Minimum Viable Philosophy (MVP): Keeping it Simple, Stupid

Today, we’re going to talk about my approach to philosophy, which is a little different from how most other people have tried to approach things. This article will be complementary to some of the concepts I discussed in Metanarrative, but it’s not going to be entirely necessary to read that for the sake of this. In essence, there’s a concept from the business world called minimum viable product, which is the bare minimum you need to get started when launching a startup. In that vein, I’m going to discuss what I call minimum viable philosophy, which is the bare minimum of things that people need to agree on to function together in society well.

Let’s get it.

Check Your Self…

The kind of philosophy that a person ends up producing is inextricably tied to their personality. This is really, ridiculously important to understand- one of the greater ironies in this case is that Nietzsche was sickly for much of his life, or that Marx never had a real job. One could make a good argument that my concept of Aion Agon is simply due to my being a masochist (which is certainly true in some cases), and I’m sure that whenever the time comes for my work to be analyzed, they’ll make all kinds of unflattering cases.

C’est la vie.

Now, in my experience, people don’t dedicate enormous amounts of time to trying to figure out if they’re wrong. This is generally regarded as a bad call- my strategy has always been to be an infinitely greater critic of myself than anyone in reality (there’s that masochist bit, see), so that when the time comes I’ve considered all the possible arguments. A side effect of this is realizing that most people have a lot of terrible premises, so the arguments you do get made against you are inevitably dumber (or at least more poorly formed) than the ones you could have considered, which is always fun. However, just because people don’t make good arguments against your work doesn’t mean there aren’t any, so the burden is on you to be prepared.

To a Hammer…

Much to my dismay, it’s not possible to be right all the time. (There is a trick that most people will never understand: decide that you’d rather be right at the end of an argument than to be right during an argument, and you’ll eventually be significantly more right as the years go by.) As a result of this sad fact, it’s important to plan ahead to limit the number of things you can be wrong about. This is where a lot of religions, philosophies, and ideologies go wrong, because they mistake the scope of aptitude of the system’s designer and thus, we get a limited system raised to the position of a comprehensive system.

That’s really jargon-y, so let me simplify.

Every religion (and you can sub in philosophy and ideology here, more or less) tends to be better at some things than others. Christianity’s central premise is the notion that God is Love (and obviously concerns itself with the implications of that premise being acted out via Christ), because whatever a religion says is God is something like their thesis statement. Buddhism’s central premise is that life is suffering (dukkha), and then concerns itself with understanding why that is (samudaya), how to end it (nirodha), and what to do to get to the end of it (marga). (This is why I’m not a Buddhist- I say we should embrace the suffering rather than seek an end to it- hey, there’s the masochism again.) Gnosticism’s central premise is that the world is made bad (by the Demiurge) and the way to escape this is to seek Gnosis (spiritual knowledge) and transcend the flesh.

These approaches all have their strengths- Christianity was really good at building what my friend Rey Poullard calls fictive kinship, or a sense of community not based on blood or marriage ties, (as was the notion of America’s melting pot, in the earlier days of the country). However, it doesn’t address the problem of dealing with violence in a realistic way (take that, Girard- “if everyone wasn’t violent, there would be no violence” is a childish notion), so the only options it leaves you with are martyrdom, slavery, or to contradict the Gospels. It was only like 400 years after Jesus died before St. Augustine made arguments for holy war- so much for turn the other cheek, right?

Buddhism is the best system (in my opinion) specifically for learning about the mind’s attachments and getting rid of them, but I don’t think that trying to escape suffering is a good way to live. Gnosticism is one of my favorites because it places the pursuit of higher Truth at the forefront, but then you get the whole “the world is evil” nonsense, which is totally defeatist.

Anyway, the point of all that is that we can see some limitations in the way that people approach creating comprehensive systems because of what I discussed in the Memetics series– all memes aspire to the position of God. This means that the central premise of any belief system (religion/philosophy/ideology) becomes the defining mediator of every issue.

People like to have an easy answer for every situation (explaining the prominence of ideology in the modern age), because thinking is hard (and ethical thinking can be scary) and lots of people are stupid, or at the very least, intellectually lazy. That being said, genuinely good explanations for things do actually tend to be simple, but most of the time we end up confusing “it’s simple because it’s refined into minimalism” with “it’s simple because it’s an easy answer and I didn’t think about it enough.” Critical distinction, that.

Built to Last

Another thing that I mentioned in the Memetics series is the notion of nootypes, meaning the form that ideas and belief systems tend to move towards when they’re out of alignment with the way people want to receive information. All ideologies morph, over time, into a form resembling religion. This may be something that’s unavoidable due to lossy information transfer (like how .jpg memes degrade into “deep fried memes” [google if you must] after being saved and reposted 1000 times), or it may be because most people that start belief systems genuinely believe the stuff and don’t consider how it can be degraded or misused. We have the benefit, in the modern age, of preserving things nearly-perfectly, since a YouTube video is going to be essentially the same in 10 years (Powerthirst is still funny) and this blog will remain (since I don’t edit anything after I post it unless I spell something so wrong that a viewer tells me about it).

