The Political Optical Illusions, I through V

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Mon, Feb 2 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - Political optical illusions

There are a number of political optical illusions. I am by no means certain that I’ve identified all there are, either, nor even all the important ones. Still, let’s work with what we have, shall we, concentrating especially on the one that are obviously paired, existing on both Left and Right, in some form or other?

Here are the first five. Next week we’ll cover the rest of the important ones, such as I’ve been able to identify. Why bother? Because if some people on both sides could see the illusions to which they’re subject, it is just possible they could strain and maybe even converse, which may push off or make less likely the breakup of my country which is the whole purpose of this series of columns.

One illusion, not universal but very common, is, “I am in the reasonable political center.” Sorry, but this is rarely true. It is not true of me and it is probably not true of you. Where you probably are is in the center of your group of friends and acquaintances; that’s why they’re your group of friends and acquaintances. Indeed most people seem to exist in a hermetically sealed echo chamber, where no contrary thoughts are allowed entrance. This is how we get inane statements like Pauline Kael’s, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”1

A second illusion has to do with distance. The reader may recall that one of the defenses I gave last week for the left-right spectrum is that it enables one to get a clearer idea of where one really is based on what can or cannot be seen, and how clearly. Imagine yourself standing somewhere near the base line for the left-right spectrum. A little up or down won’t matter. (A lot up or down may mean you’re a loon, but we’ll give you benefit of the doubt for now.) Look left. Look right. Can you see the difference between a run of the mill conservative and a Nazi? No? If not, that means you’re so far left, even if you think you’re in the reasonable center, that they’re all blending together. Can you see the difference between a Leninist and a Stalinist? Yes? That also means you are pretty far to the left. Conversely, can you not see the difference between a Leninist and a Stalinist? You are probably then somewhat to the right end. Can you see the difference between Hitler and George W. Bush? Same deal.

Oh, and if you can’t see the difference between Hitler and W, that means that not only are you pretty far left, you’re also an idiot.2

Yet a third optical illusion – well, a more or less auditory phenomenon that translates into an optical illusion – concerns vociferousness. Imagine the most moderate man or women in the country. He (or she) is the exact middle of the road. Indeed, he is so middle of the road that he makes his living renting himself out as a guide to the folks who paint the stripes on highways and byways. Imagine also that he (let’s just skip the PC bullshit, from now on, shall we? He includes she.) is quite vociferous in his political moderation, detesting everyone on the right third of the spectrum and everyone on the left third separately but equally, and voicing his disgust and contempt loudly, as often as he can find an audience. How does that man look to a Leftist? How does he look to David Duke?

Easy; the Lefty sees a conservative whom, for reasons mentioned above he cannot distinguish from a Nazi, while Duke sees at best, a communist. How does that happen? I think what takes place, in effect, is that both Lefty and (pretty extreme to the point of disgusting) Righty take that vociferousness, and add it as a height above the spectrum, then lay that elevation down in the opposite direction from themselves.

That happens to me all the time, by the way. I am – as far as I can tell, both by where I place on surveys and by what I can distinguish when looking left or right – about one third of the way from true center to the right, or, in other words, just on the right edge, the cusp, between the middle third and the right third. And I am vociferous to and past the point of being obnoxious about it, too. This is why much of the extreme Right – the Right so far from them that Lefties cannot even distinguish it from conservatives – detests me as a liberal, while liberals see pure and unrepentant Nazi.3

Illusion number four is what I like to call, “the illusion of inevitable or pre-existing progress.” I cannot personally see this one all that clearly on the right, but I am pretty sure it, or its equivalent, is there. What I can see on the right, dimly and distantly, which might be the equivalent, is “the illusion of unavoidable and rapid decay.” But since it is indistinct to me, I’ll leave it to others who may see it more clearly.

I can, in any case, see it clearly enough on the left. Ever notice how an increase in funding for some liberal pet project is billed as being a cut?4 Ever notice how they shriek when stymied, as if something had been stolen from them that they already owned? Gun control is perhaps a good example of that, since it’s been little but rout for them for the last ten years, at least, and they certainly do shriek about it. “Sandy Hook!” “[Honorary White] George Zimmerman!” “Blood in the streets!”

I’m certainly willing to entertain different explanations, but I’m going to go out on a limb here, wax all Platonically lyrical, and suggest something else is going on. I suspect the Left, or most of it, sees the world as they wish it were, as if it always was and is now as they wish it were, that they’ve got a kind of Platonic sense of “ideal forms” going on here, as if the truth were there, to be seen and realized, but is covered up by illusion. That, I suspect, is why they shriek when stymied; the truth is already there, already existing, and already owned by them, and everything that covers it, or pushes it back, is a kind of personal theft. The notion that progress is inevitable, for whatever one cares to call progress, seems to fit the theory as well.

I have, too, the sense that the Left is, so to speak, somewhat unstuck in time, You can see the effect in a couple of ways, for example how a three percent increase in funding for some progressive program gets turned into a seven percent reduction. The only way you can do that, and not be a complete madman, is if you’re unstuck in time and see the ten percent, which doesn’t exist yet, as already there and already real.

