Category Archives: Intellectuals and the Intellectual Life

Andrew Potter’s Finest Hour?

Morpheus2When the guy on the battery-powered radio said the army needed volunteers to go house to house and check in on shut-ins and the elderly, two days into the great ice storm of 1998, my buddies and I were out the door in less than ten minutes. When we got to the high school, the gymnasium was already half full. Ten minutes later, it was full. The commanding officer had one of his men go outside and turn everyone else away. Tears streamed down his face as he divvied up the assignments. He was profoundly moved, as were we. Our neighborhood wasn’t, I hasten to add, especially benevolent; volunteers were turned away all over the city. That’s the Quebec I know and love. That’s my home. And that’s how my people behave in a crisis.

My wife and I live in the middle of Montreal, in the most densely populated electoral district in Canada (Plateau-Mont-Royal), and yet parents still parent each other’s kids here, neighbors ask suspicious strangers what the fuck they’re doing, a guy shovels his neighbor’s stairs unasked (simply because he noticed that his neighbor’s leg is in a cast), and people smile discreetly when they see you without expecting a conversation. It’s the best of both worlds: the privacy and pseudo-anonymity of the city without Kitty Genovese. Bowling Alone? I think not.

But I’m writing to you today, not because I disagreed with your article, but because I was deeply impressed by your thoughtful retraction. Is this not precisely what we need more of in the Age of Trump: grownups who know how to calmly admit error and move on with life. And is this not also precisely what we’d expect from a philosopher? Strange as it may sound, I actually cherish those moments when I’m dead wrong about something in class, because it gives me an opportunity to teach my students, by example, how to admit error gracefully.

Denial’s for the true-believer, and casuistry’s for the mendacious. Rationalization’s for the ideologue, and anger’s for the know-it-all. Fear’s for the weak, and shame’s for the fragile. Excuses are for the guilty, and tears are for the lifelong valedictorian, who’s known far too little failure. But the philosopher’s not fazed by criticism. The philosopher just acknowledges the error, and calmly corrects course. Criticism is, after all, for the Socratic, merely information. Nobody fears making a mistake less. As Marcus Aurelius puts it in the Meditations: “If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.”

—John Faithful Hamer

Why It’s Hard To Be a Facebook Filosopher

1. Everything’s Written Down. All communication in Social Media Land is based on the written word. For philosophy, this is hardly ideal. It’s good to remember that most ancient philosophers wrote little or nothing. They received and transmitted their ideas via the spoken word. Some did this, of necessity, because they were themselves illiterate; but most did so, like Socrates, because they were profoundly suspicious of the written word. The spirit of philosophy was first and foremost, they thought, a function of speeches not scribbles; it couldn’t be captured in chirography, but it could be conjured in conversation, and, to some extent, encapsulated in aphorisms. For instance, Roman soldiers who could barely read often managed, despite their lack of learning, to commit much of Epictetus’s Enchiridion to memory. Likewise, many an Epicurean shopkeeper living in, say, 2nd-century Athens, would, though functionally illiterate, memorize most (if not all) of Epicurus’s sayings and maxims. These aphorisms contained—albeit in a highly concentrated form—more than enough wisdom to last a lifetime.

2. Everything’s Public. All communication in Social Media Land is public. For philosophy, this is hardly ideal. In Plato’s Symposium we learn that many of the ancient Greeks thought philosophy was impossible without privacy and alcohol. So long as people are sober, they won’t tell you how they really feel, what they really think. Hence the phrase: in vino veritas. Likewise, when people are in a public place, they invariably say that which is politically correct, that which is appropriate. They don’t tell you the truth about how they see things. For these reasons, and others, philosophical discussions happened in ancient Athens only among friends, behind closed doors, and after a fair amount of drinking. The veritas that comes out because of the vino isn’t necessarily The Truth, but at least it’s a good starting point from which to begin moving dialectically towards the truth.

