Responding to YouTubers is not something I generally do, though admittedly it is something I have often been tempted by. However, I recently saw a video from YouTube PigPuncher that tempted me into responding. One of the reasons that this particular video and argument tempted me is that a response to it is not only relevant to some of the comments made by PigPuncher during his stream/video, but the comments were also relevant to the larger sceptic/atheist community in general. The comments made by PigPuncher are some that I have heard from other sceptics/atheists in various debate groups, videos, and on Twitter. They may even have been made by some our readers at some point. This means that by addressing PigPuncher’s comments, several topics can be addressed. Another thing that tempted me, is that it is something of a test of my integrity, the reasons for which we will see later on. So why not just create a piece that covers this topics without addressing PigPuncher’s directly? Is this not little more than ‘clout chasing’?
Perhaps it is. Not all of our motives are consciously available to us, and perhaps I am subconsciously driven by ‘clout chasing’. I would say that it seems unlikely, and most people that personally know me would probably agree that it is unlikely. ‘Clout’ is not something I am particularly concerned with. However, for the sake of honesty, I will hold my hands up and say that it might be a motive; one that I am not consciously aware of. However, my drives, at least the ones that I am consciously aware of, are to help him improve his arguments. I actually kind of like the guy. It takes some guts to do what he does, which is stream for hours every day. I also think the topics he covers are admirable. He is driven by a desire to make the world a better place. Which is something I can definitely get behind. While I might not always agree with what he says, and think that like any of us, including myself, there are areas where he can improve. What he does, and his reasons why, are something I think are admirable. So, with that out of the way, what exactly is it that PigPuncher said that I feel the need to comment on?
What I am commenting on originates in one of his videos titled ‘Stefan Molyneux Speaks At A Literal Incel Convention’. Which is why it is also a test of my own integrity. People reading this might mistakenly think I am defending Stefan Molyneux, which is not something I particularly want to do. I actually dislike Stefan Molyneux, I dislike his arguments, I dislike his politics, and I dislike him. In his video, PigPuncher states that Stefan Molyneux is ‘fucking insane’, and I tend to agree with PigPuncher about this! However, PigPuncher’s response to what Stefan Molyneux said in this video was wrong, for several reasons. As PigPuncher seems like a person who is trying to better himself, and often states that he is trying to improve his own arguments, then I thought I would attempt to help him out; and helping PigPuncher may also help others too. Of course, the people reading my response would also have to be receptive, but I am acting on the principle of charity, and going with the idea that people claiming to want to better their arguments and positions claim so honestly. What was the argument made by Stefan Molyneux in the video played by PigPuncher?
What Stefan Molyneux says is part of his speech during ‘The Men’s Conference of the Century’, and part of the ‘Make Women Great Again’ campaign. While it should be obvious that I denounce the general idea behind this conference and campaign, I feel like I should probably actually say that out loud; for those who do not know me. I think the conference, the ideas, and the people, involved in this campaign are terrible, and awful. It is a sad indication of our society that these kinds of conferences, people, and campaigns are gaining so much traction and support. So, why bother defending Stefan Molyneux if I despise and dislike him, and the campaign, so much? Well, because while all those things are worthy of criticism, and should be criticised, and PigPuncher’s criticism of these things is one of the reasons that I think what he does is admirable, PigPuncher’s criticism focused on something that was not actually wrong as such. The resulting criticism also led to other false claims and criticisms, as well as habits that should be addressed at a wider level. I digress again though! What was the argument that PigPuncher criticised?
The argument made by Stefan Molyneux involved society ‘discarding universal ethics’, and ‘replacing them with insanely complex vicious judgements’. PigPuncher’s response to this is to ask us to ‘notice that he [Stefan Molyneux] is saying nothing’. PigPuncher also states that ‘it sounds good if you have no idea what he is talking about’, and that it is ‘a word salad’. He then continues Molyneux’s video, and Molyneux speaks of how ‘if we get rid of the big laws, you don’t get no laws, you get thousands of tiny laws, and it’s the case that there were ten commandments. How many commandments are there in woke leftist culture, ten thousand and counting.’ PigPuncher then pauses the video and discusses how there are no commandments in leftist culture, and that the only rule, which is enforced socially, is ‘don’t be a racist, sexist, transphobic piece of shit, be a decent human being’. It is but a small portion of the video, but one with a lot to unpack. So, where to begin unpacking this small portion of the video?