The last pair of illusions I want to cover today is the illusion of the insanity of your opponents. It’s true on both extremes, and often enough true in the middle when looking at the extremes; our political opponents seem insane. We do not share concepts. We do not share values. The words we use – even when we stay away from the preposterous neologisms of the Social Justice Warrior set – don’t have the same meanings for us. We cannot communicate. We tend to see the other as subhuman, or other than human, or even demonic. We note things we see as facts that the other side does not. How can we not be insane to each other?

And maybe we are all insane. Or maybe the Right is sane and everyone from me, inclusive, all the over to the ultimate Left is insane. Or maybe the Left is sane and everyone to the Right of Kos5 is insane. I can’t say, of course, since I might be insane. What I can say, is that it seems likely that the one who can admit he might be insane is at least somewhat more likely to be sane than the ones who cannot admit the possibility.

Next week, the rest of the political optical illusions, insofar as I can see them.

Make sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 in this series about the breakup of the United States.



2 No, I’m not a huge fan of W, but you’re still an idiot. And ignorant.

3 Nazi is a toughie for me, being an eclectic mix of various kinds of Celt, but also Ashkenazi Jew, which includes a small percentage of sub-Saharan African – oh, yes it does – Gyspy, Russian, Pole, and God alone alone knows what else. True story: whatever genes I have, I can tan like you wouldn’t believe. In 1998 I came back from about six weeks in the Kuwaiti desert. My eldest daughter took one look and screamed, “Mommy! Mommy! Daddy turned black.” She was exaggerating. A little.


5 Interestingly enough, Markos Moulitsas and I do share a connection. He was stationed at Babenhausen Barracks in Germany, and Babenhausen, just down the road from Dudenhofen, was part of my area when I was stationed at Cambrai-Fritsch, about ten or eleven years later.

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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  • Kasimir Urbanski

    Your third illusion is, on the left, a leftover of the influence on the left of the Marxist Theory of History, which suggested that the rise of Socialism was ‘inevitable’, that the march of history itself led to it by a natural and inescapable process.

    You only see anything equivalent on the right among the Political Fundamentalist Christians who want to imagine everything is part of some complex flowchart/timetable for the End Times. And often, worryingly, try to force Republican policy decisions on everything from tech to climate to foreign policy to military decisions on the deluded and insane premise that (after 2000 years of conspicuous absence) “Jeebus is coming soon y’all!” and that we’re living in the “Left Behind” novels.

    The other (not insane) part of the right, the libertarians and individualists, have no such ‘illusion’ because they are not utopianists (whether that “utopia” is the unescapable triumph of communism where everyone is forced to be the same, or the New Jerusalem after Jeeeezus returns where everyone is forced to look like Tammy Fae Baker; neither of which are worlds I’d want to live in, personally).

    • Tom Kratman

      Depends on how inclusive you are wrt libertarians. There’s an anarchist streak in there, so childish, so thoughless, so ill-informed, so completely impossible to reason with, that they’re as absolutely starkers as the worst loon in Sendero Luminoso. Then, too, there actrually _is_ a strong dose of leftism in some kinds of libertarianism. Think of the “The US is the ultimate evil in the world” or “people would be better but for our rotten government” set, therein. I won’t say they’re numerous, but then libertarians aren’t numerous, either, but they do exist.


      Oh, and I don’t think, really don’t, that the right is defined by individualists, religion (the Puritans were liberals), or libertarianism, per se. Rather, it and left, center, too – I _think_ – are based on the penultimate question, “Nature, nurture, or neither/both?”

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      If you’re saying “there are looney libertarians”, I certainly agree with you. But for the most part those are lone loons; they don’t have a common utopian vision amongst themselves, the way socialists or fundamentalists do. At most, libertarians imagine a better world, trying to be the best possible one, not a “perfect” one.

      I think nature/nurture is an important question, relating to the question that caused such conflicts among early Enlightenment philosophers, as to whether man was inherently good, inherently evil, or neither.

      But to me the actual conflict on the street, the one happening in both the right, and in the left, and the fights of left and right, and the so-called ‘clashes of civilization’ with other cultures/religions, etc., all boil down to a different question (though related); the question of “Individualism vs. Collectivism”.

    • Tom Kratman

      I’m familiar with the argument – individual v. collective – but I really don’t buy it. Something poltiical or philosophical, purporting to be true, ought to have been true somewhere between a very long time and forever. But, world-historically, the individual-collective issue seems to have been somewhere between irrelevant. and totally destructive for the individualist. It also seems to me to be what I discussed in a previous column: “I am an individualist. I matter. Hence any discussion must give me pride of place.” It’s a different kind of optical illusion, and not necessarily one of those driving how people are going to self organize for and during the breakdown.

      And even that’s leaving out the question of whether, in the world as it is, has been, and always will be, the individualist can prosper or even exist absent the efforts of more collective mindsets (think here: 101st Airborne Division), which may make tactical use of individualism.