3. Trolls Look a Whole Lot like Philosophers. The difference between a troll and a Socrates is roughly equivalent to the difference between a reckless person and a courageous person. From the outside, their actions are often indistinguishable. That’s why you have to try to see inside the person: to their motivations and mental state. For instance, if I take on a bouncer three times my size for no reason in a bar-fight, because I’m shitfaced, you’re probably looking at recklessness. But if my buddy Jed takes on the same wall-of-a-man the following night, when he’s stone-cold sober, because the bouncer roofied his sister, you’re probably looking at courage. Likewise, from the outside, at least initially, it can be hard to tell the difference between a Socrates, who has the courage to tell people things they don’t want to hear, and a troll, who just likes to hurt and humiliate people in public. But if you’re paying attention, you can usually tell them apart sooner or later. Because we’re fairly good at telling the difference between an asshole and a philosopher in the real world. Alas, the same is not true online. Trolls and ideologues abound in Social Media Land, and they often look and sound a whole lot like Socrates; so if you block everyone annoying outright, you’re gonna throw out a whole lot of Socratic babies along with that troll-infested bath water. Hence the need to tolerate trolls. If you value the examined life, blocking everyone who gets on your nerves isn’t a viable option. You need to hear what they’re saying from time to time. But you don’t have to agree with them. Nor do you have to respond to them. In fact, if you’re going to survive the mean streets of Social Media Land, you’re going to have learn how to resist the urge to respond, how to turn the other cheek. You have to let yourself be abused by trolls and ideologues, let them call you names and misrepresent your views, let them squeeze you into their ill-fitting categories and pre-fab narratives, and refuse to fight fire with fire, refuse to stoop to their level. It’s hard. And there must be limits to what you’re willing to put up with. But it works. For the same reason that “extinction” works on bratty kids.

4. Freedom of Facebook is Under Threat. An increasingly long list of people (e.g., police officers, border guards, nurses, government officials, etc.) are being told what they can and cannot say on social media. Policies are being put in place with clearly stipulated sanctions for those who violate them. To some extent this is little more than a codification of commonsense (e.g., obviously you shouldn’t be posting half-naked pictures of yourself if you teach my kid’s kindergarten class). But these policies usually go far beyond the realm of commonsense. Indeed, I fear that we’re moving, with startling rapidity, towards a world that looks a whole lot like the world of ancient Athens, wherein the freedom to speak your mind in public about important political matters was the exclusive privilege of a tiny percentage of the population. It’s important to remember that, in the 19th century, one of the central arguments against the extension of the franchise to workers—an argument which was repeated ad nauseam by reactionary conservatives (the enemies of democracy)—was that “wage slaves” couldn’t be trusted with the vote because their employers had far too much power over them. Only the independently wealthy were free to follow the virtuous voice of conscience. Only those of sufficient means could speak and act like free men in the public sphere. If we acquiesce to these new social media policies, are we not proving these reactionaries right? As Aristotle rightly observed long ago, participating in the political life of your community is central to what it means to live a fully human life. The free man who can’t (or won’t) take part in the on-going public conversation about the common good is, he maintained, no better than a child, an idiot, or a well-to-do slave. Machiavelli would surely add, with a sardonic smile, that the free man who can’t (or won’t) participate in politics won’t be free for long. If the Florentine’s ghost could speak and we were willing to listen, I suspect he’d leave us with this question: “How free are you now if you’re not even free to use Facebook?”

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

Libertarians, a libertarian world won’t be perfect. But it doesn’t need to be.

John Faithful Hamer recently posted a great aphorism:

Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.

And followed it up with these candid remarks:
As is no doubt obvious, Chris, this aphorism is the product of recent dealings with people (three in one day!) with airtight ideological armor. One was an old-school communist I work with (who you know), another was an otherwise sweet Muslim friend who thinks the answers to everything are to be found in the Qur’an, and the last was a brilliant but intransigent libertarian.
As a libertarian, that last part resonated with me.

I’ve always tried to convince my libertarian compatriots away from trying to do what John just talked about: that is, arguing that libertarianism solves everything. Many libertarians—especially market-fundamentalist types—believe that their libertarian world will also maximize utility. (And here, you can fill in whatever you like for “utility”.) On virtually any issue, they will have a ready response detailing why and how a libertarian world—fitted, of course, with laissez-faire capitalism—will be the best at solving it.

It won’t. At some point, you just have to bite the bullet.

I remember being praised for my honesty by a gracious non-libertarian professor a while back for having admitting this. I said: “Look, sometimes a libertarian world won’t have as much x, or be able to address problem y as well as we would like. Indeed, there will always be problems that might be better solved through a central state apparatus (government intervention). But that’s the cost of respecting individual rights.”

