On a philosophical level there is more that unites free speech activists and safe spacers and even the alt-right & anti-fa then any of their followers are prepared to confront. There have been many pieces discussing the differences in these groups, this is not one of them. Plenty of time has been spent elsewhere looking into the stated ambitions of each group, that is not my interest. My interest is how they come to believe what they believe. As a result of existential angst, most people will turn to Platonic dogmatic systems of belief to give order and meaning to their lives. Nietzsche discussed this at length in The Gay Science. How would mankind would grapple with the death of a single overarching world-view? “What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” In a world dominated by consumerism and Platonism, micro-religions as numerous and as brands have emerged to fill the void.
Micro-religions such as these appear dissimilar at a superficial glance but are built on the same philosophical constructs. Picture a horseshoe. This exercise is Platonic in and of itself assuming ideal forms of “left” and “right” but can be useful nonetheless. As you move to the extreme positions on either side, you actually come closer to convergence, not farther apart as one moving along the horseshoe will experience. Consider the micro-religions already mentioned. Differing in biases and untested assumptions, they agree on the means necessary to bring about their perceptions. If they were to ever follow their own ideas to their logical conclusions they would form societies that would suffer the same fundamental ills despite incongruent premises. All of these micro-religions rest firmly in the Platonic paradigm and I will typically refer to them collectively by their shared values and not further amplify their perceived differences.
Platonism encompasses much of Western thinking. In this construct a demiurge crafted a perfect image of everything. Mortals through iterative discovery can only strive to realize the forms. This philosophical framework is a major feature of contemporary Western thinking as it is was imbued and institutionalized into the the doctrines of the Abrahamic religions that predominate. Even the contemporary atheists reacting to dogmatic theists tend to become Platonic and dogmatic in their irreligiosity. The predominance of Platonism our time has given rise what I will micro-religions, smaller self-referential dogmatic systems of belief ranging from activist causes to dietary practices to political affiliations. Micro-religions are not limited to the ones explicitly mentioned. Political parties, brands, corporations, cults, any imagined reality can become it’s own micro-religion.
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche asserts that our morality has been defined and redefined so many times that it has ostensibly become meaningless. Unlike Plato, Nietzsche does not accept that a force of any kind crafted a perfect image of everything. Rather it is us who define what is “good” and “bad.” When he stated, “God is dead” what he was saying was that God as a universal source of morality for humanity as a result of the enlightenment was dead. Platonic morality can only work with a single world view as forms or ideals must be objective. Stating the need to define morality BEYOND good and evil is a rejection of the Platonic paradigm. Over 100 years after identifying the problem, Western society remains predominantly Platonic and is severing along the lines of it’s micro-religions.
As rival Platonic constructs compete to define morality invariably, one construct makes gains one construct makes losses. This could be as a result of elections, droughts, famines, wars, etc.. The means do not matter. The construct that becomes the majority begins to enjoy certain advantages that alter it’s perception or reality while the losses of the rival alter it’s in a different direction. If the balance tilts, so to will the moral judgments of the Platonist. What was bad from a position of strength becomes acceptable in a position of need. As we move towards the zealots in rival micro-religions, they will wind up adopting similar means to achieve their rival visions. Ironically the Platonist belief in the objectivity of forms gives him the ability to be morally relativistic as circumstances change. Cast against the eternal Platonic paradise any act intended toward realizing it it must be good, right?
How far are you willing to go to see your Platonic paradise become a reality? Would you be willing to redistribute $5 billion dollars? How about killing 5 billion people? Before you answer, remember, you get your PERFECT world. What moral transgressions are you willing to undertake to make it a reality? The answer is what famously divided Camus & Sartre. The later did not protest to Soviet communism because he believed the ideas behind the system were important enough for people to die for. To this concept Camus in The Plague says, “I’ve seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.” Following any hyperbolic rhetoric to it’s logical conclusion, there is nothing heroic about dying(or killing) for an idea to Camus. For him, he would extend that even to ideas that he agrees with. He simply refused to rationalize murder. How many micro-religions make the same commitment as Camus? Living and dying for what one loves no matter what circumstance? It is the stuff of inspirational post cards and little else for most people today.
