If, in the course of human events, we face threats on either side, how are we to avoid them both? How, if one is simply the consequence of existence, and the other is the consequence of striving to go on existing?
The next big idea: Religion is our salvation.
This idea is reflexively rejected by some, particularly in light of hyper-current events. Religious extremism – namely radical Islam – is on the rise, and it is hard to see how massacres in the name of Allah can be associated with the common good.
We are going to have to re-establish our removed perspective. Remember, you are an alien from another planet, or you are from the future. Observe the world as though it does not immediately threaten you, a state of fear which always distorts reality. Rather, view it as an art critic, or an economist.
Now: Even if a religion is false, it can be a net-benefit as long as it is properly ordered. What does this mean?
It means that, after some distance traveled to the left, in the name of buffering society from the natural order – that is, after a population has become civilized – a powerful social force is needed to prevent further drifting to the left.
It is needed because endless drifting to the left is the road to perdition. It eventually leads to destruction not by nature, but by man. It must be avoided just as arduously as destruction by nature.
That is why religion often appears to be a conservative force, because it is restraining the leftist impulse of civilized people. The paradox is that religion itself is a civilizing force on populations that are far to the right, still close to the natural order. In that way, it is also liberal.
One of the complaints today is that Christianity is outdated, regressive; one of the complaints about early Christians is that they cared about the pagan poor more than the pagans did.
That is essentially the same Christianity, appearing on both the right and the left of two given cultures. And this is why I have been fond of saying that Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal – it is both, in exactly the right places.
So a properly ordered religion is that which will restrain a culture from going too far to the left, or the right, to the point of destruction. There is one other thing, which separates religion from ideology.
That is, that religion admits a realm beyond the natural. Ideology is a funny business, because it ostensibly is focused on this world, and the proper values and order that a society should have…but its promises are always unrealistic. Quite literally.
Religion, on the other hand, does not restrain itself with the natural realm. Religion sees through it, beyond it, to the essence of reality.
Yes, there is a world all around you – but where did it come from? Ideology hardly cares. Mythology barely cares. Religion cares deeply, out of all proportion to the natural or synthetic order.
That is precisely why it is vital to civilization. For a society to be sustainable, it must perceive its object as something bigger and better than mere survival, so that the effort of resisting the left and the right is worthwhile. Don’t believe me?
Take away religion, and all quasi-religions. This includes the Carl Sagan brand of scientism.
Do that, and you have nothing but nihilism. You have utter despair, loss of meaning and purpose, on a massive scale. Mere survival is not enough for the nihilist – indeed, they sometimes take their lives as a result of their nihilism.
With religion, society can achieve a kind of balance in tension between the two forces. It can even rotate after a fashion, so that it becomes more leftist in certain ways and more rightist in other ways. It may be that there is no permanent balance – but all that is needed is some balance.*
Further proof – GK Chesterton’s saying that unless man believes in God, he will believe anything. The critical point is that man must always believe something, because he cannot possibly know everything. We are always drawing lines of best fit. Even this series skips over a lot of details in order to present a working model…which itself is a map.
And that is enough to tie off that thread. From here, we will consider some of the ways in which Catholicism might participate in modern politics, as compared with the present status and view of religion in politics. Furthermore, I will attempt to offer a few applications of the big ideas in this series, which may be of some use.
**It occurs to me – and surely to the reader – that we could get into some geometrical imaging here. Perhaps a triangle…a trinity!
No, I’m not ready for that. Neither is the world.
“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” – Joseph de Maistre
We come to explore why the series is called Politics..and Catholicism. (Sure, go for a James Lipton voice there).
Earlier I made reference to properly ordered religion. We will admit, for the sake of discussion, that a plurality of religions might qualify as properly ordered, even though they cannot all be 100% true.
We saw last time that the building and development of civilization just is a move to the left of the natural order. It is an attempt by a population of humans to buffer themselves against the unrelenting current of the natural order (such forces as entropy and predation, which is entropy at 4x speed). In so doing, a population can succeed so well that they are capable of swimming beyond stasis, further left, upstream.
This Cthulhu will do, unless there is some compelling reason (or force, or impulse) not to. Some restraint, some dissonance with the population’s experience and expectations against reality, perhaps. Or else some overwhelming incentive, worthy of abandoning the promises of swimming further left.*
Before stating the expected thesis…what is so bad about swimming ever to the left, anyway? Didn’t we say that way lies Utopia? Even if it is ever receding, doesn’t this indicate the desired and everlasting march of human progress?
