Endangered trees… the fragile web of life… what was I thinking, going on and on about ecology! This isn’t a Greenpeace rally. Always use metaphors that resonate with the experiences and tastes of audience.
So rhizomes and rainforests are out. Maybe RPGs would get the idea across?
Take some typical sword-’n-sorcery RPG. Typically when you’re building a strong character in an RPG, you face trade-offs between developing different abilities. The mechanics that determine a character’s exact mix of strengths and weaknesses depend on the game you’re playing and are frankly pretty arbitrary: skill-points, classes, species, leveling up, buffs, gear, whatever. The point is that when have an option to make the character stronger in one area, you forego opportunities to patch up weaknesses in other areas, or even aggravate those weaknesses. And in particular, an RPG typically presents you with a thematic contrast between exotic/unusual/quirky abilities that can be incredibly powerful in special situations, and the raw power to bash down doors and slit throats. Brains vs. brawn, mental force vs. physical force. (In the real world intelligent people are also disciplined about exercise and vice versa, but RPG players are mysteriously fond of this dichotomy.)
These trade-offs (all the little ones, plus the big overarching one) allow RPG players to build characters who are not only powerful in some generic sense, but powerful in certain roles: characters who are powerful in a particular niche in the adventuring-ecosystem.
You might think that the rules of the particular RPG you’re playing are sort of unbalanced towards the “sword-” part of sword-’n-sorcery. Let’s specify that in the game we’re talking about, brawn beats brains every time. In fact, let’s go further and stipulate that all those cool spells and weird Elvish rope-tying tricks are basically useless. If you only had one character, and you wanted to succeed in your quest, you’d have to make him really tough and really dumb. Preferably, he’d be the toughest, dumbest character the game’s mechanics will allow you to draw up.
If you’re playing with a whole party, you’re still going to want the whole party to be pretty tough and pretty dumb. However, each character’s strengths and weaknesses shape the dangers and opportunities the others face. This creates feedback loops between them. A character occupying a niche in an adventuring party can thrive with a mix of skills that would have made him feeble if he were solo.
Consider the PC Compass in Figure I. If you were trying to build the ideal party in this RPG where brawn beats brains, you might choose a team like this. On average, your six characters are skewed pretty drastically towards the “Powerful + Illiterate” quadrant of the compass. But because you have two warriors anchoring the team who can afford to take the lion’s share of the risks in hand-to-hand combat (Conan and Achilles), their teammates can afford to devote some effort to more cerebral skills that will save the day once in a while: sleight-of-hand? surgery? reading and writing?
Meanwhile, with five tough warriors who can hold their own in a bloody battle, these adventurers can protect one another well enough to create a niche for a character like Gandalf. Gandalf certainly isn’t some prissy delicate elf; nor has he advanced very far towards the “arcane” side of the PC Compass. Nonetheless, he has sacrificed the sort of physical power Achilles has in exchange for a few sorcerous skills that would be of limited use in a brawl. If he were on his own, Gandalf’s sacrifices wouldn’t be worth it.
But he isn’t on his own. Gandalf’s friends can stand between him and danger, and that makes his ability to defend himself less valuable. They can safely get him to places where he can uses his spells to maximum effect, which makes his arcane knowledge more valuable. And so, in this particular ecosystem, there is a niche for a character like Gandalf to occupy.
Remember, these are not just niches you could fill, if you happened to stumble across Gandalf in a tavern on the first day of the campaign. We have established that this six-character ecosystem is more effective than six Achilles clones. If you didn’t have the right characters to create these mutually-supporting niches, and you still wanted a capable party, you would have to develop the niches from scratch. If a party started out with six completely pathetic characters (clustered in the far corner of the “Delicate + Illiterate” quadrant of Figure II) the players should plan to develop each character so that his progress gradually increases his ability to help the others, as well as the other’s ability to help him.
(And yes, that means adventuring parties are ecologically fragile. If a PC loses his buddies, he’s probably toast. That’s part of the fun: rocks fall, everyone dies.)
