Reflections: Mass-Crystallization and the New Theodicy

The formation of a mass-conformist hive-mentality out of an individualistic, free-inquiry-based culture is like a kind of symmetry-breaking: it is considerably analogous to the sudden crystallization of a supercooled liquid. Above a certain social “temperature” (for instance, a certain rate of innovation and change, or a certain average level of personal prosperity), the individual phase is stablest; people, like molecules in a liquid, then move and think with considerable, though never quite total, independence. Below that temperature, the collective yearning for defined social patterns and fixed ideas becomes increasingly overwhelming, but is not initially able to hit upon a new configuration to build around (a nucleus).

I suspect we have passed below that temperature, or are just doing so; as for the nucleus for the new configuration, it looks more and more likely that some combination of leftist narratives, self-adulatory memes, and identity-group tribalism will serve the purpose.

* * *

On the one hand one finds, particularly among environmentalist progressives, the pervasive idea that human beings are a kind of nature-devouring and ultimately self-annihilating blight upon the earth (and they may yet be proved right). Yet these same people tend to think of humans’ individual self-conceptions and motivations as superb and sacrosanct. Here is a profound tension: how can it be possible simultaneously to condemn a species as deeply destructive and at the same time think whatever its members wish to believe about themselves is the greatest thing possible? Probably because those who subscribe to both views at once don’t really support “everything” an individual could want, but only a certain quite circumscribed range of approved desiresmostly those based on hedonism, sentimentality, collectivism, or resentfulness. (The existence of “collectivist narcissists”, similarly, isn’t a contradiction, but the very condition of atomized conformity.)

* * *

The Wokester’s Theodicy. — The existence and provenance of hatred, in the purview of a philosophy where all sincerely-felt emotions of the individual are supposed to be pure and wonderful and worthy of unconditional acceptance, cannot help being closely similar to the traditional idea of the Fall, and of “sin entering into the world”. Just as the religious person is bitten by anxiety when she wonders “how can an all-good God have allowed evil in the world”, so is the postmodernist when he wonders, “if ‘my truth’ is necessarily sacrosanct, what happens if my hatred of some group is also my truth?”

The usual resolution here is to say it all depends on which group one’s hatred is directed at. Does one’s truth include hatred exclusively of the Oppressor? Then the hatred is fine. This is equivalent to saying that evil deeds are actually good so long as they are directed only against “bad people”—but of course this has the unintended consequence of tacitly legitimating the evil and taking a mulligan on the real moral puzzle, i.e., the definition of “bad people”.

* * *

Unfettered capitalism is, the more one looks at it, quite obviously an incubator for postmodernism and the regime of “my truth”. Consider the parallels—

Capitalist script: “…if it can make you richer and expand the economy, don’t hesitate—do it!”

Wokester script: “…if it can increase your political power and advance your narrative against oppressors, don’t hesitate—do it!”

Capitalist script: “…if this product seems to give you pleasure and convenience, don’t hesitate—buy it!”

Wokester script: “…if this story seems to gives you pleasure and help you feel empowered and self-actualized, don’t hesitate—believe it!”

And on it goes.

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