(Perhaps you see a river in your mind, and a far-off horizon. The Utopia is exactly like the horizon, but it is so haunting and alluring – not almost spiritual, but actually so – that the emptiness of the horizon reflects a world where natural dangers are erased, and life is lived tranquilly, with perfect understanding of everything. Even the present feverish pitch of sexual fixation and exposure is suffocated and vanished, only a means to this godlike end. Yes, I have tasted and seen…)
The problem is two-fold, and unfolds like proofs for the existence of God. On the one hand, you have the historical account – every time we’ve tried Utopia, it ends in absolute disaster. Look to any revolution and the events that follow. It is easy to point to Stalin’s Soviet Union, but consider the “enlightened” French Revolution, when so many rationalists found themselves enraptured in a murderous frenzy.
On the other, it is a practical impossibility, which is why it so often ends in bloodshed. People cannot be depended on to act with perfect virtue, no matter what traits are called virtuous. You can call stealing good, or murder innocent – and people will violate them. In order to silence the signal of human discord and rebellion, those humans must be exiled…or exterminated.
It is not only discord, but it is also the human inability to completely comprehend everything, which is necessary for controlling all variables in an environment (including an artificial one). Ask a film director how difficult it is to make a movie exactly according to his vision – and then he has no control at all over the theater, or your living room.
Such a paradise cannot be achieved on this side of Glory. It is utterly opposed to Glory, moving ever to the left, where men are made into gods, and all the natural order is destroyed, terminating in the abyss.
In other words, that way lies irreversible damnation. Once walk through the gates – leave all hope behind.**
What shall it be, then? The primal, fearsome end of the natural order, which is death? Or the everlasting oppression of one man, or some men, dominating all the others, destroying that which conflicts with their designs?
Enter religion. And you thought they invented “Hell” just to scare you.
*Here we have an understanding why suffering typically provokes a move further to the left – over time a population will inevitably lose members. The reflex – not the reason, mind you – is to swim further away from the danger, not to live in harmony with it. Therefore, a wealthy country experiencing relative peace will come to find smaller and smaller losses as intolerable as the great losses it once suffered. If we have swum this far upstream, the rhetorical question goes, we can surely swim further and provide comfort/security/wealth to even more of our population.
**Yes, Hell is real.
Bring yourself back to the early days of humanity.
For all of us, even the experts, this is going to be a guess. There is a saying that the least educated person in a historical period is more an expert of his time than the best scholar today. This seems obviously true, and more true the more one thinks about it.
As little as we know about a culture within history, so much less do we know about a culture prior to history. The densest and most surely communicated channel just doesn’t exist – that of language.
The first human population had to be focused on survival (what else was there?) and build from there. Build what?
It appears that they built a system of the division of labor – hunters and gatherers – as well as migratory patterns in response to environmental stressors (eg. availability of food and weather patterns). All of these practices are very much aligned with the natural order – as far to the right as humans get, if you will. In fact, taken as pure concepts – which they surely weren’t in practice – you have virtually no subjugation of nature happening here. Rather, you have nature leading the dance, and human beings following her lead.
I say they surely weren’t pure concepts, because toolmaking in human predecessors dates back a couple million years. This would certainly be an imposition of human design on nature, the first small step in subduing the earth. Such artifacts are the earliest signs of leftism (if you will).
One might persist that innovations like knifes and spears simply brought humans onto a level playing field with their would-be predators. Indeed, other animals also demonstrate rudimentary toolmaking. Moreover, a spear is surely not a gun, which seems to give greater advantages to the human over the animal.
All such debate ends, then, with the dawn of agriculture. Somewhere between 13,000-11,000 BC, we find evidence of cultivation, even seedless figs! Farm animal domestication occurred around the same time, all of which enabled the development of permanent settlements.
This imposition of human design upon plants and animals, I maintain, is a leftist impulse. I am just a guy thinking, of course, you may call it whatever you wish. But I think you will begin to see some phenomena explained the longer you entertain this idea.
Now these are the first great leaps of humanity. Writing developed +/- 10,000 years later, and this enabled the communication across space and the transmission across time of incredible amounts of information. This accelerated learning and innovation, as there was a steady and growing foundation of information to build from.
Skip ahead +/- 3,600 years, and you have the printing press (notice the diminishing time between major advancements). Gutenberg’s invention is credited with all manner of advances, including a higher literacy rate, the faster spread of more information, and the wider spread of that information.
