The Naive Realism of Politics & Worldly Affairs

Thou shalt not taketh anything too literally. 

Up until this point when I have talked about naive realism I have been talking about the philosophical type, which is the idea that reality is what it appears to be and from inside it we can study it and understand it. By focusing on quantifiable observations we can say just what it is we are trapped in, and just how it works. Of course that is ridiculous because you have to imagine this alleged reality(nature) into place before you can begin to theorize about it. It is the modern version of aether.

Naive realism is irrational. However my issue with it is more aesthetic. I am particularly perturbed when people refuse to examine things deeply, and instead just engage in literal and fundamentalist interpretations of a phenomena. That sort of superficial reductionism makes me feel like I am going to explode in response.

Unfortunately it is happening all around us all of the time by almost everyone and about pretty much everything. One of the most apparent areas in which naive realism is the go-to basic premise is politics. People just love to take the system on the surface very seriously.

I suspect this works like a game or social media. Triggering outrage, self-righteousness and a perceived sense of moral victory gives the player a little dopamine shot, a little game boost that makes the game addictive and keeps you searching for an ever higher high score. However the game only works if you take it very seriously and believe the narrative about it that came with the player’s guide (constitution, laws, etc.) distributed with the game itself. If you wanna win big against Team Them, you gotta believe.

This, rather than conspiracy, are why these systems are so enduring. It is a little dramaturgy that is meaningful to all the surface dwellers who are happy to play along. Though their outrage and actual rage may appear toxic and insipid to outsiders, for them this is the excitement they crave.

I have no idea why.

The good news is that we can stop any time. All of the most damaging human systems and institutions are built on naive realism and the literalist reductionism they entail. At any point we can choose to look deeper, think deeper, and come up with better solutions to human issues currently under the proscribed lunacy of authoritarianism.

The alternative is to stay the course and continue to take our system on its surface. To believe that politics happen openly and transparently and that what is written is what actually occurs. To believe that our participation matters and that the ruling elite at the top will play by their own rules. To believe that the system that is designed to benefit itself will somehow come around to compassionate benevolence if only we believe!

This is the naive realism of politics. Even many of the thinkers outside of naive realism in philosophy and science still bow to it politically. And I see a danger here.

About three years back I started to notice that the libertarian types around me were sort of straying from their ideas into a purely anti-left position. Before long a movement that had unified around reason and human dignity began to shift into a hate movement and eventually became the alt-right. Their entire reasoning went something like this…

Because feminists, homosexuals, trans and other liberals vote for representatives who did not represent their ideas, or who did not vote at all and thus not in favor of their ideas, they were equivalent to the representatives and policies that were perceived as oppressive. Using this logic the libertarian ideas began to break down into predictable forms of authoritarianism.

Let us look at this another way. You and your three siblings live with an abusive parent. You have come to realize that no matter what you do, the parental abuse will continue and it is not your fault. But your siblings come to think that your attitude is what is causing the abuse. And so rather than blame the abuser, their anger finds purchase on you.

This is what the liberty movement did. They came to believe that mainstream leftists were empowering their mutual abuser. So what did they do? Why headed right for the most unreasonable political ideologies as revenge, of course!

In the wake of Trump I can see the left heading down the very same road. And make no mistake, fascism can wear a liberal mask just as well as a conservative one. It can just as easily pose as compassionate mommy, as it currently poses as strict daddy, while being totalitarian and oppressive. The difference is not between left and right, but between realism and skepticism.

The only safe approach to politics is skepticism and dispassionate irreverence, just as that is the only safe approach to religion, science, philosophy or any other human contrivance. A society on the surface is one in which charisma and ambition will always outperform reason and compassion.  It is one in which reasonable and compassionate people don’t just have to hide their necks from the vampires, but from everybody else as well.

Naive realism?



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