The best place to start is with what Stefan Molyneux opens with, the idea that we have discarded universal ethics and replaced them with insanely complex vicious judgements; beginning with the idea that we have discarded universal ethics. What Molyneux says here is correct to some extent. In order to understand this we need to look at how society worked historically. In the past our societies had a more top-down structure. Our values were passed down to us from places like ‘the Church’, who took their moral codes from the Bible. While arguments can be made here that those passing that moral code down did not adhere to it themselves, that is irrelevant to the point being made. In the past the Church, for most people, was a centralised gathering place, where values were passed down to the people, and those values were taught from the Bible. We can see this in other cultures too historically too, such as in Islamic societies. Using Islamic societies we can also see this in effect somewhat in modern societies. Values are handed down from a centralised source, and considered to be universally applying to all. They were accepted by most of the population as unquestionable, and values that were set in stone; they were collective beliefs and values. The Bible was from God, and the Church spoke for God, and both told us what God wanted from us. These were values that were followed by the majority of people, and accepted as universally applying across our culture. We can see the remnants of this in modern society, where certain ideas are still seen as universally applicable; as well as seeing it in various apologetics like ‘without God there are no objective morals.’ Meaning that without some centralised body handing down our values, then values are just opinions. Historically, we had the universal ethics that Molyneux speaks of. However, as society has become more individualised, and as places like the Church have lost their hold on the population, we have seen a shift from universal ethics.
This is something that Molyneux is alluding to with the second part of his statement. The second part of his statement is hyperbolic and polemical of course. A statement designed to attract the support of a particular type of person. However, it is wrapped in a truth, which makes it easier to digest for those particular type of people. That truth is that people see ethics now as something more subjective. This is something we can see in arguments made by many atheists/sceptics, who often declare that morality is based on personal opinion, rather than being something more objective and outside of personal opinion. So, in other words, if a person sees being homosexual as immoral, then that thing is immoral to that person. In the absence of a universal standard, then the fact that you or I might see it nothing wrong with it is irrelevant. Telling the other person that there is nothing immoral about homosexuality is a meaningless statement, because they define what is moral and immoral in their experience. So, as Molyneux says, in the discarding of universal ethics, all ethics are merely personal value judgements. Each one is as correct as the other, because there is no ‘determining factor’ beyond that personal value judgement. The left is just as correct as the right as far as values go.
So, and as much as I hate to say this, Molyneux was actually right here. To say that he has said nothing is incorrect, and to say that what he said was simply ‘word salad’ was also incorrect. What he has said is actually something very important, and a part of several important philosophical questions in the topic of ethics/morality. Questions like, if there is no God, then what grounds our ethics? What rises questions about right and wrong above mere personal opinions? Why should your opinion have sway over another person, and what makes another person’s opinion wrong? So, unfortunately, PigPuncher was also incorrect to say that ‘it sounds good if you don’t know what you’re talking about’, because it is knowing what you’re talking about that actually shows that what Molyneux is saying actually is something of import in philosophy. The fact that someone does not understand what the other person is saying does not necessarily mean the other person is ‘saying nothing’ or putting forward ‘word salad’. Something we will discuss later. For now, we will stick to the topic of ethics and morals being based entirely on personal opinion. For now, let us unpack PigPuncher’s statement about ‘being a good person’.
We will not go into this in great detail, because there is a great amount that can be said about this. However, what exactly do we mean when we say that someone is ‘a good person’? Generally, what we are saying when someone is ‘a good person’ is that they have certain character qualities and attributes, and values, that we find positive and moral. We all hold certain moral standards and values, and admire certain character qualities and attributes, and when we see these in other people then we call them ‘good’. We also hold certain moral standards and values that we describe as ‘bad’, and the same with certain character qualities and attributes. When we see these standards, values, qualities, and attributes, in others, then we call those people ‘bad’. Now here is the problem. Those qualities in yourself that make you think you are good, and those you see reflected in others that makes you call them good, may be those qualities that those you call ‘bad’ call ‘good’. To them, you are the ‘bad’ person for holding the qualities that you do. So, in a case like this, if all values are merely representations of personal opinions, what determines who is right? If all moral values are mere personal opinion, and personal opinion determines what is moral, then you are the ‘bad’ guy to them, and your opinion counts for nothing for them. You can argue from certain axioms, and say this is why you hold these opinions, and why you think these opinions are good, but none of these axioms and opinions go towards showing that the people you call ‘bad’ are wrong. Only values outside of personal opinion can do that. Which is what Molyneux’s argument is driving out, and what the ethical problem is.
