Hateful Silence

What's great about modern tolerance is that we're rarely confronted with negative judgments about our personal choices (notwithstanding the resultingly elevated sensitivity to negative judgments, which makes some people perceive a growth of "hate"). However, one of the unfortunate consequences of tolerance is that people don't give advice like they used to. Today the consensus among civilized people is to never give advice unless it is requested, and even then the entire exercise should be nullified with a "do whatever you think is best…" Advice that ends with a warm affirmation of any path whatsoever is not advice at all.

If someone has more experience than me, and they believe they are wise, and they have a considered reason to believe they understand something that I don't — then they should tell me what they believe I should do. And they should insist that I do it, despite whatever I may think is best.

Giving strong advice is not "disrespecting my freedom:" I am only maturely free if I can make my own decisions in the face of strong advice. To criticize the presumption of strong advice-giving on the grounds that it disrespects the freedom of others betrays a hidden disrespect for the other, a belief that the other is not capable of freedom.

To not give advice one is in a position to give is a profound, if invisible, declaration of hostility toward the potential advisee, a strangely hateful comfort with watching another person walk off a cliff. True advice, intolerant advice, although it is sometimes cruel and judgmental and oppressive, is, ironically, an index of care. The decline of true advice-giving does not reflect social progress or humane enlightenment, but rather the generalization of the hostis down to lower and lower levels of interpersonal relating.

We dislike that others might know best what we ourselves should do, so we train them to hate us — and call it respect.

Sell Outs and Sell Ins

It's interesting to note that, since I've shifted a lot of my intellectual energy to autonomous work on the internet, I've received a fair number of accusations about "selling out" or "pandering."

It's very strange because academia pays me to constrain my intellectual ability into a highly ideological and politically defanged kind of work. Being a "radical academic," that is, a normal academic in the softer social sciences and/or humanities, is the purest conceivable form of intellectual selling-out or pandering. It's because of my grappling with this unfortunate fact that I've shifted a great deal of my waking hours from my academic responsibilities, to completely autonomous public work on whatever topics seem most important to me, in the most transparent and direct, honest style I know how to practice. And I've literally made no money at all. (The only payments I can possibly think of are extensions of my academic cog-function, not my autonomous projects, namely 'honoraria' for articles or interviews in mainstream media. I did set up an Amazon affiliates count just for the hell of it some time ago but it's raised nowhere near enough to even be paid out yet lol.)

What does it mean that precisely in an autonomous and principled move away from selling out I am receiving the only accusations of selling out I've ever received? One thing this says to me is that, in doing anything public, one will probably receive a quantity of such objections in proportion to the publicity, no matter what path you take. The accusation seems to be indexed simply to my intensity levels and orthogonal to any meaningful judgment about motives and authenticity; perhaps the harder one pushes on anything, the more likely someone will infer bad motives. And perhaps this is a reasonable heuristic, given that intense productivity in capitalist culture is often correlated with dubious motives.

The irony is that I would quite like to have people criticize me whenever I might be guilty of selling out. I kind of wish smart, radical intellectuals shamed me for being a sellout academic, pressuring me to do more radical autonomous work. I receive almost none of this. Getting lost in ignoble temptations and base motives is a huge problem, a fatal trap for authentic intellectuals, and I'm far from perfect so I have to imagine that periodically I must be as vulnerable to this pitfall as anyone else. It'd be great if hearing these accusations could be a reliable signal I'm doing something wrong. Unfortunately, receiving them at present will only have the unfortunate, ironic effect of making it harder for me to know in the future if I am losing my way, given that so far such accusations are inversely correlated with all objective measures of selling out.

This odd experience has also had the salutary effect of making me somewhat less allergic to money. If I'm going to receive a dose of sellout accusations when my creative work could not be more fully insulated from the scourge of money, it makes me think: Well, now I might as well start thinking about how to make some money with it… This should also be filed under "data points increasing my sympathy for the 'free market anarchism' school." Maybe the entrepreneurial vector is the line of flight, and the modest salaried bureaucrat professing anti-capitalist viewpoints is the one guilty of reproducing institutionalized oppression and injustice. Perhaps the salaried bureaucrat receives critiques of "selling out" if he does anything to potentially attract value on the open market, because such a path devalues and destabilizes the conservative cartel of salaried bureaucrats who only pretend to value radical disruptions of the status quo.

In any event, receiving these accusations when they could not be more demonstrably false is a useful inoculation for my psychological processing of resentful internet-age opprobrium.

How to kill the grump in your head (Deleuzean #NiceRx?)

I can sometimes sense inside of myself, already, the early stirrings of elderly grumpiness. Needless to say, I do not like this, and so at this relatively early stage in my life, I must do everything possible to avert this sad fate.

A few nights ago, I went to my friends’ house to watch Eurovision. I think I was overly negative that evening, criticizing all the acts with a bit too much loathing, to the point that I was perhaps slightly rude to my friends. I don’t mind being slightly rude if I am asserting something important that I believe, during moments that matter, but that’s not what I was doing. I was just counter-signaling, which is contemptible. In my contempt for postmodern pop culture, I fell into its clutches and played its game: vacuous speech and micro-performances motivated only to assert and sustain my own sense of ego and identity, in order to feel proud and be recognized, to feel differentiated and distinguished in the ever continuing mass meltdown of all values and tastes. No matter who you are or what you believe, this mode of being in the world, this defensive ego-maintenance mode, is always contemptible (although it is often forgivable and sometimes unavoidable).

Of course, the solution is perfectly clear, easy, and ancient: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all — unless it’s really important and coming from a place that is non-reactive and affirmative of life in general. But this rule, which well-behaved children can follow, is surprisingly hard to follow for many adults. Why?

One reason this rule is hard to follow is that when you hang-out with friends — in order to be the most fun for them but also for your own enjoyment, the whole point of hanging out – it is necessary to “let oneself go,” at least to some degree. The unique challenge enters when the hangout itself is premised on social signaling games as part of the fun (and this can be a fine source of great fun). The whole point of watching Eurovision with friends is to take turns making all kinds of comments, criticisms, affirmations, oppositions, displays of wit, and gifts of humor — all so many subtle and enjoyable ways to revel in one’s belonging, to the assembled group but also to the larger groups that the assembled group sees itself as belonging to.

The simple truth is that we do live in postmodernity, whether one likes or not. Therefore, if you dislike postmodernist relativism, but you would like to avoid becoming a grumpy person, you must take care not to "let oneself go” in contexts where the normal social behavior presumes alignment with postmodern relativism.

There is an opposite pitfall, however, which is avoiding all contexts were normal social behavior presumes alignment with postmodernism. In postmodernity, avoiding the presumption of postmodernism would mean nothing less than “dropping out” of all social intercourse, generally a direct path to resentful lonerism. This is not the case for everyone, perhaps, and the internet is rapidly increasing the feasibility of unhinging altogether from normal IRL social expectations, but typically “refusing to interact with most people” is a recipe for various forms of disaster.

Ultimately, I think the solution is as follows. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but when you do choose to let yourself go — and you must, at times — only do it on a novel plane of your own construction, orthogonal to whatever is the presumed socio-moral playing field. You will be incomprehensible, but that’s fine. In short, if one is to avoid grumpiness, one cannot avoid being a philosopher. Oblique angles always; diverge but never resist.

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