Sowing Discourse: The Argument From Trepidation

So there was this show in the 1990s that was a bit of surprise hit and ran for five seasons (though it is largely forgotten now) called *Northern Exposure.* Like a lot of shows of that era, much of the drama was driven by a “will they or won’t they” thing between two of the characters.

Rob Morrow plays Joel Fleischman a young doctor from New York City who has to practice in an underserved area for four years in order to cover his medical school debts, which lands him in a tiny fictional town of Cicely, Alaska. He has a love-hate relationship with a pilot named Maggie O’Connell, played by the incredible knockout Janine Turner. They kind of hate each other, kind of want to jump each other’s bones.

I think it’s in season one (though seriously no idea) when O’Connell calls Fleischman a Republican or something and he replies that he thinks of himself more as a “SOMETHING free-thinking SOMETHING SOMETHING.”

I don’t know if I saw this later in syndication or saw it at the time (I think most likely the former) but that phrase “free-thinking” jumped out at me and it always, always has ever since. The phrase purports to be one that could apply to anyone. Pluck any name out of the phone book and any of them in theory should be equally likely to identify as “free-thinking” — just people who march to their own drummer, not really joiners, not really following any crowd.

It should.

But it doesn’t.

There’s no open label

Somehow — and I’ve spent years and years in circles where I’m exposed to enough politically identifying people that I should know — you only ever seem to hear defensive men who wear sunglasses all the time and probably have elaborate hair hiding a bald spot that speak of themselves as “free thinking.”

And, “free thinking” people are always Libertarian. Which is fine. Other than the fact that people who call themselves “free-thinking” are kidding themselves and trying to kid you. It’s a sort of flex, but like a computer nerd telling you he’s great with nunchuks kind of flex. “I just shed the shackles of the dominant paradigm and just ended up here." Weird that you never meet anyone who like, I don’t know, questions the nuclear family or has some very bizarre ontology or an extremely hardcore Rortian who calls themselves free-thinking, though? Huh?

It’s all just y’all Ron Paul types! (and lest anyone decide to explain why not all Libertarians are Ron Paul types: idgaf)

The truth is there just isn’t a label that applies to people who have really liberated their thoughts, because anyone thinking with conviction may do so but they will also end up with some kind of stance and you can always put a label on them at that point whether they like it or not. As Locke said: Labels save us all time.

The only genuinely “free thinking” people are the ones who only want to be happy and just go with the flow wherever they’ve landed, but they aren’t going to describe themselves that way because the last thing that lot wants to do is interrogate how they think. They want to know where folks are meeting for happy hour.

If any serious person of conviction wants to try to label their approach in some open congenial way, their label is just going to end up being associated with the underlying positions taken by anyone who advanced it. And it should be! Because “free-thinking” and any label like it is a con.

We all want to think we are special snowflakes though.

At last, Sowing Discourse

Which leads me to this episode of the YouTube show Sowing Discourse (also podcasted as “Break the Rules”).

I found this because I was looking for more information about Logo Daedalus, the most frequent co-host on Kantbot’s podcast, Pseudodoxology. I had this impression that he had managed to make his own modest amounts of hay out there in the world but I didn’t know the story and couldn’t find it.

I listened to most of this episode and I still don’t really know it. A lot of obtuse references to past controversies but they don’t get unpacked. Here’s what I learned about Logo on this episode: he is conscientiously pseudonymous, there used to be a thing called “Frog Twitter” (which doesn’t really get unpacked and googling it is useless) and he interacts with Nick Land on Twitter fairly often.

(his 2019 conversation with Justin Murphy is more illuminating)

Otherwise Logo and the Discourse lads had a weirdly adversarial conversation about philosophy, which was only weirdly adversarial because the hosts went so overboard to explain how open and accepting they are at the start of the show.

Normally I wouldn’t write about something I have nothing good to say about but I think the Sowing Discourse lads illustrate an intellectual pose that’s not helping them or anyone, so I’m drawing attention to it. It’s one I see all over the place later, among members of any ascending or aspirant political tribe.

The Logo show is not a good show and they do not have an illuminating conversation, but if to understand how to genuinely function as a curious person in this world, watch it as a good example of what not to do.

What is the argument from trepidation?

