Having grown up in a time and place where electrical supply was unreliable and people had an uncertain grasp on how to work with electricity anyway — yes, the once and future time, what can I say? — so that you might very well have to take a candle with you to bed (HOW I never burned the house down trying to read till all hours is a minor mystery) because the electricity was out, again, or where people thought nothing of replacing that darn fuse that keeps blowing with a penny, I grew up with a very real fear of house fires.
Having spent some time living in the curious level of apartments best described as “student housing” (where not only might the wiring be wonky, but the cabinets might be so low over the stove that a small oil spill can turn into “oop, there goes half the kitchen”) did nothing for this fear. In fact, this is the first time in thirty some years that I haven’t had a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and that only because I haven’t been in a place to buy one at the same time that I had money to buy it, but it’s on the list.
Add to this that both mom’s and grandma’s tales of the village in their lifetimes involved a manor house going up in smoke overnight. (Look, Portugal still has some structures that probably started life as Roman farmhouses. Knowing how much crazy I’ve found in Victorians where each new owner added a twist on “this will work for me, because” and then hid it in the walls, the amazing thing is how many Portuguese houses don’t burn overnight, even if most of the materials are stone and cement.) And in mom’s case, being a vivid storyteller, it involved the tale of six kids caught in a house fire while their parents were out, and being brought out as corpses “looking like roast goats.” Nightmare fuel, I tell you.
So, I have a healthy respect for fire.
If I could banish all danger of fire by not thinking about it, believing that fire didn’t exist, and disabling every fire alarm, I’d already have done that.
Why haven’t I done it? Because my thoughts and words, or even alarms don’t control reality. And my banishing fire from my thoughts wouldn’t make me less vulnerable to it, but more.
And not precisely a change of subject, but remember the late seventies, when Communism was the most stable and successful societal form in the world, and in the future — as every intellectual assured us — we’d all be communists? Heck, even the so called free countries recognized they had to add a little bit (or a lot) of socialism to their mix just to survive. Why! It was only sense, right? Planned economies were just more efficient. What kind of lunatic would build a house without a blueprint? How much more necessary was a blueprint and efficient top-down control of the build for an entire economy.
Just look at all the racial strife and economic suffering in the US with their pure free market (yes, I know, but bear with me) system! Do you want that? No. You want the stable, equitable, efficient Soviet Union’s system. Duh.
If you don’t remember this, you didn’t grow up in Europe (Or, curiously, in political and intellectual circles in the US) where what I stated above was not even vaguely controversial. Or in fact worth arguing, because everyone knew that.
Most of the people (unless geniuses and cranky) who opposed communism opposed it on the basis of its jailing prisoners, treating dissidents like cr*p and other moral issues. On that basis a lot of people “on the right” wanted “socialism with a gentler touch” or if you prefer “democratic socialism” (Strange ice and hot snow. They vote to despoil us, and we’re supposed to accept it because theft by the majority is somehow moral. And that’s not counting vote fraud, which is endemic in every socialist country, because of course those in power don’t wish to lose it at the whim of the unwashed.)
And yet, when people in power in the US said “Screw that, we don’t believe you, and we’re not going to appease you” the entire system of terror behind the iron curtain crumbled like a sand castle hit by waves, like fog when the sun shines.
Because of course none of it was true. The USSR wasn’t stable, efficient and prosperous. (The fact that Putin wants to revive it tells you what world-class intellect he ain’t.) It was a shambling mess, where people pretended to work where others pretended to pay them, and where you lost half your life to standing in line for goods, even goods you didn’t want because you could maybe, perhaps trade them for something you might want at some time. And if the supply issues weren’t enough, there was every single other issue. The medical care was worse than third world; the service economy was non existent; their defense industry was mostly smoke and lies; and their people were skilled in the art of double think. In fact, even with the black market they allowed to exist because it was often the sole source of food, I suspect they’d have lived in permanent famine conditions without overt and covert aid from the US. (Not to mention our letting them swallow up vast portions of South America and Africa, from which they extracted tribute.)
So why did they appear so successful and stable that non-insane people in the West hailed them as the future? Ah, because they’d broken the fire alarms, banned all mentions of fire, forbidden people to even think of fire. Or you know, revolt against the system. And if despite all this someone still mentioned fire, then they were declared insane and locked up.
Which not only projected an image of complete control and prosperity abroad, but also meant that the leaders thought — at least most of them — that they had perfect control and at least a minimum level of prosperity.
Until everything came crumbling down, fast and irreversibly, because someone dared (very dared) to question the image, and kept asking the non-existent system to compete with our flawed, wasteful, compromised but still somewhat free system.
The analogy with fire should be obvious. Rebellion and revolt (or even the sort of sullen non-compliance that acts like some wires smoldering in the walls) destroy polities the same way as fire devours structures.
And the best way to defend against either is both efficient alarm systems, and rapid deployment measures of control.
And when you think “But communism had that” you’re thinking of the Prague Revolt, or Tienanmen Square or the swallowing of Hong Kong, and you’re not precisely wrong. Not really.
There is a level of countering the threat that will prevent that which no one dares admit exist. If despite all your best efforts to banish even the thought of fire, a flame erupts on your stove, and you have a fire extinguisher to hand, you can hit it hard and fast. And then you forbid mention of it ever again.
It works, sort of, except that of course, if a bigger conflagration starts it can destroy you overnight and you’ll never see it coming. (Romania, Christmas 1989) Or an external fire, intentional or not can consume you, while your people run around screaming “What is this strange thing?” (I expect this is the failure mode of today’s totalitarians, because there is a conflagration worldwide. They’ve been tamping down individual instances and preventing people talking or thinking about it, but there it is.)
