Reconciling Ideological Purity, Intellectual Elitism, and Radical Empathy in the Trump Era
— — On The Preservation and Proliferation of Hate — —
Anti-intellectualism and attacks on public education are tools that the ruling class use against the general public in order to keep them governable. This tactic is ubiquitous throughout the evolution of civilization, and it is nearly impossible to get ahead of because once someone is denied education or convinced that intellectual curiosity isn’t a worthwhile use of their energy they are already vulnerable to manipulation.
This is just as true for elitist communities who send their children to private school as it is for areas whose access to proper education is tainted by limited funding, lack of access to nutrition and travel, and the dominance of religious fervor over empirical evidence. However, one group ends up with more power than the other which is why some communities flourish while others sink deeper into poverty, but both remain insular and self-obsessed.
We tend to launch accusations of ignorance as if it is something that people can control, but on the contrary it is being used to control all of us. Our world view will shrink around whatever information we HAVE been given to make sense of our existence and (as scientists and cartoonists alike have demonstrated) we cling to our biases with a primal vigor. Without intervention entire communities will form around manufactured ignorance and those communities will breed leaders whose only motivation is to propagate and preserve their lifestyle so there is little opportunity or motivation to break the cycle.
It is not helpful to anyone’s goals to look down on people who have been used by a system that has been designed over centuries to immobilize as many people as possible. This is difficult, because ignorance breeds hate, and anyone possessing empathy is hard pressed to feel anything but rage towards someone who practices hate and bigotry. This rage is appropriate but should always be funneled upwards to the people who stand to gain the most from the system staying the way that it is.
That being said, we should not practice kindness with anyone who espouses hate. The primary goal is always to protect the vulnerable and by that standard standing in the way of hate at every possible turn is crucial. We need to call out by name and affiliation ANYONE who threatens vulnerable groups. They should be dragged out of the shadows and rendered incapable of spreading or acting upon their filth.
— — — On Emotional Learning — — —
Many of the most intelligent people among us are also the most dangerous because they were never taught to question where their intelligence comes from or what its limits might be. A cornerstone of useful wisdom is the conceit that no person, community, state, country, or broader cultural system operates in isolation. This applies not only to schooling, but to whatever system someone is given to process information. No one is born with all of the relevant knowledge they need. Intelligence is a sharp knife, wisdom is knowing how to debone a chicken.
The most impactful learning starts as soon as a child is able to recognize their own emotions. There is an opportunity to either teach them that everyone has feelings or to teach them that their feelings should always be prioritized. There is an opportunity to help them understand the thing that hurt them, or to fear it, and then in turn to understand the root of fear or to turn that fear into permanent hate.
Of course many children are affected by conditions that limit their ability to process emotions, and no parent can be expected to be prepared for the variables in development that science is still working to understand, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try whenever possible to prioritize empathy over the ruthless pursuit of personal gratification.
— — — On Power — — — —
The only precedent we have to help us understand our future is our collective recorded knowledge. Unfortunately that knowledge can be been co-opted and editorialized to serve a biased agenda by those who control its record. Knowledge is indeed power, but power can also be poison. Say for instance a small group of people had the power to save humanity from itself because they possessed unique knowledge. It would be THEIR vision of the future that we are all bound to in the long run unless their understanding of the “greater good” is defined by the belief that all cultural systems are valid and should have the freedom to evolve.
We tend to believe that there are systems in place to protect us from the darkest parts of humanity, and in theory that might be true. There are some truly extraordinary people who answer the call and attempt to solve complicated problems. If those people have no empathy though, or if their work is passed on to those who have none, then their efforts can only go so far, and we will be doomed to sink deeper into the dystopian bog we already see oozing in around us.
— — — On Organization — — — -
If you have a goal, and it requires more work than you can do alone, it helps to have as much support as possible. The people who support you don’t necessarily need to agree with you or even understand everything about what you’re doing. They just need to be there to listen, to show up, and be willing to work. If you have this kind of support and exercise solid leadership you will drastically increase your chances at success. Getting people in your corner should be the hard part, not mobilizing them once you have them there.
So, imagine you put a call out asking for help but instead of saying “Great! Let’s get to work!” when everyone arrives you instead scrutinize the motivations of everyone present, challenge the authenticity of their commitment, and scold them for not showing up sooner. You might be 100% correct in your assertions about their core motivations, but does it matter when there aren’t enough people who already understand your ideology to truly support it? While ideological purity is not something that one should compromise within themselves, it doesn’t hurt to welcome someone into your fold and attempt to understand the discrepancies through thoughtful interrogation. People can be defensive, but if they’ve shown up chances are they’re willing to hear you out.
The current state of feminism is the perfect example of how ideological purity can get in the way of good intentions. White Feminism is a real problem, not so much because it actively causes malicious harm, but because it tends to be purely performative and it wastes resources on the group of women that is the least vulnerable. It is fine to judge feminists who are not hip to intersectional feminism, but a lot of White Feminism comes from lack of exposure, which swings back to the ignorance issue.
— On The Unity of Ideology and Identity —
Ignorance is like disease, and the extent to which you want to fight it can be proportional to how advanced it is, how infectious it is, and to what your goals are. Is it necessarily harmful to have an ignorant person in your ranks so long as they aren’t in the way? The answer could be yes, but it won’t always be yes. If you participate in activism but often find yourself thinking “this would work if we had more people on board”, and the you look around and see a lot of people who are all like you, it is very possible that you and your cohorts have alienated potential participants.
To unify your ideology with your identity can be a very powerful thing, but it is easy to slip into believing that the ideology is DEFINED by the identity without variation. For example, if people with lots of tattoos and piercings also tend to share your world view, it is easy to eventually equate tattoos and piercings with your worldview, and in turn only take people who have tattoos and piercings seriously, and then anyone who doesn’t have tattoos and piercings thinks you would never accept them because everyone else you hang out with has tattoos and piercings. That person might have some unexpected insights but you’ll never know.
If there is a binary in this country it is not between educated and uneducated, or intellectual and anti-intellectual; it is between open and closed perspectives. Once someone closes the door on new information they are doomed to fester in the doldrums of their own righteous indignation.
There is no solution for the fact that some people are selfish and will go out of their way to hurt others in order to get what they want, and that some of those people end up with seemingly unlimited power. Through radical empathy though it seems plausible that groups who currently pull resources and attention from one another can cross organize in order to limit the harm of the most insidious factions of humanity.