The Sowing Discourse hosts, Lev and Jules, approach conversation from a standpoint of fear. Their whole discourse is born of something I just made up called the argument of trepidation (which is really a better word than “fear” because its very consonant structure suggests a halting series of hesitations, and that’s really what I’m directing my opprobrium at here).

Their first priority the priority of anyone making the argument from trepidation is: “First we have to make sure you aren’t scary” and then “we can talk.” But anyone operating from the standpoint of trepidation is going to keep checking to make sure you aren’t scary.

With every statement Logo makes they are poking it and prodding it to see if something about it falls into a category that scares them. It might actually be the first direct semi-question when one of them asks him (at the end of a trepidation infused soliloquy) to confirm that he’s not a racist.

From there throughout the conversation the hosts are on a defensive posture all the way through.

Great example: they ask him to explain Accelerationism, the philosophical vein associated with Nick Land.

So Logo uses the example of large states starting to fall apart and dissolve into smaller states, a process usually labelled as Balkanization.

One of them jumps up to say that he doesn’t think that’s possible in the U.S. because of the strength of our Constitution.

Oh boy.

This instant dismissal of a big wild thought is basically case in point of the argument from trepidation.

And look guys: I hate to break it to you but the U.S. could definitely Balkanize. Any nation could. In fact the process might already have started and we just don’t know it yet. Rome didn’t fall in a day! If someone came back in time from like 2103 and told me that the U.S. would become, say, 11 separate little countries made up from various states that peeled off together, I would not be surprised.

I’d probably say, “Let me guess: historians generally agree that the dissolution began in 2000 with the Bush v. Gore decision, right?”

And he’d say, “Wow, dead on. How did you know that?”

And I’d say, “Oh I didn’t know I just thought it through one day for this example I wanted to make in a blog post I wrote in 2020.”

And he’d say, “Right on, brother. Hey guess what? Blogs are still totally kicking.”

And I’d say, “Of course they are. Blogs rock.”

And we’d fist bump.

Anyway! The point is: if someone says to you “this philosophy is about breaking up countries” the curious response is: “How do they think that could work?” not the fear-based response: “That’s impossible! These colors don’t run!”

Further, early on Logo makes the point that in the U.S. any commentator is lumped into the basket of deplorables any time the mainstream can’t easily label a thinker as Democrat or Republican. He asserts that there’s no third bucket, which leads to this great moment when the more aggro of the two hosts says that he thinks there is.

The third bucket, in his mind, is Libertarian.

And Logo says, roughly, “Of course you do. You’re Libertarian right?”

This takes the guy aback because he hasn’t said he’s libertarian so far. Later Logo reiterates it and says that he can just tell they are both libertarian because of the way they talk. Which is both 🅰️ very fair and 🅱️ the last thing any libertarian wants to hear because they have all actually bought this whole “free thinking” myth.

Also yes they are libertarians. Monopolies are a myth. Blah. Blah. Blah. (👨🔫) How’s that that thing in New Hampshire going by the way, guys?

Break your thinking free (lol)


Here’s an easy heuristic for sorting out whether your next question in a conversation is coming from a place of trepidation (bad) or curiosity (good).

The next question you want to ask when talking to someone new about heavy stuff, look at the words you want to say in your mind and ask yourself which of these two sentences your sentence sounds more akin to:

(1) What do you really mean? What are you saying?

(2) Can you tell me more about that because this is a new perspective for me?

Almost every question they ask is some variation on the first, which the fear question.

And look you can just force yourself to do it. It’s like smiling when you feel like shit, it helps. Even if you are deeply suspicious of someone and want to ask the first question, ask the second anyway. Make yourself. It may not come from a place of genuine openness but it will help you get there.

It’s a lot better than fronting like open-minded without being open-minded at all. Because wild ideas scare you. Like these YouTubers.

By the end of the show Logo seems to kind of want to troll them a little so he steers them back to a conversation they had fenced over a bit before, about Human Rights (Logo also scared them by saying that there was nothing natural about “human rights,” calling it an Enlightenment idea that’s become a consensus in the West)(as we’ve discussed before, the Red Scare girls very much agree).

Logo’s aim here seems to be to get the aggro one to give some of his background position on the world, which he does and then Logo points out that it’s all plucked straight from the old Protestant psalm book.

To no one’s surprise, the young libertarian nearly panics and says that that’s not possible because he’s an atheist.

Which like…

Of course he is.