Since society broke down some time ago and the family collapsed with it, most of us inherit none of the wisdom of fathers and grandmothers that forms the basis of the “social capital” passed on to children in a functioning society. We are cast out with nothing but self-help books to guide us.
As a result, we do not know even the basics of reading people. Conventional wisdom a century ago held out something we might call The Inversion Rule, which states that whatever people have to tell you about themselves is probably wishful thinking; whatever they do not have to tell, meaning that it is evident, is likely true.
The simplest example of this comes from the millionaires in your neighborhood. There is a guy driving a BMW, yes, who thinks highly of himself, but he is not the millionaire. The millionaire lives down the street and drives an old Chevy, because by saving money and investing it, he makes an actual fortune.
He has no need to show off; why would he? The proof is in his portfolio. He has no need to impress those around him by the choice of car he drives, mainly because he can drive whatever he wants and still be who he is, and still have people want to interact with him.
Most of the people out there who are driving fancy cars and living high on the hog are doing so because they are trying to signal something to the rest of us. This social status signaling, as Tom Wolfe might have called it, allows them to construct an identity that is more than what they are.
The salesman does this. He projects a folksy identity as the guy next door, just trying to get everyone a good deal, and helping you with your problems, when in reality he is trying to sell whatever high-margin product he has to as many people as possible.
Another example comes from the journalist. In theory, he is a brave defender of truth and freedom, but in reality he is paid for generating outrage and cultivating an audience who like his over-simplification of world events into a tidy little narrative and worldview.
Even your boss at work falls into this pattern, if you are unlucky. In theory a boss is there to lead the troops; in reality, he is there to make himself look good to those above him. Those in turn need the same from him. A pyramid results where each person uses the ones below them to create an image of competence and energy.
The Inversion Rule applies wherever people have a need to make you think something about them. Chances are, they are grabbing for power above their “station” or natural role in the human hierarchy. That means that, like salesmen, they have to sell you on their actual importance being higher than what it seems to be.
They sneak into a backdoor in all of our minds, which is that we suspect that we are undervalued and that others, too, out there may be undervalued. This makes us want to consider the possibility that they are speaking the truth, and once those images bloom in our heads, they have ensnared us.
The Inversion Rule helps us understand modernity as a total sham. The man with the BMW is poor, not rich; the man with the Buick and the stock portfolio, which is invisible to us, may be rich. The person who talks about being a humanitarian is a manipulator; the person who quietly helps others, even if unsung, is more useful.
We got to this point the same way every civilization does at some point: it succeeds, which enables people to worry about what they want rather than what is true, and possessed by the thought of what they want, they begin acting against the group and for themselves.
While doing this, they embark on the type of self-advertising described by The Inversion Rule — such as telling us that they are humanitarians, rich, intelligent, successful, and mean well — so that no one else notices what they are doing. They sell themselves as selfless because they are selfish and for no other reason.
After a few generations of that, people become downright rotten. They stop caring about what is true and what is not. They just want to keep the game going by marketing themselves to others as altruists, while acting secretly as greedy and self-interested parties.
In the past, we recognized that every person had a place in a pyramid of order, with a few really excellent ones at the top, some incompetent liars at the bottom, and most of us in the middle. We also knew that only the ones at the top could tell the difference between top, middle, and bottom.
This allowed us to accept people for their self-interest, but limited it in much the same way we limited capitalism or the military, namely by having intelligent people at every level to guide it using certain principles of realism and a drive toward moral excellence. We accepted nature for what it is, and then channeled it for the good.
Right now, such an order is still considered taboo because we are in the grips of a Leftist era advanced by events like the Enlightenment,™ French Revolution, American Civil War, world wars, fall of Nazi Germany, and ironically the fall of Communism, which allowed us to blame authoritarianism instead of Leftism for the excesses of that brutal little experiment.
However, this era shows signs of slipping. The crowds are outside the Berlin wall, the proof of censorship and repression is circulating, the leaders have revealed their incompetence, and all of the government policies are failing in spectacular bankruptcy at once.
We are entering a new age in which The Inversion Rule will be recognized and thus notions like democracy, which separate public image from private reality, will be seen as inherently untrustworthy. Being in the saddle between two ridges with gunfire coming down, as we are, is not pleasant, but soon it will change.