This article is a more refined version of a draft of a previous article I had. The previous article attacked ideologues for their obsession with aesthetic rather than good politics. Midway through writing that article, I realized that the problem stems much deeper than mere aesthetic obsession, but rather the tendency for ideologues to become so obsessed with the constructs of their ideology that they forget why they believe in the ideology in the first place.
Good ideologues are engineers. Engineers build and support things. While a software engineer may write software to make a computer work, an ideological engineer is constructing a system to make society work. Ideologies are necessary to make society work. Without one, nothing even happens as you can’t do anything.
That being said, ideological engineers, as engineers, need abstractions. Humans are complex and figuring out how to satisfy them is hard. Especially if you have hundreds or thousands of humans all with different personalities, needs, beliefs, and desires. That is where abstractions come in to save the day: they simplify ideology building by laying down an easy-to-build-on framework that interfaces with the complex realities of life.
For example, one ideological abstraction that I particularly adore if the concept of the mandate of heaven. The mandate of heaven, as an abstraction, solves the issue of legitimate power within a system. So long as the mandate of heaven actually brings about human well-being, we can assume that anything built of the mandate of heaven, so long as it’s not flawed in itself or contrary to the mandate of heaven, is good too.
For example, the mandate of heaven dictates that just rulers are in power if they are just. So, building off that, if we believe the ruler is just, we can give him certain powers (such as powers to build schools, roads, or make grain quotas). If said ruler loses the mandate of heaven, i.e by being unjust, we can no longer trust him with powers and give those powers to someone else.
This example is simple, and may not be entirely accurate, but illustrates a point: The mandate of heaven, as exemplified here, is an abstraction over society that gives us clean rules on who should rule. Without it (or a similar replacement abstraction), we would have to go off the crude needs of the people generally. Deciding a leader by taking into account every subject’s need for food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. is impossible without some system to decide fitness from unfitness for the leader. This abstraction, thankfully, provides that.
There are other abstractions out there too. Liberal notions of “consent of the governed” create a system where those who agree to be governed by a government are. There’s also the concept of Communism: the voluntary, common ownership of the means of production for whatever may be. All are systems that attempt to abstract over basic human needs.
However, flaws start to come in when people become so obsessed with ideology that they forget why they support the ideology in the first place.
Obsession and purpose obfuscation
If an ideologue somehow forgets why they support an idea, they may end up supporting their abstraction over the complexities of humanity as some sort of “end all; be all” of political theory. That is, a humble liberal who believes sincerely in the abstraction “consent of the governed, with consent being mediated by a republican-democracy” might end up treating democratic ideas as axiomatic when democracy’s original purpose was to be a good system for people based on the population’s more fundamental needs.
This unfortunately leads to a type of rabidity and neurosis in ideologues where they no longer recognize the purpose of their ideology outside pure desire for said ideology. Once this happens, anything and everything becomes free game to maximize the ideology itself. If a believer of democracy believes in democracy axiomatically, democracy may become zealously protected, even at the cost of liberty or governmental effectiveness. If liberty is unconditionally believed to be the ultimate good, then forms of chaos may be justified as a form of liberty maximalism merely for the sake of liberty maximalism.
Worse yet, these low level abstraction layers aren’t the only thing that can become hyper-fixated on. Abstractions above, this may also become corrupted with obsession. For instance, a communist may become so infatuated with revolution and killing the rich that all pro-communist deeds by the rich become something to dismiss due to the nature of being rich. Also as an example, nationalists (and other chauvinistic types) may become so obsessed with identity that they go out of their way to attempt to exterminate other identities for the sake of preserving their own to an extreme degree (Example: The Nazis).
The caveat of true believers
Now, these assertions about obsession do not apply when the abstraction isn’t an abstraction, but a core value that can be taken very far. For example, the religious posit that certain texts and churches are the authority on all things material in how to live life. This is a sincere and core belief that these assertions are fundamental to human well-being. Because of that, usually what is obsessive behavior can be excused as the behavior isn’t an obsessive perversion, but instead, a genuine belief about human nature.
For example, a Catholic demanding a theocracy is not obsessive over theocracy and losing sight of human purpose, but instead is trying to maximize human purpose through the function of government as the Catholic believes that devotion to God and Godly principles is necessary for the well-being of humanity.
Similarly, a true ethical egoist may sincerely reject any and all systems that may limit his benefit and autonomy, and because of that is a political anarchist. He too, isn’t obsessed with anarchism as an abstraction, but merely posits that if humans wish to live best that they ought to be for anarchism. (But, as we know, a true egoist wouldn’t give a shit and would just exploit whatever he wants).
The dangers of this behavior
This type of behavior is incredibly dangerous to humanity in a number of ways, each getting their own section:
Theatrics and politics go hand in hand. If your cause isn’t poignant, sexy, or otherwise attractive, you’ll lose. Because of this, you need both theatrics and rhetoric to have a successful ideology. Both convince different parts of the mind, with theatrics pulling on emotion and rhetoric pulling on rationality.
Theatricalism is when an ideology abandons rationality, but keeps its theatrics. This is the common fate of most ideologies in the hands of fools. However, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on one of the ways to get to theatricalism: The obsession with the abstractions.
