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FBM, Free Speech and the Culture War: Chapter Two - Early Influences

Alex Van Hamme

In order to better appreciate my mindset at the beginning of starting Free Bird Media, I need to provide some context on my personal philosophies and background.

I grew up in a middle class two-parent family in Southern Ontario. Throughout my 20’s I thought of myself as someone left of centre. I had absorbed the same standard narratives and beliefs about politics and history through mass media and pop culture that my peers and family had.

After high school I moved to Toronto to attend Humber College and got a diploma in “Comedy Writing and Performance”. All through high school I had dreamed about making it big as a comedian, and I especially idolized counter-culture stand-up comedians like Bill Hicks and George Carlin. I romanticized the archetype of the man in black on stage satirically railing against corporate, materialist mainstream culture, speaking taboo truths everyone knows deep down are really true.

Learning about the in-depth history of stand-up comedy and studying the greats like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Carlin and Hicks gave me a strong appreciation for the cultural importance of Free Speech. I developed a deep appreciation for just how much truth, and comedy, go hand in hand.

To this day, two of my very closest friends are guys I met doing that program, guys like me with a strong sense of their own individuality who saw through the fake appeal of a soul corporate job and who wanted to pursue more in life than pure careerism. True friends are so hard to find.

After finishing at Humber I attended Carleton University and got an honors degree in English Literature. Upon graduation I worked for a year and then returned to school to get a diploma from Sheridan College in the Journalism New Media program. My experiences in the Ivory Tower were generally pleasant and I enjoyed the student lifestyle and campus culture very much. My way of thinking at the time was that I was going to school to expand my intellect and have some life experience, not simply as a means to an end for careerism, and while I did take out some student loans which were probably a mistake, I don’t actually regret the investment in myself. There’s a cliche among young men in some circles on the right, they claim to want to be “cultured thugs” and talk about the importance of lifting weights and reading books, but very few of them genuinely care about the “culture” part in more than a mere superficial sense.

When I was younger, because of my innate personality I was drawn to things that I perceived as edgy and rebellious. Conformity seemed innate to most of my peers at school from kindergarten onwards. I always liked things that were DIY and/or anti-corporate, which is why I liked art forms like stand-up comedy, indie comic books and punk rock music. I listened to Rage Against the Machine and NOFX a lot in college and had the super cliche Che Guavera poster on my wall for awhile. I first discovered left-wing intellectual and linguist Noam Chomsky through punk rock DVDs, and then saw several of his films, including “Manufacturing Consent” while studying at Carleton University.

Noam Chomsky influenced me a lot during my early twenties, and I remember his position on Free Speech well, as he said very clearly:

There are only two positions you can have on Free Speech, you’re either for it or against it….With regard to my defense of the utterly offensive views, I haven’t the slightest doubt that every commissar says “you’re defending that person’s views”. No I’m not, I’m defending his right to express them. The difference is crucial, and the difference has been understood outside of fascist circles since the 18th century.”

This point simply couldn’t be any more black and white to me, and I always took it for granted that intelligent people would find it self-evident that Free Speech is a necessary mechanism for a free and open society (which I also assumed, incorrectly, was something that all intelligent people would naturally desire).

In my mid twenties, I discovered perhaps my biggest intellectual influence, a writer and philosopher named Robert Anton Wilson. George Carlin once said “I’ve learned more from Robert Anton Wilson than any other person”.

