Mental Illness, Success and Underachievement

We live in a society in which people are taught to evaluate themselves and their self-worth in terms of success. I was taught to equate happiness with achievement and learned that the core purpose of my life was trying to get good grades, win sports competitions, climb up the corporate job ladder and so on. I learned to compare my achievements to others and always find myself lacking in some respect. My brain always tells me that I’m not as popular, or attractive, or intelligent, or happy as I imagine other people to be. I always feel that I haven’t done as much with my life as other people. I haven’t reached the milestones that they have. I live for the future and hope that the next success will fill the empty void. I hope for this even though the happiness from all the previous successes did not last.

I have achieved so much. Yet despite this achievement I consistently feel like a failure. I consistently feel like I’m not good enough. I feel this way because I know how much I am capable of achieving and how much greater this is than what I have actually achieved. I imagine how many things I could be an expert on or how many books I could have written. I have not fulfilled my potential because I have been incredibly mentally ill. It is hard to read and write when you’re experiencing crippling anxiety or depression so profound you lack the motivation to eat, let alone get out of bed. I’ve lived in a vicious circle of planning to do things, failing to complete these plans because of mental illness and then hating myself for this failure which only makes my mental illness worse and so on. Despite knowing that my inability to achieve my goals is a product of mental illness my brain still views my failure as reflective of my own individual flaws. I will label myself as lazy or un-disciplined. I will attack myself for wasting my life.

Lately I’ve been realizing that this entire way of thinking is wrong. Why am I evaluating myself and my worth relative to these metrics? Why do I care about achievement? Why do I only consider certain things to be an achievement and not others? I never sat down and decided how I should evaluate my life. Instead I was evaluated by other individuals, such as my parents or teachers, and internalized the value system that underpinned their evaluation. If I am to live my life on my own terms, rather than the terms of authority figures, then I should decide for myself what I care about and what matters to me. Achieving externally recognized successes is not the most important thing in life. There are in reality other things that matter far more: I have survived, I have become less self-critical, I have stopped having daily panic attacks, I have become kinder, I have helped friends, I have stopped being afraid of going outside. Healing from trauma, forming positive social relationships and learning to freely associate with other humans are much more important successes in life than writing an important book or being large on youtube. Surely then I should center my life around these goals, rather than the goals I happened to pick up from society.

I think we would all be happier if we sat down and really thought about what matters in life, rather than uncritically pursuing the goals and values handed down to us by the adult world. We only have one life and it is a true waste of life to spend it pursuing goals that we feel we should aspire for. In our society so many of us spend our lives trying to live the life we feel we should want to live rather than the life we actually want to live or the life that would in fact bring us fulfillment, happiness and peace of mind.




Is Positive Liberty Dangerious?

In Berlin’s essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, positive liberty is defined as being one’s own master or self-realisation. For Berlin positive conceptions of liberty have a tendency towards totalitarian ideals in which the individual may be forced to be free. For Berlin this tendency renders positive liberty a dangerous political idea.

Berlin’s argument for this position is as  follows. The metaphor of self-mastery lends itself to a distinction between a higher rational self and a lower irrational self whereby in order to be a self-master the lower self must be disciplined by the higher self.  Thus my rational self’s desire to not eat an excessive amount of chocolate cake disciplines my lower irrational self’s desire to eat chocolate cake and in so doing renders me an individual who is a master over his lowly desires for cake. One is a self-master to the extent that one’s rational self is dominant and one’s lower self subordinate. Since positive liberty consists in a way of life and others might know better than oneself about what constitutes that life, it follows that others who know better than one does may legitimately act on behalf of one’s higher self against one’s lower self by forcing one to do something which is taken to be a better way of life. Thus other more informed people may force me to not eat chocolate cake because they know that doing so would ensure a life in which my lower self’s desire for cake is disciplined and thus a life in which my higher self was more dominate and my lower self more subordinate. In forcing me not to eat cake other people are forcing me to be free.

Furthermore, the real self can be taken to consent to this allegedly forced act and even desire said act if there exists within someone an entity that is taken to be their true self. This true self is distinct from their empirical self of space and time which knows nothing to little about the true self. It is thought that this true self is the only self that deserves to have its wishes taken into account and that it wishes to act in the way that one knows is better for the higher self. Thus when one dominates the lower self and so forces another to be free, the actual real self consents to it.  So when I am made by others to not eat cake, despite the fact that my empirical self is protesting and indignant, my real self nonetheless desires and consents to the act because the act disciplines my lower self and so I am not in fact being forced to not eat cake or indeed being forced to be free. This is made even more dangerous when the real self is taken to be identical with a social structure  (the state, the tribe, a class, a race etc) such that  all the actions of the social structure are really the particular agents and so none of the actions against the agent by the social structure can even in principle count as coercive or freedom limiting.