      I will say this, though, the Fuehrerprinzip – emanating from the right – was an expression of a kind of individualism. It was still, however, individualism for a collective purpose: “Find the capable individual, give him the power, ands tell him to conquer Norway.” Even that, though, is only tactically (and operationally) individualistic, and only in support of the collective effort of war, and that for the greater collective effort of carving out a place in the sun for the Volk.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      As far as I can see, almost all of history, particularly the history of ideas (including philosophy and religion) has been about Individuals struggling against the collective paradigms of their culture and times. I don’t think it gets more important than that. I can understand however, how someone with a long history of military service might have a different perspective on it, thinking of things from that point of view.

    • Tom Kratman

      Isn’t that just exporting our values – well, the values of some of us – back to a time when they didn’t really exist? Whether it was the Roman Empire or some small group of cave dwellers, we’ve always banded together in a collective against the outside threat. Now, were there individuals motivated entirely by self interest? Certainly some, and they were probably at least somewhat successful, some of them. But that’s not an exemplar of their time, nor of the morality of their cause.

      I’d be interested in reading the case, of course, but it’s a tough case to make.

      Hmmm..try this: Which individuals struggled and succeeded, in a cause we would not despise, and in a way that didn’t turn their fellow men into parts of a collective?

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      The second part of your question is where you’re a bit off, though, because it is the nature of most people to conform to a collective, and to create them if they’re absent.

      So there were great intellectual and spiritual rebels and giants, who were in essence taking stands against the dominant paradigm of their culture and fighting for a personal perspective and for individual thought. Inevitably, with these people either the collective MURDERS them, or just manages to keep them isolated (the murdering part happens if they can’t do that); and just as inevitably (when we’re talking about people who have truly great paradigm-shattering ideas) one of two things happens: Either the existing Collective ‘reforms’ the individualist making him into a ‘culture hero’ after he’s safely dead and can’t fight them; or imbecilic Followers of the individualist rise up in his name while simultaneously warping his teaching into a new form of enforced Consensus Paradigm.

      It brings to mind the scene in Life of Brian, where Brian is shouting to the crowd “don’t look for me to lead you, you are all individuals!” and the crowd responds all in monotone tandem “YES, WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS”.

      But that doesn’t change my point. Social evolution is a process of Individuals standing up to the dominant paradigm, creating change. This later creates a new paradigm, but then inevitably there are new individualists to fight that paradigm. And almost all human progress comes from there. Very few “new” things, be it technology or ideas, have ever come about as a result of a large group of people doing what they have been told they’re supposed to do.

    • Tom Kratman

      And I just don’t see it. Rather, I see an historic few, rare, and largely ineffectual individualists being bowled over. Or, like Brian, crucified. Or, where not ineffectual, like Caesar or Alexander – Mohammad and, arguably, Jesus, too, for that matter – being essentially amoral sociopaths (except for Jesus), turning other men into a collective for their individual exploitation.

      Individuals do not, in any case, stand up to the collective and beat it. They may take over a collective or create one and use it, but that’s a paean to collectivism, not individualism.

      Or, and I am certainly willing to listen, you can present some individuals who actually changed things, for the better, without recourse to the collective.

    • Duffy

      I will probably suffer for this in the next life…Jesus had the message, Paul had the Method.

    • Tom Kratman

      Sortakinda. Paul reminds me on John Marshall, who took on a mandate that wasn’t necessarily there. In other words, Catholic or not, I take Paul as persuasive, but not necessarily dispositive. Yeah, I know, I know: “Heresy!”

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Lao Tzu. The Buddha. From legend, Moses or Krishna. Jesus. Heraclitus. Socrates. Pythagoras. Copernicus and Galileo. Johannes Valentin Andreas. Jacob Bohme. Martin Luther (at the start). Francis Bacon. Giordano Bruno. Elias Ashmole. William Blake. Thomas Paine. Adam Smith. Goethe. Nietzsche. Darwin. Einstein. Van Gogh. Aleister Crowley. Countless others.

      Now, the detail of “recourse to the collective” is a potential catch-all save for you, because you can argue all kinds of things as being ‘recourse’. But what I’m talking about is how Individuals had ideas, outside of the dominant paradigm of their time, often in opposition to the most dearly-held beliefs of the same (we sometimes have trouble thinking of Jesus as a rebel, but The Buddha -who we usually imagine as a totally likable fellow no one could ever have a real issue with- would have been like the Antichrist of his society: he came out of nowhere and said that the Gods are useless and the caste system is a lie!); and that these ideas went on to change the world. Obviously, they changed the world because of how they affected the collective, but I argue that’s different from ‘recourse’.

      I would counter by challenging you to point out any actually great advancements in human understanding (be it in the sciences or philosophy/religion, or even the arts) in the last 3000 years that came about by a committee of people working within the boundaries of their collective consensus (that was not just a further elaboration of something a great Individual actually came up with FIRST).

