Polemic to Skyman


So Skyman, whom I am really starting to miss more perhaps than anyone else back home, sent me a quote today, and told me, simply, “Discuss!”

This quote has sort of preoccupied me ever since, and though I glibly dismissed his challenge then, I would like to address it now. The quote, as he sent it, was this:

So long as authority inspires awe, confusion and absurdity enhance conservative tendencies in society.
(Stansiłav Andreski)

This quote is taken from page 90 of Andreski’s 1972 book Social Sciences as Sorcery (1), and continues:

Firstly, because clear and logical thinking leads to a cumulation of knowledge (of which the progress of the natural sciences provides the best example) and the advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order. Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world.

It deals with “authority” and “conservatism” primarily within the academic world, but certainly the quote holds for the political world as well. Certainly “clear and logical thinking” leads away from conservatism and dependence on authority just as much in the political world as in the academic world, and certainly “confusion and absurdity” enhances political conservatism as much as it enhances academic conservatism. I will attempt to discuss this on the basis of my own ideals and prejudices, and it’s presently near midnight here, so I hop this will be intelligible. When I talk about conservatism, I talk about political conservatism, only, though, but in the commonly seen CCCP-version.

CCCP stands for the four pillars on which conservatism stands: conserved thinking, christianity, capitalism, and propertarianism. It is, incidentally, the same four pillars that fascism rests on, which is the main reason why I claim that the difference between fascism and more mainstream conservatism is a quantitative one, not a qualitative one. A society which has a sufficiently powerful conservative movement will inevitable acquire the secondary hallmarks of fascism. It is an evolution that is inescapable in the way conservatism is constructed.

CCCP is in many way a paradoxically atavistic ideology. It is, essentially, childish. All the four pillars of CCCP are extrapolations and/or congealments of childish beliefs, which unfortunately are taken serious by grown-up people.

Conserved thinking here represents not only the belief that “things used to be better”, implying that change, especially abrupt change, is to be avoided. This is the childish idolization of the past. This is the oldest child thinking it was better before their younger siblings were born, because then their parents devoted more time on him/her. This is the child longing wistfully for the time before they started going to school — an abrupt change both in that it happens from one day to another, and that it involves vastly different circumstances before and after — when they could stay home and play all day. This is the child believing that the past was better, more comfortable, more reassuring, but allowed to bloom out fully to the belief that the past was better in general, and that circumstances should be changed so that the present more resembles the past.

But it is, as I said, not only that. It is also the blind trust in authority that is exhibited by, and in fact demanded from, the conservative mindset. This is what makes it so hard to discuss socialism and anarchism with conservatives, because in order to function, they need the reassurance of authority; they require the guiding hand of the purportedly more experienced in order to function more properly. This, too, is a childish mentality, stemming from the admittedly understandable imprinting that they would have received as children. Parents, grandparents, teachers, and other people who in their daily interactions with the child take on the role as authority figures, and use their greater experience and understanding of cause and effect to, essentially, brainwash the child into more or less blind trust in authority, whether this authority is correct or not.

It is a defining characteristic of the conservative mindset that this behaviour is retained after adolescence, like a cyst that will remain in their brains and prevent them from growing up and function as social beings. This is summed up very succinctly by Margret Thatcher’s famous statement, “[T]here is no such thing as society.” (2). The curious thing is that this childishness, which is contradicted by every-day experience, is still sometimes seen as profound, when in reality it is the failure to leave the ideology of childhood.

Christianty is not necessarily the only religion that can form this second pillar; certainly Islam, Judaism, and other religions will work as well, though for most of the great conservative leaders of the 20th century — Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar, Franco, Dollfuss, Horthy, Pinochet, Thatcher and others, including recent ones in Sweden like Åkesson — appeal to a christian background, or to “christian values” have formed that pillar. I argue that this, too, like virtually all religion, is also a remnant of the childish mind.

The early life of a child is like the early life of humanity, in which the vast majority of things are unknowns. The child can observe, but it cannot necessarily understand, because causes may be indirect, or invisible, or complex, or conditional; primitive humanity worked pretty much the same way. Therefore, religion. Religion can be said to primarily exist for three reasons: explaining and contextualising the natural world, its entities and phenomena; providing comfort and reassurance in the face of death; and providing a framework for imposing the moral codes and ideals of the elite on the population in general.
– Regarding the first reason, religion has long since been superseded by science, due to its larger degree of flexibility, testability, adaptability, and adherence to the principle of parsimony (3).
– The second reason has not been superseded by any other field, but is also guesswork (4) from the side of religion, and therefore is not more substantial than any other guess.
– The third reason has largely been superseded in the West by politics and law (5).

