Sunday, 11 October 2015

Consensus Robs the Strange

There is a reason that strange people or every political stripe, even quite far left, tend towards a strong sense of individuality and somewhat combative politics.

If your thoughts and opinions, more than that, if the nature of yout mind and soul is close to the mean. If when you walk into a room you are more than likely to meet someone like you, then to exist in a consensus-based political system is to be empowered.

Since your thoughts and emotions are already very close to the average of your group, then as a political or social consensus is formed around you, you lose very little of your selfhood, you are not forced to compress, explain, argue for, disavow, hide or surrender many of your views or moral intuitions. Instead you are invisibly empowered by a vast and growing chorus of voices that all seem to echo your own self. Your certainty and confidence grows and your inner self grows more and more like that of the group.

If, however, your selfhood exists outside the mean, if you are unlike other people, then a consensual system is hell. It is like being confronted with a huge and growing alien mass. The connections between you and the rest of society, probably already tenuous, run through intermediate people. Those who are a little like you and a little like the general mass. They exist in a kind of penumbra around a cultures central nodes of being, like lightning conductors, they link the very odd people living at extremes to the cultural core.

As consensus grows, those people start to disappear. A small number will be ejected and spray out into the social oort cloud, but most will be sucked in, make themselves more and more like the general mass and find (somewhat uncomfortable) places in the societal core. As they disappear those of us left spinning in the outer cloud loose our connection to the whole, becoming more alone.

So a consensual system designed to bring people together can, on some people, have exactly the opposite effect, isolating and freezing them in social space. A system made, with the best of intentions, to be warm, welcoming and reassuring, is to those outside it, cold, self-annihilating and frightening.

A highly individualist and combative system, though apparently more aggressive, and possibly containing more emotional or cultural strife in total, can, by comparison, be more pleasant and freeing.

The difficulties and pressures of navigating social difference are already 'built-in' to the outsider perspective since they would have to to that anyway. Since everyone is expected to argue with and explain themselves to everyone else all the time, and crucially, since difference is *assumed*, then the pre-existing difference of the outsider shows up less strongly and offends less when it is encountered.

This is a problem if you judge the moral worth of a society by the level of conflict within it. The horror of physical violence is one of the few things that everybody in a diverse system can agree on as a core value. Because it's something we all agree on, it becomes a moral centerpiece for arguments over right and wrong and a key currency in the trade offs we make between freedom and control. In almost all circumstances 'might-lead-to-violence' = 'bad'.

This becomes very complex when the moral prohibition over violent conflict seeps over into a prohibition over conflict in general. Often for pretty good reasons.

It leads to a strange paradox in which often quite-vulnerable people who have meaningful reason to fear cruelty, violence and alienation, and who generally really do not want to see anyone get hurt at all, can reasonably find themselves defending a rougher, less compassionate, more individualist social matrix, because though it is harsh, its rule ends at the borders of their flesh and will probably allow them to be the strange being they are inside without interference.


  1. Really interesting. I don't note anything in your observations that I disagree with. My own position relative to the consensus aside; perception remains king (both of others and of the self). I think that if one finds the crushing steamroller of spectacular culture and society to be mediating one out of existence (on the spectacle's terms) and thus inducing paranoia, depression, anger or whatever, then it helps to take a few cognitive jumps backwards. Not merely the observance of the apparent insignificance of it all (though that's another question entirely) so much as becoming conscious that just about everything is possible (on some supra-distant/close macro/micro Planck scale)---everyone is right, everyone is super fucking wrong---simultaneously.

    If that thought or perception doesn't necessarily lead one to enlightenment and the sense that engagement with the thumos leads to an apocalyptic, magnetising omega point, then at the very least there's art waiting for a host/conduit.

    As far as your last paragraph is concerned, the price of freedom remains physical, mental and spiritual danger. The scale seems to inexorably adjust ever upwards...but I guess one could see that kind of 'novel rush' happening across the board (to vaguely pilfer from T.McKenna).

    I expect I didn't make myself too clear in my reasoning. Still the words looks pretty enough (on the Planck scale).

  2. forums are still absolute garbage though. Moderated it's like homogeneous assholedom and banality , unmoderated it's heterogeneous assholedom and banality

  3. If you like James Scott's work you might like Pierre Clastres' 'Society Against the State':

    "...they practice systematic violence in order to prevent the rise in their midst of this “cold monster”: the state. Only by waging war with other tribes can they maintain the dispersion and autonomy of each group. In the same way, tribal chiefs are not all-powerful; to the contrary, they are rendered weak in order to remain dependent on the community.”

  4. Dude. Don't ever stop writing.