The Inevitable Failure of Centrism
I like Rifftrax. Although their comedic film commentary is pretty shallow, I much prefer watching bad films with their stand-up routine than any stand-alone contemporary flick taking itself seriously. A while ago I was watching M. Night Shyamalan’s trainwreck adaptation of ‘The Last Airbender’ with Rifftrax. At some point, this princess Yue stares in the eyes of her beloved and tells him in a dramatic tone: ‘It is time we show the Fire Nation that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs!’ This is immediately followed by Rifftrax’s punchline: ‘I don’t believe that you believe in your beliefs! Believe it!’ The tone, the inflexions of the voice, the knee jerk style of their irony is ubiquitous in today’s culture.
As Westerners we have lived for so long with this disembodied, mass produced entertainment masquerading as culture, that the only reaction we find normal to anyone taking their beliefs seriously is meta-irony. It suits us like a glove; the more layers of irony and cynicism, the better. Any midwit understands it and is able to engage in it.
There was a time when – believe it or not – our predecessors used to believe in their beliefs as much as Muslims or Hindus do today. Even modernity, with its many currents of thought – used to take itself seriously and believe in its project of engineering a better future for the human race through unleashed technology, scientific endeavour, sexual liberation, the spirit of history or whatever it chose to name its monomaniacal project. Of course, the ideas of universalism were bound to end up in hopelessness and cynicism. The reasons are manifold, and it’s understandable that leftists would end up criticising modernity more thoroughly than any other group. What begins in revolution ends in revolution; and according to Prof. John Rao, the best way to understand modernity is as a revolution against the Incarnation. A complete rejection of the concrete in favour of the abstract.
We thus find ourselves in this strange place where only Postmodern pessimists and Marxists are earnest in their beliefs, while everyone else floats in a sea of confusion and relativity. When this earnest activism fully surfaced in pop culture around 2012, with the coming of age of woke Millenials, a lot of us knew for sure that THIS new phenomenon is madness. However we chose to label it, and for whatever reasons we chose to oppose it, we KNEW that this ever-growing hydra is degenerate and evil and must be opposed by any means.
Thus we have witnessed the emergence of the Centrist commentator. People like Sargon of Akkad, Gad Saad, Vee, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Bret Weinstein, James Lyndsay and many many others – have emerged as popular opponents to the Social Justice ideology. Most of these guys chose to fall back on the Modern meta-narrative as a shield against Progressive talking points, lamenting the ways in which wokery undermines our beloved ‘Enlightenment values’. It is never clear what they mean when they ritualistically invoke said values. Do they think of Rousseau, Kant, Hume or Montesquieu? The very authors who are regarded by many secular thinkers as the originators of Postmodern relativism? Or to they think of the autistic Locke or Stuart Mill, living in an abstract universe of contractarianism and self-centred consensual agreements? The kind of thinkers de Jouvenel referred to as ‘childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood’? Or maybe what they really mean is the Newtonian revolution and the reconceptualisation of the universe as clockwork machinery, following predictable causal chains, leaving no room for ‘lived experience’ or postmodern relativism. However you look at it, it’s impossible not to notice the shalowness of Centrist commentators when it comes to their invoked positive values. It is no wonder that most of the guys mentioned above have become massive grifters, sacrificing their earlier curiosity and genuine intellectual pursuit.
The more interesting commentators were those who started to understand the value of traditional communities with harmonious beliefs, graceful metaphysical foundations and organic institutions that reflected their ideals through beautiful places of worship, music, architecture. I count Peterson among these commentators, and it would be unfair to reduce him to his boomer neoconservative talking points or ‘Rules for Life’ grift. Jonathan Haidt followed a similar trajectory with his research into the moral foundations theory, or the elephant and the rider.
A few years ago I was following this centrist Youtube commentator, Adam Friended, who was an enthusiastic follower of both Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Haidt. Even though he was a non-believer, he was starting to understand the reasons in favour of religiousness. As a binding behaviour, religion is crucial in the formation of stable communities. Whenever a group of people chooses to value something, in-fighting stops, so they can all focus on a common ideal; something akin to electricity is produced, as the group circles the sacred value like in a merry-go-round; beautiful art emerges; the individuals transcend the self-centred, egotistical mindset and can find transcendence together. Now, of course, sacralising a given value makes us blind to everything that’s not encompassed in it. ‘Morality binds and blinds’, but the reverse is much worse, because it implies falling into an atomised, distrustful state of primal vigilance.
Adam Friended was also fascinated with Peterson’s arguments in favour of religiousness at the individual level. You cannot live without an ideal; your life will turn into complete chaos if your impulses are not oriented in a hierarchy of values. And the highest ideal we can think of is ‘the hero of a thousand faces’ or whatever. Christ is thus, not a mere evolutionary mistake, as Dawkins claimed; some parasitic ‘meme’ that subverted our development as a species.
At the political level, centrists were starting to realise the necessity of embracing a belief system. Right wing movements dominated by secularism and a merely cultural appreciation of religion are feeble, non-committed and ineffectual.
