While we obsess over theirs, what about our own?
Here’s a statement that might begin to seem less implausible this year than it was a little while back.
The arc of the Twentieth Century was not a victory over totalitarianism. It was a battle between its various flavors.
This post will fill you in on the arc of my views on this tale.
The trouble with avoiding uncomfortable facts is that as what happens to us diverges more and more from where we expect to be we continue to find ourselves more and more confused.
The fables we were told as children fed the needs of those who told them. They were stories invented by the victors. Stories they fought bitterly to defend. Stories that gave them comfort while hiding their complicity in a wider horror.
A truism of world history, Twentieth Century Edition, has been that totalitarianism arose on the Left and the Right and were defeated by forces of Freedom, forces of Good. A comforting tale, at least so long as the underlying reality could be contained. The consequences of the big lie kept hidden.
We’re told of the evil Kaiser, intrepid dough-boys, Victorious Allies. Then those nasty bolsheviks. On the other side: Salazar, Franco… they pretty much stuck with dominating their shared Iberian Peninsula. Il Duce, Tojo, and the Fuehrer struck out on a violent course of world domination and had to be valiantly repulsed by our Winston, our FDR, our G.I.s. A familiar story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It leaves so much out. There’s a void left at its center, the pivot of a greater arc of history.
The bad guys were real. They did bid to take over the world. That part’s true. It’s just that their enemies weren’t good guys. They, we, were ruled by another faction of totalitarianism equally intent on world domination. Our faction won. and this victory has brought us to this point.
It was never a battle against totalitarianism. It was simply a battle over style. A much larger and more potent version of the skirmish we’ve recently witnessed, pitting a nice oppressor against a crass one.
It’s a familiar story to anyone who’s lived in an abusive family: The hero-worship. The avoidance of any facts that might undermine, not simply the goodness of one’s oppressors, but their peerless greatness. Their inability to do wrong. The might of inevitability and the force of Good must be seen as the driving force behind everything they have done and are bound to do.
This benefits the oppressor. That much should be obvious, but it also provides a perverse solace to his victims: Their suffering has not been in vain. It’s been for a greater good. One they, we, might not understand; but then again, “Who are we to judge? To criticize our leader?”
Yes, it’s easy to see this when it’s someone else’s oppressor. A buffoon, pumping-up his unguarded Ego before some other crowd of fools. It’s so much harder to see through our own oppressors when we’ve grown-up under the spell and sway of their self-justifications. Rationalizations we fear to admit we share. We have never been allowed, never allowed ourselves, a look at the facts from a different angle.
It has been a battle over style. The losers of the Twentieth Century were just so obvious. So clumsy. So blunt. Our side, the winning side, has been clever, subtle. It’s only now that there’s no competing rival for our hearts and minds on the horizon and that the destruction at the heart of all totalitarian systems has reached its crisis-stage, nearing, entering, falling into collapse, that we get to see how, when push comes to shove, there is no difference between those other baddies and our fearless leaders. Pushers of this softer style that has coddled us for so long with a soft repression that’s always been readily expendable whenever expediency requires a return to open brutality.
Our greatest unease today is not brought about by our awareness of the rising consequences of the chain of events that led us here. These are more real than we can imagine. Than we care to imagine. So, we have, for the most part blanked them out with some form of denial or other. Some wishing for an imagined return, a descent into a particular kind of fantasy. While others favor an ascent, to the stars! A no-where of Singularity and Progress without end.
No, it’s not actual consequences that keep us awake at night.
What we fear is our own confusion. Nothing is working out as we expected. This is true for all flavors, all styles within the infinitely narrow range of acceptable thought we have inflated into a self-aggrandizing dead-end-to-end-all-dead-ends.
Our confusion stems in large part from our unwillingness to look at the stories that got us here as stories. Like precocious pre-adolescents reeling at the impending realization of “The Death of Santa!” We’re troubled by our loss of certainty. Pricked by doubts proliferating farther than we can see. Doubts about our own abilities to decipher what is real when we’re enticed by endless goodies dangled in front of us.
“Where does it end?” We ask, wondering incredulously while wishing for some miraculous reassurance from any corner. Unable to admit to ourselves that beneath this question is another dread, “I don’t want to know!”
And so it continues. The power abusers have had over us, and continue to hold over us, rises out of our own unwillingness to look deeper for fear of what we might find. This is another way of unpacking Jung’s poetic warning about the unrecognized shadow. This is how that almost mystical Karmic Nemesis arises.
The successful abuser has no doubts. They have succeeded in burying their relationship with uncertainty under the ponderous monstrosity of their over-developed Egos. It’s all there in Mein Kampf,
“If you want others to believe a lie first come to believe it yourself!”
This is the drug at the center of their self-intoxication. What keeps them going until their radical excursion from reality sends them to their doom.
If only they didn’t always take the rest of us down with them….
It’s not their fault. It’s ours.
Let’s not confuse awareness for pity. While it’s true that they are among the most broken and tormented of souls this does nothing to excuse what they do; but it does shine light on why they are driven to their extremes.
What’s our excuse?
We’ve done the same thing. Come to believe our own lies to better push them upon each other.
“But, there are bad guys! We need to fight! There’s no time for all these finer points!”
That’s always been the dodge, spiraling us back into the same old story. History is filled with iterations of this self-justification, “There’s no time!”
No time for honesty?
Is that how we keep from cycling back into the next version of the same result?
The only assurance we can have in this business is that each time we’ve passed this way the resulting carnage has been worse and this time it will be more so by many degrees of magnitude. Worse: more victims, more widespread, ensuring us an increasingly, vanishingly small possibility that anyone will find livable ruins in which to hide beneath the rubble we leave behind us.
Our confusion is a manifestation of willful ignorance. Willful both for our belief in will-over-fact and for our refusal to see and take responsibility for our complicity. Ignorance. Not a lack of knowing. The word means that there is something we could know that we chose not to see. We ignore it. Turn away, hoping no one will notice. That the bluster of our self-righteousness will disguise our deeper unease.
Being confused in this fashion is not the same as being blind-sided. No matter how much we rely on that other old lie, “Who could have known?”
That’s another part of our history we’ve always ignored. We’ve accepted it as truth. Easy enough. All those who did know were subsequently crushed, side-lined, or at last resort — a last resort so frequently turned to — destroyed.
We can’t step out of the situation we’ve been dealt. Neither by going back or somehow going…, Up? But we can start to question. Question the old stories, but more importantly, more originally and unprecedentedly, we can question our complicity.
Why have we been so quick to accept so many lies as true?
Why is it that even when we can’t avoid the topic any longer and bristle at somebody else’s alternative facts we continue to hide and defend our own?
There’s always a great temptation to think we can explain what’s wrong, “If only they had all the facts!” The trouble with this is that we continue to adhere to a bankrupt notion that we are reasonable people and that reason only requires a more forceful explanation to win the day.
We flatter ourselves when we imagine that we have some form of power over others, over our situation. The only way to maintain that lie is to believe it our selves. Just ask Hitler….
We cannot change anyone. We can only change our selves. And, in so doing bring forth what we will bring forth. If we settle for self-delusion we choose to limit ourselves to summoning forth our shadows. And, we can be certain they will bite us in the ass.
If we choose to follow the hints, the clues, the quiet voices, inside and outside of us that ask us to take the time; look at the questions we’ve feared for so long….
They might chide us with a wry smile, “How’s that avoidance worked for you so far?”
“…la verdad libera, siempre…”