My previous post has been understandably interpreted as an endorsement of the Dalrymple (echoed by Unz) theory that absurd ideas are made up on purpose to humiliate people and check who is really loyal to the power holders.
I should clarify that my point was not an endorsement, just an observation that absurdity as power-trip is a very ancient trick. The Chinese noticed 2200 years ago. I’m sure it’s happened a lot, in all countries on earth. Even in middle sized organizations it happens to a lesser degree.
But Western culture never noticed. Andersen got close, but didn’t get the actual point. Dalrymple, and now Unz, did notice by themselves, but it’s still not a common observation. The fact is Western culture has its own conception of power, a very naive construct that prevents us from noticing how things actually work. We seem to think people have ideas, and act because they believe those ideas, and power just comes out of the strength of those ideas. Call it faith in Christ, or Protestantism, or liberalism. Our conception of history is the history of ideas. Never we stop to think who comes up with this ideas, how they change, why some spread and others don’t.
Dalrymple and Unz seem to think that absurdities such as Communism or WWT are made up on purpose by a cabal of evil conspirators in order to show who’s boss, and check who’s on board with the program. Vladimir in last post had this to say:
While I agree that such stories provide useful opportunities for playing the “deer as horse” tactic to all kinds of ideological commissars and strivers for power, I don’t think it’s the right explanation for how such stories come into being and acquire great prominence in the first place.
What I see as the main driving force there is the inherent baseness and degeneracy of mass media reaching its consummation. Most people greatly enjoy lowbrow entertainment where they can lose themselves in some kind of imaginary fellowship with celebrities or fictional characters, getting a kick out of a delusional feeling that they’re somehow empathizing with them and participating in their personal dramas.
Until relatively recently, certain social norms were in place that were putting some limits on how far the media would go in exploiting this tendency: their output, however lowbrow and degenerate, still had to be plausibly framed as some kind of traditional performance art, and people were expected to maintain some minimal level of dignity in public appearances. Nowadays, however, the phenomenon of “reality TV” has broken with these restraints of genre, and celebrities are expected to give interviews in which they pour out their feelings and personal dramas in the most undignified and degraded way. This leads to a competition for the most extreme drama one can come up with, without any restraints of propriety and dignity — both for the media competing for public attention and by the celebrities competing for media prominence. Clearly, Jenner and his media handlers have accomplished a tremendous success in this regard.
It seems to me that this phenomenon has been brought about by sheer market and career pressures in the media industry, rather than ideological pressures. It’s always in one’s interest to try to push the envelope still further in the direction of exploiting these base urges of the masses. Of course, ideological pressures have had a decisive influence on the specific content of the prominent media stories we’re seeing nowadays. But as for the sheer level of stupidity, nonsense, and degeneracy, regardless of the specific content in which it’s manifested, I believe it would be reached sooner or later under any system that allowed free media competition for capturing the attention and devotion of the mass audience.
I think it’s obvious that say, Obama hasn’t called Vanity Fair and told them to put Bruce Jenner on drag. The media indeed need to make money, this shit makes a lot of money, so to some degree the media is producing degeneracy out of market considerations, working in auto-pilot. Now of course this auto-pilot has built in constraints. Basically political correctness. The fact is before WWT we had WWG, and before that we had feminism. Neither of those were invented by the media, even if they promoted it heavily. WWG was an academic and political movement, and only after it started moving did the media put a gay character in every movie and sitcom. Academics had been writing about how to solve the oppressions of those cross-dressers who really want to use female toilets years before prominent autogynephilics started getting on the news.
So while the media does promote degeneracy out of their own considerations, their agency is limited to whatever is politically acceptable. Coverage of ISIS brutality is everywhere in the news, and people love it. The TV stations could take from that and start covering domestic Muslims, how they are weird, ugly, wear strange clothes, have way too many children and are right-down scary. They’d make a lot of money that way too. But of course they can’t go there because it’s not orthodox.
Now back to the point, I do agree there is no Zhao Gao coming up with WWT in order to frighten the masses. Most absurdities arise spontaneously, from many different sectors of the Cathedral. Surely the media has come up with some new ideas that eventually were incorporated into the orthodoxy. Academia probably came up with most. Bureaucrats must have produced some. Some did come out of some small-scale conspiracies. Some just out of some sudden idea.
But coming up with an idea doesn’t guarantee it’s success. In order for an ideological tenet to be incorporated into the mainstream, it must be useful. And given that nobody can possibly care about whether some rich guy puts on women clothing or cuts off his dick, or whether the Holy Spirit comes out of the father or both father and son, or whether Mao is the eternal leader of the working class; it follows that the function of absurd ideas is to assess loyalty to the system. What do you think of Catlyn Jenner? What, you can’t spell her name? What are you, some kind of racist? Fired!
Note that humans are wired to constantly look for scapegoats to bully, even if there’s no actual grudge to motivate enmity. Ganging up on some defenseless chump when there’s no consequences is lots of fun. All human societies do that. Having a good excuse just makes it easier.
Which is why stupid ideas don’t die, even after they start to seriously affect performance of the group. The Soviet empire collapsed. I’m sure the leadership didn’t want it to collapse. Many perhaps new that the whole socialist thing was stupid. But you couldn’t touch it without wrecking the whole hierarchy, and their livelihoods depended on that hierarchy. Only when the hierarchy is disturbed by other reasons, say Stalin’s death, could people cut a bit of the madness, and say fire Lysenko. Or stop the Cultural Revolution.
So it’s a dynamic system. Humans have an agency bias, so people tend to search for people responsible for the whole thing. It seldom works like that. Ideas come up, they spread a bit, then another bit, they go viral, then they die. Different people are responsible for every different link, but everyone is committed once they have joined in.
The stage when ideas die is perhaps the most interesting. It usually requires a transition phase, when the hierarchy is shifting for internal reasons. Here’s where Handle’s “second test passers” come in. The people who have benefited but not abused the specific set of absurd ideas. I first thought they were a constituency to push back and stop the madness. But in the context of identity politics, I rather think they are a constituency for continuity. Say a woman that gets a job before of a female quota, but is chosen specifically because she isn’t a loud feminist and does not abuse her legal privilege. Will she ever abandon feminism? Most likely not. After all she owes her job to feminism, even if she had to take a second sanity test. But she has nothing to win, and quite a lot to lose from abolishing female quotas.
And so the racket goes on.