Koestler on Closed Systems

The writer Arthur Koestler (‘Darkness at Noon) was a Marxist believer and a Party member when he visited the Soviet Union in 1932.  Looking back later at his younger self, he was struck by the way in which he’d had a kind of filter, a ‘mental sorting machine’, which allowed him to justify the not-so-nice things that he had seen and to fit everything into his belief about the rightness and beneficiality of Communism.  These reflections led him to thoughts on the nature of intellectually closed systems.

A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself.

The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history..

In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself..

I’ve cited the above excerpt a number of times in the past. Given the level of ideological capture that seems to be taking place in our Western societies at present, I thought it was due for a rerun and discussion.

Why are there so many people now who are willing–even eager–to become votaries of of ideological systems? I’d suggest that several factors are operative:

First, there are a lot of people who are lonely and looking for a sense of affiliation. Relatedly, a lot of people lack a sense of meaning…which was once more often provided by traditional religions and social roles–and political activism and belief can fill this need.  Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in Germany between the wars, observed this phenomenon.  When the political and economic situation in that country began to stabilize–for which he credits Gustav Stresemann–most people were happy:

The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

But a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk…

To be precise…it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

I think there are a lot of people in America today, and in the West generally, who have become accustomed to having ‘the raw material for their deeper emotions’ delivered by the public sphere.

Second, for some people the desire for affiliation shades into the darker pleasure of behaving with cruelty to those outside the charmed circle…while simultaneously feeling very virtuous about their behavior  See my post Conformity, Cruelty, and Political Activism.

Third, people who are intelligent, but not at all creative, tend to latch on to the intellectual systems created by others and to hold to those systems create by others even more fiercely than the originators of those systems would do.  This observation is from the writer Andre Maurois, and I think it is correct.  I also think that the description ‘intelligent but not creative’ describes a high percentage of the current incumbents in academia and media organizations.

Your thoughts?

31 thoughts on “Koestler on Closed Systems”

  1. I know that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem (http://tinyurl.com/z85nxvra) is technically about formal axiomatic systems and, since political systems aren’t that, it doesn’t apply.

    And, as Koestler points out, the rules of the closed system make it impossible to argue with the fanatics of the system.

    You can tell a fanatic because they’ve their sense of humor about their system.

  2. Koestler was observing 21st Century Democrats, he just did not realize it yet.
    Almost everything discussed, all features, have been demonstrated by the modern, todays, Left in the US.

  3. Yara – You might enjoy GK Chesterton’s comment about some types of very technical paranoids who had deeply detailed explanations for why they were right that one did not so much want to give it refutation as give it air. (The Everlasting Man, Hanwell)

  4. I didn’t start reading at the beginning, but at the end, reading/scrolling upwards. Oh well.

    Then I came to

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk…

    I said to myself, this doesn’t sound like Koestler, but like Sebastian Haffner.

    Then I scrolled up some more. Confirmed.

    Why are there so many people now who are willing–even eager–to become votaries of of ideological systems? I’d suggest that several factors are operative:

    First, there are a lot of people who are lonely and looking for a sense of affiliation. Relatedly, a lot of people lack a sense of meaning…which was once more often provided by traditional religions and social roles–and political activism and belief can fill this need.

    In high school, I came to the conclusion that group affiliation was a factor in one’s political beliefs. Political beliefs didn’t always come only from knowledge and reasoning. The current situation is but an extreme example of group affiliation influencing political beliefs.

  5. David, I think you might be interested in a 1995 article written by the experimental psychologist Anthony Pratkanis entitled: How to sell a pseudoscience.


    Pratkanis outlines in the 9 steps necessary to sell flim-flam. Number 1 is to create a phantom goal (a goal that looks achievable if we do just the right thing, behavior or incantation.

    Pratkanis’sNumber 2 is my favorite:

    “2. Set a Rationalization Trap
    The rationalization trap is based on the premise: Get the person committed to the cause as soon as possible. Once a commitment is made, the nature of thought changes. The committed heart is not so much interested in a careful evaluation of the merits of a course of action but in proving that he or she is right. [ . . . ]


  6. To counter yara’s point, Gödel once said: “A completely unfree society (i.e., one proceeding in everything by strict rules of ‘conformity’) will, in its behavior, be either inconsistent or incomplete, i.e., unable to solve certain problems, perhaps of vital importance. Both, of course, may jeopardize its survival in a difficult situation. A similar remark would also apply to individual human beings.”

