Sophomoric

If you spend your time working toward greater knowledge and clarity, you will some day stand on a promontory of realizations high above the thronging masses.

If you are also learning for “inside out” reasons, meaning you want to improve yourself and make yourself more effective, this will be painful. You will see how easily human life could be more meaningful, less wasteful, and more fruitful; you see the gap between that plan and any plan your fellow citizens will invent to be painful.

After all, if you’ve made it that far, you recognize their motivations and see why they won’t ever really change, even as they make nearly infinite motions of radical change. They’re like the college hipster: wearing outlandish clothes, doing the opposite of what is expected, and always into some “outside the norm” topic like Buddhism, eye booger recycling or the martial arts of the ancient but tiny Huakading tribe of the South Pacific. It’s gotta be different, you see.

Of course, if your motivations are “outside in,” meaning that you are trying to make yourself gain social status so that in turn you become more powerful, as soon as you get learning you’ll start feeling really good about yourself. Look at how far you left those others behind! They’re peons compared to you. You know the truth, and it does make you a better person. So any time they bring up their dingy and stupid ideas in conversation, you’ll set them to right.

But then that defines the crowd and the thinker: the crowd is outside-in, and the thinker, inside-out. The thinker has transcended a need for self-affirmation through external objects; the thinker assesses whether a thought has validity, and then truth, and moves on from there. The crowd wants to use thoughts that seem true as a means of advancing themselves. It’s the same sad old human tale of a bucket full of crabs, each trying to climb to the top, not realizing that real power is outside of the bucket.

They will however continue to use their “ideas” against you, and will hoodwink others into believing these ideas, which they will then repeat in their attempts to rise in the crab bucket. They feel that if they get in a sharp word, a clever retort, a moral judgment or a zippy comeback, they have Won. In the game of immediate social discourse, they have; people laugh, and opinions are formed. In the long term however, they have only won with that insular, inbred and self-affirming group of low-confidence people who fear reality.

The best word for these people is “sophomoric,” from the Greek terms for wise fool, because they like so many others have gained enough knowledge to think they know what they’re talking about, but not to recognize the patterns and life cycles of their topic. As a result, they are like superstitious witch doctors, saying “before it rained last time, we killed a virgin. If we do it again, the rain will come” — they have compared one detail in a before/after setting, and made the conclusion that this detail is the cause of their desired outcome.

Our most popular sophomoric “wisdom” today:

  • Liberalism and science are an antidote to Christianity. Rather silly, if you read history. The Enlightenment came about because… the church got liberalized, and individuals not priests interpreted the Bible. What did they seize on? Perfection of the human form and equality of individuals. That’s the same as liberalism, which argues for equality of individuals and humanism, or praise for the human form and mind, except that instead of using “God” it uses moral “good.” Otherwise, there’s no difference. Liberals like to claim that Christians are ignorant bumpkins who take their orders from a mysterious sky-god. But if the orders are the same as those they get from their personal Reason, what’s the difference?
  • Darwinism is not a happy philosophy in which we are all the same. In fact, it asserts the fundamental ambiguity of life: whatever breeds more, has more of its traits prevail. That doesn’t necessarily mean combat. It may mean some creatures nurturing their offspring in a more effective way. It can also be random and pointless, as in a case where a bird species that prefers blue berries to red suddenly replaces others when a new species of poisonous red berry is introduced to their island by a wandering hobo. Darwinism does not affirm equality. Instead, it points out that a struggle against equality is what enables species to have health at all.
  • Anarchy is a complete and total failure. Many anarchist communities have been tried; all have failed, except those subsidized by income from “outside,” usually drug or tourism related. Even the encyclopedia of wishful thinking and fantasies by unemployed post-grads has to admit that none survived, and so has to expand its definition of anarchy to mean “free market” and “female empowerment.” Anarchy means rule by theft and violence; civilization is its antidote.
  • Liberal states tend to be collapsing states. Throughout history, we see liberal states pop up to the praise of the cosmopolitan, over-educated, make-work job holding class. They clap their little soft hands and praise the progressive alternative! But then as time goes on, the liberal society slides into either third-world levels of disorganization, or collapses outright. Even without the examples of France and Russia, who liberalized and dropped their average IQ by ten points, we can see a history of liberal states being a sharing of good feelings before the collapse.
  • Life is struggle. So much of our human discourse involves trying to find a safe answer where everyone comes home alive and is presumed to live forever. We hate destruction, so we avoid destructive-seeming acts, not realizing that life is like a forest: if something does not periodically burn out the underbrush, we set up the conditions for a massive fire. Avoiding struggle is setting up the underbrush and lining it with napalm. Our voters and marketers are afraid of wars, deprivation and conflict because they are unpopular, but they are necessary to avoid even bigger conflicts.
  • Power is literal. We fear Malthus, realpolitik and Machiavelli because they affirm something we know in our inner hearts: the struggle for power is merciless, and it is merciless so that a decision is always reached. A world of compromise and safe accords would be a boring one where dynamic change was impossible. Malthus shows us that often succeeding is the worst kind of failure, because we can drown in our own successes; realpolitik tells us that there must always be a big boss in any theatre of power, and that others will try to exterminate him; Machiavelli (and Homer, come to think of it) reminds us that crafty manipulation and ruthless seizure of power are often the best path to the stability for everyone.
  • Diversity of all forms is destructive. Although I’m not the biggest Ann Coulter fan, she nails it:

    Never in recorded history has diversity been anything but a problem. Look at Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian populations.