    • Tom Kratman

      About Lao Tzu I cannot speak. The Buddha is the speaker for the ultimate, eternal collective. Moses led tribes that were really an army, which is to say, a collective. Of the scientists, I don’t see them as either particularly relevant or as exemplars for individualism. (I think I mentioned above the need to distinguish between the scientific / technological and the social.) It’s really different in kind. The artists? Largely irrelevant

      And I wouldn’t say that collectives do much beyond survive and resist other collectives, but that is something more than the individual, without recourse to a collective. Most progress, outside of the technological, is a matter neither of individuals, nor of collectives, but of chance and random growth. What the collective does is, as mentioned above, survive so that growth can take place.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Your view of history seems surprisingly Marxist; I mean that literally, not as an insult (because obviously, on this site, that could be taken as an insult just because it has the word ‘marx’ in it); though while not an insult, I do think you’re wrong because I think that the Marxist view of historical change as a product of economic and social factors that emerge collectively -while academically valid- to be really flawed.
      Progress generally does not happen due to chance alone; it is almost never random (at least, not in anything more important than fashions, and even fashions are often a lot less random than they seem). Progress is almost always the product of Genius (in the sense not necessarily of intelligence but of Individual paradigm-shattering inspiration) and Genius never originates from the collective, but rather from an individual who manages to think or create something new.
      Breakthroughs are almost never because of meaningless random chance (though sometimes serendipity can act as a CATALYST for a breakthrough, but without the Genius there to take advantage of that catalyst to generate novelty, the ‘random chance’ itself will do precisely nothing), nor of some kind of inevitable determinism of group trends responding to collective stimuli, but because of individual people who thought differently than everyone else around them.

    • Tom Kratman

      Of course it’s random; that or run by the divinity in detail. The combination of genetic and environmental factors, plus chance events, make everyone random and everything they do based on what they are random. Again, what breakthroughs? Technological and scientific? Those are different from social and, for the most part, fairly modern. If that’s your shift that allows you to claim things have changed now, fine, it’s a cae to be made. But it’s not the case for human history to have been the struggle of the individual verssus the collective.

      And, also again, the Roman manipular legion was progress, real, unquestionable progress, not merely militarey but social as well. But it didn’t happen because of what an indivudual did. It came about because of losing a battle, quite possibly input from Xenophon’s shade, via Magna Graecia, the collective culture of the Roman Republic, and an individual’s insight. Three of those four have essentially nothing to do with the man who created it. And even that man was the result of random factors. And even all of that was in service to the collective, and using the collective.

      I’m not sure how Marx’s historical determinism and my random chance are quite in sync.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      By the kind of argument you’re making, sure, EVERYTHING is random.

    • Tom Kratman

      Everything is, at some level, but that’s not really the gravimen of my argument, which is that neither the stalwart individual, nor the camel-designing committee, really do much or, generally and historically, have done much, without reference to the larger collective, the human – for lack of a better term – organizational machine.

      Again, you can make the straight faced argument that, in our modern, techno-world, the individual and his resistance to the collective really matters, not least because tech and society/culture have become nearly indistinguishable. It’s a thought good enough to be worth exploring. But it does not follow from that that we can export the current day back to an earlier, less techno, and in many or most respects much more dangerous world, a world where even survival of the individual and his family really depended almost entirely on his willingness to subordinate himself to the collective, even unto death. It also doesn’t necessarily follow that we can credibly project it into the future, either, since everything seems to be falling apart around us, and we or our descedents may have more in common with Carthaginians of 146 BC, hopelessly standing on the walls of their city, while a better collective – the Legions – gnaw their way inside.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Apart from everything else, you are less optimistic than me about the future. But then, I recognize my optimism might be misplaced.

    • Tom Kratman

      I am publically _optimistic_. You don’t even want to suspect what I privately expect to happen. ;)

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Well, I have great hope for the incredible technological breakthroughs we’re making to transform everything in a good way.
      But if you turned out to be right and everything went to total crap, at least then, if we were reduced back to warring tribes again, ‘tribalism’ and collectivism would be rational positions.

    • Tom Kratman

      Oh, I hope – desperately hope – I am wrong. But Zyklon B was a form of “technological progress,” too, as were phosgene, sarin, VX…

      On the other hand, did you just concede that “well, okay, history, dark and bloody, is probably not so much of a tale of individuals struggling against the collective paradigms…”? ;)

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      No. I conceded that in a pre-civilized society, that is, in a barbaric (tribal) culture, tribalism and collectivism have a certain logic to them. It’s where the instinct toward Collectivism comes from. Post-civilization Collectivism is an anachronism of people trying to avoid the heavy responsibilities of being Self-actualized. Being part of a mob that tells you what to do and how to think is easier.

    • Tom Kratman

      How are you defining “civilization,” then? The Egyptians were civilized, I think, but the tribes to the south, the Sea Peoples from the north, and the bedouins, east and west, were still out there, still threats, and still required a collective effort, which requires a collective mindset, to deal with. The Athenians and Plataeans were quite civilized, no? But it was not anarchronistic for them to march and then run forward, in lockstep, against the Persians, at Marathon. Nor for the oarsman to pull with the beating of the drum at Salamis. What’s self actualiziation when your self-actualized self is being bid on, on the auction block, because you failed to collectivize against a threat?