  7. That’s what has been bothering me a lot and painfully for some time. – The network of closed systems of alternative media, which are not uniform, they are different, but are consolidated in almost complete closure on the clear view of specific issues. And these are the most important questions, because we are exactly on the verge of a global change comparable to that before communism, but significantly exceeding it in impact.

    A unique perspective on Tucker’s interview (backed up with all the necessary sources). I mean, there really is nowhere else to meet it, backed up by the necessary factual justification. In case you are interested in more details, scroll down and review the next comments of the same person.

  8. MCS…”would-be overlords is right”…the category of people that Rasmussen profiled is generally referred to as the ‘elite.’ I think this is questionable. It’s important to note that Rasmussen did not start with a definition of ‘elites’ and then study their opinions; he started by noticing a bizarre cluster of opinions and then studied who these people are. That’s how he got the markers Income>$150K…post-graduate degree…live in an urban area. That definition would exclude Elon Musk, for example, along with some F500 CEOs and a significant number of startup CEOs and wealthy owners of private businesses. It would also exclude many state and federal officeholders, while *including* for example a $150K academic in a high cost-of-living area.

    I think many of these people are not so much ‘elite’ as people who *think* they should be treated as elites, and are resentful when they are not. See my post The Rage of the Prince-Electors.


  9. Suppose you have a world-view based on 10 fundamental assumptions that are consistent with each other. As an intelligent person, you want to evaluate the validity of your assumptions. You look at each one and it makes perfect sense; but all you discovered is that the assumptions are consistent with each other. If you also add a filter (a la Koestler) to disallow any contrary information, then you’ve got an impenetrable closed system. Unless your system is so wildly at variance with reality that it kills you (which sometimes happens), you can go on believing in it no matter what evidence or argument seem to disprove it.


  10. One type of filter is resistance to Cognitive Dissonance, the reluctance to change one’s current beliefs. Some of this is probably necessary or you would use all your mental capacity constantly reconsidering everything you think. There is also Motivated Reasoning, that goes beyond CD in that there are practical reasons for trying to hold on to a belief: for instance, one study found that if you give people a fake study on the ‘hazards’ of coffee-drinking, the coffee-lovers will try a lot harder to find something wrong with it than will the people who dislike or are indifferent to it.

    In politics, and especially in today’s climate, there can be strong practical reasons for not changing an opinion: loss of career opportunities, friction with spouses, alienation of parents or children.

  11. I remember being taught in high school a simplified version of Koestler’s argument in the form of the reliable/valid argument which we used as part of a larger discussion of Orwell’s 1984. In Orwell’s book, the State consciously destroyed any external standard by which either its actions or societal conditions could be measured making any sort of valid (or if you like reasoned) argument impossible.

    I find Koestler’s mention of “bourgeois class-consciousness” interesting given his prior allegiance to Marxism. Two of Marx’s key concept regarding revolution were class-consciousness and the social superstructure. Marx argued that the social world comprising institutions, language, beauty, justice, even notions of good and evil were not independent values but were instead social constructs created by the powerful to keep the oppressed down. On of the results of that oppression was that the proletariat had a false self-conscious seeing themselves as German national or Lutherans or anything but what they should be, which are proletariats; it was the job of Communism to make them see that light

    Those Marxist precept are immediately recognizable today, simply replace class with race or sex. The whole goal of the Woke movement in its various forms is to make various racial and sexual minorities as well women to switch their self-conscious image from being part of a larger community to identifying first and foremost with that identity; the black American becomes Black who just happens to get their mail here. The next step is a recognition that the entirety of American society and the political system is a tool of oppression used by whites to keep everyone down. That’s why you see them state that if you aren’t explicitly anti-racist you are racist or that Clarence Thomas is merely a black-faced white supremacist

