That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
July 21, 2020

Principles of Maskism

When Stalin sits down


JOE SOBRAN SAID THAT PUBLIC OPINION is not what everyone thinks. It's what everyone thinks everyone thinks.

Back when the virus scare was getting underway I said that it must be killing collectivists to have to encourage people to do things to protect themselves, that is, to urge them to act in their own self-interest, instead of acting in the interest of the group. All that has changed. Never the slouches when it comes to composing their propaganda, the collectivists switched the reason for wearing masks from safeguarding one's own health to protecting other people. That is, the reason became one of altruism.

And by "altruism," I do not mean concern for others and being benevolent. No, I am falling back on my Randian roots and insisting on the true meaning of the word: others as the standard of what is right and good. Of course, plenty of people think of Ayn Rand as an object of fun. Not having bothered either to read or to think about her arguments, they have preferred to take caricatures of her ideas for the real thing. They are unwise to do so. Rand had studied history and philosophy at the University of Petrograd (and its annex the Institute for Scientific Research) and was a graduate therefrom. While a three-year degree may not impress modern readers, it should be remembered that even a high-school degree in 1924 indicated a higher level of education than is enjoyed by most U.S. graduate students today.

Still, if the reader needs further verification of her understanding of altruism, I offer this passage from the Encyclopædia Britannica:

Altruism, in ethics, a theory of conduct that regards the good of others as the end of moral action. The term (French altruisme, derived from Latin alter, "other") was coined in the 19th century by Auguste Comte, the founder of Positivism, and adopted generally as a convenient antithesis to egoism.
If there was any doubt that altruism was insanely destructive, surely the virus tyranny has made that clear: you can get away with damn near anything if you just say it is for the good of others. We saw the Left get away with their demonic idiocy when they talked about doing it "for the children." But that passed from being a byword to being a standing joke. But not "others." At least, not yet. (Please, God, soon.) We have seen altruism invoked to destroy an economy, to put 40 million people out of work (while creating a cottage industry of mask design and sales).

It's what comes of loving people — but hating the individual persons. Of loving community — at the expense of the people who make it up. Of loving others — at the expense of your own intellect.

Altruism is not without its own internal problems, and I don't just mean the scorn and vilification Rand justly poured on it. One comic expression of it is Alphonse/Gaston-ism: "You first, my dear Gaston." "After you, my dear Alphonse." Sooner or later the bumblers must decide that one of them must go first or they will starve in a kind of "Buridan's Ass" cartoon.

A more serious application is in a phenomenon well known to business management called the Abilene Paradox. It is worth quoting the Wikipedia article at length:

The term was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article "The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement." The name of the phenomenon comes from an anecdote that Harvey uses in the article to elucidate the paradox:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles (85 km) north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it?" The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Ronald Sims writes that the Abilene paradox is similar to groupthink, but differs in significant ways, including that in groupthink individuals are not acting contrary to their conscious wishes and generally feel good about the decisions the group has reached. According to Sims, in the Abilene paradox, the individuals acting contrary to their own wishes are more likely to have negative feelings about the outcome. In Sims' view, groupthink is a psychological phenomenon affecting clarity of thought, where in the Abilene paradox thought is unaffected....

The phenomenon is explained by social psychology theories of social conformity and social influence, which suggest human beings are often very averse to acting contrary to the trend of a group. According to Harvey, the phenomenon may occur when individuals experience "action-anxiety" — stress concerning the group potentially expressing negative attitudes towards them if they do not go along. This action-anxiety arises from what Harvey termed "negative fantasies" — unpleasant visualizations of what the group might say or do if individuals are honest about their opinions — when there is "real risk" of displeasure and negative consequences for not going along. The individual may experience "separation anxiety," fearing exclusion from the group.

Let us see how it might apply to the altruism of fear-mask tyranny.

When acting contrary to the obnoxious overreaches by some tyrannical governor becomes possible, imagine that you are working in a café. You say to your boss, "Can we stop wearing these miserable things now?" He says, "Yeah, I suppose so."

Along comes your good little Do-Bee co-worker who says, "But many of our customers are still wearing them. Won't they think we don't care about them if we stop?"

The boss thinks a moment, and says, "You're probably right."

Meanwhile, outside, a free man is thinking of coming in. He is not wearing his mask because he's outside and he's not an idiot. He's about to walk in when he notices that everyone inside is wearing a mask. "Hmmm," he says. "I guess I should put mine on."

No one ever removes his mask, for fear that it will offend someone else who is still wearing the mask.

So when does the mask-wearing stop? To answer this we have to look to the precedents of history, to one of the great men of the 20th century, one so great that no one in the Free World will dare to translate and publish his last full-length book. The following tale comes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with "stormy applause, rising to an ovation." For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the "stormy applause, rising to an ovation," continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on — six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly — but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter.... Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: "Don't ever be the first to stop applauding!"

(And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

How indeed?

We shall just have to wait for some definitive signal from our ruling betters. We shall have to wait for our own Stalins to sit down or to tell us it is time. We shall have to love and trust our betters to tell us what is right and wrong, because in altruism, you cannot trust your own intellect when it comes to making judgments of good and evil, and true and false. You must look to others.

But there are so many "others" these days! So many Stalins. How will we know which Stalins to watch? Or to listen to?

Until the happy time when we can noodle out these perplexities, I offer this advice:

Don't be the first. Unless you're an altruist. Ω

July 21, 2020

To the editor ...

Perhaps one of the reasons the local Stalins are unwilling to open schools is that they fear it would signal the end of mask-wearing superstition.

Modine Herbey
July 21, 2020

© 2020 Ronald N. Neff
Published in 2020 by WTM Enterprises.

Notice to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. Please check out our home page and table of contents.