Now, back to politics. Study this careful illustration of the subtleties of the complex analogy between a political ecosystem and an adventuring ecosystem: the Political PC Compass (Figure III).
As you can see, this model portrays (in abstract form!) an ecosystem that is much like an adventuring party, but the party’s characters occupy points in political space. Instead of simplifying strengths and weaknesses into (brains X brawn), I’ve sketched out the dimensions of political space by plotting the characters’ most important political commitments on the x- and y-axis.
These different political positions indicate each character’s goals and priorities (the ends for the sake of which he participates in a party), but they also reveal sources of strength he draws on. Some tasks are very easy for someone in one position, and very hard for someone in another. Weev would have trouble trying to host a fundraiser in Boca Raton, but he’s your guy if you want to terrify lefties over the Internet-of-Things. More broadly, extremism makes it easier for a character to mobilize idealists and desperadoes, moderation make it easier to mobilize pragmatists and careerists, and the different types of NP-errr, supporters mobilized from these different positions are in turn particularly effective at different types of tasks
The unique strengths available to characters due to their political positions are not limited to task-specialization. In a functioning political party, each character supports the others with contributions his political position allows him to make, such that the success of the party depends on its characters being scattered across a fairly wide swathe of political space. Donald J. Trump needs the support of hardliners like Steve “Jew Ragout” Crowder and Weev. Their impassioned rhetoric and uncompromising attacks keep the Overton Window moving. They keep pressure off Trump and insulate him from scare tactics while keeping his detractors off balance. Crowder and Weev need Donald J. Trump just as much; Trump’s position allowed him to win an election which pulled our country back from the brink of irreversible disaster.
It’s nice to have as big a party as possible (six characters are twice as strong as three, and so on) but that’s not the main reason why you want your party to be spread out across political space. A party which occupies more space on the PPCC has characters in mutually reinforcing niches which are able to make the party stronger precisely because they rely on the abilities of the characters they disagree with.
That, in turn, means that if you didn’t have characters like these available to join your political campaign — if maybe you didn’t have any variety to draw on, if you were trying to found a party with a little group of friends who all agreed with you about everything — you would have to take matters into your own hands. Like the party of neophyte adventurers in Figure II, you would have to plan out a trajectory for the future development of the principles of each of your friends, gradually leading you to the political niches where you could do the most to support one another. Or at least, it would be a trajectory for their publicly stated political principles. It might be easier to pretend. A party that started out with all extremists would need characters to spend a few years building up credibility as normies with lots of kosher, mainstream opinions. A party that started out with all Trumps would need a few characters to LARP as hate-fueled revolutionaries like Crowder.
But as you remember from our Gr8Right thought experiment, the simplest way to get people to think you believe something is to actually believe it. Perhaps (perhaps!) it would be best if rather than pretending, each political player-character gradually molded his political views until they were a better fit for the niche he needs to occupy.
Reality Check √
It would be funny if we right-wingers were secretly totally ideologically uniform and needed to pretend to squabble to populate the niches in our ecosystem. In reality we’re not identical, and we squabble for fun. Given that the political disagreement within the Right already exists, and given that if it didn’t exist we might have to try to create it from scratch, the Right should certainly tap into its existing ideological diversity to fill all the niches that could reinforce the ecosystem.
And while I hope you were entertained by the conceit that a “political party” has maybe six PCs, in reality a party or movement can be as large as it wants, and has a nearly infinite variety of possible roles to fill. This means that no matter how eccentric someone’s political views, no matter how tenuously they mesh with the party he offers his services to, if he is intelligent and energetic then there are almost certainly a few special roles that only someone in his position could fill successfully.
(People sometimes worry that people with eccentric views are entryists or subversives. Maybe. But if you really want to infiltrate a political movement, you don’t start by telling them you disagree with them on all sorts of important issues. You start by lying, and spring the trap after you get to the top. But infiltration and entryism, as damaging as they can be, aren’t nearly as common as sincere people who change their minds! Your movement needs to be resilient enough to weed out apostates and infiltrators. If you’re afraid of eccentrics who state their heresies point-blank at the very beginning, you’re in big trouble.)