Since things last longer, we have to think about building them to last. This means considering all the ways that a philosophy could be misused by ideologues or people who want to turn it into a religion. One of the things I worry about is that someone will eventually try and label my philosophy as some kind of goddamn -ism (it has no name for a reason, anyone who names it is wrong and should not be trusted), or the bizarre possibility that they try and deify me years after I’m dead. That sounds narcissistic (and probably is, I know, I consider these possibilities as a way to curb narcissistic tendencies), but this is the kind of thing you have to do.

Disclaimer: anyone who names my philosophy is wrong, it has no name. Anyone who deifies me is wrong, naive, and shouldn’t be trusted with anything because they’re such an idiot. Anyone who at some point claims to be an expert in Garrett Studies or some similarly dumb shit is an absolute imbecile. This is not a religion, it’s not an ideology, and it’s barely a philosophy, more like a toolkit for you to compare other belief systems with. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. No one is ever above suspicion. Question everything. Know thyself. There is no religion higher than Truth.

Now, remember, dear reader, that’s not for you. If you deify me this early in my career, I’d be flattered and concerned. This is for people in the future- don’t be idiots, future people. I expect better from you.

Let’s say that this is one of the most important components of MVP- preventing it from becoming ideological (focused on one central concept) or religious (dogmatic or beyond question). Otherwise, you create nonsense- the only God (replace as appropriate with prophet/philosopher/ideologue/politician/etc) who fears questioning is no God at all, otherwise he wouldn’t have made you curious (or you get a Demiurge who just wants to torture you- thanks, Gnosticism).

Minimum Viable Philosophy

Well, if we’re going to question everything, I guess we do have a central value, don’t we? This is why in my philosophy, the highest value is Truth, though I would not make a statement like God is Truth. This is because though it may not sound like it, that would actually both limit what the Truth encompasses as well as prime most people to react to the statement in a certain way. This is half of the reason I don’t talk about theology (though I do talk about religious stuff a lot, but from the perspective of it being mythology and ideology), since all the terms are so loaded with either dogma from the conservative and religious types or disdain from progressive or atheistic types. I like to say that I’m religious to an atheist and an atheist to the religious- in reality, I think both of those terms are limited, and neither approximate my approach to things well.

Wait a minute, we’ve found a weird dichotomy here (re: The Humbling River), doesn’t that mean something is up? Ah, good thinking, dear reader. One of the most important things that people have seemed to miss is that there are two core mental circuits with which we filter things through (and they are apparently contradictory, on the surface). These can look like faith versus reason, intuition versus logic, emotion versus intellect, masculine versus feminine, or in the broadest sense, Order versus Chaos– “I’m in control and have internal rules” versus “I’m not sure what the rules are so let’s look externally.”

Most of the time, we end up having debates in the world because one person (or political party, or religious sect, or ideology, or spouse, etc.) is operating from a perspective of Order while the other is operating from the perspective of Chaos. Don’t believe me? If your significant other comes to you with a problem, try asking “Do you want me to solve this, or do you just want to vent?” Dudes tend to try and solve things, chicks tend to try and vent, since order has rules and chaos is more about exploring the feeling by talking it out.

Because we have two circuits, we have two values under Truth- Will and Love. These roughly correspond to the notions of masculine and feminine, and as a result of this, we can broadly classify belief systems (or parts of belief systems, if you want to be really heretical) into one or the other. Obviously, God is Love fits into one, and Nietzsche’s Will to Power fits into the other. Religions, when they get to a certain size, tend to be largely based in Order Mind, Will-centric systems (exoteric religion), while developing a smaller Chaos Mind, Love centric system (esoteric religion). This explains why Christianity went from being a secretive love-cult to a holy-war having empire machine when it got popular. This is also probably why hipsters only like bands when they’re not popular, but that’s just a guess.

Now, remember, the Minimum Viable Philosophy is more of a lens- you should be able to take the parts of belief systems that makes sense, and throw out the parts that don’t. Christian Mysticism and Sufi Islam (esoteric religions) are really, really good meditations on the concept of Love, but if you have to get in a fistfight (and you want to win, or you have people to defend), Love is not a good strategy. Likewise, if you have to comfort relatives after the loss of a loved one, you probably shouldn’t mention the decomposition process and how everyone dies because of cell senescence and telomere shortening and all that, you dork.

We have both the Order and Chaos minds (even if we prioritize one over the other most times), and we need both Love and Will, because they’re complementary. That’s why Truth is above these two, because it points both values at a single goal that they can each approach in their own way.

