In occasional debates you end up in an axiomatic Mexican stand-off, where both parties are fundamentally disagreeing on topic, because of the axioms that influence their perception. You may also find yourself in a line of work you hate, yet you keep being in for year after year. Maybe you want to get laid more, but buying flowers and dinners isn’t working. It could be that you want to be in better shape, or perhaps get more education. Your success or failure in these endeavors come from the axioms that inform not only how you make decisions, but in how you see the world.
An axiom is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
: a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit
: a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference :postulate 1
: an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth
All of these definitions work for the argument, I’m making in this post. However for clarity the definition I will use is number 3. The axioms and maxims that we all internalize inform our perception in that they affect the way we interpret and reason about what we observe (note that I include read, see, hear, as a part of observation here).
To give an example of my own internalized axioms, it’s evolution by natural selection. I have internalized that as a general rule, that our world is ruled by an evolutionary imperative where every organism on this planet is in competition with each other, and with themselves, in order to continue existing.
This informs my thinking on a range of different topics, from philosophy and political science to economics and science. In science (ideally) good ideas thrive and grow, bad ideas are weeded out, through peer-reviews and critiques. In economics, good economies thrive and bad ones either change (China) or collapse (Soviet Union). In nature species that are optimally adapted to an environment thrive, species that are not adapted die out. That is unless the mechanisms are not allowed to work due to forces working to restrict them. This doesn’t mean that the mechanism will never work again, it just means it will work much more ruthlessly once it is able to, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his book “Antifragile”.
How our internal axioms come to exist
Our first axioms are learned in childhood, if we cry as babies, mommy shows up, so we cry when we want attention, want food, want to be changed or are in pain. When a man hits puberty and asks the question “How do I get a girl to like me” the answer(s) he gets is likely to create multiple axioms that can make or break his romantic aspirations.
The answer “Be nice, listen to her and pay for her meal(s)” creates 3 new axioms:
- In order to get a girl I have to be nice
- In order to get a girl I have to listen to her
- In order to get a girl I have to pay for her meals.
These 3 set up performance requirements for the male, so that he may show that he’s worthy of the female. If he does not “get” the female, it follows that he is the problem for not fulfilling the requirements.
Other people may internalize other axioms and this influences their perception of systems. One could argue that Karl Marx’s perception of the class struggle, is correct given his internal axioms, but is incorrect when compared to the internal axioms of Friedrich Hayek. Each individual has a range of axioms that stem from socialization, from education, from reasoning by themselves, and these axioms can be true, they can be false, and their core characteristic is that they influence us often subconsciously.
Take the example of the Marxist and the Capitalist. Where the Marxist sees a capital owner stealing money from the worker because the workers aren’t paid the full value of their labour. A Capitalist sees that a Capital owner makes the workers able to be paid for their labor, which is valued according to the going rate for that profession in the open marketplace. These are two very different interpretations of the same situation.
Thomas Kuhn wrote a few books on the topic of interpretation of evidence in science renders science ultimately a relativist discipline, as each researcher brings their subjective axioms, fields of knowledge and ways of thinking with them in their interpretation. This is somewhat combated in positivist methodology by the structures used to curb subjectivity.
The incompatible axioms
However, once you reach an impasse of incompatible axioms, no further discussion is possible, unless one party reforms their axioms to be compatible. An example of this would be “Free speech” vs “Blasphemy laws“, these cannot coexist, because they contradict each other. If you have absolute free speech, you cannot have a law that outlaws certain types of speech, and if you have a law that prohibits certain types of speech, then you cannot have free speech.
A shared basic understanding of principles is the lubricant of productive arguments, as it sets up the metrics used to measure the value of an idea, what is required in order to communicate an idea, and the requirements in order for something to be considered. Examples of them would be; “what works the best” (utilitarian), “precise language and agreed upon definitions” and “Avoiding subjective and emotional reasoning“.
If I’m relying on the legal definition of harassment, and your definition is whatever feels like harassment to you, odds are that the only time our Venn-diagrams will overlap is what your definition overlaps with mine.
Deciding which axiom to keep
Which axiom is the right one? Your decision will again depend on your internalized axioms. In my case, some of the general axioms I tend to rely on are:
- Ocham’s Razer – The solution that leads to the fewest new questions is the right one.
- Utilitarianism – Does it work and is it useful?
- Evolutionary imperative – Does this give an advantage and in what contexts?
I’m sure there are others that I’m not aware of, and there are others that I will not mention here. However, I’m going to show this in practice by returning to the young nice guy I mentioned earlier. Now our teenage nice guy, is the perfect nice guy, he is there when she needs a shoulder to cry on when her boyfriend dumps her, he is there when she needs to complain about her boyfriend, he never forgets her birthday, buys her gifts, and meals. Then one night after a year or so, he makes a move, and gets a reaction akin to “Aww, you are such a great guy, you would be PERFECT for someone else, but I don’t want to ruin our friendship”
In this case, the young man has invested heavily in the axioms and patterns of behavior that did not work. Therefore it fails the utilitarian point. As it did not work, it also fails the evolutionary point in the context. In embryo, it fails the evolutionary point more strongly than anything, because of the cost he has endured for no reward.
One of the axioms some of you may have noticed in this context, is that the young man has one that is based on reciprocity. The concept of reciprocity from an evolutionary standpoint is that if one organism aids another, the other aids the former. To make it simple to follow, in a society you have As, Bs and Cs.
A: Does not reciprocate.
B: Does reciprocate
C: Does reciprocate but only after the other performs the action.
A society full of Bs work as long as there are just Bs. However, the second you get an A in this society, then the A who gets from B, but does not reciprocate has an advantage because of saved resources. This means that over time there will be nothing except As left, as they have a breeding advantage. However, once you introduce Cs, the As behavior is curtailed by the Cs and over time the Cs have the advantage, because they will never be exploited like the Bs. There is a much more expanded argument in Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene”  a reading on Axelrod’s tournament in game theory on “Tit for Tat” is also highly applicable. 
The take-away is that the young man’s axiom on reciprocity should be changed to; Reciprocate after someone has made an investment. I.E reward good behavior, rather than expect good behavior to come from rewards given by you.
The alterations and extinction of poor axioms is central to “Red Pill” thinking, and a major topic in the manosphere, under many names. The more you can align your axioms and thus your perception of reality, the more clearly you can make the evolutionary and utilitarian tests of your axioms.
By ridding your mind of axioms that stop you from becoming your best self, and replacing them with axioms that support your work, you will find much more progress.