The more disparate innovations are shared, the more they accelerate innovation. One mind makes a leap forward; another observes it and has some mental door unlocked for him. He enters the next room and makes another leap forward.
Along the way, and directly related to these innovations, are advancements in science and technology. And these too, according to our earlier big idea, are leftist moves in human activity. Simple knowing – as in science – is arguably neutral, but you see how easily “and technology” follows.
And technology is certainly an imposition of human will on nature. Look around you! Subdue the earth, indeed.
These innovations occur in other areas of human endeavor, as well. We have not plumbed deeply at all, and I will scarcely mention such others – law, politics, economics, culture. They read like the headings of an old newspaper, things which might change over time, which people like to know about.
The sum total of these is what we call civilization. The impulse to impose our will on the existing order is a leftist impulse, while the impulse to accept and preserve the existing order is a rightist impulse. The leftist impulse drives toward utopia, which is always receding in the distance; the rightist impulse drives toward the natural order, which took us tens or hundreds of thousands of years to escape from.
We all know, in our basic instincts, that we prefer civilization, the imposition of human order, upon the natural order. But the natural order just is the ruling order – if you do not resist it, or build against it, you are pulled back into it.
Does any bridge or dam last forever, unattended? Have you ever seen a building which was abandoned 100 – even 20 – years ago? The natural order is always pressing on us, always driving on.
So, Cthulhu is ever watchful of that looming eventuality, and ever swimming left against the current to escape it. That just is what civilization is. As long as Cthulhu – the collective human population – desires this protection from the pure natural order, it must swim left.
But Cthulhu is not intelligent enough, being a great beast acting on drives and impulses, to know when it has swum too far to the left. Without some respect for the natural order – which is all we have, there is no other natural order – without some understanding of it, we do not understand how to order our civilization at all.
Remember, a constant and pure drive in only one direction is the road to destruction. You only have to choose your destroyer – nature to the right, humans to the left.
To avoid this, we need some corresponding power which holds civilization in tension, which honors the rightist impulse and respects the leftist impulse, and appropriately restrains them both. This we call religion.
Let’s take another important point: Everyone is rightist about certain things, and everyone is leftist about other things.*
To thoroughly embrace either rightism or leftism, to the exclusion of the other, is a form of inhumanity. Consider that the very first humans – indeed, one of the key ways we identify a hominid as human – were making tools.
A rock in the natural order is not a knife. But it can be subdued, fashioned for that human purpose. As soon as you start acting on any human design – anything not already found in nature before we arrived – you start acting on the leftist impulse.
This is not a sin. Conservatives, you will not lose your soul by admitting it. Indeed, conservatives are often innovators! …exactly because they are willing to be leftists in certain areas.
The converse is also true. Since Cthulhu – society – is always swimming left, yesterday’s liberals will often find themselves today’s conservatives. That is because they were fixed on some cultural norm – say civil rights – which was to the left of the mainstream culture. They were part of the push, the swimming to the left, until they accomplished their objectives.
Many of them, having pushed the culture left for their own ends, were surprised when the cultural momentum continued to the left – when sexual orientation and gender identity were added to civil rights – so that they soon found themselves more conservative than liberal.
There is even a name for this – neoconservatives. Nor should they lose heart. The shift does not mean they have gone to the dark side of politics. Rather, they were fixed on some objective good, which had a subjective relation to the culture. It didn’t matter whether the culture was to the left or the right of that good – they would have pushed for it either way.
Thus the…relative…futility of defining oneself as liberal or conservative. That ground is always shifting. So we will have a general idea of your positions today – but less idea tomorrow.
The truth is, if you tell me you are a Progressive or a Reactionary, I might have a better idea of your positions – because those are both off the map. They are not subject to the volatility of the present day. We know that they would have the map dramatically altered.
But a real human being will typically find themselves all over the map. Perhaps they have been to some remote corner of the landscape, and they can say with confidence that any modification to the map would be disastrous to travelers there. Or they might say the opposite, that the map needs to be modified, because everyone traveling there is getting killed.
More typically, they have visited a number of places themselves, and discerned where the map ought to be changed (so strict conservatism is false, for them) and where it really cannot be changed (so strict liberalism is false, for them).
