Consider the task of transporting an elephant in your pocket. When you begin, the elephant is whole, and alive. The only way to move it in your pocket is to do so piece by piece. Once the pieces have been moved, only a few things are certain:
1) The elephant is dead. Even when re-assembled, it will not demonstrate any elephant-like behaviors, only physical appearance will remain.
2) The elephant will only resemble an elephant once the pieces have been re-assembled. In pocket-sized bits, it may be impossible to put it back together before the whole thing rots.
And so it is with me and writing. I tend to see issues systemically, as indications of trends, and as parts of larger wholes. The medium of speaking and writing forces me to express one idea at a time. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to talk about every tangent that ties into the main issue at hand. I *feel* something is lost when I ignore those tangents. However, I also *know* that my point as a whole is lost when I do go on those tangents. I believe this is why manifestos tend to come across as the works of madmen. In their eagerness to explain an entirely new worldview, and to illustrate the all-encompassing and mutually supporting nature of their points, i.e., the comprehensiveness of their work, they constantly reference back and forth. The problem is that to the reader unfamiliar with the concepts, it all appears to be a bunch of links to blank pages; the content itself is rarely laid out well.
For this reason, some of the authors I admire most are not the ones who write infrequent, long treatise-type articles, but rather the ones who write concisely and precisely about a wide range of topics. As an author, I believe it takes a lot of confidence to let one part of your work stand on its own, unsupported by the rest of the suite of ideas. It is certainly something I actively am attempting to imitate and learn. For this reason, I have resisted, until this point, to engage in what I refer to as “meta-writing,” which is essentially self-referential writing-about-writing. New/struggling writers are probably familiar with the format it usually takes: beginning every article with an up front apology for the incompleteness of said article, or an attempt to place that article in the proper place in the cosmology of the rest of the writer’s worldview. Programmers might recognize it as the list of called functions placed up front in a program; the shorthand incorporation of other programs, languages, modules, etc into the author’s own work for later use.
When growing up, I would work with my dad on fixing cars, and we’d always joke about when it was time to put the car back together and the shop manual simply said, “Installation is the reverse of removal.” Of course it is, but it also is very different. Slowly lowering something off a car and setting it anywhere on the floor is different than raising it against gravity and putting it precisely in the spot it belongs are two very different challenges. So it is with reading and writing. As a reader, I can absorb an incredible amount of written material and mentally catalog and place what I am reading into the aforementioned cosmology. While writing, I have to concern myself with how my readers are doing that as well. This is the extra effort required of “installation” that is not present in “removal.” It is difficult, and can bog down the results into something unreadable.
However, the subject of this article has made it appropriate that I lay out this struggle between coherent readability of an article and comprehensive coverage of an idea. And so I did it. Moving on.
This Thanksgiving I spent time with a group of friends who are very intellectual and also very diverse in their opinions. We got to drinking, and discussing politics, religion, etc…all the things you’re “not supposed to do” over the holidays. Yet is was the sort of gentleman’s affair where we all drink and get louder, yet the discourse remains civil and enlightening, and no one is angry the next day. Fortunately, it was very timely that Anarcopapist’s series on “How to Look At the World Like a Neoreactionary” is currently being written, and that through that series I was also acquainted with a few other high-theory pieces, such as this and this. (Seriously, set aside time and read those.) While high-theory was certainly the level and type of discussion (specifically, I spent a lot of time illustrating the difference between conservatives and the neoreactionaries), I kept thinking about another article which was basically the exact opposite; neoreaction in tract form, suitable for evangelism: “Potential Approximations of Neoreaction.” This article talks about anecdotal, experiential, or metaphorical/allegorical ways to describe the ideas in shorthand form rather than trying to reassemble an elephant piece-by-piece in front of your audience before their attention span fades (and without risk of the presenter getting lost keeping track of all those indistinguishable bits of elephant.)
So, like I said, the the focus was on explaining conservativism vs neoreaction. Simply saying “NR is intellectual-based and C is anecdote/experience-based” came up short, because it fails to account for intellectual Christian apologists and theologians. My interlocutor presented me with writings by GK Chesterton, saying he thought I would agree with them. I flipped through and determined I agreed with many of Chesterton’s recommendations, but I also agreed with nearly none of his reasoning. In my attempt to explain why this was the case, I came up with two ways of expressing my thoughts, both in the same vein as the “Potential Approximations of NR.”
1) “Progressivism is an orthodoxy built to support an orthopraxy, Conservatism is an aimless orthopraxy without an orthodoxy, Neoreaction is an orthopraxy built upon an orthodoxy.”
