Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Reality Vs Pseudo-Realities

Rod Dreher has an essay up at the the American Conservative that I think powerful and important. I have mostly-positive views about Dreher's writing.  I give him great credit for - no, never mind.  My opinion of Dreher is immaterial here. Let's stick to this essay. As with "fair use" copyright laws, I don't want to quote so much that you don't read the article itself.  As I fear Dreher himself does this with the James Lindsay article that he quotes, I am extra careful.

So be advised going in: Dreher is used to writing for a popular audience and you can sail along nicely, pausing only here and there about particularly good phrasings or surprising angles. But when he gets to quoting from Lindsay's essay the pace will automatically slow. It is not only vocabulary, that Lindsay uses words like "paramorality," "paralogic," or phrases like "alchemy of the pseudo-realist program," but that sentences after sentence seems worth stopping and looking at itself.  He is talking about the opposite pseudo-realities of QAnon and Wokeness and other settings such as the Soviet Union, yet clearly keeps his eye on the general application. To take a paragraph from the middle of the essay, we first see

Pseudo-realities are always social fictions, which, in light of the above, means political fictions. That is, they are maintained not because they are true, in the sense that they correspond to reality, either material or human, but because a sufficient quantity of people in the society they attack either believe them or refuse to challenge them.

Well, that's a quote you might highlight in some way all by itself, isn't it? It sets you back.  You might not quite take a long walk over it (though really, you might), but you could at least see yourself stopping, getting up for a cup of coffee or to do some little absent-minded chore, and making sure you have laid that down in terms of something you have seen in your life.  Unfortunately, the next sentences are

This implies that pseudo-realities are linguistic phenomena above all else, and where power-granting linguistic distortions are present, it is likely that they are there to create and prop up some pseudo-reality. This also means that they require power, coercion, manipulation, and eventually force to keep them in place. Thus, they are the natural playground of psychopaths, and they are enabled by cowards and rationalizers.

Whoa.  That one may take at least a short walk, or an email to a wise friend to go over this with you.  But you are not yet at rest.  The paragraph concludes 

Most importantly, pseudo-realities do not attempt to describe reality as it is but rather as it “should be,” as determined by the relatively small fraction of the population who cannot bear living in reality unless it is bent to enable their own psychopathologies, which will be projected upon their enemies, which means all normal people.

It was at this point I decided I could not content myself with reading Dreher's excerpting and commentary on the essay, but needed to go read it myself.  I was tempted to link to it here and sign off, but I do think Dreher's followup is also worth a great deal, and so suggest to you that you find your own spot in the American Conservative link to interrupt and read the deeper, denser essay in full. I have bookmarked it myself. It is difficult and tiring, though to read something an essay in which a high percentage of the sentences could be specially highlighted, or taken out to quote to others as a foundation for an essay of one's own.

Because "universal compliance" is mentioned, I will insert a long-held thought of mine I think important in this context.  We contrast the free market and communism as if they are on all fours, making excuses for the latter because conditions have never been right and the attempts have always been undermined by other forces.  But this is precisely the point.  Communism works only when it is applied perfectly, without corruption, with wise rulers upon a deeply moral population.  When do we expect those conditions to occur?  OTOH, The free market works even though it is always applied with imperfect means, some corruption, unexpected events, and incompetent implementation, however slowly and partially that "works" is. So too with Wokeness and the pseudo-realities of the Right, like QAnon. They cannot work until everyone is made to comply, so the energy is directed into making people comply rather than providing evidence that the machine actually makes widgets.  How can we expect it to make widgets when everyone has not yet gotten into line?

When I returned to the essay, I found that Lindsay went on to make much the same point.  So i didn't need to.  I kept it in anyway, if only because mine is a bit more thorough.

He doesn't mention anti-vaxxers, BTW, and perhaps this is fair because thy confine themselves to a single issue rather than society at large.  But you will recognise some of the tactics claiming that other have not doen the research or are still being fooled by Big Whatever. Also, they bring normals into this pathology by these techniques by getting them to "meet them halfway," and then assert that there must be something to the claims.

I will highlight a couple of his closing quotes

It is understandable why most will not choose this path, but be warned: the longer one waits, the worse this gets 


The earlier one enters this fight, the more courage it takes and yet the more valuable it is. 

Understand that the word "fight" largely means a resistance to being shamed and cowed, not any storming of the Bastille or dramatic civil disobedience about social distancing.  It is mostly about what is said or unsaid, and quiet related actions. Lindsay is very clear about this, but I didn't want you to be put off and not bother with the long essay yourself if you haven't yet gone over.

Rod Dreher's essay quotes Vaclav Havel in summation, as he often does. He's a good choice, a good hero from the 20th C. "...refusing to live by it, no matter what it costs, and thus showing the world that it is possible to live in truth"

1 comment:

Grim said...

That's kin to one of the first essays I ever wrote, when Grim's Hall was new, back in March of 2003.