The “Blog Nobody Reads” had something of an uptick last week, when Morgan observed that in the Global Somethening game, there were two processes that seemed never in sync:
I characterized my problem as a “Clark Kent and Superman” problem … I see people applying the scientific method to figuring out what’s going on with the climate, and I’m seeing prognostications of doom. But the scientific method and the doomsaying are never in the same room at the same time.
The response to that, he detailed in a follow-up this week. The conclusion Morgan reached may be obvious to many readers, but in my mind, it’s often the thing we feel isn’t worth saying that gets most easily fogotten, so I’m glad he wrote this:
People do appreciate the need for this peace, but they’re making the mistake of defining it as absence of conflict. The mistake is a deadly one, since life itself entails conflict, and a dogmatic regimen of rejecting all conflict will eventually come to the point where it begins to reject life. … What point is there to life, if we’re only supposed to live it until there is conflict? There is none.
And this is reflected, I would argue, in the results. When people are bludgeoned into this living-of-life-to-avoid-conflict, sooner or later, you always see someone, somewhere, laboring under a commandment that they need to stop living life, or to live less life. So that someone else isn’t offended. Very often, the “someone else” doesn’t actually exist, and is thought about only as a hypothetical: “Take that American flag down, someone might find it offensive.”
Sooner or later, intolerance itself is tolerated, and ironically that is the exit point of tolerance from this avoid-all-conflict doctrine.
(In the interest of space, I ellipsed a religious observation of Morgan’s, that many of Jesus’ statements and parables stand in opposition to this sort of thinking. It’s a theme worth developing fully into a separate essay.)
Lo and behold, right after reading that, I pop over to the Bleat, and James Lileks is knocking the same exact meatball pitch out of the park:
If you can’t agree on something, then don’t talk about it – a perfect example of what happens when Consensus is enshrined above all else. I suppose that proves their point. “Well, wasn’t the lack of consensus what caused the unpleasantness in the first place?” I suppose; if everyone had agreed to be run by the Germans, there wouldn’t have been war. Peace is a value equivalent to Consensus; if they made statues today of allegorical figures, you wouldn’t have Truth and Justice, but Consensus and Peace. A continent run by Nazis would be technically peaceful, since the internal repression wouldn’t be regarded as a breach of peace. They could burn every untermensch from the Urals to the Portuguese shore, but as long as one government controlled everything, and wasn’t at war with another discrete political entity, there would be Peace.
My own poor observation? The whole dizzying affair at Morgan’s barely qualified as a conversation, because it never went anywhere. This fellow (s) Zachriel has, in fact, put himself into my mental dictionary as the picture illustrating GK Chesterton’s chapter on madmen in his tremedous book Orthodoxy. Chesterton observed that a closed circle, such as the mind of a madman, can be said to be infinitely small… a tiny ring constricting tighter and tighter until nothing is left.
Why would he or they or whomever do that? What would be the point of such a long pointless exchange?
I’ve puzzled ’til my puzzler was sore, and only one thing really makes sense: the very pointlessness of it all must be the point to Zachriel. There’s a dull commonality to how he approaches the topic and how he demands that all others approach it. For all the talk about saving the world, it involves no actual volition on the part of those who will actually do the nuts-and-bolts saving on a daily basis – they won’t choose, they’ll be herded. They in fact will be like Zachriel, or be Zachriel, who seems to be a group identity.
A living being, faced with something unlikeable or untenable, will make a choice about dealing with it. If a sudden flame pops up when I’m grilling, I jump back. The meat on the grill just sits and burns. So much simpler and easier. So much more peaceful. A group of people going someplace, such as a long line to get into a show or event, has to decide to keep moving, or else work their way off the line. A group of objects just gets sorted and swept. Any of them that hit the floor do so by pure accident.
Zachriel and others like them must really believe at core that we are units with no volition, and that any one of us that disagrees must do so in the same manner as the sock stuck in the lint trap, or the dime in the sofa cusions. When we insist that we’ve broken from the group by choice, they don’t seek to persuade our choice, they just assume that we need to be fished out. “Read it again,” they say, or “You must not understand.” In fact we have read and understood, and found the case lacking. In some cases, we may have even found the case compelling but still refuse because the persons making it are jerks or creeps. Even beyond that – some rebels do it just for the fun of it, because we can. These are all things that only the living do.
I’ll go one further and say that all the Consensus Takers and Zachriels and their ilk are the ones who do not understand. Socks don’t understand why they go in pairs, and steaks don’t understand why they’re sizzling. They are entirely acted on by external forces and have no say in the results. This is the madness: these are people who, while still drawing breath, have laid aside the ability to choose their path. They neither swim with nor against the tide – neither join nor jump the queue. That’s why their solution to disagreement is simply to abrogate it, and make the dissenter simply go along to get along. They can’t agree to disagree, because they aren’t truly capable of either of those mental activities. They can only check if the response matches that of units like themselves.