Now, Order is the objective mind, and Chaos is the subjective mind- but in reality, objectivity and subjectivity are inseparable. We view the objective world through a subjective lens, and we’re always bound to that subjectivity, no matter how objective we think we are. It doesn’t mean there isn’t an objective reality, what it does mean is that we always have to consider the possibility that we’re not in total control of the situation (or perhaps our feelings about it).

That’s where my Theory of Everything comes in. It’s way too complicated to summarize here perfectly, so the takeaway is basically that, if I’m right, we can demonstrate that objectivity and subjectivity are inseparable, and that consciousness is a natural, requisite part of reality. Also, that the inverse of energy is information. I leave the implications of that up to you for the same reason that I don’t talk about theology here- I think that any pursuit of Truth, whether you call that science or the divine, should be left to the individual seeker. Truth is met alone.

Dogma is the Enemy

On that note, here’s one really important component (and probably the biggest area of contention in the MVP)- you can fit basically any belief system into the MVP as long as none claim “this is the one true religion/philosophy/ideology.”

Why not?

First off, that’s a supremely dogmatic statement. Once you’ve accepted that, you’re no longer a seeker of Truth- how can you seek anything if you’re convinced you’ve already found it. That’s a hardcore Order mind position, by the way. Secondly, the idea that “this is the one true belief system” is almost always followed by tons of violence and other tragedy. Remember, however, that the MVP is not inherently anti-violence. Everyone has the right to defend their lives, their families, their property, and their freedom.

This brings us to ethics. I try to limit the amount of ethics to the bare minimum, but let’s cover what we need.

First, we have to agree that, in a civil society, the two basic rules are: don’t kill, don’t steal. When you agree on those things with the people you live with, you don’t have to worry about being murdered in the kitchen or robbed in your sleep, which is always good. However, you should have the right to defend yourself against either, meaning that these rules function when they’re agreed upon. When I decide to break into your house or try and kill you, well, we’re no longer in agreement, and suddenly I’m fair game.

Some of the other ethics may seem obvious from what I mentioned earlier- free speech is essential for the pursuit of Truth, as nothing is (or should be made to be) above suspicion or beyond question. The first virtue in my system is efficiency (which is explained at length here), and, generally, giving individuals the most possible freedom is often the most efficient solution to things. (This is also why I say bureaucracy is the devil, because there is nothing so unnatural as an office of people doing paperwork that dictates what you can or cannot do with your life.)

Like I said, I haven’t gone too deep into ethics yet because as long as you’re not hurting/robbing people or telling them what they should do or believe in, I mostly don’t give a shit what you choose to do. One of the larger points of the notion of MVP is that we just figure out what we absolutely have to agree on to function, so people can be left to their own devices in peace. This, specifically, is something I’ll explore more in the future, so keep your eyes peeled for that.


Now, if this wasn’t explained enough already, the point of this is to make a metaphilosophy- meaning you should be able to take whatever philosophies, ideologies, religions, and other fun stuff, pick out the best parts in a way that makes sense, and use them to fit yourself and your goals. I don’t really care what you want to do with your life, so long as it’s going to involve you bettering yourself (and not doing a job you hate, because that makes the world worse) and seeking the Truth (whatever that may be).

If you ever get to a point with something where it’s impossible to prove whether it’s right or not, go with whichever is more practical. Pragmatism isn’t good when it’s your only system, but good things do tend to also be practical (and bad things tend to be impractical [if sometimes only in the long run]). If you think you found the Truth but it turns out to be useless, that’s probably an indication that you’re wrong, but who knows? Part of the search is constantly considering the possibility that you’re wrong. Get comfortable with chaos, because otherwise you end up with dogma, and dogma is death and a cancer on the world.

Why do I hate dogma so much?

Imagine if you’re a single-celled organism and you suddenly decide, “YEAH, THIS IS IT, WE HAVE THE ONE TRUE GENETIC CONFIGURATION. IT CAN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS.” Now, of course you can’t think of any of that because you don’t have words or a brain, but you get the point. Life is evolutionary, and change is the only constant. What may be true now can change (either entirely or in perspective) as things advance and you gain new information. This is why the more dogmatic a system becomes, the less it takes in new information- look at the rise of fundamentalism that destroyed the Islamic Golden Age, or the Christian Dark Ages. See a coincidence?

The moral of the story is that, essentially, all you need to consider is the possibility that every system has something to teach you, and that you have to account for both your bias and the inherent biases (or flavors) that each system has. Then, you start to realize that they’re all different lenses with different applications and different focuses. You can see further with one, or much more close up with another, some are blue, some are red, and so on. The key is just knowing what you’re looking for (Truth) and what lenses you have built-in (Order and Chaos), and what the built-in lenses work best for (Will and Love). If you can do that, you’re golden.

If you can do that, then you realize that there’s a little bit of all in one, and a little bit of one in all.

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