The “Where Are You Coming From” Survey, Part I

One problem I often have in navigating this baffling world is that I don’t know where people are coming from. By this I mean that I don’t really know anything about their worldviews, desires, self-conceptions, politics, knowledge bases, or histories. I find it very difficult to communicate with people when I have access to only tiny fragments of who they are and what their minds look like from the inside. In order to fill this gap, I have begun preparing this, my “Where Are You Coming From” survey. It contains the questions I would like to know everybody’s views on before we speak.

  • Is it presumptuous to tell another person about one’s life unprompted? Would you ever go up to a person in a coffee shop and start talking to them? Under what circumstances is this appropriate?
  • Do you have an “identity”? What is it? What aspects of it make it your “identity”?
  • Have you ever been in love? What did it feel like? Was it a delusion?
  • When you read a poem, what are you getting out of it? To what degree do you care about whether you are gleaning the meaning from the poem that the author intended?
  • Is the word “dialectics” meaningful to you? If so, what does it mean? Why is it useful?
  • How often do you think about the fact that underneath your skin, you are a skeleton? When you see other people, do you think about the fact that they, too, are skeletons?
  • Do you think it is important to know what is going on in the world? Why is this important? Do you think one should know the names of the heads of state of foreign countries? Do you think one should be able to put countries on a map? Can you name lots of heads of state and put lots of countries on maps? Can you name the population of Romania to within 100,000 people? If you can’t, does this trouble you? If you can, why is this necessary? Should knowledge be useful?
  • Is it difficult for you to believe that history actually happened? Is it difficult for you to believe that Socrates existed, and that he possessed an asshole? Is there a difference in the degree to which you believe the President has an asshole and the degree to which you are convinced that you have one?
  • Why do you like the music you like rather than some other music? Do you think your tastes in music are other than arbitrary? Can some music be “better” than other music, and if so what is the source of that value?
  • If you are religious, what exactly do you believe about people of other faiths or no faith? Do you believe they are wrong? Do you believe you should try to convince them of your views? Do you believe religious feeling is the type of feeling which one can acquire through persuasion? If you are not religious, how do you reconcile the fact that you do not believe in a transcendent moral code with the fact that you behave as if you do?
  • Why do you think people who are opposed to your political beliefs are opposed to them?
  • Would you classify yourself as basically dysfunctional or basically functional? Do you think the world is comprehensible? Do you think life is manageable?
  • What do you understand as the central insight of existentialism? Do you buy it? Please explain.
  • Do you shop for pleasure? Why? Why does buying things give you pleasure? Are you uncomfortable in malls? When you see, say, millions of products on sale in a Target, do you think about what made those products and where they will go in the future? Are you horrified by civilization?
  • Why should anyone care about the fucking Constitution? If our Constitution were different, should we care about that one just as much?
  • What would you say to someone who defended slavery? What do you think “race” is? Why are there races?
  • Please list everything you know, in detail.
  • Do you feel there is a fundamental difference between you and everyone else? If so, what is that difference? Do you think it is real, or a delusion? Do you think you have any delusions generally?
  • How do you keep yourself from ignoring or downplaying evidence that contradicts your preconceptions?
  • What does Utopia look like? Is government a necessary evil or a positive good? Should we think about utopias? What are your fundamental political principles? Do you think you act consistently with them? In what way do you act consistently? Why is it necessary to be consistent? Should conclusions follow from premises?
  • What, of the things you believe, are you most certain of? What are you least certain of? What is belief? When did you last change your mind about something, and what made you do it?
  • Do you think “free will” is a meaningful concept? Do you think God is a meaningful concept? Is communication possible when people mean vastly different things by the same words?
  • Do you think, given sophisticated enough statistical techniques, your behavior, even your speech, could be reliably predicted? If so, do you think this has implications for whether you are exercising free will?
  • Do you find this song to be sad?
  • Why should people love their children more than they love other people’s children?
  • Please transcribe a short piece of your internal monologue, as accurately as possible. Do not select the particular piece because it makes you seem interesting. Where is this monologue coming from?
  • How much difference do you think there is between the way you see yourself and the way others see you? What factors about yourself do you think give people the most mistaken impressions about you?
  • What do you most hope will happen to you soon? Being as specific as possible, what would you do given absolute power?
  • Why do you care what other people think? If you answer that you do not care what other people think, why do you think you are lying?
  • Do you worry about the percentage of outcomes in your life that are determined by mere chance? Does it concern you that you may have failed to meet the love of your life by failing to step in a certain puddle on a certain day?
  • Is nationalism ever a positive force? What is nationalism?
  • Do you enjoy your life? Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Why did you not give into them? Please describe the lowest point you have ever felt. What are you striving for, and why do you think it will make you happy?
  • Do you think there is any disjunction between what is produced as the result of the operations of a free market and what ought to be produced? Is there any use whatsoever in markets? Do you think it is acceptable that in a market, a person with more resources has more power than a person with fewer resources? How is this different from one person having more votes in an election than another? Do you think people deserve whatever they are paid? What does it mean to “deserve” something?
  • Where do rights come from? Are they eternal?
  • How should rape prosecutions occur?
  • What is bullshit? Do you bullshit?
  • Do you feel the pain of others? Whose pain do you feel, and why? Do you feel the pain of people in your time more than people in a different time? Why? How often do you think about the victims of the Holocaust? Are there certain truths you avoid thinking about?
  • Does death concern you? How do you deal with the fact that each step you take in any direction is necessarily a step toward death? To what degree does the fact of your inevitable death affect your actions in life?
  • Do you think “I’ve never really thought about that” is a satisfactory answer to these questions? If you gave this answer to any of the above questions, why have you not thought about this before? Do you think it is worth thinking about?

Having the answers to these questions beforehand would make my interactions with people much more straightforward, because at least I would know where they are coming from.

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