Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Inevitable Betrayal of True Believers

True believers always betray the cause. That may seem like an oxymoron, but it's completely true. It might not be true in any one moment, but over the long-run it has to be how things work out. True believers are interested in truth. They think they've found it and are often aggressive in evangelism and defense of the cause, but it's not for love of the cause; it's for the love of truth.

Other people get involved in causes because it's a means to power. There are, no doubt, other reasons to join a cause, but I'm willing to venture power and truth are the top vote-getters. Causes exist because some people like influence. The different between fringe nutballs and a powerful lobby is organization, nothing else.

That's not to say these are exclusive reasons - only sociopaths manipulate people just to do it - but one of them generally wins out. You hear stories of politicians who don't believe the policies they sell or preachers who don't believe the words they say, but continue because it's become a way of life. They like the influence and the position. They may even think their cause is better than any alternative, but they're not true believers. In fact, true believers are the only ones who threaten them.

True believers don't see the cause as a means to an end; it is the end. If it comes to fruition, if their understanding of truth becomes generally accepted (not in a coercive way, but willing acceptance), they see no ongoing need for the cause. True believers don't need power, because belief is its own power.

True believers will inevitably betray the cause. Why? Because the search for truth is, by its very nature, ongoing. It grows an evolves as we continue to refine and improve upon what we believe. It's why those in power tend to keep the activists on the fringes - they're better off out in the world recruiting than making decisions about how things run - because they're not interested in practicalities; they're interested in integrity.

Of course you don't start a movement with forcefulness of your ideas. You start a movement by appealing to the human need for power. The powerless are anything but, if you can get them organized. Our fear of having no meaning is an incredible source of motivation. True believers derive meaning from their insistence on being right. As morbid as it may be, suicide-missions are ingenious, because they reinforce the power of the cause, while also eliminating the very people who would threaten it: the true believers.

True believers love truth - they think they've found it, but they're also never going to stop looking. They're the ones who will call for reform and re-evaluation if they ever encounter doubt (and who doesn't) or new information. You can only play power games if you believe power is more important than the ideas you use to wield it. That is the purview of the true believer.

This is part of the reason I treat power with such suspicion. Power requires you to pick sides. Truth is simply concerned with whittling away what's not true. Even true-believers who disagree can find common cause in the battle of their convictions.

Most of the time, true believers simply slide away. The closer they get to centers of power, the more disillusioned they become with the cause itself. The hippies who became yuppies were never out for truth - those folks are still living in a tire-less VW van in the woods of Northern California.

The reality is that everyone is necessary for the system to work. True believers need a cause (and the people who make it function); the cause needs true believers to fuel its fire; and both of them need opposition - true believers as an antithesis that leads to truth and the cause as an enemy around which to build an organization. FauxNews gets better ratings with a Democrat in power precisely because the opposition is essential.

Those hippies in the woods have lost their fervor without active opposition or a cause to funnel their passion. The yuppies have drive and determination, but only apathy and hedonism to guide them. Opposition can never truly function in power, since it's defined only by what it's against.

This feels like a system that we're meant to overcome, but try as I might, I can't envision an alternative. These pieces need each other.
Just because the true believers will betray the cause, doesn't mean causes are bad; it just means we have to hold them lightly. There's nothing wrong with being part of a cause, but it can't outlive its usefulness; we have to let them die. There's also great need for opposition, but it must be embodied in ways that can translate to a cause when the true believers begin to win out.

Truth must be embodied or it is not really truth, but it's not something that can be done on our own and it's never a static process. I don't know if there's a point to this post or if it's just marginally organized rambling, but it feels important and worth sharing. I hope you enjoyed.

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