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Food For Thought

Take two IMAO fans. They are right-wing, hate commies, etc

One is a former socialist, the other was raised right-wing. Who understands socialism better? Probably the former socialist. He's also more likly to have commie sympathies, but that's another issue.

The point is being a former-X generally means having a pretty good understanding of X. Because actually being X usually means understanding it well.

Now, imagine someone who was a former everything. Every important tradition, he's either a former or current member.

Elliot Temple on June 15, 2004

Comments (11)

So, was he a terrorist before or after thinking every terrorist should die?

David Schneider-Joseph at 2:01 AM on June 17, 2004 | #970

You're joking, right?

Elliot at 3:44 AM on June 17, 2004 | #971

I'm not sure he's joking.

To consider someone to be a former (or current) everything implies that he is both a former (or current) terrorist and a former (or current) anti-terrorist.

I think DSJ is just pointing out that some of these things are pretty incompatible. It's no virtue to align yourself with bad traditions, just to understand them better.

So, the person you imagine who is a former or current everything is probably a scumbag with a broken moral compass, not a great philosopher with deep knowledge.

Gil at 10:01 AM on June 17, 2004 | #972

former everything reasonable. sheesh. am not suggesting you go kill 50 people to better understand murderers.

Elliot at 10:07 AM on June 17, 2004 | #973


Why didn't you tell me that an hour ago???

Gil at 11:16 AM on June 17, 2004 | #974

The thing is, is "having a pretty good understanding of" all important traditions important enough to warrant becoming-everything just to do it, or are there other factors which might outweigh this idea?

Also, you're listing a sufficient but not a necessary. That is, sure I agree that a former-X will tend to understand X. But that's not the *only* way to understand X, so even if I deem understanding-X to be important, that doesn't necessitate becoming-X-for-a-while. And the tendency is only *on average*; there are probably at least a few non-X's who understand X better than most former-X's.

Seems like a better (perhaps not globally but locally optimal and more feasible) strategy is to stay what you are (Y) as long as you feel like it, but sincerely study all the other X's with an open mind etc. If this causes you to flip, then fine, but no reason to sweat it.

Blixa at 2:35 PM on June 17, 2004 | #975

I don't think you need to be a former X to understand X.

However, DSJ, Gil, are you suggesting that one could not be a former terrorist and still be a moral person (including a counter-terrorist)? Is it impossible to be reformed-evil?

Again, I don't think it's a good idea to go out and be a terrorist to understand them better. But... wouldn't a former terrorist actually make an excellent counter-terrorist for the precise reason that he knows all the tricks?

Dan at 6:11 PM on June 19, 2004 | #976

Of course it's not an epistemic reqiurement that you must be a former X to understand X.

however, in practice, sometimes to understand certain nuances of X, being a former X may be the only practical option currently availible for the vast majority of people.

Elliot at 9:01 PM on June 19, 2004 | #977

Curi's right (as usual).

But terrorism is a red herring. I don't think terrorism counts as an important tradition.

Traditions might be better identified by aesthetic and human interest criteria rather than on reasonable grounds.

For example, the christian tradition is (or was) pervaded by great artistic, architectural and musical achievements.

Another important tradition, family life, can be identified by such things as the transmission of hand-knitted woollen garments.

Neither of these examples, when you get down to it, is reasonable in any immediate way. Singing Bach cantatas has no bearing on public morality (well, not usually). Cotton clothing is much cheaper (and it washes well).

In fact, the people who cling to such traditions are usually unable to explain convincingly why they do. People who *abandon* such traditions are more likely to be able to say why they used to be involved. Else how did they weigh up their reasons for moving on?

Tom Robinson at 9:46 PM on June 19, 2004 | #978

Well, I agree that members (and former members) of a tradition have some knowledge about it that others don't have. But, whether or not that knowledge is worth the resources required to be a real member for a significant length of time is a relevant question.

I suspect that in the vast majority of cases, the correct answer is "No".

If Elliot is suggesting something other than the value of becoming a member of many important traditions, I don't know what it is.

Maybe he's saying that we should listen more carefully to people who have been members of lots of traditions. But, I would be suspicious that such people have poor judgement to have wandered among so many inconsistent traditions. and that perhaps their analyses might not be very valuable after all.

Gil at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2004 | #979

I agree setting out to intentionally join traditions just to learn about them will for almost all traditions have costs far higher than the benefits of being an ex-member. If you don't want to become a member, and enjoy the process, don't do it. However, just because the straightforward approach to gaining some benefits is bad, does not mean the existence of the benefits is not interesting, notable, and possibly achievable some other way.

I do think what ex-members say about a tradition is important and notable. If people who were never members consistently misunderstand a tradition, that's often fairly easy to explain. But if former members do, it's harder.

I deny that someone with a history of going around to many traditions should be thought to have poor judgment. It could very well be that each change was an improvement and made sense.

In fact I tend to suspect people who fail to experiment with views contrary to their own to be the ones with the problem.

Elliot at 6:32 PM on June 20, 2004 | #980

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)