At its heart, Beta Male poses a question about meaning: in light of the findings of evolutionary psychology and physics - can we hope to retain meaning in our relationships and choices?
Answering in the negative is Alex Rosenberg, a professor of philosophy at Duke University. Rosenberg's thesis is the scientific reductionism basically collapses all the meaning that we ascribe to relationships and human choices. He wrote a book called The Atheist's Guide to Reality, which represents some of the nihilistic consequences that seem to fall out of our understanding of physics and the human brain.
It starts with this premise (drawn from a paper that basically summarizes his book):
What is the world really like? It’s fermions and bosons, and everything that can be made up of them, and nothing that can’t be made up of them. All the facts about fermions and bosons determine or “fix” all the other facts about reality and what exists in this universe or any other if, as physics may end up showing, there are other ones.
From this premise, he builds on the following: love collapses into an evolutionary module in the human brain that evolved to solve a "strategic interaction problem," thereby dissolving the metaphysical meaning (and value) we ascribe to love.
Further, even if you disagree with that point, Rosenberg says our entire mental lives can be described in the terms of physics (another point I disagree with him on), and as such, love, and actions motivated by love, simply break down into the movement of atoms in the brain.
In summary, then, science shows that meaning is illusory. But what is meaning? Is meaning just a way of capturing that something has value? Of course love has value, but that's not what we mean when we say it matters that someone was loved.
Pinning down what meaning is is inherently nebulous, and not easy. Is meaning a proposition? Or is something that's difficult to capture with language - is it an experience? I'm not sure I have the answer to any of these questions, but they're questions that I've wrestled with for years, so I had to write a novel about them.
Despite my difficulty in understanding what meaning actually is, I don't agree with Rosenberg's position. Here's Daniel Miesller recapitulating a similar argument - basically, the argument of reductionistic nihilism:
Meaning << Emotion << Chemistry << Physics
See, it's all so simple! Like simplifying an algebra equation!
But what if there's something irreducible about this particular arrangement of particles in space and time? What if there's something irreducible about being loved, something that doesn't dissolve when you describe the neurochemistry of the person that loves you?
What if the meaning is a veridical experience, and not a conclusion that falls out of a series of premises that logically build upon one another?
My favourite response to MIessler's argument, and by extension, Rosenberg's, is this comment on Miessler's post:
I started reading this, but then I realized: all the letters I'm reading are, ultimately, just photons. Photons you guys! And photons can't bear any spiritual or semantic meaning, they just are.
There's warranted cynicism, and then there's bad philosophy. I think this is the latter.
Of all the things in this world, hope is what you should give up last.
After Darwin's daughter Annie died at the age of ten, he stopped going to church.
Sometimes an entire universe is encoded into a single sentence.
Ten years from now, I'll remember this sentence. So much pain, so much devastation, packed into a couple words.
Grief, and the collapse of faith that occurs in the aftermath, the pain of a lifetime of belief disintegrating in your fingers - these are the emotions behind Beta Male, and this sentence struck me like a resonant chord. I couldn't resist integrating into the novel (with some light paraphrasing, of course), an anecdote that reveals so much and so little at the same time.
Darwin, God, and the Meaning of Life is a good primer on evolutionary theory, evolutionary psychology, and their implications for our daily lives. No pre-existing knowledge of analytic philosophy is needed to understand it, and it's written in a clean, accessible prose that deftly communicates ideas.
This is how one should live: understanding that the boundary between philosophy and the daily practice of life does not exist. Everyone has a worldview and concomitant foundational assumptions. You owe it to yourself to examine these things. As much shit as philosophy gets for not making progress, it's still the best method we have for examining the core questions of life that fall outside the empirical purview of science.
What does evolution mean for your relationships with others? What does it say about your mother's love for her child? What does it say about a woman's love for a man? A man's love for a man?
Many of the implications of evolution are counter-intuitive and challenge our immediate reactions. Consider the following:
"The course of evolution has furnished animals with an increasingly great capacity to suffer. Monkeys suffer more than trilobites, and humans presumably suffer more than monkeys. Evolution has also furnished animals with an increasingly great capacity to inflict suffering. As evolutionary history has unfolded, then, the universe has come to contain more and more suffering. Is that progress?"
The book also serves as a useful counterweight to the crushing nihilism of contemporary manosphere pop evo-psych writers like Heartiste and Rollo Tomassi. Is it all black, then? Does evolutionary science lead directly into the pits of nihilism? (some philosophers think it does) . Not everyone thinks so. I loved this quote, too:
Whether naturalism leads to nihilism is a contentious topic of debate, and this book helps to illuminate it. In part, I tried to answer this question in a different way - I wrote a novel about it.