Most typical of all, or so is my opinion – few have been anywhere at all. The map has afforded them the luxury of having an opinion without having the experience – the authority gambit. Here you have priests and pundits alike, soothsayers and celebrities, all of those who ply their trade in the immaterial. These types you tend to find more thoroughgoing in their leftism or rightism, seldom switching sides.
Perhaps we will return to them. You may wish to know why I would lump priests in there.
Where we really must go next is to the next important truth. Why civilization itself is the primary reason Cthulhu always swims left, and why an enduring civilization is one that finds itself held in tension – which is why religion will never go away.
*I might as well say everyone is conservative about some things and liberal about other things. But I want to shift into more precise language, because conservative and liberal are positions relative to some center, which could be almost anywhere.
Last time I was well into my second glass of wine, and I said something that I scarcely believe. My second glass finished, I am now ready to defend it.
Subduing the earth is a liberal impulse. Observing the natural law is a conservative impulse.
Let’s be a little more precise: The leftist impulse is characterized by subduing the earth. The rightist impulse is characterized by observing the natural law. Since the words liberal and conservative are more familiar, I’ll continue to make some use of them in this post.
If you are hung up on these characterizations at all, it is because of the present day alignment of environmental conservatism with – well, liberalism. Progressivism, even. And the apparent alignment of political conservatism with industry, big business.
Bring out the bugaboo – Global warming is a leftist cause. Denial of global warming is a rightist cause.
Now, let us be painfully clear: I am not attempting to say anything about the reality or unreality of global warming. I do have an opinion, but it does not matter. Global warming is only a litmus test for us.
Really, you can’t go on reading if you’re going to keep saying to yourself, “Yeah, but it’s totally a hoax.” or “Yeah, but it’s undeniably true.”
Quit arguing for one damned second. We’re trying to say something important. (Yes, I’m trolling. But now I’m done).
First of all, denial of global warming is not equivalent to a hatred of the environment. It can be based on the failure of predictive models, or indifference to the human plight (because, as you must know, something will survive global warming, even if we don’t).
So, the rightist tendency to deny global warming is not explicitly a denial of the natural order. It is skepticism of the claims, and opposition to the proposed solutions. What about those?
The proposed solutions vary widely. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gases, which might be achieved by one of two means: Either by advancing technology toward clean energy, or by taking current energy production off-line. Ideally both.
Notice: The tendency to develop advanced technology is form of subduing the earth. We have subdued coal, and found it undesirable. We will now subdue something else.
Since I have identified subjugation of the earth as a liberal impulse, this solution fits with your current understanding. It is a liberal cause to advance clean energy by subduing more earth. (A LOT more earth, in the case of solar power!) Even people who are typically conservative will often agree with this direction.*
What is the conservative hesitation with clean energy? Well, it changes the status quo, which is really pretty good. (Can I get an amen, or are you reading this via brainwaves?)
Remember – a conservative wants to conserve the order that exists. He sees the value in it. This is why he is doomed to failure. In the meantime, he usually has a good point if anyone will listen to him. If you go introducing novel energy – and worse, if that clean energy has not proved itself out – you are going to trigger his opposition.
You are drawing all over his map, and he’s pissed. You’d be pissed, too, if it were your map, and someone was constantly renaming the roads and drawing in details and information that had not been verified.
What about the second general solution, to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing consumption? Isn’t this a return to the natural order, by removing synthetic production? Two points.
First, yes. Who is further to the right – the Amish, or any given citizen of New York City? The Amish have conserved their culture, by and large, and they are closer to the natural order. And you would not hesitate to say they were further to the right.
Why aren’t the conservatives rallying against fossil fuels, then?
You start to see why conservatives always lose. American Conservatives, you have to understand, have accepted a map further to the left of the Amish. But they have defined this (relatively) more liberal map as THE map, the new foundational order, and thus they wish to preserve it. Meanwhile, liberals have begun to modify THAT map, and Progressives are in the process of creating yet another new map…
Fossil fuels, then, are part of the old liberal map, which became the new conservative map. Then conservatives (up to the present day) attempted to conserve that map – including the liberal modifications – while the liberals moved on, seeking other fuels which might be better than fossil fuels.
The full issue, of course, is far more complex. There are economic implications, self-interested implications. If you want your head to spin, consider whether nuclear energy is a liberal or a conservative cause. (Pun intended)
We have left one thing out, which exaggerates the whole situation, and made my (very reasonable) opening assertion seem ridiculous. What about the back-to-the-earth, primitive living Progressives? Isn’t that a return to the natural order, and aren’t they very clearly leftists?
