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Continuing on John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859). For Wes Alwan's summary of this book, go here). We discuss "partial truths" and how free speech may allow us to complete them, whether truth will always eventually overcome persecution, whether we can judge some "experiments in living" as failures once and for all, education, "barbarians," how Mill compares to Nietzsche, and more. Has our culture received Mill's message that nonconformity is good? Is what we call "diversity" what he's talking about? Here's some irony: most people end up using their freedom to conform to some group norm!
Listen to part 1 first, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition.
End song: "Flavor" by Tori Amos from Gold Dust (2012), featuring strings by John Philip Shenale, who was interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #12.
Jake Zielsdorf says
There’s not enough time in the world to give all the dumb ideas out there the time of day. Twitter and Facebook aren’t public utilities. They’re private forums. If they’re polluted with too much hostility and imbecility people will leave and the platforms will die.
Michael Kurak says
I had not read On Liberty. It was interesting to hear his views. I was particularly surprised by his views on education, which have a self-organizing systems feel about them.
Jennifer Tejada says
So – I ventured over to twitter because you all mentioned something about responding on twitter to Sam Harris on your Pascal episode. There is a reason I am not on social media. What I am about to say may be out of line for the following reasons. 1.) What you all put on your personal twitter pages should, perhaps, not be up for debate as your private persona could be different than your public. 2.) Asking how a person can believe in one ideal and behave seemingly differently is completely unfair as none of us really does we want to according to our ideal selves all or even most of the time. Ie we’re only human 3.) I am very possibly misunderstanding your reading of Mill and misinterpreting how that plays out somewhere like twitter.
Having said all that, I love you guys and really value what you have to say on these topics that feel so relevant today.
Wes seemed particularly committed to listening to an opposing point of view and engaging. If that is the case then how do your posts about the article about Aziz Ansari, which you called cowardly and repugnant, align with this idea? It seemed as though your criticism of what happened to Aziz lacked nuance and sort of seemed like it came from a person who doesn’t know the other side of the poorly shared argument. If, like you say, the job is to take their terrible argument and place it in the best light, and then refute it, I fail to see how that has happened. Do you do it elsewhere? I saw much more consideration for the other point of view when the left vs the right.
The article from the Atlantic that you linked also did not take the other side and clearly lay out the argument and refute it. It was just more of what “Grace” did, turned around. Crap slung back at crap. But I do think there is a deeper argument to be had. The end doesn’t justify the means and the myriad problems with this article and horrific logic that came from the fallout should certainly be addressed; however, ignoring the argument and dismissing it outright as nonsensical is precisely what Mill said we shouldn’t do. When I have criticized what happened to Aziz I always acknowledge the difficulties that happen for women during sexual encounters, how there is a sense that we all seem to carry that we somehow owe someone sex in exchange for intimacy, connection, and being acknowledged. I may not represent all women but I certainly represent many. Watch Chris Rock in his latest netflix special about our duty to have sex and listen to the laughs. I laughed. There is a legitimate problem here. There is an argument to be had. The point should be that we weaken the argument when we slaughter someone like Aziz for participating in the game that has been played unwittingly by both sides for far too long. Explaining how this particular way of getting the point to be heard is misguided and ultimately only serves to take them farther from the overall goal is much more compelling than saying that it’s cowardly and repugnant. The argument of letting ten guilty men go free so that one innocent man doesn’t get punished should be the foundation because after all, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – or however MLK said it.
I hope you take this as the humble question that it is. I’m sure it’s not easy to put yourself out there in the way you do.
Wes Alwan says
As you probably know, the political of opinions of Dylan, Seth, and Mark differ markedly from mine, and the opinions on my personal Twitter feed don’t represent those of the podcast; I try to keep the podcast Twitter feed as apolitical as possible; and I try not to make the mistake I used to early on in the podcast–which is take potshots at conservatives.
So if I were writing an article about this I could be more analytical about all of that and present the opposing point of view as rigorously as possible. I’ve done that before; and I’ve also written screeds. Whether I actually go through the more rigorous process depends on my time and inclinations. The screeds and the tweets and links to other screeds are just an expression of raw gut feeling and opinion, and ironically I came away from Mill thinking I should do more of that–announcing where I stand politically–than less, even when I don’t have the time to explain my views with any nuance. Of course I have the sense, when I do this, that I *could* explain my position with precision and nuance if so inclined and time-equipped.