What libertarians need to focus on is that last part. Sure, libertarians, it might feel like you’re “losing the debate” when you can’t convince the other side that a libertarian world will completely solve the issues with which they are concerned. But remind them: “What, then, is your solution that doesn’t violate people’s rights? Isn’t that a consideration too? What solution do you have for achieving your goals that doesn’t involve coercing or conscripting people into projects against their will or consent?”

If they can give you an answer that apparently solves every social problem without any apparent trade-offs, then you should be suspicious, for it looks like we’re back at square one. Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.

—Chris Nguyen

Better the Devil You Know

lead_960Trashing journalists and the media has been a mainstay of Western intellectual life at least as far back as Nietzsche, who implored his readers to “live in ignorance of what seems most important to your age!” Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Aaron Haspel, thinkers I’ve profited from immensely, are similarly hard on the media. Taleb’s contempt for journalists is legendary. In the revised 2016 edition of The Bed of Procrustes he says that he takes “a ritual bath after any contact, or correspondence (even emails), with . . . journalists, and those in similarly depraved pursuits”—whilst Haspel quips in Everything (2015): “News is noise.” I was once quite partial to this view. But far less so lately.

If the citizenry buys into the idea that journalism is little more than propaganda, and journalists are little more than paid trolls, who benefits from this, if not paid trolls and bullshit artists like Sean Hannity, who can now afford to hide in plain sight, with get-out-of-jail-free cards in their wallets which read: “Everybody’s Doing It Why Can’t We?” Same is true of those who denigrate science: they’re usually doing so because serious science is a threat to their particular brand of bullshit.

hannity3-edit“Media isn’t about truth, it is about power.” Seriously, Brent? Is that actually what you believe? Is media often about power? Absolutely. Too often? Probably. But are you really ready to say, with a straight face, that there’s no difference between The New York Times and the propaganda machines that masquerade as media outlets in totalitarian states like North Korea and the former Soviet Union? Are you really ready to say that there’s no difference between Peter Jennings and Alex Jones? Because claims of this stamp are patently and demonstrably false. Regardless, I read Adbusters religiously in my early twenties, and I was a bible-thumping Pentecostal in my teens, so I know full well why folks on the far left and the far right are in love with this false equivalency. They love it because it levels the playing field. After all, if news is nothing but propaganda, and it’s all just about power, then we can spew out our own bullshit with impunity, and we can do it with a clean conscience.

Removing a well established institution from your society is like getting a seemingly superfluous part of your body—like your appendix or your tonsils—surgically removed. We too often discover the usefulness of things like the tonsils after they’ve been irretrievably removed. So, before you entrust the body politic to the radical’s knife, it’s good to ask: Is this institution performing an important function? And, if it is, who’s going to perform it after it’s gone?

Trashing the mainstream media without a viable alternative in mind is like invading Iraq without an exit strategy and toppling Saddam Hussein. The monsters that slither out of the chaos to fill the power vacuum are sure to be much, much worse. Be careful what you wish for, friends, be careful what you wish for. Order is fragile.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

Ideas Have Consequences

“We have 17 orphans. We have six widows. We have five wounded. We ask Allah for them to get them out of the hospital as soon as possible. Did I go through the complete list of victims? No. There is one victim. None of us want to talk about him. But given my age, I have the courage to say it. This victim, his name is Alexandre Bissonnette. Alexandre, before being a killer he was a victim himself. Before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head.”—Imam Hassan Guillet

On the evening of January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette went into a house of worship in my home province and shot 23 of my fellow citizens as they prayed. Six of them died. Do I think far-right groups like Breitbart News and Rebel Media are responsible for what happened at the Grande Mosquée de Québec? Do I think they’re responsible for what Bissonnette did? Of course not. A full-grown man of sound mind is responsible for his own actions. But if mosque massacres of this kind become more and more common in the years to come, can we really say that those who encourage them aren’t at least partially to blame? I’ve talked at length with people who’ve gone down the Rebel Media rabbit hole, and they’re every bit as paranoid and delusional as the worst kind of religious fundamentalist. If, like me, you traffic in ideas, it’s good to remember that they have consequences.