Also! About this “political space” with two dimensions: there is a reason why the PPCC in Figure III doesn’t have the standard “left/right, authority/liberty” axes.
- My way is both funnier and more accurate.
- Political positions exist along a very large number of dimensions, and no particular way of sorting dozens of political questions into a small number of “principal components” is particularly illuminating.
That multidimensionality goes double when you are discussing political movements and their ecosystems. One of the most important functions of a robust political ecosystem is to reframe and regroup political questions so that people are more likely to imagine a political space that has dimensions which make it easy to unify their own party. I may go into this claim in greater depth some other day.
We can go further still. If the basket of political solutions a given citizen accepts has no underlying political principle that gives the basket conceptual unity, what does cause someone to vote for option X over option Y?
Sometimes self-interest, latent or overt. Selfishness is no virtue, but there is at least a ruddy, healthy glow around people who vote for whatever’s best for themselves, and figure out a polite explanation later on.
Sometimes, they vote based someone else’s self-interest, which is a bit sad. In the best-case scenario, someone like that is a dupe who has been tricked by someone who is self-interested, and that kind of stupidity is ugly. Most cucks have psychological tics more grave than stupidity, unfortunately.
After (a) the simple souls who vote for their own interests and (b) their dull or twisted counterparts who vote for someone else’s interests, we come to (c) personality flaws (neuroses, anxieties or manias that take on a political character) and finally to (d) sin.
So in reality, your political movement isn’t just a collection of members with different political principles, or even different interests and different illusions. It’s also an army of fools and sinners.
Sin and Politics
Sinners are attracted to political parties that promise not to punish sins, that insulate them from the consequences of sinning, or even promise to honor the sin and offer legal privileges to the sinners. They are also attracted to parties whose ideology dovetails with the excuses and justifications they offer for their past sins, and anticipated future sins; to parties fueled by the resentment that hopeless sinners feel towards the virtuous; and to anything that allows them to project their own guilt onto others. But sinners are always tempted by circumstances as well. An opportunity to gain political power which can be used to sin are always worthy of considerations, never mind who makes the offer.
I want to be ultra-clear on this point. I am not advocating that any politician, propagandist, or thinker promise not to punish sins in order to rally more sinners under his banner. But just as different political platforms attract the adherents of different principles, the beneficiaries of different interests, and the dupes of different illusions, so too with sin. Every political platform attracts and repels different sets of sinners, tempted by different sets of sins.
There are other, less sinful reasons for sinners to sort themselves out into political movements dictated by their sins. The more wretched a sinner is, the more keenly he is aware of the depravity of the society that inflamed his sinfulness, and the more he wants to smash it. Sinners may know how much they have harmed themselves with their sins and want to nudge others off the path of self-destruction. Sinners also get a very close view of the harm they do to their victims, and in many cases the most hardened sinners show the strongest resolve not to let those they love become victims in turn.
There was a Yiddish saying, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.” On this point, it seems reasonable to defer to Yiddish wisdom.
There is another curious phenomenon whereby sins compete for attention and starve each other into submission. Thus one young lady might lack vanity because she is ugly, because she is fat, because she is a glutton – while another never gives in to gluttony because she has let vanity and pride dominate her soul so thoroughly. Likewise there are people who are too lazy to commit a robbery or a fraud. As such it would not surprise me if a movement that attracted people who avoid sin X found that many of them were guilty of sins Y and Z, without ever making any explicit effort to minimize or defend Y and Z.
Even when a certain kind of sinner is in no way overrepresented among a movement’s followers in the broadest sense, they may still show up among its most active members (the “PCs”). Sometimes that is because unusually sinful people have ill-gotten gains at their disposal. The avaricious are poor in many ways, but when they succeed they have unusually deep pockets. The prideful have networks of connections over whom they have amassed power. Sometimes a political operative’s capacities are connected to sin the other way around; to those to whom God has given much, he has given terrible temptations also.
