Charlottesville – Sorting out Extremism

To begin the blogs on this site, I wanted to present an overall assessment of Quality in the context of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM)  by Robert Pirsig, in a both a practical and a transcendent way. However, while I am still muddling through ZAMM trying to get ahold of an understanding of Quality I can use in practice and in life, I feel the need to start off by sharing some insights and ideas I have had while trying to make sense of the Charlottesville massacre. It is the immediacy of this tragedy that I feel this should be my first blog, and how ZAMM Quality can be of use in my understanding. My articulation of Quality here is incomplete, but I feel the need to post this nonetheless, due to timeliness.

Quality, according to ZAMM, is based on a pre-conscious affective response. This response finds an underlying pattern of the “Good” in the phenomenology of experience. The capacity to determine Quality is something we all possess, but it is easy to miss if we are not coming at our experience with the wrong mindset. One informed by ego or anxiety, or self deception,  rather than a more meditative mind will not have ready access to that capacity. The experience of Charlottesville and what is likely to be an aftermath is a chaotic mess. To determine what is happening and who these people are is not as cut and dry as it seems. What’s worse, without any precedent, we are heavily reliant on our own faculties. We need to make meaning of this mess lest we get swept away, as many good people are already taking ideological positions. I propose that revisiting ZAMM’s notion of Quality as a remedy to rote party-line reactivity. But first, I would like to tie the divide to thoughts I have pertaining to the division, and to who these people are.

Because the evidence given for the reasons why people enter political fringes is so complicated, appears often to be politically divided (the left favoring economic factors over psychological), and mostly because I presently don’t have the time to launch a full investigation of this, I am only going to make this speculation that I offer up for debate: It is very possible that the fringes are not places optimally socially functional people tend to inhabit. These could possibly be places where people with social deficits go to, among other things, obtain a community they cannot acquire due to antisocial inclinations or other attributes that cause societal rejection. The fringes are also places where they could go to air their resentment and sometimes to find retribution. Essentially, I propose that both extremes could be heavily populated with people who use membership in the extremes to fulfill a personal vendetta (conscious or otherwise) against the society that rejects them. In terms of diagnoses, both personality disorders – Borderline on Left (love/hate extremes), Anti-social on the right. Additionally, the underlying temperaments and inclinations of these people will determine to which side they will go. I have recently come across some enlightening material that describes those inclinations.

Last month, my exploration of Jon Haidt’s The Righteous Mind – Why People are Divided by Religion and Politics led me to better understand the moral experience of each side. Now, as I continually reign in my natural left leaning to stay in the center (recommended by the Tao de Ching btw) I continue to attempt to organize the chaos of our political and cultural worlds in my mind. Jon Haidt illustrates the differences between the morality of the right and left. Haidt indicated that there are 5 Moral Foundations: Care, Fairness, Authority, Loyalty, and Sanctity. While the left tends toward care and fairness, the morality of the right is based on equal measure of all five. This implies that the left is not likely to see religion (sanctity) as something that should influence morality, and in fact, often denounces religion. Interestingly, the religious mind is a gene-culture emergence, so in the left that predisposition manifests onto the “sacred victim” of oppression. In the extreme, for example, these considerations would incline the extreme left towards communism, a doctrine of equity, over fascism, a doctrine of in-group superiority. The right does indeed value traditional sanctity, as well as authority. These considerations might incline the extreme right inclination towards loyalty to a more tribal fascism, led by a pseudo-religious authority.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, using the Big 5 Aspect Scale of personality, which you can take here, has done extensive work on determining personality traits of political orientation, and has indicated he is working on determining the trait attributes of fringes. Peterson’s research shows that people on the left tend to be high in openness to experience, and subsequently like the idea of open boundaries at all levels of abstraction, from the free-flow of ideas and images, to disliking too much order, to feeling that immigration should be an open policy. People on the right, according to his research, tend to be higher in concientiousness. This manifests in preferring closed boundaries, “conserving” the status quo, being comfortable with predictability, closed borders, and strict immigration policies. Peterson indicates that the fringe left is also overly high in agreeableness, which translates into something along the lines of a “mother grizzly bear defending her cubs” in their rabid defense of their children, the oppressed groups, where the fringe right is overly high in orderliness (a variation of conscientiousness), which (in my interpretation) manifests in over-emphasis of the rigid borders to the extent that anyone outside that border is an inferior human being.

In ZAMM, as the narrator and his ghost Phaedrus lead up to an exploration of Quality, he determines two ways of being in the world: Classical and Romantic. The classical mode is concerned with underlying form, the romantic with surface appearance. The classical viewpoint sees the past as an informant of the future. The romantic viewpoint primarily appreciates the experience and appearance of the present. You could say, in this regard, that there is a time factor differentiating the two viewpoints. Romantics tend to be left leaning; Classicists tend towards the right. The time factor inclination of the right, following classicism’s long-term perception of time will find communism more objectionable than the left in part due to it’s historically long term damage it has caused and could potentially cause again. The left, inclined toward the free-spirit, in the moment, romantic perception of time, will find communism less objectionable than the immediate, emotionally charged realization of the short-term damage of fascism.

There is an important consideration that needs to be mentioned. There is presently a mode of thinking, which Ken Wilber calls the “green level”, which has progressed f from the “orange level” of the Enlightenment. The green level which values equal opportunity for all, not only the men who were considered citizens during Enlightenment times. In general, the “green level” has infiltrated all both left and right belief in a productive way as far as I’m concerned, in that most people see that determining others as inferior based on their biology as the among worst ways to view our fellow man, and views of this nature are deemed socially unacceptable across the West. Therefore, while the right may be more opposed to Communism by temperament and otherwise than the left, who see Fascism as the greater evil, all reasonable people find the neo-Nazi viewpoint particularly heinous, and as popular science author and podcaster Sam Harris recently indicated, gives fascism a particular poison in the immediate present.

That being said, that does not erase the specter of the left. Blatantly toting red hammer-and-sickle flags of their ideology, the more extreme protesters did not display the violence in this conflict – although I detect they were equally capable. They may not have been determined to be the worse of the two, and presently they are excused from the perception of manifesting the lowest form of hatred – the egregious belief in the inferiority of people according to their biology, per se. However, they have managed to distill their identity stance into a collective hatred for an identity group, lumping all white men into one category, and of which pathological members of that group have organized in direct opposition. While the fringe left are not the bad guys in this particular manifestation of the battle of these ideological demons, they are still the flip side of the coin, pairing with the mutually arising Jungian shadow of the fringe right.

So what do we do with these extremes? While the Alt-Right is particularly objectionable at this time, due to the reasons discussed, both sides are pathological, and both sides are causing chaos. This chaos is infiltrating society in ever-more worrisome conflicts. We are faced with a confusing phenomenology at this time. This confusion is one that has to be sorted out, lest we handle these conflicts badly or worse, get sucked in to one side or another based on our own inclinations. If our meaning-making of this chaos is one that, if informed by “low quality”: ego, anxiety, impatience, deception, etc., it can misguide us. However, when it is informed by authenticity, from a state of “peace of mind”, the Zen “beginner’s mind” and the state of quiescence, it allows us to make a meaning out of chaos that has Quality and can guide us on the right path. A path we must find quickly as all Hell begins to break loose.

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