The Sophists

The word “sophist” has an entirely negative connotation today, owing mostly to Plato, who had Socrates debate the sophists in his dialogue Gorgias. In that dialogue, Socrates revealed the flaws of the sophistic oratory popular in Athens. The art of persuasion was popular with the Greeks of that age, as it was the key to success in politics and law. Socrates argued that rhetoric without philosophy, is just an effort to persuade for personal gain. Worse, it could justify falsehood over truth.

In ancient Greece, however, to be a sophist was something different than what we think today. They were teachers, often highly esteemed. They were hired by the wealthy to educate their children and prepare them for a public life. They also had a great deal of influence on the development of the law and political theory. Despite this, what has come down to us is a generally negative view of the sophists.  That’s because we have little of their writings, but we have a lot from their critics like Plato and Aristotle.

Despite this incomplete record, we can get some sense of what the sophists were about by looking around the current age for people we could describe as public philosophers for hire. We don’t have men walking the streets in togas, offering to persuade us of something for a fee, but we do have plenty of public intellectuals. The ones we see on television are not really philosophers for hire, as they work in universities, think tanks and media companies. They are not hiring themselves out on-demand.

We do have people on-line, however, who make a living selling books, videos and public appearances, in order to support themselves. Stefan Molyneux is probably the best example, as he actually calls himself a philosopher. He’s also written a book on persuasion. Scott Adams is another guy, who has carved out a career on-line, where he offers arguments you can use on friends and family. Coincidentally, he has written a book on persuasion too. Amusingly, he claims to be a hypnotist, not a philosopher.

Molyneux and Adams are a good starting place as both are explicit in their goals and they are both heavily invested in the personal presentation. Molyneux stands in front of a camera and talks to you as if you’re two guys at a party. It’s intended to relax the viewers and make them receptive. Similarly, Adams does his act from his kitchen table. The desired effect is that the viewer feels like he is sitting across from his old buddy Scott Adams, talking about the issues of the day. Relaxed people are more persuadable.

The other thing you see with both is they put that camera right up on their face, so the viewer is then up close and personal. This makes it possible to communicate with facial expressions, rather than just words. Adams puts the camera so close to his face at times it is a bit uncomfortable. His dentists does not get that close. Molyneux is more subtle and polished than Adams, owing to his theater training. He did a video touring his new studio and the sophisticated tools he uses to achieve the desired effect.

In fact, Molyneux’s performance cannot work without his exaggerated facial expressions to compliment the audio. This recent video he did, addressing criticism of his book, is incomprehensible without Molyneux’s exaggerated facial tics. If you just listen to it, it sounds like gibberish. Adams is a little less reliant on the facial cues, but as you see in this recent video, he needs them to make it work. Notice the ridiculously large coffee mug he uses in the welcoming phase of his performance.

The use of props and exaggerated facial expressions is not new. Jon Stewart got rich using exaggerated irony face on Comedy Central. Without the over-the-top clown face stuff, his jokes don’t work. His faces are cues to the audience.  You laugh, because you are smart and get the joke. The joke is always about how the people outside the hive are dumb and mean, unlike the people inside laughing at Jon Stewart doing exaggerated irony face, while watching clips of the bad people.

This is something Plato observed. Sophistry is a form of flattery. The sophist first establishes himself as a wise man. He then convinces you of something through his clever rhetoric. Once you agree, you become a wise man too. It’s why some people reading this will react negatively at what they view as criticism of their favorite guy. The teacher becomes a projection of the student’s sense of self, therefore, any focus on or criticism of the teacher is viewed as a personal affront to the student.

What this tells us is the sophist of ancient Athens were probably very charismatic people, who had very loyal followings. Socrates could easily be hated, because his criticism of the sophists was, in effect, a criticism of Athens. It also might explain why they left behind little in the way of writing. Their presentation was mostly visual. Writing it down not only would have made it easy to analyze, it would not have made much sense. The scribe taking notes could not capture the facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice.

Tone of voice is another aspect we can examine. The guy Molyneux addresses in that video is someone calling himself Rationality Rules. Again, a big part of his presentation is the visual. He stands in front of a camera doing the hipster douche bag act. You’ll also note the over-the-top sense of urgency in his voice. He’s almost pleading with the viewer to listen to him. Up-talking, emotive tones and so forth are highly effective on the millennials, so it is a persuasive tactic that compliments the rhetoric.

A fellow calling himself The Alternative Hypothesis combines the visual and the audio to create a sense of urgency. Instead of standing in front of the camera, like the other sophists on YouTube, he weaves in clips from movies and still shots from cool paintings, to complement his audio. It is extremely clever and quite effective. Seeing an excited Kevin Branagh, playing Henry V, as the narrator lowers the boom on JF Gariepy, is both flattering, exhilarating and convincing. It is a very clever presentation.

Again, what we can learn about the sophists of ancient Greece, by observing their modern analogs, is that the old guys were probably quite charming. A guy like Molyneux is impossible to hate, even if you hate what he says. It’s how he can be a race realist on Twitter and speak in public. The videos from The Alternative Hypothesis are a lot of fun and they are informative. Scott Adams makes people laugh with his observations and cartoons. Odds are, the ancient sophists were every bit as likable and charming.

Of course, there is that old charge of speciousness and dishonestly, with regards to the sophists of ancient Athens. Any comparison between our moderns and the ancients has to address it. Our modern sophists are prone to logical fallacies and they can be quite prickly about criticisms. We know the ancients were prone to logical fallacies and they did help condemn Socrates, so that is a useful comparison. It suggests our moderns are just as prone to placing rhetoric ahead of truth as the sophists of ancient Greece.

It also suggests that the range of quality among the ancient sophists was quite broad and they had their good days and bad days. Scott Adams is unlikely to argue that Molyneux should drink hemlock. The Alternative Hypothesis is not going to argue that it is an advantage of his profession that a man can be considered above specialists without having to learn anything of substance. For many of our modern sophists, the truth is important, so it is fair to assume the same was true in ancient Greece.

Still, there is the nagging issue of persuasion versus truth. The one thing we know about the sophists is they thought all knowledge is opinion. Therefore, if everyone believes X to be true, then X is true. That means there can be no rational or irrational arguments, because human beliefs are situational. It is simply what people believe at any moment in time. This is why persuasion was so important to the sophists. To be correct was simply a process whereby you convinced your fellows you have the correct opinion.

This is probably a symptom of democracy and another insight we can draw by comparing our modern sophists with those of ancient Greece. In a democracy, there is no arbiter of truth other than fifty percent plus one. In a monarchy, the king is the truth, so there is no need for debate, outside of his advisers. In a theocracy, dogma is the truth and the clergy are those who apply it to policy. What little debate required is not about the truth, but about the application of truth. Again, there is no need to persuade.

In a democracy the truth is what the majority says it is. There is no central authority to arbitrate and there’s no written text that cannot be debated. The law itself becomes a source of dispute and contention in order to bring the dispute to the people for a vote between opposing opinions. Similarly, the market place is about winning market share by convincing customers you have the best product. There’s no right product or service, just arguments and competition between them to win the crowd.

This is a good time to mention something the Persian King Cyrus the Great observed about the Greeks. Herodotus describes Cyrus’s meeting with the Spartan envoy Lacrines, who warns the Persian king against destroying a Greek city. Cyrus’s replied that he feared no people who cheated one another on the Agora. In other words, at the heart of the market place is a lie. The seller tries to deceive the buyer and the buyer tries to deceive the seller. The same can be said for debate in a democracy.

This suggests sophistry is a naturally occurring product of democracy. Sophistry is to a democracy what marketing is to the free market. When there is a product to be sold, a pitch man arrives to sell it. As soon as there is the first vote, a debater arrives to plead the case, on behalf of the highest bidder. If cheating is the true currency of the market, sophistry and deception are the currency of every democracy. There is no truth in the market place and there is no truth in public debate. There is only equilibria.

Finally, one unmistakable feature of itinerant YouTube philosophers is they have very thin skins, taking all criticism as an offense to their honor. A big part of the YouTube philosopher world is these guys doing videos attacking one another and responding to these attacks. Part of it is attention seeking. Most likely, the ancients relied on the same tactic to get noticed. People like drama and the best sort of drama is when two people get into a heated dispute in public. Again, it is safe to assume this was true in Athens.

Another part of it though is the fact that status within the sophist community is determined by how one’s persuasion game is judged. If other sophists are picking you apart, you have to defend yourself, as they are literally trying to harm you. Criticizing the argument is the same as criticizing the man. When rhetoric is the coin of the realm, someone appearing to diminish your rhetoric game is stealing money from your pocket. It’s why a Molyneux feels the need to respond to a two year old video ripping his book.

Spengler observed that there is a cosmopolitan condition both at the beginning and at the end of every Culture. The one at the beginning is the flowering of that culture that comes from the work of those who built it. The one at the end is more like a funeral march for the death of those who made the culture possible. The sophist flourished in the golden age of Greece. It was the full becoming of Greek culture. Perhaps we are experiencing something similar. Our explosion of sophistry is our denouement as well.

94 thoughts on “The Sophists

  1. Listened to Adams (most every Periscope since summer ’16), Molyneaux (everything of interest) and Z Man(every Youtube) for years. In terms of numbers Adams and Molyneaux have a substantial following and a broad influence evidenced by references, both attributed and unattributed, across the media landscape, positive and negative. Z Man not so much. Some schticks find resonance and achieve reach, others don’t.

    • Pat. It has nothing to do with your last, supposedly clinching, sentence. The other guys you mentioned are much nearer to mainstream. Z is a true dissident. By definition, he’s not going to have a broad audience. And there’s nothing “schticky” about him. He just has a compelling manner. In other words, he’s cool, you doofis.

  2. Excellent post.

    Z: “A fellow calling himself The Alternative Hypothesis combines the visual and the audio to create a sense of urgency…It is extremely clever and quite effective.”

    Yep. Sort of a documentary approach. A well funded PBS documentary is pretty much an hour-long hypnotherapy session. Docs are the height of meticulous manipulation. Unless you know the subject well, resistance is near impossible. I’ve watched documentaries with salty men who think of themselves as walking bullshit detectors. The kind of guys whose go-to life advice is “trust no one”. Yet they glaze over and melt into pink goo in the hands of the skilled cult-marx documentarian.

    As for the big YouTube voices, one can’t be too hard on the guys who do it with flare, JUST because they do it with flare. While listening critically, you can still stand back and admire the performance art. As Z says, “Odds are, the ancient sophists were every bit as likable and charming.” It’s hard to properly hate Milo, Don King, Jimmy Swaggart, etc. It’s even hard to hate a car salesman who got one over on you, if he’s cool enough.

    Why are men so much better salesmen/sophists than women? It would be just another sex difference not even worth mentioning, except that the difference is so colossal.

    Some Alt-Right lady killer has probably explained it perfectly. Is it men’s natural authority? The easily articulated knowledge? The voice? Take Zman. The avuncular tone and man’s-man cadence could turn a Lefty into a Dissident Rightist in a single segment, if he wasn’t listening very closely. All the top guys have natural skills they’re gonna use. Z has his own way of seduction, with his come hither phrases, “Well, the thing is.” “That’s the thing.” “But, you have to remember.” I feel the adolescent urge to yell, “NO. I’ll tell YOU what the THING is that I have to REMEMBER.”

    • @Frip:
      That’s an interesting point about men being better salesmen (NOT “salespeople”) than women.
      Regarding your point about “easily articulated knowledge” = I think only when they are specialized, are they good.
      In general, I think women can often (not always) be higher on the verbal communication scale than men.
      At least, that’s been my experience.
      I think men are good salesmen b/c they are good at working with THINGS. Objects. Tinkering. Fixing. Engineering.
      Women are naturally more wired to work with people in the “helping professions”: teacher, nurse, nun, etc. (At least, in the old days….)
      I’m speaking strictly here from a “sex differences” perspective.
      Keep in mind that I am not at all referring to the CONTENT of what comes out of the mouths of crazy Femi n a z i cat ladies.

  3. ” A big part of the YouTube philosopher world is these guys doing videos attacking one another and responding to these attacks. Part of it is attention seeking. ”

    This is done almost certainly to acquire more views. Manufactured conflict always creates interest. The youtube fitness racket engages in the same thing.

    TuPac Shakur also admitted that the east coast/west coast rap rivalry of the 90’s was pretty much fabricated in order to sell records.

  4. I agree with Scott Adams about people changing their mind because they want to and not because of information they are presented with. I have only read about the classical education later in my life and it might just be that the state school didn’t provide me with the necessary tools for grasping the meaning of intellectual curiosity, but I’m still mostly seeking out evidence to support my view.

    With Stefan Molyneux I’m kind of split with his artisanal approach. I got pulled in quickly by his videos, because it was so outside the mainstream I had consumed up until then. The guy has it pretty easy since he has got the foundations for most of his philosophy laid out by others and he is now acting as the transmitter of those ideas.
    But the theatrics of Molyneux and the pandering of the liberal comedians The Z Man both mentioned are something that I don’t like about Molyneux’s workmanship. The words of a very famous late night host and former theater player stuck with me when he talked about failing to klick with an audience: You either pull through and bomb or you pander to the audience. Never pander to the audience! They’ll never forgive you.

    That’s why I can’t stand those modern American late night hosts pandering to the masses. They’re not even a David Letterman anymore. When Molyneux did this pandering combined with bad acting or setting, I didn’t get into the videos because I was like a coach thinking about how he could have done this better. When he was tackling difficult stuff I was engaged and I remember once or twice even getting wet eyes with him about some story.
    I haven’t followed him very much though for the last year and his black and white Twitter image is like a comical version of what an intellectual has to look like.

    But I bet The Z Man also has the same thoughts when listening to podcasts or reading blogs.

    • Can a mere “transmitter of knowledge” be synonymous with “reinventing the goddamn wheel for the umpteenth time”?

  5. One of my favorite lines from “History of the World, Part 1” was an exchange between Mel Brooks and a woman working in an unemployment office:

    He stated his occupation as “stand-up philosopher” to which the woman at the unemployment office shot back “Oh, you’re a bullshit artist!”

  6. Since 2011 I’ve witnessed Molyneux’s transformation from a priggish anarcho-capitalist into a dissident right race realist, and judge it to be a genuine Damascene conversion. I’m glad that you and him are both out there, doing what you’re doing.

    • In the beginning of this decade there was talk of a “libertarian moment” with the prominence of the Pauls. The typical background of a RP supporter was a single male, who had disposable income. Now those people have moved on, so Molyneux followed the crowd. It’s no accident that Mormons are practically unheard of in our spheres, or why lightweights like his sidekick Lauren Steinem…err Southern are so prominent.

  7. I really enjoyed this short essay, Zman. I, too, found it hard to guess what the Greek Sophists were all about, given the rather incomplete view of them presented in a university survey-level course on philosophy. You provided me with a lot of food for thought.

  8. Really great post Zman, looks like you put a lot of effort into it.

    The English tradition of self government is based on the rule of the best at arguing. At least ideally. In practice Parliament has always been something of a room full of guys with fuck you money yelling fuck you at each other. But at its best question time with the prime minister is a genuine combination of sound logic conveyed by effective rhetoric. When we criticize sophistry I think we’re criticizing a corruption of the ideal, vacuous or unsound logic conveyed by effective rhetoric.

    Also curious, have you encountered the theory that Socrates was a fictional character Plato invented to convey his philosophy?

    • Plato saw rhetoric as the compliment to morality. A great argument is great if it is true, while a great argument that is false is, at best worthless and at worth dangerous. Aristotle put rhetoric, dialectic and logic together. Persuasion (rhetoric) is a tool in a debate (dialectic) bounded by known facts (logic). That’s how the Jesuits taught us to remember it.

      • Plato was the best. If only he wasn’t a pederast. I guess they all were back then. He sure as hell nailed it with the cave theory. I’ve personally experienced that people only get upset when you drag them out of the cave and show them that they were watching shadows. They only heap abuse on you. In the end they just need to do what they’re told, which proves that dictatorship is far more robust than democracy.

  9. Democracy and sophistry go together like bacon and eggs. As human beings, we’re hard wired to be in a pyramidical structure. We’re born to be told what to do at the end of a weapon. It’s been a successful breeding strategy. The peons/peasants have kids, a smart one may become some vassal, and a smart vassal may go even higher to minor royalty, etc.

    Suddenly you throw democracy in the mix and over 80% of humanity being hard wired for structure, begins looking for their shepherds. And there are many, many competing shepherds in democracy. The shepherds happen to be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    Almost all conservative and liberal commentators are frauds. Rachel Maddow is good at this too, with the audio of crisp page turns as the camera exits to commercial. Rush Limbaugh, when he had his short lived TV show pioneered the funny face as liberal politicians talk. This would have been the early 90’s.

    Stefan Molyneux, with his exotic euro-name, feigns a muddled limey accent when he should be talking like a Canadian hockey player. He can’t even stick to his limey accent for over 30 seconds at a time. People like this know that a limey accent in U.S. culture falsely connotes sophistication and education.

    Speaking of Canadians, notice the vast Canadian influence of them in circles like this, Gavin McInnes, Steven Crowder, etc., all frauds. You can like what they say, but know they’re frauds. Canadians are able to float above American culture, and understand its intricacies, while not quite being part of it. They have an advantage in that respect.

    You see it in financial media too. Dave Ramsey, total fraud, that happens to be right when he tells Crystal and Skeeter who live in a trailer park, to sell their new BMW using a cheap, misconstrued bible quote. Fraud is everywhere, it’s the sign of our times, nothing is real, including the very money in our pockets. And sadly, people are very loyal to their shepherds, only jumping off the train after some big scandal. I’m sure eventually Dave Ramsey or Sean Hannity will be caught with whores or something. That glassy eyed coke head Glen Beck already had his blow up.

  10. In an age of mob rule, all public discourse is either happy talk or scapegoating.

    The problem arises when the social order runs too afoul of the natural order. In the end, the final arbiter is nature. Too much conflict and things can collapse in a convulsion. Maintain the poz at borderline levels and the rot can snail along for ages.

  11. Once upon a time, conveying wisdom to youth was a significant enhancement to the continued survival of the tribe. In those days, acquisition and validation as of specific knowledge as wisdom was a long process and change was slow. Religious precepts and “common sense” aphorisms are examples of the messaging used to convey this wisdom in the age of civilization. Sophistry can be an aid to this process if it reinforces the conveyance of ancient wisdom, or it can be disease that distorts or prevents it’s conveyance. In the old days when bad advice could get you killed, fitness selection purged the charlatans.

  12. Interestingly, I’ve listened to a lot of Moly podcasts but rarely watched him on YouTube, so I only know him from voice.

    Anyway, I can’t figure Moly out in a similar way that I can’t figure Steve Sailer out. Moly knows about race and IQ, race and genetics in general. He understands that blacks, Hispanics and Asians will never think like whites, and, in particular, they will never believe in his beloved libertarianism, which is very much a white guy thing. He also fights back against the attack on whites. (How he gets away with this Crimethink without get deplatformed, I don’t know.)

    He walks right up to the line of white identity and white nationalism but then retreats to the safety of libertarianism. I often here him decry “racism” of any kind. He’s similar to Peterson in the sense that he recognizes racial differences and the attacks against whites, but instead of coming to the conclusion that whites should form their groups, communities, and, eventually, homelands, he concludes that we should all just treat each other as individuals, that “racism” of any kind is bad, even when he acknowledges that other races think tribally making this impossible.

    (Like Peterson, Moly also doesn’t consider the idea that perhaps “racism” might be a good thing, much like a prefer my family over others.)

    My guess is that Moly’s retreat to libertarianism is a way to protect himself. He knows that he would be deplatformed if he reached the logical conclusion so he plays a game: Walk people up to the line and hope that they figure out what to do next. Then again, maybe he believes all that libertarianism/individualism crap.

    Sailer is similar. Nobody knows the score better than Steve. Yet, he sticks with his CivNat strategy, which he of all people knows will fail over time as the demographics change. He writes as though it’s still 1998, and we still have a chance to save the white-dominated United States if we can just convince some higher level Jews and Good Whites that a black and brown America might not be so good for them either.

    But that time has passed. Even if you convinced them at this point, it’s too late. Steve knows this, yet he continues to act as though we’re in a debate instead of a bar fight. It’s time to think of what comes next and figure out the best path for whites who want to save their people, but Steve doesn’t want to make that change. Why?

    • My guess would be age. People’s worldview becomes ossified with time. It’s why the boomers get so much grief. The ones who are /ourguys/ generally figured this stuff out when they were much younger. It took more foresight to see where we were headed back when Amerika had a large White majority.

      The silver lining to the mess today is that it is easier to redpill younger people because you don’t need autistic graphs and obscure Frankfurt School books to convince them we’re heading off a cliff. They live it.

      • Maybe, but I’m a GenXer who grew up in a world much like the world that Boomers grew up in. All GenXers grew up in a country that was overwhelmingly white. Yet, we’ve changed our views.

        Most of us around here were Moly/Sailer types 20 years ago, yet here we are. If we can figure out that facts on the ground have changed, so can those two guys.

        My guess is that Moly is playing a game, that he’s closer to us than he lets on to stay in the game. Sadly, with Sailer, I think that he doesn’t want to face the reality that his world is dying. Also, Sailer is best at chiding and exposing the hypocrisy of the elites. Maybe he’s just not an action guy. The court jester, not the king.

        • Citizen…I’m a Boomer. Folks indeed can change and become as radical as the next guy (ala this group). ;-). However, I appreciate/understand some of the more widely heard/popular folk such as Moly and Perterson playing their cards close to the vest in order to attract audience and keep from being cast into the void. We need their voices.

          • Yes. I forget the risks that people like Moly and Sailer take. Peterson, I’m not so sure about.

    • Moly was a libertarian first and he remains one today. His biological realism is more adornment than core philosophy. In this regard, he is more an Randian. He would have no problem with the capable abandoning the incapable. He just assumes the capable will be primarily whites, with some Asians, Jews and a few blacks.

      Sailer is a paleocon. The paleos all thought they could convince elite opinion to their way of thinking. That means constructive engagement in the system. Most still think this way. it is the main divide between the paleos and someone like me. I don’t think reform is plausible, much less possible.

      • Agree about Moly and Sailer, but the question still remains why do they remained fixed in their beliefs? Like many around here, I was a very Moly/Sailer-like guy twenty years ago. However, as we discovered new information, we changed our Weltanschauung and, thus, strategy.

        Moly knows that other races/ethnicities are tribal, so a Randian world – even if it was theoretically possible with whites (which it’s not) – would never work with them. Muslims will not embrace an identity-free world where the best rise to make the world better for all. Neither will other groups. Moly knows this, yet he clings to libertarianism and dislike of “racism” and identity politics.

        With Sailer, I understand the world that he comes from, but it’s painfully obvious that constructive engagement in the system is no longer possible. Of all people, he has to know this.

        Basically what I’m saying is this: If everyday rubes like me and others around here could figure out the defects of Moly and Sailer’s philosophies and strategies, those two guys – who are quite intelligent – should have as well. But they haven’t and that doesn’t add up.

        Again, my suspicion is that Moly has figured it out, but is playing the fool to stay in the game. Sailer is the real mystery. It could simply be that he’s a boomer, and accepting that working within the system is no longer viable is tantamount to accepting his world is (or will be soon) destroyed. That it’s over and will never come back.

        You’ve spoken with his type. Do they really believe that we can still work within the system?

        • I think a lot of the paleos just became set in their views and have lost the ability to challenge themselves. Age will do that to you.

          Moly is an entertainer first. He’s like a web 2.0 Rush Limbaugh. As long as you remember they are entertainers who do politics, you can enjoy their act. As long as hey don’t stab right, I have no issue with these guys.

          • Well, I guess that I have that to look forward to. Luckily (sadly?), I suspect that our views will be reasonably on target for a long time to come so probably won’t be an issue.

            Agree on Moly. Even just hearing his voice, I can recognize various rhetorical tricks. He’s an actor putting on a one-man show. He seems to really believe his material, but make no mistake, he’s an entertainer, which is probably a good thing for bringing people to our side.

  13. I think you have really hit on why I don’t watch any of these YouTube videos and I know I’m not alone here. It’s that pleading, wheedling, urgency that is so off-putting because it does seem like they are trying to indoctrinate you into their Cult of Personality and if that were to happen I would be lost because then everything would be filtered through the cult. But I enjoy being alone. I can see why people that don’t would want to be part of that. I just fear the day when they won’t leave me alone

  14. I was a frequent watcher of Scott Adams’ Periscopes until he lost me about a month ago by suggesting there’s no objective truth to be found in the important issues of the day. He spent a few weeks trying to get to the bottom of the global warming swindle, only to give up and say there’s no way to find the truth. That’s BS. Either the earth is warming dangerously, or it isn’t.

    Molyneux appears to be obsessed with race and IQ, as most of his tweets are on this topic. This is a losing issue that will never be accepted in mainstream discourse. The best we can hope for is the end of affirmative action, a position which can be argued on the basis of fairness alone.

    • Being obsessed with race and IQ is a good thing. The more white people are obsessive about it, the better. I see no down side on that topic. It’s why lefty doesn’t want to read or hear about it.

      • Lefties, as we know, are scared to death of human biodiversity, as it sweeps away about 90% of what comprises the footings of their belief system.

        It’s literally become the “third rail” of cocktail conversation. The mere mention of it destroys their mood and sends them off into facial contortions. I have oodles of fun with it.

        But science can only be denied for so long before it sneaks up and grabs you by the throat.

        And facts, as they say, are facts.

      • Lefties don’t want a scientific cause for group differences such as IQ to establish itself. That all groups are equal (before White discrimination takes effect) is foundational to Leftism. Take that away and the entire scam collapses and their raison d’être ceases. It’s an existential threat.

    • Whether “warming” is real or not may turn out to be a question that can be answered by more measurements and better computational fluid dynamics, but whether it is “dangerous” is a political question that only politics can answer; hence the “warming dangerously” question cannot be answered objectively by any sensible measure.

      • Respectfully disagree. Is it dangerous when it’s 100°F outside? Not if you have air conditioning. There is an objective answer to what is dangerous to humans.

      • Not sure more scientific method and analysis can answer a question that basically amounts to academic fraud. And I’m serious here.

    • But you’re already claiming global warming to be a swindle, so the uh, “objective truth”, makes the either/or proposition of danger irrelevant. It’s not as if Adams’ is actually wrong here, either. He’s made a profession out of logical persuasion. From his perspective, where facts and formal logic ironically count for shit but how well you can convince counts for more, global warming is sold so poorly it’s impossible to k ow what you’re buying.

      Besides, at some level, this was recognized because the discussion changed from “global warming” to “climate change” really quick.

  15. One of sophistry’s greatest achievements of the last fifty years was to replace the word “citizen” with “consumer”. The rubes never noticed. The same kind of “fifty percent plus one” logic prevailed in political philosophy as well once the media class were firmly in the saddle with the whip in hand.

  16. Surprised to see no mention of Jordan Peterson. He is certainly the most widely circulated and promoted sophist of the current year. He lacks the history of Adams and Molyneux, but he makes up for it with absolutely brazen subversion.

    • I’m not sure Peterson is a great example. Frankly, I have never been able to get past the Kermit voice so I don’t think I could be fair to him. What little I have reviewed tells me he is an updated version of Stephen Covey. More of a self-improvement guru than a philosopher.

      • Peterson reminds me of that Indian sophist “Chopped Up Okra”…or whatever his name is. Depok Chokra? He exudes this air of “spirituality”, though at the end of his talk, you can’t remember a damned thing he said. Same with Peterson.

    • So you’ve watched Peterson’s classroom lectures? If he’s a subversive, so was I. But perhaps you’d care to elaborate?

    • Subversive? Are you kidding.

      Peterson’s advice for whites to never, ever identify as whites, because only weak people need a group. He’s perfectly fine with bringing in tens of millions of tribal people who will laugh at his brand of individualism as they slit his and our throats.

      Subversive. Peterson is the elite’s wet dream. He’s perfect to divert whites from forming a sense of racial identity to some new age individualism.

      • I have to admit, I was a fan of Peterson’s until a number of things happened. He deplatformed Faith Goldy from a panel discussing of all things, free speech. He also started tweeting the danger of white ethnic identity (only for whites, of course) and even posted nonsense about racial differences being greater within ethnic differences than between different ethnic groups, which Steve Sailer calls “Lewontin’s Fallacy.” These things seemed to come suddenly out of the blue and for no apparent reason, almost like he was instructed to do these things. They happened around the time his book was coming out. Makes you wonder….

        • Peterson discussed this live on a podcast. The short story is that he recognized the irony and thought better of it on the podcast IIRC. That’s about the best his rather large ego would allow. Again, Peterson is a package. You take the good with the bad just as we do with Trump.

      • Citizen…Peterson, an elite’s wet dream? My oh my, is that why every elitist institution in Canada, from National, to Provincial, to University are trying their best to discredit him and have him cast into the void?

        You seem to judge a man by him not stepping up 100% to your expectations and from the comments here so do many others. I tend to judge him by the the enemies he makes. And his establishment enemies are my enemies—and all our enemies as well. Zman once termed such folk as useful (IIRC) in that they serve to delegitimization the Left while legitimizing the Right and get folks thinking and moving in our direction.

        The perfect is the enemy of good enough. Peterson’s good enough as a first step and does way more good for us and the cause than any number of hard core “righties” we discuss (and dismiss) here from time to time.

        • Point taken. I suppose the real question with Peterson is whether he’s a gateway drug or a sedative.

  17. Z Man;
    A truly impressive intellectual tour de force. So many nuggets of insight.

    The marketplace metaphor is fascinating. So Cyrus really believed that there was no cheating in Persian markets_? I’d say Herodotus’ likely hidden point was how insulated from reality Cyrus was. It was recorded in a number of places that it was usually fatal to give Persian kings bad news. Bad way to plan and conduct a military campaign, though, as later events proved.

    One of the proper main functions of government in every age is to minimize information asymmetry (i.e. cheating) in marketplaces under their control. Else there can’t be any marketplaces and everybody, even the king and the elite, are the poorer for it. The First Testament of the Bible is full of admonitions against cheating in the marketplace and it being the duty of the rulers of Israel to keep it that way, for example.

    So maybe Cyrus’ point was that unlike the unruly Greeks where nobody was (apparently) in charge, in *his* marketplaces his officials *were* in charge. Hence there could be no cheating: Still obviously questionable but somewhat less delusional, I’d say. It’s even less delusional if Cyrus had a rigorous system of inspection and summary punishment of cheaters. Of course this just empowers the inspectors to cheat, etc. Apparently being a hated honest inspector is what got the Prophet Daniel thrown into the Persian lion’s den, so there’s evidence for that situation in ancient Persia.

    So if our democracy is a marketplace and if sophists are all about cheating and deception, why aren’t sophists in charge, oh wait_!

    • Good commentary. According to Herodotus, the most disgraceful thing for a Persian to do was to lie. This explains why a Persian king’s edict could not be changed (he was either lying when the edict was written, or he was lying later in trying to change it).

      I’ve always taken what Cyrus said about the Greeks telling each other lies in the marketplace to not mean so much that they lied to each other when bargaining, but rather that the Greek markets were public forums for philosophical discussion. The Greeks’ search for logos (logic, truth) required that ideas be spoken out loud and subjected to scrutiny and push back from others. This necessarily meant that many things would be said in the process that were not true. So I believe Cyrus’ statement was intended as an insult.

      I recall a Greek counselor to Cyrus reportedly gave advice to the king concerning a certain situation. When Cyrus asked if what was being told him was correct, the counselor said something to the effect of, “Sire, if what I say does not come to pass, you may treat me as a liar.” Which means, you may execute me. So yes, the Persians were big on telling the truth and likely had little use for sophistry. (From Dan Carlton’s Hardcore History – King of Kings).

    • “… main functions of government in every age is to minimize information asymmetry …”
      Would you like to buy some red pills?

      A gang of men who arrogated to themselves the power of mass armed robbery (IRS), mass theft (the FED), and violent domination (Regs) relies on “information asymmetry”.

  18. “The ones we see on television are not really philosophers for hire, as they work in universities, think tanks and media companies. They are not hiring themselves out on-demand.”

    Oh they’ve been hired all right. Bought and paid for.

      • The interesting thing about Rush Limbaugh is that he does not like to be on TV. He would agree that the image detracts from the message. He’s quite animated on the “ditto cam”, which is why many don’t bother to watch him. Most people prefer to hear him, not see him. He knows that.

  19. Since I believe the refutal of race realism will lead to the end of Western Civilization, I’m sure glad the sophist/salesman/actor Molyneux is out there using his talent and skills to persuade the masses the truth about race. With nearly a million youtube subscribers and almost 400,000 twitter followers, his reach is greater than Steve Sailer, Jared Taylor, VDare, John Derbyshire, or any of our friends that I can think of. Especially on twitter, Moly has been a nonstop proponent of the white race the last few months.

      • This explains a lot: Stephan Molyneux & Steve Sailer are cancer survivors. But in the background with every cancer surviver is the question: “But for how long?” Hence: the apparent haste in completing his goal evidenced by the prodigious work put out by both of them.

        Dan Kurt

  20. I can’t tell if Scott Adams’ bumbling liberal persona is an act, so that the other zombies don’t figure out he is alive, or is he really that naive, for real? Because he talks about racism in every other video and how Kanye West may be the best musician ever, i mean that must be an act right?

    • I haven’t paid much attention to him since the election, but back then he was doing a bit. “I oppose Trump because I don’t want to be assaulted by wacky leftists.” You have to read between the lines. He is a cartoonist after all.

    • I will say up front that I have never watched or listened to Scott Adam’s podcast (I would rather read than watch). However, I read the comments sections and wow do people shit on him. I wrote him a note saying I was sorry he had to read all that crap on a daily basis. It was unbelievable to me how mean people are to him. I guess I need to watch one of them to see how he presents himself.

  21. Interesting Western Civ lesson about the sophists. I can agree with your two examples of sophistry, but what about little Brian Stelter and the rest of the CNN crew? Is there a difference between sophistry and the narrative engineering the MSM does? Or does what the MSM does not even rise to the level of sophistry?

    • The media in modern America is just the propaganda arm of the state. The sophists were people who made a living as teachers and advocates. They were not employed by the government to promote police favored by government.

      • The media is the propaganda arm only of a portion of the state; that portion would be the democrat party and the communists/socialists (i.e., the democrtats + a few other lefties) within the govt.

        True, many republicans routinely bend over for the dems, but regardless, as soon as they stand straight up, the media is all over them like flies on sh*t calling them out as Nazi’s or KKK .

        Whereas, for the democrats, they can do no wrong at all. They are always immune to any criticism from the media.
        Recall Joe Biden’s comment about the nice (half) Negro, Obama;

        “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Biden said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

        The media was silent about his blatantly racist remark.
        Now imagine any Republican saying this; what would the media say?

        Think of it this way; the Izvestia/Pravda would never say anything negative about Stalin; but Trotsky is a revisionist enemy of the state, a Kulak.
        Yes, both were Marxists and contributed to the death of millions, but not all pigs are created equal. Even among pigs, some are more equal than others.

  22. This is one of the Left’s biggest advantages – they have no NEED of sophists. It’s funny, given that we’re supposedly the acme of “capitalism,” but “salesman” is a dirty word to most Americans. As you say, the way you defuse a Molyneaux type is to point out that he is, in fact, a salesman. He has to defend himself, and then it’s game over. Lefty, by contrast, is unshakeable in his self-righteousness. We love laughing at the ham-handedness of their poz propaganda, but that’s the thing — it’s NOT propaganda. That’s just how they see the world; when they poz everything up, it’s not a sales job, it’s them patting themselves on the back. It never occurs to Lefty that he’s pushing a viewpoint, because he’s certain he’s just repeating gospel truth. That unshakeable certainty is very appealing — people don’t want to think, and won’t, unless they’re forced to.

    • I disagree a bit here. Jon Stewart and his many clones are sophists of a sort. They are more ham-handed with the flattery, but like the sophists of ancient Greece, they control the public debate. Much of what is generated by the NYTimes is based on the assumption there is no truth. The Left’s appeals to democracy as the arbiter of truth.

      I think we probably just know “our side” better, so we see it more clearly. The other side may have more sophistry than us.

      • I knew many people here in Europe who got 100% of all their news about America from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, that show was even on CNN, The Daily Show international edition! And these very same people considered themselves sophisticated and well informed, by watching comedy.

        • Stewart admitted that most people in Europe who watched his show were Americans visiting Europe. He’s famous for being famous in the US.

