By which I don’t mean this is a blog devoted to Kate Paulk’s book. Sorry, guys. When it’s cued to come out, I shall let her excerpt, okay? Good, now moving on.
One of the things that my blog yesterday touched on was the concept of “Consensus reality.” You guys seemed to know exactly what I was talking about, which is good, because… Well, mostly it is a concept I’ve discussed with my kids, but not with anyone else much. However, I don’t know if you understand the breadth and depth of consensus reality, or what it means, how it is established, its fatal flaws and how insane things can get when the consensus reality is significantly different from the kind of reality that can bite you in the er… nethers.
Creating or changing the consensus reality has been a project of revolutionaries and/or invaders and/or reformers since… the world has been a world. Probably. You can find it in changed inscriptions on the stone monuments of ancient empires. You can find it in defaced monuments, for that matter, in which someone’s face was carefully chiseled out of a statue, which was left standing. You can find it in historical descriptions of battles, invasions and other such “first sources.”
When studying history, it is a bright idea to remember the supposed credo of journalists “if your mother tells you she loves you, verify it.” In this case, if your great grand mother tells you she gave birth to your grandmother, verify it.
How can you verify it, if every source is biased? Well, you read as much information as you can, in as wide a pattern as you can. After a while the way in which things contradict each other, and some of the absolutely known, rock-bottom facts about the era (like “half of Europe died in wars,” for example. Or “At the end of this era the country was markedly poorer,”) will give you a fairly accurate view of reality.
Note what I say about multiple sources. When studying history, multiple sources are the cure to consensus reality.
Now let’s say you have an ideology – because the ideology has changed what it actually believed in through the time, except for a few certainties – we’ll call it Hopeful Stupidity which believed that it needed to change what people thought reality was in order to get a foothold in a country that they could FINALLY transform into paradise on Earth.
BTW the idea that HS in its beginning format, [and including the idea that people like onto angels (by which – bizarrely – they meant intellectuals, philosophers and theorists!) could impose a better way of living from the top down and drag us from the grubby present into a perfect, peaceful and prosperous future] was a propaganda coup of the old USSR is not in dispute. The beginning of it as a project in the US started before that (the ideas are to an extent to be expected of the then-normal beliefs about technology and the future) because no idea is stupid enough not to have occurred multiple times. But the level to which it has become a consensus reality – in fact, the project to make it a consensus reality, was part of the agitprop of the old Sov Union. Keep that in mind, because it is relevant.
Again, the idea of creating a consensus reality of – in fact – lying to the mass of people about their past and their future was not a new development in politics or government. What was new was its intersection with technology.
To the extent that such things can be simplified (And they have to be, because I’m writing a blog, not a 100 page treatise) the twentieth century depended on technologies that worked best in mass form and were directed/controlled from the center. (And our political theories have a tendency to follow our tech. It’s stupid, but there it is. See Glorianna in the middle of her clockwork empire.)
But what that meant is that those technologies were – by nature – designed to create a “consensus reality” such as the world had never seen. (And the world has seen some great attempts at this before. For instance, I BET some of you believe that Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake.”)
In most countries, creating a consensus reality took the form of top down authoritarianism, though. The Sov Union, itself, resembled more than anything 1984 with lower tech. And such work has holes. Mostly it has the problem that people are really good at developing double-think. That is where they will say something with the lips and confess another faith in their heart. By the time the project really got going in the US, there were already indications that this was so. And it disturbed those involved in the project. (Was it a coordinated and rational project? To believe Heinlein’s bio, as well as the documents in the USSR archives, yes, at its center. It was in fact a conspiracy. However, at its outlying edges it wasn’t really enforced. People did things to advance it, more or less without thinking. The “coolness” factor was a great part of it. The early-planted idea that the future lay that way. And the fact that it was bought into by probably the most massive generational bump to hit the US. There are other factors, like the feelings of veterans of WWII, and the advent of television and… again… I don’t have 100 pages.)
In the States, the form it took was that “the good people” – people with a certain view of how the future should go. Yes, yes, mostly (once more) philosophers and intellectuals, though a few were ruthlessly practical and power hungry men. It happens. And this particular project afforded a lot of power – took positions of power. In a way it was a very easy project, because Americans are a very weird breed. We like to do things, and we like to mind our own business. That means NO ONE is minding the philosophical shop most of the time, and as far as liberal arts in college go, well, we want our young people to be able to show them Europeans a thing or two and read the same works and all but Good G-d, we don’t expect them to take all that mumbo jumbo seriously, right? So, just go on to school, Johnny, and spew back what your teachers tell you, but we’ll forget all that when you come home and take over dad’s business.
And for a while it worked like that. AND because NO ONE was minding the ideological store, it was very easy for little Johnny who had a more… HS bend than the others to finish his degree with flying colors, and to take a job where he could come to the top and control who got hired to teach the kids. And what they were allowed to teach. Or to take a job where he could control what books got published. Or to take a job where he could pick what TV programs got aired. After a while, with people possessed of Hopeful Stupidity in mid-positions, or in enough low positions, it was enough for little Johnny to be dim but really good at regurgitating back the Hopeful Stupidity credo. And, to paraphrase Heinlein, if he was too lazy to work, too stupid to create anything new, and too cowardly to run his own con, little Johnny fell in place like a cog in a machine.
In the fullness of time, the people at the top died and little Johnny took over.
I think – if there are future generations who are literate enough for this – our descendants will laugh themselves sick at the idea that just as these people slotted into key positions, the Sov Union was falling apart, and the idea of top down economic and cultural control was withering.
