June 13th, 2013
In this episode we travel back in time to November 14th, 2012, just a week after President Obama was re-elected. (caption: Devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012.)
Our episode this week focuses on the idea of making abstract arguments to large groups of people.
Since Jad an I are especially interested in political philosophies and how they can be used to better the world, abstract topics are very familiar to us, but we also understand that they often appear very strange to others. As Jad will soon point out, abstracting an argument can often illustrate to a person how their emotions are not actually in line with their purported values.
For example, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the United States, and after seeing how emotionally distraught people were about the situation, I made the comparison that this type of destruction is happening regularly in other parts of the world, only with the backing and blessing of the United States military. In other words, if one purported to feel sympathy for someone after their house was destroyed by a hurricane, wouldn’t that same person feel sympathy for a person after their house was destroyed by a bomb? And if so, then wouldn’t that person want to prevent that destruction anyway possible?
Kevin: Greetings, and welcome to another Throwback Thursday episode of the JK Podcast, and anti-authoritarian free speech zone, passionately pursuing liberty, humanity, and equality. In this episode, we travel back in time to November 14th, 2012 – just a week after president Obama was reelected. Our episode this week focuses on the idea of making abstract arguments to large groups of people. Since Jad and I are especially interested in political philosophies and how they can be used to better the world, abstract topics are very familiar to us. But we also understand that they often appear very strange to others.
As Jad will soon point out, abstracting an argument can often illustrate to a person how their emotions are not actually in line with their purported values. For example, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the United States and after seeing how emotionally distraught people were about the situation, I made the comparison that this type of destruction is happening regularly in other parts of the world, only with the backing and the blessing of the United States military.
In other words, if one purported to feel sympathy for someone after their house was destroyed by a hurricane, wouldn’t that same person have to feel sympathy for a person after their house was destroyed by a bomb and if so, then wouldn’t that person want to prevent the destruction anyway possible? I’m joined by the co-creator of the show, Jad Davis. I’m Kevin Ludlow, welcome back to the JK Podcast.
The one thing that I’m always trying to do and admittedly I do it very, very poorly, but this is probably the primary reason that I’m so engaged in debating and discussing with people on Facebook just because it’s a huge mesh of people that I can immediately have conversations with and people that I would never otherwise be able to converse with at this level, and every argument I’m going to give is going to be a reasonably wholesome – like, I never get into any sort of personal attack – and it took a while just to you know, to accomplish that in itself.
But having done it for so long now, the point is is that in every one of the situations and in every one of the debates I get into, I always try to find something that I can make the principal analogous to, so when somebody takes a really radical stance to say – or maybe not a radical stance per our country right now but what I would deem as a radical stance – say that a drone attack is actually beneficial. I mean I see that as radical, a lot of the country sees that as just daily life at this point. But there’s just so many parallels that can be drawn from that and people don’t like making those parallels, but every single time I try to invoke those parallels the very best that I can and like I said, most of the time I fail at that, but I’m getting a little better at it as I go on and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t work.
Just a couple of weeks ago with the whole hurricane thing, I did the very best that I could to make that analogous to what I was seeing going on in the Middle East because of course, I see the whole thing as being just awful and the point I was trying to compare, there are all these aerial shots of New Jersey and Southern New York just devastated, and I mean, having seen even more of it now, it really is just fascinating how I mean, that hurricane was way more devastating than I really imagined it was. But in any case, of course I immediately try to compare this to something that’s going on in the Middle East and I try to show you know, a village or whatever that has been equally desimated and to try to show people that this is happening on a regular basis.
Hurricane Sandy is striking voluntarily on very regular basis, and you’re the one contributing to all of this. And it’s not a philosophy that’s taken very well from people because of course, they see one of them as an act of God, and the other one as an act of humanity and of course, I use that to an even stronger degree to say that you’re right, one of them we can actually control, the other one we can’t. And the point is at the end of the day, this causes the same destruction, and devastation, and heartache, and every single emotion that you’re experiencing here, those people over there are experiencing as well – the only difference is is that you can only blame God; they are blaming the United States and its allies for this type of destruction.
