By Nicholas Strakon
A slightly different version of this article, published here for the first time, was presented at the
|Of all the ways that societys great cancer, the state,
goes about twisting us and weakening us and consuming
us, perhaps the most invasive is its never-ending
assault on our mind. As the mother of chaos, government
exerts a gravitational pull that always threatens to
rip apart our thinking.
In some of my writings I have identified the disordered style of cognition promoted by our masters as statish thinking. Now, Im not referring to the dominant ideology of our age, according to which government is benevolent, all-efficient, necessary, glorious, and sacrosanct. Statish thinking depends far less on explicit ideas instantly available for reflection and analysis. Rather it inheres in settled, unstudied habits of mind, in premises absorbed without much reflection, and it emerges from them. Although many people say they have no interest in politics and government, and never think about those things, if you but scratch them, youre likely to find, right under the surface, a whole squirming mass of statish assumptions.
When we hear a man proposing that the government pay for something so we wont have to, he is promoting statish thinking, for the government has no money of its own, only loot stolen or extorted from us, or counterfeited at our expense. When we hear a man proposing that the government create jobs, he, too, is promoting statish thinking, for the government can create jobs only at the expense of destroying other jobs.
Of course those actually doing the proposing, and the sinister figures behind them, know better: their aim is to forcibly distribute wealth to someone who has not produced it, either their clients or themselves; usually their clients and themselves. But they count on their general audience to be mentally crippled by lurking fantasies that the state is a magical source of all good things and that one minus one doesnt necessarily make zero. It is apparent that those in the full grip of statish thinking are not capable any longer of doing simple arithmetic.
The simplest aspects of human action and interaction are beyond them, too, at least when they contemplate things statish. A good example of statish thinking that recently attracted my attention was expressed by Rush Limbaugh and Vice President Cheney. By the way, whatever else I think of the two men, I take neither to be a moron. Cheney called the Limbaugh show to claim that ex-counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke could not rightfully say the bad things he was saying about the Bush administration because when Clarke occupied his senior position in the regime he was out of the loop.
Cheney and Limbaugh both represented that as something that primarily undermined Clarke. Limbaugh chortled in delight. But of course revealing that high officials kept their chief counterterror expert out of the loop actually undermined the Bush regime far more than Clarke. If a self-important, mendacious gas bag at a normal, that is to say, non-state, workplace uttered similar nonsense about a departed senior employee, he would risk provoking a lot of eye-rolling and snickers. And his gas-bagginess would be instantly plain even to the rawest trainee. In the example of Cheney and Limbaugh Im not sure whether those two regime figures actually engaged in statish thinking or just exploited it. It is hard to tell; but it is also hard to believe that a lifetime spent serving the state and celebrating the glories of the state will not have some deleterious effect on ones own mental processes.
Those of us who wish to exercise effective habits of mind and avoid statish thinking must learn how to listen to experts, especially if they are courtier experts. Some years ago I heard a young courtier historian give a talk on the democratic humanitarian miracles performed by Abraham Lincoln all American courtiers are naturally crazy for Lincoln and, in the course of ridiculing the dissident view of Lincoln, the trusty expert said that if Old Abe had been a dictator, he certainly would have cancelled the 1864 elections! That young scholar, in becoming an expert on Lincoln, had come to know, or at least had studied, astronomically more than I had about that particular man. But as a courtier expert serving the interests of the regime, he had at the same time forgotten, or suppressed, much of what he knew about men in general. Including men who would seize, expand, and maintain Power. While reading his thousand books on Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States, he forgot, or suppressed, his Machiavelli.
Its got to happen: its the experts job to accompany his special expertise with a defense of the regime; that is to say, he must combine, however awkwardly, real thinking with statish thinking.
Its possible that the likeliest place to find pure, unmixed statish thinking is in the entire environment of elections and electioneering. The spectacle of voters robotically trooping into voting booths year after year even though theyve been betrayed and exploited by everyone theyve ever voted for is the big picture, or at least a big part of it. But heres a more particular example. In the 2003 municipal elections in the little town of Hudson, Indiana, the vote for three of the four candidates for town council, running at large, ended in a tie. The story was heralded by various state-bedazzled mediafolk think in terms of trumpets, trombones, drums, and the Choir Invisible as yet another heart-warming, confidence-inspiring parable about how your vote does count. One of those mediafolk was a TV newsreader, and I had to laugh aloud when she went straight on from her sermonette to add, The election is now taken out of the voters hands!
I believe that qualifies as disordered cognition.
The TV news taped some local Hudson sage declaring that the problem would not have arisen if just three more voters had turned out. Upon reflection I suppose that would have depended on whom the extra voters had voted for. But my own sage response at the time was, Or three fewer!
But statish thinking is a deadly serious affliction. For instance, it prevents that large proportion of our fellow Americans whom I describe as the sheeple from learning anything from history. Its bad enough that the regime works assiduously to prevent them from learning anything about history. But the combination of disordered thinking and profound ignorance disables the majority of our countrymen from recognizing the easily predictable calamities that will result from the latest Miraculous Socialist Program or the latest Glorious Foreign Intervention. To them, everything is always a surprise, and maybe things will turn out better next time. Especially if we all troop back into the voting booth and elect good people.
Forget history in the worst cases, statish thinking disables the victims own personal memory, creating a condition that I sometimes call Social Alzheimers. We see that terminal phase in those who swallow every succeeding rationale for the current war ladled out by the regime as the original rationale. By this point it should be clear that my formulation of statish thinking owes a good deal to the previous observations of a certain Mr. Orwell.
Statish thinking, as it infects tens of millions of ordinary Americans, rests not on a conscious love of statism based on explicit ideology. It rests on habit and reflex, and it has one instantly recognizable characteristic peculiar to itself. You may confidently offer a diagnosis of statish thinking whenever you see a man assessing the state and its activities in a way thats radically different and radically crazier from how he normally assesses situations in his everyday life. For example, no one who participates in the states periodic voting ceremonies would buy a used car on the basis of similar mental processes. No one who eagerly laps up the regimes obvious lies would listen in the same way to a psychopathic liar who lived next door. No one who thinks taxes are the price we pay for civilization would agree that his neighbors theft of his lawn mower was the price we pay for a well-trimmed neighborhood.
Statish thinking depends on a never-ending act of mental compartmentalization. I almost said never-ending and strenuous, but, frankly, it gets much easier with practice. Its a form of doublethink that involves not so much contradictory ideas as contradictory habits of mind.
My account of statish thinking here has been mostly descriptive. Its precise etiology must be reserved for a more-extended treatment, though I will interpose a hint of pathos, along with a dash of bitter irony, in observing that statish thinking may arise partly from peoples nagging, natural intuition that state and society are radically different things. But in any case we should not be astonished to discover a pandemic of statish thinking among ordinary people, in view of their sustained exposure to the state schools, the state-licensed electronic media, and the state-loving creators of mass culture.
However, influence is not causation. Of all the states depredations, this is one that we can stop dead, at least with respect to what Winston Smith called the few cubic centimeters within your skull. No one can cast your mind into disorder without your help. At least, not until that day when we all meet OBrien in the place where there is no darkness.
|Copyright 2004 WTM Enterprises.
Nicholas Strakon is the Editor-in-chief, The Last Ditch
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