Armed with these rational arguments in favour of religion and a timid, shallow conservatism, Friended became Peterson and Haidt’s bulldog, defending them from rationalist, new atheist types. He realised the euphoric atheism of the 2000s was not merely a lack of belief, but a utopian form of anti-theism positing that the complete removal of homo religiosus would magically bring about a better, more rational or empirically oriented society. The stupidity and hybris of such a worldview was easy to notice for everyone familiar with Peterson or Haidt. Thus, the rebuttals almost wrote themselves. Friended condemned the impertinence and superficiality of knee-jerk atheists like Rationality Rules or others like him; he exposed them for what they were – uneducated internet opportunists armed with a list of internet fallacies and a naïve childish scientism. Their entire shtick was to loudly deboonk some personality, causing drama and controversy, and thus increase their audience. Their deboonking was never done in good faith and all they did was strawman their opponent and go for low hanging fruit.
Adam continued to mock these grifters, along with the general anti-SJW commentary which came naturally and wrote itself by merely reading the news. Still, this type of centrist could not find the vision and inner strength to actually embrace a clear belief system; to move from the passive appreciation of a detached outsider, to a full dive into the Sacred. As time passed, the only archetype that prevailed in his case was that of the deboonker; the mocker and scoffer. It became a second nature and therefore his rebranding as a ‘comedian’ appeared natural. How else would this type of internet anti-SJW shitlord call himself? They were never serious scholars. They could never commit to a clear philosophical or religious path. All they did was popularised certain authors while mocking others.
Thus they fell back into the very Postmodern condition they claimed to oppose. Like the virgin Calvinists and Lutherans of the 16th century, the only virtues exalted by centrists are temperance and moderation. They do not excel in any field; they do not commit to any path; they are at the crossroads. They criticise Marxism; they criticise Monarchism. They appreciate laissez-faire, ‘live and let live, man’, refusing to admit the ills of modern de-territorialisation and desecration. Had they done a deep dive into the culture they claim to defend, they would have realised the shallowness of this neoconservatism that literally conserved nothing. Had they found God, they would have realised the pernicious nature of this deification of ‘the divine individual’. Had they actually read Jung and Eliade, they would have realised the shallowness of Peterson’s lazy mythological schema, while accepting the superiority of Ev0la and Guenon. But they did none of these things; their development was completely arrested in a state of Californian manchildhood.
When they eventually came face to face with serious men who went all the way on a spiritual or intellectual path, they were as baffled and perplexed as they were when noticing the rise of the SJW phenomenon. ‘These unironic Christian / traditionalist / hermeticist Chads ackshually believe in their beliefs as much as Muslims and femenists believe in theirs. WTF?’ Their inability to be serious and focused became painfully obvious. The centrist mind exploded; they could not fathom how a human being can actually hold certain values to be sacred and raise them above instant self-gratification or lazy meta-irony. The only reaction someone like Adam could conjure up against Academic Agent or Dave the Distributist was knee-jerk mockery. He lazily laughed at them for hours in a row in the company of dubious anarchists; they retorted to the most childish and lazy type of humour – name calling, while mocking Bowden, Toynbee (‘tomboy’) and Ev0la (‘ebola’), authors they could not even bother to google before criticising. They retorted to the very leftist strategies they routinely mocked in people further to their left. When AA and Dave responded with measured intellectual arguments, Friended could not even muster the courage to listen to their videos, employing some obscure fanboy mook to sum up their content into a list of straw manned talking points. As he was confronted with serious conservatives and religious scholars, he fell back into the posture of Rationality Rules and the shallow internet deboonker. Whenever any of his claims would be refuted, he would hide behind layers of irony, claiming that his content had been comedic all along.
The sad story of centrism in the 21st century is that of a path of cowardice. You are scared shitless of shedding the post-WW2 truth regime, for fear of falling into the pre-made boogeyman of the establishment. So instead of seeing through the lies of the various strands of liberalism, you cling onto the most benign and outdated form of modernity, only to be allowed some breadcrumbs under the table of the established leaders. They could not even bring themselves to embrace libertarianism to its logical conclusions, which would fall outside of the Overton window; so they only embrace it when it suits their momentary motives.
Centrism and its pet projects (freedom of speech, freedom of trade, individual rights) can never be values of supreme importance in a civilisation, because all liberal values are post-values, instrumental at best. The modern liberal individual is a mental abstraction built on the delusional idea of a detached, objective observer. ‘The view from nowhere’. Although we have all been indoctrinated in this view since childhood, it is in fact a collective mental ilness. Every people or nation used to ‘believe in their beliefs’. We are the first ones to find that fact strange, to seek this faux reconciliatory attitude of forcefully finding positives in the superficialities of all cultures and religions, without committing to anything in particular. It’s like being an art critic who has studied an introduction into every art movement in history, without having committed to any technical path, with its austere methods and the hard work required for mastery.
While listening to Adam Friended’s trainwreck of attempted mockery, I realised the only thing he has left is the hollow meta-ironic tone identical to that of Rifftrax. Why so serious? Just a comedy show, bro, just a comedy show.