The Rest of the Political Optical Illusions

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Mon, Feb 9 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - Political Optical Illusions

To recap from this series, to date, whatever the objective realities of the matter, people still tend to see and to organize themselves along – or slightly above or below but still substantially along – left-right lines. In accordance with this, there are certain illusions people have and see with regards to both themselves and their opposition. To date, we have covered five of these:

  1. The illusion of being in the reasonable center
  2. The illusion of indistinguishability at a distance
  3. The illusion of vociferousness as increasing distance
  4. The illusion of inevitable progress (which may be balanced, on the right, by the illusion of unavoidable decay)
  5. The illusion of insanity of the opposition (which doesn’t mean they’re necessarily sane, only that the reasons for believing them to be insane don’t necessary work that way)

That’s not the whole of it. Then, too, I am not sure I can see the whole of it. What I can see, beyond the five above, are the five below:

There is an illusion – yes, on both sides – of guilt by association. This is related to, but not exactly the same as, the illusion of indistinguishability. How many nail-bomb-building moral sons of Bill Ayers are over on the modern American Left? Can’t be too many, I think, based on the serious dearth of Earth-shattering kabooms we hear, or rather don’t hear, lately. How many hair-shirted and sandwich board clad – with said boards reading, “Repent! The end is near!” – folks are there on the religious right? Based on how the typical Christian lives, and those being by no means a particularly bad set of men and women, there aren’t all that many. How many Christians do you really think, given a button that would make the Westboro Baptist Church and all its members go poof, wouldn’t push that button twice, the first time slowly, for the emotional satisfaction (well, that and to savor the screaming1), and the second time, quickly, to make sure. How many leftists and liberals are dead set against gun control? More than a few.

Then there’s the illusion brought on by willful blindness. For example, “No enemies to the left!” said Alexander Kerenski, Prime Minister of Russia, in 1917. Pity Kerenski wasn’t able to see that the people to his left were largely intellectual idiots and dogmatic homicidal maniacs, and that there may have been people to his right who were considerably more reasonable and sane. He said that not too long before being tossed out on his ear by the Bolsheviks, who, interestingly enough, were to his left.

You don’t see as much of this – the notion that there are no enemies to the right – on the conservative side, by the way, though there is some. Still, the next time I see a conservative lining up with the American National Socialist Party,2 the KKK, or Stormfront will be the first.

Part of the problem here, I think, is that we take something – civilization, actually – so much for granted that we forget how hard it is to build or to hold onto, and so forget that we have something important in common with our more moderate political opponents. Thus, taking it for granted, we forget that common ground, see the opposition, and so line up with those more extreme sorts for whom civilization is probably just a burden they’d as soon be done with.

Gun control gives a pretty good example of the next illusion, the illusion of one’s opponents having taken a sharp turn, when it is we, ourselves, who have turned sharply. However there is a more recent, less broadly controversial, more easily seen example in relation to the First Amendment. Take for example, this moronic, historically illiterate, logically retarded, quasi-Nazi twat. She’s taken a turn for restrictions on speech, apparently with criminal penalties attached, and has completely lost sight of what “free speech” means and what it’s for, or what the precedential effect of restrictions is likely to be. From her point of view, though, I am sure, she is certain she is being reasonable and staying on course, while the rest of us cisgender normative, hetero-fascisti, doubleplusungood badthinkers and thought-criminals are the ones who have made a radical turn.

The next two illusions are usually seen together, though it is worthwhile looking at them separately. One concerns the possibility of stasis. The other concerns the possibility of perfection.

As far as stasis goes, when has that ever happened? When something like it has happened, when has it not been a hellhole for whoever was stuck in it? And yet what wickedness would people on the extremes not do to fix in place the little personal paradises they would impose on the rest of us? (There’s another related illusion here, the illusion that the rest of mankind has no moral value beyond that of stage props in the silly plays extremist millennialists write for themselves to star in. It’s not common enough to delve into at this time, though. Note, though, that 911 was largely an exercise in theater.)

