Humans pursue self-destruction wherever they go. Some think this is a form of accepting the inevitability of death, others see it as a byproduct of our delusion. Perhaps it may even be an emotional “acting out” of frustration at the futility of much of life.
As part of our self-destructive impulse, we seek out ideas that make us feel good about our position in life, instead of actually making our position in life better, mainly because, again, much of life is futility since we lack the power to change what needs changing.
When we find something that makes us feel good emotionally, we can rationalize our lives as good, and this makes that thought as addictive as crack cocaine and as impossible to stop as it is to eat just one donut (so I am told).
This means that human history consists of trends (fads, panics, manias, cults) where one clever monkey comes up with a fun idea that makes other monkeys feel comfortable, so we then spend the next centuries fighting over who can remain in denial by embracing this idea.
Not only that, but we fight many wars against the end of denial, and instead in favor of our ability to embrace the delusion.
The passage of a delusional idea through the human ecosystem consists of several parts:
Revolutions start with a psychological twist that exploits a weakness in humanity. Humans want to be liked, so in social situations, they blame systems and the tendencies of nature, not people. This unites the social group around “life sucks” or a similar idea.
That pretense enables people to feel better about themselves by transferring all of the problems in their lives to blame against the system/world, and this enables the group to indulge in another conceit, that of “we are all good.”
To experienced observers of humans, who know the iron rule — all individuals and groups act in their own self-interest alone — the phrase “we are all good” translates to “I am good” with the twist that by giving the group the same privilege, all support it.
At its heart, “I am good” means a rejection of the need to adapt and face natural selection; the world must change, because the individual is good, and therefore, the group of good individuals will change the world precisely because they are so good.
However, nothing is as it appears to be in life because life mostly operates indirectly. You cannot achieve an effect by forcing that effect, only by engineering the cause that produces that effect time and again, like ecosystems or generations.
When people say that they are all good, and therefore do not need to change, they create a group which is fanatically bigoted toward crushing nature and replacing it with human intentions. Their intentions reflect how they wish the world would be.
This makes people blind to results. When something turns out badly, they say that they meant well, and their ideas make other people feel good, so what happened was that some scapegoat intervened and ruined their good time.
That in turn makes them needy for any explanation that affirms their worldview, and any other explanation seems like an enemy to them. That paranoid, greedy, and controlling outlook creates the basis for The Napoleonic Arc.
Societies caught in this arc tend to fail in strikingly similar ways, since they are pursuing the same delusions. For one example, we can look at The People’s Revolution in Cuba which shows us the final stages of a Napoleonic civilization:
After two decades of relative stability fueled by cheap Venezuelan oil, shortages of food and medicine have once again become a serious daily problem for millions of Cubans. A plunge in aid from Venezuela, the end of a medical services deal with Brazil, and poor performances in sectors including nickel mining, sugar, and tourism have left the communist state $1.5 billion in debt to the vendors that supply products ranging from frozen chicken to equipment for grinding grain into flour, according to former Economy Minister José Luis Rodríguez.
Stores no longer routinely stock eggs, flour, chicken, cooking oil, rice, powdered milk, and ground turkey, among other products. These basics disappear for days or weeks. Hours-long lines appear within minutes of trucks showing up with new supplies. Shelves are empty again within hours.
No one did this to them, although they will claim otherwise. Their neighbor nations stopped being supportive, but this was to be expected, since Cuba had declared that these neighbors were ideological enemies.
They — as seems to be the case with all revolutions — started out well with a redistribution of wealth. Everything was stolen and given away, and somehow those who fought for the revolution all did quite well.
Then production problems surfaced. It seems that, at the end of the day, people after a revolution have to do the same jobs, for about the same compensation or even less, since they are now subsidizing a large, militarized government and free riders.
This is history repeating itself.
All revolutions succumb to the Napoleonic Arc because revolutions are based in human thinking about what would be ideal, instead of a cumulative record of what has worked; rather than adjusting the imperfect, revolutionaries demand the perfect, or Utopian.
Naturally this backfires and you end up with something like the Soviet Union where the system is so disorganized and corrupt that it cannot produce basic goods:
Yeltsin, then 58, “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” wrote Asin. He told his fellow Russians in his entourage that if their people, who often must wait in line for most goods, saw the conditions of U.S. supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.”
“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said.
The fact that stores like these were on nearly every street corner in America amazed him. They even offered free cheese samples.
About a year after the Russian leader left office, a Yeltsin biographer later wrote that on the plane ride to Yeltsin’s next destination, Miami, he was despondent. He couldn’t stop thinking about the plentiful food at the grocery store and what his countrymen had to subsist on in Russia.
“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people,” Yeltsin wrote. “That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”
As with Cuba and Venezuela, there was no need for Russia to be that poor, except that its wealth was mismanaged. A sizeable portion of all income was redirected into government for redistribution, and this had two effects.
First, the market became distorted because the government had made itself a market participant that returned no value; second, the collective reward, by giving to the least productive as well as the most, disincentivized being productive.
If when you show up at the factory, you get two cans of food, just the same as the guy who does almost nothing, you will quickly learn that if you do a bunch of work, other workers hate you for making them look bad.
