Friday, December 30, 2011

"Crazy" versus "Mainstream"

One thing that can be incredibly frustrating for me is the notion of the "mainstream" and the sense that, if ideas are outside it, they can simply be laughed at or dismissed, very often as "crazy."

This, I think, is especially a problem for those on the Right as opposed to on the Left. Though I'd like to think I avoid easy placement into either of those categories, my "default" attitude or narrative definitely tends towards the conservative. I am a traditionalist after all, and think an optimistic view of historical progressivism is incredibly naive; we do not "know better now" on human/moral/spiritual questions, not at all.

Either way, I think this problem is bigger for the Right perhaps because the common progressivist narrative means that the Leftists can be seen as edgy "revolutionaries" whose ideas have never really been tried, who may be "proven right" in the future like their progressive-banner-carrying fore-bearers, whereas those voicing more traditional opinions are seen as advocating something that was "tried and found wanting" (even though, in reality, they were never really tried, or else there is no real evidence that the "failure" in the past was anything more than a contingency in certain historical circumstances that may no longer exist...)

However, there are a lot of crazy ideas out there (and just as many in the mainstream as outside of it!) If sanity is defined by normativity, we've got a huge problem, because today's normativity sucks. And yet, unfortunately, a division of the world into "fringe" versus "mainstream" opinions has a tendency to marginalize even legitimate ideas by constructing them as hand-in-hand with truly absurd ones.

I've worried before about this sort of "martyrdom of ridicule" affecting Catholics, even my own friends. No longer does the threat of violence deter people from the faith (because we have a narrative where overt persecution like that, at least, is heroic and noble), but rather what deters people most seems to be a sort of incredibly powerful social shaming or intellectual bullying that causes most people to want to conform to what is "mainstream" in opinion; a smugly patronizing toleration can in this way be more undermining than active oppression. And many of those who do reject this conformity are then of a pathologically oppositional bent, are disgruntled "outsiders" who have an attitude of defiance towards the world, and axe to grind with society, and their neuroses in this regard can then be used to discredit any ideas associated with them in a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I myself know I need to watch out for this).

For example, I recently attended a meeting of the Pilgrims of St. Michael (the "White Berets" who publish the Michael Journal) in Toronto. Now, if you've been a consistent reader of this blog, you will know that I'm a big supporter of the Social Credit monetary reform proposals, and think they make sense of a financial system that has become an obfuscated game detached from reality. I think some common sense (and adherence to the social teachings of the Church on things like usury) would help establish a more economically just and equal world through the elimination of debt-money, etc, which also would have a profound effect on the very way people viewed their relation to labor and material goods (and the meaning of life in general).

So I went to this meeting expecting to hear a lot of solid stuff about monetary and banking reform and getting the word out about the social credit proposals. Instead I go and it's clearly a lot of crack-pots all pushing conspiracy theories in long-winded ramblings, touching here and there on how the bankers are abusing the system through exploitationist financial wizardry, but otherwise sounding totally bonkers. It would have been fascinating and hilarious if it didn't get so tediously boring after the first hour.

Luckily, I'm enough of a rational being to realize that association with kooks doesn't suddenly legitimatize an idea. I'm absolutely still convinced, on its own merits, that Social Credit is basically common sense, and that there is no reason to dismiss the idea of changing the current financial system just because it is the status quo supported by the "serious" men in suits (duh! They benefit from it!) and the smug "academic" economists of the pro-capitalist-apologia camp (who seem to believe that just because they can explain with complex mathematical models how the current system works, that this for some reason means it is the way the system should work.)

However, for many people, the sort of nuttiness I witnessed would cause them to throw out the baby with the bathwater and immediately dismiss the ideas about monetary reform. Mind you, I'm not saying there aren't connections between the corrupt, usurious financial system we currently have, the military-industrial complex and wars, and the networks of power among corporations, politicians, and the media. There clearly are, but I think the connections are much more the accumulation of the rotten effects of self-interest and greed playing out sociologically and geopolitically, and don't require any sort of particularly organized or "deliberate" conspiracy. In fact, I think it is the emergence of these evil structures from so many disparate and even competing interests that makes the whole situation even more terrifying; Satan's army has always been divided against itself, has always wrought destruction through its own Babel-chaos rather than through organized evil.

