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[personal profile] flewellyn
Some time ago, I left a comment on a thread on Shakesville in which I outlined my observations of a certain type of debator, who is often found on the internet. This is the particularly precious kind of mansplainer who, not merely content to assume he knows better than women, assumes he knows better than everyone. About everything. I referred to this type as a "pseudosopher".

Some friends of mine have since told me I should post about it here. So, here is a somewhat edited version of that comment, in which I describe this strange and infuriating sort of person.

Pseudosophers are endemic on the internet. They are, in my experience, almost exclusively (cis-)male, so I describe them here with male pronouns. They are also mostly white, middle or upper class, and almost always heterosexual; often, they are atheists who used to belong to fundamentalist or conservative Christian sects. I have observed one or two who are Orthodox Jews, however, so the common thread here is fundamentalist thinking, rather than a particular religion or lack thereof.

The pseudosopher is an intelligent but unwise thinker who has bought into his own hype that he heard from parents and teachers about how "you're so smart, you can do anything!", and actually believes that being clever and rational is enough to carry the day. In doing so, he has fallen victim to a most debilitating memetic contagion. A pseudosopher is smart, though never quite as smart as he thinks he is, but also arrogant, often suffering from entitlement poisoning, and exceptionally lazy in some ways. Specifically, lazy in the sense that, while he may well put a great deal of effort into learning things that interest him, he will make the mistake of believing that the facility with which he acquires a decent layperson's knowledge of a particular subject equates with actual expertise. He may well have a field in which he is genuinely expert, commonly some form of science or engineering (computer science and IT are rife with them), but pride or intellectual laziness will make him reject the notion that this does not magically make him expert at all things.

A pseudosopher will also express a great veneration for logic and reasoning, purporting rationality and cold, logical discourse to be the highest and most important forms of intellectual pursuit and inquiry. Of course, he disparages emotion and empathy as silly and irrational, and thus unworthy of consideration. He will insist that he is always logical and rational, and deny that his emotions have anything to do with any conclusions he ever reaches, or anything he ever says to someone about anything, even while he transparently manipulates people around him in order to satisfy his (often woefully immature) emotional needs. He often believes, in particular, that women are inherently emotional, and thus unable to reason properly; since he believes reason to be the pinnacle of humanity, this naturally translates into thinking of women as lesser beings. In debates, he will resort to all sorts of fallacies while maintaining that, because he knows the names of those fallacies, he obviously cannot commit them; attempting to point them out to him will result in him becoming enraged and calling you "irrational" and "emotional", missing the irony completely.

This veneration of logic and reason above all else, of course, ties back into the laziness issue: because one can construct a valid argument from any set of premises, provided one uses the proper logical rules to reach a conclusion, the pseudosopher will treasure the ability to assume any number of absurd and insane ideas, and then proceed from those completely bogus premisese to a "logical" conclusion. In reality, as we all know, logic is useless without empirical observation; it is from those observations that we glean true premises, on which we can then build sound logical arguments, based not only in proper use of the rules of logic, but in actual fact as well. But, since that takes work, the pseudosopher prefers to simply look for existing memes (or invent new ones, though often that's also too much work) which suit his biases, adopt those as his "facts", and then base all of his careful logical arguments on them, regardless of their actual truth.

The final piece of the puzzle, of course, is entitlement, often accompanied by a large dose of paranoia. A pseudosopher generally believes that, because he is smart, he should automatically be successful, wealthy, powerful, beloved by the opposite sex (pseudosophers are almost never gay!), and so on. The fact that he is not these things, or if he is, not to the extent he believes he deserves, is never due to anything wrong with him; the cause, of course, is some external factor, often a conspiratorial group or political or social movement for which he has some preexisting antipathy. While some do go so far as to blame the Illuminati or aliens or something, most confine their paranoid delusions to actually existing targets: feminists, liberals, "the government", and organized religion are common culprits.

I've found that pseudosophers often gravitate towards Libertarianism as a political philosophy, because it appeals to all of these traits: it's a very logic-based, axiomatic philosophy, whose core principles are not based in empirical observation but are simply meant to be assumed true; it's a very good vehicle for paranoia, because the Libertarian pseudosopher can simply blame the government for any and all personal misfortunes or societal ills; it appeals to his sense of entitlement, because of its emphasis on property as the most fundamental right and the evils of people taking from him the fruits of his labor in the form of taxes, which he views not as the price of civilization but an onerous burden from which he derives no benefit (or none that he will acknowledge); and, because it's politically an "out-group", it allows him to claim persecuted "underdog" status without having to commit to any actually unpopular or risky political stances, or suffer any actual hardship.

