The Principled Cannot Convince the Irrational

by | Mar 20, 2024

The Principled Cannot Convince the Irrational

by | Mar 20, 2024

ordinary and extraordinary brain concept idea with human heads..

No matter how brutal an event, there will be those who can justify, rationalize, or spin a positive narrative. Real and imagined injustices inspire reactions that lead to more injustice, creating a spiral of revenge. Or a group can decide that it is superior, righteous by default, and has the right to claim territory in order to thrive. Outside observers can grapple with favoring one party over others, claiming that it was a “lesser evil.” Despite any pretense or deceptions, most violent actors do the irrationally vile for little reason other than self service or with inhuman distance. Trying to argue against such irrationality with reason and rationality can be a fool’s errand. Decency and moral dignity are seldom in consideration for those who would murder on a large scale. This is the prevailing predicament for those who oppose war and injustice with principles, trying to find compassion and empathy within those who appear callous, indifferent, or even deranged.

Despite this, we often argue and appeal with reason to those who may not see the world as we do. They may understand it differently, seeking a particular utopia or a piece of the imperial pie for themselves. They do not care about how many “eggs are broken” to achieve such an omelette. So how do we find common ground?

It seems that it is only after the fact that many of the killers and their masters come to understand the demented business that they made possible; rarely do many protest and object early on. It was only decades afterwards when Robert McNamara exhibited a degree of remorse, or years later when veterans may experience moral injury that leads them to challenge their original mission. Smedley Butler’s words are often cited by anti-imperialists, though he is an example of the cynical veteran, waiting until after he served his warmasters heroically for decades to write a book about his deeds which made their imperialism possible at all. George W. Bush paints portraits of his victims while in retirement, seemingly delusional with his legacy.

Those labelled conscientious objectors or “draft dodgers” tend to be viewed as cowards, ridiculed because they would not join the brave (nearly always men) who march into the meat grinder of war. In 1918, Reverend John Kovalsky and three other men were attacked by a mob of around three hundred in the town of Christopher, Illinois. The mob violently tarred and feathered the four men, and the reverend was forced to kiss the American flag because of disloyal language. Despite being fined by law enforcement, a mob saw it fit to humiliate and punish the men for disloyalty. The four disloyal men needed to show fidelity to a government that was waging war for human rights and free expression; because the four challenged the war and government with words, both the law and a mob punished them.

“The country was in peril; he was jeopardising his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.”- Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Such acts of mob violence are often looked back on as moments of group insanity. Yet time and time again the world over we see such displays of unreason and violence tear away individual rights. The mob could be heard squealing “Do the right thing” during the COVID madness, attacking those who breached curfew, who remained unmasked, or rwho efused a vaccination. The term Mass Formation Psychosis began floating around the internet whenever such critical dissent was not censored. In time of war it is also apparent, even if the war is not widely supported or understood. There will be elements that lean into the legitimacy of power and authority, even if they claim to be anti-power and against authority. There is nothing rational about such mobbery; it is crude and obscene, but seemingly ‘normal’ people can fall into such a frenzy.

Those who oppose the wars with consistency may notice the tourists of the cause who pick and choose their moments, depending on who is waging the war and whether it’s politically expedient or profitable to be for or against. The hypocrisy is only obvious to the principled because inconsistency can’t be used against those who lack any. They are political animals and opportunists who come and go as they please and will betray anyone. During the Cultural Revolution in China, millions of idiotically ideological youths did the deadly bidding of cunning political purists who were able to whip them into a frenzy. These mobs of youth would tear powerful party officials and elites from their positions of rule without fear, throwing China into a sort of civil war as irrationality purged the party and nation under the guise of some form of socialist purification. Millions would died. As confusing as events were, and as uncertain as the victims were in the lead up of any “guilt,” the killers were certain (even if they were uncertain) as to why they should be certain at all. They killed regardless.

Now we see those who were against one war support another while wanting to prevent further war elsewhere, but are eager to make war in another spot. Outside of those who have particular geopolitical or strategic reasoning are those who claim to be antiwar in times when it suits them to claim as such. In arguing for a military action, they do not have to convince the principally antiwar; those with such consistent views are only useful when it suits them. They only need to convince themselves, their allies, and those who have no principles but think they do. Those that have no principles will reveal the truth when irrationality emerges, when with the pressure of crisis they can help fill the mob. Most can sit with a straight face and claim that they would not have been in the tarring mob in the town of Christopher, Illinois or a murderous goon in the Red Guard, yet most people have no proof otherwise in their life.

