Interpretation and Identification
In the last two centuries elite political consensus has moved rapidly towards the Left. The pace is only accelerating. Radical theories go from absurdity to orthodoxy at ever-increasing speeds. Institutions forged to hold back the left are coopted so quickly that some of them seem to have been born pozz’d.
This makes us, in The Current Year, desperate to understand this irresistible force we call Leftism, Progressivism, Bolshevism, or simply Cthulhu. To understand it means, first, to identify and describe it; or rather, to identify all of the phenomena which can be described as “leftist”, and to separate them from those that cannot. This separation is the foundation for all our metapolitical intelligence-gathering (How does the Left work?), strategy (How and where can one attack the Left?) and hygiene (How can one avoid infection by the Left?)
The priority of identification over interpretation is really no different in any other domain of knowledge. An entomologist must learn to spot and identify beetles before he can turn his observations into a Theory of Beetles. Of course, a dedicated entomologist begins to get beetles on the brain. He sees beetles in abstract geometric patterns, he sees beetles when he closes his eyes. Sometimes he may even reflect on more abstract resemblances to beetles: while watching cable news, for example.
When identifying the essential underlying bolshevism of something, however, this hyperawareness of salient patterns poses a unique danger. Part of the essential underlying essence of Bolshevism is the drive to assimilate everything that is non-bolshevik and absorb it into Bolshevism.
The Living and the Dead
Leftist lunatics and leftist institutions have life stories: there was a before and an after. You can over-estimate how deluded a leftist is, or how converged an institution is, but the Left’s goal in such cases is to delude or to converge an unwilling target, not to convince you, the observer, that the attempt was successful.
This is true when the target is among the living, at any rate. There is one sure defense against conversion by leftists, namely death (or for institutions, destruction). Death puts a man forever beyond the reach of pharisees and commissars. The saints can no more be infected by bolshevism than by influenza.
Yet the dead are not irrelevant to Bolshevism’s broader drive to assimilate. Their invulnerability to conversion merely forces the Left to abandon conversion-tactics. Where conversion is still possible, forcing someone to become a man of the Left wholly eclipses creating the impression that he is of the Left. Where it is not, they rearrange their strategic priorities.
Why, you might ask, would the bolsheviks care to create such an impression? Could it be more than a matter of empty pride, the spiritual equivalent of We wuz kangz? (“We wuz commissars…”)
When bolsheviks successfully convert a still-living man (or a still-operating institution) to their cause, they have a new tool. Each new convert strengthens the Left and puts more power at its disposal. Giving observers the impression a conversion attempt succeeded also gives them a certain impression about the collective power and unity of the Left. (The impression that a coalition has the power to attain its ends attracts allies and calms latent tensions.)
Yet since dead leftists can no longer be used as tools, the impression that the dead were leftists creates neither power nor the illusion of power. What purpose, then, could the assimilation of the dead serve?
I hesitate to discuss the ways in which re-baptizing the dead serves the bolshevik cause. I am not even sure the bolsheviks’ drive to assimilate the past is explained by a deliberate instrumental plan; the reverse may very well be closer to the truth. That is, the blind drive to assimilate may be their fundamental character, and its contribution to the fitness of their memeplex a secondary fact with a teleofunctional explanation. But the question deserves an answer, so…
Beyond Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil
The worldview of the Left is Manichean: Left-Right, Progressive-Regressive, Bolshevism-Fascism. This worldview is the root of all moral authority the Left wields. As the Left’s worldview spreads, its moral authority increases, giving leftists the power they need to propagate the worldview.
I have previously written that leftists struggle with logical thought and like to replace discussion with emotion-talk. These are two small aspects of an over-arching shift from evaluating someone’s beliefs and actions on the basis of his reasons, to evaluating them on the basis of his motives. C.S. Lewis apparently called this shift Bulverism; Paul Ricœur’s “hermeneutics of suspicion” is a related but perhaps broader category.
A speaker’s motives are never irrelevant; they give his words a salience that invites closer scrutiny. Even if two speakers trust trust each other unreservedly, they will frequently find it impossible to interpret each others’ words without knowing the intention behind them.
If “I have to work tonight” can mean I will not be at the party when someone’s intention is to satisfy your curiosity about whether he will attend, it can also mean I do not have to work, but I want you to think I do when his intention is to give an excuse for his absence.