Short answer: No, it is not a return at all. It is a utopian vision, which is the end goal of leftism.
Longer answer: Relatively few people actually pull off the return to earth, for one thing.** For another – even if they do labor heavily, and subject themselves to the elements, and endure (or enjoy!) the solitude of nature, and suffer the inconveniences of primitive life – they almost invariably depend on the modern economy at some point. Even the Amish accept US currency.
On the contrary, it turns out that the Progressive desire to return to the earth is something of a synthetic fabrication. It is a romance, a thing not actually based in reality.
Reality is brutally difficult. The vision is not. Thus, the vision is a human invention. If it were attempted, it would rely disproportionately on subduing the earth in visible and invisible ways. All utopias do.
Perhaps you are not upside-down, only a little dizzy. In any event, this is one of the big ideas: That leftism tends toward subduing the earth, and rightism tends toward obeying the natural order. The implications tend to turn some of our assumptions upside-down, but then, that’s because we had them backwards in the first place.
*Humans are both, liberal and conservative. When we lock up one way or the other, the trouble starts. But don’t get distracted.
**Many return, quite thoroughly, to the earth, never to be heard from again.
Let’s have it.
The two primal directives of our race are to obey the natural order and to subdue the earth.
Take the latter first. I define it as imposing one’s own design on the raw material of reality.
If you build a house, you are subduing the earth. For that matter, if you build an earthen hut, you are subduing the earth.
If you are a modern farmer, you have subdued many acres of earth. If you have planted even a small garden, you have subdued some square footage of earth. That earth would have done something else, something according to the natural order, if you hadn’t acted.
So, subduing is something of a neutral term, I would suggest. One might read their own values into the industrial farmer while praising the backyard gardener. Very well. For our purposes, they both are subduing the earth.
Now take the former: Observe the natural law. Do you see how this is potentially at odds with subduing the earth?
The natural law says, for example, that there are seasons with the tilting of the earth’s axis. Growing takes place above freezing temperatures, usually well above. Subduing the earth is to make strawberries grow in the winter.
The natural law says our bodies were made for travel on foot. Subduing the earth means riding on horseback, or driving cars, or flying airplanes. There is danger in these things, as our bodies were made for speeds topping out around 20 mph, and that only in quick bursts. When you drive at 70 mph, you are not always able to stop yourself in time before colliding with a fruit truck delivering strawberries in February.
Personal anecdote: I do electrical work. Whenever I have accidentally shorted a circuit, my reaction time was far too slow to effectively avoid the shocks and bursts. (I have not suffered any serious injuries). Electricity travels near light speed. With electricity, we have subdued the earth – but the risks are increased.
Conversely, I would have no trouble escaping a forest fire caused by natural means – even by electrical lightning strikes. The evidence says nearly all animal life escapes forest fires. Our bodies are built to react to this danger, it is within our capacity. That is the natural order.
There are, of course, other dangers in the natural order. There is predation, for one, and exposure to the elements. These are reasons we have sought to subdue the earth, so as to avoid these dangers and discomforts.
Thus there is a tension between the two drives, one to subdue the earth, and the other to heed the natural order. They might both be appeased, say, by farming without the use of pesticides. Or building with lumber from sustainable forests.
Let us add depth to our terms, then.
Subduing the earth is a liberal impulse. Observing the natural law is a conservative impulse.
You will surely think I have this backwards. Next time I will attempt to turn your world upside-down.
In the last post I alluded to the phenomenon that leftism typically triumphs over rightism. In some circles, this is denoted by the saying, Cthulhu always swims left. I repeat it here because I find it compelling.
Cthulhu, I was recently informed, is not an ancient creation, but a more modern one; the general idea is significantly older and goes like this.
Society – a large population of people – taken as a whole acts something like a great beast. Very powerful when determined, and often consuming and destructive in action. Motivated almost entirely by the appetites, guided all too lightly by a rudimentary reasoning process.
Again, a figure of speech. We’re not going to press it too hard.
Now, assuming the socio-political spectrum is symmetrical, there would be no reason to think that Cthulhu would swim left or right. One might reasonably suggest the beast swims both ways, depending on its impulses. If it swam more to the right than the left, this would just be happenstance, an accident of history rather than any underlying trend.
Yet it really does appear that Cthulhu always swims left, wherever it appears. There may be convulsions to the right, but the general trend is always left.
