not only determine but accept what is moral when none of it has anything to do with themselves? In fact, at its worst, it’s antithetical to their existence!
In the minds of many, and rightfully so, if they have no say, no input, and no stake, then fuck it, who cares? However, there is little guidance otherwise, and that which does exist in modern terms is unsurprisingly maligned and demonized. (Yet the Greek philosophers, extollers of this very virtue, are somehow geniuses?) So what is one to do but, in alignment with man’s animal nature, slip into solipsism, nihilism, and egotism (more on this later), or worse, submit to blind faith in the doctrine. This is the indirect consequence of a simplistic and irrelevant morality.
The third factor is that we are physical animals whose behavior is greatly influenced by our chemical makeup. We have yet to match technology’s advances with the advancement of our own psyche. There are countless individuals who, like a gambling addict at a slot machine, are entirely unaware of how communication and interactive technology affects them. We’ve already begun the eerie education of our children on how to emotionally depend on their “machines of loving grace.” We’re always staring at screens, straining our eyes to take in stimuli that spike our dopamine. Whether it be inconsequential drama, flashy pornography, or having our opinions validated by trolls, it seems to matter not. Based on how the average brain is structured and our knowledge of the physical mind, some of our most outstanding engineers have (inadvertently) devised creative ways to enslave the unawares to their memetic devices. But like every drug, these hits have their cost: decreased fulfillment, lack of focus, malaise, stress, decrease in critical awareness, tunnel vision, antisocial behavior, and more. These side-effects are all around us, in our writing, our speech, our behavior, and our friends.
Whether the foundation is science or mysticism, libertarianism or communism, these three pillars of insecurity lead many down dark roads. Eventually, faith is paramount, knowledge unquestionable, allegiance demanded, fear fostered, hate focused, and force called for. Today’s landscape in front of any honest and striving person is really not very different from the landscape that equitable men have faced in times past. Organized religion, quackery, charlatans, and bigotry have always existed. These three pillars of insecurity have coalesced into only an accelerated and more widely publicized variation on this unfortunate theme.
So what are people to do? What message could possibly pierce this nebulous and dark veil that’s been pulled over our eyes?
I believe that the only places where our lot can be improved are in our own minds and in our own hearts. You can have all the laws you want, all the organizations you wish to, all the unity you desire, but they mean nothing if no one ever has to really change or decide to be a better person. We must be willing to wage a battle of virtue across our own hearts so that we can choose to achieve our own happiness and our own fulfillment.
What is this virtue to which I keep alluding? Virtue in this context is the acknowledgment that you express your values through your choices in every situation. It is the recognition that each of us is responsible then for our own happiness and fulfilling our own lives. Just like you can’t breathe for someone else, you can’t hand those responsibilities to someone else without sacrificing their rewards. What you value and strive for is up to you; whether it is your loved ones, work, others, a cause, art, etc., it is up to you. The expectation of virtue is that you will desire to increase your values and happiness, in essence, to expand the wealth of your life.
This fundamental expectation has traditionally been referred to as (rational) egoism, or sometimes selfishness. However, it is very easy to be fooled by these labels into thinking it is about greed, brutality, and exploitation. I characterize these latter qualities as egotistical and are the foundation upon which every rabbit hole is entered. It’s relatively easy and common to profess and call for altruism, and particularly its enforcement, all while being an egotist. Egotism is the threshold that is crossed to produce the internet troll, the Kevins and Karens, the entitled millennials, and all other obnoxious “assholery.”
Don’t Be An Asshole
The core of assholery is that in some way, spiritually, mentally, or behaviorally, the asshole is an egotist as opposed to an egoist. An egoist holds their life and fulfillment as the prime value, whereas an egotist sees their life and existence as the only possible value. An egoist recognizes others as like themselves and appreciates their virtues as they reflect his/her own. An egotist sees others as alien entities to either align with or conquer, reward or punish, and step on or serve on their perceived path to greater power, happiness, enlightenment, or salvation. An egoist pursues the retention and expansion of these values, being people and their wealth, against time’s attrition. To an egotist, everything is disposable, as nothing exists beyond their aggrandizement, and so he/she continually uses, abuses, and ultimately destroys. An egoist has no reason to skirt the benevolence of the principles of respect and esteem for themselves or others and acts accordingly. The egotist has no goodwill, only convenient facades fashioned by their loyalties, partisanship, and their flattering support of themselves. The only way an egoist remains at the peak of their actualization is by tending to and strengthening the foundation. In contrast, the egotist must tear anything in reach down so that he/she remains the tallest. The evolution of an egoist is an expansion of grace protected by an equitable rage against injustice. Egotists are like statues, never growing and continuously endeavoring towards greater rigidity lest their frail structures crumble.
Egotists are the true believers, convinced by nothing else, the willful transmitters of pernicious misinformation, the manipulators of rhetoric by insidious audience appeal, the popular oppressors, the arbitrary sneerers of societal disapproval, the enforcers of ignorance and the status quo, gluttons for the unearned, and the ransackers of virtue. They believe they deserve anything they desire by any means for merely existing. No rules apply to them, for they are special by self-appointment. Their anger, their suffering, and their perceived slights are always more important than anyone else. They must always be right, by fact or ridicule, and must always have their way, by force or scam.
Their current methods depend on the construction of echo chambers to house the refinement of their preferred dialectic instruments. These tools and weapons take many forms, all couched in misrepresenting reality and appealing to emotion. Their implementations include moving the goalposts, redefining the vernacular, calls to tradition, mob tactics, straw-manning, elevating opinion/perception/desire above fact, demagoguery, tarnishing others character over an opinion, making shit up, loud pervasive and sonorous displays of bravado, flailing stabs to find any perceived psychological weakness, spreading and justifying hate, misogyny, bigotry, supremacy, oppression, and other logical fallacies.
Not every asshole displays these qualities all at once, and the detection of a trait doesn’t mean such is total assholery. What might at first appear in isolation as assholery may prove ultimately to be the opposite. This renouncement of context is the primary social tool of assholes, so beware. People disagree and have strong feelings. Some may despise others and, when provoked, display such, and sometimes other’s actions deserve condemnation. The difference between these reasonable and often emotional disagreements and assholery is that an asshole, consciously or not, is persistently malicious and nefarious. They purposefully fan the flames, ignore contradictions, act willfully ignorant and promote such, make no corrections, have no sympathy, protect injustice, evoke abuse, and are generally (as Merriam-Webster puts it), “a stupid, annoying, and detestable person.”
My conclusion then is don’t be an asshole. You don’t have to give up your fight for justice, your truth-seeking, your mystical experiences, your love of others, or what have you… just stop being an asshole! I have carefully laid out in this way-too-long-of-a-post precisely what that means, how it’s harmful, and who’s behind it. Stop giving abusers and charlatans your money, time, and energy! Everything you need to grow as a person and reach enlightenment and justified happiness is already inside you. You can think critically, you can discern the truth, you can make your corner of the world better in real life and online. It just takes time, effort, and work.