Someone’s concrete goal in a situation may lead us to suspect that he would say X to accomplish his goal whether or not X is true; but this only means that we should ask him to substantiate his claim. Talk is cheap, but evidence is not. Someone may lie about evidence, or even fabricate it, but past a certain point we become confident that (a) the difficulty of his (hypothetical) deception or (b) the risks it would pose to his reputation for honesty and good judgment outweigh what he could stands to gain from trickery.
Of course, this only means that when the stakes for the speaker are high or our personal ties to him are weak, we scrutinize everything he says more closely. (Higher stakes justify the difficulty of more elaborate deceptions, and weak ties make it easier to run away from an unsavory reputation.)
Problems only arise after one shifts from assigning speakers concrete motives (skipping a party, selling a product, winning a game) towards classifying their motives as good or evil. The peculiarity of the bolshevik’s worldview lies in this: rather than flagging the most suspicious claims and demanding further substantiation of them, a bolshevik suspects anyone who provides supporting evidence to substantiate a claim, if proving the claim frustrates the goals of Bolshevism.
In other words, in an ordinary debate if you make a claim that just seems too convenient I may doubt it, and reply: “Now where did you hear that?” But once you reply “The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database 2013, Table 10b,” my suspicions can only extend as far as checking Table 10b myself. When I’ve seen it with my own eyes, you have substantiated your original claim (and shown my suspicions were unwarranted).
Anyone who has had a conversation with a progressive in the last, oh, ten years or so knows that their reactions are quite different. “How did you know that?” they will say. “That’s exactly what I would expect a racist to say.” The substantiation itself is proof that you are not to be trusted; the more elaborate and well-researched your substantiation, the more loudly you accuse yourself!
One way to understand the bolsheviks’ fascination with motives is that they behave as though they were at war. In a war, all the normal considerations governing honesty and deceit are thrown out the window.
- (a) Soldiers can only expect death and destruction if their side loses, so they are highly motivated to do their part and collectively overcome the enemy.
- (b) They have no ties to their enemies; with their brothers-in-arms, they have bonds forged in suffering and boredom; and the civilians they are ultimately protecting are their kinsmen and their neighbors.
Far from gaining a reputation for dishonesty, a soldier who manages to deceive and slaughter his enemies will be toasted as a hero by those whom he cares about.
Bolsheviks are only keyboard commandos. They have no trenches to defend. They have thick social, professional and family ties to non-bolsheviks they treat as enemies. They will not be gunned down in no-man’s-land if it turns out their political rivals’ claims about crime statistics are accurate. (In fact, more often than not everyone would benefit if either side were to base its policies on accurate beliefs about cause-and-effect.) So neither stark differences in the fates the two sides face, nor the personal stakes of a political argument, nor a vagabond indifference to reputation can explain bolsheviks’ Manichaean bellicosity. What does?
Let’s call the view that what something is or whether it exists may hinge on a claim’s practical relevance to a decision we face “ontological pragmatism”. An entomologist who wishes to persuade us a certain critter is a beetle, or that the order Coleoptera must be distinguished from Hemiptera, may get a tough reception if we are starving and scavenging for food under a rotting log. Here the practical question is What are we to eat? and the entomologist must establish his bona fides by assuring us that the entomology lesson will culminate in a delicious snack.
The progressive is certain his goal can be described as progress and any criticism of a reform he supports only matters if framed it in terms of how to make progress. If you frame your objections correctly, the progressive will thank you, as a fellow progressive, for showing him the error of his ways! Otherwise your feedback is only a distraction from what really matters, namely making progress. Your indifference to progress marks you as an opponent. Mutatis mutandis for other -isms: capitalism, racism, anti-semitism, male chauvinism, environmentalism…
Of course, if you appease the progressive and start to translate all your objections into the language of progress (or class-struggle, or anti-racism) you will only reinforce his belief that all political and social matters can be reduced to a progressive/regressive axis. Your audience will draw the same lesson. After enough practice pitching your ideas to leftists in this way, you may start to forget that reality can’t be reduced to this axis. You will start to feel stronger temptations to draw on the moral authority of the Left to discomfit your opponents, or to whip up public opinion against them. The Left will lend you as much moral authority as you need, and you will pay it back with interest.