In broad strokes – the Ancient Greeks and Romans followed this pattern. They rose to prominence and power by the natural order – military might, individual discipline, strong national identity – and fell by the synthetic order – political innovations, decadence, decay of borders.
Many of the European powers of the middle ages moved from monarchy and feudalism eventually to democracy and capitalism in the modern era.
This does not mean that every nation moves inexorably to the left, in a linear fashion. Sometimes there are resets, what Christians have called revivals. I suggested a convulsion. In any case, a sudden and dramatic shift to an earlier map,* which return is believed to lead to prosperity and well-being.
Here is the question: At the conclusion of the revival, which way does Cthulhu swim? Does it continue to the right, or steer again to the left?
Let me quickly add that this is not necessarily a pejorative against all leftism. Leftism is mercy to the Right’s justice. As a Catholic, I believe there is a necessary tension between the left and right as the two sides of our nature, as the two primal directives of our race. This will come in soon.**
No, my interest at the moment is not in judgment, but in curiosity – why is it that Cthulhu always swims left? What, if anything, should be done about this?
*Chronology is not the critical fact here, but that is typically the direction, in time, toward which one finds the natural order.
**If a people will not remain in tension, they will cycle through endlessly.
We need not multiply explanations beyond necessity. Here is the rule:
The conservative impulse is to preserve the existing order. In our analogy, they desire to preserve the map as it is.
The liberal impulse is to modify the existing order as needed. This occurs when certain conditions are met.
The exception is the condition of an existential threat, which tends toward a conservative reaction.
Now, what of the Progressive and the Reactionary?
From the far-left and the far-right, respectively, these are people who would just as soon scrap the whole map as try to alter it to their liking. That is because, according to their liking, the society would present itself much differently.
Much is made of labels such as fascist and nazi, or terms such as gulag or communist. As just a guy thinking, I won’t dwell much on these. I am interested, instead, in real impulses, in the forces behind our movements and actions.
So – instead – when someone goes all the way to the left or the right of the political spectrum, what exactly does that mean? Here was a revelation for me…
First, the spectrum is not symmetrical. The reason is that it continues indefinitely in one direction, but has a fixed end in the other. This is the means by which Leftism typically triumphs…but we’ll come back to that.
Second: To the right is the natural order, and to the left is the synthetic order. Thus it can be, for example, that from a representative democracy, one finds a centralization of power in both directions, left and right. To the right, monarchy; to the left, central planning. Again, more later.
The corollary here is the point of this post: That a representative democracy is actually abhorrent to both the far-left and the far-right. Since it is the current norm, it also appears to be the center. But one could easily revise this view, with a little mental dexterity, and see it a representative democracy as both a far-left and a far-right bugaboo.
This may do some funny things to your political orientation. Let’s take one example, and show how this is more an idiosyncrasy of our age rather than a fault with the overall forces.
In 21st century America, environmental conservatism is typically seen as…well, liberal. Progressive even, if you consider vegans. Yet that’s exactly where the fault line lies.
Start by observing that you can’t believe the popular narrative. As a matter of fact, most conservatives believe in the conservation of the environment. They may not agree with the same means of doing so as liberals might, but the end goal is roughly the same. The quintessential narrative buster is the avid hunter – naturally, they want to preserve nature. Or else they would have nothing to hunt.
Moreover, both liberals and conservatives understand that environmental protection is something of a balance. If we never introduced any synthetic substance or pollutant into the environment, we would never have advance to our present sophistication. Seldom is anyone looking for a return to the Paleolithic, except in diet.
Nor do they typically advocate for runaway pollution, or no-holds-barred resources stripping.
So much for the chasm between liberals and conservatives on the end goals for the environment – but what about Progressives? And… vegans?* Well, what happens in the natural order?
“Nature is red in tooth and claw.” Lord Tennyson
It is simply not the case that anything which could eat meat would refrain from doing so, voluntarily. Try the experiment with your dog – put a piece of broccoli on the floor next to a steak. Full stop.
Yet I do retain my ostensible neutrality: This does not mean the vegan is wrong. It only means that veganism is a move to the left of the natural order, because it is an artificial proscription, and not the way anything in nature behaves on its own.
The more the natural order is manipulated and modified, the further you move to the left. And if you can understand the physics at play here, you can readily see why the spectrum is not symmetrical…
*Forgive me – have I broken my promise of neutrality? Or have you lost your sense of humor?
When a country – or a person – faces an existential threat, they will typically become more conservative.
