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One Red Nail

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

The Physical

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

The Background

Penn and Teller, and Penn Jillette's Fingernail

I've like 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, 12th 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.

The Symbol

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 is no common symbol representing a dedication to good ideas and integrating them into daily life. We have symbols for all kinds of things: religious status, military rank, marital status, subculture membership, education, political affiliation, podcasts we like, books we read, games we play, languages we write.

But there is no symbol for the most foundation values we can understand: that our values - in and of themselves - are things we choose. And particularly: the rejection of arbitrary choice in favour of the ideas we cannot refute, and the acceptance of our responsibility to live these values in day to day life.

To be moral is not to be picky in the choice of morals. It is to be so dedicated to the idea of morality that we adopt the best ideas regardless of our predilections. Our best ideas on reality tell us we cannot choose the truth, in physics or morality. That we cannot manipute reality to be how we want it to be, but must follow the best ideas regardless of our preconceived notions on them.

This is what one red nail symbolises: valuing the progress, discussion, cycle of criticism and conjecture, quality of ideas, and the significance these things mean for our person and humanity. Valuing them above the beliefs and biases thrust upon us by society, social norms, and subpar education systems. Living these values every day and choosing to. Wanting these things. It's not that this desire is a free choice like a flavour of ice cream is a free choice. It is something adopted because there is no better alternative, and to reject it is abhorrence incarnate.

No subject is taboo. No authority is superior to reason. No belief trumps explanation.

Good morality compels behaviour. It is our responsibility to ensure each of our moralities is the best it can be, even if that is a difficult, painful journey. The alternative is so much worse.

It is a symbol of these values, and a commitment to live them all the days we live. Above all else.


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



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

Start with

(And read The Beginning of Infinity)

Is there a political movement you endorse?

One; the one I started:

What is the timeline?

Max started doing this on Saturday 2nd March 2019.

The website was first publishing on 6th March 2019.

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