The three main reasons for religion are therefore outdated, and the concept is superfluous to modern society. However, the mind of the conservative has never broken the chain of bewilderment, has never sought to truly challenge his/her received opinions on the ultimate causes of effects, and has never left the childish-primitive stage in which they were born. There is a reason why most of “academia” is seen as left-wing, and that is because only — or at least primarily — those who can leave the belief in the unseen causer behind can become truly great scientists. Those who continue to believe in the benevolence of the forces behind the universe, in the eventual rescue of humanity from its present “test stage”, in the existence of a personal (albeit supernatural) “plan” into which everything fits — those who do so cannot achieve the freedom of the mind required to understand the natural world. They remain in the stage where they already have the ultimate answer, so the proximate answer is not as important.

Capitalism is more childish than primitive. It is the retention into adult life of the belief that “someone else” will create things, and that as long as adverse conditions under which it is created do not affect the self, these are unimportant, and the focus is, in the conservative as in the child, on the comfort of the self. The concept of “comfort of others” does not automatically occur to the childish mind, nor to the conservative mind (6). Just as, in the mind of the child, food “just appears”, and is not connected to the labour involved in producing it, the parents getting money to buy it, and the time spent cooking it — in the same manner, to the conservative mind, products simply “appear” in stores or warehouses.

When is a capitalist inconvenienced?

When he knows that his workers are poorly treated, work under poor conditions, receive low salaries, have low self respect and self esteem due to the hierarchical and oppressive wage slavery system that is imposed on them? No.

He is inconvenienced when these conditions are brought to the attention of the wider public, so that he himself is the target of critique and laws. When there is a strike, or a walk-out, or a boycott and he himself faces the possibility that he must reduce his living standards, that is when the capitalist is inconvenienced.

When is the child inconvenienced?

When he knows that its mother is tired after having worked all night, when there is not enough money for the whole family to eat their fill, when its parents deny themselves things? No.

It is inconvenienced when any of these things affects itself, when the food is not what the child wants, when it cannot do the things its classmates and friends can do. When the child dimly perceives that it is suffering a disequilibrium with its peers, that is when the child is inconvenienced.

The parallels are obvious. The comfort of the child, like the comfort for the capitalist, is the result of the labour of others, and these others are removed from the self — in the child’s case because of its limited ability to comprehend the social system in which its parents are bound, and in the capitalist’s case because of his limited ability to understand the social system he himself is helping to create. The child’s world is limited to a low number of individuals that are others, so the outer limits of “society” are relatively close. The capitalist has no such excuse.

Propertarianism is the childish belief that this is my toy, and it is my right to decide what happens to it whether or not I am playing with it at the moment. It is the childish belief that “might makes right”. I claim that this is my toy, and if I can back this claim up by force of some sort, that possession becomes “fact”. The retention of this childish belief into (supposed) adulthood causes propertarianism, which is the belief that not only can every object in Totality have a single, identified possessor — who ultimately and exclusively decided the fate of the object, whether that object is dead or alive — but that this is also the correct way for Totality to be arranged.

This is why conservatives do not like public property. “The Public” is not a single, identified possessor, it is a multiple, diffuse user or, at best, a plurality of caretakers. We use the police, but no one owns the police. We all take care, together, to keep parks and woodlands clean. No single, identified possessor has the right to decide the fate of any single publicly owned tree, and the plurality of caretakers have the audacity to want to partake in the decision-making process.

The childishness of propertarianism, and the compulsive need for a single, identified possessor, is why conservatives are so opposed to democracy, self-determination, collective decision-making, commonly owned entities, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought. This is why it is so laughable whenever a conservative rages against “big government”; because the ideal Totality of any given conservative is one in which there is a single, identified possessor of Totality, and that possessor is the conservative himself. That is the wet dream of conservatives, and that is how they wish to model their society. That is why we have kings, that is why we have popes, that is why we have nobility, owners, military, borders, and everything else that is crap about conservatism.

Having summarized the CCCP-model of conservatism and its most pertinent characteristics, I will now look at Andreski’s quote again:

So long as authority inspires awe, confusion and absurdity enhance conservative tendencies in society. Firstly, because clear and logical thinking leads to a cumulation of knowledge (of which the progress of the natural sciences provides the best example) and the advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order. Confused thinking, on the other hand, leads nowhere in particular and can be indulged indefinitely without producing any impact upon the world.

