‘Of course,’ he added, as Mathis started to expostulate, ‘patriotism comes along and makes it seem fairly all right, but this country-right-or-wrong business is getting a little out-of-date. Today we are fighting Communism. Okay. If I’d been alive fifty years ago, the brand of Conservatism we have today would have been damn near called Communism and we should have been told to go and fight that. History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.’ – Ian Fleming, Casino Royale
Perhaps the earliest ages of humanity were entirely literal. People saw things they needed and pursued them. With the capture of fire however the human mind expanded to the conjectural, seduced by the idea that things which did not exist could be made to exist.
This kicked off an age of understanding, where people attempted to find consistent principles in the world around them and learn how to manipulate those. This sudden leap in capabilities created great wealth, leading to a population bloom and then frantic attempts to control it.
From those frantic attempts come our modern utilitarian systems, our altruism and egalitarianism, and finally the use of “soft totalitarian” techniques to keep the population terrified, paycheck-dependent, and afraid to have the wrong opinions.
The era of frantic attempts to use managerial, bureaucratic, and adminstrative control — manipulation via limiting methods so that people adopt desired behaviors and through them, changes in mental state — brought about a pre-modern era many centuries ago.
In this time, people learned no longer to simply understand reality, but to look toward manipulating the expectations and reactions of others. This causes deference to optics, appearance, and other forms of token activities known as symbolism.
The age of symbolism brought vast changes subtly and slowly. Instead of achieving results in reality, we tried to achieve attitude changes in other human minds, and so our ability to understand cause-effect reasoning dissolved and we became creatures of a one-dimensional world, seeking goods and avoiding evils.
In an age of symbolism, appearing generous and fear-free is more important than addressing the needs of others or things which should actually be feared. All that matters is the self as seen in the eyes of others, and soon actual competence becomes wholly secondary.
This age has run to its conclusion because centuries of inching away from realism means that now, reality is almost unknown to us despite lots of science which draws broad conclusions from narrow data. Our world is a mystery to us not because it is unknown, but because we have suppressed it.
In my view, this multi-thousand year cycle is now coming to an end because it has nowhere left to expand. Symbolism works for manipulating others until people become so cynical that all the symbols fall. At that point, only hard realism works.
As we move toward that point, the main goal of all sane people should be to encourage realistic thinking at all levels and to push back against any idealistic or altruism expression. Those are simply manipulation, since no matter how kindly initially meant they rapidly become control devices.
We might summarize this age with the idea of self-sufficiency. Things and people which can generate what they need without drawing from others will persist; things and people that require the subsidy of the “collective,” taxpayers, or government will be seen as ipso facto irrelevant and parasitic.
Look to an age of flat tax, of government as a service, and of culture, tribe, and identity becoming more important than signals sent out to curry votes or popularity points. The age of the mean girls is over, and the era of the rugged autonomous cynic has begun.