Pole: Many disagreements between me and Paddy eventually come down to fundamental differences in our ways of thinking. They can be simply described in black & white vs. shades of grey. The main difference is that Paddy thinks in terms of very rigid absolutist categories. Something is either black or it’s white, it’s either 1 or 0. There is no in-between. He is also quite quick in making his judgement. His decisiveness is one of the things I actually respect. No matter how fucking annoying it sometimes gets. I find this approach a little bit narrow minded. It lacks flexibility. It’s too confining, restrictive and quite honestly, arrogant. There is black and there is white, and between them there are shades of grey. Fuck, and that sounds like a line from a Twilight fan fiction.
Paddy: Yeah, there’s nuance and there is complexity but let’s not pretend that’s it. If you give in to the post-modernists and declare that it’s nothing but a multi-tonal blur out there, you’ve ceased thinking. In the human sphere (a concept I may have to expand on) there are absolutes, which we can, for laziness more than anything, label black and white. Grey exists because white and black allow it. So by definition, it is only with these confines that we can make sense of what’s in between.
And so, now that that truism has been voiced, let’s get to the main event. You take exception at my “absolutist” ways only when I apply them to politics and morality. Confining you say, arrogant you add for good measure. But there is totalitarianism and there is liberty, there is good and there is evil, just as there is positive and negative. These concepts both transcend and shape language. I am wary of applying the term fascist but there are people about today for which that term was made. And for applying it where necessary – to the Islamic fundamentalists, and to Trump and Modi – isn’t oversimplification, it’s identification. Sure, you can bite back with “think of their childhood”, “spare a thought for their cultural norms”, but, as liberals very seldom do, you’re not saying anything. People who think like me, on the radical fringe of left and right, can detach ourselves from the buzz and say, “ah-ha, I see where this fits in”. (Okay, yeah, that may sound arrogant.)
For survival as well as loftiness we need these confines, recognising them and how they manifest is – and you’ll have to forgive me here – only right.
Pole: Absolutist classifications have their use, that much is true. We have those short, simple terms to help us identify people and things quickly. There terms, like stereotypes speed up the processing of information. Again, while useful it might over-simplify the issues leading us to false conclusions. If you quickly identify someone as fascist or communist that may prolong your existence, but we have to remember that there are sub-categories and divisions within many classifications. Lenin’s idea of communism was quite different from that of his successor, and theirs together was not exactly in line with what grandpa Karl taught us.
Furthermore, in political terms, the lines between the right and the left have been blurring. Parties have been shifting their political alignment according to the political situation. We can no longer speak of just left wing and right wing. There are multiple stages or levels of ones leftism or rightism. The Republican Party is conservative and right wing, but not as much as the Tea Party. Now you’re gonna say: “those are still absolutist classifications, there are only more of them”. True, but like I said before, the borders blur and shift, new categories arise, sometimes replacing the old.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and consider all the available options. Otherwise we might end up oversimplifying the problem and our intellectual process, whatever it might be, will grind to a halt.
Paddy: You misunderstand. Groups and people, of course, shift between and can occupy two or more categories. Another truism. You’re ignoring my fundamental point, which is these categories themselves sit within a spectrum in which absolutes give meaning.
Regardless of what the self-declared “rightist” party is doing, there are rightist ideals which exist in reality (or, in the case of contemporary party politics, within the realm of imagination). Whether or not some sorry band is personifying the ramblings of Hobbes, Friedman or Nietzsche, there’s a political right to which they can be set against and compared.
This is all getting rather wordy and overly-convoluted, so let’s strip it down to its simplest constituents. Say, for the sake of argument, Labour, Britain’s party of the left, claims to still be of the left all the while promoting the causes of privatization, crony capitalism and jingoism. In this instance, they do in fact cease to be the party of the left whatever they may say for themselves. They’re a stingy, yuppie, royalist, UKIPper-baiting shamble of American Presidential-dittos (remember, thought experiment!). Simply because people lie and attempt to deceive, we needn’t abandon the entire theoretical framework we all implicit rely on. That’s stupid. Categorically.
Pole: Well, my previous point has become the most useless, irrelevant piece of horse-shit I written recently. So feel free to disregard it completely. I feel we’re getting away from what this discussion was supposed to be about. Partially (if not mostly) due to my fault.
Let me come back to what you said in your first paragraph. Yes, there is good and there is evil. But to call them absolutes is, well, I just can’t agree to that fully. Yes there are things that are intrinsically evil and good. However, a lot depends on your definition of good and evil and on the separate circumstances of the situation. Is evil the absence of good, or is it a category of its own? War is evil, but war against tyranny, fascism or a defensive war is, to quote St. Aquinas, a “Just War”. The same with good. There was a time when killing someone of a different faith was not only good, but encouraged.
Implicitly relying on a theoretical framework is absolute in only one place. The domain of mathematics. Two plus two will always equal four (I won’t bring the possibility of other dimensions’ existence into this). Most other intellectual disciplines are not so rigid. In practical terms, relying on such a framework can be useful, but we cannot rely on it too much. We must be willing to break away from it, must be willing to accept that we might be wrong. True progress and innovation doesn’t happen at the core but at the fringes.
Paddy: So there’s a revolutionary zeal in the old boy after-all? Break-away? Recreate? Being of the fringe? Perhaps your surname is Trotsky after-all, not… what ever it is.
What you’re referring to is paradigm shifts, which is all well and good and, yah, difficult for my side to dismiss. This is where which spheres – zones of interest – we’re talking about come to the fore.
There are frameworks which remain rigid, one of which you correctly identified as mathematics. Others, such as what’s considered useful or enjoyable, which belong to a less eternal spectrum. This is where, I believe, the real disagreement is: which frameworks are we willing to claim are, indeed, absolute, and which are dependent on the dictations of space and time.
Morality. That’s the clincher, isn’t it? That’s what you really want to talk about: are judgments of good and evil a good idea?