All different, all the same
My previous post was my debut on Alternative Right, so I am surprised by the response it generated. However, I feel that I did not present my opinions in a way that was clearly understood, so have prepared the following not only in response, but to further articulate my basic premise and expand upon it.
My intention was to illustrate the process by which one ideology becomes dominant in a society. Its nominal opponents attempt to retain relevance by phrasing their arguments as answers to, rather than criticisms of, its concerns. Soon they function not as its opponents but its adjuncts. Through the conscious forfeit of its critics, the ideology passively absorbs and redesigns its competition in its own image. I realize I did not sufficiently describe the set of social conditions in which this occurs. They are as follows:
(1) Individualism: Unlike pre-modern societies in which one lived in small scale units, whose inhabitants functioned as an extended family, the individual now exists in large units characterized by atomization and formality. Family and friends notwithstanding, his relations with others are contractual and exist in formal settings. Those he encounters in public during his daily routine are strangers. Conservatives and libertarians may balk at the assertion that this is an individualist society, citing the existence of income redistribution as an example of our purported collectivism; however, those operating said system are unknown to the citizenry, and their activities occur unseen. Not one person receiving government assistance knows or even sees the tax providers contributing it. The inverse is the same.
(2) Mass scale: It is large scale, with large institutions serving a large population: formal cities, schools, businesses, and governments. These institutions, due to modern technology, possess greater coercive power than was ever welded by their predecessors, and their functions are formal and codified. The majority of the citizenry do not know the individuals controlling them, or the basic facts of their daily operations.
(3) Self-centered cooperation: Whereas in pre-modern societies the individual was subject from birth to a web of informal relations, which formed the basis of cooperation, he is now born an atom. With the exception of friends and family, he pursues and locates others to collaborate with out of self-interest. Hence, one is from adulthood onward packaging and marketing himself to his peers. Social interaction becomes a matter of apprehension and unease.
(4) Division into appearance and reality: As a mass society, where interaction is contractual and self-interested, this is inevitable. Colleges need students and students need education. Businesses need employees, who in turn need employment. Parties need voters, who in turn need public policy they benefit by. People need friends and lovers and friends and lovers are always people. Preparing oneself for the ball is not only an institution, but a field of study in itself.
As a consequence of the above our society has based itself on two key institutions: democracy and the market. On the surface the two seem very different; but closer inspection reveals they are one and the same. Parties are firms and politicians are products; campaign ads are product commercials; campaign appearances are in-store product demonstrations. Voters are consumers, and votes are their dollars. The two are mediated by marketing departments and PR firms, respectively. This is no coincidence, as democracy and commerce both manifest from the same dynamic: promoting one’s self by promising service to others. Or, in laymen’s speak, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Ideology is the tool used for the scratching. Note first that ideology is not reality. Reality is complex chaos, raising questions without answers; ideology is reality streamlined into a linear narrative with clear pros and antagonists, presented publicly in an understandable fashion. I use the term not to denote academic systems of abstract thought, such as Marxism, but to refer to the base set of positions, slogans, and stock arguments that have hegemony in the society. In mass society, people lack direct access to the truth behind issues, so they access it indirectly through presentations from media conduits. Because of our society’s market basis, they have a plethora of options, but no guarantee of truth.
Ideology is a conduit that gives them perceived truth; it is an explanation of society to them. The winner, like the performer or film that attracts the most customers, is the one with the broadest appeal. Notice how in political debates on the individual level the same stock arguments are constantly regurgitated, and how political literature reads like a transcript of such conversations? This is because the worldview is manufactured and purchased as a product. It’s the same phenomena by which high school students choose mall subcultures and adults choose hobby clubs. Liberalism became the dominant brand the same way Journey made platinum album sales and “Friends” tops Neilson ratings: it appealed to the majority of the population, did not challenge their sensibilities and asked nothing in return. As such it is not unique.
If it is anything, it is the refinement of the abstract and the universal into ideology. Abstractions are empirically nonexistent; they are created mentally through the removal of particulars. This creates universals, which are properties said to be possessed by every thing, not just one individual thing. This in turn produces the linear logic of a child: the benefits of their premises are self-evident to quantitative thinking. Universalism is thought superior to nationalism because it allows for greater inclusion, whereas the latter is unjustly exclusionary. Equality is thought superior to inequality as it provides more to more whereas the former excludes many. This is the morality encoded into people’s social interactions (everyone wants to be, or be thought of as, nice) and is liberalism’s built in defense mechanism. It’s also conservatism’s built in weakness: it lacks this accessibility as its benefits are its outputs over time and cannot be directly deduced from its premises. Therefore it is easy prey for strawmen and ad hominems, because most don’t take the time to think through the information presented to them.
Liberalism acquired its hegemony in the now familiar way. A revolution or reform to the status quo is proposed, quickly gaining support because of its mass appeal. When it can make its desired change, it succeeds and incrementally replaces the prior establishment. Generations pass and inherit the new paradigm, which most accept and take for granted.
In Liberalism’s case, its intention of universal inclusion precludes quality control and can be co-opted by anyone and for any purpose. Those governing the system and its beneficiaries are advantaged in that theirs is perceived as the correct side of history. To oppose them is to oppose the basic moral convention, and can only be done on those rare occasions when the system produces an obvious massive negative output.
In civil society, Liberalism expands through narcissism as people are always willing to dismiss criticism of something that enhances their self-image. Perpetuated through these social factors, its perception as truth shields it from bearing the weight of its own failures. The only problem permitted is “not enough” so the solution of course is “more of the same”!
This is the problem the Right faces: to undo Liberalism we must undo the social, historical, and material conditions from which it congealed in the first place. Changes in public policy, legislation and even cultural campaigns are of no consequence. Society itself needs first to collapse. When tooth and claw needs render the liberal fairy tale an unfeasible myth the rest will take its natural course.