(That said, I should add that you see a number of these types manifesting in radical socialist, Marxist groups as well. And, might I add, for the same reasons.)

The cure for this pernicious memetic disease is to somehow impart to the sufferer a sense of humility, coupled with at least a measure of empathy. Unfortunately, most of the pseudosophers I have met have been completely unreachable, as they don't even speak the same language as the rest of us. What they use will resemble English, but (especially if they are Libertarians or hardcore Marxists) with many common words redefined into "terms of art" that mean not what the rest of the English-speaking world mean, but what they want them to mean. They will not tell you that this is the case, of course, as this would both require effort, and some degree of empathy on their part, to realize that their understanding of something is not universal truth. Instead, they will mock you for not understanding them, while continuing to spout intellectual-sounding pronouncements that, on analysis, either make no Earthly sense whatsoever, or are utterly repugnant and unsupportable.

The best cure is prevention: instilling a healthy level of introspection and self-criticism, while maintaining a good level of praise for actual ability and accomplishment, along with emphasizing the need to understand the mental and emotional states of other human beings, is the only means I know to prevent infection. This is mostly a job for parents and teachers, not participants in an internet discussion, so to the latter, I advise only awareness, and perhaps a certain level of detached amusement.

Date: 2010-08-24 12:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cacahuate.livejournal.com
You've just described a depressingly large proportion of the men at my college.

Date: 2010-08-24 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arthur-sc-king.livejournal.com
You've just described a depressingly large proportion of the men at myany college.

Fixed that for ya. %-)

Date: 2010-08-24 12:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cacahuate.livejournal.com
I do think liberal arts colleges in particular probably attract a higher proportion of boys who fancy themselves Sir Scholar McRationalPants.

Date: 2010-08-24 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jackytar.livejournal.com
* chokes and inhales coffee through nose at "Sir Scholar McRationalPants"

Date: 2010-08-24 01:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arthur-sc-king.livejournal.com
Possibly. It'd be interesting to do a survey of some sort. I suspect that the quants who are more likely to take engineering/computers/math/physics have a smaller proportion of "people who care enough about issues like that to opine on them," but of that smaller proportion, probably almost 100% would fit the description.

(Given that I somewhat resemble the remark — I can become one of those when I let certain chunks of my brain babble on without engaging the more clueful other parts of my brain — I'm kind of looking at my own experience a bit here.)

Date: 2010-08-24 05:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fxchip.livejournal.com
I like to try and combine the both (that is, logic and emotions) and then fail miserably. :)

Date: 2010-08-24 01:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
Sir Scholar McRationalPants

Caution: above phrase contains win or win-related materials.

Date: 2010-08-25 06:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lucretiasheart.livejournal.com
*CHOKE*

*spurts out beverage*

"Sir Scholar McRationalPants" !!!

*nods appreciatively*

Date: 2010-08-24 01:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kyra-neko-rei.livejournal.com
Very appropriate, education being that thing which "reveals to the wise and conceals from the foolish the breadth of their own ignorance." Or however it goes.

Date: 2010-08-24 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kyra-neko-rei.livejournal.com
That's a really good analysis. And now I have a good reply when somebody does this: "Your premise is borked."

Date: 2010-08-24 01:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shes-not-there.livejournal.com
Oh darling Flew; you've described at least one of my ex-husbands perfectly. :)

Date: 2010-08-24 01:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
I know which one, I think.

Date: 2010-08-24 11:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shes-not-there.livejournal.com
Och, and haven't I said how perceptive you are? :D

Date: 2010-08-25 02:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] raezamina.livejournal.com
THIS.

IS.

GOLD!

Date: 2010-08-25 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
THIS!

IS!

SPARTAAAAA!

*cough* Sorry, had to.

So, thanks! Who are you?

Date: 2010-08-25 01:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] raezamina.livejournal.com
Jesus. Or Buddha.

(You've seen me at OKRF.)

Date: 2010-08-25 05:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] raezamina.livejournal.com
Hmm....will get back to you on that.

Reference check:
1. Susi
2. Amberbob

Date: 2010-08-25 05:52 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-08-25 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lucretiasheart.livejournal.com
THIS is full of the awesome. I must refer my readership to it immediately!

