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Having dinner with a friend recently, I surprised him with my optimism, and was forced to explain why. I rambled for a long time, went down some rabbit holes, and eventually came up with something half-coherent. So here’s the 75%-coherent version.
It is easy to be gloomy when the economy is shaky, the TV news is full of barbarity, and the planet is facing ecocide. The long, dark and cold nights of the northern winter are approaching, too. Melancholy and misery are sometimes comfortable companions.
Yet taking a “grand sweep” look at history, I see many reasons to be positive about the future. The negativity we presently experience is the result of the collapse of ancient and unwelcome structures of corrupt power and contrived hate.
Let me explain why you, too, might wish to adopt a more positive attitude to what is coming, and also dream of a nearby golden age that could be a great surprise to many who today face suffering.
Brussels last week for business
Over the past few years, I have spent many a night puzzling over how the world works. This is partly motivated to heal a trauma of my own. My mother’s conscience and free will is trapped inside a destructive cult, as were her parents in turn. What gave rise to that malignant movement?
As Jung counselled us, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” I’ve certainly spent a lot of time examining my own special madness, which is an exquisite fractal of folly. I’ve also taken to examining the darkness of others.
This led me to discover… ponerology. No, I hadn’t heard of it, either. It is the academic study of evil. Maybe we all ought to have heard of it! Seems like it might have some bearing on our plight as conscious beings struggling for survival.
This in turn has uncovered the apparently figural role of psychopaths in society, and how they are widely (and possibly intentionally) misunderstood. Those without a conscience are believed to make up 1-4% of the population, and they have an outsized influence on our institutions and culture.
Amsterdam last weekend with my older daughter
Historically, it seems that psychopaths had a useful role. Their lack of fear was handy for those moments when the proverbial sabre-toothed tiger strolled into the hamlet. They would also defend your seed corn from marauding tribes when there was a drought.
But you would know that it was wise to keep your sons and daughters well away from them. The seductiveness of their poisoned charm would be contained by the small-scale social nature of group life. Their past misdeeds and proclivities for wrongdoing would be remembered and known.
The arrival of the printing press, and later mass media, bypassed our natural defences. Psychopaths were able to express their sociopathic doctrines in book form, and a conscience-free textbook might look like any other from a normal, loving human. Their personal and family history would be remote to you, filtered through intermediaries, so you would not know why to ignore it.
As a result of this new dynamic, the mere existence of a Mein Kampf on the shelf of the bookstore could legitimise its existence and spread. And, what’s worse, the act of reading it infects you with its framing, even if you reject its factual basis and reasoning.
One of my life’s ambitions is to go to Mill Hill East. We all need a dream.
In a slightly inappropriate jokey way, I refer to this as the “Vitabiotics problem”. Sitting on a London tube train, imagine you see an advert with a picture of a woman with long and luscious hair. It states “I use Vitabiotics every day. My hair is wonderful!”. The astute reader immediately notices that this invites a form of false inference about the vitamin product’s value.
What you haven’t noticed is that the sighting of the Vitabiotics product on the underground train has already legitimised it in your mind as a product that belongs in retail stores, and has similar quality and efficacy to everything else you purchase. That’s how the subversive mind trick operates.
By the time you read the text, it is too late. The emotive you is influenced; the rational you arrives after the decision-maker, who only operates on feelings, has already left the conscious frame.
[Side note: I have no idea if Vitabiotics products promote trichological triumph, and have no axe to grind with them. They are clearly having to work around rules on the advertising of medicines and healthcare products, and so it is wrong to accuse them of deliberate dissembling.]
We see this pattern in play every day in the media. For instance, no matter what you think of her, this image of Hillary Clinton legitimises her as a public figure.
She might be a figure of hate and derision for many, but the implied suggestion is that she is an academic, and not a criminal. Again, take this as a Vitabiotics learning moment, not a political polemic!
Of course, you do realise I am using pretty pictures to emotionally manipulate you towards positivity, don’t you?
So the arrival of the media business gave psychopaths a lever over the rest of us. This coincided with the growth of urban society, hierarchical organisations, and licensed professions conferring authority. These are irresistible targets for psychopaths, since they amplify their control over others.
The result has been the rise of “pathocracy”, which is the institutionalised beliefs of psychopaths becoming adopted by society. The process is one of infection of trusted institutions by a few (who control recruitment) and inversion of their moral value system. This is true in all walks of life, but especially in positions of great power over others. The obvious cases include politicians, military leaders and CEOs; but it also includes professions like surgeons and ministers of religion.
My sense is we are now at a place of “peak pathocracy”.
Image: Vilnius yesterday
For psychopaths to maintain control and dominance, they require those below them to act in accordance to their warped intentions. Their perfect society is one in which information is compartmentalised, with them at the top of the pyramid, and with the masses herded into a hierarchy of scopes of understanding. (Look up “viable systems theory” to understand why this is so.)
Those at the very top are fully “in the know” and have true intentionality, in this case for the purpose of evil. Those below are fed a false story of the purpose of their activities, and ideally are co-opted to believe the intentions of those above are good. After all, the greatest trick the Devil pulls is to tell us he doesn’t exist. Evil must always present itself as good: normal people are hard-wired to reject it.
My personal history means I am acutely tuned to psychological and emotional manipulation, since I have many decades of distressing direct experience. I treat sincere belief, group identity, and enforced dogmas as having zero utility for signifying truth. Indeed, the cognitive dissonance that makes others recoil is positively attractive to me, as it signals a possible escape hatch from a hellish tomb of totalitarian thought control.
