The Gordian Knot of Grand Folly: How It Got Tangled and How to Untangle It
Marietta McCarthy is a professor of philosophy. She’s written a book called How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.
It’s an excellent book because it condenses profound wisdom into a short list of key concepts, which makes them easier to remember and easier to build upon. Broad societal change will never come about as long as the general public is left out of the loop. And they need things condensed for them. They don’t need to see the big picture in all it’s detail. They only need to see it well enough that they will start recognizing truth from lies and traditional folly from emerging wisdom. They can learn the details as they go, just like the rest of us did. And McCarty’s books is excellent for that purpose. It’s written for the general reader.
But this article is not a book review. I already know something about the ideas she covers in her book, and I want to use them in a way that she didn’t use them. I want to apply these 10 ideas to the ideas from another book. Conservatives Without Conscience, by John W. Dean.
Dean’s book makes use of the latest findings of social scientists when it comes to the individual and group dynamics of authoritarians. These findings have been confirmed time and again by other social scientists, so there’s no question about their conclusions. They have been validated by the latest cognitive science.
The 10 ideas in Marietta McCarty’s book are:
And if you will read Dean’s book, “Conservatives Without Conscience,” it’s clear that authoritarians do everything backwards, which virtually guarantees escalating social chaos. And the only way to undo the chaos is to reverse the process. Authoritarians tend to act in direct opposition to McCarty’s advice, which is not anything new. These concepts can be found in the most ancient wisdom traditions. But authoritarians have no need for wisdom. Power is what they are after, and power and violence can ride roughshod over wisdom with ease, and destroy everything that is the best about the human race in the blink of an eye.
Their aggression, war-mongering, and tendency of authoritarians to be social dominators is the direct opposite of simplicity, because it complicates every facet of life for everyone. The world is in a mess because authoritarians have been dominating history for millennia. They escalate conflicts, which leads to constant upheaval and social chaos.
Authoritarians tend to shut down the lines of communication between fellow citizens and opponents. Their way is my way or the highway. For them, communication is a one way street.
Authoritarians tend to ignore everyone’s perspective but their own. They tend to be ethnocentric and hostile to any group outside their identity group, even when it comes to groups of their fellow citizens.
Authoritarians tend to be suspicious of change and openly hostile to it. And yet they are often willing to impose destructive change as long as it increases their power. They tend to be rigid ideologues. The change the seem to embrace is technological change, especially when it comes to weaponry and systems that help them more efficiently dominate other groups.
Authoritarians tend to only empathize with their loyal followers and true believers. Anyone outside of that sphere is an enemy, and they have few feelings of empathy toward them.
Authoritarians talk about liberty and individuality, but they demand strict obedience, compliance, and conformity. They like the free exchange of ideas as long as those ideas are in agreement with them. Otherwise they see those ideas as bordering on treasonous. The ultimate expression of individuality is to be free to question authority. They think their authority should be accepted without question.
Authoritarians have a great sense of belonging with those who are like minded, despite the fact that the leaders often use and abuse their followers by lying to them and using them as cannon fodder. Even their followers are slaves to the schemes of their leaders because they have been propagandized to the point of mind control.
The main tools of authoritarian leaders are fear and hatred. They foster these emotions and try to pit one group against another. Studies have shown that authoritarian followers see the world as a dangerous and hostile place. They often live in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety, which makes it hard for them to see their fellow humans as anything but evil, unless they belong to their in-group, their group of identity. Serenity is essentially out of reach for them.
Because authoritarians tend to be so destructive, through warfare and other means, they tend to kill possibilities through their every action. They tend to narrow possibilities to: frying pan or fire. They tend to kill all hope for a more peace and mutually cooperative world.
And through all the above machinations, authoritarians make true joy very hard to come by. True joy, they tell us, is always around the next bend. But the destination is forever retreating, just like the horizon forever retreats when you try to reach it.
John W. Dean’s book points to the problem better than any book I’m aware of. And McCarty’s book is one of the best antidotes to the problem.