In these cases, should I simply refrain from raw expressions of political opinions? Or wait until more nuanced articles come along before linking to them? That’s what I have tended to do for the last few years. But from a standpoint of influencing the general culture–in whatever small way–I’m not sure that it’s the right approach. Part of my motive for staying quiet is just that I don’t like to do things that are distressing to people; and inevitably my political opinions are going to be distressing to *someone*. Trying to explain philosophy to people via a podcast or some other means is inherently constructive, and while an audience might challenge it’s quality, at least they aren’t either a) at best, feeling sad about your deluded political fallenness or, at worst, b) thinking you’re evil. But to a large swath of our fellow citizens, our politics will seem positively evil: not just wrong-headed, but malicious. So you get into a lot of unpleasant making your positions known on Facebook or elsewhere, whether to family and friends alone or to a larger audience. It might not be worth it.
I haven’t been able to write about politics as much as I would often like. My reasons for doing so have partly been a matter of available time; partly a matter of inner conflict about what’s constructive; but also partly a matter of cowardice. I decided that, when I see something I think is outrageous enough, to say something about it, regardless of whether I have time to make nuanced defenses of that gut reaction. Especially about issues that many people these days are positively terrified of saying anything about, for fear of being called a racist and sexist. Because I think staying quiet creates a climate in which political bullies forge a really malevolent political culture. Reading Mill made me feel like it was my obligation to say at least something about some things, selectively. I still stay quiet about most of it. My opinions would outrage a lot of my natural allies, and I wait because I want to explain them with some nuance before I state them. But until that happens, occasionally I’m going to poke my head out of my shell, utter a few words, and then retract it. It’s imperfect, but right now I can’t think of a better approach.
Jennifer Tejada says
Firstly, thank you for the response. Secondly, I apologize if you were somewhat forced into it. I debated about ignoring, emailing directly or doing a series of Twitter comments. This did feel like a bit of a hijack situation because it was directed at you vs the rest of the podcast yet I commented on the podcast. And pardon the length here. My lack of time usually ends up with longer responses rather than shorter.
Having been away from social media I only have the voices in my immediate circle of influence, and everyone I engage with seems to think, as you do, that it’s outrageous that Aziz Ansari was treated so poorly. So from my perspective more of what needs to be heard is quite different. I’ve been very selective about the articles I read because I am trying this thing where I try to get “raw” news (I know that’s not possible) and form my own opinion – so again, our perspectives are likely very different. I feel like a sheep and particularly so after Trump was elected.
I’m not sure what one should do about this. Frankly, I was hoping you all would have the answers. My personal goal is to try not to engage unless I am able to share in a way that might possibly give a new perspective. I am constantly challenged as to what I should do and how I should do it to be an agent of change. Having young children, my focus remains kindness for now. I fail miserably, often.
You said, “Because I think staying quiet creates a climate in which political bullies forge a really malevolent political culture.”, and I understand that, but I still struggle to see how giving an opposing opinion without proper explanation really helps. Each side has the bully. It isn’t as though no one is saying that what happened is unfair. What no one seems to be saying is that every movement has moments of fits and starts when the element of conscience gets lost and sometimes never gets recovered and ultimately there is collateral damage on all sides as a result. Aziz is collateral damage for those who believe in the movement but still see the wrongness of what happened. They fail to see that it will cut both ways eventually.
That said, given what I have gathered about your political perspective, I would say it is a voice that needs to be shared and I appreciate your inner turmoil about how that happens. You are right, there are limits to how nuanced you can really be given the current way we exchange ideas. For me, staying out of the fray has seemed a little bit like checking out, but I did so because I felt like I was only hurting feelings and creating animosity. It’s probably naïve, but I think we should all abandon Twitter and Facebook, but I digress.
So I guess I said all that to say, carry on. I don’t have a better approach. Thanks for explaining and I see where you are coming from. There is no easy answer, but this podcast is at least one place where you can do a lot more of what Mill talked about which I have always appreciated. You all really are making a difference IMO.
You didn’t have to respond, but you did, and I think that was really nice of you.