    This, to go back to David’s post, is a completely closed system because any counter-arguments to it are rooted in a white supremacist form of thinking and are readily dismissed; to say you believe in a color-blind is to brand you a racist. In fact you don’t even speak with them, not only because are their assumptions different, but in true Marxist fashion to have destroyed the language; concepts such as racism, democracy, let alone multi-racial democracy mean something completely different. As with the Terminator, you cannot bargain or reason with these people

    This is why we are in a very dangerous situation. Society is separating into two very different parts with different assumptions of how people should identify and interact with each other. What will bring things to the edge is that the Left believes in that Marxist superstructure notion of society, that societies are inevitably organized around oppression. To be fair to Marx he thought that eventually the state would wither away and that the oppression concept would be irrelevant; Lenin knew better and saw society and indeed all of history and the future as a matter of who/whom as in who was oppressing whom. It is helpful to have Trump and indeed the entirety of MAGA self-identify because the Left will organize its future utopia on the foundational principle of crushing it; if there wasn’t Trump, the Left would have to create him.

  12. To go to Clawemute point and apply it to political beliefs…. Party ID and holding core political beliefs should be seen as emotional and not entirely rational choices; I worked with a prof in grad school who made his bones demonstrating in a longitudinal study that people almost never changed their party ID even when they voted differently (think Reagan Democrats back in the 1980s), This emotional “stickiness: of initial selection is why voter registration drives are so successful in changing party Ids because while the registrant may care little about the parties before they register, by choosing to register as a partisan they acquire a sticky self-identity

    Marxists and derivative revolutionaries know how hard it is to change that self-identity, that consciousness and so they look for certain moments that shock people into new ways of thinking. There was Bloody Sunday in 1905 Russia which formed the basis for the proletariat movement. The way the Left and BLM exploited George Floyd is a classic example where by taking shocking video footage out of context was the catalyst for Leftist corporate and government elites to force people to think of themselves in terms of their racial identities.

  13. Mike wrt political beliefs.

    Exactly. Could not agree more.

    Here’s another idle thought. I would argue that what you and Pratkanis are describing is one aspect of “human nature.” While Pratkanis’s specialty is persuasion, the human mind, IMO, has all the circuity necessary to be persuaded and, once persuaded, to resist against (almost) all pressures that might “unpersuaded” it.

    I think of it (this particular “quirk” of human nature) in terms of selection pressures favoring a particular way of structuring the mind for reasons of group survival.

    I believe that these tendencies are the current products of over a billion years of evolution (lobster fossils were found dating to 600 million years ago, and today’s lobsters share, with us, the transmitter serotonin, which can be blocked by the same drug in both species, and humans from chimps ~ 7 million to 20 million years ago).

    In fact, we find such tendencies across modern cultures, and they were almost certainly to be found in our H.sapiens ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago. Those tendencies may have been (selectively) powerful enough to create the humans we have become.

    My point is that what we’re seeing is a product of evolution and has evolved because it offered some kind of selective advantage on those possessing it. My (untestable) theory is that the selective advantage is that decisions, even suboptimal ones, are more adaptive than being unable to make any decision at all, or having pure instinct drive behavior.

    Finally, I’m mindful of Robert Heinlein’s quip, which emphasizes the disparity between the conformist majority and the plight (and inpact) of the individual who has a radical idea that is truly beneficial to humans:

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people.

    “Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    “This is known as ‘bad luck’.”

    If you accept that the ideas of most individuals are hair-brained and won’t work to the benefit of the group and may destroy it, my theory makes sense (but, again, cannot be tested).

  14. Haffner’s comments made me think that, well, yes, if one was satisfied with the political arrangements of the Weimar Republic, then it’s lovely that it had stabilized and people could focus on their own lives. What if one was not satisfied that the republic was the legitimate, let alone the ideal system?

    I do not say this merely facetiously, nor necessarily to challenge Haffner’s assessment overall. But even his statement is a closed system in the making. “Anyone who rejects the republic must be doing so for psychological reasons and not because they reject it as the legitimate political system for intellectual and or political reasons.”