There are also more prosaic ways in which sins make people more useful as activists and leaders. For example, any irregular lifestyle which leads a man to an empty life without a wife or children can be fruitfully devoted to politics. This substitution cannot excuse any past sins or paper over his sinfulness, but the hours are there, and they have to be used somehow. If he offers to use them to advance your political goals, you should assign him wherever he can help you the most.
I realize this is not a complete program for resolving conflicts within a political movement. It is, at best, a suggestion for a how to start thinking about these conflicts. In the next (and final! I promise!) post in this series, I talk about some basic corollaries and ramifications, mainly with the goal of heading off misinterpretations of my arguments. But before we reach that postscript, let me rehearse the argument so far.
When we observe other people, we tend to blame them for whatever we observe; when they do bad things, we instinctively treat them as guilty. As an inductive inference, this instinct seems to be an overreaction; but instead of treating it as an inference we treat it as the emotional component of a system of punitive retaliation and deterrence, it looks perfectly suited to social order. If you understand your attributions of guilt as teleofunctional relative to the punishment of crimes, or specific acts which incur guilt, the associated anger and hatred are increasingly directed at the acts which must be punished, in their character as sins, but not at the human beings who will endure punishment (the sinners).
This insight allows us to, in the spirit of Jude and St. Augustine, love the sinner and hate the sin. Learning to do this well is a weighty matter; we must love sinners in our families, our communities, and our professions, and I worry slightly that I have trivialized the entire notion by bringing it up in order to make narrow points about political parties.
Regardless: we want uniformity in our parties and movements, for various reasons. We worry that sinners can’t possibly share our ultimate goals, that if they are still sinning they don’t take our principles seriously, that they are inherently bad and unreliable, that they are setting a bad example for everyone else and making a mockery of their comrades.
These are all important issues to consider but harmful to fixate on, because they inevitably become bogged down in questions of whether a given act is a sin, and whose acts are actually sinful, who is the biggest sinner, and so on. But political movements are not the Church. Even in the most eccentric ecclesiology, they do not catechize the young on the doctrine of sin. Nor do political movements, in themselves, hold political authority, so they generally do not have authority to punish crimes. And political movements are not God, so they have no share in the further judgment of sinners which belongs to Him.
The world has been given over into the sovereignty of Satan for a time. For a time sinfulness will reign, though we make war against it. If a sinner does not share your ultimate goals, ask whether you would need someone like him to make your movement ecologically stable anyway. If he might continue to sin, take steps to minimize the damage he can do. If his continual sinning makes you doubt his true motives, look to his contributions as marks of good faith and reflect on all the ways in which the “political space” is shaped by sin rather than principle.
Conscribite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. (Enlist them, and let the Lord sort them out.)
The same logic which I urge on would-be inquisitors applies to those whom they would purge. Sinners live in fear of the fundamental attribution error. They know that accusations of sin are tantamount to accusations of bad faith, questionable motives, and subversive disloyalty. But when the sinner is sincere, he accepts the inquisitor’s specious logic and reasons to the opposite conclusion. He feels he must defend himself, so he argues that some sin isn’t a sin, or what he did wasn’t that sin, or that it’s not a severe sin, or that there were extenuating circumstances, or —
This kind of anxious, defensive babbling may have some slight value as a possible mark of loyalty and a desire to be accepted. But it is pointless, unnecessary, and damaging. Sinners should not be arguing in defense of their sins. (If you think sins’ being too-broadly defined is an important intellectual problem, go defend some sin that you don’t find personally tempting.)
Sinners also should not be booted out of political movements merely on account of being sinners (merely! that word is doing a lot of work, I admit), any more than they should be booted out of their families.
So a fortiori they shouldn’t be worried that a purge is coming if they don’t constantly defend themselves, and thus they should be able to listen to political comrades shame, ridicule, and condemn their sins without feeling that they have been challenged, that they are undergoing cross-examination. And if they didn’t feel the need to signal all the time, to form quasi-ideological factions with fellow sinners who won’t attack them, to develop elaborate rationales for their sins in private, to then disseminate these in public — in short, if defensive sinners stopped acting exactly the way you would expect subversives to act — then maybe the would-be inquisitors could finally relax a little bit.
Series: Loving the Sinner