There are several problems with Berlin’s argument. Firstly, the danger of positive liberty as a political idea is at its greatest in the instance when the real self is identified with a particular social structure. To justify this identity one would not need to rely on the claim that others know better than one does about what sort of life should be led since what the social structure did and wanted would be what oneself did and wanted. Thus, it seems that the great danger that Berlin points to comes not from the fact that positive liberty is a way of life but that certain social structures are identified with one’s true self. The danger is thus one’s particular beliefs about social structures and their relation to particular individuals and not positive liberty. This is further strengthened if one notes that Hobbes has a negative conception of liberty but given his beliefs about what the just state is, namely Leviathan, he arrives at strongly totalitarian beliefs.

A probable response to this argument is that positive liberty is dangerous in so far as its metaphor of self-mastery makes one more disposed towards the  totalitarian belief that one can force another to be free. Thus, while beliefs about social structures may render one more or less totalitarian, positive liberty itself still makes people more disposed to totalitarianism, However, it is not obvious why positive liberty makes one more disposed towards this belief. This is because even if we accept the premise that if one person knows what is good for another person, then they are warranted in coercing that person into that good, there would still nonetheless be certain sorts of goods that have value only if they are chosen freely. Such goods therefore cease to be of positive value the moment one is forced into them. An example of such a good would be the good of playing. If one forces a person to play they may well end up doing a similar sort of action to what they do when they play but they would not be playing because it seems that playing has to be chosen voluntarily by the player in order to be an instance of playing. Thus, the domain of good ways of life that one could be forced into is perhaps smaller than initially appears.

Given that this is the case one could argue that freedom is the sort of good that is no longer of value when one is forced into it. Therefore, Berlin’s argument does not hold for positive conceptions of liberty that see freedom as residing in individual autonomy because while such views do usually adhere to a distinction between one’s higher and lower self they also contain the view that it is an integral part of the free way of life that the individual living it has chosen that life, rather than being forced to adopt it. Thus one could argue that certain sorts of life are in principle freer than others but that a life that an individual was forced into, even if it were in principle freer than their life prior to being forced, would not in fact be a free life for that individual because they were forced into it. So while Berlin’s argument applies to conceptions of positive liberty which do not emphasize individual autonomy, it does  not apply to conceptions which do emphasize individual autonomy.

Lastly, even if we concede that Berlin’s argument does apply to all conceptions of positive liberty which rest on a higher/lower self distinction, it is also the case that not all theories of positive liberty rest on such a distinction and so it is not obvious how Berlin’s argument would apply to them. Humboldt for example believes freedom is composed of two components. The first component is that a person is free to the extent to which they are engaged in a course of action in which they are exercising their powers and capacities in such a way that these powers and capacities are also being further developed. The second component is that they are in control of said courses of action, as in they voluntarily decide to engage in the activity and maintain control during said activity. Thus one is made unfree by another if they prevent one from developing one’s powers and capacities, force one into a certain activity or maintain control over oneself during the activity. Humboldt’s theory is a positive conception of liberty because it rests on notions of self-realisation, namely realising oneself by exercising and so developing one’s capacities and powers. Yet since Humboldt’s theory is concerned with the realm of action rather than the realm of reason versus desire it is difficult to say that it relies on notions of a true self or a higher and lower self and so it is difficult to see how Berlin’s argument applies to it. Moreover, since Humboldt’s explicitly argues that individuals should have control over their activities it would go against Humboldt’s theory to advocate a form of paternalism in which one individual made another individual act in accordance with a particular way of life which developed a particular sort of capacities and powers. Such a way of life would remain alien and external to the person since they did not freely choose it and so would not constitute genuine self-realisation and so freedom.

To conclude, positive liberty in and of itself is not a dangerous political ideal in the sense that Berlin argued it was for the following reasons. Firstly, the greatest danger from positive liberty is really derived from totalitarian beliefs about social structures and not positive liberty itself. Secondly, within theories of positive liberty centred around notions of autonomy people are made unfree when they are forced to live a certain sort of life even if that sort of life is in principle a freer sort of life. Thirdly, not all theories of positive liberty rely on a higher/lower self distinction and as a result Berlin’s argument is not relevant to them.

