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231. Keeping still (V)

Imagine that you have a friend who, for whatever reason, has developed a strong odour. Over time, the stench grows unbearable. You feel sorry for your friend and genuinely want to help him. You can see women flinch when he approaches and you are sure that his colleagues at work whisper about him behind his back. One day, in the pub, you make a slight allusion to showers. You hope that he will take it as a hint, but, unfortunately, he immediately realises what you mean and begins to scream abuse at you. As you back into the corner, you say to him: “I’m being reasonable. I really like you; we’ve known each other for years. Why don’t you listen?” He screams that he never wants to see you again; yet to a mutual friend you insist that you are still great friends and there has just been a miscommunication. “Really?” says your mutual friend, “He says that he’ll smash your face in if he sees you again.” “No, no. We’re friends really,” you say.

To one degree or another most people start their lives on the left, since the left is an illusion and youth is a time of illusion; even the most determined rightists will have a short period on the left, perhaps a few months when they are thirteen or fourteen—other people hold on to their illusions for much longer. When a person leaves the left, especially the revolutionary left, there is a temptation to declare themselves a centrist or political agnostic. The person who was once sure that Marxism was true becomes agnostic about everything as a protective overreaction.

The centrist antagonises everyone and is hated by the left much more than the genuine reactionary. As with the pungent friend, humans are not beep-boop computers to whom you can make primal statements without a reaction. Unfortunately, certain centrists and so-called rationalists play a status game whereby they pretend to evaluate statements “objectively”—even when they blatantly do no such thing. To play the “reasonable centrist” who never commits one way or the other is a high-status activity for them.

But politics is a tribal game of friend-enemy distinction, a competition between two mutually exclusive worldviews. “But I’m a feminist, I’m on your side! If we follow the evidence we will actually get more equal results for women!” says the hapless centrist, as a mob throws eggs at him and screams: “Fascist! Fascist!” “But…but…I’m not at all…that word really means…I’m a nice person!” he says, just before the mob breaks his nose.

The left hates the centrist because he is a traitor and he sows confusion in the ranks; as Nietzsche observed, your enemy is your best friend—nobody really despises their enemies, but we loathe self-proclaimed friends who contradict us and sow doubts. The left is the malfunction of man’s religious instinct; and so they loathe people who sow doubt above all—they loathe the centrists. Academics are particularly vulnerable to centrism because academia is a game played by beard-strokers: the game is to look “reasonable”.

I once did a team project at university; one team member plagiarised his section and our academic hit the roof and threatened to have us thrown off the course. Afterwards, I carefully put citations on almost every part of an essay to cover myself, even the bits that I thought up myself. The academics were delighted: I had bullet-proofed myself against plagiarism. They cared nothing for what I had said or whether it was true. For such people, the centrist game of “peer-reviewed studies and we need more evidence” is catnip: they get off on a social game where they advertise how “reasonable”, “collegiate”, and “moderate” their views are. The game works between centrists, but in the wider political world—a world they attempt to influence—they merely inflame the left; hence it is usually the “reasonable liberals” who are first up against the wall come the revolution, nobody likes a traitor—however reasonable.


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