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Refuting Stefan Molyneux’s The Art of the Argument & the Moral Case for Influence

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Azrael Rand

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My take on Stefan Molyneux's book The Art of the Argument and the ethics of influence.





Refuting Stefan Molyneux’s The Art of the Argument & the Moral Case for Influence

You may be thinking to yourself: "Not another Stefan Molyneux rebuttal? What does this guy have against Stefan? He's only written 4 articles so far and two of them are directed at undermining Stefan. What's this guy's problem?" But before you go too far down the rabbit hole of speculating at my intentions, let me address the issue head on: I've got nothing against Stefan. I like his videos. He covers a variety of different subjects and his videos are informative and structured in a logical fashion. He clearly puts a lot of love and effort into the content he creates. However when Stefan makes mistakes and these mistakes go unchallenged, over time, they will be accepted as truth. To win the culture wars we cannot afford to be held back by mistakes of our own making.

In his book, The Art of the Argument, Stefan asserts that the argument, a debate devoid of sophistry, relying only on facts, reason and evidence, is the one and only thing that can save Western civilization as we know it. As he puts it in the book's subtitle, the argument is "Western civilization's last stand." It's an idea that sounds good on paper but sadly fails the test of objective reality.

In order for the argument to save the West it would need to be persuasive enough to wake up those of us that are currently indoctrinated. So is it the ultimate red-pill? Not even close. Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and emotional investments and life choices influenced by irrational and harmful belief systems (our sunk costs) eat facts, reason, and evidence for breakfast every day of the week.

As humans we are led by emotion not reason. Pretending that facts are the most effective means of persuasion assumes that we are led by reason not emotion which is factually incorrect. Just because we want people to behave a certain way doesn't make it so in real life. Do people and society benefit from embracing, not rejecting, objective truths? Certainly. Does the argument play a central role in this process? Yes it does. But that doesn't make it our natural default.

The argument is like a contract that requires an agreement between both parties in order for its terms to be binding and enforceable. But the left doesn't care about the argument or objective reality. Objective reality invalidates their utopian world view so why would they care for it? They only care about winning. The only time they bother with objective reality is to better understand human nature so that they can improve their odds of winning. They have rejected the contract of Western civilization and all that it entails. It is up to us to remind them why we as a civilization agreed on using the argument as a means for dispute resolution.

Stefan does acknowledge the need for incentives and disincentives to keep both parties committed to the argument but falls short by not including the most effective means of doing so. Ostracism is the only listed remedy to bring the opposition back to the table. As the term is normally understood, ostracism is possibly the most potent compliance tool in existence by having the community band together to threaten an individual back into compliance. That's powerful. However that isn't the flavor of ostracism Stefan is advocating for. What Stefan means with the term ostracism is the individual threatening to reject one or more individuals. Needless to say, ostracism enacted by an individual isn't nearly as effective as ostracism applied by the community as a whole. The bottom line is that when the other side abandons the argument, the only tool of compliance we're allowed to borrow from the sophist's handbook is a watered down version of ostracism lifted straight out of Atlas Shrugged.

Ostracism initiated by the individual may be effective at ridding yourself of people that hold you back in your personal life, this is what Stefan used it for, but that has no bearing on whether or not it is effective as a tool for persuading others. Wishing it to be true doesn't make it true. Objective reality confirms or denies what is true or false, not our emotional preferences.

We all understand that it would be irrational and suicidal to enter a gunfight with only a knife at our side. So why would Stefan insist on this practice in the realm of persuasion? Because he's emotionally invested in a world view where facts matter more than feelings. People being led by emotions and not reason is one such a fact but in order to make his belief system fit his personal world view it has to be brushed aside and is rationalized out of existence (but only in his mind not from reality). Ignoring objective reality is not the solution if we value positive outcomes. You don't even need a background in Objectivism to come to that conclusion. If the other side is using objective persuasion (pathos and logos) and we've tied our hands using only the argument (logos on its own) we lose.

But what about the moral implications of embracing what some people would call manipulation tactics? If you're center of morality is that of a classical liberal you may liken the use of influence tactics to a violation of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Assuming that's the case, we can conclusively say that influence techniques are moral so long as they're used as a means of to defend against influence techniques previously initiated against us. While the initiation of force is immoral under the NAP, using force as a means to defend against the initiation of force is absolutely and unquestionably just and moral. The same principle applies to influence techniques. So long as the left doesn't embrace the argument in its entirety, we are morally justified in fighting back using the same techniques they employ.

Always remember this: It is not the argument that will protect us, rather us protecting the argument is what will keep us safe.

On a related note, the self-defense provision of the NAP would also apply to using state power to fight back against previous initiation of state power. From a practical perspective, the argument against breaking a norm is that if we break it the other side will do the same. But if it's crystal clear that one side has already broken the norm and continues to do so with impunity then the proper response isn't to continue obeying the norm in hopes that the other side will come around. The proper response based on an understanding of human nature is to remind them exactly why the norm was established in the first place. Actions have consequences. If people are not made to experience these consequences then there will be no incentive for them to self-correct their behavior.

What if someone just turned to you and spit in your face? Surely the best way to prevent this from happening again in the future isn't to make a firm resolve not to do the same in return. But what about the concept of turn the other cheek you might ask? From a moral perspective, turn the other cheek is for instances where there's a legitimate misunderstanding about what is good and what is evil and it provides us with the needed leeway to resolve the misunderstanding. That's the whole point behind the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech isn't a moral endorsement of evil, degeneracy, and obscenity; rather it sets the stage for the good to flourish given the constraints of human nature. Turn the other cheek is not called for when the other side has abandoned the good and has set out on a course to replace it with evil.

From a strategic perspective, turn the other cheek is a method to be deployed from a position of strength. It is called for when it's become clear that your opponent has lost the war, in a scenario where total annihilation of the opposition is not desired, and therefore it's in everyone's best interest to provide the other side with an opportunity to exit the conflict while saving face.

As I've demonstrated, fighting influence with influence is not only necessary but also unquestionably moral. If people cannot be made to see and acknowledge the good using facts, reason, and evidence, then we will make them see it using influence; their preferred method of persuasion.

But before we set out to battle the left using influence we must first ensure we have an adequate battle plan to ensure victory. Protracted battles produce heavy losses on both sides so it's in our best interest to devise a strategy that will end things quickly and decisively. To do this we need to inflict maximum damage in a short period of time to emotionally destabilize, devastate, traumatize and utterly demoralize our opponent, robbing them of any desire and ability to fight back.

More on the topics of strategy and persuasion in future articles to come!



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