In a healthy polity which ours used to be, you had systems to both inform you when the people were getting seriously p*ssed, and mechanisms for making us considerably less prone to sudden revolt, not to mention to letting the kind of “fire in the walls” smoldering discontent and revolt.
For one, we had free speech, which meant, that yes, you knew when people weren’t happy. But you know, like having fire alarms throughout the house, that might give you false alarms, but also means you can get up and do something about the lamp the cats knocked down in the living room and which is making the carpet smolder, by fixing the conditions making people p*ssed.
We also had voting, which meant that if the wall was consistently getting hot, we could get it open and the wiring repaired; or we could realize the penny in the electrical panel had melted, and remove it, replacing it with a real fuse. Rigged elections don’t do that, of course. They’re much in the vein of putting the penny in instead of the fuse, and wiring the switch on “on” so it can’t take the electricity down, and stop the danger.
All we have left now is fire extinguishers in the form of corrupt police and/or military and a lot of hysterical ninnies who claim a small kitchen fire was the worst catastrophe since forever.
And this has extended to all levels of our once-free polity. They stop people talking freely on social media. In groups and associations, you have to keep quiet about any dissenting opinions, lest you lose job and family. People actively falsify their opinions, in order to stay in the good graces of those they need to continue surviving.
The problem is like disabling the fire alarm, it does nothing to prevent fires. In fact it makes it more likely that a fire will happen, because no one is taking the most elementary precautions.
And you — and I look at it — and wonder what the heck is in their heads.
Well, a great part of it is they know their control is precarious (at least at some level they know it) and that people are fed up. So like children afraid of fire who silence the fire alarm, they think if no one talks about it there will be no revolt.
They’re right to an extent (unlike with fire) in that there will be no small, widespread, annoying contagion rebellions. Well, except for things like Let’s Go Brandon.
And of course, we can’t vote them out. Ah. They wired that panel on, dare and take them down that way!
BUT all that does is set up the ideal conditions for an all consuming conflagration.
And the conditions are set.
Part of it, of course, is that the left has this strange dysfunction where they believe if you control the words you control reality. No, I can’t explain it, but it’s obvious in their obsession with controlling language (which always evades them) and their refusal to talk about anything that makes them uncomfortable. It’s not all crowd control. If you watch them carefully, there is a certain primitive belief that thoughts and words control reality. (Maybe it’s that so many of them work — if at all — in a realm of thoughts and words. Or maybe it’s the New Age affirmations movement gone wild.)
Take the social thing. They suppressed mention of anything counter narrative. They’re going insane at Musk buying Twitter, because they’re honestly convinced if things are never mentioned they won’t exist.
But of course people know things. If they lie with numbers and say there’s no inflation, it doesn’t make our household budget any better. If they say there are no supply problems, it doesn’t put food on the table. And their eternal obsession with Trump might make him exactly into the super-enemy they think he is.
The most they can do is make each of us feel alienated and desperate. But reality — let’s go Brandon — keeps breaking through. People talk in all sorts of places, and you don’t want to hear what I hear in the grocery store. (Or at least they don’t.)
But even fragmented and seemingly alone, desperate people do desperate things. We’re not desperate yet, but the pressure is going up every day. And pressure has a way of blowing.
The other part of why they do this, is that even in relatively free countries, the left has become the refuge of those who by inclination or stupidity believe in top-down, center-out. Maybe they just want power, and of course each and every one of these deluded idiots thinks he’ll be the Great Leader, or the Great Leader’s favored lapdog, or maybe they believe that things work better that way (perhaps they have a lot of Soviet Live magazines under the mattress, or have never studied real economics, who knows?)
Any command and control top-down system is subject to ass-covering. Yes, even (particularly?) corporations.
I’ve seen it time and again. People have a project and everyone reports it is going swimmingly. Because, well, of course they do. They don’t want to be fired. This means the project leader and every level up from that “knows” everything is fine and every goal is met.
So it was in the Soviet Union. So it is in Cuba, Venezuela and particularly China. (In case you wonder why China talked itself into the arrantly stupid one-child policy and why it took so long to correct and not completely, yet.) So it is with our “Great Leaders” the Biden Junta, and their infantile belief in “Climate Change” (Caused by humans. Of course climate changes. We’re in an inter-glacial period, for instance.)and their belief in auto-magic clean energy that will happen when we need it.
Because every level reports up that everything is fine. And only each person knows he or she is lying.
Look at what they say at every level of life interaction! Even in craft or social groups, people are all progressive. Theirs is the philosophy of the future.
No, they’re not actually aware of how many people have quit in disgust, or are silent, and getting angrier.
Everything they see and hear reinforces their belief that everything is fine. Why shouldn’t they be confident in their eventual triumph?
Sure, some woke corps collapse. And the bottom line on movies they bet on is weirdly low. But hey, it just means that people are gaming more and movies are a dying industry now. Or maybe they’ve been insufficiently woke, and need more paint-by-numbers socialism. Look, I heard this for years as an explanation for why print runs were falling through the floor. It was all “people don’t read anymore.” Till indie happened, of course.
You think the big advances on lefty biographies and books are bribes. And they are. But at some level, I bet at least 90% of the people involved in the projects are baffled at their failure, because everywhere they go, everyone loves these people and causes. So…. why are they failing? Oh, yeah, people don’t read anymore!
They’ve effectively stopped every possible fire alarm, and if you mention fire, they’ll descend on you with all their fury.
So they know they’re safe.
But of course, that’s not how any of this works. If you permit me to change metaphors from fire to flood, this is how it works:
“But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.”
― Plato, Timaeus and Critias
And the Earth is shaking.