How does “confusion and absurdity” aid the CCCP worldview? Conversely, how does “clear and logical thinking” subvert it?

For the sake of argument, let us assume that truth or an approximation of truth can be established. In essence, let us assume science. Science has assumed the mantle of “clear and logical thinking” and claims, if implicitly, that its methods are the best way to establish truth about Totality. This is done by the best method there is, the scientific method, in which an observation is made, a hypothesis on the predictability of this observation is established, a test is formulated, then carried out, and the results are compared with the hypothesis (7).

The CCCP worldview always, axiomatically, represents established knowledge, either as received knowledge or as “common sense” but never willingly, on a systemic level, acquired knowledge. It is the ideal that “what was good enough for my father is good enough for me” or, as you often hear from conservative Americans, “the Founding Fathers did/said/believed X, therefore X is correct”. Notice that CCCP can obtain knowledge from outside the system, as long as that acquisition is sufficiently remote in the past, or is received from a person of authority, by which is usually meant strength.

CCCP established knowledge strives to be a closed system, in which no new knowledge is introduced. This is because of the received knowledge (experience from earlier generations of CCCP) that “advance of knowledge sooner or later undermines the traditional order”. If authority is to be absolute, obedience must be absolute. Absolute obedience to a closed system means that knowledge cannot accumulate, only remain stationary or stagnant (cf. the common fascist yearnings for a Golden Age past). The closed system thereby becomes negatively predictable, which reinforces the system (8).

Stagnation is important, because the natural process to eliminate stagnation in biological systems is evolution, which at least occasionally implies the “introduction of new knowledge”. Evolution is, essentially, God’s way to show that conservatism is wrong and stupid. It is evolution, in the natural world, that “undermines the traditional order”. In the social world, evolution is replaced by “advance of knowledge”, which necessarily imperils the closed system of the single, identified possessor. The possessor can only threaten the dispossessed with X if they don’t do Y as long as the system truly is closed, and obedience truly is absolute, but as obedience can be demanded only within the system, and only from people, the possessor’s struggle to achieve absolute obedience and absolute control must fail, as the system can never be closed.

Eventually, something will happen by accident, and something unpredictable will be introduced into the near-closed system. This is when “clear and logical thinking” has an opportunity to destroy the system, and “confusion and absurdity” will be used to reinforce the system. A flood will be the punishment for sins, or the result of heavy snowfall during last winter higher up in the catchment area of the river system. As long as the authority of the CCCP can awe the people, the former is likely to be accepted. When the authority of the CCCP has already been undermined, the latter has a chance of being accepted, and the authority of the CCCP is chipped away at further. The system moves from reliance on negative predictability to neutral predictability and then, eventually, to positive predictability.

This is a simplistic, but illustrative example. The flood as punishment for sins has all the characteristics of CCCP:
– It is conserved thought, as it relies on the simplistic action-reaction assumption of the child; if you misbehave, you will be punished;
– It is “christian” (or at least religious) (9) as it implies a supernatural cause, interpretable only be the CCCP elite, for a natural effect;
– It is capitalist in that it places the comfort and convenience of the CCCP first, essentially stating that because the people didn’t please the CCCP, they are being punished, regardless of if the behaviour that allegedly caused the “punishment” brought convenience or comfort to the people or not;
– It is propertarian, in that the alleged appropriate response to (real or imagined) wrongdoings is might, and that the CCCP elite — the identified possessors — are right precisely because a show of might has punished those who did not obey. It is propertarian in that it, like most religions, is open to the question of humans as property.

“Confusion and absurdity” has, in this fictional example, potentially strengthened the obedience to the CCCP; “clear and logical thinking” would potentially have lessened this obedience. A parallel is easy to draw with the CCCP’s current opposition to and discrediting of things like man-made global warming, evolution, and other issues. Even matters that are more social than natural — the separation of church and state, gay marriages, abortion, “degenerate art”, atheism — can be seen in the same light. They are all issues that can potentially lessen the absolute obedience to the traditional system, and therefore arguments involving tradition, “unnaturalness”, ungodliness, and so on, are employed to combat them.

These are nonsensical arguments. Tradition is a summation of what has been done in the past, not what must be done in the future. Unnaturalness and ungodliness are attempts at “confusion and absurdity”, attempts to move the prevailing view away from one that is “clear and logical” and therefore outside the control of the CCCP, to one which the CCCP can manipulate. Every time the CCCP succeeds in revoking or denying gay marriage, for instance, is one step closer to the primitive, childlike system of absolute obedience to an arbitrary authority. Every time religion is taken seriously on virtually any matter whatsoever outside strict theology, we are moving closer to the closed system the CCCP dreams of.