*This piece is largely a summary of Raymond Geuss’s essay ‘Freedom As An Ideal’ in ‘Outside Ethics’

Quick Thought – Anarcho-Capitalism and Somalia

A number of natural rights anarcho-capitalists argue that states are coercive because one cannot opt out of statism in general, only move to another state. Thus if one had the right to opt out of a statism, irrespective of one’s means to do so, then no state in which one had the right to opt out would be coercive because by staying in a state one would be tacitly consenting to the state and therefore not be coerced. Luckily for anarcho-capitalists everywhere, Somalia was defended as an instance of statelessness by Yumi Kim in 2006 and Robert Murphy in 2011. Therefore, as long as Somalia is stateless, no state in which people have the right to leave the state and live in Somalia is coercive, because one has the right to opt out of it. Thus any anarcho-capitalist who argues that states are coercive because one cannot opt out of statism tacitly consents to their state if they have the right to leave their state and live in Somalia. Given the fact that the majority of anarcho-capitalists live in the United States of America, e.g 69% of r/anarchocapitalism live in the U.S.A, and that in the United States one has the right to leave the state for Somalia, it follows that all American anarcho-capitalists tacitly consent to their state and therefore can no longer argue that taxation is theft, as they consent to be taxed by staying in the United States.

Rothbard’s Arguments Against Utilitarianism

In ‘towards a new liberty’ chapter 2 Rothbard makes among others two arguments against utilitarianism. The first is that if it is legitimate to apply value judgements to the consequences of x then why is it not equally legitimate to apply value judgements to x itself? May not certain actions be good or evil by their very nature? The second argument is that utilitarians do not adopt a principle as an absolute and consistent yardstick (other than utility of course) to apply to the real world and so use their principle as a vague guide line, tendency or aspiration. Historically this resulted in the fatal compromise of the libertarian creed and thus the failure of the British radicals to make progress towards liberty.

The first argument makes the question begging fallacy since it gives no reasons for why x can be inherently good or evil. The second argument isn’t in fact an argument against utilitarianism but actually is a utilitarian argument. He is stating that thinking in utilitarian terms has bad consequences since it ensures that liberty, whose implementation has good consequences, is not achieved. A utilitarian can therefore respond that if Rothbard’s argument is true then it maximizes utility to view moral rules as more absolute and less as rules of thumb. Therefore both arguments fail.

Although Rothbard’s understanding of utilitarianism is at least better than Molyneux’s…

Conspiracy Theories Kill Politics

Conspiracy theories, in my opinion, represent the death of politics. This is shown by the manner in which they explain society. Most conspiracy theorists argue that there exist two main classes, the illuminati, globalists, ruling class, bilderberg and so forth vs the people. This claim is based on the existence of rich and powerful individuals who have an intimate relationship with government, such as corporate CEO’s. Interestingly these premises do not lead to the conspiracy theorists conclusion that all governments are controlled by the new world order or other such nefarious groups, only the conclusion that rich and powerful people use government for their own ends. We can see here how conspiracy theorists take a factual observation and transform into a complex over-arching plan made by global elites. Rather than actually explain things conspiracy theorists postulate explanation beyond necessity. For instance, some people believe that global warming is not occurring. Conspiracy theorists take this belief and add to it the idea that global warming is a propaganda tool used by the ruling elites to justify higher taxation, controls on lifestyle and more authoritarian government. Another example is 9/11. Many argue that 9/11 was used by the American government as nationalist propaganda to justify the invasion of Iraq. Conspiracy theorists then add on the idea that far from profiting from the event, the government, which is of course a puppet for the ruling elites, actually orchestrated it.

All conspiracy theories begin with simple observations then from these observations build a conspiracy framework, common sense observations are thus mutated into paranoid delusions.  Conspiracy theories therefore kill politics by taking global events and reducing them to the hidden plan of an elite few. This aspect of conspiracy theories is best shown in their conception of history. To the conspiracy theorist history is simply the story of the specific conspiring elites controlling everything from behind the scenes. For instance the Russian Revolution was planned and of course funded by the illuminati. JFK was killed by the illuminati. The European Union was created by the illuminati. The Arab Springs was caused by the illuminati. Occupy was created by the illuminati. Need I continue? To argue this is to ignore the fact that nobody controls history, as every action of every human being in some manner creates history. While certain individuals or groups have a greater impact on history, it is foolish to argue that one specific group has complete control over it. Indeed one finds that the harder the event is to understand the more conspiracy theories there are about it.

In my opinion the reason why conspiracy theories root the events of society in the actions of conspiring hidden groups is to firstly make politics a black and white narrative of good vs evil, and secondly to absolve themselves from moral responsibility about disastrous global events. By blaming undesirable events such as 9/11, natural disasters and the erosion of civil liberties on what is to them a clearly conceived group such as the New Word Order, conspiracy theorists feel that they are no longer responsible for remedying the societal, institutional or political flaw that lead to the catastrophe. This seems to be based on the feeling that if I as an individual cannot change my own life or the world then some greater force must be controlling it. Conspiracy theories act as pleasurable illusions that allow individuals to deal with the suffering that occurs around them and the powerlessness they feel.

