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intellectual honesty.txt

sam harris mentioned intellectual honesty.
it's not the best term but i can't think of a better one.
but it says something that i have struggled to codefy or
talk about. it's on the edge of my mind and yet looms
large in value for me. i'm going to throw dirt at the wall
and try to see if anything sticks, try to flog my way
to what this term means to me (and what i think is means
to sam harris).

sam talks about how people accept things without insufficient
evidence, or how they skirt around difficult questions.
it's like if someone said 'my boss is being such a dick
for making me do this' and yet what they were doing was
agreed upon explicitly before - there is a question you are
skirting around, "how can you be pissed with something
you said you would do?".

i feel this is what happens over and over as i listen to
people around me talk about problems. a big one is the
problem of 'humanity', all people as a whole - it seems
everyone thinks about this. what should we as a species
be doing, what should 'people' be doing?

i hear things like 'people are just so selfish' which
begs the question: is it easy to not be? don't all people
want safety and to be able to provide and to have dignity?
is that not what they are doing when they are being 'selfish'
as you say?

i use to have sympathy for these arguments because it does
seem like people are self centered and cruel to outsiders
but just one small step further makes it clear this is
no kind of honest discussion. each of us knows what it's
like to be afraid and to be humiliated and to care about
people's safety and to worry about violence and sickness
and our own standing in the community. it's just one step
from any discussion for anyone to see this, it doesn't
take a lot.

which is bizarrely the reason i would have sympathy for
these kinds of arguments - because they display the kind
of fear and shame that i know well, that i know how hard
it is to feel them. but here i'm now seeing a line needs
to be drawn between talk about the way things are and
letting others know about one's emotions. both are
essential but that are distinct and they need to be kept

this might seem like an old point, a well-worn idea, that
one shouldn't make emotional arguments, but this feels
fresh to me - i can't think of a single person i've heard
talking in a way that is purely honest. i use to think
that honesty like this was someone being completely
negative - something like 'we're all selfish' or 'the
world is a prison run by the rich'. something dark,
something outside of the friendly environment i grew up
in. and while those images did hold a truth that was
being ignored, an obvious reality everyone was pretending
wasn't there, even those very harsh and 'real' points
of view also ignore things, they are also dishonest.

this line of thought makes me feel like it's easy to get
lost. i hear someone saying 'well what is true?' as a
challenge but my point wasn't just to lay down what's
real, although initially i did want to - i was thinking
about the world, i was standing outside and worrying
about people and fish and the plants, about the poor
and about my family and the people i'd interacted with.
i was looking at all this data about fish i'm organising
and feeling bad that i was a part of this brutal place
where we just screw everyone and everything up just to
get fed and thinking of someone in my head saying "people
are so awful" and i thought to myself "really? have you
not ever felt afraid? have you not ever felt ashamed of
yourself and your lot in life? did you never want to be
cleaner, shinier, healthier? did you not want to be
useful, to have the means to help those around you?
have you never felt stuck and mired in a small hell?
it's simply not honest - it's not an honest thing to
say, 'people are awful'. no they are not. who are all
these folks saying 'people are awful' and why has
nobody set them straight?"

again - i have sympathy for the expression, for the
fear and shame that causes one to think and say these
things. of course. it's the same thing i was just saying
in defense of people. yes we all do bad things. but it's
for good reason.

and most importantly, my instinct it not just to say "it's
all good", as though because we can have compassion for
one another's bad actions and inaction we can simply smile
and enjoy the sunday afternoon sun. no, intelligence means
something. problems can be solved, if someone is thirsty
then another who figures out how to find water has done
something real, it matters.

but to those who have the courage of heart to acknowledge
that things are not as they should be claiming that the
correct description of the state of things and the cause
of things is "people are so selfish" is not just incorrect
but unhelpful. actually it's unhelpful because it's
incorrect. and yet somehow this is this ingrained idea,
it feels as though it has been burrowed into my mind. like
a riverbed formed over centuries... there is this bizarrely
entrenched sense of it being "obviously true" that people
are terrible .... i wonder how wide-spread that is... ?