Where I find myself on the map of ideas


[Result of my investigation: I associate strongly with aspects of Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Liberalism. Further investigation makes it clear that I am a political centrist, and can comfortably describe myself as a supporter of positive nihilism. In terms of religious beliefs, I have known for years that I can most accurately describe myself as ignostic.]

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With the obsession particularly in the West with identity and labels, and groups and ideological tribes, I thought it would be a useful exercise to look at a map of ideas and plant my flag somewhere to say: “This is where I find myself.”

I’ll start with politics. A bit of research confirmed that I am not loyal to any ideology or political tribe. My values do correspond more to principles typical of certain ideologies, if one considers that political philosophies are generally broad, and that there is much debate about what Conservative or Liberal is, or what Left or Right means by the third decade of the twenty-first century.

I am Conservative in the sense that I believe in the value of traditional social institutions such as family, marriage, and educational institutions that teach young people how to think. I am also Conservative because I believe in minimal government intervention in the economy, and because I believe in personal responsibility, and free market capitalism. I am opposed to rapid change in society – revolutions in France in the eighteenth century, revolutions in Russia in the twentieth century, and other examples of rapid change make it clear that reform is likely to lead to less destruction of life and property. Furthermore, I believe in the right of every country to defend itself against hostile action from another state, but I am opposed to war far from your own borders in order to carry out some policy devised behind closed doors. Patriotism and religion also both play an important role in the creation of a stable society, as long as it is perfectly acceptable if you are not patriotic or religious.

Because I believe that personal freedom and equality before the Law are important goals of society, because I believe that the government should play a role in protecting these values, and even in promoting the general welfare of the citizens of a state, I can also be considered a supporter of Liberalism – to an extent.

However, because I go beyond traditional Liberalism and believe that individuals should be free to do as they please as long as it does not harm anyone else, and because I believe that governments should be kept on a short leash when it comes to intervening in the economy and in personal behaviour, I can also be seen as a Libertarian – or a supporter of certain principles of Libertarianism. (Incidentally, Classical Liberalism is seen as the ancestor of modern-day Libertarianism.)

I can also confirm that I am not a Socialist, because I do not believe that means of production such as factories and land should be jointly owned and controlled by the community. I also do not support the creation of a planned economy, whereby the government manages the distribution of resources and services. As I have already mentioned, I also do not believe, like Socialists do, that the government should play a strong role in meeting the needs of the citizens of the state.

As I understand it, I also cannot identify myself with the Social Democrats, although the idea of a welfare state where the government provides for the basic needs of its citizens, such as health care, education, and social security, sounds pleasant enough. Problem is, can you as an individual really be free if you depend on the state for your basic care? How easy is it for the state to withhold certain services and resources because you protest too much about some government policy, or express too much criticism about some government official? How much room is provided for individual freedom and personal responsibility? Honest question. Another thing, as much as I want to claim maximum individual freedom for myself, I must acknowledge that not everyone is equally competent to look after their own welfare.

In terms of political systems, the ideal is a liberal democracy, where the government is elected in regular, free, and fair elections, and where basic rights and freedoms are guaranteed.

Speaking of rights and freedoms: You’d easily think that any decent person would be an advocate of human rights, but there is a difference between positive and negative rights. Negative rights prohibit other people or the government from taking specific actions against the holder of rights. These rights include the right to life, liberty, and property, and the prohibition of slavery and torture. These rights are called “negative” because they require other people or the state to refrain from doing certain things rather than taking certain actions. Positive rights, on the other hand, provide the holder of rights with a claim against another person or the state for goods, services, or specific treatment. It requires other people or the state to take active steps to provide certain things – therefore they are called “positive” rights. These rights include the right to education, health care, and a reasonable wage for work.

What types of rights do I support? I always thought it sounded noble and generous that everyone has a right to a proper education, health care, and other good things. The question is, how much will it cost to enforce all these positive rights, and who pays for them? Who is appointed to positions of influence over other people and who is placed in control of enormous amounts of money to fulfil these ideals?

A discussion of the management of society would not be complete without a cursory glance at Anarchism. Especially in the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, anarchists campaigned for the abolition of government and the creation of a society based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. Anarchists believe that government and other forms of authority are unnecessary and oppressive, and that individuals and communities should be free to make their own decisions and organise themselves without interference. The idea has always appealed to me, but I believe it could only work if society consisted of millions of small communities – with probably nothing more than a few hundred members, and no central or national government. This means the world as we know it today with nations and national histories and symbols will be a thing of the past. Can it work if we start from scratch – if a comet hits the Earth again and the survivors crawl out of their hiding places after a few weeks to rebuild a society from the ground up? Possibly then.

More workable is the idea of political centrism – an ideology whose adherents believe that the best approach to solving social and economic issues is to find a balance between left and right. Political centrists generally support a moderate, pragmatic approach to governance, with a focus on finding common ground and compromises to achieve the best possible result. A balanced approach to the economy is often advocated, with a mix of government regulation and free market principles. Supporters of political centrism typically believe in individual liberty, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law.

In terms of philosophy of life, or understanding of, and outlook on, life, I associate myself quite comfortably with positive nihilism.

