The Weakness of Purity

Ethnonationalism is on the return. Classical liberals are rediscovering who they really are. Progressives are progressing… towards what? Conservatives know; as a rule, progressives do not. But they are progressing nonetheless, and that’s progress.

In short, the complaints about apathy are fading, and the concern shifts ever more forcefully to the state of “polarization” that haunts America.

Personally, I believe polarization is an improvement upon apathy. Yet there is a downside in the factionalism which has arisen in the sudden awakening of the American civic consciousness, one that is not just a symptom of the factionalism, but one which infects every faction: purity-spiraling.

Purity-spiraling, for those unaware of the term, is generally understood to be a kind of competitive virtue-signaling, in which one attacks a fellow member of the ostensible group, rather than an outsider or an enemy. This is the pejorative connotation of the phrase, and accurately describes the generally less successful, but more literate members of a group, trying to demonstrate either superior knowledge or loyalty, in lieu of accomplishments and creative action.

There is a broader, less pejorative way of understanding purity-spiraling, however. Perhaps we can just call it “purity” — at least purity taken to excess — in which people will reject members from the group for any deviance from the implicit or explicit standards of the group. In other words, you must check off all 10 of the minimal requirement boxes; 9 won’t cut it, and 8 certainly won’t do, no matter how much extra value you may otherwise bring to the group.

When I was growing up, I used to listen to a CD with my father called Sons of Somerled, by Steve MacDonald, which musically told the story of his Scottish ancestry. The namesake character, Somerled (pictured), was a Scottish warlord of the 12th century who conquered the Western Isles from the Vikings, who had terrorized the territory for 350 years prior.

The catch is, Somerled himself was only half Scottish.

Gaelic Viking in his veins, testify his battle fame,

12th century warlords aside, battles are regularly won by those who are, to some degree, of the enemy:

  • Arminius, arguably the most successful combatant of the ancient Romans, grew up as a Roman slave and eventually equestrian, despite being a Cherusci German tribesman by birth.
  • Vlad III of Wallachia, a Romanian Prince, likewise grew up as a slave of the foes he would one day defeat. In his case, the Turks.
  • And although he was not raised as a German, who can think of Patton’s victory in Germany without recalling his famous line “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!”

These are all more literal combat cases, but abstract battles are often won through some likeness with the enemy as well. For literary reference, Harry Potter would not have been able to defeat Voldemort without sharing some quality with the dark lord. Lt. Col Grossman’s sheepdogs are able to protect the sheep from the wolves, to no small degree, because they are relatives of the wolves. “He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence.”

Consider some of these relatively more recent examples:

  • Friederich Nietzsche, one of the greatest philosophical critics of Christianity, grew up the son of a Lutheran minister.
  • Ayn Rand, a powerful critic of communism, and defender of capitalism in the West, was a Russian Jew who lived under Soviet communism.
  • Thomas Sowell, a more contemporary defender of conservative economics, retained his Marxist socialism even while studying under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.
  • Dr. Warren Farrell, one of the first “Men’s Rights Activists,” and public critics of feminism, was a prominent feminist theorist, writer, and public figure before his research convinced him to reverse course
  • Two of the most influential defenders of more traditional gender roles, and critics of “LGBTQ” culture, are gay (Milo Yiannopoulos, Jack Donovan)

The list goes on and on. To some degree, particularly in the more abstract cultural struggles, the advantage may be tactical. It is not as easy to criticize a gay man for being “homophobic,” or a Russian woman who grew up in Russia of “not understanding Communism.” But that doesn’t explain everything. The arguments themselves are stronger than those less personally experienced in the matter. It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, not the variety of criticisms by more Western writers, that condemned Communism. Ten years in a labor camp gives you plenty of time to talk with others, and to reflect on the events leading up to one’s incarceration.

Perhaps only George Orwell was able to foresee the loneliness and horror of Communism before the revelations of Solzhenitsyn became public in the West. How did he know? He knew because he fought alongside the communists in the Spanish Civil War, and got a taste for the sort of future that it would bring. Soviets who got hold of illicit copies of 1984 didn’t believe that it could have been written by someone outside the USSR. How could a Westerner understand the nature of this without having lived it? He knew because he had lived it. He had even once supported it.

It is very often forgotten that Orwell was a socialist, even after his participation in the Spanish Civil War. It is very popular these days to conflate socialism and communism under the banner of Marxism, as though these were the same things, and that anyone who is a socialist is essentially a communist lite. How inconvenient that some of the greatest defenders of freedom, and classical liberal values, are actually socialists themselves!

I am not saying this to defend socialism. On the contrary, I believe it to be economically stupid, and impossible even in principle. No amount of futurist technology, bringing on the vaunted “post-scarcity society” can actually get around the way that human minds work. Our competitive spirit is relative, not absolute, meaning we can eliminate poverty, make everyone live in the style of modern-day billionaires, and you wouldn’t have begun to address the problems of inequality, happiness, and social justice. Everything we know about economics suggests that the means required to attain these sorts of ends would undermine the very mechanisms of economic sustainability anyways. Why throw everything away to run another mile on a psychological treadmill?

What I am saying is that rejecting everyone who is a socialist means rejecting the very powerful arguments of George Orwell. If you reject everyone who was a little too close to Nazism, you reject David Bowie and Henry Ford. If you reject everyone who was once a communist, or a feminist, or religious, you lose Thomas Sowell, Warren Farrell, and Friederich Nietzsche.

There are many members of the Alt-Right who don’t want to associate with homosexuals, people of mixed race, or Jews. This would mean rejecting, among others, Jack Donovan, Vox Day, Martin Van Creveld.

Is that really what they want? Jack Donovan, more than any other author, introduced me to the Alt Right. Were it not for him, I very likely would not be a member. Vox Day, despite being of mixed race himself, introduced me to the legitimate arguments for white nationalism, and defended it by analogy to American Indian reservations, which are essentially ethnic sub-nations (Vox is approximately 1/4 Native American).

The Israeli military historian and theorist Martin Van Creveld is not just a priceless mind for humanity in general, but the author of such powerful books as Equality: The Impossible Quest, and an essay in There Will Be War: Volume X which demonstrates, in a fashion more scholarly than anything I’ve seen at the Occidental Observer, Radix, TakiMag, or Counter Currents, (no low bar), that immigration is war.

Obviously, this is not to say that the identity-borders are open, and everyone, of any faith, race, culture, background, language, or creed, gets a place in any group. Extreme vetting is required, at the minimum. However, when we consider the benefits lost by rejecting otherwise excellent potential members of a group because they fail to check one or two boxes, we should question our hunger for purity, whether we want it to cover our own lack of accomplishments or because we sincerely believe it. And when notice the pattern of “amphibians” — walkers of two worlds — doing the best job of defeating an adversary because they understand them in ways that we cannot, we should absolutely reject the obsession with purity.

Refusing to do so is to simply adopt the battle-squawk of conservatives we have been mocking for the last few years: “noble defeat!”

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2 comments

  1. //Were it not for him, I very likely would not be a member// According to my records, you still aren’t a member because you failed to pay the membership dues.

    Liked by 1 person

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