We could of course get into the finer details of this argument here, but the purpose here is simply to show the argument that Molyneux is making in his opening statement. If anyone would like to look deeper into the subject, then the best places to start are with moral subjectivism and moral relativism. This is also highly recommended to those atheist and sceptics that often argue that all morals are based on personal, yet also argue that slavery is categorically wrong, or that stoning a person to death is ‘evil’. As mentioned previously, this is one of the things that interested me in responding to PigPuncher’s video. The fact that this argument is one that is often misunderstood, overlooked, and simply ignored by many atheists and sceptics that argue for moral subjectivism and moral relativism. So, as we can see, especially if readers look further into the topic of moral subjectivism and moral relativism, what Molyneux says here is not ‘a word salad’. Which brings us to our next point, claims of things being ‘word salad’. What exactly is it that makes something ‘a word salad’?
Well, according to PigPuncher in this video, it is the fact that PigPuncher knows enough about this topic to know that Molyneux is saying nothing in his opening statement, and Molyneux’s statement is ‘nothing but word salad’. Yet, as shown above, Molyneux is actually saying something of importance when it comes to ethics and values. So, it appears that in this case what Molyneux says is dismissed as ‘word salad’ not because PigPuncher is informed, but because PigPuncher is uninformed. It could be argued that Molyneux uses an overdose of terminology, making Molyneux’s statement complex and hard to understand. Yet, when you listen to Molyneux’s statement you can hear that the wording is simple and plain English. So, it is not an overdose of terminology causing it to sound like word salad. However, even if it was an overdose of terminology causing it to sound like word salad, that still would not make it word salad. A ‘word salad’ is usually when the speaker throws together a bunch of words that make it sound like the speaker is educated and informed, when in fact is speaking gibberish.
This means that even in the case of a speaker using an overload of academic and/or specific terminology, the use of that terminology does not necessarily make what the speaker is saying ‘word salad’. If the content is there, and provided by the terminology, then it cannot be a word salad. It simply means that the listener is not informed enough to understand what is being said. Yet many will still dismiss what is being said as ‘word salad’. This is one of the reasons why I try to write in such a way that as many people can understand it as possible, because I want as many people to understand it as possible. However, Molyneux’s language was straightforward in this instance, and yet what he says is still dismissed as ‘word salad’ by PigPuncher and PigPuncher’s viewers. So, if Molyneux’s language was fairly straightforward in this instance, then why did PigPuncher and his viewers dismiss it as ‘word salad’?
Well if we start with the claim that PigPuncher made, stating that he knows that Molyneux is saying nothing, because PigPuncher knows what he is talking about. Right here is the start of the problem, an illusion of knowledge on the part of PigPuncher. PigPuncher believes he is informed about the topic, while not actually being informed of the topic. He also, more than likely, dismisses what Molyneux says because he dislikes Molyneux; and disliking Molyneux is understandable. However, our dislike for someone should not determine whether or not what the person we dislike is saying is correct, and disliking someone should not be grounds for simply dismissing what they say as ‘word salad’. Reasons for which I will explain shortly. However, we will keep on the topic of PigPuncher’s dismissal of Molyneux’s argument for now. It seems that PigPuncher’s dismissal of Molyneux’s claim was based on being uninformed about the topic he was speaking, while believing that he was informed. This is something we should always be mindful of. It is easy for most of us, including myself, to fall into the trap that we are well informed of a topic when we are not. It becomes even easier to fall into that trap when we are surrounded by people that reinforce that belief by agreeing with us, when those people are also uninformed about the topic. It becomes a belief reinforced by consensus, rather than knowledge reinforced by learning.
Which can be dangerous when the original speaker commands an audience, because that misinformation and misunderstanding spreads, and the listener takes it as knowledge because they have got that misinformation and misunderstanding from someone they respect. They become likely to dismiss information that goes against what they believe because they got the information originally from someone they see as a teacher, even if that person is not necessarily a teacher. Someone with command of an audience, and someone whose words are taken as a valid source of information, has something of a duty to try to ensure that they do not spread misinformation and misunderstandings. Something I know that PigPuncher does his best to do, which is one of the reasons I feel comfortable responding to his video. I believe that he would want to be shown his error in order to improve in the future.
The other reason that this becomes important is because while those who already align with PigPuncher’s beliefs, and ideas, and already see PigPuncher as someone who is trustworthy for information, there are those who are not that might see PigPuncher’s video. They may see PigPuncher claiming that Molyneux is saying nothing, and they may understand that Molyneux is actually saying something important. In a case like that they may be pushed further towards Molyneux, because they falsely believe that Molyneux is the one worth following. Think of it as a trojan horse scenario, Molyneux leads in with a truth, and an important truth, and hidden inside that truth is falsehoods that lead people down a path that we would rather they were not led down. It is important that those that oppose people like Molyneux do so honestly, and do so while being informed. Dismissing Molyneux’s ideas because you do not understand them may work for those who already oppose Molyneux, but it is a dangerous tactic to use on those who are looking for someone to follow. They may feel that it is Molyneux that is informed, and hitch their wagon to him instead.