And there’s no better thing that’s going to come out of this at the end of the day, so all this is trying to really get at there was that I want to tie that main argument into people’s minds wherever I can. I want to try to find an analogous argument or philosophy to try to get into people’s head and say this is the exact same circumstance – even if it’s a completely different act that’s occurring, the end result is exactly the same. And if that’s the case, if you can see in your head how terrible this destruction is – or whatever it is – how terrible this act is now apply that to another method, and try to figure out why inside of your head that doesn’t resonate as strongly with you.
Why are you so upset about this, but you’re not upset about that? And I think it’s just a really important philosophy that people need to consider for themselves and of course, very few people do and I don’t know that I’m – I don’t know that I’ve done much good in promoting that cause, but I am trying.
Jad: Yeah, well when you do that what you’re doing – I think that’s a great argument – honestly, sadly – not sadly – it didn’t even occur to me to make that argument, it’s pretty spot on perfect. And the thing is when I think, when you make that argument, you’re no longer appealing to people’s self interest, you’re not making the utilitarian argument. I mean I guess there’s some utilitarianism in there somewhere, but what you’re saying is like, this is just obviously awful and you’re emotions are not in line with your purported values. If you claim that all people are equal and you claim that watching people suffer is awful, but in reality one you dismiss and one you allow yourself to feel emotions for.
You’re driving into the territory of the anarchist argument which is – gets much worse responses, or at least risks worse responses because I still haven’t pieced this together yet. I was thinking about this – we were talking about this a couple weeks ago with Tom – I think it might be because it becomes a moral argument, right? When you say we have the – like your infrastructure argument – we need education at home, we need jobs at home, we need all that and we’re spending trillions of dollars doing nothing in a global empire, right? People are like, “yeah, that’s stupid you know, I [?] lost my job. Why’d I lose my job? Well, maybe because all this wealth is being drained off to go make some oil men you know, some money somewhere” – that’s not right and so I’m against it.
When you bring up the argument of you are not feeling appropriately remorseful for the deaths of these people over here, then you’re making a moral argument, you see what I’m saying? And I’m still piecing this together myself, I really haven’t figured out exactly how it all fits together, but there’s one argument that will really make people angry, or has the potential to –
Jad: – and the other one is sort of a take it or leave it thing. I mean you could even imagine someone being like, “oh, I don’t mind you know, paying $5,000 dollars a year to kill some rag heads”, or whatever. Like you know, it’s a – basically it’s a value proposition, right? On the one side it’s a value proposition, on the other side it seems like it may be it’s a moral argument of some sort and that’s why I think people react more strongly to it. I don’t really know, like I said it’s just something I was thinking through. But it seems like that argument you just unleashed – your hurricane argument – is the kind of thing Tom would drop you know, and I think it’s different than your other argument somehow.
Kevin: Well I mean I guess I’ll definitely take that as some sort of different progress. The thing that’s been pointed out to me before by numerous, numerous people – and this is I guess kinda where I’m at in my own philosophical thoughts is that there is a discernable difference between your own community versus somebody else’s community, and as much as I don’t think that that should be the case – I don’t have any facts to back this – but apparently, the majority of people – or at least intuitively it seems – the majority of people are of that mindset that what happens to your local community is more important than what happens to your global community, and that’s just the way that people think.
People don’t think on a very large scale you know, and of course that’s what you hear from people all the time that are on the libertarian side and assume the anarchist as well is to say there’s no such thing as over there. Over here, over there, it’s the exact same thing – we’re the same people – but that’s not necessarily true. That’s true in a philosophical sense, it’s true in our minds – or it’s definitely true in my mind, I assume it’s true in your mind as well – but many people don’t share that sentiment and that’s where the argument fails, that’s where the philosophy fails is to say, “this group is not the same as my group. The people that got hurt in New York or in New Jersey as a result of this hurricane, those people mean more to me than those people do over in Iraq.”
“I don’t care if those people die, I do care if these people die”, my point being that internally, I think the internal mechanism – and it’s probably a nurture over a nature sort of thing – but internally I think people are more of the mindset to say that they want to spare their people over other people, and that’s why people pay less attention to us killing people over there frankly.