Principles only matter when they require courage. The political animal seldom has any courage or dignity; it’s how they survive and thrive. Those who lack principles may not have the ambitions of the political class but they certainly will follow them. That is how we have moments in history like the Cultural Revolution, wars that fell out of favor once attrition emerged, and the policies and mob mentality reaction to the COVID virus that infected the minds of too many. It’s in such moments that reason and rational discourse give way to emotions fuelled by lies, half truths, and fears. If you add in the bigotry of collectivism, then you have a tendency to err in the direction of a conclusion that generally leads to mass murder or injustice. Once the victims are buried, the mob and political animals move on, wiping the injustice and irrationality from their minds. From there it’s “ancient history” to be forgotten, time to let “bygones be bygones,” and so on; the lack of reflection satisfies the return to reason inside ones mind.

Albert Camus once said that “the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” That may be true for those writers who seek to challenge said civilization and by presenting it with a mirror to see its self upon. There are also those who write with such splendid prose only to satiate putrid intentions or to cover up the true nature of that which they justify. The delicate balance between admission and omission which is crucial in persuasion and propaganda dangle with the words of writers. To lie when appropriate and reveal when necessary is their job. It’s a rational choice to deceive, an awareness that a bad thing is being hidden.

When the Nazi military found the remains of murdered Polish prisoners in Katyn, evidence that the Soviet government had slaughtered thousands of unarmed men, it was revealed as a crime. The Nazi government invited neutral officials and Allied prisoners to investigate. The Nazi officials understood that it was wrong and immoral to slaughter unarmed people. The Soviets denied it as Nazi propaganda, also aware that what they had done is widely considered “wrong.” Yet, both Nazi and Soviet governments committed such atrocities en masse, only to see and reveal the evil in the other. The need to be seen as good is more important to those who are the epitome of evil, rather than to be not-evil. That is the contradiction of human beings: despite being capable of such abhorrent evil, beneath that violence lurks the warm heart of complicated creatures, many capable of love and selective kindness. Nearly all are aware of what to conceal or be justified with deceit, usually that which is understood to be evil.

Samantha Power is the author of A Problem From Hell: American and the Age of Genocide, where she argues for liberal interventionism and promotes the United States as a force for good, a shield to protect the innocent and to stop mass murder. Power recently drew criticism from Agnieszka Sykes, who works under Power in the United States Agency for International Development, and said, “You wrote a book on genocide and you’re still working for the administration: You should resign and speak out.” It’s the principled appealing to the political. It’s not that Samantha Power is necessarily a hypocrite that can be reasoned with; she is political. What principles she may have written about only exist as a means to an end, or as a validation of power and empire. For those like Power, enabling and downplaying the Israeli Defense Forces slaughter of Palestinian civilians is simply politics. A recently released White House transcript shows that President Joe Biden and his White House are aware of “thousands and thousands of innocent women and children [that have been killed],” yet his support and arms for Israel continues. It’s unlikely Power or the others will resign.

In financial markets it is understood that there is a madness in crowds or “rational irrationality.” An individual’s level of behavior tends to be perfectly reasonable, but in the case of markets and the marketplace, chaos can arise. Clearly, such a maniacal mentality exists outside of finances and with the added problem of the sociopathic and mercenary mindset. On a personal level, most understand that it is all absurd. But when expanded into the mob or nation there is a sense of helplessness even while participating in the absurdity. Is it absurd if it’s common and normalized? Maybe in the end the absurd are those who see it for what it is: insanity. Maybe the abnormal are those who remain principled and the unprincipled and irrational are normal. It seems no amount of reasonable explanation or set of principles matters to them; irrationality could end life on Earth with those doing it certain of their reasons for doing so until it’s all done.

Kym Robinson

Kym Robinson

Kym is the Harry Browne Fellow for The Libertarian Institute. Some times a coach, some times a fighter, some times a writer, often a reader but seldom a cabbage. Professional MMA fighter and coach. Unprofessional believer in liberty. I have studied, enlisted, worked in the meat industry for most of my life, all of that above jazz and to hopefully some day write something worth reading.

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