    Plenty thought it was not the finally legitimate last word. This rejection of the architecture is not inherently the same thing as saying they needed the whole of their lives delivered by the public sphere, or that they would not have been satisfied with some other regime settling into like stability. The monarchy, for example. The previous system many of them had known and in which they may have been content to pursue private life.

    To say that they all rejected stability and needed permanent revolution is to psychologize them, en masse, to presume some meta-level legitimacy of the existing regime, and to reject all criticism of same as mere mental error by people craving chaos. The same kind of argument the Kaiser’s men might have made of their foes had they been sophisticated enough, the same kind of argument a Nazi or a communist in turn might have made.

    Now, there’s plenty for argument there. But I offer it in part to remind everyone that, right now in the west, the argument for stability, peace, leaving people alone, accepting the reality of what IS as normal, and psychologizing all criticism out of the realm of legitimacy, is poised on a knife’s edge if it has not already tipped over in favour of the extreme, radical left. This is not 1955, or even 1985, nor yet 1995 any more. The far left has the cards. If anyone in the next ten years, or five minutes, is going to be tarred with the brush of mental illness and desire for instability, anarchy, conflict, and constant effort to overthrow peace and normality then we, and not they, will be the ones so tarred.

  15. Plus there’s the historicist argument.

    The Putin interview and aftermath reminded me how deeply Americans, and Canadians, and increasingly others, disdain arguments from history, whether a thousand years ago or much more than a year past. This is a bit alien to me- nothing Putin said about Kiev was alien to me, and I could recite similar chapter and verse for Scotland or England or Ireland or France and given linkages to current events. I don’t think these necessarily need to be given huge weight, compared to some, but I reject the cavalier dismissal of them or the mindset that literally everything can be dismissed with “move on”. I’m not a history-less consumption and labour unit.

    With all that in mind, I’m extremely content to note that in theory, half of me believes the entire Anglo-Saxon political world is illegitimate as the result of a parliamentary and military coup and Dutch invasion in 1688, and there is no way to evade that. The other half of me considers it legitimate. But I don’t think it’s meaningless. It’s far enough back there’s nothing now to be done. If there were something that could be done, I’d at least think on it.

    If it had happened 6 years ago, I’d consider the issue still alive. For Germans in 1924, 1918 was 6 years ago.

    As above, I just note that in our own times the argument that everything is “settled” and we should “move on” is the leftist take, and only when they have won, and even then only until they have themselves some reason to re-open the issue, in order to take it farther in their preferred direction, not for their enemies to relitigate past defeats.

    Again, I’m not ceding conceptual or rhetorical ground any more.

  16. random observer…interesting thoughts. My impression is that a lot of Nazis rejected contemptuously the earlier Germany. This is made explicit in the anthem of the Hitler Youth:

    The rotten bones are trembling,
    Of the World before the War.

    Peter Drucker, who lived in Germany during the rise of Naziism, saw a great deal in Nihilism in the movement. I’m sure there were many individual Nazi supporters who would have been satisfied with a return to the pre-1914 situation, but I don’t think this was the main thrust of the movement.

  17. Wars have ranged over Europe for the lat 3,000 years or more. There is not one square millimeter that has not been taken, conquered, re-taken, over run, annexed, protected, multiple times through that period. What of the historic claims of the Mongols to Russia and Ukraine, all the way to the Dnieper and Danube?

    Are we supposed to re-prosecute every war back to Alexander? This is exactly what gave us two World Wars in the 20th century.

  18. MCS—a case could be made that we had one WW with a pause in the middle of it. Also, though a little bit rough, Bongino’s category of stupid smart people as opposed to stupid-stupid and smart-smart people also clearly describes the wannabe overlords we currently have. Credentialed not educated…

  19. One of the conclusions is that it seems that almost everyone who did not live at all during the communist era, in a commuist country, understands what it was very well, as much as a person who lived there then.
    I call this phenomenon “American hegemony in thinking.”

  20. Which is what drives me to semantics.

    “The map is not the territory.”

    And by forcing the discussion back to the territory, you can begin discarding the false maps.