Jad: I think you’re 100% correct; I don’t disagree with your analysis at all. But to your original point about people’s reaction to your argument, I think if I had that opinion then you’re not challenging me on a moral basis, right? If you said, “Hurricane Sandy did this, but there is a Hurricane Sandy every week in Afghanistan”, they’d be like, “well fuck it, I don’t care about those people”, right?
You’re not calling them out, you’re not challenging them on a moral basis, but I think – and I could be totally wrong, I don’t know what your experience is with this – I find that the stickiest situations I get in rhetorically are when you say it to somebody who believes or purports to believe that all people are equal, that humans are humans, and it doesn’t matter how far away you are, et cetera, et cetera, and then you say, “well then how is it that you claim to believe X, but your reaction to these two situations demonstrates you don’t really believe that’s true.”
Jad: So you’re – at that point you’re like basically calling them a hypocrite in a you know, not necessarily directly, but that can be interpreted that way, you see what I’m saying? I think that’s where you get the people who are like, “well fuck you”, you know?
Kevin: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Kevin: Well through [?] no, and that’s the perfect part of it so I mean that’s my other kind of – I don’t really have any philosophies around it – but I mean if there’s a single pet peeve that I have as far as being a human being and I think it ties into all philosophy and it just comes back to the notion of hypocrisy and I think that my philosophy of what philosophy should entail is to avoid hypocrisy at all points and in the sense of what we’re talking about right now, that’s what I try to do and on one side, of course I try to do it against the religious arguments, and on the other side I try to do it against the welfare arguments.
One that I’ve written extensively about – and I think I even brought this up with us once, I can’t remember – is I often equate the starving kids in Africa to Apple and Apple sales, and it’s such a completely farfetched type of analogy on one hand, but what I’ve told people before is you know, you’re aware of this problem, you all are aware of this problem and if you’re on the left hand side of the equation, you’re the people who want to intervene all around the world on the notion of humanitarianism – you’re the ones who want to do this – and that’s just what you purport as an individual to be a part of and I don’t care if you’re in that group or not.
But if you are in that group you have to own up to what that group purports to be a part of and yet on the other hand, what’s more important to you, giving $400 dollars to starving children in Africa – which $400 dollars in Africa I mean, that’ll probably help 20 kids survive 2 years – or is it getting the next iPad because that’s the cool thing to have? And in 10 out of 10 cases, or in 100 in 100 cases, or 1,000 in 1,000 cases, the answer is indisputably, “I’d rather get my new iPad because I need it”, and maybe somebody even makes that stupid rationalization that we were talking about earlier to say, “well with this iPad, I can tell people all about the rest of the world”, but that’s just some bullshit political argument.
At the end of the day, you’re the same sort of hypocrite that somebody on the right is who’s purporting religion and also not helping people – it’s the same bullshit. And those are the types of arguments that I try to bring up with those people as well. I don’t know how farfetched you find it, but –
Jad: Oh hell no. No, I actually was listening to whatever conversation you brought up the first time, and it’s totally legit, you know? I almost quit my job and went to Africa that day. I mean, I think that is a profound argument. I mean, I guess it’s used by bullies – not in your case – but I think that’s people who try to guilt other people into doing X because of their status as a person that has money or whatever. I think it’s a great argument the same way the Hurricane Sandy thing is. It’s the kind of thing that’s going to get people upset, you know, at least – just because they’re going to be flustered.
They don’t think about that on a day to day basis, you know? And it’s not that they don’t care, that’s the thing, I can’t quite pull it apart in my head because I don’t believe that they don’t care, it’s just that they think they care more than they do, or something like that – I really don’t, I can’t quite pull it apart but there’s something interesting there.
Kevin: It’s hard to figure it out, right? I mean that’s what makes it interesting to me as well and you know, it wasn’t that long ago one of my friends’ cousins – who is about five years younger than me probably, so a bit younger than you as well. He just likes listening to me online and he listens to the podcast and all that sort of jazz and he’s a real good kid. But anyways, like he’s recently kind of learned about politics and I mean he’s just over – I don’t want to say over the top – but he’s definitely over the top with respect to how engaged he is all of a sudden.