The last illusion I am going to cover is the illusion of the possibility of perfection, or at least substantial improvement, in Mankind, for whatever value of perfection or improvement prevails, today. On the extreme right one could see it in Nazi eugenics programs like Lebensborn, in the unjust and unwarranted sterilization of Carrie Buck,3 and in old fashioned Tories garnering privilege – real privilege, not the inane and invisible privileges much decried by the social justice warriors – for themselves, their inbred class, and their descendants. On the left…well…contemplate the initial draft of the Students for a Democratic Society’s Port Huron Statement: Man is “infinitely perfectible.”4 Or consider Lenin’s New Soviet Man, more dedicated to Marxist-Leninism than Lenin, himself. Or note the degree to which people of more or less left-leaning sensibilities find their life’s employment in academia, journalism, the arts, to include theater and film, the news media; all places where one may, if one is deluded enough, try to effect real, profound change in people, to bring them closer to perfection, through education, training, propagandization, and relentless, merciless nagging. (Oh, and Gulags; mustn’t forget the Gulags.)

It’s an illusion because it does not – cannot – happen. Both approaches fail because they refuse to admit the efficacy of the other. Neither succeeds well because, even taking both together, Man is too unreliable a medium for that kind of sculpting, and will lie for advantage, to boot.

Next week: some suggestions for using the understanding of the illusions to avoid a catastrophe, together with a couple of book recommendations.

Make sure to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 in this series about the breakup of the United States.


1 Okay, maybe some would just push it the once.

2 Which seems to have many trivial manifestations. You can find your own links, but why bother?

3 Which, yes, as a matter of fact still pisses me off.

4 I’ve mentioned this before.

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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  • Josiah Humphries
  • Dexter Scott

    You don’t see as much of this – the notion that there are no enemies to the right – on the conservative side, by the way, though there is some. Still, the next time I see a conservative lining up with the American National Socialist Party, the KKK, or Stormfront will be the first.

    The problem is that the “Right” (especially the infants at National Review who are not worth Buckley’s shoelace) allow the Left to determine what is acceptable Right-wing thought and who are acceptable associates for Right-wingers. NRO throws its authors under the bus the instant the Left starts shouting and finger-pointing.

    As far as stasis goes, when has that ever happened?

    Most of human history has been stasis. “Progress” is a recent thing. Was that stasis hellish? For us to live like that, yeah, but they didn’t know that being a peasant farmer or hunter-gatherer was hellish.

    • Tom Kratman

      Semantic issue. Even during lack of progress times, little kids of the two legged variety were roasted over spits, tribes were pushed off icefields, Carthage was sacked and burned, and the lights finally went out in Rome.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, they’re just following in Buckley’s footsteps. Never forget that Buckley himself wanted to create a “respectable, mainstream conservatism,” and did so by purging the magazine and by extension purging “respectable conservatism” of the Birchers, the nativists, the isolationists, the populists, persons whose distaste for Communism exceeded carefully calibrated levels, anyone whose distaste for Communism didn’t rise to the level of supporting all the details of the supported counterinsurgency methodologies of the specific approved foreign interventions against it, and anyone else he thought might offend the editorial board of the New York Times.

      So, throwing people under the bus for holding inconvenient opinions in a doomed attempt to appease people who will always regard anyone to their political right as madmen, freaks, criminals, and monsters, is an ancient and honored tradition at National Review, the long-standing house organ of politically correct, passionless, lukewarm Go-Along-to-Get-Along Rockerfeller “conservatism.” “Pas d’ennemis a gauche, pas d’amis a droit, and for God’s sake don’t rock the boat.”

      Also, as an aside, I would note that we have technological progress, which is real and empirically measurable, and we have the Leftist religion of “social progress,” which is, well, a religion. We mustn’t conflate the two. The ideology requires its followers to believe fervently and state frequently that everything is better than it’s ever been before, and everything prior to five minutes ago was unjust and unsanitary and distasteful, and everything will continue getting better and better forever. Note violent crime rates in 2015 and compare those in 1915, or 1850. Particularly note the manner in which the suicide rate has increased in the US, and in other developed countries, for a century.

      If everything is so much better than it’s ever been before, why are the birth rates dropping in the developed world–than which there is no better way a people can demonstrate that they have given up on the future? Why are so many people greeting the new dawn of progress by eating a gun, if it’s so wonderful? Why is there so much despair, in the Amazing World of Wonderful Progress? Why can’t you go downtown unarmed, a state of affairs that would have greatly alarmed our ancestors a century ago?

      This, to my mind, is a darker portent than anything we’ve seen about political divisions. It is one thing to talk about this or that political division, and I do note that there is a lot of crazy talk and hyperbole on both sides. I haven’t heard a lot of truck bombs going off lately, so for the moment I suspect it’s just frustrated people letting off steam on the Internet. I am not sure it’s political, in the sense of an organized movement, but when more and people every year express their opinion of the society in which we live and the manner in which they anticipate it will develop in the near future by offing themselves–that is to me very worrisome.