  21. “the darker pleasure of behaving with cruelty to those outside the charmed circle”


    According to Rene Girard’s seminal work on the birth of culture:

    Mob violence, which becomes sacralized and romanticized by those inside the “charmed circle,” is the generative event of all culture since the dawn of homo sapiens.

    However, according to Girard, the efficacy of this generative violence has been losing it’s power due to crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

    Without a religious, particularly Christian, restraint on violence, and with the waning power of “generative violence” due to Christ, no matter how much power these closed systems gather, they will shatter apart like the tower of Babel.

    The problem is, as these closed systems gain power and simultaneously rot from the inside out, the violence they unleash, in an attempt to escape the inevitable collapse, can be hellish. e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Plot, Huey Lewis, Mao, the KKK, the woke Left, the Republican hawkish neo-cons.

    I recommend Rene Girard’s work and/or Gil Baile’s illumination of Girard.

  22. >Koestler was observing 21st Century Democrats, he just did not realize it yet.

    I have interacted with a LOT of people on the right who behave exactly the same as the closed-minded Democrats they’re supposedly complaining about.

    “Maybe there’s no evidence but we know they’re bad anyway so they’re still to blame” was an argument presented to me just a couple days ago. That _is_ “fake but accurate”. There’s no difference. The only variable is what flag the person is flying. And if you try pointing this out, it is precisely these people who will be the most vehement in denouncing you for pretending there’s some equivalency between the Good Guys and the Horribly Evil Bad Guys – when THEY THEMSELVES ARE THE ONES EXHIBITING THE EQUIVALENCY.

  23. I have interacted with a LOT of people on the right who behave exactly the same as the closed-minded Democrats they’re supposedly complaining about.

    None of us is immune from this kind of thinking.

  24. David, this is great stuff.

    So many threads to pull together. In no particular order.
    – IIRC it was Kahneman who showed that we make emotional decisions and justify them rationally.

    – long ago it was demonstrated by political scientists that most people vote against rather than for.

    – most people are extremely uncomfortable with uncertainty. Any belief system that provides all the answers will have strong appeal to them. The discomfort with uncertainty is a huge factor in so much of what we see around us now.

    – the most strident voices for global warming science, etc. are those who don’t understand the science at all. They are the ones who claim it is settled. Total trust in the most extreme scientists. We see this in all kinds of academic areas. Everyone wants to make their subject “physics-like” because the equations provide exact answers and desired certainty.

    – see also Covid. A great case study for all this. People were manipulated by propaganda to be extremely fearful. They were willing to do all kinds of horrific things to anyone who dissented from the promoted orthodoxy. Imprison those who refused shots. Take away kids. And even now that we KNOW it was all BS, they are still incapable of admitting error.

    – Upton Sinclair and HL Mencken got it right about refusing to see error when one’s paycheck depends on that refusal. Today the pay is psychological and it’s huge.

    – there is enormous appeal in believing that one is saving the planet. What could possibly be more morally satisfying?

    – There might be an element of future shock at play today. Toffler posited that change would happen so fast that people wouldn’t be able to cope. I even think that one element of the Democrat strategy being employed today, a type of Cloward-Piven on steroids, is to tear down so much, so fast, that people simply can’t cope. They’re overwhelmed. They respond like ostriches. Or by embracing old beliefs long after the cheese moved. They’re desperate for anything that provides comfort including old allegiances and old orthodoxies.

    – Krauthammer nailed it in 2002 about liberals thinking conservatives are evil simply because they don’t agree about policy.

    — re: intelligent, but not creative. I was stunned by the way so many educated people could be so clueless and unquestioning of the “experts” about covid policies. Eventually I realized that in our information age, everyone is selling “expertise” which is usually nothing more than whatever they were spoon fed in school and for which they were rewarded for puking back up on a test. They succeeded and advanced by never challenging the conventional wisdom which they were taught. To be smart was, by definition, to know and follow all the conventional wisdom. That’s the path to the degree or credential.

    To become an expert, it was mandatory to believe the experts. Feynman taught us that science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. We don’t have much science today. The more education we provide to the people, the less questioning we will get of the expert class.