Just as globalization and the overuse of antibiotics have produced resistant strains of bacteria—super-bugs, capable of doing a great deal of damage—the Internet has produced resistant strains of ignorance—super-idiots, like Alex Jones and Ezra Levant, capable of doing a great deal of damage. These days, any simpleminded partisan with a political ax to grind can find an online community of like-minded whack-jobs who’ll be happy to provide him with plenty of ideological ammunition (e.g., bogus stats, pre-fab arguments, etc.). Before long, what was once a more-or-less harmless, single-issue troll has morphed into something far more monstrous and formidable: a veritable Swiss-army knife of bullshit, a perfect storm of bad ideas, a walking Wikipedia of stupid.

Irresponsible religious leaders can create toxic worldviews which encourage otherwise normal people to do unspeakable things. The same is true of irresponsible political leaders. Pauline Marois tried to win an election by throwing Canadian Muslims under the bus in 2014. Stephen Harper did the same thing in 2015. Marois lost, as did Harper, but the costs were steep: hate crimes surged during those ugly election campaigns. Will Jean-François Lisée, leader of the Parti Québécois, try this morally-bankrupt strategy again in 2018? In light of recent events, I certainly hope not.

Imagine that you’re living in an ancient world defined by a religion that’s been around for over a thousand years. Its sacred scriptures contain the following passage: “Thou shalt not suffer a twin to live” (Sexodus 22:18). The high priests and scholars concluded, centuries ago, that you don’t have to kill both twins, just the second one: Esau can stay, but Jacob’s gotta go. As everyone knows, if you allow the second twin to live, great evil will descend upon you and your household: crops will wither, animals will sicken, people will perish. Now, if you’ve grown up within the confines of this worldview, and your wife gives birth to twins, can you be blamed for throwing the second twin in the river? Are you not simply doing your duty? Thinking along similar lines, if it turns out that Alexandre Bissonnette internalized a toxic worldview from, say, Rebel Media or Breitbart News, are they not at least partially responsible for what he did?

What do we do about those who refuse to be responsible? Do we ban hate speech? Shut down groups that produce it? Do we start punishing people for talking about doing things they have no intention of doing? In the wake of the Mosque Massacre, there are no easy answers to these questions. Our provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, just announced the hiring of 55 people whose entire job will consist of monitoring social media websites. I get that we’ve got to do something, but is this really what we want to do? What’s next? Undercover cops at every Tim Horton’s in the province, eavesdropping on conversations, making sure nobody says anything mean? If you think this new surveillance capacity is going to be used exclusively to prevent hate crimes, I suggest that you speak with Patrick Lagacé.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

Profs Who Don’t Read

92821459I’ve often been shocked by how utterly boring and anti-intellectual a lot of academics are. They’ll happily gossip about their colleagues for hours, but if you start talking about ideas at the dinner party they invariably give you this exasperated look and say something akin to “Do we really have to talk shop tonight?”

Most of the academics I know can’t remember the last time they read a serious book cover to cover. Sure, they keep up with reviews of serious books (thanks New York Review of Books!); but there’s nothing particularly intellectual about their leisurely pursuits. How thoroughly disturbing this is! Writer’s block is excusable. Sometimes you just don’t have anything to say. Or you can’t find the words. But a prof who doesn’t read is like a preacher who doesn’t pray.

I wonder if the increasing popularity of cheap moralism and formulaic ideologies amongst academics is really just a sneaky way of hiding the fact that they’re not reading like they used to. After all, who needs to read when you already know everything? Who needs to read when your pre-fab grad-school ideology has a ready-made pigeonhole for everything new under the sun? Why be curious when you can be outraged? Why be right when you can be righteous? Food of an inferior quality is often drowned in spices. Perhaps there’s something of a similar stamp going on here.

Why anyone who finds playing with ideas so tedious would choose the academic life is a mystery to me. After all, it’s not like we’re curing cancer or saving starving children. Nor are we making the big bucks. So what are we doing this for? Well, to my mind, the only good reason to pursue this life is because you find it inherently rewarding.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Don’t Trust Any Idea Over 30?

Humanities Heuristic: If every book on the syllabus is younger than your mom, drop the class.

