Monday, February 12, 2018

Speak the Truth and Play Fair

How would it be if we lived in a place, a culture, where people live peaceably among their neighbors, helping rather than taking advantage of one another, abiding by laws enacted to protect property and safety—with honesty and honor? Where people live in peace with other people; countries and cultures coexist in appreciation, without fear? Where there’s a thriving economy, where poverty is meaningless; even though there will always be a lowest earning 10% defined as poor, these lowest earners have comfortable shelter and adequate food and clothing—and there’s the possibility of rising, or at least for future generations to rise?

How would that be? Good? That’s what we call Civilization, here at the Spherical Model. I’ve been describing Civilization and how to get there for a while. And I’m on the lookout for ways of explaining it—or other people who are explaining it too, in their ways.

I’ve been listening to enough Jordan Peterson lectures  lately to feel like I’m actually one of his students. [I wrote about him here and here.] And I’ve been collecting a few things that connect with my purpose here of bringing us northward on the sphere toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

He has a book—12 Rulesfor Life: An Antidote to Chaos—which I think I’ll have to go ahead and read, since it’s reportedly not the same as what is in his various lectures and interviews. But there’s a chapter in the book, Rule 6, which he says is: "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world."

Dr. Jordan Peterson with Patrick Coffin
screen shot from the interview

Dr. Peterson waxes philosophical, often. And it’s hard to distill down for brief reference here. But, in an interview with Patrick Coffin, he starts with the idea that good and evil exist. In reference to PTSD patients, he says:

If you have PTSD, it’s because you’ve been touched by malevolence in one way or another. You need to reorganize your thinking along lines that are fundamentally religious. You need to start seeing the world as a battleground between good and evil—which is what it is, in the most real sense.
So, as a clinical psychologist, he says, in order to heal from a particular disorder, you need a religious viewpoint. I’ve been saying, in order to have a civilized society, you need to have a religious people. No one gets forced, but civilization requires a critical mass of people who live the rules required for civilization. There are answers that have to do with choosing right over wrong.

image from here
There’s another speech, in The Netherlands, where Dr. Peterson is referring in a way to immigration issues, but he spends a lot of time building a framework about two things: fair play and truth. In the fair play section, he talks about a study of rat behavior, where the rats learn that, in order to keep being able to play, you need to play fair—abide by the rules—so that others will want to continue to play with you. Even rats know that.

And then he deals with the truth section, which I’ll cover a little more in a minute. But he has this conclusion:

Now, I didn’t know what to say about immigration when I decided to do this talk, but I don’t think it matters, because there are many complex things that can be said about immigration and many of the problems that face us.
But there’s a meta-question, which is not, How do you solve a difficult question? But, How do you solve the set of all possible difficult questions? And the answer to that is quite straightforward: Speak the truth, and play fair. And that works.
And so I’ve been communicating that as diligently as I can for the last three decades, predicated on my observation that we got some things right, that we should do better with it even. And that, if we transformed ourselves, each and every one, into better people, predicated on the observation of that core identity, that we would then become collectively the sort of people who could probably solve any problem that was put to them, no matter what its magnitude.
In civilization, the smallest social unit is the family. You get a good family by being good individuals working together. So you can see it happen on that small level. As I say in the Civilization section of the Spherical Model,

As long as families are allowed to live among themselves (children are under the care of their own parents), it is possible to have a civilized society that is just one family in size. Then, if that family can find additional similarly civilized families to associate with, their society grows. If it could grow to the size of a village or township, all the better.
So you start with yourself, and then your family. And, as more people do that, society is transformed in remarkably positive ways—and become able to solve, eventually, any problem.

In the Patrick Coffin interview, Dr. Peterson says this need to change is actually an optimistic thing. He begins by laying out the story from Genesis of Cain killing his brother Abel. He makes the case, first, for Cain’s line of reasoning:

Being [the way things are in this world] is tragic, being is touched by malevolence. It’s, Why not develop resentment and hatred for it and do everything to extract revenge? Revenge against God, because that’s really what it is— It’s like that in the Cain and Abel story. In fact, it’s exactly like that. And the answer is something like, That’s cowardly. Something like that. And the other answer is, All that does is make everything that you’re hypothetically objecting to worse.
And so, if you take the immoral stance and say, Well, the horror of the world has made me bitter, resentful, murderous, and genocidal; isn’t it no wonder? Well, you can’t logically conclude that you should act in the way that is certain to do nothing but multiply that beyond comprehension.
And so, there’s a call to truth in there, and responsibility, as an antidote to resentment.
He adds, “It’s also an optimistic viewpoint, because, maybe you can change yourself. It is possible. Maybe that will work.”

How do you do it? What is it you actually need to do in order to change yourself, to do the moral thing? He says, “Stop doing things that you know to be wrong. That’s a good start.” He has been challenging people to do a 30-day challenge, to not say anything for a month that you believe to be untrue. Just do it, as an experiment, and see what happens.

And here’s the philosophical underpinning of the experiment:

So there’s this idea; there’s a deep Christian idea—and it’s deeper than Christianity even—but it’s a deep Christian idea. But, the being that is brought into being by truthful speech is good. It’s like the moral of the first few chapters of Genesis, right? If you use the Logos to bring order into being, that’s truthful speech—then the being that emerges is good. It’s like, that’s a hypothesis. Maybe it’s true. Maybe if we told the truth and induct the good, then being would transform itself around us into something increasingly less tragic and certainly less malevolent.
There’s more about that truth telling, going back to The Netherlands speech:

The Logos is the deepest idea of the West. And it means something like: clear, competent, truthful, communicative endeavor.
So there’s an idea in Genesis that that’s the spirit that God used to bring forth order from chaos at the beginning of time. When God employed the Logos to extract order out of chaos, He extracted habitable order and then pronounced that it was good.
And, at the same time, when God made human beings, He pronounced them made in the image of God, which means that human beings have the capacity—that Logos-like capacity—to speak habitable order into being out of chaotic potential.
And the deep idea is that, if you do that truthfully, then what you bring forth is good.
What is it a society needs, in order to become a civilization? Religious people (bringing non-religious people along with them) who honor God,family, life, property, and truth. That’s a condensation of the Ten Commandments. Dr. Peterson simplifies it even further into “speak the truth and play fair.”

Or, we could say, Always do the right thing. Always knowing what the right thing is might be a challenge for most of us mortals. But there is an ultimate Good, and the source is God. Otherwise it’s all opinion. But we know, if we train ourselves to tell the truth—especially to ourselves—and then we act in the best way we know, even when it’s hard, that is going to be good enough to transform society, as he says, “into something increasingly less tragic and certainly less malevolent.”

It’s worth trying.

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