In 2017 something very unusual happened. An academic paper broke into the mainstream and the internet went nuts. In it, researchers from American and British universities tested the hypothesis that men who are muscular, attractive and socially dominant have less egalitarian attitudes, while men of opposite characteristics leaned towards the left. In their most folksy, netizens digested the study in the sense that lefties are weaklings. As anyone would have predicted, a meme fiesta ensued and rivers of pixels ran. Putting aside laboratory-tested links between Bernie support, on one side, and high levels of “soy consumption”, on the other, what can be convincingly argued is that there is a connection between moral weakness and the fanaticism exhibited by the radical left.
What is a worldview?
A worldview can be said to be a coherent basket of concepts that allow each individual to build an image of the world, one which facilitates understanding as much of it as possible. Humans’ greatest strength is their capacity to acquire and use knowledge of the world. Weak and vulnerable as they are, humans navigate the world armed with brainpower. Evolutionarily speaking, their practical necessity for acquiring, interlinking, and updating knowledge is behind the particularities of their brain development. Unlike other mammals, for example, human brain development is a protracted process starting very early in third gestational week and extending postnatally, increasing four-fold during the preschool period and reaching approximately 90% of adult volume by age 6. At the end, humans have the largest cerebral cortex of all mammals, relative to the size of their brains –precisely the area nesting the hemispheres, which are responsible for memory, communication, and thinking.
The components of a worldview are, basically, the big and eternal questions that humans have been asking from their dawn as conscious, self-aware animals. The figure to the right illustrates it in a succinct manner.
At the center of it all there is a meta-question, i.e. a question about how other cultures have presented and responded to the questions contained in a worldview. It is a reflective observation of what tradition has to offer, both in terms of the answers found and the assumptions they are based upon. The remaining six questions can be divided in two, on one hand the drive to formulate abstractions in order to reach a generalized statement aimed at explaining phenomena, and, on the other hand, the development of tools to represent reality, i.e. theorizing and modeling, respectively. In the realm of models, the human mind seeks to understand reality as a whole, the nature of the world we all inhabit, its structure and functioning. This effort to pin down the ‘why there’s something instead of nothing’ cuts both ways, i.e. explanation and prediction, the two other questions on this side of the worldview. While explanation tries to figure out how and why certain phenomena arose, ideally through principles that can be replicated for a more encompassing framework, prediction looks into the future, both as species and of the universe in general.
In order to model, though, humans require values. That’s where theorizing comes into play and axiology is the starting point. Because direction, purpose and goals guide actions, questions ought to be asked in that respect, e.g. what is good and evil? What’s the meaning of life? On which basis reality should be evaluated? Having these questions answered makes it possible to take purposeful action, and praxeology is the family of questions that allow for planning and execution of steps aimed at tackling specific problems. The last question within the human theorizing drive is epistemology and it is the cement on which the models are built. How does the human brain acquire knowledge? If there are no clear principles for valid acquisition of information, testing, construction, and organization of reality, it is not possible to arrive to truth.
What happens if a worldview doesn’t "glue"?
So, even when it is not made explicit, humans are always trying to move in the world based on responses to these questions. The most sophisticated among them openly try to tackle and build a coherent system of thought around such questions, whether that is through science, religion, sociology, etc. Either way, not gluing together a system of thought and belief for oneself is a highway leading to cognitive dissonance. The psychological discomfort caused by being divergent is, in my view, the surest way of becoming a bag of cats. Stress is not a joke. Leon Festinger, who coined the term cognitive dissonance and turned it into a fleshed out concept, spoke of humans’ need for achieving consonance –or avoiding situations and information that increase dissonance altogether– in the same way as hunger leads to activity oriented towards hunger reduction. Drawing over the same analogy, what does it do for a person to live in a prolonged state of contradictions? Picture a militant atheist taking communion every Sunday at mass or an ardent believer in free enterprise who leads the local chapter of the communist party. Besides interfering with the ability of living a normal mental life, chronic stress can trigger a myriad of health consequences, not to mention smoking, overeating, etc.