    Or consider the warring factions in India, Sri Lanka, China, Iraq, Czechoslovakia (until it happily split up), the Balkans and Chechnya. Also look at the festering hotbeds of tribal warfare — I mean the beautiful mosaics — in Third World hellholes like Afghanistan, Rwanda and South Central, L.A.

    “Diversity” is a difficulty to be overcome, not an advantage to be sought. True, America does a better job than most at accommodating a diverse population. We also do a better job at curing cancer and containing pollution. But no one goes around mindlessly exclaiming: “Cancer is a strength!” “Pollution is our greatest asset!”

    At the End of the Day, Diversity has jumped the shark, horrifically

    This applies to all forms in which we can have diversity: of values system, of opinion, of religion, ability (IQ and otherwise), of ethnicity. This does not mean we favor “monoculture,” but that everyone be pulling in roughly the same direction.

    Right now, there is no greater taboo than speaking against diversity, because it ties in to two of our biggest sacred cows: first, equality as a means of class warfare, or protecting the masses of us against those who have higher ability and might take it all; second, the idea of the individual as coming from a “blank slate” in which we are each the architects of ourselves, nevermind that the best evidence suggests we inherit our personalities, intelligence and bodies and make only minor modifications in our lifespans.

  • There is no way we are not affecting our world. You have a straw man in the public eye, global warming, which is used as a surrogate for all of our impact on the environment, and which has become a political pawn for third-world financial revenge against the first world. But think of all we don’t mention: the overfishing, the loss of natural habitats, the inability to find a square foot of earth without a crushed coke can or cigarette butt, the pollution and the trace elements we have rearranged. Climate change is bad news, surely, but it’s probably more complex than just carbon — most likely, the real culprit is our concrete cities reflecting heat while we remove the forests that renew moisture and oxygen while we also pollute. Global warming is like blaming our fingernail polish color for ruining an hideous outfit: many things are wrong, but it makes us feel comfortable to zero in on one.

All of these fears — fear of the more competent, fear of lack of autonomy of the individual, fear of power — boil down to a single human trait: fear of incompetence. I don’t think any longer that death is what we fear; in fact, I think many embrace death because it ends their lives without requiring their own intervention. What we do fear is powerlessness, insignificance, being left out, and so on. So we create a herd mentality that obligates others to include us, immediately fostering an environment of servile insincerity.

Our sophomoric reasoning may have arisen from any number of potential causes that are also its effects, like egalitarianism, religious strife, class warfare, lowered intelligence, populism and so on. But decay is a complex process that rarely has a single starting point; instead, it has many potential starting points from which the disease spreads to all others. Think of the organ systems: if the heart starts to fail, so do the lungs, and eventually the brain, and if any of those started to fail first, the process would happen in reverse. It’s not a linear process but a parallel one, like all complex things in life.

We insist on a reality that feels good to us. We use it to make others feel happy so we can sell them products or ideas. Then, we are dismayed that we have obscured actual reality, and people prefer the fake reality. It’s like the mice in the lab experiment where pushing a button gets them cocaine; well, who wants to go back to dreary lab cage reality when there’s coke around? They push the button until they starve.

The smartest among us have been talking, for many centuries, about “waking up.” We live in a dream, they remind us; a dream made of our combined populist notions, democratic votes, consumerist marketing and social/politeness viewpoints which we trade around like Monopoly money. Our decline has gotten to the point where we cannot talk honestly about even the most basic aspects of our society, so we do not make decisions, so the process continues unraveling while we sit in the middle like neurotic rape victims wondering what’s happening to us.

Each generation passes these problems to another. The positive way to look at this is that they solved the problems they could, but are leaving the ones they could not. It’s time for us to accept the fear of speaking taboo, and very professionally sidestep it, so we don’t leave our children even bigger problems. Life is worth living and so it’s worth living well, which means we need to abandon the sophomoric tendency of picking only the few attributes of reality we want to see, and instead, we need to start thinking structurally about it, considering every factor at once — but that requires that first we get honest with ourselves.

3 Comments

  1. shane bugbee says:

    I call it being more greedy.

    thank you for this.
    it will be the gift I pass along this holiday season.

  2. The Crow says:

    “…that requires that first we get honest with ourselves.”

    Grrr…
    The LAST line of the LAST post.
    I had to read this entire blog to get to the meat and potatoes.
    Honesty – in a word – is what this is ALL about.
    We have arrived at a state in which almost nobody knows what honesty is,
    let alone how to manifest it in themselves.

    That is the only thing that counts.
    Achieve a renaissance of honesty, and the battle is won.

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