Now it’s almost half past one in the morning, so I will end there, for now at least. Hope this is something at least close to the discussion Skyman wanted!

(1) I have never read this book, and the more specific info is taken from the introduction to Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s 1999 book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.

(2) From Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987.

(3) The principle of parsimony is my favorite principle. I was recently in a discussion with a creationist who believed that multiple creators was more likely than a single one, and I tried to argue him on the basis of parsimony. I believe I did pretty well, because like most creationists that are cornered, he stopped answering most of my posts, and eventually put me on ignore. I argued, in that thread, that the creationist has, at the minimum, a five-fold burden for any and every evolutionary step. He/she has to show evidence for:
1) The existence of a potential creator;
2) That such a potential creator had the knowledge necessary to influence the natural world;
3) That such a potential creator had the power and/or tools necessary to influence the natural world;
4) That such a potential creator had the opportunity to influence the natural world, and;
5) That such a potential creator actually did influence the natural world.
All three must be substantiated before any creationist hypothesis can even be considered, and at least step 2-5 have to be repeated for every act of influence of the supposed creator on the natural world.

(4) This is necessarily the case, until it can be conclusively shown that there doesn’t exist two sets of afterlives, one from which you can return (as do people who allegedly have near-death experiences and similar) and in which you can be contacted (as so-called mediums claim they can do), and one in which both these things are impossible.

(5) In many of his speeches, the late Christopher Hitchens challenged his audiences to name a single moral action that could only be performed because someone was a believer, or a single moral viewpoint that could only be held by someone who was a believer. He added the corollary challenge to name any immoral action that can only be undertaken by a believer, quipping that, “You’ve already thought of one”.

(6) For this reason, the third of Lars Gyllensten’s “Ten New Commandments” reads:
“Tänk på att andra mår lika väl av komfort som du själv” = “Remember that others want to enjoy comfort as much as you do”
These ten new commandments are MUCH superior to those of christianity.

(7) Incidentally, I believe any potential phenomenon is subject to a rule of dominance. Any potential phenomenon must assume one or more of four traits:
1) It is predictable;
2) It is unpredictable;
3) It is unknown;
4) It is nonsense.
Higher numbers are dominant over lower numbers, such that a phenomenon that is predictable and unpredictable has the phenotype of unpredictability, and so on. This is easily illustrated by the example of you wanting to meet me after work, but you don’t know when I will be finished, so you ask a co-worker of mine. This gives us the following:
1) I always leave at exactly five;;
2) I always leave when I feel I have done enough, but that time varies from day to day;
3) The co-worked doesn’t know, because she always leaves before me;
4) I don’t really exist.
Notice that if the co-worker answers that I usually leave at five, that phenomenon has traits 1 and 2, but 2 is dominant over 1, so you cannot use that answer to establish either when you should arrive at my work place, or how long it is reasonable to wait before either trying to contact me or just going home. The same analysis can be done for e.g. homoeopathy:
1) Homoeopathy always works or never works;
2) Homoeopathy work sometimes, but you can never be sure when it will work and when it won’t work;
3) It is unknown whether homoeopathy works or not;
4) Homoeopathy is nonsense.
Again, lover numbers are recessive, and thus the phenotype of a homoeopathic treatment (all of which are nonsense) is one of nonsense, whether it allegedly “work” unpredictably or not.

(8) “Negatively predictable” is any phenomenon that is predictable because its predictability is enforced. “Neutral predictability” is any phenomenon which is predictable due to natural laws. An example of the former is celebrations of national days, which we know (in Sweden) will occur on the 6th of June, because authority has decreed that this shall be the case. An example of the latter would be gravity, which cannot be decreed away. “Negatively predictable” phenomena are predictable only as long as the authority has power, whereas “neutral predictable” phenomena are independent of authority. “Positive predictable” is any phenomenon that occurs spontaneously from interactions between individuals in a non-hierarchical system. If everyone in a system want to arrange an annual harvest festival, and this occurs in a predictable manner without being enforced or coerced, this festival is “positively predictable”. A real-life example could be when Skyman and Johanna do capoeira at the First of May every year.

(9) The system could as easily be described as CRCP, but that does not draw the necessary parallel between the conservative mindset and that of Stalinist Soviet, one of the goals towards which every CCCP is striving.