Merely to demonstrate the point, not to seek to quantify or measure any impact or scale of various micro-religions, consider the tolerance of violence within the alt-right and anti-fa. Neither takes the position of Camus. Their life and ambition is organized and directed at what they do not like and are willing to resort to murder if that’s what it takes. Two more seemingly disparate micro-religions are free speech activists and the PC police. Free speech activists argue that their views are marginalized and should have a space in our society to offer any view free from discrimination. PC police would make the same argument, but rather than hold the belief for right of center beliefs, they hold it for traditionally left of center beliefs. Each of them truly believes that their micro-religion and only their micro-religion is the real “victim” of the other. Followers of these micro-religions share far more philosophically with one than they may ever realize. They may differ in inherent bias and Platonic paradise but little else and suffer through the same existence.
Those who do not affiliate with micro-religions are also presented with an all important choice. Do you denounce an organization who resorts to violence if you agree with other aspects of their beliefs? Would it be better to ignore the transgressions of those whom we share Platonic ideals in hopes that our ideals are one day realized? What would Camus say? He would obviously follow these actions and rhetoric to their logical conclusion and say to tolerate such acts would make one complicit in murder. To rationalize away any feelings of guilt or responsibility as circumstances and thus morality shifts is the most common path. To live and die for what one loves remains the path less traveled.
“I have realized that we all have plague and I have lost my peace. And today I am still trying to find it; still trying to understand all those and not be the mortal enemy of anyone.” To borrow more of Camus’ imagery, we all have plague. In order to conquer it, one must wage a constant war against it. How? Simple. Common decency is what is needed to stamp out plague. It is far to common and easy to react to every perceived transgression in kind. No matter what ill you have suffered, only you hold the power to degrade yourself.
“They cannot degrade Fredrick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.” As sanctimonious and self-righteous as the micro-religious feel can any today honestly say they have been subjected to the degradation that Douglass was speaking of in this line? I think not. Why is it that a man like Camus who lived through Nazi occupied France and Douglass who was held in bondage have arrived at more or less the same conclusion? Why do so many today reject these examples? With Platonist consumerism we have fractured populous that believes what the market has told them, you and your micro-religion are always right.
Consumerism and Platonism are the closest thing we have to shared values. Most of what I’ve read of contemporary opinion conveniently misses this point and then makes a case for it’s own brand of Platonism versus another. Deliberation among Platonists is tantamount to arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. At best an argument made in the Platonic paradigm becomes self-referential, dogmatic, or ostensibly meaningless, at worst authoritarian and murderous. Most of my life has been dominated by the former. I think again to Camus in The Plague. “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Is this America or Algiers? The characterization works either way. Rather than take responsibility for one’s existence and ascribe meaning to one’s own life, most will seek out a dogmatic system to ascribe meaning to take responsibility to them. Comforting illusions of order and certainty over the reality of entropy allow one to live and infantilized existence devoid of any ambiguity or responsibility. They will identity based in large part by their acquired habits. What kind of clothes they wear, where they ate lunch yesterday, choice in smart-phone, etc… These are the most meaningful decisions one makes in the current paradigm. What about voting? You forget, MOST people don’t do that. Most people are far too busy cultivating habits. The habits and affiliations we acquire are a poor substitute for authentic existence.
Perhaps this is why Platonists can never seem to arrive at common ground. Inherently each believes in his own ideals and forms and the existence of other forms is in direct contradiction to the eternal nature of MY forms. If any micro-religion claims to be the one and only true faith it would imply it’s right to persecute all others, and all others would have an equal right to make the same claim.
I know what followers of any of these micro-religions are thinking right now. False equivalency. An easily anticipated contention. One which rests firmly in the Platonic paradigm as does the rest of these philosophical constructs. What has been described is a way of thinking, not a dogmatic way of being. One must cast of these notions of “right” and “wrong” and even “good” and “bad.” When introduced to this way of thinking many people assume it opens the door for moral relativism. On the contrary, exhibiting morality without seeking eternal reward or avoidance of eternal damnation regardless of external circumstance is virtuous. To act in response to perceived benefit, punishment, or extenuating circumstance is just reacting to incentives, a common and lowly impulse not to be revered.
Unlike all those self-referential dogmatic systems, I have no answers to give. I won’t tell you what to believe and I don’t care to change single opinion of yours. There’s no moral at the end of this story, just a challenge. If you claim to be bold, be bold. Cast aside these childish constructs and live a life around what you love. If more of us spent our days in this way, would we still need our micro-religions?