      And–to bring this back in the direction of writing, and popular culture, it seems to me that the late John Reilly had a point when he noted that when American popular culture, and Western popular culture, becomes obsessed with zombies and vampires, with this concept of living death, it means something very important. Zombies represent decay, anthropomorphized entropy. People find zombie apocalypse movies and zombie apocalypse novels fascinating when they’re terrified of the future, when they perceive that society is collapsing. Vampires, likewise, are glamorous survivors who break all the rules, biological and otherwise, and whose personal survival is not dependent upon whether the stock market crashes tomorrow or whether there’s another riot downtown. 1950s “horror movies” with Abbot & Costello were the popular entertainment of a culture that was essentially optimistic, despite the Cold War, despite the lurid newspaper headlines. Zombies and vampires are the fascinations of a culture absolutely terrified of what tomorrow may bring, and they haven’t been this popular in thirty-five years. This means something.

    • Tom Kratman

      Indeed. But its worse even that that; Think: Drug use, a slow form of suicide, or the need for entertainment so vast and compelling that we pay preposterous – outrageous – amounts to those who provide the entertainment, so that the masses can escape from the society, if only for a moment.

      I suspect that ours – not just American, but western writ large – may be the sickest society in human history.

    • Jack Withrow

      I totally agree. And those trying to prevent our society turning into a total depravity, are now the outcasts. I don’t believe it will be too long before those performing that hopeless rear-guard action will just give up.

    • Tom Kratman

      When they pry my keyboard from my cold, dead fingers…

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Ah Kerensky. I didn’t understand him when I was young, just damned him. Now I understand, a bit, the desire to try to hold things together. I still think he was wrong.

    I think the Right keeps looking for some final line to be crossed before they’ll fight back. In the mean time, they ingest the poison already in the culture and get weaker, less willing to make a scene or be seen as intolerant. I’m not convinced tolerance is a virtue, actually. Courtesy is, I always try to be polite even to those who hold beliefs antithetical to mine. But tolerance eventually leads to a finally fatal dose of something nasty. Maybe a gulag, maybe someone screaming Allau Ackbar before there’s a very loud noise.

    Anyway, thanks again, sir. This is a murky topic to go through and I appreciate you trying to help us navigate it.

    • Tom Kratman

      Us as the frog in the pan? Maybe.

  • Tim_Birch

    Uh, why are you putting the Eugenics thing on The Right? I was taught that the Progressives came up with that line of thought. ( The Germans called it the Indiana Protocol if I remember correctly)

    • Tom Kratman

      Words change meaning, Tim; they morph. I put it on the right because – while I sense something underneath it – the ultimate articulable argument is nature, nurture, or neither, and it always has been. Someone could have called themselves “progressive” before there was such a thing as a Nazi, but they were still proto-Nazis. Oliver W. Holmes of Buck v. Bell fame? Proto-Nazi. Maragret Sanger or planned parenthood and abortion as a sacrament? Margaet Sanger who wanted to basically exterminate the black race? Nazi.

    • Luke

      Yet Nazis were Left.
      Rather strongly stated in the whole “Socialist Workers Party” part of their name.
      You can argue that they were Right in the European frame, because they did not wish to destroy the aristocracy.
      But in the American context, Right has no such connotations. For us, Right rejoiced around individual liberty, capitalism, Judeo-Christian theology, and Enlightenment philosophy. (Yes, I realize the first two are contained in the second two.)
      The Nazis were bitterly opposed to capitalism and any religion that stemmed from the Jews. Their philosophy was Romantic, rather than Enlightenment. So how, exactly, was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party a creature of the Right from an American perspective?

    • Tom Kratman

      Because, of course, there has never been an instance of false advertising in human history. Because everything is in a name. Because they aligned so fully with Stalin, ideologically. And because they never purged the left – Ernst Roehm, say – from the party…or from the face of the planet. And because communism and socialism are so thoroughly imbued with race and eugenics theories.

      Sure, makes perfect sense. Not to me, but still…


      You’re mistaking center for right, I think, here, and mistaking tactical for strategic, or IOW, short term for long term, there. You will not find a concept quite like New Soviet Man over amongst the Nazis. You will find similarities of technique – gulag and concentration camp, say – amongst both, but different diseases can have very similar symptoms, as someone who’s had, say, malaria and pneumonia can probably attest. Still different diseases, though.

