tl;dr: Learning more about the author of a book I read leads me to question how I can trust the words going into my brain and protect my own freedom of thought.
I recently finished a book called The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand
It was a powerful defense of the use of reason and deductive logic to achieve a common set of truths as the basis for civilization.
Having spent time in Greece during the summer, the references to their ancient philosophers resonated with me.
The author, Stefan Molyneux, is most definitely opinionated and would be classified as “right-wing.” He is concerned with the idea that logic and reason are being abandoned in public discourse in favor of emotion.
I had seen Stefan’s name a few times in my Twitter feed as a result of my interest in crypto. It’s possible that I followed him for a while. I don’t remember.
Further, I do not remember how the book came to my attention nor when I put it on my “Wish List” at Amazon, which I use just to keep track of books that may be of interest.
I appreciated the soundness of the framework for thinking about problems that the book advocated to be compelling. In fact, I got so much value out of it that I immediately started listening to a second time upon completion of the first.
I recommended the book to my brother and my father.
The Agenda of the Artist
Every author, every painter, every poet has a worldview.
She also has a set of conscious and unconscious biases. We all know that going in, of course, but how much time do we spend trying to figure out the author before reading the book?
Sure, there are people whose views we already understand, and we read the book for the sake of confirmation bias. However, we are often drawn to the title or subject of a book and we pay less attention to the person who wrote it.
This came to mind because my father sent me a link to Molyneux’s Wikipedia page.
It is scathing and portrays him as an unabashed white supremacist and nationalist.
My dad asked me if any of those ideas had been present in the book.
Who is a Racist and Basic Freedoms
I will admit to having had a “freak out” moment.
First, I thought, “oh no, what if I blogged about this book already and now, I am going to get branded as a white nationalist?”
That’s a traditional fight or flight response. Fear is a strong force. Such is the power of the Twitter mob today. It’s a sad commentary on our society that merely reading a book and blogging about it could get you vilified. In fact, Molyneux’s book talks about this very idea.
Second, I thought, “well, I don’t remember anything specifically that was racist.”
There may have been some conversations about why Western civilization became technologically superior to other civilizations, but these are topics that are touched on by Harari in Sapiens and Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel.
There was nothing overt as far as I could recall.
A few months ago, I was sitting with a few eastern Europeans who I had met through the network and one of them says straight out, “I don’t do business with black people. I don’t trust them.”
Now THAT was racist.
But, it did make me wonder two things.
-How do I know that the Wikipedia entry on him is accurate?
It might be. However, it could be a hit job done by people who don’t like his conservative views, seeking to discredit him entirely by painting him as a racist. We have no way of knowing.
-What if the lack of overt racism isn’t evidence of a non-racist agenda? What if, by using neuro-lingusitic programming as a propaganda tool, Mr. Molyneux was able to get me to think racist thoughts but do it in an indirect way?
Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a Propaganda Tool
One area of focus this summer was to explore the inner workings of the mind and the brain. I still have a very long way to go, but a few ideas have come out.
Our minds are like computers.
Language encodes information and instructions.
For example, if I say “banana,” I’ve made an image pop up in your head.
If I say “Make America Great Again,” I’ve certainly created a reaction (even though I don’t know what it is).
Language thus is the code that humans use to try and “program” each other. Parents do it with kids all the time.
I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what Neuro-Linguistic Programming is, but the idea is that a trained practitioner could get us to change our subconscious thought patterns. In some respects, this has existed since writing began.
However, with artificial intelligence capabilities, a mere human doesn’t stand a chance.
Is Anything Safe Anymore?
This story about The Argument has so many elements and assumptions to it.
- Is a book “safe” simply by being on Audible or Amazon?
- How do we trust what others write about a person?
- How do we know that we aren’t being programmed, Manchurian Candidate-style, in ways that don’t allow for free thought?
It used to be that the publishing world had gatekeepers we thought we could trust. Now, there are no gates.
Could a Racist Program Your Brain to become Racist? was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.