In conclusion: four stars out of five.
how to write a book about a white supremacist misogynist without being a white supremacist misogynist
This summer, I was in rural Scandinavia, and saw a group of black kids get beat up by another crew of kids, maybe 20, all white. At the end of the brawl one of the white kids throws a heil hitler salute and shouts some nationalistic slogan. The rest of the night, I couldn't relax. I was on edge, wondering if I'd need to throw down.
I have never felt anything other than love from the European side of my family. Speaking the native tongue helps, obviously. But such is the life of a hybrid - every now and then, you remember yourself looking in from the outside. The world reminds you there is a part of you that is the Other, a part that does not belong.
When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I always understood what Whiteness was. Quickly, one learns what it is and what it represents. And I hated it - I hated it so much.
That which you can never join - you learn to despise. Either that or you repudiate your heritage so thoroughly that none of it remains.
Beta Male was a novel I knew had to be written. I wrote it because I had to. I was sick of these straw-manned, simplified moralizing tales about race, these fucking Hollywood movies packed with platitudes and moral epiphanies and wholehearted redemption.
That's not the way the world works. It's not that clean.
If you're going to write a novel about bigotry - especially from the first person - it's easy to focus on a simple redemptive arc, like American History X. This is the easy thing to do. It's easy to ignore the fact the overwhelming majority of organized racism centers around some form of scientific racism.
This is the Hollywood way: avoiding the very core of an ideology, throwing in some heartwarming epiphanies, and calling it a day. The alternative is something like Atlas Shrugged - basically, constant speechifying where the protagonists or characters are mouthpieces first, and people second. Of course, that's not a real story. That's an essay with characters. Narrative is unique in its ability to move others.
Here is the ironic thing: to write a novel about a bigot, you have to humanize him. That's the only way. You have to draw him in a full sketch. You can't leave anything out. You have to focus on his vulnerability, which is the core of his hatred. You have the acknowledge his beliefs. Then, you confront the costs of his anger indirectly. You don't need a Paul on the Road to Damascus moment when-everything-suddenly-becomes-so-clear. You can show his shell cracking, and the light peeking through. That's both more realistic, and more powerful.
It's the same thing with misogyny. It's a simple thing to return hatred with our own hatred, to just match it. The very concept of a labeling someone as an "oppressor" is inherently dehumanizing - even if they are oppressing you.
Hath not a Jew eyes?
Consider "The Red Pill," a subreddit that has been roundly condemned for perpetuating extreme misogyny. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's basically a group of men who've combined male dating advice with pop evolutionary psychology. Here's a post I found that showed me the vein that runs through this ideology - and if you've "taken the red pill" and don't think it's an ideology, then you're wrong.
I am "bipolar," or in retrospect finding temporary meaning in external things (money, women, career, physical image, fame) resulting in mania and elation, only to see all these temporary things fall away leaving me depressed, and sometimes suicidal / hospitalized. I'm not being general, I made 100k one year, "dated" 8 or 9 women this year, put out two albums, etc. Yay, ego!
Does this sound like pure madness? There are grains of truth almost everywhere. Who among us has not had a bad experience with a relationship and had a dark night of the soul? If you haven't had an epiphany like this, you haven't been paying enough attention, regardless of your gender.
My theory of misogyny is that it's a form of nihilism - a belief that love is unattainable. Here is the process by which it occurs:
Science is a difficult enterprise fraught with errors. Here's a post by one of the fathers of The Red Pill that argues that women are able to move on easily after a breakup because their ancestors were captured and raped by warring tribesmen, and those who couldn't bond with their rapist captors and raise their children were wiped out of the gene pool.
Based on what evidence? Is this anything more than a just-so story? Why are the Yazidi women captured by ISIS trying to kill themselves, then?
Except, interpreted through the experience of a young man who's just been dumped by his girlfriend, it starts to look like the unassailable truth, doesn't it?
Confirmation bias is a prison that traps the best of us. If you read only Manosphere blogs and you'll lose sight of any counterarguments. You'll lose the balance that makes you into a fully rounded human being. Jason Silva once said that cynicism is like going through life with dim glasses.
"ALL WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT," The Red Pill says, emphasizing the selfishness and solipsism of women. Yes, that's why women like Nancy Yoko died fighting Ebola in Western Africa.
I don't want people to spend their lives in a prison that they've built for themselves. That's what nihilism is, and that's the real reason I wrote Beta Male.
Of all the things in this world, hope is what you should give up last.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis