The single most important standard by which to judge whether a philosophy is worthy of attention is to find out if it is condescending. If it is, it is wrong because people are not bad or immoral – they are conditional cooperators stuck in a perennial prisoner’s dilemma of whether the others would also behave morally if they did.
But there is more…
If there is anything to learn from watching a hundred hours of documentaries of cults and reading thousands of pages is this: there are a lot of seekers out there. People who want good. People who wants answers (even though they don’t bother to figure out the questions). People want good. To do good and to be good. To improve themselves and to better the world. That is what is used against them, not their stupidity.
It is a shame we let people out of the education system without the ability to judge a world view. They are imbued with religions, dogmas, ideologies or cult beliefs almost randomly – and they are exposed exactly because they arrive intellectually unarmed: They are told to revere philosophers, not to form an opinion about them. They are tested on their memory, whether they remember who said what – and not whether they can make any sense of it.
Rule #1 of evaluating a philosophy (ideology, dogma, religion, self-help wisdom) is whether it is condescending. If it is so, run. Have some dignity.
And it’s not enough if it is only condescending to outsiders – while it tells to its adherents that they are good. If it is condescending to anyone, it is wrong.
There are a few more easy ways to judge what you’re dealing with.
Does it hate people?
Slightly different although strongly linked to the first rule. If a philosophy is working hard to punish anyone, it is not worth your attention.
First of all, punishment or blamestroming is not the same as solving a problem. It is not even enough to identify the problem. It is not even trying.
And then we run into the problem of accepting the new reality, after the problem occurred, and going from there. Most philosophers refuse to accept the consequences of some (perceived) unjust thing in the past and propose things pretending that the bad thing isn’t there. Luckily, most philosophers stay on paper – but some end up influencing weak-minded politicians.
Adherence to reality
Does the philosophy in question accept how things are and starts from there?
Or does it start with throwing around blame and making suggestions as if we were in a different situation entirely? Like back in an imaginary past where certain bad things haven’t happened yet? This thinking fallacy is pervasive even among the biggest, brand name philosophers – and lesser cult leaders almost always work this way. Ask yourself the question: who do they think they are?
Is their suggestion a utopia proposing to drop whatever everyone is doing and turn lives upside down to initiate a society Mr. Philosopher happens to think is best?
Does this philosophy fall into the central planning fallacy?
The central planning fallacy is deeply rooted in the authoritarian mind – both submissive and the one who desires to dominate. And that is why self-important philosophers as well as their intellectually submissive followers share a blind spot for the central planning fallacy. So one proposes it and the other is cheering it on. But you don’t have to.
A few characteristics expose the central planning fallacy happening:
Point of view
What is the philosopher in his own proposed world? Does he happen to lead it?
When he is planning his perfect world, the locus of his identity is not in the philosopher himself. It is floating above humanity somehow, moving people like pawns on an imaginary chess board, upending lives without a second thought armed with his mistaken sense of infallibility. As a rule, our locus of identity goes to wherever it feels best, when it is outside of ourselves. Most likely into the POV of someone who is in control, like a god or a ruler. In the meantime, we mentally dehumanize the populations.
Find out what POV the philosopher uses, is he even part of the ideal world he is proposing or is he just floating above it like some demigod? Is he plugging himself as the ruler? As the above-his-own-system advisor to the king? If so, then the ridicule is justified. And remember, that man does not think much of you.
The POV problem also applies to the sweeping suggestions a philosophy makes. It is one thing to declare that something should be different. It is one thing to declare that it should be done, in the passive voice. But if the philosopher does not specify who does what, he is skipping the biggest part of the problem. And that is the single biggest issue with the central planning fallacy.
It is one thing to declare that X would be nice. It is another question whether anyone should have the power to do X.
It is difficult to avoid because we all do it. Whenever we discuss politics, we all think and speak like tiny gods, hovering above society and proposing fixes from the god’s eyes view. We all think with the political leader’s head and propose what we would do in his place. Ban this, tax that. This should not happen. That should happen. The more passive the voice the better.
We don’t just dehumanize each other in the process, but sinfully simplify the world. And as a consequence of this thinking method, we end up allowing central planners to meddle in our lives with the same simplistic tools and condescending considerations.
The central planning fallacy also typically proposes a static world, most prominently in the form of having a desirable end game in mind. In other words, check What Mr. Philosopher suggests should happen on day 2 of his Real Existing Utopia? Is his world view even dynamic (aka. realistic) or did he forgetfully stop thinking when he figured out what the starting point of his brave new world should be?
The means to and end fallacy comes to talentless philosophers and their followers naturally. We all have a view of how the world should be like (the end), but not all commit the fallacy that any means are okay as long as they lead to that glorious end state. One of the most spectacular ends in intellectual history to date was the Socialist Revolution put forth by Marx, no wonder it lead to the most damaging and destructive central planning experiment in human history. But if you now think that only self-proclaimed lefties have this mind bug, you must be disappointed. The visions of an “all-Christian Europe” or a “homeowner society” are also cases in point, to name just two.
Submissive followers of an opinion cult may be loud and belligerent, but the reason they so forcefully need a philosophy to adhere to is the underlying sensation of feeling helpless in their own lives. Central planning lends itself as a (false) solution to this problem, it is therefore very tempting. People unthinkingly try to use the facilities of the state/church/group to influence each other, they are therefore a sitting duck to any opinionator who promises to take care of things. Whether by meddling in other people’s wallets or life choices – it is only a matter of taste. Ideology is only a superficial justification for this underlying behavior.
Another common central planning fallacy that manifests itself in the work of cults, ideologies, religions, dogmas, etc. is that philosophers are prone to suggest some type of homogenization of society, either by wealth or by lifestyle. The justifications are just a beauty patch on a big, nasty, central planning effort and they never hold water. When you see that, it is a dead giveaway of an unworthy philosophy.
Also, does this philosopher regard others as having agency – or does he just try to impose his little will on others? And if so, why can’t we all get to do the same?
Because that’s not how the world works. And because we are all equally humans, the philosopher, too. That’s not a bad thing to be, but then it follows that no one should get as much unquestioned reverence as some self-appointed thinkers do. It is easy to see with convicted criminals like a self-help group guru. Harder to see about Plato or Rousseau – both a disgrace of a political thinker with thick condescension and much hypocrisy, who just happened to put themselves at the top of their proposed worlds. What a coincidence.
Is this philosophy sorting people?
You will often find that a philosophy is trying to divide humanity into groups. Essentially, the right ones and the wrong ones. And then they go from there. If their dividing line is something like sex, race, class, blood, lineage, ethnicity – anything you do not choose – the philosophy is out.
But oftentimes the dividing line is not that obvious. Like between intelligent people or stupid ones. Rational ones and irrational ones. Mature ones and immature ones. In these cases you must ask yourself the question how this philosophy plans to ascertain who belongs into which group. Because none of these things can be ascertained – and none of these things are constant in every situation and during a lifetime.
If the humans the philosopher is opining about can not choose their lives, or if they can’t change their minds about it, assigning them lives based on any of the above is evil.
Who gets to use whom?
Does this philosophy submit humans to a greater cause that the philosopher dude identified as most important?
Does it propose a system where humans can use other humans on some clever basis? Not just in slavery, but in life roles, in functions? Does it deny or fudge individual choice? Does it base its genius suggestions on the accident of birth?
A lot of philosophers hate certain people (or all of them) and makes suggestions trying to suppress the ones they don’t like.
It is an easy one. If a thought system doesn’t even meet its own standards or contradicts itself, it is an obvious sign to remain skeptical. It doesn’t mean that all of it must go – but as a rule, no individual dude should dictate ALL your opinions anyway. When thinking is replaced by ‘What would X think about this?‘ (X being your favorite opinionator) you have officially stopped thinking and started worshipping.