Hardwired For Disaster

An excerpt from my most recent book, Un-Civilizing America: How Win-Win Deals Make Us Better. Driving down the road in rural France one evening, we observed a rabbit in front of the car. The animal feinted to the left, and then to the right, trying to fake out its pursuer. The tactic, passed along by the survivors of past win-lose encounters, was now embedded as instinct. Had the rabbit been chased by a dog or a fox, it probably would have given him a slight advantage. Against a Nissan Patrol, however, it was counterproductive. Embedded myths, like moral lessons, are dependent on the conditions in which they were derived. Had the animal simply jumped out of the road, it would have survived. The car paid no attention to the feint. It ran right over the rabbit. The instinct to fight… to defend… to take up arms against an invader… was embedded in a time when the scale of information was much smaller. Back then, all the available information was private. Its quality was very high. As civilization evolved, with larger and larger communities, information evolved, too. It got bigger and more abundant. But the quality was less sure. Myths filled in for truth. Some were more appropriate to the new circumstances. Others, nourished by the new media, stirred old instincts… and brought disaster. In 1945, people in Hiroshima went about their business. But things were getting tough for the Japanese. The U.S. controlled the seas and the air. This cut Japan off from its supply lines, leaving it hungry… and without any real means to defend itself. People were already dying of hunger-related diseases—such as tuberculosis and beriberi. Young and old had been enrolled in the war effort, responding to air raid drills daily… with buckets of water at hand to put out fires, and practicing diving under beds to protect themselves from bombs. Every house also had a sharpened bamboo stick at the doorway to fight off American soldiers. Any sober observer could see the situation was hopeless. An observer with access to details of the Manhattan Project could see the threat was existential. Bamboo spears and mattresses were no defense against an atomic bomb. But the Japanese—or some of them, at least—believed Emperor Hirohito was divine. It might be hard going now. But when they looked ahead, the myth blocked their vision. They couldn’t see how they could lose the war, because that would mean the Emperor had lost to mortals… and not even Japanese mortals at that. The Japanese discovered the weakness of this myth on August 6, 1945. It was not only inappropriate, it was deadly. Within seconds, the rabbit was crushed—the center of Hiroshima was obliterated as temperatures rose higher than on the surface of the sun. Steel melted. Internal organs vaporized. Leaping to Absurdity The average man can’t know what is in his hotdogs or how his nation’s medical system works. Even its weights and measures are a mystery. He believes in ghosts; he doubts a moon landing ever took place. He wonders how many inches to a gallon. He can’t find Ukraine on a map… he believes the Declaration of Independence is a terrorist document… and as for Muslims, he is sure they are up to no good, even though he’s never met one. He relies on his elites to deal with these complex matters… and counts on them to treat him fairly. When they don’t, he gets a noose in his hands and looks for someone to hang, though not necessarily the fellow who has it coming. There will always be some people who are stronger, smarter, faster, more charming, better marksmen, more productive, etc. Society always sorts itself into a hierarchical, pyramidal structure, with the elites on top and the masses at the bottom. The elites help the masses by separating good myths from bad ones… facts from lies… and foolish notions from useful ideas. They help administer justice with calm, sensible, common law courts, rather than lynch mobs. They provide the technical expertise for indoor plumbing and computer networks. They offer spiritual guidance and make the trains run on time. Elites have power. And power invites corruption. In a modern, large-scale empire, the elites have so much power that double-dealing is almost inevitable. Then, the elites turn the rest of the population into chumps. Instead of challenging and correcting the fake news that motivates the mob, the elites encourage even more extravagant illusions. We have to annihilate ISIS in Syria or no man in Iowa will be safe. The Fed makes our economy stronger by faking interest rates and flooding it with “savings” (credit) that no one ever saved. The Department of Education can make us smarter… the Department of Defense can make us safer… and the Department of Gender Affairs can make us better human beings. All they need is more power and more money! The typical citizen is expected to believe six impossible things before breakfast and another half dozen before lunch. He has no easy way of distinguishing a fake myth from the useful myths that are essential to his survival. He’s too far away in every sense. In the twenty-first century, he hears terrorists pose a threat… and he puts it in the same box as an imminent attack by a hostile tribe. His emotions—not his mind—are engaged. He sees his wife ravaged in front of his eyes… and his children carried off into slavery. He leaps to absurdity… taking up arms against an enemy that exists only as a mythical public artifact… and choosing as his champion the biggest, most self-confident alpha-male numbskull in the tribe. Then it gets worse. The “us” enterprise—whether it is a war on terror, a war on drugs, or a war on poverty—depends on keeping “us” in line. Myths need believers. And when people stop believing… Poof! The myth disappears. That’s why there is so much pressure to not think independently, but instead, to go along with whatever cockamamie program is in the news. That’s why you must be solidaire, as the French say, with public policy, no matter how absurd it is. Fortunately for the myths and the people who benefit from them, most people go along. They stand behind their leaders, no matter what pathetic losers they are. And they regard anyone who doesn’t as a traitor.More By This Author:Joyride to Catastrophe
Fighting The Fed
Crude Reserves


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