Wilson was a polymath, one of the original editors of Playboy magazine, an electrical engineer, and then later a psychologist and polymath who wrote books about a wide variety of very interesting subjects. One of his most popular books is Prometheus Rising, which began as his Ph.D. dissertation before being reworked into the final book. The book claims to be an “owner’s manual for the human brain” and examines many aspects of social mind control and mental imprinting, and provides exercises at the end of every chapter, with the goal of giving the reader more control over how the mind works. Throughout my twenties I read this book several times and let it digest in my mind as I tried to work through the exercises at the ends of the chapters, as well as its sequel Quantum Psychology. The lasting effect of this was essentially what Wilson’s overall goal was, which was it put me into a starting point of a generalized state of agnosticism towards the world, not just about God, but about all things. My style of approaching the world from a state of general agnosticism is something that, in my experience, is very difficult for most people to understand, and rarely do I get a chance to clarify it when having conversations or debates with people. Wilson experienced the same and observed this once, commenting “Most people, even the educated, think that everybody must “believe” something or other, that if one is not a theist, one must be a dogmatic atheist, and if one does not think Capitalism is perfect, one must believe fervently in Socialism, and if one does not have blind faith in X, one must alternatively have blind faith in not-X, or the reverse of X.” In one of his lectures, Wilson pointed out that using a two-tiered system of “either or” logic, which he referred to as Aristotelian logic, has limits and can be extremely dangerous. To illustrate this, he emphasized how during the cold war, both sides kept running simulations to determine how they could wipe out the other without facing a MAD scenario, and it was only when mathematician Alfred Von Nomann introduced a three-tiered logic system consisting of “yes, no, and maybe” that the entire situation threatening humanity was able to dissipate peacefully through new options that presented themselves.

I’m not suggesting that one should not have hard opinions on any issue necessarily, but I’m saying one should be careful of binary logic and rushing to conclusions on any issue. Learning to be cautious about forming hard opinions on things, while also having an open mind and a need to explore new ideas, is what has kept me from being swallowed by any of the “reality tunnels” I have investigated, while I have watched many other people go so far down various intellectual and pseudo-intellectual rabbit holes they essentially never come back. It is very important to understand that opposing something does not mean one is necessarily endorsing the opposite of that thing.

I advocate approaching life in terms of probabilities, not absolute certainties. Even the things I am most confident about in life I am only 99.99% sure of.

There is something known as the Dunning – Kruger Effect, which shows that the more you know about something, the less confident you’re likely to be regarding it. Experts know just how much they don’t know, so they tend to underestimate their ability; but it’s easy to be over-confident when you have only a simple idea of how things are. For this reason one should be careful not to mistake the cautiousness of experts as a lack of understanding, or to give too much credence to lay-people who appear confident but have only superficial knowledge. In the age of YouTube political commentary, it’s usually the blind leading the blind, on both the left and the right. I have found that a good indicator for me when trying to gauge a person’s level of intelligence is to see how much they can understand and process nuance.

One of the most important quotes I took away from Wilson regarding his work on the subjective nature of people’s personal realities was expressed by him like this: “Once you look down at your Reality tunnel, whether your Reality Tunnel is Ohio Methodist, New York Jewish, Marine County hippie, Tokyo Capitalist Zen Buddhist, or Iranian Muslim fundamentalist – once you get to the level where you’re outside your reality tunnel looking down at it, you can compare Reality Tunnels, and then you’re on a higher level of intelligence already, because you’re no longer a conditioned mechanism, just following the reality tunnel that was accidentally imprinted or conditioned, and you can start choosing between Reality Tunnels.”

This line of thinking got stuck in my mind and I became interested in studying the ways in which I could learn to try and look at the world around me more objectively by not being clouded by my own subconscious or irrational biases. I realized that I could not pride myself on being “free” until I had taken the time to understand myself and separate what I truly think and feel from what I have been arbitrarily taught to think or believe. As I have aged, I have become increasingly interested in asking myself “Why am I the way that am I? Where do my seemingly spontaneous thoughts really come from?” I was particularly fascinated by the ways in which emotional experiences imprint on the human nervous system early in life and contribute to personality and behavior.

