Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Delusion-Based Community

History is basically a collective nightmare. And some people, now and again, believe they've awakened from it.

If they get the power, one of the first things they tend to do is declare war on the past. They start calendars anew, from the Year Zero. They burn books, and sometimes their authors. They deride outdated ideas, and outlaw outdated beliefs, preferring the resplendence of newly minted delusion to the dull patina of age-old common sense. Whatever ideas aren't mocked or banned outright, they twist into a cunning nest for their newly hatched regime. And at last, freed from the mental detritus of that fitful dream formerly called "reality," they make entirely predictable decisions that lead to entirely predictable results, and many people die, and another grim chapter is written in the annals of human stupidity.

OK, that was fun, but let's continue in plain English. If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us!

When you hear that "9/11 changed everything," what you're basically being told is that the New Age is at hand, and the old world is well and truly gone. It's not just that we have to approach terrorism differently (which is a false proposition in any case), it's that all former ideas are subject to reinterpretation or complete devaluation by BushCo. After 9/11, reality need not be admitted to the White House unless its papers are in order.

This is why neocons get furious if people say "If you do A, the result will be B." All that sort of talk is suspended until further notice; for now, it suffices to know that where there's a will to power, there's a way.

It all does seem very Nietzschean, or very postmodern (which makes me wonder if the Right's railing against postmodernism is yet another confession of guilt). But it may just be that diseased minds think alike. Either way, we now have a group of people in power who apparently believe that they create reality by acting and that, as the Bible says, "the former things are passed away."

That's not a new idea, by any means. Actually, it's as old as the hills. By the time the German people (with a little help from their friends) had come to hold this ancient delusion more or less en masse, Albert Einstein wrote a rather sad letter to Sigmund Freud, in hopes of figuring out how to bridge the gap between reality- and delusion-based communities. Here's what Einstein said:

[P]olitical power hunger is often supported by the activities of another group, whose aspirations are on purely mercenary, economic lines. I have especially in mind that small but determined group, active in every nation, composed of individuals who, indifferent to social considerations and restraints, regard warfare, the manufacture and sale of arms, simply as an occasion to advance their personal interests and enlarge their personal authority....How is it possible for this small clique to bend the will of the majority, who stand to lose and suffer by a state of war, to the service of their ambitions. An obvious answer to this question would seem to be that the minority, the ruling class at present, has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb. This enables it to organize and sway the emotions of the masses, and makes its tool of them....Is it possible to control man's mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness? Here I am thinking by no means only of the so-called uncultured masses. Experience proves that it is rather the so-called "intelligentsia" that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions, since the intellectual has no direct contact with life in the raw but encounters it in its easiest, synthetic form - upon the printed page.

Freud's response, for the record, was more or less equivalent to the "Nevermore" of Poe's raven. But at any rate, this is the sort of thinking we're dealing with from BushCo: the disastrous thinking of intellectuals who've fallen prey to their own conceits, and the pretty things they read in clever books, and the pretty dreams they dreamed in cozy beds.

They honestly believe that on 9/11 a new and, God help us, a better world was born. The flames that we saw as a ghastly sunset on our world, they saw as a beautiful sunrise on theirs ("I love the optimism of that picture," Bush might say). They believe they've woken up from the circular nightmare of history, and can now see a straight path that leads away from all the old follies and delusions, away from all the old laws of fate that once called Great Men to account for their stupidity and hubris. But as Flann O'Brien said, "Hell goes round and round."

1 comment:

echidne said...

Very interesting. But it's not always a refusal of history that this phenomenom appears as. Think of Osama bin Laden's desire to return to a possibly utopian (from his standpoint, of course) world of 1400 years ago. He wants to go back in history, others of the same type want to deny all history. I think it's a desire to simplify world to a frightening degree. Life is complicated and for a certain type of person this is too much to bear.