“Not True [Platonic Archetype]!”

I am aware of the tired No True Scotsman trope. But if you extract it down to its core Platonic essence you really do have something worth talking about.

We have all heard it before when a low-knowledge person with extremely strong ideological attachments feels backed into a corner: the exhortation that actual historical examples that show that their attachments are not so simple in practical outcome are not representative of what they believe but aberrations. The militarized expansions of various supposedly peaceful ideologies? Clearly this must be the misunderstandings or willful interpretations of doctrine! The collapse in living standards caused by various economic experiments? Corruption! The takeover of causes by sociopathic personalities? It must be infiltration!

Plato was the philosopher of the ideal. Of reaching for the most perfect form of what something could be. Of always striving for perfection. This is contrary to observable reality and philosophical materialism and pragmatism implies that this ideal is a chimera. A false promise. What matters is circumstantial, situational, and results oriented. Therefore, the calls of ‘not true Islam’ and ‘not true capitalism’ and ‘not true communism’ can all be dismissed out of hand by those who do not claim to be idealists.

Let me take it a step further. Whatever belief or result is the majority viewpoint in any given camp *is* that camp, because what they have done and are likely to do matters far more than than what they intend. Organizations are made up of people, and groups of people have trends. This is likely to vary with time and place, of course, because in the end all things are local and temporal. Yet further reasons to distrust claims of the eternal and transcendent. If social justice, for instance, is dominated by an alliance of corporate HR and younger clones of Tipper Gore, than that is what social justice is right now. If MAGA is dominated by Q Anon and Stop the Steal, than MAGA is a front for those groups first and foremost. The true essence of a thing is the power of who commands it, not some ethereal and idealized promise of something to come. It reminds me of how the Book of Revelation was clearly written in the expectation that the End Times would come within decades of its compilation, and that the thousands-year-ongoing Christian meltdown we are still living through is a failure to come terms with the failure of this promise time and time again. ‘But surely this time..!’ they say each time assumptions are overturned, only to be proven wrong again. It is easy to believe oneself the protagonist of the culminating act of the story and harder to accept most individuals are merely background characters in a story that began far before they were born and either will never end or will only end long after they die. More importantly, it is easy to imagine oneself as just on the cusp of some breakthrough that will justify prior belief no matter how many times it has failed before.

Of course, one does not have to do this. One could simply acknowledge that the chaos of events do not move in any particular direction and so picking a tribe is just that: a tribal preference rather than a quest for universal truth. This, of course, requires giving up belief in some true eternal form of good ideology. It takes a certain amount of courage to admit that one supports a real-world messy compromise of a policy platform, contingent as it is on fate and historical circumstance. But I think if everyone was honest about merely trying to push greater forces in generalist directions rather than achieving some totalizing and ideal program it would be easier to talk with people who are from different backgrounds and forge new coalitions. Good diplomats are situationalists and opportunists. Ineffective diplomats take their cues from Woodrow Wilson.

If you declare yourself to be in support of any particular movement, you have to accept who dominates it. This means you can say ‘I really don’t like current trends in my faction, but I think the cost is worth it for the following reasons…’ This is fine. Cost/benefit calculations are really the only rational way to think about principles and they are far superior to Platonic idealism. Even better, though rarer for the thinking person, is when you are totally ambivalent and/or supportive of what others might consider a group’s flaws. In this case you don’t downplay them or apologize, you own them. This serves as a reminder than morality is not and can never be universal. So, when critics of political realism accuse me of belonging to a group known for seeing people as pawns being moved about on a great amoral game of Go who behave more along the lines of instinct than freedom of will, I answer with ‘Yes! Yes!’