When I eventually encountered Dr. Peterson and his work later on, much of what Peterson talked about echoed a lot of what Wilson wrote at length about decades earlier. Regarding political behavior and “being objective” I once heard Peterson say “It really does turn out that you vote your personality far more than you think, because like what you think is that you look at the world and there’s a landscape of facts and you view the facts objectively and you derive your conclusions. And the thing is it doesn’t really work that way because there’s just too damn many facts, right, and so you can’t even really get an unbiased sample of them. [What happens is that your personality works as a filtering mechanism so that certain things stand out for you more than other things]. And so some things stand out more to people on the radical left, and some things stand out more for people on the right. And so everyone says ‘yah but you’re not looking at the same set of facts’ - and you can’t even, and that’s why you have to engage in dialogue with other people, because they’ll expose you to their facts. And I’m not saying facts don’t exist or anything like that”.

This insight is key to understanding much of the political behavior that will be described throughout this book. Most people naively assume they are being rational and objective with their perceptions and their political ideologies, without any realization that most of their behavior is non-rational (but not necessarily irrational) or having the slightest clue about how their own psychology works or what really drives their own thoughts and behavior. They don’t realize how much of their own perceptions are “merely gambles”.

Regarding the flaws with believing one is easily capable of true objectivity, Wilson said “…Western science lost that insight and from Newton onwards we had the idea that ‘it doesn’t matter who you are, if you follow scientific procedure you’ll find the truth.’ This began to break down after 1900 due to Sigmund Freud who pointed out that even scientists are human beings and may have neuroses, and that scientific theories may be elaborate rationalizations of neurosis, and the influence of Carl Marx who pointed out that no matter what you’re theorizing about it’s a mirror of your economic status and what your economic goals are. And then anthropologists started coming back with reports about alternative reality tunnels, showing that no matter what reality tunnel you live in, the world will organize itself in your perceptions to be compatible with that reality tunnel.”

What I’ve always wanted to do with my journalism is investigate different reality tunnels, as Wilson calls them, and understand them as much as possible, and compare them with other people’s subjective reality tunnels to understand the differences. The way different individuals have different personalities that create subjective lenses of the world around them while sharing a physical world with other people is very interesting to me. Politically speaking, understanding the mindsets of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, liberals, working-class whites, inner city blacks, and others and trying to really understand them, not in a superficial way, but from a psychological and biological perspective and how and why their minds perceive reality the way they do has been an ongoing pursuit with my work. I understand that approaching something objectively, even from a purely scientific approach, requires the insight that before you can even begin to approach the world objectively you’ve got to work on yourself and your own perceiving apparatus from the inside out.

Generally speaking, human beings are tribal creatures with brains that have evolved to be extremely efficient rationalization machines. Because of this, most people are not interested, or perhaps not capable, of understanding the psychology of people who disagree with themselves morally or politically.

For years I have had a tweet pinned to the top of the FBM Twitter account with the RAW quote “That’s what I’m trying to do in bringing up controversial subjects, is get people to look at them in a clear way. Most people don’t know how to tell an assertion from an argument. Every lawyer knows this. Most people just have no idea how foggy their own thinking is.”

So to sum up my points so far, I created Free Bird Media to promote free speech and expand the Overton window. I don’t consider myself to be dedicated to any particular ideology and I understood then that in order to begin to try and approach the world objectively, I had to work on myself from the inside out first, which to me obviously included trying to understand as much about my own psychology as possible.

Reality is a combination of subjective perceptions and objective facts. Two plus two is always four, but when it comes to perception, everything is a gamble of our nervous system.

So contrary to leftist ideology, objective facts do exist and we should approach the world with an attitude or rationality. However, we also should acknowledge that each of us experience our own subjective interpretation of the world and how we experience it, and not all things in life can be quantified, measured, or approached with only pure rationality.

Learning to truly think and perceive things more objectively is something that takes a lot of time and education, it isn’t nearly as simple and most people, who lack true self awareness, assume it to be.

Given this truth that reality is both composed of objective facts and subjective elements, it’s not always clear how we should approach a situation or respond to another person, but, as a guiding principle, I agree with Peterson in that we should always orient towards the truth. A society built on narratives that aren’t true is doomed to fall eventually.

#GeorgeCarlin #RobertAntonWilson #BillHicks #NoamChomsky

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