Take an example of September 11, 2001, which unified a great deal of the country.
It goes without saying that neither the attacks on 9/11, nor everything al Qaeda has mustered since then, posed an actual existential threat to the U.S. But it approximated an existential threat, because attacks are virtually unheard of on our homeland, and because the magnitude of the attack was so staggering.
One of the effects of this attack was a return to unmitigated patriotism – there was bipartisan support behind the premises that we needed to unite and retaliate. Another was a return, at the citizen level, to faith.
There was one story after another of churches and synagogues and other places of worship filled up with pray-ers. When many millions of people felt suddenly vulnerable, they turned to their childhood faith for assurance.
There was a renewed sense of pride in our civil servants and in each other, simply as Americans. With a legitimate common enemy, we all returned to our common ground – which is fundamentally a conservative movement.
Let’s consider the map.
Consider our hypothetical country with their map (worldview). A legitimate enemy is one which wishes our harm, and also wishes to replace our map with their own.*
Of course, if an enemy attacks, it is because our map does not produce the results they desire. Our willingness to fight back means two things: One, that we love our map, as it is, enough to risk injury and death. Two, that we oppose theirs, at least enough that we do not want it to become our own.
The decision to fight back is often a result of both of these reasons, at maximum strength. You might conceivably only love your own map, or only oppose the enemy’s map – but either way, you direct your actions toward the preservation of your own map, as it now stands. You fight for your map, in its current edition, to continue to exist.
This is conservation by preservation from extermination.
In the swell of this movement, it will often happen that conservative edits are made to the map. Our hypothetical country might recently have increased funding to the arts; in time of war, they return to a more spartan budget. The country may have been attempting a new social program; in time of war, all things must be conserved, including attention and effort.
If all of the novel efforts and funding is thus restricted, what patterns of behaving and spending will the country favor?
Quite naturally, they will favor whatever they had been doing before. They will undo any costly edits, they will make straight any winding paths, and they will highlight only the practical, necessary elements of the map, and perhaps scratch out others or redraw them as they were before.
This movement is just what the individual body does, writ large. When facing down a hungry lion, one does not spend any energy worried about the pain in his toe or the new pants he was going to wear. It’s time to survive, as you are.
*You will sometimes hear the question, “What if the Nazis had won World War II?” The terrible thought, in addition to further suffering, is that we would all be indoctrinated into their worldview. Their map would replace ours.
Last time I suggested that there are five or so conditions which prompt a group of people to break from moderation – from basic acceptance of their worldview map – toward liberalism (typically) or conservatism (occasionally).
The first condition was Suffering.
I have avoided, for five or so posts, getting into any details or value judgements against liberals or conservatives. I intend to continue doing so throughout the series. It doesn’t matter which way I lean, or which way you lean – we are simply observing these leanings from an alien point of view, to better understand them. It may be that we learn something.
So, we will continue our observations via the analogy of the map.
Map = worldview.
Map =/= reality.
Therefore, worldview =/= reality.
A large population comes together, and by voice or by force they all come to accept a single map, which depicts reality. It depicts reality, but is not equivalent with reality.
After the initial period of acceptance and adjustment, life begins to hum along. Most everyone seems to find the map useful, and this young country develops a bit of confidence in itself.
It is soon found, however, that people occasionally traveling to a remote corner of the country – where the map is a bit unclear, to be honest – are falling off a cliff. This happens many more times than anyone likes to admit, and soon the official cartographers are called together to discuss revising the map.
It is straightforward matter. Everyone agrees that death is bad, especially death by splattering, and since the map was unclear anyway, it makes good sense to study the area and depict it accurately on the map. This is done, and the revised map is published. Life goes on, and no one can reasonably blame the map for any further deaths at that cliff.
Let’s step back.
My suggestion will be that it is a liberal impulse to want to modify the map, and it is a conservative impulse to want to conserve the map as it is. Those are impulses, not people.
Observe: In a case like this, everyone is both liberal and conservative. That is, everyone senses the need to change the map, because of the obvious suffering it is causing. At the same time, no one is suggesting that the map be scrapped – it generally works well, so they want to conserve the integrity of the map. One might liken this to an amendment, both in purpose and need for consensus.
Neither impulse is categorically evil or good. It is well that they both exist in balance. If one dominated the other, we would have a never ending cycle of change (liberalism) or a societal rigor mortis (conservatism).
There is a condition which can prompt a conservative change: Existential threat. We’ll look at that next time.