Thursday, January 26, 2017

Aristotle was the pragmatic doer, Socrates was the curious questioner, and Plato was the velvet-gloved tyrant.

A crisis of categories. Because everything has to be a crisis.

No, actually, the problem is not a crisis but something more subtle. Someone once said that in order to know something you have to name it. That is the crux of the issue I have been wrestling with for some time. What name do you use for people who's revealed preference in their words and deeds are Marxist but who neither self-identify as Marxist nor should be credibly called Marxist.

These are people who evince a belief that humans are blank slates who can be engineered towards an ideal through social policies; who believe in the interests of the State over individual interests; who sacrifice civil/human rights in order to justify a greater good; who are intolerant of any deviation from their own perspective/belief system; who mistake correlation for causation; who believe all human choices are a product of xenophobia, misandry, misogyny, sexism, racism, classism, etc.; who set great store in experts and authorities over personal experience and knowledge.

People who subscribe, in whole or part, to faddish academic philosophies such as Social Justice, Postmodernism, Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Deconstructionism, Moral Relativism, etc.?

These attributes are not restricted to one end of the political system or the other. Nor is any one person completely free from such conditions all the time. No. But what do you call someone who evinces these behaviors and attributes much of the time?

I have veered all over the place. All the natural terms are simply too harsh and imply an intentionality that I think is missing. I have referred to Gramscian Memes (because they look like Antonio Gramsci's effort to undermine the West through Cultural Hegemony), Frankfurt School (because that seems to have been one of the chief vectors for dissemination), Cultural Marxists, Social Marxists, Reform Marxists, Authoritarians, Totalitarians, etc.

But there is an important distinction between naming something and calling things names and much of the above effort feels more like name calling than naming. The words carry too much baggage.

In addition, these specific and definable names carry too much intentionality. Most the people who subscribe to Social Justice, Postmodernism, Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Deconstructionism, Moral Relativity, etc. wouldn't even know those terms or speak in that academic language. They share an ethos behind those ideas but not necessarily the ideology itself.

But what is the name that can be used without evoking name calling but also can carry meaning?

I still do not have a good answer but it came to me in the shower that perhaps the answer might have been in front of me all along. I wonder if the three fathers of western philosophy might represent what I am trying to capture; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.

The following description borders on a caricature but it gets at the difference that I am seeing.

Aristotle wanted to know the What, Where, When of things. He wanted to know reality, the Objective Truth. He sought knowledge through observation. Aristotle believed in the observable real world.


Socrates asked Why? Why do we believe this? He sought Wisdom through interrogation. He was the annoying questioner, the one who wanted to know why we believed the things we believed. Through interrogation, we could clear the clouds of muddled thinking and get closer to the truth. Socrates believed in the real world knowable through the scientific method.


Plato is the father or all rationalist totalitarians. There is a fixed and static truth which can be discerned through reason and which can be wielded by Philosopher Kings over everyone else. It is the power of the center to know the answer and impose it. Plato asked How? How do I make this perfect?

Plato sought to determine Truth through extension of abstract reasoning. Knowledge through reason. He believed in the abstractly perfect. He sought a Normative Truth
Aristotle was the pragmatic doer, Socrates was the curious questioner, and Plato was the velvet-gloved tyrant.

So maybe instead of reform Marxists, Moral Relativists, Social Justice Warriors, etc., the term to use is Platonists. It doesn't have a contemporary ring and doesn't quite convey the same level of threat that they represent but it does get away from the implied name-calling.


UPDATE: That was quick.

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