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      There have been Collectives in every time and every culture from the first human tribes until our modern nation-states; all civilizations are collectives of some kind. I’m not arguing otherwise, I just don’t feel that’s particularly relevant. Yes, obviously, “no man is an island” or what have you.
      But part of the point/purpose of civilization (and indeed, it’s origin) is that it actually permits for Individuals to manifest identities APART from the collective alone; and in turn contribute new ideas that radically alter the paradigms of those civilizations. The reason why primitive tribes don’t change for centuries or millennia, while civilizations change (grow, or sometimes fall) is because of the way civilization allows for Individuals to exist and act as Individuals in a meaningful way.

    • Tom Kratman

      That’s not exactly answering my question, though. Were the Greeks civilized? If so, was there not a logic to their collectivism, given their world as it was? If so, how is their collectivism an anarchronism? If it is not, then how does that statement stand?

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      There’s no logic to subverting yourself to the Collective paradigm. Civilization allows individuals to, well, ‘individuate’.

      In any tribal (non-civilization) scenario, survival is the constant necessity and obeying all the paradigm of the tribe is a survival method.

      In a Civilized society, anyone who has the capacity for self-realization should struggle against the ‘tribal paradigm’ to be an Individual and manifest their true Will.

    • Tom Kratman

      Of course there’s logic to it, when the alternative is that you and your loved ones are killed or enslaved, or your entire civilization is extinguished.

      Or do you think, _really_ think, that the Athenians and Plataeans at Marathon were being illogical when Miltiades ordered, “Forward march,” and they stepped off as one? You can try really hard to ignore the very existential nature of so much of history post-civilization, but you have to ignore so much to do so that I cannot believe you’re serious.

      Addendum: You still haven’t defined civilization in such a way as to exclude the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Persians, etc.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Why would I exclude them? They are Classical Civilizations.

      Anyways, I really think you’re either being intentionally obtuse here, or are on such a totally different wavelength you don’t even get what I’m saying.

      Obviously, it is not the point to just be a naysayer, like some teenage would-be rebel saying “no” to absolutely everything. Read your Nietzsche: I’m talking about the camel-lion-child thing here.
      I’m not saying to do some kind of imbecilic constant revolt against any kind of collective activity. Obviously there’s a purpose to having conventions and following those conventions in appropriate circumstances. If you’re in an army, and the commander says forward march, everyone needs to forward march or things get F*cked up fast.

      But in terms of the evolution of human society and human consciousness, it is the duty of every THINKING human being to overcome being bound to the paradigm of their own cultural conditioning and realize their True Will. And it is those people who accomplish this, who rise above the droning of the dominant sleep-mode of automated group assumptions and behaviours, that contribute the things that make us evolve.

    • Tom Kratman

      Okay, then; so the legitimate push to the collective is not merely a tribal thing, but arises in civilization as well. What good is it for the individual to assert his supremacy, if it destroys the society that protects that individualism by its collective action? What morality is there in living as a moral parasite off the collective action of others? What good in casting off the paradigm if it wrecks the society that protects your ability to cast off the paradigm?

      In any case, what you said, initially, was:

      “But to me the actual conflict on the street, the one happening in both the right, and in the left, and the fights of left and right, and the so-called ‘clashes of civilization’ with other cultures/religions, etc., all boil down to a different question (though related); the question of ‘Individualism vs. Collectivism’.”

      which you explained further as:

      “As far as I can see, almost all of history, particularly the history of ideas (including philosophy and religion) has been about Individuals struggling against the collective paradigms of their culture and times.”

      And I just don’t see it. I don’t see it in the past, don’t really foresee it in the future, and find only barely perceptible, not especially relevant, and often more destructive than constructive in the present. Instead, I see history as driven – for better or worse, and it may well have been worse – by the suppression of the individual in favor of the collective, because against the collective the individual cannot stand, except insofar as he obtains control of the collective.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Some individuals can of course act to destroy the society they come out of, or others to subvert it. But that’s not necessarily the only possibility: often it happens that instead the Individual transforms and evolves the collective he acts on, and ultimately IMPROVES it. The only way collectives meaningfully ADVANCE (not just getting more size or more of the same, but adding something NEW) is through the genius of individuals.

      Nor does it necessarily require control of the collective. As I pointed out, an Individual’s actions might make the collective turn on him in his own time, only to have an effect that ultimately shifts the collective’s paradigm.

    • Tom Kratman

      That can happen, yes. But what you are describing is not the individual in conflict with the collective, but the individual in support of it.

      Note, however, that “quantity has a quality all its own.” Size is an improvement, on its own, for the primary legitimate purposes of the collective, security and agression, but also implies improvement in all manner of fields – logistics, admin, the plastic arts (in support of propaganda), etc. – to support the increased size.

      Control, in any case, is a matter of degree and is often not as obvious as all that.