Nevertheless, it is extremely concerning how good ideas can be "tainted," as it were, by their contingent association together with other ideas that may be, actually, entirely unrelated. I've heard people who see, for example, that Republican conservatives in the US both are against abortion and deny global warming and evolution...use the obviously idiotic latter positions to conclude that the former pro-life position is idiotic (because only obvious idiots, meaning those who deny global warming and evolution, seem to hold it).

Likewise, I fear that the crediteers themselves are probably Social Credit's own worse enemy (the same, of course, can be said for trads and traditionalism) because of how they discredit (a nice little pun there) the whole thing through their other crazy ideas. And this, of course, serves the interest of the "mainstream" status-quo powers-that-be, who have an interest in marginalizing good ideas which threaten them, who prefer to neuter us with that "martyrdom of ridicule" rather than actively persecute.

To sum things up, I found a good quote explaining this phenomenon in a recent article about the Republican primary candidate Ron Paul (of whom I am a rather strong supporter, inasmuch as I do feel I have a duty to not simply withdraw from politics entirely, even as imperfect as all candidates will always be) and the recent attempts to discredit him, to delegitimatize him through ridicule or classification as "fringe" or "a kook" (because the attempts to simply dismiss him through a patronizing tactic of merely ignoring him failed) based on some old newsletters of his:

So why were Ron Paul or his ghostwriters engaged in racism and conspiracy theories? And why did Ron Paul allow this?

The first answer is simply that marginal causes attract marginal people.

The Gold Standard and non-interventionism have long been pushed to the fringe of our politics, and ambitious people tend to dive into the mainstream. That means that some of the 'talent' that marginalized ideas attract will be odd and unstable.

There are two strategies for dealing with this problem. You purge your movement of cranks to preserve credibility and risk alienating a chunk of supporters. Or you let everyone in your movement fly their freak flag and live with the consequences. Ron Paul, being a libertarian, has always done the latter.

I think this is a huge problem. Today, talented people (driven by ambition) dive into what is "mainstream" or socially acceptable or popular, taking sides within narrowly defined pre-packaged ideological platforms (of liberal or conservative, usually), in this culture war of identity politics...rather than actually considering each idea on its own merit or trying to form a consistent philosophy from foundational axioms and logic. Even the politicians who portray themselves a "outsiders" or "mavericks"...are always actually entirely "mainstream."

And when most of your intelligent people "sell out" (sell their souls, really) in this manner to the "mainstream," when most of the people in power are more concerned with conforming to media-mass-marketed ideologies (that are conveniently self-serving)...then your society is stuck in a mire that only a radical revolt against this malaise could overthrow. But radicals, by the very fact of being willing to stand up and say the emperor is naked on one thing...also often tend to be the sort of people who take oppositional or non-conformist stances on a lot of things (even though in most other cases that is unnecessary). This is the problem of freakiness.

It takes a radical, someone unconcerned with being "normal" or holding socially acceptable positions, to overthrow the status quo, or at least to stand against it consistently with a voice that can gradually influence the "mainstream" horizons to expand to include it or drift in its direction. Indeed, it often takes a sort of freak. But most of the sort of people willing to be radicals, willing to take a freakish stand on one thing...are, correlated with that, crazy in general (and not merely "crazy like a fox"). And hence a difficult catch-22.


Brian Delaney said...

We are often told (and rightly ) by the Catholic Church that holding to a Marxist-Leninist ideology is necessarily incompatible with Catholicism. Certainly there are similar aspects of modern libertarianism which are not compatible with the social teaching of the Catholic Church (certainly elements of Ron Paul's philosophy) How do you square the two ?
I don't mean this as "cornering " you for your political beliefs but there are Catholics who are strong social democrats. How does libertarianism mix?

A Sinner said...

I never said I was a libertarian. Does one have to be a libertarian to vote for one? This sounds like the logic of those who think you can never vote for a pro-abortion candidate (even in a situation where their position is inconsequential, like if they're running for Garbage Commissioner...)

There are things I don't like in Ron Paul's philosophy, definitely. As I say, I'm really for Social Credit, which in some ways DOES propose a type of "welfare" for everyone (through distribution, however, NOT re-distribution).

As for Marxism...there is no "one" Marxism, so I'd find it hard to say that it is incompatible with Catholicism as if it is a monolith. There are things in Marxism that are very insightful (say, the Marxian economic and socio-political analysis separated from the totalizing "philosophical" aspect) and I think only the incompatible elements would have to be rejected.