The Manichaean worldview is not a corrosive effect of lifelong allegiance to the Left. It is the first symptom of infection. Once someone sees all possible political stances and objectives squeezed onto a spectrum, he has already been assimilated. He may not vote for a leftist party (maybe he never will), but he knows that some political motives are evil and some day he will simply get tired of being called a “transphobe” or a “pedophobe”…
Did you know that Mencius Moldbug once hypothesized that good and evil, as moral poles orthogonal to lawful and unlawful, are illusions? As a claim about the way the world really is, I have reservations about this “linear model”. (The world is a complicated place.) As spiritual guidance, I am torn. (Deeply complicated.) But as a toy model for explaining what we observe in the social world, Moldbug’s linear model is very powerful.
>There are people who actively pursue evil — psychopaths — but psychopaths… act alone. Most people spend most of their time pursuing good, and all large organizations are organized around some concept of good.
>Since most of the large-scale phenomena in recent history which most of us would consider “evil” have been the result of actions of people acting within organizations, “evil” must be the result of actions which someone considered “good.”
>By conflating evil with malevolence, planarism [the illusion that law↔chaos and good↔evil are orthogonal moral dimensions -ed.] derives the logical result that evil can be extinguished by eradicating malevolence. So planarists strive everywhere and at all times to think good thoughts, and to persuade others to do the same.
>When planarists read and write history, they spend far too much time on the landscape of emotional attachments and airy mystical beliefs, and not enough on practical cause and effect. As in the case of religion, our sense of classification is being fed superfluous information which is meaningless and disorienting…
Our immediate goal is to identify leftists, leftism, and the Left so that we can study them, understand them, and defeat them. But our ultimate goal is to escape from the Good/Evil illusion entirely.
Is politics war? Does it need to be? This is a complicated question. But the political strategy of Bolshevism is to treat politics as war, to treat an enemy as someone working towards the ultimate evil, to treat a friend as someone who must be spurred on to ever greater contributions to the cause.
This technique effectively mobilizes bolsheviks in the same way an army mobilizes conscripts for war. It helps them win victories, convert opponents, strengthen the prestige and moral authority of bolshevik principles, and infect ever-more people with the worldview which allows the mobilization.
This puts anyone on the Right in a difficult position. Unilateral disarmament is no more an option in domestic politics than in war. If they treat us as “the enemy,” we must respond in kind; if quasi-military tactics are making the bolshevik juggernaut unstoppable we must study these tactics and adopt them. But the Manichaean worldview is itself the main vector for infection by leftism, and by organizing for self-defense we play exactly the role it has assigned to us.
This is why the assimilation of the dead into the Left matters so much. From a leftist perspective, the more people see human history as a story about progress (and at least implicitly, as a struggle between progressives and their ruling-class opponents), the more whole-heartedly they conform to the Manichaean worldview and the more derisively they dismiss the thought-crimes of evil people who oppose progress, in its various forms.
To assimilate the past into Bolshevism, bolsheviks do not need to portray every historical figure as a bolshevik! A thrilling story needs both a protagonist and an antagonist, a Beowulf and a Grendel. The bolsheviks are writing a script where a proto-leftist saves the day (or dies trying) but they have plenty of speaking parts the “ruling class” can audition for. Not only can they serve their goal goal by casting a historical figure as a leftist or a rightist; sometimes they can spice up the story by cutting the scenes where an awkward figure appears; and by recasting actual right-wingers as progressives, and vice-versa! As I wrote in my post Physical Anthropology in 1950:
[One] major purpose of bolshevik agitprop has always been to encourage this fallacy wherever they can: to get the herd to see everything through the lens of left/right, progress/regress, us/them. Not until I read Races did I grasp how well demonizing defeated opponents serves this rhetorical strategy. Demonization encourages conflation of different types of opponents, and this conflation can include not only people who were your enemies for different reasons (fairly obvious) but also people who were not strictly speaking your enemies at all (that is to say, people on the other side with whom you shared some goals, to some degree).
Peering ahead into the grim darkness of the coming decades, you may see nothing but war. So be it. But do not let this insight about political strategy in the twenty-first century blind you to the nature of things. In 2017 you are on duty, and you must keep an eye on your forward lines. In 1617 you are on leave, and you are free to stretch out your muscles in a conceptual landscape unimpeded by the narrow limits which Bolshevism imposes on society reality.
