I started writing short stories when I was a little kid – most of them were blatant rip-offs of movies or video games (or sometimes other books). As I got older, I became more interested in writing scripts for movies or (because I was involved in drama) plays. This interest matured into allegorical social commentary in my later years of high school. One of my favourite scripts (that I have since lost since my computer was stolen a couple years ago) was a pseudo-absurdist comedy based largely on Waiting For Godot and Clerks, in which the taboos of our attitudes towards male homosexuality were explored and derided. I was also occasionally featured on a now-defunct website called Flatplanet.net, which has since turned into a pro-Israeli personal blog.
Throughout the first few years of university, I partnered with an online friend to write Porocrom’s Crappaper, in which Poromenos and I highlighted and mocked social conventions and marketing. We had a decent 2-year run, in which I later expanded to do a little music criticism. About a year after we stopped contributing to Porocrom, I started chronicling the various vacations and things that I did on Facebook. When a news article caught my attention, or I had some particular issue or another on my mind, I’d dash off a quick essay about it.
Why is this relevant?
I started this blog back in February, and got into it seriously in March. I didn’t really have an overall theme for what I’d be writing about at the time. It was basically going to be a continuation of the essays I had written about various things, in an effort to consolidate my various personal interests and thoughts about issues into one coherent narrative. I looked at other blogs, and the ones I liked the most were the ones that are based around one central idea, with a handful of topics related to that idea making frequent appearances. I tried to adopt this idea, to talk about a few things that I thought were important: free speech, religion, and race. Because I am a proud Canadian, I wanted to highlight these things from a Canadian perspective.
So I have established my sub-topics, but my central idea seems somewhat more elusive. While I have tried before to tie the themes of race, religion and free speech together, there is much more overlap between religion and free speech than there is between race and anything else. More and more I’ve been bringing in issues of sex and gender, particularly related to gay men and the rights of women. Neither of these things are intrinsically linked to free speech, religion or race, but they seem to be coming up again and again.
What’s the theme here?
The very first post of this blog was called the Foundations of the Manifesto, in which I tried to define what I would be writing about as well as railing against. Not having the benefit of being able to look back on the past 4 months and see what seems to be important to me these days (a process called ‘revealed preference’ in economics) the post was pretty vague. The virtue of putting my ideas out in public is that it forces me to defend them against people who disagree with me. I’ve crossed swords with religious folks, conservative folks, and folks who apparently just plain don’t like me. In some of those cases I’ve had to retreat from a position; in some of those cases I’ve been able to successfully demonstrate my position. As this process continues, I’m sure I’ll have to write many more retractions or clarifications.
As my ideas become more refined and polished, a theme will become much more clear. As it is right now, I can point vaguely to the glimmer of a coherent central idea for this blog. Contrary to much propaganda, democracy is absolutely not the best political system for ensuring the long-term prosperity of a society. Democracy is, ostensibly, founded upon the idea that all people should have equal say in how decisions are made. By its very nature, democratic systems are slaves to the will of the majority. This wouldn’t be a problem if the majority was consistently correct; however, what history shows us again and again is that the majority often makes horrendously evil decisions that benefit members of the majority, but cause undue suffering among the minority. I’m thinking specifically of slavery here, but it could equally apply to genocide, the treatment of women, or the exploitation of developing countries by colonial powers. The will of the largest group of people is not necessarily what is best, and most of the social victories we’ve achieved in North America over the past couple of hundred years have been when the will of the majority was flouted by a strong minority.
The “best” political system is one in which the right decision will always be made for the people in general. This is sometimes referred to as a “benign dictatorship”, in which one person has absolute power to enact laws for the betterment of society. Of course this is a completely impractical fiction. Every dictatorship we’ve ever seen has resulted in corruption and the exploitation of people. It is impossible to put any one person (or group of people) in absolute control – there will always be flaws and corruption that will ultimately result in suffering. However, we have established a system that attempts to approximate this benign dictatorship; we place authority in the courts to overturn the will of the majority if the will violates the spirit of the law. In that sense the will of the people is limited by the constraints of the law, such that it doesn’t matter how popular a thing might be, the laws must be made for the right reasons, reasons that are founded in logic and evidence.
Neither is democracy the best social system for the same reasons. The best social system is a meritocracy, in which the people who rise to power and prominence are those who, by virtue of hard work and natural talent are demonstrably higher achievers. Success in a meritocracy is predicated not on accidents of birth, or the affluence of your family group, but on an individual’s ability to produce and achieve. It is this kind of system that is modeled (albeit a bit overbearingly) in the writings of Ayn Rand; an author who, despite being reviled by pretty much everyone I know, actually had some excellent ideas. The heroes in Rand’s novels are people who have innate talent and drive to create and achieve, and who are set against a system that seems hell-bent on putting up roadblocks to progress (my point of divergence from Rand comes at this point, where she says that any attempt to level the playing field is evil).
What does this have to do with anything?
Similarly, my interest is in creating a system which prioritizes what is right over what is popular. 50 million Elvis fans can be wrong. An idea should be judged by its merits, not by how many people agree with it. Ditto for people. Advocating for the rights of women, the rights of homosexuals, the rights of racial minorities… these are all intrinsically linked to this idea that a meritocracy is to be desired. One should not be born into handicap simply because they are female, or gay, or black. Our system of laws should treat all people equally, and attempts to do so are laudable. Such attempts are only possible when the free speech of all citizens is protected. I am uncomfortable with banning racists or Holocaust deniers from speaking because the justification is that their speech is unpopular. Martin Luther King wasn’t popular in his day either. Do I agree with racists? Absolutely not. But any time we allow the government to arbitrarily decide that one group isn’t allowed to speak based on the fact that the majority of people don’t like it, we open up the possibility that such restrictions are possible on any unpopular speech. One such unpopular type of speech is criticism of religion, which is a fundamentally bad system of ideas. Being able to discuss, debate, and refute religious ideology is only possible when all speech is protected (except, of course, that speech which directly results in demonstrable harm to individuals).
So there it is, all threads tied together. The point of this blog is to advocate the promotion of good ideas that are based on evidence and critical thinking rather than just whatever seems popular at the moment. The point of this blog is to advocate such promotion because it will lead to an egalitarian meritocracy that is founded on principles of justice for all people. When and if my positions can be demonstrated to be either partially or wholly false, I will always do my best to adapt them to reflect that (you’ll have to forgive me if it takes me a while, nobody likes to be proven wrong). I value those who disagree with my positions – although it’s always nice to hear from those of you who think I’m right on.
TL;DR: The central idea of this blog is still evolving, but seems to be approaching advocacy of a position that promotes critical thinking and equal rights as a method to achieve a merit- and justice-based society rather than one in which whatever is popular rules.