      But the point isn’t whether or not any given political philosophy belongs any particular place in some intellectual fantasy of the way things ought to be. The point is how people perceive it, real people, with real eyes, and real brains, not intellectuals whose universes end at the inside of their skulls, and how those perceptions cause them to self organize against some and for others.

      So go back and start at the beginning of this series of columns, IAW the links above.

  • Neil

    “…we take something – civilization, actually – so much for granted that we forget how hard it is to build or to hold onto…”

    Concur absolutely. I think the left-right divide has gotten much, much worse over the last fifteen years. I’m basing that on the talking to the same set of people periodically over that time period, and observing a marked hardening of their attitudes.

    It’s not just the yahoos of the “What’s the matter with Kansas” or “Push California into the sea” variety. What’s most disturbing is people’s willingness to push policies which will benefit themselves and be absolutely devastating to large swaths of the “other” group. Obamacare is the obvious example on the left–it’s designed explicitly to punish the right-leaning kulaks. Perhaps pension reform is the best example on the right–if it is done indelicately, it would destroy the finances of many classes of minorities who have risen to the middle class largely in the bureaucracies.

    • Duffy

      I do not necessarily agree that the divide, politically, has become worse. Things have been worse. I am thinking Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.And this was one of about 6 duels over Political Issues involving Politicians in the 18th Century. Thene there was Charles Sumner and Preston Brooks. Now, I am not saying this is bad thing, Congress Might be a more Civil Place if you actually had to worry about someone calling you out to a duel for talking smack on the floor of the House. But Politics in the US has always been rather violent when you get down to it.

    • Tom Kratman

      Try looking at it this way, Duff: Forget the really extreme loons. Contemplate the sheer mass of folks at the right and left edges of the middle third and then contemplate multiplying how much they detest each other by their sheer numbers. This may be unique in American history, or even western history. George Lincoln Rockwell might have detested, say, Elijah Muhammad (though probably not, since they were _both_ Nazis) or Gus Hall, but they were all on the fringe, in tiny numbers, so…well, so what? Now we have huge percentages, worse than anything since 1861 and maybe worse than that, who simply hate each others’ guts.

    • Neil

      Maybe that’s a good way of describing it. The outer two thirds are creeping inward, so the middle third is getting awfully small. Ten or fifteen years ago, I used to be able to hang out comfortably with people of diametrically-opposed politics, but now it’s quite awkward. The conversation inevitably comes around to just how badly they want to see me either impoverished or dead.

      Not me personally, of course; they’ve always thought of me as one of the good ones. Just everybody who looks like me, thinks like me, works like me, has gonads like me, whatever their particular bugaboo is.

      And these are normal, supposedly decent folks. What must the fringes be thinking now?

  • Jasper

    There is an extraneous space in the link to Tanya Cohen’s column.

    • Tom Kratman

      Josiah provided a link.

  • Duffy

    In regards to the Twatwaffle’s Column, she shows a distinct lack of self awareness. She claims that the “Whole World” embraces Human rights, then goes on to cite her examples, which, with one exception (which is qualified by the author), she uses Western European nations and nations dominated by the descendants of Western Europeans to support her position. But Japan is fighting for more and more “Human Rights” laws, better check with the Koreans that have been living in Japan for about a 150 years about that, not to mention the Philiipino, Viet Namese and other ethnic laborers before she throws that out there. On the other hand I have lived in Germany, for about 9 years, and never noticed these “Human Rights Laws” helping the immigrant populations of Turks, Pakistanis and Africans in their respective Ghettos feel welcome enough to integrate. Seems like the Twatwaffle has never been outside the US except on a Tourist Visa, and Tourists never see the downside of any Tourist destination, it is bad for business. “But if all this is true, why have we not heard about it it.” Well, you see in these countries they have these laws restricting speech, especially speech about certain government policies on immigration and labor, no matter how much you hate the policies.

    • Tom Kratman

      It would serve her right to be put on an auction block and sold as a slave, the proceeds then being given to some fund or other devoted to protecting the first amendment, which is to say, to a fund devoted to prosecuting anyone who objects to her being sold as a slave. Because, as she insists, the first amendment is an affront to human rights, free speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you like and, though she was too ignorant to note it, unlimited free speech is the first line of defense against people being sold as slaves.

    • Duffy

      Which is possible in about half of the rest of the world, and no, from experiance, Europe is not excluded from that half.

    • Tom Kratman

      Indeed not; largest open air female sex slave market in the world was Arizona Market, in Bosnia.

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