*runs off*

Date: 2010-08-26 01:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
Before continuing my comment, I have to say that I got here through the lovely [livejournal.com profile] lucretiaheart's journal.

Anyway, there was a "professional atheist" blogger a few months back who posted a journal entry about the "Top 15 Hottest Atheist Scientists" and, naturally, 14 of them were white, mostly blonde, cis-women. Not only that, but the majority weren't even full-blooded scientists, but graduate students he had found through university websites. And to add to it, the women were named and listed by profession, yet there was no information about their education, workplace, or accomplishments; they were basically just pretty faces with a single shred of evidence that, yes, these were scientists, not random women. As for the 15th spot? A fellow white, bearded, presumably straight, cis-male atheist scientist who objected to the subject of the blog as soon as he saw it. The blogger's reason for including the single male scientist was just to prove that he was "Just kidding! It's not a serious list, guys!" A lot of people objected to the list, so he finally had to take it down and made an apology worthy of our "great" politicians.

Makes me sad to be a white, upper-middle class cis-male, even though I'm not conservative, heteronormative, nor believe that rhetoric and philosophical logic are infallible, but believe in the value of observable facts and personal experience.

Date: 2010-08-26 04:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
I remember that. I read about it at PZ Meyers' blog. The guy did an amazing job of Refusing To Get It.

Date: 2010-08-26 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
Ah! That's who the Pharyngula guy is. I totally forgot his name. I think the asshat in question even pulled the hunter-gather argument, but in pseudo-evolutionary biology terms, like chooser and pursuer.

Btw, mind if I friend you? I've been reading the rest of your journal entries from this year and I keep finding myself agreeing with everything you say.

Date: 2010-08-26 07:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
Everything?! Even the weird jokes and random nonsense? Now I'm scared.

Go right ahead, though! I'll check out your LJ when I get a chance.

Very nice Librarian icon.

Date: 2010-08-26 07:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
LOL Well, OK, I'm clueless about all the computerspeak, but all the more philosophical posts and the AIM posts are great.

Just a warning, I really don't post myself that much, but I'm an avid commenter.

Thanks! Found the pic online and made the icon myself.

Date: 2010-09-01 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ms-daisy-cutter.livejournal.com
Ah, right. Luke what's-his-face.



As Flew said on someone else's LJ, Luke looks like a fetiform teratoma.

And here's a prize quote from Luke:

Empathy is an emotion. Do you justify moral conclusions by reference to your emotions? If so, what do you say to the racist whose emotions tell him the mixing of the races is wrong?

Date: 2010-09-02 02:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
Interesting! I pictured him about twenty years older and a lot fatter. I'm not sure I know what a fetiform teratoma is, but I don't think I want to know. That picture is freaking me out, actually...

And that is definitely a prime example of a pseudosopher's thoughts. I wonder why he chose racism as part of his quote. Is he thinking of himself?

Date: 2010-09-02 03:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flewellyn.livejournal.com
A teratoma is a cyst or benign tumor that contains differentiated tissues.

A fetiform teratoma contains an entire, partially-developed fetus, that was later engulfed by the body and remained in situ.

Date: 2010-09-02 04:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
Yeah, I just checked it out on Google Images, and I think I'm going to have nightmares tonight. Funnily enough, though, some of the pictures that popped up were of perfectly normal human teenage males that looked just as socially retarded as Luke. Google Images FTW?

Date: 2010-09-02 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ms-daisy-cutter.livejournal.com
Possibly. I can't imagine he's any more aware of racial issues than he is of gender issues.

He could have just been trolling, however, in the manner of a philosophy student who thinks that divorcing concepts from their ethical moorings makes him (usually it's a "him") somehow more intellectually adventurous than the rest of us.

Date: 2010-09-02 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vilajunkie.livejournal.com
LOL Perfect icon! Self-wanking indeed.

Philosophy majors who use philosophy to be trolls and assholes should be sent to concentration camps. Some of the worst political advisers on the planet have been philosophers. I'm looking at you, Confucius!

Date: 2010-08-26 03:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] radical-jojo.livejournal.com
This is really excellently written. Met so many people that this perfectly describes, not only online. So many frustrating situations, dealing with Mr. Know-It-All. 9__9

Date: 2010-08-28 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] happiestsadist.livejournal.com
This is excellent. I shall bookmark it and use heavily.

Date: 2010-09-01 04:45 am (UTC)
ext_340318: (Aristotle)
From: [identity profile] matrexius.livejournal.com
This post is Nicomachean Epic.

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