This freedom extends to facts, human beings, institutions, social dynamics, identities, ideas, and events. In the present any of these things can align along the Left/Right axis, can be controlled by leftists or rightists, can be objectively favorable to the Left or the Right. In the past, not so. To recognize “essential underlying bolshevism” you must first recall the slow development of the Left, and trace this process of becoming back to its birth. Before there was a Left, there was no Left/Right axis to politics, and a Manichaean worldview was a temporary expedient in times of war.
Rehabilitating people whose legacies have been assimilated into Bolshevism is an important step towards resisting assimilation, and it has served as an instructive example because of the sharp contrast between living people (whom bolsheviks can actually convert) and the dead. But concepts are much more important, although the sense in which they can be “converted” or “conquered” is much more abstract. Concepts that were manufactured from scratch by bolsheviks inside institutions wholly under their control are almost certainly toxic. But those which they have merely seized and twisted to their own ends, we can liberate.
A History of Progress
Bolshevism’s “long march” through American academia is only just now reaching its conclusion, as death claims the survivors of a conservative rearguard within the universities that had checked the excesses of their junior colleagues. What the Cathedral produces in TCY is thoroughly and irredeemably pozz’d, but even twenty years ago dissident professors did not have to endure struggle sessions with their most ignorant students, and leftist professors were strongly influenced by teachers and critics who challenged their leftist views. Much of it is valuable and even what is poz is educational wherever it fails to line up neatly with the bolshevik orthodoxies of TCY.
The contemporary Left/Right party-system was still evolving in Western countries as recently as the 1930s. Progressivism only definitively assumed the form of Bolshevism after 1917; strictly speaking Bolshevism dates back to 1903, and was a branch of an international conspiracy which had existed in organized form only since September 18, 1864. The First International (a.k.a. International Workingmen’s Association) was an umbrella organization for every strain of revolutionary radicalism: Owenites, anarchists, syndicalists, communists and republicans came together to plot and blaspheme. Each strain of this sinister virus, the Left, undoubtedly imagined itself as master of all the others. We, who know how the story ends, ought not to fall into the trap of assuming every strain of radicalism which was of the Left in the beginning possessed all the characteristic traits of the most virulent strain (Bolshevism) from the outset.
But the historical roots of the concept Left itself are ultimately rather shallow. In 1791, the 745 members of France’s Assemblée legislative sat next to their friends and political allies: constitutionalists to the right, republicans who saw the new constitution as a temporary expedient to the left. In 1789, in the Assemblée nationale constituante, the supporters of Louis XVI sat to the right-hand side of the podium, and his opponents to the left. Before that, nothing.
We cannot, of course, imagine that anyone in history who supported a king was of the Right and anyone who opposed a king was of the Left. Nor should we scour history for those who sought to preserve republican constitutions and those who treated them as guidelines. Kings and constitutions are not of themselves Left or Right. Rather, it is the project of the Left in the broadest sense to mash up historical reality like cud and pass it through the eight stomachs of bolshevik ideology in order to produce something soft and malleable, something that can be forced to take on “progressive tendencies” or “regressive tendencies”. Tens of thousands of pages of vivid history, processed down into bullshit.
I don’t want to exaggerate. 1789 was not a unique event, other than with respect to the appearance of a persistent Left/Right. Trends similar to the fateful dynamics of Bourbon France were occurring and had been occurring in other countries; there, they led to parallel political crises, parallel factional rivalries, parallel resolutions. But parallels will only get you so far! Four things can all be parallel to one another without all four of them being parallel in the same way.
If you insist on treating the English Civil War, for example, as a struggle between leftist Roundheads and right-wing Royalists, well: fine! What can I do to stop you? Everyone does it. The English Civil War does greatly resemble the French Revolution… as viewed through a kaleidoscope.
(If an object looks the same to you whether viewed through a kaleidoscope or not, I have bad news for you: you may have ingested a mind-altering substance!)
But at 1618 you really must stop. If you tell me you’re suspicious of all the anticipations and progressive tendencies you detect in the work of that arch-revolutionary propagandist, John Milton, I will not agree with you but I will humor you. Before this date, the mere fact that an idea is new really cannot possibly have anything to do with whether or not it is a mirage fabricated by leftists. Your conviction that it might be is itself the mirage, and when you can free yourself from the mirage and see the past as it really was, you are finally resisting assimilation.
Series: Memetic Lebensraum
- Part I (Resisting Assimilation) < You are here
- Part II (Conquest)
- Projected: Part III (Envoi)