4 responses »

  1. Starting to miss me, are you? If you will consider revoking your statement vis-a-vis my home-made honey-and-thyme short bread, I _may_ consider championing the issue of having your exile annulled!

    Now, to the matters at hand: Thank you for a very entertaining and thought provoking post! I was not expecting such a deluge of wit and reason, at so small a provocation (when will I ever learn, one wonders..?) — a worthy centennial! (Unfortunately, I recognise my own character uncomfortably well in your CCCP model, in particular in the first C (well, mostly in that C, but it’s very spot on).

    As to your objection to religion, I agree, but would like to add to the third point that religion has (unfortunately) not been superseded only by law, but perhaps more deviously by corporate media, advertisement and the like. I don’t think that prevalent popular values would by necessity show a stronger correlation (potentially a lot weaker, but maybe I’m being overly cynical) with law, than with the values presented on the telly. I do, however, agree with you in that laws are undoubtedly by design a conservative force in society, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Now, for my main question: what about the aesthetics of absurdity? I know that you under many circumstances enjoy the absurd, and that you enjoy confusion; causing it and witnessing it. The same is true for the Conviviality of Honesty, whose University, multitudinous blogs and online persona etc. are testament to this. It is further true of Monochrom in Vienna.

    All of the persons mentioned above, you yourself included, have strong (though not in all cases expressed or self-confessed) left-leaning values, and some use absurdity and confusion as obfuscated critique of society. If your argument above, in support of Andreski’s thesis, is right, then are you all (unwittingly) playing the Overture of Conservatism and Fascism in your creative efforts? If not, why not; i.e. under what circumstances can these tools undermine the awe for authority, rather than undermining efforts to thwart the reigning order? And is it worth the risk, when the result may be the opposite of the desired?

  2. Initial reply, which may become modified later on when I’ve thought more about it and also have had something to eat:

    The fundamental difference (or, if you prefer, the cheap escape route) is that none of those actors you list are spreading confusion or absurdity from a position of power. The differences in power or potential power between me and Anders Borg or the Pope are considerable, and this is a very relevant factor. The largest number of people I could ever hope to confuse would be a biology class, and when I teach biology, I do not try to confuse or turn the lecture into something absurd. By extrapolation, if I were ever elected to a position or power or potential power, I like to think that this would be the same, though I am now sure if it would be.

    Spreading confusing upward in the hierarchy is subversive almost by definition, and if the upper echelons of the hierarchy are conservative (which is usually the case, otherwise there would be no hierarchy), confusion and absurdity with the expressed aim to undermine these hierarchies and the social order cannot be said to aid conservatism. Spreading it downward in the hierarchy, or otherwise from a position of power, can, but likely must not.

    This is largely because of the structure of the conservative and hierarchical mindset. They rely on the threat of punishment, and occasional shows of power or violence, as sufficient deterrents against initiative, dissent, non-conformism, and other “unwanted” characteristics, largely, I believe, because of an aspect of the childishness of conservatism that I didn’t really touch on in the post, namely the inability to imagine that others are different from themselves in any way. When differences *cannot* be ignored, this gives rise to the normal conservative attitudes towards women, non-whites, homosexuals, people of other religions, and so on, viz. hatred.

    If society is conservative, as most seem to be, then “absurdity and confusion” may also be more closely allied with “clear and logical thinking”, provided that the “absurdity and confusion” is (implicitly or explicitly) aimed at drawing attention to the “absurdity and confusion” of the ruling class. Given that the CCCP will use “absurdity and confusion” towards the lower classes whenever they feel it is necessary, it may in some cases be useful to construct “absurdity and confusion” from below, either to reveal the “absurdity and confusion” of the ruling classes, or to provoke a more “absurd and confusing” response from these, so that their position eventually becomes untenable. This position can then be replaced, hopefully, with one arrived at by “clear and logical thinking”.

  3. But is spreading confusion upward really unconditionally subversive? It is such an easy thing for the CCCP to disregard such critique, saying that “The opposition is out of arguments/not Statsmannamässig/not serious/not fit to run the country — we have the sollutions, we are serious,” and I think that for the most part, they would be believed by the general electorate.

    Then again, political caricature and satire are probably subversive, otherwise fully matured (hah*! there is a contradiction in terms!) CCCPs would not censor them. My feeling is, however, that the absurd can backfire. Under what conditions is it subversive of one’s own cause, and under what conditions does it subvert the authority? I don’t know…

    *) Recently re-watched that move. Still very good.

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