      By the way – mea culpa for not explaining it, or explaining it better – but the left-right, nature/nurture/neither isn’t necessarily about whether it’s objectively true or not, but about how people in the main see things. It may be true; it may not, in an objective sense. I may think it is more or less true, but that doesn’t matter. What seems to me unquestionably true is that it is the way most people do, and perhaps the only way they can, see things, which drives how they organize themlselves or allow themselves to be organized.

    • Pugmak

      From my reading of leftist thought, the anarchism goes hand in hand, intentionally, with the totalitarianism of the left.

      Marx, himself, started out as an anarcho. The chaos of anarchism is required to set the conditions upon which totalitarianism would be acceptable for those simply seeking peaceful survival.

    • Pugmak

      Can’t edit, so adding what I forgot to put in above…

      As a proof, of sorts, that the anarcho and totalitarian left work hand in hand, take standards as an overall benchmark.

      Constant attack on behavior standards while ramping up to take control of what persons are allowed to eat, for example.

      Agitproping for both complete licentiousness and depravity AND demanding control of what individuals are allowed to say and/or think.

    • Tom Kratman

      Some anarchism – I can’t say “all,” but surely some – is just slight of hand for “tear down everything you have so we can take over and rebuild it in a way that pleases US.”

    • Anonymous

      Well… I personally draw a line between big-L Libertarians, who are the people who have official party membership and a strong will to believe, and small-l libertarians who may have only a passing acquaintance with that particular movement and its ideas, but who think that much of what our government does today is wasteful, stupid, and destructive, and who would like to see, for example, the EPA taken down a peg, or several.

      The biggest distinction I see is that with the big-L crowd, when you start asking questions about things like communicable disease (such as Ebola, if I may get topical for a moment) and quarantines, how’s this going to work, exactly, in the Libertarian Utopia? On what authority will you stop visitors to your country and subject them to medical examination, and who’s going to pay for it all? The responses I get when I ask that kind of question of them tend to be the verbal equivalent of deer caught in the headlights; the closest thing to a cogent response I got the last time I asked was “why are you asking about society? take care of your family and yourself!”

      In a world where diseases like Ebola exist, in a society where most people aren’t even vaccinated against smallpox, that’s not a blueprint for how to run a society–it’s a suicide pact.

      The small-l crowd tends to be more reasonable when you probe them with this kind of question, and you can get answers where at the absolute minimum people say that “each man his own master” is a great slogan but it doesn’t help much when the Red Death is abroad in the land, and possibly we should consider the historical role of the state–not as presently conceived by the Left in the US, where the government is a vast do-gooder machine that exists to give out an ever-growing flood of goodies and freebies and a steady stream of newly created “rights” and “protections” to constituencies that vote the straight Democrat ticket while year by year ratcheting up the public humiliation and punishment of those who don’t. Rather a mechanism that a free people create of their own free will for purposes of mutual security, that the social contract requires the state to build roads, deliver mail, maintain public safety and order so that commerce may take place, then get out of the way and keep out of people’s lives.

    • Tom Kratman

      I have three questions, all of which I think you’ve pegged here, I ask extreme Libertarians. I have yet to get a credible answer to all three, though occassionally someone can produce something not entirely laughable for one or another. These are: 1. How do you deal with internal enemies? 2. How do you deal with external enemies, in the real world? 3. How do you deal with public health, by which I mean plague prevention, not socialized medicine? Three no one’s ever answered credibly, usually because they lack understanding of vectors.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    I’ve never heard you described as Liberal before, sir. I must hang out with the wrong crowds.

    To me, I think a lot of the inability to communicate comes from a hardening of attitudes when we hear that someone believes something their tribe doesn’t approve of. I see it all the time online and in person, if someone is from your tribe (and I see this a lot more on the Left), they are allowed more leeway even in bad behavior.

    If you say, “I’m a born-again Christian” or “I like Sarah Palin”, minds immediately shut down. Same on the other side, compliment Obama for anything in some circles and you get this knee-jerk reaction and suddenly nothing you say matters. It’s like a door shutting in their mind.

    I struggle with it myself, keeping an open mind is hard work, just hearing what the other person is trying to say. Having liberals and agnostics in my circle of friends and co-writers helps but it’s still hard.

    • Tom Kratman

      Funny you should say that. Though I detest Obamacare, I’ve had to say on more than one occasion that, whatever one may think about him and it, he was right to this extent; we have to do something, because our medical system has become simply unsupportable. It does what it’s supposed to do, yes, but we just can’t keep it up. It’s too expensive, sucks up too much human talent, and for too little gain.

    • Mark Andrew Edwards

      I thought public exchanges were a good idea, though of course that got mangled in corruption and stupidity.

      A couple of hospitals in the NW here have posted the prices for their services online, so you can see how much they charge for procedures. If all hospitals did that, we might be able to drive some costs down. Frankly the proliferation of medical insurance has baked in some price gouging…but that’s a big tangent to your topic.