If you only care about one part of an ideology rather than how and ideology effects humanity, you will lose out on the rhetorical justification required to convince the thinking mind that something is the case. That is, you cannot relate an ideology to people and convince them through rhetoric that something is true, good for them, and should be adopted.
However, since people are flawed, they’ll still try to convince anyway despite not having the rhetorical power required to appeal to the rational mind. This leads to people using the aesthetics of a core principle to justify an ideology.
Precisely, this means that people who participate in theatrical politics will take the rhetorical devices, stories, and general aesthetic of a political system and use that as justification for why the system is good instead of using it as a hook to get people interested. This leads to people arguing around the stories they have to teach the ideology rather than the real utility of the ideology in itself. To draw a parallel, it’s like a software engineer talking about the superiority of his product by using marketing techniques instead of talking about the utility the software has from an engineering standpoint.
For some political examples: A liberal will talk about the morality of democracy and sing songs about liberation but won’t ever justify why democracy is morally imperative or why liberation is good for people. Libertarians will sing praise about liberty and its necessity and the freedom the free market breeds, but never about the semantics of why these things are good for humanity. Nationalists love to talk about the nation, and sometimes the race, as this superior macro-organism to be defended from harm, but never justify why this macro-organism should be protected; they merely spout the poetic drivel that makes it sound appealing.
Effectively, these types of people try to turn the artistic flare of their ideology into the actual argumentative reasoning for why you should believe them. Instead of using the swagger of aesthetics to entrap, then educate, they instead let the aesthetics engulf their reasoning capabilities leaving their audience with overblown, poetic mental eroticism that obfuscates an otherwise clear and concise point of why a certain way of operating is good for humanity.
Missing the point
By obsessing over the abstractions rather than the purpose of your ideology, you make your ideology hostile to the human condition. This is because obsessing over abstractions forgets about what ideologies service: humans. If humans cannot be satisfied by a system then the system will face challenge from alternative ideologies, rulers, and entropic attrition.
Identifying if something is a value or merely an abstraction is difficult at lower levels, however, asking if something is an end in itself (and why) or a means to an end (and why) can generally make figuring the situation out much easier.
Being countered by idiots
If there’s one sure-fire way to be “pwned” by someone, it’s to obsess over the abstractions of your ideology. This opens your ideas up for attack by people looking to get easy rhetorical wins. If you obsess over killing the rich, you will never have the theory and intellect necessary to justify why killing the rich is good; If you obsess over establishing a monarchy, you will never have the theory and intellect necessary to justify why establishing a monarchy is good.
Being “pwnd” intellectually is very humiliating for an ideology and, theatrically, makes your side look weak. The true believers, theoristicians, and intellectuals of the ideology you represent will suffer in a disadvantage if you wind up in a “pwnding libtards/conservicucks” compilation, your shallow take on your own ideology will represent the deeper takes of smarter people, hurting their cause.
Furthermore, if a fool makes a fool of himself by obsessing over abstractions, and discusses with another fool that does the same, there will be no actual dialogue between the sides, instead, you’ll get the worst form of human discussion to ever be devised: theatrical debate.
Theatrical debate is the rhetorical form of playing a character of your own ideology (usually a stereotype of sorts), and then, as this character, debating another character of an ideology (usually also a stereotype). It’s a form of self-imposed, double strawman fallacy that barely can be even called “intellectual masturbation” (as all that is intellectual has been burned away).
Theatrical debate doesn’t refine either ideology. It doesn’t make other ideologies consider alternative perspectives. It doesn’t point out actual holes in argumentation, or even prove anyone wrong. It’s just a puppet show for one side or the other. It makes someone feel good for winning, and someone angry for losing. It’s worthless.
Not understanding criticism from the intelligent
If you obsess over abstractions, and are countered by a true intellectual of the other side, you will not be able to hear or understand his critiques (if he is going after the core of your ideology that is). Since an obsessor obssesses, he loses sight over the rest of his ideology, letting understanding of the whole drain away.
If an honest intellectual hears that you’re a fascist, and then critiques fascism at its very core (perhaps declaring that nationalism as a concept is bunk, or that economic corporatism is a bad system), you, as a fascist totally obsessed with racial purity, may not even recognize that his critiques apply to what you say.
If you can’t hear the critiques of your enemies, then your idea will rot in inferiority as others that can refine. While you’re stuck with 1930s fascism, new fascists have already moved onto 2022 fascism, which has stronger justifications for nationalism, economic corporatism, and the much loved racial dynamics. The stronger 2022 fascists, of course, are intellectuals who heard out the other side, and refined their worldview. They’re stronger, meaner, more efficient, and most importantly, have a better chance of having their interest groups made happy.
To hold an ideology, you should understand it. If that’s too much to ask, then do not defend your ideology, as your defense will likely obsess over abstractions you happen to be fond of rather than the theory that justifies the abstractions. This, of course, is a gradient. Everyone blunders and focueses where they shouldn’t at times, however, self-awareness of this behavior, and more importantly the ability to correct the behavior, is essential to being a stalwart defender of a belief.