That is where fanaticism comes in. Cognitive dissonance and the stress that comes with it trigger avoidance. How does one resolve issues of holding inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes? Well, the hard path is to actually tackle the source of dissonance head on but, mind you. However, not everyone is willing to go through the pain of seeking and interpreting evidence from different, equidistant sources, then impartially and sincerely evaluate them in order to correct whatever deficiency existed in one’s thoughts and actions –even more so in matters close to the heart, such as politics and spirituality. The alternative, thus, is a path that leads to fanaticism. Nietzsche understood this. In ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’, he wrote: “No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would bear you through this stream; but only at the cost of yourself: you would put yourself in pawn and lose yourself.”
Losing oneself is emptying the portions where uniqueness exists and filling it up with the paths, bridges and demi-gods referred to by Nietzsche. Today the term ‘fanatic’ means anyone excessively enthusiastic or unreasonable, which gives away the pedigree of the word. It comes from the Latin fanum, a sacred place, and, through it, came to be used to refer to individuals who were thought to have been inspired (or rather possessed) by deities. Jung, in his ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’, wrote: “For one can fall victim to possession if one does not understand betimes why one is possessed. One should ask oneself for once: Why has this idea taken possession of me? What does that mean in regard to myself? A modest doubt like this can save us from falling head first into the idea and vanishing forever.” And doubt is, by definition, the source of inquiry –something that the fanatic lacks. It is not what one believes but how it is believed. Self-affirming, know-it-all confidence in exclusive access to absolute truths is the vanishing of the individual and, eventually, the concoction of violence, for the conviction of being the holder of ultimate certainty is too good not to (a) impose on others, and (b) seeing any dissenter as a justified target.
There is not a single day when we peruse the news and we don’t see the immense ridiculousness of the radical leftists. It baffles the mind to marry their so-called compassion, inclusion, and social justice with their routine crushing of free speech, irrational hatred of racial and sexual groups, and heavy flirtation with communism, the most murderous ideology of the past century. And we wonder: why? Well, it is plausible that, sensing the blatant contradictions in their worldview (i.e. their demi-god) radical leftists have lost themselves; they have descended into the hell of made up concepts, paranoid and afraid, prisoners of a snake eating its own tail. Doubt is no longer among the options and, thus, they have been possessed by an ultimate truth –one so ‘profound and encompassing’ that they perceive as fully justified to aggressively push it on others and defend at any cost. Those who fall for the intoxicating drug of ultimate knowledge, thus, have chosen the easy path of avoiding the discomfort of facing the dissonance in their (adopted) worldview. They gave up and, for that, they are weak.
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Diederik Aerts, Leo Apostel, Bart De Moor, Staf Hellemans, Edel Maex, Hubert Van Belle, and Jan Van der Veken, ‘World Views: From Fragmentation to Integration’ (VUB Press, 1994)
Michael Price, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, James Sidanius, and Nicholas Pound, ‘Is Sociopolitical Egalitarianism Related to Bodily and Facial Formidability in Men? ’  Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 38, Issue 5, pp. 626-634
Nicholas Rescher, ‘Philosophical Reasoning: A Study in the Methodology of Philosophizing’ (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001)
Olga Khazan, ‘Are Socialists Physically Weak?’ (The Atlantic, 17 July 2017)
<https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/are-socialists-physically-weak/533787/> Accessed 14 March 2018
Joan Stiles and Terry Jernigan, ‘The Basics of Brain Development’  Neuropsychology Review, Vol. 20, Issue 4, pp. 327-348
Leon Festinger, ‘A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance’ (Stanford University Press, 1962)
American Psychological Association, ‘How Stress Affects Your Health’ Factsheet. Available online <http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts.pdf> Accessed 16 March 2018
Raymond Nickerson, ‘Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises’  Review of General Psychology, Vol. 2, Nr. 2, pp. 175-220
Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Untimely Meditations’ (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Carl G. Jung, ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’ in ‘Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 15: Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature’ (Princeton University Press, 1966)
Scott O. Lilienfeld, ‘Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence’  Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 12, Issue 1, pp. 138-169