How not to destroy an idea factory

No philosophy is infinitely durable and impervious to criticism.

We tend to dismiss or minimize critiques and arguments against our philosophies for as long as they remain useful to us overall, not only for providing clear and coherent understandings, but also for helping us respond practically and for feeling the value of life on the whole.

But most critiques and attacks on philosophies miss their mark, anyway, aiming only at the outputs of the philosophy — its truth claims, theories and arguments — not at the conceptions that produce them, which is a far more elusive target.

This kind of attack is like trying to destroy a car factory by blowing up all the cars as they come off the assembly line. But even bombing the factory itself is unlikely to be effective in the long-term, because factories are easily repaired or rebuilt. A far better mode of attack would be to investigate the factory’s production efficiency, manufacturing defects, etc. and show the inadequacy of its production. Or better, call into question the design of the cars, or question the value of manufacturing cars at all, making its purpose obsolete. Or question factory mass production, and undermine its conditions of production. Only radical measures will shut the factory down permanently, and prevent anyone from rebuilding it, because the need for the factory has been destroyed.

The goal is to motivate abandonment of what currently produces facts, arguments, responses, methods, desires, values, etc. and to persuade people to produce them in some other way. This is a tall order, because it is so much easier to repair, rebuild or even to rebuild a new system with a new blueprint.

Many, many people who have had their religious faiths demolished have built new secular belief factories on the site of their destroyed Christian faith factories, using the same blueprint as before, because this is how such things are built. Now the new factory cranks out new de-divinized models of the old faith — doctrines, moral rules, taboos, sins, confessions, devils, apocalypses, inquisitions, punishments, indulgences and so on — that function the same way as last year’s model, but which now run on new fuels, along slightly altered tracks. But to the constrained mind, the difference is total — the difference between a Prius and a Ford F-150!

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A few thoughts on demolition and reconstruction of philosophies:

  1. Any philosophy can be destroyed, if the need and desire to destroy it exists.
  2. The best reason to destroy a philosophy is dissatisfaction with its product; a philosophy that produces confusion, error and despair can be dismantled, and ought to be.
  3. The very worst philosophies will blame a confusing, paralyzing, hostile, doomed and worthless world for its own shoddy output, namely, that experience of the world.
  4. The fact that a philosophy can be destroyed is no argument against it; sufficient durability is sufficient.
  5. A destroyed philosophy is likely to be replaced with another exactly like it, built on its same pattern, unless great effort is put into rebuilding it on new principles and new values.
  6. A destroyed philosophy leaves one without a philosophy to serve its needs, which is intensely difficult and excruciatingly painful. One of the principle outputs of a philosophy is sanity, not to mention truth, motivation, competence and security. This is the primary reason so few truly new philosophies appear. It takes too much time to make something genuinely new, and that time is truly harrowing and dreadful.
  7. New philosophies are made with groping, intuitive experimentation and the products of old philosophies, most of which go entirely undetected.
  8. Gradual modifications of old philosophies are much easier, but even the tiniest modifications feel shockingly new, alien and portentous.

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