Don Draper

When student activist Jack Weinberg declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—at the height of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the mid-1960s—he was, to some extent, speaking for an entire generation, a generation that had lost faith in the wisdom of their elders, a generation that had concluded that the present had little or nothing to learn from the past. But he was also giving voice to an intuition that flows quite naturally out of cultural currents that predate the babyboomers, such as the theory of the avant-garde, the Whiggish faith in progress, the modernist obsession with all things new—which the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb has aptly dubbed neomania—and the sense, so well articulated by Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams (1907), that the modern world constitutes a radical break with history: “in essentials like religion, ethics, philosophy; in history, literature, art; in the concepts of all science, except perhaps mathematics, the American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed. Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at all. He knew not even where or how to begin.”

Is this modernist mistrust of the past justified? I used to think so. But lately, not so much. Inventions like the microscope and the telescope have made it possible for scientists in fields like molecular cell biology and particle physics to see things—faraway stars, subatomic particles, and microscopic viruses—which simply couldn’t be seen in the ancient world. As such, the rapidly changing received wisdom in fields which benefit from these amazing technological innovations is easy enough to explain and justify. The rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences is far less easy to explain and justify. Is there any technological advance which has made it possible for us to “see” things about human nature which would have been “invisible” to thoughtful people in the ancient world? I can’t, for the life of me, seem to think of one. Has modern life, and everything it entails, so fundamentally rewired our brains that human nature is, in the twenty-first century, dramatically different from the human nature which prevailed in, say, the Egypt of the Pharaohs? I doubt it. And this doubt leads me to two troubling questions: If our capacity to “see” human nature hasn’t changed much, and human nature hasn’t changed much, how can we justify and explain the rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences? What’s more, if little has changed, how can we justify the claim that the present has little or nothing to learn from the past?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

On Political Philosophies and “What Works”

This is mostly in response to John’s fine piece titled “Why Libertarians Are Like Judgy Know-It-Alls Who Don’t Have Kids”, which can be found here

The problem with arguments against normative theories that appeal to “what works” is that in them is already built a normative theory. As a result, they beg the question.

This took me a long time to realize, though Aaron Haspel clearly knew about this for awhile now. When I first met Aaron at John’s place and this topic came up, Aaron nonchalantly rattled off the above observation as though it were a matter of course. It was humbling and, to be honest, mildly embarrassing.

At any rate, in this fine piece, John writes that “Much in America works. And works very well.” But to libertarians (and Marxists, etc.), violating people’s rights doesn’t count as “working”, even if the overall arrangement is generally desirable or pleasant. This point is brought out especially well by Ursula Le Guin’s award-winning short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In this story, Le Guin writes of a utopian city known as Omelas.

Omelas is shimmering, bright and beautiful. Everyone is happy, has food to eat and there is no social strife. Everything works wonderfully. However, Omelas has a dark secret. It turns out that the city’s splendor depends on the infliction of suffering and misery on a single child who is locked away in a basement.

When they come of age, each Omelian citizen is taken to see the child. The story is about the ones who, after seeing the child, decide in the dead of night when everyone’s asleep to walk away from Omelas.

The point is this: To those who walk away from Omelas, the city doesn’t “work.” For before we can do or judge what “works”, we need to know what counts as working. As normative theories, Marxism, libertarianism and (insert political philosophy here) try to provide the criteria for what counts as working.

Now, this does not take anything away from John’s insight that libertarians are very wrong—and indeed, childish—when they complain that the government does nothing well. The government undoubtedly provides many valuable services, and sometimes does so well and efficiently. To categorically say otherwise is false and, worse, dogmatic.

But on political philosophy more generally, I agree with Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen that our principles of justice (which are delivered by our particular political philosophies) ought to be fact-insensitive. That is, I don’t think facts about a principle’s feasibility (in terms of people’s willingness to comply with it) should count as evidence for or against the principle. More concretely, “But, in the real world, people will always rape!” is not a valid objection to “Rape is wrong.”

As the saying goes, Marxism may not work “in practice” because we are too selfish and greedy to be good Marxists, but most people agree that it’s morally the right way. That is enough to concede that Marxism is true. (Libertarians, of course, disagree.) Indeed, Marxism is just a normative thesis, and normative claims do not entail anything about what descriptively is or will be the case. Their truth stands independently of it.