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t have anything like the expertise to say what we should do, only that Obamacare is probably not it, and that we still have to do _something_.

    • akulkis

      Medical tort reform. This will reduce the number of increasingly expensive tests (“defensive medicine” meant less to discover a problem than as to ward off malpractice suits), and , of course, lower the premiums for Malpractice Insurance.

    • Duffy

      I feel it is the same problem in Health Care as in Higher Education, the people using the service are not really concerned about the cost, and the providers are doing everything they can to increase the Cash Flow. The problem is as the cost of either product goes up, it’s actual value is decreasing.

  • Kevin Crowley

    I’ve off felt that draconian enforcement of contracts in their exact language whether verbal or written would have a long term benefit on society in forcing it to at least pro forma realism.

    • dakota_sauci

      Freelance from your living room from two-six h every day, and start getting averaging 1000-3000 bucks at the end of every week
      -> Try it now <-

    • Tom Kratman

      That actually doesn’t work that well. People are imperfect in just about every way, and no more so, and no more intelligent than average, when they write up contracts. Without wriggle room, nearly every contract will fail.

  • Duffy

    How I missed last weeks column mystifies me, and it would have been timely because “The Veterans Party” just announced that they are a centrist party and point to the modified Nolan quadrant chart to prove that they are a “Centrist” Party. They could not seem to get my point that it is rare for anyone not to view themselves as a centrist and indeed, most of the questions in the Political Compass and Worlds smallest Political test as proof is misleading. I pointed out that even I come up as a “Centrist” with libertarian leanings on that quiz. (I hope I have a better grip on reality than to be “Libertarian”) My question, I guess, is there anyone who took the quiz and was not “proven” to be centrist? I then pointed out that the “old, outdated left to right scale” had centrists as well, and was fully functional when applied to reality. The problem with all of the quadrant pattern is the same as with the left to right. It can tell you a lot about what you think of other political positions, but you will, almost invariably, find yourself dead smack in the middle. Almost everybody thinks they are reasonable and most are convinced they are correct. I do like the Pournelle chart, because it allows me to put Nazi’s, Fascists, and Marxist of various stripes on the same side of the ledger. I see all of those Political movements more similar to each other, especially in practice and application , than they are to a Constitutional Republic or even a Liberal Democracy. And they sit on the other side of Social Democrats from Classical Liberals or Conservatives on any scale of application I grasp.

    • Tom Kratman

      It’s not exactly the money that bugs me; money’s just a way of keeping score. What really bugs me is the diversion of human talent – high quality human talent; never all that easy to find anyway – into the field of medicine when we have need of it everywhere else, too, and into bureaucracy, largely to account for the money, and in the process sucking still more human talent into endeavors having to do with dealing with and placating the bureaucracy.

    • soft_water

      U just described one of Peters Laws.

    • Tom Kratman

      Which one?

    • Duffy

      “…in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.” Jerry Pournelle

    • Tom Kratman

      There are at least four types, actually. Then other two are those who work neither to advance the organization nor to advance its goals, but only to advance themselves, and those who don’t do any work at all.

    • Neil

      “First, there are the lazy, stupid ones.…Second, there are the hard- working, intelligent ones….Third, there are the hard- working, stupid ones….Finally, there are the intelligent, lazy ones….”

    • Tom Kratman

      I think those are subsets of a different grouping….

    • Geodkyt

      Funny, Duffy, I *never* cone out as a centrist on the Pournelle scale. The best I manage is the upper right corner of the “centrist” square…

  • Bill Wade

    I believe liberals suffer from the delusion that the relative peace and prosperity afforded first world nations by the industrial revolution is evidence of the the moral superiority of their currwnt generation. From that delusion they then spin the fantasy heralded by John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

    • Tom Kratman

      Okay, but delve deeper. Why? Why do they suffer from it?

    • Pugmak

      I’m not Mr. Wade, of course, but I’ll take a swing at it.

      Imo, it’s a mindset that’s always been there for a significant portion of the human pop regardless of culture or geographical setting.

      As evidence, I offer:
      The length of time that the tribal system remained. There’s nothing more totalitarian. You either get along or die.

      The Confucian system. Rules for everything.

      The length of time that feudalism held sway. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.

      Actually, it is my opinion that most of what the left is pushing for is nothing more than constant reinventions of the feudal system. Different names. Different selection methods for the ruling elite. But when boiled down to basics, its just feudalism reimagined.

    • Tom Kratman

      You need to distinguish between the cynical leadership, the somewhat more rare idealistic leadership, and the spear carriers, I think.

    • Pugmak

      I disagree. The one can’t exist to any functional effect without the other. By that I mean leadership and spear carriers.

      As to cynical and idealistic, often a distinction without a real difference. Good intentions is one of the few named paving stones on the road to hell.

      re: your comment/question above the one I’m replying to here…

      I don’t think it’s anything about an inner drive to subordinate to the collective. Imo, that’s a social construct consciously created in a top down enforcement mode.