Part of the issue, of course, is that in the US this wasn’t so much a conspiracy as we think of it, with cloak and dagger, but a slow and steady application of the idea of what is “cool” and the “future” to the culture, by all means available, and a slow but steady promotion of like minds, at all levels of entertainment, news, academia. That type of thing takes a LONG time.
(And before you accuse me of paranoia, go and take a poll of academia, of publishing (fiction and non-fiction), of journalism. If there were no ideological filter in hiring and promotion for those, in a deeply divided country like ours, the politics would break 50/50, right? Or thereabouts? But they don’t. If the country mirrored those professions, we’d all be Red Pioneers.)
The other part of the issue is that this type of system promotes DUMB. By which I mean, rock bottom stupid. No, I don’t mean that individuals are stupid in the sense of not being able to memorize and spew back what they heard. Some of them are brilliant that way. But when it comes to innovation and intelligence, they are DUMB. It is part of the Hopeful Stupidity credo that we’ve already reached a stable point in tech, and that’s why the government can now direct resources and thoughts and beliefs towards a better society. If you let people going around creating random crap, that would upset the whole apple cart. You can’t have that. That creates “instability” and breaks apart the “national consensus.”
What this means is that the USSR promoted the same type of people. Intellectuals, with a hunger for power. Too lazy to work, too dumb to create, too cowardly to run their own con. The first generation had to be hungry and sneaky. The second needed to be less so, and were at least somewhat aware of not being the sharpest tool in the shed… Which meant they hired the same type as themselves, but dumber. Dumb enough not to challenge them. Which is part of the reason that the Sov Union collapsed when it did. Past the third generation, you’re in the same point that took the royal families of Europe centuries to achieve through mere inbreeding, where a king could put the crown on the right end of his bride two times out of four or so, and could be taught not to drool in public.
However, collapsing when it did, it also acted as a clarion call to the people who’d been involved in the project of Hopeful Stupidity in the US. Up till then, at least in my profession, they let the occasional dissenter through. And though you’d not get the bestest goodies, you could make a comfortable living, if you just kept quiet about how STUPID Hopeful Stupidity was.
Then the people, by then comfortably in control almost everywhere, realized that – uh – people COULD doublethink. (Be kind to them. Most have trouble single thinking.) And that meant they needed to keep a sharp eye for heretics. Certain profiles stood out. Say you were OBVIOUSLY not stupid, but didn’t rock the boat. “Um… better safe than sorry. Keep so and so in menial no-decision positions.”)
In an ironic twist the Heigelian philosophy I was taught was right in this. A system always seems strongest before it crashes. By the nineties Hopeful Stupidity, by then flying the banner of “everyone has the right to never be offended” was publishing manuals on what language you were allowed to use, what words you were allowed to think, what word use was the moral equivalent of eating babies on screen. And they were kicking out anyone from the industries they controlled, who might have a spark of original thought. (Some escaped by having got established before that.) This, btw, among other things, explains the state of the movie industry.
But here’s the thing – while it worked, it established Consensus Reality. By which I mean, people got the same view of the world EVERYWHERE. From school to your shootem movie, you heard the same things, over and over and over again. In retrospect, this should have been a warning, but it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Humans are social animals. If our monkey band all thinks they can levitate the Denver Mint, if our education tells us that belief controls the world, if there are philosophical treatises on how belief is everything, if in movies and novels people can levitate the Denver Mint and end the war… Well! It must be true. Otherwise someone would say something different, right? (And btw, post-modernism is a way of closing that thought-escape-hatch. It’s incoherent, of course, but it can work for a time. If you really want it to.) And when it doesn’t work, there are always reasons.
I was telling my son that the first time I thought FDRs policies had been RESPONSIBLE for the Great Depression, I thought I was going nuts. All the “experts” knew he’d saved the nation. It said so in my history book. Casual reference was made to that in movies. Fergodsakes, I was just a chick who read economics. How could I question this? (For the record now even Krugman admits it. Only he thinks it can work, provided we get a WWII.)
But the Hopeful Stupidity NEVER understands innovation. They don’t get that other people will do things other than climb to the top of the ladder by regurgitating the credo. And they particularly failed to get that 20th century tech was a transitional state. (Forgive them. Part of it is that they just want power – not knowledge or wisdom. Also, they don’t usually study tech. There’s all that math, see?)
And so… first the VCR, then cable. In science fiction they could never QUITE get rid of Jim Baen (Wherever you are, Jim, I’m glad I got to “meet” you, if only over the phone.) And then… and then there was the internet. And all hell broke lose.
The internet was supposed to be for scientific exchange or SOMETHING. It was supposed to be for important people to tell each other important things. They would tolerate porn, of course, but… Political blogs? Who were those people in their infernal pajamas?
And then it got worse. What do you mean people can write and publish books without our approval? But we worked years to be gatekeepers. We licked all the right… er… boots.
Worse, just when the books that would show these people the past was different from what the gatekeeper’s said were FINALLY aging out of readibility… they could be brought back? In a way that doesn’t age except when language ages? (I would say the “lead” regulations that got half of my kids’ school library destroyed slotted into that, only I don’t think they’re smart enough to have thought of it.)
In case you wonder this is where SOPA came from. It’s also where the shrieks of the industry come from. And why they seem caught in molasses and unable to adapt.
We’re uncoordinated, insane, often very very angry (who, me?) and we just “put it all up” and “throw it all out.” BUT that, it turns out, is the big hammer that shatters the delicately built, painstakingly constructed crystal of consensus reality. The ONLY thing that could work.
Things are going to get much worse before they get better. No establishment EVER goes down easy. But in the end, hammer will always shatter glass. (And isn’t it ironical that the originators of Hopeful Stupidity thought the hammer was theirs?) Particularly when it’s a million pen hammers, wielded with gusto.
Carry on my friends. Aim for the shiny bits.