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One Red Nail

A statement on the importance of philosophy and morality in daily life.

v1.2, 2020-11-19, Max Kaye. (revisions)

I no longer endorse this idea

I have changed my mind about this idea. I'm leaving the rest of the document (after this section) as it is for the moment. I might change things later.

You can read and discuss my post mortem here. I am going to post it to FI soon too, maybe with more detail.

I don't know if I'll wear the red nail again. It feels a bit ironic that I now judge my past self as dishonest and unworthy, but think I might soon be able to live up to standard set out below.

The Physical

The left hand ring finger's nail is painted red.

The Background

Penn and Teller, and Penn Jillette's Fingernail

I've liked Penn and Teller for many years. Their excellent TV series Bullshit! (2003) was influential in my early philosophical development. Besides being incredibly skilled technically, their stagecraft is second-to-none. (A fact highlighted by their holding the record of longest running headline show in Vegas, ever. Excluding some tragedy, this will continue til at least 2022.)

This is not their best quality, though. They are uncommon for a far more important reason. Throughout their career they regularly and consistently educate their audience (both implicitly and explicitly) on the importance of philosophy, epistemology, and morality; including practical ideas like the importance of freedom, democracy, rationality, and tolerance (in the Popperian sense).

They've done this, I can only presume, because they take their morality and values seriously. They feel compelled to do these things due to their ideas (rational memes).

Penn Jillette has, for decades, painted his left hand ring finger's nail red.

People asking about my red fingernail. It's for my mom. I wear my dad's ring and my mom's nail polish. It reminds me of them. Momma's boy.

-- Penn Jillette, 14th May 2012

Obviously, it doesn't make much sense for me to do the same thing for the same reason. I chose this as the symbol because I think Penn and Teller are excellent, thoughtful people, and because it is visible, non-permanent, unaffiliated, and rejects arbitrary social norms. It's also easy, inexpensive, somewhat striking, otherwise socially unencumbered, and personal.

-- Max Kaye

The Symbol

Whenever there has been progress, there have been influential thinkers who denied that it was genuine, that it was desirable, or even that the concept was meaningful. They should have known better.

-- David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity (2011) (emphasis mine)

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges.

-- Gene Wolfe, The Shadow of the Torturer (1980)

There are lots of common symbols we carry and wear. Necklaces for religious status; insignias for military ranks; rings for marital status; flags for citizenship and loyalty; garments for subculture membership; titles for education; logos for political affiliation; and myriad more for podcasts we enjoy, books we read, games we play, languages we write. Embracing them changes us, and our relationships. They're symbols of dedication, or values, or tastes, or ideas. The symbols that invent us matter.

But there is no symbol for what I want. I care deeply about our time on this planet, and I care about the success of our collective legacy. It's entirely possible that the spark of humanity in this universe will one day be snuffed out. But there is no reason it need be that way. No law of physics demands human suffering, and every one of our problems, personal and social, is soluble (Beginning of Infinity (BoI), chapters 3 and 9).

However, we cannot choose the solutions. When we create good ideas, it is not a matter of simply selecting the goals or outcomes and designing towards an answer. Rather, we must exert creative effort to forge new ideas in the fire of our minds. We must discard the broken explanations, and it is what we are left with that are our best ideas.

To be a responsible thinker requires accepting this, because without doing so you would deny yourself the most powerful method of error correction we have. We must live the consequences of our ideas and morality, strive for their betterment, and understand the consequences of the alternative.

The red fingernail is -- for me -- a dedication to those ideas and values. It is a reminder of the importance of philosophy and epistemology in daily life, and of fostering a society that willingly embraces them. It is an openness to ideas, criticisms, and improvements. It is a declaration of responsibility, and a desire to accept it.

FAQ

Contact

onerednail@xk.io

Where would I go if I care about my ideas being the best they can be?

Start with https://fallibleideas.com

(And read The Beginning of Infinity)

Is there a political movement you endorse?

One; the one I started: https://voteflux.org

What is the timeline?

I started doing this on Saturday 2nd March 2019.

This page first published 6th March 2019.

Does this have any relation to the Polished Man campaign from 2015?

No.

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