      Imo, it’s more about stasis seeking in the peasant mindset, and yes, I do believe there is a peasant mindset. And I also believe that once the peasant mindset becomes dominant in any population, advancement of that population ceases across the board and entropy takes charge.

    • Tom Kratman

      That might be true but for a couple of things. The collective is a naturally occuring phenom, based initially on kinship. It didn’t have to be forced on anyone. Once it was recognized as existing, which is to say about .000005 nanoseconds after someone said, “Gog, I am your father,” no doubt in a James Earl Jonesish voice, there was no going back. By its existence, it is a threat to others. By their existence, it must be maintained. By its existence and example, it must grow because others – the other – will likewise grow. If you’re clever and lucky, you can grow past the level of kinship-derived collective, and increase your security, wealth, power, and – not least, in the days of not so yore – access to female slaves.

      What I was getting at with my initial “why,” is that little or none of it has much to do with reason; not for me, not for you, and not for them. We have base assumptions, innate values and outlooks, and we reason from those. Sometimes we reason flawlessly…but if the assumptions are emotional and unreasoning, we’re not really reasoning objectively at all. The difference, I _think_…I’ll get into next week.

    • Pugmak

      Part of the ‘contention’ as minor as it is, is (gonna define the definition of is, heh)

      By “collectivism” I thought the artificial and unnatural forced and enforced group think that gets applied culture wide.

      Collectivism at the family, and sometimes at the village level are natural and until recently survival oriented.

      But, as we’ve seen all too often and regularly, the natural form has been under severe attack so as to allow it to be replaced with the unnatural.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not exactly that, either. The small village is at risk to the big village, hence it, and another 5 small villages, and one bigger village join together in a grouping – we can call it something silly like, oh, say, “Rome” – for security and even a bit of righteous robbery on their own behalf. Is that growth unnatural if, in fact, they all have something in common, speak the same language, are heavily intermarried, have common outside threats, and live close enough for mutual defense? Or is it perfectly natural with those factors?

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      I just feel like I have to nitpick a point: the Confucian system was NOT “rules for everything”. You’re thinking of Chinese Legalism, which was actually anti-Confucian.
      The Confucian system was all about the importance of the “Superior Man” (as opposed to the “Inferior Man”), and how everyone should try to fight the inferior-man within them and embody the Superior Man in order to create the best possible society.

    • Tom Kratman

      Or subordinate the individual for the collective?

    • akulkis

      I would agree. I’ve been calling leftist politics “Neo-Fuedalism” for over a decade.

    • Bill Wade

      Just getting back to this. I agree with you that emotion tends to short-circuit reason. When it does, we rationalize. Not sure what the conservative equivalents are, but that’s the nature of blind spots.

  • tweell

    And here I thought you described yourself as being to the right of Genghis Khan. You disappoint me, sir. :)

    • Tom Kratman

      Some ways I likely am, but who can prove he was all that right wing?

    • soft_water

      Welllll. He established a postal service, freedom of religion, religious buildings and land were tax exempt, promoted based on merit, didn’t kill u as long as u spoke truth. All arguably centralist values.

    • Tom Kratman

      Or just practical ones, though the centrist seems to me to be more likely a practical man.

  • Dexter Scott

    The annoying pinkos who are my state senator and representative send out a weekly missive that invariably describes their ideas as moderate and reasonable, and all opposition as crazed extremism. They spend more time vociferously vomiting on the Republicans than anything else. They see no distance between the Tea Party and the average RINO. Everything they want is “progress”; if they don’t get it, it is “a step backwards”.

    In short they are pretty much a case study in all the illusions you describe.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah, I didn’t just make this crap up.

  • Dexter Scott

    Insanity is not just a matter of not sharing ideas, values, and language. The purpose of politics is to translate ideas and values into actions in the real world. Therefore, political ideas and values can always be (and should be) tested against the real world. If they don’t work — or their benefits are vastly out of line with their costs — then they fail. The Left’s ideas have clearly failed, wherever and whenever they have been tried, and therefore continuing to advocate them is manifestly insane. Yes, yes, they have legions of silver-tongued apologists working night and day to obscure those failures, lie about them, and argue that we need to try harder with more money. (See: The Media.) None of this alters reality.

    The Left hardly even has a positive program any more, as they did back in the old days. They’re not building the socialist worker’s paradise. They are… mostly jumping up and down, screaming, and throwing their feces.

    Meanwhile, when the Left says the Right is “crazy” this mainly means “I don’t like you and you cause feelbad so shut up” not “your policy has failed according to these quantitative metrics.”

    • Tom Kratman

      Well..that’s one meaning. But that’s not the only one. From each of our points of view, the other is looking at a set of facts we see and describing pulsating purple jelly, or something equally psychadelic and unreal.

    • Dexter Scott

      Each has a subjective point of view. Happily, there is an objective reality against which these points of view can be tested. It is not an accident that the Left vehemently insists that objective reality does not exist — because that is the rock on which their philosophy founders.

    • Tom Kratman

      I’m not entirely sure _we_ see objective reality, either. I do think we see something closer to it, though.

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