A Stoic Political Taxonomy
Don't hate the peasant players.
In the WEIRD news, podcaster extraordinaire and meditational polymath Sam Harris, whom I find quite admirable, has decided to distance himself from the Intellectual Dark Web. He finds within its broad membership some Trumpish apologetics that for him are irredeemably disgusting. So he has essentially told the whole kaboodle of us wankers to piss off. Some have actually gotten pissed off, and I sympathize with them for certainly Sam Harris has done well owing to his association with the IDW. Yet it’s only a tribe, not an avenue of power.
I keep repeating this about the ideological tribes. Peter Limberg has already fixed the categories and people keep forgetting or ignoring him. His understanding of how people have dug ideological trenches for themselves is excellent. But we are often aiming our multiple dissents at each other as Americans, and that is not only unproductive but destructive. It will take a minute to describe why.
Peasant Theory Recap
If you remember my Peasant Theory, it tells you that there are three functional classes of Westerners in general and Americans in particular (as it was generated thinking about the devolution of American democratic institutions). They are the Ruling Class, the Genius Class (aka the Slice) and the Peasant Class. These classes apply across every endeavor and so it applies firmly to my profession and yours. I reiterate that simply because one is a peasant doesn’t mean one suffers in misery. We have many millions of quite comfortable peasants. They simply have no authority and their expertise is not indispensable. Understand as well that we Americans do not find any of these classes unapproachable. We are all very pleased to party with whomever shows up, regardless of their situation in one of the three groups. Furthermore, we all sustain the hope that there is always a possibility of upward mobility. Yeah well… When a peasant tries to act like a genius or a ruler, the results are predictably sad. Keyword “In over your head”. When a genius tries to act like a ruler you get Dr. Emilio Lizardo. Here is your handy guide for the failures of upward and downward mobility that should sound familiar. If you need further explanation, hit me up in the comments section.
Tribal Faction Fractions
With that handled, let’s have a closer look at Limberg’s analysis and recognize that as the American millions have adopted ideological tribalism, their only connection to any actualization is through mainstream politics. There is great ideological diversity in America and there is a varying degree of fidelity to these ideologies. Some fraction of us in the peasantry might achieve master status, but whether you call yourself a Western Chauvinist, a True Christian, a Global citizen or a Revolutionary Patriot, you’re still a peasant until a ruler employs you and elevates you to a genius class professional and as such you maintain the machines of power. Unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, our mainstream politics has but two forms of agency, elephantine and donkish. If you’re all about the Intellectual Heterodoxy, as I am, with any luck you elect Bret Weinstein to Congress on a Democratic ticket. Otherwise you can shelter at home with the podcast along with the rest of the small fraction of the peasant millions in your tribe.
There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, as tribes are social (even if their aims are political) it is a good thing to commune with your fellows. It is also a multifarious kind of web. You can, and you should belong to many different tribes in a free society. I belong to several, including the Merry Band of Blue Star Dads (in Cargo Shorts) as well as the Apple Fanboy Collective. You can guess our very particular opinions on a good variety of subjects. Limberg’s ideological tribes tend to be mutually exclusive but you can certainly see how not everybody actually cares about this stuff. I mean more than football?
Nevertheless we have witnessed the endless blather about “America is more divided than at any point in my lifetime.” and “This is the most important election of our lives.” At least it’s not another ‘Trial of the Century’. No it’s not. These ideological divisions have always existed. What’s different is that the Ruling Class have somehow convinced the Peasants (85% of us) that our sacred values will be best served by elephants or donkeys. We know it’s not true and yet we give our consent by the vote, with a tacit understanding that the Genius Class is perfectly unwilling to do anything but serve one of these two masters. So the simplistic Red and Blue or Black and White has won for the time being. Nevertheless our true ideological, sociological and psychological diversity has been hijacked and suppressed. How? I already told you. Social media has put us in a box. So let’s use these two tools and think our way out of it, shall we?
So maybe it helps to talk about a few things which are abusing the taxonomic details of class and ideology that allow me to retain my stoic sanity amid this meshugaas. Let us consider the nature of the beast.
Ruling Class A.