Conspiracy theories are therefore very similar to religion because all theistic religions in some manner fabricate an all powerful universal force which controls human affairs, conspiracy theorists do the same except their force is material rather than meta-physical. Moreover, both religion and conspiracy theories offer simplistic and easy to understand explanations of complex events. For instance a religious person feels that they cannot explain why it rains, where mountains came from, what caused the beginning of the universe and so postulate a meta-physical being which creates and causes them. To argue for God is therefore to be unable to explain things. The same is true of conspiracy theorists, to believe in a conspiracy theory is to be unable to explain an event and so explain it simply through a meta-narrative of ruling elites controlling society with an iron fist. In short, conspiracy theories represent the death of politics as rather than delving into the true causes of events, conspiracy theorists fabricate illusionary explanations that are easy to understand and ensure that the individual feels that they are no longer ignorant or confused about the world around them.

The similarities only continue when we consider the division within conspiracy culture between those who are awake and those who are asleep. The awakened are of course the conspiracy theorists as they are awake to the fact that the world is run by an elite minority, that vaccines sterilise people and so forth, while those who are asleep are well everybody who disagrees with them. Conspiracy theorists therefore advocate awakening people to the true reality of the world. This has awful religious connotations to concepts such as those who have been saved by Jesus and those who live a life of sin, those who are enlightened and those who are eternally on the wheel of Samsara. Conspiracy theorists also act remarkably similar to religious fanatics when individuals decide to stop believing. This is perhaps best shown by the extreme attacks on Charlie Veitch for changing his opinion about 9/11. He was labeled as being a new world order agent on the pay roll of the elite.

Conspiracy theorists also have a similar obsession with purity. Just as the religious advocate a sin-less pure spiritual life so too do conspiracy theorists argue for individuals to stop drinking tap water as it contains fluoride, stop reading mainstream news or watching television, as to do so would make you a sheeple. Therefore, by becoming awake and un-poisoned the conspiracy theorist elevates themselves to the status of the all knowing minority. This articulates the great collision within conspiracy theories between the desires to persuade the general population that conspiracy theories are correct and the sacred identity that they create about themselves due to their very lack of popular acceptance. If the objective of persuading everybody were to succeed they would cease to be conspiracy theorists and just become normal people. For instance Alex Jones would cease to be, in his own words, “breaking down the electronic Berlin Wall of media control” and no longer act as the “tip of the spear in alternative media”. Through their lack of popular acceptance conspiracy theorists make themselves believe that they are an info-warrior struggling against the New World Order. Just as fundamentalist Christians believe that they are the servants of Christ in the struggle against the Devil.

Conspiracy theories therefore function as religions; they are a form of civic religion. For Marx “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” For me, conspiracy theories are the same. They are the sigh of the oppressed individual who cannot articulate a critique of government and corporations within modern day political discourse and as a result feel alienated. It is this alienation from society which in my opinion leads people to postulate conspiracy theories. This claim is backed up by the popularity of conspiracy theories amongst those who advocate a return to the American Constitution and as a result feel alienated from the contemporary Democrat vs Republican divide.

I feel that in a similar manner to how rationality dies when religion is dominant in an individual’s mind, so too does politics die when conspiracy theories dominate an individual. It is almost impossible to have a rational discussion with a religious fanatic, likewise is it impossible to have a serious political discussion with a conspiracy theorist.

Most unfortunate of all is the fact that not everything conspiracy theorists say are false. They are correct to argue that mainstream media manufactures consent, that politician’s lie, that governments commit crimes, that the financial system dominates politics and so on. Importantly though, conspiracy theorists proceed to pollute these truthful sentiments with dark hidden plots and secret organisations. Conspiracy theorists thus quite literally kill politics in the sense that the small amounts of truth within their statements are suffocated by obscene amounts of paranoid blubbering.

The greatest error conspiracy theorists make is thinking that conspiracies actually succeed. History is full of dark plots by sinister groups, that is to say failed dark plots by sinister groups. They go from the premise that people conspire to the conclusion that these conspiracies actualise themselves in the world. If the modern world is as they argue the result of carefully and meticulously crafted plans made by global elites then these global elites are not very good at planning. In the same way that if God did indeed create the universe, life and everything, he did not do a very good job of it. So what is a simpler and better explanation?  Well just as no sentient being is in control of the universe, no individual or group of individuals is steering society. That is the terrifying thing. No one is at the helm. No one is in absolute control. No one ever has been.