      • I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed your sophistry – particularly the Xirls – enough to download all the Friday Z-casts. I’m about halfway through listening. Thanks! And please, keep up the good work.

  23. I’ve seen clips of Molyneux a couple of times and something about him just turns me right off. He gives me the impression that he’s a huckster, and if I’m wrong about that, I apologize up front. His presentation style just doesn’t work for me. Adams I can take in small doses – but my time is valuable to me and if you have something to say – then say it! Adams pisses away my time as he fiddles with his props when he should be making his point. And – I’m sorry – reality is what it is, Scott. If you or some democrat want to eat chit and call it ice cream, go for it… but to me the world is what it is.

    I enjoy your presentation style the most, Z. You get to your points, you’ve thought them through and even though I disagree with some you always have ammo for your argument.

    Anyone and his dog can do snark – leftists are masters at it. But what I see here is often truly scathing wit – served up just the way I like it: at room temperature with no extraneous mixers or dilutions. “When the democrat clown car comes screeching to a halt and the anti-Trump clowns come tumbling out…” or “Exotic weirdos imported from over the rainbow” or Xirl Science… the lunatics posing as our moral and intellectual superiors are cut off at the ankles.

    You come across as a thinker to be considered and taken seriously whereas those guys are actors pandering to an audience. It reminds me that I am intelligent too, and that I should be thinking outside of my comfort zone as well, rather than cheering for my favourite innernet “personality” and clapping when the applause sign lights up.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Moly is probably a guy to study if you want insights in to the sophists of ancient Greece. I’m by no means an expert, but he strikes me a great modern analog. His style probably works better in person, where he can use all of his body language and work the crowd.

      • Moly seems to get a lot of knocks. I attribute that to his popularity. He has changed lately, not sure why, but it seems to do with any number of longish presentations. As with Adams, I really don’t have the time to spend half an hour to up to two hours listening to any opinion. At that point, write a book and I’ll consider purchase.

        Not sure how many folk here follow Moly, but I have and if you view his channel, you’ll find hundreds (?) of videos. These videos span any number of different topics and formats. I assume the formats change as Moly ages and attempts new presentation modes.

        There seems to be a lot of criticism of Moly. In his older stuff, he was great and straight forward with presenting information. His series on “what you need to know about…” is equivalent to a lecture in a college classroom. He has, to my knowledge, been completely up front about IQ and race and never hesitant to state what race realists consider gospel. I have to give him—and yes, Jordan Peterson—top marks for such consistency in the face of societal pressure.

        So why am I here, Zman? Because you have a written presentation and an intelligent audience that conveys a message in a fashion that respects my time. Your thinking seems broader and certainly deeper than most, and that includes Moly, but by keeping yourself to a written presentation avoid overacting in front of the camera. I appreciate that.

        • I have watched a number of his vids. he used to be very good at well documented and sourced rebuttals to the flavor of the day liberalism and news. he has changed lately, I think in response to the de-platforming threats. If you look at ay of his ” the truth about…” or what really pisses me off about….” they are very good at debunking the leftist panic of the day. he also informs on our population replacement and has done a lot about south Africa , like this one in youtube jail . the pimping of white brit girls .
          he has some duds in his library, but there’s some gold too.

        • Just as “miforest” below has noted, Stefan’s presentations have changed, due to deplatforming threats.
          Turns out even HE has a master.
          His older stuff (before he was so well-known) was more straightforward and harder-hitting. But now with more eyes being opened, they are discovering him, which means his numbers have gone up.
          And apparently when that happens, many (most?) start pandering to a common denominator of some sort. Stefan included.
          It’s disappointing, b/c he used to be really interesting. Now it seems like he is just another you-tuber trying to get noticed.

    • I’ve seen clips of Molyneux a couple of times and something about him just turns me right off.

      That makes two of us. I don’t think he’s a huckster as much as a salesman; what I’ve heard him say seems sensible enough to me, but his style sets my teeth on edge.

      Also, when he has a guest, Molyneux hogs half the airtime Moly-splaining what the guest just said.

    • I discovered Stef writing on Lew Rockwell and Strike the Root. He had just started ‘podcasting’ in his car to occupy his 40 minute commute. He noted that audio was far more popular than articles because people could listen while driving, and, like me, working in the shop, lawn, or building projects. I have no time to sit and watch, so I listen and work. So your comment about it not working without facial expression was lost on me.

  24. Wow! Zman, you are a disrupter. I continue to struggle with the concept that there is no absolute truth. Having retired from a 45 yr. career in marketing, I can agree with your sophist analogy with respect to the marketplace. However, the second part on sophistry being required in a democracy is where I struggle. I guess I still cling to the antiquated notion, based on my religious foundation and corresponding faith, that provides some hint that there is something bigger than the ‘majority.’

    • I see this with older, honest men; they assume everybody has similar values to themselves, or at least fixed values of some kind. Turns out most don’t.

      The more I learn about mankind the more disappointed I am.

      • My Wife: “You’re a misogynist aren’t you?”
        Me: “Yeah, but, isn’t everybody?”
        My Wife after a moment’s consideration: “True.”
        Me: “Besides that’s only partially correct. Technically I’m a misanthrope.”
        My Wife: “Yes. Yes you are.”

        You’re not alone Roger U

    • Not really. Establishing price is only half the deal. I’ll let you establish the price as long as I get to set the terms. You can charge me $100 for a turnip as long as I get to set the terms at one cent a year for ten thousand years.

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