Most importantly is that YouTube is bigger than ABC, CBS and NBC combined. Facebook. Yeah that’s a big giant monster too. Make no mistake, they are gajillionaires and they are not your friends. I’ll deal with the conflation of friends and networks one of these days. They make money on the churn. So long as they are delivering some fraction of your ideological tribe’s message you can be fooled into thinking maybe more people will get it, and that will motivate the peasants into voting my geniuses and rulers into power.
Ruling Class B.
We have two viable political parties. They are influenced by various ideological groups, including those illustrated by Limberg. So it makes sense to identify the core tenets of the ideological positions held by the various memetic tribes and trace how they are (or are not) adopted in principle or practice or rhetoric by the party leadership. So maybe if you write an op-ed or a letter to your Congressrat he will stand on his hind legs and make the speech that will bring your truth to power, and force the peasants into the proper behavior.
Ruling Class C.
We have a two tiered economy, one in which bankers who can get money from the Fed at close to 0% interest and startup founders can ‘disintermediate’ entire industries with shotgun money from venture capitalists. In the second tier is the rest of us, where capital flows way more slowly at much higher interest rates. Even if you are Ford Motor Company, Tesla’s $500 billon valuation is a bet that your Ford’s mere $35 billion doesn’t survive long term.
Do you see how the wishful thinking is cornered by these three powerful forces? Do you see how your fellowship with your tribe is under threat by the totalizing power of the two political parties? Do you see how the aggregating power of social media is starving out the true diversity of thought in America? Do you realize how impossible it is to be a literate editor at a reputable publishing house - how that genius class is being starved into peasantry by the power moves of Big Social Media? Do you understand why your raise of 2% per year is all you can expect when you’re working for a company that can’t grow much faster in this capital market?
My stoic pessimism must accept the possibility that it’s game over, so indulge me the cartoony Cerberus. That intellectual heterodoxy most certainly exists, but that we are orphaned by the Ruling Class and our geniuses in every institution have been relegated to scraping for likes.
I would like to get into the weeds about the difference between Leftists, Liberals, Marxists and Progressives. I think the ideological differences are important, perhaps even profound. But I know that we still don’t believe that a third political party will survive the machinations of the Ruling Class. I think the US can and will handle with civility all of the various tribal masters. It’s not as if Naomi Klein is going to assassinate Rod Dreher. There won’t be a cage match between David Duke and Ta Nehisi Coates, as much as we’d love to see one. Steven Pinker and Pat Robertson are not going to have a duel at dawn.
What’s going to happen is that we’re going to recognize finally that all of our peasant incivility and outrage has been for little. We have failed to acknowledge our tribal differences and be happy with the fellowship of our own clans. Instead, we think we’re in a totalizing culture war (henceforth uncapitalized) and need allies from all comers because everything is at stake. No. Even if Wall Street hypes your stock through the roof, it doesn’t become everything. Even if you get a million followers, that’s not the world. Even if you deliver the most magnificent political diatribe this side of Gettysburg, you don’t get to be king. The Universe, the mind of God, is not impressed. You haven’t exhausted even your own human possibilities and what you don’t know about the Universe should remind you of that. What I have tried to remind you about your peasanthood should be your clue. Our outrage has been for more than nothing, but we’ve not been directing it to our fellow tribesmen who get us, but trying to lord it over our fellow citizens. Our tribes should give us all the satisfaction we can handle - if not, then why belong? Our citizenship in the nation is a duty to simply guarantee liberty and justice for all. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Now I’m multi-tribal. And I am that rare beast who has been fairly deep into the mastery of multiple ideological tribes which are generally mutually exclusive. I suppose that makes me truly cosmopolitain or maybe I just don’t give enough (insert expletives here). Actually I’m probably too much in awe of the Universe and dreadfully aware of my own mortality and everybody else’s as well. So I can be satisfied with national abstractions that almost don’t work any longer. That’s my thick, stiff upper lip being unflappable. I’d like us to be the nation we once were and yet could be, but we’re going to have to figure our way through the legs and claws of Cerberus and stop squabbling with each other along the way. Because in a nation governed by the people for the people, we the peasants are actually in charge. A nation of peasants, with liberty and justice for all. I like the sound of that. Anybody who doesn’t trust that is on the wrong side of the dog.
Yours truly, the underdog.