In addition, it is simply more efficient to do the minimum, attract no notice, and collect your two cans. Why rock the boat for no reward? Additionally: why feel like a chump for slaving away when the other slobs get the same thing anyway?
Over in the West, we tackled this problem through two methods: first, we decoupled reward from work, so that people who were poor received welfare but did not have jobs, and second, we allowed reward structures (bonuses) within jobs to give the more productive more income.
This instead produced a slower version of the same problem. We developed a permanent underclass living on welfare and benefits, and jobs became clogged with people who were mostly useless but could not be fired.
This means that we are on the same cycle, just moving more slowly in some areas. We will still reach the place that all of the egalitarian revolutions have, as we learned from the example of France after the Revolution:
On March 17, 1790, the revolutionary National Assembly voted to issue a new paper currency called the assignat, and in April, 400 million were put into circulation. Short of funds, the government issued another 800 million at the end of the summer. By late 1791, 1.5 billion assignats were circulating and purchasing power had decreased 14 percent. In August 1793 the number of assignats had increased to almost 4.1 billion, its value having depreciated 60 percent. In November 1795 the assignats numbered 19.7 billion, and by then its purchasing power had decreased 99 percent since first issued. In five years the money of revolutionary France had become worth less than the paper it was printed on.
The effects of this monetary collapse were fantastic. A huge debtor class was created with a vested interest in the inflation because depreciating assignats meant debtors repaid in increasingly worthless money. Others had speculated in land, often former Church properties the government had seized and sold off, and their fortunes were now tied to inflationary rises in land values. With money more worthless each day, pleasures of the moment took precedence over long-term planning and investment.
Goods were hoarded—and thus became scarcer—because sellers expected higher prices tomorrow. Soap became so scarce that Parisian washerwomen demanded that any sellers who refused to sell their product for assignats should be put to death. In February 1793 mobs in Paris attacked more than 200 stores, looting everything from bread and coffee to sugar and clothing.
This sounds a lot like what happened in the other revolutionary states: their currency lost purchasing power because the economy was stretched too thin with not enough internal activity, which is what one might expect for imposing a centralized order based on eliminating conflict.
In turn, that caused basic goods to become too expensive, since the value of the currency had fallen relative to that of the goods it good purchase, which were additionally made scarce by the problems of egalitarian collective reward labor policies.
France showed us a fundamental truth of revolutions. Few people realize that after the revolution, there will be a new order, and because this war born of revolution, it will not be realistic, and therefore will fail and be forced to militarize and become totalitarian:
Napoleon would eventually declare himself “Emperor of the French.” John Adams had feared just such a chaotic end: A revolution of this sort, he had argued, would lead not to democracy but despotism. France had abolished its monarchy only to find itself under the rule of an emperor. Years later Thomas Jefferson would admit that his own support for the French Revolution was misguided: “Your prophecies,” he wrote to Adams, “… proved truer than mine. … I did not, in ’89, believe they would have lasted so long, nor have cost so much blood.”
Revolutionaries do not intend totalitarianism, but they back into it in order to keep their system going without reverting to the previous order, and admitting that their revolution was based on false pretenses or bad theory.
For those who fight with words, having a bad theory is the kiss of death.
We have entered into an age where we have hampered capitalism enough to make it 40% Soviet, and that has caused revolutionary-style problems in our economy and society, and the Left has responded to these by demanding that we go Full Soviet.
In fact, Western Leftists have shifted toward socialism because our hybrid system is not working well:
According to a Gallup poll published Monday, a majority of Democrats no longer hold a positive view of capitalism, while nearly 60 percent of them feel good about socialism.
The positive view of socialism among Democrats, and those who lean Democrat, actually dropped a point from 58 percent in 2016. But in those same two years, positive feelings about capitalism plummetted from 56 to 47 percent.
Gallup’s results reflect what many analysts and pundits have identified as a shift toward socialism within the Democratic Party. The success of self-identified socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and the upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a member of the Democratic Socialists of America – over incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, R-N.Y., are often cited as evidence of that shift.
Why the shift? We face the same problems here as in socialist-capitalist hybrid Europe: wage stagnation, high costs, high taxes, and of course an ever-expanding bloated and ineffective government which derives its authority from implementing civil rights and diversity.
People are losing faith in the system, and will soon demand something else. With that, the cycle begins again. Liberal democracy has slowed the Napoleonic Arc, but there is no avoiding it; our loss of faith is part of the acceleration.
Conservatives often think that the basis of our viewpoint is the method of slow, steady, time-proven, granular, particular, and localized change, but as part of that, we reject the sudden impulsive abstraction of “equality.”
However, at least for current-day humans, equality proves as addictive as playing the lottery, eating that second donut, trying heroin, sexual compulsions, and buying games on Steam that we will never play.
If we want to escape the Napoleonic Arc, we have to cut it off at the source, which is the ongoing belief in equality. When the egalitarians cannot credibly double down on equality yet again, the cycle breaks and we move on to something else.
As the twenty-first century reveals the vast destruction of the previous century, people are losing faith in liberal democracy just as they did with Communism. This gives us an opportunity to break out of this cycle and correct our weakness to it.