    And sowing doubt about any experts always has the potential to weaken the public’s trust in all experts. Including them. Bad for business. See Sinclair and Mencken.

  25. “The map is not the territory.”

    So many of the arguments about global warming are about comparing the different predictions generated by different theoretical models, rather than about empirical evidence. A better approach might be to acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know, and that it isn’t a good idea to bet the farm on poorly validated theories. Call it the precautionary principle, to coin a phrase.

  26. In Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco explored conspiracy thinking similarly in that, once you accept the existence of the conspiracy, every fact can be brought within it. It can’t be disproven.

  27. Whoa, Mr. Rippey! I know Huey Lewis and the News wasn’t the greatest group around, but I don’t think their music ever actually killed anybody!

  28. David-

    Worthwhile notes regarding an often forgotten element of Nazi ideology and symbolism- their particular take on a cult of youth, dynamism, and so on. “The rotten bones rattle” is also one of their better tunes, if one does not speak German, or does not dwell on the lyrics, or is not in or past middle age. One of the key arguments against just blanket characterizing them as a reactionary movement.

    And that spirit did already exist in the mindset of radicalized frontsoldaten, freikorps volunteers, and so on, in the aftermath of WW1, but I don’t thin it’s as simple as Haffner put it. At any rate, I still mainly want to point out that it is always easy to make either or both of two mistakes:

    1. cavalierly dismiss the opponents of a regime one favours as a bunch of nuts with deep emotional traumas, and thus miss the idea they might be a threat;

    2. aggressively and strategically portray the opponents of a regime one favours as a bunch of nuts with deep emotional traumas, take pleasure in the success of this endeavour, assume it is a kind of greater truth, and then a short time later not notice that one is on the wrong side of the same kind of exercise.

    And, I suppose, to note that history doesn’t stop and no kind of regime is going to hold or necessarily deserve to hold eternal legitimacy. They can be questioned and opposed, and everyone need not just settle down, accept a pat on the head, and just live their lives in conformity to whatever system is in place. That argument can be used against everyone who ever opposed, resisted, or changed anything, with equal validity and effect. I can say I think my opponents are wrong in their critique, even evil, and I might even argue their impressions are arguments are nuts, but I probably will fall short of arguing that their arguing or questioning at all is itself nuts. Because I know it’s going to be used against me, and I might lose.

    If I were to characterize people who read and comment here loosely as a group, and as roughly part of the right or conservative spectrum, I’d say we all in aggregate made mistake 1 above for years, at least not taking it seriously enough. We are now in the process of becoming on the receiving end of #2, because the other side is in the position of defining the normative regimes of society to exclude us.

    I don’t know how the above tangent about the Russians went or exactly the issues involved, but I also sometimes wonder if I’m falling into a crack between “Russia is awesome, Putin rules, we love him” and “Russia is the #1 threat to everything all the time and a way bigger threat to the US and the west than in the Cold war and we should oppose them everywhere all the time because America’s frontier is the Don.”

    I think these positions are nuts. I think Russia is, to use the kind of always dangerous analogy we all use, Italy to China’s Germany. The British and French could have had Italy on side until 1936 and it is reasonable to say that’s what they should have done and what we all should have been doing recently. Admittedly, Ukraine harder to sacrifice than Ethiopia should have been, both for good geopolitical reasons and for less good reasons that involve the idea that History was supposed to have Ended in Europe and ohmigod we can’t let it start again. But even if that model becomes unviable, as I think it now is, with Russia, they are still #2 and less than they were 40 years ago.

    There’s plenty of room to challenge, accommodate, face down, tweak, do diplomacy, do intelligence work, and maybe look to a way to recreate some air between them and China, while still containing them, still propping up Ukraine. I remain unconvinced that treating Ukraine as an eternal ally, when until 2022 it had been no kind of ally, and going into full crusade mode, was it. There seems to have been no middle ground at all, just as after 1991 there was no idea among Republicans let alone between Republicans and Democrats, what Russia policy should be, and indeed they switched places a couple of times on which was the more aggressive and which the more conciliatory.

    I suppose I should be grateful we have moved past America’s security frontier being Ossetia.

Comments are closed.