Positive nihilism recognises the inherent meaninglessness of life, but instead of falling into despair or finding solace in this state of affairs, positive nihilists seek to create their own meaning and value in life. Positive nihilism is said to involve the rejection of traditional sources of meaning and value, such as established religion and societal norms, and is often associated with a focus on personal freedom and autonomy, as well as a rejection of dogmatic beliefs. The bottom line – for me: Life may be inherently meaningless, but that’s no excuse to waste your time on Earth and create no value in your own life and the lives of other people.

If you ask about religion and faith, my position is between that of the theist – who argues that God exists, and the atheist – who argues that God does not exist. Ignosticism is described as a philosophical position which holds that the concept of “God” is so ill-defined and vague that it is impossible to say whether God exists or not, and that rational inquiry or debate is therefore not possible. As such, ignostics do not take a stand on the existence or non-existence of God. Ignosticism is often seen as a form of agnosticism, as both philosophies reject the possibility of knowing whether God exists or not. The difference is that agnostics believe that the existence of God is unknowable, while ignostics, as mentioned, argue that the concept of “God” itself is too vague and poorly defined to take the question further.

Another issue that has heated up to a feverish temperature in the last decade or so is that of transgenderism, and specifically the question of how to define “man” and “woman”. In this regard, I believe the following:

1. There are two sexes, male and female. Primary differences include chromosomes and reproductive cells – female bodies have the ability to produce large gametes (egg cells), and male bodies have the ability to produce small gametes (sperm cells).

2. Gender is not blindly assigned to babies after birth but observed in the genitals.

3. No child or adult is born in the wrong body – a “mistake”, so many people believe, that must then be “corrected” with puberty blockers, hormone treatment and operations.

4. In free, liberal democracies, the expression of personality is not limited to gender stereotypes. Frequently cited examples include that girls may prefer short hair and climb trees without identifying as boys, and boys may like playing with dolls without identifying as girls. Grown women can fix motorcycles and pump their muscles, and men can wear make-up and speak in a high voice, without the man or the woman having to identify as the other sex.

Finally, in terms of origin of the universe and life on Earth my mind is open to three possibilities:

First possibility: Giant explosion billions of years ago that eventually led to the formation of planets and stars, and the development of life on at least our planet, but probably on other planets as well.

Second possibility: As in the first possibility, but beings from outer space at one point visited Earth and shared some of their technological know-how with Earthlings.

Third possibility: The reality we perceive with our senses is a computer simulation created by a highly developed society or beings that exist outside the simulation.

As a non-scientist, I’d have to say that the first possibility is more likely to be correct, but who knows?

This then, in sufficient detail but still broadly outlined, is where I currently find myself on the wide landscape of beliefs and political affiliations.


You’re suffering from delusion, but I think you’re all right


Say you have a neighbour. He is a devout Muslim, but no supporter of the more radical movements that people associate with violence in the Middle East and Europe. He’s a local businessman – owns a small shop in a busy area.

As a devout Muslim, he believes he is better than unbelievers – which includes you, his neighbour.

You’ve had deep conversations with him on several occasions about gods/God, reality, faith and religion, and how you know what you know. You are convinced that he firmly believes that a Muslim is superior to a non-believer.

You search around a bit on the Internet and get the following from Wikipedia about delusion: “A delusion is a false fixed belief that is not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, hallucination, or some other misleading effects of perception, as individuals with those beliefs are able to change or readjust their beliefs upon reviewing the evidence. However: ‘The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends in part on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity.’”

So, your neighbour thinks he’s a better person than you because he follows a certain set of beliefs.

You think he’s suffering from delusion.

Nevertheless, you recently celebrated your birthday and decided to invite a few people over for dinner. You also invite your neighbour, and he accepts.

The evening is quite pleasant. Everyone enjoys the food, and the discussions are interesting and varied.

At the end of the evening, your neighbour thanks you for the invitation. You thank him for coming.

He still thinks his faith makes him better than you, and you still think he’s suffering from delusion.

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Some people are filled with absolute confidence in their delusions.

It is also a common phenomenon that people who suffer from serious delusions about the nature of reality can nevertheless function in diverse situations and different environments without much difficulty.

Just think of the millions of Christians who are firmly convinced that Hindus and Muslims and people of other faiths will burn in Hell forever after their death, but otherwise these Christians function perfectly well in society. Think also of Muslims and Hindus and people of other faiths who are firmly convinced people who do not believe like them and do not perform the rituals that affirm membership to a particular symbolic reality, are ignorant fools who will one day pay the price for their stubbornness. At the same time, these Muslims and Hindus and people of other faiths have no problem facing the most advanced challenges in their social and professional lives.

Not only can you suffer from severe delusion and function perfectly well in the community, you can also make a particularly positive difference to other people’s lives, leaving an extremely positive legacy.

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Actually part of another discussion, but I must table the question: Are religious beliefs necessarily delusions? I believe, no. Not if you acknowledge that what you believe in cannot necessarily be proven, and that your faith is a personal choice to believe in something you hope to be true. It is, in other words, not delusional to say, “I know what I believe in may not be true.”

(By the way, this piece is not really about religion.)