In Defiance of Categories

Unless they are scientific, they're excuses.

In the early days of the interwebz, I used to talk a bit about what is now called the Strauss-Howe generational theory. Named for the authors of a book called The Fourth Turning, they hypothesized that each generation of Americans faces a particular set of circumstances to which they must respond. These circumstances, as the old saw goes, repeat like history. Added to that is the other folk wisdom that “Strong men make peaceful times, peaceful times make soft men, soft men make chaos, chaos makes strong men.” These two concepts dressed up and disciplined made for interesting reading and conversation, but they were hardly scientific. And since they played things on the side of virtue (that I recall) it was even more interesting that they called the four generational leaders nice names. There was Prophet, Nomad, Hero & Artist. Well enough about all that.

As a Stoic, I have deviated out of all contemporary noise to gain wisdom from the ancients. Just like deciding to read or listen to that which are called ‘classics’, it takes you away from the pop radio stations and well-trafficked pubs and clubs. You get to that place call ‘under a rock’. These contagious days, that’s a relatively safe and comfortable place to be.

The conflict of the Culture Wars here in America has a battlefield of categorical targets for the artillery of hate, shame, bigotry and ridicule. You know their names whether you have been studiously aiming or merely deafened by the constant shelling of every social beachhead. Millenials. SJWs. Terfs. Progressives. Trumpists. Hipsters. Bipocs. Vaxxers. YOLO Investors. Boomers. Fragile Whites, Unarmed Blacks, Proud Boys, Billionaires. You name the category, there’s umpty million of them who fit the profile. Or fall under the sway of their putative leaders, influencers and crowdfunders. Everything but ‘Americans’. Everything but ‘human beings’. You don’t have to be a fleet commander from Star Wars to know that I’m about to say:

On the other hand, there is some possibility that I’ve let my curiosity see fool’s gold everywhere but the mainstream. Maybe under this rock of classics is not the better place to be. There. Qualified, not sorry.

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This weekend I got a good rant in with some fellow LA IDW members and we were discussing (at first) the French Revolution. My rant was about ideology. It goes something like this. Since we know that humans respond to incentives even in matters of science, we ought to remember that we don’t process what we sense in order to divine the truth. We do so because not being stupid is an evolutionary advantage. Just because you are not stupid doesn’t mean you possess the truth. Just like being faster than the slowest hiker doesn’t mean you can outrun a bear. There are many times when it is quite advantageous to graduate from Harvard at the bottom of your class. Having an ideology that explains everything doesn’t make you right.

However having sticking to an ideology with discipline will inevitably put you in conflict, not only with opposing or dissonant ideologies, but with people who have no ideology. Every ideology has soft and hard borders and so there will be lesser and greater conflicts. Those people who come to adopt and practice an ideology do so for a reason; they want a plan. Or maybe they’re reacting with virtue to the circumstances of their generation, be they Heroes or Poets. Yet there are millions of people who fail to plan, who fail to even see what your ideology makes clear. Those millions survive. You might even call them ‘stupid’. More likely they are ‘randoms’. They are strange bedfellows, and when they win we all give the same answer. “Life isn’t fair.”

Yeah, but ideologues are trying to make it fair, according to their system. Well Uncle Kurt has news for you and your system. Y’all is incomplete. So we continue to shell the opposition and the wars continue. The barrage doesn’t care about individuals. We only manage to get them because they are in the wrong group at the wrong time - or at least they were in the general area we were gunning for.

It took something on the order of 170 years for Chris Rock to become the success he is and record the joke which was the death of the stereotype against blacks people and fried chicken. If you haven’t heard it, I guarantee you a chuckle, but I’ll ruin it here anyway. Of course black folks love fried chicken. If you don’t love fried chicken, there’s something wrong with you. Now I haven’t researched the origin of the racial stereotype but 170 sounded like a good number. The point is that most of the time, we understand exactly where the Other is coming from. Emotionally, we’re too human not to get it. Unless we’re actually stupid. But our ideology keeps us logically on point and so we don’t overindulge the sentiment of the barbarians. Yet how many times is the cliche repeated. “You can’t do that. It would make you no better than them.” The sad truth is that survival often favors situational ethics. After all, this is why we remember the Jacobins.

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Like fortune cookies, Chinese horoscopes and the virtues of Black History Month, there are always broad pseudo-ideologies that seem to fit our personalities. We may not have a particular reason to adopt them, and over the years they seem harmless enough. Sooner or later everybody becomes some kind of patriot, chauvinist, follower or fanboy. I mean, why fight against St. Patrick’s Day? Why not admit you’re a typical X? Well, I say that it’s fine to be a tribal member so long as you understand that tribes come and go and that they are not mutually exclusive. I belong to a fair number of tribes myself. The only thing that makes your affinity to anything troublesome is its ideology because ideologies have hard edges. You may recall that I was writing recently about how difficult it is for us to resign our commissions on personal principle when we’re not independently wealthy. Well, that goes double for us wage slave peasants.

BUT

We could be independent minded. We can decide not to be stupid and blinded by adherence to one way of being and thinking. After all, we are not true Mandalorians and there is no Way. Even Christians understand that no one can be a perfect Christian. Ask a Jesuit one day to explain the Grace of God. (Clue: It passeth all understanding, and we do not earn it.)

BUT

We are lazy. And sometimes we’re lazy and stupid and we decide to defend the box and ideology we have become comfortable in. ‘We’ do this as groups. We do so ‘in solidarity’ with our pet people. We do this as virtuous leaders of our saecular generation. We decide, consciously that we are not cowardly but will stand up, or kneel down, or break out or break in to where our now hardened edges of ideology send us. And we have plenty of [good] company.

Notice without the romantic ideological magic words, these men are just poorly made up Kiss cosplayers.

I don’t believe that there are all kinds of people. I believe that there are all sorts of people, most of whom are self-sorted into identity buckets of convenience which they occasionally defend with vigor, especially on the interwebz where talk is really, really cheap. People can get sorted and also get out of sorts. It pays to be light on your feet and not stupid. It’s smart to stay uncategorized and loosely affiliated with a number of tribes. You will inevitably connect emotionally with the Others, because we’re all humans. Choose your battles wisely. It’s useful to remember that your parenthood was probably not planned. You were not The One. You are not The Truth. And yet evolution has chosen that you were born, and you’ve survived to read this. So what are you now?