Can one be a principled moderate?

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot! So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. — Revelations, 3:14-16

“No one likes a Jesus freak.” — Anon, the internet

From a memetic point of view, most ideologies would like their adherents to be strong believers. What good to memetic Christianity, after all, is someone who does not bother to spread Christianity? As a matter of principle, there is something hypocritical–intellectually inconsistent or dishonest–about people who profess to believe an ideology, but lay down some boundary beyond which they do not bother to follow it.

And yet, at the same time, we often feel a very practical aversion to ideological extremists. People who believe in social safety nets so because they don’t want poor people to starve in the streets may also genuinely believe that communism was a disaster.

Ideologies are rather like maps, and I have yet to encounter a map that accurately reflected every aspect of the Earth’s surface at once (Mercator maps of Greenland, I am looking at you.) The world is a complicated place, and all ideological models seek to illuminate human behavior by reducing them to understandable patterns.

Like any map, this is both a strength and a weakness. We do not throw out a map because it is imperfect; even a Mercator map is still a valuable tool. We also do not deny the existence of a sandbar we have just struck simply because it is not on our charts. Even religions, which profess perfection due to divine revelation, must still be actually put into practice by obviously imperfect human believers.

In extreme versions of ideologies, the goal often ceases to be some practical, real world outcome, and becomes instead proving one’s own ideological purity. SJWs are the most common embodiment of this tendency, arguing endlessly over matters like, “Does Goldiblocks’s advertising/packaging de-value girls’ princess play?” or “Asking immigrants not to rape is racist colonialization of POC bodies.” There are many organizations out there trying to decrease the number of black people who are murdered every year, but you have probably never heard of any of the successful ones. By contrast, the one group liberals actually support and pay attention to, “Black Lives Matter,” has, by driving police out of black communities, actually increased the number of black people who’ve been murdered.

Within the holiness spiral, actually denying reality becomes the easiest way to prove to be even holier than the next guy. The doctrine of transubstantiation claims that a piece of bread has been transformed into the body of Christ even though no physical, observable change has occurred. Almost everyone agrees that the police shouldn’t choke people to death during routine arrests; it takes true devotion to believe that the police shouldn’t shoot back at people who are shooting at them.

A holiness spiral is only useful if you’re actually spiraling into holiness.

The simple observation that extreme versions of ideologies often seem to lead their followers to lose contact with reality is perhaps reason enough for someone to profess some form of principled moderatism.

And yet, I know for certain that were I a religious person, I would not be moderate. (I base this on my childhood approach to religion and the observances of my biological relatives–I wager I have a genetic inclination toward intense religiosity.) Since few people convert away from the religion they were raised with, if I were a believer from a Hindu family, I’d be a devout Hindu; if I were a believer from a Catholic family, I’d attend mass in Latin; if Jewish, I’d be Orthodox Jewish. You get the picture.

After all, what is the point of going to Heaven (or Hell,) only a little bit?

To be continued.


8 thoughts on “Can one be a principled moderate?

  1. i think it’s important to understand that those moderates have a principles commitment *to moderation*. “Being moderate” can become an ideology all of it’s own, that requires ignoring facts that are inconvenient.

    People who are really principled extremists don’t let their moral beliefs be swayed by facts, and so, aren’t uncomfortable and tricked into denying inconvenient facts. If you believe all people are equal on a fundamental and spiritual level, then you will not be bothered by something like “test scores for group X are lower than test scores for group Y”, and then you will not have to persecute people who study variations in test scores.


  2. I think this correlates with wealth, although it might be more of an information technology issue (the two are related). Stability and work seem to diminish the likelihood of zealotry. A strong mimetic structure will make it difficult for adherents to iterate, and will be accompanied by a physical power structure that discourages iteration. The problem is that iteration gives the feeling of power, so everyone with free time will want to get in on the game. Christianity in the West (and the West in general) were probably toast a generation or two before Martin Luther. The priesthood, whose job in any mimetic structure is to moderate everyone else, was asleep on the job (or worshiping golden idols), which combined with the printing press made the loss of monopoly power inevitable. At least, that’s my working theory.

    This is an echo of rabbinic Judaism circa the time of Christ. The Talmud reads as a history of iteration by men who would have been worming the land a few generations earlier. The innovation of Judaism was that they codified it at a point where it was nearly incomprehensible. Jewish iteration started up a bit after the publishing of the Zohar in Moorish Spain, then seems to have cooled off a bit until around the enlightenment, when European Jewry spun off chassidis, and generally started iterating again through the yeshiva system. I don’t know enough about eastern religions to incorporate them into my model, but Islam is probably weaker than Christianity, memetically (it distills down to rage instead of kindness, and so is almost always violent).


  3. I like your analogy that ideologies are maps. The maps are not the terrain. Overcommitment to the map is not overcommitment to the terrain. Indeed, it is a sort of denial of the terrain. It is an error. It is a failure to accept the map as a map.

    I do not believe true religion is an ideology. however. But there are plenty of deficient religions that are.


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