Progressivism is an orthopraxy; adherents must adhere to “correct practices.” Businesses must hire diverse workforces, women must be allowed into combat arms, women must be protected at all costs from evil men, and so on. It is also an orthodoxy, albeit one which must reconcile and contain significant amounts of double-think. This is the essence of The Revolution; mutually incompatible ideologies cobbled together under one banner mean that it isn’t even possible to have a true, coherent set of beliefs. The orthodoxy is built to justify the action of going to war against common enemies.
In contrast, political conservatism appears to be entirely an orthopraxy, with no orthodoxy. Conservatives advocate for traditional marriage and nuclear families, but can’t explain why. They point to “back in the day,” the “golden ages,” or whatever else, and say “what we were doing worked, let’s keep doing that.” While progressivism’s orthodoxy requires significant amounts of double-think, at least it has an orthodoxy. Conservatism is almost entirely unconcerned with what people believe and why they do what they do. This means that while they can offer the position “what we did worked,” they have no answer to the retort “what you did was unnecessarily repressive and we suggest a new system.” Conservatives have no idea why their old system worked, so they can’t defend it beyond pointing to past success, and have absolutely no means with which to begin addressing the newly proposed social system. While there are good reasons to advocate for traditional marriage, if the only defense you are familiar with is, “Because we used to do it, and the Bible says so,” you will never win a discussion that devolves into a discussion based on the patriarchy, oppression, and suggestions that in a newer, freer system, not only will this new idea also work, it will also work better than the old one.
In this light, neoreaction is first and foremost an orthodoxy derived from observations about the way things are (vice the way we want them to be), and secondly an orthopraxy of social, political, and cultural structures built to channel natural energies in productive, healthy, self-sustaining directions. Because it is based on a coherent view of human nature without the double-think or wishful thinking of progressivism, it is also inherently scientific and intellectual. This provides NR the intellectual tools to engage in and respond to progressives, rather than sit murmuring something about “moar Jesus in teh schools!” while post-modernism is shoved down our throats.
As an aside, this has a way of cleaning out church theology of progressive influences, and provides an avenue to persuading Christians to the NR cause: the Bible posits that the order present in the world is the result of God doing the ordering. Social/political/cultural practices built upon the observed nature of Creation would therefore complement and uphold God’s order; practices built upon wishful thinking or desires to change (rather than harness) human nature are invented heresies. I bring this up because in Chesterton’s critique of feminism at the time he was writing revealed that even then, this famed Christian apologist was accepting the corrupting influence of the progressive thought in the church. His advocacy for women fulfilling traditional gender roles was that women are special, and unique, and have a sacred duty to fulfill; he is tacitly accepting the modern-day sanctification of all things feminine well before “feminism” was a thing! This is entirely at odds, however, with ancient and traditional views of women as dangerous, deceptive, and not to be trusted with serious affairs. (Not that I’m advocating that either; I’m just pointing out how even Chesterton was arguing for conservative positions while simultaneously affirming a progressive idea; winning a battle but certainly ensuring his defeat in the war.)
2) “Conservatives pass tests by memorizing stolen answers and call this process learning. Neorectionaries may cheat too, but they read the questions and learn something while marking “C” in question 3.”
In another article I can’t be bothered to find right now, I read about the concept of civilization as a conserver of knowledge and culture. Civilizations “progress” because they quit re-inventing things, both technological and social in nature, and are free to move on to more complex things once the basics have been mastered. The danger is that, after too long, the reasons the basics were established are all but forgotten, and it can become tempting to fiddle with that. Conservatives are literally a priesthood that preserves traditions without any knowledge of why they exist. They know two married parents are best for a child, but when asked to explain why, they can’t. They know they are more interested in their sons’ careers and their daughters’ families, but can’t explain how that ties into the problem with sending too many women to college and the effects on the marriage market and the (lack of) ROI on education as women drop out to raise families. In short, they look as stupid as a student selling stolen answers to a multiple choice question and calling it an honest education. They will help others get good grades if they accept and believe him, but his own sales pitch will drive away customers. Present-day NR, in contrast, is dedicated to maintaining traditions, but it does so out of faith that there was actually a good reason we started doing it in the first place. Further, they are committed to finding those observable reasons and evangelizing with that information, rather than tone-deaf demands for obedience and compliance. Returning to an earlier point, NR is determined to engage and defeat progressivism in its own language.
To wrap up, I have to point out something that confuses me a great bit, which is that religious individuals sent to missions in foreign countries will go to great lengths to study local language and culture in order to connect with their audience and further their goals. It strikes me as an astounding display of arrogance or incompetence that conservatives do not see the need to learn the language and culture required to engage with progressives. I with the NR movement luck in getting their latent allies to dust off their thinking caps. Also, other than the quoted items in bullet-points, this article hardly qualifies as nutshell sized. Oh well…guess I got more practice re-assembling that elephant…