Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Ethics

Millennials are the Don Quixote Generation

Harry Potter. The Avengers. Batman. Star Wars. Millennials grew up on tales of powerful heroes–transcendent individuals who overcome deep structural obstacles to change the world through sheer virtue and will. We were raised on a kind of modern chivalry. Follow your dreams with a noble heart, and you too can change the world. The two generations before us experienced unprecedented, rapid growth in their living standards. They came to believe the future would be unfathomably better than the present. In the second half of the 20th century, the older generations believed that anything was possible. They prepared us for that world. But it never came.

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Why Churches Aren’t Good at Pursuing the Good

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how some left-wing organisations act like churches–they are communities in which people come together to develop and refine their understandings of the good rather than strategic operations for achieving discrete political goals in the world. A few people wrote replies to my piece. The most interesting and recurrent counterargument I saw alleges that it’s fine for the left to be a church because people enjoy the sense of community churches provide and like the opportunity to come together with like-minded people to develop their understanding of what it means to be good to one another. These people deny that we ought to prioritise strategic efficacy, that it’s at least as important to become good people, and that left-wing organisations facilitate this personal growth. I disagree with this priority on the personal because I think it’s egoistic. But today I want to make an additional, larger argument–I want to argue that churches and other communities are not good devices for pursuing the good, and that the conclusions communities reach about the good are very likely to be deeply wrong.

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9 Rules For Living in Sad Times

In reading Nathan Robinson’s piece on Jordan Peterson, I was struck by something Robinson said:

But here the left and academia actually bear a decent share of blame. Why is Jordan Peterson’s combination of drivel and cliché attracting millions of followers?…Who else has a serious alternative? Where are the other professors with accessible and compelling YouTube channels, with books of helpful advice and long Q&A sessions with the public? No wonder Peterson is so popular: he comes along and offers rules and guidance in a world of, well, chaos. Just leave it to Dad, everything will be alright.

I’m a left wing academic! This is in part my fault. I’ve been writing all these pieces about politics, but I haven’t tried to help people figure out how to live. Why haven’t I? Robinson himself threw together a bulleted list of “principles of living“, but it’s mostly for laughs. Robinson self-identifies as a libertarian socialist–he doesn’t want to tell people what to do. Most lefties feel queasy about paternalism. We’re reluctant to lead people because we want people to lead themselves. Well, no more. Today I’m going to take a stab at life-coaching. After all, I live one of those carefree academic lives at a fancy university–I must have done something right.

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Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist

A few people have asked me lately–what do I think of Jordan Peterson? Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who has written a book called 12 Rules for Life. He’s become very popular on YouTube and generated something of a following. I can see why–the particular kind of philosophy he’s advocating is unfamiliar to many people and feels transgressive in a modern context. But it’s an old kind of philosophy which dates back to the 19th century and takes its inspiration from Soren Kierkegaard. It’s called “Christian Existentialism”. Here’s how it works.

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#MeToo Needs to be about Principles, Not Celebrity Shaming

One of the inherent difficulties the #MeToo movement faces is the strong incentives the media has to ruin the whole thing. The initial incidents–the abuses of power by people like Trump, Weinstein, and C.K.–are useful insofar as they start a conversation about policy and principles. But the risk is that #MeToo will be reduced to the little more than the quest for more high-profile allegations, because nothing sells ads like celebrity gossip. And in that quest for more exciting allegations principles are lost in a sea of particularities–we forget about the forest and gaze longingly into the trees. And so we’ve come to the Aziz Ansari moment, a moment which was inevitable–some media outlet publishes some allegations which seem to some people to be much less serious than the allegations that have gone before, and yet seem to another group of people to warrant the same response those previously accused received. We’re reduced to a debate over whether our response to the specific Ansari allegation is reasonable, and then that debate is projected onto everything else. If Ansari is the victim of a witch hunt, is the whole thing a witch hunt? The appropriate response is to refuse to play this game in the first place–#MeToo isn’t really about exposing guilty people and publicly shaming them. It has, to this point, often been conducted in that way. But it’s really about getting people to treat each other better. To do that, we have to know what “better” involves. We have to talk about principles, not people.

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