I escaped from the multi-generational family disaster of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a child because my personal experience clashed with their doctrines. I can assure you, this is the basic recipe for sanity: when someone presents you with two fingers plus two fingers, and asks you to say five fingers, get counting. Insist on a recount if necessary. Trust yourself.
I’ve learnt to minimise my exposure to pathocratic “Vitabiotic” information systems. I aim to maximise my direct and one-degree-removed circle of genuine lived experience. I deliberately go out of my way to find and meet with people with widely varied life stories and tales. Some of what I have found is extremely dark, and if you don’t want to read about it, stop now.
OK… here goes…
Crossing Lithuania yesterday.
I don’t watch TV, as its hypnotic demand to control my attention is repulsive. I never read newspapers, since I’ve concluded the only factually reliable thing they publish is the page number. And I became disgusted with the movies years ago, which too often invited me to celebrate cruelty and violence.
People in fear are easier to control, and the mass media thrives on engineering fear. For the best possible fear, divide society into two artificial groups who are taught to hate each other, and never question why the psychopaths are in charge.
Psychopaths want the rest of society to be afraid and divided, ready to be conquered. Forget “Tory vs Labour”, “Jews vs Goyim”, “Hutu vs Tutsi”, “R vs D”, or any other false divide of humanity into competing tribes. It’s “psychopaths vs the rest”, every time.
Fix that, and you’ve a hope of lasting peace. Ponerology for the win!
Now, I freely admit, I am not normal in my media diet. However, I also sense my own abnormal is becoming more common. Many people are shunning the mass media, resulting in declining viewership and readership. They no longer believe what they are told, or feel it is spiritually good for them or their families. Wise people know the only way to avoid pathocratic infection is to not look.
Instead, they are seeking out alternative (i.e. genuine) forms of information driven by non-psychopathic narratives. People are massing online, and are gathering in many smaller real-world group meetings to compare experiences and learn. In other words, us normal people are starting to “swarm” against the pathocratic systems that harm us.
My strong belief is that the Internet is powerfully amplifying personal experience, and severely attenuating the projection of psychopathic belief systems. This reverses the process that the printing press and mass media initiated. That is a vey big deal indeed, and my core cause for optimism.
Social media allows us all to become global publishers of our lives, and seek out like-minded others. A good example is the throng of survivors of child sex abuse by paedophiles. Oops, sorry, that’s the pathocratic framing. I mean to say, survivors of paedosadists who like to rape, torture and murder children as the vetting process for their evil club. Non-psychopaths can’t fake this wicked act.
I warned you it was grim. And it’s the pathocratic world we currently live in.
The view towards the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad from the Baltic beach near Nida, Lithuania.
Having experienced the psychological and spiritual abuse of a cult as a child, I have a strong sense of the victims’ hurt and desire for justice. It is also not that hard to tell who is a genuine victim, when you have been one in your own way.
The collective victim narrative directly contradicts that of the mainstream media, who like to portray these matters as isolated “bad apple” individuals. It is, of course, never an institutionalised (and longstanding) “bug” in the operating system of society, entrenching pathocratic power structures. Nothing is allowed to contest the core currency of power, which is not money, but legitimacy leading to the consent of the victim to predation.
It is easier than ever to find people who question the beliefs that are handed to them in easy-to-digest form every night in the news, or through lewd music videos, or movies devoid of beauty. The Internet has fundamentally disrupted the flow of information and power in society, and this cannot be reversed. It just presently takes a lot of time and energy (and diligence against confirmation bias) to sift through it all when you’re fighting the turbulent flow of disinformation, misdirection and ridicule.
The truth, no matter how ugly, is naturally self-consistent. It requires no energy to maintain it. Lies, however, have a negative “information thermodynamic” that works against them. An old lie needs retelling, and maintenance. New technology comes along, allowing fresh forensic examination of the past. The tools of machine learning — not least the search engine — naturally correct information power asymmetries that have lasted for millennia.
My hypothesis is that the turmoil we all currently witness are the death-throes of a system of information flow management that is so longstanding and embedded into society we can barely perceive it. The cost of maintaining the “intentional knowledge compartments” is rising so fast that they are bursting in front of our eyes. Whilst we may pass through a time of trauma, there is hope of a golden age at the far side, once we’ve fixed the wreckage left by pathocracy.
Orwell warned in 1948 of 1984. But 1984 is just a point in time. It is not necessarily a boot stomping forever if it contradicts the fundamental forces of energy and flow of the universe. Conversely, Huxley posited a future where we were all far too comfortable to care about our manipulation and enslavement. That also is unlikely as a long-term outcome, since humans naturally seek freedom and flourishing.
I feel increasingly positive, no matter how much fear the daily news brings. Whilst today’s Internet may be fragile, frustrating and prone to mass surveillance, it is (on balance) doing us all great good. Furthermore, some of us are dreaming of a far better information infrastructure. It is possible, I suggest, to relate morals to mathematics, and to create something that is ethical by design. Indeed, for the world of sensors and artificial intelligence, it is mandatory to do much better.
In the digital information world, we are God, and it is our job to capture and cage the Devil. So far, we normal humans are turning the tide on the psychopaths. There is only one conspiracy against love, and if we reject fear and stay unified, it can be defeated. Permanently.
Image: The seaside today near Nida, Lithuania overlooking the Baltic.