Every society and system tells itself lies. Some of it is because it’s inherently impossible for humans to perceive truth. It probably would require us to think in twenty dimensions and smell colors, or something.
I mean, I’m probably not the only one who ten years later looks back on some situation and goes “Oh, dear Lord, so that’s why–“
Then there’s the lies you tell yourself. In my case there is this certainty that if I think hard enough I can overcome anything. Which means I keep coming up against my body’s hard and ever shifting limits. Right now it’s vision. Note to self: it’s really hard to do a thing properly, when you can’t see. Lots of things actually. You’d think I’d have figured out when I have to hold on to the railings and climb and descend stairs very slowly it’s my eyes. At least I’ve only fallen once. Last time this happened it took three falls on stairs, one of them severe for me to get the point. Besides, my body knows my eyes have ALWAYS been fine.
Then multiply that by x number of people, and pass it through administrative levels.
Societies tell themselves lies because individuals in the chain tell themselves lies that get passed on; they tell themselves lies because those lies are convenient; they tell themselves lies because they conform to an image of themselves.
Then add the coercive power of a government capable of collecting and evaluating information and punishing or rewarding based on that information, and the lies exponentially magnify, inflate, and do like the flat cats in The Rolling Stones, till the fill every available space including the air we breathe.
Sometimes collective lies, and the system they create grow from some new capability we’re super impressed with.
In the Elizabethan age they were super-impressed with clock work stuff. So the universe was supposed to be clock work. And I guess human beings were clock work too. And this genesis of the modern state killed as many people per-capita as Stalin would manage. (Given a much smaller starting population.) Or as an historian once put it “The Tudors killed vast multitudes of people, some too young to crawl to the executioners block.” (Fact check: slightly exaggerated but mostly true.))
Because the problem is, of course, that humans aren’t clock work.
However larger state apparatuses (apparatenuse? Apparati? Apparapopotamus?) require you to think they are if not clockwork, at least widgets. Units of production and consumption infinitely changeable and inter-changeable. In fact, while that is true if you pull out to extreme abstraction (Abstraction on the level of “there’s only two plots”) it bears no relation to reality. And even on extreme abstraction it throws curve balls.
For instance, you can go “Well, if 100k people live here they’ll need roads this size.” But then throw in two years of lockdowns, and telecommuting, and apparently? people’s counterintuitive need to still get out of the house no matter what, and suddenly what you have is 24/7 traffic congestion. No, I still don’t understand that, and I doubt it could be predicted.
Anyway, in the 20th century — exploding in the middle of — we’d developed bureaucracy and record keeping to the point that people started imagining the state was omnipotent and government knew best.
And because the same people who controlled the government had influence over the media, either direct or indirect, (Trust me, FDR could be very direct) the lie grew legs and went galumphing around in everyone’s brain.
When I was a kid there was the same feeling about government that there is about the Catholic church in some conspiracy books: It’s immense, and it knows everything about everyone. And we don’t have — insert magical tech — only because it’s hiding it, and doesn’t want us to have it.
In fact, the idea of government was very much like a god, in the sense that Roman gods were gods. We didn’t think it was good, but we gave it all sorts of very strange powers.
And when we in other countries stopped believing that about our own country, we still believed it about the US government, the CIA, the FBI, etc. etc.
I remember sitting with my host brother in the family room late one night (I was 18 and he was 16) discussing the kind of philosophical stuff kids that age discuss and one of us (It’s been so long I don’t remember which) finally going “And at any minute, the CIA will knock on the door and ask why we’re talking about this?” (I don’t remember what this was. Could be aliens really existing or the famous one gallon per hundred miles carburetor.)
Of course, none of that is real. In fact, the more we’re finding out — now information isn’t restricted to the media — about how our information systems and government really work, it’s more like a Laurel and Hardy comedy, if Laurel and Hardy were vicious and hated the country they are supposed to serve.
But in our heads the myth of the great government that knows everything still bangs on. It probably has existed since before we were humans and some band somewhere had a great (compared to others) leader, and then after he died, they kept talking about him, and how great he was. Probably where Greek and Roman style gods evolved from.
In fact, at the very back there’s probably the idea of the parents, like we experienced when we were infants. “WOW, they know when I need food and when I’m wet and–”
This leads a lot of people who have realized our government sucks and wants us dead to idolize communism. Partly because of communist PR and the idea that somehow automagically it knows what everyone wants (This comes from not thinking in detail. HOW would they know? Even we don’t know what we want half the time.)
I was reading a book written in the seventies, recently, and the author who grew up in some Western country talked about this vitamin/mineral/whatever pill that his mom was taking, which would increase human life by another half, and in fact the Soviet Union was making all their citizens take it.
I almost walled the book, which was on some technical thing and had nothing to do with supplements, because…. seriously?
First, the USSR came up with this discovery? Given that they could be super-ruthless about human experimentation, I could see them figuring out some stuff through horrible methods, but how would they have tried it out and known how much it extended life, since at the time the USSR hadn’t been extant the span of an entire human life in normal circumstances.
Second, supposing some scientist had figured this and the USSR shot him in the back of the head and stole it: HOW would they make enough for their whole population? They never managed it with anything else, up to and including food.
Third, supposing this amazing supplement existed, why would you have to MAKE people take it? If there were a pill proven to give me another fifty years of healthy life to live and write in, I’d take it. Wouldn’t you? I don’t want to live forever, but living a bit longer and having more time to work wouldn’t hurt. (And this makes me wonder if that’s why the left is so puzzled about people refusing the vaccines, because they also haven’t thought about the details. Like you know “Completely new method that never worked before” and “bodies that aren’t widgets.”)
However, an otherwise smart and educated man believed that nonsense.
This basic trust in government knowing what is best for each person and also needing to use force to make people do this one great thing that will save us all.
The problem with that, as we’re seeing, is that the more you put power in the hands of an individual (the end state of hyper-powerful bureaucracy) the more you’re prey to that person’s delusions. Like millions of people died or lived in fear because Fauci thought AIDS was airborne, and could be mitigated with masks, and– It’s fairly obvious Fauci got bit by an airborne virus somewhere in infancy, and so has this one solution to any problem that comes along. And since he’s given unchecked power, we all have to live in his hell.
Fortunately the myth of the all-powerful government seems to be getting chipped away, if not utterly crumbling yet. (It needs to crumble, honestly.) Of course the idea of the perfect chieftain will remain to pollute society and how we think. (If nothing else, the idea of a transcendent G-d allows us to overcome all of those, because every human is flawed. Which is why the most successful societies in history in terms of feeding everyone have that, and things go sour fast in “Atheistic societies.”)
It won’t crumble fast enough, and it’s going to be tricky navigating around so it doesn’t fall into something worse.
But the lie of the 20th century was exceptionally lethal, and it’s good to see it lose power.
And it’s good to be aware of it, and chip away at it in our own heads as well. Government isn’t magical. Communism isn’t magical.
There’s no magic at all, except us poor individual slobs doing the best we can.
As often as we fall short, it’s not as bad as when governments fall short by the numbers, collectively and with force.
And that must be our consolation and our hope.