I mean it’s just – that’s the only thing that’s interesting to him all of a sudden. And he actually – he seeks out my advice a lot, which I’m really flattered that he even comes to me for that, and he’s just really trying to wrap his head around you know, “well why do all these people say this and then they do this”, or, “why do all these people – you know, they claim that they don’t want these wars to exist, but then they’re voting for Obama”, and he’s like, “you know, they claim that they want to have a stable country but then they’re dismissive of some of Romney’s policies that maybe he brought up”, and just back and forth.
And I told him I guess the same sort of thing that I told you earlier in this conversation is that I said, “Look, if you want to try to engage people in politics, it’s just like trying to engage people in religion, I suppose. You can’t go into the conversation and think that you’re going to change anybody’s minds. You have to get yourself to the point of understanding that what you’re about to say has no intention of changing somebody’s mind because if you do, then you’re the same as the person that you despise, you’re just trying to use a forceful argument to get your way. Instead what you have to do is you have to approach it from a point of view to say, ‘look, this is what I really believe, and I believe it enough to tell you about it, and take it as you will’, and you just have to get smart enough to sell that to somebody and hopefully plant the seed.”
And so my hope of making that African to Apple argument is the exact same sort of thing. I don’t think that at the end of the day when I describe that to somebody – which I have in a number of occasions when welfare arguments have come about – I don’t ever think that somebody take it and is like, “oh, that’s a good point. I’m going to sell all my Apple products and donate them to charity organizations in Africa”, but I like to think that there’s some seed planted somewhere that in time can maybe grow and blossom into something that has a meaningful mindset in their head, which inevitably takes me back to the evil argument to say it’s not a bad thing that you’re going to do that. What you need to do though is accept the fact that at the end of the day, it is more important to you to have that Apple product than it is to give that money to those starving African children. That’s OK, that’s humanity, that’s the “Everyone is Evil” encompassing idea to say everybody is that way.
Everybody is just as evil – that’ san evil act, it’s a selfish act. You’d rather have your own little device that prevents starving children from dying, but we’re all programmed that way. My goal is to say just admit that to yourself so that we can progress as a society rather than trying to live behind this blanket that you’re somehow doing better than somebody else, or doing better for the world than somebody else – because you’re not. We’re all guilty of the same crimes against one another.
Jad: Right. No, I think it’s brilliant – the add on being that if someone else tells you that they care that much but they’re not doing anything different then they’re not telling you the truth, and if a politician tells you that they care but they’re not doing anything different, then they’re also not telling the truth. Everyone is – like you said – everyone is making the exact same choice, which is, “I would rather have this for myself than that for some stranger.”
Kevin: Right. Well that’s [?] the end game for me I guess, is to say – at least I believe this – is that if we were capable of coming to that realization ourselves, then I believe that systematically we would come to that realization about politicians. But instead, because we can so easily lie to ourselves I mean, we can easily accept the lies of one another because you want to believe shit, and I mean I haven’t gone to therapies, or a psychologist, or psychiatrist, or things like that before, but it’s my understanding that every single one of them says the exact same sort of thing – or like AA groups, all that sort of shit.
If you can’t admit the problem to yourself, you can’t solve the problem, and I think that problem is that we just lie to ourselves about the way the world really is, and this is a little deeper than I intended to get with it, but I think if we could resolve that, if we could just get to that point where we accept who we are and accept that I’m just as selfish as the next guy, but that tells me that that politician is too, so maybe I shouldn’t believe the bullshit that he’s selling. Let’s try to actually have a progressive ideal rather than me believing this nonsense that the guy’s selling, then I think we could actually make some progress politically in a structured society.
And we’ll leave you on that note this week. If you’re not able to follow such abstract arguments, we hope that you’ll at least consider drawing some parallels for yourself at somewhat of a philosophical exercise in humanity. As always, thank you so very much for tuning in to the show. We sure do love hearing from our listeners and we’ll leave you with some instructions for how to contact us. Both Jad and I can be reached through our podcast website at www.JKPod.com, or individually if you so prefer – Jad is at www.Jad-Davis.com, and Kevin is at KevinLudlow.com. Our podcast transcription services are provided by Deidra Alexander of Galaxy Creative Media. Thanks again, and we’ll catch you next week.