Reject the conflict

This passage from Bruno Latour expresses a humility that I feel is disappearing from the world: “It is us, the social scientists, who lack knowledge of what they do, and not they who are missing the explanation of why they are unwittingly manipulated by forces exterior to themselves and known to the social scientist’s powerful gaze and methods.”

Today, the further you are to the left or to the right the cockier you are about already knowing what is controlling the behavior of the world.

If you think in far-right terms, you know that people are manipulated by occult forces. Nefarious conspirators, supernatural entities and mysterious forces (essences, destinies, cosmic plans) all control the unfolding of history. Where effects take place, that action must have been intentionally planned by someone, Someone, or someforce. To counter these plans, one be on 24-hour red-alert — watching and prepping to defend oneself violently if necessary against the schemes of a concealed, intelligent and organized enemy whose actions have been prophesied in the Bible or by other sketchy divinations.

If you think in far-left terms, you know that people are controlled by unconscious psychological forces, mostly biases for and against categories of others. Leftists also believe in conspiracies, but these conspiracies happen through unconscious or lazy complicity: openly prejudiced people enlist the private, complacently habitual or unconscious prejudices of people of their own identity category to do what is in their collective best interest against the interests of other categories. To counter this semi-conscious institutionalized prejudice, it is necessary to intentionally institutionalize counter-prejudice (which isn’t actually prejudice because prejudice is only prejudice if it is held by the stronger groups against weaker groups, according to the prejudices of this theory).

These two extremes cannot imagine anything more opposite to themselves than their opposite. “The opposite of Good is Evil. We on the Right are the Good.” Or: “The opposite of Hatred is Love. We on the Left are on the side of Love (which is why we hate the haters, especially the invulnerable majority who hates complacently without even noticing it.)”

Each extreme justifies and feeds the other. And each extreme views moderates as unwoke dupes or cucks who brainlessly do the bidding of the other side.

But actually it is the moderates who are the true opposite of the two extremes, which can be seen as one thing that mistakes itself for two. The fringe-left and fringe-right should be seen as two pistons in the same apocalyptic engine, reciprocally feeding on one another’s force and fire.

This is why I refuse to engage extremists on their terms. I always present the conflict as one of moderation against extremisms. I align myself with normal moderate Americans who want to preserve what is best about America (individual autonomy for those who want it enough to work hard for it) against the hysterical hubristic know-it-alls and the apocalyptic engine they’re constantly revving up as loudly as possible over this or that emergency or outrage.

Philosophers have learned, when faced with either-or choices that the most philosophical thing to do is to “reject the question” and to look for a better one. Similarly, patriotic American will need to learn to “reject the conflict” and to redraw better battle-lines. I am an agonist, which means I believe conflict between mutually respectful adversaries is necessary and good. The battle-lines the extremists draw can create nothing but enemies.

I will conclude this rant with an inspirational passage from Eric Voegelin who lived in Germany in its worst moments, and knew a thing or two about ideologues:

“…I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. I have in my files documents labeling me a Communist, a Fascist, a National Socialist, an old liberal, a new liberal, a Jew, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Platonist, a neo-Augustinian, a Thomist, and of course a Hegelian—not to forget that I was supposedly strongly influenced by Huey Long. This list I consider of some importance, because the various characterizations of course always name the pet bête noire of the respective critic and give, therefore, a very good picture of the intellectual destruction and corruption that characterize the contemporary academic world. Understandably, I have never answered such criticisms; critics of this type can become objects of inquiry, but they cannot be partners in a discussion.”

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