It seems to me that if you ask most people, most will tell you that most people are idiots. It doesn’t matter which political, philosophical, spiritual, moral, ethical background these people come from. If you ask them, everybody else is idiotic, except for themselves, of course. Therefore, however, if most people are idiots, and most people believe that most people are idiots, then most of the people who believe most people are idiots, are idiots.
This is quite a conundrum. Mathematically speaking, most people who believe most people are idiots are, themselves, idiots. And since I’m one of these people who believe most people are idiots, there’s a good chance that I, myself, am an idiot.
To get anywhere, I have to acknowledge this fact — I may, in fact, be one of the idiots. It’s skepticism 101: be convinced that the easiest person to fool is you, yourself.
A lot of people pay lip-service to this idea. People pay lip service to lots of ideas. I’ve heard many people say, for example, “I hope for the best, but expect the worst.” But then something happens like a bird shits on their Beamer or they catch wind that somebody, somewhere out in the ether, believes they are “fake” and suddenly this person’s world is a thread away from total disintegration. “WHAT THE FUCK?” these people scream in such times. And sometimes I will ask them, “I thought you were expecting the worst? This is far from the worst.” And when I do, I’ll get some variation on, “Yeah, but I was also hoping for the best.” The truth is, they weren’t expecting the worst. They acknowledged that something terrible might happen, but they didn’t really expect it. They were really “acknowledging bad things happen, but expecting and praying for unrealistically great things to happen—like going an entire lifetime without a bird shitting on my car or without somebody, maybe possibly, saying a somewhat not so flattering thing about me, somewhere, perhaps, if other people are to be believed.” That would be a more accurate description of their mood, and it’s really—despite what many people will tell you—not a very productive way to go through life. At least not if you’re trying to avoid the kind of chronic disappointment that turns people into insufferably cynical and pessimistic pseudo-nihilists.
But I digress. The point is, people say we do a lot of things that we don’t really do. And the vast majority of us don’t really assume we’re the easiest person to fool.
I, myself, started to become more self-aware of my own ignorance and uncertainty and, yes, foolishness when I was around 20-21 years old. I was in college, Dubya was in office, and I was doing that typical smug, college libruhl thing where you think you and the Democratic Party have it All Figured Out. It is the blockheaded Republicans and their inbred ilk who are preventing paradise from happening because THEY ARE DUMB. Not like us. We are smart, clever, educated. The stats tell us as much: liberal leaning humans are on the whole more highly educated than our conservative brethren. Such facts made me proud and reinforced my beliefs that Most People are Idiots — except for I. I was not an idiot. I spoke with proper grammar and shit.
Back then I would peruse libruhl websites, and leave angry, pseudo-intellectual and violent wanna-be revolutionary rants on them. Such message boards (not just of the political variety) have come to be known as “echo chambers” because a group of like-minded people can isolate themselves on a particular website and recite to each other all the approved talking points and arguments approved by the populace of that website. It’s a very apt description, unfortunately, and during those years I spent too much time regurgitating nigh well thought-out pre-packaged thoughts and ideas I had heard somewhere else and gaining a large number of “upvotes” or “+1s”—as was more common back then. In retrospect, I was not nearly as intellectually curious as I thought myself, obviously.
Then something weird happened. Just for kicks, I went onto the message boards of some conservative websites and I realized something perplexing. Something crazy. Something so nonsensical that it shook my entire perception of the world. Or maybe the world itself shifted ever so slightly, providing me with just enough of a new perception to change me on the inside, as well. What I saw was that the conservatives were posting the exact same arguments and insults that we libruhls were on our sites. For all my self-satisfaction and superior lines of thought, for all my pride associated with the collective education level of my fellow libruhls, our arguments and ad-hominems were not any more subtle, nuanced, or more complex than those of our mouth-breathing conservative brethren.
How could this be? We were the good guys. We were the curious and knowledgeable and educated ones.
If we simply dismissed our adversaries as idiots, and they were simply doing the same, who was right? We had our arguments to defend our positions and they had theirs. We thought their arguments were invalid and unsound and they thought the same of ours (although most of them probably didn’t think of it in those terms). So how could we prove whose arguments were right? We could say “reason” and “rationality” could figure it out, but that’s the problem with language—each side defines “reason” and “rationality” in such a way to defend their own ends. If we found somebody who agreed with our arguments, well then, they were biased toward our arguments. And if we found somebody who was sympathetic to their arguments, then they were already predisposed to agree with their arguments. If we found somebody who agreed with both arguments, well then that didn’t solve anything. And if we found somebody who agreed with neither, then that also didn’t solve a thing. And this is the crux of the skeptical dilemma.
Ok, so I stole those last few sentences (as usual) from Chuang Tzu. But the point remains. It was at that time that I first truly came to see the value and importance of a legitimate skepticism. And after some time I came to see that both sides of the American political landscape were/are simply drones trapped in the metaphysical shackles crafted by the language of whichever political side they happen to be on. Two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other and, because of that, as both sides tug harder and harder, the tension on the rope increases and movement stalls—just as it has, socially and politically, in this country.
This is the role of skepticism in an Apathetic philosophical outlook: just let go of the fucking rope. Don’t play the game. Don’t be a drone (and don’t get shot down and/or spied on by one, either).
However, in order to do so, one has to have faith in their skepticism, and to do that, one has to understand what skepticism truly is.
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