Appeals to “what works”, then, either don’t count as any evidence against Marxism or libertarianism, or beg the question against them.

—Chris Nguyen

Celebrating Diversity

benetton-races_3481677bIf you wish to learn about Australia, talk first to Australians and those who’ve actually been to Australia; if you wish to learn about war, talk first to people who’ve actually been to war; if you wish to learn about parenting, talk first to people who actually have kids; and if you wish to learn about racial profiling, talk first to people who’ve actually experienced it. What these people have to say doesn’t have to be accepted as gospel truth. It can be criticized, even rejected; but it deserves special consideration. While it’s true that all men are created equal, it does not follow that all men’s perspectives are created equal.

Few communities are less diverse than that which clamors for diversity. And I say this as a member of that community. Most of my friends who celebrate diversity think they’re looking at real diversity when they look at a Benetton ad. These are the same people, incidentally, who’ll say a Facebook thread is insufficiently diverse for similarly superficial reasons.

We tend to think of diversity only in terms of race, gender, and, to a lesser extent, class and sexual orientation. This is a remarkably blinkered view of diversity. What about religious diversity? After all, white Pentecostals tend to have far more in common with black Pentecostals than they do with white atheists or white lesbians. What about political diversity? Ideological diversity? Linguistic diversity? Geographical diversity? Even diversity of brain function! I’ve had long conversations with high-functioning autistics. Their view of the world is radically different, and thoroughly fascinating: it’s like meeting a talking salamander. Our elders, the very old amongst us, are also often in possession of some much needed perspective. Same is true of the mentally ill, especially those who struggle with schizophrenia. Any comprehensive conception of diversity ought to include their views too.

Demanding diversity for diversity’s sake is about as silly as demanding art for art’s sake. We need to remember that there’s nothing inherently good or bad about diversity in and of itself. It’s important solely because different people bring different things to the table, and people unlike ourselves often notice things we miss. If we’re ever going to make sense of this world of ours, we’ll need a real diversity perspectives, a diversity of perspectives not presently found amongst those who celebrate diversity.

If you’re talking about diversity, “Should we or should we not be a multicultural society?” isn’t the right question. Because nobody’s trying to make our great metropolises multicultural, they already are multicultural. And they’ve been multicultural for well over a century. As such, the right question to ask is “What do we do about all of this diversity?” In the first half of the twentieth century, the prevailing solution was to enforce majority norms. Among other things, this led many immigrants to change foreign-sounding names to English-sounding names. Jerome Irving Cohen became J. I. Rodale. Charles Dennis Buchinsky became Charles Bronson. The more recent solution is to celebrate diversity. There are obvious advantages and drawbacks associated with both of these strategies. But that’s besides the point. Diversity is a fact on the ground. Anyone who fails to acknowledge that is arguing in bad faith.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

Is the Intellectual Enterprise a Sham?

“The trouble with intellectual discussions is often the assumption that if one articulates clearly enough, Intellect can adequately represent the subject.”—Aaron Elliott

zn29jIntellectuals like to think they’re better than the proverbial loud obnoxious American tourist in Europe, but they often sound just like him: repeating themselves again and again, louder and louder each time, to someone who doesn’t speak English, as if deafness were the problem.

Well-crafted apologetics—reasoned arguments in favor of feminism, egalitarianism, abolitionism, or anything else—can, on occasion, convince people from the other side. But this is incidental. Indeed, almost accidental. Apologetics are primarily for internal consumption. Their true purpose is to shore up the belief system of the faithful (i.e., people who already agree with you for deeper, intuitive reasons—reasons derived, more often than not, from their lived experience). So long as apologists keep this in mind, all is well. When they go off the rails, it’s invariably because they’ve lost sight of this: that is, when they’ve deluded themselves into believing that their especially well-constructed argument in favor of this or that is actually going to convince the people on the other side.

Does this mean that the whole intellectual enterprise is a sham? Does it mean that the open society is doomed? NO and NO. We can indeed reason together. But there are limits to reason. And limits to reasoning together. I think it’s important to respect these limits. Not because acknowledging these limits can serve as a convenient excuse for sophistry, dogmatism, extremism, or giving up; but because it can actually make it easier for us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and respect the humanity of those who disagree with us.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)