My Last Post

This will be my last post on this blog (at least for the foreseeable future). There are basically two reasons for this. The first is rather straightforward, namely the lack of interest out there in what I am writing. I have managed to write a lot just because it is interesting to myself and  without any hope of reaching more than a handful of persons; but this gets harder and harder without any input, feedback and suggestions from readers. One could, of course, reply something like the following: “Just write when you feel like it. Wait until you find the inspiration and energy”. My principle, however, has been that a blog like this should be updated with new posts with some regularity (my goal has been at least a couple of posts per month, preferably more), and if I can’t keep up the regular schedule I might as well pack it in. To me, it should be clear if a blog is active or not. Anyway, I must confess that I did not have high expectations about reaching a big audience in the first place, since utilitarianism is so out of fashion. So it does not feel very sad for me to wrap up this effort, or experiment, as one might call it.

The second reason for quitting is broader and has to do with my personal disillusionment about ethics in general and its place in society. I have come to realize that ethical arguments – at least analytically rigorous arguments – will not change the world to any noticeable degree. Most people (we’re talking at least 99%) have no interest whatsoever in “academic” ethics, and this figure is not about to change anyway soon. And those who have some interest mostly use ethics as window dressing for an ideology they were instinctively drawn to before they had scrutinized the arguments for or against it. The usual route is that people are drawn to, for instance, socialism, anarchism, conservatism, or libertarianism when they are young (or youngish), and then they (or at least a few of them) look for an ethical theory that will verify their youthful choice; and if they can’t find one they will probably disregard ethics and keep on with their ideology anyway. In short, one does not change politics, or society at large, by appeal to philosophical argument, but rather to feelings and other crude rhetorical devices; and I have no inclination or interest in the latter.

Someday I hope to be a part of a network of people who adhere to hedonistic utilitarianism and want to influence politics on the basis of that philosophy. But at present no such network exists (at least none that I am aware of). Right now the “Alt-Right” and similar right-wing groups are pumping out content on YouTube and other social media. There are also some “classical” leftists (Marxists, etc.) who try to keep up in this contest, although I think they have fallen behind considerably – and perhaps irreparably. But when it comes to utilitarianism, there is nothing (except maybe for a few interviews and speeches by Peter Singer), and this is not bound to change anytime soon.

Nevertheless, even if I would be more than willing to do more in the future, I feel like, for now, I have done my part for the promotion of hedonistic utilitarianism. I have written one philosophical book (albeit only available in Swedish) which answers the most common objections to hedonism, as well as a short book (in English) that draws out some political implications from hedonist ethics. Now I leave it to others to continue this arduous work. If I may wish for something to happen it would be the creation of a podcast devoted to hedonism, since any movement needs podcasts (or YouTube channels) to achieve anything these days. I, however, do not have the skills for that.

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Ideological Hegemony on YouTube and in Academia

I regularly plow through YouTube in search for anything that might be interesting from a political philosophy perspective. I often end up listening to speeches or podcasts by libertarians, because they seem to be the most articulate and persistent users of YouTube as an ideological channel to reach new disciples. My impression is that for every well-articulated video that argues for socialism there is at least ten (probably much more) equally well-articulated videos that argue against socialism. The same could be said for feminism or environmentalism, or indeed standard welfare state-liberalism (we do not have to mention utilitarian hedonism, because virtually no one seems to be interested in defending or attacking it).

Still, it is often claimed that in academia the figures are the reverse. Surveys have confirmed that a majority in some crucial (crucial for politics, that is) disciplines lean to the left. Extreme examples of this would probably be disciplines like sociology or gender studies.

But why does academic hegemony not translate into social media hegemony? Are university professors (or graduate students) too busy to take part in more “popular” discussions about the normative foundations of policy decisions, or are they simple uninterested in proselytizing? Or do they (at least the “centrists”) feel comfortable in the knowledge that policies are already more or less in line with their convictions, so why bother arguing for them?

The latter view may prove to be very dangerous. If you simply don’t feel the need to argue thoroughly for your positions (or to study the arguments of your opponents) then your stance will simply be congealed into a dead dogma. And when you are seriously challenged you simply wont have the arguments to withstand the criticism. This is, by the way, something that John Stuart Mill stresses in On Liberty. Even though you believe yourself to be right, it is still beneficial to be subjected to criticism, even if it is criticism of the “true” religion. As you may know, even prospective saints are challenged by a “devil’s advocate”, appointed by the Catholic church itself.

Anyway, if YouTube is any indication of what the future holds, then the future seems to belong to the right. And it seems likely that academic ideological hegemony will play a smaller role as the Internet age chugs along. Professors are probably not regarded with the same reverence as before and many students are probably happy to find their ideological sustenance elsewhere. In the old days, finding new perspectives outside the lecture hall was a laborious process, but nowadays one can connect with likeminded individuals all over the world without any effort. The future, I think, belongs to those who understand this, and who are ready to put resources into making high quality YouTube videos, podcasts, and the like, rather than academic papers filled with obscure jargon. Right wing think tanks (and other groupings) seem to have understood this better than those on the left.