It’s long been my belief that sometime the 20th century will be held on a par with the 14th for “centuries you’d prefer not to live in.”
Of course the 20th century saw a lot of advance in technology, life expectancy, cleanliness, the ability to feed the masses of humanity. On the other hand, just like the 14th century is marked by the black plague, the 20th century was marked by state killing. Masses and masses of humans went to their death at the hands of their own governments.
And because the 20th century was more industrialized and efficient, these killings were done in big batch lots by the numbers, or at least with lots of paper work. In the past it took sun-worshiping cults and stepped pyramids, and even then they mostly killed prisoners of war, not their citizens.
The thing is that in the twentieth century most citizens became prisoners of dreams. Both the ideologies responsible for most of the non-war (war too, but) killing of people in the 20th century were “dream ideologies” that inspired, promised and drove people towards an imagined utopia and incidentally promised the birth of a new man. And yet Aryan Man or Soviet Man were both completely impossible, had no basis in any factual reality or history.
They were pieces of dream, incarnate, striding the land, attracting people with their shining beauty, and hiding the dark carrion evil within.
This last week, under the stress of trying to figure out thing in Portugal (which might or might not happen. Paperwork seems delayed in ways that make no sense, unless of course someone hasn’t liked my articles on the American Council of Bishops and their shilling for illegal immigrants. In which case that someone should perhaps consider that they really don’t want me upset. Or “never pick a fight with a woman who buys pixels by the bushel.”[UPDATE: Apparently I was maligning the local guys, and it was Portuguese unease with email causing issues.] ) and packing, and a head cold that descended on me out of nowhere, I ended up reading a lot of posts on the supernatural/occult. I have no idea how I fell into it. It had something to do with the private detective who goes to hell, and I wanted the name of a minor (and crazy) fortune teller, and next thing you know I’m reading articles from religious people telling everyone how shocked they were that something that looked beautiful and good turned out to be evil/have evil effects.
This practically made me rock back on my feet, because, I’m sorry, what kind of emotional infants is our civilization raising? I thought “a man may smile and smile and be a villain” was well established. And if a man, why not an entity, or for that matter a group of people, an ideology or a dream?
Then I remembered being in a group of female sf/f writers and getting excoriated when I pointed out there’s a long history of male characters who appear horrible, but who do their charity secretly, (as one is supposed to.) And how to me the most powerful character is the one I at first misjudge, and which later shows to be a good person. This brought a clamor of “No, we have to signal all the right beliefs/politics, etc. upfront, otherwise he’s a villain!”
When I understood they thought “Anyone not politically correct is evil” I shut up. Because these are moral and emotional infants, who have never examined what their own dreams would be like in reality.
Like many mal-adapted teens, I had dreams that would be nightmares for anyone else like “One morning, science stops working, and magic comes into the world.” The death and destruction that stuff like that would cause did not hit me till I was about 14, but it did hit me by 14 and has, since then, made me the enemy of “if only we shout loud enough, or march shoulder to shoulder, there will be paradise” school of dreamers.
Because you know what? Paradise doesn’t happen when the dreams try to work in the real world and with real humans. The dreamers always forget the non-glamorous things like sewage, waste removal, or even growing food.
The problem with the twentieth century is that it was saturated in dreams. Because Marxism infected academia, news reporters and entertainers of all kinds, bits and pieces of it infected everything. Still does at times. And the problem is NONE of it works in any way better than the rest.
I woke up to this seemingly innocuous article: Workers Love AirPods Because Employers Stole Their Walls.
Seemingly innocuous because, even as they base the entire article on the fact that a cherished piece of collectivist dream was dreadfully wrong, they give it an anti-capitalist spin.
The entire idea of wall-less offices (or even cubes, though that, mostly, was an attempt to expand really fast without having to build/spend a lot) was part of the collectivist dream.
It started with wall-less schools, in which the kids were supposed to learn so much better, because in the ur-story of the socialists, humans were created as collective creatures, only happy in the group and it was the invention of private property (the oldest skeletons we find have their own arrows and their own implements that likely they used in life, but never mind. The dreamers want the past to be perfect communism, so they declare it so and shout and stomp their feet) that brought evil and strife into the world. So they built a lot of elementary schools without walls.
Look, we’d already tried this, and we knew its limits. Most monasteries in the middle ages were supposed to be “everything in common” and they worked, up to a certain number of VOLUNTARIES. Once the conditions were broken and you got too many people or people who were involuntarily shoved into the monastery, things… went wrong.
But the dream required that children be naturally “communal” so… So, it was a bloody disaster. Which is why by the time younger son went into a school originally designed on the open plan, someone had made very sturdy walls cutting willy nilly through the original plant.
Those were popular when? The seventies? But someone failed to learn. And no, it wasn’t the employers, except to the extent that the employers were brought up in the public school system which extolled that failed dream, and listened to “consultants” that were the product of humanities degrees that were infected with it.
By the early two thousands (Twentieth century- the hangover years. I think it will take all of the 21st to recover from the 29th) I was reading article after article about how people were so happy and more productive in wall-less offices, and how the younger people — ah, that fabled Homo Sovieticus — was NATURALLY social and communal.
Turns out, no. People do not work better in groups. As all of us who have been forced into group work growing up KNOW. Turns out, that, as we explained to older son’s second grade teacher “no, the future is not more group work and collaboration, for the simple reason that it doesn’t work very well. The future, with work from home tech being easier is more likely to be for self-starter and individualists.”
But the dream persists. And when it blows up, it must be the fault of those evil employers and “greedy” capitalists.
Because at least in the minds of born extroverts — yeah, people like me just wake up screaming — the dream that we’re all really collective creatures who’d love to live in a pod and share all our thoughts and feelings persists. And is too beautiful to give up. Even when the reality proves to be a crab bucket of petty bickering, mistrust, paranoia, empire building and lack of production.
In fact, there is a non-trivial overlap between those who can’t do and those who dream.
Keep your eyes open. Reality isn’t always pretty, but dreams are dangerous things. Beautiful dreams have killed millions of human beings.
And even the pieces of them are harmful.